Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Handy Hint

Here's a handy hint for everyone:

When you get back from your camping trip/cook-out/day at the beach and pull the leftover food and drinks out of your cooler and think "I'm too tired to empty the ice out right now, I'll do it tomorrow"…make sure you actually do.

You see, once that ice has melted, your cooler turns into a sealed, temperature controlled Petri dish…turning the water that at one time kept your drinks nice and cold into a sort of bacteria soup.

Of course, you won't know that until you remember it a week later, unsuspectingly pop open the lid and release a stench so vile it has its own personality, social security number and twitter feed.A stench that will hang around long after the cooler has been drained and cleaned.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Warning : Marriage Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

Sunny and I often have the same argument over and over. Basically, I blame her for turning me grey, balding and fat...and she denies it. I feel it's time for some documentary evidence:

This is my passport picture from my first passport at the grand old age of 16. If we ignore the comedy sideburns that make me cringe every time I look at a pic of myself from this period, you'll notice the clear skin, head of jet-black hair and an actual jawline. Now let's fast forward a few years:

This is the picture that was on my Visa from 2004 when I was 23. In fact this was the last pre-marriage picture ever taken of me as I was married to Sunny less than four months later. I know his picture isn't exactly amazing quality, but again, notice the full head jet-black hair without a hint of grey, the presence of a jawline.

Note: Sensitive Viewers Should Look Away Now...

This is me after a measly five years of marriage. Note the thinning and receding hair, the 80% grey and the simply staggering weight gain. Note the complete absence of a jaw-line that is only masked slightly by the rapidly greying goatee.

Wanna know the worst thing? This picture is actually a good one. It hides a lot of my grey and the head on hides my double chin.

So basically, I'm right and the stress of being married to Sunny is causing me to age prematurely. Most people assume I'm in my late thirties...which I'd take as a compliment if I wasn't 28.

I think I can take comfort in the fact that while my missus is making me old, I at least have the common sense to not attempt to cover the grey with just for men...and when the time finally comes, I will definitely not ever sport a comb-over.

Can we say ‘Rip off’?

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from my parents letting me know that I'd got a letter from the British DMV letting me know it was up for renewal.

So I had a choice. I could either send 20GBP and a new passport-sized picture and renew, or surrender my license. Obviously, I'm planning on visiting England at some point and I'd like to be able to drive when I do, so today I went out to get a passport picture made.

The last time I needed to get a picture made was for my Greencard and the process was simple and quick. I went to Eckerds and a very polite lady asked me to sit on an adjustable stool in front of a dedicated white backdrop and used a weird looking camera to take my picture. Fifteen minutes later I had my picture.

This time I went to a nearby UPS store…and things were a little different.

I walked in and asked if they did passport pictures and a very bored looking girl said "Yeah"…then just stared at me.

"So can I get one?" I asked, wondering what planet she was from and if, one day, her real parents would come to take her home.

"Now?" She asked, like it was a big surprise.

"Yes." I said.

"Oh, right."

She pointed to a blank spot of wall and asked me to stand in front of it. Then she pulled out a bog standard pink point-and-shoot digital camera and snapped a picture. You wouldn't think it was hard to photograph someone's face, but it took her three attempts.

I was a little taken aback that she'd take the picture with a 5 year old Nikon Coolpix, but I was even more taken aback when she pulled out the memory card, put it into a computer and printed out my pic on the same damn printer I have at home.

She slapped the printout on a guillotine and cut it to roughly passport sized, slipped it in a box and said "That's nine dollars fifty."

My first reaction was to ask her where she bought her crack from and if I could have a go of the same stuff she was smoking. You see, color ink for my printer is $15 bucks a cartridge. For $25 at my local staples I can get a color cartridge, a black and white and a fifty-sheet pack of 4x6 photo paper. The thing is, I already have ink and a buttload of photopaper at home.

Basically, it was nine bucks for the privilege of having my picture taken with a camera that isn't quite as good as mine. Hell, I even have a guillotine paper cutter.

Well, the truth is I just couldn't be bothered arguing. I just paid the bitch and vowed never to go back there again. (I shipped some artwork from the same UPS store and despite marking it 'Do Not Bend' myself and having them stamp it in red on both sides, their stupid fucking driver folded it in half to shove it in the buyer's mailbox).

The worst thing is I really considered just getting Sunny to take a picture and cropping and printing it myself. The only reason I didn't was because I figured they wouldn't accept the picture if I took and printed it myself…but after seeing the way the UPS store do it, I have to ask…how could they tell?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DDR for your brain.

My brain has a rather peculiar and, above all, annoying little habit.

Every so often I'll start to fall asleep and when I get to that usually fuzzy and pink area between being awake and being asleep… my brain suddenly decides to get involved in some random, repetitive and, above all, fictional task that stops me from falling asleep properly.

Last night I was trying to fall asleep and my brain…no shit…started playing a weird game of Dance Dance Revolution: 'Sleep Position Edition'. Basically, in my half asleep state it suddenly became very important to me that I lay on my side, then my back, then my side again, then on my stomach. The weird thing is that while half asleep, this actually seems logical.

Basically, the version of my mind that exists when I'm exactly halfway between sleeping and wakefulness has a crazy-assed imagination and is totally ADD. It picks something to fixate on and then I have to do the same thing over and over…which actually stops me falling asleep properly.

This just me?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Honestly, I’m NOT in India

(Two posts today. This one and my camping trip after action report, scroll down to read that one.)

Ok, today's post is going to start with a little advice. If you ever need to call Xbox Live support…don't bother.

A couple of weeks ago my credit card got stolen, so obviously I had it blocked and replaced. Well, earlier this week I saw that Microsoft were offering a month of Xbox Live Gold for a dollar. I've been wanting to get my gold membership back for a while now, but couldn't quite justify the expense…but let's face I, I could find a dollar down the back of the sofa.

Unfortunately, my order didn't go through and I realized that my old credit card was still associated with the account, so I jumped online, took the old card off my account and tried to put in the new one. I got an error message saying the card couldn't be authorized and to contact my card provider.

Well, that was bullshit. The card was fine. I'd just used it to pay our cable bill online. I called my bank and checked with them anyway and they told me there's no reason why the card shouldn't work…so at that point, I called Xbox tech support.

Can we say "Outsourced to India?"

Ok, here's what I said, see if you can understand it:

"Hey, A few weeks ago my credit card was stolen, so I've taken it off my account. I'm trying to associate my new card with my Live account but it won't accept it. It says to contact my card provider, but the card itself is fine."

Simple, huh?

Well, it took 'Phil', a guy with an Indian accent so thick I could barely understand him…who also insisted on calling me 'Mr. Paulius'…over a fucking hour of back and forth to even grasp what I was having a problem with. Let me be clear here. I don't mean it took an hour for him to fix my problem, I mean it took an hour for him to understand what my problem actually was. A fucking hour to grasp "My credit card won't go through'.

