Monday, March 22, 2010

chance of blurries

Movies 7, the place formerly known as the "dollar theater" now charges $2 a ticket, which is still pretty good. While we waited for the show to start Sunday night, my wife and I saw an odd combination of ancient slides advertising the concessions, outdated E! fun facts about movies from the '90s, and some Coca-Cola sponsored trivia questions about movies that haven't come out yet. The "pre-show entertainment" included a commercial for Coke Zero, which made me want some. Unfortunately, that theater doesn't sell any. I had to settle for a Diet Coke.

My wife and I saw "Up in the Air" which had great performances, a good story and a plot twist that I was glad I didn't know about. It didn't matter that the print was a little out of focus. The fact that they even use prints was surprising to me. All the other Carmike Cinemas I've visited have digital projection in every screening room.

The trailers were worse, in that they were noticeably less focused than the main feature. I decided that I could skip "Shutter Island" and "The Road." The trailer for the latter had vertical streaks through the whole thing. The most ridiculous trailer was for the blockbuster film "Avatar." I can understand why people flocked to see it in IMAX and 3-D; it's a technological wonder. But why would anyone watch an out-of-focus print of it? The plot isn't strong enough on its own to support three hours of entertainment.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

meta league broadcasting

My friend Bean suggested I add a podcast to the playlist on my WiFi clock radio. He is a fan of Luke Burbank, who does a show called "Too Beautiful to Live." I tried one this afternoon and liked it.

Burbank used to be on the air at KIRO-FM. When his talk show was canceled, he began podcasting from his house. As his podcast became more popular and his severance pay ran out, Burbank decided to try a pledge drive, just like on non-commercial public radio and television. I'm sure he had more success than the $18 I've raised so far in my camera drive.

Bean thought that the February 1 show would be a good one for me to hear first. It happened to be the first day of pledge week. Bean knew I would be interested in the guests, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of Radiolab.

It's too soon to tell if I will become, in the TBTL terminology, one of "the 10s" of regular listeners or if I will remain among "the Elevens." I'll try a few more podcasts from the past couple of weeks, which means they would consider me to be a "Time Bandit."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

jumping through hoops

The news that Hulu wants to eventually charge a fee for access to some videos is irritating to me. Lately many Internet content providers have balked about putting their stuff online for free. The New York Times is another one. Newspapers are used to selling their daily print editions. I'm a believer in advertiser-supported media which has, for the most part, been successful since 1922.

Companies like Hulu and the Times seem ready to overlook the fact that average Joes like you and me already pay a monthly fee for Internet access in our homes. I have never thought of the Internet as free. Yes, I can occasionally go to the library or to Panera Bread but I can't imagine being without the Internet in my home.

Of course when I'm at home is when I least need Hulu. I have access to On Demand programming and whatever is on my DVRs. However it is still a convenient backup for anything I might have otherwise missed. My son watches most of his TV online while he is at college. Perhaps he represents the audience that Hulu is trying to soak for cash.

In the current flight of endorsement commercials that I am doing for Comcast High Speed Internet, I talk about Fancast Xfinity TV. It gives me access to full-length movies and television shows online. The software can be installed on up to three computers, which means my son can use it at school and I can use it anywhere I can go online with my laptop.

Fancast and ESPN360 are included in my Comcast subscription. I much prefer that economic model to Hulu and other sites trying to nickel and dime me. If they knew anything about me, they would know I won't pay.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

disaster relief

The best thing to donate after a tragedy is money. Respected agencies like the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and The Salvation Army can buy more with each dollar than we could at retail prices. However sometimes we feel more helpful by giving items instead of cash.

One Knoxville retailer is collecting now-worthless Lane Kiffin t-shirts for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Disgruntled fans of the Tennessee Vols were more than happy to be shed of reminders of the coach who jilted them.

Another organization I respect is accepting items. Remote Area Medical will fly their transport plane from Knoxville to Haiti on Friday. Here is the list of needs I received via email today:
Aspirin – as much as you can provide

Ibuprofen/ Tylenol – liquid for infants
Tablets for adults

Anti-diarrhea medication (like Imodium) tablets or capsules (not liquid or liqui-gels) – as much as you can provide

Anti-itch cream (Benadryl)

Vaseline (we can use up to 20 pounds)

Antibiotic cream (Neosporin) as much as you can provide

Ace bandages – as much as you can provide

Ziploc bags – all sizes

Fine tip sharpies - 20

Alcohol in plastic bottles up to 50 bottles

Wash cloths – will be lower priority so will be one of the last things packed

Dish towels (flour sack cotton, not washcloth type – basically those that would leave less lint) these are for use by doctors when treating patients

Empty bottles with multi-hole pop up caps various sizes (these can be filled with water to flush debris) you can find smaller ones in travel item section at Walmart

Crutches – If stoppers, handgrips and arm pads are in good shape.

Eye drops – non-medicated (saline, liquid tears) as much as you can provide.

Gauze pads – 2x2 and 4x4 sizes

Band-Aids – 20 to 30 boxes


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Sunday, January 10, 2010

think they got your number

The two people in the world who can make me laugh consistently, who have a direct line to my funny bone, are my son and daughter. Having them both here over Christmas break was pure joy.

Just before our summer vacation, my wife told me to start using my Discover Card to buy gasoline because they were having some kind of cash back reward. I kept on using it because I never bothered asking when the promotion would end.

