Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On the Patch (unedited)

Oh joy, the savior of community journalism has arrived here in the Twin Cities. We now have Patch! “Hyper local” media will never be the same.

What’s Patch? It’s the parent name of a billion local websites being rolled out across the United States by AOL. You remember AOL, don’t you? AOL was the way we connected to the Internet 10 years ago. Nobody dials up AOL from a home phone any more, so AOL quickly became a footnote in Internet evolution.

But not so fast, AOL somehow determined the best way to make a name for itself 10 years later is to fund thousands of city-specific websites. Basically the Patch websites are local media outlets. There’s no television station or newspaper, just a website to host Patch’s hyper local journalism.

Don't be fooled into thinking Patch has reinvented the wheel. It hasn't. Patch is doing the same thing newspapers, radio stations, magazines and television stations have been doing for centuries, they’re simply delivering their product via the Internet.

Hyper local is a fancy was of saying community journalism. It sounds impressive and cutting edge, but it’s just another way of saying we don’t cover the state, nation or world, we cover your city, just as a newspaper does.

In an era when newspapers and broadcast outlets are stretched thin and hemorrhaging advertising revenue, it’s hard to imagine a truckload of community news sites are going to be financially viable. Newspapers have been giving away their news content for years via the Internet, and earning a fraction of the advertising revenue they use to because of it.

People don’t read want ads when they want to buy a car or a house, they go online to shop. Newspapers have tried to capture that web traffic through their websites, but they were a little late to the party, a variety of online destinations have already filled the online niches.

And I can’t say that I blame the realtors and car dealers of the world for nearly abandoning traditional media. Why spend money on an expensive ad in a Sunday newspaper (and believe me, it’s expensive) when you can dump that money into an up-to-the-minute website with your current inventory? Once Internet access went from being a luxury to a necessity in American homes, newspapers quickly found their delivery model – dead trees – out of favor.

I have no idea how Patch intends to turn a profit. They plan to hire dozens of journalists to chronicle happenings in every community they stake a claim to. And they're paying decent wages for people who are basically newspaper reporters who pimp their content via Twitter and Facebook. Each reporter is issued equipment for the job, (a laptop, digital camera and police scanner are among the goodies you're issued, I think.) And there's a freelance budget to help pay for high school sports stories and other content the one-man show in each community cannot produce. Add in the cost of management for each region, and a sales staff to sell ads for each site, and there's a lot of overhead for a business that isn't selling a product, memberships or subscriptions.

It's fascinating to watch Patch try to convince people they want to spend their free time reading community news through the Internet. I'm skeptical, I doubt Patch will succeed. But nobody has tried to set up a nationwide community news network as ambitious as Patch. Perhaps they're breaking ground, just as eBay, Netflix and MySpace did.

But if I was betting $1,000 on whether or not Patch will succeed, I'd bet against it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Factually speaking #3

I have yet to turn on my heat this winter, in part because I have to have building maintenance come every year and fire up the old furnace for the start of winter. If I didn't pay for heat, I'd be much more liberal with the heat if I wasn't paying the bill. With that bonus fact in hand, here's today's list:

1. I have been too tired/lazy to write about things on my mind during the past week. Perhaps I'll find that proposition more appealing when my girlfriend goes on vacation.

2. My girlfriend leaves on Tuesday for 12 or 13 days. She's going home for Thanksgiving, and further west after celebrating the birth of the turkey.

3. I'm drinking a Lakefront Klisch beer as I write this.

4. I have toured 12 or 13 breweries, small and large, during my lifetime.

5. I have toured three macro breweries, Miller in Stinktown, Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis and Coors in Golden, Colo.

6. I have toured the Summit Brewery in St. Paul 5 or 6 times.

7. My favorite Summit Beer is the Oktoberfest seasonal.

8. I miss October.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Factually speaking #2

Five fast facts since it's late and I'm tired:

1. I wrote a blog about Megabus in 2007. I have no idea how many people have read it, but last I looked, this site linked to my blog entry. (My link is the top "story" on the list.) I liked the headline he/she/it/they wrote for it.

2. For years I have wanted to take Amtrak from Minneapolis to Stinktown. One day I finally will.

3. The last time I visited Stinktown was March, 2008. I'd like to go the weekend of Dec. 3-5, but I'm not sure if that will happen.

