Monday, December 28, 2015

Tans-Siberian Orchestra Review

We were in St. Louis last night to catch the Tans-Siberian Orchestra at the Scottrade Center. I first got wind of the band when my college roommate brought home a copy of "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" back in 1996. Today, they're one of the top-ten ticket selling acts in America, having gone directly to area shows without playing clubs or serving as an opening act for any other band. That's pretty impressive. And so is their stage show.

I should mention for those who don't already know that Trans-Siberian Orchestra isn't really an orchestra. They're a progressive rock band that performs rock operas with the assistance of some orchestral elements. They're kind of like Yes without the pretentiousness. Or Meat Loaf with talent. So, if you do decide to attend a concert, be aware that you're not going to encounter something like The Pops. You're going to have to strap yourself in and ride the wave of the rock opera where a story is being told. Whether or not that's something you want to see is up to you.

For us, we really enjoyed it. The entire show is an incredible visual spectacle framed around heavy metal music with a Christmas connection. We were expecting the show to last about an hour and ended up with something close to two and a half hours. The worst I can say about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show is that there wasn't a true intermission, which one would expect from such a long show. We powered through it, though, and we were glad we did. During the second half of the show is when they really go all out with their stage show and they even use to moving arms that slowly hoist a performer above the crowd. That was pretty thrilling to look at, but you couldn't pay me enough to get on something like that myself.

All things told, we had a great time. The folks who make up Trans-Siberian Orchestra sure know how to put on a show and we definitely felt that we got our money's worth. We'd see it again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Medical Compensation Department Calls Me

I got a call from a heavily accented caller claiming to be from Medical Compensation Department. The number he used was (432) 266-9010. It's not a working number that seems to belong to Cingular Wireless. Anyway, the scammer wanted to know if I had been on any blood thinners. It was an obvious attempt to sell me on some sort of class action lawsuit scam. When the Medical Compensation Department rep ran off a list of blood thinner meds, I picked the last one from the list: Xeralto. When prompted for a year, I just went with 2006. Turns our Xeralto wasn't released until June of 2011. I tried to explain it away by saying I was part of the clinical trials for Xeralto, but, the telemarketer was way too angry to listen. He did calm down after I poked a little fun at his accent and scolded him for trying to bilk money for people. He seemed to accept my explanation, but when I angrily asked for an apology, he hung up. So, if you get a call from (432) 266-9010, I guarantee you, it's a scam.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stopping In Destin, Florida

He's Trying To Disguise Himself As A Flamingo
We're winding our way back up to the Midwest today and we've stopped in Destin, Florida for some food and to have a look at the waters of the Gulf. Destin is located on a Gulf barrier island and is renowned for its white beaches and emerald green waters. The sand on Destin's beaches is some of the whitest in the world. It comes from the Appalachian Mountains, and is made of finely ground quartz crystal giving the appearance of sugar. This, of course, draws in many tourists, making Destin "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village". Some refer to it as "The Redneck Riviera". However you'd care to refer to Destin, Florida, there does seem to be a lot of places to stay, places to eat, and things to do. There are signs all over the place for dolphin cruises and dolphin encounters.

We're not spending too much time in the area. We just came out to see the beach, the waters of the Gulf and to do a little dolphin watching. Although, I wouldn't rule out taking a trip down here next year. Meanwhile, I got some pics of the local wildlife and it seems as if quite a few of the egrets and herons were missing some limbs. I'm told that this generally happens when the bird's appendage gets tangled in fishing line. The line eventually cuts off circulation to the limb and causes amputation. Many tangles occur in the nest, when hatchlings get wrapped in unsafe nesting material.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon

Miss Tilly Erupts A Guyser Of Water Every 30 Minutes
According to Disney legend, a typhoon wreaked havoc upon a formerly pristine tropical paradise. Ships, fishing gear and surfboards were all strewn about by the storm, including "Miss Tilly", a shrimp boat that became impaled upon a mountain named "Mount Mayday". What was left in the storm's wake became Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, the second most visited water park in the world. And, as theme parks go, Typhoon Lagoon feels decidedly un-Disney. And that's not a bad thing. First off, parking was free, which shocked us so much that we drove around in a circle because we figured we missed the collection attendant. Second, the food at Typhoon Lagoon is both tasty and affordable. Be sure to pop for the refillable mug if you're going to spend all day there.

Typhoon Lagoon was such a hit with every member of my family. The wave pool was the highlight for everyone. It's simply amazing how Disney imagineers can create a wave that can literally knock you down but not harm you. Typhoon Lagoon also boasts a shark reef where you can snorkel with the tropical fish, rays and sharks. We took a number of pictures of them with an underwater camera. I personally liked the water slides the best, enjoying the storm slides much more than the Humunga Cowabunga. Although, if I wasn't so out-of-shape, I could have been happy to climb the stairs all day to ride any of the water slides. I also enjoyed the lazy river. but it's hard to relax when some stranger's feet suddenly float right in your face. I also wish it moved a little faster. If I were to make one nit-picky criticism, it's the bathrooms. They're adequate, but dated.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is either the can't miss Disney event of the holiday season, or it's just another way for The Mouse to squeeze an extra $250 out of your vacation spending budget. For me and my family, who had never visited the Magic Kingdom before today, it leans more towards the former.

Ice and Snow. ICE AND SNOW!
Admission to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is treated like a separate event. You have to buy special tickets for it. On days when Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is being hosted, the Magic Kingdom closes at 4pm and re-opens at 6. So, don't do use your regular Magic Kingdom admission tickets for a day when the party is scheduled, as you'll be ushered out of the park when it closes. Instead, do a resort day or something and then hit the Magic Kingdom when it re-opens for the party. We opted to spend the day at Disney Springs and have lunch at the T-Rex cafe before coming back to the resort to rest up before the party. Once we got to the Magic Kingdom, we were happy to notice that, due to limited ticket availability, the rides and attractions had significantly shorter wait times than what one would expect on a normal Magic Kingdom day. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party offers up a Frozen themed stage show at Cinderella's Castle where Elsa uses her ice powers to cover the castle in snow and ice. There's also a Christmas themed stage show at the castle starring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto as well as a Christmas themed parade down main street featuring all of the iconic Disney characters. Throughout the night, free hot cocoa and sugar cookies are available at various refreshment stations. Personally, I'm not much for parades or for Disney characters in general, but I have to admit that the Christmas parade down Main Street was pretty awesome. And seeing Cinderella's Castle all adorned in ice lights was quite the spectacle. They even go so far as to blow snow across the main parts of the park in order to really get you into that Christmas spirit even though it's 60 degrees out. Only at Disney, my friends, only at Disney.

Our older girls were much more interested in taking advantage of the shortened wait times on the premium rides to bother with the parades and stage shows at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, so, I took the liberty of recording the shows for the girls so that they could see them later on. I'd post them here, but I don't need The Mouse to get all litigious on me, so I'll embed some better recordings from professional sources here so that my readers can get a look at them:

A Frozen Holiday Wish Castle Stage Show

Celebrate The Season Stage Show

Mickey's Once Upon A Christmastime Parade

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios first opened in 1989 and today is the fifth most visited park in the United States. The theme is dedicated to show business, drawing inspiration from the heyday of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. When it originally opened, it was known as Disney-MGM studios thanks to a licensing agreement between Disney and MGM. After a series of lawsuits between Disney and MGM, Disney re-branded the park as Disney Studios and then Disney's Hollywood Studios. Rumors of yet another name change have spun out of a recent shareholder meeting earlier this year, so don't get used to the Hollywood Studios name.