Over New Year's weekend, we made a quick trip to Virginia. My daughter needed to get back to work after spending a week in Tennessee. During one refueling stop, I asked her to use my card to pay for the gas while I went to the rest room. I forgot to get it back.

She found it in her pocket a few days later and notified me via text message. I called her and asked her to mail it to me at her convenience. I also asked her to disguise the item so it wouldn't look or feel like a credit card through the envelope. She stuffed it inside one of those neoprene can koozies but not before adding a couple of extras:

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Monday, December 28, 2009


Somebody needs to tell James Cameron that two and a half hours is too long for a cartoon, even a fancy-looking one like his "Avatar." Yet, I was disappointed that he cut it off right before we got to see the Ewok Na'vi celebration at the end. Just because it took him twelve years to make it, doesn't mean we should have to take all day to watch it.

The excessive running time didn't seem to hamper the crowds at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 today. Because the 3:20 p.m. IMAX screening was sold out, my family and I went to a regular 3D show at 3:50. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't pay the extra $4.25 per ticket. I had to struggle not to fall asleep during the early scenes on Pandora. The excitement picks up toward the end.

The environmentalist subtext had a save-the-rain-forest feel to it. Rich Hailey discusses the obvious parallels to Native Americans with a surprising twist on his blog. None of that matter to me. After two hours, all I could think about was visiting the lavatar.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

losers weepers

Like many Americans, my children and I were at Sears at 4:00 a.m. on Friday to shop for door-buster deals. I took a couple of pictures of them with their purchases before I had to leave for work at 5:00 a.m.

A sudden change of plans had me going back to West Town Mall at 6:30 a.m. I paused at the trunk of my car to take off my coat and put on a hooded sweatshirt with the radio station logo. I thought I switched my camera from the coat pocket to the hoodie pocket but I must have dropped it during that transaction. I didn't notice that it was missing until a few hours later.

It might have gotten run over in the parking lot and smashed into a million pieces. It might have been turned over to lost & found. Or it might have been kept by the person who found it. There were no broken bits in the parking lot when I went back to look. Mall security said they didn't have it. I can only hope that before erasing the memory card, the finder sees the humor in sending a few photos to the "Found Cameras and Orphan Pictures" website.

Fortunately I already posted most of the pictures on the card to my blog. However there were still a few I hadn't gotten to yet. Without a "real" camera, I will have to rely on my LG enV3 to illustrate future posts. Here's where you regular readers can help.

I would not do this on the radio, but it is considered normal in the blogosphere to ask for a little money. Newscoma has a link for you to "buy the girl a beer." The Oatmeal asks you to buy them a cup of coffee. If all the visitors to my blog gave me a dollar or two, I would have enough for a new camera in no time. Think of it as an investment in your future enjoyment.

My beautiful, intelligent and successful daughter gave me the first dollar for the fund. It was marked with a rubber stamp from If you want to play along, you can track it yourself. Since I can't photograph myself with the bill, my daughter made a picture on her computer.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

shiver me timbers

"60 Minutes" had an interesting story on movie piracy on Sunday night. The report shows how the bad guys sneak video cameras into movie theatres, often hiding them in strollers or diaper bags and using their families to help avoid suspicion. Even here in Knoxville, a security team at advance promotional screenings prohibits audience members from bringing cell phones with cameras into the theatre.

The video pirates sit in the back row where their cameras pick up crowd noises and the silhouettes of people in front. Leslie Stahl asked why anyone would buy a DVD with such poor quality. An expert responded that buyers are not quality-conscious and that they want to pay very little for their entertainment.

In addition to bad DVDs, the pirates are distributing movies online via BitTorrent. The Internet file-sharing brings to mind the problems the music industry faced when Napster first came on the scene. Back then, they would overcharge consumers for albums on CD when the fans actually wanted singles. iTunes came along and dropped the price of a hit song to 99¢ and people gladly paid.

For a time, the movie studios got it right. While a music CD had filler songs we didn't want, DVDs were packed with fancy extras that added value. Plus, the price of a cool DVD was about the same as the price of a lame CD. Now they are trying to get us to buy the same movies we already have in a new, Blu-ray Disc format. They also jerk us around by adding or changing the extra features and releasing new "collector's editions" or "director's cuts."

I suspect that the studios and theatres will use piracy as an excuse to raise ticket prices yet again. What would happen if the studios dropped the price of admission to be the same or less than the cost of a pirated DVD? It would put the pirates out of business and have movie fans lined up at the multiplex.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

in da (865)

Most local radio commercials can be divided into two categories. I write and record my own endorsement spots in which I speak in the first person about my experience with a product or service such as Massage Envy, for example.

I also do voiceover spots for all four radio stations in our cluster. I read whatever scripts are in my mailbox each morning. Sometimes listeners will call me to ask about a script I read, thinking that it's a product I endorse. The difference between the two spots can be slight. I often have to change a script from first person to third person.

One of those third-person spots came down the pike on Wednesday. It promised 99¢ pizzas, which prompted me to immediately post something on Twitter about it. I drove past Mama Mia Cuisine that afternoon and happened to see the radio station's sales representative in the parking lot. He brought me into the pizza shop to meet Mac, the owner. He used to run other shops near the UT campus, including one with the clever name Salvador Deli. I pictured melting pizzas, a la The Persistence of Memory.

