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December 3, 2014

Let's Dance!

One of the things I like about the movie Flashdance is that, at the end, Nick has overstepped his bounds by getting his girlfriend, Alex, an audition for the ballet school. She is angry with him, maybe rightfully so. It makes her question whether or not she has the talent to 'make it on her own.' But she goes to the audition anyway. She goes, she dances her ass off, and she makes an impression. She lives her dream. She's happy at the very end, but we don't know for sure if she made it; maybe she's just happy that she tried and did her very best. Maybe she got a call back or was asked to join the school. It doesn't matter, really.

The point is, she got over her anger at Nick and took a chance. She seized the opportunity given her. She, hopefully, made the most of it and felt vindicated or at peace with herself and her talent.

Too often lately, in my own life, in the lives of my friends and family, and even on TV and in the media, I see people being given opportunity who turn it down because they insist on 'doing it on their own.' They think that it somehow demeans the process to get assistance; that somehow their talent and perseverance will get them to that goal somehow, some day. But, you know what? That simply isn't always the case. Sometimes it takes meeting or knowing the right person at the right time who has the connections. Sometimes it takes saying or doing the right thing at the right time to someone totally unrelated to put you in position to make your break. Sometimes, perfectly talented people never get the chance -- life is sometimes hard and living it takes all your time and effort, no matter your talent at something else.

Take it, people. If the opportunity presents itself, grab it. Get out of your own way and don't hold yourself back due to pride or ego. Carpe diem.

November 13, 2014

News Media

Dear News Media,

You seem to be confused on a number of fairly obvious things. I thought I would help you with a few of them.

  1. Use the proper terminology when presenting information. "Going viral" does not mean something that is temporarily getting larger notice than usual. For example, that article about the guy who had some (good, quality) suggestions for the BC Ferry? 800 "Likes" does not equal "going viral." Thousands (multiple) of Likes/Retweets/Plusses/Views, if not millions, are needed to make something "go viral." It needs to be seen/read by people nowhere associated with the thing and passed along by them. Misusing "going viral" actually denigrates the source. The 800 Likes the BC Ferry comments received is not a "rant" that has "gone viral" -- it is a well-written example of issues with the BC Ferry program that a number of people in the area agree with. BC Ferry should listen to and consider the information. But by having the News Media blow it out of proportion by using these buzzwords, BC Ferry may ignore the advice and the good ideas. "Selfie" means a picture taken of yourself (sometimes including friends, where the term "Us-sie" (pronounced like 'fussy') takes precedence), usually using your own camera. If the picture is taken such that it is impossible for the subject of the picture to be holding the camera and taking it of him/herself, then the proper term for the result is either "picture" or "photograph." Since most News Media still employ cameramen and photographers, I'm surprised I need to remind you of this.
  2. Assign people to cover a story who understand the story elements. We frequently read or watch news items that get obvious things wrongs. For example, a recent news article about "Captain Marvel" was written by a person who didn't know that both Marvel and DC Comics have (had) characters who use that monicker. The intent of the article was to present the new, female, Marvel character and the fact that she's going to be in a movie. The article writer didn't understand the subject, did little to no fact checking or research, and constantly referenced the DC Comics character who used to use that name. That's an egregious error, as the audience for that news item will undoubted know the subject and will jump on the mistakes. Similarly, when writing about the TPP, Net neutrality, Keystone pipeline, or other technical or scientific news items, make sure the reporter has a basic understanding or will do the research required to get that understanding before turning in the story.
  3. Quite literally, every single person I have ever talked to would rather pay attention to News Media that gets their facts right, vets the story properly, and presents it accurately than the News Media that is simply first. Being right and accurate still counts for a lot with the people. Try it.
  4. It is also important not to speculate, rush to judge, or present information that you haven't yet vetted -- especially during live events. If you need an example of how to handle these rapidly unfolding live events, look to the CBC's coverage of the shooter in Ottawa. They kept speculation to a minimum, they carefully checked their sources and their facts before conveying them, they were calm as they presented the details as they knew them, and they kept the public informed. It was a master class in journalism. Learn it.
  5. Lastly, just because someone says it as a representative of your News Media outlet does not make it a fact. Anything said should be considered their opinion, and labeled as such, unless they have vetted facts to justify their conclusion. Too many times I see talking heads saying something that is most definitely their opinion but you present it as though it is a fact. It is not. And it confuses too many people. Of course, since you have never corrected this, I have to assume you intend to confuse people, which is the exact opposite of what the News Media is for and how it is supposed to work. So, if you aren't News, what are you exactly?
I'm sure there are more cases where you have failed us, News Media, but I think these steps will help minimize the damage you can do to your audience. Let's get you back to presenting the news, without hyperbole or bloviation. Give us the facts and, if you are going to present opinion, then label it as such very clearly. It's quite simple, really.


A fan of proper news media

October 28, 2014


Every woman has the right to breastfeed in public. Everyone else has the right not to watch a woman breastfeeding in public. As with every right, yours end where another's begin. So, in a case like this, who is right? Where should the public establishment come down? Where is the compromise between these two sides?

Compromise: (noun) an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

This controversy has come up on a number of occasions recently, in the US, Canada, and abroad. In some cases, the woman was asked to use a nursing blanket (or anything similar and handy) to cover her breast so others didn't have to watch. In many of the cases, the women were obliging and did so without rancor or issue. In some cases, either at the time of being asked or later, the woman complained to management and made a big deal over it. There have even been lawsuits filed or threatened.

Where does the woman's right to do this very natural act end and the rights of those who may have religious, moral, or ethical issues with this act being performed in public begin?

I do not have children and probably never will. While I understand that breastfeeding is natural, I get a little embarrassed and flustered when a woman's naked breast is out in my field of view. I'm also a man -- we are predominantly visually oriented and seeing a naked breast, even doing such a mundane task, is somewhat stimulating. Which I do not necessarily want to be when, say, out at a public restaurant trying to eat food, enjoy the company I'm with, or otherwise not in that mood. Is the woman's right to breastfeed more important than my right not to see it?

And what about religion? Some religions, like Islam or the Amish, among others, see any amount of nudity in public as blasphemous. If they are at a restaurant and a woman uncovers her breast for all to see, do they not have a legitimate request for the woman to cover her nakedness while they are present? Or does the woman's right to breastfeed trump that, as well?

Right now, the laws in America say that a private company has the right to show bias toward their clients. However, those companies that do may have a harder time drumming up business and/or hiring people to work there. For example, private marriage specialists have the right to refuse service to gay couples, even in states where gay marriage is legal. However, as word gets around, they will lose out on a growth area in marriages and some people may choose not to work for them. I think this is a fair balance; the gay people who wish to get married have that right, those who do not believe in that right have the ability to personally deny their services to something they don't believe in, but they must also take on the negatives that come with that stance -- fewer clients, fewer employees, and possible negative press for their decision.

It's a little known fact that private institutions still have the right to restrict membership, clientele, and service based on race, creed, religion, and even gender. But, again, they run the risk of the negative press, lower profits from having a more "select" clientele or membership list, and having a harder time finding employees who agree with their criteria. As long as the institution does not take a dime of government money, however, they can choose this path. That's how we still have all-women colleges, all-black clubs, religion-specific groups, etc.

So, again, I ask, where does the right of the breastfeeding woman end and my rights begin?

I think, if I was a store owner, I would have a posted breastfeeding policy. To be as inclusive as possible, I think my policy would be stated something like:

"We encourage women to breastfeed their children. However, some individuals may find the act uncomfortable for a variety of reason which may include their religious beliefs. As we want to maintain a comfortable environment for all our patrons, we prefer/request that you use a nursing blanket. Thank you."

In this way you clearly state your wish to be inclusive and service both sides of this contentious issue. You also provide guidance to your employees as to how to handle this situation if it comes up. And, if a breastfeeding woman sues you after the fact, you have a stated, existing policy to help you in your defense.

This seems, to me, like a fair compromise between the two sides. One side can do the act they have every right to, even if it is a little uncomfortable for them. And those who don't wish to see it are shielded from the act, even if they know it is going on and that makes them a little uncomfortable. Both have made a small concession and both get what they want.

October 6, 2014

Mid-Term Elections 2014

The mid-term elections are just a month away. I have a suggestion for every voter, regardless of party affiliation or conservative/liberal leanings: do NOT vote for any incumbents. The incumbents of both parties have proven they cannot do the job for which we hired them, so show your disapproval by voting as many of them out as possible.

Our founding fathers did not think that anyone would want to serve for longer than a term or two, so they didn't put term limits into the Constitution. And, for the first 150 years of our country, the number of people who served more than two terms was very small. However, in the mid-20th century, people started to realize that politics could be a lucrative career. Priorities shifted to spending more money to get in, and stay in, Congress.

Since the 1950s, we see incumbents slowly dominating all of the elections until today we see about 90% incumbent success rate. This has led to cronyism, graft, and the further widening of the political divide until you have the worst Congress in history, one that had the majority party saying they refused to work with the current President and would block anything he or his party put forward. Both sides lie with impunity. They pass laws that make no sense when they do work, like shutting down the government, but allowing themselves to keep getting paid.

