Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pain Relief Scammers Call Me

A lady from some fly-by night pain relief insurance fraud scam called me. She told me that I was "eligible" for some kind of medical device. I asked her how she knew I was illegitimate. Did she know my mother? When she tried to explain, saying once again that I was "eligible"I asked her what my being unable to read had to do with my pain situation. She then switched to the word "entitled" which I took even further offence to.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

United Breast Cancer Foundation Calls Me. Again.

What sort of organization employs a call center that spoofs their CallerID and uses not one, but TWO layers pre-recorded operators in order to solicit people? The answer should be obvious, but, I'll spell it out just in case: Any organization that employs these tactics is much more interested in separating you from your hard earned money than they are in actually helping you or anyone else out. This brings me to the United Breast Cancer Foundation. I've dealt with them before, earlier this year, and they had been calling me about three times a day for the last two weeks. Usually, when I would answer, they'd just hang up. Today, however, they connected and I was met with Alice, that familiar robo-voice.

There must have been some kind of lag Alice's programming, because when I picked up the call, she didn't identify who she was calling for. She was already mid-way through her pitch when she started telling me how she hoped that the ladies could count on my support. She never mentioned the United Breast Cancer foundation. And when I asked for a representative, she put me down for a $30 donation! She forwarded me to "Jen from verification" which was another pre-programmed robo-voice! After saying "representative" over and over again, I finally got kicked over to a "manager" who was an actual living, breathing person working at a call center.

Andrea picked up the phone, and I wasn't sure that she was actually human. Through her intermittent gum-smacking, I asked her to prove to me that she was human. Andrea actually works for a call center service named "Associated Community Services" and, when I asked her how she felt to be soliciting donations on behalf of an organization that spends only 6% of the money they raise on actually helping people, etc, Andrea tried to beg off. She eventually tried to say "They are helping out as many people as they can". I couldn't abide by that bullshit. In the midst of my berating her, Andrea said that she had indeed looked up the United Breast Cancer foundation, which, if true, shows me that she's content to make money off of working for charities that are questionable at best.

And why is that? Well, one doesn't really have to wonder why Andrea feels that way, considering that she works for Associated Community Services, an organization that ran afoul of the Michigan Attorney General and had to pay a settlement after a cease-and-desist order. In 2015, three Michigan based cancer fundraising organizations erroneously portrayed themselves as charities with financial programs for cancer patients that provide pain medications, transportation and hospice care. Guess which call center they used? Associated Community Services. You might be seeing a correlation here.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Papa John Blames NFL For Low Pizza Sales

Papa Johns pizza sales and stock price have been falling recently, and company executives think they know why. "Papa" John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John's International Inc puts the blame squarely on the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. Papa Johns, the official pizza company of the NFL, has a deal with the league and with 23 teams. Company executives believe that fallout of the National Anthem controversy has resulted in many NFL fans boycotting the pizza chain "The NFL has hurt us", Schnatter said during an earnings call on Wednesday. "We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this." This coming from the guy that complained that the Affordable Care Act forced him to raise prices and then a week later promoted a one million pizza give away. Company executives also blamed the increasingly competitive restaurant environment and temporary store closures caused by hurricanes for weak sales.

Personally, I think that while boycotts may have been a small factor, the overall cause of declining sales at Papa Johns is due to the fact that it has become a sub-par product. One of the first things a company needs to do when sales decline is to look inward. Domino's Pizza is a fine example. Here's a company that realized it was putting out a below middling product and allocated the time and capital necessary to improve upon it. And they ended up making a product that tastes good (for a chain store) and can be cheaply and quickly produced. They also implemented some technological innovations. Their web ordering app is the standard by which similar companies are judged.

Papa Johns needs to do some research on how to improve their product and update their ordering process. And, while they're at it, they need to do something with their commercials. Maybe hire a spokesman. I'm personally tired of seeing that douche-nozzle Papa John on every commercial they company does. It worked when the first did it ages ago when the touted Papa John's as a one-man success story, but the guy has become a caricature.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Let's Play Sid Meier's Pirates: Part II

This is Part II in my Let's Play: Sid Meier's Pirates series. When last we saw the dread pirate Nerdbeard and his intrepid crew, they had just uncovered buried treasure. In this episode, we follow the crew as they face famous pirates bent on revenge, uncover clues about the location of Nerdbeard's sister, fight the dreaded Baron Raymondo and attack a few Spanish held towns along the Caribbean. Some harsh truths about playing on the Apprentice level are also revealed.

