Friday, October 31, 2008

Cat Clips--Halloween Treat

As promised, here is the sequel to "Cat Clips--Halloween Trick." In this episode, the female cat plots her revenge for being scared by the male cat. But is she successful? To find out, please click on the photo above.

Oh yeah, and have a Happy Halloween. Let me know what you plan to dress up as...if you dare!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cat Clips--Halloween Trick

This is the first of a special two-part Halloween Cat Clips mini-series. In this episode "Halloween Trick," the male cat discovers a box of Halloween decorations and decides to play a trick on the female cat. The sequel "Halloween Treat" will be posted on Friday, October 31st. To view the video, please click on the photo above.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Muddy Mess of Myspace, The Fallacy of Facebook

I am not a huge fan of social networking sites. Or maybe I’m just too old for them. But it seems like when you first join one, everybody wants to be your friend, including people you’ve never even heard of before. You are bombarded with e-mails and requests to be included on their growing list of global contacts. Then once you get acclimated with the system, and finally learn how to navigate yourself through the various features and applications, you suddenly realize that none of the people who begged you to be their friend has bothered to communicate with you since. In fact, once you added them to your list, you never heard from them again.

And just to be clear, when I refer to social networking sites, I am not including any of the sites that connect you with other bloggers, like Entrecard, Blogcatalog or MyBlogLog. To me, these serve a different purpose, and though they lead to great networking and social opportunities, their main purpose is to connect you with other bloggers of a similar interest. To share your thoughts, ideas, etc. And not necessarily to become the most popular person on the planet. (IMHO)

The first networking site I joined was MySpace. Not because I really cared about having a space of my own, but more because I wanted to use the networking capabilities to help promote my book. So I set up a meager looking page, with links to my other websites and a couple of pictures. Nothing fancy, but enough to make it appear like I put in an effort. Then I began joining all the various social groups I thought sounded interesting, and began posting items on the bulletin boards. And lo and behold, I began getting requests to be my friend. And from people all over the world.

But after a few months of this, I didn’t really feel like MySpace was doing much. Sure, I had a bunch of “friends,” but it wasn’t like I could call them out on a Friday night and ask them to go out for drinks. I also didn’t feel comfortable contacting other people in the network and asking them to be my friend. What if they said no? That would be humiliating. I mean, it’s bad enough when someone tells you to your face they don’t want to be your friend, but when someone you don’t even know doesn’t even want to add you to their roster of thousands, than it might make you feel even more insignificant than you did before. I’ve never been aggressive when it comes to socializing. And even though this was the easiest form of friendship you could have (no strings, no obligations), I still felt uncomfortable reaching out to anyone. Luckily, there were others who didn’t have this qualm, and I was soon swept away with numerous messages and requests to be friends.

But while browsing through other people’s MySpace pages, I couldn’t get over what a mess they were, and how confusing it was to find any kind of information. There were postings and videos and photos and comments and advertisements and so much crap stuffed into every corner of the area that I felt like I was looking at someone’s vomit. There was no sense of graphic design, although there were certainly plenty of graphic elements. So much so that sometimes I couldn’t even load someone’s Myspace page…it just took too long. So after a while, I lost interest in MySpace. Because to me it began to look like Filene’s Basement---everything thrown haphazardly on tables and racks, forcing you to pick through the junk in order to find that one piece of gold. To me, it was just not worth the effort.

Then, at the insistence of some friends, I joined Facebook. Originally, I’d thought this site was only for teenagers and twentysomethings. But apparently it had expanded its reach, and now the entire world was on Facebook. And once again, I began getting requests from people to become their Facebook friend. Only this time, it was from people I actually knew. Which was definitely different, although the results still appeared to be the same. Once I’d accepted them as my friend, I rarely heard from them again. And because I’m constantly busy with my blog, or my videos, or my actual job, I don’t really have time to throw myself whole-heartedly into another creative venture. Especially one that allows you to kidnap people, send fake presents, join bogus groups, and all kinds of other cyber activity that could easily take up all your time, energy and focus.

