Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Conquered By Hot Sauce

I used to think that I had a very high tolerance for hot sauce. When I was a child growing up, my father often concocted chili that was so hot, it was possible to see through multiple parallel dimensions after consuming it. I think he even snuck hot sauce into my scrambled eggs on more than one occasion just to make sure I could handle it. So, it wasn't without reason that I confidently bragged to a friend who was hosting a Christmas party that I could easily tolerate his home made hot sauce.

I defiantly slathered the hot sauce onto a spoonful of chili. The sauce was flavorful and certainly brought the heat. I thought very little of the lingering effect as I put my coat on and prepared to stroll home. Soon, I felt as if the sauce was melting a hole through my cast iron stomach. It was a mere 20 degrees out yet I was sweating bullets. My legs began to buckle as I trudged through the snow. The only thing keeping me from collapsing into the snow was the distinct fear that I would wake up to the ghost Sir Alec Guinness telling me that I had to go to the Dagobah system.

By the time I pushed through the front door, I was crawling on the floor. I made my way to the bathroom where I ended up flushing the chili, the sauce and a large percentage of my pride down the toilet. Whatever was in that sauce was not meant to be digested by us mere mortals; it could only be consumed by Prometheus himself.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Degree Connections Calls Me

A recruiter from Degree Connections called me today. When she told me her name, I made as if I believed that she was a close friend of the family, asked her why she hadn't visited for Christmas and then began to regale her with tales from the family Christmas party. She could hardly get a word in. Have a listen for yourself below.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tron: Legacy Review

Jason and I went out and saw Tron: Legacy last night. We were going to try to catch it in 3D, but, since I got the times wrong, we settled for the normal version.

There has been quite a bit of critical panning of the film and unadulterated nerd rage over it. This is bound to happen with any "big picture" film like this. Tron: Legacy is supposed to be a look inside the head of a technocrat, and this particular technocrat is a person whose mind is a generation ahead of what most critics have any connection with. A lot of the story is in the visuals, yet people who don't pay attention to the dialog or just dismiss it as nonsense because it invokes concepts many people sneer at, such as Zen philosophy won't get the story. They will see the screenplay as vague and poorly explained.

That's not to say that the screenplay is Shakespeare. It needs some tightening up here and there. A number of things need to be justified and explained better so that an overage of thought isn't required to work backwards and rationalize why some things happened. Still, there are some great ideas here that work very well which, in some ways, makes up for a less-than-perfect script. A recurring theme in the story centers around the illusion of perfection which makes complaining about the flaws ironic if taken too far.

We also need to remember that the iconic character in the film series is not Tron (whom, granted, we see very little of), it's Kevin Flynn. He's a hero to a generation of geeks, and is the originator of the modern "space cowboy" hacker persona. I love Jeff Bridges in this film, but, let's face it, the guy is old. After so much time, we can't expect him to slip back into the role, hence the inclusion of Sam Flynn and the "Legacy" part of Tron: Legacy.

What seeing the elder Flynn does for us is give us the idea that we're on a tour of Flynn's vast imagination set in a postmodern environment that we never saw. Kevin Flynn no doubt had all sorts of adventures on the Grid that we never had a chance to witness. Because of that, there's more than a bit of sad nostalgia when we see that Kevin Flynn is past his prime.

In short, it's a beautiful, visually stunning film with a lot of subtext and more than a few flaws. However, it was worth the price of admission and, like the original, will benefit from multiple viewings.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where The Dickens Did This Christmas Madness Come From?

So, the big day is nearly upon us. As we venture towards yet another Christmas I've noticed among the tide of revelry, the old familiar tinge of Christmas humbug. It's little more than annoying background noise, but it comes in two forms: cries from people who want to put "Christ" back in Christmas and objections from those who can't handle the onslaught of religious imagery that accompanies the holiday season.

A few centuries ago, Christmas celebrations were little more than community-based or church-centered observations and did not approach the level of festiveness that we see today. Indeed, the were highly reverent, utterly boring observances. Christmas just wasn't considered that big of a deal after the pagans went underground and the Puritans got hold of it. Easter was the higher holy day.

All of that changed in the late 1800's after the publication of a little novel called "A Christmas Carol". You know the story. Even if you haven't read the book or haven't seen a classical movie adaptation, you must at least be aware of the Mickey Mouse or Billy Murray versions. Even Mr. Magoo blindly attempted an interpretation. Anyway, after the publication of "A Christmas Carol", Christmas had a revival. However, instead of a stolid religious observation, Christmas became a family oriented festival of generosity.

