Sunday, November 30, 2008

How iTunes May Be Stealing Your Music and Your Money

Like many of you who may purchase songs from the iTunes store on a regular basis, I naturally assumed that all my purchases were mine to keep forever and ever. But then a few weeks ago, I began to notice a number of songs missing from my playlists. Not only that, but all the movies I had purchased through iTunes were no longer available when I clicked on their icons

At first, I thought maybe they’d somehow been deleted from the iTunes library, but were probably still somewhere on my hard drive in the iTunes folder. However, upon searching for a few of the missing songs, I couldn’t find them anywhere. And the movies were nowhere to be found either.

Naturally, I immediately went to the iTunes store to try and find a phone number for their customer service department. And guess what? There isn’t one. The only way you’re supposed to be able to contact iTunes is through their “convenient” e-mail form. Not satisfied that there wasn’t some other way to reach them, I did a thorough search of Google to find something that resembled a phone number for customer service. Eventually, I just called the regular Apple hotline and asked to be transferred to the iTunes store. After being bounced back and forth from one Apple employee to another, I was eventually told the ONLY way to get my issue resolved was by filling out their “convenient” e-mail form. Which is not only IN-convenient, but also guarantees that your problem is not going to be resolved any time over the next twenty-four hours.

What kind of customer service is that? And since I was already freaking out over the missing music, the fact that I had to retain this anger for another few days was not making me a happy customer.

Nevertheless, I waited patiently until one of the representatives (from India, I believe) eventually wrote me back with an even more disturbing question. Have I ever backed up my iTunes library? Of course, my answer was no, as I never thought I needed to do such a thing---once the music was on my hard drive, why would I need to back it up? And what difference would that make anyway, since my iTunes folder and the iTunes store were too different entities, were they not? It’s not like once something is no longer available at the iTunes store, it’s automatically going to be taken out of my iTunes library, is it?

In my case, the answer was yes. And though the customer service person offered to let me re-download all the songs I’d previously gotten from iTunes as a back-up, he also let me know that if a song was no longer available on iTunes, or for some reason, the original product had changed, it would no longer be available for me to download. In fact, the customer service person was very helpful in compiling a list of all the songs I would not be receiving again….over 300 of them. And yet, he offered no explanation as to why the music or movies were “taken” out of my Library in the first place.

I’m beginning to wonder if their new Genius software, that is supposed to help the iTunes store figure out what kind of music you like best, may actually be removing some of your music they don’t recognize during their search process. Either that, or whenever you update iTunes, something in the process is filtering out older content. I don’t’ know which, but I still do not have a satisfactory answer as to why over $300 of my purchase was taken away from me. If I found a way to steal over $300 worth of product from the iTunes store, I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy about it. And yet, all I’ve gotten so far is an apology for my misfortune, and a warning to back up my purchases in the future on a regular basis.

But that’s just me. Have any of you had a similar experience with iTunes?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cat Clips--Rug Rights

HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE! I hope everyone has a wonderful day, surrounded by family and/or friends. There is so much I am thankful for this year, including all the wonderful people I've met through my blog and YouTube videos. And to celebrate the day, I can think of no other video that seems more fitting than the one pictured above. So please click on the photo to watch a short video from the "Cat Clips" series called "Rug Rights." In this episode, the male cat tries to explain to the female cat why some people try to stop others from getting married. Have a great day!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Robot Resort--Mints and Mayhem

Please click on the photo above to watch a humorous two minute film from the "Robot Resort" series. In this episode, Sparky's obsession with bad breath leads to another encounter with Fritzy and Lily, as danger lurks in the nearby woods. Part Five of an ongoing series.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Biddies

In August of this year, I went to see the new Broadway musical “A Tale of Two Cities,” which was surely designed to be the latest successor to the internationally popular “Les Miserables.” In other words, another historical epic drawn from the pages of a classic European novel; in this case, Charles Dickens. But unfortunately, like last year’s failed attempt, “The Pirate Queen,” this one suffered from two much ambition and not enough heart. While on the surface, everything looked good and sounded good, there was something missing from the core that left audiences under whelmed by the efforts.

And although I could surely expound on this particular show with many a witticism and criticism, this blog posting is actually not a review of that particular show. But rather about an incident which occurred during the curtain call. As I am a huge fan of theater, and a former actor myself, I like to sit as close as I can to the front of the stage, usually the second or third row. But in the case of “A Tale of Two Cities,” I happened to get an aisle seat in the first row. This allowed me the unique opportunity of viewing the orchestra as well as the stage. Only in this case, the stage was so close to the front row that I found myself straining my neck at times just to be able to watch the action. And when they put the actors on scaffolding that was even higher, I had to recline my head to such a degree that I was practically lying down. But again, this posting is not about my personal discomfort, a topic which I’m sure you’d all be thrilled to suffer through.

