Archive for January, 2009

My Murderous Ex-Boss Goes To Trial…

Long time readers of this blog (all three of you) may remember my post in 2007 about how Bob, my boss at Super Bagel — where I worked throughout my high school years — had just killed his wife, Ann, with whom I also worked. The story is really tragic. I’d received a couple calls from TV magazine show producers thinking of doing an episode on the case, and I occasionally have looked around for updates, and to see whether or not a trial was underway. Thanks to my sister for sending over the news that the trial has, in fact, begun, and it’s already off to quite a start, with allegations that Bob offered an employee at Super Bagel $5,000 to kill Ann, saying:

“it’d be cheaper to kill Ann than divorce her.”


In talking with one of the TV show producers, the woman had asked me if it surprised me that Bob was capable of killing Ann. What kind of question is that, really? Bob certainly played the role of a tough guy as long as I knew him, and I had no doubt that he really was a tough guy. I wouldn’t want to get into a physical altercation with him. But, there’s a huge gulf between being a tough guy and killing someone… especially your wife.

These were certainly two strong-willed individuals, and I’d seen both of them clash with plenty of people. But, no matter how much of a mean streak Bob may have had at times, I never thought he’d actually reach the level of killing anyone — especially not Ann, and especially not in a pre-meditated manner. The whole story is so insane.

I still recall all of those crazy bagel store stories working with Bob and Ann — but they all seem to be coated in a form of muck that wasn’t there before. They were fun stories, about bigger than life personalities, working in crazy conditions in a small bagel shop in NY. It was the stuff that sitcoms were made of, not police or court dramas.

Music Meme Thing: Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa

I’m usually not a big fan of these sorts of things, but eh, haven’t had time to write up any actual posts, so via Dennis we get a silly high school style musical meme test that reveals a bit of what’s in my music collection… Here’s how it works:

1. Put Your iTunes on Shuffle. (I used Party Shuffle, cuz Shuffle isn’t really “random”)
2. For each question, press the ‘next’ button to get your answer. (or listen to each song, like I did.)
3. You must write down the name of the song no matter how silly it sounds!
4. Put any comments in brackets after the song name.

What do your friends think of you?
You don’t Know Like I Know… by The Pepper Pots
I’m really not sure what that means

If someone says, “Is this okay?” You say?
Slow It Down, by Checkmate
Apparently it’s not okay

How would you describe yourself?
Jackie’s Mood by Jackie Mittoo
Hmm. That doesn’t make much sense, but if my life is going to be described by a Jackie Mittoo song… that’s actually not so bad. And this one is a great one…

What do you like in a guy/girl?
The End, by the Skandalous All-Stars
Yikes. Seems a bit harsh.

How do you feel today?
Stay With Him, by Symarip
Great song… but… eh?

What is your life’s purpose?
Open Up Bartender, by Prince Buster
I would suggest this game is… not working very well.

What is your motto?
I Mean, by Mr. T-Bone
Seems like half a motto. If that.

What do you think about very often?
Freestyle, by Sublime
That’s right. I’m all about the freestylin’

What is 2 + 2?
Mr. Misery, by the Aggrolites
Actually, I was pretty good at math

What do you think of your best friend?
Speed Queen, by the Adjusters
Hmm. I think we’re talking about someone else here.

What do you think of the person you like?
What Now My Love, by Ernest Ranglin
I’m assuming that’s meant in the positive sense, rather than the frustrated sense…

What is your life story?
Swamp, by the Talking Heads
Well… that’s one interpretation…

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Read My Lips, by The Steady Ups
I knew this was a high school thing… I thought I was grown up. But… apparently I want to be George H. W. Bush

What do you think of when you see the person you like?
Mama Julie by Terry & Jerry
That seems massively inappropriate

What will you dance to at your wedding?
My Love, by Ike Turner
Of course, I am married, and I danced to “Love Isn’t Love, by the Aggrolites.” But, at least this is a love song… but, tragically, it’s by Ike Turner, who probably is not appropriate at a wedding give the whole Ike and Tina Turner stuff…