4. For years I have heard about this cool Stinktown bar/restaurant called the Safe House, but I have yet to visit it.

5. My buddy Chip lives in Stinktown, and during the past week he spent $287.50 for a one-year eHarmony membership. I'll be blogging about online dating in the future. You've been warned.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Factually speaking (unedited)

I decided that I needed to do something, anything, to make blogging slightly more meaningful at this point in my life. I've had my "super secret" blog for more than three years. Instead of just killing it, starting a second blog or finding a job that doesn't bankrupt my soul, I decided to quasi-promote my anonymous blog for five months or so, primarily through a simple Twitter account. I'm not interested in turning my blog into some lucrative destination that will pay bills, I'm not smart enough to do that. I simply wanted to see if there's an audience for my bitter sarcasm and fairly obvious observations. Even if the Twitter universe has no interest in seeing what I have to say, it's fun following random people and commenting on their fairly obvious observations. Most of them don't care, but maybe that will change, too.

With all that being said, I figure I need to do a few new things with my blog. When inspiration hits, I can spend a lot of time writing about why the BulletBoys shouldn't exist, questioning if Joe Mauer is gay or chronicling a Facebook debate. But part of building an audience is giving that audience a reason to come back regularly. Some nights, however, I'm less than inspired, and ranting at length about how Bob Barker is a fraud seems like too much work. Therefore, after two long paragraphs, I present a new, recurring feature: factually speaking.

The premise: I present a list of facts, according to me, probably with a sentence or two of commentary tacked on for good measure. If I say it's a fact that Zsa Zsa Gabor is alive, and then she dies a week later, you can't hold that against me. Some of my facts will be opinions in disguise, and therefore subject to change, naturally. But they'll be factual at the time of my writing. ("Amy Sedaris is hot" would be one example.)

Without further ado:

1. My uncle died on Friday morning, shortly after 4 a.m. CST. He came home to die on Wednesday, as I understand, and less than 48 hours later his pain and suffering ended.

2. I turned 40 recently, and my co-workers had no clue. I don't hide my age, any more, but I don't bring it up, either.

3. It snowed in parts of Minnesota today, and my city received several inches of snow. I have come to hate winter exponentially with each passing year. If the economy wasn't horrid, I'd get a job dealing cards in Las Vegas. I'm white and can speak English proficiently, I'd have been an easy hire five years ago.

4. I'm already tired of self-important clowns who can't miss a text or can't turn their phone off for two hours in the movie theater. If I find them annoying now, what will life be like in 10 years?

5. I was in New Orleans last New Year's Eve. This Dec. 31 won't be nearly as exciting.

6. I have jumped in Lake Minnetonka at least five times on New Year's Day. Lake Minnetonka is in the west suburbs of Minneapolis. They cut a hole in the ice for the annual event. I have little interest in doing it a sixth time.

7. I spent New Year's Eve, 2007-08 in southern Florida. Midnight was rather anti-climatic.

8. I love the "Back to the Future" movies. My favorite of the three is part II.

9. Four or five years ago I spent New Year's Eve babysitting my nephew, who turned 15 years old on Saturday. We watched the Back to the Future trilogy that night.

10. I never promised my "factually speaking" lists would comprise 10 items.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Serenity now!

I'm sitting at home, typing on a laptop computer I don't own, and for a fraction of a second, I am at peace.

I have had a lackluster week at the office, attempting to churn out something that passes for journalism. Or as I like to call it these days, hyper-local content. Somehow community journalism doesn't sound so impressive when your medium is the internet, I'm learning from the web geniuses out there. You need a fancy name for your paperless words, evidently.

Ooooooooh, hyper local. Sounds impressive! (/sarcasm)

My lackluster week just got a lot worse. I made a cameo at the office this evening and learned that committing a cardinal computer sin is going to make my life a living hell for the next week or two. The sin: I turned my computer off on Wednesday.

Normally I leave ye olde computer on, opting for a restart every few days. In need of a fresh start at the end of the day Wednesday, I turned the old girl off instead of restarting her. Big mistake.

Now I can't get it to fire up, and I smell another dead hard drive in the office. I say another because I went through a similar crisis last winter. Does it sound like I'm cursed? It gets better.

