Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's Going On With The Facebook Email Address?

Even if you're just a casual Facebook user, you no doubt know by now that there has been a fairly big uproar over Facebook changing the default e-mail addresses of all of its digital residents to @facebook.com addresses. This change was made without warning or permission. Sure, it's easy enough to change back, but it made a number of security experts decry the move as dangerous and made a lot of Facebook's user base feel violated.

You might ask what the big deal is. Doesn't this seem like a fairly minor violation? With all due respect to the millions who had their email addresses misrepresented by a website they pay nothing for, it takes only two minutes to switch it back. Had it not been picked up by the media, certainly 99% of all Facebook users wouldn't have noticed the change. Furthermore, Facebook has said that the change was made in an attempt to protect user privacy and keep everyone's primary e-mail address hidden from potential spammers/stalkers. At times, it does seem like, no matter what changes it makes, Facebook cannot win and there does seem to be an unspoken agreement amongst the users to get upset by any and all changes.

I hate to sound like a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist here, but I'm actually thinking that Facebook knew precisely what it was doing with this email thing, and the reasoning behind it is something far more nefarious than a mere discourteous cosmetic change. In my opinion, Facebook wants to control your smartphone's address book. These days, most smartphones have the ability to seamlessly integrate with Facebook. You can merge your phone contacts with your Facebook contacts, which will populate your phone contacts with the e-mail address listed in your contact's Facebook profile. Guess which e-mail address my phone defaults to using if I choose to e-mail a Facebook contact that was merged to my phone? That's right. The default Facebook address, which, unless the user in question has changed it, is the Facebook.com address. It certainly seems as if Facebook initiated this change in an attempt to capture correspondance for further data mining purposes and was hoping that few people would notice it and that it wouldn't be that big of a deal.

Ever since it went public last month, Facebook's motives have changed. Instead of advocating for its users and its community, Facebook now sees its users in terms of potential revenue. We have gone from being the consumer to being the product. Facebook is no longer a social network, it's a business model that can have an adverse impact on your career, your social life and even your privacy. It's not fun anymore. Yet, everyone is on it, so there's really nowhere else to go. And to complain about it would be like a herd of cattle complaining that the rancher is mistreating them.

Everyone is on it, yet nobody likes it. And this latest e-mail debacle is just yet another reason why.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Caught A Game With My Brothers

I decided to catch a White Sox game with two of my three brothers on Friday. I fit it in with a weekend visit with my parents, so that meant driving out to visit the folks for a bit, then catching the train to 35th Street and a quick walk to U.S. Cellular Field.

I dropped my car off at the train station parking lot and began to feel a little nostalgic. You see, the parking lot had once been home to the middle-school that I attended as a youth. The school had been bulldozed a few years ago to make way additional parking for the nearby train station. While walking through the lot, I did notice a very nice historical marker dedicated to the school. This brought up a lot of good memories, many of them focused on the pizza place just down the street. I spent a lot of time there as a youth, after school activities, after community league games, birthdays, engagements, and random every day meals. It had a real mom and pop cozy feel to it and it was the best dine-in pizzeria in the area. I figured I had enough time to indulge my nostalgia and walk over for a few slices. The place out of business. The best I could do was walk over to the CVS, nuke a hot pocket and reminisce.

I hopped the train, got off near the stadium, and caught up with my brothers at the Bacardi Lounge. They were impressed to see me decked out in White Sox gear, including a replica jersey and a vintage looking "Shoeless Joe" Sox cap. It's quite the novelty for me to express spirit for a particular sports team, but it's such a rarity to get more than two of the Mac brothers together at any one time, I figured it was a special enough occasion. It's actually, fun, for a while, to feel a part of something greater than myself. So, I cheered when the team made a good play, booed The Brewers pitchers in the bullpen just two rows below me and recoiled in horror when The Brewers pulled out a run to win in the 10th inning, leaving the White Sox scoreless.

