Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I've always felt we do our veterans a real disservice by referring to them as heroes.

Growing up, I always saw soldiers as 'special people'. They were all rough, tough fearless warriors who charged head first into battle with a grin on their faces, safe in the knowledge that the good guys always win.

My attitude was completely changed, believe it or not, by a videogame.

I was playing a WW2 shooter on the PC in my late teens, when it suddenly struck me that what I was playing was based on something people had actually done for real…only getting hit with a machine gun burst didn't mean they'd have to find a health-pack, it meant they died…without the ability to load their last save game.

Something else suddenly occurred to me. As I was sitting there, safe, in my room… I was the same age that most of them where when they were called up.

These soldiers weren't 'special people bred for fighting', they weren't born warriors… they were just regular 18 year old kids like me, who one day got out of bed to find a letter from the Ministry of Defense telling them to report for basic training.

I mentally put myself in that situation and realized just how terrified I'd be. To get up one day and be told I was joining the army, like it or not, and then I'd be off to Europe to get shot at.

I think that, as a generation that hasn't lived through a world war, we don't really understand what it means to be a Hero. A hero isn't a brave warrior charging fearlessly into battle. A hero is a normal, shit-scared kid who, like any sane person, doesn't want to fight and wants to go home…but swallows that fear and fights anyway.

That's something I'm not sure I could do.

So, to all our veterans of all our wars… Thank You.

Thank you for fighting so that people like me don't have to.


 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

How do you pronounce ‘mnemonic’?

Over the past few weeks I've been going through a lot of my stuff, working out what I'm going to keep, sell, give away or trash.

Today, I was going through my desk drawers when I discovered a sketchbook I'd bought about a year and a half ago. Decent sized, decent paper, hardbound and filled with complete and utter crap.

You see, I keep multiple sketchbooks. On one end of the scale I have the really nice ones that I use for actual 'finished' artwork. On the other end, I have sketchbooks like the one I re-discovered today…kept purely for experiments, doodling, practicing new techniques etc… In other words, it's full of barely decipherable crap that has no artistic merit at all and was only of actual use to me as I was drawing whatever's in it.

So I walked over to the trash can, held the sketchbook over it…and suddenly realized I couldn't bring myself to bin it.

Drawing has become a sort of mnemonic to me. You know how a smell can suddenly bring a long-forgotten memory back so vividly that it almost knocks you over? I have the same thing when I draw… or more precisely, when I look at something I've drawn. I can look at a sketch and I can remember drawing it (and what was going on around me at the time) in absolute detail. For example, as I flicked through the sketchbook, I looked at a 'failed' sketch in the sketchbook and suddenly…

It was freezing cold even though I had the heater on full blast, was wearing my jeans, a t-shirt and sweatshirt and my robe over the top of that. Sunny had left for work an hour before and I'd just eaten a bowl of mushroom soup with toast. I'd been looking forward to it, but I remember I didn't enjoy it, although I couldn't put my finger on why. I was sitting with my feet up and on the couch and Logan was asleep on my feet. I was streaming the Doctor Who to the TV, it was 'The Empty Child' when I started and I finished drawing three quarters of the way through 'The Doctor Dances'. Sunny called me from work then…The3re

It's a weird feeling. There are a couple of sketchbooks I'm bringing with me when I move, but that's because I'm still using one and the other has some artwork in it I actually want to keep… the one I rediscovered today is full and has nothing in it that's any use to me at all, and there's not a single thing in there anyone would like to look at (unless you find 8 pages of badly drawn noses to be interesting). However, I don't want to throw it out, not because of what's in it, but because it conjures up memories of my time here far more vividly than any photo album.

As I've mentioned before, I'm really looking forward to moving, but the amount I want to move is perfectly matched by the amount I want to stay… and I'm just loathed to get rid of anything that links me to here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Leave…it…alone.

Yesterday morning, I walked into the living room and pulled my netbook out of its case. The manual flopped out onto the floor, which was weird, because I hadn't put it in there. No thinking anything of it, I put it on the desk.

Later that day, Sunny is walking through the house, spots the manual, does a 'wife-sigh' and starts unzipping the netbook case.

"What're you doing?" I asked.

"Putting the manual with your netbook."

"Well don't." I said. (The 'case' is just one of those small, zip up sleeves, I didn't want anything else packed in there). "In fact, you can bin the manual if you don't want it lying around."

"No." She said, in a wifely way. (married men will know what that 'wifely way' is. "You should keep it with the netbook."

"Why?" I asked. "I don't need it any more."

"Well I might!" She said.

I paused and blinked. It honestly didn't compute for a second. Eventually, I had to ask

"Ummm, why would you need to know how to use my computer?"

"I dunno." She said. "Maybe you'll be out and I'll just wanna…"

"No, you don't understand." I said. "The netbook is my computer. You have your own laptop."

"…and?" She said.

"It's mine. I don't want you using it. I was the whole point of getting it. You have your laptop, I have mine."

"Oh?" Said Sunny, suddenly looking like she'd caught me out. "What have you got to hide that you don't want me using your computer?"


 

Ok, it's time to clear this up.

If you're the 'computer guy' in your family and share a communal computer, you know exactly what a pain in the ass it is. When I was living in England, thanks to my brother's porn-surfing habits, my desktop was so full or viruses, I think it actually managed to contract syphilis. I had to do a complete wipe and reinstall about every week and a half.

Before we got Sunny her laptop, I lost count of the number of times I'd turn on the computer and the wallpaper would be different, the desktop would be rearranged, my bookmarks would have been 'organized' or I'd turn on the computer and find she'd signed up for something using our main outlook email address which opened the floodgates to spam.

Plus, there is nothing, nothing more annoying that turning on the computer to check something online only to discover nothing will work and hear "Oh yeah, I meant to tell you about that. I was downloading this thing…"

As I've mentioned before, Sunny even told me once: "Oh yeah, it wasn't working this morning either, just turn it off. It tends to start working again after a few hours."…not understanding that it 'tends to start working again' because I try to use the computer, discover something is wrong and fix it.

In other words, I like to have my own computer that nobody else uses because I like to have my own computer exactly the way I want it, and know I'm never going to turn it on to check my email and instead spend the next three hours fixing something that someone else broke.

Now, don't get me wrong. If something happened to Sunny's laptop that I couldn't fix, she's more than welcome to use mine…but while she has her own laptop that I deliberately never touch (unless I'm fixing something), I just don't see any reason for her to use mine.

That, and I don't want her finding my three terabytes of Chinese dwarf amputee porn bloopers I have on there.

 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not For Me.

It's taken me nearly ten years but last night I worked out that MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) just aren't for me.

Weirdly, it's not the actual games I have a problem with, it's the other people I have to play them with…and it's not for the reasons I've talked about before.

This is me just being a massive, massive geek-nerd (gnerd?), but the part people always seem to forget when they're playing MMORPGs is the 'RP' part…it's all meta-gaming without a touch of actual role playing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect people to talk and play entirely in character…but it would be nice if just once someone would acknowledge that they're actually playing a character, not just a collection of numbers and stats picked to make beating the game as easy as possible.

All my life I've loved and been fascinated by stories. I think that on one level or another stories are what make the world work…I'd go into that, but that's a whole other blog post…but suffice to say, I'm not attracted to MMOs for the 'epic lootz', but for the richness of the world and the opportunity to create a character who's going to weave his own personal history into the tapestry of that world.

It's the same reason I've always loved D&D. On the few opportunities I've had to play D&D the actual game has always been secondary to taking part in the story. I think that's what most people misunderstand about D&D. It's not about nerds pretending to be dwarves, it's about that perfect blend of sitting down with a good book, but with the interactivity of a videogame and the total freedom of your imagination.

Anyway, let me try to wrangle this tangent back towards my point.

So, a few days ago I decided to give the free trial of 'City of Heroes' a try. That's a super-hero based RPG where you get to create your own super-hero or villain. To be honest, my favorite part of the game was the character creator, simply because there are a lot of powers and 'origins' to pick from…and best of all, an extremely robust costume creator.

Yeah, I created about five different characters before I ever actually played the game.

Now, this is where MMORPGs and I part company.

You see, if you want to be successful in these games, you pick a 'build' with stats, powers and abilities that are optimal from a gameplay standpoint… You don't create a character, you create a collection of numbers that fill a gameplay niche.

I don't do that. I create characters that I find interesting and make sense from a narrative point of view. I don't care that I've created a fighter that doesn't do enough damage to be 'DPS' or enough armor to be a 'tank', I'm more interested in my character's motivation and back story and giving them powers and abilities that fit into that back story…because for me, most of the time, creating my character's back-story is the most enjoyable part of the game. I don't like min-maxing, because that takes all the story out of the game.

