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November 30, 2006

The power of 'Thank you'

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Janene Mascarella's essay on the subject appeared in the November 20, 2006 Washington Post, and follows.

    From Eight Letters, A Life-Affirming Note

    Strange, how some things just fall into your lap.

    Ten years ago, I was sitting alone on a Florida beach, weeping very quietly, when a stunning woman wearing an oversize red hat and expensive sunglasses walked over and placed a book at the edge of my towel. She said nothing, just smiled and walked back to her blanket.

    Embarrassed that she saw me crying and uncertain how to react, I picked up the book and scrutinized the cover. Hmm. A self-help book. I was 24 years old and had never read a self-help book in my life. But feeling obligated to the stranger in the red hat, I began to read "The Dragon Doesn't Live Here Anymore" — and within an hour, a strange sense of peace settled in.

    The easy, breezy, non-preachy tone spoke to my fears, lagging self-worth, hopeless wandering and big-time boyfriend problems. That woman didn't hand me a book; it was more like a compass. Got problems? asked the author, Alan Cohen. Well, what are you waiting for? Get up and fix them! Halfway through my read, I looked around for the woman, but she had left the beach.

    I went on to buy all of Cohen's books, and with a little help from friends, family and the subtle nudges of that book to always know my worth, I found my way just fine.

    Five years later, while sitting on a curb, about to buckle my rollerblades, I heard a couple fighting in the car parked next to me. From what I overheard, he didn't want to be in a relationship anymore, and she was begging for one more shot. She got out of the car, cursing, her eyes swollen with tears as the guy sped off. As she walked toward a swing set and made a call on her cellphone, I opened my trunk and found the worn copy of "The Dragon Doesn't Live Here Anymore." I walked over in my stocking feet and handed her the book, as it had been handed to me. As I rollerbladed up the path, she opened the book.

    Recently, after a dinner-party conversation had turned to discussion of life-changing books, I thought about "Dragon" for the first time in years. I wished I could thank the woman who gave it to me, and I also always wanted to thank the author for writing such an amazing book. That night I Googled Alan Cohen and found his Web site. I clicked on "contact us" and wrote a letter, explaining how deeply his books moved me and helped me through a dark time.

    But as I was about to hit "send," I panicked. Would he even read this? Think I'm nuts? Zap my well-thought-out note with the delete button? Would it be tossed in the trash by an assistant? Printed out and used for kitty litter? Alone in my room at 3 a.m., I blushed at the very thought of sending this silly letter, but I clicked — and off it went. My feelings were mixed. This was the sweetest/most foolish thing I'd ever done. Oh well, I thought, what's done is done. You can't unsend e-mail. (Trust me, I've tried.)

    The next day, a reply waited in my inbox. I opened it and read a long, personal response thanking me for my thank-you. I was floored and suddenly motivated to thank more people who had somehow, some way, touched my life.

    I sent a thank-you note to a longtime friend, Michelle, who once baked me a cake with a big M&M smiley face on it after I broke up with my boyfriend. She responded: "I can't believe you remember that! That was years ago. I'm so touched, and um, you're welcome."

    But I did remember. Even though we speak every couple of weeks and I've thanked her hundreds of times for being an awesome friend, I didn't remember thanking her specifically for that cake. Why hadn't I?

    My two thank-you notes left me feeling giddy all day, and that night I wrote a list of all the people I needed, wanted or was too shy to thank. I hurried off to the store and bought a few packs of blank cards. For those whose address I knew or could find, I'd send a handwritten note. For others, I'd send e-mail.

    Each time I hit "send" my heart pounded in my throat as if it were something I accidentally swallowed. When I dropped the first two handwritten cards in the mailbox, I felt slightly embarrassed but flipped up the flag anyway. There's something strangely risky about sending a thank-you out of the blue. But the rewards far outweigh the risks. What a high it's been.

