Time For Go To Home

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Business travel is a high-class form of homelessness. At least it is from a certain perspective only available to somebody who’s never actually been homeless. Maybe it’d be less tacky to simply state that for the past 8 days, I’ve been living like a drifter with maid service. I checked out of my downtown hotel on Sunday, hopped on BART, spent two days with friends in Berkeley, hopped on an Amtrak train, and woke up this morning in Sacramento after a really swell talk to MacNEXUS.

(My minimum goal during these speaking gigs is to not do anything to inspire either a panicky rush to the exits or an angered rush towards the podium. I’m happy to say that I far exceeded these simple goals last night. The group was warm, cheery, well-groomed, well-mannered and above all, highly-indulgent. These are all qualities treasured by a humble wandering minstrel such as I.)

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All of these beds and scene changes have had the effect of stretching out the perceived duration of this trip. It’s starting to feel like the Andy Ihnatko Pan-Californian Goodwill tour. Normally, Macworld Expo is bookended by a single day before and a couple of days afterward: I’m done, home, and dusted in a week. This year, I’ll be home on Thursday…Day 9.

It was totally worth it, of course. I’m reminded of just how many good friends I have in the San Francisco area, and how rare it is that I’m here long enough to actually see most of them.

Still: nine days is a long time to be away from home, even if you’re a bachelor whose only dependent is a life-sized soft-sculpture of a Dalmatian. As I packed up my hotel room on Sunday, I reflected on the fact that most people don’t long for a full day of work. But that was my mindset as I combed the room like a CSI investigator, looking for splatters of cables and chargers. During a heavy conference like Macworld, I can only write for an hour or two in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening. It leaves me feeling antsy. I pine for the luxury of a deep, day-long creative soak and going to bed at 4 AM believing that Great Things Have Been Accomplished.

(Accent on the word “believing.”)

Which is why I decided to call an audible on Sunday and extended my stay in Berkeley. My friends had invited me to stay the whole week. I had declined and opted for an overnight. It’s no reflection on them; even I don’t enjoy my own company for more than a few days at a time. But I discovered that my pals’ new house is (a) gorgeous and (b) large enough that I could easily sneak back in there today and live there for many weeks unnoticed if I were so inclined. So instead of retreating back to San Francisco after my overnight, I spent alllll day Monday and much of Tuesday writing and working, nestled in the sort of tranquil California valley landscape that will make you want to adjust your wire-rimmed spectacles, peer out over the horizon, and call out “Uh-oh…chop-pers!” Assuming that you, like me, grew up watching “M*A*S*H.”

After a couple of days in this peaceful environment all pressure gauges are now reading zero and all caution and warning indicators have been reset to the Off position. That’s no mean feat after a big show; normally it takes me a little while before the buzzing leaves my ears and I feel fit to rejoin humanity.

The only cost of this last-minute change of plans can be seen hanging in the bathroom right now: a set of freshly-laundered socks and underthings.

Yeah. See, I was supposed to go back to my San Francisco hotel on Monday, where I’d checked my suitcase and its remaining clean clothes. My original plan was to rent a car at SFO, drive to Sacramento for the gig, and then spend today touring. That was before I discovered that Amtrak could take me from a station just a few miles away from the Berkeley crash pad to within walking distance of my hotel…for a fraction of the rental cost. I’m looking forward to my jaunt back to San Francisco…Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service takes you through marshes and meadows, for the most part, and the terrain is mostly just as pretty as the New England coastline that wheels past your window on Northeast Regional trains.

It was a great trip. Personally, professionally, creatively…pick a category. But I’m booked on the redeye tonight and I can’t wait to get home. My dog might be a lifeless toy, but Buster is still my dog and I’ll be very glad to see him. If I know Buster, he’ll adhere to his obedience training and won’t jump up and lick my face. He’s suchagoooddogggggg!!!!!!! I fully intend to tell him so as soon as I walk through the door.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 10

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Jake Shimabukuro

Gently Weeps

Genre: Rock

Blah, Blah, Blah: Y’know, this one really isn’t very complicated. Two steps.

Step One – Watch this:

Step Two – Buy the track. But I can tell you’re already ahead of me. I reckon the YouTube player hasn’t even reached the real fireworks at the end of the piece and you’ve already clicked the iTunes link at the bottom of this post.

(You’re not even reading this, are you?)

(?)

(Wow. I bet I could get all naked here and you’d never even notice. Hell, let’s try that out.)

(…)

(There. I’m now blogging while completely naked.)