The first time I fried the office hard drive, it was less than 48 hours after my home computer crashed and burned. Suffice it to say I'm not touching the rehabbed home computer for a few days if I can help it. Thank Jehovah for the office laptop.

As I fumbled, mightily, to access my e-mail and create files on another office computer earlier tonight, it dawned upon me that yes, without a computer, my life is devoid of meaning. We can't produce newspapers without computers, and as soon as there's a glitch in the system, all hell breaks loose. And without a computer, how am I going to keep abreast of the pointless activities of so many via Facebook and Twitter?

I'm not the first genius to come to this realization, but the fact we're so tied to these machines makes me wonder how anything got done without them 30 years ago.

Computers have made life faster and easier in many ways, but they've brought us a lot more work because of that, and they've handicapped us to the point of no return when the day comes that they stage their rebellion and collectively blow up in our faces. Every last one of them will go "poof" and anarchy will reign!

Facing such a future, perhaps I should have pulled a Cosmo Kramer and beat the daylights out of every last computer in that office. But no, I opted for serenity now.

I'll save the Insanity for later.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Here's to your health

On an unrelated note, I'm going to make an effort to ramp up my blogging this winter. It's the only way I'll survive another one here in Minnesota. I'm also going to pimp my efforts via Twitter. (I hope I don't regret this.)

Then spring will come, I'll tire of blogging and decide what comes next. This all assumes I still have my sanity, which I wouldn't bet upon.

As I start a new chapter in blogging, I start it on a depressing note. My uncle has come home from the hospital, and things aren't looking good.

My uncle was diagnosed with some form of rare cancer. My mother explained it to me, but I don't remember the details. And they don't matter, ultimately.

My uncle ran a marathon this summer, went to a doctor days later because he wasn't feeling well and wound up diagnosed with his rare form of cancer. His diagnosis came after the cancer was already spreading, and he spent weeks receiving treatment in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic. He is now back home, under hospice care, because further chemotherapy isn't going to do a lot for him, according to my mother.

The man ran a marathon in June, and now he has cancer, and is in rough shape. I have no idea what happens next, or when, and I'm afraid to ask. All I know is that his daughter's wedding was scrapped in favor of a small, private ceremony with the immediate families, down in Rochester. She had to give up her elaborate wedding plans just to ensure her father could be a part of her wedding day. Weddings are overblown, but it's unfortunate such a joyful occasion had to be compromised. You take what you can get, I guess, and be thankful for what you have.

I've long considered myself fortunate when it comes to life and death. Both of my grandmothers died during my adult life, but neither one lingered in poor health for months or years. Each grandmother had her share of health issues during her senior years, but their deaths, albeit unexpected, weren't so painful for me. It was harder knowing my cousin's young life was snuffed out due to cancer. That cousin was one of my uncle's two daughters. Now his surviving daughter and my aunt are watching a similar scenario play out again, and this time at a far more rapid pace.

We all know life is short, that you have to make the most of every day. Sometimes I wonder if that's possible.

As I said, I've been rather lucky for the first 40 years of my life. I've been far less affected by death than most people who spend four decades on Earth.

The hardest thing for me in pondering my uncle's death is wondering if I have made the most of my life. I don't regret that I'm not married and raising a family. But I do question what I should be doing with my life instead of working at a lackluster weekly newspaper chain. What could I be doing that would make me happy? And if not me, then everybody else who deals with me. What should I be doing with my 168 hours per week?

We all wonder what the meaning of life is, what the purpose of our life is. I'm running out of time to figure out my answer. If nothing else, I can be thankful for one more night of good health.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It takes all kinds (unedited)

Take horror movie fans, mix in a dose of art enthusiasts, toy collectors and would-be filmmakers, then and add a dash of metalheads and porn stars. Collectively you have a day at Crypticon.

Crypticon is the convention for those who love the creepy, gory and scary movies churned out by Hollywood and independent filmmakers around the country, and probably the world. It's Minnesota's annual foray into the horror movie fandom and is marking its fifth year this weekend.

There are similar conventions around the country throughout the year, but Minnesota didn't have one quite like this until 2006, I learned today. We have Star Trek gatherings a few times a year, evidently, as well as a science fiction/fantasy gathering in the summer. But Crypticon appears to be the preeminent gathering for those who treat horror film stars like they're the Backstreet Boys circa 1999.

