July 29, 2004

LinkNews Digest [7/29/2004]

"Simpsons" Character to Come Out of Closet

Speaking during a weekend panel at San Diego's Comic-Con convention, show producers dropped a bomb: An upcoming Simpsons story line will focus on what happens when Springfield legalizes gay marriage.

"We have a show where, to raise money, Springfield legalizes gay marriage," producer Al Jean told comic book fans. "Homer becomes a minister by going on the Internet and filling out a form. A longtime character comes out of the closet, but I'm not saying who."

And with that, Simpsons aficionados got their gaydar on and began winnowing down the list of potential suspects.

The early favorite appears to be billionaire Monty Burns' ever-devoted sidekick, Waylon Smithers, who--aside from being a yes-man--has been known to collect Malibu Stacy dolls, lives in the gay part of town (where Homer once shacked up with two gay guys), has a Mr. Burns screensaver and dreams of a naked Mr. Burns jumping out of a birthday cake.

But that might be too easy. According to online fan scuttlebutt, there are other characters who might be secretly having a gay old time in Springfield, including Homer's regular-guy cohorts at the nuclear plant, Carl and Lenny, as well as Moe the bartender, the Reverend Lovejoy, Principal Skinner and Comic Book Guy. Of course, the producers didn't rule out a lesbian wedding, either.

The gay marriage-themed episode is scheduled to air in January.

"Hogzilla" shot in Georgia

ALAPAHA, Ga. - Around these parts, they are calling it Hogzilla: a 12-foot-long wild hog recently killed on a plantation and now quickly becoming a part of local legend.

The plantation's owner claims the hog weighed 1,000 pounds and had 9-inch tusks. But few people have actually seen the hog — the only proof being a photo that shows the dead beast hanging from a rope.

Chris Griffin said he killed the beast last month at the River Oak Plantation, where he is a hunting guide, and has been showing off the picture around this small farming community ever since. The hog is nearly twice as long as the 6-foot-tall Griffin, who is seen standing next to it in the photo.

He did not want to hassle with slaughtering it since the meat of large feral hogs is typically not very good. Holyoak said he decided that the hog's head also wasn't worth keeping because it was too large to mount on a wall. He said the head has the diameter of a tire on a compact car.
Link (Yahoo)

British TV Takes Lead in Worst Reality Shows

First, it was "Watching Paint Dry," and now, the topper: "Make Me A Mum"
Television producers were criticised yesterday over reports that they are developing a reality show in which men would compete for a chance to father a child and then take part in an on-air "sperm race".

In the show, which has been mooted by the company that makes Channel 4's Big Brother, up to 1,000 men would attempt to convince a woman to pick them as the father of her first child by impressing her with their intelligence, sex appeal and fitness.

A second sperm donor would be chosen on the basis of genetic compatibility, and the two finalists would then take part in the sperm race in which the insemination process could be filmed using new technology.

Brighter Pictures, a subsidiary of Endemol, is considering making the programme, provisionally called Make Me a Mum. An Endemol spokesman said details about the show's contents were speculative.
LINK(UK Telegraph)

The Japanese Art of Shirt Folding

Okay, I know that this shouldn't be news, but I am just dumbfounded. This is a video of a Japanese woman folding a shirt in a defying-laws-of-physics sort of way. It looks so simple, but yet...impossible!

Target cashing in on "Kabbalah" Trend

With Madonna leading the way, many youth are taking up the K-word in order to appear fashionable. And just like Christian crosses, the wearable accessories are more popular than the actual religion. Case and point, Target's best seller: The Kaballah String", which retails for $25.99. (Yes, a piece of string. For $26.)
A centuries-old spiritual tool used by Kabbalists, this red string is believed to protect against the evil eye, a negative energy source. What makes this particular piece of string so special is, in part, the fact that it has traveled to Israel, to the ancient tomb of Rachel the Matriarch, and returned, imbued with the essence of protection. The string is tied to the left wrist—the left being the body and soul's receiving side—and worn to essentially deflect the negative energy brought forth by unfriendly and envious stares, unkind glances and looks of ill will. A feeling we've all experienced, the evil eye is considered by Kabbalah to be a powerful force and an influential factor in regards to achieving goals and everyday well-being. The string draws upon the connection to and awareness of Rachel and must be tied on by a loved one and sealed with Rachel's protective energy by reciting the Ben Porat prayer (included on a card). From The Kabbalah Centre. 72L"
Link (BoingBoing.net)

McDonald's New "Fruit & Pot" Parfait

Jul 27, 2004 2:52 pm US/Central SAN BENITO, Texas (AP) A Texas family is a little out of joint, after a stop at McDonald's.

Sixteen-year-old Valerie Valle says she found a partially smoked joint in her frozen yogurt parfait.

She and seven other family members stopped at a McDonald's in San Benito after a weeklong vacation on South Padre Island. Valle says she returned the questionable frozen confection and said no thanks to another.

Police took the marijuana cigarette as evidence. But there have been no busts or charges filed.

An official with the McDonald's franchise says they're conducting their own investigation and don't want to jump to any conclusions.
"People get the munchies, so they have a pot-laced parfait, which gives them MORE munchies, so they buy ANOTHER pot parfait! It's a profit feedback-loop!! Dude, we can't fail!!"

"That's no Moon..."

The Cassini Probe has taken some great photos of Saturn's moons, but one of those moons, named Mimas, is of particular interest.
Soon after orbital insertion, Cassini returned its best look yet at the heavily cratered moon Mimas (398 kilometers, 247 miles across). The enormous crater at the top of this banner image, named Herschel, is about 130 kilometers (80 miles) wide and 10 kilometers (6 miles) deep. Deeper than the Grand Canyon, Herschel stretches across nearly a third of the tiny moon's diameter. The central mountain shown at the center of Hershel is the height of Mount Everest on Earth.

This impact probably came close to disintegrating the moon. Traces of fracture marks can be seen on the opposite side of Mimas, suggesting that the destruction nearly split the satellite into two pieces. Although the icy moon bears a striking resemblance to the fictional 1977 'Death Star' from the Star Wars film by George Lucas, this low-density satellite probably had a more likely past not as a weapon or space station, but instead as a victim of one catastrophic day in its ancient history. That day Mimas came closer to dying rather than committing any planet-scale homicide.
Link for Picture

July 28, 2004

The Company You Keep

Here's the draft of my article. I'm trying to trim it up a bit and reference the Amendment being shot down, but for what it's worth...

Defense of Marriage is an Attack on the Family

Earlier this year, George W. Bush made a decision: The Institution of Marriage was in danger. Too many traditional couples were deciding not to get married, and a few same-sex couples actually WERE getting married. So he devised a two-pronged attack: Encourage traditional couples (who opted to just live together) to get married, and call for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, both prongs were wrong.

First off, couples that are cohabitating are usually doing so for a reason. Most likely, they are not ready for the commitment of marriage. Statistics have shown that couples forced into marriage before they were ready usually end up in divorce.

Second, I think that the government has bigger issues to deal with than same-sex unions. Frankly, I fail to see how two people wanting become monogamous and pledge their love for one another are a threat to the nation.

In his attempt to defend the institution of marriage, Bush only succeeds in attacking on the American family by denying same-sex families rights and increasing the divorce rate of heterosexual couples.

Let's take the term "the Institution of Marriage." Institutions are theoretical entities. They don't really exist. What matters is how this issue relates to ACTUAL marriage, individual unions between two people. The concept of marriage is simple enough, two people committing to one another in love, promising monogamy and respect for the rest of their lives.

