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North Carolina's Funniest contest...

~Tuesday~ Tonight I attended one of the 10 preliminary rounds of the North Carolina's Funniest amateur stand-up comedy contest at Goodnight's Comedy Club in Raleigh.

This was an out-of-my-comfort-zone outing, but I wanted to support my colleague and friend, Matt Morain, whom I happen to think is a very, very intelligent-funny person.

Aversion to stand-up comedy

It was out of my comfort zone, because I have a serious aversion to stand-up comedy, and especially stand-up comedy contests, for a few reasons:

  1. I get irrationally uncomfortable when someone is up on stage and not doing well. (I know it has nothing to do with me, but I get uncomfortable anyway. That would be the irrational part. FWIW, I am an ESFJ.)

  2. There has almost always been some kind of humor at the expense of gay people in the stand-up shows I've attended, and I just don't like having to decide if it's offensive or not. (FWIW, I know that gay people aren't the only people who are the brunt of jokes, as I would posit that most humor is at the expense of some characteristic or group of people.)

  3. I hate when comics directly address people in the audience—sort of bringing them into the joke.

  4. I hate, hate, hate having to pick the winner (of any contest, really) by audience applause. If that's going to be the way it's done, you need to have some kind of app that measures decibels as opposed to human beings making the call by ear.
Clap-o-meter


Tonight's cast of characters (Hover over pics to see names.)

Black RoseStephen HamlettMatt MorainMark McPartlandHunter EdwardsDavid Crimminger (No pic provided)

Brian BurnsMikey SchroederBrice LottBrian Deans (No pic provided)Jennie Stencel


Logistical things that worked for me

  • Voting. I couldn't have been more pleased that the voting procedure was with ballots as opposed to applause. And I loved that the ballots allowed room to make notes about each performer as you heard them.

    Two other things I liked about this voting method: 1) It appealed to my sensibility as a "black and white" thinker (see ESFJ reference above), because they articulated the voting rules, which were clear and concise: "Rank the performers 1 (the best) to 11. No partial points. No ties. Anything marked other than from 1 to 11 will cause your ballot to be thrown out." and 2) It allayed my stand-up comedy aversion #4 (as stated above).

  • Reasonably priced bourbon and sodas. The house bourbon wasn't swill, and at $5.50 a piece, I wasn't gouged. Of course, if you spread the $4 service charge [see first item below under: Logistical things that didn't work for me] I paid on my ticket over the price of the drinks, they were really $7.50 each, which would be gouging.

  • Good pace. In this preliminary round, each comic had a 4.5- to 6-minute time limit. This not only kept the evening moving, it was a godsend when the person was sinking into an abyss up there.


Logistical things that didn't work for me

  • Service charge for buying my ticket at the door. Those of you who know me well know that I consider myself "financially savvy." (Those of you who don't know me well probably just consider me cheap.) Anyway, I specifically canceled my online order when I went from "the cart" to "checkout," when I found out there was a $4.00 service charge for my ticket. Instead, I took a chance that they wouldn't be sold out when I got there to save 4 bucks, and I even called at 6:00 (it started at 7) to make sure there were still tickets available at the door. So, imagine my irritation then when I got to the door and there was a sign hanging up to this effect:

    As of April 16, 2016 (or some such date in the recent past) all tickets are processed through the VT (or some such acronym that apparently means something to the comedy club insiders) ticketing system, so a service charge is added to all tickets whether purchased online or in person. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    Sorry for the inconvenience? Really? Don't you mean, "Sorry for ripping you off?" Do you see anything about a service charge on this stub?

    Ticket stub


    If I were as litigious an individual as we are a country, I'd fight this in court. Okay, </rant>.

  • A required two-item minimum. Over the course of the evening, you had to purchase at least two items—presumably food or drink. I'm unhappy about this only on principle, because in practice, telling me I have to drink at least 2 drinks in a two-hour period is like telling an undisciplined child sitting behind me on a plane that he has to kick the back of my seat at least twice during the 2-hour flight.

