A Miscarriage of Justice?

On May 10, the Washington Post reported that prosecutors in Ohio are weighing whether to pursue capital murder charges again the man accused of kidnapping and raping three women in Cleveland. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of charging Ariel Castro with murder.

I am as horrified as everyone else by these crimes, and if he is found guilty, I can think of no better punishment than chaining this man in a dark hole for the rest of his life. But charging him with murder, after all the other things he is alleged to have done, seems an unnecessary upping of the ante and reeks of a prosecutor pursuing keyed up charges against a defendant that everyone would like to see put away.

I am against the death penalty. I think the state has no right to execute citizens. I’ve long accepted that I’m currently in the minority on this one, though I believe that those of us we feel the same will ultimately be on the right side of history.

But beyond that, I am distinctly concerned with the rush to charge someone with murder because their actions may have led to a miscarriage. If these charges are successfully prosecuted, then that may throw open the door to something that the anti-choice forces have wanted for a long time: equating the ending of pregnancy with murder in the courts.

This monster kept three women captive for ten years and debased them in ways that decent people cannot imagine. Yes, lock him up and throw away the key. But do not use this moment to press gratuitous if popular charges against a hated perpetrator just to score political points. And don’t let the actions of a man who degraded women lead to other women being robbed of their right to make their own health and reproductive choices.

In the heat of public passion to prosecute a man who deprived women of their liberty, let’s not deprive more women of their own constitutionally protected rights.

 

“Old Man Yells at Chair”

Old Man Yells at Chair

Old Man Yells at Chair

It’s easy to make fun of Clint Eastwood yelling at an empty chair, but this may have been the most honest moment in the Republican convention.

Throughout this entire campaign season, Republicans have been railing against a President who they believe apologizes for America, doesn’t understand hard work, one who secretly wants to take away your guns, defund medicare, gut work for welfare, who believes that the government should micromanage your life, and intends to turn over sovereign control of our nation to the U.N.

I don’t blame them. I would hate that guy too!

Sadly for them, however, that’s not President Obama. That is some bizarre, twisted version of reality that they’d much rather run against. It’s Bizzarobama!

So trotting out invisible Bizzarobama and railing against his policies was entirely appropriate. After all, since they are running against a figment of their fevered imagination, they may as well give him someplace to sit down.

My time with Michael Sturges

Michael Sturges was my best friend in Charlottesville. He passed away this week.

Michael might have been mildly amused to hear that I thought of him as my best friend. We knew one another through work and our families only occasionally saw each other. Michael was much more social than I. He had a long trail of friends from everywhere he went. He was deeply involved in his church and his kid’s sports teams. He had people that he and his family regularly took vacations with. I was not one of those friends. I don’t really know who he considered his best friend, though I like to think that I was somewhere near the top of the list. But I knew he was mine.

When I met Michael, I had already lived as a transplanted Yankee in Virginia for about five years. I worked in the University Bookstore; he had just started at the University Computer Store. We worked on a sales project together and I knew immediately that I just clicked with this guy. That really doesn’t happen to me very often. After a few weeks, I asked him if, by any chance, he was related to John Sturges, the great Hollywood studio director of such classic films as Gunfight at the OK CorralThe Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape. Michael actually looked a little shocked, then told me that his father was indeed the director John Sturges.

Michael had grown up in L.A. and labored in the film industry at the same time that I did. His mother had worked at MGM and to him it was just the family business. Like me, he got to a certain point where he realized that he needed to see life beyond L.A., so he headed north to Washington state (coincidentally, where I was born), where he met his wife. She is an Episcopal priest, and also like me, it was his wife’s career that brought them to Virginia.

Whenever possible, Michael and I would get together and talk about films, both of us grateful to have found someone who shared our passion for the history and culture of Hollywood. He had wonderful stories to tell about being on the set with his dad, for John Sturges had directed some of the biggest names in the business.