Whether or not you attach a religious significance to the holiday, the traditions that have developed over the last 100 years are important because they bring us together as a nation. Christmas has become a time where we can express our love to friends and family and recognize our good fortune in life by giving to those who are not so fortunate. It is also a time for children to bask in their innocence while allowing adults to briefly re-live those carefree days of youth.

In short, Christmas is here and it's not going anywhere. No matter which side of the argument you're on, you need to let it go. Quit yer bitching and have yourself a glass of spiked egg nog and enjoy yourself.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tonight's Lunar Eclipse

Tonight, at 6:38pm Eastern Standard Time the winter solstice will occur. The winter solstice occurs exactly when the Earth's axial tilt is at its farthest away from the Sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. One of the effects of the winter solstice is that it marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It also just so happens that there will be a lunar eclipse tonight as well, which will make tonight an especially eerie evening for folks given to superstition.

One of my favorite stories about lunar eclipses involves Christopher Columbus. He and his crew had been stranded in Jamaica for a few months in 1504. Initially, the natives welcomed him and his crew and provided them with food. At some point, however, the crew stole from the natives and the food shipments stopped. Consulting an almanac he had with him, Columbus noticed the date and the time of an upcoming lunar eclipse. Columbus then requested a meeting the native tribal chief and told him that his god was angry with the local people's treatment of Columbus and his men. Columbus said his god would provide a clear sign of his displeasure by making the rising full Moon appear "inflamed with wrath".

I can almost hear the chief laughing in Columbus' face. Of course, the red moon appeared on schedule, and the natives were both impressed and frightened. They came running from every direction to Columbus' ships laden with provisions, praying to Columbus to intercede with his god on their behalf. Columbus timed the eclipse with his hourglass, and shortly before the totality ended after 48 minutes, he told the frightened indigenous people that they were going to be forgiven. When the moon started to reappear from the shadow of the Earth, he told them that his god had pardoned them.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ringing The Bell For The Salvation Army

I had the opportunity to do some work-sanctioned volunteer work the other day. I chose to become a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is one of the world's largest providers of social aid, helping more than 32 million people in the U.S. alone. The American Institute of Philanthropy constantly rates The Salvation Army highly, indicating that they're a good, safe cause to donate time and money to. Besides, I had always thought that being a bell ringer for the red kettle looked like fun.

So, while wearing a goofy Santa hat and a pair of festive sunglasses, I took up the apron and bell and started my tenure as a guardian of the red kettle. Donations started coming in almost immediately. One young child passing by admonished me for not singing. I resisted the urge to sing "Hells Bells" and struggled to think of a Christmas carol that I knew all of the words to that hadn't been written by the creators of South Park. The best I could do was muddle through a few verses of "Let it Snow".

About thirty minutes into my ringing, I pivoted around wrong and aggravated a leg injury I had sustained while I was in college. I bit my lip hard to avoid screaming out in pain. I couldn't put any weight on my leg. I leaned back against the wall to balance myself, still ringing the bell. Moments later, an elderly man hobbled over to me, looked me up and down and said "You know, you're allowed to take a break, son". I smiled and indicated that I would be okay after a minute or two.

It turns out that the old timer had been a long time bell ringer for the Salvation Army but had to eventually drop out due to failing health. "It's always nice to see someone volunteer to help keep the crap pot boiling who isn't homeless or a convicted felon". He continued on to tell me about how he worried that the kettles and the ringers were becoming little more than scenery and background noise during the Christmas season. He blamed some of this on the so-called innovations that had begun to crop up. "You know, they have self-ringing kettles now? Some kettles even take credit cards", he told me.

My new friend took a moment to belt out a few verses of "Silent Night" with his towering tenor. All the while, people shuffled by. Some of them donated, some of them didn't. And before he left, the old timer gave me some advice: "Stay warm. Celebrate any donations, but don't take rejections personally. Keep a smile on your face.  And, above all, keep that bell ringing". I'd say that's good advice for just about any situation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Coffee Miracle

I braved the cold earlier this morning to drag my frozen self down to a Christmas reception thrown by the administration office. In the past, these receptions had been somewhat grand affairs, offering some very satisfying hors d'oeuvres. This year, however, there wasn't much to pick through. Instead of sweedish meatballs and nacho chips with queso dip, there were sugar cookies and sliced fruit. It seems that the poor economic conditions have trickled down and dried up the budget for holiday festivities. I suppose I should have expected it, as last year's fest offered hot chocolate that seemed to have been made by running dust bunnies through a filter and dunking a few Hersey bars into the mix. Alas, there were no hot drinks this year, so I had to confront my arch nemesis, the Gourmet Coffee Machine, in the hopes of finding a hot beverage to warm my chilled bones.

