Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Let’s Build Some Hatred Together

I do my best to avoid news; I find it repetitive and depressing.  My sister blogged about this last week, and after being particularly bored at work today, I decided to adventure into the ‘news’ tab of my search engine of choice (which is currently Bing because you can earn points and redeem them for points to use on my XBOX account).  As usual, I digress.  I spent a good amount of time this morning reading up about Lowe’s and their recent controversy.

I’ve said this so many times on this blog I hope it doesn’t get tired, but I’m Muslim.  I know that many of you think of this as some foreign and terrifying concept, let me be the first to tell you that just because I don’t worship the same ‘God’ you think you do, newsflash – I do.  God is God is God.  So please, check the close-mindedness at the door, if you’re capable.  I do often feel that when people find out I’m Muslim, no matter the venue, real life or online, people are immediately on edge.  But this blog isn’t about that, though I could go on about it quite a bit (and how I’m a double-agent at times because I don’t look Muslim, so I can often fly under the radar and find out what people really think).

Lowe’s has decided to pull of their advertising for a TLC show called ‘All-American Muslim.’  I’m not a fan of reality shows, and judging on the ‘characters,’ I myself don’t identify with the show much, but for Lowe’s to be so pointed in their removal is curious, to say the least.  A Christian Right organisation (and I saw a hilarious bumper sticker which said ‘Christian Right is Neither’ and found it quite clever), sent a note to Lowe’s telling them that they disagreed with the show and that it was abhorrent.  According to Kayak, who also pulled their advertising, they were ‘not upfront’ on what the show would be about.  With a title like ‘All-American Muslim’ I fail to see how you could misconstrue that.  The president of Kayak also went on to say the show ‘sucked’ which I didn’t realise being a president of a website about travel had any jurisdiction on the quality of television programming, but I suppose anything goes.

I’m astounded that Lowe’s would react to the plea from the group, though they say the decision was made before that.  It is interesting to note the letter they received from Florida Family Association (FFA) came right before they made this decision, coincidence? Not a chance.  I mean, how stupid do they think the American populace is?  Don’t answer that, we all know the answer is ‘very.’

I’m troubled by the comments from the Kayak rep and from the reactionary tactics taken by Lowe’s.  Some naysayer contingents will argue that Lowe’s can spend their advertising dollars where they like, and while that is true, it is hard to argue the straight facts, that once the company was being thought of in a bad light by a small group of people fuelling hatred they changed their stance.  And what did FFA say that the show promotes terrorism.  At first I didn’t understand what they mean, but it dawned on me, anything related to Islam or Muslims and most Christian extremists cry foul.  It doesn’t matter that the show is as benign as any other reality show, it isn’t promoting anything.  Now, it would be na├»ve of me to ignore the fact that TLC knew that they were creating a show that would create this sort of buzz.  TLC did this as a way to create some talk about their programming; they had to know that a show following a Muslim family would garner special attention.  Of course, the ratings have been decent, for a TLC show, but this Lowe’s rubbish has actually helped the cause of the show.  People are watching, so to speak.

It’s interesting, really.  Lowe’s thought they would remove themselves from controversy by pulling their advertising but in fact, by pulling their advertising amid the outcries of a hate-group they’ve embroiled themselves in said controversy.  I can’t say that I shop much at Lowe’s or Kayak, for that matter.  But after everything I’ve read, I have to be honest, I won’t be patronising either company anytime soon.  While both have the right to do as they please with their money, so do I, and so do you.  Thousands of people have signed petitions and boycotted both companies, I think I’ll be joining that movement, and I hope that others will do the same.  Under no circumstances should we encourage organisations like FFA dictate what is permissible in our advertising or on our TVs.  Until the FFA becomes the FCC, they have no right to assume that Muslims, gays or any other group is not allowed to exist because they say so.  And for both Lowe’s and Kayak to quell at their very whimper is pathetic.

