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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Time Machine — Book Review

It takes a lot to make the subject of time travel dull. The possibilities of such an innovation are endless and incredibly fascinating. Even a debate over the ethics of time travel offers many interesting avenues. Yet, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was a bit of a chore to get through.

The Time Traveler, the only name we’re given for the protagonist, investigates our world thousands of years into the future, and finds the human race has divided into two species — the Morlocks and the Eloi. The surface-dwelling Elois appear to live a life of ease, while the Morlocks are sentenced to a life of toil under the surface. Apparently doing the “dirty work” that allows the Morlocks to live responsibility-free, the Morlocks seem to be on the verge of rebellion.

Clearly Wells’ work is fertile material for essays on social structures, race and class relations, and the dangers of the direction of society. In fact, the stripped-down version of society that he suggests may be on the horizon practically begs to be analyzed. But, for the casual reader, there’s just not a whole lot here.

The device of the Time Traveler telling his adventure to a small group of acquaintances, most of whom have equally “fablesque” names, made it difficult to settle in as a reader. The preamble of sorts to the Traveler’s tail suggested a small, intimate group that was about to be regaled by a fascinating story. But then the text of his story read like a typical narrative, and the occasional reminder that it was being told to a group was awkward. Possibly this is a product of my generation losing the ability to listen, but I just didn’t feel anyone would verbally tell a story in this manner.

The tale itself never really pulled me in. The ideas suggested within the story are very interesting, and the Traveler’s brief trip to the end of time offered plenty of things to ponder. Yet, there wasn’t enough suspense or character development around the ideas to make the reader want to read this particular story of time travel.

The Time Machine might be worthwhile for the true fan of science fiction, but others might find it a bit dull.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Lost Art of Customer Service

Making plans to spend the vast fortune The Casual Critic has brought me, I recently began looking into a couple products. Before going on, I must thank the affiliates that have stiffed me on the sales I actually got for them; if you’ve been to the main site previously — Royal Steele Books — they can be noted by their absence. I'd also like to thank the folks — all three of ya — who checked out an ad on this site. I'll be saving my pennies for someday.

Actually, I was saving my pennies for a Dell laptop. I was also looking to save a few pennies by dumping Comcast and switching to Verizon, which supposedly offers a DirecTV package. Being mildly savvy on the internet, and having a speech disability that often makes calling companies impossible, I thought I'd get a few answers via e-mail. Instead, I got a few headaches.

The writer in me was thinking of buying a laptop so that when I sit down to write I actually write . . . instead of checking e-mail, checking the web "quickly," etc., etc. I went to check out Dell laptops, and discovered they all have a built in mouse right below the keys. I was afraid I'd constantly be inadvertently hitting the mouse as I typed, and the guy manning the store told me there was no way to turn it off. This didn't sound right, and the 'store' was really just a stand in the corridor at the mall. So, I checked with some friends ''in the know,'' and got some conflicting info.

I figured I needed to get the answers right from the Dell. After finding a way to e-mail them a question as a potential buyer — no easy task — the run-around began. Despite sending a rather simple yes/no question, and explaining why I hadn't called, I received a long e-mailing extolling the virtues of the Dell website and a number to call for my answers.

This is customer service? This is how you treat potential customers?

A polite reply on my part did nothing but elevate my frustration when the second reply offered no more signs of intelligence. A second not-so-polite reply suggested my question be forwarded to someone that actually could answer it. Only then did I receive the simple answer — yes, by the way — I needed.

Verizon was no better. I was all set to switch to them after the screw by Comcast became too much to take. Since moving more than a year ago, and signing up with Comcast's internet service and expanding the cable service already in the home, I've had nothing but problems. After my internet service grinded to a halt for the third time in less than a year, I was told I needed a dedicated cable just for the internet. (No explanation was offered as to why the other two servicemen failed to find this solution.)

After paying to have the new line put in, I finally became fed up with the snowy picture I receive on my main TV in my downstairs ''apartment.'' Reluctantly calling the service department again, and getting them to actually show up on the second appointed day, I learned that no dedicated line was ever installed. (I won’t even bother ranting about the fact that I was alone on the first service call, not so alone when the non-service was discovered, and what that may or may not say about people with disabilities getting service.)

A quick e-mail to Verizon asking for some pricing would be no problem, right? Well, you get the idea by now. I got an e-mail extolling the virtues of the DirectTV website, completely ignoring the fact that they are offering DirectTV, and therefore should know something about it, as well as ignoring my questions about phone and internet service.

