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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things that Chap My Ass About 2010

[Transcript of an actual conversation I recently had. See if you can figure out which side is me]

I’ll send it over to you, what’s your fax number?

My what?

Fax number. I’ll fax it over to you.

Fax it over…  Dude, seriously, just email it.

No. I like to keep a copy.

Keep a copy? What are you using, a fucking typewriter?

I wish. Can’t get ribbons any more. Sigh. So I type it up in the word processor, then print it out. Then I fax it. That way I’ve got a copy for my records.

Nobody says word processor any more.  And paper records? Of routine correspondence?

Yes. Of course.

Dude, email does that for you automatically. Email it to me. Print out a copy for yourself, if you need paper.

It’s not the same.

How is it not the same?

It’s just not.

Did you get kicked in the head by a cow? Like when you were in the barn this morning doing the fucking milking?

Huh?

Yeah, back there in the 18th century where you live, did a cow step on your head? And isn’t all that paper dangerous, you know, with the candles you use for lighting?

Ha ha, seriously, what’s your Fax number?

_____________

 

For the love of free WiFi, folks, It’s 2010.

It’s time to let go of a few things.

It’s time to dump certain technologies into the dust bin of history along with buggy whips and steam powered Babbage engines.

Starting with fax machines. 

Seriously, Fax?  Fax?  Are we kidding here?  Great idea…in the 1990’s. Perfect back when The Two Corys needed to exchange script ideas and the addresses of their favorite coke dealers.  But nowadays, you what?  start out on a computer in digital format, convert it to analog by printing it out, convert it back to digital at stone age resolution, transmit it via POTS at speeds approximating those of an ancient Sumerian carrying cuneiform tablets on the back of a mule, convert it back to analog – and then if you’re really a technology horse you scan it back into a computer using some kind of OCR PDF technology. Here’s an idea, why don’t you copy the document to a stack of 5.25” floppies and send them via Snail Mail? You can listen to your Sinatra albums on 8-track while you wait for an answer.

And speaking of POTS, it’s about time to lose the 1, don’t you think?  You know, that damned annoying 1 that you used to have to dial if you wanted to make a long distance phone call from your official Ma Bell black rotary dial phone?  “We’re sorry, you must first dial a one before dialing this number” or “We’re sorry, it is not necessary to dial a one before dialing this number.” Arrgh! Make up your fucking mind.  What is the deal with this bullshit? I don’t have this crap with my cell phone, it just knows whether it needs a 1 or not. Sometimes I dial a 1, sometimes I don’t and it makes no difference at all.  How the hell is it possible that my little cell phone has more brains than the entire corporate infrastructure of AT&T?

I swear if it wasn’t for the fax machine, I’d just get rid of the landline altogether.

In fact I’m about sick and tired of paper. Period.

Take paper receipts.  Seriously folks, what in the hell?  People are always handing you a receipt, I get one with my coffee purchase in the morning, one with my gas, one with my donut, one with lunch, and the newspaper, and the stuff I buy at the hardware store on the way home. Christ, I’ve got pockets full of these bloody things.  I’m probably personally responsible for denuding entire swaths of South American rain forest in order to make the pulp to make the paper for the shear number of goddamned receipts that fill my pockets. And God help me I should lose one, because all the shop related ones need to be sent to the IRS at the end of the year.  And they just keep getting longer and longer, don’t they?  I got a coffee at Starbucks yesterday (Hey, if I’m going to destroy the rain forest, I might as well get it caramel flavored at $6 a cup, right?) and the receipt was longer than Glenn Beck’s liquor store shopping list. What the hell could possibly be on there? The complete text of War and Peace? Glenn Beck’s liquor store shopping list? I got a coffee, and my receipt was four feet long, probably a good thing I didn’t get a brownie too or Al Gore would have had to take a out hit on me.

And as long as we’re on the subject of paper, checks, I hate checks, no, strike that, I hate check writers.  I’ve said it before and got lambasted by certain Random people who shall remain nameless. But, damn, it’s 2010.  If we can’t get rid of checks, can we at least have a special line for check writers…with the rest of the Amish and people who still use paper phone books?

Camera film and recording tape are long gone and good riddance, replaced by memory chips. Lots and lots of memory chips. I’ve got a chip for my Nikon, I’ve a different chip for my pocket camera, I’ve yet another chip for my phone, and another one for for my MP3 player and when I count them up I find I’ve got SD and SDHC and miniSD and ProSD and MemorySticks. I’ve got fast chips and slow chips. Hell, I’ve got fish and chips. I’ve got ten different kind of memory chips. It’s 2010, can we please settle on a fucking standard?  And don’t get me started on the fifty different kinds of USB cables, I’m still trying to find the right kind to plug my BetaMax into my HD-DVD recorder.

English Units of Measure. Hell even the English don’t use English Units of Measure anymore. Everybody else on the planet has managed to move on into the 21st Century. Not us though, we’re still measuring shit using units based on the number of barleycorns there are in a handbreadth or the number of stoneweight in a keg. For crying out loud, even the dimmest goatherd in those countries where they speak the clickclick language and worship rocks can manage the metric system, what the hell does that say about us?  I realize we tried to make the switch way back in the 1970’s and it was an abysmal failure – I remember the whole disastrous thing. But see we were still listening to AM radio back then, which is about one step, technology wise, above smoke signals.  Seriously, show of hands, how many of you have listened to AM Radio in the last year? Last ten years?  Now that it’s the 21st Century, it’s time to shitcan both English Units of Measure and Amplitude Modulation. Of course, if you do listen to AM Radio, you hear the conspiracy nuts who’ll tell you that making Americans switch to that commie metric system is just one more step towards the New World Order and how posting road signs in metric just makes it easier for the invading socialist armies.  I’d like to leave the conspiracy nuts back in the last century while we’re at it.

Tin cans (and yes I know they’re not made out of tin anymore). Cans? We might as well be using clay jars.  I get a can of green beans or corn out of the pantry, I’ve got to cut it open with a tool and dump the contents into a microwave safe dish so I can heat it up. Why the hell don’t the beans come in a microwavable container in the first damned place?

How about we get the hell rid of incandescent light bulbs too?  It’s ten years into the new millennium and we’re still lighting our wigwams with the burning light of a glowing wire in a glass bulb powered by burning coal. We might as well be using rendered whale fat and a wick. 

 

I could go on, you know I could, but I’ve got to take the dogsled into the trading post and write a check for a new dial-up modem.

What technology do you think should be retired?

(You can fax your comments to me and I’ll send you a receipt)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dogs Sniff Out Underwear Bombs!

The title of this post was lifted directly from a CNN headline this morning.

Dogs sniff out underwear bombs.

Yes, yes they do.

It’s pretty much instinctual with dogs, the sniffing out of underwear bombs, they don’t need much in the way of training for that. Take my dog for example. This morning when the TV flashed Dick Cheney’s pale corpse-like visage onto my screen along with the comment, “Former VP blasts Obama on Terrorism” my dog began to bark madly. I didn’t need a dog whisperer to tell me she was shouting, “Underwear bomb! Underwear bomb!” when the big turd blossom started to speak.