So, I say enough. Let's show our displeasure by voting them out. Both sides. My proposal is this: simply look at the length of time a person has been in office. If they have served more than two terms (or this will be their third term), DO NOT VOTE FOR THEM. If you can't find it online, call their office (easily found in a quick websearch or through going to and searching for the person in question).

You may be asking yourself about now, 'Who am I going to vote for then?' Easy: anyone except an incumbent. You can easily find liberal and conservative alternatives in other parties (for example, the Green party leans liberal and the Libertarians lean conservative). Many races have multiple Republicans and Democrats running -- pick one that hasn't been in office before.

Once this is done and we've kicked as many incumbents out of office as possible, we should press our Congressmen to enact a Term Limits law to keep what is currently happening from ever happening again.

It's time for our government to fear its people once more.


Related topics:

A New Appreciation

I think my wife may have opened me up to a new appreciation of music. She was following links in Facebook and it took her here. As you can see, the link provides an example of a very complicated bass line in an otherwise "pop" or even "bubblegum" song. Due to choices made in mixing the song, that bass line gets lost in the background unless you really are listening for it.

Since she played that for me, I am now hearing bass lines in everything I'm listening to. My hearing isn't great (not bad enough to need a hearing aid, yet, but bad enough that music just sort of blends together), but I seem to be keyed on the bass now. I'm listening to the beats and the rhythm of it and hearing how it drives a song or keeps it on track.

I've heard some surprisingly complicated bass lines in some surprising artists, like Alanis Morrisette, the Beatles, and Prince. For the most part, though, it seems like the bass is pretty generic in most songs. Most seem to follow a pretty repetitious sound, often something like, "Thub --- thub-thub --- thub --- thub-thub," or "thub --- thub-thub-thub --- thub --- thub-thub-thub" or similar. Maybe, if the bassist gets really tired, there might be some sort of change-up to the bass line at about the midpoint of the song. But, for the most part, my newfound appreciation of the bass indicates to me that bassists must get really bored while playing for a band.

I do have some music that is of a more jazz-style. In these songs, and in most Police songs, the bass is played by a stand-up bass rather than a guitar bass. In these songs, I naturally seem to hear more variations and interesting movements in the bass line. And, of course, when you watch a jazz player strumming his bass, you usually see a lot more intricate fingerwork and movement of the hands.\

I still can't really hear the difference between two rhythm guitars playing in one song. Most wind instruments blend together into one sound to my ears. But I now have a greater appreciation of the bass player.

August 21, 2014

Presidential Debate

As I now live outside of the country, I have easier access to non-American news media and outlets. All this week, the BBC and CBC have had reports talking about how one of ISIS's goals is to compel America into attacking them, returning to the region with "boots on the ground," because they know how bad that will look to radical Islamists and jihadists in the region (and around the world) and will give legitimacy to the group's goals, swelling their membership and funding to allow more terrorism.

The non-American media is praising the American administration for its restraint in handling this current regional crisis; by staying mostly out of it, we are not inciting the terrorists and swelling their ranks and coffers. Food drops to the dispossessed and the occasional drone strike aren't enough for ISIS to wave its flag and gather support.

What I find incongruent is switching to and watching some American news media. Fox News, of course, is continuing its never-ending crusade to lambast the President. The talking heads, both the pundits and their interviews, were talking about how "weak" the President is for his handling of the situation, about how America needs to go right back in there and "take care of business," and about how we should have no fixed timetable so we can "get the job done right." How is it that other news agencies in the world see America's "non-action" in the region as a triumph and the right move, and yet Fox News labels it weak and improper?

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the same thing happened; Fox News lambasted our "weak" President for his lack of action in the region. The CBC, BBC, and other non-American media had Russian experts on who cautioned to stay out of it, as it was a desperate ploy by Putin to stay in power; a weakening leader trying to shore up his far right allies with what would look like a strong move but really was simply an appeasement. Putin's people are now hungry, a lot of their money is devalued or unavailable, and unrest appears to be growing quickly due to the economic sanctions other nations, including the US, put in place to protest his actions. Yet Fox News continues to claim the American President is a weak and ineffectual leader in the world arena. They exemplify what Putin did as showing strength and leadership.

There is a great line within a great speech in the movie The American President: "He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections." This, in a nutshell is what both the American media and American politicians in this election cycle are trying to do: It is the President's fault the world is the way it is; it is his fault you don't have a job; it is his fault for X, Y, and Z. Facts be damned!

Guess what, folks? No, it's not. I'm not trying to claim that President Obama is a great or even good President. However, I can tell you fairly confidently that he is not a bad President. I think history will look back on this era and, similar to Jimmy Carter, realize there were challenges that no President could have successfully navigated. His biggest failure, perhaps, is his inability to get the Republicans to buy in to the direction he has set and the goals and tasks he sees as important. However, those same Republicans also said from day one that they were going to block everything this President proposed, so THEY never gave HIM a chance to succeed. Hell, reports now indicate a small but growing number of Republicans in Congress want to help, want to work on bipartisan efforts, and agree with some of what Obama has proposed. They simply fear the backlash from actually voting their conscience and doing their job.

Until I was exposed to a broader swath of media, I did not realize quite how biased the American news media was, or how contentious the politics had become. Now, seeing reports about what goes on inside (and outside) America from a news media with no real dog in the fight, I get a less biased view of the situation, see experts who are not paid to sway viewers/voters in a particular direction, and see just how politically motivated much of what I was given before actually is.

In the end, I think that historians will improve President Obama's rating as we get more time between his presidency and current issues, especially if current Republicans get their wish and make world matters worse with their overly militant stance. I think that those same historians will downgrade this Congress even more harshly over time. And, if sanity is to be restored, I think the American people need to vote OUT every elected official who has been in office more than two terms. Lastly, I think that Congress needs term limits to stop this sort of partisan infighting and gridlock in the future.

(As an aside: I once proudly was a member of the Republican party. But, even as a youth voting for the first time, I voted my conscience and not party if I felt a different leader more closely aligned with my needs. I still feel I lean mostly Conservative on most issues, but I find that I rarely align with the Republican party's goals or stated objectives. I think that is true of many Republicans today; I think you will see the ranks of a third party, possibly the Libertarians, who more closely align with conservative but not Republican views, swell in ranks in the coming years. And I shudder to think what state America would be in today if current Republicans were in complete power -- many of the issues I outlined above would probably have led to military conflict, another Cold War with Russia (or maybe even a hot war, in Ukraine), and an unending presence in the Middle East, leading to further acts of terrorism.)

August 13, 2014

Sewer Flood Follow-Up

A year ago we had a sewer flood into our basement. It took us a while to clean up from that issue. We also felt that finishing the bathroom in the basement would help close off many of the open holes and pipes that helped allow the sewage to back up into our house. One of the outstanding issues involved was the "belly" in the sewage line that they found when they scoped our line after the flood.

We finally saved enough money and found someone to dig up our yard and go looking for the belly to repair. They started on Monday. After two days of digging, they found the line nearly 12 feet below the surface of our front lawn. However, after exposing nearly 30 feet of sewer line, they could not find the belly described. We came up with a plan to have the same company come back out and review the line again and pinpoint where the dip in the line actually was. Unfortunately, it was found to be underneath our porch, below and behind the asphalt walkway, and underneath some very large, decorative rocks in our yard, rather than farther out in the lawn area as we were originally led to believe.

In the end, we decided it would be fairly major construction to try to fix the belly where it is located. So, the plumbers and diggers came up with a new plan: we installed a backflow device with a pipe that will lead to the surface of the yard. That pipe can be opened and a plumber/sewer specialist can use it to look at the sewer pipe and clean it out as needed. They also recommended that filling and draining the bath every now and then would likely provide enough flow and weight to clear out the belly of any build up and debris.

The good thing is that the plumbers saw very little build up in the year since the flood. So our "best practices," and the fact that I often take a bath already, seem to be keeping the belly clear. As we are on the end (lowest point) of a sewer line with our house's location, I feel much more confident having a "whole home" backflow installed, too.

Will it look nice, having that pipe in the middle of our yard? No. But I'm thinking we can plant some small bushes around it and make a decorative central point to look at that will both hide it from casual view and keep it accessible. In the meantime, the digging has decimated our front yard and we'll probably have to pay hundreds of dollars to repair it when they are finished with the project.

Ain't being a homeowner grand?

Abuse of Women Must Stop

The NFL had a chance to do something wonderful, and show its female viewers just how seriously it takes abuse. Instead, it laid an egg.

Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was indicted for punching his wife (girlfriend at the time of the incident) so hard he knocked her unconscious. For this egregious behavior, Rice is suspended two games and docked a little over two paychecks (equally over $500,000).

When there was a hint of allegations (but no arrests, charges, or convictions) of Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulting a woman at a party, he was given a six game ban that was reduced to four games. Rice, on the other hand, was indicted for his assault. This means that a person or group reviewed the evidence and found there was enough to warrant a criminal charge, arrest, and possibly a trial.

There are two videos of the Ray Rice incident. The first was released to the public and shows Rice dragging the already unconscious woman out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes. The second, which has not been released to the public (at least, officially), is from the interior of the elevator and shows what happened between them and his knocking her unconscious.