It took another forty-five minutes for him to tell me there was nothing he could do. Apparently, because I'd tried to put the same card on my account three times without success, it had blocked my card as a 'security measure'.

However, he told me to call back in 24 hours and that he'd put a note on my account explaining my problem, and when I called back the block would be lifted and they'd be able to put the card on my account.

I called back 24 hours later, and the billing guy ignored everything I said and transferred me to tech support, who transferred me back to billing. It took 45 minutes to get the very bored sounding, very dismissive Indian dude to understand the problem again…at which point he gave the phone to one of their 'billing specialists', this time a woman who by an amazing coincidence also had a really thick Indian accent.

This time it took an hour and a half to get her to grasp what the problem was and another hour to fix it.

This was despite the fact that all she had to do was take my credit card info and put it on my account. That was it. That's what I told her she needed to do. That's what the guy from yesterday apparently left a note saying she needed to do…but that took her two and a half hours of back and forth… and if I hadn't lost my temper and just told her to do it, I'd probably been on the phone for another couple of hours.

You know what, I understand that you can probably get a whole building full of people in India for the price of a single American tech support person, but what is the point when the outsourced Indian tech-support people barely speak English and have no clue what they were doing?

In all seriousness, I got the impression that these people didn't even know what an Xbox was or what Xbox Live was or what they did or what they were for. It wasn't even like regular tech support where they go off a script no matter what you say or tell them…My biggest problem was just making myself understood…and I don't mean getting them to understand my problem, I mean getting them just to understand what I was saying.

It's just fucking useless and it really pisses me off that the richest corporation in the world won't even spring for tech support staff that speak English.

Camping: After Action Report

Ok, it's time for some thoughts and reviews.

I know our camping trip only lasted about twelve hours, but to be honest it was only ever supposed to be a short, local trip to test out our gear and to make sure there wasn't something we really needed that was totally off our radar. Let's just say that it was a good thing we did.

The first thing I want to talk about is our 'Ozark Trail' 9x8 Dome tent. This tent is just totally unsuitable for hot weather camping. As I said in my last post, we left the rain-fly off and only zipped the screen door in order to keep the inside as cool as possible, but even though the tent was pitched in 100% shade and we got in it over an hour after dark, it was as if we'd bought a solar heater instead of a tent.

Basically, inside it was too hot to breathe or sleep, and even though the gauze-screen door and roof stopped any air from getting in and out, it didn't actually stop any bugs from getting in. Since the tent was pitched the door was opened twice for about 20 seconds a time. Once so we could change clothes and the second time so we could put the air mattress in. However, despite the fact the tent was shut tight the inside was still infested with gnats and mosquitoes when we got in for the night.

In hot weather, or in areas with a high bug population, this tent is simply unlivable. Quite simply, it felt like trying to sleep inside a sealed latex balloon, and that was without putting the rain fly on and only zipping up the screen door. However, as long as it stays waterproof, considering it got at least 20 degrees hotter inside the tent and stayed that way, I'm pretty sure this would be a good cold weather tent

Completely changing gears, the Weber 'Smoky Joe' grill we bought was perfect, especially when teamed with the chimney starter we bought. It's the perfect size for two or three people, it's ultra-portable, holds its heat for ages and doubles as a fire-pit. It's also constructed out of ceramic-coated steel, meaning it's not a huge deal if you have to leave it outside in the rain. The other good thing is that because of its shape and size you don't need much charcoal either. Basically, you can get this grill up to cooking temperature and get it to stay that way for a couple of hours with only about 1/8th of a bag of charcoal.

One of the other things I have to recommend is a hand-cranked LED flashlight. We bought a cheap one for ten bucks from Wally-world that had a built in radio, 'emergency siren' and cell-phone charger.

The first thing I'll say is there are probably more expensive models that work much better, but the radio sound quality was absolutely terrible and used up battery power at a massive rate. The siren for an average camping trip is totally useless, and the geniuses who built it decided to put the siren button right next to the on switch, just so you can shit yourself in the middle of the night when you try to turn on your flashlight and get a siren blast.

Ok, with all those downsides you're probably wondering why I'm recommending it, but something happened to us that proved why they're so handy. While we were unpacking, Sunny managed to accidentally turn it on, which we didn't notice in the bright sunshine until a good few hours later. Had this been a regular flashlight, we'd have been stuck without any light, or would have been in the car driving around looking for batteries. Instead I just cranked the handle for a couple minutes and we were back in business.

The last thing is our Igloo 'Ice Cube' cooler, which I was totally impressed with. We put in all our perishable food, our drinks and a 20lb bag of ice. It spent an entire day of 97 degree heat inside a car and now, three days later, there is still solid ice inside it. You can't really ask for much more from a cooler. I'm convinced that if you put a block of dry ice in the bottom and covered that with a thin layer of regular ice, you'd be able to keep your food cold for five or six hot days.

Basically, the only thing that really let us down was the tent, which wouldn't have been so bad if we had camped somewhere that wasn't so over-run with bugs so we could have cracked the door a little bit.

Oh, and if I ever go camping in the woods again, I'm taking a 12 gauge…there are bears.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

World’s Shortest Camping trip.

In Friday night Sunny and I decided, totally on a whim, to go camping the next day. We'd bought all our gear over the past few weeks, so our plan was to get up early on Saturday morning, run to the store for food and ice for the cooler, and just head off to a local campsite for the remainder of the weekend.

We drove past a bank sign and the following conversation took place:

"We are totally off our f**king rockers, you know that, right?" I said.

"Why?" Replied my darling wife.

"Because we're going tent camping, it's eleven in the morning and according to that sign, it's already 96 degrees."

Oh well, I thought…It's always cooler in the mountains.

Our first stop was Devil's Fork National Park, and it looked like an absolute paradise. The tent pads were all right on the water, literally just a handful of steps away… which made it a huge shame that it was completely booked up. It was a long shot anyway.

So we back-tracked to a much smaller campsite we'd passed on the way. There was no-one in the reception area, but I spotted a hand-written sign that said "If no-one's here, pick your spot and we'll collect later". For a moment I wasn't sure whether we were camping or visiting a loan-shark.

Anyway, we picked a spot and set up. Despite the fact we were in a very shady area, and it took us less than three minutes to pitch the tent, it was so hot that by the time we were done we were out of breath and my t-shirt was stuck to me.

It was at this point that I noticed just how many bugs there were.

Now, I'm not being a pampered "OMG where's my air-conditioning, wi-fi and cable TV" guy here. Before I moved to the US I went camping regularly and stayed at some crappy sites where I'd gotten dive-bombed by mosquitoes 24-7…but believe me when I say this place was something special. The word 'infested' doesn't even do it justice.

