July 25, 2005

AoME Swag

Busy Weekend. My second web site up in as many months, I finally put up the site for Arms of Middle Earth, the Lord of the Rings fan site that Melissa co-runs. Nothing earth-shattering, but it took a while to get details nailed down and integrate a blog directly into the front page instead of having it in a sub-frame. (I learned my lesson with that on THIS page.)

Another aspect was to get a line of AoME merchandise up on CafePress. The group needs money to support group activities, and people are more likely to pay for swag than to donate outright.
So Justin and I had a brainstorm a few months back about some humorous, Lord of the Rings-themed bumper sticker/T-Shirt designs, and this was the best of the bunch. Well, at least the best of the bunch that wouldn't get us sued by New Line Cinema or the Tolkien Holding Company. My prediction for best selling item: This handy canvas tote bag. Perfect for teachers!

July 22, 2005

LinkNews Digest [07/22/2005]

Boy Sells Contents of House for $242

...her son secretly sold almost all the household appliances and other valuables, in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan province, July 15, 2005. The 11-year-old boy sold family belongings worth 500,000 yuan ($60,000) for 2,000 yuan ($242) and then spent all the money at an Internet bar with his five friends in 20 days. The couple had two houses in Zhengzhou. (LINK)
This via TechDirt, that comments "Still, it's not entirely clear how the kid managed to get all the stuff out of the house without his parents noticing. Also, the short blurb claims that the kid spent the $242 in an internet cafe over a period of 20 days -- which would imply that the parents didn't realize their kid had sold off all their belongings for nearly three weeks. It would seem like a few more details would be helpful to explain what really happened here."

UK Boy Wins Curfew Law Appeal

LONDON (Reuters) - A "model" teenage boy won a lankmark High Court ruling on Wednesday against the legality of child curfew zones, leaving Prime Minister Tony Blair's high profile bid to reduce anti-social behaviour in disarray.

The 15-year-old boy brought the case against London's police and his local council over their right to remove any under-16-year-old unaccompanied by an adult from an area after 9 p.m. regardless of their behaviour.

Lord Justice Brooke said everyone should have the right to "walk the streets without interference from police".

"Of course I have no problem with being stopped by the police if I've done something wrong," he said in a statement. "But they shouldn't be allowed to treat me like a criminal just because I'm under 16."

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the ruling would affect curfew orders across the country but she insisted police still had powers to break up large groups of teenagers who were causing trouble. However they cannot insist they go home. (LINK)

GTA: San Andreas Pulled From Shelves

Earlier this month Rockstar Games came under fire for "Hot Coffee", a downloadable hack that allowed GTA characters to engage in sexual acts. Now there have always been hacks for video games, playing Unreal Tournament with the "Naked" skin pack, for example. Which isn't as much fun after a few minutes. Or so I hear.

Unfortunately, Hot Coffee wasn't a hack, but code that unlocked the content that was actually ON THE GAME DISC. Expect a harder crackdown on future joke "Easter Eggs" in video games.
The best-selling video game, which centers on gang violence, was being pulled from some shelves and slapped with a more restrictive "Adults Only" rating Wednesday after an investigation concluded that explicit sexual content could be unlocked on the game.

The producer of the game, Rockstar Games, said it had ceased production of GTA and was manufacturing a version without the sexual content.

Officials with Rockstar and its parent corporation, Take-Two Interactive, could not be reached for comment. But on the companies' Web site, Take-Two president Paul Eibeler issued a statement that the "mod" was unauthorized. (LINK)

Upholding The American Entreprenurial Spirit

After Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused to kill an 11th-hour state budget request by state Sen. Derrick Shepherd for $200,000 to build a YMCA in Harvey, a River Ridge businessman has asked Blanco to give the money to a nonprofit he formed to keep it away from Shepherd.

Michael Bowler, the son of Rep. Shirley Bowler, R-Harahan, asked Blanco on Tuesday to send a check from the state's general fund to A Greater New Orleans Service Corp., which he incorporated June 3 after learning that Shepherd had directed the cash to that group through House Bill 822, an early vehicle for the expenditure that died during the session.