Now you tell me, which union betrays the concept of marriage more; a monogamous same-sex partnership, or your average Hollywood/Rock/Sports star wedding, where the participants often get married with no intention of fidelity or even staying married for very long. Then consider recent "Reality" TV programs like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancée." The FOX TV Network alone has done more damage to the institution of marriage than same-sex partnerships ever will.

Next, consider the assertion that same-sex unions will somehow tarnish the institution of marriage. This argument is nothing new, it's the same false notion that made people think giving voting rights to women would ruin democracy, or that giving equal rights to African-Americans would lessen everyone else's citizenship. We've seen from history that this idea doesn't hold any water. Marriage is not an exhaustible resource that can be lessened by letting more people have it.

Gay marriage is a heated debate because marriage exists in both religious and legal contexts. Two people usually have a religious wedding, and then they fill out some forms to be granted the complimentary legal status. Some religions, such as Catholicism, restrict the marriages that they recognize, but can anyone produce credible, non-religious evidence why couples should be denied the legal status of marriage? I've yet to see it. Religion is all too often used to justify political decisions because it demands no logical proof.

Take away the religious aspect, and consider those heterosexual couples that skip the church entirely and have a judge declare them legally married at the courthouse. What should make this union any different than a same-sex couple that does the same?

Now, for argument's sake, let's look at the religious aspect. Compare the activities at rallies for and against gay marriage and you tell me who is acting more Christian. All I ever see in anti-gay protests are hateful people telling others that they're going to burn in hell. It's amazing that these people claim to be avid readers of the Bible, but it appears they still haven't finished it.

There's a whole second half of the Bible called the "New Testament" that tells you to love (or at the very least, respect), your neighbor. Even if you decide that gays are your enemies, it tells you to love them. If you feel that gays are somehow less Christian than you, you're free to practice religion that excludes them, but that does not give you the right to deny them basic rights that should be granted to all citizens.

But let's keep focus; the issue at hand is not the religious acceptance of same-sex unions. We are talking about federal recognition of same-sex unions as legitimate partnerships, granting them the same rights and benefits as traditional marriages: Health care for spouses and children, a small tax break, and recognition of both members as one legal entity.

Without these rights, same-sex couples can't pool their money and take out a loan, which makes it hard to buy a house. They can't write up a will and decide how their assets should be distributed. If they raise a child and one of them dies, the surviving partner may have no legal rights to that child. If one partner becomes ill and is unable to work, the other's heath care will not cover them. These are simple rights that those of us in traditional marriages probably take for granted.

This is much more than a difference of opinion; the actions taken by the government affect the well being of millions of Americans. Whatever your personal opinion on gay marriage, Keep focused on the issue: The government is not expressing opinions in a hypothetical debate; they are deciding whether or not to make a federal law. The purpose of a law is to defend people from harm or improve their quality of
life, and laws to ban same-sex unions do not accomplish either of these.

How, exactly, does my marriage suffer if others are allowed to marry? It doesn't. Granting rights to others does not somehow dilute these rights, just as taking action to deny rights to others will not strengthen them. The only way to harm the institution of marriage is to deny membership to worthy couples who want to become monogamous and faithful to one another.

There, I said it, comments welcome on the link below.

I don't believe how difficult this was to do. Just to post my opinion about gay marriage was a stressful, worrisome exercise because I know that some of my friends and family members have opposing views. It is like a little "coming out" of my own. Given, it's a bit cowardly to do it on a blog, but it's the only way when I have friends in the UK, Parents in Hawaii, a brother in LA and friends that I don't see all that often.

But as difficult as this was to do, it's a walk in the park compared to those who have to really "Come Out" to their loved ones. I just can't imagine the pressure that they feel. The need to be true to yourself conflicting with the fear of consequences. Painting the target on your chest. Like a game of Stratego, you'll never know if you're going to be attacked by those you run into until it happens. The looming threat of anonymous violence, for what amounts to a social preference. It's horrible, and being on the outside, I just can't get my head around it all.

July 27, 2004

Striking a Nerve

I am in the process of writing another Opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It may be a difficult move, since my last two were funny, topical articles, but this is something that I feel very strongly about: Gay Marriage.

Everyone has different opinions about gays, and I respect those opinions, so please grant me the same respect.

I'll share with you the moment I formed my opinion on homosexuality. People's opinions are formed early, for better or for worse, and mine was no exception.

Everyone heard the words in elementary school: "gay," "fag," "homo." We all giggled. Some kid heard their dad use them around other adults and introduced the words to the rest of us. They were funny words but we really didn't understand what they meant. All we knew was that we didn't want to be called them on the playground.

One afternoon, I was watching MTV when a video by "Frankie Goes To Hollywood" came on. "Mom," I whispered, "I heard that the people in this band... are gay!" It was some nasty little rumor that I just had to tell.

My mother just looked at the TV, then at me. "Well, are you going to sleep with them?" she asked simply.

I was shocked. This was not mom's usual style, to be so direct. "No," I replied, "of course not."

She gave a shrug and said "Then what does it matter to you?" I was left to think about that for a while, and realized that it actually didn't matter. So what if they are? It didn't change my life any.

That was all it took. My mother talked to me like an adult, even though I was still a child, maybe still in elementary school, and taught me an adult lesson that I keep with me to this day.

This brings me to the core statement about my gay marriage article: Whatever your opinions about homosexuals, is it right to deny them rights that we freely give to others? Is there a legal, non-biblical justification for treating them as second-class citizens? If same-sex couples were treated just like you and me, how would it affect traditional marriages, day-to-day? I propose that it doesn't affect them at all.

July 26, 2004

John Landis Interview

Director John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London), spoke to The Onion A/V Club about his history, the present state of film studios and the surprising effects of films.

O: A studio is likely to give a $200 million movie a bigger push, though, so more people are likely to see it. Does that matter to you?

JL: Marketing does have a lot to do with the success of a film. But even more so, and especially since home video, I've learned that a movie has a life of its own. A movie goes out there, and it exists, and it continues. I'm always fascinated by what movie people bring up when they approach me. Animal House is interesting, in the U.S., because of how many people—including President Bush and Senator Kerry—say it's their favorite movie. You know that George W. Bush thinks he's a Delta. You know that they think they're the good guys. It's just fascinating to me. That picture really spoke to people, and it continues to speak to people. I also get Blues Brothers a lot, especially in Asia and Europe. I get ¡Three Amigos!, I get Trading Places, I get "Thriller" a lot around the world. But you never know what's going to touch somebody. I was in the Czech Republic, and this major Czech critic came up to me and said, "Oh, Mr. Landis, I've always wanted to meet you. You made my favorite film." And it turned out to be Spies Like Us, which is this completely silly Cold War comedy that I made. It turns out that during the Soviet occupation of the Czech Republic, it was pretty severe. They were crushed, and there were very strict rules. This critic, his father had built a satellite dish, and he stole the movie from Rupert Murdoch's Sky Channel, and basically had a bootleg tape of Spies Like Us. He told me that people used to come and sit in the garage and watch Spies Like Us, like these secretive meetings. I said, "What about Spies was so enthralling?" And he said, "You were making fun of the Russians and the Americans." They just found it so liberating and exciting, that it was mocking what was oppressing them. It had never occurred to me that Spies Like Us would be inspiring to people. So, you know, you make a movie, and it goes out there and has a life of its own.

Link(The Onion)

July 23, 2004

LinkNews Digest [7/23/2004]

Meathead Teens Swing From Hooks

MIAMI (Reuters) - Law enforcement officials in the Florida Keys are mystified by a bizarre new pastime -- young people dangling themselves from meat hooks on a popular sandbar.

They found that five young people had erected a bamboo tripod and hung meat hooks from it. A young woman, her feet brushing the surface of the shallow water, dangled from the frame, hooks embedded firmly in her shoulders.

