Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Class of '08

I've always wanted to do one of those year-end retrospective posts that are so popular in this here blogosphere, but I'm too darned lazy to go back and read every post I wrote during the past twelve months, just to find the ones I liked the best.

That is, I used to be too darned lazy.

I made it easier on myself by not writing hardly at all during the entire month of July. In those times when I was keeping abreast of my bloggery duty, I spun the following gems.Happy New Year, friend reader. Thank you for hanging out here throughout 2008. Let's hope 2009 is a better year for all of us.

Well, except for that Obama thing.

Because that couldn't get much better, really.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reindeer on my rooftop

If I were jolly old Kris Kringle (and not just a guy shaped like him), and had a bottomless bag filled with infinite magic, I'd give everyone what they really want for Christmas...
  • For President-elect Obama: Wisdom and patience. And especially, the patience to wait for wisdom.

  • For Rhodester, Sean, and millions like them: New jobs.

  • For Damon: Completion and delivery of a certain long-overdue art commission.

  • For Bob Almond: Tired brushes.

  • For Alicia: A new lower 48.

  • For Shelby: Sunbeams and rainbows, and a lifetime to chase them.

  • For Donna: Italian dinner.

  • For Shelli: Peanut butter.

  • For Eugene: The head of Charles I.

  • For Bruce Bochy: Two young studs who can hit both for average and power, at least one of whom plays first base.

  • For Mike Singletary: A shredder for his "interim" tag.

  • For Don Nelson: A one-way ticket to Maui.

  • For Dr. Greg Lyne: Another gold medal before retirement. Maybe two.

  • For Chelle: A new dog.

  • For Janet: Anything but a new dog.

  • For Sank: A shot at being Supreme Bodacious Armadillo, or whatever it is that they call the head guy in his Masonic lodge.

  • For The Real Sam Johnson: A new kidney.

  • For Ferrett: A case of those disgusting Jones Sodas. For him, that's actually a good thing.

  • For all of my voiceover buds: A case of Throat Coat tea.

  • For KM: A real live horse of her own, and the wherewithal to feed, stable, and ride it for the next 20 years.

  • For KJ, and for Maria, and for Sonja, and for everyone else in the world who desperately needs it: A cure.
Sad to say, I am not Santa Claus. Nor was meant to be.

The only gift I can give you all is this...

I love you.

Merry Christmas.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

So bubalah, save the last levivah for me

Here's a warm wish for a joy-filled Hanukkah for all of my Jewish friends and blogosphere buds (you know who you are — if I start rattling off names, I'll be in trouble with the one person I forget), as they begin celebrating the Festival of Lights this evening at sunset.

May your menorah burn brightly, and surround you and your family with the light of love and life.

It would be a real mitzvah if you kept the blintzes warm for your goyische brother until I get there. And don't bogart all the cherries.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chip and a chair, baby!

Online Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

The WBCOOP is an online Poker tournament open to all Bloggers.

Registration code: 530517

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five questions

If you stop by here frequently, you may have noticed that I rarely do memes. In 1,600 posts over four and a half years, I think I've done maybe three.

Let's make it four.

Adam Avitable posted his version of "Five Questions" shortly before Thanksgiving. The idea of the meme is this: Someone asks you five questions of his or her choosing. As the participant, you agree to answer the five questions on your own blog (with a link back to your interviewer). In turn, you offer to create a unique five-part questionnaire for another volunteer or group of volunteers. Adam collected more than 50 willing interview subjects, of which I am one.

So, off we go.

1. Where did the name SwanShadow come from, and did anyone suggest that it's a bit of a feminine name?

That's really two questions, but in for a penny, in for a pound.

My official SwanShadow story goes like this: As a freelance copywriter and editor, I work in anonymity. When I write ad copy or sales letters or radio spots or any of the other folderol I'm paid to create, I rarely get a byline or credit. Indeed, I often work for clients who prefer that I don't acknowledge, even on my own site, that I'm the person who does their writing, or the writing for the companies they represent. Thus, I work in the shadows. It's my job to take other people's ugly-duckling brands, concepts, and sales prose, and transform them into beautiful swans.

The truth, however, is that I created the SwanShadow handle years before I hung out my freelance shingle. Its true significance is known only to me.

But the other thing's my official story, and as far as the public is concerned, I'm sticking to it.

As for the femininity angle, I get that on rare occasion — most often from other players at online poker tables. I must confess that it never occurred to me before I started using the name.

I don't think of swans as female, particularly, if I think of them in terms of gender at all. In Greek mythology, Zeus took the form of a swan when he impregnated Leda (whether by force or by seduction depends on whose version of the myth you believe). The title character in Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling — which inspired my "official" explanation — is also male. Then again, Odette in Swan Lake is a princess.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

2. Marvel or DC? Corollary: Who's your favorite artist?

Again with the two-fer! Curse you, Avitable!

When I was a comics-reading kid growing up, it was definitely Marvel. I read just about everything DC published, of course, when my friends weren't looking. But if I had to choose up sides, I was a Marvelite to the core. I belonged to both of Marvel's official fan clubs, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and its successor, FOOM (Friends of Ol' Marvel). Marvel's heroes were the ones I identified with most closely, and that I cared the most about.

These days, my reading list is much closer to 50-50. I think of it this way: I read Marvel for its connection to my history, and DC for its present reality.

My favorite artist depends on the period:
  • Golden Age: Matt Baker (Phantom Lady), Lou Fine (The Ray), Mac Raboy (Captain Marvel Jr.), and Lee Elias (The Black Cat).
  • Silver Age: John Buscema (Thor, Conan), John Romita Sr. (Amazing Spider-Man), and Jim Aparo (The Brave and the Bold).
  • Bronze Age: Barry Windsor-Smith (Conan) and Keith Pollard (pretty much everything at Marvel).
  • Modern Age: George Pérez (Wonder Woman), Adam Hughes (Wonder Woman, again), Mark Schultz (Xenozoic Tales, a.k.a. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs), and the recently departed Dave Stevens (The Rocketeer) and Mike Wieringo (Fantastic Four).
But if I had to pick one artist from all of comics history? That's easy — Will Eisner.

3. What's your favorite writing achievement?

I'm tempted to say this blog, because so much of my heart and soul lies bare on these virtual pages.

But instead, I'm going to point to the 146 film and television reviews I wrote for DVD Verdict during my five years as a staff member there. It was mentally and creatively challenging work, and I enjoyed it thoroughly — even when reviewing Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks that were so wretched, I could feel my brain cells decaying as I watched them.

If there were unlimited hours in the day and my body never required sleep, I'd still be writing for the Verdict.

4. Do you think that blogging is just lazy writing?

Perish the thought. No writing is lazy writing. Lazy writers don't write.