Ray Rice is listed as 5'8" and 206 lbs. Most of that is muscle and he is in peak conditioning. His wife is a little shorter and probably at least 50 lbs lighter than he is. I don't care if that elevator video shows her wailing away on him, the chances of her hurting him is slim while all it is claimed it took was one punch from him.

It's a simple fact of biology and evolution that the average man is physically more powerful than the average woman. Unless a woman is in great shape, has a weapon, or has specific training, the average man can overpower and do a great deal of damage to the average woman. When that man is a physical specimen and in great shape, the odds become even more lopsided.

In giving Rice a two game ban, the Commissioner Goodell cited Rice's stellar personal conduct record, and the fact that Rice's wife had forgiven him and lobbied Goodell for leniency. However, it must be noted that each time Rice's wife was with Rice during these conversations. So it is hard to know what her real thoughts on the matter might be, since her attacker was in the room and present.

It also seems telling how, at his press conference "apologizing" for his public humiliation, Rice apologized to just about everyone except his wife. She, once again, sat right next to her attacker, stone-faced, while he apologized to everyone but her.

If the Commissioner gave Roethlisberger six games with a chance to reduce it due to adherence to a program for the allegation of sexual assault, with no firm supporting evidence, then it seems consistent that Rice should get more games for being indicted of assault, with video corroboration. I think a minimum of eight games, possibly 10, with a chance to reduce it to 6-8 games by adhering to a strict code, entering rehab, and doing a bunch of community service would be fair.

Instead, Rice got a measly two games. Two games!

The NFL, and Commissioner Goodell in particular, dropped the ball on this one.

July 29, 2014

I'm Just SO Busy

Lately, most every email I receive seems to start or end with something along the lines of "I'm just so busy," "sorry, I'm so swamped lately," or "work has been murder lately." It is stated as a reason but I only find it an excuse.

Most everyone is busy these days. Economic times are hard; we're working longer with fewer people doing more. When we have the time, we have projects we need to get done -- fixing, cleaning, cooking, raising children, and caring for pets or family or friends. Yet, through all of this, some of us make the time to get to the things we say we will, when we will.

The statement "I'm just so busy" is purely selfish. Either make the time or don't. I don't need an apology or an excuse. It is also a subtle way, similar to people who are habitually late, of saying, "My time is more important to me than yours is; I'll get to you/with you when it is convenient to me."

If something is important to you,  you find time to do it. My wife hates working out in the morning. But she found that it was the only time she had available for it. So, that's when she works out. She found the time. The last thing I want to do in the evenings is spend more time in front of the PC after a day's work. But many of my personal activities are best done at the computer, so I make the time.

I have a few friends who say that their friends are the most important things to them. Yet they hardly ever respond in what anyone would consider a reasonable time frame to emails, IMs, letters, or phone calls. And every response always starts the same -- you guessed it, "I'm just so busy." Well, if you are too busy for the "most important things" in your life, I shudder to think how badly your job, family, and other activities are suffering!

If something is really important to you, you rearrange your life to make time for it. You skip the long lunch out of the office in favor of a PBJ at your desk so you can leave 30 minutes early and make it to your child's game. You skip your after-work workout so you can make it to your friend's play. Do work and other priorities sometimes make it difficult? Of course. But if it is important to you, you do it. Period.

June 18, 2014

Race Switching

DC Comics, in their New 52 ongoing relaunch, has finally re-introduced a much-loved character: Wally West, aka Kid Flash. There is some nerd-raging going on over the character because DC chose to take this re-introduction from a Caucasian redhead teen to a black teen. My complaint is not over the changing of the race of the character, it is the changing of the personality of the character.

Wally West was first introduced in 1959. He was a suburban white kid who liked science, was fairly happy, had a good home life (in general), and was a bit cocky. He was a good sidekick to the Flash (Barry Allen) when originally created, but soon branched out and became a member of the Teen Titans in most of that team's incarnations. He was a "glue" character; someone that may run off half-cocked and may think he has all the answers which causes him (and the team) to get into some trouble, but who holds the team together through his personality, personal relationships, and his senior rank as one of the longest running and most knowledgeable of the "sidekicks."

This new Wally West is first seen being arrested for illegally spray painting graffiti on a wall. His father and uncle are criminals and he doesn't know where his mother is. The broken home and inner city turmoil make him a "hard" character, with attitude. He is slowly going bad due to a lack of a father figure in his life and his mother's disappearance. He has only been shown so far as a bit of a thug-life gangsta wannabe. (See any one of these Tropes.)

And there's the problem. First, every one of those sentences is not only a stereotype, but a bad one, for black youth. It reads like the worst of the Maury Povich Show or some Cops episode. Of the black people I know, 100% of them are from middle-class families, had one or more very attentive parents (usually both), are smart, engaging, and well-rounded individuals who have no desire to be a part of 'gangsta life.' While proud of their heritage, they would probably consider themselves Americans before they thought of their race.

Next, it doesn't help that this is a black character conceived of by a white writer. It further doesn't help that this writer is using such tired cliches for the character. I mean, don't get me wrong: maybe this is just the opening and the plan is to have Barry Allen befriend Wally, nurture him, and bring the good out in him. But that, in itself is a problem; it's yet another white man saving a non-white person story (the New 52 Barry Allen/Flash is his usual Caucasian self). That's a cliche that is at least 400 years old and pops up in literature, movies, and TV shows. Do we need another?

Lastly, what about "smart, cocky, good family life, and happy" is anathema to switching the race of the character? Why can't a new black character be those things? Again, most of those terms describe the majority of the black people I have known and know now. I'd be willing to bet that more black readers would associate with, look up to, and enjoy reading about a Wally West who happened to be black but was also all of those things, rather than another tired, cliched, inner city thug who has to be saved by a white man.

We have seen recently that race switching can go off without much of a hitch, the Interweb's ranting notwithstanding. Samuel L. Jackson has taken the originally Caucasian role of Nick Fury and done it well. There was nothing inherently "white" about the character to begin with, so keeping him the same bad-ass super-cop/super-spy the character always has been and giving him a racial tweak was fine. In the much-maligned Daredevil movie, the late Michael Clarke Duncan took on the typically white roll of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, and did a great job; it's just too bad the movie wasn't better. Heimdall, a Norse God and usually depicted as white, is played by Idris Elba to great effect.

DC Comics added a new Blue Beetle and made the character Hispanic, and I really like the character. But the key here is that they made a new character to take on the mantle of the Blue Beetle. The Hispanic Jaime Reyes does not compete with decades of backstory or character growth of the previous (all white) cast of characters who were Blue Beetle before. He is the next in line. In Marvel's Ultimate universe of comics, Spider-Man is Miles Morales, another Hispanic in a roll that has always been white. But, again, he is a new character taking on the mantle, with his own quirks, that has some of the same character traits (a lucky loser, smart, and smart-ass) but is otherwise a new character using the same name. DC Comics changed the sexual preference of the Alan Scott Green Lantern in the New 52 and... no one really cared. It just meant that when he was seen kissing his significant other, it was a dude instead of chick. The personality and character of Alan Scott were, overall, the same as before.

So it can work. There are also cases where it doesn't work, but not because of the race switching issue. Halle Berry played Catwoman in a Catwoman movie -- and it failed miserably. Not because they changed the race of the main character from white to black, but because they wrote and produced a really, really bad movie. Eartha Kitt played Catwoman and was quite successful in the role, proving a black woman could be taken seriously as the character as far back as the mid-1960s. It was the horrible story, horrible villain (Sharon Stone, phoning it in), bad dialog, and bad direction that did in the Catwoman movie, not the race of Halle Berry. When the New 52 relaunched, they had a typically black character, Static, in an absolutely horrible comic. It was canceled after only 6 issues -- not because of the race of the character or even that it was written by a white guy, but because it was poorly written and the art was awful. Static had proven himself originally as a Milestone character and again as a well-received and successful cartoon (Static Shock). The relaunched character just wasn't well-written, engaging, or similar enough in character to what audiences were used to for them to keep reading it.

I think what the readers and viewers have predominantly said with their pocket books and watching eyes is that character matters. As long as the personality or overall character is the same, the race (or even sex) of the character in question is of little importance. Sure, you'll offend some and be applauded by others but the metrics by which you look at success or failure will likely not be affected one way or the other. When you change for change's sake, however, you run some risks. As we have seen repeatedly at the box office and in books (comic or otherwise), if you change the personality/character of the character in question, you are better off just giving it a new name and presenting it as a new character altogether, as fans of the original character will not accept a personality that is different, regardless of race. In the case of Wally West, if you are going to change his character so much, why name him "Wally West" in the first place? And, when considering such sweeping changes, someone should be looking at why those changes are necessary and what the end goal is for them -- especially if you're just going to wind up with a badly done trope or stereotype.

June 2, 2014

Hyperbole and Then Some

I know I'm as guilty of this as the next person, so it is a little hypocritical to complain, but have you noticed how it seems like so many people use negative hyperbole when something doesn't work?