Although there are a lot of rides, shows and attractions, this is another one of the parks that you can do in a half day if you really want to. I was particularly fond of the Muppets 3D show. Our boys are fans of Star Wars and we tried to get one of them involved in the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple only to find out that you have to sign up at the park gate or behind the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. Slots are usually all taken by 10:30am and once they are filled, that's it. These little tidbits of information weren't available in the My Disney Experience App, so we missed out and our child was hugely disappointed. That being said, it's still a very cool show. A group of kids appear on stage to be trained by a "Jedi Master". He teaches the kids a series of moves with the lightsaber ("block high," "duck," "cut low") and they learn them in a specific order. They run through it a few times, until they all have it down. Darth Vader comes out and then the Jedi Master informs Vader that the young padawans wont join him on the dark side. Vader then duels with a few kids, as the Master calls out moves to perform, just in case the child has forgotten. When it's done, the Jedi Master announces that Vader has been defeated and the Sith Lord marches off. Then the kids all get cool little certificates.

Ozzy And Sharon did a great job!!!
We stayed long enough to catch the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. According to the official story, Arkansas resident Jennings Osborne and his family loved the holiday season so much. In 1986, Jennings asked his youngest daughter Breezy what her Christmas wish was and replied that she would like to see their whole house covered in lights. They had quite a large house but Jennings was determined to make his daughter's Christmas dream come true, so the Osborne family covered their home with a modest 1,000 red lights. With each passing year, the Osborne family added more lights and eventually purchased property adjacent to their own in order to expand the display even further until the display grew to millions of lights. This attracted onlookers from all over Arkansas. Displeased by the resulting traffic jams, the local residents asked that the Osborne family stop the annual display. Legal intervention was sought, and it appeared that the Osborne's beloved tradition was about to come to an end. When Disney got word of this, the mouse offered a venue where the Osborne lights could be shared with visitors from around the globe. In 1995, Residential Street at the Disney's Hollywood Studios became the home of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Whenever the Christmas music is played, the lights dance to the music. It's a beautiful display that captures the spirit of the holiday season. This was probably our favorite part of our visit to Hollywood Studios. Sadly, I hear that this will be the last year that Hollywood Studios hosts The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. I'm not sure if it's true, and, if it is, whether or not the display will be hosted elsewhere.

The Osborne Family Spectacle Of Dancing Lights Soundtrack: 

  • "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12-24)" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra 
  • "Jingle Bells" by Barbra Streisand 
  • "A Mad Russian's Christmas" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra 
  • "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano 
  • "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Elvis Presley 
  • "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" by Arthur Fiedler & Boston Pops Orchestra 
  • "Nuttin' for Christmas" by the Plain White T's 
  •  "Christmas is Starting Now" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy 
  •  "Winter Wonderland" (Original arrangement by Dan Stamper) 
  • "What's This?" by Danny Elfman (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998 (Earth Day) and today is the fourth most-visited theme park in America, drawing more than 10 million visitors a year. Animal Kingdom is best known for its live animal exhibits (hence the name) and its Expedition Everest roller coaster. For us, a family of five (plus our niece), we saw it as little more than a glorified zoo. Of course, Disney's Animal Kingdom is filled with the marvels of Disney imagineering and the overall "Disney Magic" philosophy, but it doesn't quite feel like a Disney park. It was a decent place to visit for half a day and there are some cool rides. We especially liked the Yeti and the Dinosaur ride. We also really enjoyed the Safari ride, and it was nice to be able to get a close up view of the animals, but overall, The Safari was rushed and it stopped for only a few seconds when driving by some of the animals.

A Safari Group Gets Up Close And Personal With A Giraffe at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Monument to Illinois Soldiers
We stopped in Georgia for the night last night on or way to Orlando. This morning, we made a quick stop at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. On June 27, 1864, General Sherman and his Union Army opened up a furious artillery bombardment against the Confederate soldiers entrenched in the Kennesaw area. The resulting battle ended in a tactical defeat for Sherman, his army losing 3,000 soldiers to 1,000 on the Confederate side. This would end up being the last of Sherman's full frontal assaults during the Atlanta campaign. The site of the battle is now part of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where both Confederate deliberate trenches on top of the mountain and some Union rifle pits are still visible today.

The Battlefield Park itself is nearly 3,000 acres and has about 18 miles of hiking trails. Along the trails, you will see historic earthworks, cannon emplacements, and various interpretive signs. There are three monuments representing some of the states who fought there: Illinois, Texas, and Georgia. There's also a visitor's center with a small museum and auditorium. During our visit, the Kennesaw Mountain staff was super friendly and got the kids involved in various activities.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Giant Superman Statue In Metropolis, IL

The family and I loaded up the mini-van this morning and we're trucking it down to Orlando for some theme park hopping. Along the way, we decided to make a quick stop in Metropolis, IL, home of the Giant Superman statue in Superman Square.

DC Comics first mentioned the fictional town of Metropolis in Action Comics #16 (September 1939). It was modeled after Toronto and New York, not the little hamlet of 6,000 people in Illinois. Still, the inhabitants of Metropolis, IL embraced the notion of being Superman's home town and, on January 21, 1972, DC Comics officially declared Metropolis, IL the "Hometown of Superman." On June 9, 1972, the Illinois State Legislature passed Resolution 572 that confirmed this, declaring Metropolis the "Hometown of Superman". The next year, the "Amazing World of Superman" museum opened in town. Metropolis had plans to build a thousand-acre, $50 million Superman theme park featuring a 200-foot-tall statue of Superman that cars would drive under when entering the park. Unfortunately, the 1973 oil crisis hit Metropolis especially hard and the plans had to be scrapped and the "Amazing World of Superman" museum closed its doors. The town was able to raise enough money in 1986 to erect a life sized fiberglass statue of Superman, but the Man of Fiberglass fell victim to vandalism. This led to the statue being replaced by a 12 foot bronze statue that still stands in front of the Metropolis court house today. And you'll find the Superman Museum across the street with interesting exhibits such as George Reeves' belt and the green power crystal from the 1979 movie.

A somewhat lesser known, more mild mannered statue also exists in Metropolis, IL. Constructed in the 1960s, Big John the grocery clerk stands in front of the Big John Grocery store near the Metropolis welcome sign. The owner of the Big John grocery store had wanted something to symbolize the hard working Southern Illinois people. He came up with the statue, representing the coal mining industry that was the driving force in Southern Illinois at that time. It relates to the song, "Big Bad John". Originally, the Big John statue held a bag of groceries in each arm. Big John's right arm fell off in August of 2014 and it was returned without the grocery bag in May of 2015. Now, I'm not saying that the Big John statue and the Superman statue are the same statue....but the two statues have never been seen together in the same place before.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sengled Pulse LED Light with Wireless Speaker Review

Here's a gift idea for the techie who already has everything: Sengled Pulse, a smart bulb that combines the energy efficiency of a dimmable LED light with the high-quality audio of a JBL Bluetooth speaker. Just screw the Pulse bulb into any standard light socket and pair them up with the companion Android or iOS app. You'll find the Sengled Pulse app on the Google Play store or the iOS store. Once Pulse is paired to your device, you can adjust both the lighting and sound from the app. It's that simple. There are no speaker wires, power cords or remote controls to deal with and you can have up to 8 bulbs working in unison with each other up to 100 ft apart.
Sengled Pulse bulb LED with Bluetooth JBL Speaker

The LED light part of Pulse has a brightness of 600 lumens which works out to being equal to a 40 to 60 watt standard light bulb. The light bulb uses only 15 watts of power (with a peak of 30) when both the light and speaker are being used. The dimmer is only accessible when using the Sengled Pulse app, and the bulb cannot be connected to external dimmers. The speaker inside the Pulse bulb is powered by JBL, a leader in speaker technology. The speaker provides 13 Watts @ 8ohms; 100Hz-20kHz frequency response, which gives Sengled Pulse a beautiful depth and surround sound effect. The sound can be controlled without the app, since the light connects to your phone just like any other Bluetooth speaker. But when using the app you can pair lights/speakers together to create left/right stereo or mono sound.