I will admit to being frustrated with writers — bloggers and otherwise — who don't take every opportunity to write as well as they can. If you're going to write at all, even if it's "just a blog," why not give it your best effort? Use and spell words correctly. Write coherently, and mostly in complete sentences. Share original thoughts, at least to the degree that any thought is "original," rather than simply parroting what you've read elsewhere.

Life's too short to write badly.

But it's especially too short not to write at all.

5. Is Alex Trebek really as obnoxious in person as he seems on TV?

If I had an FAQ on this blog, this question would be on it. Heck, if I had an FAQ for my life, this question would be on it.

Although I've played eleven games on Jeopardy! and its associated tournaments during the past 20 years, I don't really know Alex Trebek. With a single exception I will address in a moment, all of my interaction with Alex has been on the set of Jeopardy! during the course of game play or the post-program chat that takes place while the show's credits roll. Alex has always been polite and personable toward me in those circumstances. (Though he did call me by another contestant's name when I won my quarter-final game in the 1988 Tournament of Champions. I've long since forgiven him for that faux pas. Sort of.)

When I was first on the show in '88, Alex was not only the host of Jeopardy!, but was also the show's producer. Back then, he had numerous other responsibilities on taping days besides just running the game on camera. In the years since he gave up the producer's job (which has been assayed ever since by the guy who used to be Alex's assistant, a model of level-headed efficiency named Rocky Schmidt), Alex has appeared more relaxed, and less harried and abrupt, when I've been on the set.

Or maybe he's just matured as he's aged.

The one occasion I've been around Alex off-camera was in 1997, when I participated in a special one-game Jeopardy! event called Battle of the Bay Area Brains. My wife, daughter, and I were invited to a reception following the taping. Alex took time to be both congenial and kind to my then-eight-year-old daughter, and signed several autographs for her.

I guess the short answer (if it's not already too late for that) is that Alex has always been fine with me. Mrs. Trebek may tell an entirely different tale.

Those are my five questions. If you're a regular here — or even if you're just a-passin' through — and would like me to interview you, here's the official "Five Questions" boilerplate:
Want to be part of it? Follow these instructions:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
In the spirit of Mr. Avitable, I'll interview as many of you as volunteer. (I can make that commitment safely, knowing that I'm nowhere near as popular as Adam is.)

Thanks to Avitable for the excellent questions!

Even if there really were seven.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

I'm a Funny Book Fanatic!

But then, you knew that. Especially if you drop around here on the sixth day of every week, when we celebrate Comic Art Fridays.

Today, however, we here at SSTOL are honored — and more than a mite humbled — to be recognized as Funny Book Fanatic's Blog of the Week.

Surprised, too, given that we deal with a diversity of pop culture whiz-bang here, and focus on comics and our lifelong affection for them only on Fridays. We're tickled by the notoriety, nonetheless.

Funny Book Fanatic was launched recently by comics industry veteran Dave Olbrich, who was founder and publisher of the late, much-lamented Malibu Comics for nearly a decade in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dave was also one of the leading lights behind the development of the Eisner Awards, the comic book industry's annual equivalent to the Oscars. Therefore, the fact that our little effort here even landed on Dave's radar is wicked cool.

Then again, I love comics, and I attended college in Malibu. So I guess all of this serendipity makes some kind of cosmic sense.

In his blog post, Dave makes particular mention of our "Common Elements" commission series, with which Comic Art Friday regulars are familiar. It's only fitting that we flash back to this Common Elements creation by Darick Robertson, which features one of Malibu Comics' biggest stars, The Night Man, in pitched battle with Marvel's Night Thrasher. (Darick co-created The Night Man, and drew an extended run of New Warriors, starring Night Thrasher, back in the early '90s.)

Thanks to Dave Olbrich for the publicity and the ego-boo. Please be so kind as to check out Dave's Funny Book Fanatic, and dig the wealth of comics insider lore that's to be enjoyed there.

If you, too, are a funny book fanatic, it's a must-read.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I'm the third monkey

I just received this bulletin from KCBS News Radio via Twitter:
BREAKING NEWS: School for the blind and deaf in Fremont is on lockdown right now while police search for armed suspects in the area.
My first reaction to this headline: I wonder whether the police are asking the students, "Did anyone see or hear anything?"

Does this make me a bad person?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Seven argument foods: North Bay edition

A while back, Mark Evanier offered the observation that there are seven foods that immediately engender impassioned argument whenever gourmands debate the question, "Where can you get the best...?"
  1. Hamburgers
  2. Pizza
  3. Chinese food
  4. Barbecue
  5. Philly cheesesteaks
  6. Hot dogs
  7. Clam chowder
I've been pondering Mark's list for the past several days. Now, I'm prepared to take a stab at starting a food fight.

Hamburgers. I'm not a serious burger connoisseur. In fact, I'd never order one in a restaurant unless it was the only item on the menu. But if I had a sudden craving for a steaming slab of ground cow, I'd go to Mike's at the Crossroads in Cotati. Mike's serves ginormous, sloppy gutbusters made from Harris Ranch beef, with a sumptuous array of fixings. For years, Mike's gimmick was that they didn't serve French fries. ("Mike don't like 'em," went the tagline.) Now that original owner Mike Condrin has sold the joint, you can get fries one day each week, I'm told.

Pizza. Around here, there's only one contender: Mary's Pizza Shack, a local chain that makes truly awesome pizza. The problem with Mary's pizza is that it doesn't travel well. The thin crust gets soggy quickly, so it's a poor choice for takeout. (We usually opt for Round Table, the big West Coast chain, if we're taking pizza home.) But if you're going to hang out in a pizza joint and eat off plates with a knife and fork, Mary's your girl.

Chinese food. Like most places in California, we have Chinese restaurants on practically every corner. The best in the area, however, isn't in town — it's twenty miles down the freeway in Novato. Jennie Low's, located in the Vintage Oaks shopping center on U.S. 101 in north Marin, serves some of the most sublime Chinese food I've eaten. And I've eaten a small planet in Chinese. Jennie opened a second location in Petaluma last year, but I haven't yet tried that one.

Barbecue. For whatever reason, great barbecue joints don't last long in this foodie mecca. Three excellent places — Richardson's Ribs, Pack Jack BBQ, and Terry's — have all gone the way of the passenger pigeon in recent years. The best of what's left is Porter Street Barbeque (yeah, that's how they spell it) in Cotati. Porter Street does a very nice job with ribs and tri-tip, though I've noticed the quality isn't quite as consistent since their cook passed away suddenly a few years back.