"It looked like a daily routine for them," she said, adding that the hooks had been inserted in the skin in a professional manner and had drawn very little blood. "As long as they weren't creating any kind of ruckus or riot within a crowd they really weren't breaking any laws."


For the Army "On the Go"

Would you eat food cooked in your own urine? Food scientists working for the US military have developed a dried food ration that troops can hydrate by adding the filthiest of muddy swamp water or even peeing on it.

The ration comes in a pouch containing a filter that removes 99.9 per cent of bacteria and most toxic chemicals from the water used to rehydrate it, according to the Combat Feeding Directorate, part of the US Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts. This is the same organisation that created the "indestructible sandwich" that will stay fresh for three years (New Scientist print edition, 10 April 2002).

LINK(New Scientist)

The Underground Drive-In Movie

Thanks to new technology, the drive-in movie has taken a cue from Raves and gone underground. Handbills are circulated, advertising the location, usually a vacant lot, and the film to be shown. Then as soon as the film ends, the movie packs up and leaves no trace.
It's called The Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In

Great Balls of Fire

CAIRO (Reuters) - A series of fires in the southern Egyptian province of Sohag has destroyed some 160 houses, giving rise to rumors that spirits are at work or mysterious balls of fire are falling from the sky, a local official said Sunday.

But the causes are mundane -- kerosene stoves, cigarette butts and electrical short circuits, Brigadier Ezzat Aboul Kassem told Reuters. Flaming pigeons, their feathers set alight in the blazes, may explain talk of balls of fire, he added.

Two children have died in the fires, which started last month, and about 30 people have been injured, either from burns or from smoke inhalation, security officials said.

"Investigations have shown that there are burned pigeons on top of some of the burned houses and it's probable that they fell there after catching fire at other houses," he said. "Maybe that explains the rumors of balls of fire falling from the sky."

Robber Foiled by Granny's Photo Albums

A man who tried to rob an elderly grandmother in her own home, fell asleep on a couch after she began showing him family pictures.

Juan Garcia Vasquez tried to break into the 73-year-old woman's home in San Francisco, but woke her up when he smashed a window. She opened her front door to see what was going on and Vasquez put a cloth over her mouth to muffle her screams. But she managed to calm the man down and offered him something to eat.

Police officer Paul Zill said: "He didn't speak English that well and she didn't speak Spanish so they used the international language of pointing and nodding.''

The woman then showed Vasquez pictures of Saint Theresa and began praying next to him. She also showed him pictures of her grandchildren and shared stories about them, said police.

When Vasquez returned from using the bathroom he indicated he'd used the last of her toilet paper. When he nodded off, his intended victim locked herself in the bathroom from where she called her daughter.

Mystery Creature Lurks in Maryland

GLYNDON, Md. -- A mystery animal is on the loose in Baltimore County and not even the experts can pin down what it is.

More than a month after the first sighting, the creature has become a neighborhood regular and showing up often.

Kim Carlsen: "It comes to our house. It's been up in the woods for a while and it comes up through the bottom of our yard and eats our cat food."

Even the other neighborhood animals like Bullwinkle the dog next door seem okay with the beast.

Kim Carlsen: "It's not afraid of the cats and the cats seem to get along with it fine."

The beast is not shy, and visits most often under bright sun. While no one here knows what it is, they do have a name for it -- the hyote, a combination of a hyena and a coyote.

"Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" Filming Hits Sticky End

THE new Willy Wonka film was in the goo last night — after a £300,000 camera was dropped into a giant vat of “chocolate”.

It plunged in after a technician failed to secure the wire-held camera. And the crew watched in horror as it plunged into the 3ft-deep tank. The disaster has delayed filming of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, which stars Johnny Depp as sweet factory boss Willy Wonka.

Insiders say the bill, including paying staff to stand idle, could top £500,000.
LINK(The Sun)

Duke Freshman Given iPods

Duke University freshmen will get something even more trendy than a Blue Devils T-shirt when they arrive next month: a free Apple iPod digital music player.
On Monday, the university announced a deal with Apple to distribute 1,650 of the hand-held gizmos to first-year students. Duke will get a discount and give them free to freshmen -- for keeps.

The iPods generally are used to store and play music; the 20-GB model, which the students will get, can hold up to 5,000 tunes. But the Duke students, being brainy and all, will use the iPods mostly for academics.

Or so Duke hopes.

"Whoa!" said rising Duke freshman Mollie Tucker of Raleigh when she learned she'd pocket an iPod. "It sounds like a good idea. It sounds really cool."

When she arrives Aug. 19, her iPod will be loaded with all kinds of useful information, including orientation schedules, calendars, campus tours, even the Duke fight song.

Students also can use them for course content, such as recorded lectures, music, language lessons and audio books. Throughout the year, they will be able to download information through a Duke Web site modeled after Apple's iTunes site, where people can download songs legally.


iPod Speakers by MacGyver

And speaking of iPods, some smart guy has built some iPod Peakers from a pair of Headphones and an Altoids tin. Link

The Miami Parkimg Meter Fairy

A Miami man has donned a wig, tutu and fake wings to become the city's parking meter fairy.

Xavier Cortes rollerskates around the trendy Coconut Grove area putting change into meters about to run out. He wears a pink curly wig, a lavender tutu and diaphanous angel wings, reports the Sun-Sentinel.

Mr Cortes is employed by local retailers and restaurateurs who feared visitors were being discouraged by parking tickets.

Cynthia Bettner, publisher of Best Tourist Publications Inc, advertised in the Miami New Times for a "colourful one-of-a-kind extrovert who looks good in tulle".

She said: "Xavier was perfect. He's an artist, someone who likes to be dressed in this bizarre outfit to help educate people about the parking tickets."

Mr Cortes, an artist with a theatre background whose works have been featured in galleries and on music album covers, said he loved his new job.

"I've done Che Guevara, who is a communist, so this is just another performance," he said. "I'm out skating, and I'm getting paid for doing somebody a favour."

July 22, 2004

Rescue Me

Just what I need, another great TV show.

Last night, Melissa and I watched the premier of Rescue Me on FX. It's a NY Firefighter drama/comedy with Denis Leary in the lead role. Mr. Leary played a big role in my influences, and his movie "The Ref" is my favorite holiday movie of all time. If there's one thing Denis can do is play a good, likeable tough guy, and he does in "Rescue Me." This just might be the only show in the police/fire/hospital drama category that I actually stick with.

Whenever "ER" or "Third Watch" comes on, I kiss Melissa's head, tell her to have fun, and leave her to watch it. She loves her "Stress Shows," as I call them, because she used to be a police dispatcher. She thrived on the stress, the frenetic pacing, the lives-on-the-line feeling, the multi-tasking. She was great at her job, and no one was happier than I was, but it started to affect her personal life.

When we first moved out of Athens, we stayed at her parents' house for six months while we looked for a place in Atlanta to live. It was nice, not paying rent for a change, but living with your in-laws right after you get married has it's drawbacks. For example, it was a little hard to be intimate with Melissa when her parents were down the hall. I felt like slipping them a $20 bill and telling them to go catch a movie.

The other drawback was the lack of personal space. We went from having our own apartments to living out of two rooms in someone else's house. The bonus room upstairs was our living room, and contained our TV, computer, futon, and most of our other stuff. It was hard enough compressing our personal space into one room like that, but Melissa's police training made it more difficult.

After a day of answering 911 calls, routing them to the officers on a computer, and keeping in contact on the radio, all at the same time, she would come home to unwind. Her "unwinding" consisted of watching TV, playing solitaire on the computer and talking on the phone. At the same time. Meanwhile, I sat twiddling my thumbs on the futon, able to do nothing but watch Miss Multi-task do her stuff. It was impressive to me, since I usually can't even drve and talk very well, but it got old fast. "Please," I begged her, "The TV, phone AND computer? Just let me have one of them. I don't care which."

