Friday, May 29, 2009

Rescuing Kendall and seeing 'Up'

Thanks to a bit of accumulated comp time, I was able to leave work early today to go see Disney/Pixar's "Up" with Misty and Emily.

Before the movie, I met the family at Chick-fil-A for lunch. There was a costumed cow character there, which Emily and Kendall were very amused by. After eating the girls went to run around and climb in the little play area. Kendall got up to the very top, but she was afraid to come down. Emily and every other little kid playing up there tried to coax her down -- either by way of the slide or steps -- but Kendall wouldn't budge. I knew I could climb up there if I had to, but I wanted to keep that as a last resort since the structure is not designed for adults. Finally I just told Emily, "I don't care if you make her upset. Just drag her down if you have to." To her credit, Emily tried, but still couldn't get Kendall out.

After about 30 minutes of Kendall's standoff, a pair of little boys came to the rescue. One of them picked her up in his arms like a firefighter and carried her down the steps, while the other boy walked in front of them, guiding Kendall's head and feet so she wouldn't bonk into anything. It was a touching moment. Upon thanking the young heroes, one of them replied to me, "Where's our tip?" That cracked me up.

We dropped Kendall off at Misty's mom's house and made it to the movie theater just in time. I hadn't realized that there was an extra charge for 3-D movies, but we paid it anyway. It was my first experience with a full-length 3-D movie (I'd seen films like "Mickey's Philharmagic" and "Muppet Vision 3-D" at Disney World, but they're only a few minutes long), so I didn't mind the extra cost too much. However, it will likely be the last time we do it -- not only did this make 3 matinee movie tickets nearly $30, but Emily didn't like wearing the glasses and kept taking them off during the movie, which blurs the picture. While the 3-D effects were really nifty, they weren't necessary -- I think it would have been just as beautiful if we'd seen the 2-D version.

And wow, was it beautiful. "Up" has every element of what makes for a great movie -- adventure, heart, laughs, spectacle, and gorgeous scenery. The story was touching and the characters were immediately lovable. Misty says that it's the only animated movie that's ever made her cry (which is absurd -- What about when Mufasa dies in "The Lion King?" What about when Emily grows up and leaves her Jesse doll in the donation box in "Toy Story 2?" What about when Elastigirl leaps to save her children as their plane explodes in "The Incredibles?" It just proves that Misty's soul is defective). But indeed, "Up" is a tearjerker, too. It'll get you twice within the first few minutes. That's another mark of a great film -- it has you caring about the characters when you've barely even met them yet. I really liked the moral of "Up," too: Life is precious, and you should live out your dreams while you can. But even a life of unrealized dreams can still be filled with wonderful memories. I highly recommend the movie.

Here's Misty's favorite scene. She says it reminds her of when our kids get in trouble.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My wife is not to be trusted when it comes to video games

Misty was playing some "Columns" knock-off called "Cradle of Rome" on the Wii last night that looked really boring. Despite my insistance that I wasn't interested in playing, she persisted in telling me that it was addictive and that I should try it. I wasn't giving in.

After a while, she started in about how hard the game was, even though it's basically just swapping matched shapes, so of course I had to prove her wrong. All of a sudden I realized that it was nearly 10:30 p.m. and I'd been playing for about an hour. She tricked me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

In God's Country

Misty and I have missed several Sundays of church lately. Enough so that our absence caught the attention of our minister, who sent me a message on Facebook telling me they'd missed us (How many pastors do you know who'd reach out like this?). I've missed them, too. Alas, summer seems to be the busiest season for Misty with Fresh Air Family outings, so we've been hiking through the woods instead of gathering with the church congregation.

It's odd, but I've found over the past several months that I actually enjoy going to church. That's something I never could have said before. As a kid it was always a chore, and I'd do anything to try to get out of it on Sunday morning. Even the infrequent times I visited churches in my late teens and 20s, it was never something I truly liked doing. When Misty and I hopped around sampling a number of different local churches a few years ago, none of them ever really connected with me.

That finally changed when Misty brought me to Homewood Church of Christ. These days, attending Sunday service has become an enjoyable experience. But it's more than that for me -- it's fulfilling. I love Homewood's message of "transformation through worship, relationships, and service." I love the people I've met there, and even though I don't embrace every aspect of their belief system, I feel comfortable and wholy accepted.

