Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Google Calendar

My wife and I use Google Calendar to coordinate our events and activities with one another. It started primarily when I was on one coast and she was on the other, as it was a simple calendar option that we could both access at all times and use to see what the other was doing or had planned.

One thing that I haven't seen on any electronic calendar, but that I would love to see incorporated into Google Calendars, is a "diary" function. Let's face it, most of use write things into calendar entries that are not activities or things to do lists. We often will put a quick summation of something wonderful that happened, or mundane things like the reps and sets we did for our workout that day, or the mileage on our walk/run, or even a quick note to our loved ones. Yet most electronic calendars assume we only use them for meetings, lists, and events/activities.

I see it working like this:

Right now, when you click on the day, you get the option of entering a task or event for a specific time. I'd like to see a window display asking if I want to enter an activity or make a diary entry. If I select Activity (or some other generic word for event, task, etc.), the Google Calendar works exactly as it does now, allowing me to give the event a title and change where it is, the time of the event, etc. However, if I select Diary (or similar word, like Notes), then a page displays with today's full date at the top and a "lined" page. This page is, in essence, an RTF Word Document file, or similar, into which I can enter anything I like, using standard RTF formatting (or html formatting) for bold, underlined, bullets, lists, etc. When I'm done and I save the diary entry, the page closes and a diary entry appears at the bottom of the calendar's day box for that day. Now, the day's box shows me any events on my calendar and shows me there is a diary entry, which I can reopen and add to whenever I want.

I have health concerns. I like to keep track of them, when they happen, and report them to my doctor during my visits. Using a diary function on the calendar would be a simple, easy way to accommodate this need. Plus, the Google Calendar is search-able, so I could find all instances of this between the last visit and the current one. Or, when I do exercise, it would be nice to put the reps, time, weights, etc. involved for that day. Or those who keep a food journal -- how easy would it be to simply type it into the calendar where you can track it day-to-day?

With the way I see the majority of people use their paper calendars, it surprises me that someone hasn't thought to do this already. With Google's desire to connect everything we do, it is doubly surprising that their calendar does not have this feature. If you know of an online calendar that has this feature, feel free to Comment and point it out to me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Anonymity and You

There have been recent articles about situations in which people did something "anonymously," were found out, and reaped huge consequences from it. In one noted case, an 11 year old girl posted an acidic, obscenity-filled rebuttal to rumors she was dating the lead singer of a band. People on the web trolling site 4chan found out her real name, phone number, and address, and en masse decided to make the girl's life a living hell. She is now banned for a time from any internet activity and she is in police protective custody. The police are building a case against some of the 4chan people as it appears they may have broken the law in their relentless pursuit of this girl. Or the teacher who was fired for posting comments about a student, even though she didn't name the student directly. There are even articles that are now poking some fun at the issues.

As the humorous article points out, many of us choose anonymity not because we're criminals, but to hide simple embarrassments or to show either positive or negative support for things that matter to us, but for which we might get "flamed." I call this blog "John's Omniverse" because the name John is ubiquitous (hell, unidentified prostitution users and toilets are both called John, that's how prevalent the name is) and I don't have my real name or anything else associated with it. This small layer of anonymity allows me to post political, religious, and social commentary in a way that gives me plausible deniability should I need it. Do I think I'm truly anonymous? Of course not. There are many clues to who I am. Blogger and Google both have access to my data, and "know" who I am. But to the casual reader, I could be the guy next door, or someone on the other side of the planet.

Most sites have you sign in with your real name and create your ID. Many sites you are granted permission to use after making a purchase from the site owner, so they have your credit card name on file. All sites have the means to monitor the IP address you use to enter the site. So, while the sites have access to data that can be used to identify you, they do not adequately police the blogs, boards, or what-have-you that they host, and don't warn or stop trollers from trolling. While I think that the RealID solution presented in the Cracked article is one way to go, shouldn't the real first step be enforcing the rules in the first place?