Mama Mia Cuisine is scheduled to open on October 29. They will sell their 14 inch cheese pizza for 99¢ with the purchase of $5 worth of other stuff. A couple of side salads at $3 each would do the trick although Mac and his business partner did a good job of convincing me to try their Greek salad or shepherd's salad instead.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

bean counter

The more you pay for a hotel room, the less you get. After my vasovagal syncope, we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. We had free WiFi and a big free breakfast the next morning that included custom-made omelets.

Last weekend, we stayed in a regular Holiday Inn in Charlottesville that cost more than an Express. We still had free WiFi but breakfast was only available in the full-service restaurant. If I hadn't made coffee in the room, I could have taken advantage of free coffee in the hotel lobby.

The next night we stayed in a nice Marriott in downtown Norfolk. The hotel charged $9.95 per day for Internet access, the restaurant in the lobby was a Shula's 347 Grill and the coffee in the lobby was not free, in fact it was Starbucks. I did make a pot of coffee in the room but it didn't taste very good. Still, I brought home the remaining pouches of coffee and had occasion to brew one last Thursday before going to the FBI Citizens Academy. It tasted just as bad as the coffee I made in the hotel room, if not worse.

Although I am not a long time coffee drinker, I think I am discerning enough to know a bad cup when I taste one. The stuff from the Marriott was gross. Since picking up the caffeine habit, I found that I especially like the taste of the Javarama coffee at work, the Kona coffee at Weigel's and the dark roast at Panera Bread.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

out to pasteur

The man who offered me a Kona coffee and poured a Coke Icee for my co-worker Hannah introduced himself as Kurt. I found out later that his last name is Weigel, as in the Weigel's convenience store where I was doing a remote broadcast. It was the grand opening of their new South Knoxville location. They celebrated with gas for $2.059 a gallon, milk for $1.99 a gallon, two-liter bottles of Coke products for 99¢ each and several other specials.

In the time before I learned Kurt's last name, I chatted with him about my fondness for convenience stores. I mentioned that my wife and I use the Weigel's punch card to get an occasional free gallon of milk. He told me that they will soon be switching from paper to a plastic swipe card. My wife and I will no longer need to ask the clerk to combine the punches on our two cards. We will each get a reward card on the same account.

I also told Kurt that convenience stores rate their own category on my blog. In the past I've written about 7-Eleven, QuikTrip and Wawa. When he praised the latter two stores, I told him how fantastic it was that I saw egg nog for sale at Wawa in late April a couple of years ago. I didn't get a chance to mention the Weigel's egg nog still in my freezer.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

gorpedo factory

Smart people know not to go food shopping while hungry because of the impulse purchases that happen as a result. Apparently I am not a smart person.

Today I went to Walmart to buy some excellent peaches at 98¢ per pound. I saw an endcap display of trail mix that made me want some. I thought back to a year ago when we were filming "Fish Bait," which was the last time I had any trail mix. I also thought ahead to the two upcoming road trips to Virginia that my wife and I will be taking. It would be nice to have a treat for the car that was still deliciously decadent while better than the junk food available at convenience stores along the route.

The mixes were labeled Great Value, which I assume is a Walmart brand. I wanted something with lots of pineapple but the tropical mix also had coconut, which my wife can't eat. Another bag had white chocolate chips, which I reject totally. Even the real chocolate chips would be a bad choice in a hot car. The mix containing regular M&Ms gave me an idea. Why not make my own trail mix?

I wandered over to the dried fruit aisle and starting grabbing Great Value products. Raisins, banana slices and apricots were obvious choices. The only dried pineapple on the shelf was from Mariani. I took two bags of that. I tossed some apple slices, dried cherries and mixed berries into my basket. Next it was off to the snack aisle to get some mixed nuts and the only M&Ms worth their calories. I picked up a bag of peanut and a bag of regular Dark Chocolate M&Ms.

When I got home and combined all the ingredients, they filled two one-gallon Ziploc bags. Then I looked at the receipt and realized I not only had some of the best tasting trail mix of all time, I had some of the most expensive trail mix of all time.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

best things in life

A co-worker from another department had some kind words for me the other day. He said that whenever he sees me around the office, I'm always in a good mood. He thought that I was a truly happy person and wanted to know how I did it.

Shortly before moving to Knoxville, I got an email from someone who seemed negative about the area. They complained about all the pickup trucks with gun racks and confederate flags. I had already been here for a visit and seen the beauty of the area. Plus I had the benefit of working with someone who loves everything about East Tennessee. His enthusiasm was contagious. I think it's obvious from reading my blog that I choose to be optimistic about living in Knoxville and that I choose to fully enjoy all the area has to offer.

My co-worker went on to ask about the joy of having a family and the stress of having to provide for them. I explained that fathering children was the best thing that ever happened to me. Rather than fret over the economy and my salary, I am thankful that my son qualifies for a need-based scholarship at a good college.

The conversation was fresh in my mind when I read about a website that claims to offer the tools to increased happiness for a $5 per month subscription. Don't do it! I'm calling BS on

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Monday, September 14, 2009

just jivin' honey

The elusive deep-fried Oreo almost did it again. Last year I was unable to find one at the Tennessee Valley Fair. I thought I was going to be denied on Friday night too. While leaving the Homer Hamilton Theatre, I saw a sign that plainly said "Deep Fried Oreo's" and should be submitted to The woman in the booth said they had not yet received their Oreos and tried to sell me a funnel cake instead. No thanks.