What will they play at your funeral?
The Big Five, by Bad Manners
Um. Wow. If you know anything about this song (it’s a cover of the Prince Buster tune by the same title, which is actually a… bastardization of Rainy Night In Georgia), this is about the most inappropriate funeral song ever. Actually, this is one of the most inappropriate and politically incorrect songs… ever. We used to get calls from the local Ithaca Skins at the radio show asking us to play this song on the radio all the time and it is *not* something you can play on the radio if you want to stay on the radio. Instead, we’d usually play a ska version of Rainy Night in Georgia, so maybe we can do a substitution? Though, not sure that really fits as a funeral song… but, maybe.

What is your hobby/interest?
Reggae Fiend, by the Soulsteppers
Hey, it got one right!

What is your biggest fear?
A Meina Menina, by the Slackers
Um. Anyone have any idea what that means?

What is your biggest secret?
Monica Lewinsky, by Dion Knibb and the Agitators
Heh. This game thinks I’m Bill Clinton, apparently

What do you think of your friends?
I Wanna Go Home, by Derrick Morgan
Ouch. Harsh

What will you post this as?
Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa, by Otis Redding

Podcasts On Failure And Bad Apples

Been catching up some random podcasts lately, and there were two totally unrelated ones that both caught my attention and seemed worth mention.

The first, was Kevin Smith’s “SModcast” that he does with his long time producing partner Scott Mosier. I started listening to Smodcast a few months back, and while there are times it goes off the rails a bit, when it hits it’s really quite enjoyable. It’s one of the few “non-professional” (i.e., radio shows turned into podcasts) I can listen to. Back when the wife was away for nearly two months back during October and November, I used the time to catch up on some of the movies I hadn’t had a chance to see in a while… and that included those in the Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow world… So, I ended up renting both Clerks II and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and then soon afterwards saw (in the theaters) Zack and Miri Make a Porno and then Role Models.

I actually ended up liking all four movies… and listened to the director commentaries on the two rentals. On Clerks II there were actually three different commentary tracks — including one that they had actually recorded originally as a podcast while Clerks II was in the theaters, telling people to take their iPods into the theaters to watch the movie a second time with the “commentary” playing. I thought that was pretty neat.

On the night I saw Zack and Miri, I drove down to Sunnyvale and got dinner with Teck before heading over to Cupertino to catch the movie. I was listening to the last SModcast that Smith & Mosier had done before Zack & Miri and it was pretty amusing (all about the real history of Christmas, which they were discovering in real time via web searches during the podcast). However, at the end, they mentioned that the following week, they were going to do another podcast while watching Zack and Miri — even though they said people shouldn’t bring their iPods into the theaters this time (apparently, theaters freaked out when people did that the last time, which is stupid, but that’s a discussion for another day and another place). They were in pretty good spirits. Zack and Miri was getting fantastic reviews, it had performed wonderfully at various festivals, and many were suggesting that it was going to be Smith’s first truly mainstream hit.

So, after seeing the movie (a week after opening), I kept checking for the podcast of them talking while watching the movie, figuring it would be fun to hear what they had to say. But there was nothing. A week went by. Two weeks. A month. I even checked to make sure the podcast RSS feed wasn’t broken. I went to Smith’s website where he archives the podcasts, and saw lots of folks asking where the latest SModcast was… And still nothing.

Finally, in mid-December, a month and a half later, they put up the next SModcast, called “Talking the Cure, Part 1: In which our heroes ramble about what went wrong.” And, that’s pretty accurate. I don’t follow the movie business that closely, so I had no idea, but the movie underperformed expectations… by an order of magnitude. People were expecting the movie to bring in somewhere in the range of $15 to $20 million or so in the opening weekend, eventually bringing in somewhere around $60 million or so. But apparently opening night it brought in… $2.2 million.

