You Want Me To Pay For News?

I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper.  Perhaps there has been a few random purchases over the last decade, but nothing in particular come to mind.  As soon as newspapers started posting their news on the web, I cancelled any remaining subscriptions I had.  No more newspaper on the front step, no more carrying the paper around in my briefcase, no stacking up old newspapers until I put them into recycling.  It’s been all digital, all the time.

And, of course, it’s free.  That played small (read: big) part of my behavioral change.  Newspapers really screwed themselves on the whole digital thing, didn’t they?  Did they not know about people like me?  People who were only too happy to cut their subscription from the budget and get their news for free.  Sure, I can no longer do the crossword, but that seems like a small sacrifice.

Now papers are trying to get us to pay again.  This is not an unreasonable request, but many, like me, having jumped at the idea of paying for our digital newspapers.  The problem for newspapers isn’t just that they started giving away content for free over the web.  When you think about it, newspapers have never been able to come up with a solid delivery mechanism.

One of the traditional ways of newspaper delivery was the paperboy.  Under this delivery method, newspapers would turn over their product to teen or pre-teen boys and trust that they would get the papers to their subscribers.  Think about young boys in this age group you might know.  It’s a wonder anyone ever got a paper.  Even with a responsible paper boy (or a paper boy with parents who made him be responsible), this method was still problematic.  Ideally, papers were tossed in the vicinity of the front door.  But rarely did the paperboy interrupt his route due to an imperfect toss that ended up in the bushes or under a front porch.  And then there was the weather factor.  Even when papers were stuffed into plastic sleeves, it was little match for a hard rain or worse.

Another pre-digital delivery method is the newspaper vending box, which are still around but slowly disappearing.  With the vending box, you put in your money, turn a latch, and a stack of papers sit inside.  It was like a public trust.  You’re supposed to take just one.  These boxes were often quite easy to break into, if the latches on them worked at all.  Even if payment was necessary, was there ever a time when two (or more) friends were standing at a vending box and whomever put their money in didn’t then take a paper for everyone?  The proper name for this practice is theft.  It is, however, commonly accepted.

Can you imagine any other vending machine set up this way?  It would be like having a soda machine set up like a refrigerator:  you insert your money and open the door, where there’d be cans just stacked and sitting before you, waiting to be grabbed.  Of course we’d never see anything like that.  Newspaper vending boxes are really one of a kind.

I’m sure newspapers have smart people working for them, but they best they could do for delivery of their product was to either trust the work ethic of a twelve-year-old boy or trust the rest of us to do the right thing at a vending box.  In that context, it becomes a little easier to understand how newspapers made the very bad decision to let us get used to getting our digital news for free and then expect us to pay for it.

Now I’m going to search my Twitter feed for links to pay-only articles.  They seem to remain free if you go that route.  Go figure.


Cutting the Cable: Saving Myself From … Myself

There are many references we can use to date ourselves.  Recently I was thinking about this while talking about TV shows, and I realized that kids entering college today have never lived in a world without The Simpsons.  Sadly, I can go back a bit farther using a TV reference.

I come from those long-ago days before televisions had remote controls.  Yes, there were times when in order to change the channel, you had to get up and walk your lazy ass over to the television and turn the channel dial to another station.  For those of you who are having trouble picturing a “channel dial,” think of one of the dials on your oven that you might turn to get high or low heat.  That kind of dial was once on the television.  Weird, eh?  (BTW, my original thought to explain the channel dial was to compare it to a rotary phone, only to realize that youngsters who didn’t know about channel dials probably have no clue about old phone, either.  Google it.)

Getting up to change the channel might seem like a truly god-awful thing, but back in teh pre-remote days there wasn’t much to turn the dial toward.  The channel selections at that time consisted only of the “Big  Three”:  ABC, CBC, and NBC.  Depending on  where you lived, you might be able to get the PBS channel, as well, which was nice for old people, who wanted their “Lawrence Welk Show” and kids, for programs like Sesame Street (I was more of an “Electric Company” guy which, incidentally, featured a young Morgan  Freeman).  There was no cable, nor was there a Fox Network–which also means there was no Fox “News,” proving sometimes old school is better than new.

I remember when my family got our first remote control television.  I was about 6 years old.  We didn’t say “remote control.”  We said “clicker,” which was apt because the type  of buttons on our remote were big silver buttons that actually clicked when you punched them.  And there were only four buttons:  on/off,  channel up, channel down, and a volume button.

