Month: December 2013

30 Days of Blogging: Day 30

Finally!

 

My 30-Day Blogging Challenge is finally over, and truthfully, both the accomplishment and the end of an obligation are two amazing Christmas gifts to myself. Before I take a much needed break, let’s look back on what I learned.

“Your Requests: Blogged” (both parts) rank in the top half of this blog’s recorded page views, and neither of them required much research. My ramblings about kung-fu and monster movies is dead last, and in the process of finding something to say, I got to revisit a lot of classics.

My most popular post, “Time Capsule,” was, by leaps and bounds, the least fun to do. It was a slog of repetitive archiving, on top of which was the rotten process of rereading breakup letters, reacquainting myself with deceased pets and relatives, and cringing as I waded through so much emotional baggage from my teenage years. Some of it was interesting, but the more I think about it, the more I just want to burn that yellow folder and never look back.

I had a journalism professor in college who implored us to follow a very specific writing style. He said that if you have something you really want to say, it’s like a cute little puppy that you want to coddle and train and sculpt into a loyal and obedient dog. His advice: “drown your puppies.” It may be fun to write and, once you get it right, there’s a chance it’ll be fun to read, but in the meantime, you’re ignoring everything else going on around you and annoying the hell out of everyone around you with your incessant cooing and coddling. Generally, this boils down to the 80-20 rule. 80% of the stuff anyone produces is going to be junk. That’s typically based on the notion that we produce the first thing that comes into our heads. One school of thought on this is if you have 100 things in your head, push past the first 80 that come to you and then start looking at the remaining ideas. It doesn’t mean that those first ideas are inherently crap; it just means that they’re easy, and what is easy is rarely good. Give those ideas time to mature, and they might become useful.

The school of thought that powered this 30-day experiment was to take those half-baked ideas and run with them. They may not be the best, but the point is not to have 30 phenomenal posts; it’s to get into a rhythm, so that when a great idea does come along, the endurance to perfect it is there.

Also, it should be noted that you shouldn’t actually drown any real puppies. What are you, a monster?

Another thing I learned is that I may need to give the blog more direction. Writing every day might have been an easier task if my ideas were all focused in one direction (travel or science fiction or philosophical musings or personal miscellany) instead of being scattered all over the spectrum. With a greater range of choices, I found it much harder to actually choose an idea and take a whole-hearted run at it.

I also simply need more time to write. I juggle writing with a day job, and trying to publish a post per day makes the quality suffer. For example, even though it ranked near the top of my page views, I think the “Guilty Pleasures” post, among others, could have been better if I’d had the time to expand, revisit, and revise (ERR). To ERR is human, and posting first drafts of everything made me feel a little like a machine. Luckily, I had some intelligent and well-read friends who were paying attention and were willing to add content in the comments field.

If I’m going to write about movies, media culture, and literature, I need time to actually consume and digest those things before writing about them. The stuff I did write about was already in my repertoire, but I felt like I used the same examples over and over *cough*StarWars*cough*. So, as I continue, I’ll be giving myself time to watch movies, read comics and books, and dig through the news again. It’s going to be awesome.

One last thing I learned is that stats and page views aren’t as important to me as I thought they’d be. They’re a half-decent indicator of what’s getting read, but with the available tools, comments field aside, there’s no real way to find out why. For all I know, the sheer number of tags on the “Time Capsule” post is what gave it 50% more views than the next most popular post from this 30-day challenge.

In a few days, after a much needed vacation, I’ll be back with something. Until then, have a happy New Year!

Brief: Christmas Traditions

I’m spending this Christmas in the Philippines with my girlfriend and her family. Traditions for these couple of days tend to be fairly similar for those who celebrate, but the differences are what make us who we are.

On Christmas Eve, it is her family’s tradition to go to her grandmother’s house for dinner, sing Christmas carols, and open presents. This year, the routine is slightly modified to accommodate a Secret Santa gift-giving circle that her brother devised for the younger generation, but as a whole it will remain the same. Christmas Day, we’ll be going to mass, having a big breakfast at a restaurant, and coming back to the house to avoid Manila’s infamous traffic and to watch movies.