In both of the Super Hero MMORPGs that I play, every time you want to play the game, but before you can actually enter it, you have to accept the game's EULA (End User Licensing Agreement). Both EULAs clearly state that you cannot use names and/or likenesses of owned or copyrighted characters. Yet I cannot move around any zone in either game without seeing an Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Wolverine, Rogue, Batman,  Superman, or another licensed/owned/copyrighted character "clone." Matter of fact, after each of the big comic book movies is released, for the next 2-4 weeks the games are filled with clone after clone of those characters in the movie. These same people who accepted the EULA, and then broke the rules they just accepted, get all pissy when someone inevitably reports them to the GMs and their character gets "generic-ed." They come crying to the forum boards with woe-is-me stories about it when they argue with the GMs and get a 1-3 day ban from playing. I have no sympathy-- they broke the rules and they got caught, deal with it.

America literally has thousands of gun laws in every state and federally. There is quite literally no situation you can think of that involves ownership rights, purchasing, resale, and/or using guns that there isn't a law already in existence to cover. Yet people want more gun laws. The problem with all those existing gun laws and any new ones people insist on having is:
  1. Criminals don't follow the rules.
  2. The rules are hard to enforce.
  3. There aren't enough government employees (i.e., cops, feds, et al) to enforce the existing laws 100%.

Anonymity does allow certain people to feel free to do as they please, and anonymity is the haven for those who wish to perform criminal activities. Some will stop their bad behavior if they have to use their real name and/or address. But many won't stop because they simply do not fear retribution. If those who moderate these sites do so quickly, efficiently, and to the fullest extent, many internet trolls will be found, banned, and will lose the right to post their hate speech. But, just as with game GMs looking for clones and law enforcement officers looking for illegal guns, there are far too few moderators to adequately handle the rules/laws already in place.

There are some advantages to a RealID program, however. If you have your actual name attached to anything you say online, people will choose not to say as much online for fear of reprisals. As my mother once said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Christopher Nolan's Decisions

I am a fan of Christopher Nolan. I have enjoyed pretty much all of his movies and I expect a certain amount of quality and care if he's involved with a picture. However, I'm not going to say everything he does is gold; I have reasons for my opinions and I'm willing to back them up. What I respect most about Nolan's film-making are his choices as a director.

A director can make or break a script with poor decisions on actors, mood, music, and editing; a movie with the advice he gives his actors; and a film with his oversight of the editing process or with his choices for cinematography. So far, in every film he's made, Nolan's choices always seem like the right ones.

When he wanted to reboot and restart the Batman franchise, he went out of his way to tell studio bosses that he was going to use CGI effects as minimally as possible. He wanted to use predominantly all real effects with real stunt men. He felt that doing so would ground the character in the world and make the actions seem that much more real to the audiences. Studio bosses hemmed and hawed for a while, and then said okay. The results are Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, both critically lauded and audience approved.

In Insomnia, Nolan worked with some heavy-weight hitters for the first time in Pacino, Williams, and Swank. He dialed down Pacino's and Williams' usually over-the-top performances to something subtle. He used color to and photography to help the picture form the surreal world of Pacino's cop's dream-like world view due to his lack of sleep.

Memento has become a classic film noir-esque movie with audiences over the years. Nolan aided the audience to understand the mentally challenged lead's circumstance by using the "gimmick" of telling the story out of order (almost in reverse). From many other directors, this gimmick would feel cheesy. Yet Nolan manages to keep the choice fresh from beginning to end with his editing of where the story breaks and rewinds, how much he reveals about each character during each scene, and the small bits of humor and drama that are in each beat of the film.

In The Prestige, Nolan makes what is likely his most "standard" directorial choices. Yet, that choice in itself has surprising results, as the story being told is one of the meanest, nastiest on screen feuds between characters you've ever witnessed. By dialing down the gimmicks and the other choices he could have made to a more standard approach, he allows the acting of Jackman and Bale to expand and the story of their bitter rivalry to breath. Even with the lush pallet, sweeping camera shots and intimate close-ups, the audience becomes mesmerized by the two leads' slow decent into hatred and revenge, and, likely, wind up hating both by the film's final twist and turn.

With a film like Inception, most directors would have been hot to use 3D technology (or post production) to make the world pop. They would have filled the frame with more and more effects as the world of the dreams grew more complex. Again, Nolan makes the spot-on choice not to use 3D, leaving room for the story and the characters to be the main focus. There is a lot going on in this world, so you need time to pick it up, learn it, and then be amazed by it and the characters who inhabit this world. 3D would just slow that process down and get in the way of the story-telling. However, for this film, Nolan did extensively use CGI effects. Unlike most films with CGI, however, Inception doesn't beat you over the head with it. Time and care was taken to make every effect fit into the world and seem like a part of it.