There was no entity by that name in state records at the time, and Michael Bowler said he jumped to incorporate it.

"It just really kind of pissed me off that they're going to try to fund companies that don't exist," he said. "I thought it was just all completely bogus. It was shenanigans going on that shouldn't have been going on. "

Bowler said that when he incorporated his group, he planned to hand over any state money it got through HB 822 to Jefferson Parish officials, whose authority over it would have been stripped under the initial law. Bowler said he now is unsure what he would do with the general fund cash, which he insists belongs to his Greater New Orleans Service Corp. "I'm not going to keep any of the money," he said. (LINK)

July 19, 2005

Stan Lee's Secret Decoder Rings

Now Stan the Man has not often led us astray, but I have my reservations about this one. His new venture is called "Power Patrol," and appears to be some sort of Wireless (RFID?) technology embedded in a plastic ring.

From the Promotional Materials:
Utilizing Boucard’s Footnote technology, POW! and Infinite Machines will soon introduce POWER PATROL, a new line of digital jewelry and wearables capable of storing and actually transferring digital super powers attained in a secret online game to a set of Power Patrol Rings that can be worn by fans wishing to emulate Super Heroes or Super Villains.

The electronic Rings can transfer data back and forth from ring to ring, thus unlocking new powers, games, points and missions for the player or players."I predict that by next year his Power Patrol Rings will have become as ubiquitous as your TV's remote control. And that's just the beginning" [says Stan Lee]

John Boucard's incredible Rings interact with the POWER PATROL website (http://www.power-patrol.com) and can only be secretly accessed by those possessing the Rings or recruited by a member of POWER PATROL. Additionally, ring-wearers playing the game can wirelessly receive and activate secret missions from Stan Lee himself, missions that only the best and brightest can solve. These missions could be digitally embedded in everything from trading cards, internet websites, movie theaters, posters, fast food outlets, or even in a DVD.
Maybe it's not fair to pan it this early, but the whole idea smacks of the Captain Power toys that "Interacted" with your TV when you watched the show.

July 18, 2005

The Potter Party

For those Muggles (non-magic folk) who didn't know, the 6th Harry Potter book was released at the stroke of midnight on Friday. Melissa and I were there... helping host the event. Melissa dressed up as a Slytherin student, and David & Gayle even came to visit and help out.

The AJC sent a photographer and got the crew in these pics: [ Mel | Rog ]

Gayle (aka "ROG"), true to character, came dressed as Voldemort. Of course, the publisher forbade us from using ACTUAL character names, so we dubbed her "She-Who-Must-(for legal reasons)-Not-Be-Named" Most kids weren't scared of her, much to her dismay. While helping her out at one of the craft stations that we were posted at, I had to keep kids from messing with her, with mixed results:

Chris: Hey! No putting stickers on the Dark Lord's head!! You know what happened to the last kid who tried that?
Kid: No, What?
Chris: He's still crawling around the sewers with just two legs!
Kid: So what? I only have two legs NOW.
Chris: She turned him into a frog AND took away two of his legs!! And not even a matched pair! Now THAT'S evil!!
This was a fun project for us, and we did the service in exchange for a copy of the book. I was there as support and photographer, but I ended up helping enough to merit my own book at the end of the night.

More pics when I scan them. (Yes, I used the old-school Muggle Analog camera.) Also check out this "Overheard"

July 15, 2005

LinkNews Digest [07/15/2005]

Rescuer Jailed for Not Helping More

Abed Duamni of Houston got caught in the current while swimming Sunday afternoon and became stuck under a building. Duamni said he found an air pocket and stayed there for about 15 minutes before Newman grabbed his leg and pulled him out.

Meanwhile, on the surface, emergency officials were trying to figure out how many people were in trouble, and San Marcos Fire Marshal Kenneth Bell said Newman's refusal to speak immediately with authorities hurt their ability to assess the situation.

