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August 29, 2006

The Big Easy

I do not understand why the President doesn't send the Army Corps of Engineers to New Orleans (I know they are there, but hear me out) to train those left in the city to rebuild. By that I mean, train the majority on building. Train some on wiring and electricity. Train some on plumbing. Their training would be on-the-job and their graduation would be in the streets.

Once this is started, you start putting them to work-- pick a street on which to start. Send the lumber and the other supplies. And put these people to work rebuilding that street, using the plans that must be on file somewhere for each house. Rebuild the street as it was before. When they finish that street, those who cannot do the construction can make the phone calls to tell those who used to own that home that it is back and ready for them to move in. Have others working on the moving aspect; helping to drive trucks, haul furniture, paint walls, and get those families moved.

When that street is done, rebuild the next street. And the next. These people will get more skilled, their sense of community will skyrocket, and the job will get done. Plus, this will create jobs, economy, income in New Orleans.

When the project is done (which will likely take years) you have a city of skilled workers available. They have the pride and knowledge in new skillsets and marketable job experience-- they can go anywhere in the country for new building jobs.

I see no real reason for the dicking about by those in the positions of power for the rebuilding nor any reason for the lamentation of those left behind; rebuild what was lost and put the people that are homeless and destitute to work doing it-- both problems are solved. New Orleans is rebuilt (no more dicking about, stealing the land from those who currently own it, etc.), the homeless and destitute have new, marketable skills (no more groaning about no jobs, no skills), and people come back to the city.

Why is everyone trying to overcomplicate these things? Get in there, rebuild it, and get this thing turned around.

August 26, 2006

Using Your Voice

People often ask me why I write letters, emails, and phone 800 numbers. I believe that when you have complaints or encouragements, you should voice them.

Recently, I was experiencing a strange problem: one channel, and only one, was exceptionally bright. Didn’t matter if I watched the channel using the TV input, through TiVo, or through the VCR, that channel was much brighter than all others.

Many people wouldn’t make a comment on this to their cable company. Many would reason that it might be on their end, or that it is just one channel, so why bother. “Someone will figure it out,” may be what these people would say.

Well, I went online to Cox Cable and sent in an email to their support department. It was not important enough to call and wait for a live consultation when I knew if the problem was on their end, it would be something a telephone jockey couldn’t help with. But it was important enough to contact someone and have it checked.

I received the following response today from Cox’s support:

Hello John,
Thank you for your email. Please accept our apology
for the time it has taken us to reply back. We thank
you for bringing this problem to our attention. Without
your feed back we would have never looked in to this
matter. Once we received your email, we had our
maintenance department see if this was a problem at
the headend (the main system that provides cable and
audio to your area). We did just received confirmation
that we were able to identify the problem and it has
been corrected.
We hope that we have been able to provide you with the
information you requested. If we have not, or if we
can be of any additional service to you, please do not
hesitate to contact us again.
Thank you.
Cox Communications Online Technical Support Team

So, as you can see, voicing the complaint was important as it turned out to be a problem on their end. I just checked the channel in question and it is finally clear, under control, and the same brightness level as all the others.

And, since this problem was on their end, I just helped improve the reception for many thousands of other viewers in this area.

Sometimes, it pays to voice your opinions.

August 25, 2006


The indy movie Brick is an interesting melange of modern movie and film noir. Rian Johnson, the writer and director, set this story in San Clemente, CA at his old high school.

It is a little jolting at first to watch such young actors speaking such out-dated dialog. But once you get past this, the story is smart and intricate.

Brendan, the main character, is a guy with a past. In the classic sense of a Sam Spade, he is troubled and is not a nice guy, but he wants to do right. He gets involved with the story when his former girlfriend, Emily (or “Em”) calls him and asks for help. In his doggedly dependable way, Brendan shoulders this burden and begins to send out feelers to figure out in what she is involved. Soon, she turns up dead and, rather than letting it go, he gets in as deep as it takes to find her killer. On the way he is beaten up, nearly killed, gets in over his head, meets up with a femme fatale and the crime kingpin, and then figures a clever way to turn the tables on all involved.

Johnson uses all the classic film noir techniques. Only those characters important to the story are fully realized; the rest come across as caricatures. The dialog is fast-paced and very stylized. Some very odd camera angles are used. Despite all this, it seems to work. Yet this is juxtaposed against modern cinematography, sharp editing, current music, and today’s fashions.

Nora Zehetner (you might remember her best as the recurring character Laynie on “Everwood”), plays Laura, the femme fatale of the story. While a pretty girl, always needed for this type of role, she also plays her character with a subversive intelligence and a coy smile. She does a fair job of bringing the wit and wiles of a Lauren Bacall to this movie.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tommy Solomon from “3rd Rock from the Sun”) is generally very good as Brendan. The director obviously wanted him to play the role tense, tough, and unyielding; however, sometimes it felt like it was too tight; a little more emotional may have provoked a bit more attachment to the character. He does get a couple of scenes where the character is allowed to react to all that is going on, and those are very humanizing. Still, the character comes across as smart, capable, and determined.