Friday, October 27, 2017

More JFK Assassination Files Released

The National Archives released about 2,800 records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy late last night. In a move that will only fuel the conspiracy theories,  a number of government agencies prevailed upon President Trump at the 11th hour to block about 300 further documents. Agencies seeking to have those documents blocked have until April to report and reconsider their reasons for blocking those documents.

Meanwhile, there's not much of note in what got released last night. Obviously, there's no smoking gun and no flat-out confessions from members of shadowy intelligence organizations. Still, there are a few nuggets in the docu-dump. Here's a list of some of the more interesting documents revelations:

  • A local British newspaper received an anonymous call about "some big news" in America 25 minutes before President John F Kennedy was assassinated. A memo to the director of the FBI, dated November 26 1963, noted that an anonymous phone call was made to the senior reporter at the Cambridge News at 6.05pm on (12:05pm Central Time in the U.S.) the day Kennedy was shot. The caller said only that the Cambridge News reporter should call the American Embassy in London for some big news and then hung up. After the word of the President's death was received the reporter informed the Cambridge police of the anonymous call and the police informed MI-5

  • An FBI memo discussed Lee Harvey Oswald's "Fair Play For Cuba"activities. A document from the FBI office in New Orleans indicates that an FBI agent was keeping up "with Cuban sources" for information relating to the Pro-Castro "Fair Play for Cuba Committee," which Oswald was a member of. The document says that the committee appears to have gone dormant since Oswald left the area, and that the "Dallas Division for information" is searching for Oswald. It says that if Oswald has relocated to Dallas "he may inaugurate an FPCC branch in that area."

  • The FBI received a call at its Dallas office threatening Oswald's life the night before he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby. The report says "We at once notified the chief of police and he assured us Oswald would be given sufficient protection. This morning we called the chief of police again warning of the possibility of some effort against Oswald and he again assured us adequate protection would be given. However, this was not done." The report goes on to mention J. Edgar Hoover's suspicions that Jack Ruby was an "underworld" figure "with the reputation of being a homosexual."

  • The Soviet Union believed Kennedy's death was the result of a conspiracy. An FBI document discusses how the Soviet Union reacted "with great shock" to the assassination of Kennedy. The assassination shocked Soviet diplomats who preferred Kennedy as President because they held him in such high esteem and that they knew little about Lyndon Johnson. Some within the Communist party believed that the assassination was in fact a coup initiated by the "ultraright." They were also worried that a rogue US general might use the lack of leadership to fire a nuclear weapon at the Soviet Union. The memo goes on to state that Soviet officials had denied any involvement with Lee Harvey Oswald, who had briefly defected to the Soviet Union years before: "They described him as a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else." The KGB believed Oswald to be unstable, in part owing to his suicide attempt while in Soviet custody.

  • Fidel Castro denied involvement in the Kennedy assassination. A report from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which was formed in 1976 to investigate the killings of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, says that the members met with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, "who assured the Committee that neither he nor his government had any involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy."

  • Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippett was accused of being the real assassin. An FBI document discussed an alleged conversation between an informant and H. Theodore Lee, where Lee indicated that previous members of the Fair Play For Cuba Committee had said that Patrolman Tippett (who had been murdered by Oswald about 45 minutes after the JFK assassination) had met Jack Ruby and an unnamed third party at Jack Ruby's night club a week before the assassination. 
So, what's the takeaway from this? Well, it certainly seems to torpedo the theory that the Soviets had anything to do with the JFK assassination. And the recently released documents don't do anything to advance the theory that Castro had anything to do with it. The theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was a CIA agent who went rogue and the CIA covered up any connections he had to the agency in order to avoid embarrassment still has some legs, though. Also worth noting is that there doesn't seem to be anything in these documents indicating direct evidence of a second shooter.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Terminator 6

