Sunday, June 28, 2009

Listen up, dish washer

I gave my major appliances a long pep talk this morning, but I’m not sure I got through. The TV and washer seemed particularly apathetic, as if they’ve resigned themselves to a final resting place in the garage. They're not even trying, dammit. Clearly they don’t understand what a blow it can be to an unemployed person when a trusted device gives a final shudder and works no more.

I found out how tough that can be this weekend. Last Thursday, I’d laid a hand on my IMac screen to slide it back a few inches. I must’ve used too much force, because I heard a SNAP!, and the screen went haywire. It was clear I’d crunched the LCD screen of my 18-month-old, much-beloved machine.

My wife managed to snag an appointment at the Apple store’s Genius Bar, where you can consult for free with a technician. So at least we got the bad news quickly: A repair would’ve run over $1,000, or two-thirds the cost of a comparable new unit. “Just buy another monitor and look at that instead,” said my genius. He wasn't wearing robes, and lacked a long, white beard. But I'm sure he meditates daily.

Best Buy had a monitor on sale for a mere $200. So far, not so bad.

But then we decided to do something about my phone, which is falling apart faster than Britney Spears' career. $125 later, I had a new Blackberry.

Then disaster struck: We came home to find a house where you could’ve baked bread in the living room. The dogs were panting, the room actually looked steamy, and the air intake for the central air conditioning system was making a horrible noise. Clearly the system had broken and, on the first truly hot weekend of the summer, had decided not to do its job.

We managed to find a technician who could come take a look on Sunday (I thought about my genius from Apple, figuring he could do anything, but had failed to get his superhero contact info. I was going to shine a spotlight on the clouds with a silhouette of an IMac, a la Batman, but didn't have a spotlight handy).

As I described the symptoms over the phone, the technician loud out a “Oh, no.” Clearly this was not going to be good.

It’s not. We’ll probably be hit with a cost in four figures. It won’t kill us, but there will be considerable bleeding.

Hence my pep talk. I think the toaster’s shaping up, and the frig is clearly doing its part. But I worry about the others, including the gas grill.

Oh, well. Time to have a stern heart-to-heart with the car.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Twitter of relief amidst the tragedy

You’re probably wondering what the death of Michael Jackson has to do with my now-chronic state of underemployment. But this has less to do with the King of Pop than with how his death came to light. And, amid the tragedy, that surprising process provides some encouraging news about my career plans.

You swells who have a job probably weren’t avidly scouting Twitter yesterday afternoon, as per the norm for the rest of us. So you missed the first news flash from one of the most followed parties on the medium, Breaking News, a Twitter-based news service: “REPORT: MICHAEL JACKSON TAKEN TO LOS ANGELES HOSPITAL IN CARDIAC ARREST.” It was posted yesterday around mid-afternoon, or around 3 o’clock E.S.T.

Eleven additional flashes from Breaking News would follow in quick succesion, including one refuting a rumor that Jackson had died of a drug overdose.

Then, an hour after the first report, came the stunner: FLASH -- LOS ANGELES -- "KING OF POP" MICHAEL JACKSON HAS DIED.

That was around the time that the New York Times reported via Twitter that Jackson had been hospitalized.

Indeed, at 5:51 I got a news alert e-mailed to me from the Times, saying the same thing.

I got a nearly identical e-mail alert at that time from CNN.

By then, Breaking News was offering the few details it could unearth about Jackson’s death. But it had definitely reported that Jackson was dead.

I didn’t know which to believe, the New York Times and CNN, two titans of the business, or this Breaking News upstart, which was relying secondhand on reports from media like But I knew that this event would either validate Twitter and its specialists as a news medium, or underscore why we need our old reliables to keep us informed.

Finally, at about 6:30, some two hours after Breaking News had reported Jackson’s death, the Times and CNN sent news alerts stating that the King of Pop had passed. The reports were secondhand, based on Associated Press reporting.

Twitter, in short, had kicked the mainstream media’s butt. Indeed, I was annoyed at the Times and CNN for taking me on a rollercoaster with their mistakes-by-omission and lateness. Was Jackson indeed dead, as I’d learned somewhere around 4, or was that a mistake, as the Big Two had indicated? I didn’t need the emotional tumult.

So what does this have to do with my state of employment?

Everyday I’m looking for the check in the mail. When it comes, I’ll crack open a bottle of Champagne and celebrate that I have officially been paid to Twitter.

It’s still freelance, and it’s not that much. But, as yesterday sadly proved, Twitter is a journalistic medium of the future. Print isn’t disappearing, but social media are rivaling it in terms of immediacy, and even accuracy, given its nature (the group-report aspect of it tends to be self-policing).

I’m glad I have a hold on it, albeit by my fingernails. It’s nice to have any sort of affiliation with a form of journalism—and, as yesterday proved, it definitely is—that’s growing in use and reputation.