    Anyway, two issues with this one: 1) I didn't find this out until after I bought my ticket and saw it on the door entering into the seating area (see item above about being "financially savvy"), and 2) How is this enforceable? At what point will they throw you out if you haven't ordered two items? And will they make you un-see what you've already seen up to that point?

  • The microphone wire was problematic. Almost every performer up there struggled with the wire when taking the microphone out of the stand to hold it. It kept getting stuck up at the very top where it connects into the microphone.

  • Unprepared for accessibility. While the 7th or 8th comic was performing, a person who worked at the club leaned over me and whispered, "As soon as this guy's done, we're going to ask you to move up there (pointing to a chair one seat up and to the left of where I was currently sitting). Not now, but right after this guy." So that happened. And when the next guy starts on his routine, the worker leans over me again, and whispers, We're going to need you to move a little more up and to the left, because we need to move this table behind you a little, too. Our next contestant is in a wheelchair, and we're going to push him by here to get to the stage."

    A couple of questions, 1) "You didn't know that your ninth contestant of the evening needed accessibility accommodations in order to consider them before you arranged the tables for the evening? 2) There's really no permanent accessibility accommodations for the stage?


Observations about the performances

  • Topics that didn't do well:

    • Any kind of jokes or humor alluding to rape. With the national conversation that's currently going on about rape culture in this country, is this really a surprise to any up-and-coming comic? Pay attention people.

    • Using the r-word. At least two performers used this word, and it didn't seem to faze a good portion of the audience. If you don't know why this is offensive, please educate yourself.

    • Race and ethnicity. Even if you're dating someone of a different race or ethnicity, you have to be very, very good to pull off this topic without people spending a lot of time during your routine wondering, "Was that racist?"

    • Sexual orientation, and now gender identity. This again, in my opinion, is a topic that potentially elicits a lot of "noise" in the listeners' heads, for some of the same reasons as the race and ethnicity topic. It can also be more complicated when it's not obvious whether the comic is a constituent in the group about which s/he jokes, which probably shouldn't but definitely can, make a difference as to whether something is funny to one person or another.

    • Testosterone-infused sexual conquest and super-sized manbits. Two performers in general, and one in particular, suffered at the hand of this topic. The one made me realize how risky it is to have your entire routine based on one topic, as you can get surprisingly deep into a hole in 4.5 - 6 minutes. #TWSS

  • Techniques:

    • Self-deprecation. This is almost always a winning approach. It's also, I believe, why Matt's routine was so good.

    • Referring to, or pointing out, audience members. Only a couple of performers did this, and in their defense, it wasn't unequivocally clear as to whom they were abusing.

    • Taking advantage of your gender. There was only one female comic tonight, and apparently talking about vaginas in general, and noises that vaginas make in particular, works if you're a woman.


Conclusions

  • By now, it must be more than obvious why I have an aversion to stand-up comedy. With that said, however, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

  • Matt came in first place and, to me, these are the qualities that catapulted him to the top: intelligent, respectful humor; flawless delivery; and a likable, confident, and commanding stage presence.

I look forward to seeing how Matt does in the semi-finals round, which begins on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. Learn more about it.

The Martian (2015)...

~Sunday~ In March of this year, I went to the Intelligent Content Conference in Las Vegas, where the closing keynote speaker was none other than Andy Weir, the author of the book, The Martian.

When describing the publication history of the book, he mentioned that at one time it was available for download for $.99 on Amazon.com, and during the Q&A time, I was chosen to ask him a question. I phrased my question this way, "I'm sorry I've neither read your book nor seen the movie, but I was wondering if the book is still available for download for $.99." Once the laughter subsided, he explained that once he sold the rights to the book to Random House, he was prohibited to continue selling the book himself—at any price.

Fast-forward to the book signing line, where when he recognized me from the Q&As, he autographed:


I finally got around to doing that in April, and after describing a little of the plot to Bob, he asked if I'd be interested in watching the movie when I was done with the book, to which I said yes.

