21 posts
Insomniac, music evangelist, traveler, and Random Citizen.

Saturday mornings are Now “Truly Outrageous”

As an “old,” it increasingly takes a lot more effort to make me go “squee!” over something. So when I learned the Hub Network has started re-airing episodes of “Jem,” an involuntary “squee!” emanated from yours truly.

Back in the ’80s, Saturday morning cartoons were the thing to do and at 11AM on NBC, I made sure to be front and center for my weekly dose of Jem & the Holograms, a multi-racial, technologically-advanced girl band whose lead singer could change persona — the headstrong Jerrica Benton and the rock star, Jem — thanks to “magic” earrings acquired from a hologram, better known as Synergy. Continue reading

A History of Pixelated Violence

Boss Fight Bunneh

Note: This article was written by Madfall with very minor edits provided by LeftCoastLady. Madfall was shy about submitting it under his own moniker.

Action games are like any other drug, you start off with something simple and seemingly harmless — in my case it was “Tomb Raider 2” — and in no time at all you’re playing something like “Silent Hill 2,” a product so terrifying that it actually made me whimper aloud in more than one place.

I always had a passing interest in games growing up but being as poor as a church mouse I never had an Atari, NES, SNES or any of the consoles that came before the Playstation — the Playstation was my downfall.
Continue reading

How to Benefit from Writing for Free

When I started blogging seven years ago, I had no idea who would read me or how long I would continue down this path. I love writing and have been told I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been fortunate to make a few shekels at it, but this is not something I do full-time. Because of that, I’m always happy to type off a few hundred words that will appear across the Internet to express my opinion, give advice, or evangelize on behalf of my favorite bands. 

That said, there is very vocal camp who side against doing much of anything for free if there will not be a financial payoff down the road. For example, take former Huffington Post writer Jonathan Tasini, who is suing the site, and its new owner, AOL, to the tune of $105M on behalf of contributors (and himself, of course) who submitted content to the site for which they were unpaid. As you may already know, the Huffington Post was recently acquired by AOL for a whopping $315M.

It’s important to note they willingly and knowingly submitted free content to the site. That said, there is a precedent of unpaid workers, former AOL workers no less, receiving payment as part of a lawsuit settlement. It only took them about a decade to see that money.

So, if you’re not the litigious type–and frankly, that’s not really a great route to take–here are some ways to benefit from writing for free.

First and foremost, promote yourself.
While it’s great to hype other writers, get your own work out in front of as many eyes as possible. As the Huffington Post grew in popularity across the Web, those unpaid contributors likely saw their names rise through the ranks of search engines, especially if they wrote on a specific topic consistently. Whether you share news of your latest article on various social media sites or cross-post it on other blogs, make sure your name (or nom de plume) is out there next to the title of your piece.

Make a commitment to yourself.
Set a goal of only writing as much as you can, when you can. If you can only commit to writing for a total of three hours a month, be OK with that. You can’t get fired!

Do not stress over original content.
Sure, you may set out with a goal to submit original content to a site each and every time, but one of the great things about writing for free is being able to tailor existing content to a different audience. Perhaps you wrote a piece a few years ago, but want to revisit the topic. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Update your content, or not, and use the opportunity to get it in front of new people. This is a great tip to use when you have other things going on in your life that may prevent you from writing. Similarly, if there’s a topic that you’d love to write about, but want to receive payment for, don’t submit it for free. Instead, submit it to a publication — online or print — that will pay you for your words.

Know when to say “No.” (Aka be “The Gambler.”)
As the song says, “you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em.” If work, or life in general, takes over, know when to walk away. Never feel guilty about making time for yourself. More than likely, you’re writing for free because it’s a hobby and not something you’d pursue professionally. When it stops being fun, stop.

Do not expect/anticipate a payday later.
Unless there is a formal agreement in place at the outset of your agreeing to write for a site that if/when the site turns a profit, you will be paid, assume you will never see a single cent. Instead, leverage your writing into other opportunities. Building a portfolio of content you actually like writing about could lead to a new job or fun freelance gig.