Philly cheesesteaks. Outside of the big chain sandwich shops like Quizno's, I don't know of any place around here that specializes in cheesesteaks, other than a vendor at the Sonoma County Fair that offers a decent version for two weeks every summer. If I were dying for authentic cheesesteak, I'd drive down to the East Bay and sniff out an outlet of a local chain called The Cheesesteak Shop. I've eaten on several occasions at their Pleasanton location, and it's the real deal.

Hot dogs. For me, there's only one place to eat a hot dog, and that's at a baseball game. The concession stands at AT&T Park in San Francisco serve as good a frankfurter as one could ask. Usually, though, I opt for either the Polish sausage or the Louisiana hot links. Both are outstanding. If you insist on sticking with the traditional, you can't go wrong with the standard Giants Dog.

Clam chowder. When you live less than an hour's drive (in non-commute traffic) from San Francisco, the West Coast capital of clam chowder, this one's a tough call. I guess I'll have to vote for Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay. It's been quite a while since we've eaten there, but I recall the clam chowder with particular fondness.

Them's my choices. Let the chow-slinging begin!

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's Up With That? #66: Design on a Dyme

This apparently happened several months ago, but I first read about it yesterday over at Rocketship of the Mind (thanks, Sean!). So it's not really news, but if I'm just now hearing about it, it's news to me, right?

My wife KJ loves watching the endless array of home improvement programs on HGTV. One of her favorite shows there is Design on a Dime, in which teams of interior decorators reinvent rooms in people's homes using a maximum budget of $1,000. (I know, they should have entitled it Design on a Grand. Don't ask me why they didn't.)

At least, KJ used to enjoy that show until a year or two ago, when several of the featured designers were replaced with newer talent whom she didn't like as well.

Now, I've come to find out that one of Design on a Dime's former stars, one-time Disney Imagineer Lee Snijders, has embarked on a new career... a purveyor of Internet pornography.

Lee and his paramour, a porn star-turned-photographer who goes by the name Jett Angel (I say "goes by the name" because I'm making the not-too-audacious leap of logic that there isn't a Mr. and Mrs. Angel somewhere in the American heartland who named their offspring Jett, thereby predestining her to a future in adult entertainment) have launched a Web portal called Goth Rock Girls, which according to a published press release, is:
an 'all-girl' punk rock porn site shot in hi-definition with a high end 'reality' format that shows the two producers as a power couple who bring these girls to life as they hold their cameras and direct the action.
Which is probably more than you wanted to know.

One can only wonder what thought process would take a guy from successful ventures in amusement park design, domicile decor, and mainstream cable television to creating... well... whatever that description was in the preceding paragraph. Fortunately, Snijders hastens to explain:
I tried to continue my relationship with HGTV by pitching them show ideas, but unfortunately they were not interested and the company did not renew my contract. I found myself auditioning for design shows with models and actors posing as designers while my competitors got their own shows on HGTV. With the housing market crash and being stereotyped as a budget designer, I stayed flexible, open minded, and moved on.
That's quite a move, all right.

I'm hoping that Lee didn't intend "flexible" as a double entendre. Then again, perhaps he did.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What's Up With That? #64: What, me read?

In an interview aired last evening on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin either couldn't or wouldn't give a specific answer to Couric's question about the news sources she reads. Here's the exchange:
Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
I'm guessing that the governor wasn't certain whether Field & Stream, Guns & Ammo, The Hockey News, and Pageantry qualified as "news sources."

In the interest of full disclosure — and in the event that I am ever called upon to serve as the Vice President of the United States — my campaign is releasing the following list of online news sources I check regularly. I don't read everything on these sites — who has that kind of time? — but I do scan all of the headlines, and read each article that seems pertinent to me.
  • SFGate, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle, is the first site I review every day.

  • For world and national news, I read The New York Times and the network news sites, in order of preference: MSNBC, CBS News, CNN, ABC News, and FOX News.

  • For Sonoma County news, there's the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (which, continuing the full-disclosure theme, is owned by the New York Times) and our homegrown alternative weekly, the North Bay Bohemian.

  • For political updates, I'll check Politico. I don't read a lot of political blogs, but my daily review includes The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and yes, The Drudge Report, because everything's better with cheese.

  • For an aggregate sampling of everything — but mostly for entertainment, pop culture, and just plain bizarre news that I might never ferret out or stumble upon otherwise — I use TotalFARK, the expanded, subscription-only edition of
I'm SwanShadow, and I approve this message.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wall Street wreck

Tempted though I am to post something perspicacious yet hilarious about the current Wall Street debacle and the government's ill-conceived attempt to (mis)manage it... friends Mark Evanier and Eugene Finerman have already the work for me.

Click over to Mark's repurposed "Uncle Scam" (Mark didn't write this, but he was savvy enough to pass it along) and Eugene's "The Bear Market of A.D. 455" and "Robbing Peter to Pay Paulson" to inject your recommended daily allowance of well-observed political humor.

We simply can't get this administration out of office soon enough... without replacing them with more of the McSame.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Dance like an Egyptian

As the late, great Jim McKay might have said...

"What in The Wide World of Sports happened to my week?"

All of a sudden, it's another Comic Art Friday, and I haven't posted one doggoned thing since last Friday.

I'm falling down on my blogging responsibilities. It's a crying shame.

Oh, well. I'll do better next week.

Moving on...

Without question, nostalgia plays an essential role in comic art collecting. I know every few, if indeed any, collectors in the hobby who weren't avid comic book readers in their youth. (I know plenty of comic art collectors who are not comic readers today, which says more about the present state of the mainstream comics industry than almost anything else I can name.)

As we've seen on the two most recent Comic Art Fridays, my nostalgia for my comic-geek childhood and my fond recollections of other aspects of popular culture that I experienced during my formative years frequently intersect in my art collection.

Take, for example, my Isis gallery.

I love the classic Saturday morning TV show The Secrets of Isis — produced by Filmation, and starring the ineffably sublime JoAnna Cameron in the title role. The Secrets of Isis is the only television series for which I own all of the episodes on DVD. (And yes, I actually break down and watch a couple of eps whenever the Isis jones overtakes me.)

Isis's September 1975 premiere made her the first superheroine in TV history to headline her own weekly series — Wonder Woman debuted two months later; The Bionic Woman, the following January. You know I'm all about the superheroines. One might even say that I have a superheroine addiction.

Which creates the perfect segue into today's featured artwork.