Cheney was lambasting the President for what the former VP says is a poor response to the failed Christmas day terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Cheney wants to know “why doesn’t he [Obama] want to admit we’re at war?” Cheney goes on to say that the President is trying to pretend “that we’re not at war.”

Why doesn’t Obama know we’re at war?

Why doesn’t Obama know we’re at war?

Well, it’s probably because, unlike Dick Cheney, Barack Obama has no military experience. Cheney is an expert on war, he damned well knows one when he sees one. Seriously here folks, you have to give the man his due, you don’t spend the entire Vietnam Conflict working an endless string of draft deferments and not learn something about war – and how to avoid actually serving in one yourself. Dick is also pretty good at hiding in an undisclosed hole in the ground while other people’s kids march off to die in a foreign land and he knows the proper presidential response time to an attempted act of terrorism – after all it only took his adminstration six days to return from vacation and address the nation after Richard “Shoe Bomber” Reid pulled the same half-assed stunt during Bush’s watch. So when Cheney broadsides the President for continuing his vacation and taking two days to address the nation regarding Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempted bombing, well, let’s just saying the man knows about underwear bombs.

Or as my dog says, “If it smell like ass, it probably is ass.”

George W. Bush has remained, for the most part, mercifully quiet. But members of his former administation are all waving torches and pitchforks. Karl Rove was on FOXNews yesterday (really, where else would he be? FOX is like the wormy safety of graveyard dirt for that bloodless parasite, he goes there to avoid sunlight), saying much the same thing as Cheney – almost like the two were cribbing off the same cheatsheet. Both conservatives acuse the White House of downplaying terrorism.

And they are not alone.

Good God Fearin’ Representive Peter Hoekstra of Michigan said, “The threat to the United States is real. I think this administration has downplayed it. They need to recognize it, identify it." Hoekstra then proceeded to recognize and identify his biggest threat - a lack of funds in his reelection warchest - and he then used the failed terrorist plot as an opportunity to get out a fundraising email to supporters.

Senator Jim DeMint, a patriot if there ever was one, said, “The president has downplayed terrorism since he took office. He doesn’t use the word anymore.” DeMint, who uses the word “terrorism” in every single sentence – sometimes twice – has a point, if liberals would only use the word more often the country would be safe. Why oh why will liberals not take the easy steps?

GOP members of Congress formed committees to sharply question how the suspected terrorist could have gotten on a plane in the first place – after all the man was black, that should have raised red flags immediately. The GOP also questioned why Obama wasn’t doing more to secure foreign airports in other countries run by people who aren’t actually American citizens. And while Cheney’s comments have drawn sharp criticism from the Left, the GOP praised him - and others like Sarah Palin - for having the courage to speak up.

You know, if only Cheney had run for President, if only President Cheney and his plucky sidekick Sarahcuda were in the White House right now, then we’d see a real proper Patriotic response to this terrorist threat:

Step 1: First, ridicule France.

Step 2: Activate a Cold War Bunker. From 3000 feet deep in the Virginia bedrock, assure the American people that you stand with us and you’re thinking of our children and how we all share the risks of terrorism equally. Wish Americans good luck and offer to pray for them. Remind them to report anybody who appears to have a suspicious crotch to the nearest secret police law enforcement agency – especially if they appear to be lighting their balls on fire. In fact, just to be safe, people should probably report the sighting of any testicle, flaming or otherwise. You just can’t be too careful.

Step 3: Blame gay marriage for the rise in Islamic extremism (flaming balls, hello, do I have to spell it out?).

Step 4: Intelligence points to the terrorist being Nigerian. AH HA! Fucking Nigeria! That’s where yellow cake uranium comes from! Somebody is going to get carpet bombed into the far side of a Planet of the Apes movie – go wake up Moses, er, I mean Charlton Heston (Yes, yes, I know he’s dead, trust me, it won’t make any difference).

Step 5: Order the TSA to ban the wearing of underwear on all international flights and require all black men to remove their testicles and place them on the belt during airport security screenings. One hour before landing, all testicles will have to be secured in the overhead storage bins.  Unusual or Oversized testicles will need to be transported in your checked baggage.

Step 6: Blame Clinton for derailing research into crotch sniffing technology.

Step 7: Sacrifice a CIA agent and invoke the sacred name of Ronald Reagan. Announce new “faith-based” anti-terrorism measures which will put a “Sky Minister” on random flights to help passengers pray in the event of a terrorist hijacking.

Step 8: Rally Americans with stimulating speeches about Patriotism (note the capital “P,” you’re either with us or against us, Pal) and the 2nd Amendment – if that doesn’t work, give them a tax rebate.

Step 9: Ensure that no Faith-based program anti-terrorism funds are used for abortion.

Step 10: Invade Iceland.


Don’t worry about that last step, the war will be over in a month. Guaranteed.

And the Icelanders will cheer us in the streets of Reykjavik.

Stop Your Sniveling

 

OK, I take pity on you for the previous ABBA post.

 

Here, wash your brain out with this:

 

Into the Fire by Thirteen Senses, a small band from Cornwall, England. 

That song is probably their best known tune here in the States, though Thirteen Senses has had a number of Top 40 hits on the British Charts. Into The Fire has made the soundtracks of a number of TV shows, including The 4400 and if you watched the pilot episode of Grey’s Anatomy last night you heard it in the final scene.

You’re welcome.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Second Thought…

 

Some of you questioned me on my impression of the 70’s today.

I came across this when writing yesterday’s retrospective and being the giver that you know I am, I thought I’d share it with you.

Because it is just too damned awesome to keep to myself.

Yes, oh yes it is.

Don’t ever question me on the 70’s again, because I was there folks, and it wasn’t pretty.

And because there is more where this came from. Much more.

Don’t make me use it, because I will.

Second Fiddle

I’m going to be honest with you folks.

You’re not getting anything tonight.

See, I bought myself a Christmas present – a Nikon D5000.   My pal Beastly introduced me to photography many years ago in Navy technical school. Beastly was professionally trained and is a hell of photographer, and he taught me everything I know about taking pictures and over the years I’ve ended up with many of his cameras as he has moved up in technology.  I have his old Pentax wetfilm 35mm cameras and his Sony D770. But somehow he never would part with his professional equipment, i.e. the Nikons. 

Though Beastly’s castoffs have served me well over the years, I’ve always lusted after a truly professional Nikon.

And now I finally own one, and in fact have managed to get a leg up on Beastly – who tonight on the phone referred to me as, and I quote, “The King of Suck.” 

This gives me no small measure of satisfaction (yes, yes, I am a small petty man, tell me something I don’t know).

I’ve wanted this very camera for roughly 25 years now. I didn’t know that it was this particular camera – which actually didn’t exist until recently - but this camera is exactly what I’ve wanted for over two decades. 

And now that I’m actually holding it in my hands, I’m giddy. Like a schoolgirl. Yes, I am.

This is one of the most amazing and beautiful machines I’ve ever seen, let alone owned, let alone handled.  The handful of pictures I’ve taken so far are stunning in their detail.  Here, have a look:

 

image  image

 

Both pictures were taken with the exact same lighting setup and from the same distance under identical conditions. Both bird houses are made from similar materials and finishes. The picture on the left is from my old Sony D770, the picture on the right is from the Nikon D5000 – with the Nikon set to “Normal” jpeg compression mode, which is the low end of its capability.   You can click on both pictures to enlarge them to their original sizes and resolutions, but even here the difference is immediately obvious.