One of my friends is so obsessed with Facebook that he gets upset whenever he doesn’t get any kind of response to the postings he puts up on his wall. Or if he writes something on someone else’s wall and they don’t respond, he immediately questions whether they’re really his friend or not. “Why do they want to be my friend if they never want to talk to me?” He asked me one day. “I mean, what’s the point?” Especially when anything you write on your wall can be viewed by everyone on your friends list…and then their friends and family can see what you’re up to as well…in fact, the potential for people you never knew to learn a lot about you has increased tenfold because of the way Facebook is set up. And to see the amount of content people dump on their pages is incredible. Photos and stories and secrets and so much information about who they are, what they like, where they go and how they feel, it makes me wonder where it all will lead.

I mean, what if social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace were really part of some top secret plan by the U.S. Government to form a kind of elaborate Big Brother network?. That way, if they ever need to find a photo of you, or learn who your friends are or what kind of lifestyle you lead, they only need to look at your social networking pages and read your profile. And what’s more, they didn’t even have to do any of the hard investigative work, because you’ve already done their job for them—just by keeping your Myspace up to date, you have provided them with all the background info on you they need. You think I’m being paranoid? Probably.

But that’s just me. What’s your feeling about social networking sites?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cat Clips: Party Politics

Please click on the photo above to watch a short two minute video from the "Cat Clips" series entitled "Party Politics." In this episode, the two cats discover a box of party decorations, which leads to a rather unusual debate.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fun and Frivolity While Foraging for Furniture

This afternoon I had a rather bizarre experience at my local Raymour and Flanigan store. I'd decided to stop there while I was out running errands, because I still needed some kind of cool end table for the living room. And since I had some extra time, I thought it might be fun to casually walk through the furniture store to get some ideas for other aspects of my house as well. But once I stepped into the store, I got the immediate feeling that my time there would be anything but casual.

For once through the door, I was practically bombarded from all sides with requests for my attention. Like a swarm of bees converging on a target, it seemed like every salesperson in the store suddenly emerged from their sofa cocoons in order to help me. I smiled and politely declined their offers, hoping that everyone would just leave me alone while I browsed through the showroom of items.

No such luck. For no sooner had I begun walking around the showroom than I noticed one of the salespeople trailing behind me at a short distance. Not only that, but I noticed another salesperson on the other side of the floor begin to also move slowly in my direction. Crap! That meant they were both going to follow me through the store, hoping that when I needed help with something, one of them would definitely be close enough to answer my questions. And though part of me certainly appreciated their enthusiastic form of customer service (unlike the salespeople at say, Home Depot, who are not at all helpful…if you can even find one), I didn’t want to be monitored like a lab rat.

If you’ve ever been in a Raymour and Flanigin store, you’ll know the entire space is divided into small display rooms, giving you a first-hand feel of how your future furniture will look in a real house. This also means there are hundreds of doorways, walls and passages to get lost in while you’re looking through all the merchandise. Like a maze of "theme" rooms, it is entirely possible to get yourself lost while trying to find the right dresser or chair.

And this is exactly what I was hoping to do. I figured if I ducked into enough rooms, I could lose my ‘tagalongs’ by outmaneuvering them through the maze. So I began picking up my pace a little hoping to shake at least one of them off my tail. But as soon as I picked up speed, so did they. It wasn't until I was finally out of both of their lines of vision that I was able to make my escape. And that's when I literally began running through the next series of rooms, hoping to cover so much distance in a single bound that I would be on the other side of the store before they even knew I was gone. At one point, I found myself in a long corridor of curio cabinets, which led me into a beautiful country dining room, obviously set up for the next Thanksgiving, and then past several outdoor settings complete with picnic tables and lounge chairs. As I giggled to myself at how silly I must have looked dashing through the store, I ran right into one of the salesmen. Somehow he'd managed to outmaneuver me.

“You seem like you’re in a hurry,” he said, with a slight grin. “Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?

“No, nothing particular,” I said. “Just something general.”

Thanking him again for his offer of help, I turned and walked off, trying to act like what I’d just said made any sense at all. Still, the salesman continued to follow me, perhaps now wondering if I was even worth the effort. And because I’d just been caught, I had the strangest sensation to try the whole thing again. Rather than just leaving the store, I suddenly wanted to beat this overconfident salesperson at his own game. Like a child, I felt the need for redemption, and possibly, revenge. But where could I hide that he wouldn’t be able to find me?