As I rode the train back to town, I couldn't help thinking how much everything seems to be changing. My brothers and I are approaching middle age. We've got kids of our own. My parents are hitting their twilight years. The things that we had attachments to are disappearing. The school. The pizza place. And one day, the house we all grew up in. Yes, things change. But it really doesn't matter so long as we have family and friends to change along with us.

Three Of The Four Mac Brothers.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Scrap Metal Pickup Truck

Another morning in Chicago traffic. I saw this guy while I was waiting at the stop light. He was driving through the neighborhood collecting scrap metal, which, I totally support. But, did he really have to just pile everything in? Obviously, I wasn't going to get behind him.
Because Two Trips Are For Weaklings!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's A Jeep Thing

Driving around in Chicago traffic always has its share of surprises. I snapped the picture below recently not long after some princess in a beat-up Chevy Aveo cut me off while talking into her cell phone. The Aveo had a bumper sticker on it that said "MY CAR. DADDY'S MONEY". So, Daddy had a spare $600 hanging around?

While trying to get a picture of the Aveo, I spied a Jeep with "If I Wanted A Hummer, I'd Call Your Sister" lettered across the back window. My first thought was to wonder what was up with the non-standard capitalization. Perhaps I could drive up and toss him my APA guide. My next thought was to wonder how he got my sister's number.

It's A Jeep Thing, Apparently.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Faster

Faster than a bullet from a gun 
He is faster than everyone
Quicker than the blinking of an eye
Like a flash you could miss him going by
No one knows quite how he does it but it's true they say
He's the master of going faster.

That's the chorus to the song "Faster" by George Harrison. I was singing the whole song to myself as I rounded the track. Although I was determined to stay ahead of everyone else, that was only my secondary goal. So long as I beat Jason to the finish line, I would consider it a good race.

Just a few hours earlier, I was in an abysmal mood. My daughter had left earlier that Friday to go on vacation with her mother's family for a week. I'm not used to her being away from me for so long, so, I was acting rather mopey when I stopped at Jason's house after my usual half-day Friday work day. We were going to go get some lunch and have a beer. I offered to drive, figuring that a little trip across town with the top down would be cool. Jason insisted on driving, so I hopped in his truck. As soon as we got under-way, I began talking about lunch options in town.

"You're in a bad mood. We need to get you out of town for a while", Jason said. Forty five minutes later, we were having cheeseburgers and tropical drinks at some beach bar in Indiana. After lunch we toured a bunch of fireworks stores, ran around a Best Buy and tried (unsuccessfully) to start up a jam session at a Guitar Center. We found our way to a bar where the waitresses wear skimpy outfits and act all flirty. I was halfway through my 24 oz Sam Adams Summer Ale draft when some of the Miller Girls approached me and asked what I was drinking. "Why, Miller Lite, of course!", I said. They gave me a bottle opener. Which was cool because I needed a new one. They offered to take a picture with me, to which I declared that I would only take pictures with Samuel Adams himself.

Across the street from the bar sat a Go Kart track. Jason and I popped over there and I was excited to sit in the only beer themed kart they had there. We had a track full of 8 racers and, as the flag dropped, I gunned the engine and tore out. Jason laughed and yelled "Give a thirty-something year-old man a bunch of beers, and put him in a go-kart and he's sure to smile!". He was right. I grinned as I rounded the first turn, singing "Faster" to myself. Jason pulled ahead of me and I side-swiped him.

"Hey! They said no bumping!", he protested.

"Nobody's watching", I said, flashing my evil, competitive grin.

Between the two of us, we were able to keep the other 6 racers behind us and, through a brilliant maneuver, Jason managed to pull in front of me. I could not let this stand, so as we pulled into the last turn, I bumped his rear wheel in just the right way to get his kart to skid out, allowing me to take the lead.