    I e-mailed a thank-you to a woman whom I've never met but who was very kind to me in the beginning of my career. A busy editor often can overlook a query from an unknown writer, but her lengthy response was full of solid advice and her comments to a novice greatly appreciated. I finally found the guts, almost two years later, to tell her that. Within hours, she wrote back. I braced for the response I feared:

    Dear Ms. Jane Mascarells: I'm a very busy woman and don't remember helping you out two years ago. Sorry. If I did, you must have caught me on a very good day.

    Nope. She didn't call me a buffoon with too much time on her hands or a kiss-up. She even spelled my name right:

    "Hi Janene! What an absolutely lovely letter! I cannot TELL you what this means to me!"

    She also wrote that she was having a really tough day and my note not only made her day, it made her year. We exchanged a few chatty e-mails since then and are now working together on something.

    I had no idea how powerful a simple, sincere and specific thank-you could be. I have no intention of sending a thank-you note to Lou, the deli manager who always gives me a slice of cheese to eat while I'm shopping — a flirty wink is thanks enough. But I have made it my goal to not be afraid to show appreciation, for big things and small. If the president of Nabisco wants to respond to my thanking him for those 100-calorie snack-packs, then so be it. So far I'm up to recipient No. 11 on my thank-you list of 26 and growing. There is one person I haven't been able to reach.

    So, to that beautiful woman wearing a bright red hat on a Florida beach in 1996: Thank you.

November 30, 2006 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Slack Rack — 'Do you know where your pants are?'

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Just asking.

From the website:

    Slack Rack

    This closet organizer holds 12 pair of pants and slides beneath hanging coats and blouses, thus doubling the useful hanging space in your closet.

    Each arm swivels (for easy access) and is rubberized on top (so pants stay put).

    20-1/2"W x 25-1/2"H x 14-1/2"D.

    Rolls easily on wheels.

....................

$14.99 (slacks not included).

November 30, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Die Before I Wake — by Thomas Lux

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If I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
...
From a common enough
and nondenominational child's prayer.
Not too unlike a lullaby, it's a simple
pledge in verse before hitting
the dark night after night
and one line ringing
a few times in the mind: If I die
before I wake
. Oh, the generations
of insomniacs created,
the night-light industry booming!
But let's face it: prayer is good,
particularly for children.
They should understand some things
so they might appreciate
them. Like: the buzzards and the bees,
what those stone visors mean,
poking up, on lawns behind fences,
in rows, whitish dominoes...
They should know: it's a sleepy journey
to a half promised land
and you never wake at all.
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November 30, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

USB Rechargeable Battery — Finally, available in the U.S.

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They were invented in the U.K. and went on sale there this past September.

Lots of ink and pixels and all of it "real soon now" re: buying them anywhere else.

Until now.

So far they're only available in AA, but AAA and 9-Volt versions are in the pipeline.

$19.95 for two.

November 30, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: How long until resveratrol becomes reversatrol?

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Remember you read it here first.

Resveratrol, for the Rip Van Winkle types who're just waking up today from a month-long fugue state, is the new new thing in aging research.

Reported to keep mice young, people all over the planet are now rushing to their local health food stores to buy the stuff, then ingest it in heroic quantities in an attempt to stave off Father Time and his reaper buddy.

Don't bother.

In the meantime, though, the naming industry needs to make a simple letter shift.

Move the s so it follows the second r in resveratrol and you've got a name to conjure with.

As always, no charge for this advice — because that's precisely what it's worth.

And before you get all bent out of shape about how you can't just go and change the name of something scientific to suit convenience or fashion, consider the history of MRI.

It stands for magnetic resonance imaging — everyone knows that.

But guess what?

Once upon a time, in a galaxy not all that far away, it was called NMR.

That stands for nuclear magnetic resonance.

But hoi polloi didn't do very well with the word "nuclear," even if it referred to the spin of protons rather than a mushroom cloud.

So down the memory hole went NMR in medical circles.

Sort of like how, once upon a time, knife block slots were vertical rather than horizontal.

Try to find one with upright slots today.

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The past is another country.

November 30, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Toad Purse

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Okay, your best friend got the armadillo purse before you had a chance to trump her: here's your chance to strike back.