No, this posting is about a woman and her companion who were sitting in the second row, across the aisle from me. I had noticed them earlier because of the peculiar expression on the older woman’s face. Or rather the lack of expression. For although she was elegantly dressed and perfectly coiffed, she almost looked catatonic. Her companion, a very stressed out looking woman dressed in unflattering clothing, was constantly fussing about her, making sure her feet were properly placed on the floor, or that she was sufficiently covered from head to toe with her fur coat. I wasn’t sure if the fussy woman was a nurse or her daughter, but she never seemed to stop fussing, even when the performance was going on.

Anyway, during the curtain call, all of a sudden I felt a tug on my arm. When I turned around, I saw that the fussy woman had somehow gotten a wheelchair down the aisle and was now attempting to put the elegant woman in it.

“Can you help me?” she asked in a panic. “Just hold her under the right arm and I’ll get the other side.”

Without a blink, I hopped into action; although I really wasn’t sure I had much of a choice in the matter. Being the tallest man in the fussy woman’s line of vision, I must have seemed like the perfect candidate to be her human fork-lift. As I bent down to pick up this complete stranger, grasping her arm just around the armpit, I caught a glimpse of the elegant woman’s eyes. She was looking at me with both confusion and wonder, as if I was an Angel coming to carry her away. So while it was extremely awkward to do this, I managed to get my arm under her right arm and lift her up enough to help the fussy woman get her in the chair. And it wasn’t like the elegant woman was helping at all---she was basically “dead weight” without any control over her limbs.

Once the woman was successfully in the chair, the fussy woman began pushing and poking at the woman until she was satisfied that she was secure in the seat. She never again turned around or even thanked me for my help. And though I’m not a person who needs that kind of pointless praise, I was a little shocked at how harsh and forceful she was with this older woman, who obviously had little or no motor skills. Leaving the theater that night, I wondered if the older woman even knew where she was or why she was there.

Now we fast forward to last week, when I once again went to the theater to see the new Broadway musical, “Shrek,” which is based on the popular movie series. And while I don’t intend to review this show since it’s still in previews, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Not just a word for word replay of the movie (like the highly annoying “Young Frankenstein”), this adaptation instills new humor and character into the already familiar story. And some of the musical numbers are so hilarious, I was laughing out loud. That isn’t to say the musical doesn’t have its weak moments, but as a whole, it was a very enjoyable evening in the theater. Especially if you just want to go and have a few laughs. (Christopher Sieber is especially hilarious as Lord Farquaad.)

But again, this posting is not about “Shrek,” but rather about what happened during the curtain call. For when I arrived at the theater and took my seat (once again on the aisle in the first row), I was shocked to see the two older woman sitting in the same exact seats behind me. The elegant woman was again “dressed to the nines” as if she was going to a swanky charity ball, and her much stressed out companion was dressed in a frumpy shirt and jeans. And while I found the coincidence to be quite weird, it didn’t even occur to me that the fussy woman would rely on my assistance once again. But true to form, once the curtain call came, the woman tapped on my arm to assist her.

Previous to this, she had a major altercation with one of the ushers during the climactic scene of the show. And all because of a set of stairs that came out from the orchestra pit for a brief moment, so that Shrek could walk down the aisle and walk up on stage. During the intermission, a woman had told me that a door would be opening right next to me and that a pair of stairs would be coming out. So I was not surprised when it happened. I was surprised, however, when the fussy woman suddenly jumped up from her seat, and hovered in the aisle trying to see if the elegant woman’s feet might possibly be crushed from the onslaught of the moving staircase. And though I could clearly see that the woman’s feet were nowhere near the stairs, the woman caused such a ruckus that an usher had to come down the aisle to quiet her down.

As I tried to ignore this, I noticed that Sutton Foster (who plays Fiona) was beginning to watch the altercation as well. And though she remained perfectly in character, I’m sure the distraction in the second row made it very difficult for her to pay attention to Shrek’s impassioned confession of love. Finally the fussy woman settled down, and the show continued without a hitch. Until the curtain call.

Once again, I went into my “good Samaritan” mode and helped the woman into the chair. Only this time, there was an added piece of business that needed to be accomplished.

“Grab the pillow and put it on the chair,” the fussy woman barked at me, as if I was her personal assistant.

So while I was trying to hold the elegant woman under her armpit with one arm, I reached underneath to grab the pillow, which I then threw on the chair as best I could.

“Push it further back,” the fussy woman then barked. “Further back, further back.”