The Nikon’s capabilities are multitude and the manual is the size of middling sized town’s phonebook (Question: in the future when the phonebooks, dictionaries, and other such large tomes have become entirely electronic, what the hell will we compare things to? “The electronic manual download was like downloading the entire Wikipedia!" But I digress). 

So, I intend to spend the rest of my evening reading the manual and fooling with this amazing camera. 

Sometime this weekend when I’ve had sufficient time to fiddle, I’ll post a review.

I’ll try to keep the gloating to a minimum.

I suspect I will be unsuccessful.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stonekettle Station Looks Back At The Last Decade(s)

It seems that as the first decade of the shiny and futuristic 21st Century draws to a close, we should stop flitting about in our jetpacks for a moment and take a look back – just so we don’t make the same stupid mistakes again.

Now, the first decade I remember was the 1960’s:

I was raised in a fairly straight-laced, conservative 1960’s household. My parents were not, by any stretch of the imagination, hippies. I do think they were a whole lot more liberal back then than they are now, this was twenty years before Reagan and all Conservatives were a hell of a lot further left than they are now. But, they did generally support the war in Southeast Asia and they voted for Nixon. We drove a variety of station wagons and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a VW microbus. We listened to Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell and Hank Williams Sr. We didn’t listen to Rock and Roll and the only hippy folk music we ever heard was the John Denver Christmas Special. We watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Wonderful World of Disney while eating dinner on TV trays in the living room on Sunday nights – which was sometimes actual TV dinners, but was usually open-faced sandwich melts on leftover hamburger buns with potato chips. My brother and I had brush cuts and so did my dad, my mom had some kind of bouffant thing going on like a pan of Jiffy Pop Popcorn glued to her head. I don’t think anything in our house was tie-dyed or had a peace symbol on it. Things elsewhere in other far out households might have been groovy, but not in our house - in our house things were A-OK and non-hemp derived. During the 1960’s terrorists were called freedom fighters, they came from Ireland and they were invited to the US where they gave interviews in Boston pubs and lectures at Notre Dame.

The first new decade I remember was the 1970’s:

1970. Man, that seemed so futuristic to say. 1970. Wow (or, as we used to say, I’m Hip). 1970 seemed so, I don’t know, different. New. Weird. I remember watching the ball drop on TV and the screen flashing “Live Via Satellite.” Hell yes, in the 1970’s we got color TV - from outer space. Unfortunately, we also got something else from outer space. See, in 1970, as I’m sure you all know from your interactive direct neural interface Internet history websites, astronauts returned from the moon and brought with them an alien disease that caused everybody everywhere in the world to go totally colorblind.

image

A horrifying side effect of this disease, besides the mixing of paisley and plaid I mean, was the advent of strange unnatural colors such as Harvest Gold and “Avocado.” Also, something called “elephant bells” replaced our blue jeans, we all looked like we had hoop skirts tied to our knees. Suddenly our house had shag carpeting, it just sort of grew overnight like mutant grass covering the good wholesome American linoleum like hippies filling the sidewalk outside a VD clinic and just about as hygienic – it probably spawned from spores deposited in crumbs from Space Sticks and fueled by Tang. My parents became, if anything, more conservative, but mom did buy a tin of something called carob power, supposedly a new age replacement for cocoa. That revolting hippy shit lasted for nearly ten years and defined the 70’s for me – no wonder health nuts always look so damned miserable. Terrorists in the 70’s didn’t blow up planes, they hijacked them, usually to Cuba – which is odd when you consider that most people were trying to get the fuck out of Cuba. Girls’ hair got bigger, a lot bigger the closer we moved towards the futuristic 80’s (or as we would say decades later in the shiny 21st century, woman became embiggened purveyors of emboldened fashionism). A side effect of the alien moon space virus was that it killed all the barbers, and as a result we men had to let our hair grow long and get it “shaped” by stylists, and stylists of course didn’t actually cut hair – they feathered it, and then sprayed it with some kind of shellac that hardened into a bulletproof shell similar to Darth Vadar’s helmet. People laugh at the funny haircuts sported by the cast of Star Wars, but we all looked like that in the 70’s. That wasn’t an act, that was Mark Hamill’s real hair. Of course, nobody died from head wounds during that decade, though a number of eyes were put out by teenagers trying to get to first base. About halfway through the 70’s the alien moon space virus mutated into a worldwide pandemic and, combined with new and powerful recreational drugs, became one of the most horrifying diseases ever recorded in human history: Disco. Think I’m kidding? How then do you explain this? Those of us who survived built up disco antibodies which nowadays cause us to cramp uncontrollably at the mere sight of John Travolta and suffer a lingering and persistent cough when in the presence of polyester. The other day I accidently heard an Olivia Newton John song on my XM Satellite Internet Hyperspace Radio Modulator and broke out in hives the size of a 1970’s TV remote control clicker. Fortunately the next song was ABBA’s Does Your Mother Know? and my reflexive involuntary projectile vomiting shorted out the radio before my throat closed up and I drove off the road into a bridge abutment – on purpose.

Suddenly it was the 1980’s:

Things stopped being hip in the 1980’s and became Radical. Terrorists lived in Beirut, we were supposed to be living on the moon. Everybody knew it, but, of course, with the alien moon space virus up there the danger was just too great. People were starting to be able to see color again and they were waking up to the polychromatic horror of the previous decade. Avocado green porcelain bathroom fixtures overflowed the landfills in the North and front yards in the South, and God only knows what would happen if we were exposed a second time – people might have voted a washed up Hollywood movie star into the White House or something. Just say no to that. Weird skinny people with weird skinny ties and weird names like Frankie Goes to Hollywood took over the music industry and did their absolute damnedest to make us nostalgic for Disco, and it was obvious that the alien space moon virus had caused irreparable mental damage in a certain percentage of the population – well that and ten years of boiling hot air from the blow-dryers baking their brains every morning. Our TV stopped coming from outer space and started coming from out of a cable. I was living in Europe and Scandinavia during most of the 80’s and frankly I just sort of bypassed most of that decade in the United States, but I’ve seen the pictures and can’t say that I feel like I missed anything.

Then the 1990’s were upon us:

In the 90’s terrorists worked for the CIA and despite meeting the love of my life and the birth of my son I shall always loathe this decade with a deep and abiding hatred. I blame this entirely on Bill Clinton, who’s antics inspired my mother to use the word “blowjob” correctly in a sentence. Out loud. In my presence. I will never forgive the 1990’s for that, and have basically blocked out the entire decade like the missing time after an alien abduction. Let us never mention this again.