After the disappointing box office returns of Terminator: Genisys, the rights to the Terminator franchise have reverted back to its creator, James Cameron, who wrote and directed the first two films. Now, Cameron says that he's pushing forward with Terminator 6. And, in order to fix the franchise, he's going back to basics and Terminator 6 will ignore all the movies after Terminator 2, which is smart, because everything since that movie is a complete mess. In Terminator 3, Sarah Connor dies, John Connor becomes some kind of drifter and Judgement Day happens in 2004. Terminator Salvation spins out of Terminator 3 where it shows us the post-apocalyptic world that the adult John Connor lives in and the movie was so bad that my brain had mercy on my and managed to forget most of it. But, then there's that TV show, the Sarah Connor Chronicles which follows a terminally ill Sarah Connor as she protects John from wave after wave of terminators who just can't seem to get the job done. And, of course, Genisys just sucks. Terminator fans are used to retcons, right?

So, Terminator 6 will pick up from Terminator 2, but what can we expect? I wouldn't be surprised if it's a tale about a killer robot driving instructor who goes back in time for some reason and has to make a choose whether his best friend lives or dies (his best friend is a talking pie!). Maybe the film will go back to its roots and just feature an unstoppable killing machine from the future hunting down and attempting to kill Sarah and John. Or maybe the Terminator's target will be Kyle Reese this time and Sarah and John are tasked with protecting baby Kyle. I feel, though, that, at its heart, the original Terminator movie was a horror film. It just needs to be about a deadly game of cat and mouse between the terminator and its target(s). There target doesn't even have to know about the future war against the machines. No need to explain time travel paradoxes or Judgement Day or anything else. No relying on special effects to push the story and no excessive super heroics from our protagonists.

Barring that, I'd like to see Terminator 6 definitively end the franchise altogether. Let's see the final defeat of Skynet and its last ditch attempts to take out the human resistance via time travel. Once the terminator in 6 fails in its mission, that's it. Skynet is gone and the franchise ends on a hopeful note. But, no. We know that won't happen. Why? Well, to paraphrase what Kyle Reese said in the first film: "Listen and understand: Those are movie producers out there. They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until they've milked every last penny out of this franchise".

Monday, October 23, 2017

Let's Play Sid Meier's Pirates

Recently, the folks over at Humble Bundle gave Sid Meier's Civilization III away as a free download via Steam. Or course, I couldn't help but get in on the deal. I haven't played it yet, but it reminded me of another one of Sid Meier's games: Pirates. Sid Meier's Pirates was released in 2004 as a remake to a game that came out in 1987. I remember playing Pirates on my old Tandy 1000 back in those days, and the newer version has been a big favorite as well.

Your character is a man whose family was imprisoned by the evil Marquis de la Montalban. Fortunate enough to evade capture, but left penniless on the streets, your character signs on to a sailing vessel to travel to the Caribbean to seek his fortune as a privateer and perhaps even rescue his family. You sail all over the Caribbean attacking ships, sacking towns, dueling enemy Captains and charming the ladies.

In Part I of my Let's Play: Sid Meier's Pirates, I go through creating a character, getting licensed to privateer from various countries, attacking enemy ships, fencing against enemy ship Captains, trading with merchants, obtaining higher ranks and finding buried treasure.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why Zero To The Power Of Zero Is One

While speaking with my daughter about her math homework earlier this week, we got on the topic of exponents and the proper expression of 00 (That's zero to the power of zero or 0^0). The inclination is to say that 00 is undefined because of two distinct math laws that seem to contradict each other: 

  1. Any number to the power of zero is 1.  
  2. Zero to any power is 0. 

Before I get into any explanations, let's keep in mind that I'm not even close to being a "real" mathematician. I use a lot of math in my computer programming background, but, really, I'm just a dad who has a burning hatred for this so-called "common core math" that teaches math by rote rather than by theory. 

Dividing Exponents

We know that, when you multiply exponents with the same base, you add the exponents:
  • xa * xb = xa+b
And, when you divide exponents with the same base, you subtract exponents:

  • xa ÷ xb = xa-b
So, under the law of dividing exponents, x5 ÷ x5 = x5-5 = x0 = 1
Plug in a value for x, and remember that any number divided by itself is 1: 25 ÷ 25 = 32 ÷ 32 = 1

Aha, but you can't divide by zero, right? So 05 ÷ 05 = 0 ÷ 0 = ????