For me, the Sengled Pulse bulbs bulbs are amazing. At about $170, they are a bit on the pricey side. And they're a little too bulky to be used inside a ceiling fan socket without removing the fan's decorative flair. I installed these the recessed lighting in my kitchen/dining area, which makes it perfect for listening to music while eating or having a dinner party. And, that made me think. I wish you could group the lights by room. So rather than control ALL lights, or ONE light, I could control the "Living Room" and "Dining Room". I also wish Sengled Pulse was compatible with my Wink hub. Overall, though the Sengled Pulse is a solid performer, and while it's not a high end home theater sound, the sound is good enough that I can't tell the difference between the low resolution free Pandora audio vs a higher bit rate MP3 from my Google Play library.

You can purchase a Sengled Pulse set (One master bulb and one companion) off of for $149.99.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Strathmore Who's Who Scam

The Who's Who Scam is one of the oldest ones out there. The companies involved sell memberships in worthless directories that appeal to a person's vanity. You might get an offer to appear in "Who's Who in American Registered Nurses" or "Who's Who in Community Theater". Generally, the publication being pushed upon you will be reflective of your profession or hobby. The telemarketers involved usually start by cold calling you in order to verify your personal information which will be included in their directory and then sold to other telemarketers. Once your interview is completed, you'll be asked to make a payment in order to receive your certificate and a copy of the directory. The price tag for everything can be around $700. You'd think that nobody in their right mind would fall for a Who's Who scam, but, I'm told that the reps can be very convincing when they appeal to vanity and the need for making networking connections. Plus, the fact that a product and service are being offered and delivered makes the whole practice seem more legit. But, you should ask yourself how trustworthy and elite a Who's Who directory is that has such low criteria for inclusion. That's the metric of what makes a Who's Who publication a scam in my opinion.

The particular Who's Who scam that called me recently came to me courtesy of Strathmore World Wide. The caller ID entry that came up when Strathmore World Wide called was (516) 554-0111, which is a number that is not in service, so you can't call it back. That's a huge red flag. NEVER trust a call from a number that cannot be called back. Anyway, the Strathmore rep called looking for Charles Brown, owner of Brown and Brown Hair Salon. When she questioned me about the salon, I pretended to break down and cry, admitting that I had only said that I owned a salon so that I could feel like a big shot and get my name into the Strathmore Who’s Who for Executives and Professionals. When she asked if I had any executive qualifications at all, I told her that I had watched an entire season of "The Apprentice". The fact that the rep was so desperately reaching for some kind of qualification is, in my opinion, the big red flag that Strathmore Who's Who for Executives and Professionals is a blatant scam.

I'll allow for the possibility that there may be some reputable Who's Who publishers out there. If you to find yourself on the other end of a call from one of them, ask them the following questions before you give out any personal information:

  1. How was I selected? Was I nominated by someone specific or did I meet a certain criteria? If the rep answers broadly or is otherwise vague, you should be suspicious. 
  2. How many others made the cut? Too many voices in the crowd and you'll want to be suspect. 
  3. Who writes the bio? Most legitimate agencies will ask for background information and then write the bio for you. If you're asked to submit one yourself, it's most likely a vanity directory and not worth your money. 
  4. Are all entries the same size? The sure sign of a purely vanity directory is an upsell charge for a larger and/or more prominently featured biography. Most legitimate directories will even the playing field by having everyone have the same sized entry. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Big Fat Greek Wedding Gets A Sequel

The first trailer for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" was released today. Now, before you go on ranting about how it's an unnecessary sequel and that it won't be any different from the first one and that Nia Vardalos hasn't written anything even remotely funny in the last 14 years, let me tell you this:

I attended the My Big Fat Greek Wedding panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year and the footage that they showed there got a tremendous reaction. In anticipation, hundreds of people were there cosplaying as Toula Portokalos and Ian Miller. I even saw a few cosplaying as Gus. It seems that the My Big Fat Greek Wedding cimenatic universe (heretofore abbreviated as the MBFGWCU) still has many tales left to tell. Now, I don't know if the My Big Fat Greek Life television show is going to remain in canon or not. We'll have to wait for the premiere of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 for the answer. Still, rumor has it that Universal has already signed Tom Everett Scott to appear in a post-credit scene as Guy Patterson from That Thing You Do!, thus tying the two Playtone properties together and expanding the MBFGWCU. This, of course, will lead to the third entry in the MBFGWCU, Three Greeks And A Baby, plus the fourth entry, Four Greek Weddings and a Funeral.

Seriously, though, while the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding film was a critical and a commercial success and did big business almost solely based upon word-of-mouth, it owed its success to the one woman show that Nia Vardalos based the movie on. Vardalos was able to road test a number of the elements that went from the play into the movie. That hasn't been the case for stuff for her subsequent efforts like "My Life In Ruins" and "I Hate Valentines Day" which were absolutely disastrous and felt like first drafts in dire need of refinement. And, I suspect it's the same for  My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. It's just another attempt to cash in on some movie nostalgia. Which is too bad, because the all-ages family charm that was integral to the success of the original seems to be absent in the sequel. The scene in the trailer where Toula and Ian are about to boink in the car and are caught by the family lacks subtlety, is completely unrealistic and seems indicative of the kind of jokes that will permeate My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. If Playtone and Universal wanted to really capitalize on the popularity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a minimal amount of effort, they could have just made it part of The Fast And The Furious franchise and called it 2 Fat 2 Greek.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Review Of The Peanuts Movie

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a huge Peanuts fan. I grew up watching their holiday specials. I turned in a rousing performance as a tree our first grade production of "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". I have been pushing my community theater group to do a production of  "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" for years. And, as a condition of accepting a role in my theater group's Christmas review show last year, I insisted on being assigned Linus' famous recitation of Luke 2:9-14 from "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

I've been excited about "The Peanuts Movie" for months. I've been eagerly showing the trailer to my kids in order to get them interested in seeing it with me. We saw the movie yesterday afternoon and, I have to say that, while my expectations were probably impossibly high, The Peanuts Movie went a long way towards satisfying them. The premise of The Peanuts Movie involves Charlie Brown and his attempts to win the heart of The Little Red-Haired Girl. The B-plot involves Snoopy writing a fantastical novel in which he battles the Red Baron to save his own love interest. It doesn't sound like much to base a movie on, but the underlying message of honesty, courage and being true to yourself is something that fans of The Peanuts Gang have come to expect from anything with Charles M. Schulz attached to it

First off, I want to commend Blue Sky for not casting "names". Each character in the Peanuts Movie is voiced by a child actor which is what Charles Schulz would have wanted. I can only imagine how fast he'd be spinning in his grave had Fergie been cast as Sally (which would be somewhat legit considering that she voiced Sally in "Snoopy's Getting Married"). Second, I also appreciate that The Peanuts Movie exists within its own timeless environment. The kids don't use cell phones or computers. They still have landline phones with twisty cords. They write letters instead of sending emails. Snoopy uses a type-writer instead of a word processing program. It really adds to the charm of The Peanuts Movie. Unfortunately, because of this, when modern pop songs are used in this setting, it creates a cognitive dissonance that threatens to take the viewer out of the movie.