After Newman crossed the river, he was arrested on a charge of interfering with public duties and refusing a lawful order, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. As he was arrested, a crowd yelled at police, and two men tried to block the officers' path to the car that carried him to jail. (LINK)

Dealers Try Launching Evidence in Rocket

Two accused methamphetamine traffickers apparently rigged up their car so that if cops closed in, a small rocket carrying their stash would pop up from the trunk and launch itself far from the long arm of the law.

Cops are pretty certain the rocket was meant to be an escape pod for the drugs, but Ledford diplomatically declined to speculate.

"But they did have the meth inside the rocket," he admitted, "and it could be launched from inside the car." (LINK)

French Bus Company Sues Carpoolers

...a group of French cleaning ladies who organised a car-sharing scheme to get to work are being taken to court by a coach company which accuses them of "an act of unfair and parasitical competition".

The women, who live in Moselle and work five days a week at EU offices in Luxembourg, are being taken to court by Transports Schiocchet Excursions, which runs a service along the route. It wants the women to be fined and their cars confiscated.

The women explained that for many years cleaners used the TSE line for the 40-minute ride across the border, which cost them $100 a month.

"Using our cars is quicker and at least twice as cheap. And on the bus we didn't have the right to eat or even to speak,"(LINK

Elderly Woman Hoards 300+ Cats in Home

The house, less than a mile from late President George Washington's historic Mount Vernon estate, looked neat from the outside with manicured lawns and bright flowers, but inside it was overflowing with wild cats, feces and urine.

"Cats were coming out of the cabinets and drawers and were inside the walls. There were hundreds of them," Fairfax County Police officer Richard Henry told Reuters.

He said animal control officers removed 273 cats -- 86 of them dead -- over the weekend and slapped a condemnation order on the door of the house. The woman, her husband and daughter were told to leave.

Later on, Henry said, the woman returned and attempted to smuggle an additional 30 cats from the house. These animals were confiscated, bringing the total to more than 300. (LINK)

Pope Benedict Denounces Harry Potter Books

BERLIN (Reuters) - Pope Benedict believes the Harry Potter books subtly seduce young readers and "distort Christianity in the soul" before it can develop properly, according to comments attributed to him by a German writer.

"It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because these are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly," Benedict wrote, according to the excerpt.

The sixth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," is due to be published on July 16, with millions of copies already shipped to stores around the world. (LINK)
Why post this here, no big news, right? At first, I thought the new pope was just doing his job, touting the biblical opposition to witchcraft, and protecting Christians' historical rights to condemn women as such and burn them, no big deal. Then, later in the article, came the REAL reason he has a beef with Potter:
After Benedict was named Pope in April, his own writings shot to the top of the German book charts and dislodged the most recent book in the Potter series from number one.
AHA! So it's also a personal dig, we see. Ends up J. K. Rowling is in direct competition to Benedict on the bestsellers list. Possibly a conflict of interest here?

Study Shows that Studies Are Wrong 1/3 of the Time

I wish I was making that headline up, but that really IS the point of the article:
CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- New research highlights a frustrating fact about science: What was good for you yesterday frequently will turn out to be not so great tomorrow.

The sobering conclusion came in a review of major studies published in three influential medical journals between 1990 and 2003, including 45 highly publicized studies that initially claimed a drug or other treatment worked.

Subsequent research contradicted results of seven studies -- 16 percent -- and reported weaker results for seven others, an additional 16 percent.

That means nearly one-third of the original results did not hold up, according to the report in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. (LINK)

July 13, 2005

Confessions of a T-Shirt Junkie

I've been working up some merchandise for a group of mine, so I've been seeing a lot of swag-for-sale lately. Just to share, here's some very cool t-shirt designs that I've found over the past couple of weeks.

July 12, 2005

Plastic Souls

I posted on friday about a beauty-photo retoucher (a name that sounds creepy in itself) but the link went dead, probably from the influx of traffic.

