Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chuck the Writer No Longer Endorses Starbury footwear

Just as I can give a seal of approval on products, I can also take that seal away.

Some time ago, I was actually impressed by basketball playe Stephon Marbury's promise to help create a low-cost sports footwear product so that families wouldn't have to play $75 (at the minimum) for a pair of sneakers. He endorsed the Starbury sneaker, which was sold exclusively at Steve & Barry's shops throughout the country at a base price of $14.95 per pair.

Personally, I have a problem with wearing sneakers like Nike, Reebok and the like, in that their shoes are manufactured in third world countries by people earning approximately 25 cents a week, while they're assembling the shoes by using toxic, poisonous glues and chemicals - just so kids can spend $100 for a pair of Air Jordans or the like.

For years, the only sneakers I would consider putting on my feet were Converse Chuck Taylor canvasback sneaks, because I knew they were manufactured in America by union men and women, who were earning a union wage. Plus, the sneaks looked cool - sort of that emo skateboarding thing. But Converse got bought by Nike, and the Chuck Taylors got moved to Vietnam with the rest of the shoe production market.

That's why, when Steve & Barry's started selling Starbury sneakers, I was intrigued. I purchased a few pair and wore them as my regular sneakers. Yeah, the quality wasn't the greatest (hey, they were at least better than going to Woolworth's and buying a pair of Bobos), but I figured at $14.98 a pair, they could last a year or two and I could buy another pair when the ones I owned wore out.

Unfortunately, that changed today.

One of my pair of Starburys was pretty much worn down to the sole, so I knew it was time for an new pair. I went over to Steve & Barry's, and surprisingly the shoes were nowhere to be found. Apparently the contract with Stephon Marbury was cancelled, the shoes were sold off, and all that was left were some godawful basketball jerseys with the Starbury logo and MARBURY 3 on the back. And those will only be there until the local Steve & Barry's shuts down for good.

So I thought to myself. Do I really want to wear something that would advertise one of the most selfish, self-centered basketball cancers in the NBA today, even though his shoes were cheap? And this from yours truly, who would eschew a LeBron James jersey or a Kevin Garnett Celtics mufti in favor of a retro Brooklyn High Flyers #8 Rucker League jersey in honor of the great Fly Williams, the man who once scored 55 points in the first half of a Rucker League all-star game and then switched sides and scored 45 points for the other team in the second half?

Pfft. Easy choice. Bye bye Starburys.

I went down to the other end of the mall to the Shoe Depot, bought a pair of dress shoes instead, and decided I would wear what was left of my three pair of Starburys until the shoes fell apart for good. Then I would worry about getting a new pair of sneaks at another time.

So Stephon Marbury, you have lost the Chuck Miller seal of approval. Ta ta to your cheapo shoes, at least until you sign up with another shoe company - because maybe, after all, kids can now wear those Starburys in game situations - sitting on the bench and getting paid to stay there.

Chuck the Writer Endorses Delkin ExpressCard CF Reader

For a photographer who needs to get his photographs transferred from camera to laptop, I've run into several obstacles. Mostly involving the transfer from my CompactFlash cards to a device that can be plugged into my laptop.

I own a Sony Vaio lapper, which already has slots for SD/MMC cards, so that's good. But CompactFlash cards, which fit in my Nikon D70 camera, are much bigger than SD/MMC slots, and today's standalone CF card readers are either bundled to accept 35 other minicard formats, or are so flimsy that the pins bend once you put a CF card in (rendering the reader useless). At one point during a project, I had to connect a USB cable directly from my camera to the computer, and even THAT took forever to transfer the photos.

However, I may have found an end-around that not only will get my photos tranferred, but will do so at a much faster speed.

My laptop has a slot for ExpressCard functions - i.e., a wireless network card. The computer accessory company Delkin (no I didn't mistype Belkin) has created an ExpressCard 34mm card reader that will accept CompactFlash card media.

