Thursday, July 13, 2017

United Breast Cancer Foundation Calls ME

I got a robo-call from the United Breast Cancer Foundation today. When I first answered, I got a pre-recorded voice with a decent response algorithm. It actually asked for me by name and responded "you're harder to get ahold of than my grandchildren". Once I realized that it was a robo-call, I started asking for an operator and the algorithm eventually directed me to a manager. That's when the fun began.

I asked the manager if he had actually met "Alice" the robo-voice. The manager said that he had. I replied that she  Alice was "available", as he felt he was making some headway with her. The manager tried to explain that Alice was pre-recorded but I kept after trying to get a date with her, making as if I didn't understand what he was talking about.

The United Breast Cancer Foundation has no independent board members and is run entirely by a single family. More than half of the money they raise goes directly to pay for more fundraising activity and only about 6% of the money they raise goes towards direct financial assistance to those in need. Even worse, if you apply for a grant, you have to pay a $50 application fee. Daily Kos rated them #4 on their list of 50 worst charities. With a rating like that, I have no qualms messing with people who are unfortunate enough to have to call on their behalf.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SNES Classic Is Coming

Coming in September is the Nintendo SNES Classic. The standalone mini console will feature 21 games, including Super Mario World, Earthbound, Super Mario Kart, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It will retail for $79.99, but, if supplies of the console are anything like its predecessor, the NES Classic, you can expect to pay upwards of $200. To be fair, Nintendo has promised to produce more of this console than it has of the previous one, but, time will tell.

Here's the full list of games that will come with the SNES Classic Edition:

  • "Contra III: The Alien Wars" 
  • "Donkey Kong Country" 
  • "EarthBound" 
  • "Final Fantasy III" 
  • "F-ZERO" 
  • "Kirby Super Star" 
  • "Kirby's Dream Course" 
  • "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" 
  • "Mega Man X" 
  • "Secret of Mana" 
  • "Star Fox" 
  • "Star Fox 2" 
  • "Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting" 
  • "Super Castlevania IV" 
  • "Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts" 
  • "Super Mario Kart" 
  • "Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars" 
  • "Super Mario World" 
  • "Super Metroid" 
  • "Super Punch-Out!!" 
  • "Yoshi's Island"
Personally, I'm not too terribly keen on having to slog through lines in Wal-Mart just to find out that some hoarder who had been up since 2am swooped in and took off with 8 consoles. Besides, the controllers are wired and the pre-installed titles are quite limited. Better to stick with an Android box with wireless controllers and an SNES emulator. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pizza Cones

My son presented me with what he considers to be the ultimate Father's Day gift: A pizza cone kit. And you know what? It's a pretty cool concept. What pizza lover wouldn't like to have a fun, portable method for eating pizza? Think of a pizza cone as a pizza pocket (calzone to us Chicagoans) with one end open. Only, it's smaller and more portable. We set our right away to make some pizza cones to enjoy for lunch. There was a bit of a learning curve involved, but, ultimately, I think we did pretty well.

To start out with, you're going to need some pizza dough. For the ultimate level of fun, you should make your own, but refrigerated pizza dough from a can will work in a pinch. We went with some generic dough from Wal-Mart. If you use pizza crust from a can, then you'll want to make sure that you have some flour on hand. Pizza dough from a can usually comes out much too moist. Toss some flour on that dough in order to soak up the moisture so that it will be much easier to knead and cut the dough.


Once your dough is prepped to your satisfaction, roll it out with a rolling pin. You're going to want to be careful here to make sure that it's thin enough to cook properly, but no so thin that your pizza ingredients will bust though the crust. Your crust will have to be wide enough to accommodate the dough shaper. We were eventually able to get two crusts cut out using the can of refrigerated dough that we had bought.

One you have your crust cut out, you're going to have to fold it over into a cone-like shape and crimp the open edges shut. Back when I worked at a mom-and-pop pizza place, we crimped the edges of our calzones by pressing down on them with a fork. Most pizza cone kits come with their own crimper, though. For extra stickability, moisten the edges of your pizza cone dough before your crimp them. What you'll end up with looks something like a Smurf hat. You'll have to carefully place your pizza cone crust around the cone shaper that is included in the kit. It can get very tricky here, so make sure you don't stretch the dough too much when you're doing this, otherwise you'll end up creating flaws or holes in your crust. It'll probably take you a few minutes to crimp and shape your pizza cone crust, so this would also a good time to pre-heat your oven to 400 °F. Make sure you put your crust on a pan when you cook it just in case disaster strikes.


Our first attempt at making pizza cone crust was a failure. The dough was too moist and we rolled it out too thin in places. Gravity won out and pulled the crust down to the pan that we had set the cones on in the oven. We were able to salvage these sorry excuses for cones by shoring them up with some of the unused dough. What came out wasn't very pretty, and was a bit chewy, but it worked and tasted fine.