And though I tried to comply with her demands, the elegant woman was already partially on the cushion. So I was afraid that pulling it too harshly would either make her fall forward or even worse, back onto my hand. (A sobering bit of elderly intimacy I could surely do without.)

Once the woman was finally in her chair, the fussy woman again turned her attention to poking and prodding her properly into place, like a pie crust that needed to conform to a certain shape.

As I left the theater, I wondered if I would ever have the “pleasure” of seeing these two old biddies again. Not that I mind helping people out, but it certainly would be nice if they didn’t treat you like crap after you did it.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had a strange experience while helping a stranger?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cat Clips--Mean Spirit

In this Three-quel to the two Cat Clips Halloween Trick and Treat videos, the male cat decides to teach the female cat a lesson. To view the video, please click on the photo above.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crazy Quirks of Kooky Acquaintances

Do you have any friends with bizarre quirks that simply defy explanation? Or, if the quirks do have some kind of rationalization, they’re still a bit weird? And though I know I certainly possess many a quirk myself, I always find the mystery behind other people’s quirks to be infinitely more fascinating.

For instance, on my birthday last week, a group of my friends got together for dinner in NYC to help me celebrate. As I was the Birthday Boy, I had nothing to do with the arrangements, although I did find out some rather interesting information from the person who did. First of all, when he told one couple about the dinner, they were very excited to come. Until they heard it would be a birthday celebration. Then they immediately tried to back out of it. And when my friend asked why, the answer given was simply that “we don’t celebrate other people’s birthdays.” And when my friend assured him that it was just a friendly gathering and it wasn’t necessary to bring a card or a present, the person got very defensive and said that his partner would be very upset if they had to attend.

Needless to say, my friend didn’t pursue the matter any further, although it definitely intrigued both of us as to how such a stance against birthday celebrations came about. As the “partner” in question is of Eastern European origin, I wondered if perhaps they didn’t celebrate birthdays over there. Or maybe he’d had a particularly bad experience on someone’s birthday, and therefore was afraid to relive the experience again at someone else’s event. Or possibly it has something to do with not wanting to face mortality, and so the celebration of another year (no matter whose it is) only serves as a constant reminder of the passing of time.

Whatever the reason, two days later, the friend called back to tell me the couple was coming to the dinner after all. When I asked what changed their mind, my friend said that they would come, but would not observe any of the birthday rituals, nor would they be obliged at any time to wish me a Happy Birthday. In fact, they requested that, if at all possible, the subject of my birthday never came up in conversation.

You can imagine how shocked I was by this request, as well as by my friend’s admission that he agreed to the terms.

“They really wanted to come,” he protested. “And I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Everyone can just wish you a Happy Birthday in private.”

Not wanting to seem petty, I quickly decided that it really didn’t matter, as long as I was having dinner with good friends. (Even good friends with a birthday quirk.)

So when the big evening finally came, I tried not to have any kind of expectations for the event. I even arrived early so I could greet my other friends before the “Anti-Birthday Couple” got there. And though the other friends had all been debriefed about the whole birthday business, it was inevitable that the topic would slip out every now and then throughout the course of the evening. It almost became sort of a game to see who could get the closest to mentioning the word birthday without actually saying it. And since the “Anti-Birthday” couple was not aware that everyone knew about their particular “quirk,” a lot of the childish teasing went right over their heads.
Crazy Quirks of Acquaintances

However, the whole evening made me very uncomfortable, as if I needed to apologize for even having a birthday at all. And I was so afraid that someone was going to say something inappropriate that I didn’t even have an appetite to eat. What if the “Anti-Birthday Couple” suddenly freaked out and went into a rampage, venting their anti-birthday sentiment by throwing plates and cutlery at everyone in sight? I would be forever blamed as the “birthday that broke the camel’s back.”

Truth to tell, as I got older, birthdays become less and less important to me. Sure, it’s nice to celebrate the day you were born, but right now, every day seems like a celebration to me. With so much turmoil going on in the world, I am just happy when I get to spend a day doing the things I like to do. (Many of which are probably just as quirky as an anti-birthday stance.) So I won’t judge my “anti-birthday” friends, because I know that the most important thing is our friendship, warts and all. But someday I sure would like to know what happened to cause such negativity about such a commonplace celebration. For now, the explanation still remains a mystery.

But that’s just me. Do you have any friends who have weird quirks you don’t understand?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Robot Resort--Tiki Totem Cafe

Please click on the photo above to watch the fourth installment of the ongoing "Robot Resort" series. In this episode, Sparky and Grey discover something strange at the resort's premiere restaurant.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Birthday Wish!