Here's another one (via BoingBoing.net). Now when I see this picture, I don't think how pretty this little girl is. I wonder what her parents are doing to her to get her this pissed off, or if this was a shot from her audition for "Children of the Corn part 5".

July 11, 2005

Chris' Night Out

My British friend Phil had his birthday party this weekend. With the kid at home, and too much babysitting alredy being done for us, we couldn't all go. So the wife and I made a deal: I could go solo to the party on Saturday (where there would be much alcohol), if my wife could go out with her mom & the girls to the new IKEA store (the first one in Atlanta).

Phil and Anya are a rare breed among my circle of friends: The adults that don't have kids, and enjoy not having to grow up themselves. So Phil's place is always decorated with Godzilla toys and rock posters, a wooden Tiki Bar and countless books and DVDs on shelving units. Visiting there is like a trip into my own past, where I didn't need to put my own toys away or cover all the electrical outlets. I love my kid and all that comes with him, but it's nice to get out every now and again.

The one drawback about Phil's "collectivity" is that he's notoriously hard to buy a gift for, since he has the disposable income to buy any small thing that he wants. Luckily, I was able to find an interesting book from his Amazon.com wishlist. But I also gave him one of those personal made-it-for-you things: I had redesigned his web site and had it up and running. There was a brief power struggle with the former webmistress, but Phil offered her a no-pay position on his next film project and all was forgiven.

FYI: Phil has a re-issue of a very cool book called "Wet Work" coming out in a few months, and it's an excellent read. If only George Romero had been this creative with Land of the Dead, it might not have sucked as much as people say it does. (I don't know personally, Phil gave me an earful and strictly forbade me from seeing it under pain of death.)

Par for the course, there's always an interesting mix of people at Phil's parties. Everyone from the manager of a trendy bar (looking like a young Elvis Costello with heavily tattooed arms), to a NASA enthusiast who lectures for JPL were in attendance. Equally as good was the food & drink, notably a 50% rum coctail called a "Mojito". Two of those bad boys and I had to drink water for 2 hours before I was sober enough to drive.

I don't mean to tarnish his carefully-kept image, but Phil turns into an old softie when he's had a few. As evidnece, I've still got some stubble-burns on my cheek from where he gave me a drunken man-snog.

Human Torch ATV

I'm trusting the old adage of determining the crap factor of a movie by the crap factor of the toy merchandise. So thanks to this toy, I will wait to see "Fantastic 4" until it's a rental:
There has never been a more ridiculously stupid and insulting toy than the Fantastic 4 Human Torch ATV (with Light-Up Headlights!). And this is why:
The Human Torch has no need for an "All-Terrain Vehicle"--because the last time I checked, the Human Torch can f---ing FLY.

Has anyone told the Human Torch that it might not be safe to sit on top of a gas tank when one is on FIRE? Nice message to send the kids, a-holes!

July 08, 2005

LinkNews Digest [07/08/2005]

Astrologer Sues NASA for Comet Impact

MOSCOW - NASA's mission that sent a space probe smashing into a comet raised more than cosmic dust...

Marina Bai has sued the U.S. space agency, claiming the Deep Impact probe that punched a crater into the comet Tempel 1 late Sunday "ruins the natural balance of forces in the universe," the newspaper Izvestia reported Tuesday.

Bai is seeking damages totaling $300 million, the approximate equivalent of the mission's cost for her "moral sufferings," Izvestia said, citing her lawyer Alexander Molokhov. She earlier told the paper that the experiment would "deform her horoscope."

NASA representatives in Russia could not be reached for comment on the case. (LINK)
The shift caused her daily horoscope to warn against reckless spending this month instead of predicting her meeting with a tall, dark stranger.

Sleepwalker Climbs 130-Foot Crane

LONDON (Reuters) - A teenage sleepwalker was rescued after being found fast asleep 130 feet up on the arm of a crane, police said Wednesday.

The teen-ager, who has not been named, had climbed up the crane and walked across a narrow metal beam while fast asleep during the incident, which happened on June 25.