In hindsight, he probably let me win. And, even if I hadn't, at least I got a chance to get out of town for 12 hours and put my mind away from missing my daughter. I had a great time and a ton of laughs. That's what a best friend does for you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Visit Florida

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.
VisitFloridaCopy.doc
A friend of mine who works in my office is retiring next month. I've been joking with him over what he's going to do when he's finally done and ended up asking him if he'd ever want to live in a retirement community. He replied: "only if it's in Florida."  Everyone knows that Florida has incredible weather.
Personally, what I love about Florida is it's perpetual warmth and proximity to the ocean. No matter where you are in the state, you're never from from something to do. But if you want to visit Florida yourself, you should go in Summer when your kids are out of school and you avoid some of the holiday crowds. 
As I said before, there are so many things to do in Florida, you'll never be far from the action, wherever you are.  And now is the perfect time to enter Florida’s Three for Free Giveaway By doing so, you will get a chance to win 3 awesome Florida Vacations.
The Giveaway runs through June 30th, 2012 (you can find out more information through VISIT FLORIDA on Facebook) and gives you the chance to choose between some pretty amazing vacation options: spas, golfing, visiting manatees, sea trainer for a day, a beach vacation, Florida Key's Fishing and more!
There are 10 winners and 1 Grand prize winner. The Grand prize is 3 fun vacations. The other winners win 1 great vacation. Still great!
The packages are:
  • Swimming with manatees
  • Plantation on Crystal River
  • Tennis Lovers Gourmet Getaway
  • Natural Florida
  • Family Adventure
  • Space Cowboy
  • Trainer for a Day
  • The Breakers Luxury Dream Vacation
  • Ultimate Spa-cation
  • Tee time for two
  • Classic Family Beach Week
  • Step into the Past
  • Florida Keys Fishing

I would absolutely love to do a Classic Family Beach Week (sponsored by TradeWinds Island Resorts) and do some Florida Keys fishing (sponsored by Hawks Cay Resort). I have been to Florida to swim with dolphins and would love to go back again to interact with their sea life. It's just amazing. Plus, I've always wanted to learn to play tennis and gourmet food is something I really enjoy. 
Since I'd be going with my daughter, I'd probably need to put a vote in for "space cowboy" sponsored by Florida's Space Coast as well. My kiddo is practically a space cadet and would love to visit NASA.
So, what are you waiting for? It's so easy to enter. I entered in less than a minute. You just pick your 3 favorite vacations and then enter your address.


Visit Sponsor's Site

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Instagram Sucks

When I first heard of this thing called Instagram, I thought it was some sort of dial-up cocaine delivery service or a breakfast cereal for hipsters. But, no, it turns out that Instagram is an app that lets you edit your pictures so that they resemble the snapshots that are in your old photo albums. It took years of development to get smartphone cameras to the point that they take sharp, clean photos that are excellent representations of the world around us, and now Instagram comes along to let hipsters make them blurry again. 

For a while, I took issue with the very concept of altering the photos with Instagram. It's not like the users of this app are fooling anybody into thinking that the picture they just took is actually a scan of a Polaroid from 1970, so why bother? And users don't have any control over the degree of filtering that is done on the picture, so any claims of Instagram appealing to someone's artistic side are invalid.  What Instagram is doing is creating a user-base of lazy photographers who rely too much on the magical retro touch to make their ordinary photos look artistic. They no longer have to bother with the concepts of composition, lighting, or depth of field when can take any mediocre photo and make it look interesting. 

Upon watching my Facebook friends use Instagram, I began to understand the love for nostalgia that Instagram brings out in people. We've been conditioned to associate fond memories with the past, and to associate "vintage" things  with higher quality. If your photo looks vintage, then you feel that it's a better photo.  If adding filters to your cell phone pictures strikes your fancy, then there's not much I can say to dissuade you from it. I'll just chalk it up to difference in tastes, and, so long as you use the effects sparingly, you won't hear any bitching from me.

If you really do like adding filters to your photos on your phone, then Instagram is not the best mobile phone app for doing so. I think, as a photo app, Instagram sucks. It offers a very small number of filters compared to other apps out there. Believe it or not, there are some Instagram alternatives available. If you're using Android and want an app with tons of filters, then take a look at Pixlr-o-matic. It offers a huge range of filters and frames and even includes some amazing lighting effects. Filters are being created on a regular basis. All you have to do is download them from within the app.