Luckily, my new job supported us well, and she was able to quit dispatching. It was scary at the end, though, because she worked part-time as a 911 dispatcher, and part-time as a Disney Store cast member. So she went from answering murder calls to being a shiny happy Disney person. Talk about bi-polar.

July 21, 2004

Farewell, My Mistress PS2

If you have Showtime and a dark sense of humor, you should be watching "Dead Like Me". That's all there is to it. It's the best comedy on cable, hands down. Season 2 premieres this Sunday. So don't call the house, we won't answer it.

In other news, Melissa and I have decided to give NetFlix.com a try. We are big movie people, and we have the overstuffed entertainment center to prove it. Unfortunately, we don't watch the movies that we own very much, and we don't get to see some movies at all. NetFlix apparently solves all that. For $20 a month, we can run through our "Need to see" movie list in short order, with no worries about returning them late. See the site for details, but it's been recommended to us too many times to resist any further.

Finally, a bit of sad news. I'm about to break it off with my first love. (No, not Melissa, although she's my greatest one.) Long before women entered the picture, I was a video game junkie. Mom & Dad bought my brother and a ColecoVision back in the day, and I saved my money to buy a Nintendo, when they came out. I wasn't the smartest kid in school, I was no virtuoso on the saxophone, I was useless in sports, and I sure as hell wasn't a looker. The only thing I could do well was video games.

I could beat any Nintendo game in two days flat, with the ironic exception of "Super Mario Brothers". It just wasn't worth the trouble. It was a milestone in 1993 when the game "Myst" broke the 48-hour barrier of gameplay. Since then, I moved on to more PC games, and PlayStations 1 & 2. It's been fun, but I realized that I have absolutely nothing to show for it. Some games take upwards of 40 hours to complete, and once I spend that time, what did I have to show for it? A saved game on a memory card?

I'm trying to break myself of the habit. I want to do something productive with my time, like write more or learn to draw. I might not be able to go cold turkey, but I am putting a moratorium on new video game purchases. Wish me luck, and don't be surprised if I show up at your door, all strung-out, PS2 in hand, asking of you can hook me up.

July 20, 2004

Like a Metaphor

The winners are in for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, named after the 19th century author who began his novels "It was a dark and stormy night". (Yes it was Snoopy that was plaigirizing HIM, not the other way around.) Here are the winners:

Grand Prize:
She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.

Detective, Runner-Up:
The knife handle jutted from her chest like one of the plastic pop-up timers in a frozen turkey, but from the blood pooling around the wound, it was apparent that this bird wasn't done.

"Dark and Stormy Night", Runner-Up:
It was a dark and stormy night--actually not all that dark, but more dusky or maybe cloudy, and to say "stormy" may be overstating things a bit, although the sidewalks were still wettish and smelled of ozone, and, truth be told, characterizing the time as night is a stretch as it was more in the late, late afternoon because I think Oprah was still on.

Children's Literature, Dishonorable Mention:
As he entered the room within which so many a wild night of their sweltering love affair had been spent, the White Rabbit regarded her with benevolent eyes, her posture such that he suspected something was wrong, but before he could speak Alice unburied her face from her trembling hands and between her intense sobs he made out the words, "I'm late . . . I'm late."


July 16, 2004

LinkNews Digest [7/16/2004]

Bradbury Ticked at Moore's Title Hijacking

Famed Science Fiction author Ray Bradbury is none too pleased that Michael Moore decided to rip off the title of his book "Farenheit 451" to make the popular anti-bush documentary "Farenheit 9/11".
Ray Bradbury: Michael Moore is a stupid son of a bitch, that's what I think about it. He stole my title and changed the numbers and never asked my permission.

Marten Blomkvist: Have you spoken to him?

RB: He's a dreadful man. Dreadful man.

MB: One could suggest that, with your title being that famous, he'd want to use it, to allude to it

RB: That he wanted to steal from me, yeah. I don't want to make a big thing out of it [the name] I hate the sort of publicity that goes on these days with the paparazzi. I don't need it, you know. If I can make him change the title very quietly that would be great.

MB: Do you think you'll have any chance, the film is very famous under this title now?

RB: Who cares? Nobody's gonna see his film, it'll be dead in the water in no time. Nobody cares, come on.

MB: But it won the Golden Palm at the Cannes film film festival?

RB: So what? I've won awards at various places and most of the time they're meaningless. Those people over there hate us, so they gave him the Golden Palm. It's a meaningless award.

MB: Are there any circumstances where using a title made up by someone else is acceptable?

RB: I could write a novel tomorrow called 'Gone With The Wind', couldn't I? But I'm not going to do it, 'cause it would be dishonest. Just say that Michael Moore is a dishonest man and I want to have nothing to do with him. That pretty well does it.
Unfortunately for Bradbury, the film went on to be a huge hit in the States. Personally, I think the allusion to '451' might spur some interest in the original. Link(Guardian UK)

Woman Offers Pig as Tiger Bait

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A woman who offered to use her 5-month-old pig as bait to lure a tiger that escaped from the home of an actor who once played Tarzan will be cited for animal cruelty, officials said.

Linda Meredith, of Loxahatchee, put the pig in the trunk of her car and drove to the neighborhood where officials were searching for the tiger shortly after she heard of its escape.

Meredith asked officers to grab the hind legs of the pig, named Baby, or twist its ears so it would squeal and attract the tiger. The officers declined her offer.


Bloggers Granted Access to Democratic Convention

Bloggers are finally starting to get the credit they deserve for being independent journalists.
NEW YORK (AP) -- More than 30 independent Web journalists have been accredited to cover the Democratic convention, and the Republicans said Friday they'll also credential so-called bloggers.

It's the first time bloggers will be joining the thousands of newspaper, magazine and broadcast journalists at the quadrennial presidential-nomination events.

The independent bloggers will be joining scores of others hired by and accredited through traditional news organizations, including The Associated Press and MSNBC.com.

Bloggers will have the same access as traditional journalists within the FleetCenter convention hall, Wilhide said. And bloggers will join radio journalists with workspace in the FleetCenter itself, while other media will be in nearby buildings, she said. Democrats also will host a breakfast for bloggers on opening day.


Director McG Walks Away From "Superman"

"McG", best known for his Hit-or-Miss track record and over-the-top visual style, has left the director's chair for the new Superman film in the works. Thank Allah. Let's review the evidence: He did a few music videos, did an admirable job on "Charlie's Angels", his Fox tv series "Fastlane" bombed, then "Charlie's Angels : Full Throttle" practically re-invented the word "crap-tacular". Superman deserves better, should he fly into cinemas again.

Note: After checking out his profile on IMDB.com, Perhaps McG left the Superman movie to focus on a better directorial prospect: "Hot Wheels: THe Movie". I am not making this up.

July 15, 2004

Matthew's Fun Facts

I'm going to take a time-out and fulfill my "ain't-my-kid-cute" quota.

Matthew has grown up quite a bit in the past six months. He's talking ALL the time, and some of it in roughly-English words! His favorite phrases are "Oh NO!" ( which makes him sound like the world's youngest "Mr. Bill" fan), and "It's Stuck! (whenever he can't open or work something).

He picked up a stack of flash cards that he hadn't seen in six months, and now can identify all but four of the objects. He even generalizes the word "bug" to include spiders, ladybugs, bees and flies.