My family’s tradition has changed quite a bit over the years. It used to be that we would have my grandmother and maybe one or two close friends over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and then there would be drinks for the adults afterward. Over the years, more and more friends found their way to our house until about ten years ago. At that point, my parents couldn’t do dinner for all those people, and just made Christmas Eve a night of drinks and finger foods, including fresh tamales, which they would pick up from various Mexican grocers. At the end of the night, when everyone had gone home, we would put on The Big Lebowski and have one last drink for the night–just the three of us. Now that this thing tends to run later, and my visits home have become rarer, the movie portion has gone away. The night has also changed to the weekend before, so that people don’t have to go visit relatives hungover the next day. Christmas Day has always seen us opening presents while snacking on a small breakfast, and then making our way to my grandmother’s house for a late lunch, which stretches well into dinner time.

Whatever your tradition, if you celebrate, have a Merry Christmas!

See you tomorrow for the final day of the blogging challenge!

SUPER NINJA EXPLOSION BONUS ROUND! FIGHT!

I’m going to leave you, tonight, with a recipe my friend Art shard with me some time ago. It’s Christmassy as hell.

Charles Dickens Punch

  • 1 packed cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups dark rum (Gosling’s or any other black rum works great)
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 4 cups very hot water (not quite boiling)

His instructions:

In a 4-quart saucepan combine the sugar, rum, and the brandy. Warm over low heat. Be sure there’s no exhaust fan running. Light the liquid [on fire, not with a lamp]. When the flames have gone out, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the water. Stir. Cover completely and cook for just a few minutes. Serve warm or over ice.

An addendum:

You don’t really have to light the booze on fire if you don’t want to. It’s dangerous and requires careful attention, since alcohol flames can be hard to see in a well lit room. Not using fire, however, will increase the alcohol content of the punch. Regardless, be very careful. This is strong drink and not for the novice drinker.

A second addendum:

If you like, especially if you didn’t choose to play around with fire, you can mix this concoction with hot, spiced apple cider for a pleasant and less alcoholic holiday quaff. It still may knock you on your ass, though. Just so you know.

Bitches and Media Dickery

I spent last evening drinking with my girlfriend’s extended family. Toward the end of the night, one of her relatives told a story that I’m going to try and reproduce here from memory. It may not be accurate to the letter, but it’s going to be close, and as true to the story as I can get it.

You know, our generation of Filipinos is maybe the last one that speaks fluent English. There’s the accent, of course, but you can tell English is going away when you hear the younger people say one word: confirm. They say con-feerm. I always get this: “confirm” is when you know something, and “con-feerm” is when you really, really know it. But I have to tell them: it’s “confirm.” When something’s solid, it’s not feerm; it’s firm.

Another cousin, a teacher and former journalist, jumped in and added something more:

I hear that. I hear another one, too. Kids are always saying they’re going to go to the bitch. They’ve got a bitch house. This bitch is my favorite. It’s like they’re not listening to what they’re saying. ‘The Philippines has a lot of really nice bitches.’ Well….

I guess I’ll get to see for myself, when the family takes a trip to the bitch after Christmas.

The next item on my list is the article BuzzFeed posted about the whole Justine Sacco debacle. If you want to know about it, read it. My first rule of BuzzFeed is don’t talk about BuzzFeed, and I’m bending that rule enough just by doing a quick meta-analysis. The title of the article is: “This Is How A Woman’s Offensive Tweet Became The World’s Top Story.” AP style gripes notwithstanding, there’s something wrong with this whole concept. I’m not going to go down the journalism ethics road, because BuzzFeed isn’t journalism, but it is, unfortunately, news for a lot of people. I see far more articles from this website re-posted to social media than I see from any of the waning heads of the Fourth Estate. The Boston Globe did put out an interesting article on the Tsarnaev brothers, who were (I think we’re still supposed to use the word “allegedly”) responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombing earlier this year, but articles like it aren’t being produced in volume sufficient to keep pace with the more exciting, short-burst consumption that is BuzzFeed.

What troubles me about this particular article is that it involves at least one of BuzzFeed’s staff. If you’re going to claim that a shitty tweet was the world’s top story, even if the hype flared up and burnt out over the course of a day or two, it would seem like a conflict of interest to have your own people commenting on it and ginning up controversy within the same interactive medium. But again, BuzzFeed isn’t journalism. There is no conflict of interest because it is in their interest to keep page views up. They may not have been the ones to start the fire, but fanning the flames couldn’t hurt if there might be an article in it.

Sometimes, though, wish I had that kind of work ethic.