And finally we arrived here in the future, the bright and shiny 21st Century:

I’m sitting here watching TV coming to me via WiFi in a window on my tablet, there’s a talking head blathering on about how great the last ten years have been. Woot! And it hits me that the first tenth of this Brave New Century is nearly over and seriously folks, what the hell do we call it? The Null Decade? 00? O.o? The Big OO’s? The OhOh’s? The Ought Oughts? What the hell are we supposed to do with that? After nearly a decade of George W. Bush maybe we should call it the Uh Oh Decade. OO looks like the eyes on a Middle Eastern terrorist who tried to bring down a jetliner by lighting his balls on fire – and seriously what the fuck is the deal with that guy? He could have gotten his balls blown off in Detroit for free, without being arrested. And speaking of surprised expressions, maybe we should call this the Botox decade. During the 00’s it somehow became fashionable to believe disease can be prevented by flushing your colon out with herbal tea and an extract made from Jenny McCarthy’s watery brain tissue in order to remove “toxins” from your “system.” Garlic and Vinegar apparently now cure everything from cancer to cockeyes because such JuJu “alternative” medicine is “organic” and “natural,” unlike the “poisons” distributed by Big Pharma. However, these same chowderheads will choke down unregulated “herbal” supplements made in some ex-hippy’s bathtub out of grass clippings and dried cow dung, they’ll swill designer “electrolyte enhanced” water that purports to come from some mountain stream and in reality is bottled in that same dirty hippy’s bathtub after being filtered through a gym sock leftover from the 70’s, while having botulism toxin injected directly into their faces. OO describes their unblinking masklike stare perfectly Of course having rat poison pumped into your face is only the latest thing in America’s quest for eternal youth. Why, here in the future, there are places were you can get the fat sucked out of your butt checks and injected directly into your lips. Hell, if you’ve got enough money you can get a famous person’s ass blubber injected into your lips – they sure didn’t see that coming back there in the 60’s did they? We don’t have colonies on the moon, or jet packs, or immortality here in the future, but we’ve got designer ass fat. Makes you proud, doesn’t it? During the OO’s Americans spent over a hundred trillion dollars on fad diets and exercise and personal trainers and dubious health products – and yet we are still the laziest bastards in the world. We are so damned lazy, in fact, that we need a robot to hand us a paper towel. Back there in the 60’s the futurists predicted that in the new century robots would take over all the mundane labor and we human would become great big giant heads sitting on top of little atrophied bodies. We’d spend all day thinking with our huge fucking brains. Close, it’s big giant stomachs under little atrophied heads that spend all day playing video games, but hey they got the robot part right. Half the world squats in the middle of the muddy street to shit, but walk into a public restroom here in the US and the toilets flush by themselves, facets turn on automatically, the soap squirter has more processing power than a NASA Mars lander (seriously, the soap dispenser doesn’t routinely crash into other planets), and the towel dispenser automatically calculates the square footage of napkin surface necessary to dry your hands – it’s like taking a dump at Bill Gates’ house. What’s next, the automatic ass wiper? Oh, wait, the future is now! Our TV’s have become wireless and get 10,000 channels of internet, which is pretty damned cool indeed until you realize that most people use it to watch reruns of That 70’s Show – a simpler time when men wiped their own damned asses.

By hand.

Manually.

Up hill both ways.

In the snow.

And they liked it.


They say those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Jim hasn’t forgotten the past, he just remembers it wrong on purpose - that way if he has to repeat it, at least it’ll be more fun. Right now he’s remembering that he had a six foot tall supermodel nymphomaniac for a girlfriend in high school, then he intends to forget that…

Sunday, December 27, 2009

WTF Happened to My Weekend?

The universe hates me.

It does.

See, including today, I’ve had four days off over this Christmas weekend.

I figured I’d at least get to spend one day in the shop, and maybe a day writing (just between you and me, I figured I really wouldn’t get much writing done because the family is home too and they’re nothing but constant interruptions. Always demanding attention of some kind, feed us we’re hungry, pay attention to us we’re lonely, let us come inside it’s cold out, blah blah).  Anyway, I thought I’d at least get to spend some time in the shop.

But, see the universe, it hates me.

A couple weeks back we took my wife’s tablet into the geeks at Best Buy to have the power connector fixed.  The machine slid off the couch (one of the damned cats may have been involved) and landed on the power cord connector, damaging both the plug and the socket.  When we bought the machine we’d gotten the Best Buy Black Tie extended warranty, which covers incidental damage. So even though the machine still worked, if you wiggled the power connector, we decided to take it in and have it fixed.

Now we’ve used the Black Tie service at Best Buy several times for my tablet and had excellent results – so we were expecting more of the same.

But see, as I mentioned, the universe hates me.

When we took my tablet in to have the screen repaired, the whole thing (including shipping to the repair center in California and back) took only five days.  Since damaged power ports are a common problem with laptops (apparently a lot of people have cats), we figured it wouldn’t take too long to get this one fixed.  I backed up Becky’s machine to the main server and then sanitized it of all personal information and we took it in to the new store on Muldoon in Anchorage.  No problem, the geeks pulled up our warranty and checked in the machine.  They told us it could take up to three weeks, which we knew, but didn’t expect based on our previous experience. 

Yes, yes, I should have known better - because as I’ve may have may have mentioned, the universe hates me.

See, I can live without my laptop.  I don’t like it, but I can always use the big machine in the den for most of what I need to do (and in fact, I’m writing on that machine right now).  But my wife is massively inconvenienced without her tablet.  She does everything on it, from the family finances to email to chatting with her family online.  She could do some of it on the big machine, but we don’t have some of the programs she uses on this machine and we didn’t feel like paying a couple hundred dollars for additional copies when we were supposed to have the laptop back from Best Buy fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the universe hates me and enjoys nothing better than screwing with me.

The computer didn’t come back…

…and didn’t come back…

and didn’t fucking come back.

We checked online and with the store.

They’re working on it, we were told.

It needed a new motherboard and power supply.  Yep, I agreed. The damaged power connector is soldered to the motherboard. Cheaper and easier to replace the Mobo than to pay somebody to do board work – nobody fixes circuit boards anymore, they just swap them out nowadays. It’s cheaper, faster, and much more reliable.

Usually.

After two weeks we got a notice.  It’s fixed.  Yay!  It’s on its way back. Yay!

Days went by.

We checked with the store.

Oops.

It wasn’t fixed. The parts didn’t come in and had to be reordered.  So the repair center cancelled the first order and issued a new one, which the computer system interpreted as a completed repair and sent us the notice that the machine was fixed.

So another week went by.

We checked with the store again.

Finally they told us that it was fixed for sure and on its way back to Alaska. Yay (note the lack of exclamation point this time).

I got a call Christmas Eve, it’s here, come get it.  Great, but well, crap. Because that meant a trip to Anchorage instead of doing what I expected to be doing that day. Nothing for it though, I turned the shop off, we packed up and headed to Anchorage.  The computer looked good.  They booted it up at the customer service desk. It worked fine, though the power supply fan did seem to be running a bit hard.  They apologized for taking so long, we said hey whatever as long as it’s fixed and Merry Christmas to you.

As soon as we got home my son and I headed out to the shop to wrap some presents and my wife, as you might imagine, booted up her computer.  I intended to come in and transfer her data back onto the machine as soon as I was done with the Christmas preparations.

Remember that part where the universe hates me?

I came into the house to find my wife cursing and angry.

This was a unpleasant turn of events, because when my wife is unhappy, nobody is going to be happy. And no matter whose fault the situation is, it’s always somehow my fault (I’m kidding of course, but I like my wife to be happy and somehow I always feel responsible when my wife is unhappy even if it isn’t my fault).