In many ways, the only film I can think to compare this movie with is the modern retelling of Romeo+Juliet. In that version, young actors in modern settings were using the original dialog from Shakespeare’s play. Daggers and swords were replaced with handguns and uzis. A similar style of modern and classic is mixed in Brick.

One thing that stood out was the fact this film, for all the violence and drugs involved with the plot, had no cursing in it. Most movies with either this subject matter or these types of characters would be chock-full of cursing.

Brick is not for everyone. The stylization of the classic noir and the staccato dialog may turn some viewers off. You definitely need to pay attention and be an active viewer in order to keep up and follow all the clues, or you may get a little lost. However, the movie's originality and slightly odd mix of genres is interesting. If you like to take a bit of chance, you may find this to be a nice gem.

You may enjoy this film if you liked: Donnie Darko, Secretary, Memento

August 23, 2006

Idle Thoughts

- I called the vet on Monday and heard back from her on Monday evening. She wrote a new prescription for Calypso of a different antibiotic to try. She agreed with me that the cat was having some sort of allergic reaction to the other medication and that I should stop.

Caly was a little more hesitant about pill time on Tuesday, but she took both pills without any apparent problems. This morning she was a little more accommodating about taking it.

- I managed to drop off the Ionic Breeze at the PostalAnnex+ that happens to be right by the vet’s office. They shipped it out Monday. Hopefully I will be getting my two new Ionic Breezes soon.

- Many of the people in my Fantasy Football league are not proving overly good at the draft. We constantly have to wait, make arrangements, and bend over backward in order to get them to draft. Irritating. It is not rocket science, just make a pick and move on. And you know it is currently running—so check the damn thing on occasion. It may just be your turn!

- C’mon Cindy!

- Went to The Fish Market with Renee for our employee appreciation lunch. Had the swordfish—and liked it. About the same texture as shark (which I already like) but with a milder flavor. It was good. That brings to three the number of fish I can say I like: shark, ohno, and swordfish. I also like lobster. Still not a huge fan of fresh-water fish. And don’t like crab, shrimp, or catfish at all.

- If you haven’t watched Hoodwinked, a computer-animated feature based on the Little Red Riding Hood story, get it. It’s cute, entertaining, and fairly clever.

- Work has been a drudge lately. Tasty employee appreciation meal or not.

- The gang is starting preparations for bowling starting in September. I’m going to miss bowling. I may just stop by to see how they are doing. Maybe I can sub occasionally.

- I took off my sunglasses this morning when I reached work—and the earpiece on one side snapped off. I’ve had these for about 3 weeks now. Even for me, that is a record for breaking sunglasses.

August 21, 2006

Feeling Ephemeral

My company renewed the lease for the Irvine division’s current building. As part of that renewal, the property owner agreed to make some significant upgrades to the facility. This included modernizing the bathrooms.

The upstairs bathroom remodel is done. All of the stalls, urinals, soap dispensers, and faucets now use electronic eyes to automatically flush, dispense soap, or turn on/off the water. For the first week after they opened this restroom (and shut down the downstairs for its remodeling), everything was great.

For the last week, however, I have been feeling somewhat invisible. Standing at the urinal or sitting in a stall, without moving any significant amount, suddenly the toilet or urinal will flush. I’ve asked and there are no timers on these things—they are only supposed to flush once you leave the eye’s radius. At first I thought I might be doing something to cause this; leaning just far enough out of the way, backing up just enough that the eye registers me as leaving, etc. But over the last few days at work I made a point of remaining very still—and the same thing happens.

I asked a few friends if they experienced anything similar, and all have said no. The facilities only flush when they are well away from it. If anything, they comment the opposite direction—they worry the facilities won’t flush at all and use the manual override just in case.

It is to the point where I cannot help but feel a little ephemeral. Why won’t these devices register me appropriately? Why do they insist I am no longer there?

Things Are Tough

Currently, my fiance is going through a really tough time. It frustrates me a that I cannot help her through this time; by making dinner, by driving her, by getting the little things done around the house, by helping at the hospital, by just being there. I would happily help her mom, talk with doctors, make the necessary phone calls to people, discuss with Laura, etc.

Instead I sit here and try to be as supportive as I can from over 3500 miles away. Hopefully some of the plans we are working on will come to fruition soon, so I can be there.

All I can really do right now is tell her that I love her and hope that is enough.

My cat appears to have another UTI. All the classic symptoms are there. So I took her to the veterinarian yesterday, a new one that is right down the street from me. This vet and I hit it off better than the last one. She agreed with my assessment of the cat and gave her a shot to help. She gave me some pills to give to Calypso for the next 10 days, twice a day.

This morning I was able to give her the pill without difficulty. I've gotten pretty good at giving cats pills after Chris's pet, Sam, had health issues and needed a lot of pills, force-feeding, and other ministrations.

This afternoon, however, when I gave Caly her pill she choked a bit. Held it down and seemed fine afterward, but it was obviously more painful or discomforting to her this time. About 10 minutes later she came out of the kitchen after having eaten, and suddenly started meowing and almost growling. Now, my cat doesn't make a lot of noise and usually only meows at all when she's being rubbed, so this caught my attention.