Avid readers of this site will certainly recall examples of how this particular machine likes to troll me. So, it wasn't without a great degree of hesitation that I approached the machine. I made sure that the power was on and that the buttons were working correctly. I then opened up the beverage receptacle and ensured that there was not already a cup sitting in there, as it had happened to me before. Nervously, I put my dollar in and picked my selection. Good old 1-H-3. French Vanilla.

The machine whirred to life and I heard a cup drop down. I looked into the receptacle. Crapola! The cup was caught in the chute. With lightning reflexes, I reached into the receptacle and put the cup in its proper position just as the coffee began to flow. Thirty seconds later, I was drinking a cup of hot, delicious French Vanilla flavored coffee.

This victory alone was enough to fill me with the Christmas spirit for the next few weeks. Now, I'll have no need to visit with those three ghosts Jacob Marley keeps bothering me about.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quoting Benjamin Franklin

I've been a party to a lot discussions recently, both on and offline, regarding the latest enhanced screening procedures enacted by the TSA. In an effort to detect emerging threats to airline security, the TSA has begun deploying backscatter x-ray machines which leave little to the imagination and allow the screener to see more than some people are comfortable with. Those who do not wish to be x-rayed may opt out for a thorough pat-down instead which involves touching of the genital area. Is this a necessary evil to allow for our continued safety or is it a violation of the 4th Amendment? Personally, my mind isn't made up yet. I'll do so once I've had to endure the procedures myself.

A certain quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin is making the rounds in reaction to this debate. If you've followed the debate at all, you've probably seen some variation of it: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety". It's a good quote. It succinctly sums up the argument against the new TSA enhanced screening procedures. The trouble is, it's not necessarily attributable to Franklin. The quote appeared in that form on the dedication page of a book titled An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania authored by Richard Jackson. The book was published by Franklin in 1759. 

It would also be correct to use this specific derivative of the quote: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety". The quote, in that form, appeared sometime in early 1775 as part of Franklin's notes for a proposition at the Pennsylvania Assembly. When he wrote it down, however, he wrote it between quotation marks. Was he intending to quote Richard Jackson? Franklin had admitted that he himself was responsible for some small parts of Jackson's book, so perhaps what Franklin write in 1775 was the quote in its true form.

The two quotes above are almost certainly descended from something Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanack in 1738: "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power".It doesn't quite convey the idea with the same passion as the previous quotes, but the seed had been planted, to be sure.

It's all just minutia anyway, right? The exact wording doesn't really matter so long as the thought is still conveyed correctly. What's really important, in this case, is that we ask ourselves whether or not we are willing to give up certain freedoms in order to feel secure. And, if we are indeed willing to give up those freedoms, were we truly free to begin with?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Proxy Pro

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Proxy Networks. All opinions are 100% mine.

Being a computer guy is a lot like being a doctor. Customers are always asking me to diagnose their computers based simply upon a laundry list of vague symptoms. Unlike most doctors, however, I'm expected to make house calls. There just isn't enough free time in my busy schedule to allow me to visit every single client I have who has a computer problem. That's why I think that PC Remote Access is an excellent product.

Proxy Pro 7 Remote Desktop Software allows you to remote control any computer in real time that is connected to the Internet. This means that you can remote control Windows based computers as well as MACs and Linux computers. Even if that computer is hibernating, the program can take advantage of Wake-on-LAN capabilities to wake the computer up so that you can work on it remotely. And there's no need to worry if the computer is using a firewall or is hiding behind a NAT device because Proxy Pro can work right through them.

This program is ideal for people working at help desks or in any sort of distributed computing environment. And you need not worry about security because Proxy Pro 7 connects via 256-bit encryption which is the highest in its class. This means that any potential hackers who might be listening in on your network will be easily thwarted.

Using Proxy Pro instead of relying upon visiting every workstation in need is both cost effective and saves time. You don't have to take my word for it. Download the 30-day free trial and see for yourself.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another Kiddie Birthday Party Gone By

I threw a birthday party for my daughter this weekend. Although there were a gaggle of kids running around the venue and a lot of planning had been left to the last minute, I'd have to say that this was the most stress-free birthday party I had ever thrown for her. It made me think of the chaos that we had to endure when my daughter had her birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese a few years ago.