For example, I have a friend who is having problems with the game application conglomerate Steam. She wanted one game and she can't seem to get Steam to download or install it. The result is a steady stream of Facebook posts about how much Steam sucks, that it is awful, its support is horrible, etc. I interjected that it is normally a pretty solid application and game installs can involve a lot of variables. But she's having nothing to do with that. In the end, the fact that both myself and many of my friends use Steam without trouble or incident is ignored and the entire company, at this point, "sucks" because she's having trouble.

A similar instance happened this weekend. A group of friends got together. Most (all? not sure) use Chrome to connect to a specific website we use to game together. One friend was using Chrome and had issues; he could connect to the site but couldn't get the audio features to work correctly. Soon we were reading a steady stream of how much Chrome sucks, how bad it is, and other venting... even though the rest of us had no real issues with connection or our audio/video setup. In his defense, each time we connect as a group, one of us seems to have an issue -- this was just his turn, it seemed. What's more funny is that when it is my turn having issues with the connection, everyone jokes that it is "just John" and how I always seem to have trouble-- when really I have only had a couple of instances, they just tend to be more memorable than others.

As I watch the news, the same thing is happening in our leadership and around the world; one person has an issue with something or someone that everyone else seems to be getting along with, yet that one person dominates the news cycle with his/her opinions. Or the news conflates one person doing something to some sort of "why didn't this other person/group do more" question that doesn't apply and is not applicable. For example, when a shooting makes the headlines, no one stops to related how low gun-crime statistics actually are per capita; they rarely mention that there are frequently multiple and sometimes up to double-digit laws already in place that could have and should have been enforced, which would have solved the issue; they seem to rarely mention that in many of these cases, warning signs were ignored and/or the police or other authorities were involved earlier and were unable to do anything to stop the violence from happening before it bubbled over; they rarely mention the huge rise of knife violence happening in "gun-free" countries like China and other Asian countries, where there have been a number of incidences of people taking knives and going on rampages and killing and injuring multiple to dozens of people. Instead, the news media usually jumps on the "ban guns" bandwagon yet again. They rarely mention that in many of these cases, the guns were obtained illegally and that banning the law-abiding citizens (who are rarely in the news for gun violence reasons) from following the law and obtaining guns won't stop people from continuing to get firearms illegally.

Look at our lawmakers: for the past five and a half years, John Boehner's cronies in the Republican party have been doing their best Chicken Little impersonation about any bill or idea put forth by President Obama or anyone in the Democrat party. They keep hammering their ideals and what they believe has happened no matter how mountainous the evidence to the contrary. If these few people keep telling us something long enough, they think we'll believe it. It is like they do not realize that what they say and what they do is recorded, or that the American people will have the means by which to review those recordings in the future and call them on their poor decisions, outright lies, and general obfuscations. Even when caught, and shown the evidence that they said one thing and then did the opposite, or that the one thing they said was outright wrong, they try to spin it like that isn't what actually happened. How much longer can the American people stand for this to happen, or the constant inaction that has come from it, before voting these people out of office?

At some point, we each have to take responsibility for ourselves and stop blaming "the other." My friend with the Steam app issue may want to stop blaming the company and the app and realize it is likely some setting in her PC that is causing this issue. Thousands of others use Steam daily without these issues and hundreds have likely used Steam support without a hassle. Chrome may not be as much to blame as, say, the website itself or my friend's personal PC setup in connecting to it. Maybe the guns aren't so much to blame as the person who wants to commit the violent act. Maybe our lawmakers should look in the mirror at who is to blame for the government's ineffectiveness, rather than trying to blame the other party, the President, or some other force. Maybe we all need to start saying, "I have an issue, how can I resolve it?" rather than, "They are the problem, how can I screw them the most for it?"

May 30, 2014

Let Us Service Our Servicemen

It is absolutely disgusting how we have treated our veterans via the VA. This seems like a no-brainer and something that is easily resolved.

Questions or comments I have about this situation:

  • Why can't we hire some high school or college aged interns who work 8 hours a day scanning or retyping a case file into the system?
It seems like doing this would very quickly resolve the issues of so much paper not being in the system.
  • I have some smart programming friends and some of what they have had to do is write "rippers" to grab data from one system and map it to a different system. Why can't we hire programmers to do this in order to get one VA system talking to another.
    • Meanwhile, hire a second set of programmers to start building a new system that interconnects everything and that can use the databases the rippers use in order to populate everything.
This seems like it would resolve the issues of interoperability between the various systems very quickly.
  • Why is it the Republicans in particular, but all of Congress in general, isn't making this a cause and fixing the issue? The Republicans are specifically in favor of our military, not cutting the defense budget, and keeping our service personnel in harm's way, yet they keep derailing, blocking, or voting down any attempt to fix the issue. What gives? 
I can't even recognize the Republicans now as the same party I was a member of for a decade. Their values seem to be totally different and their goals change with each new day, it seems. Obama represents the Reagan ideal better than any current Republican, which is why I laugh when they all point to Reagan as the end-all, be-all saint of their party these days. Reagan would be considered a moderate Democrat by today's standards.
  • Why can't we say something like: All servicemen (and family) can go to ANY doctor at ANY time. All they need to do is show their military ID to prove they served, and they get all treatments and appointments for free. The doctor's office then must fill out a form and submit it to get any payment back. Any payments not received back within 365 days of the doctor visit can be legally written off on the doctor's taxes.
This pushes the onus for payment to the doctor's staff, who is already dealing with these issues. It pushes the onus back to the gov't for paying on time. And it makes the gov't accountable to pay by taking money away from the gov't if they don't pay within a reasonable period of time via the tax write offs. It also puts the onus onto the IRS to make sure doctors are being truthful via the IRS's audit system, which already does this sort of thing. And, in the end, the military personnel and their families are out of this loop entirely AND getting seen by doctors.
  • Create a one-strike rule. You get one "oops." If, as someone who works anywhere for the VA, you have a second complaint against you (for example, that you have two lists of appointments, are hiding the truth, messing around with servicemen's records, or anything else) you are fired immediately without any severance or parachute. Period.
Accountability seems to be the biggest thing America is missing right now. Make it a law.

It appears that the current VA secretary has resigned today. Now, let's hire someone who wants to completely revamp this thing AND who can get both Reps and Dems to agree to fund the revamp.

May 29, 2014

Medical Reaction

There is so much going on in the world that I am at a loss. I am truly dumbfounded. I have been at a loss for words,saddened, angry, and shaking my head at each new stupid thing that is going on both in North America and around the world. I'll try to get to those items as I make sense of all the stupidity in the world right now.
The reason I have not written in over a month is because my wife had her first serious brush with illness. On May 12th we went to see her new doctor, who prescribed her a new medication (Plaquenil) to go with an existing medication (Methotrexate) to help with some issues that seemed to point at arthritis. She took the first pill that evening and the required two more the next day. That night she noticed a rash on her forearms. The next morning we noticed a rash starting to cover her arms and torso. The itchiness was off her personal scale, and she didn't sleep well that night. On Thursday it was slowly covering her back and her legs. By Friday, her rash was itching madly and she hadn't slept well due to waking up scratching herself raw from it. She decided to leave work and drive herself to the Urgent Care at the smaller hospital close to her work to be seen.

The Urgent Care doctors did not properly (or, maybe more accurately, "fully") diagnose her, but gave her yet another drug to take to try to stave off the rash (Prednisone in large doses for three days). By Sunday, she was a massive red rash from head to ankle, with only her feet and her hands strangely untouched. The rash was so bad doctors found evidence of it inside her mouth and ears. The Prednisone did nothing to impede it or help with scratching. I said that was it and we went to the Emergency Room at the main hospital.

We spent about four and half hours there on Sunday, during which we learned she was having a Stevens-Johnson reaction to the medication. By this time she was so red that she looked like she had a second degree sunburn over most of her body, including developing pustules, she had red welts over a lot of her body, the itching was at insane levels, and some of her was purple and looked like huge bruises. They gave her new medications for the itching but said the only real solution to the problem was time. They also recommended being seen by a dermatologist to check for skin damage from this type of severe reaction.

The lack of sleep, itchiness (nothing helped for more than a few hours), and stress of this reaction and the situation overwhelmed her and she was very emotional during this time. I'm better for solving problems than I am with emotional issues, but I did the best I could to be comforting.

On Tuesday we went to see her GP. The doctor was shocked at my wife's appearance and the story we told of this reaction and what had happened. By Friday, we got in to see the only available Dermatologist, and he was equally shocked -- even though we assured him she was actually starting to look better, as the rash was starting to move through her system by then. She was more red/sunburned looking with a general lessening of the hive-like bumps.

The dermatologist took some skin samples, wrote a script for more bloodwork, gave her scripts for various creams that would help both with itching and the pustules, and he wanted to see her back in a few days. On the follow-up on Tuesday, he noted that she was progressing nicely and that he didn't need to see her again unless things took a turn for the worse.

It is now Thursday and my wife is doing much better. She's been sleeping through the night, isn't scratching as much, her skin is mostly back to its normal shade in her upper body and is getting there in her lower body. She was able to do a good amount of work from home yesterday and is making her first foray back to work today.