There were so many ants that the floor looked like it was constantly moving and the air was just filled with mosquitos, gnats and other flying insects. However, we'd covered ourselves in insect repellent, were burning a couple of citronella tiki-torches so we took it almost in stride. We both only got bit a couple of times and once we got the grill going, we were actually enjoying ourselves. The only real problem was the heat. My shirt was still soaking wet and I hadn't stopped sweating since I stepped out of the car…and I didn't want to go shirtless with so many mosquitos around.

At this point,we started making 'bear' jokes…don't ask me why. Every time there was the slightest sound, from something falling from a tree to someone on the other side of the site closing an RV door, we'd gasp and say "Bears!"

Walk to the bathroom on my own? No way! A bear will get me! Get something from the trunk of the car? No way! What if there's a bear in there waiting to ambush me?

…and this was all very f**king funny until a 350lb black bear walked through the campsite less than 70 yards away from us. Oh yeah, it was f**king hilarious then.

The sun was starting to go down and even though the bear was heading away from where we where, even though all our food was in a cooler locked in the car so it wouldn't attract anything, things started to get a little scary. You see, I was mildly concerned about the bear, but I knew if it headed back into the camp, we were sitting about four steps away from the car and had my car keys in my pocket. Sunny on the other hand was starting to freak out.

Remember all those sounds we were making jokes about? Well, when it's pitch black and you're deep in the woods and the only light you have is coming from a tiki-torch…those little sounds suddenly sound a whole lot louder and very…bear-like. Every slight noise and Sunny's head would snap around like a Daschund's after a thrown sausage. Of course, when you're sitting with someone who's freaked out, you start to get a little freaked out.

By that time it was coming up on 10pm. We'd only gotten to bed at about 4am that morning and were up again at 7am, so we were pretty tired. We decided to call it a night and got in the tent.

Ok, if you remember the post I wrote when we bought it, I thought the new tent was made of very thin and flimsy material. Because it was so hot, we'd left the rain-fly off and only zipped up the screen door. This meant that, in theory, no bugs could get into the tent, but plenty of air could get in and out, keeping it nice and cool.

That was the theory. In reality, our tent was basically a sauna for bugs. I mean it was crazy hot. Not just "Wow, it's hot in here" hot, but "Oh my God my teeth are melting." Hot. It was at least 110 in the tent. We also discovered that the walls of the tent, despite remaining completely sealed the entire time, were covered in gnats and mosquitoes. On top of that, our air-bed was both too small and not nearly inflated enough…meaning every time one of us moved, the other would get catapulted off the bed.

There was a snap from outside the tent, and I heard Sunny jump. A human voice told us it wasn't a bear, so we relaxed a little…until there was another sound…repeat ad nauseum.

A few minutes later as I was beginning to realize that I was never going to be able to sleep in the 110 degree heat while being attacked by mosquitoes, I suddenly heard Sunny whisper:

"Sweetie?" She said.

"Mmmm hmmm?" I replied

"How mad would you be if I said I wanted to go home?"

I turned on the flashlight and looked at the bug covered walls. There was a shallow pool of sweat in the dip between my man boobs…I mean, pectoral muscles.

"Not very." I said.

"Good, because I'm miserable and I want to go home."

"Let's go." I said.

I think I can sum up how hot it was inside the tent by saying that after less than fifteen minutes inside it, once I stepped outside where it was 88 degrees, I instantly started to shiver. It felt cold.

So I re-lit the tiki-torches and used my mini-maglight to take the tent down and unpack by. After doing so and walking into a lot of things because it was so dark, we finished and sat in the car and started the engine… instantly bathing our campsite in the bright headlights. I groaned as my shin throbbed from its impact with the picnic table.

Total time 'camping': Abour 11 hours.

Total time spent in tent: About fifteen minutes.

The funny thing was, I don't think either of us consider the trip a failure. We got out of the house, had a nice picnic in the woods and learned that we don't like to camp in 100 degree heat in bug infested hell-holes.

We'll definitely go camping again…but probably at the end of September when it's much cooler and in an area that has less bears.

Oh and that's become our new catchphrase: "There was a bear."

"Why didn't I do the dishes, you ask? I tried…There was a bear."

Friday, June 19, 2009

What a Great Idea

The other day Sunny and I were walking around Walmart when I noticed that part of the music section was filled with hundreds of little cards. I picked one up, examined it, laughed like a crazy person... and then started to wonder if actual, real dinosaurs worked for Sony.

I'm talking about 'Music Pass Cards'.

Here's the idea. What Sony wants you to do when you want some new music is to leave your house, drive to a store, pay for a scratch card, drive home, get the code from the back of the scratch card, go online, input the code...which will then allow you to download your track.

Basically, the whole 'Music Pass' thing is Sony shoving it's fingers in its ears while screaming "LALALALALALAGOAWAYINTERNETWEDON'TLIKEYOULALALA".

There is absolutely no reason for 'music cards' to exist. If you go to a store to buy music you either don't own a computer, you don't know how to use a computer, or you're a traditionalist and like your music in a physical format.

Exactly what is the point in travelling to a store to buy a code that allows me to download music from the comfort of my own home? That's like installing running water in a poor african village, but putting the pump controls on the well that's ten miles away.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Law You Can Get Behind

This afternoon I came up with a really good idea for a new law to make the world a much better place.

Here's the deal, hitting someone gets you a mandatory ten years in prison with no chance of parole…but here's the awesome part… Every year you get one 'free' punch, meaning you can punch someone in the face as hard as you can without worrying about assault charges.

Why would this be awesome?

  1. Everyone would be much nicer to each other if they knew they could be legally punched in the face.
  2. The ten year sentence for going over your one free punch would cut down on random violence.
  3. The person you punched in the face would, by the rarity of free punches, know they deserved it and possibly modify their behavior.

The other great this is that it works like a concealed weapons law. No-one knows if you've used that year's free punch yet, so chances are, people are going to treat you with respect instead of being an asshole to you.

Plus, all those asshole bankers who took bailout money and spent it on massive bonuses for themselves would have woken up with a queue of very pissed off people outside their door and would have legally got leathered.

Hell, when George Dubya was in office, there'd have been a line outside the Whitehouse that reached to Tennessee.

Stupid responsibility

When I was a kid I promised myself I'd do three things when I was a grown-up and had my own house.

I'd eat a whole jar of strawberry jam with a spoon, I'd eat a whole block of cheese like a candy-bar and finally I'd drink a whole gallon of milk in one go.

Now I'm actually a grown up and can do those things, I don't want to. The worst part is that the cost of those items isn't the reason…it's because I know how unhealthy it is…meaning that even if I did say 'screw it' and did it anyway, the thought of all those calories, saturated fat and sugar would take all the fun out of the experience.