Just the Tip

As I mentioned early on in this blog, I work customer service for a company in the States. All day long, I watch pizza delivery orders pass through our website, and occasionally, a restaurant will call in to add a tip to an order if the customer waited until the food was delivered, or simply forgot to add one. Typically, anything under $10 gets a $1 tip; $10-$13 gets a $2 tip; $13-$17 gets $3; $18-$24 gets $4, and so on. Generally, Americans are pretty good about giving 15-20%. Some people tip less, some more, depending on service, existing delivery fees, personal budget, and the economy, but almost everyone gives something.

The practice of tipping is so ingrained in American culture that we know exactly who to tip and how much. Like American English, though, there are a ton of exceptions, and you learn them along the way, typically by asking someone else. For example, you tip delivery drivers because they’re bringing food from a restaurant to your home, and you also tip waiters because they’re brining the food from the kitchen to your table, but neither tip the UPS guy nor the person behind the counter for takeout (the latter is actually optional, but most people tip much less than 15%). You tip house movers, tattoo artists, and blackjack dealers, but not tow truck drivers, appliance repairmen, or chefs. Oddly, people tip a bartender, but not a barista. Though I did get some tips when I was a barista, they were nothing compared to a bartender’s tips. Both are mixers and preparers of socially accepted drugs, but one earns the big bucks, relatively speaking.

I don’t know if you’re supposed to tip a prostitute or dominatrix, but I Googled it, and there is a pretty even split on the issue. Some say that the fee is all-inclusive, but others say that if you have a regular girl, you might want to tip. There are other issues, like pimps and pay-as-you-go rackets, and it all gets pretty complex. With dominatrices, however, the split leans more toward tip than don’t tip. Anyway, the point is that it’s kind of willy-nilly. There’s no set of rules for who gets tipped. You just have to know. A good starting point is that if there’s skilled/dirty labor involved, you tip them.

In my experience so far in Southeast Asia, tipping is rarer and at a far reduced percentage than in the States. Leaving a little something, like the odd change from a bill, is fine, but on your receipt, you’ll generally find a 10% service charge already included. Restaurants in the States do this, but generally only for large groups of six or more. Here, even if someone’s doing a dirty or service job for you, you still might not tip them. It is almost wholly dependent on the person, place of business, and region. For instance, everyone I’ve talked to who’s been to Japan and Korea, say that it’s frowned upon as an insult. In Malaysia, it’s more accepted, but I’ve tipped two people at the same place and been met with two different reactions. And once, I tried to tip a guy and he just stormed off. Lesson learned. I haven’t had the opportunity to tip here in the Philippines, but I’ve been told that while it’s not frowned upon, it’s not really a thing; there’s no set percentage, and people tend to give a few coins or whatever they feel is appropriate.

Americans are so used to tipping that when, in places like Boston that are saturated with college students from around the globe, we don’t get tipped or see someone not getting tipped, we lose our minds. For the most part, we treat service jobs as lower class or a transition from one place to another in life. A job as a waitress might be a way to get through college, or it might be a way to work your way up to management, where you get paid enough not to need tips. It’s kind of a trial by fire. In one sense, tips, in the American experience, are a way of encouraging excellent performance through incentive–positive reenforcement. In another sense, it’s a way of motivating people upward, through the knowledge that because they rely on tips to survive, they are the lowest on the heap and need to fight their way up. Bootstraps, or whatever. But philosophy aside, tips are a way of supplementing employees’ meager wages in an industry that can’t afford to provide for its own people. At least in America.

The Philippines: First Night, First Impressions

After a long day of travel and several drinks, I groused that I wanted to postpone the last five days of this 30-day blogging challenge until the Christmas festivities are over, but was told in return–in no uncertain terms–that I was to finish this thing and not make excuses. No rest for the wicked. So let’s start toward the top of this travel experience, and then get to the Philippines, because chronology.

A couple months ago, I posted about a taxi driver, Mr. Zain, who defied the laws of gods and men to get us to the LCCT airport a full half hour before reasonable expectations. Today, he chopped at least another fifteen minutes off that journey. At one point, I could swear that the tires left the road ever so briefly as we crested the top of a rise. As gravity yanked us back from our flight of fantasy, I felt my internal organs rise in my chest cavity. Part of the experience is a bit melancholy. In another life, this guy would be a fighter pilot or captain of a rocket to the moon. But we only get the one, and looking back at the choices we could have made and the decisions we should have reconsidered can only cause grief.

In the car I heard a cover of a pop song that I’ve probably hear a few dozen times, but oddly I can’t put a name to it. The only reason I mention this is because it was a mariachi version in Tamil. Perhaps the mind-destroying combination is what is preventing me from remembering the name of the song.