As I said at the outset, this is my wife's first real long-term issue with illness. She's broken toes in the past, gotten sick for a few days, but nothing so debilitating and long-term as this. At one point, crying and emotionally spent, she asked me how I do it (as I have chronic conditions I have been fighting for going on 20 years now). I said, "One day at a time. Just simply one day at a time. Slowly you get used to the new reality of your life and you don't have to fight so hard against it. And then you're good for awhile until the next thing happens. Then you take that one day at a time until you reach a plateau with that. Rinse and repeat."

It is often hard for even those close to someone with a chronic or debilitating issue to fully understand what it is like. Now, when I tell her I'm tired, or don't want to take my meds, or that my body is rebelling on me, or any of the other things I say when I'm depressed, or flaring up, or just done, she has a frame of reference. While her bout with this problem is easing away and she can, hopefully, get on with her life and be the healthy person she normally is, she now has sympathy and understanding of that it can be like for those who suffer daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. I'm very sorry she had to suffer this, but I think her awareness has grown and her empathy further expanded (I say "further," because she is already an empathetic person).

Going forward, my wife must be more cautious of new medications. She needs to alert any doctors she sees that she has had a Stevens-Johnson reaction to Plaquenil and take any new medications slowly, easing into them. And, she's learned some harsh, hard life lessons along the way, which will take longer for her to assimilate, understand, and move beyond. And I'll be right here to help her.

April 14, 2014

I Guess I Just Don't Get It

Most of my friends enjoy The Big Bang Theory. They rave about the humor. Most of them claim to laugh out loud while watching it. I have tried to enjoy it. I originally watched the premiere and the second episode when it debuted, and didn't laugh at all. Didn't even crack a smile, actually. Since then, I have repeatedly watched episodes on the cable channels that air it ad infinitum. I would guess that I have seen somewhere around 40 episodes at this point (it is hard to say because it seems like the same 15 episodes are on a lot). During that time, I have smiled a couple of times and have chuckled or outright laughed twice. Yes, twice.

My issues with it, and so many other "comedies" currently on the air, is that it pokes fun at the audience. And I don't like being made fun of, I guess. I, and many/most of my friends, enjoy comic books, sci-fi/fantasy movies and shows, science, and tend to be on the smarter side of society, yet the four main characters on The Big Bang Theory look and act nothing like us. Those characters are beyond stereotypes; they wind up being caricatures of what someone who is not a nerd or a science geek thinks these people are like. Geek- and nerd-dom have come a long way, baby. Most of us are pretty average, can carry on a conversation, are productive and interesting members of society, and dress in our work's dress code or jeans and polo shirt on weekends.

I dislike Sheldon the most, because his character is the most irritating: he's presented as a genius but actually is portrayed as a buffoon. I've known, schooled, and worked with some wickedly smart, high-IQ individuals and Sheldon reminds me of none of them. While a few were socially inept, that was mostly from being mildly autistic and/or incredibly introverted, not from being an ass with a one-track mind. Many of them were just as socially able as anyone else, and a few were the 'life of the party' types.

At my last few comic book shops, it was not at all unusual to have women browsing the shelves. The guys who run my current comic book shop are more used to seeing my cute wife than they are me, because she works nearby and it makes more sense for her to pick up the comics most weeks than it does for me to drive in. A few of my female friends also frequent the store, play games there on gaming night, and would be considered attractive.

Sci-fi and Fantasy movies and TV shows would not be as successful as they are without a strong female audience, as they (females) tend to be the driving force behind what a couple or a group watches (more so than the males). So showing them as either not being involved or being condescending toward what the "geeky" guys like is simply wrong.

When I go back and watch old episodes of Cheers, MASH, Cosby, Frasier, and even newer shows like Seinfeld and Friends, they don't make fun of the audience. They poke fun at that specific character on the show. Rather than turning "the fat guy" into an indictment on all fat people, they would poke fun at that specific character and his specific fallacies and failings. 'Joey' on Friends and 'Woody' on Cheers were not written as Everyman Idiots, they were nuanced, caring, considerate, and had their areas of expertise or understanding. All of the characters on these shows were fully-formed human beings, not stereotypes. When I watch comedies today, I don't see that; in general, I see stereotypes and caricatures that, like on The Big Bang Theory, are often not even accurate to reality. The characters in question then seem to be a stand-in for the audience and all the humor seems to be directed at those watching, rather than at the characters on the show.

And too many shows are cancelled before they can hit their stride and get the chemistry right. Go On was improving with each episode, as the writers were starting to really get the characters and tone of the show down when it was cancelled. What could that show have become if given a little more of a chance?

On top of all of this, there are a plethora of shows, like Arrested Development, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Portlandia, and New Girl that we just don't find funny. At all. Even remotely. We keep wondering how they are even classified as comedies. They seem to be primarily sad dramas about miserable people either being miserable or making others miserable.

In the end, while I agree that the five main actors (really, seven now) on The Big Bang Theory have good chemistry and comedic timing, I simply don't like the characters they portray, the humor they try to convey, nor the over-use of badly written stereotypes. As this seems to be the case for so many comedies today, I think we just need to let it go and move on.

April 10, 2014

The Death of the PC has been Greatly Exaggerated

The "death of the PC" has been greatly exaggerated by the media for the last few years. The PC, which, by the way, stands for "personal computer," is simply in  moment of flux as the concepts around personal computing change.

Most people in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s did not need a full blown desktop or laptop computer for how they used the machine. The vast majority of people only needed someplace to store and retrieve photos and videos, a way to connect with the Internet, a way to connect with their friends and family (via email, blogs, and now social media). The vast computing power provided by a desktop, whether Apple or Window's based, was not needed nor used by the majority of people.

Tablets and smartphones have been around, in some form, since the early 1990s. However, it took significant leaps in technology and user accessibility before either became truly successful in the early to mid-2000s. It required additional refinements for each to become the ubiquitous devices we use today.

Apple's creation of the iPad and iPhone hit the right combination of user friendliness, options, and usefulness to get it right. Once a successful model was in place, the computer manufacturers were off and running. For many people, especially those for whom work and/or "power" gaming are not required, the tablet was all they really needed, and it was usually much cheaper than a laptop or desktop model because it focused on their needs only. The laptop and desktop are more generally usable, but that generality comes at a higher cost. The tablet and smartphone simply connected users to the Internet and to their family and friends. It allowed them to view videos and read the news that was important to them. And it was ultra portable, so they could take it with them wherever they went as opposed to chaining them to their desk or the limited portability of the much larger, heavier, and more awkward laptop.

So, yes, obviously the sale of this new tablet/smartphone personal computer ate into the sales of the old desktop and laptop personal computers. However, while the vast majority of people only need a PC that does those simple tasks, there are still many people who require more power to do what they need to do.

If you are serious about graphics applications, do significant amounts of work on a PC, or are a serious gamer, a tablet simply will not work for you. It does not have the power, accessibility, or lifespan needed to do what you want to do. Graphics applications, like video editing and serious drawing programs, require a level of CPU processing and power that simply cannot be found in tablets today. Many can only really be used in serious, high-end laptops (those referred to as "desktop replacements" or "mobile desktops") or on desktops. If you are writing a significant amount each day, you certainly don't want to do that on a non-ergonomic device like a tablet as you would have repetitive motion issues within a short order. And, if you have any desire to play the latest and greatest MMOs, FPSs, or sports programs, you need a dedicated graphics card, a lot of memory, and the fastest Internet connections, which you simply cannot get from a tablet or smartphone. A day may be coming where the tablet or smartphone can do these types of activities. But it isn't here yet.

The sudden creation and nearly ubiquitous use of "the cloud" for computing in the last few years has led to further advancements in how we interact with our PCs. For example, if my mother (or mother in law) said she needed a new PC today, I would probably steer her toward a Chromebook (or similar device) over a laptop, desktop, or tablet. It is a low-cost, easy-to-use, hard to get wrong device that uses primarily free tools via the Internet (most specifically, Google's free online Word suite replacements) to provide utility to its users. The current generation allows (limited) use offline as well as (full) use online, so you are not completely without your data. The OS is kept updated invisibly to the user and all virus protection and safeguards are on Google's end. For someone like my mother, this winds up being a nearly perfect solution to her PC requirements as a retired teacher who likes to write, stay in touch with her family and friends, have portability in her device, but also needs comfortable usability (as it is more like a laptop and less like a tablet).

In today's PC market people have a lot of choice. They can get the device that services their needs without getting a lot of extras they do not. For the vast majority, a smartphone, tablet, or Chromebook device is the perfect answer. Some still require the extra power and flexibility of a laptop or full desktop, however. The numbers on sales of "PCs" (i.e., desktops) are stabilizing at what will be their new normal and these articles about the "death of the PC" will slowly ebb as well. At least, until the next leap forward.

April 4, 2014

Random Thoughts, April 4, 2014

Quick thoughts:

  • The Republican party, in general, is considered the party that wants small government and government to stay out of peoples' lives. So why is it that it is currently the party so incredibly invested in making decisions for women and homosexuals? Why do they want government so involved in the private lives and bedrooms of females and gays?