One of the couples who helped make us feel so welcome, Bret & Lanie Walters, recently shared photos from a trip they took to the Grand Canyon. Among the captions, Lanie wrote things like, "It's amazing to see God's handiwork" and "We enjoyed being away from the crowds and having some time to reflect on the AWEsome beauty of God's creation."

Those were the same thoughts going through my mind this weekend as Misty and I hiked through gorges and under waterfalls in Cane Creek Canyon in the Shoals area of Alabama. The area was absolutely beautiful, and while I've no doubt it doesn't come close to approaching the majesty of the Grand Canyon, it made us feel like we were communing with God, and that made us feel a little better about missing church.

Our pictures don't do it justice.

Gorge in Devil's Hollow, originally uploaded by MCuthbert.

Friday, May 22, 2009

High school mascotts

I drove the girls over to Misty's mom's house this morning on my way to work so that Misty could lead a Fresh Air Family event for a group of students from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School.

On the way out of our neighborhood, Emily noticed a couple boys standing at the corner, and she informed me, "They're waiting for the bus to go to school."

"Yes," I replied. "They go to McAdory" (at least, I hope to go to McAdory -- I've seen them smoking several times, and I'd hate to think they were starting that nonsense while still in elementary school). "That's the high school with the big yellow jacket on it, so they're the Yellow Jackets," I told her.

"Why are they the Yellow Jackets?," Emily wanted to know.

"Because that's their school mascott," I told her. "If they went to Hoover, they'd be the Bucaneers. A bucaneer is like a pirate."

Emily: "I don't like pirates."

Me: "Good, because you're zoned for McAdory, so you'll be a Yellow Jacket."

Emily: "I think I'd rather be a princess."

Me: "I'm pretty sure there aren't any high schools whose mascott is The Princesses."

Emily: "Oh! I know a high school! ... High School Musical."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Abandoning 'The Cult of the Amateur' for the 'Real Time Stream'

This afternoon, I attended the Social Media Club Birmingham's luncheon featuring Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture, as their guest speaker. I thought I'd share the notes I took from Keen's discussion.

However, since I work for an Internet company closely affiliated with several major newspapers, I feel it is important for me to stress that my notes represent Keen's opinions, which do not necessarily mirror my own. Sometimes I agree with him; sometimes I don't. Regardless, I think they're points worth considering.

Notes from Andrew Keen's discussion at Social Media Club Birmingham luncheon

  • Web 2.0 represents a fundamental change in everything.

  • Expertise and authority is undermined.

  • Social media is "community, conversation, and collaboration."

  • "Fetish Web 2.0" is like a digital narcissism.

  • Keen is less pessimistic about the Internet now, three years after publishing his book The Cult of the Amateur.

  • We must acknowledge that the digital revolution is real and the current book, music, newspaper, and magazine industries are probably going away.

  • 1999-2009 represents the era of Web 2.0. That age is already going away. It is a failure in economic terms because there is no money in user-generated content.

  • Advertisers will not invest significant capital in content that they can't control (in the sense of risking being associated with racism, porn, etc. on Web sites without professional responsibility).

  • Keen calls the emerging age that is replacing Web 2.0 the "Real Time Stream" (Twitter, the new Facebook, FriendFeed, Spotify, UStream).

  • You can't get user-generated newspapers at the same rate that current newspapers are collapsing.

  • Old media that will survive will be those who master the stream.

  • "Real Time Stream" users will be "building our own brands."

  • The biggest fear of Web 2.0 is that talent is lost. With Twitter and the "Real Time Stream," talent is rediscovered.

  • Media works when it reflects and rewards talent.

  • What's good about the "Real Time Stream" and social media is that talent will reappear. It will force most people (bloggers/self-proclaimed journalists) to realize that they should shut up. They should participate but not lead.

  • The biggest weakness Keen admits about his book is that it assumes an artificial separation of Web 2.0 and television media.

  • Call-in radio and reality TV are the not-so-distant cousins of the blogosphere.

  • Web 2.0 is just an extension of television, but we all have our own channel.

