The plane has landed. Finally! This is my first trip to Italy, and the last time I was in Europe at all was when I was one year old… so you could say it’s been a little while.

For the past couple months, I have skipped listening to NPR and to the rock stations during my long commutes in favor of Italian language learning CDs. So far, I feel pretty spoiled because it seems most of these people speak English and speak it pretty well. I’ve been approaching conversations in Italian, but the other party quickly switches over to my native language. It’s probably less of a headache for them, but at least I’m giving it a shot.

Some advice… I had so much going on leading up to this trip that I didn’t really worry about currency conversion beforehand. I brought along a big bundle of cash and was appalled by the commission rate for the money exchange at the Rome airport. I converted $100 at that point, in order to get to the hotel and to grab lunch. I had read that a lot of banks and hotels do currency exchanges but, as it turned out, our hotel didn’t, nor did any of the banks in the neighborhood. Every bank I asked pointed to another bank and said “You can do that there.” Nope, not true.

Tension was quickly building and, finally, we found a money exchange counter after walking a couple miles to the train station. So my advice is to think about this way ahead of time. We were always in search of the lowest commission rate we had to pay, and we eventually asked ourselves how much time we had spent wondering where and how we could get the best deal. Some people recommend exchanging cash, and some people recommend only taking along a credit card and withdrawing Euros directly from ATMs. Really, the most ideal scenario is probably a mix of both, but be sure to check with your credit card provider about their own currency exchange fees. Oh, and let them know you will be traveling so they don’t think your card is being fraudulently used.

Back to Rome… it’s such a surreal place. To me, it’s similar to Washington D.C. You grow up seeing these pictures on dollar bills and, in a way, it almost feels like the depictions aren’t real when you haven’t actually experienced these places. Seeing the grandiosity of the Colosseum is astonishing. It’s subtle nuances are there, right in front of you… things you may have never seen in photos or learned in history class. For example, I had never realized the entire structure is dotted with pockmarks. Those, I learned, were from a time, centuries ago, when the metals holding together the building blocks of the structure were pillaged to build other structures.

The ancient Colosseum in Rome, Italy

The Forum is less impressive. You know you’re standing in the middle of the historic, Roman city center, but the numerous ruins scattered over a large field are really difficult to put into a larger context. There’s good reason why almost every picture you see of the Forum features the still-standing Temple of Saturn portico (“porch” or “entryway”)…

From here, I really screwed up! The Circus Maximus (former chariot racing stadium) was next on the to-do list and, unbeknownst to me at the time, it’s located immediately south of the Forum. With some other buildings to navigate around first, we inadvertently headed west much further than we should have. At that point, we were well on our way to Vatican City, so we just continued on.

St. Peter’s Basilica is immediately recognizable and is incredibly beautiful. Again, not having enough time to do proper research (a common theme of this trip, but still amazing!), I got in line for, ehh, whatever… hopefully the Sistine Chapel. Nope! The line was for the Basilica. That was fine, but we were really hurting from walking miles and miles and miles, so we skipped the Chapel to make the 4+ mile walk back to the hotel.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome, Italy

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

It seems Mark Zuckerberg and his new bride had been crossing paths with us for a couple days. They were spotted at the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain – all places where we had been. A sighting would have been cool but, on this trip, it seems there is so little that could make the experience that much better. I do think a good, juicy burger would go a long way, though…

Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy

The Spanish Steps in Rome, built by the French

European Getaway

05/28/2012

Flying, running away from the sun. If we kept going, we would meet again in the middle of the world, and that’s probably just what we will do… reunite in the former, ancient middle of civilization.

It’s a long flight – L.A. to Chicago to Rome. The first flight was fun in a way, since there were two actresses I recognized on-board. One was Missi Pyle, who I last saw on TV when “The Artist” won “Picture of the Year” at the Oscars. Also, I met her at a film festival in Ohio four or five years ago but, unfortunately, didn’t get a chance to say “hello” to her today. The other actress was Amy Ferguson, who played the hot girl in “Garden State.” Ya know, she’s the one that plays “Spin the Bottle,” then makes out with Zach Braff’s character? She smiled at me as she was walking by/boarding the plane, which I think put me in a trance.

As for now, on the second leg of the voyage, it feels like this flight has been going on forever. It’s the middle of the night, somewhere over the dark, cold, and lonely Atlantic. The longest voyage I have been on since I have been old enough to remember was to Hawaii – a mere six hour flight from home, compared to the fifteen hour trek to travel across the U.S., over the ocean, France, the Med. and, finally, Italy. It might be long, but I have a feeling it’s going to be worth it very soon…

Before you begin, be sure to unplug all cables going to the hard drive and to discharge all potential static built up on you/your clothing by touching a grounded, metal object that is not the hard drive…. seems like simple stuff, but it’s really important.