Conclusion: being a grown-up sucks.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Then and Now

A kid's parents go away for the weekend and he throws a party. The house gets trashed and the police are called.

Then: The police break up the party, the parents are called and the kid gets punished, grounded and made to pay for the damages.

Now: Parents discover that their son announced the party on Craigslist. Parents call police and demand Craigslist be shut down. Fox news runs report on how Craigslist can turn your child into a sex-crazed alcoholic.

A group of people play a huge organized prank where they all start to simultaneously dance in a department store.

Then: Everybody has a good laugh, people have a story to tell their friends when they get home. Store manager is a little pissed but lets it go.

Now: A witness claims the whole experience was terrifying, attempts to sue the store and calls the police demanding all the pranksters be arrested. Fox News runs report on 'terrorist attack' where a 'sick, racist joke' almost resulted in people being trampled and dying of heart attacks. People who weren't even there try to sue for 'mental anguish'

A kid attempts to do a stupid stunt on his bike that results in a minor injury.

Then: Kid learns a lesson in gravity and decides not to attempt that stunt again. Parents notice bruises and scrapes but put it down to normal teen 'rough and tumble'.

Now: Kid's friend videos the failed stunt and uploads it to youtube. Kid becomes a minor web celebrity causing grass-roots 'parents groups' demand Youtube be banned for encouraging kids to do stupid things. Random people attempt to sue Youtube when their own kidsfail to pull off a similar stunts. Fox News runs a report on how if your kids have a cell phone camera, they could be recording a porno right now.

A guy takes his five year old daughter out for ice-cream and walk to the store hand in hand.

Then: They eat their ice-cream and have a fun time.

Now: Someone sees an adult walking hand in hand with a five year old girl and instantly calls the police claiming to have seen a pedophile abducting a little girl. Guy gets arrested and spends a harrowing afternoon in a cell with various criminals who kick the shit out of him for abusing little girls. Fox News runs report on how everyone is potentially a pedophile.

A family is gathered around their TV set when a 'wardrobe malfunction' means they get a split second glimpse of a nipple.

Then: The father and kids giggle while the mother rolls her eyes and tells them to grow up. The show's presenter makes a tongue-in-cheek apology after the commercials and life goes on.

Now: The parents freak out, sue the station and put their kids into therapy. They go on TV claiming how the nipple-flash 'damaged' their kids and how they need a billion dollars in damages. Then they all gather around the TV for that week's episode of CSI where a store clerk is beaten to death with a baseball bat. Fox News runs report on how televised images of nipples encourage rape.

One Sentence Movie Reviews

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem:

A movie in which a bunch of one-dimensional, clich├ęd, badly written cardboard cut-out characters get in the way of you watching Aliens and Predators blow stuff up and kill each other.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fight Night

I don't know if this happens with everyone who plays Fight Night: Round 3, but it turns out that my biggest 'rival' is a Mohawk-wearing, dirty-fighting 'headbutts-you –then-taunts-you-before-headbutting-you-again' fighter.

He's also completely and totally useless.

For example, my second biggest 'rival' is a character who is almost perfectly tuned for my skill level. Fights usually go the distance and are usually like chess games…epic battles where one mistake can be the difference between victory and defeat.

However, it's my biggest rival I want to talk about, mostly because he's effing hilarious.

You see, between fights you have a screen that shows ESPN and Pay-per-view style promos for upcoming fights. So, I have this 'rival' who talks smack about me, goes on TV and says I'm afraid of his 'awesome punching power' or that I'm 'afraid to give him a rematch', goes on about how he'll destroy me, picks fights with me at the weigh-ins, has the commentators going on about how charged our rivalry is…

…and then every single time we fight, I destroy him by knockout, usually in the first half of the first round.

It's great.

It's like I have an actual biggest rival, a guy who's an actual danger to me, who never talks smack, never fights dirty or tries to taunt me during a fight…and a completely useless, psychotic idiot who hates me for no reason, is convinced I'm his 'nemesis' and jumps at the chance to get his face punched in.

Isn't it awesome when a random collection of numbers designed to create a randomized fighter manages to create a whole soap-opera worthy narrative all by itself?

I bet his parents didn't hug him enough when he was just a wee binary string.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hi! I’m Billy Mays.

(If it helps, imagine me reading this post to you in a voice that's way too loud while wearing a full beard and blue shirt.)

Every so often I'll get really excited about the weirdest things.

Today, it's our new chimney charcoal starter.

This afternoon, Sunny and I went to get most of what we're going to need for our camping trip, including a new portable grill. (We bought a Weber 'Smokey Joe' by the way, and it's awesome. It's only a $30 mini-grill, but it feels really well made). While we were putting the grill into the cart, I noticed the charcoal starter and decided that for about seven bucks, it was worth a try.

After trying it out this afternoon, I can categorically state that it's now one of those things I'll never grill without. It's one of those things that's so simple and useful that you ask yourself why everyone doesn't own one.

You see, I'm a guy who takes my barbecuing and grilling seriously. This means absolutely no gas, and while I'm willing to use match-light charcoal and lighter-fluid, I've found quite a few brands of instant-light charcoal or lighter fluid (especially the cheaper ones) leave a slight chemically taste on the food. However, trying to light charcoal without lighter fluid can be a major pain in the ass.

Well, basically, having a chimney starter makes charcoal grilling as quick and easy as gas-grilling with all of the upsides and none of the downsides.

Here's how it works:

The starter itself looks like a big metal mug with an open bottom and top, with a grate about 1/5th of the way up from the bottom. To use it, you fill the top part with charcoal, stick two sheets of crumpled up newspaper underneath the grate, set the thing on top of your grill, light the paper and walk away.

At first, I was a little dubious. I didn't think two sheets of paper would burn for anywhere near long enough for the coals to catch a flame.

I was right, but the starter works anyway. The paper burns just long enough for the bottom few coals to get a bit of a smolder going. Then, as every schoolboy knows, heat rises…meaning air is constantly getting sucked in at the bottom of the chimney and being forced out the top. The more the heat builds, the faster the air flows…and the faster the air flows, the more heat gets generated.

Long story short, I lit the newspaper and less than fifteen minutes later looking into the top of the chimney starter was like looking into a freaking jet engine. I'm not exaggerating either. The coals weren't just glowing, they were glowing white.

That's the other great thing about a chimney starter. Usually, a grill reaches optimum cooking temperature about half an hour after everyone's finished eating. People tend to throw food on the grill as soon as the flames have died down which is way too soon. With the starter, in fifteen minutes from putting a match to the paper, you're good to go. In fact, it's the first time I've ever actually had to wait for a grill to cool down a little before I could cook my chicken.