In the final battle in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King I was very much aware that most of the creatures, people, and scenery on the screen were CGI. In Inception I wasn't taken out of the moment by this. For the most part, only the scenes around the actors were CGI, and time and care were taken to get the lighting and textures correct to fool the audiences' eye into believing what the actors are in and doing. Many of these scenes are enhanced by real-world effects to help "sell" the CGI as much as possible. For example, when Paris folds up on itself, you have real actors standing on real streets of Paris, with shots of other real streets of Paris. Only the "edges" of the shots, where the folding occurs, is an actually CGI effect; the rest is all real-world effect and shots. Once again, Nolan makes the right choices, even if they are not the easy choices, to sell the effects, sell the story, and sell the movie to the audience.

Nolan is now working on the story and pre-production for the next (and possibly final) Batman film in his stewardship. He is also working on the next Superman movie as an advisor and executive producer. My belief is that, yet again, Nolan will make the right choices to bring the one down-and-dirty, street-level character and the God among men, messianic, other-worldly alien to the screen for audiences. I imagine the next Batman will continue using predominantly real-world effects and a strong cast to push the idea of vigilante as hero. I am willing to bet that Superman will have a lot of CGI effects to back-up the unimaginable power that character has; but with Nolan overseeing things, I have a feeling they will blend well and won't feel forced or like CGI for CGI's sake (like, say, in the three Star Wars prequels).

I look forward to following this director's career in whatever direction he goes.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A New Look

I decided to try a new look. I think the results show the theme I'm going for more clearly than previous designs. I had to tweak it a bit -- the original template has a lot of orange lettering involved. It looked good, but I found it to be a little hard on the eyes with the dark background. So I went for something blue that would, hopefully, be easier on the eyes against the background. I may tweak some more before I'm through, but I like this template a lot so far.

Update: Some of the orange has returned. And I tweaked the post backgrounds so they were a bit more readable. I think I'm going to like this new template.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Media Context

I would hire Shirley Sherrod in a moment. A woman who admits to having preconceived notions and prejudices, but then learned to overcome them? A woman who speaks honestly and openly about race relations and the need to move past them? A woman who has grown and changed and become a better person through her experiences? I'd hire her in an instant!

But, politics being what they are today, instead we get a much-edited, out-of-context clip that seems to show Ms. Sherrod as a racist and getting cheered by the NAACP for it. The Tea Party should be ashamed for it. And Fox News should be even more ashamed for picking it up, doing no research or fact-checking at all, and running with the story without verification.

I feel bad that Shirley Sherrod had to go through this episode in her life. It is too bad that her bosses and the federal government were lied to by this news channel (and the Tea Party) and also didn't do any fact-checking before asking for her resignation.

This is the third Fox News "gaffe" of this type in recent memory. First, they cut footage from a different rally into the footage of the Tea Party rally to make it seem like more than the about 100 people showed up. They didn't even do a good job with it, as the old footage spliced in showed fall colors on the trees and people in coats, while the Tea Party rally was held in late spring. After being called on the carpet, Fox News' response was basically, "We didn't think anyone would notice or care."

Then they edited one of President Obama's speeches (at West Point) to make it seem like he was not getting support from the audience or claps/cheers with what he was saying. They even were found to have repositioned some of President's comments and gestures to make it look even worse for him (like he was annoyed at the lack of clapping/cheering). When nearly every other news media jumped on them for this out of context, biased, and downright wrong video and the segments they did supporting it, Fox News' response was to say it was simply an "editorial decision." Misrepresenting the news is NOT an editorial decision, it is slander/libel (depending on if it is spoken or written).

I'm not supposing that the left is without blame. However, so far, I haven't seen any indications of MSNBC or CNN, two of the supposed left bastion, getting caught misrepresenting facts, editing video to show things in a more positive or negative light, or re-editing video to be out of sequence or context. I don't see articles about how they have taken the President's comments out of context and misrepresented what he said. I haven't seen reports of them taking the Tea Party speeches and using them out of context to misrepresent what was said or done.