At the next opportunity, I ducked out of his sight into a room with a giant armoire. Moving as quickly as I could, I opened the door of the armoire and slipped inside, which was not an easy task since I had to step up in order to get into it. Then, closing the door behind me, I tried to keep as quiet as I could so I could hear when he passed by. But there was no sound at all. I pressed my ear to the armoire door, but I couldn’t hear anything. After about a minute of this, I began to feel rather foolish. After all, what if someone should come upon this room and want to investigate the armoire? It wouldn’t exactly be a selling point if I should happen to suddenly jump out at them.

So I pushed the door to open it, and was horrified to discover that I’d actually locked myself inside. I began knocking on the inside of the door and saying “Hello, is anyone there? Hello?” No response. Could the store really be so big that nobody could hear me? And what if I got locked in here overnight, possibly suffocating to death in a glorified hutch? That’s when embarrassment turned to panic. No longer did I care about my pride or embarrassment of being discovered; now all I cared about was getting out of the damned armoire.

I began pounding on the door and yelling “Help! I’m stuck! Help please!” Within moments, I heard the russling of feet and the click of the armoire door. As the door opened, I was once again facing the same salesperson.

“I’m so embarrassed,” I said, not really sure how I was going to explain this.

“No need,” the salesman replied, with a slight wink. “It happens all the time.”

“Really?” I replied, imagining why other customers might hide in this giant armoire. They couldn't all have been avoiding the salespeople, could they?

“Well, mostly with children. They’re trying to see if the whole Narnia story is real. You know, the lion, the witch and the wardrobe?”

“Oh, right,” I said, nodding. “Well, thanks for coming to my rescue. But I think I need something much bigger.”

And with that, I made a quick beeline for the front door and practically ran to my car. Not only was I embarrassed, but I will probably never go back to a Raymour and Flanigin store again.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had an embarrassing experience in a furniture store?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Robot Resort: Doebot Debate

Please click on the photo above to watch the third episode in the ongoing series, "Robot Resort." In this episode, Kahnee (the resident Showbot at the Resort) talks to two new arrivals, Lily and Fritzy, about their stay so far. Thanks for watching!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Botched Business of Baking the Blues Away

On one particularly rainy day in recent weeks, I decided I wanted to make a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. The sweet gooey treat seemed to be the perfect antidote for the crummy weather we’d been experiencing. And though it may seem like a very simple task to accomplish, it somehow ended up taking over my entire day. Not because the cookies were particularly difficult to make, but the angst and drama I went through on my route to actually making them is what monopolized most of my time.

It all began when I took a drive to the local grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the cookies. After all, I don’t just have bags of chocolate chips lying around. (Mostly, because they’d never last very long.) So off to the grocery store I went to pick up the chips, along with some other essentials I happened to need in order to survive the week, and ended up filling my shopping cart to the brim. (Warning: Never go the grocery store on an empty stomach…you will end up buying much more than you need, and sometimes things that you’d never even heard of.)

Anyway, when I got up to the self checkout area, there was already a long line of people waiting to go through. Partly because some moron at the checkout didn’t know how to properly use his ATM card, and needed a cashier to come over and instruct him. Once he was finally through, the next person couldn’t seem to find her cash and we all had to wait while she scrambled in her purse to find it. Still, I was not getting upset. After all, I would be making chocolate chip cookies. That cures almost any ailment. Especially the Rainy Day Blues.

So when it came to my turn, I was quite speedy and efficient in my scanning process. Some might even refer to me as an expert on proper scanning technique, that’s how good I am at it. I could see how relieved the people in line behind me were to finally have someone competent ahead of them. I smiled with self satisfaction as I whipped out my wallet to complete the transaction. And that’s where the trouble really began. For nowhere in my wallet, or on my person, was my ATM card. Nor were there any credit cards to be found. In fact, the only thing I seemed to have in my wallet at the time were several folded up receipts, some one-way tickets for NJ Metro, and a dozen or more Frequent Shopper cards at local grocery stores. But nothing that even remotely resembled money.