  • On a related matter, you cannot provide something that so many people want for so long and then take it away without repercussions. Which is why the backlash against the (primarily) Republican party's assault on women's rights will have severe repercussions going forward. Abortions and reproductive issues have existed for over 2,000 years; just because you make it illegal now does not mean it will stop. You just make it into a "back alley" scenario again until the women get mobilized to legalize it once more. And/Or make the politicians who took it away pay for their arrogance.

  • It is April and we still have snow actively on the ground. We just had a snowstorm/blizzard that dumped enough snow to cause up to four foot drifts in our driveway. I'm sick of winter now. This is the longest winter has held on since I moved here.

  • Oh, and why is the right-leaning media so involved in questioning Global Warming because this winter has been so harsh and cold? Apparently, being "news" people, they didn't think to look up what that actually means but, instead, took the words themselves to mean that everything should be getting hotter, not colder. When, in fact, Global Warming actually means that, while the overall trend is toward a warming of the Earth, short-term that means weather instability and wild fluctuations. Those fluctuations include colder, wetter, longer winters, more tornadoes and hurricanes, hotter summers and falls, more active draughts and rainy seasons, and fewer mild, "normal" days. Why can't they simply report the facts?

  • News media in general is not reporting actual news anymore. Have you noticed that CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, et al, are primarily filled with opinion shows? This is because a) there simply isn't enough hard, verifiable news to report on a 24-hour news network and b) you don't have to fact-check and hold to news standards those who are expressing opinion. A corollary to this is that the networks then make those opinion shows look as much like a news show as possible to confuse and mislead the public into believing what these talking heads say is news fact and not personal opinion. To my mind, this should be illegal. 

  • I like to do new and interesting things on my birthday -- going bowling, going to a museum, attending an aquarium, doing a new activity. However, so many things in our area don't open until May or June that I'm left with few good options for a birthday party. It's a little depressing.

March 22, 2014


The American justice system has its flaws. The rich get away with more than the poor because they can hire the best law firms. The use of precedent overwhelms the system and creates loopholes and unintended consequences. And, in today's mobile, online, instant news society, the law doesn't always keep up or make sense to the masses.

The goal of this system is to provide an unbiased result based on the facts of the case. The biggest benefit to it is that an (supposed to be) impartial judge or a jury of one's peers is used to arbitrate between the accused and the accuser. This is especially essential for instances where the hierarchical power system in place most everywhere (between employee and employer, between the government and the individual, etc.) would unnecessarily bias one side against the other.

However, there is one glaring area where an impartial system does not exist: the military.

In the military, everything is kept "in house." In many cases, your commanding officer (or that person's commanding officer) is used to administer justice. Even when something actually makes it to military court, many of the people involved may be the accuser's superior officers. Even if they are not, they have something to gain or lose based on what is accused and what the verdict is.

The military has a sexual assault problem. The rates for all types of sexual misconduct are much higher per capita in the military than in the private sector. Both men and women are attacked, as sexual assault is mostly about power and not about the act of sexual intercourse. So, the fact that women are in the military doesn't make sexual assault more prevalent -- it just means that women are now being attacked along with the men.

The problem, though, is that those who are attacked are forced to go through their own chain of command in order to report the assault. In some cases, this means going to either the person who is performing the assault or who is the direct commander of the person who is committing the act, or that person's immediate superior (if the commander in charge is the one performing the assault) in order to levy a charge of sexual assault. These individuals have direct and biased reasons not to send the assault charge up the chain command: first, a charge of sexual assault looks negatively on them as the leader of the person(s) in question and could negatively influence their ability to move up the chain of command; and, secondly, they may like the conduct, person, or performance of the accused more or less than the accuser.

There have been many reports of sexual assault and outright rape in the military over the last 20 years. No one branch has been spared the scandals of these allegations. There have been movies about it, including a recent documentary about the problem, The Invisible War. Even if you consider that movie biased against the military, the facts presented and the incredibly myopic way in which the military is shown to respond (for example, making it the assaulted person's fault for being assaulted, or the program to make sure you have a safe buddy to walk around base with at night, etc.) shows the military culture to be biased against women and "weak" men and stuck in a version of the past where these sorts of things just "didn't happen." (Of course, they did, but like the nostalgia films from the 1950s, the military's response just seems to gloss over and simplify how very real and present the problems actually are.)

While that movie was able to briefly change the way the military works, much more is needed. (The military took away the unit commander's decision whether to prosecute these cases.) When Congress confronted the military leadership and demanded answers, strongly considering changing things so that sexual assault would be prosecuted in civilian court systems, the military leadership determined that it would hurt morale, undermine the command structure, and somehow bring down the military as an institution to take away military prosecution of sexual assault. And Congress backed down.

My question is why? Many companies work on a similarly hierarchical command structure yet having a judicial system outside of that structure hasn't toppled those businesses when a sexual assault charge is levied. In no other stratosphere of life does having an independent and unbiased judicial system hurt the process -- and, as I argued at the beginning, it actually helps the process by trying to ensure as fair and balanced a process as possible. (Yes, we can argue all day about how actually fair and balanced the judicial system is, which is why I noted some of the problems with it, above. The fact is that it tries harder than most other judicial systems to be unbiased.)

The military is an insular system. They need that in order to do what they do. But when that insular system, in essence, rewards sexual assault predators with a system in which they can get away with the act more often than not, the system has to change. Taking sexual assault cases out of the system so that both the accused and accuser get a fair court hearing and verdict is paramount to this process.

As we consistently learn, whenever an institution is left to police itself, be it Congress, banks, brokerage firms, churches, or, now, the military, it fails because the participants are biased for a variety of reasons. It is time for the men and women of our armed forces to be safe and able to bring these charges to a fair, unbiased court system outside of their chain of command. The military has proven both unwilling to change and unable to cope with this problem, so the government should force the issue. Our servicemen and women deserve nothing less.

March 13, 2014

Now Comes the Hard Part

I had my last physio session with my therapist yesterday. While he recognizes that my back is still weak, he likes the direction it is going, he thinks I've got a lot better mobility and flexibility, and he thinks I'm on the right path. To that end, he gave me some suggestions and "graduated" me from the program.

My father in law has a device specifically made to help strengthen the back. He loaned it to me and I have been using it multiple times a day for the last two weeks.
* Not the exact model I am using, but a very close design
By doing a "reverse sit-up," I can stretch and strengthen the back in the specific area I had the herniated disc. In addition, I can use the handles to do a nice, deep push-up.

What I've been doing is, every time I go down to put wood on the fire, a set of 10 push-ups and a set of 10 back extensions. Since I feed the fire about once every 60-90 minutes, this means I get about 8-10 sets in each day with plenty of rest between. This has helped my arms, chest, and back to start feeling stronger as well as burning a few more calories than previously.

Next up is to add back in my stationary bicycle and work on my stamina, which is poor (to put it mildly). This will work the legs as well as being good cardio work. My initial goal is to get to riding for around 45-60 minutes (enough time to watch one DVRed show on TV). I was just reaching that point when I had the herniation and the subsequent issues with my back. All of my gains were lost (and then some) during my recuperation (since I couldn't do much lifting, twisting, or, well, walking during much of this time).

Once I reach that stage, I'm hopeful that my back extension and push-ups have made a nice difference to my upper body, I've lost some weight, and can start adding in some sit-ups and strengthening leg-work. Also, as we move from winter to spring, I hope my wife, our friend Dre, and I can start going back to the Nature Park and walking. Now, the two ladies walk me into the ground and I usually take a course that is half what they do, but my goal is to one day keep up with them. Plus, the Nature Park is a nice, quiet, natural setting, which is nice to visit.

I have also started using the food and exercise trackers on again. I have set up it to help me lose 40 lbs, so it is limited my caloric intake to 1500 calories a day (from the standard 2000). I may lower it when I see over the next two weeks how I normally eat (with all my health issues the last six months, my diet is all over the place; I need to get a new baseline with the exercise program to see if I can make the calorie intake more aggressive). I'd rather have a steady, sustained weight loss than crash and rebound. Right now, the caloric intake suggests 8 lbs a month loss, which seems fine (2 lbs a week). My wife uses this tracker and she managed to lose about 20 lbs with her exercise schedule (Zumba twice a week plus walking on treadmill or on streets every day). Losing the weight off the gut will help the back stay strong, as well as help my feet, knees, and other joints. My arthritis makes it difficult to be too aggressive with exercise, and I have to stay away from too much high-impact stuff.

Anyway, today is as good day as any to start really hitting it and moving forward, right? Last year was our year of no procrastination. We managed to get a lot done around the house, with paperwork, and similar. I'm carrying it over to this year and trying to keep the train moving forward.

March 3, 2014

More TV Woes

My wife wanted to buy her mother a Blu-Ray player that was both wi-fi capable and had a USB port, so she could share with her mother movies and other files from our very large collection. Seems simple enough, right?


My MIL has some very nice, but older, technology in her house. Also, her house is old enough not to be wired for internet. Hence the desire to have the player by wi-fi enabled. Her 36" CRT TV is a rugged, nice machine, but it is old enough not to have current, modern connectors. She doesn't have a receiver through which she runs everything.

