Archive for June, 2009

 Back to Normal

He we are at the end of another 30 days. I won’t talk about how difficult it was — I think I covered that last year. And I won’t make any vague promises about how I will try to increase the frequency of my posting, because I did that last year too, and we all know how that turned out.

However, this year was not as hard as last year because I had started jotting down ideas to write about weeks beforehand, and I ended up with more than thirty, so you can look forward to seeing these surplus topics in the coming weeks.

Thanks to all my regular readers and commenters, and if you were a new visitor to my blog this month, I hope you found something interesting. See you next June! We now return you to your regular blog update schedule.

 Our New Patio

It’s been a month of fits and starts, but our new patio is finally coming together, and yesterday offered a break in the ridiculous St. Louis heat, so we were able to enjoy it a bit.

We bought the furniture set at Sam’s, but we almost didn’t get it. We saw it there on a Friday evening, and we liked it, but we weren’t quite ready to commit to buying it, so we asked how many they had in stock. Five was the answer. By the following evening, we were sure, so Dixie headed back to buy it and they were all gone! I never would have believed that they would have sold five of these sets in a 24-hour period. So we ended up with the floor model, which was even cheaper due to a few irregularities with the set.

Now we’re just waiting for cooler temperatures. Hurry up Fall!

 The Hangover

I don’t go to the movies much (there are three reasons for this), and even when I do, I rarely take the time to write reviews of them anymore (I have people who do that for me). But every now and then a movie comes along that I just have to comment on.

The Hangover is easily the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. Even funnier than Wedding Crashers, and that was pretty damn funny. The story is a bit derivative, but the comedy is fresh and well-written, and the raunch is kept to a minimum. It’s just constantly funny throughout the whole movie. Mike Tyson’s cameos are comedy gold (I heard he did his scenes in one take), and the rest of the cast is superb (especially Ed Helms). If you are looking for something to keep you laughing for two hours, this is it.

They never do explain where the chicken came from, however.

 Spammers Have Ruined The Internet

If you’ve ever gone through the process of getting a new phone number, you know that the previous owner’s reputation and associations may haunt you. The phone companies are supposed to let phone numbers lie fallow for some period of time (usually a year) before they reassign them to new customers. This isn’t always done, and in some cases a year is not enough time, so you may find that acquaintances or customers of the number’s previous owner continue to call you. As I have recently learned, the same is true for IP addresses.

In the thirty or so years since the first spam email, the most successful method found so far to combat the problem is to blacklist the IP addresses of known spammers, and block any internet traffic that originates from these IPs. This works well. Too well. Especially if you inherit an IP address from a spammer, like I recently did. It is a serious pain in the ass to have your IP removed from all of the various blacklists that are maintained around the world. Some are open source lists that are available to anyone, some are owned by individual Internet Service Providers. But they all have one thing in common — they all have their own unique way of administering their lists, and processing your appeal to be removed from them.

The most ironic and painful thing about this process is that I requested and paid extra for my own static IP address specifically because I was having a problem with some of my emails bouncing back as spam! Now, I’m running into this problem even more than I was before, so the cure is worse than the disease.

So let me take this opportunity to thank all of you assholes out there who feel the need to fill up people’s inboxes with offers for penis enlargement, hot singles in my area, Nigerian bank scams, and Viagra. Like pissing in someone’s pool, you’ve ruined it for everyone else.

 Michael

Last year at this time, almost to the day, I was remembering George Carlin after his passing. Yesterday, the universe reminded me once again that I’m old with the passing of two icons from my youth.

Although I did watch Charlie’s Angels, like all other pre-pubescent males did back then, I never had Farrah’s iconic poster on my wall (I had Lisa Hartman’s instead), and I wouldn’t say I was ever a huge fan of hers. Michael Jackson was another story.

I, like millions of others, watched his supernatural dancing skills. I watched the world premiere of John Landis’s Thriller video on MTV. Even back then when MTV still played videos, that was an event. I was crushed when his St. Louis concert date was cancelled during the Bad tour of 1988.

So yesterday, we were at the pool when the news broke on the radio. At first it was a shock, but I don’t think it effected me like it has some people. One girl at the pool, who looked to be about 14 years old, said, “why isn’t anyone upset that Michael Jackson JUST DIED?” Well, if this were 1989, I would have shared her grief. But for me, and the millions who grew up with him, who watched him on the Motown 25 special, where he defied the laws of physics and walked on the moon, that Michael died a long time ago. So this news just brings to an end a period of mourning that had, frankly, gone on far too long.

 Time Wasters

I usually save links to post to my other site, but these don’t really fit that well, so I thought I’d share them here.

One is called Fantastic Contraption, and it is completely addictive once you figure out how it works. This will definitely appeal to any engineering types out there, and probably to a lot of others as well. In each level of the game, you have to use the tools you have and a rudimentary appreciation for physics, to build a machine that will accomplish a given goal. Check it out.

The other is a complete waste of time and Internet bandwidth called Upside Down Dogs. The site is completely pointless as near as I can tell, but if you’re a dog lover, some of the pictures just have to be seen. Enjoy.

 Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

I like to periodically cover the topic of misconduct by law enforcement, and my story archive continues to grow (now over 130 stories). But a couple of stories since my last update deserve attention.

First, the year began with one of the most heinous examples of police brutality in history when multiple cell phone cameras caught the cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant in a crowded San Francisco subway station. The officer responsible fled the state soon after the incident, but was apprehended and now faces murder charges.

A New Jersey woman named Sheila Stevenson was beaten in another instance of what has now become the iconic police dogpile, fists and batons flailing, all caught on dashcam video. Another example of the dogpile is Anthony Warren’s beating by Birmingham police, also caught on dashcam video, and covered up by the department for over a year. This video is especially disturbing since the five cops viciously attacked the unconscious man after his body was thrown from his vehicle on the side of the road. Stay classy, Birmingham!

The latest taser saga has a relatively happy ending, since the family of 23-year-old victim Stanley Harlan were awarded $2.4 million in damages after police in Moberly, Missouri killed him with a taser gun during a suspected DUI stop. The lawsuit claims police refused to allow Harlan’s mother or other bystanders to help him when he stopped breathing. Aren’t tasers supposed to be non-lethal weapons?

If you have any examples of police misconduct in your local news that you would like to share, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add these stories to my collection.

 Is Atlas Shrugging?

A survey by the Library of Congress in 1991 showed that Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was the most influential book in America, second only to the Bible. I run into very few people who have actually read it, and at 1,200 pages, it is daunting. However, in recent months there has been a resurgence of interest in this book. Hollywood has even responded with a fresh attempt at making a movie out of it.

The book explores what would happen when government intrusion into the free market becomes so onerous that the nation’s entrepreneurs finally become fed up and go on strike, throwing the entire country into socio-economic turmoil. Earlier in the year, there was a flurry of news stories surrounding the book, as pundits and politicians alike made reference to it in comparison to steps being taken by the Obama administration. I think these comparisons were accurate, if a bit premature, especially since the intervention into the auto industry had not even begun yet. Today, the parallels have become even more astounding.

Rand’s tale, published in 1957, seems to be somewhat prophetic. She escaped the oppression of the Soviet Union as a child, and came to America seeking a better life. Her novels were critical of any steps America took that she felt would lead us down the same path as her mother Russia. Fifty years later, we seem to still be meandering along that path. Sadly, Rand died in 1982, but her legacy lives on.

With the government now in direct control of most of the financial industry, the auto industry, and seriously discussing a takeover of the health care industry, how much further down this path will we go? The predictions in Atlas Shrugged have been eerily accurate so far. Read the book to learn one possible outcome.

 Up With Pixar

I read recently that Pixar is 10 for 10 — their last ten releases have opened number one at the box office, and their new offering Up is no exception. Noah took me to see this movie for Father’s Day, and I enjoyed it, although I was a bit surprised by it. The trend in animated movies for kids is to sprinkle just enough humor for the adults into the mix that they enjoy it too, so that they have a reason to come back for the next one. I’m trying not to be too cynical about that, but you cannot ignore the fact that the kids aren’t the ones paying for the tickets.

I think this trend may have been taken too far. That is, these are no longer kids movies with a few adult themes, they are adult movies with flashy graphics for the kids. The entire first act of Up is essentially a flashback, with very limited dialogue, telling the poignant back story of Carl, the hapless curmudgeon who turns his house into a makeshift dirigible, and his wife Ellie. The story is touching and overall very sad, and I’m not afraid to admit I shed a tear watching it. Pixar does fine work. Last year’s WALL-E was very similar in its liberal use of adult themes and limited dialogue. It was also very good, and deserved the Oscar it won for best animated film.

But I believe it is increasingly becoming a stretch to call these kids movies. Someone could remake Schindler’s List as an animated film, with enough eye candy to hold a kid’s attention for ninety minutes, but that doesn’t make it a children’s movie. I’m not trying to be critical of Pixar’s stories, just their marketing. Pixar makes great movies, they just aren’t always what they seem.

 Hulu on the Wii

Last year we bought a Wii. Shortly after we downloaded the Internet Channel for it, one of its biggest limitations became apparent. The Wii ships with an ancient version (well, ancient by computer standards) of Adobe’s Flash player. This version works with some web sites, but most, like Hulu, require a more recent version. So it’s impossible to watch flash videos from these sites. This is supremely inconvenient, and largely negates the value of having Internet access on your TV in the first place.

I am not alone in this sentiment. I really didn’t realize how widespread this problem was until I did a Google search for “Hulu Wii” and saw how many sites are devoted to talking about ths conundrum. Forum posts, rants, online petitions. A huge number of people are interested in this topic. But the point was really driven home when I went to one site that promised a step-by-step tutorial and got rickrolled. You know an internet topic has a following when it becomes a target for Mr. Astley.

Sadly, Nintendo seems to be ignoring this tsunami of discontent among its users, and has not responded to two years of requests for an Adobe upgrade. At this point, it appears likely they will release a new platform before they make this seemingly small improvement to the existing Wii.