Thursday, May 30, 2002

Here is the church and here is the steeple
We sure are cute for two ugly people
I don't see what anyone can see in anyone else
But you.

THE SWEETEST LOVE SONG EVER? I think it might be.

An unlikely little guy-gal duo succeeded the Strokes as the we're-staying-put band in my Saturn's tape deck. The White Stripes? Nope. "Fell in Love With a Girl" is an all-time-great single, but the rest of the Stripes' work isn't doing it for me. That song might be finding a new home at the end of my cassette of the Strokes' "Is This It."

No, I'm talking about a very unlikely, very little duo. If I hadn't learned that they, as it turns out, opened for the Strokes on tour, I'd have thought the Moldy Peaches were a couple of kids with a Casio keyboard, a great sense of humor and a lot of nerve (not unlike my little brother Kenneth and his early-'80s classic "Kidnapped at the Bowling Alley"). Well, the Peaches are all that, but they're also taken seriously, more or less, as a rock 'n' roll band. There are vocal critics as well as devoted fans, and both sides are right.

This is simple stuff. Deceptively simple, the fans will say. Stupid, the critics will say. The fans are closer to the truth. The album hopscotches among genres, but the sound (if not the content) is almost always childish. The sound is much less polished than the Strokes and yet much less harsh as well. The content, on the other hand, is often filthy. It's a subversive delivery mechanism. These two can barely sing, but for the most part they're not using volume to cover that up. The punk ethos comes to "Romper Room." You'll never guess the second half of the rhyming couplet that begins "Who mistook the steak for chicken?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

THE PORN SPAM and the financial spam have cross-breeded into a virulent and alarming strain.

Recent subject line: MORTGAGE RATES TO EXCITE YOU!!!

THE DENTAL APPOINTMENT was for noon today. Until yesterday morning, when the receptionist called to say the dentist would really, really like to change it to 11:30. OK, fine.

I arrived at 11:30. The doctor called for me at . . . 12:10.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

ANOTHER PHOTO GALLERY. Jacqueline planted stuff, I rebuilt the fountain, and finally the urban patio we had built last year is presentable.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

AN IMPULSE BUY Wednesday night on the Web: I joined Google's new, improved AdWords advertising campaign.

I had spent a month in the original campaign: You paid Google to display your little ad a certain number of times when Web searchers were searching on keywords of your choice. So if you typed "ap style" into the search engine, you might have seen:

It was a little expensive to keep up, and the impact was hard to gauge, so I stopped paying for the service. But now Google is heavily promoting a new version of the service where you pay by the click-through: Only when someone actually clicks on your ad are you charged. And you set a monthly spending limit, so the displays of the ad are paced in such a way that you don't shoot your wad for the month in the first hour or two. (There's an additional mechanism whereby you specify what you're willing to pay per click, in which you're essentially bidding for space against other advertisers, but that's not important right now.) Sounds great! I joined.

Little more than 12 hours later, I logged in to check my click-through rate and found that my account was on a probation of sorts. Next to most of my keywords was a double asterisk, and at the bottom of the list was this message:

** Since the last 1,000 ad impressions served to your campaign(s) have received fewer than five clicks, we are showing ads only occasionally for keywords with recent clickthrough rates less than 0.5% like this one. Please follow the directions for improving keyword targeting, then press the "Restore Full Delivery" button above.

Sounds helpful, right? They don't want to waste my money. Oh, but they do. If Google forces me to restore delivery three times, Google will charge me a $5 restore-delivery fee.

And those instructions for improved keyword targeting? They're very big on using keywords that are as specific as possible. Trouble is, if you follow that advice you get the dreaded double asterisk. Nobody, for instance, searched for the term "copy editors" during the first half-day of my ad campaign. So the click-through rate was technically zero (a difficult mathematical concept, I know), and that produces the double asterisk that leads to the $5 fine.

But that's the point of using specific terms! There won't be as many chances to display the ad, but when the ad is displayed, its chances of success are likely to be very good. Google has stumbled upon a nice concept without fully understanding that concept.

I'm still in the program, but that's not likely to continue, barring the remote chance that my obscenity-laden reply to the "restore full delivery" nonsense generates something other than "It's in the fine print we told you to read."

Oh, and if you're in the habit of reading only the new stuff, keep reading. Two entries this morning. When I rain, I pour.

I MADE A RARE VISIT to Luddite-land this week. The multimedia capabilities we have in this old house are staggering, but when it came time to render my recent spate of CD purchases useful, it turned out we weren't equipped to record a cassette tape.

I buy CDs, but I don't really listen to them -- at least not in CD form. (I went through an unfortunate period of buying CDs and not listening to them at all, but that's a different entry.) My music appreciation these days occurs pretty much in the car (still equipped with only a cassette player) and at the computer (with its subwoofer and its Windows Media Player and my MP3 collection from "ripped" CDs and the late, lamented Napster era).