I only have three other nitpicks, and those relate to continuity:

  1. Linus has traditionally been shown as being younger than Charlie Brown, yet, in The Peanuts Movie, they're in the same class. This change was most likely made in order to quickly move the story along. 
  2. Linus and Lucy's younger brother, Rerun is not mentioned. It's possible that he's the kid that Charlie Brown helps out a few times through the movie, but if he is, he's not mentioned by name. 
  3. Peppermint Patty and Marcie don't go to the same school as Charlie Brown, yet, in The Peanuts Movie, they do. Again, it's a change that was probably made for brevity. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It's a sweet, charming, delightfully fun film. It's like getting a warm hug from my childhood. There's something for kids who are new to Peanuts and adults who have been longtime fans. While I liked the Charlie Brown plot the best, my two younger boys preferred the Snoopy plot. My boys giggled at Snoopy sneakily eating Charlie Brown's cupcakes while I was moved by Snoopy offering him the last cupcake after yet another spectacular failure. My pre-teen daughter was not a fan of the movie overall citing that she found very little to identify with.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A New Star Trek TV Series Is Coming In 2017....On CBS All Access

Star Trek is returning to television, just in time for its 50th anniversary. Alex Kurtzman, producer of the latest big screen Star Trek adventures, is beaming down a new take on the series which will air exclusively on the CBS video on demand app, CBS All Access (after an initial "free broadcast" of the first episode on CBS proper). This will be the first original series developed specifically for CBS All Access. No details about the premise, characters or timeframe involved have been released yet, but, since Kurtzman is executive producing, it's a pretty sure bet that this new Star Trek TV series will take place in the alternate timeline created in the 2009 Star Trek movie.

The Trek fan in me is happy that a new Star Trek TV series is officially being developed. However, my phasers are currently set to "skeptical" because this is an obvious attempt to shore up the fledgling CBS All Access app. Also, Alex Kurtzman has been responsible for writing some absolute crap over the past few years, including Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But, at least his usual writing partner, Roberto Orci, isn't involved. So, the glass might actually be half full here.

Still, as a discerning consumer of entertainment, it's going to take a lot to get me to pay $6 a month for access to yet another streaming site. This new Star Trek tv series is going to have to be really good right out of the gate in order to win my hard earned cash. No more of this "take two seasons to find its legs" crap that Trek has become known for over the years. Otherwise, I'll just wait until the series has completely aired, sign up for a free week on CBS All Access, binge watch the new Star Trek TV series and then cancel my subscription. If the show is as bad as Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Enterprise were, I may not even do that.

I know that we, as consumers, have been begging for more a-la-carte options and that this CBS All Access thing has spun out of that. But, here's the rub: I already pay CBS for content via my cable subscription. There were a series of big contentions recently as the various networks demanded more money from cable providers for the privilege of rebroadcasting over cable what the networks were already broadcasting for free over the air. Cable bills went up as a result. And now those same networks want to charge me for that content again? Not happening. Cable subscribers are already paying for multiple CBS owned stations. There's no excuse not to air it on any of those except to extort cash. Which isn't very Star Trek like.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Curtis C. Call from Choice Home Warranty Might Be Watching Me

The folks over at Choice Home Warranty are certainly persistent. They call just about every day (sometimes twice a day) looking for Albert Cosby. In the past, I've treated them to my Fat Albert impression, but, Choice Home Warranty has been calling so much, that shtick has gotten old. When they called this morning, I accused them of trying to steal my identity, and of watching me through a remote camera for some kind of wacky reality show. When the rep said that it was just a courtesy call, I told her that I wanted to talk to Mr. Curtis C. Call. The rep was pretty persistent and was pretty good at trying to bring the conversation back on track. At 5 minutes in, the rep gives up and ends the conversation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

LBJ And The Great Society

There's another misinformed meme making its way across my Facebook feed this week. It has been around for at least a year, but it seems like a few conservative websites have been picking it back up, hence its reappearance on Facebook this week. It's  a picture of LBJ The text reads Black children born without a father in the home rate pre LBJ's "Great Society" welfare system in 1964 = 7%. Black children born without a father in the home rate post LBJ's "Great Society" 2014 - 73%. Hey, liberals, how's your "Great Society" working out for the black family? One acquaintance of mine who re-posted the meme added "..And the system is actually working just as he designed it! Destroy the black family, make them dependent on government handouts and ensure they will be owned by the Democrats forever! Wake up, America!!! 

As usual for this sort of thing, the statistics involved have not been cited. I'd like to give the creator of this LBJ meme the benefit of the doubt and say that the sources were omitted for brevity rather than to obscure the facts. It looks like the second figure comes from federal health statistics which states that in 2012, the percentage of black births that were made to unmarried black mothers was 72%. Federal health statistics didn't specifically track african american births to unmarried mothers in 1964, so a direct comparison of statistics is not possible. The best I could come up with is from the U.S. Census data which states that in 1960, about 20% of black children were living with just a mother. That's still an increase, but, it's only 3.65%. It's also worth noting that the fatherlessness rate among whites also rose between 1960 and 2012. In 1960, 6% of white children lived in a single-mother household in 1960. That figure rose to 18 percent in 2013, which means, proportionately, the rate of fatherlessness among white children rose at about the same as black children. I'm also being generous to the meme creator by assuming that "born out of wedlock" and "single parent household" also means "no significant fatherly involvement" which, realistically, probably isn't the case. 

The other thing to remember here is that correlation does not inherently equal causality. Just because fatherless households rose after the implementation of the Great Society, it does not automatically follow that the Great Society was the cause. Other factors were at work such as the sexual revolution, the marriage penalty and the increase in women in the workforce (just to name a few). These changes had much more to do with the rise of single parent households than The Great Society did. But, in the end, this meme is just an excuse for people to focus their hate downward on the economic laddar and/or to the left of the political spectrum. It's a meme that's meant to rally the base rather than to spur any intellectual discussion.   

Monday, October 12, 2015

Amanda Hugginkiss

I got a call from a telemarketer looking for Amanda Hugginkiss. Initially, I was taken aback that someone was actually using that old chestnut of a prank call name. I told the lady on the other end that if she dressed nice and went out to talk to people, she just might find "A man to hug and kiss". She tried to correct me and again asked for Amanda Hugginkiss. I had to actually explain to her that someone had been shining her on and that Amanda Hugginkiss sounds like "a man to hug and kiss".

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Leaving Canada

We crossed the border back into the United States via the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge this afternoon. The Rainbow Bridge is so-named because you can often see a rainbow over the Niagara Falls, which are just upstream from the bridge, while you're crossing. The Rainbow Bridge was constructed near the site of the Honeymoon Bridge, which had collapsed in 1938, due to an ice jam in the river. A joint Canadian and American commission had already been considering a new bridge to replace it, and the collapse hastened the need to replace it.

Before leaving, we stopped at the duty free shop to pick up a few things. Buying at a duty free shop is a great way to save on items, especially alcoholic beverages, because those shops are exempt from the payment of certain local or national taxes and duties. The requirement is that the goods sold will be sold to travelers who will take them out of the country. So, once you buy from the duty free shop, you've got to exit the country. Thus, we drove into the parking lot of the shop, paid for our items, picked up our items at a drive through window, and then immediately exited Canada via the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge. According to United States government regulations, a person is allowed to bring only one liter of an alcoholic beverage into the United States duty free. We brought in a bit more than our allowed exemption, but, the officer at the border just waved us on.

We've stopped in Columbus, Ohio for a bite to eat. As we passed through the McDonald's, I found myself somewhat disappointed that I couldn't get any poutine. Yet, my spirits instantly lifted when I discovered that McDonald's is now severing breakfast all day! It finally happened! God Bless America!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Skylon Tower, Clifton Hill and Other Misc Niagara Stuff

We had dinner tonight atop the Skylon Tower. It's much like the CN Tower in that it's a slipfoam tower and that there's an a la carte fine dining experience that revolves and there's a less formal non-revolving dining option. Again, we went with the non-revolving option, mainly because the buffet sounded so good. And it's not bad. It feels like a mid-level Vegas buffet. There's an IMAX theater in the complex, but I don't think it plays mainstream IMAX releases. There just seems to be a feature about Niagara History. But, there's also a daredevil exhibit, and that's pretty cool.