One you've cooked your pizza cone crust for about 8 minutes, get them out of the oven. Let them cool off a little bit before you start adding your favorite pizza ingredients. How you add your ingredients is up to you. I'm sure that there are a variety of different ways to handle it. Personally, I try to coat the entire inside of the cone with some sauce to begin with. Then, I fill the cone about half way with sauce, add my ingredients and then cover them with sauce. I add some more cheese and toppings to the top of the cone. Once you've got your ingredients in, place your cones on a pan (once again, to make sure that any mess from disasters is minimized) and put them back in the oven (you didn't turn it off, did you?). Baking time is going to depend on how many ingredients you put in the cone and how thick your crust is. Once your ingredients are golden and bubbly, it's time to take your cones out. Again, let them sit for a bit in order to cool off.

Once you're done, you've got yourself a delicious portable pizza that you can hold in one hand, leaving your other hand free to hoist a beer or use the remote.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Imagine That - Yoko Ono Gets Writing Credit For Lennon Tune

Nearly 50 years after John Lennon released his classic song, "Imagine", his wife, Yoko Ono, is officially getting a co-writing credit on it. The surprise announcement was made at yesterday's meeting of the National Music Publisher's Association in New York City. During an interview in 1980, Lennon said that "Imagine" took inspiration from passages in Ono's 1964 book, Grapefruit and said that he should have credited the composition to Lennon-Ono. "There's a lot of pieces in it saying imagine this or imagine that," Lennon said. "I know she helped on a lot of the lyrics but I wasn't man enough to let her have credit for it. I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to take that contribution without acknowledging it. I was still full of wanting my own space after being in the room with four guys and always having to share everything".

As a Beatles fan, I'm pretty ambivalent about this. Even if Yoko isn't my favorite person in the world, it's just a song writing credit. It doesn't change the message of the song or the musicality. I do, however, appreciate the irony in Yoko pushing for credit after threatening to sue Paul McCartney for wanting to change the writing credit on some Beatles songs to "McCartney-Lennon" rather than "Lennon-McCartney".

Adding Yoko to the credits is also significant because it would extend the copyright of the song and keep it out of the public domain longer. A song enters the public domain 70 years after the death of its last songwriter. With Ono still being alive, the copyright for Imagine will still be generating royalty money for her great grandchildren to enjoy. One also has to be reminded of Paul's shenanigans with writing credits on his Ram album. Paul had been suing the Beatles at the time and, as a result, his royalties were held up in trust until the lawsuit was resolved. In order to generate some much needed revenue, Paul decided to give his wife, Linda, a writing credit on several of the songs he had been writing at the time. Paul explained, "Well, look! If my wife is actually saying 'change that' or 'I like that better than that' then I'm using her as a collaborator. I mean, John never had any input on The Long and Winding Road, and Yoko still collects royalties on it. You've gotta flow with these things. The joke at the time was that Linda was the only one getting paid in our household, because we were all held up with Apple being subject to litigation! I wasn't seeing any money.... Every businessman I had ever known was suing me. I felt, 'I'm damned if she's not gonna get paid for it; I'll put in a bill for her services!' They weren't major checks, but it was the only money we were seeing because she was the only one free of all contracts in our house".

There's certainly a segment of die-hard Beatles fans who will take issue with this, especially in light of how Yoko has torn down John's legacy before while building herself up in the process. For example, Yoko's editing of the Madison Square Garden concert video in which she used the inferior matinee show rather than the superior evening performance. She also cut away from John during some of his better moments in order to feature herself pounding on the keyboard (which wasn't even plugged in). And  there are a handful of Ono fans who will hail this as a great vindication of her talents. I think, though, that most of us are going to be taking the "not our monkey, not our circus" stance.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Another Credit Card Scammer Gets Told To F--- Off

I've certainly mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: If you get a call from a company claiming that they can lower the interest rate that you pay on your credit card, it's most likely a scam. The companies behind the sales pitches claim to have special relationships with credit card issuers, which supposedly is whey they can negotiate such low rates for you. They guarantee that the reduced rates they offer will save you thousands of dollars in interest and finance charges, and will allow you to pay off your credit card debt three to five times faster. In order to keep you from mulling over the offer for too long, they claim that the lower interest rates are available for a limited time and that you need to act now (if they have a special relationship, why would you have to act now?). Some even use money-back guarantees as a further enticement. Of course, you have to pay a fee up front in order to get in on the deal.

The truth is, people who pay for these services don't get the promised interest rate reductions, don't save the promised amounts, don't pay off their credit card debt three to five times faster, and struggle to get refunds. It's also illegal for these companies to charge a fee to a customer before they settle or reduce your debt. So, if you're looking to reduce or re-negotiate your credit card debt, you're better off doing it yourself. And, I hate to say it, but if a company is outsourcing their call center to a foreign country that employs people who speak with very thick accents, you're likely dealing with a fly-by-night operation.