The synopsis

An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars after his team assume him dead, and must rely on his ingenuity to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

The trailer




My thoughts and observations

  • I really enjoyed this movie. To say I loved it would be hyperbole, though.

  • This is one of those very rare instances in which I prefer a movie over a book. My problem with the book—in which I admit I did a lot of skimming over pages, which I very rarely give myself permission to do—was that there were way too many details I didn't care about, most of which were the minutiae of biological planting and pooping principles, chemical and element interactions and reactions, and parts and pieces of spaceships that deform and reform in the night. Just get to the next point in the people plot, please.

  • As one does when one both reads a book and then sees its film adaption, I was struck by several things that were different. I think 5 Big Differences Between The Martian Book and the Movie does a good job capturing them. Here is the tl;dr version:

  • Matt Damon looked in incredibly good shape when he shows skin in the opening scenes, so much so that I wondered aloud on Facebook if they'd used a body double, to which my sister commented, "Hater!"

  • Themes touched on in this movie included:
    • The space program as both a bringing together and bringing out competitiveness
    • The value of a person's life
    • Man conquering space
    • Man vs. his natural habitat
    • Ingenuity
    • Resourcefulness
    • Isolation
    • Mortality
    • Friendship

  • I gave this movie one-and-a-half thumbs up.


Have you seen this movie? If so, what did you think of it?
 

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Testament Of Youth (2014)...

~Sunday~ I found the title of this movie saved in my iPhone "Notes" file, which means someone I was talking to—at some time, somewhere—recommended it. I thought it was my friend Todd, but he said it wasn't him.

At any rate, watching the trailer, I quickly decided it was "my kind of movie," and naturally after mentioning it to Bob, it came in the mail from Netflix shortly thereafter.

The synopsis

During World War I, Oxford University student Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) postpones her studies to serve as a nurse while her suitor, her brother, and a secret admirer face death in the trenches.

The trailer




My thoughts and observations

  • I loved this movie.

  • I would have described this film as a "period piece," until I read Godfrey Cheshire's June 5, 2015 review of the film in which he referred to it as a "customer drama." Which, of course, made me wonder what the difference is between those. Here's what I found:
    Period piece: an object or work that is set in or strongly reminiscent of an earlier historical period
    Costume drama: a television or film production set in a particular historical period, in which the actors wear costumes typical of that period
    That seems like a very nuanced difference to me. I guess a period piece wouldn't be a costume piece if the actors didn't wear costumes reminiscent of the time being depicted.That sounds like it would also be a not very good piece.

  • The publication history of the book, Testament of Youth (written from Vera's memoirs) was interesting (also explained in the 2015 Cheshire review): "She first tried writing a novel, which she shelved as a failure, a judgment she also made against a subsequent attempt to make a book by fictionalizing journals and letters." Also, I didn't realize there were two follow-up publications, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience, both of which pique my interest.

  • Of course conflict is critical to a good story, and there is no shortage of conflict in this film.

  • Themes touched on in this movie included:
    • A woman's "place" in society
    • Love
    • War
    • Nationalism
    • Unrequited love
    • Family
    • Fathers and daughters
    • Fathers and sons
    • Determination
    • Reliance
    • Tragedy

  • I gave this movie two thumbs up.


Have you seen this movie? If so, what did you think of it?
 

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The Atomic Man (1955)...

~Wednesday~ I'm not a fan of sci-fi, so it's an anomaly that I watched this film. Bob had paid—which is also an anomaly—to stream it from Netflix, and since we had access to it for several days, I went ahead and watched it, too.

Bob had already watched it, himself, but he watched again with me—sitting in front of my computer in the dining room, since it was relatively short at just over an hour, and I like the big screen I have with my desktop computer.

