Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guerilla Marketing

It wasn't very long ago that Jason and I found ourselves at a Showme's restaurant out of state. We were discussing issues related to the website when the bartender overheard and asked us what we were talking about. I quite proudly handed her one of the business cards I created for the site about a year ago. Jason commented that I need new business cards, as the current ones don't reflect the site well enough. And he's right, but, seeing as I still have several dozen of them, it's going to be quite some time before I invest in a new batch. Besides, business cards aren't the primary method of marketing for the site. At least, they shouldn't be.

The conversation evolved into a discussion on how to better market the site using a limited amount of money and resources. Looking around at the restaurant's decor, Jason found inspiration. The walls were wallpapered with one-dollar bills that had various things written on them by customers. When the bartender came over again, Jason asked her to write VirtualSink.com on two bills and then asked her to place them above the ATM machine. I had to admit, it was a pretty brilliant move, but, at $2, Jason had just blown our advertising budget for the year. After further discussion, we decided to see what kind of marketing we could do for the website around town for free.

The first thing we did was take a trip to the local public library which had a pretty sizable computer lab. I was tempted to circumvent their security policies so that I could set each browser's home page to The Virtual Sink, but decided that, as a guest in this town, it wouldn't be proper. Instead, I added it as a bookmark. We then set about getting rid of the two dozen business cards I had on me by putting them up on bulletin boards or tossing them inside the open windows of cars in the parking lot.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends Drink While Driving Their Hoveround

The new Hoveround powerchair features, for the first time, a cup holder. It's the perfect place to hold your cold 40oz can of Coors Light. One has to wonder if it is legal to operate this vehicle while drinking a beer. Can you get a DUI for operating a Hoveround while intoxicated? Well, the fine folks at Hoveround recently called Clovis to speak to him about his mobility issues and I posed that question to the rep. Have a listen:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Horehound!


Horehound Candy by The Virtual Sink
Jason happened to notice this display of Horehound candy at a Rural King recently. Since then, "Whore hound" has become a favorite insult for us to throw around at various people.

Horehound is actually a naturally occurring herb native to Europe and Northern Africa that somewhat resembles mint. Horehound is often made into lozenges in order to soothe sore throats and aid digestion, so Horehound cough drops are a popular form of delivery. Horehound is also a popular ingredient in herbal tea.

Horehound most likely gets its name from the Egyptian designation for the plant which meant "Seed Of Horus". Horus is recognized as the falcon headed Egyptian deity who was regarded as the god of the sky, war and protection. 

So, remember, folks, when you put horehound in your mouth, you're ingesting the seed of Horus. Maybe that's why it soothes your throat.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kiddo's Writing Makes Me Re-Examine Mine

The sound of crumpling paper echoed through the hallway outside of my home office. It was late at night and I had been determined to work my way through what I hoped would end up being my magnum opus. I had hit a creative wall. Nothing felt right, and each time I would take pen to paper, I would get a few lines in before tearing the sheet out of the notebook, crumpling it up and throwing it against the wall.

The scommotion must have been louder than I had expected, because it woke my daughter up. She walked in and, noticing the paper graveyard of abandoned ideas, asked in her sing-songy way "Whatcha doooooooooing?".

"I'm trying to write something, but really, I'm just making a mess". My daughter began collecting the paper bombs on the floor and tossing them into the trash can.
"You might want to save one of those", I quipped to her. "They'll be worth a lot of money when I sell this manuscript and become rich and famous".

"When you're famous, that means the whole world loves you?", she asked.

"For a little while, anyway. It seems that people love you when you're famous until they find out that you have flaws just like everyone else. And Lord knows I have a lot of flaws. That's part of what I'm writing about."

Kiddo didn't say a word. She just picked up a crumpled wad of paper and went back to her room. I figured that I would take her visit as a cue that I was working too hard and that I should get some sleep.

When I woke up the next morning and walked through my office, I noticed a wrinkled sheet of paper sitting on my keyboard. My daughter had taken the sheet she had picked up from the night before and had written a note on the back. It simply said:

"Dear Daddy, I love you and your flaws"

She signed it with a smiley face, a heart and a whole bunch of Xs and Os.