What makes it worse is that the show did humanise what is, up until now, considered taboo; the idea that Muslim Americans are no different than any other American.  It is nice to see attention drawn to the show, but this sort of attention takes away from the message that Muslims aren’t out to destroy the world, we are like everyone else and to act like we’re poison is childish. 

I doubt that either Lowe’s or Kayak will learn from their close-minded and hate-filled behaviour, but we can all do something ourselves.  As per usual, I have a Call to Action; it’s like my calling card.  I don’t know of any petitions that will make a difference at this point, but to faceless, big-box companies, there is only one language they understand, money.  I don’t do any home improving, I get lost in those stores, but I’ll be exclusively shopping at Home Depot until further notice.  I also don’t use travel sites really, but if I do, it won’t be Kayak.  Join me, if you like, or at the very least, Google or Bing the stories and decide for yourself.  But if you’ve ever been in a fringe group, been treated unfairly, or just hate home improvement stores, then join me in boycotting a few people who apparently don’t want my money because it’s tainted.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Jeer – Most Obnoxious Christmas Commercial 2011


I could be festive and talk about how fantastic and whimsical Christmas is, and this may somehow fly in the face of my ‘feel-good’ blog earlier this year, but there is one thing I will be relieved not to have to deal with after tomorrow, other than the over-commercialisation of our lives, those blasted Lexus commercials.  According to BusinessWeek, Lexus does great business in December, but for those of us not making seven figure salaries, I find their ads obnoxious, insensitive and misrepresentative of the current economic state.

I know this blog sounds like a rant, and guess what, it is.  I have now decided, and you are all my witness, never will I ever buy nor gift anything related to the Lexus brand.  Though I’ve been told to send my ire towards Lowe’s and rightfully so, as they’re racist and loving it, but Lexus marketing will enjoy a trip through a few circles of Hell for their over-the-top, look what I could buy if I had ‘disposable’ income.

I mean come on, who was watched one of those commercials, my least liked is the ‘young’ couple where the wife is giving the husband a $50,000+ car for Christmas.  For Christmas??  I feel like this is Jim Mora ranting about playoffs.  A car, a car?  What economy are they dealing with?  I think most families are trying to buy TV’s or computers, at most, but an entire car, and a luxury one no-less.  That commercial makes me want to hate luxury brands.  Other than Acura, I see no other car company with such annoying advertising.

To side-not, Acura, how childish is your marketing department?  The snowball fight and races in the Acuras are just stupid.  If either of those things really happened, you know there’d be a cop 10 feet away from those two idiots handing out tickets for disturbing the peace and endangering lives of people who can’t afford uber-expensive Acuras

But this rant is for Lexus.

Dear Lexus,

Your car commercials make me want to dry heave into your oh-so-nicely upholstered cars.  Your car commercials are insufferable.  Your cars aren’t worth my attention.  Please stop running your obnoxious ads during my football games.  Most people who watch football games can’t afford a quarter of your so-called luxury cars.  You are a bunch of insensitive, heartless yuppies and I hope to see Lexus learn from this when the economy does turn around.  You might think your advertising is clever, but 90% of the market cannot afford your cars now, or ever in the future.  And I for one will never buy your holier-than-thou vehicles for as long as I live.  Congratulations, you’ve made yourself a lifetime non-customer, and you’re doing it one commercial at a time.

Sincerely,

One of many who will never buy your cars

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Adventures in Non-Wonderland

This blog is a long time overdue, and I chock it up to being pulled in too many directions and being distracted.  So, let’s time travel a bit, to the beginning of December.  I get a phone call from my sister, who normally never calls me when I’m at work, or when she’s at work, so I figured it was something important.  She told me about a great opportunity with one of our friends who’s a screen-writer.  She had an offer I basically couldn’t refuse.  My sister works for US Scareways, so she has the ability to put me on a plane for less than $700, and with last minute fares that is what it would have cost.  This conversation took place on December 1st.