Today is my birthday. And as such, I think I’m entitled to at least one wish. (And no, it's not to have some Marilyn want-to-be jump out of a cake and sing "Happy Birthday" to me, although it certainly makes an enticing picture, no?) My wish is not about cakes or parties or even presents. My wish is much more theoretical. And not just for myself either, but rather for everyone in the world. (A little ambitious, I realize.). But here it is: I wish that the momentous occasion that happened on Tuesday night would begin to defeat all the bigotry, prejudice, hate, discrimination, and inequality that’s hampered our country for so long. Instead of pointing fingers, or imposing our “liberal” or “conservative” beliefs on other people, I wish that we could all learn to embrace our differences (not just TOLERATE them) and evolve as both a country and a race. That is my wish. And though it still may take many more years of invoking the same wish on every birthday going forward, I’m confident that a more harmonious existence can be achieved within my lifetime. Let’s just hope I don’t have to wait until I’m a hundred and eighty to actually see it.

But that’s just me. What do you plan to wish for on your next birthday?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bird Bits--Scavenger Hunt

Please click on the photo above to watch a special live action edition of "Bird Bits," featuring a seagull testing out his new GPS system.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Horror and Hassle of Halloween

For those of you who think my life is always filled with drama, you might want to skip reading this posting, because it involves yet another ridiculous situation I found myself in. And it’s not like I’m trying to throw myself constant curveballs, but somehow that’s what I inevitably end up doing.

It all started very innocently. I was going into the city with some friends last Friday evening for another friend’s Halloween party. To prepare myself for what would no doubt be a long evening in the city, I decided to take a nap for a few hours. Only the nap turned into a much longer sojourn, and when I finally woke up, I found myself with only a half hour to get ready before I was being picked up. And with shaving, showering and eating dinner to accomplish, I really had to budget my time efficiently.

First, I ran to the kitchen to see what leftovers I could heat up in a hurry. Luckily, I’d made spaghetti at some point during the week, along with a container of home-made meat sauce (made from turkey rather than beef). So I just combined the two ingredients in a bowl, threw it in the microwave, and turned the power to high for three minutes. Then I ran upstairs to take my shower while the spaghetti was heating up. Within twenty minutes, I was dressed and ready to go and running back down to the kitchen to eat my spaghetti. I quickly inhaled the micro-meal and downed it with a can of Diet Coke, just as the doorbell rang. My friends had arrived to pick me up.

As we piled into their car, I noticed that my stomach felt very gassy, probably from eating too fast. Not only that, but I was beginning to burp on a rather frequent basis, a condition I always try to keep to myself if at all possible. Unfortunately, both the spaghetti sauce and the spaghetti itself had been highly laced with garlic (an attribute I had all but forgotten), and though I was trying to suppress the noise of the burps, the actual smell was something that couldn’t be hidden. It wasn’t very long before I noticed people rolling down their windows and turning on the AC to get some fresh air circulating in the car.

“Did someone have garlic for dinner?” One of my friends finally asked.

“Yes, it was me,” I admitted. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Is it that bad?”

At which point, everyone in the car began describing the horrendous odor that my burps were creating. Horrified, I began stuffing my mouth with mints and gum to try and squelch the issue. And as soon as we got to the party, I began drinking in the hopes of masking the garlic odor with a more socially acceptable smell—beer breath. (On the scale of bad breaths, beer is probably one of the least offensive…unless of course it’s day old beer breath, in which case it probably ranks up there with Doritos and peanuts.) After each beer, I would pull one of my friends aside and have them smell my breath, a task none of them was particularly interested in performing. And though they each assured me they could no longer smell the garlic, I still caught a whiff of it every time I burped, which for some reason I continued to do throughout the evening.

Nevertheless, I managed to have a good time at the party, making sure I turned my head to the right any time I actually spoke directly to a person. In this way, if I had any remnants of bad odor on my breath, they would be directed elsewhere. Still, I was quite happy when my friends were tired and wanted to head back to New Jersey. I was also quite full of beer, which made my last minute stop at the bathroom before we left a definite necessity. And since I’m not really a big drinker, the amount of alcohol I had consumed that evening was starting to take its toll on my head, which began to ache in a most uncomfortable way. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an open drug store or bodega in the area in which I could acquire a remedy, so we all piled back into the car and headed for the Holland Tunnel.

Our designated driver was thankfully not in the same shape as me (having only one drink earlier in the evening), and was perfectly capable of maneuvering us through the hectic Manhattan traffic, which was surprisingly dense at three o’clock in the morning. Not only dense, but not moving. And since it was Halloween, the city seemed to be filled with so many road blocks, street closings, and other unusual obstacles that it was like navigating a video game just to get around. In fact, trying to get to a road that actually led to the Holland Tunnel was such a challenge that we eventually decided to head uptown to the Lincoln.

