Monday, June 29, 2009

Accidental Discovery

In my quest to discover where the sun is located (ie. what latitude) in the sky at various times of the year, I accidentally came upon a web site that is unbelievably anchored in beliefs similar to my own. Unfortunately, what I originally set out to find was detoured by this discovery...

The web site is called arachnoid.com and is the work of Paul Lutus, who could best be described as an intellectual Jack-of-all-trades. As I started reading some of his essays, I finally found some amount of relief in the thought that my frustration is shared by other people in this world. As always, I encourage readers of this blog to explore on their own, instead of taking my digested view of what Paul is saying. While Paul has information on many subjects, my own curiousity leaned toward his world-view rather than the software he developed (imagine that). Some places of particular interest are...
  • How we confuse symbols and things - This closely follows my thought experiment about marriage from a few months ago and gets to the root of several of my beliefs, particularly regarding religion and government. I realize now why I sometimes have trouble communicating with people.
  • Asperger's By Proxy - While I'm not quite as negative about psychology as Paul obviously is, this essay is an example of how the blind assumption that psychologists have all the answers to what goes on in the mind can lead to horrible consequences. It also shows an example of clearly toxic, narcissistic behavior that I'm sure we have seen in someone we know.
Incidentally, while I discovered why the sky is dark at night (silly me, I said it was because the sun was shining on the other side of the Earth!), I didn't find out the latitude where the sun is located during various times of the year. What I was trying to determine is whether the position of the sun is hottest for Texas right now, or will it get slightly cooler (as the Earth's tilt effectively puts the sun closer to the south pole) then get friggin hot yet again as it comes closer to the latitude where Texas sits. I believe that the latter is probably correct, but I haven't yet found the information I have been looking for and I don't really want to spend any more time today doing this.

Suffice to say, when it's 105 degrees outside at the end of June, it is damn hot. When it is like that for over a week, it's really damn hot. Thank goodness for air conditioning ... speaking of that, Paul actually has an interactive graphic (java-based) that explains how a heat pump functions (any air conditioner is effectively a heat pump).

I'm taking off from work for a few days to recharge my mental batteries. Sometimes recharging one's batteries includes learning something new.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Smokey

It's hard to believe that Smokey (my cat) and I have been together for 18 years - the anniversary being on June 22. On June 20, 1991, the apartment building in Houston where I was living was struck by lightning. In addition to starting a fire in a vacant apartment unit, it hit the telephone wires (melted them) and toasted any electronic items in its path. The fire was under control quickly (thank goodness) and the fire damage was limited to the vacant unit and some minor smoke damage in the adjacent apartment. At a small gathering two days later, one of my neighbors brought down a paper bag with kittens that their once-thought-to-be-male cat ("Joey") had, asking if anyone wanted one. I picked-up Smokey, and he climbed onto my back and dug-in his claws. I decided that he adopted me, and the rest is history. In his lifetime, Smokey has moved 8 times (lived in 6 apartments and 3 houses) and moved to a new city.

There aren't enough words in a blog to describe how Smokey has been there for me over the years and how much crap he's had to put-up with from me. Smokey isn't quite as spry as he was when I got him as a kitten, but he still does pretty well for an old man.

So tonight I asked Smokey to explain to me what was so great about the late Michael Jackson that has caused him to capture the world's attention. I realized when he refused to answer that he was actually giving me the answer, so this is all of the space I will devote to that subject.

What about Farrah Fawcett? Yes, folks, she died too. I didn't know until my mom told me on the phone last night. Here's a woman who was battling cancer and succumbed to the disease. Farrah: Good person who lost her fight with cancer. The other guy: Mega plastic surgery, crappy music when he grew up, and molested kids. I'm not sure what fascination the world has with the other guy, but personally I have far greater feeling toward Farrah. ...and no, I wasn't secretly in love with her when she was one of the original "angels." For more information about Farrah Fawcett and her accomplishments, see her page on Wikipedia.

I'm happy to see that JC (of "Mental Shrapnel" fame and a frequent participant here) has returned from a two-month hiatus. It's nice to have my cheering section back.

Well, the past couple of weeks for me have been stressful. I am looking forward to taking the next few days off from work so I can enjoy this incredibly comfortable 103 degree weather we've been having here in Austin. I don't really care if I spend the entire time hanging out at home. As long as I get some time to relax.

...with that comment, I'm going to sign-off for the evening and try to find some time to relax...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wedding Copyright Infringement

I purchased a card for my friend Matt and his wife-to-be who are to be married today. They have been engaged for about two weeks. As crazy as this sounds, I have confidence that their marriage will be a success story. Sometimes you can just tell that two people are right, and this is a perfect example of such a union. The reason for such a quick marriage is due to special circumstances, but personally I think the time is right anyway.