The pencil art of Mike Vosburg graced seven of the eight issues of the Isis comic book, which DC Comics published during the TV show's tenure (1976-77). Mike has also drawn dozens of other properties during his 35-year career in comics, most notably DC's Starfire (which Mike co-created) and Marvel's She-Hulk and G.I. Joe. These days, in addition to his various illustrating projects, Mike is much sought after as a storyboard artist for motion pictures and television. He storyboarded the first film in the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and is currently at work on the third film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I had the opportunity to meet Mike at WonderCon back in February, and found him a most congenial gentleman. We even talked a bit about Isis — how could we not? Some months later, I received an e-mail from a fellow comic art collector who's helping Mike promote his new limited-edition sketchbook — cleverly titled Heroine Addiction (now you get the connection) — and sell the original artwork featured in the book. Mike's friend, knowing my passion for all things Isis, thought I might like to own the Isis drawing Mike created for Heroine Addiction. Again, how could I not?

Mike even personalized the art for me, and included a gratis copy of his sketchbook. Isis and her dancing partners (Mike's a cat fancier, hence Isis's feline companion) are now proudly hanging on my office wall, even as I type.

If you'd like to view more of Mike Vosburg's work, and perhaps score a little Heroine Addiction for yourself, check out his Web site. You can tell Mike your Uncle Swan sent you.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

More blogging next week. Scout's honor.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's April Madness!

Over at The Nexus of Improbability, the Mysterious Cloaked Figure (or MCF, as I like to call him — he's the artist who designed the current SSTOL header graphic) is hosting a bracket-style popularity face-off between 16 of his favorite blogs. Your Uncle Swan is humbled to be included in MCF's Sweet 16.

Personally, I think comparing one blog to another is a bit like arguing whether thin crust is fundamentally superior to deep dish, or debating the merits of Star Trek: The Next Generation versus Deep Space Nine.

Since, however, this is all in good sporting fun, why not drop over to MCF's place and check out all of the contestants? You may discover at least one new favorite blog for your reading enjoyment.

And if you're inclined to toss your Uncle Swan a Milk-Bone, you'll find SSTOL in bracket slot #8.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Playing catch-up

I apologize for the paucity of posts this week. What with KJ's return from her lengthy hospital stay, plus a flood of business-related projects, blogging time has been nigh onto nonexistent.

But fear not, friend reader. Your Uncle Swan has been taking faithful note of the happenings of these past days, and plans to deliver his customary pithy commentary on these goings-on over the weekend. So be sure to drop around.

In the meantime, Grasshopper, be patient.

While you're waiting for maximum bloggage...

Starbucks' special of the month is a delightful Guatemalan coffee called Casi Cielo. It's a little bit citrus, a little bit chocolate, and a veritable cornucopia of coffee flavor. I'm quaffing a cup even as I type, and man, is it ever yummy.

I highly recommend that you bop down to the House of the Green Mermaid — you know it's never more than two minutes away — and grab a pound of this rich caffeinated treat. Uncle Swan gives this one five big tailfeathers out of a possible five. (And no, I don't work for Starbucks. I just dig great coffee.)

Remember: The Swan loves you.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Eight years of News From ME

Happy blogiversary to writer, humorist, and all-around good guy Mark Evanier, whose celebrated blog, News From ME, marks its eighth year of existence today.

Mark's blog was the first I ever read on a regular basis. My enjoyment of his daily — and usually, several times daily — jottings helped inspired the genesis of SSTOL, some three and a half years ago.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mark's oeuvre, suffice it to say that his nearly 40-year career writing for television and comics spans more credits than your average small-town phone book. For the small screen, Mark has written hundreds of sitcoms (everything from Welcome Back, Kotter to Bob, in which Bob Newhart played a comic book artist), variety shows (including That's Incredible! and the infamous Pink Lady and Jeff), and animated series (he was the producer and chief writer of Garfield and Friends, among numerous others).

In the comics world, Mark broke in as an assistant to the beyond-legendary Jack Kirby. Although he's written all kinds of comics, from superhero (DNAgents) to adventure (Blackhawk) to just plain fun (Scooby-Doo), Mark is best known as the cocreator, with artist Sergio Aragonés, of the hilarious sword-and-sorcery spoof Groo the Wanderer, about a Conanesque barbarian who loves fighting and cheese dip. (You had to be there.)

Mark and Sergio are currently teaming up to write the further adventures of Will Eisner's The Spirit, following an epic run by cartoonist Darwyn Cooke. I've met both Mark and Sergio at various comic conventions in recent years. Two nicer gentlemen you will not find, in any industry. (Sergio Aragonés is, in my never-humble opinion, one of the funniest human beings on the planet, on paper and in real life.)

If you're not already making a daily pilgrimage to News From ME, drop around and check out Mark's musings. Because Mark is one of the leading lights in the Writers Guild of America, his blog is your best source of ongoing information about the WGA strike. It's also just a wonderful read.

Here's to eight more years, Mark — and eighteen more after that!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Nes gadol haya sham!

It's almost sunset here on the Left Coast, so...

Happy Hanukkah to all of my friends and readers of the Jewish faith! (Or of Jewish heritage, if faith isn't your bag.) That includes — but certainly isn't limited to — Sank, Max (my brother from another mother), Eugene, Leah, Bruce, Marc, JK, and anyone else I may be forgetting at the moment.

Spin the sevivon for your goyische Uncle Swan one time, and keep your doggoned hands off my chocolate gelt.

Would someone pass me the sufganiyot, please?

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Just another meme on Monday

The meme fairy must have been busy lately, because I got tagged with two today.

One I addressed privately (thanks, Donna; I'll have Santa drop a lump of coal in your stocking in exchange), but since the other came via MCF, and I owe him a solid for creating my spiffy new header graphic, I'll suck it up and deal.

Here's the premise: Take a list of characteristics that, according to some astrologer somewhere, are supposed to pertain to people born in your birth month, and evaluate which ones apply to you and which do not.

I was born in December — I'll be accepting gifts and well-wishes on the 19th — so here's my list. Bold text is "yes, that describes me," strike-through is "no, I'm nothing like that."
  • Loyal and generous. I can be either or both, when it suits me.
  • Sexy. Not according to People Magazine, but I think I've got skills.
  • Patriotic. Not especially. I think it's arrogant to be fanatical about something you didn't have anything to do with, such as the country where you were born.
  • Active in games and interactions. Does Jeopardy! count? Because otherwise, no.
  • Impatient and hasty. That's the ADD talking.
  • Ambitious. Not even remotely. I am the least career-driven, workaholic individual you're likely to encounter.
  • Influential in organizations. Usually beyond my desire. I'm a lousy team player. I prefer to control my area of expertise, and to be left alone to do it.
  • Fun to be with. With the right person, and when I feel like it.
  • Loves to socialize. I am the poster child for antisociality.
  • Loves praises. Sure, but who doesn't? Does anyone really enjoy criticism?
  • Loves attention. Ditto.
  • Loves to be loved. Triple ditto.
  • Honest and trustworthy. Far less than you'd think. Then again, if I'm being honest in admitting to being dishonest, what does that tell you? And how would you know, anyway?
  • Not pretending. All the world's a stage. And Uncle Swan, merely a player.
  • Short tempered. It takes quite a charge to make me angry. Which is good, because you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
  • Changing personality. I've grown older and perhaps wiser, but I don't believe my personality has changed in any fundamental way since I was in grade school.
  • Not egotistic. I laugh at this one. I was raised an only child in an emotionally distant family. I am the very definition of self-importance. Why do you think I blog?
  • Take high pride in oneself. See above.
  • Hates restrictions. I'm pretty risk-averse for the most part. I like knowing where the boundaries are.
  • Loves to joke. A priest, a rabbi, and Tom Cruise walk into a bar...
  • Good sense of humor. I'll leave it to the reader to determine whether the adjective "good" applies.
  • Logical. I tend to think in circuitous patterns. It's often not the logic that others would understand or appreciate — which is why I tend to see angles and possibilities that most people don't — but it's internally logical.
So there you have it. Roughly 50/50.

