Sunday, December 23, 2012

New Web Site

I have a new website.  I posted it last weekend and then spent five days getting the email working again.  Now it appears that everything is fully up and running and I'm pretty excited about it.

I started working on the new site months ago while I was still in Afghanistan.  The old site looked okay but was a pain in the keister to update.  The reason was that it was all done in basic html code, which required me to write every bit of coding by hand.  My friend Genie Maples told me about, which is a web hosting site that has a lot of pre-built templates and drag-and-drop features.  I tried messing with it and it was much easier to put pages together, change them around, add pictures, and delete stuff.  So after returning home from Afghanistan, I got serious about building a new site.  It was finished and launched last weekend.

But then came troubles with email.  When I moved the site from my previous location (WestHost) to Weebly, the associated email died.  I was on the online chat every day with the WestHost support techs trying to get everything straightened out.  The problem was that I got the domain name ( through WestHost, and that meant that the email needed to stay there as well.  But the actual site was hosted at Weebly.  So some of the settings needed to point to Weebly and some to WestHost.  And to say they were very particular is an understatement.

Have you ever dealt with tech support guys?  I've always found them to be friendly, smart, over-worked, and generally dismissive of every other tech support guy's approach.  Every one of 'em knows a better way of doing things, and when you tell him what the last guy told you to do, he'll just smirk and go off in a different direction.  WestHost's tech support was pretty good, but I talked with six guys over six days and each one of them took a slightly different approach.  But, finally, one of them took the bull by the horns, went into my site, and changed the settings himself.  And got the email working.

So now everything is fully operational.  I'd appreciate it if you would take a look, bang on buttons, test the email, Facebook, and LinkedIn connections, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ruby Sparks

We watched the movie Ruby Sparks last night and today.  That sounds a bit odd, like we watched it twice, but no.  It came in from Netflix and we slapped it into the player last night.  I watched it for a while, but it looked like a romantic comedy, so I bailed out and left Janis to watch it.  I was in our office and could hear a bit of it, and as it developed, it was clearly not a romantic comedy.  So I cheated: I googled it.  And what I found made me want to go back and see it from the beginning.

So that's what I did this afternoon.  And it was really good.

Ruby Sparks is a modern update of the ancient Greek tale of Pygmalion.  This is the tale of the artist who created a sculpture so beautiful that he fell in love with it.  The gods interceded and brought her to life.  In this film, the artist is Calvin (played by Paul Dano), who is a writer.  He creates his ideal girlfriend, Ruby Sparks (played by Zoe Kazan).  I'm not going to say more as I don't want to give the plot away, but you can go to Wikipedia or a number of other sites and get a detailed blow-by-blow description.

What I will talk about, though, are the themes.  The main one is the difference between the ideal of love and its actuality.  Ruby, being a creation of Calvin's imagination, is his ideal of what a girlfriend would be like.  This does not, however, result an ideal relationship.  Another theme is that of control.  Since Ruby is Calvin's creation, he can control what she feels, thinks, and does.  This gets into some chilling situations as he deliberately changes her behavior in order to prove his control.

I related to this second theme in an unexpected way.  It reminded me very much of the process in creating a painting.  I often start out a painting with an idea of what it should eventually be.  This is the ideal that I'm striving for.  However, as the painting develops, it takes on a life of its own.  I can direct it to some extent, but it gradually starts to exert its own demands.  The best results come when I work with the painting and let it tell me what it needs.  Jackson Pollack described this best:
When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.

That's when it is working best.  When I try to direct it, to exert my will on the painting, it turns into a fight.  If the fight goes on too long, then I lose the painting.  And this same theme was explored in Ruby Sparks.

A surprise to me was Zoe Kazan.  She not only played the female lead, she also developed and wrote the script and served as executive producer.  She's the grand-daughter of Elia Kazan and a graduate of Yale University.  In other words, this young lady has the chops: an intelligent, capable, beautiful young woman who's an excellent actress, writes great scripts, and can bring a complicated Hollywood project to the screen.  Paul Dano also did an excellent job.  In real life, he's Zoe's boyfriend, and he was very believable in this role.  The movie also benefited from some high-powered talent playing supporting roles, namely Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, and Elliot Gould.  All did an excellent job and obviously had a good time doing it.

So I highly recommend Ruby Sparks.  It's such a pleasure to find an exceptional film that has something intelligent to say, while having fun doing it.  Get it on Netflix and see what you think.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekend Update

As noted in my last post, I came down with a cold right at the end of our visit to our friends in Laurel.  Ten days later, I still have it, although it has finally started getting a bit better.  This has been a rough one, too, and I've felt like walking crap all week.  I've been hearing that others have had it for up to three weeks, which is NOT a positive sign.

I've spent this week working on two different projects.  One is setting up a consulting/professional services business.  That one is moving along slowly as I'm doing some research into basic questions of what, how, why, and when.  Not much to report on that one yet.

