Saturday, July 26, 2008

His Last Lecture

Randy Pausch died yesterday. At 47 years old, he is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children.

His passing brings sadness but it was not unexpected. Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago. A well-known professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, he became renowned for his developmental work in the world of computer graphics. Pausch did not resign from his life after learning his fate. His predicament inspired him to write and present a last lecture encouraging others to achieve their childhood dreams. Randy lived to see his.

Pausch preached a mantra focusing on the importance of family, mentoring and creating a thoughtful legacy for oneself. In his words: "We can not change the cards we a dealt, only the way we play our hand." At face value, his talk pivoted on what many of us consider common sense peppered with his undying joie de vivre. His Last Lecture gained its popularity from the way it was delivered, not necessarily due to its novel content.

The Last Lecture was recorded for posterity as Randy's goodbye to the world. He simply wanted to create a vehicle to be remembered by for his family, friends and associates. The nearly two hour recording was posted on You Tube and became a phenomenon. His edgy assertive style and die-hard positive attitude quickly gained fame by word-of-mouth and media spin.

For a few months, Randy seemed blessed. His medical condition improved. He was invited to reprise his lecture across the country. The lecture was transcribed into a best-seller book. Now his flame has gone out but his love of life lives on.

We would all be blessed if our work, thoughts and beliefs were so universally received as Randy's. He was granted his last wish. If you are looking for new drive and direction in your life, The Last Lecture is a good place to find it. Spend two hours reading Randy's thoughts or watch him in action. You will be glad you did and that is exactly what he had in mind.

Mamma Mia!

Have you ever been to a party where nearly everyone is in on a private joke and you just don't get it? Now, through the miracle of modern cinema, this very uncomfortable feeling has been captured in 108 minutes of on-screen horror. It's called Mamma Mia! which is the probable reaction of every viewer who does not possess the required amount of estrogen necessary to embrace this mess within its designed framework. What were they thinking?

Mamma Mia! is based on a song which became the basis of a long-running Broadway musical. Now it's a screenplay! Its foundation is the remarkable catalog of music written and performed by ABBA, one of the most successful pop music groups of all time. Somehow this sure-fire train of success has become hopelessly derailed. A generic storyline of young people in love, combined with many beauty shots of romantic Grecian islands, kept the uninitiated viewers (like myself) occupied for the first two or three reels. Visual and aural pain followed!

The casting defies logic. Mamma Mia! is jam-packed with ABBA tunes at every appropriate (and inappropriate) moment. Yet, none of the main players can competently carry a tune. At least, to the audience I sat with, this deficiency was completely acceptable. It doesn't matter that she can't sing! That's Meryl Streep up there as the promiscuous mother of the bride-to-be! (Oh, brother!)

I completely confirmed this theory at the very end of the film. After 45 minutes of thinking to myself 'Please make it stop!' the entire ensemble appears on screen, decked out in disco attire, for a finale to accompany the credits. The song finally ends. The credits end but the movie doesn't. Meryl comes out of character, into a close-lens shot, and asks the audience 'Do you want another one? Huh?' More credits followed with more tuneless singing and new over-the-top costumes. This produced a final high-five between the movie and its assumed endearing audience.

The marketing geniuses at Universal should have subtitled this flick Postcards From The Edge II - The Greek Love-Child Wedding. ABBA's music was misused as an awkward vehicle for all the miscast stars. This is the Hollywood equivalent of an often-used vacation time strategy: Put ketchup on it. It will taste better. Meryl Streep, and her leading man Pierce Brosnan, should be turning red! Superstars or not, this movie is simply inedible.

Please keep in mind that I am not a subscriber to this gag so my kvetching maybe irrelevant to your potential enjoyment of this movie. Mamma Mia! has earned record-breaking box office numbers since its release propelled by the charms of its cast alone. Rest assured: It's not the plot. It's not the performances. Mamma Mia! indeed!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cans, Bottles, Tires and Bolts

Do you need to open a paint can, open a bottle or remove a bicycle tire? Have I got a tool for you! It's a cleverly designed lightweight paint can opener that is incredibly useful. Take a look at the picture. I received mine free when I bought a pint of white paint at Hein's Hardware in Port Austin, Michigan. They can be purchased for less than a dollar. The rounded end has pressed edges that open bottles easily. At the other end, the curved edge pries up paint can lids quickly and effortlessly. I also use it to persuade bicycle tires off their rims! It's about five inches long and should be in everyone's tool box. A great find!