When Michael was getting ready to stop working at the computer store full time, he suggested me as his replacement. So for a few weeks, he was my boss as he trained to take his place. Then he quit, came back as a part-timer, and I was his boss. We worked together there for a few years, then I moved on to another series of jobs, until I found myself at the central computing department for the University hospital. Michael had tried his hand at a few private enterprises, but by the time his son was born, he was ready for the steady employment of another University job. I recommended him to my department and we found ourselves working together again. I eventually moved on from that job to a one in the University Central IT department, and after a year there when another position opened up, I recommended him again and once more we found ourselves working side by side.

We just always made a good team. Whether it was rolling boxes of computers through the halls of the hospital, working together to solve some technical problem, or organizing conferences for a hundred attendees, everything was just easier and more pleasurable with Michael at my side.

Those last few years were the best. By that time, Michael and I were just old friends, laughing at the same jokes and shared memories, and marvelling at the growth of our children.

For reasons that I never understood, people at work would sometimes call me Michael. This was doubly-confounding to me because Michael is both my middle name, and the name I was known by growing up. So when someone at work called me Michael, I’d have to stop and think “How did you know that … oh, you mean Michael Sturges!”

I never really thought that we looked much alike, but because Michael was a very good-looking man, I always took it as a compliment. I was never sure how he took it, though.

Several years ago, I introduced Michael to the music of Nick Lowe, and he also became a fan. When we learned that Nick was playing at a venue in Northern Virginia, Michael and I drove up and spent a memorable evening listening to music and swapping stories.

For many years, I have been a volunteer with the Virginia Film Festival. In 2008, at my suggestion, the Festival screened Bad Day at Black Rock, one of John Sturges’ most lauded films, to a theater full of high school students. After the screening, we came out on stage and I interviewed Michael. He enthralled the students, including my oldest daughter, with tales of his father and what it was like to grow up in Hollywood.

A little over two years ago, Michael started experiencing odd health problems, oddities that perplexed his doctors and confused him, for he always took good care of himself and was in excellent shape. When they could not come up with a diagnosis, his doctors suggested a full body scan. On that day, Michael was not supposed to eat or drink anything except a liquid that would make the scan work better. His wife drove him to work that morning and I went with him to the medical center.

When Michael learned that he had cancer, he was initially a little relieved. At least they knew what was causing his strange symptoms and could deal with it directly. Colon cancer is common and highly operable. Michael had the surgery and went on chemotherapy. He complained that the chemo wiped him out, but Michael was such an energetic guy that his version of being wiped out just meant that he missed a couple of days of work every other week.

A few months later, during a routine checkup, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and spread throughout Michael’s intestines. His doctor told him that aggressive therapy could slow it down, but that there really was no stopping it. Michael decided not to continue with the therapy. He chose quality of life over possibly living a little longer and being miserable. And at that point, for all the doctors knew, he could go on for several years more.

About this same time, in April of 2011, I left the job that I had held for five years and moved to the University Library. Michael joked that he would probably follow me in a few months, but it was not to be. In September, Michael was informed that the cancer had progressed, and he might have no more than a year.

Last Spring, I learned that Nick Lowe would be playing again in Northern Virginia. We decided to recreate our trip from a few years before and took the long drive up to Alexandria, talking on the way up mostly about family, work, mutual friends, and of course, old movies. Nick gave a great show that night and I took lots of pictures and videos, but I kick myself now that I did not hand my camera to someone and ask them to take a picture of Michael and I together.

Only on the way home did we start to talk about the cancer. Michael joked that, except for the cancer, he was in great shape. And he was right. The chemotherapy that he went through the first time really laid him low. Now that the cancer was back, by not choosing the aggressive therapy, he just felt better and had more time to spend with his kids. That was the most important thing to him.

That night, I got a little lost driving back home from Alexandria. That was okay, though, as it just gave us a little more time to talk, to listen to some music, and bask in each other’s company. When I finally dropped him off at his car, he said “That was fun. Let’s plan to do it again sometime.” Michael was always just so naturally optimistic that I believed him. I believed we’d have another chance to take a long drive and enjoy an evening of music together.