Six Apps This Droid Newbie Loves

While I’m pretty savvy when it comes to the Internet and computing, I was a late-comer to the smartphone market. In fact, my first smartphone, the DROID 2 Global, arrived last week. In just a short amount of time, I’ve fallen in love with this damn gadget. I fear I’m quickly going to become one of the people I loathe — the type who walks down the street unaware of their surroundings because there’s a gadget glued to their hands.

Before I begin the descent, here are a few Android apps I’ve downloaded in the first week of owning the Droid 2 Global. Of course, beyond the apps pre-installed on the phone, there are seemingly millions of apps available for the Android platform, so please include your favorites in the comments.

In addition to the Android Market already installed on the phone, you can purchase apps via Amazon’s Android App Store.


Portland Transit: Okay, unless you live in the Portland Metro area, this app may not be of interest to you, but it is easily one of my favorites and one I use on a daily basis as a rider of public transit. The app pulls in the arrival data from TriMet’s site to show upcoming times, shows transit maps as well as allowing you to plan a trip and get the best route. You can save your favorite routes as well as favorite/most-used stop IDs for quick reference. Another great feature built into the app is the strobe function. Simply hit the “strobe” button and your phone flashes various colors, making it perfect for getting the bus driver’s attention at night or during foggy weather. Just don’t stare at it for too long.
Cost: $2.34

Fandango Movies: You’re out with friends having drinks. “Hey, let’s go see a movie!” This free app allows you to enter the zip code of where you are and find out which films are playing nearby, watch trailers, read reviews, and buy tickets. So, while you’re finishing up that last cocktail, the tickets are already purchased and now you just have to figure out if you want Gummi Bears or popcorn.
Cost: Free

Pandora Radio: I love this Internet radio station’s ability to take one of my favorite bands and match it to similar groups. For instance, typing in “The Afghan Whigs” lead to hearing “66,” followed by “Dig for Fire” by The Pixies, followed by “Goin Home” by Dinosaur Jr. Fuck yes! Having this app is a great alternative carrying around your iPod. Plus, you’re providing real-time feedback on which songs fit your station better than others.
Cost: Free (with ads)

Retro Camera: Oh yes, I had to download a “cool” photo app. I opted for Retro Camera since it comes with five vintage camera styles modeled after Polaroid, Lomo, and Holga techniques. Yes, the effects can be overdone if each and every photo taken and e-mailed/shared to a social network uses a vintage style, but it can be fun, if used sparingly, for capturing a moment or place in a different way. The app also allows you to designate another button to take a photo. For instance, the volume button is a good alternative to the in-app shutter. This is great for when you’re attempting to do a self-portrait.
Cost: Free (with ads) or $2.99 (ad-free version)

Wordsmith: I will kick your ass at Scrabble™. I’m the girl who, while on a first date, laid down a seven-letter word while playing my date on my first turn of the game. Needless to say, there wasn’t a second date. But I digress. Wordsmith isn’t Scrabble™, but it’s definitely in the same family. The game allows you to play against your friends who also have the app installed or against random people. Either way, it’s fun and will keep your brain thinking of different word options based on the letters available.
Cost: Free (with ads) or $2.49 (ad-free version)

Tip & Split Calculator: Recently, while out with a group of girlfriends for our bi-monthly dinner meet-up, we spent several minutes using the back of the bill to divvy up who owed what. It’s a headache and doing math after a couple of margaritas isn’t fun. This app allows you to enter the bill information, the tip percentage and how much each person owes. If you’re doing an even split with the bill, you can even change the number of diners to determine that amount. Any app that helps you do math while drunk is a good thing.
Cost: Free or $.99 for the Pro version

Thoughts on Getting My Sexy Back

On Friday, I received an e-mail from the pole dancing studio where I take classes notifying me that it was closing as of April 3. My heart sank a bit at the news. Not only because I’ll miss visiting that studio and the women who gathered there, but because of how much the space helped me.