It is believed the teen-ager had walked out unnoticed from her home near the site in Dulwich, southeast London.

She was brought down in a hydraulic lift after a two-hour rescue operation. The girl was unharmed and later went home. (LINK)

"...A Velvet Couch backstage, stocked with girls"

A rock band has asked for all of this year's Miss Serbia beauty queen contestants in their dressing room.

Finnish band Apocalyptica (the famous cello quartet that covers Metallica songs) included the request in their rider for the Exit music festival in Serbia where they are supporting Garbage.

They also asked for a dozen postcards with stamps already attached so they could write to their mums. Organisers of the four day festival said they had asked the girls if they were willing to visit the band, but it were not sure they could make it.

A spokesman said: "It was a bizarre request, and I don't know why they wanted the postcards. Perhaps they wanted to write about the girls afterwards. (LINK)

July 06, 2005

Howl's Moving Showtimes

I had the treat of going to see "Howl's Moving Castle" this weekend. Of course, being a foreign cartoon, we had quite a time finding a theater that was still showing it, one week after it's limited release. After an Alpharetta theater pulled the 7:20 showing we were planning to attend, Melissa found the next closest theater was at the Cobb Galleria Mall, a good hour away. The theater was half full, mostly of adults, who possibly had a similar commute to see the film. Personally, I'd expect a wider US release for a film that broke an all-time box office record in Japan to take in $193 million. [ I think it was a real crime that this film was released so selectively. Most likely the somewhat violent scenes in "Spirited Away" made people think that Howl would not be suitable for children, despite its PG rating. ]

I have gushed previously about Miyazaki's films and how strong their imagery and narrative are. Seldom do you see a director with such a wide range of style and subject matter. While Howl's Moving Castle may not be every viewer's cup of tea, it is by far his most balanced and personal movie to date. For all the action and hocus-pocus, Howl is, at it's heart, a coming-of-age story about Sophie, an ordinary hat-shop girl in a fictional Victorian Europe. When a witch puts a curse on her that changes her into an old crone, she escapes the city to hide her new form.

Outside of the glaring oversight of a choppy frame rate in the opening scene, the animation is beautifully done and full of character. The story is the gem in the crown, as is usually the case with Miyazaki, with the tale of Sophie's blooming sense of self. As Japanese imports go, the story is easy to follow, with few exceptions. (This might be due to the film being based on the book of the same title.)

Recent Batman Christian Bale excels as the American-dubbed voice to Howl, capturing the calm, seductive tones of the charismatic wizard. But Howl is not your standard "bishonen" Pretty-boy leading man. As my wife suggests, Howl is possibly Studio Ghibli's first Metrosexual protagonist. Let's look at the evidence:
  • He wears dangly jade earrings, a pendant, and THIS CAPE.
  • "You're wearing that hat? After all the magic I used to make your dress pretty? "
  • "I don't want to live if I can't be beautiful!"
    To refute the evidence here, he has always been a ladies man, and there is a connection to Sophie that cannot be dismissed as a "Beard" relationship (see Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes). So he's a Hetero guy who doesn't mind looking pretty. You do the math.

    The supporting voice cast is excellent as well, with a notable performance by Lauren Bacall as the Witch. I was worried when I heard that Billy Crystal was cast as the fire demon Calcifer, expecting him to overblow the performance. However, Crystal exercised good restraint, and did an admirable job of allowing the character get the laughs instead of the actor.

    All in all, it was a great, uplifting film that will likely get a good treatment on DVD for the animation fans to enjoy.
  • July 05, 2005

    From "Bud" to Worse

    Budweiser will be introducing a new beer hybrid called B^E, which is essentially Beer crossed with Red Bull. The Company Line:
    Anheuser-Busch is the first major brewer to infuse beer with caffeine, guarana and ginseng. Well balanced with select hops and aromas of blackberry, raspberry and cherry, BE will offer a lightly sweet and tart taste - a great mixture of beer and new flavors for adults to enjoy when out with friends at a club or at a bar after work with colleagues.