That was the last time that I saw Michael Sturges. We kept promising to get together, but our paths did not naturally cross at work any more. A month later, Michael tendered his resignation from the University and we all knew that the time was near. But I did speak to him one more time.

I produce a local weekly radio show, and one Sunday morning in early July, our scheduled guest did not show up, so at the last minute I jumped in front of the microphone to discuss events in the news that week. I didn’t have headphones on because I was still updating the weather and doing other producer things. About halfway through, the host of the show told me that someone on the phone had called in to say what a good job I was doing. I quickly put headphones on, but I didn’t recognize the voice, I just heard someone saying how nice it was to hear me and what a great job I always did. Only after the show when I went back to listen to the audio did I realize that it was Michael.

I am grateful that our last conversation was recorded, that I can go back anytime and hear a testimonial to the man’s respect for me, but how I wish I had known then who it was I was talking to. Michael is probably still laughing about that one.

And there it is: I just referred to Michael in the present tense. This touches on perhaps one of the most remarkable things about our friendship. Michael was a Christian. I am an atheist. But Michael wore his beliefs comfortably. He never judged anyone for believing differently than himself, and strove always to measure people by their deeds.

My rational self knows that he is truly gone, but we humans are just not wired that way. When someone is as important to you as Michael was … is … to me, you cannot easily accept that they are not in some way still present. I feel his presence constantly. It’s impossible for me to take a fifty steps around the grounds of the University without passing through some place that holds specific memories of Michael. More than once in the past few days, I thought for just a moment that I saw him, only to sadly realize that it was impossible. It’s a trick of the mind, a ghost image burned into the core of my brain, and I hope that it never fades away.

Last Fall, shortly after we learned that he might not have much time left, I took Michael to lunch and I made him an offer. I had always enjoyed his stories of growing up in Hollywood and the adventures he undertook after leaving L.A. I wanted to write his life story, to document for all time what a remarkable man he was. Michael thanked me for the offer, and declined. He told me that he was too mindful of his limited time, that he didn’t want to do anything that might take him away from time spent with his children. That was true, but I think it was also Michael’s modesty speaking. He never fully believed what we all knew: that he was a great man; that he had a life not just worth living, but worth telling.

And so, at last, I do the only thing I could ever have done, my final gift, to write as well as I can of my time with Michael Sturges. For those of you who knew him, I hope that I have done him justice. And for those who now shall never have the pleasure, know that you missed a fine man.

Goodbye, my friend, my brother. Though we are all poorer for having lost you, we are richer still for having had you in this world.

Why I am breaking a pledge and supporting Brandon Collins for Charlottesville City Council

When voting in the local Democratic primary, I had to sign a pledge promising to support the final candidates, even if they were not the ones I voted for. Now that the results are in, I find that I will have to break that pledge. This is a critical election and may well determine the fates of many important issues in our town. The main dividing line in this community is between what proponents like to call “smart growth” and sustainability.

Although I agree that growth does need to be smart, it is clear to me that our town first needs to look at better utilizing our existing resources. To me, this is what the arguments about damming versus dredging, or building roads and private buildings on public land, really come down to. It’s a vision for the future of Charlottesville.

I cannot in good conscience support all of the Democratic City Council candidates. I have looked at the Independent candidates running for council, and I think that Brandon Collins in particular speaks very well to many critical issues facing our community, particularly poverty, social justice, and environmental responsibility. Also, he’s a Socialist, so this will absolutely drive the teabaggers mad!

I urge all of my fellow Charlottesville citizens to listen to Brandon and all of the other candidates, and to vote intelligently.

Dear JPJ Arena: I want a refund. Here’s why.

Management
John Paul Jones Arena
PO Box 400862
Charlottesville, VA. 22904-4862

My wife and I paid $130 to see the Dave Matthews Band at John Paul Jones Arena on Nov. 20. We had to leave ten minutes into the show because of the unbearable haze of marijuana smoke. I would like my money back.