The other is the art studio business.  No, I don't have a studio, and I'm going through withdrawals because of it.  That's not the issue.  This week, I've been working on revamping my web site.  I built it years ago, writing all my own html code and revising it over the years.  It's a pain in the butt to update, though.  One of my artist friends uses Weebly, which is a web host that's really easy to work with, and I've been building an entirely new web site on it.  As part of that effort, I've been doing a lot of digging through old stuff, writings, blog posts, and more, and it's been both fun and interesting to remember the various twists and turns my art has taken over the past several years.

Now the new site is finally done.  Now I'm trying to get it activated and, unlike everything Weebly and my current web host say, that's not a simple task.  Weebly provides some simple directions that don't seem to apply to my current host.  When I contacted my current host's tech support, I got a really nice guy who obviously knows a lot.  For example, one of the things he said was:
Generally your records that you want set up are * @ and www 
So one record for *, one record for @, and the last for www. That should be a good start, and if you need any more records you add them about the same.
Generally @ can just be the IP address, * and www can be CNAMEs which are basically an alias, and those can just point to

I have no idea what that means.

So I changed my settings according to my best guess as to what Weebly and my web host said, hit "save", and am firmly convinced that my web site is going to be down for a week until some genius tech support guy comes to my aid and unscrews everything I've screwed up.

In the meantime, I'm looking for potential exhibition venues for the "Faces of Afghanistan" exhibit.  I've sent several proposals out and am looking for more, particularly in the Washington, DC, area.

For this week, my goals are to (1) get my studio website up and running and (2) move the ball down the field with the consulting business.  Exciting?  No.  But it's grunt work that has to be done.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Week Away

We were out of town this past week.  My cousin's son got married near Annapolis last weekend.  Janis and I drove up to Annapolis to stay with most of the wedding party at the Westin Hotel.  We had a ton of stuff to take, so we went in the truck (a Nissan Frontier), which was the first time we'd used it on a road trip.  Turned out to be fairly decent on the highway: it loafed along quietly at 70-80, rode pretty well, and gave us lots of room and visibility.  Still, the drive took 10 1/2 hours, which was a couple of hours longer than we really like to be in a car.  The dogs were perfect little angels, though.  Not a complaint out of them at all.

The Westin is a pretty high-end hotel.  When you see the valets parking Ferraris, Mercedes and Porsches outside the front door, you know it'll be tony.  But when you're forking out that kind of money for a room, you'd expect to get free internet and other services, and the Westin fell short on that score.  Seemed like everything was available, but only for a price that was usually exorbitant, like $3 for a can of  Coke.  Getting nickel-and-dimed to death is annoying, particularly when it's really $5'd-to $10'd to death.

On the flip side, it was good to see family again, some of whom we hadn't seen in years.  We met the bride for the first time, and she's a very lovely, intelligent, and accomplished woman.  Logan won the lottery with this young lady.  We wandered around Annapolis a bit during the day to visit old haunts.  In the evening was the rehearsal dinner at O'Brien's and it was really outstanding.  No expense was spared and O'Brien's delivered.

The wedding was on Saturday.  Janis had her hair done during the day, while I had to make a last-minute run to Nordstrom's when I discovered that I'd left my tie at home.  Ooops!  Yes, I'm still hearing about it a week later ... and will probably hear about it for years to come.  But we got to the wedding site early anyway.  The ceremony was well-done and thankfully not too long.  Janis noticed that the bride was wearing a Vera Wang dress, and she looked like a million bucks.  

Then there was the dinner and toasts and speeches and music and dancing.  It was a great time.  Being old farts, J and I left fairly early to let the kids party.  "Kids" ... they're all in their late 20's and early 30's, hardly kids at all!

The next morning, we had breakfast with many of the wedding guests and then hit the road.  But we didn't go too far: we went to visit some old friends in Maryland for a few days.  Oz and Laura have three young kids and that made for a pretty chaotic time.  But they're great kids and it was loads of fun to see them.  I had two business meetings during the week, but other than that, it was a chaotic/relaxing visit.  Until I started coming down with a cold at the end.  Being around three Mobile Virus Incubators (MVI's, otherwise known as "kids") will do that to you.

We headed home on Thursday, out to I-81 and down through the Shenandoah Valley.  I have long thought that this is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  Particularly on that day, as it was clear and bright for most of the trip and traffic was light.  My cold, however, hit high gear.  Sore throat, feverish, body aches, the whole bit.  Janis did a lot of the driving.  We got home after a bit less than 9 hours and I hit the rack soon afterward.

So we're home again.  I'm over the worst of the cold, thank God, but not in any kind of mood to be productive.  All I want to do is lie around and read trashy novels and doze off.  There are things that need to be done but, screw it, they'll wait.  It's nice to have that option.