(Nope, nothin’. Cool. I’ve probably got another thirty seconds or so before you complete your purchase and tab back into your web browser. Just enough time for me to strike two or three suggestive poses:)

(“The Toreador.”)

(“The Space Dolphin.”)

(And now a little something I’ve been working on, called “The Mount Rushmo…” Whoops, that’s nearly time…damn, my undies got all bunched up…where’s that freakin’ tee shirt?!?)

…Which is why you’ll find that in most playgrounds, the swingsets usually face East, while the slides are always set up so that the kids are moving from South to North. And I’d have never learned about that stuff if I hadn’t read the book, and I’d have never found the book in the first place if I hadn’t gotten a little bit lost while looking for the 92nd Street “Y”.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: Asked and answered, counselor. Though the first time someone sent me the link to this video (on a service predating YouTube) I rushed to the iTunes Store and discovered that the Jake Shimabukuro wing was still under construction. Well, okay. It was an impressive enough performance to warrant ordering the actual CD from Jake’s website?

I sure thought so. No need for a 30-second sample, even. Jake’s performance is so perfect that the only way you could possibly ruin it in the recording would be to do…well, anything at all. But when the CD arrived and I tore the plastic off it and thrust it into my computer and then got out my set of dental tools because in my excitement, I’d jammed the CD into the gap between the CD tray and the bottom of the loading mechanism and then got the CD out and put it back in the right way and skipped right to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” I was pretty disappointed.

Jake was backed by a fairly generic studio quartet. What was dynamic and exciting and fresh in a mono online field video had become weak and anemic in the studio. If it were any more so, it would have been preceded by a very white announcer intoning “And now, for our business travelers, let’s take a moment to check out the forecasts in cities all across the nation:”

I would like to think that Jake saw the extreme error of this approach and released a fine, high-quality edition of the punchy, spartan rendition that spawned a million hits.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 1

Smile When the Raindrops Fall

The Beau Hunks Orchestra

The Beau Hunks Play the Original Laurel & Hardy Music

Genre: Comedy

Blah, Blah, Blah: The world is a far, far more beautiful and colorful place thanks to the presence of people with magnificently daffy obsessions.

Case in point the Beau Hunks. This group of musicians has taken it as their solemn goal to recreate the soundtracks of the classic Laurel & Hardy comedies as precisely and accurately as possible. They reproduce the charts precisely, note for note. They fill the orchestra with precisely the same roster of instruments that are present on the soundtrack. The musicians? Masters at period performance. The clarinetist not only shows up with an instrument that’s vintage to the era…but he cut his reed in precisely the same way that a clarinetist would have in 1929.

The only itchy part of this whole thing for me is the fact that this sort of obsession also extended to the recording. Thankfully, they didn’t choose to record this in mono acetate. But instead of recording in a modern, conventional way, all of the performers were arranged in a circle around a single cluster of microphones. Because, you know, that’s pretty much how they would have recorded those musicians in a 1930 studio.

(See, worst-case is that you wind up with something like “Grindhouse,” which attempts to mimic the experience of 1970’s grindhouse cinema down to the scratches, splices and missing reels…ignorant of the fact that if the makers of those movies had been able to present pristine copies of their films in glorious surround sound, they certainly would have done precisely that.)

But these Beau Hunks tracks are fab. They were right; somehow, this sounds like a perfect reproduction of what was created by the original orchestra, if the master recording had been perfect to begin with. It’s completely appropriate.

Technical bits aside, it’s a lovely tune. Music has this wonderful power to influence your mood and perceptions. When this track comes up in Shuffle Play, for those few minutes I’m walking like Oliver Hardy and holding the light end of a long stepladder, brimming with misplaced confidence about my ability to hoist a piano into a third-floor window and wondering why my partner is waiting for me at the front door when he was holding the other end of the ladder when last I saw him.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: One of those impulse things. I read an article about the Beau Hunks online and was so curious that I had to invest 99 cents.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 29

Hmm. I have just one day left in National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month and I’m still 7219 words short of the 50,000-word target.

I’m not terribly concerned. When things are clicking I can write about 10,000 words in a single day; I think my record is something like 14,000. But it’s just so hard to write a National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel. Yes, there’s the writing, but blogging about what I’m writing is just as important.

I’m also contributing to six different National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month podcasts; I’m moderating a National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month message board; participating in eleven others (mostly acting as cop, preventing idiots from hijacking threads and turning these wonderful resources into colossal wastes of our time); organizing a weekly National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month regional meetup; designing and uploading new merchandise for my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month CafePress store; Twittering about my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel; seeking out and responding to other National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novelists’ National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month-related Tweets — we’re a community; we have to support each other…the workload is endless.