With these three recent incidences being so publicly rebuked, along with all their previous issues, I have a hard time understanding why so many people still get their news from Fox News. If I found any one source of my news to be purposefully and intentionally misleading its audience in these ways, I would take them off of my list of news sites. Or course, I'm one of those people who reads the left, the right, and a few middle-of-the-road sources, and then makes up my own mind (guessing that the truth is likely somewhere in the middle of all the rhetoric). I guess, if I only watched Fox News, I likely wouldn't even know they are lying to me regularly.

I was always taught that when the chips are down is when you need to be the most honest, the most forthright, and above reproach. It lends credence to your side and is more persuasive than lying or obfuscating things. As the Right is currently "down," now would be the time for a right-leaning news agency to follow that advice. So, it is too bad that Fox News doesn't have that same approach with its journalistic standards. I'm fine with them leaning right and wanting right-wing politics to succeed. But they need to show the successes and failures of both political sides honestly -- that will bring more viewers, more rewards, and more ad dollars in the end than the shoddy journalism they seem to be practicing now.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Obama is the Next Carter?

Many Presidential scholars consider Jimmy Carter one of the smartest people to have ever been in the office of the President for our country. He is praised for his compassion and the way he handled monumental tasks and problems that occurred just prior to and during his Presidency. Yet he is considered a "failure" for the most part by the majority of Americans and was only given one term due to those perceived "failures."

Carter was a little-known Democratic candidate when he decided to run for office. His position as an "outsider" and an agent of change helped to push him quickly to the top of the polls for the Democrats and to the eventual win over Ford for the office.

The scholars point out that many of Carter's initiatives and plans started bearing fruit at the very tail end of his Presidency and into Reagan's first term in office, but it is Reagan who gets the credit for those successes. They mention that NO one who was in office during those four years likely could have done a better job handling the oil/energy crisis, the recession and inflation, the conflict in the Middle East, and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Sound familiar?

Now, we have Obama in office. Like Carter, he comes in with an oil/energy crisis to deal with, a recession and the possibility of run-away inflation, a conflict in the Middle East, and armed conflict in Afghanistan. He is working hard to make sure inflation doesn't kill the already bad economy by artificially keeping interest rates low and creating work projects. He is trying to improve the economy by regulating banking and convincing Americans to spend money on Americans. He is trying to curb American oil dependence on the Middle East and encourage more research on alternative energy sources. He is trying to figure out a more peaceful solution to the Middle East. He is left with Americans being engaged in an unpopular war in a foreign land and having to clean up the mess of an armed conflict in Afghanistan.

So, basically, we have Obama nearly exactly reliving Carter's Presidency. And I'm getting the not-so-subtle feeling that, like Carter, Obama's changes won't really bear fruit for another year or so but, by then, it will be too late and the people will want anyone else in the office, regardless of party. Whomever wins the next election will then take credit for the improved economy (even though it started to improve before he was elected) and other initiatives that Obama has and will put in place, and will be seen as a savior and a great leader by Americans.

I hope I'm wrong. But history is suggesting I'm not. With luck, our next President will be as smart and successful as Reagan was at a) not touching his predecessor's plans so they keep working, b) implementing new plans that keep the old ball rolling for a good long time, c) making Americans believe in themselves and the country again, and d) improving the country's standing among the world's leaders once again.

If this all comes to pass, I hope that Obama can go on to be as successful as Carter outside the office. Carter's humanitarian efforts are considered some of the best post-Presidency work of any person to hold the office. Some would argue he is the most successful former President to ever hold the office.

Friday, July 09, 2010

LeBron James

I knew that whatever choice "King" James made except for staying in Cleveland, he would be vilified for. I was not prepared for the vitriol I am seeing today from sports writers and fans, however.

James has proven that he is no Jordan. Hell, he's proven once and for all that he's no Kobe! For all the incredible talent LeBron has, he simply does not have the competitive fire that the great superstars have.

On top of this, James has proven repeatedly that he is immature. Gee, do you think that may come from having skipped college and the opportunity to get some good life lessons learned there? James' overall comments basically broke down to "I can't do it myself" and "I need others to pick up my slack" and "I am too immature to do it on my own." Which, frankly, a lot of us who watch the NBA already had figured out.

