Thursday, May 27, 2010

iPad envy

When I was little I went through a phase where the only books I wanted were Pop-Up books. Didn't matter what they were about. I just loved the thrill of turning the page and WHOA there was the Empire State Building, or a woolly mammoth, or a dolphin leaping from the ocean.

That's the feeling I got today, trying out an iPad.

I was at Best Buy to pick up a couple of little things -- didn't even know they had iPads for sale. They had four of them on a little table. I played a little of a Simpsons video game and read a few pages of an Elizabeth Gilbert book and checked out the Observer website and goofed around with the maps. It made me think of this video somebody posted the other day:

iPad + Velcro from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

I'm an Apple guy, but I've been holding off on the iPad because we really don't need one -- our laptops and cell phones do the same sorts of things just fine. Still, as Jimmy Carter once said, I'm starting to feel lust in my heart.

So I'm wondering -- if you've bought an iPad, what do you think? Are you using it more or less than you expected? And if you're using it a lot, what are you NOT doing instead?
If you don't like it, feel free to talk me out of it. It'd be a lot cheaper if I just went and bought a stack of Pop-Up books instead.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Writing workshop at Queens -- come sign up

(begin shill mode)

So I'm doing this writing workshop at Queens University on June 5 (that's a Saturday). We're going to talk about all the basics of a good story, whether it's fiction or nonfiction -- reporting, interviewing, and writing. Plus we'll spend some time talking about creativity in general, and in particular about the dreaded writer's block. (Spoiler alert: I don't really believe in writer's block.)

I've got plenty of material but we'll bend and twist it depending on what everybody wants to learn. I'm really jacked about doing this and I think it'll be fun. It's also sort of a experiment that Queens and I are doing to see if folks might be interested in this sort of thing. So come be our guinea pigs! Here's my promise: If you're part of this first workshop, and I ever write a book, you'll get a free copy.

(Second prize, of course, is that you don't have to take the free copy.)

Anyway, take a look at the link and holler if you have questions -- you can put them in the comments or email me at

(end shill mode)

OK, you survived all that. Here's a license plate for you:

That's gotta be a youth baseball coach, right? "THERE'S NO SNIVELING IN BASEBALL!!" Take it, Tom Hanks:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cleveland, rocks

Somehow I've ended up with lots of friends from Cleveland. Gary Schwab, who's sports editor of the Observer (plus the Raleigh paper) and my former boss. Andrea Simakis, one of the five funniest people I know and a great writer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. My dear friend Diane Suchetka, also one of the five funniest people I know and another great writer at the Plain Dealer -- we worked together in Charlotte before she went back home. And my buddy Joe, who spent his later youth in Charlotte but his real youth in Cleveland, where his hero was Duane Kuiper, the Cleveland Indians second baseman who played 12 years in the big leagues and hit exactly one home run.

Even if you don't follow sports, you know Cleveland has a complex. It's the place where the Cuyahoga River caught fire, where the Rust Belt buckled. In "Tootsie," when Dustin Hoffman is doing his screen test in drag, Rita the producer says "I'd like to make her a little more attractive, how far can you pull back?" and the cameraman says "How do you feel about Cleveland?" The line is funny not just because Cleveland itself is a punch line, but because you knew that was a long distance -- wherever glamorous people were making soap operas, Cleveland was far, far away.

Cleveland sports add even more layers of cruel. We all think of longtime losers like the Red Sox (until 2004) or the Saints (until this year) or the Cubs (until, well, not yet), but it's worse in Cleveland. NO team from Cleveland has won a title in a major sport since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964. Not only that, Cleveland teams have lost over and over in soul-crushing fashion.

The Browns have missed out on three Super Bowls because of a late-game interception, a fumble at the goal line and a 98-yard touchdown drive led by Denver's John Elway. (Then the Browns moved to Baltimore, and a few years later Baltimore -- with a lot of those Browns players -- of course won the freaking Super Bowl.) The Indians, who haven't won a title since 1948, lost one World Series in '95 by losing the deciding game 1-0, and another in '97 after blowing a one-run lead with two outs to go. And the Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, but if you've ever watched Michael Jordan highlights you've seen him rattle in that jumper at the buzzer to beat the Cavs in the '89 playoffs. All those moments are available on YouTube but it would take a cold heart to link to them right now.