The drive – this set of instructions applies to any of the LaCie Rugged series drive:

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

Remove the rubber bumper.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

With care, pry the overlapping aluminum tabs on the side of the drive up to about a 45 degree angle. These tabs are fragile – four of them broke off in this disassembly process – so only pry them up far enough to clear the underlying tab. Warning! Warning! Warning! Breaking the sticker will void your warranty (if you still have one).

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

Again, the tabs need not be pried as far apart as shown.

 

At this point, the top and bottom of the case will come right off.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

The plastic around the drive is very flexible, so pull the sides far enough apart and the drive will swing out.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

The small, black rubber bumpers that act as a shock mount for the drive may come off… if so, no big deal, as they slide right back on when you are ready to reassemble the drive in the case.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 
This drive uses an IDE connection:

Lacie Rugged Hard Drive Teardown

 

Lacie Hard Drive Repair

 

The tabs broken off from prying them further than needed… If the same happens to you during disassembly, bend the rest of the tabs back into place when ready, and the outer bumper should hold everything in place just fine.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

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Also, see my LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive Disassembly post here.

I received this from someone who had apparently received this email from someone else, from someone else, and on down the line. Could I be a mere five steps from Mark Zuckerberg?! Jokes aside, here is the email, which made me laugh, and it’s too funny not to share with you:

A Letter from Mark Zuckerberg

About Facebook’s IPO

MENLO PARK, CA (The Borowitz Report) – On the eve of Facebook’s IPO, Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg published the following letter to potential investors:

Dear Potential Investor:

For years, you’ve wasted your time on Facebook. Now here’s your chance to waste your money on it, too.

Tomorrow is Facebook’s IPO, and I know what some of you are thinking. How will Facebook be any different from the dot-com bubble of the early 2000’s?

For one thing, those bad dot-com stocks were all speculation and hype, and weren’t based on real businesses. Facebook, on the other hand, is based on a solid foundation of angry birds and imaginary sheep.

Second, Facebook is the most successful social network in the world, enabling millions to share information of no interest with people they barely know.

Third, every time someone clicks on a Facebook ad, Facebook makes money. And while no one has ever done this on purpose, millions have done it by mistake while drunk. We totally stole this idea from iTunes.

Finally, if you invest in Facebook, you’ll be far from alone. As a result of using Facebook for the past few years, over 900 million people in the world have suffered mild to moderate brain damage, impairing their ability to make reasoned judgments. These will be your fellow Facebook investors.

With your help, if all goes as planned tomorrow, Facebook’s IPO will net $100 billion. To put that number in context, it would take JP Morgan four or five trades to lose that much money.

One last thing: what will, I, Mark Zuckerberg, do with the $18 billion I’m expected to earn from Facebook’s IPO? Well, I’m considering buying Greece, but that would still leave me with $18 billion. LOL.

Friend me,

Mark

English is certainly one of the more difficult languages to learn because it’s such a hodge-podge derived from so many different sources. In a way, it’s too bad that there isn’t some official organization that cleans up and standardizes the language. Such an idea isn’t so far-fetched, as French speakers have the Académie française to moderate the language. For English, we just rely on Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and pop culture to define our language and how it is used.

If spelling and grammar conventions alone aren’t enough, you also have the various formatting styles for writing: AMA, AP, MLA, AAA, APA, etc. Each one sets forth a certain way you should title a paper, use footnotes and citations, and set margins and fonts. Whew! So many rules governing use and display of the same language.

Here are some rules that confound me: having to put commas and other punctuation before a quotation mark at the end of a sentence or list. Another is the spelling of “through” and other words we don’t pronounce precisely as spelled, like “awkward.”

Title conventions can be another source of mystery. For example, the episode we just finished up is called “Till Death Do Us Part.” I’m pretty sure not all the words get capitalized (i.e. “do”/”us”), but the main title on the version of our show that airs is all in caps, so it’s not crucial to know the rules. The DVD labels I print for the office and network folks, however, are in mixed-case, so that’s the only time I have to consider the proper capitalization. Also, in general, why do we capitalize “I” but not “me?” See, there we go again with the punctuation before the end quotation mark. It looks odd and makes it look more like “me” is the question, rather than the whole sentence.