While pole  dancing may be seen as the latest workout du jour for just about anyone, including Jesus, it also provided (at least) one woman — me — with a way to find the dormant sexiness and awaken it.

Two years ago, I decided to sign up for Level 1 at the studio on a whim. I’d never done anything like pole dancing and after signing up, kept thinking, “Oh god, what the hell is my fat ass going to do on this fucking pole?!!”

Thankfully, that feeling quickly faded away. The studio space was small, which meant each class only had six women at a maximum. Each woman had their own story, some saw the class as a means of getting exercise, some wanted to learn how to pole dance for flirtation with their significant other, and then there were women like me — very shy, somewhat awkward, and convinced that they couldn’t be sexy if their life depended on it.

After the first class, I was hooked…and bruised in placed I’d never been bruised before. There was just something freeing about the experience. No one laughed at me if I couldn’t do the pole trick perfectly after 10 tries. Instead, there was constant encouragement from everyone.

From the freedom found in the studio, it seeped into my everyday life. Slowly but surely, I noticed myself buying flirtier underthings, thigh-high stockings, and shoes with a four-inch (or more) heel. I held my head a bit higher. My friends saw my confidence improving.

Since that first class, I went on to take a couple more and performed in the first “recital” held in the studio. (The above photo may or may not be of yours truly.) Until a knee injury forced me to slow down, I visited weekly to work out with a group of industry pole performers who frequented the studio. My range of motion is still great and as my instructor/friend Holladay once said, “You may not have a boyfriend now, but I’ll make you flexible enough to make people think you do!” Indeed she did.

Although I would be the first in admitting I still have many hurdles to get over before becoming fully happy with myself, taking classes at that studio and meeting some great people along the way has helped in removing many of those obstacles out of the way.

The Portland-based band, The Ravishers, recently released a video for their song, “Underachievers,” which includes scenes filmed at my favorite studio. One of my teachers, who I also count as one of my friends, is shown in studio scenes, too.


So long Primal Beginnings, and thank you for all you’ve done.

Investing in Your Favorite Bands’ Future

As the mainstream music industry feebly attempts to hang on to some semblance of its past glory days, many bands and artists are opting to cut out the middleman and go directly to their fans to provide financial backing for their future album releases.  Using sites such as PledgeMusic or Kickstarter, musicians are able to make their case to fans and others who are interested in helping cover the costs associated with recording an album — booking studio time, distribution, promotional efforts, and so on. Beyond the financial, some bands are also reaching out to their fanbase to provide inspiration for songs in the form of words, artwork, or sound effects.

Helping an artist finance their next album usually comes with perks such as having advance access to music, bonus tracks, or having your name listed in the liner notes. Of course, there’s the simple personal gratification you’d feel in assisting a band get their music out to the masses.

Gregory Douglass:
I first learned of Gregory a few years back after seeing the video for his song, “Hang Around,” on TV one evening. I quickly downloaded the song from iTunes. Shortly thereafter, I returned to purchase the rest of his music. Back in 2009, I hosted a house concert where Gregory performed in my home for me and a group of my friends. His voice is simply amazing and I can’t help but cheer the guy on. Gregory has been holding weekly concerts streamed online and making appeals for fans to contribute to helping fund his next album, Lucid.

The Damnwells:
This is a band that needs to be heard by many more people. Their last album, One Last Century, was made available to the world for free. The band’s latest release, No One Listens to the Band Anymore, was just released on March 15, however, those who were financial backers via PledgeMusic, received early access to the album in addition to bonus songs and special access to a concert stream.

Imogen Heap:
At shows during her last world tour, Imogen Heap raised money for local charities by creating and recording a song at each show and making it available for purchase on her website. Even better, the audience was part of creating the song. At the show I attended, someone yelled out C sharp for the key and another person provided the general melody. From there, Imogen created a song.  Perhaps using that experience as inspiration, fans were able to contribute words, sounds and/or melodies that would be reviewed and used to create a new song — the first song created for her new album.