Despite its reputation for inciting spontaneous bouts of white-trash boxing matches, I figured that a party at Chuck-E-Cheese would be a cakewalk. I was more concerned about remembering to buy birthday candles and was kicking myself for waiting until we were on the way to Chuck-E-Cheese to do so. I ran in to a Wal-Mart near the Chuck-E-Cheese, grabbed a pack of candles, and was on my way to the party in no time. My parents would be meeting me there with my daughter. I arrived early in order to set things up and found that the place was packed to the gills. A feeling of dread began to sink in.

When my parents arrived with my daughter, my father looked around at the unholy human sea that surrounded all of us and said to me "Tell your mother to call me when you're done" as he turned around and walked out the door. Lucky bastard.

The insanity was kept to a minimum while my daughter and the rest of the kiddies in our party ran around playing games. Although the chaos was nowhere near the level that I had read horror stories about, I began to understand why Chuck-E-Cheese serves alcohol. Still I thought everything was going to be okay and we'd have a calm, breezy party. It wasn't until the big birthday presentation that discovered how epic a screw-up I had committed.

Just after the animatronic birthday show stopped, we lit my daughter's candles. She tried to blow them out, but they just re-lit. They then began to spark. This freaked my daughter out and she screamed louder than I had ever heard her scream. The room was packed so tight with other party goers, she couldn't get out of her chair to escape. I tried to blow out the candles myself, to no avail. It was then that I realized that, in my haste, I had bought trick candles.

"Oh crap! CRAP! CRAPOLA!!!", I exclaimed as I searched for something that would douse the flames. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a mysterious figure grabbed the cake, held it out of sight for a brief moment and returned it to the table, having extinguished the trick candles. I looked upon this figure with awe and wonder as I asked "Are....are you an angel?". It was Chuck-E-Cheese.

It's memories like these that makes me glad that I've gotten a small reprieve from the craziness of the kiddie parties. For the foreseeable future, I expect the parties to be somewhat calm affairs. That is, at least until she becomes a teenager.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The GlideTV Navigator

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of GlideTV. All opinions are 100% mine.

It's the Holiday Season again, and you've no doubt got a few people on your list who seem to have everything already. If that certain someone enjoys watching Internet videos, you'll want to seriously consider purchasing the GlideTV Navigator. GlideTVis for anyone who wants to connect their computer to their HDTV so that they can watch Internet videos from the comfort of their couch instead of from behind a computer screen, or, worse, hunched over a laptop.

The GlideTV Navigator acts like a remote control, replacing your keyboard and mouse. It features a sleek touchpad yet it also fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Combined with  the included software designed for your HDTV, it makes it easy to both find and watch Internet videos on your HDTV. Just connect your computer to your HDTV and let GlideTV do the rest.

Personally, I'm thinking that my father would love this. He's always watching Internet videos on his dinky little computer. Being able to watch Internet videos on his HDTV while relaxing on the couch would go a long way towards helping him relieve the stress on his lower back. And, at just $49, it makes the perfect gift.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Beavis and Butt-head Answer The Phone

I do like to have fun with telemarketers. However, I didn't have a lot of time to deal with this telemarketer, so I thought I'd see how quickly I could get him off of the phone. During this particular telemarketing prank, I answer the phone as Beavis and then switch to Butt-head. It lasts about 30 seconds.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Setting Up This Year's Christmas Card Photo

Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry is one of my favorite places to visit during the holidays. My favorite childhood memories involve my grandfather picking me and my siblings up and driving us to the museum to spend the day. This was especially great during the holidays when all the Christmas trees were up. I liked doing this so much as a kid that I have passed this tradition on to my daughter. Every year around Christmas we take a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry.

This past Sunday, my daughter and I visited the museum, took a look at all of the Christmas Trees, strolled down Yesterday's Main Street and looked at all of the cool exhibits. At the end of the day, I thought it would be nice to have a picture taken of my daughter by the huge Christmas tree in the middle of the museum. It was up on a platform which was roped off and sported several signs warning people away from sitting up on the platform. Seeing that the area was clear of museum rent-a-cops, I put my daughter up on the platform and steadied my camera for a shot. This would make a great Christmas card.

I felt a finger tap me on the shoulder. No doubt I was going to get a stern lecture from some disgruntled security guard. I steeled my nerves as I turned around. To my surprise, I was met by a kindly looking elderly lady. She commented  that my daughter looked beautiful next to the Christmas tree and that I should have my picture taken with her. She offered to work the camera for me. I figured I'd let her. It would be nice to have a picture worthy of putting on the Christmas card this year. Besides, if she tried to run off with my camera, I was fairly confident I could take her in a fight.