My wife and I soon saw two friends who told us there were DFOs to be had elsewhere in the park. Their group had purchased a deep-fried sampler plate, which included an Oreo, a Snickers bar, a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and a glob of cookie dough. They could have also chosen a fried PB&J Jamz. Our friends agreed with my theory that of all the deep-fried treats, the Oreo is the best because it can take it. The candy bars tend to melt inside the batter. They sent me the following note and one of the pictures that they put on Facebook. I zoomed in for a close-up on the goods.
Here is the picture of the fried candy. Oreos, Snickers, and Reese's were yummy. Fried raw cookie dough was just weird. Cookie dough should either be cooked or raw, but fried raw was a strange no man's land of mushy goo.

I found what I was looking for at a different trailer. In addition to the usual fare food of burgers and hot dogs, they offered deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos. I had a deep-fried Twinkie once. It wasn't worth it because the filling, which is the best part, liquefied and was absorbed into the cake. Four deep-fried Oreos cost $3. I didn't need or want that many, so I convinced the guy to sell me two for $1.50.

The headliner at opening night of the fair was Rick Springfield. I was shocked to learn that he is 60 years old. I remember the time he came to KLOS and serenaded our phone screener Preva. During Friday's concert, Rick told the women in the audience to close their eyes while he changed shirts. A lot of the ladies knew to bring bouquets of roses, which he whipped against his guitar strings, showering rose petals upon the stage. I bet he always makes the salad at his house.

About an hour before the Springfield concert began, my wife and I wandered past a tent where a hypnotist was just starting his show. Terrance B asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine that their left hand held a heavy book while their right hand was tethered to a helium balloon. The book got heavier while the balloon went higher. I wasn't feeling it. My two hands had barely moved by the time Terrance walked by and selected my wife to follow him to the stage. She was one of about 16 people chosen. He made them think they were watching funny, sad and scary movies. A woman seated in the center of the row onstage was put back to sleep by Hypnodog, a border collie that stared her down.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

firework modulation

To prepare for tonight's Boomsday fireworks, I have been advising listeners to bring a portable radio to better hear the synchronized soundtrack on Star 102.1. It would be easier if all iPods and cell phones had FM tuners in them the way my Walkman does.

While our daughter and her friends were at Mass, my wife and I dug around my home office looking for some other FM radios and putting batteries in them. We found a total of three (including my Walkman) and figured that the five of us could share the six earbuds if we stood close enough together. Here's a little secret, the part of the soundtrack we hear is in mono. The guys from Pyro Shows use the right channel for the commands to fire each shell.

I was pleasantly surprised when the girls got back to find out that they had taken my advice. On the way home from church, they stopped at Walgreens and bought small FM radios for $3 each. One of my daughter's friends used her fancy camera to take a picture of two of them. I used my fancy springsuit to reduce the glare coming off the plastic package.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

small talk

If you asked me a year ago, I would have said I didn't need Facebook, much less Twitter. But things change and I joined one and then the other. For a long time, I believed that if any of my friends or former co-workers wanted to find me, a simple Google search would lead them to

At the time I joined LinkedIn, Facebook was still for kids. I found LinkedIn to be rather dry and I couldn't get excited about logging on. Last October, I participated in the filming of a no-budget horror film called "Fish Bait." I quickly discovered that the New York based cast and crew all used Facebook as their networking tool. For show business, Facebook was a better fit than LinkedIn. Through Facebook, I learned that the movie will have its premiere on September 19 at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort.

After a couple of months of rumination, I finally joined Facebook on New Year's Day. By then the service was being overrun with the parents and grandparents of the original audience. For many people, having a Facebook page is now as essential as having a cell phone. I opened an account for people I know from "the business" and another one for me to communicate with listeners. I know of several news anchors who have at least two pages, one for their public persona and another for their families and friends. I post links to my blog entries on Facebook. I also like to post events such as the weekly Einstein Simplified shows and my remote broadcasts. So far I have ignored most invitations to join Farmville, Mafia Wars or whatever flavor-of-the-month application is making the rounds.

Text messaging has been a thorn in my side for a while. I understand supply and demand but it still bothered me that the cellular companies charged so much for texting. Don't even get me started about having to pay for incoming messages. When I got a message that read "Money is tight, times are hard, I just texted you my Christmas card," I called my cell provider and canceled my text service. Recently my wife and I got to the point where we had to increase the number of texts per month that our children could use. The best available option was to pay $30 a month for unlimited texting for the family. Ugh.

When a good friend heard that I had reactivated my texting, he immediately sent the following message: "Hey glad 2 hear u r textable! U want a palm treo phone I don't use anymore? Let's hang out soon." Here's my feeble reply: "Hello! let's chat soon. I Am not good at texting. FRanj." He gave me the Palm Treo but doesn't have the power cable. My son joked that the free phone was "without charge." At this point, I'm not even sure if I will be able to use it. My cellular provider may insist that I carry a data and email package in order to use a smart phone. All I want it for is the QWERTY keyboard. By the way, I"ve been surprised by the number of people I've met this week who didn't know that the QWERTY keyboard gets its name from the letters on the first six keys.

Now that I have unlimited texting, I may as well get my money's worth. I'm usually on the computer early in the morning and late in the evening. I am usually offline from the time I leave work around noon until after dinner. On nights that I have an improv show or other activity, I often don't get back on the computer until after the performance. Some of my Facebook friends with smart phones are able to update their status from anywhere. If I joined Twitter, I could tap out an update on my alpha-numeric keypad and have it simultaneously show up on Facebook by using the Selective Twitter Status application.