Here's what it looks like:

The CF card fits in that large slot, and the whole unit gets slapped into the ExpressCard slot in my computer laptop. The transfer speed is like lightning compared to the USB ports on my lapper, and the device fits snug and safe in my laptop bag when not in use (as opposed to the bulky CF card readers I've used in the past).

The Delkin ExpressCard 34 UDMA CompactFlash Adapter gets the Chuck Miller seal of approval; I currently use this product and will continue to do so.

To order your own Delkin ExpressCard 34 UDMA CompactFlash Adapter for your laptop computer, click on this link.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament - Week 10 or 11 or whatever week it is

Had a rough start Thursday night at the $2000 Trivia Tournament at Elbo Room - I ended up missing three of the first five questions, to finish the first quarter with a -18 score (I had the first Pro Football Hall of Fame game in the 1970's, it was the 1960's; I had the Sandwich Islands in New Zealand, a little south of their Hawai'i location; and the 1980's video game with the original name of Armageddon is actually Missile Command, not my original thought of Space Invaders). So after missing three tough questions, I was at negative 18 for the quarter - and, once that score was announced, I got a chorus of lusty boos from a team known as Clay Aiken's Skidmarks.

Clay Aiken's Skidmarks. That's the name of the team. I think their purpose in trivia is to boo teams like my one-man "Street Academy" team, as well as teams like "Lynch's Mob" and "Stern Fans," who like Street Academy have won the Trivia Bowl championship, giving us teams bragging rights as the champions of trivia in the Capital District. For years, Clay Aiken's Skidmarks have played trivia with little success, usually putting down "Bob Saget" for their team's final answer, no matter what the question was.

Well, this time they were ahead, I was behind, and they were feeling their oats. They booed me, they jeered me, they made hand waving motions in front of their faces a la wrestler John Cena's "You Can't See Me" gestures.

However, I fought back, correclty naming what year Mike Mussina first played for the Yankees (2001), what 80's rock group had an album called Creatures of the Night (Kiss), and what two sneaker companies were created by a feud between two brothers (Puma and adidas). By the end of the night, I was in 5th place, the Skidmarks were tied for third, and there was one question left on the docket.

SPACE TRAVEL was the final category.

I had nothing to lose, so I went all in with my 68 points. Skidmarks went all in as well. My feeling was, I could miss the next 60 or 70 questions, and my 18 points in the standings would still be enough to make the final round.

Final question was this - Between 1969 and 1972, how many Apollo missions successfully placed men on the moon?

I did my math and came up with six missions (Apollo XI, XII, XIV, XV, XVI and XVII - Apollo XIII didn't reach the moon, and Apollo XVII was the last of the Apollo series). Skidmarks said there were two missions, and every time the host mentioned their name, they cheered like they won the lottery.

Of course the answer was six. And the cheering stopped. Street Academy took second place (another team that had more points than me also went "all in" and had the right answer). So all is right with the world, Street Academy is back to being the #1 seed in the tournament. In fact...

Here are the updated standings:

  • STREET ACADEMY - 21 points (+3 for second place)
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 18 (+5 for first place)
  • Big Red Machine - 18 points
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Beer Addled Brains - 11
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Stern Fans - 5 (+1 for third place)
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1
And as for Clay Aiken's Skidmarks... A little picture for ya...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chuck the Writer is Reunited (and it feels so good)

My Pontiac 6000 and I were reunited this morning. I would have picked it from the dealership last night, but I had to work late and did not get out of the day job in time.

Essentially what happened was this - the car's two fuel injectors failed, and it blew out a fuse in the car. When the Pep Boys in Ohio (I was on vacation at the time) replaced the ECM, and it failed, they replaced it with another ECM but did not replace the failed fuse. That's why when I got back on the road - and stopped for a rest break halfway home - the car wouldn't start again. And when the Pep Boys in Utica replaced another ECM module, the car would start at first - and then failed again on the road.