Since the JPJ arena opened, we have attended a number of events, including concerts by other big-name acts such as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, and even Jon Stewart. We were very excited about finally seeing Dave Matthews in concert.

From the abundance of alcohol in the parking lot, it was clear that a lot of people were there to party and not necessarily to listen to the music. However, my concerns about what it might be like in the arena were assuaged by the heavy security. Everybody was patted down and a security officer even made me throw away a little 4-oz. bottle of water that I was carrying. My wife, who is getting over a cold, had to empty her pockets of tissues.

The random seat assignment had placed us very high up in row V, which was further from the stage than we had ever been before. That aside, the opening act was great, we had a decent view, and we were energized just to be there.

But all of that excitement degenerated within moments after Dave Matthews came on stage and we were immediately enveloped in a heavy and inescapable fog of marijuana smoke. I have asthma and, although it is normally manageable, I could not tolerate the sheer density of this smoke. I covered my mouth and nose with a cloth at first, hoping that the smoke would lift, but after just two songs I had to leave.

We found a police officer in the lobby, told him our seat numbers, and he and his partner went to look. They came back a few minutes later and told us that so many people were smoking there was no way they could identify individuals. The officer apologized, but said that it had been the same the night before.

I found an arena employee and asked if we could possibly sit further down where, I hoped, the smoke would not be as bad, but she told me that we could only sit in the seats assigned to us. We then tried standing just inside one of the entrances in our section so we could at least see and hear the concert, but the stench was too much and we had to go outside.

I am deeply disappointed by this entire experience, and the root of my dissatisfaction is with JPJ. I have spent enough time at raucous outdoor concerts to know what to expect in those settings. But when the John Paul Jones Arena first opened, we were promised a friendly venue that would benefit the entire community. Now I would have to be persuaded to ever set foot inside again.

I am appalled that your security prevented us from carrying in perfectly legal items such as water (I could not even bring in my emptied container, though I was welcome to pay $4 for bottled water once inside), while other concert-goers were able to bring illegal substances into the arena. This was security theater only, and it created an unhealthy and inhospitable environment which drove out law-abiding citizens.

We were seated in section 311, row V, seats 3 and 4. I paid $65 for each ticket. I would like a full refund of $130.

9/11 + 8: Remembering The Day The Earth Stood Still

In early 2001, I began Semi Truths as a pseudonymous venue for my political satire. Tuesday nights were my night for writing, so I would spend much of the day in my pointless job thinking about what I would craft that evening. On Tuesday morning, September 11 2001, I met some co-workers for breakfast, then drove in a little later than usual, listening to the radio on the way. That was when I first heard about the plane that had struck the World Trade Center.

I didn’t go into work right away. I sat in the car and listened. I tried to remember which of the towers I had actually been in a few years before, visiting a friend’s office. I was shocked and concerned, but I had no idea then that every minute of that day would end up burned into my memory, every moment taking on significance.

This is not “my 9/11 story”. I don’t have a story. I went about my life, went back to work the next day, carried on as before. In fact, the past eight years have been generally pretty good to me. I didn’t lose anybody that day, my life was not forever changed.

And yet. And yet…

We all have a 9/11 story. We all know where we were and what we were doing when we heard. And our lives have changed. Some days, it still feels like a bad dream, the kind you can’t shake off the next morning.

Because of various other projects, I haven’t had much time lately to post original content to this blog, so I am making an effort to republish some of my original articles and posts from the past. The link below will take you to an essay that I wrote that evening of September 11, 2001. My words may not be particularly meaningful to anyone else, but now I find them to be both curiously naive and sadly prophetic.

Read The Day The Earth Stood Still

“I wonder what they’ll say, when they see their boy looking this way?”