Almost Zero

If we can't divide by zero, how close can we get? Using the exponent calculations below, you'll see that, as the base and the exponent get closer to zero, the product approaches 1.

It could certainly be pointed out that this doesn't directly prove that 00 = 1, but if we want the xx function to be right continuous at 0, then 00 must be 1.

How We Think About Division

We tend to think of multiplication as addition of stacks and division as subtraction of stacks. Exponents are then shorthand for the multiplication or division of the stacks of the same amount. In order to get to the bottom of this 00 question, we have to alter our way of thinking about multiplication and division. Instead of seeing them as tools of addition and subtraction, we have to try to see it as ways to map elements on a grid. With that in mind:

  • 2 = 32 ways to map a 2 element set to a 5 element set. 
  • 20 = 0 ways to map a 2 element set to a 0 element set
But there is one way to map a zero element set to a zero element set. A zero element set is an empty set, so when you map an empty set to itself: The identity function which draws a line straight through coordinates 0,0. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Helen Henny and Mr. Munch Call It Quits

CEC Entertainment, the parent company that owns the Chuck E. Cheese chain of pizza restaurants (Where a kid can be a kid and where an adult can be a complete assclown), recently announced that they are retiring Munch's Make Believe Band from its restaurants. The company believes that the animatronic band is too outdated to retain the modern child's attention for very long. A dance floor will be put in its place so that kids can rock out in their own way.

Munch's Make Believe Band, which featured Chuck E. Cheese, Helen Henny, Mr. Munch, Jasper Jowels and Pasqually, had been created from the bones of Showbiz Pizza's band, The Rock-afire Explosion in the aftermath of the acquisition of Chuck E. Cheese by Showbiz Pizza. Chuck E. Cheese had filed bankruptcy in the wake of the Atari crisis in 1983 (since the restaurant was basically an Atari-exclusive arcade that served pizza ) which allowed Showbiz Pizza to buy them out and then unify the brand under the more recognizable Chuck E. Cheese name. The new band members were just frankensteined onto the robotic hardware of the old ones. This sort of imagery is likely one of the influences for the popular mobile game Five Nights at Freddy's.

Since decommissioning of Munch's Make Believe Band began last month, ensembles have begun popping up for sale on Ebay and Craigslist. One has to wonder what an 80s-ers animatronic band would go for. Maybe 100,000 skee-ball tickets? No, that's barely enough to buy one of those plastic spider rings these days.

Still, if the price is right, it sounds like a perfect opportunity for someone to open up a real life Freddy Fazbear's Pizza on the cheap. I'd imagine that finding someone to work night security might be an issue. Personally, if I happened to get hold of one, I'd mock it up to look like an Bullwinkle Moose knock-off, put it on my front porch and program it to say "Sorry, folks! We're closed for two weeks to clean and repair America's favorite family fun park. Sorry!" whenever someone rang my doorbell. Maybe Disney Theme Parks could buy a few bands and put them in the Country Bear Jamboree or make them the house band in the Hall of Presidents.

While we're on the topic, I'd like to mention two things related to the Rock-afire explosion. First, is the excellent documentary on the band, its creator and its long-time fans:

The creator of the Rock-afire Explosion, Aaron Fechter is keeping busy and is keeping the band alive for the fans. He occasionally makes videos of the Rock-afire Explosion covering modern songs. Whether or not you're a fan, you have to admire the dedication Aaron Fechter. The programming and maintenance alone likely involve a significant investment in time and energy. Here's a video of the band covering Cee-Lo Green:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Using Portals In No Man's Sky

Have you found all 16 glyphs yet? Do you have a portal address that you'd like to travel to? Well, beware, because there are still a number of dangers that await you on the other side. Still, if you prepare yourself with the right supplies, you might just be able to survive the journey. 

It goes without saying that, if you want to use a portal, you'll have to find one first. In order to do that, set up a Signal Booster on whatever planet your base is on and look for a Monolith. Head over to the monolith and interact with it. Depending on which race controls the sector your planet is in, the Monolith will ask you for either a Gek, Vy'keen or Korvac artifact. If you happen to have one in your inventory and want to give it up, the Monolith will reveal the location of a portal to you. When you find the portal, you'll have to charge the buttons with various ores and oxides. Once that's done, be sure to ask the portal for your planet's address, just in case. Then, enter the address of the planet that you want to go to and the portal will open. If you're just going for a quick exploration mission, no worries. However, if you're of the mind to stick around on the planet, you will run into trouble. 