I've been to the big comic books shows here in the Twin Cities many times, and there are a few similarities, but Crypticon is something very different.

Crypticon offers a variety of entertainment throughout the day. There are starts and creators of horror films past and present who attend, and several of them speak during panel presentation. Most of the celebrities and creators in attendance aren't household names, but they've been in films many of us have heard of, even if we're not horror film aficionados. Today I met the guy who plays Dr. Satan in "House of 1000 Corpses," Walter Phelan, who oddly doesn't have his own wikipedia page. I also met Dee Wallace, best known to us as the mom in "E.T."

Wallace has been in a slew of horror films, before and after E.T., but hasn't been in anything nearly as successful, or done anything nearly as prominent. Nonetheless she has kept busy in film and television for more than three decades, and somehow finds it worth her time to appear at a few of these conventions each year.

I can't swear to it, but from the sounds of it, the celebrities and creators are flown to Minneapolis for the convention and provided accommodations during their stay. They make some sort of appearance during the convention and spend the rest of the time hawking merchandise, primarily photos, that they autograph. I was surprised that a standard color picture of Phelan, autographed, was $20. If you brought something of your own to have autographed, he still received $20. Pictures with the celebrities seemed to be free.

In addition to the celebrities and creators, there were several merchandise vendors hawking T-shirts, DVDs, toys and all sorts of random things. One woman I met was hawking custom-made handbags with spooky themes and designs. They were nice bags, but at $65 they seemed a bit expensive. She had a great shtick, however, she was dressed as a zombie and would often play the part. She was there with her fiance who was selling "zombie" caricatures. It was a cool idea, one I hadn't seen done before.

Besides merchandise vendors there were booths hawking independent horror films, some that you could buy on DVD, some you couldn't. One table was handing out DVDs of the movie trailer, although it wasn't clear to me when or how the movie was going to be available. Perhaps my DVD will tell me more.

Another table was for a group of Minnesota filmmakers who are shopping their finished movie, filmed here in the Twin Cities. They have screened it a few times thus far and are hoping to sell it to a studio for either distribution or as the premise for a major motion picture production.

One of their screenings was during Crypticon, which shows horror films throughout the weekend.

That's not enough for you? On Friday and Saturday night of the three-day convention they have live music. I'm guessing they're all metal bands, but I couldn't say for sure. One of the bands, Mushroomhead, signed posters and all that for about 30 minutes Saturday afternoon. They're one of these bands that wears masks on stage. I'm guessing their stage show has a theatrical horror element to it. Just a hunch. They're been around a long time, but are still considered an underground band, I guess. They were the headliner for Saturday night's music lineup, I suspect.

It's the weekend after Halloween, so there are plenty of people walking around in some sort of costume at Crypticon. Several people hawking merchandise weren't dressed for a Monday at the office, and that's to help draw attention and sell their wares, no doubt.

I saw a few women waking around that could just as easily have been attending a porn convention. One of my favorites was the amazon woman dressed as a DD Freddy Krueger. Some of the women I'd see walking around were there selling something, I'd eventually learn, when I'd see them behind a table and notice their "vendor" wristband. But some women were there purely to put on a show for the masses.

There were dudes who dressed the part, too, and on Saturday night there was a costume contest. I didn't stick around to see that, but I'm sure there was quite a show.

It was quite a spectacle, and there were dozens of people in attendance. I don't know how many people will attend during the weekend, but it's not a cheap proposition. A one-day pass for Saturday was $30, and that didn't include Saturday night's music. If you wanted to attend the live music, that would cost you more. There were individual tickets for each day, as well as for the live music, and a weekend pass that made the most sense if you want to make a weekend of it. And apparently some people do. I didn't see proof of it, but I know people decorate their hotel rooms at the convention in a theme, and I think there's a contest for that, too.

Like I said, it didn't come cheap to be there, and most of the goods and services in the convention weren't cheap either, although three of us pooled our money together and bought a two DVD set for $15. I figure seeing two low-budget horror movies for $5 was no different than renting a couple of old horror flicks at Blockbuster.