Knowing/discovering all of these facts as we pursued this avenue, we stumbled on the need to get an HDMI to RCA converter in order to plug the Blu-ray machine into her TV. This is because we could not find a Blu-ray player that has RCA jacks AND wi-fi AND a USB port; if they have wi-fi, they pretty much all have only an HDMI port.

After our trying and not finding the device, or eschewing going to some places because we were sure they wouldn't have such a device, we headed to The Source, a primarily electronics seller in this city (kind of Radio Shack). There were two people working there, a male about early-20s, 5'6", with dark hair and a female about the same age and height and with blond hair.

I asked if they sold any HDMI to RCA cables. They both gave us very quizzical looks. The girl started to say, "I don't think they make those," while the male said no and started smiling and laughing and generally got "attitude" and, well, snotty. He asked if I was sure such a thing existed. Since I was sure (I had looked it up online and they are readily available for $40 and lower, depending on make/type) and was starting to dislike his attitude, I said, "I'm absolutely sure. So sure that I will bet you any sum of money you'd like to wager on it."

I've worked retail. Was pretty good at it, actually. And, when you run across a customer who is asking for specific things and is showing intelligence, confidence, and competence about what he/she wants, you should trust that customer and work with him/her to your mutual benefit. This guy didn't understand that concept. Instead, he started talking very negatively about the ramifications of doing this conversion, how the picture would be "horrible," and how we really should get a new TV. To which my wife replied, "Are you going to buy us a new TV?" She was getting steamed at this yokel, basically, laughing at us.

I was getting irritated too. This guy, at various parts of our conversation, laughed openly at us, ducked his head and continued laughing, and generally was unpleasant. He spoke so negatively about the device we wanted to purchase, and then had the gall to say, "I'm not trying to be negative about it or stop you from buying it, but it's not going to work for you." Really? Are you sure. Because I've seen the reviews of these devices online and, for the most part, people are pretty pleased with being able to buy a $100 Blu-ray and a $10 connector, rather than spending $800 on a new TV, $100 on a new Blu-ray, and $20 on the HDMI cord required.

His attitude toward us was getting to us both, but I started to step forward when my wife grabbed my arm and said she wanted to go. She was done talking to this ass-hat and didn't want me getting into it with him. Over my shoulder as we left, I made some disparaging comment about the store and that guy (to which I heard a, "What... what did he just say?" from the male to the female employee).

The somewhat ironic conclusion to this story is that we went home, looked online at the plethora of such converters and cables, and tried to decide which would work best for us. My wife found that The Source store we had visited had one such converter in stock and for sale (albeit, it was for HDMI to Composite, not HDMI to RCA which is what we specifically asked for). Had the ass-hat male employee bothered to look, he would have found that. He would have then known:
  1. Such a thing does exist.
  2. Not to be a jerk to us, because we actually knew what we were talking about.
  3. To check his computer for relevant other devices and discover if The Source carried the specific item we needed and could order it in for us.
Instead, this employee felt entitled to laugh at us to our face, sardonically suggest we buy a new TV, and felt it was appropo to show gross negativity toward what his customer needed. Out of the half-dozen or so better ways he could have expressed his negatively that would have been helpful and left us with options, he instead convinced us never to shop there again.

In the end, we're probably going to chip in and help my MIL buy a new TV sooner, rather than later. Once she has a new TV, she'll have the ports she needs and we can consider getting her a Blu-ray.

Oscars, 2014

The Academy Awards were on last night, and I watched pretty much all of it. And it was boring. Very, very boring. I have fairly specific desires for what I want to watch during the Oscar telecast; last night's show wasn't it.

  • Opening. I like the opening song and dance number. Either that or some sort of funny and interesting monologue. Whatever it is showcases sort of the theme and general direction of the show. Ellen's opening was brief, which is always nice, but also boring and not very funny, which is unlike her. And, not surprisingly, the show itself was sort of boring and not very funny.
  • Tributes. Unless there is a reason for it (i.e., a significant-year anniversary or the passing of a legend), I don't want to see tributes. Last night's show had a ham-fisted tribute to animation and one to movie heroes that both felt tacked on and without focus. Why were they added? Taking both together, that was at least 10 minutes that could have been cut from the show.
  • Presenters. I hate them. The host should present most of the awards (up to all but the Big 4). This gives the host a chance to actually do something during the telecast beyond introducing someone who is going to flub his/her lines, not be able to read the teleprompter, say something uncomfortable or that can easily be misconstrued, and/or butcher someone's name. The transition time from the host to the presenter and back again could be spent just having the host present that award. All those small minutes saved would add up to somewhere around 30 minutes of time saved on the far end, I'm guessing.
  • Presentations. I like having the previous winner of X presenting the current night's award for Y, however, I want the presentation to mean something. In Oscars past, we have had affectionate presentations to each award nominee. I liked this. Keep to about 1 minute per, show clips in the background (or overlay it for the TV audience), and have a professional help the presenter with the writing so it is short, sweet, genuine, but to the point. Last night, they each came out, barely said anything, had the pre-recorded list, and then presented the winner -- boring.
  • Death. Last night's In Memoriam was really done well... one of the best of recent memory, until they had Bette Midler come out and sing after the presentation was over. Either have her sing during or don't have any singing at all... there's another 5 minutes you can save. Also, remember that we are trying to celebrate the life of those who died; their accomplishments in their chosen field, how well they were known and liked in the industry, and their impact on film in general. This should be a happy, but solemn, moment.
  • Pace. The big categories everyone wants to see are Song, Screenwriting (?), Supporting Actor and Actress, Lead Actor and Actress, Director, and Best Picture. Since, generally, the Oscars telecast is about 3:30-4 hours long, that means you should have one of those awards presented every 25-30 minutes of the telecast. Don't suddenly cram a bunch of the biggest awards into the last 30 minutes.
  • Clapping. Start each telecast with a statement to the audience to hold all applause until the END of the presentation. Often, the clapping drowns out what the presenter or pre-recorded piece is saying, or it shows obvious favoritism (one person gets hoots, hollers, and a lot of clapping; the next gets a polite smattering of applause). Also, if it is a live presentation, the clapping often causes the presenter to pause, adding to the overall time of the show. Just wait until they are done, clap the same amount for everyone, and then allow specific applause for the winner.
  • Closing. Have some sort of closing presentation, not too long (maybe 4 minutes) that wraps up and ends the show. Doesn't need to be another song and dance, but something that sums it all up and eases you back out of the show. The way last night just sort of had Ellen come on stage and say good night was a bit terse. People who get into it are still amped up over the show and need something to ease them down and out.

February 20, 2014

It's Not What You Say, But What You Don't Say...

My wife and I like pulled beef/pork sandwiches and we use our slow cooker to make the BBQ sauce and cooked meat. Because we've had some issues cooking this meal since we got our new slow cooker, she decided to get a mix from the same company as our slow cooker (Crock Pot).

The Ingredients list is simple:
  • 3 lbs pork
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 pkg. Crock Pot Pulled Pork BBQ Seasoning
  • 1 cup water
The Preparation section is even easier (I will type everything exactly):
  1. PLACE pork in slow cooker.
  2. MIX seasoning packet with ketchup, brown sugar, and vinegar until blended. Pour over pork.
  3. COVER & COOK 8 hrs. on LOW or 4 hrs. on HIGH. REMOVE pork from slow cooker. Shred, using two forks. Return meat to slow cooker. Mix with sauce and heat before serving.
That's it. Notice anything? That's right, that 1 cup of water listed in the ingredients is not used anywhere in the preparation. Why is it needed? After some discussion, we decided the water was designed to keep the meat moist during cooking. We feel that step one should read, "PLACE pork and water in slow cooker." We can make a case for it being added to the sauce in part two of step 3, so we're not certain of our choice. It's what we're going with. 

This error leads us to another error by omission that has been frustrating us: everything we have been cooking in our new slow cooker has been either overcooked or done way sooner than the estimated times on recipes. My wife did some research and discovered a couple of interesting things, which our slow cooker instructions and manuals don't mention.
  1. Modern, recently-made (last 5 years or so) slow cookers are set to higher temperatures than older models. If you had an older model and purchased a new one, you may notice that your recipes are finishing sooner or are overcooked when cooked in the new cooker. This may be why. No one seems to know quite why manufacturers decided to make this unspecified and unneeded change.
  2. Slow cookers are designed to be used at a minimum of about 2/3 full. If you are, say, two people who just want enough for dinner and some leftovers, and you purchased a larger slow cooker, you may find your food overdone because it gets too hot during cooking because it is only 1/3 or maybe 1/2 full.
In both cases, why not clearly mention it? It makes a pretty big difference; my wife and I have wasted a number of meals because we couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong. We had a solid, older model that made good food and we could use without issue and we were throwing out dry, almost inedible food with the new, larger one. Knowing either piece of info would have made a huge difference; knowing both is causing us to rethink our purchase and considering downgrading to a smaller slow cooker.

Where is the editing? Why omit this information? Is no one reading or reviewing these items?