  • Web 2.0 is a mirror. When Keen's book says "the Internet is killing our culture," it really means that we are killing our culture. It's a form of cultural economic suicide.

  • In the old age of media, the value was in selling the copy. The digital age brought the value of the copy down to zero. Where is the cash reward for creativity for journalists?

  • For the new age, don't think "digital," think "live." In person (such as concerts, face-to-face meetings, panel discussions) events will succeed. The Internet is purely a form of marketing.

  • New journalists preparing to enter the industry can't just learn writing, but must also learn video and audio as well. They will become mini-producers.

  • Twitter forces you to be brief, whereas the blogosphere goes on forever and it's boring. You could tweet "I just had a ham sandwich for lunch," and it's no more interesting in 200 words than it is in 140 characters.

  • McLuhan was wrong about the Internet. It has not made us a global village -- it has made us focus more locally.

  • The industrial revolution created social Darwinism. The Internet introduces a new form of Darwinism whereas people like Ashton Kutcher suddenly have greater status.
  • Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    My little Jetta is all grown up

    Jetta at 100,000 miles
    Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
    This morning on my way to work, my car hit the 100,000 mile mark. I was on Hwy. 31, passing by St. Vincent's Hospital -- the place where both Emily and Kendall were born. Brandi Carlile's "The Story" was playing on the radio.

    Once I got off the highway, I pulled over on 2nd Ave. to take a picture commemorating the occasion. Luckily, I was close enough to my exit so that the odometer didn't advance a digit.

    Since at 50,000 miles (when its warranty expired) my car suddenly needed numerous maintenance updates, I'm expecting things to begin breaking any time now. Pay no attention to the engine light in the picture, though -- it's been on for two years, and the mechanics can't figure out what's causing it.

    Daddy's girls

    Nothing to say, really... I just love this picture.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Emily's first dance recital

    Emily's proud moment
    Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
    Emily's big dance recital was this weekend. Months of practice at Corky Bell Dance Studio led up to a grand two minutes on stage at the BJCC Concert Hall dressed as a dalmatian and dancing to "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?," and she loved it.

    If you watch the video below, you can see that Emily is always a step behind the other girls, watching them for cues on what to do next. I'd seen her rehearse in the same fashion during class and worried that she'd be embarassed by her lack of rhythm when it came time for the show, but she was so happy to be on stage. She'd been saying that she wanted to move from dance to gymnastics, but after this weekend, she says she wants to stick with dance.

    I'm so proud of Emily -- not for her skills, but for the fact that she got up on stage and performed with no reservations, and had fun doing it.

    I'm also proud of Kendall. We knew ahead of time that Emily's dance number was going to be near the end of the show, and since Misty had to sit in the balcony with Emily, I was going to have Kendall on the main level. But even with about two hours worth of program in front of the one we were waiting for, Kendall sat calmly and quietly and watched. In fact, she loved it. She clapped after every dance number and even started to sing along to The Beatles' "Let It Be" (a song she's never heard before, to my knowledge). Most of the time, Kendall sat in my lap and didn't want to move.

    Emily got a rose from Misty's mom after her performance, which made her very proud. Later on we celebrated with lunch at Iguana Grill, and Misty had the maƮtre d' bring her a boquet.

    When things finally settled down, we headed out to Atlanta to visit my parents for the weekend. Emily left her makeup on all day, which of course led Kendall to demand her own makeup. It was a day of constant cuteness.

    Here are more pictures from Emily's recital and the video of her performance. In the video, she's the second girl from the left.

    Corky Bell Spring Dance Recital - 'Doggie in the Window'

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Tuned in to TV on the Radio

    I feel very lucky that I got to attend last night's concert from TV on the Radio at Bottletree. The place was absolutely packed, but it was a real treat to seem them in such an intimate venue. Much thanks to the folks at Secret History Productions -- y'all rock the llama's ass.

    You can read my full write-up of the show at my Get On With Your Nightlife blog.

    I'm also amazed that I've seen three big concerts in less than a month -- Wilco, Death Cab For Cutie, and now TV on the Radio. If only I could score tickets for Coldplay this Monday...

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Hiking at Alabama's highest point

    Ready for a hike
    Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
    I wasn't took excited about this weekend's Fresh Air Family event at first. A 2-hour drive for a ½-mile hike didn't seem like a good plan to me. But that was all I knew.-- I admit I didn't pay much attention to the details.