The synopsis

An atomic scientist is found floating in a river with a bullet in his back and a radioactive halo around his body. The radioactivity has put him seven-and-a-half seconds ahead of us in time. He teams up with a reporter to stop his evil double from destroying his experiments in artificial tungsten. - Written by Marty McKee

The trailer




My thoughts and observations

  • Surprisingly, I enjoyed this movie.

  • What piqued my interest about this film was that notion of the character being 7.5 seconds ahead of us in time. It was, in fact, the deciding factor in watching it. I wouldn't have watched this if it was about, say, aliens or other "classic" sci-fi elements, which I don't care for.

  • I would say, in general, the story was fairly plausible, the acting was better than I'd expected, and the dialogue was not stilted, even approaching clever, at times.

  • Themes touched on in this movie included:
    • Good conquers evil
    • Man vs. science
    • Work vs. relationships
    • "Crime noir" (This is also a detective story.)
    • Nuns as nurses
    • Getting the dame in the end

  • I gave this movie one thumb up.


It appears this film is available to watch for free on Vimeo.


If that doesn't work, try it on archive.org.

Have you seen this movie? If so, what did you think of it?
 

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Skis, binding, boots, and poles for sale

Skis, bindings, boots, and poles
I only used these for one season, before I gave up skiing. They're in excellent condition.
$200
I'd rather sell the entire set together, so if you do buy the entire set, I'll throw in the
gloves, goggles, boot bag, and ski bag free.

Scroll down or jump to individual descriptions of the skis and bindings, the boots, and the poles.

Skis, bindings, boots, and poles

See the free stuff that comes with the set.Collapse )



Skis and bindings
$170 (Paid $550 for them)
K2 Omni skis, Salomon bindings
Skis are mens, 66" long, in excellent condition
Skis and bindings




Boots
$25
Salomon Slick
Mens, Size 9.5, in excellent condition
SalomonSlickSkiBoots.jpg




Poles
$5 (Paid $48 for them)
Scott Series 2
48" tall, in excellent condition
Scott poles top
Scott poles bottom

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Why I'm coming out of retirement...

~Tuesday~  I am thrilled that the same team at the same company at which I was working when I retired is welcoming me back with open arms. I'll be working again on the Content Team at Red Hat in downtown Raleigh.

I've always said, "If you have to work, this is the place—and the people with whom—to do it." Actually, more accurately, that's the way I'd write it. The way I'd say it is, "If you have to work, this is the place and the people to do it with." (FWIW, Grammar Girl says it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition these days.)

My primary responsibilities as a marketing communications specialist will be to:

  • Partner with multiple marketing teams to craft engaging marketing content
  • Work with data analysts, SEO, and on-site search experts and UX teams to identify clear goals for marketing content
  • Connect with content contributors across Red Hat to create consistent experiences for prospects and customers
  • Apply my unique skills and insights to take on passion projects that make Red Hat better
  • Be an advocate for the Red Hat brand and voice
  • Consult with marketing and content team members to monitor content performance and suggest improvements
In other words, it's the exact same job I had before as a web content editor.



Naturally, the first question everyone I've told this to asks is, "Why are you doing this?" There are two main reasons that I'm returning to the workforce:

  1. After fighting for so many years to have the same rights as straight people, Bob and I got married and our healthcare premiums tripled.

    As retired, single guys each using the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2015, we both enjoyed a tax credit on our monthly premiums that amounted to a 50% discount. So, in total, we paid about $600 a month for healthcare, which while not fantastic, was manageable.

    However, if you're married, the ACA requires you to file jointly for coverage, so we did that for our 2016 coverage, only to find out that our joint retirement income puts us above the level at which we can get any tax credits at all.

    In conjunction with that, these headlines loomed last year: ACA premiums in NC to rise sharply in 2016, and that's exactly what happened to ours. That, together with our loss of tax credits, our monthly premium went from $600 a month to $1800 a month. And that was for 60/40 coverage, which was less coverage than we had last year.