I just don’t want the quality of my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel to suffer, that’s all. Before you can say it: yes, I know that anything less than 50,000 words means that my NaTeUnNoWriMo novel will suck. But it’s not all about output.

As of right now, my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel contains: pirates, robots, timelords, cops, robbers, lumberjacks, greengrocers, lusty chambermaids, lusty bootblacks, lusty pet-store managers, aerialists; dead gods and Supreme Beings; characters from parallel dimensions; forest fires and earthquakes; and lemme check my notes but I’m pretty sure that I managed to bung in a few paragraphs that turn the whole thing into a biting appraisal the caustic racism that undermines our Society.

But there are no bear attacks, no dramatic “final desperate half-court shot right at the final buzzer” sports stories, and there’s this total bastard I used to work with over at the Carpet Depot whom I really need to stick it to in the form of a thinly-veiled character.

It’s true that great Art is never finished, only abandoned. The question is how good I can make the thing before I abandon it. What I’m aiming for is something that has enough charm and structural integrity that homeless people will tear off the plywood covering the basement door and move right in. If it’s like a 1983 Plymouth Gran Fury where someone removes the plates and walks away and then the neighborhood kids set fire to it three days later, then I have to feel as though I’ve somehow failed as a novelist.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 28

The Gift sometimes falters, but suffice to say that today I have four stripper poles here in the office and I’ve got a different muse on each one.

(Oh…and none of them are dudes.)

I truly pity those of you who aren’t participating in NaTeUnNoWiMo. You just can’t understand what The Process is like. Yes, it’s tough to slog through those dry spells, but in the end, my God-given gifts and unshakable discipline will get me through.

My story is set in a French trading colony in Quebec during the time of the Haight Mundation. The French outpost enforces discipline and order on a region in which civilization has won a perilous toehold against lawlessness and the wilderness. General Renaud, the military governor, initially resented spending the tail end of his storied career in this backwater colony but quickly came to appreciate the many benefits of wielding nigh-godlike power of life and death over 1723 men, women and children.

His one mistake was bringing his young daughter, Lilene with him. A bit of a hellion, she arrived in the New World only weeks ahead of a growing scandal she created in her mother country. Lilene quickly began to make friends with the various French, Dutch, and native factions; her father begins to become concerned that his daughter has her ear closer to the ground than he himself has…and when a Spanish prisoner under heavy guard manages to escape, the General begins to wonder if Lilene is an asset to his mission or his biggest liability.

Trappers feud with farmers. Both groups spar with the officers of the holding company that paid to establish the colony in the first place. The natives known to the colonists as “Buearicouts” grow increasingly impatient about treaties signed and quickly broken.

Meanwhile, word continues to filter from the British Colonies of increasing unrest between the American colonists; who among Renaud’s charges are loyal to France, who are secretly pursuing alliances and resources to support the British Crown, and who are secretly Revolutionary spies, intent only on setting one against the other?

And who’s the dashing young rake who stumbles from the West forest early one evening?  His clothes suggest he could be a local, or a recent arrival from Portugal, or from a land unfamiliar; he totes a chest made from a strange material with the properties of both metal and play. He is mocked for walking around with strings dangling from his ears, and with the strings in place he appears to be responding to sounds not of this time and place.

And what if his even stranger companion? Standing close to seven feet tall, dressed entirely in black, wearing a tall cylindrical hat resembling nothing as much as a black chimney…answering to the name “Abraham,” of all things!

The village idiot scares the community with tales of metal birds seen hovering in the sky; and windows through which one can view scenes from thousands of miles away; beverages sipped from metal tubes that provoke sensations of euphoria and empowerment; odd fellows whose sole question upon arrival is the day and the year!

Are these strangers here to aid the colonists…or to hasten their doom? And what of the birthmark recently-discovered on the parson’s left temple, discovered at the same time a brand-new chapter of the New Testament silently appears in everyone’s Bibles, as though this “Book of Dylan” had always been there to begin with?

Oh, what a mysterious and fabulous world I have created; I feel that I am cheating its residents and my future readers with every moment that I am not writing my NaTeUnNoWriMo novel. If only I could rip out that section of my brain that’s already familiar with this world so that I could actually experience this novel the way my readers one day shall.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 27

Once you reach a certain level of luminance as an Author, you start cultivating an appreciation for the fine details of the tools and implements of the the writing process. The average person picks up a ballpoint and the most granular awareness of the tool is that it either has ink in it or it doesn’t.