It seemed to have left Smith a total wreck, unable to do very much for quite some time (hence no podcast). And, in fact, much of the podcast itself is basically a therapy session for Smith (towards the end, he realizes this, and they have a silly attempt where Smith asks Mosier if this is what real therapy is like — Mosier has been to a therapist, Smith has not). Smith is incredibly open in describing what he went through — in a way that you almost never hear from someone who has “failed” in some way or another. In a world where we’re used to hearing people play up the good, and downplay the bad, it’s refreshingly, and almost stunningly open.

Unfortunately, they never fully explain what happened, though from the beginning they keep promising to tell the whole story of why the movie flopped. They drop some hints, but at the end of the “therapy” they basically realize that it wouldn’t do any good to reveal the whole story. Their main anger, though, is in the fact that they did everything right: created a great movie the way they wanted to do it, and it got fantastic reviews and had great responses at various festivals.

But someone else screwed it up.

They don’t ever explain exactly who or what, but hint at a few things… Basically something happened at the studio level — and the only thing they really mention was that it opened on October 31st, better known as Halloween. Not surprisingly, that’s a pretty bad night to open a movie, because teenagers have something else to do that they can’t do any other night.

And that brings us to podcast #2. It’s the This American Life, also from that same week in December, and the “theme” is Ruining it for the Rest of Us. It’s about the concept of the “bad apple” ruining things for everyone else. And, as sometimes happens with TAL, the opening bit, before the actual “acts” may be the most interesting. It’s all about the research of Dr. Will Felps, who has done research on “bad apples” and whether or not they destroy teams. And, his preliminary research has found, they do. Dramatically so.

I won’t repeat the details of the experiments he’s run, but it’s amazing how much of an impact a bad apple can have on group dynamics, leading to failure. The only case where a team was able to “overcome” the bad apple, was where one of the members of the team was an incredibly strong leader, able to keep the team focused, and minimize the impact of the bad apple.

And, this leads Ira Glass and Felps to the same point of thinking that I came to while listening to them: am I ever the bad apple in a group? The answer, undoubtedly, for pretty much everyone is that, absolutely, at some point, you are. Felps admits that the research has resulted in him changing his own behavior significantly. He had a habit of teasing people, but the research effectively showed that what he thought was building camaraderie was actually making people no longer want to work with him.

It’s never fun to dwell on the concept of failure or the cause of failures, but between these two very, very different podcasts, it was an interesting look at how failures can happen… how to deal with them when they do, and, in some ways, how to look for ways to avoid them. The combination seemed pretty powerful to me, even if it doesn’t lead to any necessary obvious conclusion (other than try not to be the bad apple — or get rid of them if you find one — and don’t let your movie open on Halloween).

2008, In Cities…

I’d been meaning to work on this over the holidays and didn’t, but now that Dennis (from whom I got the idea) put up his annual post of cities where he spent the night, it seemed like I finally ought to get around to it as well… So, here they are: cities where I spent at least one night during 2008 (in order of attendance):

San Carlos, CA (home sweet home, so multiple times)
Phoenix, AZ
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean (well, depends on how you define “night” but I landed at 9am… so…)
Edinburgh, Scotland (looking forward to going back soon)
Huntington, NY (multiple times)
New York, NY (multiple times)
Rockville Centre, NY
Jacksonville, FL
Toronto, Canada
Beaver Creek, CO
Salt Lake City, UT
Cheyenne, WY
Lincoln, NB
Indianola, IA (outside Des Moines)
Wheaton, IL (multiple times)
Chicago, IL (multiple times)
Albuquerque, NM
Santa Fe, NM
Flagstaff, AZ
Grand Canyon, AZ
Needles, CA

… and I think that’s it. Hoping not to do as much traveling in 2009, but already have some trips scheduled that begin next week… Also, anything in and around Lake Tahoe is notoriously absent (first year in ages that can be said). Will make sure to correct that in 2009.