Basically, if you're a gas griller for the convenience, buy a charcoal grill and a chimney starter and you'll find it just as easy. If you're already a charcoal griller, buying a chimney starter will make your life much easier.

I hate to sound like Billy Mays, but this really is one of those things that you'll try and wonder how you ever managed without it. After trying it once, I honestly don't understand why anyone would grill without one. It's just crumple a piece of paper, put a match to it and fifteen minutes later you have blazing hot coals ready to cook over.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

This is more complicated than I thought…

Today I decided to start planning our camping trip.

Fifteen minutes and a few state park websites later, I suddenly realized I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

You see, despite the fact that when I was a kid I used to go camping a couple of times a month, it's been over ten years since I last went on a camping trip. Also, as I was a kid, I was camping with my parents which meant that just a few feet from my tent was a camper with every amenity you could ever need. (I don't like Camper or RV camping…if you're going to go camping and take a full fridge, oven, double-bed and a color TV with you, why not just book a hotel room?)

My biggest stumbling block is trying to figure out what we need to take with us.

You see, it's only going to be a two-night trip so we don't want to spend a fortune and fill the back of the car with a bunch of junk we're not going to use…but we don't want to get there and realize we've not brought something we'll actually need. (I keep having flashbacks of the time one of my friends came on his first camping trip with a brand-new, top of the line tent but no bedroll or sleeping bag.) The other thing is that every time I think of something to take, it suddenly necessitates buying or bringing something else along

For example, Sunny suggested just taking some stuff to make sandwiches and a few bags of chips, which is definitely doable, except for when I think of eating nothing but ham sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days.

So I suggested getting some simple stuff to cook, like a package of hotdogs…but then bringing hotdogs requires a cooler to store them in so they don't spoil, cookware to cook them in, plates to eat them off and some kind of utensils to eat them with…which then leads to the question of whether the campsite allows you to build a cooking fire in the first place.

On that topic, I'm considering buying another portable charcoal grill, one of those tiny $25 jobs, because I think that would be really easy to cook on whether we're cooking hotdogs, a fish we caught or bacon and eggs in a skillet…and could double as a fire-pit at night.

So, to all the experienced campers out there, what would you consider to be absolute necessities? If you were going on a camping trip for a couple of days, what would you take?

Bear in mind that we're going to be going to a state-run campsite with the basics like fresh water and toilet facilities…we're not going out on our own into the wilderness.


Monday, June 08, 2009

This is why…

I think I was about ten years old. That year, like every year, my family had gone on a camping trip to somewhere in Europe. That year it was France.

As usual, my parents slept in the caravan (I've since learned you call this a 'camper' in the USA) and I slept in my Dad's ancient pup-tent pitched right next to it.

I loved that tent. My Dad had gone camping in it when he'd been my age. It was an awesome, old-school triangular tent with a thick rubber groundsheet and a heavy blue canvas fly-sheet. It was a tent that could keep you dry in a monsoon…which turned out to be lucky.

I remember being woken by an explosion.

It was so loud that the ground literally shook and I sat bolt upright in bed with my ears ringing. As my heart-rate slowly returned to normal and I got my bearings and remembered where I was, there was another deafening explosion, only this time I recognized that it was thunder…only thunder like I've never heard before.

It was unbelievably loud, and I mean that literally. It was so loud that it ceased to be noise and instead turned into something else, something almost corporeal. In the darkness of the tent it was as if each peal of thunder was a universe of sound. I was so loud that in the pitch black I could actually see it, each blast making my eyes seem to flash in clouds of color…and once the initial shock had worn off, I found myself smiling.

I unzipped one side of the door of my tent and tied it back. Before long I saw flashes of lightning on the horizon, each flash illuminating the camp as brightly as daylight for a fraction of a second, so bright that I could still 'see' the landscape for a few seconds after the flash had gone, a weird world painted in fading purple mist… an after image made of shapes that would twist and morph and shimmer before vanishing.

I remember watching with my mouth open as the lightning flashed again and again until it was striking so often that it was as if my tent were surrounded by a legion of invisible paparazzi. It was the world's most amazing lightshow. I watched the flashes and noticed that sometimes the flashes were white, other times blue… and every so often, a deep violet color that bounced of the trees, giving them an alien, other-worldly look.

A bolt of lightning struck fairly close and I was amazed at the sound. People think thunder is the sound of lightning but it isn't, it's just the shockwave. Lightning up close sounds like a metallic 'pang', like the noise you'd get by dropping a big steel pipe on to a concrete floor in a huge, empty aircraft hangar.

Amazingly, I wasn't scared. I was awestruck. Even at ten years old I had a deep appreciation for what I was seeing. It was the raw power of nature, a spectacle that was terrifying but astoundingly beautiful at the same time. A power your brain simply can't fathom until you've experienced it for yourself.

I can't remember if I watched the storm for a minute or an hour, but I remember the exact moment that the rain started. In less time than it took to blink the world went from being bone dry to looking like it had been raining for hours; As if some celestial special-effects guy had just flipped the switch from 'clear' to 'torrential downpour'.

I fumbled with the tent flap as the rain pounded down, finally managing to zip it closed… wanting to watch the storm but knowing what my parents would do if I flooded the tent so I could watch the storm.

I sat in the dark for a while, listening to the rain and watching the door of the tent explode with light with every flash of lighting. Eventually, as the lightning strike started to become few and far beween, I reached for my flashlight and flicked it on, bathing the inside of the tent in a warm, dim glow. Using the light, I found the bag of French potato chips I'd stashed away next to my airbed and sat and ate them slowly while listening to the roar of the rain pounding the canvas.

I don't remember falling asleep that night, but I remember having never felt cozier or safer than I did in that thirty year old blue tent with the orange door.

Then, about twenty years later, my wife asked me why I liked to camp in the rain.

My Cat Looks Stoned When You Wake Him Up.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What an inTENTS experience!!!

(Let me start by apologizing for the awful pun, I couldn't resist.)

So, yesterday, Sunny and I bought ourselves a tent.

I want to point something out here because I haven't quite figured this out myself ye:. You see, I love camping. Sunny loves camping. Every two weeks Sunny gets a long weekend off. We live less than a couple of hour's drive away from multiple national parks and camp grounds that only cost around ten bucks to stay.

We've spent the past year or so sitting around the house on Sunny's days off complaining that we're bored and wish we could just go somewhere and do something.

When I suggested buying a tent and going camping, I felt like a guy who's been standing five feet away from a free buffet for hours while complaining of hunger.

So anyway, we went and bought our tent and early this morning, while Sunny was still in bed, I took it outside and put it up. As a responsible adult I will say that I did this because I wanted to make sure everything was there and nothing was damaged…you don't want to drive two hours to a campsite and discover that your tent doesn't have any tent poles. However, the reality of it is that I had a new tent and wanted to play with it.