He loves jumping on the bed, and we let him, under supervision. When he bounced into Melissa and hurt her, I said no more jumping. After the initial tantrum, he formulated a cunning plan: He picked up his dinosaur, placed it on the bed, then came over to me. He pointed at the dinosaur and asked "Bed?" Translation: "Father, that poor creature is stranded on the bed! May I go up there, solely for rescue purposes?"

At night, he likes to wear his trainer roller skates, and shuffle across the kitchen floor. As he goes past, he waves and says "Hi" to his reflection in the dishwasher and the oven.

And one last story: I heard Matthew shouting in the den last week, and I came in to see what was the matter. He was smiling, just shouting into the back of the piano. I was a bit confused, thinking maybe the cat or a bug was back there, but nothing was there. He kept on shouting, turning his head to listen, and then smiling. When I got down to his level, I realized that his shouting was vibrating the strings in the piano, giving his voice an interesting reverb effect. I never would have guessed.

July 13, 2004

Bury My Heart at Space Mountain

Last night I finalized the content on the SolidWorld web site (test copy) with Barry (the nice man who advanced me the $500 for my computer upgrade fiasco) as Melissa was seen by a doctor about her arm. She's in a black thumb & forearm brace now. (Melissa:"I call it my 'Fonzie Brace'. Thumbs up and 'Aaaaaayyy!'")

We stayed for dinner with her parents, Ron and Brenda. Over dinner, I mentioned that my friend Sam had found a web site called "FuneralDepot.com", where you could buy coffins with customized shrink-wrap graphics on them. Anything from sports team logos, to Raphael's "Two Angels" painting, to my personal favorite, a brown paper package with the "Return to Sender" stamp. Then Ron mentioned that the new thing in coffins was "bio-degradable" coffins.

"Bio-Degradable?" I asked. "Oh yes, they must be made of this revolutionary new material: WOOD! A square pine box, like the 1800's, but since it's now 'Bio-Degradable', it'll run you 20 grand."

"Well, *I* won't be buried at all," said Melissa. Something about my wife: She has this fear of coffins. It's an irrational fear, which is best described in the movie "Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead":

Rosencrantz: Did you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
Guildenstern: No.
Rosencrantz: Nor do I, really. It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference, shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never *know* you were in a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You'd wake up dead for a start, and then where would you be? In a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly. That's why I don't think of it. Because you'd be helpless, wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you'd be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you're dead. It isn't a pleasant thought. Especially if you're dead, really. Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, "I'm going to stuff you in this box. Now, would you rather be alive or dead?" naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well, at least I'm not dead. In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid, and tell me to come out." [bangs on lid] "Hey you! What's your name? Come out of there!"
Guildenstern: [long pause] I think I'm going to kill you.
Her fear, however irrational I may think it, is real, and I respect that. So Melissa made me promise long ago to follow some very specific burial wishes. First, I am to have her cremated, then put her remains in some large drink cups. Then I am to take those cups and, as unobtrusively as possible, scatter them in Walt Disney World. A little in the "It's A Small World" ride, a little in the graveyard in front of "The Haunted Mansion" (where, incidentally, some of her uncle's ashes were scattered years ago), a little around the castle, and a little on Main Street USA.

If any remains... ah... REMAIN, I am to charter a plane and scatter them over the DisneyWorld grounds by air. A tall order, to be certain, but surprisingly not an uncommon one. Melissa posted her wishes on a Disney Message board a few years back, and at least thirty other people confessed to quietly placing family members' ashes around DisneyWorld. Kind of creepy, when you think about all the Dead People Bits in some place billed as "The Happiest Place on Earth." Maybe human remains is the secret behind the park's incredible landscaping. ("Disney Green is made of PEOPLE!!!")

Back to the story, Melissa reiterated that she would never be buried in a box. Just to argue, I said "That's what YOU think," and gave a grin. She grinned back, but it wasn't the silly grin I sent her, it was the one that implied great suffering on my part, should I say that again.

Her eyes narrowed. "If you bury me, I would haunt you," she vowed. "You're young, you might re-marry. And I would haunt you at very inopportune times. PRIVATE times."

"Yeah, in the bathroom, with a magazine," offered Ron.

Now I'm only 30, and I've only been married for six years, but this is what showed my age: When Ron mentioned a private moment, me in the bathroom with a magazine, I did not picture what most people might have. I just saw myself, having my evening sit-down on the porcelain throne, with a copy of Reader's Digest. Honest to God.

I need to get out more.

After dinner, Melissa, Matthew and I packed into my green Taurus, which used to be Ron's company car. When he sold the Taurus to me, he got a gold Mercury Sable. A few months ago, they bought a new car for Brenda, and came home with another gold Sable. "Not the same," insisted Ron, "MY sable is gold, and Brenda's is Gold ASH. Kind of greenish, if you squint. Plus hers doesn't have the center console." But to any rational person, it appears that they have two identical gold Sables sitting in the driveway.

As I unlocking my car, I accidentally hit the lock button again, triggering a brief honk, telling me the car was securely locked. Ron, never missing an opportunity, grabbed both Sable key rings and proceeded to honk them alternately. "Oh, THAT's how you tell the cars apart," I said, "Brenda's horn is one note down from yours?"

Brenda gave me a look. We all kept harping on this issue because we knew she hated it. "That car was all we could afford," she said, pointing down the driveway, "so no, I don't care if it looks a lot like Ron's."

Ron gave a laugh. "Honey, That's MY car. Yours is over there."

July 12, 2004

"Give my creation LIFE!!!"

[Warning: This entry rated GL-3 for level-3 Geek Language. All novice users should read only with geek supervision and/or translation]

This week started innocently enough. I was designing some web sites for a client and I needed to upgrade my old Adobe Photoshop (5.0) for the newer version (8.0 or "cs"), because it had lots of time-saving features for web designers. I explained this to my client, and he had no problem paying me $200 up front to buy it.

I bought the software on the internet and when I installed it, it took probably five minutes to start up. Even changing fonts took about 20 seconds. When I do my web designing, I need Photoshop, DreamWeaver and usually iTunes up at the same time, and it just wasn't going to happen with my current setup. So started what I call "the PC Upgrade Cascade": In order to properly run one upgrade, I had to upgrade something else.

And now, a bit of history. The first retail computer I bought was computer was a Compaq Pentium II back in 1998. The model didn't sell well because it had a black case, which was actually a big selling point to me. As all geeks and car enthusiasts do, I had to give it a name. "This computer is big, black and powerful," I declared, "so I'll call it 'SHAFT'!" (Sounds kinky, but it's just a reference to the movie character.) A few years later, Shaft was hideously underpowered, so Craig donated some spare parts and a new case, and built "Shaft 2: Son of Shaft") from the original. This was a PIII-500 Mhz, and it served me well for a few more years. But this year, it needed another overhaul.

Craig gave me some tips on Motherboards and CPU's that were on special at Micro Center. Not the latest and greatest, but all I'd really need until I wanted to be a one-man Pixar Animation Studio. I also called on Larry, who gave me some more advice, and agreed to help me put it all together Saturday morning. I planned on asking for a $500 advance for the whole upgrade from my client, instead of just the $200 for Photoshop.

Saturday morning, while Melissa was out for Tae Kwon Do, I took Matthew over to Larry's. Jennifer watched Matthew and Sydney play while Larry and I went computer parts shopping. I bought an AMD processor, a shiny new ASUS motherboard and a new stick of DDR RAM, all for $30 less than I budgeted. Back at Larry's, Larry and his friend John opened up Shaft2 and went to work. Half an hour later, John discovered that my old power supply wouldn't work, so back to the shop for a $30 power supply. (Oh well, still on budget.)

Larry and John finished it up, but remembered one sticky point about Windows: "If you have windows XP installed, and you change processors, you have to repair or reinstall XP." Annoying, but no big deal, I had my XP installation CD at home, and I could fix it up while Matthew took his nap this afternoon. So I thanked them profusely and headed home with Matthew.