Thinking quickly, I remembered a little-known entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel which you can access from the south rather than the entrance near Port Authority which most people use. Only once we got there, we quickly realized it was not as little-known as I’d thought. (First wrong assumption) There was a huge line of cars waiting to enter, and since we were already on the path to joining them, we decided to stay where we were rather than trying to get back to the Holland or even up to the George Washington Bridge. And once you are on the actual road leading into the tunnel, there’s no way to get off it anyway, so we were hoping this was the better of two evils. (Second wrong assumption)

But no sooner had we joined the line into the tunnel, and gotten past the point of no return, than traffic literally came to a screeching stop. And I’m not talking a slow moving line of cars, or even a stop-start smattering of movements where you trudge along like an elephant; I’m talking completely halted movement of any kind. For half an hour. Then, just when we thought we were permanently glued to the spot, there was a short burst of movement which lasted maybe five or six feet, and then we were stopped once again. For another half hour.

Warning: the next portion of this story gets a little…graphic. Not pornographic, but graphic in the sense that I talk about a very embarrassing issue of a personal nature. And though I don’t think any of it is particularly offensive, I certainly don’t want to turn off any of my readers by instituting a TMI policy. (Too Much Information) Remember, you were warned.

By this time my head was pounding and, forgive me for divulging this, I had to pee so badly that I began getting cramps. But since there was nowhere on the secluded road into the tunnel that I could use as my urinal, I had to ask my friends in the car if there was anything I could borrow for a makeshift bedpan. And even though the prospect of trying to empty the contents of my bladder into a bottle while sitting in a parked car on the road to the Lincoln Tunnel was not going to be easy, it was the only option that made sense in our particular circumstances.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything in the car that would help me, so I began looking outside the car—to the dirty shoulder of the road which was filled with garbage and other discarded items. The only thing I saw that looked even remotely like a portable latrine was a used water bottle someone had thrown out. So after jumping out of the car to procure the bottle, I sat back in the front seat, covering myself with my jacket to hide my forthcoming activity. After all, when you’re sitting in non-moving traffic, there’s nothing else to do but look around you—including all the cars parked next to you, behind you or in front of you. And since an SUV happened to be parked next to us, their line of vision allowed them to see right down into our front seat. So even with the jacket covering me up, I’m sure whatever I was doing underneath it must have appeared a little strange.

Add to that, the fact that three other people were sitting in the car with me, each of whom was trying their best to distract themselves from what I was doing. Though, without a working radio in the car, it made it quite difficult to drown out any kind of noise I might be making. Trouble was, I wasn’t making any noise. Because I was so tense, and worried that I might miss the tiny opening in the water bottle, I found that I was suffering from what most men refer to as “pee shyness.” This was also probably acerbated by the presence of a group of giggling girls in the SUV next to use, each of whom was dressed as some kind of cat. So while I tried to appear casual in what I was doing, I’m sure the jacket over my body might have led them to other conclusions, which only made the performance of my task even more difficult.

Once we started moving again, I got a little relief. Or at least I tried. But that’s when I realized that manipulating my member so it would fit into the water bottle was going to be impossible. And since I couldn’t really aim into the bottle, my only successful attempt at releasing any of my pent up fluid resulted in a sudden burst of warm liquid onto my hands, my jacket, my pants, the car seat—everywhere but into the bottle for which it was intended. (See, I told you it was going to get sort of graphic.)

By this time, my head was pounding worse than ever, and my midsection felt like a balloon about to burst. And because the traffic had stopped once again, we were now begin visited by a drunk guy from the car next to us, who got out to tell us all about his exciting evening in the Village. Naturally, this made it even more difficult to accomplish my mission, as he was standing right outside the driver’s window and I was in the front passenger seat. And the irritation from not moving for almost two hours was not exactly helping either.

Anyway, within a few minutes the traffic finally began to move again, although it still took another twenty or thirty minutes to get through the tunnel. And then because the police had inconveniently blocked off the ramp outside the tunnel, we had to find our way through Hoboken in order to get back on the highway to get home. Once we were finally moving, the pounding in my head subsided somewhat, and one of my friends in the backseat miraculously found a travel mug hidden under the seat which I was finally able to use to release some of my “tension.”

I finally arrived home at six am, three hours after we began the journey back to New Jersey. I slept on and off through Saturday and finally got back to normal on Sunday, but that was one Halloween adventure I could definitely have done without.

But that’s just me. What did you do for Halloween?