As Imogen culled through the submissions, fans were able to watch via Ustream as she reviewed them and built a song. The result is “Lifeline.” It’s also worth noting that the submissions used in the song will receive credit on her album as well as receive compensation.

Six Bands That Should Have Been “Bigger”

If you’re a serious music fan, you likely have a few — or more than a few — bands or artists where you’d love to see them receive more attention beyond the small hive of fans. While listening to some music last night, I thought about some of my favorite bands that fit in this category.

Now, my definition of “bigger” doesn’t necessarily mean a band gets so huge they can only play arenas. Instead, it’s more along the lines of “here are some bands that I really love where it would have been great to have at least one other person know who they were…” Of course, some of you may know all of these bands, but if you don’t, consider it an opportunity to check them out and toss a few bucks their way by purchasing their music.

Last, but not least, you’ll probably notice my picks are pretty much a rock music sausage fest. Simple reason for this: I love boys with guitars.

Just about everyone in this band has gone on to be in a band you probably have heard of — Queens of the Stone Age, Guns ‘N’ Roses, or starting side projects with members of TOOL — yet Failure didn’t really receive a lot of attention. Perhaps it’s a matter of a band being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but their shoegazey sound with sweeping melodies should have been heard by many more people. (Song Recommendation: “Stuck on You“)

The Afghan Whigs
Of course, I have to include my all-time favorite band on this list. Despite being around for over a decade and touring like madmen, The Afghan Whigs’ music — part old-school R&B, part rock, and all swagger — seemed to remain on the perimeter of getting a bigger audience and moving beyond the “critically-acclaimed” label. (Song Recommendation:Going to Town“)

Chances are you may have heard “Sucked Out” in the 90s on MTV, but there is so much more power-pop goodness from this Knoxville, Tennessee-based band. After a hiatus that included lead singer John Davis finding Jesus, the band has returned to play a few shows here and there in recent years. Still, some of their best music has not been heard by enough people. In the Valley of Dying Stars is a classic album. (Song Recommendation: “Keep It Close to Me“)

The Sheila Divine
Though their roots are in the Northeastern U.S. (particularly Buffalo and Boston), this band was pretty big in Belgium, yet virtually unknown in the States. Initially signed to the hard rock/metal label Roadrunner Records, this decidedly not metal band had quite a following, but didn’t really break it big. Their last EP, Secret Society, saw them on Arena Rock Records, which was also home to Superdrag for a spell. Unfortunately, people change, the music scene changed, and the band called it a day in the early 2000s. Lead singer Aaron Perrino’s voice has to be heard to be believed. (Song Recommendation:Sideways“)

Yes, you’ve probably heard of their lead singer. He’s a favorite of mine, too. Still, the band that would lead to Ryan Adams’ successful solo career should have been bigger. When I was starting to get into the alt-country scene, this was one of the bands introduced to me and I’ve been a fan since. The vocal harmonies between Adams and Caitlin Cary are sublime. (Song Recommendation:16 Days“)

I was introduced to this band thanks to Pete Yorn. The Modesto, California-based band opened for him during a 2003 tour, where I got to see them perform several times. Grandaddy’s music is unique, which is probably why their tech-spacey sounds didn’t catch on, but there’s an audience for all kinds of music and I wish theirs would have grown more. (Song Recommendation:AM 180“)

Yes, you can! (find fun plus-sized clothing)

SCENE: LeftCoastLady enters the room, shuffles toward a rocking chair and lowers herself into it.

When I was younger, the stores catering towards women who fell into the plus size category were severely limited. Worse, what you did find was usually comprised of horrible patterns, boxy cuts, and just overall unflattering. And we didn’t like it, but we lived with it!

Fast forward in time…

Thankfully, with the magic that is online shopping, finding plus size clothing that is fun, flirty, and even *gasp* sexy, has become very easy. Sure, the plus size mainstays such as Lane Bryant, Catherine’s, Fashion Bug, and those small amounts of space allocated for plus size clothing in department stores (when compared to what’s allocated to the Misses’ and Juniors’ sections) are still around, but why not have some fun with your wardrobe?

