Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random TV Thoughts

Ben-Hur was on the other night. I wonder how many people think that's a true story?

I'm glad CBS moved The Big Bang Theory from opposite Antiques Roadshow to follow Two and Half Men. Each has something that tickles me. Two and a Half Men is crude and rude and starting to age a bit, but it is well-executed, and Jon Cryer's twice-divorced character's comically disastrous life helps me look back and laugh a little at my early-2000's marital train wrecks. As for The Big Bang Theory, I went to college with guys like that.

So far The National Parks on PBS is pretty much vintage Ken Burns, which will delight some and drive others crazy. I have liked most of his past work, and this looks to be of the same caliber.

Fox's Sunday night animation lineup had a so-so start. The Simpsons is aging nicely; not the juggernaut it once was, but still capable of some solid laughs. The Cleveland Show had its moments, but seemed a bit uneven. I wonder if it can hold up without resorting to the same shtick used in Family Guy, which itself did OK by going with its strengths, Stewie and Brian. American Dad was definitely the edgiest of the bunch; a send-up of war reenactments was a decent idea, but going heavy on the PTSD angle dragged it down a bit.

More New Tricks for the Old Dog

In the space of roughly a week my house has gone from bare-minimum computing power to a small network. My wife and both daughters have each acquired a laptop to accompany the hopelessly outclassed family desktop, requiring me to dust off the LinkSys wireless router and hook it back up to my ancient cable modem, which has just been declared obsolete by the cable company. Another relic from my first marriage gone. I shouldn't have been surprised; none of the other computer equipment I purchased at the same time (early 2000) is still being used. I could buy one from them (their prices don't seem too bad - $65 for a DOCSIS 3.0), but I plan on doing a little shopping first.

I am the designated household computer guru despite my education and experience having mostly occurred in the misty past when "portable" computers weighed 40 lbs. and 1200-baud modems were pretty kick-ass. (Although a few years ago when my second wife took a Visual Basic programming course I was happy to discover that I could still write a little code.) Personally I think that a great deal of what computer savvy I do possess is simply due to a willingness to fiddle with them. Many people who claim they lack the smarts to understand computers and other electronics actually just don't have the nerve to try. Of course it's possible those people may just have the good sense to avoid really messing things up, while people like me are the ones who give IT professionals nightmares.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not Infinite Variety, but Variety

I can't honestly say I recall what brought this to mind - when you daydream as much as I do you lose track -but it recently occurred to me that while South Dakota isn't exactly a beacon of diversity, each of the cities in which I've lived as an adult has a distinctly different rhythm.

Rapid City is a summer tourist town. Yes, it has a military base nearby and is a regional hub of year-round commerce, but the pace picks up noticeably during the summer. Hotel rates go up (the sheer number of hotels is a big indicator of the nature of life there), the smaller attractions that close during the off-season dust off the shelves, and the traffic gets silly with people trying to find the road to Mount Rushmore, which thanks to past political shenanigans doesn't connect directly to I-90 and requires people to run a gauntlet of local businesses. The ridiculous growth of the Sturgis motorcycle rally has made August almost impossible to handle, and indeed many Sturgis residents leave during that time, renting their homes out for enough money to make a few house payments.

Vermillion has a much more intense, but completely opposite, seasonal contrast. It is a stereotypical college town; it consists of USD, the necessary support system, and a few miscellaneous businesses. It's a small city during the school year and a small town during the summer. This has advantages; when I moved there the gas company waived their deposit when they found out I wasn't a student, and being a steady customer built a good relationship with the local merchants. However, there is a sense that the town is geared for the students, not the residents, which rankled a bit on occasion and contributes to many people who work at the university not living in Vermillion, adding to the contrast.

Pierre's swings are relatively minor. The annual influx for the legislative session is the only event that shakes things up a bit, but it's only a few weeks. There are seasonal activities that affect certain businesses (fishing, hunting, boating), but the overall pace of life is fairly consistent for most people. There isn't anything that completely changes the character of the whole community, unless you count the annual goose migration, which definitely adds a certain, shall we say, texture, especially to the sidewalks around Capitol Lake.

Overall I have to say that I don't have a preference. Each city has it's ups and downs, but the local rhythm wasn't really a factor for me. If I had to choose, I'd probably go with Vermillion as a small town close to larger ones, but I have no serious qualms about any of them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Prose Production Au Naturel

Jon Carroll tells me something of which I could have remained blissfully ignorant for the rest of my life.

I have actually written naked, for the usual reasons - an extremely hot day, an extremely tight deadline - and it's no fun at all. I stuck to the chair, so getting up involved a fair amount of pain. I then tried a beach towel draped over the back of the chair, but the towel stuck to me too, so when I got up I looked like a naked man wearing a terry cloth Superman cape. There may be images that say "seriously crazy" better than that, but not many.

I went into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich. "Back away from the knife," my wife said.

You may rest assured that I am always fully clothed when cranking out this humble blog.

He Must Avoid Cable TV News, Too

Tim Goodman vents a little.