Twitter has its own pros and cons. My friend Bean mentioned on his Twitter feed that I had joined and 20 of his followers immediately started following me as well. I haven't quite yet mastered it. I still need to figure out how to send a picture to Twitpic and how to receive messages from certain people but not everyone on my phone. As of now, Twitter is a one way street for me, which is not how it's supposed to work. Just the other day I read a "tweet" that said, "LinkedIn is like your office. Facebook is like your home. Twitter is like a cocktail party."

I agree with all those who think that the words associated with Twitter are embarrassing. Who wants to Tweet? Not me. Tweeple? Give me a break. The Tworld Twide Tweb? Okay, I made that last one up. After a week on the Twitter, I have yet to write anything memorable. It's harder to on some days than it is others, probably because of my pre- and post- improv show sleep schedule. I look at Twitter as a series of disposable comments that were not intended to withstand the test of time. Here are some of the more riveting Tweets I am responsible for (sarcasm intended):
  • Why did "Chad Ochocinco" kick an extra point? They have the TV volume muted here at Backyard Burgers.
  • Note to self: search the YouTube for an a cappella performance of "I Gotta Feeling." Could be funny.
  • Surrounded by thunder and lightning at Turkey Creek. #fb
  • The manager of Pimento's finally asked us to leave at 9:00 p.m. Turns out they had closed at 8:00. #fb
  • My near daily dilemma: it looks like rain just as I am ready for the pool. I need to figure out how to reset my circadian swim rhythms. #fb
  • Some people think that Feast with the Beasts should be a vegetarian event. When the lions stop eating meat, so will I.
If after all that gibberish, you are still interested in seeing my updates, feel free to follow FrankMurphyCom. If I can figure out how, I'll place a widget on this page to show the most recent efforts.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

in an octopus's garden

Turkey Creek felt more like a theme park or aquarium on Monday. I went to an advance screening of "Under the Sea 3D," which opened this morning. The film has already been showing at other IMAX theatres, many of which are located at science museums or aquariums.

The filmmakers spent thousands of hours underwater to get 40 minutes of footage, most of which seemed to be about cuttlefish. The "masters of camouflage" were screen hogs. The only thing I really knew about cuttlefish prior to this was that my sister had a parakeet named Gladstone who gnawed on a cuttlebone.

There were some shots of cute sea lions and a cameo by a great white shark but it was the sea snakes and the eels that stole the show, partly because they got the best musical score while they were briefly on screen. One kid starting crying when a frogfish ate a smaller fish that had just escaped another predator.

The obligatory global warming message was palatable. Jim Carrey's voiceover was the medicine and the pretty pictures were the spoonful of sugar. Not so pleasant was the cover version of the Ringo Starr song used for the film's close. Betsy Pickle and Wayne Bledsoe, who were seated in the same row as me, both expressed their dislike of the song as we were leaving the theatre.

According to Fandango, tickets for "Under the Sea 3D" cost $14.75, the same as for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX Experience." Perhaps they can justify the price because the 40-minute fish movie is longer than the 12-minute 3D portion of "Harry Potter." When Harry arrives at the Burrow, three red symbols appear on screen telling you to remove your 3D glasses for the remaining 141 minutes.

Despite the crying kid, "Under the Sea" is intended to be a family film. Oddly the showtimes for Wednesday and Thursday are 11:20 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 2:10 p.m. Maybe they forgot that school started Monday in Knox County. I suppose they could be going after the field trip crowd.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

dream a little stream

If money were no object (but it is), I would drop a hundred bucks or more on one of the fancy new WiFi clock radios I've had my eye on. In addition to receiving AM and FM, they can receive any radio station that streams online. One model can even record audio, like a DVR does with TV.

For years I had gotten along just fine with a regular clock radio. I would awaken to the audio simulcast of WATE. Before the digital TV transition, any station on channel 6 would bleed through onto the FM band at 87.7. I learned in college that the entire FM band sits between channels 6 and 7 on the old VHF dial.

At 4:00 each weekday morning, ABC World News Now gave me a good dose of news that helped prepare me for work. Plus listening to talk helps me wake up whereas music puts me back to sleep. Now that WATE has gone digital, the 87.7 simulcast is no more. Obviously I could put a TV in my bedroom, but I really don't want one in there.

Since June, I've been trying different stations searching for something I like. Because I'm not a conspiracy freak or a believer in UFOs and the paranormal, I find the the overnight programming on the local news talk station to be unlistenable. I tried listening to Fox Sports Soup on the sports talk station but didn't like the way all the hosts yell, including Matt Smith who used to work with me at KROQ. The NPR station is still playing classical lullabies at that hour. Even the uptempo music on Star 102.1 didn't wake me. I needed a talk fix.

As I started thinking about how much I could use a WiFi clock radio, an alternative idea came to mind. I realized I could save $100 or more by leaving my laptop in sleep mode on the nightstand. In the morning I could pop it open and listen to a radio station online. But which one? Perhaps I should try some stations from the places where I used to live.

When I first started working the early morning hours at WAVA, I would wake up to Larry King's overnight radio show. I especially loved it when he had showbiz old-timers on as guests. When Larry gave up the radio show, I started listening to Bill Mayhugh on WMAL, not so much for him and the cheesy Roger Whittaker album he often played, but for the rambling live news reports phoned in by Larry Krebs on the police and fire beat. When I moved to California, I tried a few options before settling on KNX.