But a seasoned writer picks up a pen and appraises it with the same careful eye and seasoned touch that a Samurai warrior brings to a set of daish? presented by a master swordmaker.

Indeed. To a writer, the pen is both a tool of healing and a weapon of vengeance. It has heft. It has balance. Ideally, it’s not even a tool at all but a natural extension of the mind and the body; when we write, we interact with the minds of the readers, not with the pen and the paper. The correct tools fade into invisibility.

And so it was with some distress that I learned that Pentel was redesigning the Excalibur line of pens. No flashy “show” pen, this: it is manifestly the implement of a working creative. I throw out the “stock” cartridge that it ships with, and replace it with a Staedtler Mars Professional M120. The cartridge is designed for technical illustration; it lays down a very lively, sinuous line of extremely dense Roadtripper Husky Blue. Somehow, the combination of flare and color works in complete harmony with the word-pictures that I am crafting.

As for the pen itself, it nestles perfectly between the tip of my thumb and the crook of my index finger’s first knuckle. It’s rubberized only at this single contact point. The entire rest of the tool is ridged metal. It’s easy to retrieve from the desk after I’ve spent a few moments lost in thought and the cool metal against the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger presents the occasional flash of additional sensory input that keeps the thoughts churning through my brain in interesting ways.

You are, no doubt, surprised to find that I write with such a so-called “archaic” tool instead of one of the many computers in my office. A computer keyboard is far too stark, far too “digital” a tool to accommodate the universes of fancy and emotion that emerge from the pen like graceful silk from a spider. And the worlds I create are indeed just as fragile as a spiderweb. I cannot entrust them to a vulgar and invisible sequence of ones and zeroes.

It is about the line, the loops, the whorls, dancing across the pages of a series of paper notebooks. Clairefontaine Dural A4’s, ideally. Whenever I’m visiting the UK, I purchase these notebooks in case lots. Each volume holds a chapter of a book quite comfortably. And it’s quite possibly the only notebook designed for creative handwriting.

I have tried others. I have been disappointed in all of them. Moleskines? The Moleskine is to the Clairefontaine as the Monkees are to the Beatles, I assure you; I see a young author carving into the mica-like surface of a Moleskine and my natural compassion compels me to intervene. But my higher functions stay my hand. He cannot be taught. He must come to the Knowledge as I did.

There are papers that fail to provide a stark white playing field across which my little black dot can gambol and romp. Others place the ruling staves too widely or too closely together. Words are like orchids; they need just the right amount of “air” around them to survive and flourish.

Some papers resist the ink like the closed mind of a frustrated book reviewer. Others are absolute damned sluts for the stuff, sucking up as much as it can as fast as I can deliver it, like the indiscriminate reader of Danielle Steel novels. The ink goes where the paper wants it to, not where I direct it. I do not allow my editors to assume such an impertinent attitude regarding my words. I do not understand why I should accord such latitude to my papers.

Like the back of a reliable laborer, the notebook’s spine must be strong but capable of bending freely. For this notebook is the paper skiff that shall take me on endless adventures with my story, and at times this adventure transports me through the real world as well as the world of imagination.

I shame myself by taking such an active interest in the notebook’s covers as well. In the adventure of writing, the appearance of the notebook is of no consequence and as such, emotional attachment is energy wasted. But the romantic in me takes pride in each scuff and crease that the notebook acquires. By the completion of the first draft, the object has acquired endless charm and character and done it the honest way: through time and experience. The irony of that accidental but incorrigible process is too perfect.

I’m probably boring you at this point; I can sense that in my reverie has become self-indulgent. I apologize; to me, these are the familiar touchstones that magnetically attracts the ephemeral zephyr of the creative force and helps me to somehow bind it into permanence. They help me. They Heal me.

I don’t expect you to understand. It simply isn’t your way. Some of us are just living in harmony with the higher planes.

But cool. I’ve just written my mandatory 1200 words for the day, which means I can blow off work and spend the next three hours blasting Nazis straight to ****ing hell on my PSP.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 11

I’m only eleven days in and already, I’m so sick and tired and frustrated over this book that if I were to spit on the ground, it wouldn’t even freeze.

This is a very powerful statement; I should probably have mentioned that it’s actually pretty cold here in Boston. I spotted my first frozen spit of the season just yesterday, on Newbury Street. So really, you should be awfully impressed that my frustration with my NaTeUnNoWriMo is so intense that it can have an actual metabolic effect.

