Thursday, May 24, 2012

Data Charges, Literary References to Cats, and Don Draper.

The Cat Came Back. Sort of.
I think I remember "the cat came back" as a line from Stephen King's Pet Sematary, but it's been at least 20 years since I read that book. And maybe it was originally taken from a song? I could Google it,  but I don't really care. Anyway, that line comes to mind because our strange, neurotic, sometimes incontinent, overly vocal and often rude cat ran away last week, much to the sadness of Second Oldest Girl Child. I was just happy that I was in Los Angeles at the time and so couldn't be accused of assisting the cat in her disappearance.

I could give a rip about the actual cat, if I'm being perfectly honest. I find her rather useless as a pet. She sleeps all day and wanders around the house whining all night. Any hopes I have of the cat returning to the house are based only in not wanting SOGC to be sad. Also, the dumb thing ran away because it was scared of a new piece of furniture delivered to the house, might be happier outside anyway, so long as it stays away from the patio set in the backyard.

Acting as if I cared about the cat, I woke up at 4 this morning when I was pretty sure I heard it's weird little meow/howl outside our bedroom window. I trudged around in my pajamas like a T.S. Eliot character looking for an anthropomorphised T.S. Eliot character but saw nothing.*

Then, as I made coffee at the more respectable hour of 6 a.m., I saw the little black furry thing in the backyard. Ahh, she's so cute and stupid and useless.

It's hard to describe the combination of relief, disappointment, and exasperation I felt at that moment, but it is something like: "Yay the cat's back damn the cat's back what a stupid ass cat."

Hoping to lure the cat back inside, SOGC put a food dish right inside the door. So while we paid to heat the backyard with our hard-working forced air furnace, the cat snuck in, ate some food, and left. After a couple of hours of this, the door is closed. Cat might be inside. Might still be outside. Who knows. I have a hard time caring.

What self-respecting cat wouldn't just come right in? Stand at the door until someone opens it and then come in? Scratch at the screen? This thing is just plain moronic and probably deserves to live under the deck. For the record, she is welcome back inside, but I'm not going out of my way to accommodate her.

And this marks the last time I will ever write about a cat on this blog.

Where Do These Rates Go? They Go Up.
That's a Ghostbusters reference for you. You're welcome.

This week I read two separate pieces about tech companies changing their data plans. The first one is a tiny little startup that is struggling to be relevant in the mobile phone market. I'll call them Berizon. The Colleague and I are proud holders of grandfathered data plans with Berizon, which means despite their current tiered pricing plans, we pay a flat fee and get unlimited data. Our reward for being customers since mobile phones were the size of a small shoe is that this option will soon disappear. No love for the long time customer.

As of this summer, according to such unreliable sources as that liberal rag the New York Times, Berizon will require us to change to a tiered plan with any new two-year contract. I understand that moving data requires infrastructure and that infrastructure costs money, and we don't use enough data to make things appreciably more expensive under the new plan, but I sort of liked the idea of having this old-school, grandfathered cell plan. I imagine it's how people will feel in 15 years when they are still sitting on their 4% mortgages while new houses down the street are being financed at 11%.

I thought I could trick Berizon and just wait until the day before the change happened in July and then re-up both of our iFruit Phones with a new 2 year contract on the old plan. But no. Any new two-year contract already requires moving to a new plan. When iFruit 5 comes out we will undoubtedly go through our semi-annual Let's Go Off the Grid talk before just bending over and taking whatever Berizon is going to give us.

The more worrisome move is by our local broadband provider, which I will all Comcast. This tiny little company, which has a "customer tolerance" policy and that has a near monopoly in our neighborhood is taking steps to implement a tiered pricing plan of their own. Again, we don't come close to using the top end of their planned tiers (300 GB), but given that everything these days is served to our house over broadband - including most of what we watch on television (Netflix and Hulu) how long before running up against usage limits turns us into relative Luddites. No SmartTV? What the hell will I do then?