The newly repaired computer had shut down and wouldn’t reboot.

Odd.

I picked it up…and damned near dropped it on the floor from the unexpected heat.  Christ, the thing was burning up. No wonder it shut down.

I let it cool down and tried booting it.  It booted to Vista, but the fans kicked on right away and were blowing air just shy of plasma temperatures.  It ran for maybe twenty minutes, getting hotter and hotter and finally shut down.

It’s probably unnecessary to mention that the temperature of Becky’s ire was also increasing moment by moment, unfortunately for me, my wife does not have an emergency overheat shutdown safety. 

We called the Best Buy Black Tie Geek Squad service line and got some “expert” in some place where they worship cows and allow them to wonder around in the street (Florida, actually).  I explained my ire, my wife’s ire, the situation, and the symptoms (I didn’t give him my background though, which as many of you know is in, among other things, advanced computer science, engineering, and information systems) and opined that somebody in the repair center had forgotten to hook up the CPU cooler.   Nonsense, says he.  Those tablets always run hot, let’s try a few things – and he proceeded to demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of basic computer systems, laptops, troubleshooting, and any kind of knowledge related to electronics whatsoever. It being Christmas Eve, I assumed that the Service Center didn’t have the A-team on and the guy I was talking to was so low on the totem pole that he couldn’t get out of working on a holiday.  He had me disable automatic updates, he had me adjust the display properties, he had me check internet connectivity – all the while I’m pointing out that the machine is blowing boiling hot air and the power supply fan is running flat out in overdrive and the bottom of the machine is about to melt through the desktop. Nonsense, says he, those machines always run hot.  No, says I, it never did that before and in fact this particular machine (HP TouchSmart tx2) has a reputation for running cool and not melting your balls off when you’ve got it in your lap, it’s one of the advertised features. Look, says I, it’s going to shut down any second, it’s too hot. No no no, says he, it’s software. It does that when it’s trying to update the operating system, go ahead and reboot.  WTF did he just say?  And blip! the machines shuts down and will not restart and in fact is making clicking and pinging noises like a cooling oven. I put the phone next to it, so he can hear it.  OK, he ventures, you might have a heating issue.

No fucking shit, Sherlock, I could bake a potato in the DVD drive bay.

Obviously there is no way around this, we were headed back to Best Buy – but since this took place on Christmas Eve, well after the store closed, we were obviously going to be making that trip on Saturday.  Going to Anchorage is an all day adventure for us, so much for getting a Saturday in the shop.

So I got up early on Saturday, went downstairs, made coffee, and sat down in front of the computer figuring to get an hour of writing time in.  Five minutes later my wife shows up. Uh, says I, what are you doing up so early?  I was informed at that point we’d be leaving for Anchorage early and to get ready.  So, no writing, blogging, or surfing for me. Also no shower, but it didn’t seem wise to argue at that point.

Once at Best Buy we demanded to speak to the customer service manager.

She wasn’t in yet, so we end up with the store manager.

He turned out to be a damned nice chap who knew nothing about computers, but promised to help us out just as soon as his repair manager arrived – which he expected in about fifteen minutes.  Fine, says we, we’ll wait.  Fifteen minutes later the repair department manager arrived, we explained the situation to her, she looked up the repair ticket and I asked her if they could open the machine there and check to see if it was something as simple as the service technician’s failure to hook up a heat sink or a fan connector.  Normally they don’t open laptops in the store service centers, but under the circumstances they agreed to check for us.  They didn’t find anything obviously wrong, so they put the machine back together and booted it up. 

It ran fine.

Just wait, I said.

Twenty minutes later, it overheated and shut down.

Hmmm, that’s not right they said and agreed with my assessment that either the motherboard or the power supply was faulty.

The service manager offered us a number of fixes, none of which were really acceptable and ultimately we all agreed that the only real solution was to send the machine back to the service center – and the service manager promised to expedite the portion of the process she had control over (1 day shipping to CA and back, etc).  Sigh. Well, it wasn’t her fault and she was bending over backwards to help us, so there wasn’t any point in yelling at her. She went in the back to start the paperwork and we resigned ourselves to being without the computer for another couple of weeks.

She came back with the store manager.

He apologized for our trouble and said, look normally the Black Tie process is to replace the machine only after four trips to the repair center, but given the situation and our policy of making the customer happy I will replace the machine with an equivalent right now if that’s what you want.  Well, hell, you can’t ask for better than that. 

Unfortunately they didn’t have an HP tablet. 

In fact they didn’t have a tablet machine of any kind.

My wife has to have a tablet, and she is really really addicted to the advanced HP TouchSmart. 

The service manager told us to hang on a minute, she looked online and found that the other Anchorage store had twenty six Windows 7 HP TouchSmart Tablets.  She wrote us up a full replacement ticket, including the extended warranty, called the store and reserved us a unit, and asked if there was anything else she could do to make us happy.  No, that would just about do it (I thought about asking them to pay for my gas to drive to the other store and maybe wash my windshield but I thought that might be pushing my luck).

We drove across town and picked the new machine up with no trouble whatsoever, it was waiting for us at customer service.

Once home, I started the process of installing my wife’s software, integrating the machine into our network, and transferring her data back from the server.  I fully expected this to be a long and painful process. It wasn’t. Well, it was a long process because there was a lot of data to transfer and because installation of Microsoft Office and a couple other big software packages is long process, but it went better than I’ve ever experienced, Windows 7 is orders of magnitude improved over Windows Vista – especially in boot-up speed.  This makes a huge difference when you’re installing a shitload of new software, because everything wants you to do a reboot to finish up the installation process.  Windows 7 networking is massively improved, which isn’t saying much actually since two cans and a piece of string would be an improvement over Vista. The OS is leaner and faster and much more responsive – which again really isn’t a triumph when compared to Vista.  I love what they’ve done with the Aero interface and somewhat less thrilled with some of the weirdness on the taskbar and the fact that the goobers in Redmond rename the documents folder with every single new version of Windows – it’s now called “the library.”

Windows 7 is probably the best thing Microsoft has come out with in ten years and now that I’ve played around with it, I’ll probably upgrade my other Vista machines to it ASAP. The XP machines are going to stay exactly as they are.

Overall, I think I like Windows 7.

Yes, I know, but my expectations aren’t very high when it comes to Microsoft.

So, that pretty much ate up yesterday.

And today I had a number of other jobs that my wife has been after me to do and I could no longer put off.

And here it is, weekend over, and somehow in four days off I never got one minute to myself.

Damned universe.

 

Of course, there’s always next weekend.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Dilbert.com

The kid let us sleep in this morning.

Best gift ever.

It was an accident, of course. He stayed up late and then overslept.