For the record, I believe the astrology is the worst kind of scam — it's pseudoreligion, designed to Hoover money out of the pockets of the weak-brained and gullible.

A simple demonstration: I remember seeing this news story years ago on ABC. Investigative reporter John Stossel handed a roomful of people, all with differing birth dates, written personality profiles that were supposed to be based on their horoscopes. When Stossel asked the participants how many of their profiles reflected their true personalities, about 90 percent raised their hands. Stossel then instructed the participants to exchange profiles with the person seated next to them.

You guessed it: They all received the exact same profile.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A fresh coat of paint

Hey, everybody, check out that snazzy new header!

The Mysterious Cloaked Figure — one of our blogosphere buddies lo, these many moons — recently applied his considerable talents in graphic design to the SSTOL brand and came up with this classy new banner. Thanks from the bottom of Uncle Swan's downy little heart, MCF!

If you're not already reading MCF's Nexus of Improbability, you should be. Get your britches on over there and show the MCF some love, will you, please?

Which reminds me...

I'm updating my blogroll over the next couple of weeks, deleting some of the links that have given up the ghost (or at least have stopped updating regularly) and adding some new folks whose work I'm currently enjoying. If you know of a blog I ought to check out — yours, or someone else's — drop me a note and clue me in about it.

I'm interested in all sorts of subject matter, as long as the content is cogent, lively, and well-written. Pop culture snark is SSTOL's primary stock in trade, but I dig other bloggy flavors also. Hit me with your best linkage!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Twitter me this, Batman

I keep forgetting to mention this, but I now have a Twitter account.

For those of you who don't keep current with happenings on these here Internets, Twitter can best be described as a microblog. It allows the user to post short messages of 140 characters or less. The blurbs can either be accessed at the main Twitter site, or subscribed via text message, or appended to the sidebar of a standard blog, as I've done here.

Most people, apparently, use their Twitter accounts to keep their friends up to date on the minutiae of their lives: "Eating dinner. The creamed spinach is excellent." "Watching CSI. I miss Sara already." "Sitting on the toilet with my laptop." (Twitter actually encourages this sort of banal folderol by labeling its input box, "What are you doing?")

Instead, I intend to use my Twitter presence to record the frequent one-liners, bon mots, and random inane jottings that spring nonstop from my fevered imagination, but aren't substantial enough to warrant an entire post here on SSTOL. Some of you may find these bursts of brain-babble amusing, or evidence of mental illness, or both.

Look to the right of your screen, just below my profile and homepage links. The caption that says, "Swan's All A-Twitter"? There you go: the five most recent notations I've made. If you want to catch up on anything you've missed, click the link entitled, "Follow the Swan on Twitter."

Don't ever tell me that I don't strive to offer value around this joint.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

The Swan Tunes In: Super Bowl ads

For those of us mortals who look forward to the Super Bowl more eagerly for the commercials than for the game, Super Bowl Extra-Large-Plus-One came something of a cropper. This wasn't exactly a stellar year for the ad agencies, who annually bring out the big guns for the Big Game. I'd forgotten most of the spots already by the time I sat down to compose this post. Lucky for you, I took notes.

As an advertising copywriter, I tend to view the splashier commercials with a gimlet eye. A commercial should have as its primary aim two goals: (1) imbedding the sponsor's brand inescapably in the mind of the viewer, and (2) fostering an intense desire to purchase the sponsor's product or service. An ad that accomplishes either goal has earned its money. One that does both is golden.

Sad to say, most of the Super Bowl spots focus on a third objective: entertainment. The problem is that entertainment is the job of programming -- in this case, the football game. If all an ad does is entertain the audience, without selling either the brand or the product or both, it might as well be a show, and not an ad. Few things are a more pointless waste of money and creativity than a clever commercial that everyone in America talks about, but no one can recall who the advertiser was or what product they were selling. You might as well set three million dollars (production cost plus airtime) on fire.

So let's examine a random sampling of Super Bowl commercials using the SwanShadow Scale of Advertising Effectiveness (a maximum of ten tailfeathers possible):

Pizza Hut: Jessica Simpson bolts the red carpet for some Cheesy Bites.
I have no love for Jessica Simpson — an unattractive, talent-free bimbo, in my not-so-humble estimation — nor for Pizza Hut, which serves the nastiest pizza of any of the major chains. This ad, however, does a good job of reinforcing the brand, and making the product seem appealing. Seven tailfeathers.

Blockbuster: The Blockbuster bunny and gerbil attempt to order videos using a mouse. The furry kind.
One of the more memorable and effective spots of the day. The mouse gag makes a strong mental connection with the online service. More importantly, the spot breaks away from the humor to solidify the sales pitch, rather than trying to make the gimmick do all the heavy lifting. Nine tailfeathers.

Doritos: A guy and girl meet disastrously cute.
Clever idea — this was an amateur submission generated by a "make your own Doritos ad" contest. For me, though, as clever as the piece is, its value is ruined by all of the violent misfortune. Unless I'm selling insurance or auto body repairs, I don't want people associating my product with car crashes. Six tailfeathers.

Sierra Mist: When you can seize the soft drink from my hand, Grasshopper, you will be ready to leave. Most of the blogosphere is raving about the other Sierra Mist spot starring comedians Michael Ian Black and Jim Gaffigan, in which Black's middle manager fires Gaffigan's bizarrely coiffured employee. For me, that spot was more about the sight gags than the soda. This one, with Black playing a martial arts teacher and Gaffigan his hyperaggressive student, works better at selling the product, while still bringing the funny. Eight tailfeathers. (The "hair" ad only gets six.)