As for the actual tent…

Every time I've been camping in my life, I've slept in the tent my dad went camping in when he was a kid. It's an awesome old-school triangular pup-tent. Two genuine steel poles hold up a heavy, natural-fiber inner-tent with a very thick and heavy waxed-canvas out tent. The kind that has really long guy-ropes at the front and back that you always trip over in the dark.

The new one?

Ok, considering that we're going to be camping for only a night or two at a stretch in during the summer months, we didn't go and splash out hundreds of dollars on a tent that will keep you warm and dry on the side of a mountain in a thunderstorm…but we didn't cheap-out on it either. However, I can't tell whether this tent is really cheaply made, or I'm just behind the times considering I haven't been camping in seven or eight years.

The tent fabric felt really light and kinda flimsy. Now I don't know whether this is because it's light and flimsy, or if it's because I's made of some space-age material tha can be really thin and light but still stay durable and weather-proof. For all I know, it could stop a bullet, but I don't exactly want to start tearing at the brand new tent so see how durable it is…and as I said before, as long as it can keep off the odd shower and act as a decent mosquito net, we're good.

Putting it up was another matter.

You see, I love dome tents. A lot of the people I used to go camping with had them. It; wasn't unusual for them to have their tents up and ready to sleep in before I'd unpacked mine. However, the one we bought is actually almost impossible to put up on your own. I'd love to know who's bright idea that was. In order to erect the tent you have to thread the poles through loops on the side of the tent as normal…but to secure them in place all four have to be pegged down at the same time or the whole thing falls over. Basically, if you're on your own or your partner has short arms, you're fucked.

Also, instead of a whole outer-tent, there's just a two-foot square of fabric that covers non-waterproof vent at the top of the tent. Now while I'm certain that helps a lot with keeping the tent waterproof and well ventilated at the same time, this is held in place by four impossibly short lengths of bungie, and again, all four have to be hooked into place at the same ime.

Ok, all that I can deal with, simply because I doubt I'll ever go camping on my own…but there's one other thing that's really annoying that I just don't understand.

Our tent is 9 foot wide by 8 foot long by 4 foot tall, but we bought it packed in a handy little bag that's actually a little smaller than my arm. Of course, it being small and light is awesome. I could throw it on my back and walk for miles and not even notice it was there.

However, once it's taken out of the bag, and unfolded from its computer-designed, every-square-millimeter-accounted-for shape, it's almost impossible to get it back in. It has to be folded in a very convoluted, counter-intuitive way. Every tiny bit of air has to be squeezed out of it and no matter how hard you try, it always ends up looking like a 300lb guy's gut stuffed into Kate Moss's tube top…if you can get it back in the bag at all.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Interesting…but wrong

I recently read an article on 'Cracked' entitled "The five things the Gaming Industry will never fix and why."

The section on AI was interesting in that the writer had an interesting theory about why team-mate AI seems to be so terrible:

"…it's not a flaw, necessarily. See, Resident Evil 5 doesn't want you to play with A.I. Sheva. They want you to play with a friend, in the co-op mode. Specifically, they want you to play with a friend who you forced to buy a second copy of the game. And Microsoft wants both of you paying monthly subscription fees for XBox Live.

It won't get fixed, because there's more money in not fixing it."

It's an interesting theory. It's also completely and totally wrong.

Oh, I'm sure Microsoft would love you to talk a friend into buying a copy of RE 5, but that game isn't exactly short of fans anyway. This is just a classic case of someone commenting on something they just don't know enough about.

AI tends to be fairly crappy because programming AI is hard.

Think of it this way, humans have instinct, intuition and years and years of experience to draw on when we need to react to something. An AI only has what it's been programmed to do. This is why AI controlled characters will do flat out suicidal things for apparently 'no reason'.

For example, let's say we program an first-person shooter AI with a set of simple rules:

  1. If you're getting shot at, take the nearest cover.
  2. If you have line of sight on an enemy, shoot at them.
  3. If enemy is in cover, throw grenade to flush them out.

Simple, right? But what if you're being chased by a massive number of bad guys and the nearest cover is 50 in game yards behind you and the next nearest is 50.1 yards ahead? Your AI partner is going to turn around and run towards the chasing enemies and get cut off when it really makes more sense to keep moving forward.

What happens if you're running to some cover, hopelessly out-numbered, but your AI partner isn't getting shot at at that second and has line of sight on a bad guy? He stops and shoots, of course, despite the fact he's starting a fight he can't possibly win.

Finally, your AI partner sees a bad guy in cover and throws a grenade…but he's only programmed to throw the grenade at the bad guy in cover…none of his rules say that it's a bad idea to throw a grenade at a bad guy who's only two feet away.

Of course, the solution is simple, we just program our AI with more rules. For example, only throw a grenade when no friendlies are in the blast-radius...but even with that rule, the AI could still throw grenades directly in our path…after all, we're not in the blast radius at the instant the grenade is thrown…so we need another rule to never throw grenades in a place friendlies are heading towards…but that cuts off the whole 'bang and clear tactic, so we write another rule…

This leads us to the next problem: More rules means more reaction time, more system resources and more to go wrong. If an AI has to constantly check a few thousand rules on the fly, things slow down. In a fast paced shooter an AI has to make split second decisions…it doesn't matter if it's the most intelligent AI in the universe if you've shot it a hundred times before it figures out what to do. Secondly, it doesn't matter if you have ultra-intelligent AI if the game looks like crap because all your system's processing power is tied up by the AI.

Last but my no means least, you suddenly have an AI with contradictory rules that has to react to hundreds of other AI's with contradictory rules in a constantly changing environment with an unpredictable human player thrown in for good measure. Things are going to go wrong.

This leads us to the next problem. Even if we have a system with infinite resources and infinite processing power, you can't program every eventuality. At some point your AI is going to find itself in a situation it's not programmed for…and that's when weird things happen.

Paradoxically, even AI that behaves exactly as it's supposed to can cause problems. Once you give an AI any form of 'free will' you lose a level of control that can totally break your game.

For example, 'Oblivion' had a game world populated by AI characters that were programmed with virtual 'personalities'. Each character had certain 'needs' and personality traits. For example, when a character's hunger level got to a particular point, that character might go to an inn to buy a meal. If they couldn't afford a meal, depending on how moral they were, they could go to work to earn some money or steal from someone else. The character they stole from might catch them in the act and run screaming or turn and attack them. None of this was actually scripted, it was just very clever AI characters interacting with one another, the player and the environment.