It seems that the makers of No Man's Sky don't want players to use portals as a means for permanent travel. Once you're through the portal, you'll find that you cannot access your ship or summon your freighter. Worse, if you travel to a depot or any other colonial outpost with a landing pad, you'll find that no ships will land there so you won't be able to buy a ship to continue on with. And if you happen to find the location of a crashed ship, there will only be a beacon there. But, don't worry, there's away around this mess. It just takes some preparation. 

Before you go through the portal, make sure to pack up your base. Deconstruct everything and put them in your base containers. Then, deconstruct the containers. Don't worry, your stuff will still be in there when you re-create them later. Make sure you have in your inventory the materials necessary to make a signal booster and an exocraft. Then, fly your ship over to the portal and walk through it. Once you're through, set up the signal booster and have it search for a habitable base. The one I found was a 9 hour walk from the portal I came through. Create an exocraft and drive towards the habitable base. Using the Nomad exocraft cut my estimated travel time down to 2 hours. Luckily, I found another habitable base about 10 minutes into my journey. Once you find the base, claim it. Then, travel back to the portal and go back through it. Get in your ship and fly up to the space station in that sector. Go through the transport tube to your new base and your ship will follow you. 

My own portal adventure got me to within 650,000 light years of the galactic hub. Still a long way to go, but a nice shortcut. There are portal addresses out there for planets within the galactic hub, just use your Google-Fu.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Orville

During its initial marketing phase, Seth McFarlane's pet sci-fi project, The Orville, was sold as Star Trek: The Next Generation meets Family Guy. And, while there are definite comedic moments in the show, it's really more of a sci-fi drama with comedic elements. You might even argue that, with so many Trek alumni being involved at some level, it's a spiritual successor to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Orville follows the exploits of Captain Ed Mercer (Seth McFarlane), his first officer and ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) and the rest of the eclectic crew of The Orville, a small exploratory ship in service to the Planetary Union. Their adventures involve dealing with the dangers of outer space, hostile alien civilizations as well as the common, sometimes comedic problems of every life. Critics, for some reason, absolutely hate the show while the general viewing public seems to like it. Personally, after five episodes, I'm a fan, despite some of the heavy handed comedy. Well, that, and, every time I hear Captain Mercer, I think of Brian from Family Guy.

Comparisons with Star Trek: Discovery are inevitable since the two shows are both undergoing their first seasons this year. The Orville is easier the more optimistic and light hearted of the two shows which, to me, puts it more in line with Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future. Star Trek Discovery, while entertaining and engaging seems to have lost that direction four episodes in. And, if there was any doubt that The Orville is carrying the torch for Star Trek TNG, notable Trek alumni like Brannon Braga, Robert Duncan McNeil and Johnathan Frakes have all lent their talents to the show in some form. We can't be too far off from a Patrick Stewart cameo.

Overall, if you're looking to get your Trek fix, I think that The Orville is more in line with what you're looking for. If you gravitate more towards Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica, then Star Trek: Discovery fits that bill.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

No Man's Sky: Find All 16 Portal Glyphs

I've been playing No Man's Sky since The Foundation update. I picked it up used for $10. Considering the number of people who dumped the game just after launch, I probably paid too much. Still, I've found it to be entertaining enough. It's a tough game to classify. It tell my son that No Man's Sky is "Space Minecraft" with an emphasis on exploration rather than building.

The latest update, Atlas Rises, added portals to the game. Portals can transport you to any planet so long as you know that planet's address. It's a lot like Stargate in that you dial up the planet's address using glyphs on a rotating ring. Once the glyphs are entered, a portal opens up within the ring. The catch is, in order to dial the glyphs, you have to "discover" them first. You may be able to see a flying whale glyph on the metal ring, but, unless you've actually found the glyph, you can't dial it. It's like an old touch-tone phone with all the buttons on the keypad removed. I order to call someone, you'd have to find the buttons and put them on the keypad.

