Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Two Sorry Days

I want to say at the top that I don't expect or want any sympathy. That said...

I spent all of today doing the very thing that frustrates and angers me like no other: making a balky computer behave. Yesterday I upgraded my anti-virus software and discovered afterward that my photo uploading software no longer worked. No problem; I'll just reinstall it. Did that, then found that Photoshop wouldn't open, nor could I reinstall it--it froze up every time. This was getting serious. I could live without photo management, but I need Photoshop. Tried to fix that, and I think you see where this is going: by mid-morning I had completely screwed up everything, including the Office utilities (Word, Excel, etc.) upon which paying my mortgage most directly depends. Not only that, but I apparently crippled all the means available to me to repair the damage short of doing a complete reinstall of the operating system. Not my favorite option.

So, while my main computer passed the afternoon backing up all my files to an external hard drive--I hadn't destroyed any data yet but by that point I wouldn't have put it past me--I researched my problem online via laptop. Twenty minutes ago I implemented the most promising solution and ... it worked! Nothing was lost! All I had to do was reinstall Photoshop, which the stupid blinky box allowed me to do this time, and I was back in business.

Like I say, in a world where billions of people have no computers--or food, shelter, jobs, etc.--I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for a guy with two computers and whose heaviest physical labor for the day involved moving back and forth between them. But I hate computers when they do this--HATE HATE HATE!--and have a lot of excess energy to spew your way. What a waste of a day.

Yesterday involved a gentler kind of frustration. I sat down to pencil and ink a couple of pages and found that I just wasn't drawing well. It was like slogging through concrete. Some days go like that. Sometimes I don't notice when a brush or nib goes bad and I think the problem is mine when it's really my tools'. I remember one stretch of four or five days when everything I drew was terrible, then realized I'd lost all my mojo the same day I switched to a different texture of paper.

That didn't seem to be the case yesterday. I hadn't actually inked anything in more than a week and might've been a little rusty. You just have to work through it, and I picked a couple of pages that I thought would be less artistically challenging than others. Nobody else would be able to see the difference. Happily, in my experience, when I look back later I can't really tell the difference between work done on a good or bad day, either.

Again, no sympathy needed. I'm just venting, and in fact it feels kinda good. Thanks, I feel better now.
P.S.: Perfect. I was just about to hit the "Publish" button when our home's cable Internet went out. If anyone other than me ever reads this, I guess it eventually came back on.

Looks like I picked the wrong day to use technology.
P.P.S.: Got the cable back after about three hours. I should just go to bed now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Many people who aren't from California and have seen too much "Baywatch" are surprised by how agricultural the state is. California's Central Valley is some of the most productive farmland in the nation, and there are small towns a hundred miles from Los Angeles or San Francisco that are as rural as any you'd find in the deepest backwaters of South Dakota (and I pick on South Dakota because I love it). My father-in-law grew up in such a farm town, and it was to that town that Karen and I drove last weekend to attend the wedding of a friend's son.

We arrived several hours early because we wanted to check out a few things and meet Karen's sister and her family for lunch. The town had maybe 2500 people when my father-in-law was a boy working in his father's appliance store, but because it lies on a big highway and is within commuting distance of the Bay Area (it's a two-hour drive each way but some crazy people do it), it's grown to about 25,000. The highway is now lined with a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and the like, which has destroyed the old downtown district three blocks away. Half the storefronts are deserted, the other half you wouldn't necessarily want to go into, but it still retains the architectural bones and charm of its early 20th-century origin. You think, "man, they'd really have something great here if they could just turn it around," but they probably won't and it'll all crumble away and that's the way of things these days.

After lunch, we all went to the local two-room museum because we'd heard there might be something of particular interest to us there. The "open" sign was up but the door was locked and we walked around puzzled, finally finding an unlocked side door that we obviously weren't meant to go through. But it had a bell on it, and we'd just begun to walk away when an 80ish docent poked his head through the door and beckoned us around to the front. He works in the back, you see, and gets so few visitors that it's easier for him to lock the front door and listen for the bell.

The museum had a genuinely interesting collection of artifacts spanning the town's pioneering days through World War II. It also had what we'd come to see: a poster-sized photo of Karen's father at age 9, standing with his father (Karen's grandfather) in front of the appliance store with two workers, proudly displaying the latest mid-1940s models of Maytag washers. We took some pictures of the picture, which the docent was happy to place on an easel for us, and were talking with the old man when he asked, "Say, whatever happened to your grandfather's rock collection?" Karen replied that her father still has most of it, and we walked away amazed and delighted that this really once was a town where everyone knew everyone else and there were still people forty? fifty? sixty? years later who remembered when ol' Frank had the best rock collection around.

We were reminded again at our next stop, the town's one antiques shop. Like a lot of businesses, the family appliance store used to give away things with its name printed on them: calendars, can openers, dolls. A few survive in the family, but we figured if we ever had the slightest chance of finding more it would be at the local antiques shop. No luck, but we did discover the 90-year-old owner, a woman who'd lived there 70 years and clearly intended to end her days surrounded by stacks of mostly junk. She was a real sweetheart. When we explained who Karen was and what we were looking for, she said, "Oh yes, Frank the electric man! He was so nice!" She told us a few stories about the way the town used to be and how it isn't like that anymore. She's been robbed a couple of times recently--see where they damaged the drawer of the antique cash register with a crowbar?--and when we expressed amazement that she actually kept cash in the old thing she taught my wife the trick to getting it open. Fortunately, her trust was not misplaced.

It became an unxpectedly heartwarming weekend for us, thanks to a museum volunteer and an antiques dealer who couldn't have been happier to meet my wife--Frank's granddaughter and little Bobby's daughter--and made us a bit homesick for a home we never had.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Phantom Strikes Again!

Here's what I like about living in the 21st Century. Frank Mariani is a cartoonist and illustrator I've become friends with online. Frank also helps organize the "Lindsay's Legacy" run to fight childhood cancer, which I wrote about last October.

So Frank read my previous post about the Phantom unmasking for the first time in history and dropped a line to his buddy Graham Nolan, who drew the Phantom comic strip for several years until 2006. And Nolan replied with this Sunday Phantom strip from October 2003:

The Phantom unmasked! (Gasp!) In his reply, Nolan noted that overseas Phantom fans were very upset with him when this was published. For now, this stands as the earliest record of the mysterious Mr. Walker's* true face.

Many thanks to Frank and Graham for following up on such a silly subject and giving me permission to write about it.



*For "The Ghost Who Walks"


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Quick Bits 2

1. The Phantom comic strip has been in continuous publication since its debut on February 17, 1936. In all that time, readers have never seen the Phantom's unmasked face, unless hidden behind huge sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat. Until today:

That's him in panel 3, in bed with his wife, sleeping in his purple tights and stripey trunks. History in the making. You'll always remember where you were when you saw it.

2. Mark Evanier's blog alerts me to a second historic occasion, this heroic shattering of a world record:

I think that clip simultaneously captures everything that's wrong with America and everything that's right with it.

3. When someone asks me what my fee would be to speak to their group, I really ought to come up with a better answer than to snort hot chocolate through my nose and choke.