I last slept in my own bed the night of Saturday, August 1. The next day, I drove to Henderson NC to pick up my two youngest from summer camp, then on that Monday, drove us all to Duck NC for an Outer Banks vacation. On Friday, August 7, I bade goodbye to my family and aimed my little Prius westward. In the sixteen days since then, I have passed through Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico on my way to California, then back through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and now Indiana. I probably missed listing a state or two, but I am tired. I awoke this morning in Evansville, and face another 500+ miles to Virginia. My sleep last night was pierced by dreams of abandoned children. Today, I am haggard but hopeful; tonight, August 23, by hook or by crook, I sleep in my own bed.

YouTube Preview Image

Sunrise, Sunset

I have spent all of my life on the coasts; California through the 1980s, and the Atlantic coast since then. Moving from one coast to another, I immediately made two observations. One, we seem to have an innate sense of where the ocean is. When I moved from L.A. to New York, I kept getting north/south and east/west mixed up. After twenty-plus years, I’ve finally straightened that out, but it all came rushing back on this trip when I drove from the North Carolina Outer Banks to Santa Cruz, California. To go from having the ocean on the east to having it on the west was very disorienting.

My other observation is that sunrises and sunsets are very different. On the west coast, sunrise is pretty fast. It goes from dark, to dawn, to day rather quickly. But, as the sun sets in the west, it also reflects off the Pacific Ocean and back into the sky, so that long after the sun has disappeared over the horizon, the sky stays light and then slowly dims. On the east coast, the effect is the reverse: the sky begins brightening long before we ever see the sun, reflecting off the Atlantic and into the sky in advance of sunrise.

I spent yesterday driving from Colorado to Kansas, and observed a wholly different effect. Here, in the high plains, you can practically see the day/night terminus. As I drove east, I could see and the sun set behind me, the western horizon awash in dramatic layers of red and orange. And before me, I stared into darkness as night approached from the east. It was a very spooky effect that, I realize, most of the country is familiar with, but to a boy from the coasts, it looked like I was driving into the end of the world.

Where the Wind Goes Blowing Down the Plain

Oklahoma Wind Farms

Oklahoma Wind Farms

Driving across America, one gets a feel for how large and varied is our country. In Oklahoma, I soared through miles and miles of wind farms. I know that some communities have fought against these turbines, referring to them as “eye pollution” but I thought they were beautiful. I could have spent hours just watching them spin.

Approaching Shamrock, Texas, the town where I spent last night, I saw multiple storms dumping rain twenty miles away. I was like driving under a gigantic, gray sponge.

The Curse of the Stupid People

I must be a bloody genius.

As immodest as that may sound, all the evidence points in that direction. The only rational conclusion I can reach is that, on a mean curve, I must be among the brilliant people on the planet because other people are so d*am stupid!

Case in point: I am staying at a hotel in Arkansas. (“Aha,” I hear you say, “the results are already skewed!“). The bathroom shower is graced with a plastic curtain on a rod, and next to that is a sign that reads “When showering, please close curtain.” And just to emphasize the point, there is a pictogram of a person showering with the curtain open, and a red slash through it. Well, thank goodness they took the time to write out the sentence (in English and Spanish, I might add); otherwise, I might have thought that showers were forbidden!

But just think about this for a moment. Not only are people so stupid that the hotel management feels compelled to tell us to close the  curtain while showering, but the very fact that they went through all the trouble of making those signs means that it probably happened!

I assume that, when I checked in last night, the clerk did not size me up and think “Hmm, better give him the room with the sign about closing the shower curtain.” Rather, it is safe to assume that such signs exist in every bathroom in the hotel. Which means, at some point, someone neglected to close the curtain while showering, stepped out of the shower and into a puddle of water, looked back at the shower, spied the curtain, and thought “Huh?”

So to my fellow geniuses out there, the ones who think of closing the shower curtain without the use of visual aids: what other signs have you seen lately that show just how awfully smart you must be?