Thankfully, since the Pontiac 6000 is eighteen years old, it can actually be repaired by any General Motors dealership, and my nearby dealership (DePaula Chevrolet Hummer) takes good care of my car. Got back in it this morning and it runs as good as the day it left the showroom floor.

My long national nightmare is finally over. The car is back to normal. All is right with the world once again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chuck The Writer Wants His Car Back

So here's the story. Those who know me know that outside of my wife and daughter, there's only one love in my life. That's my car. A 1991 Pontiac 6000 that I commandeered from my grandmother because there's no reason that a 92-year-old woman with cataracts and a valid Massachusetts driver's license should be behind the wheel of anything mobile.

So while I was at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductions last week, I had to drive one of the inductees (Gretchen Christopher of the Fleetwoods) from the hotel to the performance venue. First off, this was way cool for me, as I had always enjoyed the music of the Fleetwoods ("Come Softly To Me," "Mr. Blue", "Tragedy," etc.). After dropping Gretchen off at the venue, I returned to the hotel.

Or, more accurately, I was on my way back to the venue - when suddenly I lost power in the car. I could step on the gas, but the car was not receiving the signal to accelerate.

I coasted and parked safely to the side of the road, then called for a tow truck to drive me to the nearest Pep Boys. Meanwhile, on the way there, the tow truck driver heard my description of what happened, and immediately said "Alternator. It's the alternator."

Well, it wasn't the alternator. Pep Boys in Ohio spent 36 hours diagnosing the problem, and came up with this - the car's ignition module burned out, which in turn burned out the electronic control module (the car's internal computer). So after they got it all working again that Sunday (somehow I was able to continue photographing and hanging out with the inductees while my car was being repaired), I got in the car on Monday morning and drove back from Ohio to Albany.

After about 400 miles of driving, I stopped for a rest at Turning Stone Casino (hey, I turned $60 into $92 there), got back in the car - and it wouldn't turn over. This required tow truck call #2, to a Pep Boys in New Hartford, N.Y. (outside of Utica), where the car spent three more days until they replaced another electronic control unit.

Meanwhile, my wife had to come 100 miles to get me so that I could take care of my day job that next morning. Friday night, she and I drove back out to New Hartford to get the car. And sure enough, it started up again. We drove back on the New York State Thruway, then stopped at the Mohawk rest area for bathroom breaks.

I got back in my car.

Guess what happened. Same damn thing. Car wouldn't turn over.

Today the car's at least in Albany, at the Pep Boys on Central Avenue, where the guys there are now diagnosing the issue as NOT an electronic control module issue, but actually an issue with the fuel injectors. In other words, the first two Pep Boys' didn't solve the problem, they simply put in new parts and once the car turned over (which happened after the car was left to sit for a couple of days while the fuel injectors or fuel conduits cleared up via non-use), the car was repaired as far as they were concerned.

Now as you can imagine, this is turning into a heartbreak situation for me. To their credit, Pep Boys is now making sure to get this fixed, and because I wasn't 100% satisfied with the original repairs, I'm going to get a massive discount on the repair bills.

Hopefully at some point my car will be back to normal, and this can be put behind me. I've got 127,000 miles on this bad boy, which makes it halfway to my hopeful goal of reaching 240,000 miles - the distance from the earth to the Moon.

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Another week, another point for my Street Academy one man wrecking crew team. Things didn't start out well for me, I messed up on which patriot's statue stands in front of Faneuil Hall (I said Paul Revere, it was John Adams), and I didn't know the most populous city in the most populous nation (I said Beijing, it was actually Shanghai), but as the game progressed I was able to nail some other questions. and in the end, when the final category was "Halls of Fame," I played conservatively, heard the question, kicked myself because I knew the answer cold (who inducted Madonna into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and eventually picked up a third-place finish and another standings point.

Currently this means I'm tied with the Big Red Machine for the #1 seed, and the top 8 teams get into the final championship trivia session.