Though actually, now that I think about it, my frustrations with my NaTeUnNoWriMo are so extreme that I’ve been hitting the Stoli pretty heroically over the past 26 hours. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my tongue and all of the other tissues in my mouth have sopped up so much alcohol since yesterday that my spit has has picked up some of the properties of antifreeze.

So it might actually have more to do with nascent alcoholism than enduring frustration. I don’t know which explanation to endorse.

Okay, well, which one do you think makes me seem more like one of those ancient, tortured souls capable of creating works of cruel, intense power and enduring genius? I know that drinking a hell of a lot used to be the most direct path towards literary gravitas. Suicide is also a winner, but frankly, I don’t care about this book anywhere near enough to blow my brains out over it.

Actually, I have a can of Diet Decaffeinated Coke downstairs, left over from when one of my aunts came over to visit a month ago. I suppose I’m just emotionally-involved enough in the quality of this novel to drink a commercial soft drink that I don’t personally enjoy.

Most of the can. Not all of it, surely.

Screw it. I’ll pour the Diet Coke down the drain and just say that I drank it. When the film crew from “American Masters” is piecing together my life story twenty years from now, they’ll never know the difference.

I have it on good authority that Ernest Hemingway didn’t actually stick a shotgun in his mouth, either. He just licked the terminals of a 9-volt battery. When he discovered that the news of his “death” had sent sales through the roof and cemented his reputation as a tormented genius, he wisely decided to just shave off his beard and spend the rest of his life fishing.

Damn, the man was good.

Day 11. Words written: 1,512.

We’ve got Spirit! Yes we do! We’ve got Spirit…how ’bout YOU?!?

Behold, the First Spiritualist Temple. In a city as old as Boston with so much history about it, a building really needs to pull its chin up over the bar before it merits someone saying “Wow, this building has some fascinating history.”

It was built in 1885, near the height of the Spiritualist movement. And this was a time when it wasn’t completely irrational to believe that communication with the dead was possible. Seances, mesmerism, spirit writing, remote viewing, exploration of past lives, even literal communication with God…you name it, it was practiced inside the Temple’s gorgeous worship space to an audience of respectful and well-dressed people.

Spiritualism had already hit its heyday and it didn’t really survive very far into the 20th century. So in 1914, the First Spiritualist Temple moved its services into the basement and converted the worship space into the Exeter Street Theater, which attracted worshipers and remote viewings of different kinds. It became one of those legendary stages and picture houses.

By the time I had discovered Newbury Street, the Exeter Street Theater had been closed for ten years. But you couldn’t be a movie fan and not be aware of how important this property was to film buffs. Even in 1984 it still had this palpable aura of incredible entertainment about it. When weather conditions were just right the buzzing would interfere with FM reception on your Walkman.

Ten years later, the theater space had been converted to a rather nice Waterstones bookstore and was one of the main venues for author tours.

Are you close to hating TGI Fridays and everything it represents, but you need just one more data point to seal the deal? Okay…look at the greenhouse-looking thing on the right side. That’s the former home of the Newbury Street TGI Fridays. One day, in the course of producing the exact same chicken parmesan that’s available in every other TGI Fridays anywhere in the country, there was a kitchen fire that caused so much smoke damage to the Temple that Waterstones (admittedly already suffering from competition with Amazon) had to go under.

And then ironically, the temple space was eventually taken over by Idealab, a dotcom startup incubator.

I think the space has been vacant since the last tech bubble burst in 2002 or 2003. Suffice to say that “Purchase the First Spiritualist Temple and convert it to living space” is on that list of Things To Do After I WIn The Powerball.

More realistically, on the inevitable day when I become the darling of DC or Marvel Comics, I am totally making the First Spiritualist Temple a regular location for Zatanna or Dr. Fate or Dr. Strange.

Salvage Techniques for Wet Electronics

An edited version of this column was originally published in The Chicago Sun-Times.

It’s all those little bits of good luck that eventually bite you in the butt. You hit nothing but green lights all the way from your house to the post office. The candy machine in the breakroom gives you twice as many Zagnut bars as you paid for. Not ten minutes after you learn of the existence of the awesome vintage California Originals ceramic Chewbacca tankard, you spot a fresh listing for it on eBay for a laughably-low Buy It Now price.

Life is good. Until Karma goes through its receipts and is alarmed by all of this deficit spending. That’s when you find yourself looking down into a toilet bowl and thinking to yourself “That’s really a terrible place for a $400 smartphone to be.”