I think that min-maxing (choosing your characters stats to give yourself the biggest advantage rather than what actually makes sense for the character) basically reduces any roleplaying game to just rolling dice. You're not involved in an epic tale of good versus evil, you're just making sure your number is bigger than the other guys number, so you can win that dice roll to make your number even bigger.

For example, I was playing with the character creator and because I already had five very different super heroes (all super-powered from magical 'Doctor Strange' type characters to mutants like Cyclops from the X-men), I decided to make a totally human, non-super like Batman or the Punisher.

Now, from a pure gameplay standpoint, I made a martial artist type character with melee-based primary powers and damage resistance based secondary powers with 'powers' based on technology rather than a genuine 'super power'

However, and this is the big difference between me and most MMORPG players: I was creating a character, a fictional person to have fun playing, rather than a collection of well researched numbers to use as an instrument to make beating the game as easy as possible.

I had created Kitty Slice, an idealistic ex-special forces soldier and expert martial artist who got so badly injured on a mission that the only way to save her life was to inject her with prototype nano-technology, tiny robots that were supposed to repair her injuries on a molecular level. However, the shady Corporation behind the nano technology moved her to a secret location where they used her as a lab-rat and programmed the nanobots to not just heal her but 'improve' her…making her stronger, faster, tougher and more intelligent…but also erasing her memory and making her completely obedient.

After claiming the procedure was a total failure and faking her death, the Coropration continued to experiment on her, completely changing her appearance and putting her to work as an assassin-for-hire in order to gather more data on her new found abilities.

Two years later, while on a mission, Kitty was struck in the head by a body guard's tazer, a million-to-one shot that scrambled the programming of the nanobots in her brain, instantly giving her back her free will…just as she stood over her latest targets, a young family, about to strike. As the nanobots in her brain lost control, they enacted one final failsafe: removing any memories that could lead Kitty back to the Corporation and the people who had turned her into mindless killing machine. Unfortunately, the memory of all her kills while under the nanobots influence remained in place, and thanks to the nanotech boosting her intelligence and memory, she could remember each in vivid detail.

Wracked with guilt over the people she had been forced to murder, and with no memory of her life before the Corporation, Kitty devoted her life to trying to undo the damage she had done while under the Corporation's control… as well as swearing to track down and punish the people responsible. Also, with the return of her free will, she also discovered she had limited control of the nanobots still in her blood stream, such as forcing them to fashion the steel in her gloves into claws at will or toughen her skin like armor when need be. Now she fights injustice wherever she finds it, desperately searching for a way to restore her memory and track down the Corporation

Okay, okay…I know that Kitty Slice's back story is one big comic-book cliché (that definitely borrows heavily from Wolverine's origin story), but I lap that sort of thing up. That's why I play these games. When I'm fighting a bad guy, it's not so I can grind XP to level up to get my next set of powers, it's because Kitty is desperately trying to atone for what she was forced to do. When she levels up and gets new powers, it's not a gameplay reward, it's because she's gained more control over the nanotech inside her and discovered something else she can do…and maybe regained a little of her memory

Then, I log in, someone asks if I want to group…and then spends twenty minutes telling me how my 'build' is all wrong, because if I'm making a DPS fighter, I should have gone for regeneration secondary powers, because damage resistance is for tanks, not DPS and I should 're-spec'.

That's not what these games are about for me. Kitty Slice has the powers she has because it makes sense in terms of her backstory. I don't care about metagaming and making sure my character is absolutely optimal. Where's the fun in that?

This is Going to be a Chore

So, with the move coming up, Sunny and I have precisely one fuck ton of things to sell.

Earlier this week I decided to give Craigslist a try. The thing is, we don't know exactly how long it'll take to get Sunny's Visa sorted. It could be a week, it could be six months…so we're having to wait until we actually get her Visa before we can sell anything major.

Long story short, we don't want to be sitting on the floor with no furniture or TV for six months.

So, about six months ago I bought some PC memory online and bought the wrong size. Because there was nothing wrong with it, they wouldn't take it back. I figured it would be something easy to throw on craiglist to try it out.

Cue the parade of retarded emails.

I mean, seriously… I was getting emails from people that were treating the purchase of 4 gigs of RAM for forty bucks as though they were shelling out a few hundred grand on a new house.

I honestly couldn't tell if these people were retarded or just really, really talentless scammers.

The first asked me what 'guarantees' I could give him that the memory would work with his computer. Deciding honesty was the best policy, I answered 'none'. I told him I'd bought the memory, saw it was the wrong size, the online store wouldn't take it back so I just put it back in the box and put it in my desk drawer. If he wanted to buy it, it would be at his own risk.

He replied by basically accusing me of trying to cheat him. That no 'real seller' would try to sell memory without guaranteeing it. I pointed out to him that a scammer would absolutely guarantee it would work and do anything to get him to buy it…but three back and forth emails later and he was talking about 'informing the police'. I'll spare you my response, but it contained a good few four letter words.

However, my absolute favorite was the guy who asked, totally seriously, if he could meet me somewhere, pick up the memory, take it to his house to see if it worked…and if it did, then he promised he'd totally come back and pay me. When I wrote back and told him there was no fucking way, then he got all offended that I mistrusted him…especially when I said I'd be totally willing to do that, as long as he left a forty dollar deposit.

Ok, if it's this hard to sell something as simple as PC memory for half its retail price (forty bucks)…exactly how hard is it going to be to sell some of our 'big ticket' items like our car?

So…any sane people want 4 gigs of PC memory?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Still bored



Too Much Time On My Hands

Regular readers will know I like to play about with special effects...although there's only so much you can do with a pocket camcorder and an aging copy of Adobe After Effects.

Well, earlier today, I was watching a tutorial for making 'light streaks' in After Effects like in those recent cell-phone ads. Because I was bored to tears and have way too much time on my hands, I wondered if I could do the same thing 'in camera'

So, I took my camera outside where it was almost pitch black, set the self-timer for ten seconds and the shutter to stay open for fifteen seconds.

Then, I set the camera down, pressed the shutter and ran like hell for the horizon, swinging my Sonic Screwdriver (IE, blue flashlight) over my shoulder. I quite like how it turned out:
I'd have shrunk it down a little and cropped it, but I uploaded it on my netbook which doesn't have photoshop on it. This is literally directly from the camera. Not so much a pretty photo as a 'proof of concept'

Sunday, May 23, 2010

UGH

Scanning a million pics for Sunny.

Take photo, dust photo, open scanner, put photo on glass, close scanner, scan, crop, save, name.

Repeat a thousand times.

Shoot me, shoot me now.

This is why I get pissed off…

Today, this arrived in my email. I won't bore you with the full text, but here's an excerpt:

"Dear PAUL,

Thank you for expressing interest in opportunities with Sears Holdings Corporation!

As you know, matching applicants with the right positions requires a unique combination of candidate experience, job requirements and timing. Your application that was active in our database has expired and we have not made a match for you during the time that has passed since you've applied."

In this case, the 'Sears Corporation' job I applied for was at K-Mart. The ad said they had lots of openings from everything to store cashier to corporate level.

So, put it this way. My application told them that I have four degrees, two years office experience and about six years customer service and retail experience and that I was willing to work at any store on any shift in any position they have free. I know for a fact that they still have openings for all those positions because they're still showing up in the emails I'm getting from Careerbuilder, Monster and three or four other job search websites.

Well Sears Holdings Corporation, what exactly would qualify me to come to work for you?

Let me guess. I need to be the type of immigrant that doesn't speak very good English and will work 'under the table' for a buck fifty an hour with no benefits.

Yeah, it's been six years and no-one can accuse me of being picky or setting my sights too high.

Job Applications to date : approx 700

Replies Received : 2

Number of replies offering an interview : 0

Friday, May 21, 2010

Acer Tech Support is a Joke

Last week I managed to brick my iPod touch when I tried to restore it from my netbook. For some reason somewhere between iTunes and the iPod, anything I try to transfer is getting corrupted.

Now, Apple's tech support and customer service was absolutely outstanding. I can't praise them enough. I went to the support site, was told I could schedule a phone call, clicked the option to call immediately and my phone rang ten seconds later. I picked up, was on hold for the grand total of fifteen seconds and went straight to talking to someone who, amazingly, didn't have a thick Indian accent.

The tech didn't make me go through a hundred bullshit procedures, just asked me my problem, how I thought it happened and if the iPod had any obvious physical damage. When I explained it was bricked, she apologized that she couldn't help me over the phone and I'd have to return it to them. Then she said she could either send me a pre-paid box to ship it in, or I could take it to the local UPS store and they'd pack and ship it free of charge.

I took it to the UPS store with my repair number, and six days later a brand new iPod turned up in the mail. It didn't cost me a cent, I didn't need to include receipts, proof of purchase or anything else.