She suddenly vomited everything she just ate (did not see the pill in it, so that was a good sign). After throwing up, she seemed suddenly listless. She was sort of panting, only her mouth was closed, and her heart beat was really fast. She seemed scared and continued the growling-like sound whenever she could.

Soon she walked, staggered really, into my bedroom and then collapsed down again. The strange panting and growling continued for a good 20 minutes or so. She let me touch her feet, her stomach, and even her tail without even lifting her head-- so I know something was wrong. She does not like her feet, stomach, or tail touched, normally.

After about an hour, she seemed to slowly get better. She has moved again, and her eyes look more lively. But now I'm concerned about her pill in the morning. Maybe this was some sort of allergic reaction? Maybe the pill and her food react somehow (since this started after she ate)? My next step is to call the vet back and see if they want me to do anything.

August 12, 2006

August 11, 2006

A Breeze?

A few years ago, in June 2004, I purchased a pair of Ionic Breeze Quadras, and I got a bathroom-sized Breeze for free with the purchase. I got one for myself and one for my mom. As a pet owner and one who lives in a very small apartment, I noticed a big difference having the Ionic Breezes working. Mom has often commented on how effective hers is at helping to control her asthma issues.

My apartment recently experienced a few power outages and I noticed after one of them that neither of my Ionic Breezes were working. I tried unplugging, cleaning, and replugging them. I tried plugging them in while holding down the on switch, as many devices use that as a form of reset/reboot. Nothing.

I figured it wouldn't hurt to contact Sharper Image, from whom I had purchased the Quadras, to see if there was anything they could do to help me. I expected them to maybe walk me through a reset process, or just tell me that there was nothing that could be done. I was fairly sure that there would be no warranty, as I had not purchased the "extended" warranty and I assumed that any limited warranty would be long over.

You can imagine my surprise when Rebecca, the customer support rep I got when I called, said that the Quadra had a 5-year warranty and all I had to do was send it back and they would send me a new one, free. As to the blown bathroom Ionic Breeze, they would just ship me a new one-- no reason to send that one back.

I have since received an email with my UPS Return Label that I need to print out. I just need to send back the malfunctioning Quadra and Sharper Image will send me the replacement. Luckily, I kept my original box, so I can repackage it and send it back in that.

At the time I purchased them, Sharper Image had a special deal going but the Ionic Breezes were still pretty darn expensive. However, with customer support like this from the company, I am now feeling like the price paid was well worth it. I will be much more likely to purchase from their company in the future after this (so far) very positive experience.

I'll let you know how the rest of the process goes.

August 3, 2006

The Joy of Windows

On Tuesday night, after chatting with M and then playing a little City of Heroes, I left my PC and did a few things around the house. Then I came back to the machine and had difficulty getting online again. Since it wasn't important, I didn't worry about it. I went to bed.

Wednesday morning, I came out to check my email before going to work. Still couldn't connect to the internet. I rebooted the machine, released and renewed the IP, unplugged and replugged in the router and modem. Nothing. 'Oh well, I'll deal with it when I get home,' I thought.

Got home, and same thing. Now I'm concerned. It is nearly 24 hours later and still nothing. I called Cox Cable support. After going through the Tier 1 service, I was forwarded to Tier 2. She ran through a lot of interesting suggestions. What was crazy was that she could see my modem and PC on her end, I just couldn't get out to the internet from my end. Finally, she had the idea of trying to connect my modem using the USB port directly to my PC. That worked!

I chatted with M for about an hour, my buddy Chris for a few minutes, and then tried to put in a new network card as the Tier 2 person determined that the problem must be my network port, since everything else seemed to be working.

As I turned off the PC, I disabled the motherboard port in the BIOS. Then I installed the network card, and rebooted. Still, I could not connect. I then did everything Tier 2 did to re-setup my modem to use USB, only now I still can't connect to the internet. I try everything I can think of, again, to resolve the issue. Nothing.

It is at this point that I notice the name of my machine is changed. I notice in the Device Manager that some of my ports and system IDs are different than how I set them.

So, I back up a few files and format my hard drive and re-install Windows XP. Sure enough, within moments I get my modem back up and working. I go through the entire re-install process, and get my router working again.

Now my PC Device Manager settings are back to what they should be. My only conclusion is that, somehow, someone may have gotten through my firewalls and virus/spyware protections and reset some things so they could use/manipulate/control my machine. Or, maybe, that a Windows update updating something that shouldn't be and caused me some grief.

However, it does appear that my motherboard network port is still not functioning. Which is unfortunate, because it is the better/higher-speed network port (I'm using my old 10/100 Linksys network card right now). But at least everything seems to be calming down and getting back to normal.

August 1, 2006

Good Quote

The following is a quote from Troy Aikman, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989-2000, who is about to be enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame.

"After a career of really putting team accomplishment ahead of personal achievement, I'm being bestowed with one of the greatest individual honors you could ever be given," he said. "I'm very proud of that. And I think in there somewhere is a lesson for young kids."

A very good quote and a very important lesson. It would be nice if more children and young adults would learn it.