The best photo editing app for iPhone is easily Snapseed. If you want to create highly stylized yet unique pictures out of your mobile photos, then Snapseed is they way to do it. The app offers some great filters and allows you to have a degree of creative control over them. The app is going to cost you $4.99, though. I know that's a potential deal breaker, but Snapseed is worth the cost. 

If you take anything away from this post, then let it be this: No matter how you plan on filtering your photos, just make sure you keep a copy of the original. After all, it will be considered "vintage" itself one day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Dogs Are Escape Artists

I completely re-did my living room this month. Needless to say, I don't want the dogs sitting on the couch, the love-seat, or (heaven forbid) my leather "hunter" chair. In order to keep them off the furniture while I'm at work or asleep, I had put up a baby gate, which I had hoped would keep them confined to the back wing of the house. Without fail, whenever I would come home for lunch, one dog would be sitting in the middle of the living room carpet waiting for me. That's Anubis. She's old and half-blind and not very bright, but, somehow, she was able to push the gate enough to squeeze through. This is quite a feat for a ten pound lap dog.

Anubis had always been good at escaping. Earlier in her life, when I would put her and her sister into separate cages in my utility room, she would somehow get free at least once a month. It took me weeks to realize that, when I would call the dogs to go to their cages, and when I would round the corner to put them in, Anubis would be hiding behind one of the legs of the kitchen table. I had always just assumed she was in her cage when I closed the door. Obviously, Anubis is a dog that is smarter than I give her credit for.

Her current escape attempts are well coordinated. She won't make the attempt until I leave the house or until I am in bed. She has even seen through my attempts to trick her by opening and closing the front door in the hopes of convincing her that I had left the house. It wasn't until I went outside the house and observed through the front window that I understood how Anubis was getting out. She walks up to the gate, leans her side up against it and pushes until it pops free of its housing. Then, she squeezes through the small opening.

What impressed me even more is the behavior of Anubis' sister, Snowflake. Whenever I would come home, even if Anubis had escaped, I would find Snowflake laying down in the utility room, waiting for me to call her to come out. I found this behavior odd in light of Anubis' many successful escapes. Why wouldn't Snowflake follow her out? As I watched from the window, I saw that Snowflake was indeed following Anubis out. She just let Anubis do the grunt work, waited a few minutes and then walked out herself. When she hears me opening the door or walking into the living room, she bolts back into the utility room as if she had never left.

I've stopped using the gate. If they want to sit at the foot of my hunter chair while I'm gone, I figure, they deserve it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Review Of Dorco Razors

Shaving is an expensive endeavor, especially if you're going to use name brand razors and blades. Normally, I shave with a straight razor and trim my goatee with an electric trimmer. Although I find it very relaxing to shave with a straight razor, I don't always have time to do so. When I need a quick shave before work or a night out, I have always had to revert back to using my name brand razor, which is a Schick Quattro Titanium with Trimmer. I go through about eight cartridges on that in a month, which costs me at least $20. 

I recently investigated DollarShaveClub.com which has a great marketing campaign, launched with an amazing viral video and offers shaving supplies delivered to your doorstep at reasonable prices. However, I cringed at the idea of getting sucked into providing a perpetual revenue stream for these guys. I don't like the idea of a having yet another monthly bill, especially for something like shaving supplies.

I did a little more investigating and it turns out that DollarShaveClub.com is just a re-seller. They acquire their razors from Dorco USA, re-package them, jack up the price and sell them to the consumer. Consider this: Dollar Shave Club's high-end razor, "The Executive", which has six blades, lube strips and a pivoting head, will cost you $90 over 10 months (razor plus 3 catridges per month). Dorco offers a six-blade model, the SXA1000, that has the same features as "The Executive", but costs only $28.66 for a 10-month supply (the razor plus 30 cartridges).