Below is the latest recording of me telling a rep from one of these companies where to get off.

Friday, June 9, 2017

James Comey Likens Himself To Saint Thomas Of Beckett

I listened to former FBI Director James Comey as he testified before Congress yesterday. The media had been making the event out to be The Superbowl Of Congressional Testimonies but I knew that there wouldn't be much in the way of revelations. If there's anything to be revealed, it won't be in a public hearing. However, my ears did perk up when Comey likened himself to Saint Thomas of Beckett. It's an interesting comparison, one I think I know a fair amount about. For those of you who don't know the St. Thomas of Beckett situation, I'll explain it the best I can and draw the parallel that Comey thinks he sees.

In the 12th Century, Thomas Beckett had been working in the household of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He proved to be very good at the tasks that the Archbishop gave him, so he recommended Beckett to King Henry II (aka Henry The Plantagenet, subject of the famous play "The Lion in Winter" in which I, myself, once acted) for the position of Lord Chancellor. Thomas Beckett did so well in that position that, when the Archbishop of Canterbury died, he was nominated and confirmed as the new Archbishop. King Henry II was thrilled that he now had a man on his side in the office to approve of his morally questionable decisions. Problem is, while Beckett may have played loose with the Bible beforehand, he seemed to become a true believer once he became Archbishop.

A rift developed between the King Henry II and Thomas Beckett. Thomas Beckett refused to endorce the King's behavior, and, in turn, King Henry II spread lies and false allegations in an attempt to ruin Thomas Beckett's reputation. The breaking point came when Beckett excommunicated a number of bishops for crowing Henry The Young King as heir apparent, which circumvented Beckett's right of Coronation. Upon hearing of this, King Henry II is reported to have said "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" in the presence of four of his knights. The knights interpreted the phrase as an order and assassinated Thomas Beckett. It did not have the effect that the king desired. Thomas Beckett was venerated as a martyr and was canonized as a saint a mere two years after his death. Meanwhile, the King tried to deny that his phrase was to be taken as an order yet made no attempt to arrest the knights who assassinated Thomas Beckett.

And that's where we come to President Donald Trump and James Comey. Like Thomas Beckett, Comey has been exiled (fired and politically neutered), and defamed (Trump referred to Comey as "That nutjob" and called into question his job performance). I don't know how martyrdom would translate to the modern era, but I'm sure a case can be made for it. For me, though, I see another parallel, one that doesn't quite fit with Comey's interpretation, but one that's important all the same. According to Comey, President Trump had been trying to have Comey pledge his loyalty and ultimately said, in reference to the Michael Flynn investigation, "I hope you can let this go". Trump has denied that the conversation ever took place. However, his surrogates say that Trump uttered the phrase as a sincere hope that Flynn would ultimately cleared by the investigation not as an order to Comey to drop the investigation. Comey has testified that he interpreted the phrase as a veiled order which would be obstruction of justice.

So, where are we legally? Can one reasonably interpret the phrase "I hope you can let this go" as an order? Context and nuance are key here. Even though Trump didn't say "I order you to drop the investigation", courts have ruled in the past that similar phrases can be seen as direct orders. Witness the stereotypical mob enforcer phrase: "This is a nice business you have here. It'd be a shame if something happened to it". No threat is made in the literal sense, but the implication behind it is well known. Whether this leads to anything with Trump is anybody's guess at the moment. My own thought is that, unless tapes of the conversation exists (which Trump has alleged via Twitter) it'll just boil down to "He Said/She Said" and that won't be enough to prove obstruction.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Dominos Pizza Rewards Account Got Hacked

I was half asleep last night at about 11pm when I heard my phone buzz. I looked over at it and saw the notification from Dominos that my order was on the way. I hadn't ordered anything in my sleep since that Ambien incident back in my college days, so I figured that the notification was a delayed e-mail from a previous order I had made from Dominos. I opened the e-mail and, sure enough, someone had ordered two pizzas at 11:06pm from a Dominos halfway across the United States from me. I thought perhaps the person who ordered accidentally used my e-mail address, as it's similar to a few others out there and is occasionally fat-fingered. I logged into my Domino's account to be sure and, unfortunately, someone had gotten into it, redeemed the two free pizza rewards that I had built up and made an order. What kind of world are we living in when someone will be petty enough to steal a man's pizza?

The phone number to the store that the pizzas were ordered from was listed on the order receipt, so I called them up and asked them to cancel the order. The manager told me that I was too late, that the pizza purloiner had already picked it up. The order had come in at 11:06pm and I called the store at 11:22pm. That's just about 15 minutes, which is the average cook time for a Domino's Pizza. The guy must have gone to pick it up just after ordering it. I asked the manager if he could refund my points, but he said that only corporate could do that. Okay, not a big deal. It's just pizza, and I honestly don't begrudge some pizza to someone else who might need it more than I do. It's what the manager said afterwards that pissed me off:

"Yeah, I thought it was probably fake since your account is based in a different city and the name on the order is 'The Pizza Man'. We get about one of those per week". So, he suspected it was a falsified order, yet he didn't call the number listed on it to verify? Had he done so, he'd have been met with a non-working number and he could have then called my phone number which was still listed in the account profile. But, he's just a manager, and it's just a couple of pizzas and it's probably not worth the effort. I completely understand.