Compared to the televisions in some of my  friend’s homes, our television clicker was pretty fancy because we had a volume button, though it was not like today’s volume control.  There was a  four-volume cycle for this button.  The volume  would start out on the lowest setting, and if you  punched it three times it would adjust up a little  each time.  On the fourth punch, it would jump  back down to the lowest setting.  Trust me, it  was pretty cool for the time.  Playing with the volume was almost like a game … a game that sucked after about two minutes, but it this was also the days before “Pong” (some of you might have to Google that, too) was just invaded people’s homes, so you had to make do with what was available.

This is not intended to be a trip down TV’s memory lane.  I’ve just been thinking about it since I’ve gone back, in a way, from whence I came.  Awhile back I decided to cancel my satellite TV service and now only get network TV through the air.  Complete with rabbit ears.  I still watch programming through my MacBook and iPad, so I’m not entirely kickin’ it old school.  But I no longer have a hundred channels at my fingertips.  This, however, is not a bad thing.  In fact, it was a big reason  for canceling the satellite.

I don’t know about you, but I would waste a lot of time in front of the television.  I’d like to say I was watching something educational like the Discovery Channel, or maybe the National Geographic Channel, but I can’t make that claim.  A typical Saturday morning might consist of making some breakfast and watching SportsCenter, which I’d usually then watch again (the same one), and maybe even start a third time (yes, still the same one).

If I managed to avoid SportsCenter, I’d typically end up watching some random movie playing on one of the stations.  Now, I like movies, and there’s nothing wrong with watching them, but my viewing habits became nothing short of ridiculous.

For example, one morning I ended up watching most of The Matrix.  I like that movie, but the thing is I’ve seen it about ten times.  And here’s the more troublesome thing:  I own The Matrix on DVD.  So here I am, sitting in front of the TV, watching a  movie–with commercials–that I can watch anytime I want by popping in a disc.

About a week or so later, I watched The Godfather in its entirety.  One of my favorite movies, for sure, and which I’ve seen probably twenty times.  Again, with commercials.  You see where this going?  Yep, I own this movie on DVD, too.  And I think I’ve only watched that DVD one time!

Things got worse.  Sometime after that I came home from work one night, heated some  food, sat down, turned on the TV, and spent over an hour watching … wait for it … The Matrix!!!  What a dumbass!  That was the last straw.  I cancelled my satellite TV two days later.

Form me, the reality is that some movies are horrible, passive addictions.  We all have them.  They might be good movies or bad (sometime very bad) but for whatever reason if we come across them, we watch them.  In addition to The Matrix and The Godfather, other time vampires of mine–in no particular order of preference–include The Shawshank  Redemption, High Fidelity, the Jurassic Park movies (something about dinosaurs), Apollo 13The Replacements (yes, it’s a bad movie … I  know!), Ray, Notting Hill (why am I admitting that in writing?), and Ocean’s Eleven.  If I’m channel surfing and come across Ocean’s Eleven–the Clooney/Pitt remake–I become physically unable to change the channel until the credit’s roll.  And if it’s one of those nights where TNT repeats the movie again … well, you can guess what I do.

It’s been about a year now without cable or  satellite pulsing through my television.  And at the risk of sounding like some liberal elitist (some who know me might say “too late”) I must say it’s nice.  There’s no more pass-the-time television.  If I want to watch a network show, I hit the network website.  I think of this at “targeted TV-watching” (copywrite pending?) where I only watch television for a specific reason rather than as a way to just pass the time.

Now time is passed by listening to NPR, watching movies not previously seen, reading,  and writing.  Though maybe any people passing their time reading this may be thinking idle TV time would be a better option!

So far, I haven’t watched my DVD of  The Matrix over the past year.  It sits in a cabinet, patiently waiting.  Maybe if it only had commercial interruptions …


Home Invasion: Mother, Sister & Nieces Take Over My House

I want to be clear on one thing:  I did not try to kill my mother.

What ended as an arguable attempt of matricide began unceremoniously enough.  My  mother and sister used to live in St. Louis, but both have since moved to the rolling hills of Iowa.  My sister was dying to get out of the small town she calls home, wanting to visit St.  Louis friends, do some shopping, even see her older brother.  Mom also misses St. Louis and still has quite a few friends here.

Normally, my mother will stay with a friend of hers when she visits so she can be closer to her old neighborhood.  However, that particular  friend has nice furniture and many breakable things around her home and mom feared this would not mix well with two others making the trip.  Those would be my nieces:  one closing in on the age of five, and the other creeping toward terrible two.  So mother thought it better if everyone stayed with me, which may say something about my mom’s views of my house and furniture, but I’m ignoring it.