I thanked her for her offer, handed her the camera and offhandedly said "Okay, but if security catches us, I don't know you". She looked puzzled but lined up the shot anyway. One swift click later, we were done. My daughter and I jumped down from the platform and I retrieved my camera. I thanked the nice elderly lady and walked away just in time to see a security office heading in our direction. He stopped us, motioned us back to the lady who had taken our picture and said to her "You shouldn't allow your son and granddaughter up onto the platform. It's off limits".

I smiled at him and replied "What are you talking about? I've never seen this lady before in my life. Merry Christmas to you though". With that, my daughter and I walked away, leaving the old lady and the security guard with puzzled looks on their faces.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Slactivism At Its Finest

Today marks the culmination of a Facebook campaign asking users to change their profile picture to a photo of a favorite childhood cartoon to raise awareness of child abuse. The campaign doesn't seem to have originated with any official organization, although it appears to have caught on. Maybe you've seen it. Here's what the status messages say:

Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal? To not see a human face on Facebook until Monday, December 6. Join the fight against child abuse. Copy & paste to your status and invite your friends to do the same.

In an act of unapologetic cynicism, I changed my profile picture to one of Homer Simpson strangling Bart. As of this writing, I'm down 3 friends.

I think that the vast majority of people who are changing their profile pictures to cartoon characters are just doing so for fun, but a sizable minority actually think that they're accomplishing something. This campaign is little more than a blatant act of armchair activism that has enough people convinced that they've done something when they actually haven't done anything at all.

It is indeed a very sad thing that, at this very moment, children all over the world are being abused. However, I guarantee you that those children don't care what your favorite cartoon character is or that your changed your Facebook profile picture. But, that's not the point, right? The goal of this campaign is to raise "awareness" about child abuse. Are there people out there who aren't aware of child abuse? And what exactly is "awareness" anyway? How is it measured? How do you know when you've become more aware?

It will no doubt be argued that enough of discussion about the issue has been raised and enough people have been motivated to do a little research into child abuse and enough people have been somehow inspired to donate that the campaign served its purpose. After all, any forward movement is progress, right? I have to wonder, however if this campaign is doing more harm than good. Yes, some of the folks may be inspired, in a roundabout way, to donate to a related charity. However, I'm wondering if a greater majority of people will have felt that they have accomplished something simply by changing their profile picture and then will not be inclined to donate. Whereas, had they been approached by more traditional means, they'd have been more inclined to donate.

In the end, all of the evidence on both sides is anecdotal and this is just Facebook we're talking about anyway, so little of this really matters. Personally, it took me about two days to figure out why He-Man was going out partying Friday night, why Smurfette was home with a bad cold, why Scooby-Doo was reading "Shit My Dad Says" and why Rainbow Bright was going out to shake her bootie with her ladies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Telemarketer From EarnMyDegree.com

I recently got a telemarketing call from a representative of EarnMyDegree.com and used the opportunity to mess with him. At the time he called, I had been listening to Third Eye Blind's song, "Semi-Charmed Life", so you'll notice that I made a few Meth references during the course of the call.

The rep from EarnMyDegree.com was a good sport during the whole process even though it's obvious that he was incredibly uncomfortable. And he didn't seem to understand that my character is supposed to be male, despite the female sounding name.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

LG Unveils The Optimus 7

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of LG. All opinions are 100% mine.

Back in June, when I attended Microsoft's Tech-Ed event in New Orleans, there was a lot talk and excitement surrounding the new Windows 7 phones. Now, just few months later, LG has launched it's first phone to utilize the Windows 7 phone OS: the LG Optimus 7 . Thanks to the blending of Windows 7 and LG's own unique technology, you'll be able to do what you want while taking fewer steps to do so. But, don't just take my word for it, check out some of the great features for yourself:

 

  • Integration with XBOX Live and Zune services which gives you access to both your  games and music.
  • A 5 megapixel camera with a includes a number of technological advances straight from LG like Intelligent Shot and a Panoramic Mode. It also boasts a 16:9 aspect ratio capture and playback for shooting and viewing movies in widescreen format.
  • 16GB of internal storage, which is enough to store hundreds of MP3s, hours of video and hundreds of applications.
  • An extra large 1500mAh removable battery which will give you several hours to surf the internet, read some e-books or play games. And let's not forget about talk time.
  • All of these features are displayed on a 3.8 inch WVGA LCD display which allows you to see every detail in a photo. This display makes the Optimus 7 large enough for so that you'll feel comfortable web surfing, yet it's still slim enough to fit in any back pocket.

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