The following Monday, the 5th, I was pretty much all set.  I had packed a bag for overnight, told my boss I’d be MIA for the rest of the day and part of the following morning, and at about mid-day, I booked it out of my office.  I am not as familiar with National Airport (I know the real name is Ronald Reagan International Airport, but I’ve lived here too long to call it anything other than National).  Flying standby has a certain air to it.  There’s that feeling that you may not make the flight, but that you’re also going to jet off to someplace exciting, hopefully, and pay far less than most people.  Thankfully, my destination has an hourly shuttle, so I was never in any danger of missing the flight.

Once the one o’clock flight boarded, they gave my boarding pass and off I went.  This was also the point where I was reading the final Eragon book, and was surprisingly interested in the outcome (I was still early on, later I realised the let down).  The flight was less than an hour away and once I arrived at my destination, I was surprised by the warm weather. 

After I dropped my bag off at the hotel, I grabbed a car and went into town.  Now this is the part where I unfortunately have to give up my secret location, but it is half the fun.  I am not the most knowledgeable traveller, so I often entrust my trip planning to others, but since I was flying solo, quite literally, I had to plan for myself.  I’ve been to New York City many times, but mostly my sister has us running at a marathon pace, never really enjoying anything.  Lucky for me I got a great driver who took me right next to my first destination, the Nintendo World Store.

There is only one Nintendo World store in the world, so it was pretty cool.  Truth be told, it wasn’t the first time I’d been there, but as a proud new owner of a 3DS, I thought I had to go.  I mostly got things for my niece, a cutie onsie with a Koopa Troopa on it and a plush Koopa Troopa that she could play with (read put in her mouth, but she’s not yet one, so can you blame her?).  I also bought myself a cute Nintendo World t-shirt.  More importantly, for those of you who are fans, I took pics of the Zelda display that was there.





After that, I met up with my and my sister’s high school friend, Kelly Jean, who writes screenplays and is a member of a group that allows her access to what I’d say are hard to get into events.  We had dinner and then headed to the Time Warner building to the event being held by the BAFTA’s.  It was interesting to see so many people queued up on a Monday night in downtown New York, but given the person appearing, it wasn’t all that surprising.

We sat down in a modest auditorium; I’d say maybe two to three hundred people might have been able to fit.  Before the presentation began, there was a brief video trailer, one I’d actually seen before; you could call it a ‘mega’-trailer, one that’s made for a feature that has many instalments.  Being the fan that I am, most of you reading should be able to guess which few fandoms this might be.

Once the trailer stopped and the lights came back up, the guest of honour was announced in the building and this being the second time I’ve seen him in person, it was exciting to watch Daniel Radcliffe bound down the stairs and up onto the low stage to thunderous applause.  What followed was somewhat of a whirlwind, in all honesty.  The interviewer was utter rubbish.  He asked the same questions any die-hard Harry Potter fan knows the answers to.  It was beyond annoying to listen to Radcliffe answer the same tried and tired questions about how he felt being a star, what was it like growing up in Potter and the like.  But despite that, there was a freshness to the answers.  Radcliffe showed no signs of every having heard the questions before and answered them easily and with a good bit of humour injected.

I think the parts that stuck out for me were the moment he double-checked with his father on an answer, his parents were both in attendance, and his candour about his latest project on stage, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I haven’t seen a ton of footage on that, so seeing it finally was interesting.  I also had seen Equus, so getting to hear his thoughts on that project was interesting.  I was really hoping for some of his other friends to show up, but that didn’t happen.

Also, sadly, there was no chance for any kind of photo op or autograph session.  Though truth be told, I already have Mr. Radcliffe’s autograph thanks to Artbox.  Google it and you’ll understand what I mean.

I do apologise for the lack of timeliness on this blog post.  I have been agonising writing it since I got back, but thanks to a quick and rather debilitating cold, I was unable to collect my thoughts.  Even now I’m sure I’ve forgotten something of note.  Needless to say, one night in New York, alone or with friends, is always memorable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Completion of the Eragon Series

The previous Eragon book was released far too long ago, September of 2008, almost three years ago.  The book opens with a recap of what has happened in the previous three books, and as is Paolini’s custom, the intro was bloated and poorly written, a telling indicator of what was to come.  Some spoilers may be contained below.