Apparently, back in December of 2016, Dominos notified their customers that their MyDominos site may have been compromised and that everyone should change their passwords. I must have somehow missed that e-mail. Rather than filling up everyone's SPAM folder with those requests, Dominos should have made the change mandatory to all customers upon logging into their website. But, that obviously didn't happen.

I called Dominos corporate this morning and got the issue straightened out and my pizza rewards refunded.

Here are a few tips that you should use with every restaurant website in order to make sure that, if you ever do get hacked, the damage will be minimal.

  • NEVER store credit card information. I know it's convenient, especially if you order often, but if someone does access your account and charges food to your credit card, you'll have to deal with two companies instead of one

  • Redeem your rewards ASAP. If there are no rewards available, there's no reason to hack your account. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hands On With The Samsung DeX Station

One of the big selling points of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is that they are the first phones to feature the Samsung Desktop Experience (DeX). All you need to do is purchase the Samsung DeX station which is a hockey-puck looking dock that features an HDMI connection for display and sound, an Ethernet port, and two USB 2.0 ports. Unfortunately, if you usually keep your phone in a case of some sort, you'll probably have to take it off in order to put your phone onto the DeX Station. I'm sure Samsung will eventually remedy this by selling "DeX Compatible" cases for the S8 and S8 Plus. And forget about trying to use a generic USB-C adapter with HDMI and USB. I tried that. The Hoo Too adapter that I use to extend my Chromebook Plus screen to an external monitor and add USB devices doesn't do the job. Something must be embedded in the DeX Station itself must be triggering the phone to jump into DeX mode.
DeX Station: Inspired By Wayne Gretzky?

Imagine being on a business trip, sitting in your hotel room and you've got some last minute work to do. You could drag out the laptop or the tablet if you bothered to bring them along and hope that they have enough of a charge to power up. Or, you can hook up Samsung DeX to your Galaxy S8, plug an HDMI cable into your hotel television, connect a USB keyboard and mouse and start working on that PowerPoint presentation or that Excel spreadsheet. If you need to do something that requires a bit more processing power, Samsung suggests that you connect to a remote desktop via Microsoft Remote Desktop or VMWare Horizon View. Once you connect your phone, to the DeX attachment, it'll start running in DeX mode and you'll be presented with a desktop interface:



Kinda bland looking, right? Looks like Samsung is trying really hard to get you to use that piece of bundled bloatware that they call a browser by any means necessary. Not to worry, though, because you can customize your desktop by arranging icons, putting apps in the taskbar and changing your desktop wallpaper.




Marvelous! Now that's what I call a heroic desktop. Now, let's get to work. One of the first things you'll notice is that a lot of apps aren't expecting to be expanded up to the size of a desktop. If you launch such an app, like, Goat Simulator, it'll just occupy a phone-sized portion of your desktop:


Well, this really breaks my immersion. And it turns out that a lot of Android games aren't exactly optimized for playing with a keyboard and mouse. My poor goat couldn't get himself turned around via keyboard controls. With a few other games, I found that the mouse curser is too small to register as a finger-touch so many pop-up menus can't be dismissed. And Netflix hasn't yet caught on to what Samsung DeX is doing, so the Netflix app doesn't scale up to full screen either. You can try going to Netflix through Chrome but that will only kick you back over to the Netflix app. I suppose you could change your browser identification to make it look like you're coming from a Windows machine and that might work, but I didn't want to mess with that.

In order to minimize these sort of compatibility issues, Samsung keeps a list of "DeX Optimized" apps, the Microsoft Office apps being chief among them. They open full screen with no problem, although the Android apps are just glorified web browsers wrapping around Office 365. And, for movies, Google Play Movies works great.

Now, you might eventually ask what happens if a phone call comes through while you're on DeX. Well, the call will come in, you'll get a notification on the screen and you can answer the phone via speaker or bluetooth headset or you can pull the phone out of the DeX Station and answer it like normal.

One further thing I feel the need to mention is that, after bombing out with Netflix, I tried to connect my Passport drive to the DeX Station so that I could watch some movies that I had ripped. It seems that the USB 2.0 on the DeX Station was powerful enough to nudge the drive awake, but, ultimately, my Passport drive wouldn't spin up and so DeX couldn't mount it. Bummer. It works just fine with my Chromebook Plus. There's probably a way around this, but I suspect that if I did manage to get DeX to mount the drive, VLC would not open up full size to play the movie anyway.