Unfortunately, when I plugged in the new one, I was getting the same problem with my netbook. All the iTunes diagnostics said everything was working perfectly, but anything I tried to sync arrived on the iPod corrupted. Given that everything works perfectly on our other computer, it has to be the netbook…so I went o the acer support site.

Acer's online knowledge base can be summed up in a single sentence: "Turn it off and on again and then do a full system restore if that doesn't work." Seriously. Running a bit slow? Complete wipe and reinstall. Device not working? Complete wipe and reinstall. Won't recognize your wireless mouse? Complete wipe and install.

So I emailed Acer support explaining my problem and asking if they had any ideas or known issues. I got an email back the next day.

Can you guess what they suggested I did?

Yup, do a complete wipe and reinstall. Even better, they included instructions on how to do this, explaining how to use my 'recovery discs'…which would be awesome if the netbook even had an optical drive.

Then I got a nice little message explaining that if wiping and reinstalling windows didn't help, I could use their amazing pay support service where for just a fuckton of money per minute I can be put through to a call center in India…where someone will probably tell me to do a complete wipe and reinstall.

I'd say that Apple's level of customer service left Acer's wanting, but to be completely honest, I didn't need the comparison to show me how shitty Acer's service was. Technically, they don't have customer service.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Future!

Ok, this may sound weird to all my American readers, but one of the things I really wanted to do before moving back to England is to get some video of me doing some shooting to take with me.

Americans are often surprised at just how strict gun control is in England… in that it's pretty much illegal to own any sort of firearm. In fact, I think the only gun you can legally own in Britain is a shotgun, but they're so strictly controlled and licensed that unless you're very rich or work as a gamekeeper or something, you can forget it.

For example, to own a shotgun in England, you have to fill out an application for a license, have a full background check, then a police officer comes to your house to discuss your application (exactly why you want or need a shotgun)…and 'home defense' isn't an option, if you shoot an armed intruder in your home, they treat it like you've just walked into the street and shot a random stranger.

Then you have to tell them your proposed security arrangements (Basically an approved gun safe, securely bolted to the floor and wall with two approved locks). Then, the police officer reports to the Chief of Police, and if your application is approved, the police come to check when you've installed your safe…and if it meets their requirements, then you get your firearms certificate.

Oh, and you can't just go out and buy any shotgun. If you want to take up sporting clays, you'll be allowed a double barrel, but not a pump-action that holds 8 shots because it's 'excessive for your needs'.

Also bear in mind, you can't go buy a shotgun at a Walmart for two hundred bucks…because of the axes and rarity, you're talking thousands…and you have to renew your license every year…and if you don't, your guns get confiscated.

I should also point out that even an air-rifle that delivers 13ft lbs of energy or more is illegal in England without a firearms certificate…and as a comparison a youth model .22 rimfire rifle delivers around 120 ft lbs.

So…yeah. A video of me shooting my Shotgun or Sunny's Glock is something really cool to show my friends. Most brits go their whole lives without ever touching a real gun, never mind getting to shoot one in their own back yard.

So, yesterday, Sunny and I went outside and did a bit of shooting for a few minutes. Then, I got back inside, watched the footage and I couldn't resist. Cue Adobe After Effects!

Traveller DC-12 Camera Review

Earlier this week, Sunny and I were grocery shopping at our local Aldi when we saw they had a special offer. A 'Traveller DC-12' 12 megapixel camera for $65, reduced to $50.

Well, after my $850 dollar camera was stolen and destroyed and then the $250 replacement camera was stolen by the same person (Sunny's POS son), we really needed a new camera. One of the things about moving to a whole new country is you want to take a lot of pictures of the one you're currently living in.

Now, on paper, the DC-12 is actually really good value for money. For $65 retail you get the camera, batteries (unfortunately it takes two AA's instead of a rechargeable battery pack) a 2 gigabyte SD card and a carrying case.

The camera has all the features you'd expect, plus a few you wouldn't for the price such as face and smile detection.

Now, most of my camera experience has been of high-end or at least middle-ground cameras. If I'm completely honest, after taking the DC-12 out of the box, my first impression was that it was a cheap, plastic piece of shit. It felt too light, flimsy and even the buttons are plastic.

However, it starts quickly and while the actual pictures aren't great quality, but they're not too terribly bad either. The 'scene' settings are a bit of a waste of time though. I took one image using a setting that supposedly 'captures the natural green tones of forest scenes'…and ended up with something that would only look natural if you'd taken a lot of acid beforehand.

Basically, I wouldn't recommend the DC-12 as a main camera, but after playing with it for a while, it struck me that it would make a good backup camera. A camera to take to the beach or on a night out without having to worry too much about it getting broken or stolen.

Unfortunately, I still can't recommend it. There are much better cameras for just a little more money. For around the same price you can get a Kodak C180, and while that's only a 10MP camera instead of a 12MP, the images are much better thanks to a higher quality CCD and lens…and for about twenty bucks more you can get a Nikon Coolpix L20 which is just an all-round better camera.

If, like me, you can snag a Traveller DC-12 below list price for forty or fifty dollars, it's worth a buy…but for the list price of $65, it's just not worth it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Campaign time

So today, I got a campaign flyer in the mail from some dude called Joe Grimaud that stated seven reasons we should send him to Congress.

It's one of the most unintentionally hilarious documents I've ever read. Let's go through the reasons why people in SC should vote for him:

  1. Joe Grimaud is a businessman, not a politician : Her will be part of a new crop of 'citizen congressmen' dedicated to taking America back from the career politicians who are leading us in the wrong direction.

So let me get this straight. This guy is trying to sell his total lack of political experience as a positive. Apparently, the fact he has zero political experience makes him better suited for politics than people who have been in politics for decades.

  1. He has the military experience we need in Congress : Joe Grimaud is a decorated pilot who flew 100 missions in Vietnam. He retired as a Major after twenty years of distinguished service to our country…America is now in a war to defend our homeland from terrorists who want to destroy us. Now, more than ever, we need congressmen with battlefield experience.

Ok, I have nothing but respect for veterans, but as a veteran, he should know that you can't have a 'war on terror'. Fighting a war and combating a minority of religious extremists are two completely different things. Plus, more people were killed in car accidents today than were killed on 9/11. Terrorism is about giving people an exaggerated sense of danger…which is exactly what Joe Grimmaud is doing to get elected. Technically, by invoking terrorism for his own ends, he's using terrorist tactics himself.

  1. Washington is broken. Joe Grimaud will help fix it : he has no interest in a political career and won't accept one…Joe is committed to serving no more than three terms to fox our nations problems, then returning home to let others serve.

I'm getting mixed messages here Joe. I'm reading your campaign flyer explaining why you should be sent to Congress, and you're claiming you don't want a political career? That's some crazy doublethink you've got going there. You know people don't trust politicians, so you're claiming you don't want to be a politician in order to become a politician. Oh, and don't you think it's just a wee bit arrogant to claim you can fix all the nation's problems in three terms (and that you'll be elected for a second and third term)?

  1. On the issues, Grimaud thinks like us : Joe supports lower taxes and less government…He is solidly pro-life…he opposes government run health care and wants to start over with a common-sense plan.

What? A politician up for election claiming he'll lower taxes? Never heard that before. Secondly, Joe, you're not thinking like me, in fact you're thinking almost the exact opposite. Firstly, I'm not pro-life, I'm not pro-choice either…I'm solidly Pro 'This is none of my goddamn business'. Personally, I think abortion is between the pregnant female and her doctor. What I, or anybody else, thinks doesn't come into it.

Secondly, I'm all for socialized healthcare…but my main objection is the idea that you think you, a potential freshman congressman, can 'start over' with any new plan. When the President of the United Fucking States can't get support for his own common sense bill, what chance do you have?

Basically, Joe…I enjoyed your flyer, simply because it's the greatest exercise in double-think and pandering I've ever read. You're telling people what you think they want to hear, while claiming totally irrelevant facts make you qualified.

You claim you're a normal guy and not a politician…but let me be clear: You are absolutely a politician.

How to make kick ass barbecue ribs

1) Prepare your ribs.

This is easy, all you need to do is remove the membrane on the underside of the ribs and apply your rub. To remove the membrane, simply cut into it with a sharp knife and pull it away like so:


As for the rub, this is pure personal preference. I usually prefer to make my own so I can fine tune it exactly the way I like it, but today I was under a bit of a time-crunch, so we just used a plain old store-bought rub. Simply cover the ribs with a very light coating of oil (vegetable or olive, again, personal preference) and liberally coat the ribs:



2) Prepare your grill/smoker

We're barbecuing here, not grilling, so you need a grill/smoker that's either set up for indirect heat or is big enough to you can put your ribs on one side and your coals on the other. I'm using a cheap offset grill:


Now, there's a certain group of people (IE, elitist assholes) who claim that a sub $500 grill is worthless and not worth wasting the money on. I bought the above grill for about eighty bucks and it made the best chicken I ever tasted. A more expensive grill might make things a little easier (thicker steel and better seals help regulate the temperature)...but when Alton Brown can smoke a whole salmon using just a cardboard box, an electric hotplate and a cast iron skillet filled with sawdust...a cheap grill/smoker will do just fine.