Are people really this stupid? Could it be they're simply too lazy to get off their ass, figuratively more than physically, or is it just me expecting too much?

I’d love to have some nice little quippy end to this post. At the very least, I purchased my new Compaq at Staples, but still have the same internet connection and the same — snowy — cable picture. So, I guess the moral of the story is that poor customer service will cost you, unless of course your competition offers even worse service.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On Bullshit — Book Review

Harry G. Frankfurt offers up a formal “development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit” in his essay/book On Bullshit. Yep, you’re reading that correctly. We’ve apparently exhausted enough things to write about that developing a theoretical understanding of bullshit sounded like a good idea.

By the way, this wasn’t a self-published job. No, the Princeton University Press put this out. The guys with the twead, elbow-patched jackets walking around the Ivy League campus decided to take a serious look at BSing. Shakespeare has apparently lost his appeal after all these years.

Frankfurt spends almost half of this very short essay comparing bullshit to humbug. And you thought “humbug” was merely part of a Dickens’ Christmas, didn’t you? Well, humbug has apparently made the intellectual rounds, and Frankfurt points out some key differences for us. The key seems to be that humbug is meant to intentionally decieve, while bullshit offers a “lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are — that [Frankfurt regards as the] essence of bullshit.”

Don’t know about you, but settling that was sure a load off my mind. Now, when I scream, “That’s a bullshit call” at some poor ol’ referee, we can both know exactly what I meant.

Are they serious?? This has to be one of the dumbest ideas for a book I’ve ever encountered. Did we really need a deeper understanding of bullshit? Have I missed some widespread confusion on the subject?

Bullshit is something that “you know it when you see it.” Intellectualizing it completely misses the point. It is the ultimate gut reaction. A title of On Bullshit could’ve offered humor, a witty examination of just how much BSing is done, or, if the writer was hell bent on a serious mode, a look at public relations or advertising, which barely got a mention. I have little doubt it reached the best-seller list based because readers assumed Frankfurt had taken at least one of these avenues.. Instead, Frankfurt offered an all to serious look at a psuedo subject that barely works as a mildly interesting mental exercise. Skip it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Easy-to-find Ignorance

I didn’t go looking for them, but in the last three days I stumbled across three people making a special effort to be ignorant of people with disabilities. As I seek productive ways to advance the cause of people with disabilities — suggestions welcome, by the way — I’ll simply share my experiences.


On Wednesday, my daily check of Blinq, the Inquirer’s coverage of the blogosphere, revealed a piece on a new blog that sheds light on living with a mental illness. While mental and physical disabilities each come with their own unique struggles, any legitimate effort to raise awareness of disabilities works for me, and it was great to read about The Trouble With Spikol.

It was not so great to read the posted comment from a “William”: “I know, I know, this is one of those ‘feel good’ journalism pieces that isn't supposed to draw criticism because of its benign banality. But, sheesh, I'm supposed to feel sorry for a woman who's afraid of crowded places? Not by a long shot. The cure for that is a martini.”

That’s the hard part of having free speech: idiots like William have to have the same freedom.


Yesterday, I read a column in the Sacramento Bee decrying a so-called serial suer who files ADA lawsuits for every violation he finds. Marjie Lundstrom’s ridiculous column rips a "prolific Carmichael, Calif., attorney, who has filed more than 150 disability-access lawsuits since August 2003."

She wines, "California, as one of only a few states that allows for monetary damages and attorneys' fees in ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] cases, is seeing an explosion in disability-access lawsuits. And a huge chunk of those cases is coming from just a handful of plaintiffs and attorneys, people whose litigious track records have made many business owners _ big and small alike _ suspicious and wary of any disabled person who comes on their premises."

Lundstrom admits that "Bill Wu, 28, . . . fixed the access problem last year on the family's commercial property in North Highlands, which had been deemed ADA-compliant by the county. But the Wu brothers don't want to settle for the $4,000 they say [Scott N.] Johnson offered. And so they are fighting, navigating the complexities of the federal court system without law degrees."

Well, gee, if they don’t want to settle, why should they? I mean, it’s only those pesky disabled people wanting access just like able-bodied folks. Or as the enlightened Lundstrom concludes:

"Surely we can all agree that, 16 years after the ADA's passage, compliance is a must. But is this how we in California want to enforce the complex law _ sanctioning a pack of serial suers who seem more interested in lining their pockets than in opening doors? Lawsuits may be effective, but at what cost?