After five minutes of searching every pocket three or four times, I humbly apologized to the line of people behind me, and began packing all the groceries back into the cart I’d just emptied them from. Someone yelled for the Manager to come over and help the customer who forget his money, and pretty soon everyone in the checkout lines was staring at me. HUMLIATING.

Nevertheless, I was determined to make those darn chocolate chip cookies, so I drove back home and began tearing my house apart looking for the darn ATM card. I found all my credit cards, but I didn’t want to use a credit card. (After all, credit is not a thing to be taken lightly these days.) After several hours of searching, I decided I must have lost the ATM card the last time I used it. In fact, I was almost sure I never took it out of the ATM machine at the bank. So either it was still there, or maybe they could issue me a new one. So back in the car, and to the bank I drove, hoping to finally be able to start the cookie process within the hour.

Once at the bank, the cashier at the counter looked at me strangely when I told him my dilemma. It was almost as if he didn’t believe I was telling the truth. But to prove who I was, I reached and my wallet and pulled out my driver’s license, which unwittingly dislodged one of the folded up receipts. And there, hidden behind the receipt was my ATM card. It had been in my wallet the entire time, but I hadn’t seen it because I hadn’t bothered to move the folded up receipt. (It would have been too much trouble to pull it out and then stuff it back in, so I sort of took it at face value. Who knew something was hidden within it?)

Completely humiliated again, I backed out of the bank, and drove over to a different grocery store to get my items. Once I’d completed my second round of shopping that day, I was finally back home and well at work on my cookies. It was so relaxing to measure out the flour and sugar, and then mix in the butter. Everything was finally falling into place….Until it came time to add the chocolate chips. Because of course, the one ingredient I completely forgot to purchase on my second shopping trip was the one ingredient that made these cookies so special. I nearly started to cry. But instead, I jumped into the car again, and drove like a maniac to the store to get the chips, cursing at myself the entire way.

Later in the evening, I was finally able to relax enough to enjoy my freshly baked cookies with a nice tall glass of milk. And yes, it was pure heaven. But the Hell I had to go through to get there was something I wouldn’t want to repeat any time soon.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had a similar incident like this?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bird Bits--Mental Mantis

When The Amazing Mantis, a famous psychic, visits the neighborhood, the birds hit him with some surprising political questions. This is a special episode of "Bird Bits" featuring both live action and simple animation. To watch the short video, please click on the photo above.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Frequent Fragility of Friendship

Friendship is a funny thing. When you’re young and still in school, you might have a wide variety of friends from all the various activities and organizations you’re a part of (school, sports, Cub Scouts, church, etc.). At the time, you might even believe that these same friends will stay with you throughout the rest of your life, sharing your joys and pains, and basically being around whenever you want to see them. And why not? You have so much in common that nothing could ever separate you.

And then you might go off to college and meet a whole new group of friends. And while you still keep in contact with your friends from high school, the new groups of friends tend to monopolize most of your time. They also introduce you to new concepts, ideas and possibly even foods that you never considered before. They open your eyes to life outside your hometown, and for that reason, they might even seem “cooler” than your older friends. Possibly even more educated.

Then you leave college and move into the real world, where you now take on a new group of comrades known as “work buddies.” Work buddies help get you through the day when your job gets you down, or they take you out for drinks on your birthday, or exchange “Secret Santa” presents with you during the holidays. They’re now more of a constant in your life than your real friends, because you tend to see them every day from nine to five. (Or whatever hours you happen to work.) Whereas, your real friends are only available every other weekend, or you can only see them a few times a year, or you only keep in contact with them via e-mail.

And gradually, some of the groups and collections of friends that you’ve carefully accumulated over your lifetime begin to drop off. At first, you don’t even notice because you’re so busy, and so wrapped up in your current situation. But in the back of your mind, you know your friends will always be there when you need them. Or when you just want to talk. Because you have that kind of bond, after all. A bond that can never be erased or eroded through the passage of time.