At the airport, it took us about a long time to find the place where we needed to check in, because, of course, there were no signs up. The counter itself wasn’t even labeled. We ended up finding it by locating the long, snaking line of Filipinos. Once we checked in, we found one of my girlfriend’s colleagues, who is also spending the holiday in Manila. As we sat, waiting for our delayed flight, the following exchange took place:

Lucy: “What’s the difference between Asia Air and Asia Air Zest?”

Emmett: “About an hour and a half wait, apparently.”

Lucy: “More time in the airport!”

Indeed.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been working my way through Asimov’s Foundation, but with maybe twenty minutes a night to read before sleep overtakes me, I hadn’t made much progress. But I got a ton of time to read on the plane, and it seems that Hardin’s headed to Anacreon, and shit’s getting real.

As a welcome to the Philippines, we were taken directly off the plane, put onto buses, driven twenty-five yards and then deposited in front of the gate.

I was told that traffic round Manila was going to be insane, especially so close to Christmas, and that it’d probably take at least an hour to get to my girlfriend’s parents’ place, but not including a stop for petrol, it took twenty minutes. When we were in the car, I was taking some video on an iPhone (which I can’t/haven’t uploaded yet) when someone exclaimed, “Look at that traffic!” and pointed out of the left side of the car.

“That’s a parking lot!” I said, and then realized that I was taking video of an actual parking lot. It was not a proud moment. Still, the traffic was pretty gnarly.

Speaking of gnarly, the internet is spotty, so hopefully I’ll get a post out tomorrow, let alone show up for work.

Off to the Philippines

Tomorrow, it’s off to the Philippines with me.

I’m looking forward to getting away, but there’s something weird about celebrating a winter holiday in a place that doesn’t get winter. (Obviously, it gets plenty of other awful weather, but this isn’t a meteorology blog, so I’m not really going to go there unless it’s relevant.) We did see some Noble Firs for sale, at over $100US for one six feet tall. They’re imported, like so many other goods and services around here. It’s a step price, but if you’re serious about getting a Christmas tree it’s not a bad deal. I suggested, once or twice, that we could decorate a ficus or fern, but the idea was vetoed. Some things, it seems, are better imported.

Take vodka, or any spirits, really. After looking at the vodkas and rums for sale at the grocery, and seeing prices of 100RM (about $33US) or more, I thought that maybe I could look at the bargain rum for 39RM (about $11US). You can buy dirt cheap booze in the United States, and it’s typically fine for mixing. Not here. My 39RM bottle of rum tasted like the bathtub it was probably distilled in. A little cola, and it was palatable, so I thought nothing of it. A week ago, I had one shot of equally cheap vodka, again mixed into cola, and almost instantly became incoherent. In the morning, I woke up feeling like someone had beaten me with a sock full of nickels. Whatever was in that bottle was not vodka. Wood varnish, maybe. Rubbing alcohol, likely. This is apparently not an uncommon mistake, and it can end badly. I was lucky to have a brutal hangover, but I have heard accounts of people ending up in the hospital from drinking liquor laced with a little too much methyl alcohol.

Anyway, this was a post about heading to the Philippines. The next post will be from there.

Tilt-Shift

Christmas came a few days early this year. My girlfriend weebled and wobbled, but couldn’t couldn’t wait six days. In a bag, weighing about as much as a brick was a brand new tilt-shift lens.

She complained that my response to the gift was not as enthusiastic as it could have been, but to be honest, I think I was just in shock. I’ve always wanted one of these, but have no idea how to use one. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have been messing around with it and already come up with some pretty good shots.

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_MG_3063Even without using the tilt-shift portions, the picture quality is astounding. It is necessarily a manual focus lens, so it won’t replace my 50mm f1.8 (the “plastic fantastic”) for general purpose shooting–t least, not all the time.

From what I can tell after watching a couple online tutorials and messing around with the lens a bit is that the purpose of the tilt and shift mechanisms is to alter the depth of field and focus points. This allows for some corrections in perspective (parallel lines and whatnot) and some interesting distortions of perspective. Currently, I’m not sure what the difference is, usage-wise, between my 45mm and, say, a wider-angle 24mm. In either case, I’m going to learn a lot more about photography in general, just by figuring out how this lens works. And as far as my photos are concerned, it’s going to be a gift that keeps on giving.

_MG_3073