As you can see, I line the bottom of the cooking side with tinfoil for easy cleanup and leave just a little ash in the firebox to help with insulation. You never want your grill to be too clean. Obviously anything that's going to come into direct contact with the food should be spotless, but smokers become 'seasoned' over time. Basically, a wipe down each time is enough, don't worry about scrubbing it until you can see your face in it.

3) Prepare your charcoal and wood chunks.

One thing you really do need is a chimney starter. Firstly, lighter fluid, no matter how cleanly the manufacturers say it burns, always leaves a funny taste on the food to me. Secondly, while it's holding a flame, the charcoal is giving off substances like creosote and tar. (Ever eaten chicken at a cookout with that greasy black film on it? That's where someone put the chicken on the grill way o early before the coals were ashed over and smoldering properly). Thirdly, they're super convenient, make lighting your charcoal a breeze and are a really easy way to replenish your coals while cooking. Just fill the chimney,put couple of sheets of scrunched up newspaper underneath and light:



As you can see, it also gets your coals hotter than they would with lighter fluid (as well as getting them to max heat more quickly) this is fifteen minutes after lighting:


You should also soak your wood for about an hour before adding them. How do you add your wood to the fire? Well, I've seen techniques ranging from from wrapping the wood in tinfoil to using expensive custom-made trays and baskets. My advice is simple...just shake off as much water as possible and drop the directly onto the coals:

So, should you use any special charcoal or wood?

Well, expensive charcoal burns hotter and longer than cheap briquettes, so it's worth getting some decent charcoal and not the generic store brand, especially when doing ribs as you'll need to keep the smoker going for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Cheaper charcoal means you'll have a harder time and need to replenish your coals more often... so go for some decent stuff, but don't go crazy. Regular old Kingsford briquettes work perfectly and it's not worth spending $30 on a bag of charcoal.

As for the wood, my only recommendation is wood chunks, not chips. Quite simply, chips work well for grilling, but for smoking they burn far too quickly. Unless you want to replace them every fifteen minutes, buy a bag of mesquite or hickory chunks. You can buy a big bag for less than six dollars. Here's what mine looked like while they were smoking:


4) Start cooking

Now, Barbecue 101 says you should let your grill get up to temperature (in this case 225 degrees) before adding your meat. With my grill, there's little point because simply opening the lid let's out 90% of the heat. I simply add some soaked wood chunks to the fire, throw on the ribs and close the lid:


5) LEAVE THE GRILL ALONE

There's an old adage that goes: "If you're lookin' you ain't cookin'" and it couldn't be more true. Open the lid and you let out all the heat, all the smoke and it's going to take ten or fifteen minutes to build up again. Simply keep an eye on your grill's temperature gauge and keep it as close to 225 as possible. Control the heat with the firebox damper but leave the lid down unless you're adding more wood chunks. You only need to open the cooking side once to rotate the ribs halfway through cooking.

6) Low and Slow

Now, it's difficult to get two people to agree on anything when it comes to good barbecue. Some people say the secret is a 40 ingredient rub while others say you should only season with a touch of salt and pepper. For example, I like to have light smoke going the whole time I cook, while other people recommend only using smoke for 50% of the cooking time.

However, the one thing everyone agrees on is the three magic words: "Low and Slow"

The whole point of cooking is to get the food to a certain internal temperature so it's safe to eat. When barbecuing, you want to get to that temperature as s-l-o-w-l-y as possible.

For ribs, I recommend 225 for about six hours. I also recommend using an instant-read meat thermometer to check for the proper internal temperature.

7) Enjoy!

When the ribs are at the proper temperature, this is the time to add your bbq sauce (if you're using it) and leave for another 20 minutes...otherwise immediately remove from the grill, wrap in foil and leave to rest for about 20-30 minutes. Then..well, you know how to eat ribs:

[Note: There was meant to be an image of the finished product here, but by the time they were ready, we were starving and had eaten the whole lot before I remembered I wanted to take a picture. Take my word for it...they were awesome.]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How about a little consideration?

So, today was our 6th wedding anniversary. We didn't have anything spectacular planned, but we decided to go out to eat at Silver Bay, our favorite seafood place.

We sat down, ordered our drinks, started to have a chat…and then some little five year old bastard decided he was going to start screaming the place down.

I looked over at the table. His parents weren't even acknowledging him. Obviously used to the little shit's shrieking, they just tuned him out. I looked around the rest of the crowded restaurant…there were a lot of pissed off faces.

Here's the deal, people. If you have young kids, especially if you have young kids who can't behave themselves, either hire a sitter or stay the fuck at home. I went out to have a nice dinner with my wife to celebrate our wedding anniversary, not to listen to your little shit scream at the top of his lungs while you do absolutely nothing to shut him up.

Now, I've written about this before, and I usually get a couple of comments from self-righteous parents who claim 'They have as much right to eat out as anybody" and "They pay for their meal, so they have as much right to be there as anyone."

Two words: Bull…Shit.

You see, you taking a baby or toddler to a restaurant is completely out of order, because while you certainly have as much right to eat out as anyone else, by bringing your kids with you, you are spoiling everyone else's meal.

Let me put it another way. How do you think people would react if I went into a non-smoking restaurant, ordered a meal, and then chain-smoked a whole carton of cigarettes at the table…making sure to blow smoke into as many people's faces as possible?

I'd be asked to leave, and quite rightly, because I'd be annoying everyone else. I'd be acting like a selfish prick by putting my comfort before everyone else's. There could be fifty or sixty other people in the restaurant who want to enjoy their meal, but fuck those guys, because I want to smoke. If they don't like it, that's their problem.

But I'm a smoker, right? I have just as much right to eat out as anybody, and I pay for my meal, so I have as much right to be there as everyone else.

In fact, let me put it an even simpler way. Imagine if you went out to eat with your partner, and I sat at the next table, looked at you…and then screamed at the top of my voice for your entire meal. That is exactly what you're doing to us. Maybe not literally, but you're the one voluntarily bringing the screaming into the restaurant and not giving a shit if it annoys everyone else.

I mean, even if you tried to quiet your kid down, or took him out to the car when he started screaming, I'd give you some credit… but you never do. You just tune that shit out, eat your meal and completely ignore the fact your little shit is ruining everyone else's evening.

How fucking selfish do you want to be?

I'll be fair. I'm not saying you can't go out to eat with your kids, just go out to eat somewhere appropriate for toddlers and infants. If they sell meals that come with little toys or there's a playground on the premises, you can take your kids there, let them scream blue murder until their heart's content and no one will mind. If you want to go to a nice, grown-up restaurant…hire a sitter.

 

Allow me a moment to hawk my wares...

Ok, regular readers know I'm moving soon, so I thought I'd give one more push to try and sell some more of my artwork.

I know this will mean very little to everyone, considering I'm a nobody with a crow quill, but all these are original, one-offs. They aren't prints. They're india ink on high-quality acid-free, archival Bristol Board (Yep, I suck so much as an artist that the quality of the paper is a selling point)

I'm thinking around $20 each, plus $10 for shipping.

If you don't wanna pay $30...make me an offer.

If you're interested, drop me a line a LWTHIGO@gmail.com

Also, if you're interested in me drawing your D&D character or something, let me know. If you want a jpeg instead of a physical paper drawing, I'll do it for ten bucks a pop.

Oh, and I used a cheapo $50 camera to take these pics, so there's a bit of fringing on the blacks...that isn't there on the actual artwork.

Here we go:






Friday, May 14, 2010

Not my best day…

So, this morning, I got up and went for my daily run/walk.

I cut it short because it was just so freaking hot and humid. Then I got home and tried to fix an issue with my iTouch (you can read about that in my previous post), I bricked it.

So, after Sunny left for work, I stepped outside and thought it was much cooler than it was this afternoon, so to de-stress a little, I decided to finish my run from this morning.

Figuring that without my iPod I wouldn't be getting credit for my run on Nike+, I decided to switch it up a bit and take my bike out instead of going for a run.

First Mistake: I needed pockets to carry my house keys, etc, so instead of wearing my nice light running shorts, I put on a pair of jeans.

Second Mistake: Not taking into account I was wearing a black T-shirt.