    The marketing formula goes like this: If you don't pass out (one of nature's ways of keeping you from consuming too much alcohol), you can buy more beer. Just what America needs: Drunks with more energy, able to consume greater quantities of beer in a single sitting. Thus creating a population of alcoholic supermen! (Insert evil laughter here.)

    While packaged in a slightly diminutive 10-ounce can, the beer boasts a relatively high alcohol content of 6.6% by volume. Add the Guarana and Ginseng to the mix and you've got a nice stimulant to counteract the depressant. A pedestrian dose of Crystal Meth and Downers.

    Was there a flood of customer mail to A-B saying "Beer is good, don't get me wrong. But what we need is something that makes me MORE rowdy and belligerent when they're drunk, and if possible, also keeps them this way longer. Kind of like viagra for alcohol."

    When an idea starts off this bad, it can only go downhill from there.

    July 01, 2005

    LinkNews Digest [07/01/2005]

    Only in Japan: The SpeedKitty 300

    The new bullet train is expected to surpass the French national railway's high-speed TGV and West Japan Railway's Sanyo shinkansen train, which run at a speed of 300 kph.

    The train is equipped with a new air-brake system that deploys in the event of an earthquake or other emergency. The retractable cat ear-shaped spoilers that can protrude from the roof are expected to help slow the train more quickly than conventional brakes. (Link)

    Defendant: "I Was Being Chased By CHUDs"

    A California man facing life in prison for crashing his car into a UPS truck will not dispute that his actions resulted in the death of the driver when his trial opens Monday in Nevada County Superior Court.

    Instead, Scott Krause's defense will argue that the defendant believed he was trying to escape man-eating subterranean beings when he ran into Drew Reynolds' truck on Jan. 6, 2004.

    In three court-ordered evaluations, the defendant stated he was fleeing subterranean beings he called "hemadrones" when he carjacked a commercial vehicle near a Nevada City, Calif., gas station and then crashed into Reynolds' service vehicle.

    "Everything had to do with his escape from the hemadrones," said Nevada County District Attorney Michael Ferguson. "According to the defendant, he was afraid they were going to put him in cargo and ship him to China to be eaten." (LINK)

    Scientist Creates "Zombie" dogs

    US scientists have succeeded in reviving the dogs after three hours of clinical death, paving the way for trials on humans within years.

    Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution.

    The animals are considered scientifically dead, as they stop breathing and have no heartbeat or brain activity. But three hours later, their blood is replaced and the zombie dogs are brought back to life with an electric shock. (LINK)

    "I Thought I Was Playing Fantasy Baseball..."

    TAIPEI (Reuters) - A Taiwan stock trader mistakenly bought T$7.9 billion ($251 million) worth of shares with a mis-stroke of her computer, meaning her company is looking at a paper loss of more than $12 million and she is looking for a new job.

    The trader with Fubon Securities mis-keyed in a small order from Merrill Lynch Monday, creating confusion when many small firms inexplicably surged the 7 percent trading limit.

    "Something like this is difficult to explain to superiors," a Fubon executive said Tuesday. (LINK)

    Arson-For-Grades Scam Uncovered

    HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- A chemistry teacher who was at least three months behind on her car payments gave passing grades to two failing students who stole and burned her car so she could collect insurance money, a fire investigator said.

    Aldine Senior High School teacher Tramesha Lashon Fox, 32, was charged with insurance fraud and arson, and the two students were charged with arson.

    The teens initially thought her scheme was a joke, but Fox continued to pursue them, Deutsch said. On May 27, the last day of school, the students took the unlocked 2003 Chevrolet Malibu from a shopping mall, drove it to a wooded area and set it on fire, he said.

    Fox reported the theft that day, after already having bought a 2005 Toyota Corolla, investigators said. She owed about $20,000 on the Chevrolet and had been facing repossession, Deutsch said. (LINK)