We've maxed out the space in our living-room entertainment center, so my wife's cassette deck was in her office, hooked up to her computer setup. Attempts to record cassettes through that computer were stymied by the fact that such recordings would also pick up any Windows system sounds that happened along. So the component would have to join my early-'80s gear in our bedroom, replacing the Price Club dual cassette deck that gave out a year or two ago.

Next problem: My Technics receiver (dating to the first time silver was a fashionable color for stereo components) predates the CD player, and so the input jacks were basically equipped for a record player and one other piece -- obviously, the cassette deck. So I had to drag out a long-retired solution in the form of a Realistic-brand switching box made by Radio Shack, a Tandy corporation (before it became "RadioShack" and forgot its Tandy roots).

I had to unhook and rehook a lot of cables and try a lot of switching configurations, but finally I was able to make my cassettes. The first batch:

The Strokes, Is This It
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells
The White Stripes, De Stijl
The Hives, Veni Vidi Vicious
Death Cab for Cutie (I love that name), The Photo Album
Belle & Sebastian, The Boy With the Arab Strap (much older than the others, but Death Cab needed a B-side)

Coming soon, after I buy more tapes:

Dashboard Confessional, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most and The Swiss Army Romance

Monday, May 13, 2002

MORE FUN with health care.

Another bogus bill arrived over the weekend. This one shows a nonexistent doctor's visit along with a nonexistent co-payment that fell $5 short.

And this morning I went to Georgetown University Hospital to fulfill a long-overdue assignment to give some blood for a few routine tests. I tried to do this last Monday morning, but the place was packed. This time, practically nobody was waiting, and I got in and out without opening the book I had brought just in case.

A tale of two attitudes: The woman at the registration desk wasn't all that competent, but she made up for that with a cheerful demeanor ("I must have Monday-itis," she said after messing up one of her keyboarding chores). Then there was the blood lady, who may have been perfectly competent but didn't even bother to try in the personability department.

After she called my name, she never made eye contact with me. In a Psych 101 lesson on non-verbal cues, I figured out where to sit down based on where she was standing and figured out what to do with my arm based on past experience. Meanwhile, she carried on a conversation about veggie burgers with an idle co-worker of hers. When she couldn't think of the name of the street where her favorite veggie-burger emporium is located, she stopped all other activity. Cuz ya know: (1) Personal conversations are more important than your job, and (2) it's impossible to think and work at the same time.

She mumbled something, while looking somewhere else, and I correctly guessed that she wanted me to hold down the gauze she had placed on the needle wound. She haphazardly slapped some tape on that gauze and mumbled someting else while looking somewhere else, and I guessed that she was indicating we were finished. I'm pretty sure that was a correct guess, too, but I might stand corrected when the $500 "left too early" bill arrives.

Friday, May 10, 2002

TONIGHT VH1 finishes its "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders" series -- and replays all five installments. William Shatner is the narrator, and you have to listen to the phrase "never duplicated that success" over and over and over, but if you're so cool as to be immune to this very, very addictive piece of candy, I feel sorry for you.

With just the top 20 left to unveil, we've seen "Whip It" and "Turning Japanese" and Gary Numan's "Cars" (how can that not be in the top 20?). Still no sign of Toni Basil.

Once the series is over, it will be back to the VH1 Classic network for these little thrills of recognition. With VH1 Classic, no matter how awful that sounds at first, I can claim a bit of higher ground. This channel plays plenty of dreck from the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, but it throws in enough obscure delights to keep me hooked. The Fun Boy Three doing "Our Lips Are Sealed," Husker Du adding the "Mary Tyler Moore" theme to the end of one of its songs. And what's this: a video to R.E.M.'s "Wolves, Lower"?

Thursday, May 09, 2002

TODAY, a restaurant review.

Ray's the Steaks. Silly restaurant name, great restaurant concept. Think of what a Morton's factory outlet might be like.

A high school friend of Jacqueline's was visiting over the weekend from Northern California, and when the subject of dinner arose Saturday the words "big, juicy steaks" came up. Those words aren't spoken in polite company in the Berkeley area, so our guest was especially intrigued. (What are the chances of my finding myself with two of the dozen or so women under 40 left in the United States who aren't vegetarians?)

But where to go? Jacqueline and I agreed that the steak choices in the D.C. area are pretty much (a) very expensive or (b) Outback. We happen to like Outback, but there isn't one all that nearby and it's just not the kind of place we'd take an out-of-town guest. Just for the heck of it, I went to Washingtonpost.com to see if there were other options we had forgotten about. There weren't, but there was this new place that sounded like exactly what we were looking for: good steaks at a fair price. And right across the river, in Arlington, Va.

In a spartan but sorta chic strip-mall storefront, Ray's serves big-time steaks at Outback prices. The three of us chose from among the $17 and $18 steaks and got expertly charred big-time cuts, plus three side orders (mashed potatoes, broccoli and creamed spinach) at no extra charge. But my favorite feature might have been the wine list: Half a dozen selections at one price: $5 a glass or $20 a bottle. The owner recommended a Penfolds shiraz-cabernet that was very good. Twenty bucks!

The dessert speciality is pie. Nice, homey touch, but the pies weren't anything special. Still, we'll be back.

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