The route I took, and this is something else I didn't realize, was pretty much downhill out, and uphill back. So for the first two and a half miles, I wasn't really exerting myself, it took nearly no effort to just turn the pedals to keep the bike at a nice constant speed. At his point I was thinking: "Hmmm, it's a lot hotter and more humid than I thought it was…and I really wish I was wearing my shorts and a nice, thin white t-shirt instead of this thick black thing I have on."

Then I hit an uphill section and it suddenly went from a pleasant ride to a hellish slog. I checked my heart rate…it was 150. Ten more than when I've been going at a dead run for half a mile.

So I hit a short downhill section and I decide to get up as much speed as possible for the big uphill I could see coming. I stood up on the pedals, started pumping for all I was worth…and just when I was pedaling as hard and fast as I could…my fucking pedal fell off.

My foot dropped, hit the road, which nearly threw me off the bike…and I spear off the road, narrowly miss a tree and nearly end up going arse over tit into a ditch.

I ended up at the side of the road having nearly shit in my pants…wondering how the hell I managed to not end up scraping my face along a hundred yards of road.

I walk back, fetch my pedal and realize there's no way I'm getting it back on without any tools.

So at this point, I'm drenched with sweat, out of breath and my heart is pounding in my ears…partly from the exertion, partly from the fact I'd just been within an inch of soiling myself in terror. Add to that the small matter of suddenly finding myself in a real blood-sugar crash.

Luckily, I was less than half a mile away from the gas station…and I can imagine what I looked like when I walked in there, red faced, breathing heavily, hands shaking, covered in sweat trying to buy a chocolate bar and two bottles of pepsi.

"HUUURRRK IJUSTWANNA…HURK…PAYFORTHESE….HURK….PLEASE…."

For the first time since I've lived here, the person on the other side of the counter didn't comment on my accent or ask where I was from.

Then came the fun part.

After sitting outside the gas station eating my snickers bar and drinking my Pepsi and waiting for my blood sugar to return to normal…I got to push my bike the two and a half miles back, mostly uphill, while my nice thick black T-shirt and jeans clung to me in the 90 degree heat.

It nearly got worse when I got back to my road when three, count em, three of the neighbors dogs came running over barking their heads off…deciding I was on their patch. Luckily, I'm not afraid of dogs and know how to handle them. I stopped dead, and when they came over and I started with the "whhooosaGOODboyden?" they looked confused and then their tails started wagging. I got a canine escort to the top of the drive

I got back to the house, dropped the bike, collapsed through the front door, drank my bodyweight in water…and slumped in front of the air conditioner.

I learned my lesson. If I can fix the bike, I'm not riding it except for early in the morning when it's cool…and only when someone is at home and I have the cell phone with me.

The only upside I can see is that I'm not still trying to get home with a broken leg…or lying unconscious by the side of the road.

So how was your day?

Son of a BEE-OTCH!

So this morning, I got up and headed out for my run, started up a podcast on my iTouch… when five minutes in, the audio cut out. I checked the ipod screen, it was saying it was still playing, then the audio cut back in, then out, then in.

I tried a different podcast and it worked fine, ruling out my earbuds as the culprit.

When I got home, I checked out the podcast on my laptop, it was working fine when I played it through iTunes. This was a podcast I'd synced from my iTunes library on the new Netbook, and I started to see that a few that I'd synced from there had a few problems. Enhanced podcasts would have corrupted pictures or the audio would skip occasionally.

So, I tried taking everything off the iPod and re-syncing and got no joy. As a final option, just to make sure there was nothing wrong with the iPod, I decided to do a full restore…basically completely wiping the iPod and restoring it to factory settings.

As soon as I'd pressed the 'restore' button in iTunes, I suddenly realized it was probably a bad idea to uninstall and reinstall all the iPod software from a computer that was having obvious connection problems. It occurred to me, if something was stopping podcasts from transferring across properly, what was to stop the iPod's operating system and, worse, the iPod's firmware from getting corrupted as well?

A few moments later, my worst fears were realized. It got right to the end of the restore procedure then popped up "This iPod could not be restored: Error Code 6". Then the screen went dead.

It wouldn't turn on again and the netbook, Sunny's laptop and the desktop wouldn't even recognize anything was plugged in when I connected it.

Yup, I'd completely bricked my iPod.

Luckily, Apple tech support was like nothing I've ever experienced. I went to the support website, chose the option to talk to an agent, put in my info and fifteen seconds later the phone rang. Fifteen seconds after answering the phone I was talking to an agent. I explained the problem, and after checking that there was no obvious physical or water-damage, she told me to take the iPod to my local UPS store, and they'd box it up and return it to them for free… and I'd get it repaired or replaced in 7-10 days.

Of course, the downside is that while the iPod has worked flawlessly with my desktop, it only started experiencing these problems when I started syncing it with the netbook…which, of course, is all I'm going to have soon.

Anyone have any ideas? I seriously doubt that there was anything wrong with the actual iPod, it's far more likely that something is corrupting the data while it's being transferred from the netbook…or that iTunes has a problem with Windows 7 starter. Basically, I can download things with iTunes, they'll play flawlessly through iTunes itself, but they're not transferring to the iPod properly.

I guess when I get it back, I'll have to check there's nothing wrong with the actual transfer cable and run a bunch of tests.

Just remind me not to try and restore the iPod (which re-installs the firmware) through the Netbook until I work out what the hell is going on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

You Bastards Better Respect Me For This…

So, a couple weeks ago, I got an email from a business wanting me to arrange a giveaway or a promotion for one of their online stores through my blog.

Obviously, alarm bells started ringing, but a few emails back and forth and a bit of research showed they were legit.

I told them I wasn't interested in arranging a giveaway or anything like that, but mentioned I'd be willing to review one of their products on the understanding that I wouldn't be asked to pay for anything, and that I'd be writing an honest, independent review, not a sales pitch or a rehash of their marketing.

Well, I heard back today, and the idea is that they'd give me a free credit to their online store that I could use to order something to review.

That's where we hit the snag. Part of the 'agreement' was that before I'd get the credit, I'd have to post a pre-written marketing blurb about their store network, complete with a links to specific stores.

Maybe I'm just enjoying the chance to feel important, or maybe I'm just right up my own backside, but I've been writing this blog for six years now, I've built up a respectable readership…and in all that time I've never put up any spam or advertising and I've never reviewed something I haven't specifically used myself.

Ultimately, I turned down the offer. The simple fact of the matter is that I'm not willing to recommend something to you that I have no experience of. Writing an honest review of a product is one thing…cutting and pasting a blurb about how awesome this online store is without having any experience of it is something completely different.

I'm willing to be a reviewer. If I ordered something from this store, got good service and the product was good, I'd sing their praises and highly recommend them. However, I'm not willing to be a marketing proxy. I'm not going to allow a company I've never heard of to use my blog like a billboard for rent. That's not the deal. There are a million blogs out there that will allow anyone to post anything if it's going to make them some money…but this blog isn't one of them.

Yup, I know I'm just a blogger and taking myself way too seriously…the idea of 'journalistic integrity' on a blogspot blog is laughable even to me… I just think blindly throwing up an advert disguised as a normal blog post, especially after all the posts I've written about advertising and spam, would make me the worst kind of hypocrite there is.

Last month was this blog's fifth anniversary. That's five years without me spamming you…let's go for another five, shall we?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bit of Class Bias?

So, a few days ago, I was filling out my passport renewal form, when I was hit with a bit of a conundrum.

The main difference between applying for an American passport and a British one is that here, in America, you have to hand over your form in person at a post office so someone can verify your ID and make sure the picture you're submitting is actually of you. In England, you apply for a passport purely through the mail, and you have to have some countersign your form and picture to verify your identity.

Now, technically, I didn't have to get my form countersigned because I was renewing my passport and not applying for my first one. However, the notes say you only have to have your form and picture countersigned if 'your appearance has significantly changed since you last passport or you'd be difficult to recognize from your old passport picture'.

The information talks about if you've had 'facial reconstruction surgery' or anything else that can significantly change your looks, and while I've not changed that much, the picture in my old passport was taken when I was 16. I'm sure I'm recognizable, but I also have a lot more gray hair, a beard I didn't used to have and about an extra 50lbs. My real motivation to go to the extra trouble and getting it countersigned is that renewing my passport costs just under $250, and that's non-refundable. If they decide I look too different to my old picture, they send everything back and I have to pay again.

Given that a change in looks is purely subjective and I couldn't be sure, my attitude was: "I'm sure I could get this approved without getting it countersigned, but why take the risk?"

However, when I read the rules about who could countersign this stuff for me, I couldn't help but feel it was a little ridiculous…and I also couldn't help but feel a little offended as well.

You see, I was figuring I could go visit a notary, or get someone at my bank or go to the local police station. No. Instead it has to be 'a professional person' who's known you personally for at least two years.

I actually laughed out loud when I read the recommended professions. The first two on the list were 'Member of Parliament' (politician) and 'Lawyer'.