From the website:

    Toad Purse

    Jump for joy!

    There's no cuter handbag on land or sea, with this toad's great googly eyes and soft, floppy legs.

    Natural finish bamboo handles gracefully arch over the zip-close top.

    Polyester.

    Lined.

    8"H.

$29.95.

November 30, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

withoutabox.com — 'Apply to 650 festivals at once'

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That was the headline over a November 19, 2006 New York Times story by Justin Peters about this six-year-old website.

Over 100,000 members from 209 countries can gain access to information about approximately 3,000 film festivals around the world at one online location, then proceed as they wish.

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Free.

Nice.

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Here's the article.

    Directors’ Smorgasbord: Apply to 650 Festivals at Once

    Omar Chavez Jr.'s initial marketing plan for his debut short film, “Take Four,” was simple: Sundance or bust. But when the gatekeepers in Park City, Utah, said bust, this 29-year-old Miami filmmaker changed course.

    With the help of an online database, he began researching other film festivals. “I got on there, and I started getting a little trigger happy,” Mr. Chavez said. Eventually he entered “Take Four” in 55 festivals, at a cost of about $3,300.

    Mr. Chavez is one of thousands of independent filmmakers to have discovered Withoutabox (withoutabox.com), a six-year-old company in Los Angeles that has simplified the otherwise confusing world of festivals to the point where anyone with an Internet connection and a credit card can participate.

    Withoutabox maintains a database of almost 3,000 festivals in 209 countries. Approximately 650 of them pay the company to manage and solicit their online entries. Withoutabox, in turn, promotes these affiliate festivals to its roughly 100,000 members.

    Many in the film industry praise the company for introducing independent filmmakers to a robust, if not necessarily lucrative, alternative distribution system. But Withoutabox has also helped foster low-budget anarchy, contributing to rampant growth in the number of festivals — 181 new ones in the last year alone — and flooding the market with entries from novice filmmakers whose confidence is often matched only by their inexperience.

    “It’s that whole quantity-versus-quality thing,” said Chrisstina Hamilton, former executive director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. “Just because you get more submissions doesn’t mean there’s more good work.”

    The advent of inexpensive digital cameras and desktop editing software has made it easy for aspiring auteurs to channel their inner Cassavetes. But figuring out what to do with the finished product usually proves more difficult.

    The founders of Withoutabox, David Straus, 38, the chief executive, and Joe Neulight, 37, the president, “jumped into this because we were frustrated as filmmakers,” Mr. Straus said. “We saw the inefficiencies in how the system worked.”

    Mr. Neulight added that they want their company to become a kind of virtual studio to the independent-film world. To that end it recently acquired FilmFinders, a rights database company that links filmmakers and distributors and will soon release a proprietary ticketing system to make it easier to arrange independent screenings.

    Still, with so many festival options already available, Withoutabox members often act like compulsive eaters at a buffet. “At the beginning I was reading the festivals’ little write-ups, and I thought, ‘Ooh, that sounds good,’ ” said Michelle Goetsch, 35, who has spent, she estimates, $2,000 to enter her short, “The Pill,” into 60 festivals.

    Sean McKnight, a 38-year-old software trainer from suburban Philadelphia, chooses different imagery to describe the hazards. “If you just go and carpet bomb, you’re going to be flushing money down the toilet,” he said. Nonetheless he used Withoutabox to enter his debut feature, “Disturbing Images,” into no fewer than 30 festivals.

    Since the company is paid by festivals for each submission they receive, it does not discourage that kind of approach, a policy that concerns some in the independent-film world. “They cast this incredibly wide net where they really aren’t matching up filmmakers with film festivals that really want to look at their work,” Ms. Hamilton said.

    The democratization of filmmaking technology, together with the services provided by Withoutabox, has meant more people vying for festival slots than ever before. So programmers from established festivals can afford to be choosy. Many of the world’s best-known film festivals — Cannes, Sundance, Telluride and others — list their information on the Withoutabox site but keep their entry processes separate.