The gifts have now been opened. The kid ended up happy with an amp for his electric guitar. He saved up and bought the ax himself, a Gibson Les Paul, but couldn't afford the amp. So we got him that and a large LCD TV/Monitor for his room (really, how do you expect a kid to vaporize aliens on a small screen?). My wife is happy with a new camera, jewelery, and an addition to her Christmas village. I got tools which I am quite pleased with (especially since they followed my explicit directions to the letter). There were gift cards and other cool things from the grandparents. My wife filled our stockings with exotic chocolates and strange little treats, as she does every year. We exchanged the traditional gifts of socks and underwear (longjohns, actually, a gift we Alaskan are always grateful to receive). Hell, I even got a poster in the mail yesterday, Princess Leia in her bikini, which made me laugh hysterically - it's a sort of inside joke, having to do with a running gag within the UCF that was set off several months ago by some spectacularly unfunny events on a blog site that shall not be named - and strangely enough when the posters arrived Star Wars was playing on the living room TV, how's that for a bit of Christmas coincidence?

Now the house smells of bacon and coffee, and my wife is making scrambled eggs.

After breakfast I'll put on the ham - and by "put on" I don't mean I wear it on my head like a hat, I mean I put it in the oven with sliced apples and cherries and brown sugar. Mmmmm ham.

Then, it'll be phone call time, if we can manage to get a line out of Alaska today and there's enough bandwidth to support video calling. We'll see.

Christmas day here at Stonekettle Station is well underway and pretty darn good.

How about you, how's your Christmas working out? Get anything good?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ask Stonekettle Station about the Fiction in Science Fiction

Today’s extra crispy search phrase:

What is the location of the stone hanging mountains in Avatar? Australia?

Yep.

See, because they’re not floating mountains, they’re dangling - from the bottom of the earth.

 

 

Some of us, it seems, will not be advancing with the others to the next grade.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Aiiiiighh!!

 
Jesus Jumping Christ!

This just may be the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen…

image

 

…and I’ve been in the same room with George W. Bush.

 

This painting was commissioned by Michael Jackson and painted by David Nordahl.

Clicking on the picture (makes you a sick damn bastard and) will take you to the original Telegraph article, where you can find even more disturbing pictures of the King of Fruitcakes.  You might want to drink a couple shots of Jesus Juice first.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in the garage bleaching my brain.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Attention Frothy Obama Hating People

Stumbled into your “blog.”  Can’t understand how a “veteran” could be a big dumb lib. I know alot of vets and none of them are “socialists.” Makes me wonder if maybe you might be lying about your military service, chief? Because I “cannot” understand how a supposed vet like you could support the fascist traitor Obama and his socialist dumbocrats.  But, yeah, you keep fighting the “good fight” there, you hear?

 

Couple things:

1) By “Stumbled into your blog” do you mean using the StumbleUpon service for Firefox or Chrome?  Because if so I hope you gave me a big thumbs up! Thanks!

 

2) Quote marks are for quoting, not for emphasis.  The rule applies to both liberals and conservatives.  See the example in the previous paragraph, also note the use of italics in this paragraph to denote emphasis.  Perhaps English is not your first language?  If so, I certainly hope you are a lawful guest in this country and not some nasty stinky illegal alien here to eat our good Christian babies and steal our jobs.

 

3) I don’t think either the words “fascist” or “socialist” mean what you think they mean (also, note the proper use of quote marks).  Allow me to explain (don’t worry, I’ll use really small words):

Let’s start in the middle, where you have Centrists, moving left you have moderate liberals, moving a little more left you have Liberals (note the big “L”), moving further left you have Socialists, and moving even further left left left, you end up with Communists.

Note the lack of Fascists.

See fascism is on the other side of the aisle. That would be your side, just in case you’re as obtuse as you sound (that means “stupid” and “ignorant”).

Again, let’s start in the middle, only this time we’ll go to the right. Centrist, Progressive, moderate conservative, Conservative, batshit crazy Neo-Conservative, Fascist

Sort of explains why the Nazis (fascists) hated the Soviets (Commies) and vice versa, doesn’t it?

Labeling Obama a Fascist is the same as calling him an ultra conservative.

Here’s a handy diagram to help you keep it straight:

image

 

4) Print this out and show your friends in the militia.

 

5) Lose my email address and please, fuck right off. Thanks.

 

 

Seriously, folks, the words, they’re really not interchangeable. 

Ask Stonekettle Station

What is Ookymmas?

Twice.

From two different search engines and IP addresses far, far apart.

Oh yes. I am the Walrus.  I create ideas and turn them loose in the electronic universe where they breed and have little ideas and grow and grow geometrically until they rise up like, like a tidal wave! Soon, world domination will be be mine! Mine! Bawahahahahaha!

Ba wah…a…

What?

Oh.

Sorry, I get excited.

Never mind.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar: Simply Astounding (spoiler free)

I went to see Star Wars.

It wasn’t opening day, but it was sometime during the first week Star Wars was playing. Nobody had ever heard of it. There were a couple of commercials for it, but the name sounded stupid and nobody advertised science fiction during prime time TV and sure as hell nobody took a science fiction movie as anything other than Saturday morning kiddie fare.

I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but my friend Mike Miller and I saw the movie at an early afternoon matinee. I don’t actually remember what we paid per ticket, but it wasn’t much, certainly no more than $3.00USD. There wasn’t a line, in fact there were only about six people in the theater besides us.

And from the first blare of trumpets and the scroll of those now famous words “A long time ago…” we were just plain blown away.

For two hours I was captivated, sitting in open mouthed fascination, popcorn and Junior Mints forgotten, barely breathing.

I don’t think I can describe it.

Those of you who grew up with big budget scifi movies and computerized special effects, just can’t imagine what Star Wars was like to those of us who grew up reading scifi in the 60’s. There were flying cars and realistic robots and giant crawler things and a bunch of aliens in a bar and battered beat up tramp freighter spaceships and huge glossy evil empire star destroyers and just so many damned amazing things that before the summer of 1977 had existed only in our minds. It was astounding. There had never been anything like it.

Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw twice in a theater.

In the same day.

The next week we went back to see it again, and by then, of course, it had become a phenomenon. Suddenly they were advertising it on television, in prime time (owwwooooooh! What was that! Don’t worry it’s just a Wookie howling in hyperspace!). The lines were around the corner, the tickets were $12, the theaters were showing it on every screen they had, and suddenly everybody wanted to see a science fiction movie. Every high school band in the country played the Star Wars Medley, and every high school jazz band played the Star Wars Cantina song. There were T-shirts and lunch boxes and action figures. Hell, there was even a Christmas special in prime time.

Star Wars changed everything.

Avatar is the same kind of watershed event.

Oh, I don’t mean that Avatar is some little obscure scifi flick made on a shoestring budget that suddenly and unexpectedly made it big. Obviously that’s not true. But Avatar changes the movie going experience in a profound way.

Cameron said it would, and he is right.

I’ve often wondered over the years what would happen if you just gave James Cameron all the money he wanted and left him the hell alone for a while.

After all, this is the guy who has created some of the most incredible science fiction (The Abyss, Aliens, Terminator and its sequels and spinoffs) ever put onto film.

He’s the guy who created Titanic (and you can pretend disdain at the sappy love story all you like, Titanic is still one amazing film).

And so I wondered what would happen if you just gave the guy everything he asked for and got the hell out of his way?

What would that be like? Would he create something amazing? or would he fall flat on his ass? Would he be another George Lucas?

I figured either you’d end up with the Phantom Menace…or one of the most astounding things ever made.

Avatar is the later.

I’m going to avoid any spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t yet seen the movie and are planning on it, read on in safety.