'I've heard of business owners who want to pull the shade when they see a disabled person coming,' said Sam Wu.

'We have not gotten one good night's sleep, worrying about this,' said brother Bill."

For those of you missing my sarcasm: Lundstrom should be sued for being an idiot. These people broke the law, and violated what is called the civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. There’s no way she’d have portrayed the Wu’s as the victim had they violated her civil rights.


Today, I watched a young, able-bodied woman push her shopping cart to her car in a spot for the disabled, unload it, pop the cart onto a narrow, elevated sidewalk with a lawn that quickly slopes up on the other side — ignoring the proper spot for shopping carts located not 20 feet away and blocking the only wheelchair access to the gym I'd just left — and drive away.

I took her license number, but had no idea what I could do with it. I'm tempted to post it, but that would just be ignorant. Right?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Teacher Man — Book Review

While I have a few of the more-formal-than-I-wanted reviews still saved and ready to post when needed, Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man will kick-off my new, even more casual reviews. McCourt offers an incredibly accessible, easy-to-read autobiography focusing on his days as a teacher in New York.

At first I found McCourt a touch bitter about his teaching days, but more likely he was accurately portraying his younger self. Having grown up in Ireland, he seemed a bit appalled by an American generation that wasn’t chomping at the bit to soak up his lessons. But by the end, he seemed to be a truly caring, yet realistic teacher balancing the intensity of five classes of teenagers a day with the necessity of keeping them at a distance.

Having known a few teachers on quasi-personal levels, and just recently starting some work for a school district with the hope of getting mildly involved on the classroom level, I read this surprise Christmas gift with plenty of interest. McCourt gives a genuine feel of the daily grind teaching must be, and the comrade that can occur between teacher and student, especially when administrators are around.

The antidotal style, though causing some problems in following McCourt’s progression in years and experience, helps keep the reading easy. Some great stories about individual students, along with a surprising perspective of a teacher as a class drifts from his control, makes Teacher Man worth reading.

Friday, January 13, 2006

War of the Worlds — DVD Review

When Stephen Spielberg and Tom Cruise team up to re-make a well-known, if not quite a classic, film like War of the Worlds, something special is to be expected. Unfortunately, the remake seemed to rely on those expectations and sci-fi special effects to carry the film as opposed to good story-telling.

Cruise plays every day guy Ray Ferrier who is divorced, and is in the midst of his time with his son and daughter when, like the rest of the world, they are suddenly thrust into a fight for survival. The human race is being exterminated by aliens that have been stalking planet earth for centuries.

I feel like their should be more to that summary, and therein lies the problem with this movie. There isn’t any more to summarize. It’s the typical disaster, the world-is-coming-to-an-end flick, with the possible exception that it focuses entirely on one family. That actually backfired as there was absolutely no sense of how the “world” was reacting. There was merely an overwhelming sense of complete hopelessness.

I get what Spielberg was going for – boil this massive fight for survival down to the individual story. (I haven’t read the book yet, so possibly it’s what H.G. Wells was going for.) There is a decent potrayel of the sibling bond between Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Ferrier), and even the tension between father and son is done in an above mediocre way. It’s just not developed enough.

Despite a slow start, the film actually does pull you in. In fact, the opening narration by Morgan Freeman sets a stage for the human race to finally understand it’s place in the universe. Yet, the story that unfolds is mostly one guy running for his life. Even what should have been a poignant moment when Ferrier is forced to give up restraining his son from joining the battle in order to keep his daughter from getting separated from him didn’t do much for me. It was more like a misunderstanding with some well meaning people thinking the girl had been abandoned than an impossible decision a father to make.

I was also bothered by the subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that when push came to shove, man throws other man overboard to survive. The most obvious example was the small riot that breaks out when the family approaches a large group in the only working vehicle for miles. They’re literally torn from the vehicle as people scream about how many people could travel in the mini-van as if the greater good was being upheld. Yet, the mob then turns on itself as they try to steal the van.

The common theme for me with this film was that nothing is ever explained enough. Good special effects carried the film passed the lack of development for the family friction and the every man for himself mentality. But it had no chance at overcoming no real explanation for the invasion or the wildly simplistic, out of nowhere ending. There’s just nothing special about this film, which will leave you having expected more. It should be left only for the true fan of sci-fi.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Shield Returns

The Shield returned for another season last night, displaying the best and the worst the show has to offer. It’s likely still the best cop show on, but it’s pengent for sticking with the same overriding story-line — proving Vic Mackey is a dirty cop — hurts the show.