So here are the standings, the top 8 teams in green:

  • Big Red Machine - 18 points
  • STREET ACADEMY - 18 points (+1 for third place)
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 13 (+3 for second place)
  • Beer Addled Brains - 11 (+5 for 1st place)
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Stern Fans - 4
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chuck the Writer hangs out with Bowzer

For those of you who might have watched the old "Sha Na Na" television series in the 1970's, you would have seen their charismatic front man, Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, flexing his muscles and shouting "Grease for Peace."

Today, Bauman is a tireless advocate for a project called 'Truth in Music," which attempts to curtail the various phony groups touring the country and pretending to be classic artists of yesteryear. Example - for a long time, there was a package tour advertising performers by the Drifters, the Coasters and the Platters, none of which had any original members that performed on the original recordings. Example - Herb Reed and Sonny Turner are the only living and touring members of the Platters who sang on the original recordings; Reed is the bass voice on the Platters' recordings, while Turner sang on their 1960's hits "With This Ring" and "I Love You 1000 Times." Other knockoff Platters groups, whose members are younger than the songs they sing, have previously flooded the market
and can confuse ticket-buyers. Today, those knockoff groups need to let ticket-buyers know that they are either "tribute" bands, or they risk violating truth-in-advertising laws.

This is a major victory for those performers whose income comes from touring - if you sang on those classic hits, you should be able to reap the benefits of doing so, and not watch as some copycat group sings your songs and charges a lowball price for tickets. It's unfair predatory marketing.

And it's great to see someone like Bowzer fighting the good fight for those artists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

So here's the deal. I was at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductions, so I couldn't participate in the trivia tournament. However, my wife and her cousins did go to trivia - luckily for the Street Academy team, once you earn standings points, you can't lose them. Apparently without me, the Big Red Machine vaulted into first place in the standings, and Clay Aiken's Skidmarks actually put three points on the standings board.

So here's the standings as of today - the top 8 teams will make the final game, they are listed in green:
  • Big Red Machine - 18 points (+5 for first place)
  • STREET ACADEMY - 17 points
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 10 points
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Beer Addled Brains - 6 (+1 for 3rd place)
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Stern Fans - 4
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3 (+3 for second place)
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chuck the Writer at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame

So after driving 8 1/2 hours from Albany to Warren, Ohio, here I am at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductions. The inductions take place on Thursday (today), but last night at the pre-induction dinner, there were plenty of moments where artists got together, hugged, shared memories and the like.

What you're seeing in the photo at right are the original members of the Tymes, a 1960's doo-wop harmony group, a cappelling their biggest hit, "So Much In Love," in an impromptu jam session. In order to get this photograph, I had to climb up on a chair and shoot downward, but it's a great shot nonetheless.

The first of the four VGHF concerts will take place tonight in Youngstown OH at the Chevrolet Center. This ought to be lots of fun!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NEW ARTICLE - Toy Collector Magazine, Electric Football (COVER STORY)

Ah, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. My third cover story for Toy Collector Magazine has just been published, this time on the vintage (and currently resurging) sport of Electric Football. You can read the article at the link above. Or you can click here.

Since I first started with TCM in the spring of 2007, they have been a wonderful magazine to work with. My editor is top-notch, the graphics design person can create visual masterpieces in nothing flat - it all works out. This is actually my third cover for TCM - in addition to my feature articles on Transformers, Guitar Hero, Wild Republic plush dolls, Revell model kits, the Luna City arcade and professional wrestling figurines, my two big cover stories have been the history of the Speed Racer series, and the 40th anniversary of Hot Wheels. Nice stuff.

This was a fun article to write - I was able to interview not only the current people involved with electric football, but also the creator of Buzzball figurines, members of the Connecticut New York Electric Football League, and a person who custom-paints his own figurines into classic teams and models.

I've got another article I'm working on right now for TCM, so keep an eye open for a January 2009 publishing date.