The CBS streaming player works well. I can choose a station before bed, start streaming, close the laptop and it resumes when I open the laptop in the morning. WTOP in DC uses the Microsoft Silverlight player which failed to restart when I opened the computer. In my sleepy haze, I don't want to have to navigate around a website to find the "listen live" button.

One night I started streaming KFWB and really liked the way they have shifted their focus to include a heavy dose of entertainment news. They now use the slogan "Hollywood listens to KFWB." However during the 4 o'clock hour (Eastern time) they air a refeed of "Doug Stephan's Good Day." I switched to KNX that morning.

I also tried WINS in New York and will sample other CBS stations. Listening to WINS was a little disconcerting. They play most of their commercials individually rather than in a cluster. Each on-air commercial is replaced by a different commercial on the stream. Unfortunately the transition isn't smooth. It wouldn't be as bad with a cluster of spots.

On Friday I clicked onto WMAL in DC. From 3 to 5 a.m. they air The Midnight Trucking Radio Network. While I expected a lot of talk about carburetors and such, what I heard would have fit nicely on any conservative-leaning talk station, such as the news talk station in Knoxville. At 5:00, I heard a few minutes of The Grandy & Andy Morning Show before I had to leave for work. In case you were wondering whatever became of actor-turned-congressman Fred Grandy, know that he sounds like he's enjoying himself as one of the very few live and local hosts on a station full of syndicated programs.

When I got home from work on Friday, it was still early enough to catch some of the Kevin & Bean show. In the 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) hour, I empathized with Bean's anxiety over his wife wanting him to take a dance lesson with her. I doubt that he will cave in like I did. At least my wife doesn't expect me to attempt the super-difficult Argentine Tango.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

shop around

There's a particular brand of fat-free salad dressing that I have been buying at Food City for the past few years. I have made a point of only shopping at the specific locations (Bearden and Morrell Road) that stock Henri's. The cost per ounce made it more affordable than smaller bottle's of Ken's fat-free dressings.

Food City recently raised the price of my favorite dressing to well over $4 a bottle, which gave me reason to try another brand. The honey mustard variety of Eating Right Salad Dressing looks watery but for the price, I'm willing to put up with it. The current sale price is $2.50 a bottle. It's flavor is more mustard than honey, whereas Henri's is more honey than mustard. Eating Right dressing has ten fewer calories and 135 fewer mg of sodium than Henri's.

It's a little odd to me that Food City carries products from Eating Right, which is a Safeway brand. Food City recently denied rumors that they might be sold to Publix.

I've also tried a cheaper barbecue sauce, hoping my family will like it. I had been paying over $3 a bottle for Sticky Fingers Memphis Original Barbecue Sauce. It tastes great but to save some money, I bought a one-gallon jug of Corky's Bar-B-Q sauce at Sam's Club. When we finally finished the jug, I went to Sam's to buy a new one. As is their habit, they had discontinued the item.

While at Food City, I started comparing labels and prices of the different BBQ sauces on the shelf. Some had too many calories. Others had too much sodium. Most cost too much. Sticky Fingers has only 35 calories and 240 mg of sodium but the price is high. Corky's had 40 calories and 310 mg of sodium. After considering the Jack Daniel's sauces, I finally picked up a bottle of a store brand and was surprised by what I saw. The Valu Time BBQ sauce has 45 calories per serving and only 190 mg of sodium. Best of all, it cost 96 cents. Although my wife and son still prefer the name brands, the taste of Valu Time is completely satisfactory to me. I should have tried buying it a lot sooner.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

debbie dogs

A link in yesterday's post about my "portable birthday cake" led back to something I wrote four years ago about Twinkies. Back then I was griping about Hostess Cakes being overpriced. While at Walmart the other day, I saw some Little Debbie products that are low-cost alternatives to their competitors.

Obviously Golden Cremes look like Twinkies. The Chocolate Cremes look somewhat like Oreo Cakesters and a little bit like Whoopie Pies.

I wonder if there is any difference in the flavor of Marshmallow Pies and the famous MoonPies. The real thing is usually too dry for my taste.

Most interesting to me was the box of Devil Cremes. They look like Drake's Devil Dogs, a childhood favorite of mine but could they taste as good? Even at that low price, I resisted the temptation to buy them. I've had more than enough sweet treats lately and didn't want to buy a box of six. If I do buy some, maybe I'll eat one Devil Creme and freeze the other five for later, like I did two years ago with Reduced Fat Devil Dogs.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

lap land

When my daughter and I got new laptops a few years ago, my wife got stuck with our daughter's old computer. The keyboard doesn't work, so she has a desktop keyboard plugged into a USB port. The battery has no life left, so she has to keep it plugged in to the wall. Sometimes it overheats and shuts itself off right in the middle of whatever she's doing. Fortunately, an article in USA Today tipped us off that Walmart was putting a limited number of laptops on sale for $298 on Sunday morning.

Walmart was like a ghost town at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. At least the one in West Knoxville was. Meanwhile my wife was waiting in line at a different Walmart in Northern Virginia. Each person was given a ticket to show their place in line. My wife was the eleventh person there. The advertisement said each store would have a minimum of ten laptops. Fortunately that store had about 60 laptops available. If they had run out, I was on standby to buy one in Tennessee. She paid 5% sales tax instead of the 9.25% I would have paid in Knoxville, a savings of $12.67.