The Storyline:

You know who science fiction’s biggest detractors are?

They’re not people who lack imagination or dislike science fiction in general and write it off as “that Buck Rogers Stuff” with a disdainful “who farted?” look on their face.

No.

It’s science fiction Fans – yes, Fans with a capital F.

Those jaded disdainful uber nerds who make it their life’s work not to be impressed by anything. Who decry the lack of originality in science fiction, but then only watch endless rehashes of Star Trek and Star Gate and Babylon 5, with the same five characters (the plucky Captain, the Professor, the Doctor, the emotionless Alien, and The Boobs) and same dozen or so recycled plots (the Trial episode, the Time Travel episode, the Body Swap episode, the Mirror Universe episode, the Alien Mother, and etc). They read x-Gen writers like Doctrow and Scalzi and Gaiman, and can’t wait for the next installment of The Song of Fire and Ice - but have never read Niven or Bester or Tiptree and wouldn’t be caught dead with a DVD of Silent Running or Forbidden Planet. They’ve never read The Black Destroyer, or The Machine Stops, or Microcosmic God. And they wouldn’t recognize a dog eared copy of The Demolished Man if they they tripped over it in the coffee shop. They sneer at the 2002 remake of The Time Machine and pontificate for hours on how it’s nothing, nothing, compared to the original H. G. Wells – which they’ve never actually read – and sit on the floor in the SciFi section of Barnes & Nobles reading the latest Twilight knockoff with tears smearing their eye shadow, oh God, it’s like me and Edward are one and the same!

They’re the sloppy unwashed acne covered goofs in dirty clothes with their ass cracks hanging out, the ones who exited Avatar in front of me yesterday trying desperately to be unimpressed.

“I told ya, it’s nothing more than the Smurfs do Dances With Wolves, Cameron hasn’t had an original idea in years,” proffered in a loud, jaded, twenty year old man of the world monotone. So true, sniff, so true.

Sigh.

You can drop the disaffected emo nerd into the jungles of Pandora, but sometimes he can’t see the giant alien forest for the floating mountains.

I’ve seen this same assessment a number of places, that the storyline is simply Dances with Wolves with ten foot tall blue people instead of native Americans.

Wrong.

If anything it’s closer to Medicine Man, than Wolves – though neither are accurate comparisons.

And the Smurfs comment? Well, that’s just plain stupid on so many levels.

See, if these people were half the Science Fiction fans they claim to be, they would immediately see Avatar’s storyline for what it really is, an alien invasion story. Now, if you want to get technical about it, both Dances with Wolves and Medicine man were alien invasion stories. But, there’s a big difference between Avatar and Wolves. In Wolves the ending is a forgone conclusion – and it’s ultimately a tragic one. No matter what the natives’ momentary triumphs, they are dying, their way of life is dying, their world is dying, their victories are hollow at best and Lt Dunbar’s sacrifice and betrayal of his own people is ultimately doomed to failure – making the story’s happy ending all the more sad and poignant and heartbreaking. So too is the conclusion of Medicine Man, and though the story ends on a hopeful note, the optimism is more about the invaders and the rewards they may reap, than the future of the natives – too bad about the jungle and the people, at least we get a cure for cancer.

Avatar takes both those storylines and turns them on their heads. It’s about hope, about the triumph of the spirit and right over wrong and the true nature of honor. There’s a world of difference between Avatar and Dances with Wolves, or even Medicine Man, and only the most shallow and superficial comparison would miss that. In fact, the off the cuff comparison to Dances With Wolves betrays the shallowness of the critic’s knowledge and the superficiality of his pretended superior viewpoint, Wolves wasn’t an original story either - in science fiction or any other kind of fiction. From the ancient Roman legend of Romulus and Remus, to Kipling’s Mowgli, to Cooper’s last Mohican, to John Wayne’s Searchers, to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – and yes, even the original Star Trek’s Charlie X – the alien assimilation story has been told many times in many ways, Cameron is only the latest. But Avatar is not diminished for only being the latest retelling of this tale, just as Dances with Wolves is in no way diminished by the Jungle Book. Avatar’s storyline is as old as time and one that has been told many times in the annuals of science fiction, from Olaf Stapledon to Harry Harrison, and it is no less powerful and wonderful for all of that. Just as we ultimately knew the fate of the RMS Titanic, and yet still sat on the edge of our seats throughout Cameron’s tale of the disaster, Avatar does a yeoman job with the alien invasion story.

The last lines of the movie, spoken by the protagonist as he records his final diary entry explains everything, but you have to listen carefully.

However.

My astonishment and enjoyment of Avatar doesn’t prevent me from offering up a criticism of one of Cameron’s personal quirks, the portrayal of the military.

The military never fairs well in a Cameron movie, especially the officers.

Marines, Navy SEALS and Navy Admirals, the Army, the Air Force – Cameron doesn’t have much use for us military folks. It’s a constant of his movies that we get shown the folly of our ways – or terminated – and the day is saved by the plucky civilian hero, who, more often than not, is Sigorney Weaver.

In the Terminator movies, it was the military’s quest for better and smarter weapons that ultimately unleashed robotic terror on civilization. In Aliens, it was the incompetent commanding officer and knuckle dragging Marines who unwitting bring alien death in all its mucus drooling horror down upon themselves. In The Abyss, it is the military again, Navy SEALs this time led by an insane officer, who bring about disaster. Greedy corporations play a role too, but it is always the military’s stereotypical small mindedness, rigid adherence to orders (no matter how insane), and unbridled red meat enthusiasm for death and destruction that is the villain of Cameron movies.

In Avatar, the military is pure Cameron, led by the absolute biggest, baddest, cast iron, snake eating, death dealing son of bitch of a stereotypical Marine colonel who seems like an extra left over from Full Metal Jacket. Not that you don’t enjoy the hell out of watching the character played with over the top enthusiasm and utter sincerity by Stephan Lang.

But just once, I’d like Cameron to portray the military as the hero, or at the very least not the villain.

A note on casting: Sam Worthington is rapidly turning into one of my favorite actors, likewise Zoe Saldana. Such is the presence and power of Wes Studi’s acting, that I recognized him instantly through the blue computer generated ten foot tall alien body the special effects wizards hung on him – and it wasn’t until after the movie was over that I remembered the Dances with Wolves connection and wondered if Cameron wasn’t having one over on his critics. Sigorney Weaver managed to not steal the show, I thought that was damned nice of her. And Michelle Rodriguez is a pleasure, as always, and I thought her role was beautifully done.

The World of Pandora:

My God! It’s full of stars!

Insiders say this movie cost over $300 million to make.

If so, it’s worth every penny – and then some.

The backdrop of Avatar is breathtaking.

The world of Pandora is utterly astounding. I would have given a great deal to have had a remote control with a big pause button on it during the movie. I wanted to stop and marvel at what Cameron and his people have wrought. I have nothing but admiration for the artwork of Avatar. It should be on display, full sized, in all its glowing 3D glory. I would love to be able to stand in front of an IMAX sized projection of the Pandorian forest with its alien sky above and the floating mountains in the distance.