Christopher Paolini self-published his first novel, Eragon, with the help of his parents, and was lucky enough to be discovered and published by a main stream publishing company.  I should probably warn up front that this review will be coupled with harsh criticism of what is a paltry example of writing in the science fiction/fantasy realm.  Paolini takes a starting point with Eragon and expands it into three additional books.  To give credit, it is no small feat to write a novel, especially at the very young age of fifteen, but what stops Paolini from ever being considered a great writer or contributor, to me and countless other reviewers is simple: poor writing.  In some cases, JRR Tolkien’s exhaustive edits allowed the Lord of the Rings series to be considered, still, one of the greatest entries in science fiction and fantasy.  JK Rowling has gone so far to have even admitted that perhaps she needed better editing in some of her novels (lest we all forgot the countless pages we followed Harry and Hermione through the forest in Deathly Hallows or Harry’s insufferable arrogance through Order of the Phoenix).

In any great novel, there is a story that must be told, even in Paolini’s far-reaching stories of dragons and riders.  However, the message is lost through poor prose and grammar, marring what would otherwise be a promising young author in a bloated genre.  Paolini spends the majority of the latter three books discussing all sorts of things that are part of, but hardly ever brought to the forefront of the story.

Eragon, a young farm boy becomes bonded with a dragon, one of the last of her kind and the two go off on a grand adventure to overthrow the man enslaving the world.  It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Ah, if only Paolini used ideas that were his.  The basic idea of the story is stolen from Lord of the Rings, make no mistake.  The difference being there is no fellowship and Sam is replaced with a large, blue dragon, immature and foolish at times.

The original Eragon book follows the main character as he discovers his new self and the implications of being the last rider of the world Paolini has created.  On his journey, Eragon encounters all manner of races (again taking from the Tolkien novels with dwarves, elves and men, adding his own version of Orcs, Urgals, and just like Rings with lesser ones, Orcs and Urgals, vs. stronger ones Urukai and Krull.  Paolini also has the dark side riding dark beasts, as Tolkien has with his Fell Beasts, made into life beautifully by Peter Jackson’s trilogy of the same name.  The similarities don’t stop there, but this review would be bogged down if I went into it further, needless to say the places and language are also, for all intents and purposes, stolen from the good professor.

In the second and third books, Eragon is faced with his own mortality many times, is in many battles with horrible people but ultimately ends up right where he started at the end of the first book, in a stalemate with the evil ruler of the world, who’s name has far too many letters and I only got the pronunciation once I heard it in the movie, that was also terrible.

This might be the appropriate time to go off onto a tangent about Paolini being home-schooled until he was fifteen by his parents, thus having time to write a series of this size, but that would be in poor taste, right?

As the final book begins, our hero, Eragon, is forced into a tough situation and as usual, some random piece of information the reader had never heard of comes into play, again and again, to save the day.  As opposed to the aforementioned Potter and Rings series, which both tell of the solution from the beginning, but the timeless writing of both Rowling and Tolkien misdirect you until the end, leaving you guessing as to how the endings will play out.  Paolini is the veritable bull in the china shop, ploughing through any and all plot devices in his path to construct a story that has some semblance of order, but on closer inspection, hasn’t any at all. 

If you’re like me, you enjoy closure, and that is the only reason I bought this book.  After almost three years of waiting, I had hoped that Paolini would provide some redemption for what has been a terrible series.  Eragon continues to be an arrogant fool as he plods through life, making decisions that are coloured by his so-called magic and power of judgement, but he is still the farm boy he thinks he isn’t, and he has no control over his own stupidity, nor does his author.