To sum the whole thing up, I'd say that, for right now, Samsung DeX is all work and no play. It's still a fairly new thing, but, if it catches on, more and more apps will come out with DeX support. I think that once DeX starts to get a little more widespread support it'll be an amazing experience.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Error 1935 When Installing A Third Party App On Windows 10

I've had to install a lot of apps on a Windows 10 virtual desktop image lately and have run into a lot of frustration regarding Error 1935 and a message similar to "An error occurred during the installation of assembly...". Scouring the Internet, I saw a lot of references to uninstalling and re-installing the .NET framework and/or Windows Installer. And while that seems to have worked for a small number of people, I didn't want to take that drastic step unless I absolutely had no other options. A lot of other people had better luck with resetting the Windows file system transaction log. In order to do that, you drop down to a command prompt and type:

fsutil resource setautoreset true C:\

But how can the Windows file system transaction log be full on a fresh install? It made no sense to me, but I tried it anyway. And guess what? It didn't work.

I started to wonder if perhaps it had something to do with installing 32bit apps on a 64bit operating system. Normally, it isn't much of an issue, but I could see where perhaps an installer is trying to force something into the wrong sized peg. That line of thinking brought me to registry size, which should be unlimited in anything past Windows XP. But what if some third party installers are still doing a check for a size limit? Maybe the code is checking for a size limit, finding it undefined and assuming that it's used up? It was worth a try, and it beat potentially spending a day mucking with .NET framework and Windows Installer. I dove into the registry via regedit.exe and did the following.

  • Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control
  • Created a REG_DWORD Key: RegistrySizeLimit
  • Set the value of that key to: ffffffff (hexadecimal).
  • Reboot
That did the trick. I suspect that a number of third party installers are inadvertently using some old code that is checking for a size limit on the registry and in some unique cases are spitting out an error when they can't find one. I don't have the time or desire to track down the exact circumstances that cause the error. I just know that this solution works even though it really shouldn't. Just for safety sake, I would take out the key after successfully doing the install. Or, at least run sfc /scannow to make sure nothing has mucked up your machine. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Gianforte Puts The Political Smack Down

On May 24th, Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian attempted to ask Greg Gianforte, Republican candidate for Montana's at-large U.S. Congressional district, his position on the American Health Care Act (TrumpCare) now that the Congressional Budget Office report had come out. According to Jacobs, Gianforte reacted angrily to the question and "bodyslammed" him to the ground, breaking his glasses in the process. Gianforte was initially unapologetic, blaming the incident on Jacobs, saying that Jacobs grabbed Gianforte's wrist, causing them both to fall to the ground. Unfortunately for Gianforte, an audio recording of the incident surfaced and appeared to support Jacobs' version of events. Other reporters who were present at the scene also corroborated Jacobs' version of events. Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who witnessed the incident, said "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground," then "began punching the man" and "yelling something to the effect of 'I'm sick and tired of this!'"; Acuna added that Jacobs was not showing physical aggression prior to Gianforte's outburst. Gianforte was booked for misdemeanor assault.

The incident was shocking enough that three of Montana's largest newspapers pulled their endorsement of Gianforte. The incident and Gianforte's subsequent lie regarding it were met with a smattering of condemnation from Republican leaders, but many of Gianforte's future colleagues doubled down in support of him. Montana State Senator, Jennifer Fielder went so far as to accuse Ben Jacobs of baiting Gianforte for publicity on the eve of the election: "About the Gianforte altercation with the liberal reporter... I would like to see an investigation into the 'agitator training' leftist 'journalists' receive. Good journalists are respectful, but I have noticed a definite trend in agitator tactics being used by liberal operatives acting as reporters. They intentionally try to blindside you, push a predetermined adversarial narrative, persist with badgering questions (often about material you haven't even seen yet), rudely interrupt and intrude into your personal space, and whatever else they can do to provoke a controversial response. Guess Ben Jacobs got more than he bargained for when he decided to tangle with Greg Gianforte!". This, from the so-called "party of family values". I guess "turning the other cheek" now means "putting the other guy on his ass". I'm awaiting comparisons with Jesus' confrontation of the money changers. Political pundit Laura Ingram took it a step further by shaming the victim: "Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man? Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?

A number of Gianforte's supporters back in Montana have tried to explain away his actions, reasoning that the incident was the result of a liberal trick pulled on the eve of the election. One of Gianforte's supporters on Facebook remarked: "This smells strongly of a set up! Too bad Greg got caught by it. Wouldn't have changed my vote for him though. Wish his staffers would have handled it. Tired of all the out of state interference in this whole campaign. Still pulling for Greg !" Even if it were true, I don't think Greg Gianforte being dumb enough to fall for such a trick so easily is a positive. Who would want to vote for a guy that dumb? And then there's the moron going on about "innocent until proven guilty" while his profile picture is Hilary Clinton in a jailhouse jumpsuit with the caption "Lock Her Up!".