I suppose all this thinking could be a crusade stemming from my childhood. I won the Spelling Bee in sixth grade but lost the previous year on the word “marble.” Can you guess how I spelled it? M-A-R-B-E-L. That moment was caught on tape, and it’s obvious that I knew I made a mistake when walking away, grinning but shaking my head and throwing a fist pump as if to say “dang it!”

It doesn’t all really need to be overly complicated, but it is. And it’s looking more and more like I will never find true English happiness until “through” is officially spelled “thru.”

The longer I am here, the smaller the city seems. At first, it seemed like this vast, never-ending land. I guess it is really big, but Los Angeles becomes smaller based on what parts of it apply to you. I don’t really factor in parts south of the city like Compton and such, anything east of downtown, and northeastern parts other people might consider like Sherman Oaks. Even North Hollywood seems like a stretch because I hardly go there and become is seems weird that Hollywood and North Hollywood are separated not only by a giant mountain, but also by Studio City and the Valley Village neighborhood.

Also, the longer I stay, the more dull it becomes. Every once in a while, I look at the Hollywood sign and think “I’m really glad to be here – I could be in Ohio.” But at other times I wish I were in Ohio. I guess the magic gets lost when you’ve hit up all the tourist spots countless times. I have taken family and friends to see Hollywood Boulevard – Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the legendary clubs (the Whiskey, Roxy, Viper Room, etc.) – the barely visible Playboy Mansion, the former (Aaron and Candy) Spelling Mansion, Paramount/Warner Bros./Universal, the Santa Monica Pier, and the freak show in Venice…not the one you have to pay for, but the free one outside along the boardwalk.

I suppose not enough time is spent at some of these places as the guests might like. I should ask, because the visit is really about them. As a host, it seems difficult to find a rigamarole of things to do because all the aforementioned sites can be seen in a day on a driving tour.

This all comes about because some visitors will be here next week, so it’s back to the drawing board again. Come to think of it, LACMA is nearby and often goes overlooked. They have the cool city light sculpture……and really that’s about all that’s there that excites me. I have no intention of turning this into a tirade or anything, but I wish the Getty Center and LACMA could swap places. The Getty is free and has priceless, massively famous art, while LACMA seems to be more of a collection of a bunch of huge buildings that don’t seems to contain a whole lot. Maybe that’s because they waste so much space. I used to have a membership and recall one entire room filled with nothing but a giant, weaving steel sheet that was like ten feet tall or whatever. Another building is totally devoted to simple Japanese paintings. The Tim Burton exhibit was cool but, after a while, it all started to look the same, in a similar way to the simple Japanese paintings. So maybe LACMA isn’t such a great idea, except for those lights.

One place that always seems to be worth the trip is the Greystone Mansion. Nestled in the actual hills of Beverly Hills, the huge property built by the notorious Doheny family is meticulously maintained and was probably used, in some way, in one of your favorite movies or shows. Plus it’s free to park and walk around. You can’t beat that.

The Griffith Observatory is another good option. On nights when they have star parties, which happen once a month, cars are parked on the shoulder way down the winding canyon road. Despite all the people, it’s a lot of fun. Amateur astronomers bring out their huge telescopes and everyone patiently waits in line for a turn to look at Saturn, the moon, stars locked together in a gravitational pull, or whatever. And like the Greystone, it’s all free.

Okay, okay, I take it back. I take it all back that there isn’t anything fun to do in L.A. anymore…that the magic has worn off. I guess once the dust settles and everything becomes familiar, that’s when it becomes important to step back and told another look at what you have.

The Fourth Year

05/03/2012

This is that fourth year I always dread. I dread the third year, too. That’s when the rhetoric and debates ramp up, leaving many of us sick of political talk even before elections are more than a year away. Having a long commute, I have become pretty savvy at switching off the news, in favor of other radio material, the very millisecond I hear keywords resembling “super PAC,” “Romney,” “campaign,” and sometimes simply “Obama.” Now, as a slogan, “forward” is being added to that list. I just don’t care because, right now, is doesn’t matter. And it hasn’t mattered for a long time.

There is a lot of coverage out there that’s hard to ignore. There are debates and town hall meetings and talk around the water cooler. For many people across the nation, there is at least some chance to participate in the dialog and the nomination process. But when it really comes down to it, individual participation is a guided process. So much of it is about psychology. The party leaders know it, and would probably rather you not think about it.