    We just weren't willing to pay that, especially since I knew that Red Hat's coverage (for employee + spouse) is about $188 a month, and I so don't mind working there.

  2. My dad's passing in September has reduced my mother's income by 75%—so much so that her monthly expenses now significantly exceed her monthly income, and I'd like to be able to help her out a little while I still have some earning power.

    She has enough money to cover about another 8 years, withdrawing from savings each month in order to meet her expenses. She's 84 years old, but her mother lived to be 98 or 99. When she does run out of money, she can go on Medicaid, but that most likely means she'd have to move from the assisted living place she's currently in, because they don't take Medicaid there. And it's a nice place, and she likes it there.

    So, working again now, will put me in a better position to help her out down the road, if it comes to that. And in the meantime, I can spot her a few bucks for bingo every now and then.



My official rehire date is Monday, February 15, but I've been freelance editing (two days a week, through a contracting company) for this same team at Red Hat since I retired in October of 2014, so I've already ramped up my work back to 40 hours a week. But on that Monday, I'll convert back to a regular employee and my benefits will begin again.

The team has been so affirming in welcoming me back, and I'm forever grateful to my manager for taking me back. Red Hat is such a great company to work for and the Content Team is the best team there to work on!

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Dry January (Day 31)

~Sunday~  I will be going out tonight, and I will have my first drink in a month at 12:00:01 a.m. And it might very well be a shot—of bourbon, of course.

As these final hours of Dry January tick away, I'm reflecting on the month.

My first inclination is to compare my experience to the experience of the person who wrote the article that inspired me to take on this challenge. Here are the 12 things she noted about her experience and how my experience compared to each:

  1. You might want to try not to get totally wasted on NYE. I did not get totally wasted on NYE, so I started off right on January 1st.

  2. The first two weeks will be really hard. I didn't find the first two weeks any harder than the subsequent weeks. The triggers that make me think of having a drink were there throughout the month.

  3. You’ll realize that almost all social life is centered around food and drink. This didn't come as any shock to me. It's one of the reasons I eat and drink as much as I do, because I'm a very social person.

  4. A lot of people, including your close friends, will be super annoying and unsupportive about your decision. This was not my experience, for which I was thankful. I would say the most common reaction was, "You're not drinking for a month? You're kidding!"

  5. Tell people you’re on some serious antibiotics or, in very extreme cases, tip your bartender for club soda. I never had to do this this month. Ironically, I have done this in the past, when I'd had enough to drink, but didn't want to have to keep saying why I was stopping. In fact, in the past, I've gone so far as to ask a bartender to give me a club soda and then splash a little bit of Diet Coke in it so it would look like it had some bourbon in it. For the record, that tastes awful.

  6. You might decide you don’t like your friends anymore. I'm happy and thankful to say that this didn't happen.

  7. Maybe “just a drink or two a night” is much more than that. While I never was one to have a drink or two a night, I am one to binge drink on the weekends and am thinking about strategies to temper that a little—two possibilities being: 1) Have a club soda between each drink, or 2) Have two (or three) drinks and then drink club soda the rest of the night.

  8. Your Dry January will likely lead you to new friendships, relationships, and other cool people your slightly inebriated brain didn’t really notice before. This didn't happen to me. I can't think of one person I met this month specifically because I wasn't drinking and noticed them for that reason.

  9. By the end of week two, you’ll feel like a new person. I wouldn't say I felt like a new person. What I did feel like was a person who wanted a drink.

  10. You might be tempted to extend your Dry January to a Dry February. I never considered this at all. I did consider extending it for two days in support of one of my friends who started doing this a couple of days after me, so we'd start up drinking again at the same time, but that didn't end up being necessary.

  11. The first drink you have after the dry period will be like whoa. And hangovers? Well, they might never be the same. I guess I'll find out if this is true later this evening, or "first thing in the morning," technically. Hopefully, I won't be assessing a hangover later in the morning.