Snickers: Two macho men share an inadvertent kiss over a Snickers bar. This was probably the funniest ad of the day. It did not, however, make me want to eat a Snickers bar. Instead, it made me want to hurl. Not because of the implicit homoeroticism (borrowing heavily from a famous bit in the John Hughes film Planes, Trains and Automobiles), but because the idea of having food in my mouth that has been in someone else's (I don't care whose) turns my stomach. I can't imagine anyone viewing this ad and thinking, "I sure would like a Snickers right about now." Three tailfeathers.

Bud Light: Carlos Mencia turns an ESL class into a beer commercial.
Alcohol ads are always a valuable test for me, since I don't drink. This spot makes effective use of humor — and ethnic humor at that; tricky in any venue — in reinforcing the Bud Light brand. There's a reason why Anheuser-Busch, which I'm told by my beer-drinking associates makes a mediocre product at best, sells so much beer: Their ads consistently underscore their brand identity, to the degree that even a teetotaler such as myself knows who they are. (I always wonder: If Budweiser is the King of Beers, is Bud Light the Queen of Beers?) Eight feathers. (Another Bud Light spot starring Mencia lost the branding message in the punch line. Only four tailfeathers for that one.) Jungle lemmings.
Who thought this would be a good idea? A noisy, chaotic commercial featuring office workers in a jungle environment being attacked by unseen marauders, ending with the entire cast (or CGI versions of same) running off a gigantic cliff. I'm not sure from watching this ad what the product is, or what I'm supposed to think about it — other than that it has something to do with blowdarts and mass suicide. Yuck. One tailfeather... but just barely.

Emerald Nuts: Robert Goulet messes with your stuff.
Easily the most peculiar ad of Super Bowl Sunday — although less inflammatory than the Snickers spot — this one is just plain freaky. It didn't make me want to buy nuts, only to think that the creatives at Emerald's agency of record are nuts. Two tailfeathers, for sheer audacity.

Nationwide Insurance: "Federline! Fries!"
We rip on K-Fed quite frequently here at SSTOL, but this commercial is actually well done. I would have made the connection between the humorous body of the ad and the sales pitch more cohesive, but all in all, this was worth the money Nationwide spent on it, for the pop culture buzz alone. Seven tailfeathers — would have been eight, but KJ used to work for Nationwide, and she's still a mite peeved.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

You'll shoot your eye out!

It's officially Christmas: My daughter KM has finished watching the first two hours of "24 Hours of A Christmas Story" on TBS. It never fails to make me chuckle that America's favorite family Christmas movie was directed by the guy who gave the world Porky's.

To SSTOL's friends and fans throughout the Blogosphere, I give you these timeless thoughts from the godfathers of contemporary a cappella, The Bobs:
All I want for Christmas is a house up in the hills
With colored lights and music, frosted window sills
Filled with all my loved ones, all the old and young ones too
All I want for Christmas is you.

All I want for Christmas is to spread a bit of cheer
With people I don't notice every other day of the year
All I want for Christmas is a smile from someone new
All I want for Christmas is you.

May the jolly old elf so enjoy your milk and cookies that he leaves you all the pantookas and bisselbings your little heart desires.

Or, as Luke Cage, Power Man said upon seeing Power Girl for the first time...

"Sweet Christmas!"

Please try not to shoot your eye out.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Art of Getting Name-Checked

Today, it is my signal honor to serve as the featured guest poster at one of my favorite blogs: The Art of Getting By.

TAoGB is the online domain of a charming young woman named Janet, a New Jersey grade-school teacher with a flair for insightful prose, an often unconventional perspective on her chosen profession, wisdom belying her tender years, and generally excellent taste in music, television, and film. (Except for that whole New Kids on the Block thing. But no one's perfect.)

Janet's weekly in-house meme, "Tell It to Me Tuesday," invites readers to wax eloquent on a topic of Janet's choosing. She follows with her own commentary on the subject in an extended weekend post. The best of TAoGB, though, is simply Janet being Janet, nattering in her cogent, clever way about life, education, pop culture, and everything.

My schedule being as hectic as it often is, I don't always get around to every stop on my blogroll every day. But I never miss my daily lesson in The Art of Getting By. Neither should you, bunkie.

Go take a seat at the head of the class, sit up straight, and brightly say, "Good morning, Miss Janet." Take an apple for the teacher, if you're so inclined. And tell her your Uncle Swan said that you deserve extra credit.

Maybe she'll let you clap the erasers.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Votors" can't vote

I stumbled across this gem while surfing BlogMad last night (click the screenshot for a larger view):

My suggestion for stamping out voter fraud? Require potential voters to prove they can actually spell "voter" correctly.

For my money, nothing is a greater threat to democracy than illiterate votors.

I mean, voters.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's getting polyester up in here

I usually refrain from memes and the like, but today's "Tell It to Me Tuesday" over at The Art of Getting By was simply too close to my heart to pass up.

Janet asks her readers to list their Top Ten recording artists or bands of the 1970s. For someone whose musical tastes were shaped during that wild and crazy decade, that's pretty much like asking for my favorite recording artists or bands of all time.

As is typical for me, I had a tough time cutting the list to ten. To make the task at least somewhat manageable, I decided to stick to bands, and save the solo artists for another day. Even with that stricture, I ended up with an irreducible list of eleven. Sue me.

These appear in alphabetical order, because as challenging as it was narrowing the list, attempting to arrange it in order of preference, musical stature, or any other subjective quality would have melted my already fevered little brain into a limp puddle of protoplasm.
  1. Blue Öyster Cult. I was never a big heavy metal freak, but BÖC rarely left my turntable once I discovered them. Dazzling, often confounding lyrics, coupled with a melodic sense rare in the genre, elevated by the nonpareil guitar attack of Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser. No other band alive could have recorded songs like "(Don't Fear) the Reaper," "Godzilla," "R.U. Ready 2 Rock?" or the incredible power ballad "In Thee." Favorite '70s songs: See the preceding sentence.

  2. The Doobie Brothers. It really doesn't matter whether one prefers the hard-edged biker band boogie of their early hits or the R&B-tinged sound of the band's Michael McDonald period, the Doobies did it all with soul and style. Favorite '70s songs: "China Grove," "Long Train Runnin'," "Takin' It to the Streets," "It Keeps You Runnin'."

  3. The Eagles. People who know my flaming antipathy toward country music — which includes everyone who knows me, pretty much — are often surprised to discover that I'm an Eagles fan. They shouldn't be. I love stellar vocal harmonies, distinctive guitar playing, and songs with lyrics that are actually about something. That's the Eagles. Hotel California ranks as one of my five all-time favorite albums. Favorite '70s songs: "Desperado," "Take It to the Limit," "Hotel California," "Wasted Time."