Clifton Hill itself is a neat little tourist trap. There's so much to do that we couldn't possibly do everything available there. Much of it is cheesy, most of it is expensive for what you actually get, but all of it is fun if you're in the right mood. Keeping that in mind, if you're souvenir hunting, don't bother buying them in Clifton Hill. You're better off picking them up in the actual town of Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Speaking of Niagara-On-The-Lake, if you take a scenic drive to along the river from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake,  there are a ton of wineries along the way. You could spend a few days visiting every single one. But, it's best to book a winery tour if that's your thing so that you can sample as much wine as you like without having to worry about being sober enough to drive to the next winery.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Niagara Falls (Slowly I Turned)

We spent the day at Niagara Falls, Ontario today. I've always wanted to see Niagara Falls, especially being a fan of both the famous Three Stooges Niagara Falls skit as well as a huge fan of Superman II, part of which was filmed here. I had thought that all of the touristy stuff was located on the American side, but, as we pulled up onto Clifton Hill, I realized that I was grossly mistaken. There's so many touristy things to do on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. And I say that in a good way. It's like Las Vegas, but more densely packed. And with less people.

Of course, you can view The Falls from just about anywhere in the area. You'll have to pay for some of the of the more in-depth stuff, though. Here's what we did so far:

Hornblower Niagara Cruise:  It's sort-of a rite of passage for Niagara goers. It's a boat that will take you right up to the Mist of the Horseshoe Falls. You'll want to wear the free rain slicker they provide because you're definitely going to get wet. There are also lots of opportunities for them to upsell you stuff like protective tote bags, flip-flops, rain coats, etc. They're not worth it. Just be careful with your electronics if they're not water resistant. This is an absolute MUST and it's totally worth it, especially if you go during a time when it's not too terribly crowded.

Journey Behind The Falls: You go through a bunch of tunnels under the Table Rock Welcome Center to go behind part of the Horseshoe Falls. The information kiosks that they have along the way make for great reading and the thundering sound of being close to the Falls is awe-inspiring. Ultimately, it's an interesting concept, but there's not a great deal to see once you're actually behind the Falls. You could probably pass this by.

White Water Walk: You ride an elevator down to the river level and you get to take a walk along a boardwalk along the edge of the Niagara River between The Falls and The Whirlpool. Being that close up will really let you see just how the deep and narrow Great Gorge was created. As the water travels through the Whirlpool Rapids at White Water Walk, it is traveling at about 30 mph, creating the Class 6 Whirlpool Rapids. This is very cool and was well worth the price of admission.

Whirlpool Aero Car: Take an old-fashioned aero car across the Great Gorge to overlook the Niagara Whirlpool. It's a short trip, perfect for a sunny day. I'm a bit leery of heights, but this didn't bother me too much.

Niagara's Fury: From the looks of it, it's a 4D Movie Experience starring some cartoon beaver. It might be something fun for the kids, but, since we are kidless on this vacation, we skipped it.

The best way to see all the Niagara attractions is to get an Adventure Pass. The Adventure Pass will get you access to all of the attractions, will also make appointments for you at specified times and is usable throughout your stay in the Niagara Area. So, you don't have to see everything in one day (which is impossible anyway).

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Downtown Toronto

We headed north to Toronto this afternoon to spend the day downtown. Not only is Toronto the capital of Ontario, but its also the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. There are so many things to do in Toronto, but we only had one afternoon to spend there, so we had to choose wisely.

We started with the Royal Ontario Museum (aka the ROM). They've got a fairly impressive dinosaur exhibit along with an endangered species exhibit that includes specimens of a polar bear, a giant panda, a white rhinoceros, a Burmese python, Canadian coral, a leatherback sea turtle, a coelacanth, a Rafflesia flower, and many other rare species. There are also recently extinct species displayed, including specimens of a passenger pigeon and a great auk, as well as skeletons of a dodo bird and a moa with a specimen of a moa egg, and many other recently extinct species. The best part of the museum, though, was the Pompeii exhibit. The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town that was destroyed and buried under 20 ft of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. People who were buried beneath the ruins left voids in the ash which were filled with plaster, thus preserving the positions in which they died. There are a number of Pompeii casts on display at the Royal Ontario Museum along with other Pompeii artifacts like statues and mosaic tiles.

We moved on to the Ripley's Aquarium. It's located right next to CN Tower, so just look up and head in that direction. The aquarium features several aquatic exhibits including a walk-through tank. The aquarium has 1.5 million gallons of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. The exhibits hold 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater specimens from more than 450 species. The best part of the aquarium is the The Dangerous Lagoon exhibit which is an underwater tunnel with a moving side walk. It's the aquarium's largest tank and it was thrilling to walk underneath the sea creatures as they swam by. I will say that I was getting a little ticked off at the folks who kept blatantly ignoring the "No Flash Photography" signs. And I was especially ticked at the people whom I saw teasing the octopus.

We headed over to the CN tower for dinner. The CN Tower (aka "La Tour CN" for the French speakers) is a 1,815 ft high concrete communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto. It is the 3rd tallest tower in the world and is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its name "CN" originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. Following the railway's decision to divest itself from the structure, it transferred the tower to the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation responsible for real estate development. Since the name CN Tower became common in daily usage, the abbreviation was eventually expanded to Canadian National Tower or Canada's National Tower. If you want to go up in the tower, you've got a few options.

  • You can directly pay for a ticket to the observation tower.
  • Reserve a table at the 360 Restaurant which offers a rotating view of the city. Your ticket to the observation will be comped. Try to go up there just before sunset so you can see both the daylight view and then the night time view from the tower. 
  • If you  can't get a reservation at the 360 restaurant, but you still want to get something to eat you can always pay for a ticket to the observation deck and then visit the Horizon's restaurant up there. It doesn't revolve, but the food is good and is somewhat reasonably priced. I had their signature 360 burger which is a burger topped with ham, bacon, cheese and 7 onion rings.  
While at the Ripley's Aquarium and the CN Tower, we ran afoul of a number of Taylor Swift fans who were lining up early at Rogers Centre to catch her show tonight. I'm glad we got out of there when we did because it was starting to get pretty crazy down there. 

Friday, October 2, 2015


Hanging out in Canada isn't all that much different from hanging out in the United States. They've got pretty much all the same things that we've got, just with a heavier European influence. That being said, there are some truly unique things to eat in Canada. I've already had en Elk burger, some candy called Aero (chocolate with a bubbly interior that's sometimes filled with flavoring of various different types) and ketchup flavored potato chips. The most unusual thing I've eating, though, is something called poutine.

Poutine in all its glory
Poutine is basically french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. It originated in Quebec, which suggests a French influence, although it may have spun out of a British dish of chips and cheese and gravy. I had heard that poutine was generally sold in diners and greasy spoon type restaurants, but, as it turns out, you can get them in just about any fast food place in Canada like McDonald's and Burger King. For my first poutine experience, though, I opted to sample some poutine from an actual poutinerie. So, after a brief walk along the Ontario river in Burlington, I headed up John Street to Curdz Poutinerie, which is part of a small but growing chain of poutineries. Upon hearing that I was an American out to try his first poutine, I was excitedly presented with their classic poutine. There are many different varieties available at a poutinerie, but I opted for the classic so that I could get a bead on this dish. It's not bad. It's tasty enough, and I love how the gravy melts the cheese curdz and absolutely drowns the fries into a soggy, gravy filled, cheesey mess. That being said, I think poutine is a bit too heavy to eat as a side dish with a burger or a steak. It seems to me that it'd be perfect for a night of drinking, or as a hangover breakfast.