The story could have been told in one, maybe two books, but instead Paolini insists that the story needs more, and fills the pages with pointless narrative that has no beginning or end and characters whose stories prove of little value.  While I was happy to see Eragon’s cousin, Roran, have a somewhat happy ending, ultimately, I didn’t care, and to see him through to the end of the book, as with the scene at the end of the Rings where Sam, Merry and Pippin see Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf off to the Undying Lands, Roran goes with Eragon and Arya as Eragon leaves the world they are a part of.  The narrative for these scenes are all wholly underwritten and reading it was unpleasant, to say the least.

And this comes to the main gripe I have with this book and series, circling back to what I’d originally brought up.  The books are written poorly.  Paolini seems to misuse a thesaurus as best as he can, using some words in ways that only Stephanie Meyer (of the Twilight series) knows how.   I wish I had the book in hand, but as someone who has a Master’s degree, has written a thesis (which is graded), I find myself troubled and alarmed that a publishing company would not think to edit someone as new to writing as Paolini.  The first book, maybe, but after that?  Who gives a child a carte blanche to write without an editor?  Did he provide story-boards or plot points for anyone to see?  Or did he just write until he could write no more?  Countless pages are wasted upon half-baked descriptions or unnecessary ones.  While I realise the world we are being introduced to is wholly unknown to us, I think to Tolkien and marvel out how his stories flowed, while Paolini’s are a labour that is anything but love for the reader.

More than this, the ending leaves much to be desired.  And upon closer inspection, holds little more fault than any other moment in the series.  Redemption is not going to come for Eragon.  The reader should know, going in, that there will be no pretty bow to tie the story together, and things that are never mentioned are embraced by the end of the novel.  And while I haven’t connected the two more, Paolini reminds me greatly of Stephanie Meyer.  Her writing is terrible, and her characters are unsympathetic, yet where her strength lies is in her story, which draws you in.  Eragon does quite the opposite.  Paolini is clearly envisioning himself as some storied writer, but instead of writing a novel, perhaps he should have studied a little more or read something other than Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia or His Dark Materials, all of which are heavily stolen from in his novel.  The connexion between rider and dragon is stolen from His Dark Materials, took me awhile to remember that connexion.  The idea of the main villain is stolen heartily from Narnia and Rings, both melding at Paolini’s needs.

While I’d like to leave this review with some sort of redemption, I can’t, not in good conscience.  This was a decent ending to a terrible series.  Christopher Paolini has done something few have, truly write a series that has reached a massive audience, but like Meyer, I wish the message were clearer and more indicative of some sort of moral compass.  Paolini thinks much of himself and his writing, sadly, few others will.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Attention Job Seekers!

As a manager, I have the unglamorous responsibility of reviewing resumes for job submissions.  And as I have slogged through only a handful of resumes, for a job we are grossly underpaying, I had some observations that some of you may need to remember when applying for work.  This is directed towards regular office type jobs, but can be used for other jobs as well.

Spelling and Grammar

This isn’t a hard one.  I’m sad to say that the command of the English language is strongly lacking, and no more so than when people apply for jobs.  If you’re typing your own name, the first letter of your first and last name should be capitalised.  This isn’t rocket science.  Don’t submit a resume, cover letter or online application where your name is not capitalised.  The impression you’re giving the reviewer is that you might still be learning your letters and can’t be bothered to hit that pesky ‘shift’ key that is so tough to find.

Writing in complete sentences and coherent thoughts is something seen occasionally on resumes and online applications.  When you’re applying for a job, I realise a lot of places have their own online form they want you to place your information in, how hard is it, I ask you, to type this up in Word and save it and copy and paste into the form?  When you don’t take this care with your application, it gives the impression that you are incapable of writing coherently.  And let’s be honest, who wants to hire someone who can’t think enough to write something coherent?  I know I don’t.

Qualifications

The economy isn’t great, I know, but that doesn’t mean that any and every open position is the right match.  A job opening is not a cattle call.  If the job requires computer knowledge and you’ve been working at BK, yes, there are computers there, but that doesn’t really demonstrate any technical skill.  If you’re applying for a job that requires a college degree, any degree, and you don’t have one, maybe you should rethink applying.