Alas, Poor Krepptik! I Hardly Knew Ye!
Finding glyphs can be a tedious process. They're found in the graves of dead Travelers. Those graves are generally found in caves and they look like an Atlas symbol. You can stumble upon them while exploring a planet, or, if you encounter a Traveler in a planetary building or a space station, you can ask them where they came from and they'll tell you where their grave is for 100 nanite clusters. After encountering 16 Travelers during your journeys, you'll have found all 16 glyphs. That could take a while, and it'll cost you a total of 1600 nanite clusters. Thankfully, there's a shortcut that will take you only about 2 hours and will cost you only 100 nanite clusters. You'll have to exploit a glitch in No Man's Sky in order to do it, so let's hope that by the time you've read this, Sean Murray and the No Man's Sky development team haven't patch the glitch yet.

Aren't You Supposed To Be Dead? 
Keep jumping to various systems and checking out their space stations until you find one with a Traveler in it. The Traveler will just be hanging out among the other races in there. Talk to the Traveler and listen to them. Choose the nice conversation options. When the conversation ends, talk to them again and ask them where they are from. It'll cost you 100 nanite clusters. You'll be directed to a grave on a planet within the system. Go to it, extract the glyph and place a beacon nearby. Then head back to the space station. Go to the galactic trade terminal and buy something. Get back into your ship and head back to the beacon that you placed by the Traveler's grave. The grave will have been reset and you can loot it for another glyph. Repeat this sequence until you've got all of the glyphs. The glyphs do not repeat, so you'll only have to do the sequence 16 times. It took me about 2 hours to get all 16 glyphs.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Star Trek Discovery

Star Trek: Discovery (aka DSC) premiered a few weeks back, first on CBS proper and then continuing onward on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Netflix everywhere else. Set 10 years before the five-year mission of the Enterprise under the command of Captain Kirk in the "Prime" (non-reboot movie universe), DSC follows the journey of Michael Burnham, a human woman who was raised by Sarek (Spock's father) after a Klingon attack left her orphaned. The show is served as geek-bait in the United States in order to get Star Trek fans to subscribe to CBS' brand new streaming service, CBS All Access. As much as I like Star Trek, there's no way I'm paying $6 a month to watch a show that doesn't release all of its episodes at once and contains commercial breaks to boot, especially when the rest of the world can watch it via Netflix. There are ways around that model, and I took the path of least resistance and wondered why I even bothered.

I've stuck with the show through 4 episodes and my general feeling is that, while it's a pretty decent show overall, Star Trek: Discovery doesn't really feel like Star Trek. Or, at least, it doesn't feel like
Prime Universe Star Trek. Discovery feels more at home in the universe created by the J.J. Abrams movies (the Kelvin Universe), both in tone and in visual style, but, there's likely some legal issues keeping CBS from placing Discovery in that Universe. With that being said, I like that, for once, we're being given a main character that is fallible. Burnhman makes mistakes and there are immediate, long-term consequences for them. Despite her mistakes, I don't feel that Burnham is irredeemable and I'm hoping that part of her journey on Discovery involves her path to redemption (and, by extension, the redemption of the Discovery crew). Even though the visual change in the Klingons is jarring, I appreciate the the people behind the show are giving us an alien species with a lot of diverse looks. For too long, Star Trek has given us alien species that all look alike when it makes more scientific sense that there'd be a bit of variation. I don't have a real issue with the overtly militaristic bent of Starfleet, nor the judgemental nature of the side characters. I feel like those traits are coming straight from DSC producer Nicholas Meyer, the man behind Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Kahn and Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country.

What I am having a hard time grasping is the reasoning behind setting the show 10 years before Kirk's five-year mission. Four episodes in, there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason why Star Trek Discovery has to be set in the "past" as opposed to the "future" (10-100 years after Star Trek: Nemesis, the last Prime Universe movie). Indeed, the updated visuals, theoretical technology and Klingon motivations would make a lot more sense if were set in Star Trek's future rather than the past. So far the only reason I can come up with is that Kirk and crew is the pop culture focus of the Star Trek franchise, so TPTB wanted to be able to drop as many references to it as possible (Did you hear Michael mention her foster brother? She knew Spock! Squeeeee! Oh! And Captain Lorca has a pet tribble! Double Squeeeee!). So far, it seems that most of what has gone on with DSC could be done 100 years after Nemesis without any major changes to the storyline.