The horror crowd is not my scene, and if I wasn't being comped to visit today, I wouldn't have spent $30 to be there, I'm pretty sure. But it was fun, and if I happen to find my way back again some day, I'll definitely enjoy it, without a doubt.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"You scream like a girl!" (unedited)

In September 2006 I made what seemed to me like a bold decision at the time, I decided to go to work at a new haunted attraction here in the Twin Cities.

It wasn't the first time I made such a decision. Years earlier I had applied, and been hired, by Spooky World, a one-stop shop for haunted fun and games, the first of its kind in the Twin Cities. That model is now the norm in the haunt industry, it seems, at least here in the Twin Cities.

But for a couple of key reasons I decided working at Spooky World wasn't the right fit for me, so I declined the job.

Years later I finally took the plunge, I decided to wear a costume and attempt to scare people. I was pretty good at it.

Some people are physically scary. Some people, not so much. Some people make weird, terrifying sounds or grunts. Some people have a great gift of gab when it comes to interacting with guests. I found ways to look scary and intimidating, scare people with sudden moves at unexpected times and dish out a variety of creepy and/or sarcastic comments.

What started as a four-weekend challenge to experience something I've long thought would be a lot of fun turned out to be a five-season job. I've blogged extensively about those experiences elsewhere. But not this year.

I knew at the beginning of the season, a season that now extends over seven weekends, it was most likely my last. There is a laundry list of reasons, and I won't go over them all tonight. All I know is that every weekend I was tempted to walk out, or retire abruptly at the end of the night. But I hung on through the season, opting to retire one day ahead of my last scheduled day in order to attend a pair of Halloween parties. I'm glad I did.

By the end of the Halloween season, we've all worked a lot of long hours on multiple Friday and Saturday nights, and are ready to be done working in our haunted maze for a while. That's no exception this season, but for me and possibly several others, we're not interested in going back.

Yes, a part of me will miss being a part of something that I've been with during its first five seasons, but I'm pretty sure I won't miss it that much, not when my memories of the 2010 season are all the things I hated about this year instead of all the things I loved.

Perhaps I stayed one season too long. But if I had left before this season, I'd probably have missed the experience, and wondered what I'm missing out on. At least I know I've hit the wall, and therefore won't regret my retirement.

I wish most of life's decisions were as clear as this one was.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


It's official, Taste of Minnesota is dead.

The food festival that has been a Fourth of July tradition for nearly three decades has been pronounced dead by its ownership. This is the fifth time I have written about the festival. You can backtrack through my writings by following this link to the previous chapter.

When I first wrote about the new-look festival I had no idea that the geniuses running it were on the fast track to kill it. But now the obit has been written. The ownership group has unpaid bills from the 2010 festival, has lost its right to use St. Paul's Harriet Island in 2011 and has announced it will not be able to sustain the festival or pay off its debt. People are disappointed and/or angry. As I noted before, I haven't been to the festival in many years. If it does go away, I couldn't care less. But the attempt by the ownership group to repurpose the festival has been interesting to watch.

When I read an obit story on the Star Tribune's website, I read a few of the comments readers made in response. I try not to read the comments, because reader comments are generally petty and/or ridiculous. But sometimes the temptation is too great.

One person suggested the reason that the festival changed into a music showcase with expensive food, and an admission charge, is that the festival was failing to break even under its previous ownership, and the new ownership group that took over prior to the 2009 festival was saving the festival from bankruptcy.

Perhaps so, but I have yet to read anything suggesting that to be true. If the ownership group was trying to save the festival, it would have been in its best interest to say so at some point. But I never heard an explanation of why the festival needed to change its emphasis, and charge a gate admission in doing so.

I'm skeptical the festival was in danger of financial ruin. I'm inclined to believe the festival owners saw an investment opportunity and tried to convert a marginally successful festival into something more profitable, but failed.

Whatever be the case, the festival is dead. St. Paul had already revoked the festival's claim to Harriet Island for next year's Fourth of July holiday, so perhaps the writing was on the wall.

But I am expecting some enterprising group to create a new, eerily similar festival at Harriet Island next summer. St. Paul is entertaining proposals for use of its riverside park, and it sounds as if there's interest.

So the festival is dead, but from its ashes we may see a new festival in 2011.

I'd say it's too bad that the baby had to be thrown out with the bath water, but perhaps in doing so Minnesota will end up with an event that will peak my interest enough to show up. Stranger things have happened.