  12. This whole experience may change how and how much you drink forever. This is not going to change how and how much I drink forever, but at least for a few weeks into February. :-)

Thoughts and observations about the overall experience::

  • The things I probably thought about the most during this month were the triggers that make me think of having a drink, of which these were the top 5:
    1. Celebrating
    2. Celebrating
    3. Celebrating
    4. Big news (e.g., your favorite bar in the world suddenly closing)
    5. Appetizers (which just beg for an accompanying drink)
  • I spent some time contemplating whether eating food with alcohol in it (e.g., black cherry rum pound cake, bourbon chicken, and rum raisin ice cream) would violate the Dry January commitment. While I didn't indulge in any this month, I think if I were to do this again, I'd eat them. I'm very clear that I wouldn't be eating such things "to get the alcohol out of them," so it seems innocuous to eat them.


  • I contemplated whether having more fun when drinking is because being intoxicated actually makes (or enables) you (to) have more fun, or if it just makes you think you're having more fun. I'm still not sure what the answer to that is, but I am sure it's more fun being out (specifically in a bar) when you are drinking than when you're not drinking—whatever it is that makes that so.

  • I lost 10 pounds this month, but it was not entirely due to not drinking alcohol. I went to the gym, on average, every other day this month, and I limited my daily calorie intake to 1500 for at least as many days.

  • I estimate that I saved between $250 and $300 not drinking alcohol this month.

  • On average, I would say that I go home from the bars earlier when I'm not drinking than when I am.

  • Physically, I don't feel any different after not drinking for a month. I don't feel like I have any more—or less—energy. I don't feel more "clear headed." I don't feel "healthier." With that said, I'm going to go ahead and assume my liver has had a nice break that it appreciates.

  • Both emotionally and intellectually, I do feel like I've gained some clarity around when, why, and how much I drink, and that I am still in control of my drinking.

  • At this point, I'm still ambivalent about whether I'll do this again next year. If I do, however, it most likely will be for the month of February instead of January.

Most hours down, just a few to go!
 

Dry January (Day 22)

~Friday~  It snowed today, and Bob and I walked to Seaboard Station to catch the R-Line over to The Borough. It was running mid-afternoon when I checked it to make sure, but by the time we walked to the stop at about 4:10, it had—apparently—gone "out of service."

We ended up walking the rest of the way to The Borough, where our friends Wayne and David joined us shortly thereafter.

Although I really wanted a nice, heavy-poured (the only kind they serve at The Borough) bourbon and soda to reward myself for making the nearly 2-mile trek in the snow to get there, I ordered a Shirley Temple. (Lah-dee-fucking-dah.)

Thoughts and observations since my last update, which was a week ago, on Dry January (Day 15):

  • Yesterday, I got a big, fat raise, and I mean a big, fat raise, and I desperately wanted to celebrate it with a drink.

  • I made what turned out to be the last payment of a pretty hefty monthly bill that I thought I had one more payment left on, and I wanted to have a drink to celebrate that.

  • Obviously, celebrating is a trigger, since it's the third time I've mentioned it now.

  • I saw "bourbon chicken" on a restaurant menu, and I wondered if it would be "cheating" to order that.

  • The first of the two events (the annual "birthdays dinner" with a big group of friends) coming up that I've talked about being challenging to attend "dry" has been postponed (due to threatening weather predictions) until February, so that's good.

  • However, an event has been added to combat the cabin fever that a lot of people are feeling due to this weather—an impromptu neighborhood potluck and games night tomorrow night, at which (I'm thinking), it would be lovely to have a couple of drinks.

  • I have really been keeping an eye on the calendar as I approach the final week of this experience.

22 days down, 9 to go!
 

Entertainment center for sale

Entertainment center
Black teak finish
Glass door on left side, solid door on right, top shelf slides out
25.5" wide x 15.5" deep
$20
SOLD!

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Kitchen table for sale

Kitchen table with four chairs
Solid wood, light oak finish
42" x 42" (29"" tall)
$150
SOLD!

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