One challenge I had this summer: Replacing old toilet seats. This is a job that is pure misery by design. Older seats used metal bolts to hold the seat to the ceramic bowl base. What do you do when the thread of the bolt is hopelessly corroded and the nylon nut will not be moved? Get out your old soldering iron! Maybe I was completely frustrated, but I got results fast! I applied the tip of an old high-heat soldering iron and melted the nylon bolts into a couple of places. A little bit of persuasion with a gas plier broke the plastic nut off in no time. How thankful I am that new seats are supplied with nylon bolts and nuts! One manufacturer, Bemis, now offers a nifty quick remove and replace system allowing you to change seats, without ever bothering with a bolt again, in less than a minute.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hot Coco

Colbie Caillat is not your average valley girl. OK, she did work as a receptionist in a tanning salon and she was no stranger to Malibu surf, but Colbie was not going to limit herself to the boundaries of Thousand Oaks, California. She knew the world had more to offer and she wanted to explore it. At 19 years old, Colbie began to write songs and learned to play guitar. She was really good at it.

Her Dad is a renowned recording engineer and record producer and an inspiring coach. As Colbie learned the basics, she got a chance to do some demo work for some of her Dad's clients. She also took voice lessons from Michelle Mindel and auditioned her compositions to her friends. With a little experience and refinement, it all started to make sense. Maybe Colbie really could make a living with her music.

It was time to switch gears. Instead of recording other people's songs, she started to record her own material. In between takes for demos, Colbie would casually sing her own tunes. A couple of times recording engineer Mikal Blue, on the other side of the glass, rolled on Colbie's warm-ups and an informal demo reel of her own was formed. Her Dad heard some of these takes and was taken! She really had a lot of potential!

Word of mouth can be a wonderful thing. Colbie's friends also loved her songs and helped her post them on-line. Her quiet MySpace Music site,, began to attract a lot of attention. First, dozens of people dropped by every day, then hundreds and then thousands. Do you think people like her music? The last time I looked, Colbie was approaching 30 million total hits! Her first CD, entitled 'Coco' will soon reach double platinum in sales. In her words 'it's a diary of my life and all my emotions put to music.' It's also really sweet listening.

Two songs already are memorable radio standards. Colbie's playful 'Bubbly' is a delightful expression of new love. If you realized how 'Realize' was written, you'd have to laugh. Colbie had the basic riff and needed to build up the song. She handed it over to her friend who actually wrote the core of the lyrics. Colbie did not realize until later that the song was addressed to her! I especially enjoy the syncopated groove of 'Feelings Show.' You are bound to find your own favorite. Colbie offers refreshing diversity in her fresh well recorded debut. 'Coco' has been high on the charts since it was first released a year ago. Her fame is deserved. You simply can't miss.

Not only is it a big seller, 'Coco' is also very important from another aspect. Colbie's CD reaffirms that the traditional music industry, ruled by large media corporations, no longer has a monopoly on America's music. Thanks to the open public access of the Internet, Colbie truly is a star created by her peers. We have been waiting for this liberating revolution for decades. Finally, new acts have a chance to emerge based on quality instead of promotion dollars.

Colbie has a busy year or two ahead. She'll be touring America this summer opening for John Mayer and also performing as a solo act. In September, she'll earn more frequent flyer miles visiting many cities in Europe followed by a four gig tour in Japan. In the studio, Taylor Swift is teaming up with Colbie to write and perform a song on Taylor's new album. Colbie is also readying her own second CD for release in the summer of 2009.

Can't wait? Check out Colbie's pure fun cover and video of the Little Mermaid classic 'Kiss the Girl' recently released by Disney. Colbie has also leaked a couple of versions of a fresh song called 'Droplets' to be released as part of her new CD next summer. It's a duet with her songwriting pal Jason Reeves that is so genuine it's bound to be embraced. You'll also hear Colbie on the best-selling Christmas song of 2007 called 'Mistletoe' available digitally on-line. Listen carefully to Jason Mraz' third album 'We Sing, We Laugh, We Steal Things' and you'll hear a familiar voice on track three called 'Lucky.' I'll know what I'll say when 'Coco II' is ready for pre-orders: "Will you count me in?'