ELVIS = LIVES

In 1987, while driving from L.A. to my new life in New York, my dasboard power light started flashing shortly outside of Texas. I stopped at a garage in Alabama and they diagnosed that my alernator was failing. They also informed me that it would take them days to get that part for my VW Rabbit. My best bet was to get to Memphis, so they charged up my car battery and pushed me downhill toward Tennessee.

As it turns out, I spent a memorable weekend in Memphis. My hotel was just down the street from where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, which was odd. I couldn’t afford Graceland, but I visited the gift shop and bought a set of Elvis placemats.

Today, I am merely passing through Memphis and (knock on wood) my car is just fine. As much as I’d love to, I cannot take the time now either to visit Graceland, which is a double shame because I learned from the gentleman below that this is Elvis Week. As he explained “This is the week we celebrate Elvis’ death!” (I suggested that “commemorate” might be a better choice of words; after a moment’s pause, he agreed.)

I ran into Elvis at the Patsy Cline & Chet Atkins Memorial Rest Stop, found here: http://www.schmap.me/6wdnzt

Smoky Mountain Dawn

In October of 1987, at the age of 26, I loaded a small U-Haul trailor with my boxes of books and comics, hitched it to the back of my ten-year-old VW Rabbit, and left Los Angeles for my new home in Brooklyn, New York.

For a week or two before my departure, Southern California had experienced a number of substantial earthquakes. A sign on the back of my trailer read:

I’m tired of waking with a shake.
I’m going where the land don’t quake.
L.A. to N.Y. or bust!

Today, in August of 2009, I am having flashbacks to that trip as I travel over much of the same ground in reverse (not actually in reverse gear, you understand) as I leave my east coast home and drive to California to visit friends and family.

There are several notable differences, of course, between 1987 and now. On this trip, I am driving a 2009 Prius (getting about 500 miles a tank), listening to my iPod, getting directions from my GPS, and blogging my journey by typing into my iPhone.

In 1987, I drove 700 miles a day (except for the days I lost when my car broke down, but that is a story for another time), pulled into rest stops when I got tired, and slept in the back of my car.

Part of the reason I chose to do the trip this way now, I will confess, is to prove to myself that I still can. So yesterday, after a week at the Outer Banks with the family (and in-laws; but that, too, is a story for another time), I bade everyone goodbye and steered west. Last night around midnight, after covering just over 500 miles, I pulled over into a rest stop high up in the Smoky Mountains National Park and climbed into the back of my car to grab some much-needed sleep.

I awoke this morning before dawn. As the sun rose, I snaked my way down a foggy mountain and watched the morning mist slowly rise from it’s own slumber and pepper the sky.

Another difference from 1987: I’m no longer 26 years old! It’s not yet 10:00 AM, and I’m already bloody exhausted. Tonight, I check into a hotel, catch some TV, and sleep on a mattress!

Feeling like Bartleby

I tested it all at home, before I left: using the iPhone Geotweet app, I could simultaneously post my location to Twitter, Facebook, and here on CitizenMcCord.com. You can see the successful tests below, but now that I have embarked on my actual road trip, the Geotweets are not posting. So I am forced to do this the “old-fashioned way”, typing my location in using the keyboard on my iPhone.

*sigh* … I feel like Bartleby the Scriviner.

Anyway, here I am at a rest stop between Burlington and Greensboro NC: http://www.schmap.me/brmcp8

I hope to make Chattanooga TN tonight.

Road Trip

In a few weeks, I plan to drive my little Prius across the country (starting in North Carolina’s Outer Banks) to visit friends and family in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In some ways, this will be a recreation of the drive I made in 1987 when I moved from L.A. to New York. Except it’s a round trip. And in a better car. And I’ll have a cell phone. And an iPod. And a laptop with Internet. And I plan to blog and Tweet along the way…

Come to think of it, I really do not miss 1987.

The Enduring Legacy of Rock and Roll

The upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Celebration has got me to thinking. In the history of popular rock in the 20th century — let us say from 1950 to 2000 — what will our great-grandchildren still be listening to an 100 years? And of those musicians, how many emerged after 1975?