Another great benefit of online shopping is the ability to shop globally. You’re not just stuck with what’s available — or more likely, what’s not available — in your area any longer!

Here are a few sites that either cater entirely to the plus size market or have a wide selection of offerings in their plus category.

Simple Shirt Dress from ASOS Curve
This shirt dress from ASOS Curve could be dressed up or down.

One of my favorite sites is ASOS Curve. Carrying sizes 16 to 22, the site offers clothing that you can wear to work as well as going out. When I’m getting dressed for work in the morning, I tend to go for the easy pieces that don’t require too much work. This simple shirt dress is a perfect example. Throw on a pair of knee-high boots or a nice heel along with a bracelet and voilà!

UK-based Evans is a site I visit often to drool over their offerings…and to wish the damn exchange rate would settle down. Still, the company offers classic pieces as well as special collections that go beyond the expected looks when it comes to the plus size market. Last fall, the company offered a collection by Beth Ditto, lead singer of The Gossip. While the looks weren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, I appreciated how daring it was.

Gorgeous Grecian Drape top from Evans.
Loving this gorgeous Grecian Drape top from Evans.

Another long-time favorite is B & Lu. Their looks tend to skew a bit younger, but still stylish. Their pieces are fun and last for some time. If you want something to show off curves, check out the Raquel Dress. Leopard calls not included.

Missphit is an online boutique that takes traditional-looking clothing and adds an edge, a sophisticated one, but an edge nonetheless.

Get in the navy with this cute Nautical Shrug from Missphit.
Get in the navy with this cute Nautical Shrug from Missphit.

Last, but certainly not least, I have to highlight the sexy offerings available to wear under your great finds. I’m a huge fan of lingerie and probably have way too much for someone who’s (currently) single. Still, I love a flattering and pretty lacy thing that makes you want to prance around the house as if you’re in a music video…or a back-up dancer for ’80s era Prince.

Enter Hips & Curves. (Note: The site does feature lingerie models, so use caution if opening this link at work.) I love this site a lot. While they do offer the everyday bras and panties, the fun is in the lingerie section. From fantasy wigs to costumes, Hips & Curves offers all you need to make a sexy night turn into a hot and sexy weekend. Hmm, I think I just found something else I want to buy

Super-cute lace camisole and panty set.
This super-cute lace camisole and panty set from Hips & Curves will make your significant other pay attention when you want something.

While this has focused primarily on the online shopping experience, I can’t end this article without calling out two of my favorite “brick & mortar” shops in the U.S.

For those of you in NYC or planning to visit the city, I cannot recommend Re/Dress enough. Located in Brooklyn, you’ll find lots of new as well as vintage plus size clothing. The women in the shop are nice and the prices are great.

Similarly, if you find yourself in my neck of the woods, be sure to visit Fat Fancy Fashions in downtown Portland. I’ve been frequenting Fat Fancy since they were an operation run out of a garage where they had a store set up one weekend a month. Over a year ago, they moved into a storefront and their fans have followed.

Skirt from Re/Dress
This skirt was one of LeftCoastLady's great finds from Re/Dress in Brooklyn.

So, there you have it! Some fabulous clothing options await you online and I’ve only mentioned but a handful. There are plenty others out there, including the various Etsy shops that offer one-of-a-kind plus size fashions.

You’re not limited to wearing the same old boxy clothes, so go out and be free and be stylish!

Now, get off my damn lawn…and go pick me up two pairs of thigh-high fishnet stockings.

The #Crasstalk Interview: Matthew Inman of TheOatmeal.com

If you’ve been on the Internet for more than five minutes, chances are you’ve received a link to or have been told about The Oatmeal from a friend or colleague. Created by Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal is a site that not only shows you how many Justin Biebers you could take on in a fight, but also serves as a place to see some of the funniest webcomics available on a variety of topics.