During testing, testers discovered that a drug dealer character who was supposed to give the player a quest was usually dead by the time the player got to him. Eventually they discovered the problem. By the time the player got that deeply into the game, the drug dealer's 'customers' had run out of money, stolen and sold everything of value in the town and had eventually murdered the drug dealer for their 'fix'. No one had programmed the characters to do this and it's an amazing bit of emergent intelligence…but the simple fact is it broke the game and the AI had to be scaled back for the retail release.

This brings us to the final problem which is probably the biggest of all: We expect more from AI characters than we do from real people.

You see, if you're playing a co-operative game and lose because a human partner made a mistake, it's just part of the game. If you friend Steve makes a mistake and gets you killed during a game of co-op Halo, it's not really a big deal. However, when you're playing alone and an AI character gets you killed or you lose because they did something stupid, that's totally unacceptable.

If you lose in multiplayer, your team just wasn't good enough…if you lose in single-player because of an AI, you're just playing a game where winning or losing is taken out of your hands. It becomes a coin toss.

In closing, AI has come a long way since the term was first coined. There will probably always be programs with AI, but it's not a marketing issue…it's a 'Programming AI is really, really hard' issue.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Microsoft's weirdly named 'Natal Project' was one of the few things in their press conference that got me a little excited…but not for the reasons they probably think.

At its core, it's a very interesting piece of technology. From what I can gather it uses 3D stereoscopy to perform live motion tracking. Basically, the system can literally 'see' you in 3D and then some very clever software works out where your head, arms and legs are and maps their movements to a game character. I love that it can recognize your face and doesn't just recognize what you say, but how you say it as well.

I'll be completely honest, when I saw the trailer I thought it was just so much PR bullshit. However, once I saw it demonstrated live, my opinion changed.

The thing is, I'm not really all that interested in this as a gaming device. Like the Wii, I'm sure it'd be an amazing novelty, but the simple truth is that I don't want to jump around my living room like a lunatic every time I want to play a game. Sure, I can imagine playing some basic Wii sports type games with it…but I don't want to play the next Call of Duty or Resident Evil or Dead Space by flinging my arms around.

In simplest terms, I think there's a very good chance that motion-control for games will always be a cool novelty, but for actual, proper gaming there will always be some form of controller in your hands.

However, what I'm really interested in is this technology as a user-interface.

You see, playing games is a very small part of what I use my 360 for. I use it to stream movies and TV shows from the library on my PC and use it to listen to music through my surround sound system. In the future I see games consoles becoming much more multi-function devices. Pretty soon we'll have a single device that takes the place of our cable boxes, Tivos, DVD players, stereos…that we'll also use for video conferencing, email and web surfing.

The problem is that all of this functionality is overwhelming for a lot of people. Most non-gamers I know think that even the 360 as it is today is 'too complicated'. My daughter in law recently watched me set up a multiplayer match over Xbox Live as said "Ugh, I can't believe you go through all that just to play a game!"

The truth is that I didn't feel like I was 'going through' anything. I've used computers and consoles long enough to where the 360's dashboard is intuitive and easy…looking at it from the perspective of someone who's never held a controller before, it does look complicated and daunting. Even Sunny has problems even signing into the profile I set up for her.

Which is why I love the technology behind the Natal Project.

There's no need to sign in because the technology recognizes your face and your voice. Best of all, completely removing the need for a controller makes everything less intimidating. If you want movies, you say "movies", you move your hand from left to right to scroll through the list. You point and 'jab' at the movie you want to see.

Basically, this is the first step towards the awesome user interfaces I've seen in sci-fi movies all my life.

Of course, I'd like to make it clear I'm talking about this as a technology and not talking just about Microsoft's device. While Microsoft's tech demo was impressive, the sad truth is that a device like this needs to be almost 100% accurate in order to be successful. However, I really love the idea of walking into my living room and my 'device' recognizing my face, telling me which of my favorite shows are on that night, which have been recorded while I was away and telling me that the game I've been waiting for is available for download. Then I call up my email simply by saying 'email', scroll through them with a gesture and place a video-call to one of my friends about the email they sent me with just another few words.

Yup, that's exciting to me, alright.

Oh, and just as an afterthought, Microsoft's device works by using a 3D camera…there'd have to be a special display or some regular old 3D glasses or shutter glasses involved, but for someone who lives thousands of miles away from his family, the idea of a stereoscopic 3D video conference would be awesome.

Oh! It’s NOT a big truck!

Just because I moved to the USA doesn't mean I don't keep up with the news and politics back home, so last months when I heard about the 'Telecom's Package' I wrote to my Member or Parliament about it.

The 'Telecom's Package' was another attempt for the big telecommunications companies to make themselves insanely rich while fucking up the internet for everyone else. They wants to offer 'tiered internet service'.

What this meant is that you'd get your basic internet service for the same price as now, but you'd pay extra on top of that for services like Skype. Plus, your monthly fee would buy you about 2 gigabytes of transfer…once you've used your 2 gigs, you'd be charged a couple dollars for every extra gigabyte. In other words, it gave them back their monopoly. Who would rent a movie through iTunes, when you'd have to pay for the movie, then another four or five dollars for overages? Who'd use skype if they had to pay twenty bucks a month for the privilege, with overages for the bandwidth again?

Basically, the Telecoms package meant we'd pay through the nose for anything other than absolute basic email and web browsing.

Well, today, about two weeks after the issue being settled (Luckily there was enough pressure to stop them), I received an email from my Member of Parliament. Here's the opening line:

"Thank you for your email concerning the free software pact."

No, thank you Mr. Brian Simpson! Thank you for replying to my email weeks after it would do any good and replying about a totally unrelated topic to the one I actually wrote to you about.

Nice to know that my European Member of Parliament, my representative, is so incompetent it takes him over a month to send a form letter and can't actually send the right one to the right person.

I'm looking forward to his next email where he tries to explain to me that the internet is not a big truck.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It is what it is

I realized today that it's been almost exactly four years since I've spoken to my brother, which lead me to the further realization that I really don't give a shit about that fact.

I'm not going to bore you with a lot of details, but in simplest terms, my brother is a sociopath. He doesn't give a shit about anyone or anything unless it directly affects him. He's center of his own universe and no-one else matters unless he wants something from them.

I finally cut off contact with him shortly after I moved to the US. He called me when Sunny and I were in the middle of remodeling the living room. I had a wall half down, was covered in drywall dust and was in the middle of nailing up a cleat to stop the false ceiling from falling down when the phone rang.

So, it's understandable that I answered the phone, said hello, but then said "Look, I'm right in the middle of something here, can you call me back in about an hour?"

Then, for the heinous crime of not dropping everything and letting my ceiling collapse to have a chat with my brother, he just let loose with a torrent of abuse. How dare I not drop everything to talk to him? Didn't I know how expensive the call was?