Twenty minutes down the road, I realized that I left Matthew's shoes and bag back at Larry's. Backtrack, pickup and double back again home. Once home, I discovered that my RAM was bad, so back to Circuit City to swap it out. Back home, I find that the new RAM is good, but the simple repair of XP hit a snag and could not fix it.

My only option appeared to be re-installing XP over itself, losing all my applications in the process. Plus, there was a risk of deleting all my MP3's, Photoshop docs and web pages, INCLUDING the one I was supposed to have ready by Wednesday for the aforementioned client. That wasn't about to happen, so I called Larry again, and he agreed to help me back up my files the next day and walk me through the re-installation.

In the meantime, Melissa was nursing a Tae Kwon Do injury to her hand. We eventually had to take her to the Hospital (not the close one, Gwinnett Medical, half an hour down the road, since they are the only ones who take our insurance), and get her arm wrapped up in a sling. At the end of the day, Melissa's in agonizing pain, I'm ripping my hair out, and Matthew has been entertaining himself most of the day.

Sunday, after church, I set off to Larry's. Jennifer had taken Kalin and Sydney to Lake Lanier, while Larry waited for someone interested in buying Sydney's old crib to show up. He discovered that the error was from a video card driver, which we couldn't fix with XP being inoperable, so re-installing XP was the only way. The backup went well, and I was up and running with a clean install of XP. I thanked Larry profusely, again, and went home.

For the rest of the afternoon, I had the frustrating task of re-installing all my programs. The data was still there, in the same folders, but since the windows registry had been wiped clean, XP didn't recognize them. I still can't find my original install CD for Norton Internet Security, and iTunes is still having issues finding my music, but for the most part, the new computer is up and running.

Once the apps were re-installed, I had to get to work on the client's web pages. Yeah remember him? The nice man who we're going to ask to foot the bill for all of this? It wouldn't go over well if I showed up today saying "Sorry, but the work I promised isn't done, your site won't be ready, and oh yes, one more thing. I need $500 instead of $200 in advance, if you don't mind?" No, that wouldn't fly. I stayed up until 1:30 to get it done.

Melissa asked what we should call this one. Since it still retains that black DVD-ROM drive from the original Shaft, as well as bits from Shaft 2, we had to continue the theme. I dubbed it "SHAFT3 : FrankenShaft". (Again, sounds kinky, but it's not meant that way.)

July 09, 2004

A Brush with Redneck Royalty

As we celebrated our Independence Day last weekend, I recalled the question asked of me by a fellow high school student in 1990 or so: "So, do they celebrate July 4th in England?"

I only smiled, patted her on the head and sat down at another desk, one on the other side of the room. In my time at school I've encountered many such "Mental Black Holes" as she. The phenomenon is a lack of brainpower so incredible that it actually brings down the intelligence of others in the surrounding area. A person so dense that it devours nearby intellect. Not even common sense can escape its pull.

I think it was the comic "Bloom County" that pioneered the idea of Mental Black Holes to the scientific community, and I've found a great deal of evidence to support the hypothesis over the years. Living in the South, it's not hard to find these subjects, just listen for their distinctive mating call: "Hey y'all, watch THIS!!"

The best subject of the "Hey Y'all, Watch This" species that I've found was in a remote part of South Georgia. It was a birthday party for a friend-of-a-friend, but I didn't know the guy from Adam. (I'll refer to him as "Mike" to protect his identity, and because I can't remember it.)

"Mike's a really great guy," they said, "REAL funny. You'll like him." He seemed very popular, judging from the thirty or so people that had gathered in his house. While waiting to surprise him, guests were re-telling some stories of him, only to stop short of the punchline and declare "Forget it, you've got to hear Mike tell it."

When the guest of honor entered the door, we all shouted "Surprise!" Mike had a laid-back drawl that was in no hurry, since you'd stick around to hear the end of it anyway. After blowing out the candles, we all headed into the living room to nibble our cake and hear a story, as if we were kids again.

As soon as Mike opened his mouth, I know I was in the presence of a redneck legend. I don't care who you are, you'll pay attention to any story that begins with "Now you know on the back of those spray cans, it has that warning to keep it away from open flames?"

"Anyway, me and the guys was sittin' around the fire one night," he began, "and we had a bunch of these spray cans in the pickup bed. We'd had a few beers, and we was getting bored. I read that warning on the can and get to thinkin'. A few minutes later, here's what we do: We all get right up next to the fire, facing out, and we each put a spray can in the fire right behind us."

I can't tell the story like he did, but the point was this: The last person to run away from the exploding spray cans, wins.

The next story was of another contest, where one man would stand on the hood of the truck while the others drove it into one of those rolled bales of hay. The guy who flies the farthest, wins.

We all were mesmerized by his storytelling. Our jaws were frozen in the slack position in one long expression of "You've got to be kidding me!" After a while, he started taking requests from the crowd, and told us about how his buddies freaked him out one night by "painting" him with their rifle's laser sight when he was home alone.

This went on for almost two hours. My wife and I had never heard the stories before, but everyone else there loved hearing them over and over, like roadies for a rock band.

As we drove home that night, I realized the importance of Mike. The fact that he continues to live, after so many flirtations with death, may single-handedly disprove the Darwinian theory of "survival of the fittest."

Wherever you are today, Mike, I salute you. Everyone knew a crazy kid in school who would do anything, but you are their king.

July 08, 2004

LinkNews Digest [7/9/2004]

iPods a Security Risk, says Idiot

Companies should consider banning portable storage devices such as Apple's iPod from corporate networks, as they can be used to introduce malware or steal corporate data, according to an analyst.

Small portable storage products can bypass perimeter defenses like firewalls and introduce malware such as Trojans or viruses onto company networks, research company Gartner said in a report issued this week.

Analysts have warned for some time of the dangers of using portable devices, but the report points out these also now include "disk-based MP3 players, such as Apple's iPod, and digital cameras with smart media cards, memory sticks, compact flash and other memory media."

Yes, by all means, let's ban this vicious thing called external storage! Floppy Disks can hold company files, so ban them. And an employee's music collection could instead be installation CD's for SCREENSAVERS and other resource-sapping software, so ban those too!

The Internet! DAMN YOU, TIM BERNERS-LEE!! You've paved the way for Hackers to our doorstep! Employees can SEND FILES and COMMUNICATE while they're at WORK, so let's shut that down. Employees working from home on company laptops? I don't think so!! Effective immediately, all employees will report to work in fingerprint-locked surveillance cubicles loaded with keystroke-logging programs.

Telephones can be used to spread vital company information, so they're right out. And remember that the US Mail delivered Anthrax to a few senators once, so that's ANOTHER security risk.

Further security announcements will be made later this week when the new Morse Code wires are installed at the satellite offices. Management over and out.

Spam to End Within 2 Years, say Other Idiots

The global battle against spammers who use the Internet to disseminate pornography, distribute unsolicited sales pitches and engage in the new menace of "phishing" can be won in two years, officials running a three-day U.N. meeting told a news conference.

"If we don't work together," said Robert Shaw, Internet strategy expert with the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union (ITU), "we may see millions of people abandoning the Net entirely, out of frustration and disgust."

"If we achieve full international cooperation among governments and software companies, this plague, which affects so many of us in our everyday life, will be defeated in short order," said Robert Horton, Australia's top regulator.

He said that software makers and regulators have the means to bring spam under control within two years.

Horton, whose country has developed some of the most advanced legislation to fight the spam clogging private and corporate e-mail boxes around the world, said he hoped the gathering would produce a draft agreement on solutions.