Then one day, you might look around and wonder how you ever lost touch with someone who was once as close to you as your brother or sister. A person with whom you shared a thousand secrets, or a million laughs, or an infinite amount of tears. Someone who knew you as well as you knew them. So how could such a relationship ever let time or distance or even anger sever the tie that was meant to be forever? Or was it?

Are we meant to have friends for our entire life? Or do people naturally come in and out of our lives because we need to learn and grow from the experience of knowing them? They aren’t meant to be permanent fixtures, just little accents along the way. And while we enjoy them for a time, we don’t necessarily need them for our entire journey. So instead we allow them to have little “Special Guest Appearances” throughout our life. If nothing else, it certainly adds variety to our sometimes routine storyline. And the introduction of a new character in our lives every now and then is just what we need to move forward, or take a new direction, or view things from a different perspective.

There are so many people I’ve met throughout my life that I wish were still in it right now. I wish I could just pick up a phone and say hello and have a conversation, or a laugh, or catch up on what we’ve been doing. But the passage of time does strange things to friendships. People can grow in different directions, or find new interests, or even adopt different values and ideals. Even their own life experience, apart from yours, can cause them to put up barriers or walls that can no longer be penetrated by an old friend. And though the reasons for such a blockage might have nothing to do with you, it still causes“weirdness” when talking to each other.

But the worst thing to happen with a friendship is when it suddenly ends and you never know why. You’ve obviously done something to hurt or offend the other person, and yet no matter how many times you replay your conversations in your head, you can’t think of one reason why someone would be mad at you. Let alone, drop you from their lives. And unfortunately, most times the reason remains a mystery. Unless you happen to know someone who knows someone who heard something at a party about why they don’t like you any more. And usually it’s because of some minor, minor infraction on your part that somehow got blown out of proportion. Either that or you were really a jerk…though you may not have realized it at the time. (Or maybe you did. In which case, you really ARE a jerk.)

And so we move on through our lives, picking up and discarding friends with a randomness that baffles me. I still retain communication with one of my best friends from high school. He is married with children, and lives maybe ten miles from where we grew up. And to me, he is one of the most genuine, reliable and trustworthy people I know. The kind of friend you have for life. And yes, there is such a thing.

But that’s just me. What do you think about your experience with friendships?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cat Clips--Trading Spaces

Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Cat Clips" series entitled "Trading Spaces." In this episode, a female cat tries several different tactics to get the male cat to move from the rug she wants to occupy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Surreal Incident with Out of Control U-Haul

Earlier this summer, I was coming home from a camping trip, when I witnessed a rather bizarre accident. I was driving on the highway, when I noticed a U-Haul truck ahead of me moving to the right shoulder of the road. Only when he reached the shoulder, he didn’t stop or slow down…he just kept on going, right over the shoulder and into the grassy ditch beyond. To my horror, I watched as the U-Haul hit a rock or something and then went flying into the air, spinning several times in the process. The side of the truck ripped open, spraying the surrounding area with boxes and furniture. And out of one of the boxes popped a giant Raggedy Ann doll, which at first glance looked like a child.

All the cars on the highway began to slow down and I was afraid I’d just witnessed a possible death. But as I moved closer to the U-Haul, I noticed that it wasn’t the kind you drive, but rather the kind you hitch to the back of some other vehicle. Thank God! At least that meant no one was inside. Further down the road, I could see a large mobile home had pulled over, and there was a man walking back toward the mess. Apparently the U-Haul had come unhitched somehow, and had thankfully veered to the side of the road rather than into oncoming traffic.

What a strange thing to witness. Helplessly watching as someone’s truck full of possessions are spewed out on the side of the road, as if they were setting up for an all-day yard sale. I was still shaking from the incident several hours later, because it was the first time I’d witnessed something that surreal since 9/11. It was like something out of a movie. Like a giant twister had picked up this truck and spun it around in the air not fifty feet away from me.

I was just glad no one got hurt, though I felt sorry for the family that would now have to literally pick up the pieces of their lives from the side of the road. In some ways, that’s how I feel about our country these days. Like we’re a U-Haul out of control. We keep spinning and spinning, and pieces are falling out all over the place, but it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight. When will the U-Haul known as America finally come to rest at the side of the road, so we can begin picking up the pieces and starting anew?