Michael Chiklis is terrific as Mackey. He portrays the first main character of a show I’ve ever seen that keeps you off balance as far as being the “good guy” or the “bad guy.” Sure, he’s a scumbag in some ways, but he’s dealing with other scumbags so the temptation is to let him slide. The very first episode is still the best as far as the confusion over loving or hating the guy — all the “by the book” cops finally turn to him when they need a quick answer from a suspect to find a missing child. Mackey literally beats it out of the guy with a phone book.

The problem is the plot never ventures to far from being about Mackey side-stepping his own bosses. For a while there were some decent side stories involving other characters. Julien and Dutch had plenty of personal character issues that just sort of dropped. I almost think we get too much of Aceveda being a sicko, but it helps keep Mackey likeable since Aceveda’s his main adversary. Of course, the six month gaps every season don’t help things either.

With NYPD Blue ending last season, cop show fans can’t ask for more than The Shield.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Last Gasp for West Wing?

By many accounts, The West Wing began its final stretch of new episodes Sunday night. When John Spenser died in late December, I did a lot of Googling to try to learn how the show might deal with the loss of possibly the most important actor / character on the show. I was only mildly surprised, though very disappointed, to learn that the show was already in jeopardy of cancellation.

While the show’s move to Sunday night has made catching it a bit of a pain during football season, and was a sign the show was in jeopardy of getting axed, I still make a point to watch every episode. There’s little doubt the show has slipped badly, and the number of mistakes the writers have made is killing the show.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt on some of the missteps that ironically began with Leo McGarry’s (Spenser) heart attack in last year’s season opener. I already knew they had decided to move the new election up a year, so I figured they were forced to start shuffling cast with actors started looking for new roles as The West Wing changed hands. The choice to replace McGarry as chief-of-staff with C.J. Craig (Allison Janney) and this season’s exit of Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) from the Administration got a pass for the same reason. But that excuse apparently wasn’t the reason for these plot twists — Schiff and, until his sudden passing, Spenser have been kept on the show.

The mistakes don’t stop there. Moving up the election may have been necessary, but to focus so much on another election so soon was a bad call. The live debate show was weak, simply because it was too much like an actual debate. And, why, exactly, did they drag this past November? Isn’t November a “sweeps” month? I guess they wanted to bring people back after the Olympics, but it’s just going on too long.

I was initially hoping they’d replace Spenser and keep the character, but that seems unlikely. Sunday’s show was one of the best in the last year, but, ironically, focused on Leo. If this is the show’s swan song, I’m guessing Leo’s funeral is the final episode. Personally, I hope the show is still on in the fall, and returns to its core of showing the inner workings of the White House . . . or at least a noble version of it.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Howard Stern

I want to thank Howard Stern for making my birthday the kickoff to his radio show on Sirius. I never listened to Stern regularly, though I did catch him on E! here and there in recent years. All the hoopla surrounding his jump to satellite has me more curious than ever about him.

The first time I heard Stern was on the way to high school one morning during one of my brother’s power trips — he was driving so he controlled the radio. I have to admit, I kept thinking, “Is this all the asshole does? Talk?”

Clearly, I’ll never be a program director. In fact, hearing him interviewed so much recently and realizing how many people now try to do what he does . . . I admire him in a way. I mean, he says whatever he wants, and has built an empire around doing nothing but that.

Nobody does that and has even a percentage of his success. I have this little blog, and I’ve struggled to just “let it fly” for fear of sounding like an idiot or crossing some line I’ll regret later. Other people who have “made it” have these thought out, planned personas. People who try to do what he does usually sound like idiots or immitators or both.

Call Stern whatever you want — except stupid. To go on the air for 20+ years with a freestyle format, and develop what he’s created, is amazing. Isn’t that the goal of every guy who sits behind a mic? Or behind a keyboard typing a blog, for the matter?

If you’re like me, your only taste of Stern will be online at least for a while. With Sirius’ NFL package, I’m actually considering making the jump. The chance to hear Stern any time of the day — I’m assuming — is an added incentive. But since this is also the two year anniversary of my lay-off, and I’m just now seeing a light at the unemployment tunnel, I’ll be stuck with terrestrial radio a while.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Blogging: First Truly Free Press?