Overall, I kind of like what I've seen so far with Star Trek: Discovery. Is it good enough for a $6 a month subscription? No. Would I binge watch it on Netflix? Yep.  Is it worthy of the Star Trek name? The jury's still out. So far, I don't see much of the optimistic future that Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he created Star Trek. But I'm keeping an open mind. I hope it shows up eventually. That's part of what Star Trek is about, isn't it? Hope?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Rebooting The Dark Universe (again)

Movie industry reports have indicated that "The Bride of Frankenstein", which was to be the successor to "The Mummy" in Universal's Dark Universe franchise, is being pushed back for retooling.  This really comes as no surprise considering the abysmal performance of "The Mummy" at the box office.  This is yet another kick in the balls to the Dark Universe which has had a number of false starts over the years beginning with "Dracula Untold".

Personally, I don't understand the point of creating a shard universe of monsters. Universal keeps pumping money into making movies that connect with each other, but what's the payoff? Do all of the monsters get together in some big team-up film and do the Monster Mash together? Perhaps Dracula accuses the rest of the monsters of copyright infringement because the Monster Mash borrows too heavily from his Transylvania Twist. Then, a gritty law drama plays out involving 19th Century copyright law, questions of legal standing regarding laws from a country that no longer exists as well as the concept of "life of the artist" as it possibly pertains to "undeath of the artist". Dracula wins the case and is awarded back royalties which then go to pay off his legal fees, thus proving that lawyers are the root of all evil in the universe.

I guess that Universal could do a team-up film that's an Avengers/Suicide Squad mashup. The Nick Fury character (a Van Helsing) brings the monsters together in order to fight an even more sinister evil. The monsters could easily be shoe-horned into equivalents on the Avengers team:

  • Dracula is like Captain America, having slept since the late 1800s and he has to try to re-integrate into the world.
  • The Mummy is Thor 
  • Frankenstein is the Hulk, obviously.
  • Wolfman is Iron Man.
  • Invisible Man is Quicksilver (What, you didn't SEE that coming?)
  • Creature From the Black lagoon is the Scarlet Witch.
  • Phantom of the Opera is Black Widow

So, Van Helsing puts the team together and they're tasked with stopping something/someone from unleashing the ancient source of Evil which would turn our dimension into the Dark Universe, the universe where Evil reigns. They're each tempted along the way with how the rule of the Dark Universe would help them, but they resist and defeat it. Then, they break their bonds and escape back into the world until they are needed again.

Honestly, the big problem with Universal's Dark Universe is that it's putting their monsters in big budget action movies starring 50 year-old actors. They need to think smaller and do a $40 million horror film with some comedic elements. They need to rely on the psychological aspects of horror rather than CGI-fest destruction. They need to invest in the story first and make universe building secondary. The shared universe should be little more than an afterthought. Just having crossover films would work, doing something akin to Monster Squad on a more serialized scale.

Ultimately, I'd want to see horror comedy crossover films starring Seth Rogan and James Franco doing their best Abbot and Costello impersonation. Scenes for "Seth Rogan and James Fanco Meet The Mummy" practically write themselves:

[A desperately horny and impossibly high Seth Rogan eyes up The Mummy and debates with Franco on whether or not she's do-able.]

Franco: Do her! Take one for the team.
Rogan: She's old! She's like.....two hundred years old!
Franco: That just means she the ultimate cougar.
Rogan: Yeah, but what if it means her lady parts are all wrinkled and dusty?
Franco: Well, if you can't get her juices flowing down there, then I don't know what to tell ya.
Rogan: I didn't bring any condoms! What if she has some ancient STD or something and I end up as patient zero spreading the ancient Egyptian equivalent of The Clap?
Franco: Are you kidding? She's all wrapped up already! You're good to go.