When he started in on how Sunny was a 'Fat fucking whore' and how I should 'go pull her off the family pigs', I hung up on him and haven't spoken to him since. That's my brother. Charming, friendly and the nicest guy you'll ever meet, right up until the very second he doesn't get his own way or you're not willing to bend over backwards to save him a few second's hassle.

Yeah, he called my wife a 'fat fucking whore' because I asked him to call me back. That's the kind of person I'm talking about.

Now, the thing that really pisses me off is that ever since I broke off contact with him, every few months my parents and other family members bring up the subject of how we should really make up and be friends again.

Why does this piss me off?

Because my brother is a sociopathic asshole. He's quite simply the worst human being that I know. He made my life a fucking misery growing up, screwed me over, stole cash from me, gave my things to his friends…I could go on for hours.

Let's just say that in the 23 years we lived under the same roof I can't think of a single nice thing he did for me just for the hell of it, just because we were brothers. He screwed me over more times than I can count though…either because it was beneficial to him, or just because he thought it was funny.

What I have a problem with is that my entire family act like the only reason my brother and I aren't the best of friends is because of me. He wants to 'patch things up', but I'm just being stubborn. No-one's asking him why he was such an evil piece of shit to me. No one's suggesting that he's reaping what he's sown. Everyone's bitching at me to 'give him another chance'.

What they don't realize is that the situation is really like this: I've already given him a million chances.

Think of it like this. If someone punched you in the face every single day, but said 'Sorry, let's be friends again!' after they did it…how would you feel if after years of this you finally told the face puncher to go fuck himself, and everyone got mad at you for not accepting his apology?

That's my current relationship with my brother. I've been burned so many goddamned times I've just decided to stop putting my hand into the fire. Why should I let my brother back into my life when I know for a goddamned fact that he'll be nice as pie to me for a few weeks and then he'll go straight back to being an asshole?

Long story short, my brother is a person who has treated me like shit for my entire life. I already have enough stress in my life as it is.

My parents would say I should forgive him just because 'he's my brother'…but as far as I'm concerned, 'Brother' is a job description, not a title…and my brother has never actually been a brother to me. He was just a selfish, self-centered, sociopathic asshole that I shared house space with during my childhood.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Horrifying Revelation

I caught a little bit of the E3 coverage today and caught the trailer for the new Star Wars MMO.

As the trailer drew to a close I suddenly realized something. Every bit of Star Wars content that I've actually enjoyed over the past ten years has had nothing to do with George Lucas.

This actually made me sad. I realized that the cut-scenes from Force Unleashed were better in almost every way to every single one of the Star Wars prequels and the clone wars movie and TV series.

Are you listening George? The cut-scenes in a game had a better script, better direction and better acting than your movies.

Ok, I'm not exactly breaking new ground when I point out that the Star Wars prequels were little more than toy adverts and tech demos for Industrial Light and Magic, but I'm getting the feeling that Lucas really was an accidental genius. Someone who lucked into the amazing movies…the evidence for this being that the prequels objectively sucked, and the 'special editions' where Lucas claimed he 'fixed' the first three movies more or less ruined them.

It seems he's fixated on this one period in Star Wars history that isn't all that interesting. The Phantom Menace was about a freaking trade dispute. The Jedi throughout the entire prequel trilogy were neutered and weak to fit the rest of Lucas's badly thought out plot. We don't care about the clone wars George…at least not the way you wrote them. What's to be interested in? A fake war started by the Emperor so he could grab power, fought between bad guys who get wiped out, good guys who get almost wiped out and a clone army that switches sides. Who do we root for? The losers, the other losers or the clones who neither win or lose?

I watched the Star Wars MMO trailer and saw something I've wanted to see since I first saw 'A New Hope' when I was five years old. A whole bunch of trained, fully powered Jedi fighting a whole bunch of evil looking, red light saber-wielding Sith.

Basically George, do us all a favor and sell the rights to JJ Abrams, he did wonders with Star Trek, and with him directing, maybe the characters will do some of the really cool stuff that your characters just spent six movies talking about. A movie where the Jedi are actually powerful, the Sith are a significant and believable threat…and the climactic battle is hundreds of Jedi fighting hundreds of Sith…Not Obi-Wan winning a fight because he 'has the high ground'.

I can haz idiocy?

Ok, this I just had to post about:

Fox News finally reaches the bottom of the barrel, keeps scraping and manages to enter a whole new universe of shitty journalism.

Wait, scratch that. It's not shitty journalism because what Fox does isn't actually journalism. Change journalism to 'making shit up'.

Ever heard of 4chan? It's essentially a forum/message board that's popular with teens and is responsible for a lot of the memes you find around the web, like lolcats. In simplest possible terms, it's a hangout for teens who delight in dick and fart jokes. You know, like teens everywhere since the beginning of time.

Of course, Fox takes this non-news and runs with it. They not only make the massive leap that 4chan is responsible for just about every bit of politically incorrect content on the web, they take this random group of teens and turn them into some sort of shadowy internet agency of evil:

"The most powerful people on the Internet don't work for Microsoft, Google or the government. Rather, they're a bunch of antisocial, foul-mouthed, clever nerds who congregate at a largely unknown Web site called 4chan.org.

Ever get your MySpace page hacked into? Chances are it was 4chan's fault. Enjoy reading Sarah Palin's personal e-mail? She's got 4chan to thank for that."

I love that. A bunch of kids photoshopping pictures of pokemon characters and composing epics about a walrus looking for his 'bukkit' and cats asking if they 'can haz cheezburger' are more 'powerful' than Microsoft, Google or the government.

What I want to know is how a freaking news agency can be so out of touch. I mean, like every Fox news report, every single part of this article is designed to terrify parents, but read this:

"What makes 4chan unique among message boards is its reliance on anonymity, a vast difference from most sites, which make users sign up with at least a verifiable e-mail address."

You see? YOU SEE!!!!??!?! It's SECRET! They're HIDING THINGS!!!! Because it's absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to create a random and completely anonymous webmail address! For example, I don't have a hotmail address purely used to sign up for things so I don't get inundated with spam.

If you still consider Fox to be actual news, I ask you to bear this in mind. This is a news agency that calls the following prank 'cyber terrorism':

Another controversy to hit 4chan was the "invasion" of the teen-centric online social site Habbo Hotel. At this online "hotel," users create avatars that walk into various virtual rooms and chat with other users.

In 2006, 4chan members swarmed the site, created avatars of men with Afros and Armani suits and blocked the hotel's swimming pool and shut it down, due to "AIDS in the water.""

Now, it might just be me, but I wouldn't call that terrorism, I'd call that a fairly unfunny prank that probably got 'Habbo Hotel' more interest and traffic than it ever would had a bunch of idiot teenagers not decided to prank it.

You can read the whole article here. It's possibly one of the most unintentionally funny things ever.