Seriously, they want someone trustworthy and the first professions that come to mind are lawyers and politicians? Do these people live in the real world?

Secondly, I honestly did get a little offended because the whole list of 'acceptable professions' were all typically high-paid, middle class professions: Lawyers, Doctors, Politicians, Businessmen…

I couldn't help but think: What is it about having a high-paying job that makes you so much more trustworthy? This is just an independent third party to verify my identity. Why is the assumption that working class people are less trustworthy? Why is a Doctor's word worth more than a construction worker's? Why is an investment banker more trustworthy than a mechanic? (Given recent events, that last person's work I'd accept if a f**king banker's)

To me, at least, it's just a perfect example of the whole class-system (that supposedly doesn't exist in England any more) is still firmly in place. Money + Education = Better, more trustworthy person.

Of course, I could just be reading way too much into this…but to be honest, I don't think so.

Personally, I can see a downside

So I just watched an advertisement for the Rhapsody music service. They seem to be doing what a 99% of all non-iTunes music services are doing. You pay a low monthly subscription and get 'unlimited music for free'. In Rhapsody's case, ten dollars a month.

Well, that sounds good and all…but what happens when you stop subscribing?

You lose all your music, that's what.

Can you imagine trying to use that business model before the internet?

"Ok, here's the deal. You pay me $120 a year, and we'll send you any CDs you want... but these are 'special' CD's that will only play on one pre-approved stereo and one portable player. You can't copy it to tape to listen to in the car or loan it to your friends…in fact, if you try, we'll sue you for literally millions of dollars… and if you ever stop paying us, we'll come to your house, immediately take all the CD's back but keep every penny you've paid us. It's basically like we're holding your music hostage.

Now, doesn't that sound much better than going to a store and spending a few bucks on a CD you can play anywhere and keep forever?"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Today was not a good day.

As much as I'm loathed to admit it, the simple mention of Sunny's son's name now is enough to drive me into a rage.

It's not that he 'accidentally' took my $850 camera, wiped the irreplaceable pictures from it and returned it broken, it's not even that he stole the $250 camera we bought to replace it. It's not the fact that recent events have given me a very good idea where my guitar went or where Sunny's original wedding ring vanished to.

It's to do with the fact that over the last six years we've taken him and his entire family in more times than I can count and let them stay completely for free. It's the fact that I've gotten into blazing rows with people defending him and it's turned out he was lying to me all along. It's the fact that we've absolutely bent over backwards for years to help him, and got treated like shit in return.

It's the fact that he's lied to our faces and played us for fools for six years.

Most of all, it's the fact that after he turned up with nowhere else to go for the hundredth time, I took him in…and the next day, he leaves to stay with his cousin, telling me how much he's going to miss me, made a point of giving me a hug before he left…while he had my fucking camera in his pocket.

I don't even know how to describe someone like that. I don't think there're words in the English language to cover it. 'Thief' and 'Liar' aren't strong enough. This is a person who can look me in the eye, thank me for all the help I've given him, tell me that he's going to miss me while he's stealing from me.

Oh, and it's not just the $1000 worth of cameras, it's all the other things that have mysteriously vanished over the years. The things I thought must have got accidentally thrown away or someone else must have stolen…because there's just no way Frank would steal from us, not when we've been feeding his wife and two kids for the past year, not when Sunny's only getting four hours of sleep per day because she's getting in from work and driving them around everywhere they need to go.

So you can probably understand why I get a little bit bent out of shape when the phone rings, Sunny answers, and then without a word, mysteriously decides to take the call outside… and it turns out she'd having a nice chat with her son.

I just about went ballistic. If a member of my family had stolen something so expensive and sentimental from Sunny, and I replaced it, and then he stole the replacement the morning after we'd taken him in for the hundredth time…I don't know how I'd react….but I know I wouldn't be having a nice chat with him on the phone two weeks later.

The worst part is when Sunny came back into the house and said "We already talked about your camera when I first went outside!"…as though, you know, they talked about it, dealt with that issue…so I've got no reason to get pissed off that they're having a chat like nothing had ever happened.

You can imagine my response. I asked why, if she'd already talked about the camera, why the fuck he wasn't either on his way to the house to return it, or to man up and come over to apologize to my face.

This is the thing Sunny just doesn't understand. It's not that he's been lying to our faces for six years…it's the fact that he's still fucking lying.

If she's still talking to him, what she's saying to him is "Hey, we know you've been lying and stealing from us for years, I know you're lying to me right at this very second…but hey, that's okay because we'll pretend like none of this ever happened."

The real cherry on the cake for me was seeing just how easily Sunny got mad at me when she saw how pissed off I was. Apparently, me getting mad that she's having a nice chat with the person who's into me for well over $1000 and has lied, and is still lying, to us is justifyable cause for her to get angry with me.

Her Son, who's fucked us over time and time again for six years…well, that's no reason to get angry at him, is it? Let's just pretend the whole thing never happened.


 

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Feeling Awesome

For the past few days I've been integrating a lot of running into my daily walks.

I'm pleased to say that I think I'm finally light enough (and strengthened my leg muscles enough) to where I can do some proper running without having to worry too much about my knees or ankles.

I remember about two weeks after I first started, when I was still around 290, that I'd walked a mile and a half and was feeling really good. I was convinced that I could run most of the remaining mile and a half… but just like I'd read about (and completely ignored), when you first start getting back into shape it's like putting a big engine into a chassis that can't handle the torque.

Basically, I tried to run, but it was physically painful and my knees creaked for days afterwards.

Well, I'm really pleased to say that while I'm still definitely what you'd call 'fit', I'm a hell of a lot fitter. I'm down from over 290lbs to 265, and today I ran just under two of my usual three miles… and as an added bonus, when I finished the run, I got the soundclip from Lance Armstrong on my Nike+ app congratulating me on beating my personal best for the mile.

Now, sure, to most people a personal best of 15'30" a mile might not be that fast…in fact most people would call it pathetic…but considering when I started nine weeks ago, it took me close to an hour to walk a single mile…I think getting to the point where I can do three miles in 45 minutes and be back at my resting heart rate in less than 10 minutes is something to shout about.

Homesick.

I can honestly say that in the six years I've lived in America, I've never once felt homesick.

Don't get me wrong, I've missed family and friends occasionally and I've certainly missed certain aspects of life in England…but I can honestly say I've never sat down and thought "I want to go home." You may wonder what the difference between what I've just described and 'homesickness'…and the best way I can think to describe it is this:

What I've felt up to now is like eating Papa John's pizza while wishing you were eating Dominos. It's like wanting Coke but the store only having Pepsi. Homesickness (which I've certainly experienced as a kid) is having no pizza or drink at all while you're absolutely starving and dying of thirst.

The weird thing is that it's finally sunk in that I'm moving back to England… and even though I felt barely a twinge when I moved here, I'm already getting homesick for America and we won't be moving for ages yet.

To be completely honest, though, I think a lot of it is just that I'm associating America with Sunny and my first real sense of 'freedom'. Before moving to America, I was still living with my parents and I think most of my attachment to this country isn't really because of 'America' per se, but more that moving here was the first time I was out on my own.

It's like your first bachelor pad. It might have been a crappy, tiny apartment with bad plumbing, but the freedom of having your own place where you set the rules for the first time made it feel like an absolute palace.

It's just a really odd feeling. This morning, I was thinking about my next blog post, and even though I'll still be able to write this blog in England…and even be writing it on the same laptop…I started thinking about the very first post I ever wrote, on Sunny's old desktop with its crappy 56k modem that never connected at more than 26k. Suddenly, remembering what it was like when I first moved here felt like I was getting punched in the gut. It was a real sense of loss that I'm still not sure where it came from.

I think it's not so much that I'm going to miss this place…it's just that I have so many memories wrapped up in it.

It's like your parents selling your childhood home. You may not have lived there in decades, you might live less than a mile away from it right now…but you're still going to get choked up when you walk out the door for the last time.

A few weeks ago, if you'd asked me what I thought about this house, I'd have told you what it really needed to set it right was a couple gallons of gasoline and a match. My mother-in-law said that once we eventually moved out, she was going to have the place bulldozed…and to be completely honest, watching this place get torn down was something I was actually looking forward to.

When it was just in the abstract, I was really looking forward to moving out of this place…now, when it comes down to it….I'm really going to miss this place.

It might not be a palace, but it's the first place I lived with Sunny. A lot has happened under its roof…and if only for that, I'm gonna miss it.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Acer Aspire One Netbook

So I've had a few days now to play with my new netbook, and I thought I'd share some thoughts.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year you'll know that a netbook is essentially a small, cut-down version of a laptop…but after giving mine a thorough test drive, I discovered that it's not as 'cut-down' as you first might think.