We're in a dangerous era on both sides of the party lines when alpha-male politics are excused and even celebrated. When we refuse to condemn those who represent us for their reprehensible actions, we're no longer arguing political philosophy, we're treating politics as a spectator sport and are cheering for our team to win at all costs. We need to at least hold our elected officials to the same standards we hold ourselves to. Ideally, we need to hold them to a higher standard than the ones we set for ourselves. Conservative columnist Mona Charen put it best and gives me hope that some sanity still exists out there. Both sides of the political coin should take note: "None of this is a gray area. You either uphold certain basic standards of decency or you don't. Some who call themselves conservatives have shown that they are nothing of the kind. To be conservative is to be honorable. These are contemptible, partisan hacks".

Monday, May 8, 2017

BBQ PayDay CandyBar

Okay, I admit it: I enjoy the occasional PayDay bar. When placed among other, more chocolatey creations in your supermarket's impulse buy aisle, the PayDay seems like the odd man out. It's salty, rather than sweet and it's chewy rather than melty. That's what I like about it. It's a change of pace. It clears the palate, thus readying your tastebuds for something like a Whatchamacallit.
BBQ PayDay CandyBar. Try It If You Dare!

That being said, I was taken aback when I was at the gas station this weekend buying fountain drinks for my wife and myself. While I was eyeing a pack of Mentos, the cashier shouted "You should try one of those BBQ PayDay bars" to me. I guess I was open to suggestions, because I picked one up.

"Are they popular?", I asked.

"Nope. You're the first one to even consider buying one".

I can understand why. The very thought of BBQ seasoning on a candy bar was enough to turn my stomach. Even worse, the candy bar itself looks, at best, like a regular PayDay that had been left outside all day. At worst, it looks like a PayDay bar that had been swallowed whole and crapped out the other end. I should have cut my losses, but, damn it, I spent a dollar on this thing (On Sale, no less! Damn gas station prices) and I wasn't about to let that money go to waste.

If you're even remotely inclined to taste the BBQ PayDay yourself, let me save you the trouble. It taste likes sadness. It reminds me of those trick jellybeans that taste like awful things like boogers and grass. If the BBQ PayDay bar were a trick jellybean, its flavor would be "old socks". It's an attempt at adding a spicy kick to the usual salty taste and it just doesn't work. I think maybe PayDay should have gone the other way and coated the bar in sweet BBQ sauce rather than spicy BBQ flavoring.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Review

I picked up the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus last week. My old Galaxy S6 Edge had taken a nasty spill on my driveway a few months ago and ended up with a cracked screen (this is why we can't have nice things) so I waited out my contract and upgraded to the Galaxy S8+ when the time came. Straight out of the box, I was struck immediately by two things: 1) It's a big phone and 2) I hope it doesn't explode. That being said, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is an absolutely gorgeous phone with some amazing features and a few annoyances.

Amazing Features:

  • The screen practically melts into the phone itself via a curve rather than an edge which makes the phone much easier to hold than the S7 Edge or the S6 Edge. This cuts down on accidental touch registers on the edges of the screen.
  • The return of removable storage. The lack of an SD slot really annoyed me on my Galaxy S6 Edge. I had been taking pictures while camping and didn't have a decent cell connection so my photos didn't get backed up during the trip. My phone bricked near the end of the trip and I had no way to get into the phone and retrieve the pictures. The Galaxy S8 has brought back the SD card and now I'm happily saving my photos to my expandable storage again. 
  • The Home Button is part of the screen, which frees up valuable screen real estate
  • IP68 water resistant compliance which means the S8 can endure being submerged in 5 feet of water for 30 minutes. 
  • Battery life so far has been great. My Galaxy S6 Edge could not survive the night on a full charge. The battery life on my Galaxy S8 Plus is much better, draining down to only 98% overnight from a full charge at bedtime. 
  • The Camera is phenomenal. Going from the S6 to the S8 is quite a jump, though my friends who have the S7 aren't nearly as impressed. It's so incredibly quick to snap that I feel I can take some great sport pictures. The native Samsung camera app has a bunch of Snapchat-like filters and flairs, but I have little use for them. The front camera has some pretty forgiving filters, thus ensuring that sleepy bedhead TommyMac is just a tad more dashing than usual. 

Annoyances: 
  • Bixby. It's Samsung's answer to Google Assistant and it's like some annoying helicopter mom decided that her previous Bixby needed some time in the Sun even though he's not nearly up to the task. Samsung has gone so far as to dedicate a physical button to launching Bixby and has been vigorously trying to destroy any attempts to remap that button to other uses (such as launching Google Assistant instead). Bixby is even integrated into the camera in order to perform Google Goggles type functions. It wouldn't be so bad if Bixby actually worked as intended, but, currently, many of its promised features aren't yet up-and-running. 
  • Without a case, the Galaxy S8 Plus feels very fragile. That's probably just because I'm a klutz, though. 
  • The fingerprint scanner is on the back of the phone next to the camera. Try not to smudge the camera lens if you often use the fingerprint scanner to unlock. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Another SEO Scammer Calls Me

I had been getting a number of e-mails from various tech companies wanting to help me improve my website ranking. One in particular got my attention because the language behind it was only slightly off kilter, like speaking to a European who had only been in the United States for a few weeks and hadn't quite gotten hip to the nuances of American English. 