Now, I’m not really a “kid” kind of guy.  It’s not that I hate kids, but I seem to like it when they’re not around.  But for my nieces, I make an exception.  They’re family, after all.  Then again, I don’t have to live with them.  My oldest niece is truly adorable … for about five minutes.  Then her adorable factor decreases exponentially as her holy-terror factor skyrockets.  I get exhausted just watching my sister deal with her.  The almost two-year old  is … well, almost two years old.  She’s developing her personality and starting to get interesting, but is also far from realizing that many of the things around her don’t actually belong to her.  Many women never leave that phase.

My sister had told my nieces they were going to visit “Uncle Paul.”  The four-year-old has some understanding of who I am.  I was never clear on whether the youngest really got the concept of who I am or if she was just parroting her older sister.  Regardless, I was suddenly dealing with an onslaught of being told who I was.  The oldest would see me and start saying “Uncle Paul, Uncle Paul, Uncle Paul.”  Then the younger one would join in.  This might continue anywhere from a minute to the entire evening.

There is something those without kids don’t understand about parents:  why is everything a child does cute all the time?  “Isn’t that cute!” they’d say when the “Uncle Paul” chorus started.  And it was the night they arrived.  For a few minutes.  Then I no longer cared about who I was, and never wanted to hear my  name uttered again.

My sister had gone to great lengths to tell me how well my youngest niece slept and what a great bedtime schedule she was on.  Apparently my sister is a liar.  Every night was a struggle to get her to sleep.  I could do little to assist in the nightly battle with the child.  As much as it delighted the youngest to run around chanting  “Uncle Paul,” if I got too close to her the gleeful look on her face was replaced by one of abject horror.  My sister assured me that I shouldn’t take this personally and that it just took longer for the little one to reach a comfort level with males.  Right.  And she sleeps so well, too.  Fool me once …

The night before the family was supposed to leave, my mother threw out her back.  The oldest niece was behind this unfortunate development.  She decided she did not want to leave the restaurant they were in and went all protestor on everyone, complete with going completely limp and laying on the floor.  When my mother, playing the role of riot police, tried to pick her up to haul her to the family paddy wagon, her back gave out.  While I was concerned about my mother’s circumstances, I must admit to being a little dismayed at the thought of the visit being extended.  My  mother would be out of commission, forcing me into a more active–and completely unfamiliar–role of keeping these wild children in line.  Evidently my self-interest doesn’t like to take a back seat to the pain of others.

The next morning, as I was helping my mom and sister get the car packed up, mom’s back pain was only getting worse.  Not only was this problematic due to the 300-mile trip ahead, but also because my sister doesn’t drive on highways, so mom would be behind the wheel while in excruciating pain.  I didn’t have much in the way of painkillers–only some ibuprofen–but that was better than nothing so my mother wanted to take some.  Between trips carrying bags to the car while trying to avoid running into children, I grabbed a pill bottle from the medicine cabinet and set it on the kitchen  counter.  A few minutes later, I heard my mother yelling “What did you give me?!?”

Turns out, I grabbed the wrong pill bottle:  rather than ibuprofen, it was melatonin.  I take melatonin from time to time to help me sleep.  One tablet typically knocks me out.  My mother, thinking she had ibuprofen, had taken three pills before looking at the bottle.  So to sum up, I gave my mother three sleeping pills right before she was getting into a car for a five-hour drive.  When I say it like that, it really sounds kind of bad.

Again, just to be clear, it was an accident.

Fortunately my mother is a coffee drinker.


No More Excuses?

I almost had one big damn excuse to not write anything.  Ever again.  Getting this site up and running was quite the chore.  Perhaps I’m just old and don’t understand this brave new world of technology.  Actually, there’s quite a bit of truth to that.  But as I sit here banging away at the keys after midnight, my current frustration is really my own fault.

I had things set up on, but then decided I needed to be just a little bit cooler (or more nerdy) and get set up on my own hosted site, using  Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the explanation of the difference between the two.  I’m not entirely certain I fully grasp it.  But WordPress tells me it’s there, so I guess I’ll accept it.

Mind you, I hadn’t really done much with the .com site, so why I thought I had to upgrade things is a very fair question.  I just did.  I can’t (won’t) explain it further.

It’s hard to believe I got through this initial process without alcohol.  Of all the times to have a dry house when a little nightcap would be so well-deserved …

Anyway, now I think I have it working (I think), and though I doubt I’ll be posting something on here daily–I know I won’t–after all this effort to get things up and running I must commit to more frequent outbursts of pablum.  Some of it might even rise to the level of mildly interesting, but I won’t get too ambitious just yet.

I’m going to start with posting a couple of things I wrote awhile back just to get a little area filled on the site.  And to buy some time until I think of something else to write!

Now it’s time for this semi-old guy to get some much needed sleep.