I traded my desktop for the new netbook (because it's hard to carry a full sized desktop computer on a plane when you're moving), but a quick check online showed me that you can get this model (an Acer Aspire One) for around three hundred bucks…and you really do get quite a lot for your money.

For three hundred of your American dollars you get an Intel Atom 1.66ghz processor, 1 gigabyte of ram (upgradable to 2gig) a 160gb hard-drive, wifi, a built-in webcam and microphone, a multi-card reader, jacks for an external mic and headphones, a standard Ethernet port, 3USB ports, a VGA-out for connecting to an external monitor or projector and Windows 7 Starter Edition.

In fact the only glaring omission is the optical drive…but to be completely fair, an optical drive isn't necessary for what a Netbook is designed for. If you absolutely must have an optical drive, you can get an external USB one for around fifty bucks now, so it's really not an issue.

Given that a netbook is designed to give you everything you need rather than everything you want…the Aspire One performs beautifully. It's not exactly lightning fast and you won't be playing the latest 3D games on it…but it's good for just about anything else.

To put it through its paces, I tried it with Skype (which resulted in a flawless call where my dad commented on the clarity of the webcam picture), I streamed a HD quality episode of Doctor Who to it and it played back the video without a single stutter or chug…and it even managed to run the original Half-Life at well over 70 frames per second!

Surfing the net is just…well…surfing.

The battery life is also outstanding. For basic websurfing with the screen brightness at about half, I got about six hours before I got the 10% power warning, and for slightly more processor intensive tasks (such as watching a video with the sound up or playing a game) you can expect around four hours. Not bad considering our other laptop struggles to get to one and a half hours with everyting in power-saving mode. It also charges fast as well. You can go from 0% to about 90% power in less than an hour.

To be honest, the only thing that takes a little getting used to is the smaller screen. It's a 1024x600 widescreen monitor, and because it's a small screen it's still incredibly sharp (it looks just as good as my 26" desktop monitor running at 1440x900)…but just not having as much screen 'real estate' can feel strange at first….however, once you've been using the netbook for fifteen minutes or so, you don't notice any more (with the added bonus of when you switch back to you main computer the screen seems massive)

So, would I recommend the Aspire One to a friend?

Well, as a primary computer I'd have to say no, unless you're buying for a non tech-savvy parent or something who just wants something to send emails or do a bit of web-surfing on. As a secondary computer, I can't recommend it enough. I'd also highly recommend it for students. In fact, I'd say it's the perfect student computer…small, light, cheap with enough battery power to get through a day's worth of classes…and enough storage and horsepower for facebook and a decent sized iTunes library.

Basically, if you're after a new laptop, consider a netbook instead…and if you're after a netbook, you can't go far wrong with the Acer Aspire One.

(Damn I wish these companies would pay me to write this stuff)

Friday, May 07, 2010

DUN DUN DAAAAAHHH!!! (Lightning flash, roll of thunder)

This morning, Sunny and I went and turned in her Passport application at the post office. We were originally going to go by the grocery store on the way home, but considering Sunny worked last night and neither of us had gotten much sleep we decided to leave grocery shopping until tomorrow and instead stop and eat at our favorite Chinese place for lunch.

If you're ever in Easley, stop by the Grand China restaurant. It's really good food and lunch is all you can eat for five bucks.

At the end of the meal, the waitress brought over our check and fortune cookies. Sunny was just finishing up the last of her food as I grabbed one of the cookies and cracked it open. It said:

You will inherit a large sum of money,

I looked up at Sunny and said "I'm not sure I like that. There are only two people I could inherit a large sum of money from, and I'd rather keep my mum and dad and do without the money."

"It could mean me." Said Sunny.

"Nah." I said. "If it meant you it wouldn't say *I* was going to inherit a large sum of money."

"I mean something could happen to me." Said Sunny

"Oh," I said, understanding what she meant. "well, I'd rather keep you and do without the money as well."

At that point, Sunny unwrapped her fortune cookie and snapped it open.

It was empty, there was no fortune inside.

"I have no fortune." Said Sunny, then she looked puzzled for a second, then looked up at me with her eyes really wide.

We both started laughing.

"I guess the cookie couldn't be bothered giving you a fortune, considering you're not going to be around for much longer." I said.

It's at times like this that I'm really, really glad that I'm not a superstitious person. Reading you're about to inherit some money and then finding your wife doesn't get her future told at all could really spoil your day.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bass Akwards

Since watching Clash of the Titans the other day, something about that movie was bothering me.

It was weird. It reminded me of the idea of the 'perception filter' in Doctor Who. Like there was something I could just see out of the corner of my eye that was out of place, but couldn't consciously put my finger on what it was.

It finally struck me. It was the PG 13 certificate.

Never has it been more obvious to me that when it comes to the 'morals and values' we want to pass onto our kids, we have got it completely backwards.

You see, at the start of the movie, we see Perseus's mother, father and younger sister drown. We see gets get turned to stone by a snake-haired medusa, we see guys fall into lava and get impaled by giant scorpions. In one scene, we see a guy get literally torn limb from limb.

What it boils down to is this: We're completely okay with our children watching extreme violence. However, had this movie contained the image of a female nipple…not even in a sexual context, just a woman with one of her breasts exposed, the movie would have instantly been given an R rating.

Anyone else think it's just a little weird that, as a culture, we're perfectly fine with our kids seeing graphic violence… but we won't stand for them seeing a human breast. Massive amounts of assault and murder are fine, but a non-explicit depiction of sex between two consenting adults is unacceptable.

Think of it this way…we'remore comfortable with our kids seeing people taking life, rather than the biological process of creating it.

Let’s hope it was a premonition.

I've heard people say that the only thing more boring that listening to other people's problems is listening to other people's dreams.

I don't give a crap. I'm going to tell you about my dream anyway.

Have you ever had one of those really, really lucid dreams that seem 100% completely and totally real? The ones where you seem to be in complete and total control? I had one of those last night, and it lead to the biggest, must crushing disappointment I've ever felt when I finally woke up and discovered it wasn't real.

I dreamt that Sunny and I had decided to go and visit M5, the building where they film Mythbusters… because in perfect dream logic, we figured we wouldn't be able to visit once we were living in the UK, and it make perfect sense that a busy TV show and special effects business would take time out so two completely random strangers could stop by for a geek-fest. However, in the dream, not only where they willing to do that, when we arrived in San Francisco, the whole cast of the show (along with Wil Wheaton, for some reason) met us at the airport, and on the drive back to the shop, we were all having an absolute whale of a time.

After arriving at M5, Sunny was off chatting with Kari, and I found myself helping Adam and Jamie build this big go-kart thing (which was AWESOME) when Adam asked why I was moving back to England. I started to explain our situation when Jamie piped up:

"It's a shame you have to move back." He said. "We could really use someone like you around the shop."

"Yeah." Said Adam, agreeing.

In my dream, I just about swallowed my tongue. You see, at this point, YOU know it's a dream, *I* Know it's a dream and in the cold light of day, any sane person knows that the content of this dream is about as plausible as my scrotum being signed as the new face of Revlon…but bear in mind, while this dream was actually happening, it was completely and totally real. It was as real to me as reading this blog is to you now. There was no reason to doubt it, because as far as my brain was concerned, it absolutely was happening.

So I want all my fellow geeks out there imagine how you'd feel if 'The Hyneman' himself personally asked you to move to San Francisco and work on Mythbusters.

After trying not to scream, and only partly succeeding, I quickly pointed out that I didn't really HAVE to move back to England, and the main reason we were moving is because I couldn't find work.

Adam outlined the deal for me. I'd move to San Fran at the Discovery Channel's expense. I'd become a cast member on Mythbusters as well as working directly for Jamie for his special effects business. I didn't ask what the pay was (like I actually cared with an offer to work on Mythbusters), but Jamie told me it 'only' paid about $90,000 a year.

I went to find Sunny, found her in a break room still talking to Kari and Grant…told her we'd be staying…and that was the exact point that, in real life, Lucy (our cat) decided I'd had enough sleep and yowled down my ear.

My eyes flashed open. The feeling of pure elation slowly drained away as I realized none of what I thought had happened had actually happened.

I have never been so fucking disappointed in my entire fucking life.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

You’re Shitting Me, Right?

Thanks to some awesome wheeler-dealing and a very lucky opportunity, this week I got to swap my aging desktop computer (that I obviously can't bring with me to England) for a brand-new netbook.

So, this afternoon I was doing all the things you usually do with a new windows-based computer: I cleared off all the trials, crap and bloatware and installed my usual virus, malware and firewall programs. Then I set about installing firefox and transferring across my bookmarks.

Then, I decided to switch out the boring default wallpaper for something more interesting. So I find a good one online, right click, 'set as desktop background'…the screen flickers once, I minimize my browser window…and the wallpaper hasn't changed.