The card I got had a great set of words on it, and this is where the copyright infringement is about to happen (ironic, since Matt is an intellectual property attorney by profession). I hope that Hallmark doesn't mind terribly (especially since I did buy their card) but do feel that these words are ones to be shared...
(on cover of card)
He saw her.
She saw him.

They said, "Hello."

They went on a date.
They kissed.
They called.

They were an item.

He proposed.
She said, "Yes!"

They were married.

(inside card)
Your love story's started,
and there's no end in sight.
(Sounds pretty perfect.)

Congratulations to the both of them. Hope this turns out to be the perfect story that the card says!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nice Guys Sleep Alone

Tonight I finally did it: I subscribed to Netflix (private note to Brian Brushwood: Yes, I did go to www.netflix.com/scamschool, and I did remember the www!). Right now there's not that much on TV (network or cable) of interest, and I really wanted to start seeing some movies that seemed interesting, but I missed for whatever reason. Not only that, but the TiVo is among several Netflix-enabled devices that can view any of the "instant view" movies online (instead of watching them on the computer).

So to stay on topic with some of my more recent rants, I decided to watch Nice Guys Sleep Alone (romantic comedy from 1999) tonight on the TiVo directly from Netflix. I saw the title and it just kind of felt right.

My opinions on the movie: The title definitely led me to a movie that was right in-line with my more recent rants on relationships. The plot is predictable, and the movie was a tad too long (it did drag along in places). The overall feel of the movie was along the lines of The Tao Of Steve, but I felt "Nice Guys" was kinder to the characters in many ways. If you're a nice guy and can identify with some of the things I've said about nice guys and relationships here, then this is a feel-good movie that will not disappoint. In fact, I think that the message in the movie is a good one, and perhaps shines a glimmer of hope on the relationship front. I also liked the movie's musical soundtrack, overall. See the IMDB link above for more info.

Of course, no posting of mine would be complete without an evaluation of the technology employed by this movie viewing tonight.
  • Netflix sign-up process and initial web site reaction: No problems whatsoever. Simple to do - just fill-in the blanks and you're ready to go.
  • Selecting movies: A bit cumbersome, but I think it will get easier over time. If you think about how a walk through Blockbuster Video would be if you took it online, that's how Netflix is...only with more movies.
  • TiVo set-up: I went to the TiVo web site and they had a big Netflix banner plastered on the "My TiVo" tab. I selected that, and just followed directions: Go to the Netflix menu selection on the TiVo, tell the TiVo to sign-up, and the TiVo will display a "password" of sorts on the screen. You then go to your computer, follow the link included, and enter that password into the blank as directed. Netflix acknowledges that your TiVo is linked, and the TiVo displays a message that you've signed-up successfully. How simple is that?! Once linked to your Netflix account, you don't need to sign-on with the TiVo again.
  • Movie selection: For TiVo viewing you need to select the movies using your computer and put them into the Netflix "instant" viewing queue (only certain movies can be viewed instantly). Anything in this queue is viewed in a list on the TiVo when you select the option to view a Netflix movie. It would be nice to look through the movie selection using the TiVo, but doing it through a browser on the computer isn't too bad either. My suggestion is to put a bunch of movies into your instant queue so you can select something you've wanted to see without having to haul-out the laptop.
  • Picture quality: Very good. For this movie, it was just a tad short of DVD-quality. I was happy that it displayed properly in widescreen (no magic or TV tampering required). The audio was excellent and sounded great on the home theater system. I would recommend renting the DVD for an action movie or something with a lot of detail, rather than viewing online, because I think the overall experience will be better in this case. For many movies, though, losing a little picture quality for the convenience of being able to just see it now is worthwhile.
  • Streaming: People have told me that sometimes the movies are slightly jerky or have problems while playing. I had absolutely no trouble at all. The TiVo obviously runs a special Netflix viewer application internally (it even displays a special version number for it), and I think that the viewer is designed to work well on a variety of broadband connections. When you start the movie, the viewer measures the connection speed before playing. Other than that, there were no delays to start watching. The only delay was when I tried to back-up a few seconds at the credits. It seems that if you back up more than a second or two, it has to re-buffer some of the movie, which takes a few more seconds. Otherwise, no big deal. I'm sure that network congestion may clobber the movie slightly at some time, but everything was fine tonight. I saw no jerkiness or any other indication that the movie was playing from an online source. It felt like I was watching the DVD. Keep in mind that my TiVo is hard-wired to the network (not wireless).
So in short, I'm giving the Netflix experience the thumbs-up so far. All my friends who have the service have said good things about it, and in general people only have good things to say. So now that I'm a subscriber, will they stop sending me those annoying ads in the mail?! Seriously guys, stop killing all those trees. I get more Netflix "movie ticket" ads in the mail now than AOL CDs years ago.