No sense beating yourself up over it. Really. But if the events of the preceding 30 seconds are any indication, you certainly don’t have any good luck coming to you. So if you want to avoid having to buy a brand new phone (or iPod, or camera, or…), you need to choose your next actions carefully.

Over the years, I’ve come across loads of urban legends about how to rescue wet electronics, but I’ve never come across anyone who’s actually used any of these techniques successfully. So I made a call to the good folks at T-Mobile, who sent over a half-dozen identical new phones. They aren’t iPhones by any stretch, but these Samsung handsets are thoroughly modern devices with color screens and Internet and multimedia features.

And then I proceeded to do awful things to each of them. Starting with loading them up in a pair of cargo shorts and running through the washing machine for a full cycle.

(As an internationally-beloved technology columnist, I’m well-paid. But if I’m going to spend a day working with Toilet Phones, I’m going to have to get Mossberg bucks.)

Before I get into the techniques and how well they worked, there are a few basics. First, you need to get the device out of the wet as soon as possible. Most personal electronics are designed to put up with some moisture and it’s possible that a quick hand will pull your iPod Nano out of that puddle before Murphy’s Law is even aware that it fell out of your arm case.

Secondly: do not, do not, do not power up the device until it’s bone-dry. Pull the battery immediately if you can. As often as not, damage only occurs when the electrons inside your battery are free to choose their own path through the device’s delicate circuitry, instead of sticking to the safe trails that have been laid down by the manufacturer.

You should also disassemble the phone as far as you can: keep the battery cover off, remove the SIM card and all memory cards…you might even choose to remove screws and get your device naked.

Yes, that voids your warranty. But your device has been pretty thoroughly voided as it is. Besides, if it’s a phone, that ship has already sailed: there’s a white paper dot inside the device that turned red upon exposure to moisture. It’s insurance against customers coming back to the store with a phone that reeks of mackerel, and insisting “I dunno…it just stopped working all of a sudden.”

Finally, you want to make sure that moisture is your only problem. If you’ve dropped it in…let’s just say “something other than clean water,” you’ll have to throw caution to the wind and give it a rinse in the clean stuff. Distilled water if possible, bottled or tap water if that’s the only source of hydrogen and oxygen atoms available.

It’s particularly important if your precious has landed in salt water. Salt water is to electronics as holy water is to a vampire. It causes immediate corrosion and you need to address that as soon as possible. After fishing an iPod from the surf I’d think nothing of sloshing it around the leftover water in my ice chest for a minute or two. It’s probably dead already; this way, at least there’s a marginal chance of salvation.

Okay. Enough…let’s abuse some hardware.

First Test: Do nothing.

The first phone was set aside as a control group. I just left it out and let it dry. No muss. No fuss. No success.

Well, all right: it powered back up and the screen worked and you could make and answer calls. But the keypad was messed up and you could only call it a useful phone if you don’t know anybody with a 3, 4, 7 or 9 in their phone numbers or a…look, why don’t you work out which letters of the alphabet you lose when those keys are disabled.

Second Test: Run it through the dishwasher.

And that would certainly seem counter-productive, wouldn’t it? Unless of course you wanted to make sure that you’d truly driven a stake through the heart of your old Treo so that your boss okays the purchase of a new Blackberry or iPhone.

Okay, but what if you just ran the machine on the “dry” cycle? If it can leave my “Space: 1999” Thermos bone-dry, it ought to do the same trick for a phone.

Result: Another mixed bag. The phone lit up, but you couldn’t call it a working thing.

Third Test: Bury it in rice.
The next one was buried in dry white rice and left to contemplate its lot in life for a full 24 hours. The hope here is that the rice will act as a natural desiccant, drawing the moisture out of the device.

Result: Success! The sound was a little muffled, but the phone was 100% functional after I blew the bits of carbohydrates out of it. I’d still be in the market for a new phone, but there wouldn’t be any sense of urgency about it.

One important tip — seal the phone and the rice in an airtight container, like a Ziploc baggie or a Tupperware container. You want the rice to suck the moisture out of the phone. If you leave it in an open container, it’ll be drawing moisture from the entire room, which will limit its effectiveness.

Fourth Test: Bury it in kitty litter.

So we know that burying it in a desiccant works. What if we use stuff that’s specifically designed to trap moisture, as opposed to using a medium that’s designed to accompany a pad thai?

Yes, kitty litter. And not just any kind: the crystal type, made from 100% silica. That’s the same ingredient in those little white desiccant packets (“DO NOT EAT”) that come tucked inside a new coat or an electronic device.