Let me get this straight. The UN can unite against people filling my Email with ads for Viagra, but not terrorists?

Kerry Picks ...Gephardt?

In a scoop-gone-bad reminiscent of the infamous 1948 "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline snafu, the New York Post declared Dick Gephardt to be Democratic front-runner John Kerry's VP pick. Kerry released his decision to run with John Edwards that morning, after the papers had gone to press.
"KERRY'S CHOICE," read the headline over the page one "exclusive" story. "Dem picks Gephardt as VP candidate." The story, which ran without a byline, was accompanied by a file photo of the Missouri congressman and the Massachusetts senator.

But then Kerry announced his real choice Tuesday morning: North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Post editor in chief Col Allan said in a statement that he made the decision to go with the Gephardt story based on information that turned out to be inaccurate. He did not elaborate.

An apology"We unreservedly apologize to our readers for the mistake," Allan said. The paper's Web site replaced the Gephardt report with a story by The Associated Press on Kerry's actual choice.

Bush Beats Bin Laden, Stalin for Most Disliked Person Poll

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - President Bush is disliked by more Hungarian secondary school children than former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday.

The survey of 34,000 students, aged 16-18, from 655 high schools showed Adolf Hitler was the most disliked foreign personality with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Bush with 23 percent and Bin Laden with 16 percent.

Bush was even more unpopular than former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, according to the poll.

A 639-year Organ Concert

The sound of an E and E-sharp rang out of an abandoned German church yesterday. They were the latest organ notes in a musical piece that will take another 636 years to finish playing. Avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-1992) composed Organ2/ASLSP in 1985. The title comes from the tempo Cage had in mind when the work would be played: "as slow as possible." This performance at St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt began September 5, 2001, but until last February the only sound was the building's natural ambience. Since then, a total of five notes have been played.

July 07, 2004

Disney Sued over "Lion Sleeps Tonight"

Lawyers for the family of the song's original composer, Zulu migrant worker Solomon Linda, are suing Walt Disney in South Africa for infringement of copyright to the song, which has earned an estimated $15 million since it was written in 1939.

The song, originally called "Mbube," has been recorded by at least 150 artists around the world and features in Disney's "Lion King" on film and on the stage.

A statement from the U.S. company received by Reuters in Johannesburg Tuesday said Walt Disney had obtained the right to use the song properly from Abilene Music, the New York firm which administers its copyright in the United States.
This is a dispute between the Copyright holder and the artist, and Disney is not really part of it. Copyright Law in South Africa states that the copyright should return to the creator's family 25 years after their death, which would have been 1987. The suit should be against Abilene Music, but Disney has the deep pockets.

But just at the end, see what the judges tack onto the suit:
South Africa's High Court in Pretoria has attached use of Disney's trademarks in South Africa -- including Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck -- to the case. That means proceeds from use of those trademarks will revert to the plaintiffs if Walt Disney loses the case.
What? Let me get this straight: If a South African judge concludes that Disney, (who didn't hold the copyright to begin with, they just paid to use it,) is found liable for Abilene Music's actions, Disney loses all proceeds from ALL their trademarks in South Africa to these people?

Don't get me wrong, "Lion Sleeps Tonight" is a great song. I performed it too many times to mention in my singing days, and I think that the copyright should revert to the family. But to sue an unrelated third party for the revenues from ALL their traemarks? That's not only greed, that's a disgrace to the legal system. It's comparable to Davy Jones from The Monkees getting all the proceeds from the "Shrek" franchise because Dreamworks' Copyright partner didn't file the papers correctly to use "I'm a Believer".

July 06, 2004

"McHale & Kern Wandmakers"

We spent the 4th of July with Larry and Jennifer McHale, people we don't get to see too often (our fault). It's great to hang out with them for many reasons.

First, they are really cool people that we have a great deal in common with. Larry and I are both computer geeks, both professionally and in a gaming capacity. Likewise, Melissa and Jennifer are a good deal alike, yet confident enough in themselves not to sweat the differences. (As opposed to trying to clone the other, as The Princess of MeMeMe attempted.)

They also have a 3-year old girl named Sydney, so not only does Matthew have a playmate, but Larry & Jennifer share the "Toddler Parent Sympatico" with us. Their house is child-proofed, they they understand that toddlers occasionally have tantrums, and don't call 911 to report us for child cruelty if we let Matthew "cry it out" in the crib for a few minutes.

Lastly, there's their son, Kalin. He's 15, but he's not like any 15 year-old I know. When my wife and I (read: "Adults") come to visit, he doesn't hide in his room or play video games. He listens to, and even participates in, all of our conversations. Given, this group of adults usually discusses things like Harry Potter or movies, which are interesting to most ages. But even so, it's impressive. There are times when we're reminded that he's just 15, but overall, he's more mature than some college grads I've met.

Unlike me, Larry is gifted with carpentry skills. He has a garage full of tools that would make Tim Allen grunt in approval. My wife's affinity for Harry Potter being public knowledge, I asked him if he could make her a wand. "Actually, I don't have a turning lathe," he replied. I shrugged and we went inside to eat.

After dinner, he called me out to the garage again. "I don't have a turning lathe, but let's see what we can do," he said, his eyes gleaming. We were like McGuyver in that garage. Starting from a square rod of oak, we used no less than six power tools for purposes that they definitely were not intended for. But after an hour, we had ourselves a wand.

We stained it, put a coat of lacquer on it and it was beautiful. It was a bit rough around the edges, not exactly round in places, but I think that's what gives it character. It makes the piece unique, and Melissa was floored.

Larry and I loved it so much, we're thinking about making some more wands to sell, possibly taking prototypes to Dragon*Con this fall for some market testing. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it was an incredible moment of inspiration and creativity.

Semisonic Goes to the Pages

Another of my favorite bands, Semisonic, is back in the news. At least in the sidelines. The drummer, Jacob Slichter, keeps a road journal on the web site that is always funny and insightful. Now, he's published a book called (inhale) "So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star : How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful Of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life". (gasp)

Some Highlights from the CNN Interview with Jacob:

PHILLIPS: Now I want to get a little personal. As you look back, the best moment for you when you guys were just huge?

SLICHTER: We played at RFK Stadium in front of 40,000 people when "Closing Time" had just hit No. 1, and I'll never forget the experience of being on stage and just feeling a tidal wave of energy from the fans hitting the stage and it literally, you know, made my skin tingle and shiver and I almost fell off the drums. It was so -- such a big feeling. Another time we played in Mexico City and, you know, the 10,000 fans there would flick their lighters in time with the music. All of that stuff is even better than you would imagine it would be.

PHILLIPS: How about the worst moment?

SLICHTER: We played a show in Las Vegas for the Billboard Awards in front of 15,000 people at the MGM Grand, and it was a star-studded audience that had such legends as Stevie Wonder and James Taylor and Carole King and Lauryn Hill, and all the stars of today and yesterday. Halfway through "Closing Time" they cut the power to the stage. The lights came on and a voice said, you know, "Thank you for coming to the Billboard Awards. Have a good night." And everybody filed out as we stood on stage with our guitars and drums looking like idiots.

PHILLIPS: Fame, what you pay for fame.

SLICHTER: Absolutely.