Do you ever have those days when you keep thinking, "What is WRONG with you people?" Of course you do. We all do. Do you ever find yourself in a room and thinking, "Please get me out of here before I kill everyone?" Sure you do. Who hasn't been in that room? Let's face it. We live in a world - and especially a country - where we could spend most of our time going around saying, "Really? No, really?"

How does he control this?

I try to limit my exposure to idiots and other ignorant people as much as possible, figuring that life is short and precious and if I spend my time worrying that people with closed minds will procreate it will only cause me undo stress.

I can only assume by that statement that he doesn't wander the internet regularly. Personally, I try to take a different approach, once explained by a character in the Bloom County comic strip; when you're feeling down, taking a look at all the dweebs around you will make you feel better about yourself. There's nothing like a dose of "it could be worse; I could be that stupid" to cheer me up. Of course, my job puts me in regular contact with enough idiocy (you ran out of gas 2 miles past Sioux Falls?) that I rarely need to go looking for more.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

High Finance in Lower Brule

The headline for this item caught me a bit off-guard.

South Dakota tribe buys New York financial company

It was like reading that the local VFW bought a Las Vegas casino, or hearing that the mailman retired to a home in the Bahamas.

Lower Brule tribal Chairman Michael Jandreau said the purchase will complement the tribe's other businesses and develop an income to improve the standard of living for its 3,600 members, 1,850 of whom live on the Lower Brule reservation in central South Dakota.

It's a big addition to an organization that was already larger than I realized.

The tribe already owns businesses in construction, food manufacturing, farming and ranching, and gaming. "This has the potential to far exceed that," Jandreau said of the tribe's Golden Buffalo Casino at Lower Brule.

Of course, the past few years have also shown that it can go bad in a big way as well.

I'm all for anything that will improve conditions on a reservation, although the checkered past of some tribe's finances invites concern. There's also an interesting benefit for the company.

Westrock Group Chief Executive Donald Hunter said the company's American Indian-owned status makes it largely tax-free.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Destination Known

In his latest column in Road and Track, Peter Egan laments the time constraints that forced him to pass by various attractions during a road trip/comparison test, and ponders the idea of going back when he has more time. This revived a thought process in which I engage once in a while: pondering road trips my wife and I would like to take.

The trips I usually consider are the ones we're most likely to take. Naturally these are fairly local, usually doable in a week or less. The reason for the destination can be pretty random, although we like to use a nearby, previously unvisited casino as an initial excuse. From there it's a matter of finding out what else there is to see, although in the case of one casino on our list, on I-29 at the North Dakota/South Dakota border, the very existence of such a huge operation in the middle of nowhere is a novelty. One that has recently come to mind is an area north of Sioux Falls, with the Royal River casino in Flandreau and the grave of an old friend in nearby Pipestone, Minnesota. (This one may be at the top of the list; I still think of him with some regularity.) I think we'd combine the previously mentioned casino in the middle of nowhere with a trip to Montevideo, Minnesota to see a former colleague who now runs a café there.

Then there are the trips that may never actually happen, but could, given favorable circumstances. One that I enjoy considering actually involves Mr. Egan: a drive past his Wisconsin farm southeast of Madison, just because I have read so much about this area in his columns and articles over the years. (No, I wouldn't stop in, unless he happens to be outside when we drive by; then I might say hello). My wife would like to go to Las Vegas again; she loves the place and an old friend lives there. I have never been there, so we'll probably do our best to make this one happen someday.

The trips about which I give the least thought are the pure fantasy drives that could be taken with unlimited time and resources. The possibilities are just too numerous, and the unlikelihood of being able to do one makes it hard to consider.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Lot From a Little

Finally a chance to peruse a few websites, and just in time: James Lileks spent some time here in South Dakota, hitting the standard stops. First up, the Corn Palace.

Mitchell has done a tremendous job of marketing itself, thanks entirely to the maize-smothered structure at the end of downtown.

The boosterism was strong, as you can expect, and stirring as well: for every twenty towns that never grew beyond a half-dozen streets and a post office, there’s a Mitchell, a town that grew big enough to think it could be much, much more.

Really, it is amazing that Mitchell is what it is - a regional shopping destination and a vibrant city - considering it's only about 60 miles from Sioux Falls. That boosterism has been wildly effective over the years at using a single mid-level (at best) attraction to create a community that really has no business being that successful.

Then, after stops in Murdo and the 1880 Town, Wall Drug.

We headed right for the 5 cent coffee and the ice water. Better coffee from an urn I’ve never had; colder, crisper, cleaner water can’t be found. I had three cups of coffee and tipped the box a dime. (It’s on the honor system.) We wandered through the gift shops - well, no, let me rephrase that. We wandered through Wall Drug, which is a gift shop. The quantity of kitsch is astonishing, and if the entire complex was buried by a layer of volcanic ash, archaeologists of the future would conclude we were a civilization based around the worship of wolves and lanky men in hats.

But after taking the usual tour, he came to realize something.

At that point I looked around at the walls, smothered from street to back with pictures and testimonials, thought of the laminated clips that lined the hallways, the old scarred statues, the signs that were old when I was young, and I thought, well. Nine, maybe ten years, a fellow could get to the bottom of all the secrets here.

Again, more than there should be.