A sack of Fresh Step Crystals was duly purchased and the burial commenced under the same parameters as the rice. And the results were even better: the phone was as good as new without any audio problems.

Fifth Test: Vodka.

And then it was time to move on to hard alcohol. I’m not sure if this urban legend was inspired by “Mythbusters”‘ fascination with various ways to abuse vodka, but the thinking goes like this: if you marinate the device in vodka, all of the water inside the thing will be displaced by alcohol. And alcohol evaporates much more quickly and cleanly than water…so that has to be good, right?

This ranks up there with all kinds of Great Ideas inspired by a 100-proof beverage. Like “if I drive fast enough, it’ll press down on the tires and I’ll totally clear the bottom of the bridge” or “I’ll get these limes cut a million times faster if I just hold them up to the blades on this blender” or “you can’t possibly get pregnant if you time your moves to the bassline of REM’s ‘Shaking Through’.”

I dropped the phone in a cocktail shaker filled with alcohol and agitated for a couple of minutes. Then I left the phone out to air-dry for 24 hours.

Yup: it was dead. Of all the methods I tried, this was the only phone which wouldn’t even power up. Just like your Uncle Lyle, electronic devices do not become more vibrant and personable after being marinated in hard liquor.

Final Test: The Dry & Store.

This last idea was given to me by a friend of mine, who has a deaf child. Hearing aids are complicated electronic devices that routinely get wet with daily wear. So there’s actually a gizmo that’s specifically designed to dry these things out overnight: the Dry & Store (available from www.dryandstore.com).

I got a hold of the “Global” model. It’s about the size of an index-card box (note to readers born after 1990: about half a Wii) and costs $100. It certainly seems like a winner: you drop the device inside this box and a combination of desiccant packs and forced hot air does its magic for eight hours.

Another success. The phone worked perfectly, and the box even managed to eliminate the little beads of moisture trapped between the screen and its protective window. I did have to remove the UV disinfecting bulb from the lid of the device to make the phone fit inside, but otherwise all was skittles and beer.

I’d also hazard a guess that the Dry & Store would do a much better job on a more complex device (like a Treo with its million buttons, or a hard drive-based music player) than the kitty litter. You won’t have to blow crystal chunks out of the device before putting the battery back in, either.

The Dry & Store is the king of underwater salvage. If you’re in a job or a lifestyle where electronics keep getting wet, having one of these $100 devices on hand is a terrific idea. Otherwise, you’ll have to count on being able to find an audiologist in the area who can sell you one before your dripping phone finally gets sick of waiting and goes ahead and dies.

I am informed, however, that audiologists are kind, warm-hearted souls and if Google Maps locates one nearby, they might let your phone take a spin in one of their drying machines overnight.

The most practical solution for a wet phone is the kitty litter or white rice treatment. You want to get the patient into treatment as soon as possible, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll have all the ingredients you need right there at the scene of the crime. Even if you don’t, you can get ’em for less than ten bucks at any all-night drugstore and start the healing process right there in the parking lot.

Actually, your <i>very</i> best solution would be to button your shirt pocket before using the bathroom. But if we as a species were capable of such careful, reasonable thought, we wouldn’t be desperately burying our phones in vodka and kitty litter, would we?

After The Show

I don’t know if “Goodest Of The Good Sports” even parses as English, but that’s the best way to describe T-Mobile. When I ask a company to lend me some hardware for a column or something, there’s always a bit of a back-and-forth about the terms. How long do I need it, do I require one fresh from the factory or can they just send me one from the usual press loaner pool…that sort of thing.

Suffice to say that “I want to destroy $600 worth of your products” isn’t usually part of the conversation. The phrase does pop to mind after I’ve spent a week trying and failing to get a “zero-configuration” network device working, but it’s never expressed explicitly.

This was indeed a lesson in the power of television. I’d tried to do this topic earlier in the year (before I had some good contacts at T-Mobile) but after three major portable music player and two phone makers turned me down, I (regretfully) put the idea aside.

Then I started contributing to the CBS Early Show. The suffix “…and I’ll be doing this on live network television” has an intoxicating effect.

Yes indeed, I demonstrated all of these techniques on CBS. Here’s the segment, via the magic of YouTube:

I do intend to return to this subject sometime next year. After the column and the segment went out, I received a bunch of new home remedies: use a hairdryer, pop it in the toaster oven, give it a ride in a lab-grade vacuum-chamber…suffice to say that when I have another half-dozen winners, I’ll be calling T-Mobile again.That’s their reward for letting me destroy their phones. Clearly I’m using the word “reward” in the same sense as the Vietnam draft system was known as a “lottery.”

