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.