McPoutine. There really is gravy there. I swear.
I also tried the poutine offerings at McDonald's and Burger King. First off, I don't know why McDonald's doesn't refer to their poutine as McPoutine. Second, mine hardly had any gravy on it. McDonald's poutine was good, but not spectacular. Their famous fries are definitely the star attraction of the dish, with the cheese and gravy being secondary. It's not bad, but I wasn't blown away. Burger King had the better fast food poutine of the two. Their fries are better able to absorb the gravy, making for a tastier dish. Still, my preference is for the offering made by Curdz Poutinerie. It was a great balance between the fries, the cheese and the gravy. Now that I've had the classic, I am going to have to go back some time to try some of their more exotic poutinez

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dundurn Castle

After the Revolutionary War, a number of loyalists who still wanted to remain under British rule fled the United States for Canada. Richard Beasley was among them and, for a time, prospered. He built a brick home in what was called Burlington Heights which he was later forced to sell due to financial difficulties. The property was purchased by Sir Allan Napier MacNab (an ancestor of Camilla Parker-Bowles) who, over the course of three years, built Dundurn Castle on the foundations of Beasley's brick home. Once built, Dundurn Castle became famous all over Canada for its grand entertainments and its modern technology such as gas lighting and running water.

The back of Dundurn Castle. The front is getting a facelift
Today, Dundurn Castle is owned by the city of Hamilton and is open to the public. I visited the site this afternoon and found that its distinguishing feature, its towering columns, which are a focal point for newlywed couples to have professional pictures taken of themselves on their wedding day, were under repair. That may mar the outside appearance, but, the rest of the property is still in great shape and it all looks beautiful. I walked along the grounds and took a guided tour of the mansion. There were a number of people walking around in period clothing fulfilling the various functions of the house, but they don't act as if they are living in the time period.

There's also a military museum on the grounds that has a lot of information about the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective. I didn't spend much time there, but I was interested to learn about the battles that occurred in that area during that time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oh, Canada!

We drove up to Canada today as part of our vacation into Ontario. I've never crossed a land boarder before, so I was not prepared for the way some of the things worked while crossing into Canada. 

Here's a quick Traveling To Canada FAQ I whipped up:

Do I need a passport to get into Canada? If you're going to cross the land border into Canada, you need some sort of enhanced ID. Some state driver's licenses count as enhanced ID, but, sadly, most states are lagging behind in that aspect. So, if you don't have an enhanced ID, you'll at least need a passport card. If you're flying in, you need a passport book. 

Some Canadian Currency
How do I get money in Canada?
Right when you cross the border, there's a currency exchange where you can exchange your US dollars for Canadian dollars. Otherwise, you can use your debit card at an ATM in Canada and they'll take out Canadian money and charge your account the equivalent in US dollars.

Canadians are heavy users of dollar coins. The one dollar coin is called a Loonie because of the loon depicted on it. Thus, the two dollar coin is referred to as a Toonie. They've abandoned usage of the Canadian penny, so purchases are always rounded to the nearest nickel. Canadian paper money is actually made from polymer which feels weird and very plastic-like compared to U.S. currency which is made from cotton fabric. All told, the Canadian bills feel weird to me, but they're probably more durable than U.S. bills.

Will my cell phone work in Canada? I got my Verizon Wireless Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge to work in Canada. Eventually. Even if you have a Global device, you still have to update your plan so that the phone will actually work. Verizon Wireless offers a number of plans for using your cell phone in Canada. Pick the one that works best for your situation. Google Maps switched to metric measurements of distance automatically when we crossed the border. If you'd rather have Google Maps give your distances in miles rather than kilometers, you can change that setting via the Route Options. 

Does Canada use the Metric system? Yep. Distance signs are measured in kilometers . Gas is measured in liters (One gallon is equal to roughly four liters). Speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour. Thank God they drive on the right side of the road.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Video Of John Lennon Mocking The Disabled

There's an old video of John Lennon making the rounds on social media this week where he openly mocks people with disabilities by crudely mimicking them. The uproar over this 50 year-old footage erupted after a BBC program "It was Alright in the 60's", a show designed to highlight the ways that the entertainment industry and our standards for acceptable behavior have changed over the past several decades, aired it. It's not as if this footage was new to begin with, though. It has been included in a number of Beatles documentaries over the years and it was part of the "Anthology" program that the Beatles released back in 1995 and it never caused much, if any controversy.  Until now.

It's well documented that John Lennon had a pretty twisted, cruel sense of humor. He was especially uncomfortable around people with physical handicaps including his own step father whom John referred to as "Twitchy" due to a facial tick. He was known to get incredibly nervous when handicapped fans were brought backstage during Beatles appearances. He remarked in an interview with Rolling Stone ( issues # 74 & 75; 21 Jan & 4 Feb, 1971):

Wherever we went on tour, in Britain and everywhere we went, there were always a few seats laid aside for cripples and people in wheelchairs. Because we were famous, we were supposed to have epileptics and whatever they are in our dressing room all the time. We were supposed to be sort of “good,” and really you wanted to be alone. You don’t know what to say, because they’re usually saying “I’ve got your record” or they can’t speak and just want to touch you. It’s always the mother or the nurse pushing them on you, they themselves would just say hello and go away, but the mothers would push them at you like you were Christ or something, as if there were some aura about you which would rub off on them. It just got to be like that and we were very sort of callous about it. It was just dreadful: you would open up every night, and instead of seeing kids there, you would just see a row full of cripples along the front. It seemed that we were just surrounded by cripples and blind people all the time, and when we would go through corridors, they would be all touching us and things like that. It was horrifying.

It was the “in” joke that we were supposed to cure them; it was the kind of thing that we would say, because it was a cruel thing to say. We felt sorry for them, anybody would, but there is a kind of embarrassment when you’re surrounded by blind, deaf and crippled people. There is only so much we could say, you know, with the pressure on us, to do and to perform.

So, you view the clip as Lennon rebelling against how the Beatles were often viewed as saviors and faith healers by caretakers of the disabled. Or you can view it as Lennon being a callous asshole towards the disabled for the sake of cheap physical comedy. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Paul's mediocre call for the audience to clap their hands. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Beatles fans in general. You can view it as a relic of a bygone age or you can view it as yet another example of Lennon being an asshole. However you see it, if you're offended by it, before you get out your pitchforks and torches, you have to ask yourself why there wasn't a similar outcry back when the clip was first aired in 1964 and why subsequent airings over 50 years have failed to cause a stir. Why are people getting upset now as opposed to any time before?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Government Grant Scammer Calls Me

I got a call from a rep with a heavy Indian accent claiming to be from the government and offering $7,000 in government grant money. Grant scammers generally follow the same script: they congratulate you on your eligibility and then ask for your checking account or credit card information so they can deposit your government grant money directly into your account or to cover a one-time “processing fee.” I played along with this particular grant scammer for a bit and soon discovered that they were looking for someone named John Meem, which is not an alias I have ever used. Right off, I tried to push the call through by offering a completely made up credit card number. The grant scammer kept trying to verify my information, not being able to reconcile the fact that I gave him a different name from the one he was expecting. At one point, I just kept on screaming "Give me my money!!!!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What If Die Hard Had Starred Frank Sinatra?

We were having a lazy Saturday evening last weekend. We had ordered Mexican in, had already rented one movie and were trying to decide on another. While going through my catalog, I happened upon Die Hard. It's a classic. It kickstarted the concept of the everyman action hero. Before Die Hard, action heroes were all buff muscleheads like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. That's not to say that Bruce Willis was the first choice to star in Die Hard. The aforementioned musclehead,  Stallone was actually offered the role of John McClane, as was Harrison Ford and Don Johnson. However, before any of the previously mentioned actors were offered the lead role in Die Hard, it had to be offered to one specific actor: Frank Sinatra.