One caveat on this diatribe, while I don’t want to discourage anyone from applying for positions they know they can do, if you are not adjusting your resume for each different position, then you aren’t putting your best foot forward.  If you think you can do the job, but your skills or education aren’t a match, then chances are you aren’t going to get the job through conventional methods, like just applying.  At that point, something more purposeful would be required, like meeting the HR person, if you can, or finding a way in the door, and moving through the ranks.

Interviews

As a general rule, most tech-savvy folks, such as those in my field, are terrible at interviewing.  The words ‘socially awkward’ come to mind, again and again.  If you aren’t great at chatting it up with the person sitting next to you on the plane or in a queue, you might want to read at least this portion of my rant, if nothing else.

First off – if you’re socially awkward, own it.  Don’t pretend like you’re not.  Interviewers (people) are not stupid and can sense it on you.  If you’re struggling, don’t make excuses, own it, mention it once, then do your best to answer the questions without going off on a tangent about something utterly unrelated.  Those of us (and I do mean us, I am very socially competent), who can interview very well can banter back and forth while being serious, but if you don’t have it in you, you don’t.  Faking it is very obvious and brings your credibility and integrity into question.

If you need more time with a question, ask.  Don’t start answering a question with a completely wrong answer.  Interviewers are asking specific questions and are looking for specific answers.  Non-verbal cues will tell you whether you are on the right track or not.  The interviewer will nod in agreement if you’re right, or either stares at you, or their paper, when you’re veering off course.

If you’re okay at interviewing, but are super nervous, this is a tough one.  You can ‘practice’ all you want, but to me, the best practice is the one I cited at the beginning.  Start talking to random people.  It may sound like insane or unsafe advise (especially if you’re a kid), but being able to talk normally to people you don’t know is basically what an interview is.

An interview is basically a short period of time where you’re pitching yourself as the product to these random people sitting in front of you.  It may feel like a firing squad, but in actuality, they have a specific person or type of person they are looking for.  Either you fit or you don’t.  The key, to me, is to be honest.  If you lie or try to fabricate what you can or can not do, they will find out eventually, and then you will be in an even larger mess than you may be in now.

Interviews, and public speaking, are often considered two of the hardest things to do in any job, but they only seem that way because people aren’t used to how to do either.  Practice can work, but practicing interviewing in front of your friends and family doesn’t actually test or challenge you, those people know you and know your tendencies.  And you can’t walk around a busy sitting asking people to ask you questions.  There is an outgoing nature that some possess that makes this easy, but the rest need to develop a way to remain calm and always remember something that has helped me whenever I have to do either of these tasks: why are you there?  What is your goal?  If you stick to the answers, which are to be hired for a job, or present information to a group, the task can shrink.

I am not the fashion police, but I have to make this comment, don’t dress like a slob.  If you’re interviewing for a job, wear nice shoes, wear a business suit, with a jacket, don’t show up in the clothes you normally go to work in.  If you have a distinctive feature that is appropriate in the office great, but if you have a sea of tattoos on your arms and you’re applying to a law firm that does patent and trademark only, they probably won’t hold you in high regard for your youthful indiscretions.  You may think blue hair is super cool, or the name of your firstborn on your hand is something others want to see, but sadly, the office world will often be filled with old coots that need thinks to always be in their proper place.  And if you look like a kid, they’ll treat you like one.

Above all else, be professional.  If you don’t know what that means, you may have a world of trouble getting a real job, but it isn’t hard.  Watch some office shows, office movies, watch what the non-comedic characters are doing and take a clue from that.  It isn’t about being something you’re not, but it is about being someone you can be, who can be successful and valuable.  No one wants to hire a layabout that mooches off of others.  It may sound campy, but try to be an adult, and maybe you’ll be treated like one, and paid like one as well.