As much as I want to tell my story and reap the financial and social rewards that would ensue if it became popular, I realize that, no matter who you are, you don't need the whole world to love you. All you need is one person.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Call Of Duty: Escalation

I finally got around to purchasing the the latest downloadable content (DLC) pack for Call Of Duty: Black Ops this weekend. The latest map pack, Escalation, features four new multiplayer maps as well as as a new zombie scenario with an all-star cast called Call Of The Dead.

I spent a good part of Saturday and Sunday playing Call Of The Dead with Jason, Gene and Todd. It took me an age to finally join their party online. Once I tried running through the Call Of The Dead map solo, the multiplayer aspect seemed to work fine. It was almost as if I had to remind my PS3 locally that the new map was there. Weird. Anyway, Call Of The Dead features Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Trejo, Robert Englund and Michael Rooker as playable characters fighting zombies in a shipyard. Legendary zombie movie guru, George Romero appears as a nearly un-killable advarsary who chases the players all around the map. The goal is to survive as long as possible by running around the map killing zombies and avoiding George. This is actually a very fun map and is even more fun to play than the "Five" map that came with the original release. The only real tragedy here is that some idiot hired Michael Rooker. They should have gotten Bruce Campbell instead.

There's not much I can say about the other standard multiplayer maps included with Escalation aside from the fact that they seem to be more geared towards campers and snipers than any of the other maps previously released. The new maps feel like little more than re-skins made in a map editor. The addition of an elevator in the Hotel map and the security door in the Stockpile map are nice methods of shaking up the gameplay. I was hoping we'd see some more hazards in the maps, though. It would be awesome to have a wandering hungry tiger harassing players in the Zoo map or something similar.

I'm having fun with the new DLC pack, but I honestly don't think it's worth the $15 price point. Ten dollars would have been much more reasonable. Of course, having already paid for it, I've fed the beast once again and further encouraged Activision and Treyarch to continue this practice of milking the Call of Duty franchise to death.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Great Growing Experiment

Yellow Calibrachoa by The Virtual Sink
Yellow Calibrachoa, a photo by The Virtual Sink on Flickr.
When it comes to gardening, I have a brown thumb. I've even killed cacti. Several of them, in fact. I fear that, if there's an afterlife, there will be a number of angry plants waiting for me when I get there.

A number of weeks ago, a garending-fanatic friend brought me along to the local greenhouse and foisted a number of Calibrachoa plants upon me. She assured me that, as long as I kept them watered, they would thrive. I had my doubts, but I have to say that, 5 weeks later, these plants are doing great.

The Calibrachoa are plants in the nightshade family with small, petunia-like flowers. They are weak evergreen short-lived perennials with a sprawling habit, which is great because I sank them a bit too deep in my planter box. And, yes, I am not exactly diligent when it comes to watering these plants, but that doesn't seem to have stopped them.


I wonder if I'm ready to handle another cactus now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Reunion

"So, you're really not going to the reunion?". Stacy, an old high school friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in about two years asked me this as she cut my hair mere hours before my 20-year-reunion was about to take place.

"Nope, I'm not going" I said as tiny tufts of my brown locks drifted to the floor. I had come back up to my hometown with every intention of attending the reunion, but, as the time grew nearer, my desire to attend waned.

"Then why am I cutting your hair?"

"Because it needs to be done". I couldn't see the look on her face, but I knew that Stacy was scowling at me. "Look, I've seen the RSVP list and nobody from the geek classes is going to be there aside from me. I'm hardly going to know anyone".

"You'll know me", Stacy offered.

"Yeah, but I've already seen you today. You're old news".

I prepared to feel the harsh stabbing of Stacy's scissors cutting into my jugular vein.

Sitting at the hotel pool an hour later, watching my daughter splash about, I couldn't help but think about what it was like for me as a child. I was a good looking kid when I was her age. Yet, as I grew up and puberty wrecked havoc on my body, I morphed into a gangly teenager with braces, over-sized glasses and terrible acne. This perfect storm of awkwardness made me terribly shy and terminally unpopular. 