The one line that struck me right away was "There is some lacuna in your website which needs to be improved so that your website becomes visible on top of the Search Engines and eventually help you get more traffic and more business". The author uses the word "lacuna" to indicate "gap" and it's not a word you'll hear commonly used in the United States. I'm only aware of it because it's used to indicate a period of silence within a piece of music. The author of the e-mail used it incorrectly, as lacuna is the singular form and lacunae is the plural, a fact I learned from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the third episode of Season 7, "Interface", we see Commander Data staring at a blank screen when in fact, he what he is viewing is a lacuna within an alien poem. The ancient Doosodarians were known for their poetry that contained lacunae which sometimes measured several days in length. During this pause, the poet and audience are encouraged to acknowledge the "emptiness" of the experience. The Doosodarians believed that while the poem may be blank, the emptiness itself had a poetic meaning, so it could not be considered "nothing" as such.

After some back and forth over e-mail, I finally got a rep from the company to call. As suspected, the caller had a noticeable foreign accent. Clovis answered and passed the phone to Diksmash. After hearing the pitch, Diksmash successfully negotiated a deal with the sales rep where the rep would issue a bill for $1,000, of which Diksmash would keep $500 and kick $500 to the company. Clovis interrupted the call, said he'd been listening the entire time and was going to call the police. The conversation was turned over to a manager who attempted to do some damage control. Clovis kept talking over him, asking him for his company's address. The manager kept refusing, trying to refer Clovis to a doctored up website instead. Clovis responded by singing his ABCs which really seemed to set the manager off. Just before hanging up, the manager exclaims: "go call the police. I don't give a damn. Bye bye".


Monday, April 17, 2017

Kalahari Resort at Wisconsin Dells

Growing up in Suburban Chicago in the 70's and 80's, the Wisconsin Dells was a fairly popular vacation destination among my friends and their families.   Back then, the tourist activities in the Wisconsin Dells centered around small amusement parks, nature tours, the Wonder Spot, Tommy Bartlett's Thrill Show and its various knockoffs and, of course Noah's Ark Waterpark. My own family preferred Door County to the Wisconsin Dells despite the fairly intense advertising blitz that would go on during the warmer months of the year. I can still remember the jingle: "Mother Nature created the beauty, we created the fun! The Wisconsin Dells, a great time for everyone!"  

So, it wasn't without a bit of bemusement that I took my family up to the Kalahari Resort at Wisconsin Dells this past weekend. I had heard that the Dells had been expanding its waterpark offerings since the 90s to the point where Lake Delton is now considered "The Water Park Capital Of The World". I expected to be crush amidst a throng of tourists while being fleeced in every way possible from various theme parks with their hands in my pocket. But, to my surprise, it was actually a very pleasant and fun experience overall. We got a nice, spacious room with two queen beds, pull out sofa, fridge and a very large television. Access to the theme park at Kalahari is included in the room price. Access to the water park is extra, but I didn't feel like it was an unreasonable amount. Kalahari is even nice enough to refrain from locking down the room's television so that it can access USB media, thus allowing me to play movies from my USB drive. The prices at the restaurants and concession stands were pretty reasonable except for a few items (bottled soda being the obvious outlier). And, in general, there was something for everyone. My youngest son was an exception, but he's a rather odd demographic since he's nearly 5 and is very short for his age so he isn't tall enough to go on a lot of the rides in the theme park that interest him yet the rides he's able to go on are too "young" for his age.

I'm nearly petrified of heights, so the ropes course which consists of various climbing elements suspended 2 - 3 stories off the ground was a considerable challenge to me. My five-year-old was a real trooper for most of it and I reasoned that, if he could brave it, then I could too. Plus, they latch everyone in with a rope system so that, if you do fall, you won't get hurt. Still, I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of dangling from a rope while waiting for someone to pull me back onto the course. The rules of the course state that participants should empty their pockets and that no cell phones or cameras are allowed. Still, I brought my smartphone up and took pictures of my son crossing various obstacles. I did get caught by a Kalahari employee at one point, but he was cool about it and just asked me to put it away.

The water park at Kalahari is a lot of fun and I think that there's a decent balance between things to do for adults and things to do for kids. There's a lazy river, a number of kids areas, a swim up bar, an indoor/outdoor spa and a whirlpool spa. There are a number of different water slides to choose from that zip all over the water park. My own favorite is the Tanzanian Twister, a spiral flume ride that spins you around the flume at about 40 miles per hour before dropping you out from the bottom of the flume into the pool below. Now I know what being a flushed turd feels like.