I figured I was doing something wrong. This is my first time using Windows 7, so maybe there's some desktop gadget stopping me. I try going through the control panel 'appearance' menu, right clicking on the desktop and clicking 'properties'. Nothing works, so I check the help system and type 'background'. 'Why can't I change my background' is the top result.

Here's what came up:

"Windows 7 Starter edition comes with one desktop background, which can't be changed or customized.

You can use Windows Anytime Upgrade to upgrade to another edition of Windows 7 that will allow you to change your desktop background (and get more features and functionality). For more information, see Upgrade to another edition of Windows 7 by using Windows Anytime Upgrade and Windows Anytime Upgrade: frequently asked questions."

Are you shitting me, Microsoft? In your supposedly brilliantly awesome Windows 7 operating system you made something as simple and basic as changing your desktop background into a premium feature?

Which complete fucking idiot thought that one up? Do you guys not realize you generated enough ill-will with the whole Vista debacle? Sure, I can understand the idea between multiple versions with more features for more money…but what can we expect in Windows 8? Will I have to upgrade to the premium version to, I don't know, rename a file? Turn my PC on?

It's like you roll out a new OS and sit around a table and say: Ok, guys, what can we do to make this piece of shit even less attractive? How do we turn this into a real kick in the balls for our customers.

Put it this way, if Steve Jobs pulls his head out of his ass and realizes that slapping the Apple logo onto something isn't justification enough to hike the price by 300%...my next computer will be a Mac.

Seriously…changing my background is a 'premium feature'.

You'd better hope I never run into you in the street. Me not delivering a vicious cock-punching will also be a very expensive, premium feature.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Careerbuilder.com is useless

Considering that my job hunt in the USA is officially over, I thought I'd take a minute to 'review' careerbuilder.

That is, to say it's completely and totally fucking useless.

The site's ok, but every day I get emails from them that are supposed to be jobs 'suited to my qualifications and preferences'.

Now, let me be clear here, this isn't a case of user error. I've been on the site pretty much daily for the past five years. I've made double and triple sure that it knows what my qualifications are and what type of job I'm looking for. My preferences are general admin/clerical office work…but I think I could get better quality 'matches' if I chucked a dart at the classifieds in the paper.

For example, my job matches today include:

Five separate Army careers, three positions for HGV drivers (I don't even have a regular car license), seven positions for registered nurses, one car mechanic job and another for programming CNC fabrication machines.

Oh, there was one office job, but for that I needed a real estate license.

Basically, if you're looking for a job…don't bother with Careerbuilder.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Makes sense, doesn't it?

"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started from is not the same as never leaving."


-
From 'A Hatful of Sky' By Terry Pratchett.

FIRST!

Shortly before Christmas, when Sunny and I were heading home with our new HDTV in the back of the car, I remember turning to Sunny and saying: "I wonder what the next big thing's going to be."

With TV's we went from black and white to color. Then, when color was affordable and everyone had a color TV, flat-screen TV's came out. We went from flat-screen to big-screen, from big-screen to thin LCD displays…and finally to HD displays.

I was wondering where we'd go next. One you have a big screen with a really high resolution color display…what is next?

My money was on 3D, and it turned out I was right.

I just wasn't expecting it to be such a massive rip-off.

You see, I was expecting the new 3D TV's to have some brand new cutting edge technology to justify their price. I remember a couple of years ago reading about a prototype display that produced a 3D image by covering the screen with millions of tiny, precision oriented lenses which meant that, without any glasses, the display projected a different image to your left and right eye.

Instead, after doing a little research, it turns out that the 'new' 3D TVs are using the same shutter-glasses technology that's been around since 1995.

I have a shutter-glasses set up on my PC…and it cost me sixty dollars.

The way shutter glasses work is the display rapidly switches between the left eye and right eye viewpoint, and you glasses cover your left and right eye in time to the display. As such, your left eye only sees the left eye image and vice versa.

Now, this can work with any display, all you really need is something to allow the display and the shutter glasses to talk to each other to keep them synchronized. The actual TV doesn't have to be any different to a normal TV, and as I mentioned above, you can buy a pair of shutter glasses for your PC for sixty bucks.

So can someone please explain to me why this 'new generation' of 3DTV, that's using fifteen year old technology, can cost nearly ten thousand dollars for the TV and around 200 for a pair of shutter glasses?

Well, I suppose the answer's self explanatory: Precedent.

The first generation of plasma TVs cost about ten thousand, the first generation of HD displays cost the same thing…and right now there are legions of early adopters heading to best buy to put down ten grand on the latest and greatest TV technology.

Just because the tecnology's been around for fifteen years, and you could get exactly the same effect with sixty dollars of technology (my setup is a tiny box that you connect between the PC and the monitor that the glasses plug into…there's no reason why you couldn't do this on any TV)…doesn't mean there aren't a ton of people willing to spend ten grand to be the 'first'.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fun, right?

One of my favorite iPhone/iPod Touch apps is 'Poker 6k'. As you can probably guess from the name, it's a multiplayer poker game.

I've written before on the sheer pointlessness of just joining a 'table' and playing a regular game, but today I discovered something even worse.

You see, I only ever play in tournaments because the idiots who like to go all in, on the first hand, before the flop can't ruin the game by buying back in. When they insist on going all in on the first hand, all they're doing is improving your 1 in 9 chance of winning to 1 in 6…or so I thought.

I played a few games today and I noticed the same thing over and over.

Ok, before I go into this, let me ask you a question. What is the one and only reason to play multiplayer poker when you're not playing for real money?

Fun, right? Well, someone explain to me how this 'tactic' is in any way fun:

When you play a tournament, everyone puts up the same stake, but everyone plays with just $1000 worth of chips. Then it's a matter of eliminating your opponents by busting them out. Third place gets 20% of all the stake money, second gets 30% and first place gets 50%.

So, at first, I thought I was just playing with a few idiots who like to go all in so they can 'bluff'. Then I noticed what they were doing.

These guys are joining tournaments, going all in and hoping two or three other people do the same…then, if they win and get the massive chip-lead from taking all two other players chips on the first hand, they just automatically fold over and over for the rest of the game, hoping they'll be in the final three before their chips run out.

Technically, this isn't a bad tactic. Starting with 9 players, if you succeed in winning the first hand going all in and eliminate two players, suddenly you have $3000 while the remaining six players only have $1000. Then, it's fairly likely if you fold on every hand and only lose chips when you have to pay a blind that you'll still be around when the remaining players (the ones actually playing poker) have busted out four more players.

However…what kind of gigantic ass-hat plays like this? You're taking a fun game of poker and reducing it to pushing a single button over and over in order to make your meaningless number bigger than everyone else's meaningless number.

I need to set up a friends list of people who actually play games for fun.


 

3D

Considering today is the 1st of may (Jonathan Coulton fans will know what starts today)…we decided I was about time to use the movie gift cards my daughter-in-law Kathy bought us for Christmas.

It was a spur of the moment thing, and there's wasn't much playing that I was very interested in, but I noticed one of the movies (Clash of the Titans) was in 3D.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but the 3D technology far exceeded my expectations. My last experience of a 3D movie was the classic, headache-inducing red and blue glasses system. My most high-tech experience of 3D is the shutter-glasses I have for my PC, which works but produces a very noticeable flicker and darkens the picture significantly.

I'll be researching this later (because things I don't understand drive me nuts), but I've got no idea how the 3D glasses for the movie worked. I was expecting some variation on the shutter glasses I have for the PC, but instead they looked like a pair of cheap sunglasses without the tint.

I was absolutely blown away by the effect as well. At the start of the movie the title appeared on the screen and it appeared as if it was hovering just above the seat in front of me. There was no loss in quality or trade-off for the 3D (like the loss of color or headaches of the old red/blue glasses)…it was just an awesome experience.

In fact, the only slight negative just comes from getting used to the 3D. It's a movie where you're aware of the 3D space, but it's been filmed with normal 2D displays in mind. Just like color and sound changed what it meant to make movies, 3D is doing the same and people aren't quite sure how to best take advantage of it yet.

For example, everyone's seen an 'over-the-shoulder' conversation a million times. You see the back of one person's head on the left of the screen, and the other person's face on the right (or vice-versa). When the other person starts speaking, they switch.

On a 2D screen this is such normal 'cinematic language' you don't even think about it…but in 3D, you've suddenly got your nose buried in the first guy's hair and the other guy's standing too far away. Imagine joining a conversation while standing way too close to one guy while the other guy's on the other side of the room and you'll get the gist of what I'm saying.

Having said that, the whole 3D thing turned a bog-standard movie into a really enjoyable experience. If you haven't seen a 3D movie yet, I can highly recommend it.