Pretty In Pink

I wish I had time to run the entire Universe. I know that you do, too, dear reader, and I can only apologize. But God stuck me with the day-to-day operations of just .023% of all of Creation while He vacations at His timeshare in Tahoe, and honestly, I’m already going nuts with just that much of the responsibility. Believe me, the day that I swing by God’s place and give Him His mail and newspapers can’t come soon enough.

But just to underscore how correct you are in wishing that your world were in my hands, let me give you a little preview of how things would go.

Naturally, I’d continue the Creator’s fine policy of allowing you Humans to engage your free will. It’s only right. Besides, if I don’t have to sign off on absolutely everything that happens I imagine it’ll free up enough time on Thursday afternoons to maybe go out for lunch.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t get involved from time to time. For example, when I first learned that a major TV network intended to turn the GEICO “Caveman” commercials into a regular weekly series, your Lord would have raised His hand and intervened.

I wouldn’t have prevented it from happening. That’s amateur stuff. Instead, I would have celebrated the great good that was inherent in the idea, and only done what was necessary to avert catastrophe.

I would have called the producer straight away.

“This is an unexpected and unworthy boon, o Lord!” he would say. He’d feel honored and humbled and also maybe feel a little bad for having dumped the call to VM initially. “I pray thee, turn thy attentions and mercies to my sister’s youngest daughter. She is in the final stages of…”

“In a minute, in a minute. Now, about this ‘Caveman’ show. Did I hear right? You’re going to produce a whole TV show based on a series of insurance commercials, and…”

“Well, I know it’s pretty outside-the-box, Lord. But our numbers prove that audiences really respond to…”

“Doug?”

“Yes, o Lord?”

“This will go a lot more smoothly if you understand that you’re you, and I’m Me.”

“Sorry, Lord.”

“I mean, your commute to work is along a major flightpath for migratory geese. And My records show that you’ve driven with the top down six times in the past month.”

“Quiet as a mouse, o Lord.”

“Good. Because what I was going to say is that I can’t believe you had this terrific idea about doing a series based on insurance commercials, and you chose the cavemen. When eSurance has all those ads with that super-hot cartoon spy chick.”

“…Lord?”

“You know…Flash animation, done in kind of a ‘Samurai Jack’ style. Features a cute insurance agent in a pink, bedhead Laura Petrie hairdo and an Emma Peel-type catsuit. They’re fantastic. eSurance even commissioned a full-length short for the Internet.”

“Wow.”

“And again, she’s just cute as a button. So imagine that you’re sitting there in your office and you’ve got these three hairy Mark Gastineau-lookin’ mofos on one side and Erin eSurance on the other. Honestly, which one would you rather gawk at for 22 minutes?”

“Erin, absolutely.”

“And you’re gay!

“Wait…I’m totally straight.”

“Mmm…not so much. Trust me on this. It’ll answer soooo many lifelong questions for you. Take this insight as my gift, for letting me bump your 1:20 with Huey Lewis.”

“And my niece…?”

“Sure, whatever. So we’re good, here? When can I look forward to seeing a new series bible and a set of storyboards?”

It’s just that simple.

Like I said, God’s doing a fab job and I hope He continues to hold that office until He’s eager to retire. If and when that happens, however, I hope I can count on your vote in November.

The Push-Button World of Tomorrow

Screenshotting the Leopard install process. It’s a quaint, retro sort of task. The “right” way is to ssh into the Mac and activate screenshot via a terminal window on another machine, but networking continues to be biffle-dinked on this release and I really don’t want to spend nine hours troubleshooting. I’ll re-do them the right way when I have the golden master.

This is prolly the third or fourth time I’ve re-done these screenshots. Only this time, I’ve plugged a wireless mouse into the MacBook and a remote shutter release on the camera. So now, I’m lying on my sofa, sipping at a soothing beverage and getting caught up on some vital business on my TiVO. I glance over at the MacBook every few minutes, and if the screen looks different, I waggle the mouse a bit to un-dim the screen, tap the shutter-release, and turn my attention back to the merry misadventures of the fine men and women of the Reno Sheriff Department.

Luxury. Absolute luxury. This must be how P. Diddy screenshots his Mac books.

Except I imagine that he does it in a velvet track suit. I’m wearing gym shorts and a University of Colorado Buffaloes tee shirt.

Also, his sofa is upholstered in panda fur and stuffed with wadded-up $100 bills. Well, at least my sofa is cruelty-free and flame-retardant. Who’s the loser now?