The point of all this buildup is that this year would be different. The Cavs had the best record in the league. They added Shaquille O'Neal to what was already a really good team. And of course they have LeBron James, who grew up in Akron, was drafted by his home-state team and turned into the best player in the game -- just like in those sports books written for kids. LeBron is a free agent after this season, and of course every team wants him, he can go anywhere he wants and get paid the maximum salary, but you think and you hope that his thumb is on the scale for Cleveland. Especially if they win the title.

And although it's just the second round of the playoffs, and they're in a tough series against the Boston Celtics -- tied 2-2 going into Tuesday night's Game 5 -- all they had to do was win that game at home, and they'd be in command of the series and aimed toward the championship that would heal Cleveland in that metaphorical, but still real, way that only sports can do.

They lost by 32.

Yes, they could still win. But now the Celtics can close out the series in Boston. And all of a sudden, it's possible that LeBron just played his last home game for Cleveland.

He didn't get his first basket until halfway through the third quarter, and not long after that it became clear they'd never catch the Celtics. I turned over to "Lost," even though I've seen maybe two hours of it over six seasons, and in Tuesday's episode, to make things even more confusing, CJ from "The West Wing" turned up. That was still better than the game. The game was like watching your neighbor's cat get hit by a car.

I sat down to write this because I couldn't think of a worse Pivot Game -- where a team's fans went from "We're gonna win tonight, we're gonna be champions, LeBron will re-up and we'll get multiple titles" to "We got carjacked by 32 at home and we might never see him in our uniform again" in the span of three hours.

But I forgot. It's Cleveland. They've seen worse.

Guys, I'm so sorry.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A modest proposal for the airlines

Before I start to complain about air travel, let's stipulate, as Louis CK does, that the very fact of flying is amazing:

Having said that... I've been on six flights over the past couple of weeks. Every flight was smooth, the employees friendly, the whole experience went off without a hitch. Except for one thing.

The carry-on bags have gotten WAY out of hand.

Most airlines are charging to check bags these days -- it's normally between $15 and $25 for the first checked bag. So people are trying to stuff everything into the overhead compartment -- full-size bags, steamer trunks, teenage children, etc. Every airline has that little bracket at the gate, where you're supposed to see if your carry-on fits the standard, but nobody ever uses it and the people at the gate never ask.

It takes forever to get all the bags jammed in the overhead. But it's worse when the plane lands -- all anybody wants to do at that point is GET OFF THE PLANE, but we have to wait for everybody in front of us to de-wedge their carry-ons out of the compartment. And there's always that one guy who has a seat up front but has to stow his bag in the back because there's no overhead room; when the plane lands he has to swim against the flow to retrieve his bag, like a spawning salmon. Except that nobody hates salmon and EVERYBODY hates this guy.

So here's my proposal: Make every checked bag free. But start charging $25 a bag for carry-ons.

I'm sure many of you have lost-luggage horror stories. But the odds of the airline losing your luggage is small; if we let everybody carry on 100 pounds of luggage, the hassle is guaranteed. And airlines can already check your bag at the gate and give it back to you as you get off the plane -- they did it on our Delta flights last weekend, when it was clear there was too much baggage for the overheads.

Our flight to Dallas a couple of weeks ago was overbooked. After the plane filled up, one of the flight attendants asked for volunteers to give up their seats (in exchange for a free-trip voucher).
A guy across from us jumped up to volunteer. He opened the overhead bin, grabbed his bag and yanked it out -- without realizing that somebody else had crammed a laptop bag on top of his. The laptop fell out and cracked another passenger on the back of the neck.

Of course the guy who yanked his bag out should've been assessed with a Doofus Fee of, say, $500. But it wouldn't have been an issue if people didn't feel the need to stuff their worldly possessions in the overhead bin. The airlines are charging for the wrong bags. They've got it backwards.

Still, remember: You're sitting in a CHAIR. In the SKY.