Although “The Adjustment Bureau” is fictional (as far as we know! Hah!), parts of that film have stuck with me for over a year… most notably this scene: David Norris, played by Matt Damon, is a politician who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat. When that aspiration falls short, Norris is fed up and lets loose during his concession speech.

David Norris:

…we had a rule in my neighborhood, when you got in a fight, it wasn’t whether or not you got knocked down. It’s what you do when you get back up.

And I came here to tell you tonight that I will get back up!

Um…that’s bullshit! We…we didn’t have that saying in my neighborhood. It’s just one of those phrases that uh…that has some attraction with a focus group and so we kept using it. That’s not true. You know, 1998, I did a cover for GQ. The title was ‘Youngest Congressmen Ever’ and, since then, every story I tried to explain how I got here so fast. And…and the word that people kept uh…using was “authentic” and…

…here’s the problem, this isn’t even my tie. This tie was selected for me by a group of specialists, in Tenafly, New Jersey, who chose it over fifty-six other ties we tested. In fact, our data suggests that I have to stick to either a tie that is red or a tie that is blue. A yellow tie made it look as if I was taking my situation lightly and I may in fact pull my pants down at any moment.

A silver tie meant that I’d forgotten my roots. My shoes, you know, shiny shoes we associate with a high priced lawyers and bankers. If you want to get a working mans vote you need to scuff up your shoes a little bit, but you can’t scuff ’em so much that you alienate the lawyers and the bankers, cause you need them to pay for the specialist back in Tenafly.

It’s interesting to consider our current President’s attire choices. The necktie blog “Neck of State” shows that, during his first 100 days in office, President Obama wore a red or blue tie seven out of eight times. That’s nearly 90% of the time. Maybe he just really likes those colors, or maybe someone told him something like “Wearing at least one of the two primary colors on the American flag comes across as being more patriotic.”

There is that obsession with lapels that politicians have, too… American flag lapels, specifically. Reagan started the trend. George W. wore ’em. Dick Cheney wore ’em, and Obama wore ’em until he “noticed a lot of people wearing a lapel pin and not acting very patriotic.” Maybe someone also told him about the Cornell study that suggests greater exposure to the American flag persuades some people to shift toward “more conservative Republican attitudes and voting behavior.”

Another changing area of modern politics is the celebrity appeal. Modern Presidents are fit and handsome. Obama is “cool” and was accused of being more of a “rock star” than a politician during his campaign, going so far as flying to Germany to give a speech for, well, who really knows…just a demonstration of his popularity with another culture that can’t vote for him, I guess. Los Angeles and San Diego are other good spots for that. (I don’t mean that as a jab, but it’s true that some Democrats are motivated to extend social programs to people who are in this country illegally, and Los Angeles is a known safe haven for illegal immigrants.)

Never before has an American President been so willing to optimize the media in so many ways. And never before has a President been seen paling around with celebrities so much. The gap is bridging between celebrity and politician as time marches on. Of course, the POTUS is a pretty well-defined position. Such a person doesn’t get to endorse products and get to be famous for being famous. Rather, the line is blurring in such a way that U.S. Presidents are in the top 1% of income earners, go on on late-night talk shows and send birthday tributes to celebrities and, out of necessity, hobnob at fundraisers with their richest and most famous best buddies.

These days, the notion of political celebrity isn’t limited to the examples just mentioned. Take, for example, the show put on for political conventions. They are made up of prominent figures reading scripted statements from a teleprompter, with theatrics including pyrotechnics, fancy lighting normally reserved for big concerts, confetti, giant balloons, and elaborate stage sets that resemble things like Roman temples. It’s a manufactured environment, and what a person said holds less weight than if they were in a darkened theater with a spotlight shining down on him or her.

In a world where so many technologies and products are vying for one’s attention, we are reduced to getting our information from soundbites. Context is everything, and context we rarely get. Thirty-minute speeches are reduced to three seconds. All that ends up mattering is a catchphrase and the inevitability of moving in a direction that really has no inherent meaning. It just exists and can’t be changed. It’s called “forward.”

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Further reading / cited material:

University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs:
“Romney Speaks 8+ Minutes More than Closest Rival at SC Debate”
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2012/01/romney_speaks_8_minutes_more_t.php

Los Angeles Times:
“Tale of the tape: Romney has had most face time in GOP debates”

Cornell Chronicle: “Study: Setting eyes on Old Glory moves voters toward GOP”
http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July11/FlagGOP.html

Neck of State: “Grading Obama’s First 100 Days”
http://www.neckofstate.com/

Washington Post: “Obama Stops Wearing Flag Pin”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/05/AR2007100501027.html