A number of other children had entered the pool and began playing marco/polo. After observing them for a bit, my daughter approached them and asked if she could play along. They readily accepted her and the game was on. That's when it dawned on me: If I don't go to the reunion, I'm just admitting to myself that I don't belong and that I never belonged. One can't expect to be included in something without being willing to ask. You can't have your turn at bat if you're not willing to step up to the plate.

Two hours later, I stood in front of the doors to the bar that was hosting the reunion. For the briefest of moments, I felt like that geek in high school again. I told myself that the person I was back then didn't exist anymore. With that, I walked in, pushed the curtains back and headed for the first group I spotted. I smiled, made my way in and said Hello. I could tell that none of them recognized me because they all stared at my name tag for a good 30 seconds, then at my face and then back at my name tag. Almost in unison, they exclaimed "Tommy? NO WAY! You look awesome!!". Then I was surrounded by hugs, handshakes and pats on the back.

And, as I mingled among the crowd, that's generally how I was greeted. Not only was everyone impressed at how well I had aged, but they all seemed genuinely happy to see me. I tried to spend a little bit of time with everyone there. For most everyone that was there, I could come up with a pleasant story from high school that I could share with them, even if we hadn't been on the best of terms back in the day.

At the end of the night, as everyone was saying goodbye, I felt a hand slap me on the shoulder. I turned around and found myself face-to-face with one of the more popular guys from high school. "Tommy, you are the talk of this reunion", he said.

"Why? Because I aged so well?"

"Yeah, that, and you're funnier than ever. Everyone has been talking about it."

After everything that happened that night, I felt like the guy who hit the dinger to Center winning us the championship in '91. I felt like I had brought home the state football trophy. Most importantly, I felt more comfortable with myself  and my surroundings after four hours in that room than I did during my four years in high school. I felt like the prom king.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Trade In Your Electronics With Gazelle

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Gazelle for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

My name is TommyMac, and I am a gadget hoarder. There. I admitted it. That's the first step, right? I've got a number of old gadgets sitting around the house, mainly due to my techie nature. They've piled up over the years and they're doing little more than collecting dust. I'm talking about old laptops, palm pilots, dektop computers and cell phones. Just tossing them in the trash is irresponsible, yet  I've never wanted to go through the hassle of sending them out to be recycled. That's why I'm so glad that gazelle.com  came along.

If you're looking for an easy and fast way to sell or recycle your old electronic devices, then gazelle.com is the way to go. They were founded in 2006, and since then, over 175,000 people have trusted Gazelle to handle their electronics. Every device that you send to Gazelle is hand inspected by a trained technician on the Gazelle lab team. No need to worry about wiping your sensitive data, because the team at Gazelle will do that for you. Once the item is inspected and approved, you can receive a payment for your item via check, PayPal, Wal-Mart gift card or you can choose to receive an Amazon.com gift card and get a 5% bonus. You can even donate your payment to charity.

Whether you’re looking to get cash for turning in your old gadgets or simply recycle them, Gazelle is the way to go. Shipping is free on all items that have actual value, and Gazelle may even be able to send a box for you to ship your items in. So, why not head on over to Gazelle.com and see how much your old gadgets are worth?

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J.G. Wentworth Called Me

I have to say that I'm a huge fan of the J.G. Wentworth commercials. Regardless of what I think of the company's business practices, I find their commercials to be entertaining and memorable. A rep from J.G. Wentworth called recently looking for Otto Von Hurensohn. Otto had recently won a structured settlement in a lawsuit against K-Mart after slipping on wet tile in the lingerie section. Poor Otto wanted his money now, in one lump sum payment. The folks at J.G. Wentworth were willing to help him out....if only Otto could find his settlement papers among his pile of nudie magazines.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Cicada Invasion Continues

The cicadas are getting out of hand. The little buggers are in the throes of their thirteen year orgy and they aren't exactly being discrete about it. Cicada carcasses litter the street, doorsteps and even the insides of cars. I can't tell you how many times I've been dive-bombed by these things while walking to the store or having a bike ride with my daughter or just taking the dogs out to do their duty. Their buzzing is, at times, so loud that one has to yell in order to have a clear conversation outside. I'm told that a city official measured the cicada buzzing in my neighborhood at 80 decibels, which is significantly louder than the sound generated by my elderly neighbor's polka music on full blast.