Am I being too provincial to suggest that the enduring legacy of Rock and Roll comes from 1950 to 1975?

Make your own list of musicians that you think we’ll still be listing to in a hundred years. Now, how many of those acts formed after 1975?

The first list is easy:

  • The Beatles
  • The Kinks
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Who
  • Pink Floyd
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Billy Joel (I think he is our generation’s Cole Porter)
  • The Talking Heads (forming just under the wire in 1974)

I could go on and on and on…

Now, name groups that came on the scene after 1975.

  • The B52s (1976)
  • U2 (1976)
  • REM (1980)
  • Dave Matthews Band (1991)

Any others?

Lame Claims to Fame: Meeting Mr. Loaf

Currently in the Twitterverse, everyday people are posting succinct messages about their encounters with celebrities using the hashmark #lameclaimtofame. Hence, my recollection of riding an elevator with Ruth Buzzi, hoping that she wouldn’t hit me with her purse.

However, this brings to mind a much better story that I could scarcely detail in 140 characters or less.

In the early 1980′s, when I lived in Los Angeles, I was friends with a young lady who was the personal assistant to Stella Stevens. I met Stella a few times and she was always cordial and lovely. My friend Joyce confided in me that Stella was secretly dating musician Meat Loaf.  This was all very hush-hush because Meat Loaf was still married at the time, but separated from his wife. Also, Stella Stevens was a glamorous movie and TV star, and Meat Loaf was, well, Meat Loaf, an overweight has-been whose own biggest Hollywood claim to fame at that time was a bit part in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Meat Loaf

Even though I knew their secret, I was still not prepared for the scene that greeted me when I went to pick up Joyce from Stella’s house. I rang the bell, and when the door open, there stood Meat Loaf in a bathrobe (and, from what I could see, nothing underneath), unshaven, unkempt, and holding a can of beer. It was probably 4:00 in the afternoon.

“Yeah?”, he asked. For just a moment, I was utterly speechless, then I finally blurted out “Um … I’m here to get Joyce.”

Joyce bounded out wordlessly past me, and I turned to see Meat Loaf staring at us from inside the house. I think I must have woken him when I rang the bell. I said “Nice to meet you…”, and stopped right there, because I had no idea what to call him. “Meat”? “Mr. Loaf”? He just waved his beer can at me and closed the door.

The Other Meat Loaf

I’m happy to report that Mr. Loaf’s career has since had several revivals, and his seminal album, Bat Out Of Hell, continues to sell copies even more than 30 years after its release. I think I just caught him on a bad day.

iPhone Alphanumeric Passcodes

A number of people wrote in response to yesterday’s post about changing my iPhone alphanumeric passcode to say that they never had the option to use anything but a numeric passcode. I did a little more digging and discovered that the use of an alphanumeric passcode was dictated by an Enterprise iPhone Configuration that was pushed down when I connected to my company Exchange server.

Complex passcode, tiny keyboard

Initially, the system administrator had required a complex passcode. After some reconsideration, he dialed it back to allow less secure passcodes. That is when I changed my own passcode from a complex alphanumeric string to a simpler alphanumeric string, but because my passcode  contained letters, I was still greeted with the tiny keyboard.

(Complex passcode, tiny keyboard)

As I mentioned yesterday, after changing to a numeric passcode, I am now greeted with the much friendlier numeric keypad.

The Enterprise iPhone Configuration Utility is downloadable from Apple and contains many useful tools. From the Mac website:

(The) iPhone Configuration Utility lets you easily create, maintain, encrypt, and push configuration profiles, track and install provisioning profiles and authorized applications, and capture device information including console logs…Configuration profiles are XML files that contain device security policies, VPN configuration information, Wi-Fi settings, APN settings, Exchange account settings, mail settings, and certificates that permit iPhone and iPod touch to work with your enterprise systems.

What I would like to find next is a utility that will allow me to examine the configuration file that was pushed down to my iPhone by my company Exchange server so I can create my own without overriding the one already there.