I've been wondering about James most specifically since he lost to Orlando and refused to shake hands and congratulate them on the victory a few seasons ago. Sure, there were inklings before that, but that moment solidified my questions about the "King." That is sportsmanship 101. No matter how high your competitive fire, you congratulate the victor. Had James been raised with humility and had he gone to college, he would have learned that lesson.

The last two post seasons has seen James literally quit on his team. I don't know any other way of saying it. If you watched the games in question, I don't know how you could come to any other conclusion. When Jordan, Bird, Thomas, Magic and other superstars have had "off" nights, they work harder for their team. They switch gears from being offensive-minded to defensive-minded. They become a facilitator but don't pass up the open shot. In those games, James just stopped playing. His defense became comical, his offense just kept getting worse, and he stopped playing team basketball.

Kobe was accused of shutting it down and not playing hard during the final season Shaq was with the Lakers in 2004. It would be difficult to argue that Kobe did it more than that one time. He got raked over the coals for it, in both national and regional sports media. Yet James has done it numerous times and has barely gotten a hand slap for his behavior. Kobe came back from that harder, leaner, hungrier to prove his critics wrong. James came back from his experience with shutting it down weaker, less willing to work, and more likely to do it again (and he did).

During the Cavs' playoff series against Orlando, James was leading the charge with dancing, high-fives, and singing on the sidelines. I told my wife that Orlando wasn't going to like that and would at least make them work for their wins from that point on... and it would be interesting to see what would happen when the Cavs didn't have so much to dance, sing, and high-five over. Sure enough, Orlando started winning and the smiles and singing and dancing went away... and so did James' game. When his team needed him to lead them, to keep them loose and hungry for a victory, he became petulant and dismissive. He argued with his coach and didn't run the plays called. He stopped playing defense and going after rebounds. And his team lost.

So, now, James has what he says he wants. His huge ego will need to shrink a bit in order to fit into the house that Wade built. He will have to see if he can get it done with one champion (Wade) and a guy who has only sniffed the playoffs twice and never won there (Bosh), because the rest of the team will be decimated in order to fit those three maximum contracts in the building. And now he will be hated by every other team in the league, but most especially by Cleveland.

Most importantly for James, though, is that he will have clutch performers around him to take up his slack when he just can't do it because his will to win is just not there.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Passport Fees and Canada

Fees for US Passports are going up by a large amount. While it is true that new technology and the addition of a lot of people to work for the State Dept to help process and review passport requests caused an increase in costs, I have severe doubts on those costs equating with an across the board 35% increase. Some passport-related items, which have always been free services, are going up by large amounts (in one case, from free to $450!).

In general, I have no issue with raising costs. However, the requirement for passports hurts our closest ally, Canada, and those states that rely on Canadians and Americans crossing the border regularly (like New York, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, et al).

I know from personal experience that Canada does an excellent job patrolling and protecting its borders. Canada is concerned with terrorism to a similar degree as America, and is vigilant in scrutinizing those that come in and those who might sneak in to its country. The people recognize that as America goes, so goes Canada in many regards, so they are mindful of keeping very good relations with their southerly neighbor.

Having such restrictive rules between Canada and America is a mistake, especially when a great deal of exports and imports cross-pollinate between the two countries (America, for example, gets a huge portion of its energy, wood, diamonds, and gas/oil from Canada, Canada gets a large amount of consumer goods from America). These two nations need each other and should be fostering cooperation and anti-antagonistic approaches to border crossing, imports/exports, and military needs.

In some regards, I think that America and Canada need to sign treaties to become one nation. Then, over the next decade or so afterward, America could incorporate many of the positive attributes of Canada's society (social health care, better banking regulations, etc.) while Canada would benefit from unlimited access to American consumerism, a larger pool of workers, and a much bigger military structure to help it with its borders. However, Canadians would never go for that; they are a proud people, and rightfully so.

Since that won't happen, America needs to step back, take a deep breath, and think of ways to allow Canada to do its job, relax restrictions between the two borders, and work WITH Canada on security and other issues rather than constantly pissing off its northerly neighbor. There is no need for the antagonism with this close ally. And, if American would stop fighting with them, it would have more time, money, and energy to fight battles that need fighting, like against the drug barons in Mexico, the continuing crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and against a still stagnant economy.