    It turned out that we were visiting Mt. Cheaha, inside the Talladega National Forest, which is the highest point in Alabama. The planked walkway to the overlook was only a short hike, but every so many feet along the path, stairs led down to various trails in the woods.

    The temperatures outside were perfect, and even though the skies were overcast, it was a beautiful place to visit. I would recommend the trip. It was very easy to get to off of I-20, about mid-way between Birmingham and Atlanta.

    I hate that our camera's battery died before we reached the mountain overlook, but we did get a few pictures. For the remainder of the hike, we had to settle for using a Flip video camera. Watch the video to hear Emily promise not to fall off the mountain.

    Thursday, May 07, 2009

    How cool is this?

    This lantern was dropped off for me at work yesterday while I was in a meeting. It's a marketing promomotion for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian at the McWane Science Center's IMAX theater.

    I must say that Chandler Harris and her team at McWane put together some of the coolest promo kits I've ever seen. Check out this one from Dinosaurs in Alabama, and this one from Itty Bitty Magic City. And let's not forget my favorite promo kit ever -- the one for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    I wasn't the least bit excited about the Night at the Museum sequel, but all of sudden they've got my attention. Just brilliant.

    Wednesday, May 06, 2009

    A night out with Death Cab For Cutie

    I got to see Death Cab For Cutie for the third time last night. Oddly enough, Misty didn't want to go, so my friend Yancey accompanied me. She missed a great show. I think she may have abstained because the past two times we'd seen them, they played pretty much the same thing. Now with Narrow Stairs and The Open Door EP though, the band had plenty of new material to cover.

    I've posted a full review and set list over in my Get On With Your Nightlife blog.

    The promoter hooked me up with a photo pass so I could get down to the front and take pictures. Some of my earlier shots were more blurry as I learned how to use's fancy camera. Here's what I wound up with.

    I also found a couple of videos from the show on YouTube.

    Sunday, May 03, 2009

    Kendall breaks the Wii and I learn how to take it apart

    A few days ago, our Wii staring making a loud noise when we tried to play games on disc. Downloaded games on the hard drive played fine, but anything put into the disc drive wouldn't work.

    This trouble happened to coencide with the disappearance of the SD card we use for the Wii. I'd taken it out and laid it next to the system so we could look at pictures from our camping trip on the TV, but later I couldn't find it to put it back in. I might not have even connected the two, but Misty asked Kendall if she'd taken the card, and Kendall told her, "yes." When asked where she'd put it, Kendall pointed to the disc slot on the front of the Wii. I picked the system up and shook it gently, and I thought I could hear something moving around inside.

    I called Nintendo and found out that they charge $85 for repairs and our Wii would be gone for about two weeks, so I wanted to see if I could fix the system myself. My warranty expired about a year ago, so I wasn't worried about voiding it by opening up the Wii.

    When I went to do it though, I found several strange three-pronged screws that I couldn't remove. I turned to the Internet and watched a couple of tutorial videos on how to open up a Nintendo Wii and learned that I'd need a tri-wing screwdriver. Neither Home Depot, Lowe's, nor the little hardware store near my house carried such an item. A quick search on eBay turned up plenty though, and every one of them mentioned "Nintendo Wii / Nintendo DS" in the title, so obviously that's the main thing anyone wants such a screwdriver for. I ordered one for $2.45 (shipping included).

    Yesterday was the big Wii surgery. I used my new tool, along with a Phillips-head screwdriver and a razor blade to disassemble the Wii, finally extracting the rogue SD card from inside the CD Rom drive. We made a video of the process, which even if you're not interested in the how-to aspect, you should watch to see Kendall's admission of guilt. Asked if she was ever going to do this again, Kendall replied, "yes." At least she's honest.

    Wii Surgery - Opening Up a Nintendo Wii

    If you just want to see the parts with the girls, watch the first 2 mintues, then skip to 10:23. We had to send them out of the room for most of the process because they were getting too rambunctious.

    When the Wii was put back together, I ended up with one leftover screw, so obviously I'm not a tech expert. Still, having saved $82.55, I'm pretty pleased with myself.