If I have one complaint about Kalahari, it centers around the ability to capture the experience. There weren't many group photo ops available. On every trip, I like to get at least one picture of the entire family together, and it's not easy to do so. Having a photo op managed by resort staff is something I often rely on in order to make that happen. Near as I could tell, Kalahari had only one available and it was only for about an hour or so. There's also the Virtual Area, which I think is a lot of fun, but the lack of video recording availability is a bit of a let down because it would be pretty fun to see how ridiculous everyone acts while they're putzing around in a virtual reality realm. These are just minor nit-picks, though. We had a great time overall.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RIP J. Geils

John "J" Geils, guitarist and founder of The J. Geils Band, passed away at the age of 71 last night. He was found in his home, and all indications are that he died of natural causes.

This one actually hit me pretty hard. "Freeze Frame" was the first album I ever bought.

It was at the dawn of the Mtv Era. For a kid like me, "Centerfold" was the perfect video. It featured a bunch of pretty girls, of course, but the band itself was an eclectic mix of characters, bookended by a cool lead singer and an aloof guitarist. These weren't the type of people you'd see in music videos today. The band members were in their late 30's rather than their early-to-mid 20s and they lacked a certain polish. That was fine by me, because, at the time, when compared to my peers, I lacked a certain polish. The video for "Centerfold" held a special place in my mind. My fevered adolescent fantasies featured myself as Peter Wolf among the various hot girls who went to my school who wouldn't ever talk to me much less do a dance routine in the middle of the classroom. My mix of misfit friends was cast as the band with my best friend serving as J. Geils.

"Freeze Frame" was the second video from the album. The band was having a great time throwing paint at each other and there was this weird animation thingy in the middle that I found fascinating. I was sold! "Freeze Frame" would be my first official album purchase. The moment I got my allowance, I was off to K-Mart to pick it up. I can remember the moment that I first picked up that record. I pulled it from the rack and raised it up slightly above my eye-level. It was like finding a legendary treasure that you'd only read about in books. Yet, here it was before me in all its vinyl glory! No longer would I have to listen to "Freeze Frame", "Centerfold" or "Angel in Blue" at the whim of Mtv. I was in control now.

There was a slight problem: The final song on the album is "Piss On The Wall". Should my mother happen to see such vulgarity, especially in print, the album would surely have been confiscated. Luckily, my oldest brother was old enough to have fewer restrictions on his purchases. He offered to hold onto "Freeze Frame" for me, as if it were part of his collection. I could listen to it in his room any time I wanted. With the headphones on. I wore down the needle on his record player listening to it.

"Love Stinks" started getting some play on Mtv but, to my astonishment, it wasn't on "Freeze Frame". It was from a different album, one that had come out before "Freeze Frame". What?? There was life before Freeze Frame? With my next allowance, I went out and bought it. This time, however, I did not want go to K-Mart with my mom and run the risk of there possibly being another vulgar song title which my mom might possibly see and use as a reason to veto the purchase, so my brother took me to an actual record store to buy it. When I got there, I discovered that there were SEVERAL J. Geils Band albums that had been made before "Freeze Frame".

Over the next few months, I used my allowance to buy them too. I was astonished at what I'd heard. Instead of happy, goofy pop music, I was treated to bluesy, angsty, soulful music. It was such a departure from what Mtv told me to expect, but that was a good thing. It opened up a whole new world for me because, before they were the momentary darlings of Mtv, the J. Geils Band were the masters of East Coast blues-rock. I started to investigate bands with similar sounds and buy their albums.

This was a serious addiction. I used money that was normally allocated for buying Star Wars guys or GI Joes to buy music. I not only bought albums, but I investigated the stories behind the bands. I wanted to know about them, so I bought magazines like Rolling Stone so I could read album reviews and interviews. I'd even go so far as to look up articles in the periodicals index in my school library. When I reached High School, I toyed with the idea of becoming a music journalist or a DJ so that I could interview my favorite bands. And when I do some side work as a DJ, in the back of my head, I wanted to sit both J. Geils and Peter Wolf down in a room together and have them take me through the conception of each and every song they wrote (which can never happen now). They say that at some point, ever child must put away his toys and take up the implements that make him a man. Well, the J. Geils Band and "Freeze Frame" started me on that journey. I became a man because of that album. And, years later, upon discovering that a middle school crush had become an amateur cam model? Well, my blood ran cold.....

Creative differences between J. Geils and Peter Wolf eventually led to Wolf leaving the band in 1983. They'd reunite several times over the years for one-off shows here and there, but an argument led to the band touring without Geils, who then sued everyone and quit the band for good. I had hoped that the band would get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and patch things up again. A reunion won't ever happen again, but maybe we can still get them into the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, RIP J. Geils. Your music made me a fan not only of your band, but of music itself.

I'm going to listen to the Best of J. Geils Band, then I'm going to spin up Peter Wolf's "Sleepless", which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest albums ever made. You should too.