Couch potato land...here I come...

Friday, June 5, 2009

That's Fun?

A more serious set of comments tonight.

I just finished watching this evening's episode of the ABC News program 20/20. The subject of this program was the tragic results of young women drinking alcohol. They presented two situations that were heartbreaking to watch. However, I don't care to concentrate on those because they were covered more than sufficiently by ABC News. Instead, I am covering the part of the story that is not covered: Drinking as a recreation.

Before I say my piece: I have declared in several places here that I don't think we should enact prohibition laws for both alcohol or drugs. This episode of 20/20 and numerous other stories are perfect examples of how these laws are ineffective at solving the problem. Bottom line: They don't solve the problem. Prohibition laws, at best, make people feel like they have given some meaning to the senseless suffering and death due to crimes committed while under the influence. The purpose of law is not to make people feel good - the law, as I have said before, is there to provide guidance for the minimum behavior to maintain a civilized society and prescribe punishment for those who refuse to comply. It is always our responsibility to go beyond the minimum - to do the right thing and to consider those around us. In the case of alcohol and drugs, if you choose to drink and do something that causes another person to be injured or killed, that is called assault and murder, and the drink and the person who sold you the drink and the place where you consumed the drink are immaterial (unless, of course, someone forced you to do so under duress, and peer pressure is not duress). In nearly every case and in every story I hear, it is people making a conscious decision to drink and/or take drugs for recreational purposes resulting in a(nother) bad decision that ultimately results in the death and injury stories. Nevertheless, there are many, many people every day who recreationally drink and do drugs and never do any harm to anyone or anything. So that's to make sure I'm being fair to everyone -- something our politicians and religious zealots (among others) don't seem to get.

That said, what in hell do you people find so damn fun about consuming these drugs (alcohol is a drug)? Don't you have anything better to do with your life? Going to a nightclub, drinking until you're too drunk to drive, getting in a car, and killing your best friend because you couldn't maintain control of your car. Fun? Getting so drunk you can't remember that a bunch of drunk, irresponsible young men lacking any sense of morals and who view women as objects for their own amusement can gang-rape you. That's FUN? Wake the hell up people. Y'all know I'm not a church-going guy and I'm not going to tell you to find Jesus, but I am going to tell you to stop and take a look around you. This all isn't here solely for your amusement, for you to piss on, destroy, annoy, and otherwise deface at your whim. There's a whole world out here, and each of us are only here for a relatively short time. To waste your life and potentially someone else's by acting with complete disregard for anything but yourself is the crime here. That goes way beyond drinking or doing drugs. Take Bernie Madoff for instance. I kind of wish we did find out he was doing drugs, because at least then I could maybe understand why someone would be so absolutely absent of any kind of compassion and morals to swindle people out of their money, then deny doing it.

I do admit I am getting off-track here, though. The point I am trying to make is this: There is so much potential good around. There is so much to learn about...to see. I get bored, depressed, sad, frustrated, just like you all do (if you read anything in this "blog," that's pretty obvious). That isn't a good time to consume something that removes your common sense and inhibitions, is it? I'd rather be a couch potato and fall asleep watching the game show network or history channel (yes, that really happens to me sometimes) than to kill someone or cause another pain, or to act so stupid that my friends find some kind of embarrassing humor in it. Instead of destroying something, do something that'll make the world a better place to live, or go out there and find something beautiful and take it all in. It's why I go out for a drive in rural Texas some afternoons. As adults, set an example for the young'uns. It looks to me like they seriously need it.

We don't need to make drugs or alcohol against the law. I think they're a bad thing, regardless, so whether or not they're illegal, I'm not doing them. If you're one of the ones who wants to have a drink or pop a pill once in a while, not get excessively drunk (or stoned), and are considerate of those around you, then that's okay with me. I'm probably not going to pal-around with you (much), but I'm not going to stop you from your own form of recreation, regardless of whether or not I understand it. When what you do goes beyond your personal space and starts to encroach upon mine, then it's not okay anymore. Either way, the law is not there to dictate how you should behave, and believe me, you wouldn't want it to be (except for religious zealots, and only if it's their way). We all need to be respectful and mindful of other people and the Earth where we all live, and to do this in our own way with the understanding that the law is a minimum standard, and that it is up to all of us to go beyond that.

Me? I don't know. I got a charge out of messing with my mp3 player. It was a lot less expensive (in many ways) than drinking away the blues...