Die Hard is based upon Roderick Thorpe's novel Nothing Lasts Forever which is a sequel to his previous novel The Detective. The Detective was adapted to film and starred Frank Sinatra as New York City police detective Joe Leland who is called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.  Leland tries to remain focused on the case while running afoul of powerful interests in the city who do not want him asking questions and while dealing with the breakdown of his marriage. The sequel novel, Nothing Lasts Forever was written thirteen years after The Detective and had Joe Leland in a very similar situation to the one that eventually involved John McClane. Sinatra was in his 70's at the time production began on Die Hard, and nobody involved seriously believed that he would take on the lead role. However, due to the nature of how Die Hard was brought to life, Fox was contractually obligated to offer it to Frank Sinatra first. Mr. Sinatra, of course, turned it down. But, could you imagine if he hadn't? The plot might have gone something like this:

On Christmas Eve, retired New York City Police Detective Joe Leland flies into Los Angeles to visit his daughter, Stephanie Leland Gennaro, and his grand children. While in flight, he flirts with the stewardess and laments the ending of his marriage years before. He lands at LAX and is driven to the Nakatomi Plaza building for a company Christmas party by Argyle. Leland makes some vaguely racist remarks that mark him as a relic. Before seeing his daughter and grandkids, Leland changes clothes in an empty office and calls the stewardess to arrange a meetup. The party and Joe's phonecall are disrupted by the arrival of Anton "Little Tony" Gruber (whom Leland met during World War II) and his heavily armed group of terrorists. The group seize the tower and secure those inside as hostages, except for Leland who slips away barefoot and manages to remain undetected in the gigantic office complex. Aided outside only by LAPD Sergeant Al Powell and armed with only his police-issue Browning Hi-Power pistol, Leland fights off the terrorists one by one in an attempt to save the hostages. Throughout the film, the themes of guilt, alcoholism and the complexities of the human mind are explored. In the end, Leland saves the day, but he eventually succumbs to his wounds. He dies hard and ultimately proves that nothing lasts forever.

Die Hard is a pretty faithful adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever and many of the scenes and dialogue in Die Hard are taken directly from Nothing Lasts Forever. I, for one, would have loved to have heard an aging Frank Sinatra deliver Die Hard's signature line "Yippee ki-yay, ya mook!" Had Sinatra's version of the movie been successful, it may have ushered in an entire genre of Grandpa Action Heroes. Imagine Sidney Poitier starring in Under Siege, Walter Matthau in Speed, Jerry Lewis in The Rock and, the coup de grace, Abe Vigoda in Home Alone.

Looking to the future, one might think that, if they ever decide to do a Die Hard reboot, they might start with Die Hard 6: The Detective and do a re-imagining of the original Roderick Thorpe novel. Die Hard 6 may end up telling the story with John McClane circa 1979 as a no-nonsense New York detective called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.....

Monday, September 14, 2015

University Of Phoenix Calls Me

I don't have a lot of respect for The University of Phoenix. It's a for-profit career college owned by a company called the Apollo Group and it’s the biggest for-profit college operating in the United States. Only about 9% of first-time bachelor students’ graduate within 6 years, and only 5% of online students- compared with a 55% graduate rate at public institutions, and 65% at private nonprofit universities. University of Phoenix  has paid many government fines over the years, and has settled multiple whistle blower lawsuits regarding its admissions practices and educational programs.

This past weekend, a rep called looking for Clovis and upon hearing the telltale "This Call Is Now Being Recorded" notification from Google Voice, she got suspicious. As usual, Clovis takes offense at the suggestion that he would want to further his education and wonders why the rep is implying he's stupid. After the initial exchange, the rep goes back to wondering why the call is being recorded. Clovis asks why it matters and the rep dumps out of the call.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Selling To Brian's Toys - A Review

Back in the mid-90's, when the Star Wars Special Edition movies were being released, my college room-mate and I went out and bought up a number of Star Wars action figures released for that occasion. We intended to keep all of the action figures in their original packaging in the hopes that we could sell them a few decades later and turn a huge profit. Oh, how naive we were. We were like geeky versions of Beanie Baby collectors, wringing our greedy little hands together at the prospect of retiring early from the work-a-day grind.

Still, I faithfully stored those boxes of Star Wars actions figures in every home I occupied from then until this very year. In my latest (and, hopefully, last) move, I decided that it was time to rid myself of those Star Wars action figures from the Power Of The Force collection (including the manly-looking Princess Leia and the Darth Vader with the long lightsaber) to the Shadows of the Empire collection to the Phantom Menace Preview Figures. Inquiring at a few comic book shops in the area got me little more than pitiful laughs. Everyone I talked to said that they had a glut of those figures and that nobody wanted them aside from a few rare ones here and there. I didn't want to sell the collection piece meal on eBay or something. I wanted to get rid of everything at once. I was ready to just donate the four boxes of unopened Star Wars action figures I had, but, lucky, I happened upon Brian's Toys.

Brian's Toys operates out of Wisconsin and they buy and sell toys. They've even got a handy little mobile app where you can scan the barcode of your toy's package, upload a picture and then they'll get back to you in about 48 hours with an offer. You do have to pay for shipping, but you can ship at a discount if you do it via a pre-paid shipping label from Brian's Toys. All told, I had three transactions with Brian's Toys and they bought every single Star Wars action figure I had. I don't think I made my original investment back, but I was happy to get rid of the toys and get a little money back for them. The folks on staff at Brian's Toys were very nice, always notified me after they inspected my shipment and then told me when I could expect payment via PayPal. And they always paid me on time. It was a good experience over all, and, if I had more toys to sell, I'd sell again to Brian's Toys in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Debunking The New American Way Of Life Article

I've recently seen this "article" titled "New American way of life" all over my Facebook feed. It's credited to John Tabb and has been printed in the Miller County Liberal of to Colquitt, Georgia, on August 19, 2015. Supposedly, the article exists in an earlier form credited to John Rightmire. Whoever wrote it, it's a delicious piece of conservative-whacking welfare trolling that offers a very far fetched approach to gaming the system. There are so many blatant falsehoods in this New American Way Of Life that I had to counter the points.

First off, the waiting list for Section 8 housing, even to get a voucher to play the system like points 1-5 is suggesting, is incredibly long. You'd have to wait years for that to kick in.

6: The Affordable Care Act does provide subsidies for lower income families, but only provides "Free" healthcare to incredibly low incomes. Even then, those on the plan still have to pay out for co-pays, hospital visits, etc etc. The girlfriend in question could possibly get the kids on a state Medicaid program, but, once that's done, the state will look to the father to see if he is getting insurance through his employer and would then force him to cover the kids through his plan, thus screwing up the plan for the father is this hypothetical scenario.

7. If there were a way for a single parent to go to college for free, I'd have had my PhD by now. There simply aren't any state or federal programs that do that. The best one could do is qualify for a Pell Grant, but such grants are not dependent on one's parental status. And, if we're to assume that the girlfriend in question is a stay-at-home mom, then how is she going to have the time to go to class?

8. A family of three (girlfriend + 2 kids) would qualify for a MAXIMUM of $486 in SNAP benefits. This assumes zero income, as Mr Tabb states that the girlfriend in this hypothetical scenario is a stay at home mom. In most cases, if a single mother applies for SNAP benefits, the state will go after the father for child support payments to the mother in order to reduce/eliminate her monthly benefit. So, the father in this hypothetical piece would be screwed.

9. So-called "Obama Phones" existed before Obama was ever in office. It's called The Lifeline Program and it only offers discounts, not free phones. Some cellular providers do provide free cell phone programs, but they do so on their own dime.

10. Utility programs like that are offered at the State level, but they are usually via subsidies and are only free in emergency situations

11. That's actually illegal and would be considered fraud.

12. It doesn't work that way. If each parent is claiming one of the two children as a dependent, than the mother can’t be legally collecting benefits (such as SNAP) for both children.

13. Disability claims have to be well documented by medical professionals and securing benefits is not an easy task. Often, one has to go to court in order to claim disability. And if the girlfriend in question wasn't working to begin with (via the earlier points) she wouldn't get much out of the system because she hadn't earned enough work credits to begin with. I know a lady who has been trying to get disability for years. If she's not actually disabled, she's putting on a great act and has me and her family and friends fooled. She has been shut down in hearings at least twice and has resulted in absolute zero disability payout. It's not nearly as easy as walking into an office and saying "I'm crazy!" or "My back hurts and I can't work!".