I took the plunge and ordered from Dorco. Apparently, they're perpetually out-of-stock of many of their items. I was able to get their Father's Day variety pack for a mere $29.50 which consists of:

It shipped quickly, and, since the total was over $25, shipping was free. So, how does it shave? The blades are all a little "tuggy" at first, but after those first two swipes, the shave is great. It offers a closer shave than my Quattro. What's even better is that each Dorco cartridge is compatible with each razor. So, a three blade cartridge will fit on a six blade razor. I do wish that the lubrication strip lasted longer than it does, but that's not a huge deal to me. I'm just glad it doesn't smell like lavender.

Bottom line here is, if you can deal with their inventory issues and don't mind ordering your supplies in bulk, then Dorco offers a great way to shave and save.

EDIT: March 5, 2013: About 9 months after making this order, I'm down to just a few of the four blade disposable razors. I went ahead and ordered the six-pack of 6-blade cartridge refills along with an additional four-pack of 6-blade refills. So, I like the Dorco shaving experience enough to order from them again. Inventory didn't seem to be an issue this time, as everything appeared to be "in stock" on their website. And my original Dorco shaving handle is still in great shape, so, no need to order a new one of those just yet. 

It's not quite a Dorco coupon code, but if anyone wants to use my referral link and get 20% off their next Dorco order,  visit http://dorcousa.refr.cc/X6GB72N .

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Ever Happened To The Tank Man?

Twenty three years ago yesterday marked the anniversary of when an anonymous man stood in front of a line of 50 or more Chinese tanks the morning after the Chinese military forcibly removed protestors from Tienanmen Square. On June 5, 1989, after a violent crackdown on the Tienanmen protests, the unknown rebel stood alone in the middle of the street as the tanks approached. Instead of running him over, the tanks came to a stop as tank man gestured towards them. The lead tank attempted to drive around the him, but the tank man repeatedly stepped into the path of the tank in a show of nonviolent resistance. After repeatedly attempting to go around rather than run over the man, the lead tank stopped its engines, and the armored vehicles behind it all seemed to follow suit. You think YOU are a bad ass? Try standing toe-to-toe with tanks. While holding grocery bags. In Communist China!

So, what happened to the unknown Tienanmen Square protestor? Nobody seems to know. Other protesters (or perhaps they were plain clothed security officers) ended up dragging him away. Some say he likely didn't make it. On the other hand, one would figure that, if the Chinese government had caught him surely they would have paraded him around and made an example out of him. The fact that they never did makes some people to believe he may have miraculously gotten away. Maybe he simply shuffled off into obscurity. Maybe he has gone on with his life, secure in his anonymity and maybe he spends days like yesterday whimsically musing to himself over the events of that day; events most Chinese citizens do not talk about or even know about due to the state-run media filter. Maybe this is wishful thinking.

Whatever the outcome, the thing to take away from this is that this was just an ordinary man. He was probably just walking home from the grocery store, saw the tanks approaching and then made a split-second, courageous decision to stand up against against impossible odds for what he believed in. I think part of the appeal of the famous photo below is that it could almost be anyone in that photo. We, too, are ordinary people, just like the unknown rebel. And maybe we could be at the right (wrong?) place at the right time and have the opportunity to make the same decision. I doubt many of us would. I doubt many of us could.


"Can We Get This Over With ASAP? My Ice Cream Is Melting!"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Paul McCartney Ram 2012 Special Edition Review

I picked up a copy of Paul McCartney's remastered Ram album last week. Originally released in 1971, Ram was slammed hard by critics at the time as mediocre and overly whimsical. Despite critical panning, Ram hit #1 on the British charts and #2 on the U.S. charts, being unable to dislodge the monster hit that was Carole King's Tapestry.

I first picked up a copy of the album in 1988 soon after it was re-issued on CD for the first time. I thought it was a decent album, but not a great one. It was certainly better than his previous solo release, but it had its share of deplorable stinkers like "3 Legs", "Dear Boy", "Eat at Home" and "Long Haired Lady". Still, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is catchy and "Backseat Of My Car" is an under-rated classic. "Monkberry Moon Delight" and "Smile Away" are fun, raw, and memorable in their own right. I thought, at the very least, the album was worth the price I paid for it. And Ram is certainly better than the two stinkers that came out afterwards, Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway.