  4. Earth, Wind and Fire. In the midst of the disco era, one band bridged the gap between the new-school production sound epitomized by the great disco artists and the old-school funk of bands like Parliament/Funkadelic. That band was Earth, Wind and Fire. If you can remain still in your seat when an EWF track pumps out of your radio, you're either terminally Caucasian or just terminal, period. Favorite '70s songs: "Shining Star," "September," "Serpentine Fire," "In the Stone."

  5. Heart. As I've written before, Heart may be the most underrated band in rock history. Seriously. On a scale measuring sheer talent and musicianship, you can't name five bands in all of rock who consistently outperformed Ann, Nancy, and the boys. With their unique blend of folk sensibility and heavy metal instrumentation, they truly were the American Led Zeppelin. Favorite '70s songs: "Magic Man," "Crazy On You," "Heartless," "Straight On."

  6. Journey. Go ahead, mock me. Favorite '70s songs: "Lights," "Wheel in the Sky," "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," "Just the Same Way."

  7. Kansas. Not as well remembered today as some of their contemporaries — a lot of people still confuse them with Styx — but when it came to taking an American slant on British progressive rock, no one did it better than Kansas. Point of Know Return, the 1977 album that included the classic rock radio staple "Dust in the Wind," is one of the most innovative and technically brilliant records of the period. I spent my 19th birthday at a Kansas concert in San Francisco's Cow Palace. Those were the days, my friend. Favorite '70s songs: "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind," "Closet Chronicles," "Sparks of the Tempest."

  8. Meat Loaf. I know what you're thinking — I said no solo artists. It must be acknowledged, however, that the "Meat Loaf" who recorded the epic Bat Out of Hell is a perfect amalgamation of the vocal talents of the Loaf himself with the songwriting and production genius of Jim Steinman, plus the phenomenal combined talents of musical chameleon Todd Rundgren, several members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band (including keyboardist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg), and Steinman's usual cast of backup vocalists (including Ellen Foley and Rory Dodd). Bat is therefore no more a solo effort than, say, a Steely Dan album of the same period. So there. Favorite '70s songs: "Heaven Can Wait," "For Crying Out Loud," "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "Bat Out of Hell."

  9. Queen. Two words: Freddie. Mercury. I rest my case. Favorite '70s songs: Listed here.

  10. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. When rock critic Jon Landau wrote in 1974, "I saw rock and roll's future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen," he wasn't just tossing off hyperbole. The Boss and his band came to define American rock in the latter half of the '70s. Popular music would never be the same again. Favorite '70s songs: "Rosalita," "Born to Run," "Thunder Road," "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."

  11. Steely Dan. I can summarize the impact the music of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker made on my life in a single sentence: Without Steely Dan albums, I would not have survived adolescence. Favorite '70s songs: "Pretzel Logic," "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," "My Old School," "Deacon Blues."

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Mr. Finerman has his say

When I first joined the ranks of Jeopardy! champions, I thought I was a rather bright individual.

Over the past 18 years, I've become ever more conscious of the veracity of that old saying: "The longer I live, the more things I know that I don't know."

Please allow me to introduce you to a man who doesn't suffer from such inadequacy.

Eugene Finerman was a participant in perhaps the most legendary Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions final in the show's august 23-year history, way back in 1987. Together with fellow stalwarts Bob Verini (the eventual winner) and Dave Traini, Eugene helped form a triumvirate brain trust that astounded viewers as much with razor wit and self-effacing charm as with sheer trivia dominance. When former J! champs get together and reminisce, the '87 ToC final always comes in for fond mention, as do its three memorable stars.

More recently, Eugene has been regaling his loyal fans on the official Jeopardy! online forum. His daily posts cram more historical ephemera into a handful of paragraphs than an Ivy League doctoral thesis. His commentaries on the political happenings of the day dazzle with brilliance even as they baffle with... ummm... rollicking good humor. (What did you think I was going to say?)

Now Eugene has his own Web site from which to disseminate the bottomless fountain of knowledge that bubbles up from between his ears. If you stop by on a regular basis, you'll learn many things you didn't even know you didn't know. While visiting, you can also subscribe to Eugene's Your RDA of Irony e-newsletter, and he'll drop these golden nuggets of satire right in your inbox as you sip your morning beverage of choice.

I have an ulterior motive here, of course. Eugene and I share a common profession. The busier he stays at writing funny and enlightening bits of business for his site, the more paying work there is to be glommed onto by us marketing/PR writer types who are simply trying to keep food on our backs and clothes in our mouths. Or concepts to that effect.

Anyway, go check out Finerman Works. You'll be glad you did. And tell Eugene I sent you.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Not being numerically inclined, little tidbits like this tend to slip past me. But I'd be remiss if failed to acknowledge the passing of a trio of recent milestones.

Milestone #1: SSTOL turned two years old on the 11th of this month. In the past 24 months, we've grown from an audience consisting mostly of myself and... well... myself, to a daily readership in quadruple digits. I don't know why you keep coming back, but I'm glad you do. Thanks for validating me. If you have a parking voucher, I'll be delighted to return the favor.

Milestone #2: In related news, SSTOL uploaded its 1000th post on Sunday. (It was the Rice-A-Roni that turned the trick.) Who knew when this all started that I'd have that much to say?

It's strange, but unlike many longtime bloggers — I'll include in that category anyone who's been at it for more than a year — I've never once been tempted to shut SSTOL down or take an extended hiatus from it. I look forward to the exercise of sharing something here at least five times a week. I plan to keep at it. So you might as well keep dropping around to see what I'll spew about next.

Milestone #3: KJ and I celebrate our half-anniversary today. There's no trophy or cash prize for tolerating my eccentricities in one's living space for 21 and a half years. But doggone it, there ought to be. If you want to nominate KJ for a Congressional medal, rest assured she's earned it.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's alive!

Sorry to have been incommunicado for the past couple of days, sports fans, but I've been battling connectivity problems. After numerous phone calls to the corporate monolith that services (snicker) our area, I finally managed to get a technician out to investigate the situation today. One new DSL modem and $120 for parts and labor later, we're back up and running.

Additional posts to follow later today, so feel welcome to check back.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

This Judge is a real Payne

In case you don't get your fill of pop culture snark right here at SSTOL — and Lord knows, we try — there's a new Judge in town dishing the dirt on all things Hollywood. If you like what we do here, you'll doubtless appreciate the work of the merciless Judge Payne at Cinematic Justice.

You can tell him your Uncle Swan sent you.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Where the deer and the ferretlopes play

One of my favorite bloggers, The Ferrett, just premiered a new webcomic entitled Home on the Strange.

Visit Home On The Strange!

A continuing humor comic is tough to sustain, but if anyone can do it, The Ferrett and his artistic collaborator, Veronica Pare, can. I'll be intrigued to see how the strip progresses.