With millions, if not billions, of blogs online, the question no doubt has occurred to most bloggers if there’s really any point to it. Let’s face it, no one’s really blogging for themselves. That’s called journaling. Even the most wholesome among us, those who would scoff at hit counters and shun Google ads claiming they write for themselves, must sneak a peek at the number of comments they’ve accumulated for some hint of how successful they are at blogging.

The fact is we want to be noticed. Every blogger has their own twist on this fact, but it is a fact. Whether you hope to rally a group of friends around a small keep-in-touch blog, or cram key words like Harry Potter, Howard Stern, and Christina Aguilera into your blog in the hopes of attracting tons of traffic that will bring you riches as folks click your ads, you want to be noticed.

I recently heard blogs called the first truly free press. It got me to thinking if that was really the case. I grew up reading the just-retired Bill Lyon, the legendary sports columnist of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was the final word on sports issues as far as I was concerned. Even when I disagreed with him, or felt he had flopped on an issue, he was the guy I wanted to read the next day. Lyon had earned his post as an Inquirer journalist, proving he could write well and connect with readers over the course of years.

Writing was the one thing I always wanted to do. It wasn’t the only thing in my nearly 34 years, but it was (and still is) the one constant. As a disabled individual, writing was where my childhood dreams to be involved in pro sports went when reality set in all too soon that playing sports just wasn’t going to be a career move. When my hard-to-understand speech announced itself as a major obstacle to participating in the able-bodied world, I again turned to writing. It was writing that allowed me to express myself freely, without concern for the physical problems inherent with my spoken word. And, without injuring myself to pat my own back, it turned out I wasn’t too bad at this whole writing thing. I managed to write for the Inquirer, before working at a publisher until the corporate world did its thing. I even published a children’s book on Oscar De La Hoya.

As I said in my last post, the blogging boom seemed like a perfect fit for me. But this idea of blogging being the first truly free press has gnawed at me for a while. More specifically, the idea that anyone can literally be published online within minutes of signing up for their free blog, and thus be part of the so-called first truly free press, bothered me. It’s the same feeling I get when folks encourage me to self-publish the fiction I’ve written.

Call it the snob in me, if you like. You may be absolutely correct. But I began questioning if it’s truly a good thing that everyone and anyone can be published. With so many voices, I wonder how those worth hearing will ever stand out.

Granted, the Inquirer and every other paper in the world wants to make a buck. Actually, they want to make millions of bucks. And I’ve dealt with more than a few editors I wouldn’t allow to write graffiti let alone publish work. That said, at least papers and publishers have a process where they look to ensure quality. And when you pick up a paper or book from them, you at least have a level of trust that you’re reading something worth reading.

If that filtering process is completely eroded, is that really what we want? Does that really qualify as a free press?

Of course, a natural filtering process will survive, as good blogs thrive while others die off or are ignored. But it will be more along the lines of what drives radio — personality, style — that will act as the filter. That is not what I want driving the press.

Instead of a free press, blogs may actually constitute something more important — a true voice of the people. Last year I had about 2,000 hits on my site. A ridiculously small number compared to the big guys. But, it was still 2,000 times that someone read what I had to say. It was 2,000 times I had a chance to connect with someone else.

Daniel Rubin has a quote on his blog, Blinq: “It was a wise man who said news is a conversation. Let’s talk.” I’ve always thought the best books were the ones that spark conversation. As TV, radio, and even the internet threaten to turn our minds into mush, maybe the true value of blogs is their potential to spark intelligent dialogue.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

A New Beginning

It’s that time of year when many take stock of their lives, evaluating what they’ve accomplished over the last 12 months. Some will tinker with their daily routine to make sure they lose those pesky pounds, write the novel they’ve always known was in them, or just find more “me” time, while others will resolve to make major changes in their lives.

As usual, one of my goals will be to write more. I failed miserably with my resolution in 2005 to have a rough draft of a new novel by the end of the summer. Having switched gears not once but twice, ultimately reverting back to my original story idea, I plan to make good on the resolution no more than a year late. Before you laugh too hard, I’ve actually made good on similar resolutions in the past.

Not all my resolutions came up short in 2005. Ironically enough, I reached every goal I had at the gym. I say ironically because as a guy with Cerebral Palsy, I’m fairly certain it would have been more productive to reach the “new novel” goal instead of fitness goals.

Alas, my goals as a writer didn’t go completely unfulfilled. Though I sought out a few short pieces to help me along the way, I reached my goal of doubling the number of books I read in 2004 for the year — 26. Squeezing in number 13 last year, oops, I mean a year ago December, made things a bit tougher than I had planned, but I made it.