As you can see, the Site to Store display was much nicer in Knoxville. They still had ten computers left when I got there around 8:15. I would have gotten there sooner if I hadn't wasted time looking in the electronics department first. One of the employees told me they started with 21 bargain laptops and had already sold some that morning. They also sold some by mistake at midnight, eight hours too early. Meanwhile in Virginia, the sales clerk asked why my wife was taking pictures. Apparently the answer, "they're for my husband's blog," was perfectly satisfactory.

My wife is pretty happy that she has a new "lappy." She won't get to put her new Compaq Presario CQ60-419WM Notebook PC through its paces until after it has been on the charger overnight.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

on the Rhode again

Massachusetts and Rhode Island were part of our itinerary two years ago during my son's college search. We made a three thousand mile road trip that circled from Knoxville to the Midwest, the Northeast and back to Tennessee. This year we did a 2,500 mile circuit to New England as part of my quest.

In 2007, Massachusetts was a "do over" for me. Technically, I had been in the state as a kid when my parents took us to a Boston Pops concert at Tanglewood. Two years ago we made a campus visit and drove through Boston although we really didn't have time to do anything touristy. This past Tuesday we ate dinner in Lowell at a popular local chain called The Ninety Nine, which is owned by O'Charley's. The next morning we had time to do a quick "drive by" at Lexington and Concord.

The Lexington Battle Green is in the middle of a suburban setting. It almost looks like a nondescript city park. The visitor center has a helpful diorama of the battle and a gift shop, where my wife bought a Christmas ornament. If we weren't rushing off to a lunch appointment with a college friend of mine, we would have done more than just drive through Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord.

After lunch, we headed to Rhode Island for another "do over." In 2007, we took I-295 around Providence, stopping only at a Panera Bread. This time, we took Route 24 into Newport to see the mansions on the Ten Mile Drive.

Right before we got to the Claiborne Pell Bridge, my son spotted a big red lobster above the door of Long Wharf Seafood. We had heard that lobsters might be cheap in Newport and we had promised my sister we would get some if the price was right. A chalkboard out front advertised "New Shell Lobsters $4.99 a pound."

Once we got inside, a very friendly clerk named Eddie informed us that new shell lobsters are a little deceiving. The claw may look big but the meat inside has not yet grown to fill it. Just for fun, he showed us the biggest lobster in the tank.

As we did the calculations to see how many lobsters we needed for four people, Eddie sensed that we were looking for a bargain. While I played with the behemoth, Eddie suggested we buy five culls for $33, which he would pack in ice for us to eat the next day. A cull is a lobster that is missing a claw and can't be sent to a restaurant or supermarket. He even threw in a bullet, which is what he called a lobster with no claws. Other places call it a pistol. You could always just ask for a nice piece of tail.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Ten states remain on my quest to visit all 50. I'm hope to cross three more off my list this summer. My wife and I are making plans to head to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine during our next vacation.

Last week when we were at Calhoun's, we had a waitress who was from Maine. She moved from there to Florida and then to Tennessee. She suggested we visit the L.L. Bean store in Freeport. When I looked it up in my AAA Tourbook, I was surprised to learn it's open 24 hours a day.

My mother suggested we go to Red's Eats in Wiscasset, which she learned about on a PBS show called "Sandwiches That You Will Like." Red's is famous for its lobster rolls and is a short walk from The Musical Wonder House. My wife would like to see their collection of music boxes. I'm not sure I want to pay the $20 for the one-hour "Full House Presentation." Their three-hour "Grand House Presentation" costs $45. I may wait at Red's while she takes the tour.

We will probably go to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont and someplace that makes maple syrup. We're still looking for a fun destination in New Hampshire. Any suggestions?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

panic in the parlours

Some rainy weather over the weekend caused me to check my pool's skimmer more often. At one point, I lifted the lid and saw two floating toads. The rain seems to wash critters into the pool every year. Thinking they were dead, I avoided touching them as I reached in and pulled up the basket

Fortunately, they were still alive! I held the basket under the eaves of the garage and let rainwater wash over the toads to rinse the chlorine off them. By the way, Sam's Club jacked up the price of chlorine tablets to $100 for a 40 pound bucket. Anyhow, the toads perked up and I took pictures before releasing them into the woods.

These little fellas got me thinking. I like frogs but I prefer the subset of toads and I like turtles but I prefer the subset of tortoises.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

gnaw-ty gnaw-ty

The men from the pool company got an unexpected surprise when they turned on my pool equipment on Monday. Water started spouting out of the top of the Hayward Pool Products filter. A closer look revealed that some angry critter had chewed through the manual air relief cap and left teeth marks on the access cover. There's even more teeth marks on the corner of the nameplate. Some putty-like substance is plugging the leak until the maintenance crew can find replacement parts for the S-240 high rate sand filter. I wonder how much that will cost.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

take a look at that centerpiece

Chef Walter is celebrating his 20th anniversary at WVLT. I happened to be doing some grocery shopping at the same time as he was returning that day's featured arrangement to the floral department at Food City Bearden the other day. When I said hello, he said it had been a while since he saw me last. It was at a March of Dimes gala last fall.

I was pretty happy about my shopping that day. I wanted to get as much food as I could without going over a certain amount. It's like my own private game of "The Price Is Right." On Sunday I had purchased a Community Cash card worth $50. My total spent at the store was $49.63. Woo hoo!