    It’s getting tougher to get into some smaller festivals too. At the six-year-old Ashland International Film Festival in Oregon, submissions have doubled since it got involved with Withoutabox in 2004. But the number of films the festival actually shows has remained the same.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of film festivals has risen, in part to meet the increased demand for screening opportunities. A search of Withoutabox’s database turns up 437 film festivals that are less than three years old.

    Many of these are niche festivals (the International Medical Marijuana Film Festival, the CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival), while others take place far from the heart of the film industry, in places like Keokuk, Iowa, and Ellensburg, Wash.

    These affairs bear little resemblance to Cannes or Sundance: no celebrity-studded parties, no paparazzi, no Wilmer Valderrama. They differ too in the benefits they can confer. The chances of a filmmaker making significant industry contacts, selling a movie or striking development deals at one of the smaller festivals are minuscule.

    That doesn’t mean they have no purpose. Mr. Straus, for one, predicts that these smaller events will function more like regional film societies.

    Mr. Neulight agrees. “The concept of an overnight box office hit may not be what this process is about,” he said. “It’s about putting your work out into the world over a longer period of time and to a broader population.”

    In addition, suggests Tom Olbrich, executive director of the Ashland International Film Festival, the momentum gained at several small festivals can vault a film into the big league. “You can make a big splash at one of the big film festivals and get signed,” Mr. Olbrich said, “or you can take your film around to smaller festivals and hope, one, to be accepted, and hope, two, for the films to have a good response.”

    Others, concerned that the festival industry is becoming a payola racket, are less sanguine: “It doesn’t benefit a filmmaker at all to send their film to a no-account, rinky-dink film festival,” said Ms. Hamilton.

    Sometimes, though, that’s all they can get. Out of the 30 festivals he applied to, Sean McKnight was accepted into one: the Big Damn Film Festival, which, he says, literally accepts almost every submission. “As long as it meets their quality standards, and it’s not porn, you’re going to get a slot,” he said.

    His experiences with more discriminating festivals, however, left him frustrated. “With some of these festivals, it’s like you’ve got to know God to get into them,” Mr. McKnight said.

    As for “Take Four,” it has been shown at 16 festivals, though none of them are beyond what Mr. Chavez calls the second tier. Even so, he has few regrets. “Watching your film in front of an audience teaches you things that you didn’t know,” he said. “That really is an addictive experience.”

    And Mr. McKnight, despite his 29 disappointments, is now helping to plan a film festival himself. The Lancaster Film Festival, in Pennsylvania, will have its debut in December. Mr. McKnight said it already plans to register with Withoutabox.

November 30, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bluetooth Retro Handset — Throwback Tech Goes Wireless

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What a kerfuffle in joehead nation™ these past few days (see the comments if you don't believe me) over what many termed my idiotic complaint about the iPod's icky headphone cords — the fact that the wires still exist is what confounds me.

No sooner did the volume of email start to die down than suddenly, out of nowhere, the Retro Headset, last year's iconic throwback tech icon, burst onto the scene — surprise! — in a cordless version, employing Bluetooth.

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Huh.

Here's the skinny from the website:
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Bluetooth Retro Handset

We have taken the ever-popular Retro Handset and updated it to connect to your cell phone using Bluetooth technology.

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That's right!

No more tangled-up phone cord.

Now people will think you're really crazy talking into a old-time handset connected to... nothing.

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Oh, and speaking of nothing, there's nothing out there quite like this handset because this product is a ThinkGeek original design, only available here.

How 'bout them blueberries?

• An original ThinkGeek design - not sold anywhere else

• Battery charges via USB connection

• Make and receive calls

• Approximately 30 ft range

• Works with Bluetooth V1.0, 1.1, 1.2

• Blue LED indicates function mode

• Comes with: Handset, USB cable, Instructions [view PDF]

• Please note: cell phone not included
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$39.99.

Now, about these yucko iPod wires....

And how 'bout that cell phone "not included?"

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Gone viral, from the looks of it.

November 30, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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