You may be wondering why I consider reading a part of my writing goals, unless of course you’ve ever intimidated to anyone even once that you want to be a writer. Then, no doubt, you’ve been told ad nauseam that you need to read, read, read, and read some more. Now that the excuses of “I have to read too much as an English major” or “I read all day in my job as an editor” have faded away, I’ve finally become a guy who reads.

It’s likely the number of books I read will decrease as I want to read more longer pieces, but I actually enjoy reading for the first time in my life. And while I’ve always comprehended the need for a writer to read – seeing how the experts ply the trade – I hope that I’ve actually begun enjoying the benefits in my writing.

Then there was the goal to do whatever I could to make Royal Steele Books a success. If you’ve been a semi-regular visitor to the home page – I’m pretty sure there are no regular visitors – you’ve seen more than a few face-lifts. The latest fairly bare-bones format of links to savings will hopefully be the one that lasts. You may have also noticed a few of the larger sites disappeared from our links.

Like anything else on the web, affiliate sites have plenty of company. I was prepared to be one of millions, play the search engine games, and be patient. I even got past the whole Norton blocking Google ads thing. But when I learned that stealware . . . not just on my computer but those on my costumers’ . . . can steal my rare sale, I almost threw in the towel. Instead, I made some changes, ousted the sites that made it too easy for the stealware parasites (I hope), and decided to stay with it a bit longer. Hopefully, I will be spending less time with the Help Staff of the larger sites in 2006, and more time writing.

That brings me to my baby — The Casual Critic. I started the blog to have my say on anything and everything. The one thing I’ve always wanted to be was a writer. There’s still nothing like the idea of sitting down in front of a keyboard and creating anything in the world (or beyond) through words. As a young man with a speech disability traversing college life, and later the professional maze, neither of which had the patience for the minimal effort that understanding my speech requires (if you’re trying, that is), I found comfort in writing.

The advent of blogging seemed like a dream come true. A chance to write about anything I wanted, and be published. Combined with Google AdSense and affiliate programs, I thought I might even make some cash! After having been let go a year prior, and endured a year of folks who love my resume right up until they learn I’m disabled, I was in heaven.

Well, as my man Phil Collins says, something happened on the way to heaven. My anal side kicked in. I decided to write reviews almost exclusively. In fact, I decided to write a review once a week. A new product review on my site every week, plus the affiliate links, searches, and Google ads, would help establish RSB as the place to start when shopping online for books, CDs, DVDs, and more.

Besides, it was a safe way to avoid the pitfalls of self-publishing. I planned to create a professional, yet easily understood and hopefully fun, voice. I even had visions of being picked up by a paper.

The problem became that my original intent got lost. I enjoyed writing the reviews, and the weekly goal kept me reading. (Somehow spending money on books was ok, while I put off CDs and DVDs unless I was desperate for a review.) But I started picking shorter books just to have something to write each week. I wrote at least five paragraphs on books that didn’t really move me to write two. And I only dipped my toes in the pool of the type of free-form writing I wanted to do if I could tie it to a book or movie.

I even started a whole new blog — Philly Sports Review (formerly Beyond the Rants: A Philly Sports Blog) — to write about sports, because The Casual Critic’s real purpose had become a weekly review. Sports commentary just didn’t fit. As the Eagles’ season got swallowed by the mouth of Terrell Owens, so too did some of my energy for the blog.

Since I own for another year whether I want to or not, I’ve decided to give The Casual Critic a “do over.” Philly Sports Review will stay around for now, and so too will the reviews. I’ll even keep posting links to the best deals our affiliates have to offer. But there will be some changes.

My scope is going to widen to include everything from the TV show that really struck a chord, a night out, or a website I stumbled upon, to anything else that crosses my path worth writing about. I might post a paragraph on a movie theater that’s less than inviting to wheelchair users, or three pages on the events of the day. I might post seven days in a row, and then not post for a couple weeks. I might even throw some fiction out there now and then.

Of course, engaging YOU is still a priority. I switched to a blog format for the soul purpose of making it easier to offer your comments. The message board still works. And, you can always e-mail me. If I’ve gone too far off the deep end, or missed something that has you revved up, feel free to reign me in or point me in a new direction.

In one of my favorite lines on The West Wing, the potential poet laurite says, “I write poetry, Toby. That’s how I enter the world.” I can’t say it any better.