I think that there's some potential for the Universal monsters, it's just that Universal has to get the dollar signs out of their eyes and lower the scale of the movies. While the franchise has some life in it (pun intended) it doesn't have the potential to make Avengers-level dollars. But, with lower budgets, personal stories and better writing, the franchise still stands to make a respectable pile.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Glen Campbell Is Dead

You probably know him from that old song "Rhinestone Cowboy" which has become somewhat of a joke in popular culture today. The song title conjures gawdy images of white trash egocentrism, but, the lyrics are much deeper. It's a song about a musician who has paid more than his share of his dues yet still perseveres in the hopes that one day his star will rise and shine bright. The song is very much a product of its time, but the theme behind it is universal.

What you probably didn't know is that Glen Campbell was a truly talented guitarist, so much so that he could still rip a riff well into his 70s. He had a number of hit songs such as "By The Time I Get To Phoenix","Gentle on my Mind" and "Galveston", any one of which any musician would give their picking arm to have in their catalog. But his influence has been greatly understated because of one cheesy song.

Glen Campbell received quite a bit of renewed interest in his career recently thanks to the documentary "I'll Be Me", a stark, intimate, honest look at his suffering from Alzheimer's. Campbell's last studio recording, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You", was featured on the soundtrack which won a Grammy for "Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media". If you've never listened to Glen Campbell's music before this is a great opportunity give a listen to his greatest hits. Even if you're not a fan Country Music, Campbell's particular style is very accessible.

Godspeed, Glen. You went out like a rhinestone cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A LinkedIn Cold Caller

About twice a day, I'll get a call from an anonymous caller with a heavily accented person on the other end asking me if they can send me a free tech white paper. These scammers troll through LinkedIn looking for IT professionals with managerial or teaching positions so that they can compile a list of leads. The reason why they want to send you a white paper is so that they can confirm that your e-mail address is legitimate and active, which is important if they're going to put you down as a lead.

Normally, when I get one of these calls, I'll just say "Please hold, I'll transfer you..." and then I leave the call on hold until they hang up. Sometimes I'll pretend to transfer them to different people while I do a different voice for each one. Today, I gave them Clovis' number. 

Clovis answered and when the caller said she was from CTO Advice Frontier, Clovis assumed her last name was Frontier and that she was calling about an open Help Desk trouble ticket. Clovis pretended to check on her ticket and then warned her against repeated porn surfing which was likely the cause of her trouble ticket. The rep beat a hasty retreat off of the phone. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

RIP Microsoft Paint

Microsoft's upcoming Windows 10 update, referred to as "Autumn", promises a host of brand-new features. One feature, however, is slated to be done away with. Microsoft Paint, which has been a staple of Windows since Windows 1.0 debuted in 1985, has been added to the list of "features that are removed or depreciated". What this means is that, while Microsoft Paint may not be removed immediately, active development on the program has been halted and it's only a matter of time before it's removed completely.

I can't say that it comes as a complete surprise to me. After all, MSPaint has been surpassed by several other third party programs out there, specifically Paint.net as well as Microsoft's own Paint 3D. Still, Microsoft Paint is a simple, useful program. I still use it to save screenshots I've taken via the old reliable [PRT SCRN] or [ALT][PRT SCRN] method. And it's still the easiest method for quickly resizing JPEGs without having to pay through the nose to use Adobe Photoshop. And it's still the best program available for making low effort MEMEs.

Again, MSPaint isn't going anywhere....for now. But, if it should disappear, there are a number of good free alternatives to the plucky little program that might help you get over the shock:

  • Paint.Net - An overall solid replacement
  • IrfanView - Great for resizing and cropping
  • Gimp - A full featured, near Photoshop program

Thursday, July 13, 2017

United Breast Cancer Foundation Calls ME

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SNES Classic Is Coming

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pizza Cones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Imagine That - Yoko Ono Gets Writing Credit For Lennon Tune

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

James Comey Likens Himself To Saint Thomas Of Beckett

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Dominos Pizza Rewards Account Got Hacked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hands On With The Samsung DeX Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Error 1935 When Installing A Third Party App On Windows 10

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

fsutil resource setautoreset true C:\

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Gianforte Puts The Political Smack Down

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

BBQ PayDay CandyBar

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

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

"Are they popular?", I asked.

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Review

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

Amazing Features:

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Another SEO Scammer Calls Me

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kalahari Resort at Wisconsin Dells

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RIP J. Geils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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