Easier iPhone Passcode

I connect to my work Exchange email system with my iPhone, which necessitates a Passcode Lock. Initially, I used a secure password mixing numbers, symbols, and letters, but it proved to be a real pain trying to tap that long sequence in every time my phone locked. Naturally, I quickly reduced my passcode to a simple series of letters, but even that proved problematic because the keyboard is so small.

Alphanumeric Passcode

(Alphanumeric Passcode)

Recently, I noticed that fellow iPhone user had a much more manageable passcode screen. It was larger, and used only numbers. Like this:

Numeric-only Passcode

(Numeric-only Passcode)

I have not seen this documented elsewhere, but it turns out that, if you have a numeric-only passcode, the passcode screen displays only numbers. This bigger screen, with bigger buttons, is a lot easier to type in.

Yes, I know that a numeric-only passcode is not as secure as one that mixes in letters and symbols, but ease of use on an iPhone counts for a lot.

On a related note, if you are concerned about losing your iPhone, I recommend the If Found app by Mobility Ware. This free app creates a custom wallpaper upon which you can enter your contact information. If someone finds your iPhone, the screen will display a message “If Found, please contact me at…” where you can list your email address, phone number (presumably, not your iPhone mobile number, because that would be silly) and other information to help you recover your device. This, along with the new Find My iPhone service via MobileMe, should help set your mind at ease about misplacing your precious, precious iPhone.

Custom Charlottesville keyword search in Firefox

Several times a week, I launch Firefox and search for a Charlottesville business or event. Each time that I type the long word “Charlottesville” into my search bar, I tell myself that there must be an easier way.

Turns out, there is. Firefox uses keywords to create shortcuts to oft-used sites. So, for example, if you often search the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), you can create a keyword for that site and substitute your specific search term. Following this example:

http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/smart-keywords.html

You could then type “IMDB Rachel Bilson” in your search bar, and IMDB page would pre-populate with Rachel Bilson as a search term.

That’s nice, but I wanted to find a way to automatically bring up “Charlottesville”, and then append additional search terms.

The steps to do so are similar to that which was outlined in the page above. Here’s how to do it:

  • In Firefox, type Ctrl-Shift-B to bring up Bookmarks Library.
  • Under All Bookmarks, select where you want to place your new custom bookmark (Bookmarks Menu, for example, but it can be anywhere).
  • Under the Organize tab, select New Bookmark. In the Add Bookmark window, give it an intuitive name (like “Google CVille”). In Location, type the following:
  • http://www.google.com/search?q=charlottesville%20%s

  • Finally, in Keyword, give the bookmark a short code that you will remember (ex.: “cv”, without the quotes).
  • Put what you want in Description, then click Add.

Now, when you type “cv” (without the quotes) in your Firefox address bar, followed by a search term, Google will come up with “Charlottesville” and your additional term already in the search box.

So, for example, if I type (without the quotes) “cv sandwich” in my address bar and hit enter, Google will launch a search window for “Charlottesville sandwich”.

Of course, this is for doing a Google search. It would be just as easy to use any other search site, such as Bing, just following the same context. So, for example,

http://www.bing.com/search?q=charlottesville%20%s

The first part of the URL specifies which search engine to use. “q=” means search term query. The “%20″ is a space, and the “%s” gets substituted for whatever you type after the pre-populated search term. In the example above, “%s” = “sandwich”.

There is probably a similar way to do this in Internet Explorer, but I haven’t found it yet.

If you find this useful, or you have other tricks to add, please feel free to comment below.

Vote Today

I just received an email from Pam Deeds, wife of Creigh Deeds, which begins:

Creigh and I went this morning to vote in Bath County. Right after, he filmed a short video asking you to do the same.

I watched the video, and I didn’t notice him ask us to vote in Bath County.  :-)

But seriously, no matter where you live in Virginia, get out and vote today. The polls are open until 7:00 PM.

Here’s the full letter:
Continue reading ‘Vote Today’