If you're not already a regular reader of Ferrett's blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, then by jingo, you ought to be. When he's not infiltrating the blogosphere with his incisive take on postmodern life in the guise of a weasel-like mammal with a misspelled name, The Ferrett is really William Steinmetz, a published author and all-around tech geek.

So give Home on the Strange a try, and if you like it, you can tell The Ferrett that SwanShadow sent you. (If HotS doesn't rock your world, we'll pretend I never mentioned it.)


Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Visit From St. SwanShadow (with apologies to Clement Moore)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and far from the crowd
SwanShadow sat musing, and thinking out loud.
He wished peace for blog princesses Janet and Lynda
Who could not be more magical if named Ozma and Glinda.
He sent cheer to his readers from SoCal to Wisconsin
And fine noble souls, like the one Real Sam Johnson.
"To those artists," he said, "who bring joy to my days
And create such neat pics for my Comic Art Fridays —
On Dooney, on Wilson, McDaniel and Jones,
On Lyle, Moy and Mannion, and all the Scott clones;
To Chan, Briz and Rio, I must offer thanks,
Without e'er forgetting Mavinga and Banks,
Geof Isherwood, he with great talent endowed,
Rubinstein and the two Bobs, Almond and McLeod."
To friends Damon and Donna fond greetings Swan gave
And to cute little Shelby, a fine feathery wave;
Although his performance in the Tourney was leopardy
Swan dug all the smart folks he met playing Jeopardy!
With well-deserved gratitude he thanked SwanShadow clients
For their patronage, then put in a good word for the Giants.
His colleagues at DVD Verdict he cheered
And promised sincerely to review more next year.
To all those newsmakers whose indulgence in shockery
Provided occasion for Swan's satire and mockery —
He hoped that they all would keep up their old tricks
And do more stupid stuff in two thousand and six
So he'd gain more blog fodder and fun things to scribble
Without resorting to memes and other such drivel.
To his wife and his daughter, and loved ones near and far
Swan offered warm snuggles, wherever they are...
And he said with a grin, at the last jingle's bell:
"Happy holidays, all, from SSTOL!"

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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yo ho, yo ho, the writer's life for me

Someone (and you know who you are) asked me today why I don't blog about my work. Since inquiring minds want to know, let's chat about it for a bit.

The primary reason I don't blog about work should be obvious to any SSTOL reader: I blog as an alternative to my daily grind, not for the purpose of reliving it. I'm a hired pen — all right, hired keyboard, if you want to get nitpicky. Although I enjoy copywriting immensely, I'm writing what I'm paid to write, not necessarily what I might choose to write about. This blog is an outlet for the myriad random thoughts that come pinwheeling out of my skull in and around the mercenary gigs.

Second, I learned early in my freelancing career (and repeatedly since) to be rather circumspect about the specifics of my work. It's not like I'm writing classified documents or anything like that; it's just that some of the entities for whom I work prefer that I not broadcast the nature of the work I do for them. Fair enough — if they pay the invoices on time, they're entitled to a modicum of discretion. Most of my clients are advertising and marketing agencies, whose creative abilities are their stock in trade. It just so happens that, in certain instances, their creative prowess is, at least to some degree, mine. So my copywriting practice is like Fight Club: the first rule is, don't talk about it. Rule Two: See Rule One.

(Sidebar: Quite a few freelance copywriters market themselves mostly to businesses that will access their writing services directly. It just happens that my client base has evolved so that I get mostly agency work. I actually prefer it that way, because I don't have to do as much self-marketing, and I have a smaller and more personal client base to manage. I have a whole stack of marketing brochures that I printed a year ago for a mass mailing I intended to do, and I've yet to need to send them out. My agency clients take excellent care of me, and I'm grateful that they do most of the prospecting...mainly because I suck at it.)

There's a third reason beyond the above: As interesting as my work is to do, it's not all that interesting to discuss. Listening to someone talk about writing is a little like watching chess: Monumental brainwave activity may be going on, but there's not a great deal of visual excitement for the spectator. Plus, I can't explain my process. I sit down with the necessary background information, stare into my 19" Envision monitor — sometimes momentarily, occasionally for hours — and eventually my fingers start tapping. I can't tell you how I write any more than a hen can tell you how she lays eggs. She squats, and eggs appear. I type, and words appear.

But all that aside, since you asked, here's what I have on my plate right now:
  • A brochure for a hospital's new breast cancer facility (a topic near and dear to my heart, as the husband of a breast cancer survivor).
  • The holiday advertising mailer for a kitchenware company.
  • An array of feature articles and press releases.
  • Some marketing materials for a medical services company.
  • A set of ads for an accounting firm.
  • A newsletter for a public library system.
  • A Web site for a business services company.
  • A Web site for a law firm. This one is the only direct client in the bunch (an interesting story, that, but I'll wait until the project is over to tell it). All the other projects are assignments from my beloved agency clients.
All this, plus a stack of reviews to edit for DVD Verdict, and the weekly battery of materials I prepare for church.

There's yin and yang to everything. Being a self-employed writer can be a sporadic means of ensuring one's material living. The hardest part of freelancing for me in the beginning was learning to live without a biweekly paycheck that arrives like clockwork. You have to enjoy being by yourself — which I do, more than most people. You have to be self-motivating, which isn't much of an issue for me because I like to eat, and to sleep knowing the utility bills got paid this month, and to not live in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. You have to enjoy the sometimes arduous, frustrating, and mindbending process of writing, which I love as much as life itself — which some of you tell me is reflected in this blog.

On the positive side:
  • I like my independence.
  • I like commuting to an office that's ten feet from my living room.
  • I like drinking my morning coffee in the security and quiet of my own surroundings.
  • I like driving my daughter to school in the morning, having my dog snoozing at my feet while I work, and occasionally having dinner ready when my wife gets home.
  • I like being able to do things more or less when I feel like doing them, deadlines permitting.
  • I like working in a T-shirt and sweats.
  • I like not having to make small talk.
  • I like being sought out and valued as a specialist in my field, rather than devalued and taken for granted as an employee.
  • I like being able to say "No thanks" to work I don't want to do. (I don't always, sometimes for fiscal reasons but more often because I like helping my regular clients, but the point is that I can say "no" if I so decide. Self-determination is an illusion, but the illusion is a wonderful thing.)
  • I like knowing that, most of the time, success and failure depends on my own abilities, and not on decisions made by people who couldn't pour water out of a glass if directions were printed on the bottom. I've worked for two companies that went bankrupt because the people who ran them did things I wouldn't have done were I in charge. If I fail as an independent contractor, it's no one's darn fault but mine.
Now, aren't you glad I don't write about work more?

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