Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Tom Schreck's "Hounding Duffy"

This review of Tom Schreck's audio short story, "Hounding Duffy", was originally posted to the Dorothy-L mailing list. A few people outside the list asked about it, so I'm reposting it here.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law spent the last 8 years of their lives in ever-diminishing transition. As they moved from their house to a retirement apartment, an assisted living facility, and full nursing care, at each step they had to give up some of their personal possessions - heirloom furniture, workshop tools, the family car - each mirroring the capacities they gave up as their bodies gradually failed them. It is a process of constant decision, daily deciding what is important.

As time progresses, the physical property remaining becomes ever more important - the last tangible links to a life lived well, to ancestors long gone, and to children, grandchildren, and descendants yet to come. Whether the item is large or small, extravagant or inexpensive, or lovely or homely is unimportant. The significance comes from the connection to a grander life, beyond the limits that have been imposed.

And that is the problem confronted in Tom Schreck's short story, "Hounding Duffy". Personal property is disappearing from residents of the County Home. A sweater here, a wristwatch there. Nothing of significance, right? But when Duffy Dombrowski discovers that one of the victims is someone who played an important role in his life, someone who has been reduced to a shadow of his past, there is nothing to do but right the wrong.

Duffy Dombrowski may well be compared to Spenser - both have experience in the boxing ring, both are smart-alecs who don't know when to keep their mouths shut, both have faithful canine companions, both... er, both...

Well, okay. Duffy isn't an amateur gourmet chef. Duffy isn't a P.I. Duffy isn't living with Susan Silverman. It doesn't appear that Duffy has a friend named Hawk, Falcon or Ptarmigan, and Duffy doesn't end every speech with "Duffy said".

But if this short story is any indication, Duffy may well be a hell of a lot funnier than Spenser, and capable of just as many poignant moments. Some elements of the story were predictable - I attribute this to the short format, more than anything else. But the world Schreck tells his stories in is sufficiently rich that this minor lapse (if indeed it is a lapse) is not important - there's too much to do, hanging on for dear life and enjoying the ride to worry about minutia. And the conclusion was more satisfying than a 6-pack of Schlitz.

I listened to the free audio version of "Hounding Duffy"; I didn't really know anything about Tom's work, but hey, he offered it, right here on Dorothy-L - and I had a brand-new MP3 player begging to be used. When I hear the words, "Read by the author", I generally hold my breath. Even professionally-produced author readings are sometimes bad news. In this case, I am not waiting to exhale. The technical aspects of the recording - sound quality, consistent volume levels, etc - are all quite good, and Tom Schreck's performance is absolutely hilarious (and I mean that in a good way).

"Hounding Duffy" is available for audio download on Tom's web site, and also as a PDF download, along with three other short stories, and details on the two Duffy novels, TKO and On The Ropes.

I have been deliberately vague on details I would normally mention, not because they would be spoilers, but because they are introduced in such a way that I would not want to deprive anyone else of the full-bodied laughs they induce.

Two final comments - while "Hounding Duffy" is not set specifically at the holidays, it is, I think, a great holiday story. And last, I love a story where the sleuth doggedly persists to see that even a petty thief gets it in the end.

So go on, start downloading. You know you want to. If only to find out what a basket hound is.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why I'm Ticked at Samsung

I consider it generally bad form to air my personal disputes in public.

Personal opinion is one thing - and I generally am not shy about that, but I at least pretend to retain some air of decorum.

But this time, well, I'm not sure I have any other meaningful recourse.

So, here come the sour socks and pizza-stained tee shirts - I'm digging out a bit of dirty laundry.

It all started when I went to's web site, to do a little comparison shopping on a computer monitor, to replace one which recently went to hardware heaven. I had already identified a suitable candidate, in the right price range and the right features. But before buying, I wanted to simply see what retailers were offering it for what price.

No big deal, right?

Well, no big deal, except that Samsung had placed a banner ad with Not just a simple, static graphic banner, nor a basic animated banner. This one contained what I call a "pop-out". The dimensions of the banner seemed pretty well defined - but this ad overstepped its boundaries. And covered literally half of the web page I was looking at. Including the links to the retailers that Pricegrabber had produced from my query.

The Samsung ad was for HDTVs, priced starting at $500. Okay, HDTVs sort of look like computer monitors. But they're not. And I was looking for a sub-$100 piece of work. So the ad was completely irrelevant to my search.

Irrelevant, except that it obscured my search results as effectively as bird poop on my glasses. What a spectacle that would be. And no matter what I did, I was unable to display the page without the ad. Here are a couple of attempts, with the ad "page" both closed and open:

So, what to do?

Simple. I'm not buying anything from Samsung. Ever. And I'm telling my friends, dear reader. Please let me know if you think I'm on target or off the deep end. I could also rant about corporate civility and generally acceptable manners, but this is enough to vent my boiler.

The full text of the note I submitted to Samsung Public Relations is included below. I'm blaming grammatical errors on the heat of the moment. I also provided Samsung with my real name along with internet and postal mail addresses. I am waiting for a response.


I am angry with Samsung's television division.

I was attempting to research a computer monitor on the Pricegrabber web site. I was looking for information on a very specific make and model (which was not Samsung). Unfortunately, I was unable to get the information I needed, because of an extremely intrusive Samsung HDTV banner ad, which opened a Flash animation which covered nearly half of the Pricegrabber page I was looking it. I was unable to dismiss the ad using either the embedded Flash controls or the Flash Player settings. Consequently, I was unable to view the information which was of interest to me.

I was NOT looking for information on HDTVs, and I was not looking for information on a Samsung product.

Banner ads should remain in the banner, and most definitely should NOT obscure other content.

I have had respect for Samsung products for many years, but this intrusive ad has destroyed any good will I held for your company. I will NEVER purchase another Samsung product, and should the
opportunity arise in my employment as an IT manager, I will strongly recommend against purchase of any Samsung components.

I will also be socializing this incident with my online contacts, unless I receive written assurance that the ad has been pulled, along with a list of web sites where the ad was placed, so I can verify that it has been removed.

Sorry to be the Grinch, but Samsung has no right to interfere with my personal business.