Chef Walter wasn't familiar with the Community Cash cards. I suggested that he give them a plug during his daily cooking segment. The cards are sold at many area churches, including All Saints. The churches buy the cards at a discount from the grocery stores and sell them at face value to their parishioners. All Saints makes a 5% profit on their sales of Food City, Kroger and Fresh Market gift cards. It's a painless way to help support the parish.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

fat Tuesday

Comedian Pat Godwin wrote a note on my wall Sunday that asked "who is that thin guy in your profile photo?" It was a callback to our conversation at the old Comedy Zone a year and a half ago. I wrote back that I might dare to post a "before" photo that he would recognize. The inspiration to do so came during lunch today when I chose a sauce for my chicken.

When my wife and I went to the fancy Kroger this weekend, I noticed that they carry the delicious Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce that I love. They sell the 15.75 ounce bottles for $7.49, which is more than the $6.87 I used to pay for a 40 ounce bottle at Sam's Club.

The word chipotle caught my eye on another label I knew. Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q has a new Spicy Chipotle B-B-Q Sauce that I wanted to try. I bought a 16 ounce bottle for $2.99. It's noticeably spicier than their regular sauce, which I've used in the past.

The message from Pat and the bottle of sauce combined to make me flashback to a trip my family took to Atlanta in May, 2005. We ate at the Williamson Bros. restaurant in nearby Marietta. It was still four months before I started the weight loss program that changed my life.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009


An article in the Washington Post yesterday described how the government messed up the conversion to digital TV, which was supposed to happen on Tuesday. A big part of the problem was that the responsibility for the changeover was split between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It probably would have been better to let the "bad cop" FCC handle the whole thing. I think that most of the viewers who wouldn't be ready on February 17th won't be ready on June 12th either.

The article concludes by saying that over 400 stations still plan to turn off their analog signals on Tuesday. Stations that wait until the new June deadline face about $10,000 a month in additional electric bills. Here in Knoxville, WATE plans to keep their analog signal on until June 12th. Considering that their parent company just filed for bankruptcy, they might be forced to rethink that decision.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

what's wrong with this picture?

There is something fishy going on at Dollar General. I thought that the chocolate fish they are selling for Valentine's Day were unusual enough to put on the blog. I mean, what kind of message are you sending to your loved one by giving him or her a foil-wrapped chocolate fish? Why would anyone come up with the idea to mold some chocolate into that shape? Is it supposed to be a trout or a bass or some other species of fish?

I had spotted some chocolate fish at Walgreens recently and taken a picture of one with my cell phone camera. When I saw the same type of fish at Dollar General today, I remembered that I had my digital camera in my coat pocket and could therefore take a higher quality photo. However a Dollar General employee asked me not to take any pictures inside the store. He said it's their company policy. What are they are trying to hide? Could it be that they are selling the fish for only $2 while Walgreens charges $2.99? I would think that they'd want to promote that. So instead of filling web space about the silly chocolate fish that come in boxes marked "You're a Keeper" and "Hooked on You," I'm left wondering what deep, dark secret Dollar General is afraid would be revealed by a photograph.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

downtown revitalization

Former New Yorkers like myself never stop looking for a pizza that replicates their memories of what they had back home. Tonight my wife and I had dinner at Dazzo's Italian Castle Pizzeria on Gay Street, between the Bijou Theatre and the Tennessee Theatre. It's actually sandwiched between the offices of two law firms.

Dazzo's got some publicity from WBIR last month, shortly after they opened. We went there between shows at the Bijou Jubilee and were lucky to get the last two seats in the place. From the chatter around us, it sounded like some of the other customers were planning to see Henry Cho at the Bijou while others were headed to a movie at the Regal Riviera.

The back of the menu says that the owner grew up in Ozone Park in the 1960s and that he started working for the best pizzerias on Long Island in the mid '70s. Like a true New York pizza joint, they offer it by the slice for $2.75. Except at night. The waitress told us we would have to order a minimum of four slices, which is half a pie. It was more cost-effective to buy a whole pie for $15.95 and take home the leftovers. We ordered a plain Neapolitan, which is the best way to truly judge a new pizza.

Dazzo's crust is the way I like it, very very thin. In addition to salt and pepper, our table had shakers of garlic, chili pepper flakes and oregano,
my favorite pizza topping. As my wife paid the cashier, I watched the pizza chef smother somebody else's pie with sausage, pepperoni and bacon. Next time we go, we might try one of their specialty pizzas called "Grandma's Pizza." It's a thin crust pan pizza. Or we might stick with what we know we like.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

the backwards robe

This hasn't been the best week for me. I've been fighting a cold, which started with a sore throat the night before the second performance of the cantata at All Saints Church. Plus I was saddened by the anniversary of my father's death on Wednesday and by the news today that a co-worker died after a long illness. There were a couple of other things too. On the plus side, I was asked to sponsor a candidate in the RCIA at Sacred Heart Cathedral and I got to go to the circus.

Late Tuesday night, my wife and I went to Walgreens to buy me some more decongestant. While the pharmacist was checking our driver's licenses, I was looking at the "As Seen On TV" shelf. I decided to buy the item my wife has been wanting since she first saw the commercial. And although it's hers, she let me try on her brand new Snuggie.

It reminds me of a choir robe, a hospital gown and an airline blanket. It's fairly thin, which became obvious when I held it up to a light. Apparently there is also a product called the Slanket, which claims to be thicker and is considerably more expensive than the $14.95 we paid for the Snuggie at Walgreens. Unlike the TV commercial, we only had to buy one Snuggie and didn't have to pay an extra $7.95 each for shipping and handling. We still got the bonus book light, as promised on the box.

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