Inman and I chatted via non-Internet means (the phone) on February 22 about his popular webcomic, his creative process, his upcoming book tour, (bad) website redesigns, and what’s next for The Oatmeal.

When he started the site, Inman mentioned that he didn’t have a specific audience in mind, but “wanted to make comics I thought were funny…and things tech people would find funny.”

Inman noted that the stories he tells on his site are 100% true, but the names are changed and he may exaggerate the situations for comedic purposes. One of his recent blog articles gained attention in his hometown newspaper, the Spokesman-Review. Which story, you ask? Why, the one about riding the bus to school past a Neo-Nazi compound.

So, how do all of those hilarious comics and quizzes start? “I keep a notebook and will write down zany ideas whenever,” he said. He then reviews them from time to time. “All of my drawing is done on computer, never on paper,” he said. He uses Adobe Fireworks to create the vector artwork and from there, can slice up the graphics to post online in a matter of minutes.

Inman sees his webcomics in the same light as blogging in that it’s “informal and fast…there’s no editor, so things can go up quickly.”

On his site, Inman notes that he’s a “one-man business.” Well, sort of, he does have three employees who manage The Oatmeal’s merchandise and customer service needs, but beyond that, the rest of the site is maintained and managed by just one guy.

That said, he admitted that he isn’t managing his life too well at the moment. I don’t want to get him in trouble in case the issue hasn’t been resolved, but I’ll just say he mentioned the need to check his snail mail more often to ensure some key bills are paid.

Inman said some of the challenges is that he has to do the mundane tasks such as pay bills and taxes when he just wants to “draw and be funny.” He mentioned possibly hiring someone to help him manage that area of his life down the road. This is when I not-so-subtly dropped that I have a project management background.

Managing his own affairs may get a bit trickier as he embarks on his first-ever book tour in support of 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin (And Other Useful Guides). “Having a book was part of my plan from the start,” he said. When he started the site, Inman had a self-published book available as a way to have some merch to sell.

“Then a real publisher approached me about creating a new book,” he said. Thanks to his webcomics on an editor’s favorite topics — grammar and punctuation — he made a lot of waves in the publishing community.

When his publisher proposed the book tour, Inman admitted he was worried that he would be awkwardly sitting at a table with a bunch of books while people walked by wondering who he was. That is definitely not the case. Through the RSVPs received from Facebook so far, there are at least 200 people per event planning to attend the stops along the tour, which begins March 2 in Seattle.

And, he’s looking forward to meeting his readers face to face. “It’s a different experience than just seeing a tweet that says, ‘LOL’” he said.

Although, fans take heed on what not to do…

Inman mentioned that he recently had lunch with Farside creator Gary Larson, who recalled his first — and only — book tour. While some of Larson’s fans dressed up as cows, pigs, or chickens, one woman took it a step too, er, far, and dressed up in a bunny suit and launched a cream pie at the artist.

While it would be nice to receive gifts that don’t involve a cleaning crew, Inman is definitely worried that he’ll receive a lot of oatmeal. For those who don’t know, he actually hates oatmeal. Perhaps he could team up with a food pantry in each city on the tour and donate the oatmeal to those in need?

So, what’s next for The Oatmeal after the book tour? He’s already making plans for another book that will feature more comics not posted on the Web.

He’s also planning to start creating animated shorts that would be posted online. “This will be a tricky process [changing the comics to animation]…I have to be very careful because if the voice, narration, or timing are off, it can change the overall tone,” he said.

As for advice on those who are hoping for their own Oatmeal-like success? Inman said to pick a passion/hobby that you love. He spends 12-16 hours a day on his comics and loves what he does. He said that now is a great time to get into the game thanks to the “power of social media.” “What I’m doing now couldn’t have been done without sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Facebook,” he said. Most importantly, he said to “have fun!”


For information on the upcoming book tour, be sure to visit “The Oatmeal” to see if and when he’s coming to your area and to RSVP.

Like yours truly, Inman has given a talk as part of the O’Reilly Ignite program. Check out his Ignite Seattle presentation on “How to get 5 million people to read your website.”