The reality of our connectivity is a little embarrassing. Sitting here at my professional writer's station (a dark room behind the laundry room that was probably once dry food storage for the previous owner) I am listening to music on Pandora, my photos and music collections are magically populating my iFruit Desktop, my iFruit Laptop(s), iFruit Phone and my iFruit Tablet. Somewhere out in the family room there is a person I don't know waiting to play golf against me on the gaming system named after the pitch the Sounders play on. I can hear The Colleague listening to something or other on Spotify and all four of the kids are no doubt texting and doing important Facebook work up in their rooms.

Now that I write that, the depth of my iFruit illness is coming clear. But that's a separate (if related) issue. As more and more appliances become "smart" we are bound to get trapped by data limits. I don't want my Smart Dishwasher to quit in the middle of sanitizing my leaded martini glasses just because my latest download of a Neil Diamond** album took me over our monthly limit.

Don Draper is Marginally Interesting Again, and Other Television News To Make Me Seem Like I Know What I'm Talking About
Mad Men limped into the current season off contract negotiations and production delays, resulting in a seriously bad season opener and three subsequent episodes that seemed at the time to be the death knell of the show.

The last two episodes (thanks to the late start to the season, the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes) have been interesting again. I wasn't sure at season's start that I'd still be watching, but I am, so something is going right, and that something is a refocusing on the main cast. Late last season and early this season the writers spent too much time trying to find interesting character threads outside the office, and all of them fell flat. By jettisoning a few lame characters (Betty's feckless new husband, Joan's obviously gay husband, etc) the action of the show has moved back to the agency, and that is where it is at its best.

This is a good lesson for show writers, especially as a franchise begins to age. When you find yourself in prolonged flashbacks, bringing in long lost family members, or spinning off your least repulsive secondary characters on their own storylines, your show is dying. The only way to revive it is counter-intuitive: You have to go back to the basics. Appeal to what made you good in the first place. Mad Men is Don Draper. Stay there.

This is also where I plug one of the best weekly blogs going: the Mad Men Power Rankings at Grantland. It's snarky good fun, which is my favorite kind of good fun. Granted, it makes no sense if you haven't just watched the episode in question, but if you have, the Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level is a little piece of genius every week. Mark Lisanti is one of my favorite Hollywood writers because of cold, perfect prose like this: "If you're not going to perform your basic job function, you can't really be surprised when someone throws a tiny plane at you." Context be damned, that's good stuff.

In other TV news, expect Community to die a fast, painful, cliche-ridden death next season. Show runner Dan Harmon has been unceremoniously canned by Sony Pictures Television and replaced by the guys who brought you Happy Endings. Never watched it? Never heard of it? Right. The last successful franchise the new show runners had was Just Shoot Me!, which was marginally good and was a decade ago. Chances of Community being relevant, interesting, or at all innovative in the future? I'll go with zero.

And finally we come to American Idol, which concluded its 11th season with a weird two-hour show full of painful duets, weird celebrity cameos, and Jennifer Lopez in a strange looking MC Hammer-esque bedazzled pajama costume. I don't get it.

But I still watch the show. I'm part of the "stagnant viewing base" that has led to 5 white male singers in a row being crowned the winner. It's not good television, and given the dozens of wannabe reality competitions on the slate every year, their days are numbered (maybe one more season? Two at most?).

I watch it because once in a while a really good singer comes along. That singer never wins, but for someone whose "going out to clubs to see a band no one has ever heard of in case they end up being big someday" days are over, it's actually kind of nice to see a new artist on the show whose record I might actually buy.

Mostly, American Idol is something I watch only because of the DVR. If I had to watch it live I'd never see it. In the network's quest to create true appointment television, they are losing out to technology. No one watches even reality TV live anymore, because the shows aren't about who wins, loses, goes home, or loses a top in a physical challenge. The shows are more and more like scripted TV, which doesn't require a front row seat at the live release.

A new model of TV is going to have to emerge. I know what it looks like, but I'm not telling you what it is. So there.

*For those who don't remember their comparative literature classes, that's a "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" reference followed by a "Cats" reference. Both written by T.S. Eliot. True story. That dude loved cats so much he wrote a freaky book about them called "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." I think it was right before he finally went senile.

**Of course by Neil Diamond I mean porn. Does anyone read these footnotes? The Internet is for porn.