July 02, 2004

Link/News Digest [07/02/2004]

"A Man, A Plan, A Pallindrome, Panama"

A bored Google software engineer has devised a program that has produced arguably the world's longest pallindrome sentance. I say "Arguably" because it's all gibberish. For example:
A man, a plan, a carpus, AEC, Rickey, EKG, navettes, Sorcha, Basil, BSHA, Tizes, Ojai, AOU, Lana, Juta, Tildi, Komsa, REME, Rab, Manado, Opaline, Bess, a rgen, a hcl, a robalo, Caracalla
a hall, a caracol, a boral, Chane, Grasse, Benil, a pood, an amba, Rem, Erasmo, Kid, litatu, Jana, Luo, Aia, Jose, Zitah, SBLI, Sabah, Crossett, Evang, Keyek, Circe, a supr, a canal, Panama.
This once again proves that if you leave a software engineer with too much time on his hands, he will solve a problem that never existed. Like my "Pretentious Residential Subdivision Name Genrator" program a few years back.

Downloaded Music Goes Platinum

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has approved the Gold and Platinum rankings for downloaded songs, to mirror their tangible counterparts.
The digital download program will authenticate sales of licensed content from legitimate online music services. Certified sales of 100,000 singles will earn a Gold award, with double that amount warranting a Platinum award. Multiplatinum awards start at 400,000 and increase in increments of 200,000 from there.

CDs must achieve higher figures to receive RIAA awards. Gold is reached at shipments of 500,000 copies, with Platinum requiring 1 million units. An event scheduled for late August will mark the official launch of the digital download program.

"This is a gratifying milestone in the evolution of legitimate digital music services," said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, which represents the interests of the major U.S. labels. "The fact that the marketplace has already advanced this far, and artists have attained this level of success, speaks volumes."
The RIAA starting to acnowledge the fact that money is being made hand-over-fist by music downloads. Sir, might I suggest a little salt to go with your dinner of crow?LINK

Coke Cans a Danger to National Security

Remember that contest where Coca-Cola is putting special GPS-enabled Coke can-shaped phones? It’s going on right now, and if you find one of them you press a button which instantly connects you to an operator who’ll tell you that you’ve just won a Chevy SUV, and then instructs you to press another button that activates a GPS homing beacon on the can so that Coke can immediately deliver the prize to your location.

Anyway, an Air Force base in Ohio and an Army base in Kentucky have decided that they’re too much of a security risk, and is requiring all cans of Coke to be inspected before being brought into secure areas, just in case one of them happens to have a GPS chip in it. There’s only a hundred of those cans out there total, meaning there’s only a one in 2.5 million chance that any given can of Coke brought onto the base is a winner, not to mention the fact that the cans don’t transmit the location of the winner unless a big red button is pressed on it, but with the War on Terror and everything you really can’t let these things slide
LINK (Engadget)

Heaven Forbid, a Weekend Off

Due to a legislative oversight, Virginia employees now have the right to at least one weeked day off, should they request it.
So as of Thursday, the start of the state's fiscal year, all non-management employees can choose Sunday or Saturday -- if that is their day of Sabbath -- as their rest day. In addition, all workers are allowed 24 consecutive hours off each calendar week.

Penalties include a fine of up to $500 for each offense. Also, a business that forces an employee to work on a day of rest may have to pay triple the worker's regular pay.

"This could be seriously harmful," Peterson said. "We're looking forward and seeing the ramifications this could have on the Christmas season."

Attorney Gregory B. Robertson said he is advising his corporate clients to abide by the law unless there is any change. He said they should prepare to honor all written requests from employees who want off Sunday or Saturday as a rest day.

People not forced to work on Weekends! Dogs and Cats, Living together...MASS HYSTERIA!!! It's the apocolypse!

Fight Club at Staples

Blogger Sean Bonner was surprised to find the name and address of Fight Club character Tyler Durden on a package of Staples brand labels. Look for his new line of Airline Safety cards in the coming months. [LINK (via BoingBoing)]

$100 For a Dead iPod

Dell wants your iPods...for the landfill. Finally, some company got their head straight and came up with a solution to the iPod's infamous 18-month non-replacable battery life:
Dell on Wednesday launched a promotion that gives customers who send in their old Apple iPod a $100 rebate on the Round Rock, Texas-based computer giant's own digital music player.

The mail-in rebate applies to purchases of Dell's $199 15GB Digital Jukebox player, a model the company rolled out last fall. The player can hold approximately 7,000 tracks, said Dell. (The company also makes a 20GB model that can store about 9,000 songs.)
LINK (TechWeb)

July 01, 2004

My Wife, the "Pott-Head"

My wife, Melissa, is the queen of the adult Harry Potter fans (or as my friend Justin affectionately calls them, "Pott-heads"). She reads a HP community fan site called MuggleNet every day, has all of J.K. Rowling's books (including the sideliners "Quidditch through the Ages" and "Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them"), as well as a few companion books by other authors on the Potter phenomenon.

I've read the books, and really liked all of them, but my wife seems to appreciate them on another level entirely. Most parents read the books in order to establish common interest with their children, but my wife can't claim that, since our child is only two.

For Mother's Day, I bought her a "Slytherin" t-shirt from Hot Topic and a Slytherin house scarf from Alivans.com, the internet shop inspired by the famous wand-makers in the books. She insists she would be a Slytherin, even though I think she's more a Ravenclaw. Her rebuttal of this is probably the most heated argument we've had in the course of our marriage. (This speaks both to the relative tranquility of our relationship, as well as her fervor for the Potter Books.)

When she won tickets to a preview screening of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", she couldn't be more excited. However, she became otherwise committed, and was forced to give the tickets to a friend and me. As she handed them over, I could have sworn she growled at me.

This week, J.K. Rowling announced the title of the 6th book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." This came at the heels of a hoax in which a reader claimed to have hacked Rowling's personal web site and found the title "Harry Potter and the Pillar of Storge" ("Storge" is apparently an old Greek word for parental love). This hoax was posted on MuggleNet with screenshots and even a video of the revelation, to corroborate the story.

The fact that there was a hoax pertaining to the title of a book says a lot about the international obsession with this series. Do you hear about crazy Robert Ludlum fans fabricating evidence that his next book will be "The Bourne Audacity"?

With the announcement of the title comes a new flood of speculations from the fans. I tell you, Harry Potter fans pore over these books, looking for dropped hints and hidden clues like theologians reading the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One of the speculations goes like this: The Half-Blood Prince might be Mark Evans, who was mentioned, in passing, in book five as a boy that Harry's cousin Dudley, was picking on. If you'll recall, Evans was also the maiden name of Harry's mother, Lily, who was a witch. Maybe she had a brother, who in turn had a boy named Mark (they would both retain the Evans surname). So Mark Evans might be half-blood if either his father (Lily’s brother and Harry’s Uncle) was a wizard and his mother was a muggle, or vice versa.

Is everything clear? Didn't think so, and it won't be clear until the book comes out. And maybe not even then. Frankly, Oliver Stone has nothing on Harry Potter conspiracy theorists.

The Harry Potter books are such a widespread hit with people of such varied interests, that the books become a sort of screen where everyone can project their own hopes and aspirations for the characters. Some see nasty characters, like Draco Malfoy, being vindicated somehow. Others see a spy within the good guy ranks. Still others want to see more minor characters, like Neville Longbottom, become larger parts of the story.

My wife and I met another couple and their kids for dinner the other night, and we spoke of nothing but Harry Potter for an hour. From the oldest of us (I’ll never tell) down to the couple’s 16 year-old son, everyone was engaged in the discussion. That says a great deal about the series. Something that started off as a children’s story about a teenage wizard has matured into books that are so engaging that many college-educated adults spend hours a day discussing them.

With J. K. Rowling becoming the wealthiest woman in Britain, surpassing even the queen, I doubt the books will stop coming any time soon. Likewise, the whole Harry Potter juggernaut will keep going, picking up more fans as it does. So to those of you Muggles out there that are still unconvinced, I say pick it up. Your kid, or maybe even your boss, is likely to ask your opinion about one of these books in the near future. You shouldn’t be unprepared in either case.

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