I'm living in a temporary Hell, so is it any wonder that I took a small amount of glee in watching a group of ants tear apart a cicada carcass. There's a short video of the incident below. They had the whole thing stripped in less than an hour.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Call Of Duty Elite

Never let it be said that Activision doesn't know how to milk a franchise. The company the flooded the market with endless Tony Hawk titles and drove Guitar Hero into the ground is now pondering a new revenue stream for its Call of Duty franchise. Call of Duty Elite will be a premium service offered on top of the current Call of Duty release and will offer subscribers access to exclusive maps, enhanced statistics and social networking features. This is akin to milking the cow by putting a giant bucket underneath it so you can slash the udders open and collect all the milk that spills out.

While players won't have to subscribe to Call of Duty Elite in order to play online, what is happening here is that Activision is creating a two-class player system. While it's true that each player has the choice to subscribe to the premium service or not, it's also true that a choice MUST be made. I'm sure as Hell not going to pay for a subscription, which will give the 12-year-olds that constantly frag me yet another reason to trash my playing. "LULZ! DIS N00B DONT HAZ E-LEET!  FAIL!".

This whole thing is incredibly stupid, but the real problem here is that the masses will buy into this because Call of Duty is the only franchise of this type that they are familiar with. I, myself, only play Call of Duty because that's what the rest of my friends play. And, like many others, I'm guilty of shelling out $15 for an expansion pack that offered little more than a few new maps. This needs to end here and now before it gets out of hand. Activision is becoming the Zynga of console gaming. You can't tell me that Bobby Kotick doesn't fall asleep on his pile of money every night laughing at people who pay for Farmville and the like. Those games look like crap, yet people keep paying for them over and over again.

In the end, Activision can put the Call of Duty cow into a pneumatic press in the hopes of squeezing as much milk out as possible, and, so long as the market will bear the cost, they'll get away with it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Great Southern Brood Returns

My neighborhood is currently dealing with an infestation of thirteen year Magicicada cicadas. Most of the older folks around here like to refer to them as "the thirteen year locusts", but, the truth is, cicadas aren't locusts. They sure seem to swarm like locusts, though. They're all over the place, crawling up trees, hiding among the flowers and attaching themselves to the side of all the houses in the neighborhood. The other day, while riding around the block on her bike, a number of them jumped on my daughter, scaring the bejesus out of her. It wasn't a huge deal, because they don't sting or bite, they just swarm and make loud noises. Still, the kiddo became rather apprehensive about going near them, so I decided to turn it into a science lesson for her in the hopes that she'd get over her fear of them.



Cicada Nymph
I explained to my daughter about the cicada life cycle, how they burrow underground as nymphs and stay there for thirteen years. While they are underground, they feed on root juice and dig around with their strong legs. When a cicada emerges, it crawls up the nearest tree and begins the molting process. The cicada splits out of its exoskeleton and flies off to mate and eventually die. Having stored up much of its nourishment over its thirteen years as a nymph, the adult cicada is more interested in mating than it is in eating, although it does have structures that can tap into tree sap. In its final, winged form, the cicada buzzes by flexing its tymbal muscles which produces a clicking sound as the tymbal membrane vibrates. This noise making method differs from the cricket which uses stridulation, a method of rubbing one body part against another to make sounds. These sounds have a number of different uses, but a cicada generally buzzes in order to attract a mate. Once they mate, they die, but not before the female lays several hundred eggs inside the bark of a tree branch. Cicada carcasses, as well as discarded nymph exoskeletons make great fertilizing material. 

My daughter seemed to enjoy the science lesson as it involved us studying nymphs and adult cicadas up close. We took a lot of pictures and examined a number of specimens. She compared the molting process of the cicada to that of the painted lady caterpillars we recently studied. My daughter isn't afraid of the cicadas anymore, but she still doesn't particularly like them.

I do have one small, slightly disturbing footnote to add to this story. While running around the yard taking pictures of cicadas, I happened to notice a small structure attached to my back door.  It looks like the wasp war has begun again. Time to stock up on Raid anti-wasp spray.