The author of this New American Way of Life sums up his OP ED piece by placing the blame for the budget deficit on the shoulders of the social welfare system. One can debate the costs and benefits of social programs, but, instead of talking about people taking advantage of the system, perhaps we should be more concerned about the system taking advantage of the people. Wall Street gets trillions of dollars in tax incentives from the government while maximizing shareholder and minimizing employee compensation. The social benefits that are handed out are just scraps compared to this.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Taco Bell Firey Ghost Pepper Daredevil Loaded Griller

I'm not generally a fan of Taco Bell. I find that, aside from the occasional diversions like the Volcano Taco and the Blackjack Taco, the offerings on the menu are pretty bland. Had it not been for their monopoly on Mountain Dew Baja Blast, I would probably never set foot in the place. Yet, the prospect of having something that's actually spicy from a fast food restaurant lured me in this week. Taco Bell's newest menu addition, the Dare Devil Loaded Griller. Each DareDevil Loaded Griller features a grilled burrito filled with seasoned beef, red tortilla chips, nacho cheese, and one of three spicy sauces: Mild Chipotle, Hot Habanero, and Fiery Ghost Pepper. What caught my attention was the Fiery Ghost Pepper.

A lot of fast food places have been using "Ghost Pepper" as a marketing gimmick lately and have come up short when it came down to actually bringing the heat. So, when I tried the Fiery Ghost Pepper Dare Devil Loaded Griller at Taco Bell earlier this week, I was expecting a dud. After eating one, though, I was pleasantly surprised. There's actually some kick to it; not enough to set off any alarms, but enough that it'll have you reaching for your Baja Blast. It's like eating a Taco Bell Chili Cheese Burrito with Volcano Sauce. The ghost pepper sauce is also the only one of the new sauce offerings that isn’t sour cream-based, so as soon as you taste it, you'll feel the heat. The other two sauces feature a spicy build up rather than immediate heat. The ghost pepper sauce is more vinegary and seemed to overpower everything else while soaking into the texture of the tortilla chips. making it hard to distinguish the flavors of anything else. 

Several hours after eating it, I found that the Taco Bell Fiery Ghost Pepper Dare Devil Loaded Griller was aptly named, as it continued to haunt my bowels for the rest of the night.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Battery Cases

I certainly love my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. It has an amazing camera, a great display and a screaming fast processor. The one thing it fails at (aside from RAM management) is battery life. I can barely get a day's usage out of a full charge. Instead of carrying around a number of external battery backs, I've decided that using a protective case for my Galaxy S6 Edge that has a battery embedded within it is the way to go. I've already explored a few options. Here is what I've found so far:

Samsung Galaxy S6 Battery Case Review Round-Up

Power Case

You can find this case on and other websites under a host of different names such as Power Case, LoveLifeMall, etc. The price runs anywhere between $15 and $25. You might hear claims that it handles Fast Charge (Qualcomm Quick Charge) and that it can charge the phone while it's connected to the case, but that hasn't been my experience. Despite those drawbacks, the Power Case has been pretty reliable. I can get close to a full charge from 20% on my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. And the kickstand is a nice feature.

Incipio OffGrid

I know that there are a fair amount of people who are really pleased with this case, but, I'm not a fan. The Incipio OffGrid makes a lot of promises: It supports Fast Charge, it stores enough charge to bring the Galaxy S6 up to 100% and then some and it even comes with an SD slot so that you can get your expandable storage back. This is a great battery case....when it actually works. Mine seems to only work about 50% of the time. Often, I'll hit the charge button and the Off Grid case will charge my phone for about 10-30 minutes. Then, the case will stop charging and my S6 will go crazy, displaying "The Dock Is Connected" in the notification bar over and over again. This happens despite my S6 and the case both reporting a full charge before I go out in the morning. I contacted Incipio support and this was their reply:

We have received a few inquiries regarding your situation and we would like to provide some technical information on the case that could help troubleshoot your issue.

When having the case plugged into the wall, with the phone inside the case, the charge is going to pass through the case and charge the phone (pass-through charging). Once the phone hits 100%, then the case will start to charge. The one thing that will affect this is if there are any apps running the background of your phone. The apps running (such as email, social media notifications, or anything else pulling data) will cause the phone to discharge so essentially the pass-through may continuously go to the phone and not charge the case at all (depending on how much power the phone is discharging). This is an intended design and does not indicate an defect within the case. For proper charging, we recommend turning off the phone completely to charge your case or to charge the case without the phone installed to completely charge the case to 100% battery life.

If the case is not charging properly even with the phone completely turned off or removed from the case, then this would be indicative of a charging issue and may require replacing.

For $89, I shouldn't have to charge the phone and the case separately. I'm thinking mine requires replacing. Even though I have to wade through that particular issue, I'm still pretty geeked about the added storage feature. That particular feature has been very reliable (despite it blue screening my phone the first time I used it)  and I like being able to store my music locally so that I don't have to eat up my data every time I want to listen to some tunes.

EDIT: On 9/18/2015, nearly a month after opening the initial ticket, I was finally issued a refund on my OffGrid case from Incipio. 

 Mophie Juice Pack

The $100 price tag on this one has kept me from pulling the trigger, but, I may have to now considering how the Incipio OffGRID has failed. Mophie has a great reputation to begin with and I've yet to hear anything negative about it. Mophie claims that the Juice Pack for the Galaxy S6 will give you up to 100% charge and reports are that it does so pretty quickly. I may have to investigate this option further if the Incipio off Grid doesn't pan out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sun King Brewey Employee Hates Tom Brady

An employee at an Indianapolis based brewery apparently hates Patriots quarterback Tom Brady quite a bit. Sun King Brewery, which supplies beer to Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts, accidentally released 20,000 cans of their Wee Mac Scottish Ale with "Tom Brady Sux" printed next to the canning date. On May 13, a Sun King employee who has been identified as Biscuit, stamped the cans during the height of "DeflateGate". Sun King Brewery, which is known for having a little fun with their date stamps released a statement via Twitter: "A SKB employee had fun w the canning date coder. While we don't condoned [sic] the message we understand his Colts passion."

What would really be funny would be if the cans were not pumped with C02, so when you opened your can there was no pressure.

Tom Brady Sux

Monday, August 10, 2015

Venus Fly Trap

We took the family to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis this past weekend. We had quite a time among the gorgeous displays and we ended up taking home a few plants from the gift shop. This botanical haul included a venus fly trap.

Venus flytraps are the most commonly recognized and cultivated carnivorous plant. When we took the one home pictured below, the botanist who sold it to us offered some great tips on caring for a venus fly trap.

  • Give them as much light as you can. Full direct sunlight for at least four hours a day is best. 
  • Water your venus fly trap with “pure” water (low in mineral content), either distilled or rain water. Do not keep them sitting in water. 
  • They prefer damp soil in a nutrient poor medium such as peat, sphagnum moss or sand and perlite in some combination. 
  • There's no need to catch insects for them and feed them directly. They'll handle that themselves.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Everest University Calls Me

A recruiter from Everest University called looking for Clovis  the other day. Clovis had been playing phone tag with these folks, and, while doing so, had been wooed by other for-profit universities eager to get a chunk of his G.I. Bill. Everest has been the focus of a number of scandals over the years, so much so that it divested itself from its parent corporation, Corinthian Colleges Inc in order to make it look like less of a scam school.

Anyway, Clovis took the call and was quite disappointed that the rep wasn't nearly as excited to talk to him as he was to talk to her. Clovis then informed her that if she didn't up the amps on her excitement meter, he'd have to attend Ararat University instead.