The 2012 Ram Remaster is available in three different versions:

  1. A single disc edition remaster consisting of tracks from the original album.
  2. A two disc remaster with bonus tracks that were recorded around the same time Ram came out
  3. A deluxe set with the original stereo album remastered, the second disc, a third disc with the mono album and a DVD (that runs under a half hour) on the making of the album.

The super-mega-ultra-deluxe edition of the album costs upwards of $80. I wouldn't even pay that for Band on the Run. I went with option 2, and, in listening to the bonus tracks, I can't help but think that Ram would have been a better album if Paul had not been so headstrong in choosing the tracks for it. "Another Day" would prove to be another big hit for Paul and certainly should have been on the album. "A Love For You" and "Hey Diddle" are easily better than "3 Legs" and "Long Haired Lady". And "Little Woman Love" is a better choice than "Eat At Home". Hindsight is 20/20, though, and, short term, no amount of track tweaking would have been sufficient enough to wrest the #1 spot away from Tapestry. Long term, I think the changes would have given the album more staying power.

The remaster of the album sounds great, and, if you're even a casual McCartney fan, this is a must have. If you've already got a copy of Ram that you're satisfied with, downloading a few of the bonus tracks individually is a good option. I'd go with "Hey Diddle", "A Love For You" and "Little Woman Love".

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Few More New Orleans Stories

I've been back to work for half a week now and I have been regaling all of my friends with stories from my trip to New Orleans. Some of the stories didn't inspire a blog post of their own, so I'm going to take the time to tell those in one large post.

  •  All week long, we were looking forward to seeing a special burlesque show at One Eyed Jack's. This particular one was being held as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so I figured there would be a slight political bent to the show. We showed up an hour before the doors opened and began to drink at the bar. After the doors opened, we had to wait another hour for the show to start, so we passed the time by drinking some more. The show started late. By the time it got underway, ChrisMac and I had consumed an heroic amount of Bud Light. Not only did the performances turn out to be more artistic than burlesque, but the entire show seemed more like a political rally than an entertainment event. We got a little rowdy towards the end, yelling things like "BACONATED CHEESE!" and "CHEESENATED BACON!"when the host would ask questions of the audience. Luckily, we didn't get thrown out. 

  • There's a bar in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral that serves absinthe as a specialty. I had planned on drinking some after the haunted tour but was a little worried as I had heard a number of anecdotal stories about hallucinations and other psychoactive effects attached to the drink. When I entered the bar, I knew right away that I needn't have worried, because a group of soccer moms who were in town for the wine tasting fair were seated at the bar drinking absinthe. In fact, everyone who walked into the joint ordered some. A drink that popular couldn't evoke such horrific effects. So, I ordered one. It became three. I had a nice, mellow buzz going on which was constantly getting harshed by the soccer moms' overtly drunken behavior. I glared at them several times and ChrisMac and I photo-bombed each one of their group pictures. I was so glad when they left that I helped the bartender clean up their leftover absinthe glasses. It was then that I noticed that one of them had left their VIP pass to the wine tasting event. I spent the next evening tasting every single wine that the Royal Street Stroll had to offer. 

  • While sitting outside the Louisiana Supreme Court building drinking beer and pondering our next move, a jazz wedding came through. ChrisMac and I were grabbed by a woman at the back of the parade and we followed along up to St. Charles Avenue. It was just like that New Orleans tourism commercial. 

  • I had my Looxcie cam running while walking through the Garden District and taking pictures. In front of Trent Reznor's house, we encountered a tour group of elderly ladies on a mule drawn carriage.  As they passed, I exclaimed to them "And on your right, you'll see the fabulous Mac Brothers!". They cheered. A few minutes later, as they passed, they took pictures of us. I captured it all on video. You can see it below.