Addendum (2/21/2014)

Here is the response I got back from the company. Doesn't exactly instill confidence that they will fix the issue in subsequent runs of the ingredient package:
Dear John, 
Thank you for taking the time to contact B&G Foods Inc. We’re sorry to hear about confusion regarding the directions on our Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Pork Seasoning Mix. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. 
After placing the pork in you slow cooker, mix the entire seasoning packet with water, ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar until blended. Pour over pork.
 B&G Foods Inc.Corporate Consumer Affairs/2

February 3, 2014

Musically Speaking

I will start with a caveat: I don't really know music. I don't know a treble from a clef. I do know what I like and I do know what "sounds right" and what doesn't to my ear. This post is about the difference I hear in two performers I know.

We have a friend, TL, who is a professional musician and singer, as well as a music teacher. She is respected and asked to adjudicate musical performances all over this area. She performs publicly. I happen to really like her voice. When she performs, she often teams with a male friend of hers I'll call C. He is similarly a singer, a teacher, and a respected adjudicator. Both have performed all over the province, and he has performed nationwide. They both enjoy performing and they seem to have fun together on stage.

When I watch and listen to them sing, I come away with the same feeling every time: no matter how "into it" he is, no matter what he sings, I simply don't feel the passion from him that I do from her. He is, I believe, technically proficient; his pitch and tone and the sounds he makes are all true and perfect, but there isn't any heart behind it. Don't get me wrong, I think -- no, I know -- he enjoys what he sings, and with whom he is singing it. But enjoying it and filling the song with emotion and passion are two very different things, at least in my mind.

C's voice is like a bell while TL's is like a guitar. C's voice is clear and precise and perfect, but it can only do that one thing, make that one note. No matter if you use it in a rock song, a ballad, a jazz hit, or a choir, it remains exactly the same; reliable, and perfect, but without any added depth. Its use may be better suited to some genres than others, but it is always clear and precise no matter how you use it. TL's guitar, on the other hand, can hit many notes. She can use her guitar in rock, jazz, country, folk, or even classical songs. Her guitar just has more depth, more use, and more utility than does C's.

On the other hand, I don't think C's unwavering perfection and lack of depth is a bad thing, per se. It is my belief that C's perfection allows TL to do more, take more chances, fail and succeed more often because she can rely on his steady, perfect, metronome-like ability to know the words and stay on pitch and tempo. He's like the flagpole and she's like the flag; she can tie on, raise or lower, whip around, and even rip off and fly free because she knows the flagpole will always be there, doing its job.

Take the song 'Hallelujah.' This song, written and first performed by Leonard Cohen is, frankly, all about the life and the passion you can infuse into it. The best versions of the song are not those sung with technical brilliance, but those sung by people who have had hard lives and can put those troubles and tribulations into the words and the music. While those that are sung with perfection are still nice to listen to, I often come away with an empty feeling. Yet when Cohen, or John Cale, or Jeff Buckley sang it, they infused the drugs, the hard traveling, the divorces, and the impoverished times into those words. You can feel the difference. Cohen's voice cracking and breaking when he sings it, the tiredness and perseverance in Cale's rendition, the alcohol/drugs and hard traveling in Buckley's version -- it all adds to the overall performances and depth of the song.

C recently sang Hallelujah and it was ... fine. He was technically proficient, he hit all the notes, he was in time with the music, and sang all of the words, but it didn't have the heart or the soul that the song requires to be great. It just sounded flat to me, even though it was well done. He was that perfect bell in a song that needed some dirty guitar work.

Now, C has improved in his performance and his range since I've been watching the two perform. However, he remains the bell to TL's guitar. Recently, in their last two performances, they have performed some Elvis Presley hits. When TL performs them, she rocks out; she sways her hips, she changes inflection based on what she is singing, she nods her head, and she goes through more range with her voice, from low to high. She doesn't mimic The King, but she pays homage to him sometimes and other times she goes off on her own in whatever way her voice wants to. She makes it hers. When C sings those hits, it is obvious he is having fun doing it, but his voice remains the exact same as when he is singing a choir tune for church or a Broadway melody, only the words are from The King. C doesn't make it his, he just sings it, if that makes sense. He sings it well, he has fun doing it, but, ultimately, he just sings it.

Again, I don't know music. I may be way off and someone with musical knowledge and/or talent may be able to tell me what I'm hearing and why I think this way. And, don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching the two of them perform and do their thing. I think that C's abilities help TL to do what she does with less fear and greater conviction, which makes it valuable. I also reach the conclusion that if someone could teach C how to let go of the perfection and get a little dirtier, he'd find his music takes off in new and unexpected ways.

January 24, 2014

TV Woes, Part 2

An additional issue we were having with our entertainment center was that our Series 2 Dual-Tuner TiVo was not receiving the remote signal consistently. Sometimes it would work okay, but most of the time it was taking multiple presses to get the signal to the TiVo and, sometimes, it would go through long stretches where it wouldn't accept the signal at all.

This came to a head recently as well. It got to the point where we could barely control our TiVo at all. Once again, I turned to the Interwebs for information to see if others were having this issue.

It turns out that modern LCD/LED TVs have a function called "backlighting." This feature can send out a strong enough signal that it can override your remote's IR signal, effectively blocking it from reaching the IR sensor on the TiVo (or, perhaps, other devices). The backlighting feature is used to make the screen brighter and the colors sharper. It has different settings depending on the way you are using it (for example, on our TV, the "Sports" selection has high backlighting, the "Movie" one has low backlighting, and the "Standard" is a medium amount of backlighting).

I played around with this feature and discovered if we turned it all the way off, our TiVo remote started functioning again. But even one tick up on the scale for backlighting and the TiVo remote stopped working reliably.

I then starting thinking about when this trouble started, because we have owned that TV for a few years and the issue only cropped up in the last few months. I then realized that when we had some work done in the front room, we had changed the setup of the devices within the cabinet, placing the TiVo closer to the TV than it had been before, and I suspected that the problems started about that same time.

After dealing with the issues in TV Woes, Part 1, my wife and I decided to act on my hunch and move the TiVo down in the cabinet, farther away from the TV. This only shifted its position by about 3.5", but I recalled not having the remote issues prior to moving it up and we were definitely having them after moving it up. So, it was worth a shot and didn't cost us anything.

Low and behold, since moving the TiVo down under the other (used much less often) device, the TiVo is working like a champ again.

The moral of the story is, if you find your remotes are not working as well or consistently as they were or you think they should, try finding and turning off the "Backlight" feature on your LCD/LED TV (the feature is also on some plasma TVs). If your remote suddenly seems to work much better and more consistently, then you need to get your device farther away from your TV so the backlight feature doesn't cause interference with the IR reception from the remote. Or, of course, if you don't mind the much duller look of your picture, you can simply turn off the Backlight feature and leave it off.

TV Woes, Part 1

A few years ago we bought a Samsung LN46C630 TV. We love it. It is a nice size (although my wife now admits we could go bigger), a quality-name product, and has a very nice, clear picture. Recently, however, the picture started suffering from a problem: it flickered. By "flicker" I mean that the entire picture would start strobing brighter and darker rapidly while never actually losing the picture. This strobe effect would sometimes turn off when a new signal was received, like the station going into or out of a commercial break, or when a DVD would move to a new chapter, etc., and would occasionally fade or stop on its own.

It was getting worse, though. When it first started, it was only our main (Component 1) input that was affected. If we switched to any other input, the flickering would stop and we would be left in peace. However, over the last few months, switching inputs stopped working to resolve the issue. We were at the mercy of some sort of signal change. Then the signal change stopped working. At that point, once the TV started flashing, it would keep flashing. Needless to say, it made our really nice TV virtually unwatchable when it happened.

We were to the point where we considered buying a new TV. Our TV was out of warranty and, actually, the problem started very shortly after the warranty expired. I decided to check online to see if others were having this issue. Searching on "Samsung TV flickering" and "Samsung TV strobing" I found that there were many who were having the same issue with their Samsung TVs. Reading through the many hits, I found a trend: it seemed to be all the "LN##C###" in particular were having this issue, and the C600 models specifically. It also seemed strangely common and convenient that it happened just about the time the warranty expired in almost every case.

Reading further, someone had called for servicing and his service person was told by Samsung that it is a common problem with a particular run of TVs and that cutting a jumper on one of the two electronics boards inside the TV can resolve the issue. Depending on the exact model of your TV, the exact jumper number may be slightly different, but they are located in the same spot on the board and perform the same function.

Everyone who tried the solution presented had excellent results and their flickering problem went away.

I've been laid up again with back pain after falling down the stairs. So, I've been sitting in the front room in my recliner watching a lot of TV. Having the flickering happening nearly all the time was driving me nuts. I confirmed with my wife that the TV was out of warranty and that we had enough in our account to buy a new TV if needed. I then tackled the issue following the advice/instructions I found online.


They are pretty simple and straightforward. The one piece of advice I would add is that the sensor that reads the remote signal is in an awkward place and you can easily pull it out while taking off or putting on the TV's back cover. If you find that you follow these instructions and the remote "stops working," crack open the case and find the little daughter board and make sure the cable that connects that board (and the sensor) to the main motherboard inside is still connected, or reconnect it if needed.

Since performing that little bit of surgery, we have had no flickering/strobing on our TV. It is back to working 100% and looking great.