I remember being stunned by those twin suns setting in the sky of Tatooine – that scene is like a faded Polaroid compared to the world of Avatar. I thought I’d be watching a cartoon, or one of those horrifying CG overlays like 300 or Beowulf. But the world of Pandora looked as if it had been filmed there, in that alien jungle on that alien world beneath the light of a sky filling gas giant.

It was everything I could do to keep from shouting out “Wayne Barlowe! Holy Shit, it’s Wayne Barlowe!” when the first alien creatures scampered through the trees and thundered out of the jungle. I own a first addition hardback copy of Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials and I’d recognize his six limbed creations anywhere. To see them given life after all these years was simply fantastic and you’d have to see the creatures to believe them. I’ve seen National Geographic documentaries in HD that don’t look half so realistic.

I want to see the movie again, just to explore Pandora, to marvel at the sky filling Jovian primary hanging overhead, to goggle at the mountains floating in the sky, to admire Wayne Barlowe’s creatures as they roar and thunder through the jungles beneath the great mile high trees.

Pandora is a thousand science fiction and fantasy novels given life and breath.

In addition to the creation of Pandora, there is the film’s portrayal of human technology.

I love that Buck Rogers stuff, I do. I love seeing the things that have been floating my mind’s eye for the last forty years given life on the big screen at long, long last.

One of the things that I admire about Cameron is his attention to detail and his quest for realism. It appears that he designed Pandora’s ecosystem from the microbe level all the way up to the sapient natives. You can see him hunched over the drafting table (or computer monitor, whatever) designing the vein patterns in every leaf of every tree in his alien jungle. He could have stopped there, but he didn’t. The human tech is beautifully, almost lovingly, designed in every bit of the same attention to detail as the muscles and hairs on the legs of Wayne Barlowe’s alien six limbed horses.

Everything from the cargo netted pallets in the hold of the Venture Star type orbital shuttle, to the holographic computer displays, to the design of the starship in orbit above, is rendered in exquisite detail. It’s as if Cameron considered and agonized over every single brushstroke himself. It is the mark of the ultimate craftsman, and it’s a privilege to see such artistry and attention to detail on the screen.

Hell, even if you find the story old and clich├ęd and you’re just so jaded by it all, see the movie for the artistry that is Pandora.

The Uncanny Valley:

I really don’t like CG.

I really, really don’t like motion capture.

While I thought the effects used to bring Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings movies were the best I’d ever seen, certainly orders of magnitude above those now dated effects of Star Wars or Alien, I still didn’t care for it. I found it distracting and creepy and uncanny and absolutely unrealistic. Ditto times ten for the Star War prequels. I would have far, far preferred the masterful puppetry that Frank Oz used to bring Yoda to the screen in the 1970’s over the cartoonish and distracting CG of the “modern” prequels. I truly hate how CG allowed Lucas to destroy my fragile suspension of disbelief in his world.

So, I don’t like motion capture. And I truly hate CG.

Until now.

The motion capture effects Cameron used to bring the Na’vi to life are incredible and the most realistic I’ve ever seen. You can easily lose yourself in them and forget you’re watching the creation of computers and not reality.

And then there is the 3D.

I’ve always felt 3D to be a gimmick.

In the old days of analog split projection it certainly was. Digital 3D has absolutely improved the process and made it, well, if not truly holographic, at least not cartoonish either.

I saw Up in 3D, it was ok. And the 3D was well suited to the storyline and the graphics.

But I didn’t think 3D enhanced the story.

Until now.

Avatar in digital 3D is as close to a full immersion VR simulation as I have ever seen. I know I’ve used this line more than once already, but Cameron’s use of 3D is astounding. The 3D in Avatar is in no way a gimmick and the movie will be much diminished without it. Cameron used 3D the same way another director might use French angles or Noir lighting or altered frame rates like Ridley Scott did in the Gladiator battle scenes. It is an integral part of the movie and it is so effective and realistic that in several scenes where the camera was panning across the crowded control room, characters in the forefront of the scene obscured the central action and I was annoyed at first because I thought somebody had stood up in front of me. Cameron doesn’t use 3D for cheap thrills or to startle the audience with simulated objects flung at the bridge of their noses, he uses it to transport you into the midst of his incredible world.

The movie is long, but there isn’t one extra minute on the screen, nor is there one that isn’t finely crafted.

Avatar is a work of art. It’s beautiful and wonderful and epically fantastic. It’s everything that science fiction should be.

It’s the first movie since Star Wars decades ago that I fully intend to see again in the theater.

It’s a masterpiece.

I only hope there isn’t a Christmas special.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First Impression

Avatar.

Holy Freakin’ Shit!

If you haven’t seen this movie, you need to go see it right now.

It is utterly astounding.

 

Detailed review tomorrow.

Saturday Adventures

Today started with inky blackness.

About 0745 (that’s about quarter to eight for you non-military types) the power quietly went out. 

I was still in bed (I swore I was damned well going to sleep in this morning, this week has just plain kicked my ass) but the sudden lack of juice sizzling through the wires woke me right up.  Shipboard habits die hard, I guess.  It’s funny, on a warship you get used to the constant noise, the blowers and the engines and the pumps and the sound of the water and wind beating on the hull. There’s always some evolution going on, equipment clanging and banging, chains shifting on the flight deck, crew moving about. You learn to sleep through it, or you eventually go insane.  But let the ship go cold iron, a main bus blows, a switchboard kicks off, the generator fails, or the engines shut down for some unexpected reason and the sudden silence is deafening.  Navy Sailors can sleep through the hammering explosions of a main gun exercise on the firing line, but will come bounding out of the rack wild eyed and alert if the power dies.

I’m still like that.

It’s damned cold outside, as only Alaska in deep winter can be.  The house is well insulated, but it will cool over a couple hours if the power remains off.  We’ve got a fire place, both gas and electric, and wood stoves.  We’ve got emergency generators, one each for the house and shop, and I was reviewing how much fuel I had on hand before I was even fully awake. 

I got up, went downstairs and killed the power strips for the electronics.  Looked out the window towards the valley and didn’t see a single light.  Not good.  It meant a substation or power plant was down, not just the local transformer.  From the second floor I could see the glow of Wasilla in the distance, and Anchorage reflecting off the clouds.  So, a substation or a line then, not the plant. Better. The linemen should have that fixed fairly quickly.

Hopefully.

I went back to bed figuring that if the power didn’t come on in an hour or so I’d get up and light a fire in the fireplace and then start the generators.  The gas fireplace was already on, so I wasn’t too concerned.

Just about an hour later the sound of the heater kicking on woke me.

So nice to have electricity.

Because, otherwise I’d have to fire up a generator solely to run the coffee pot.

And now, we’re off to Anchorage for the annual polar bear plunge. We’re watching some crazy people jump into a freezing lake for charity.  I’ll be cheering them on, but you can bet everything you own that I won’t be joining them.  I did it myself a number of years ago, twice in one day actually in two different oceans (once in the northern Pacific, then across the island and into the Bearing Sea 30 minutes later) and that was more than enough to do me for life.  My teeth still chatter when I think about it. Just for the record, it’s about 0 degree Fahrenheit today, and the wind chill is somewhere in the –30’s. 

Then we’re off to see Avatar.  We’ve already got our tickets.

The damned power better stay on until the movie is over.

Hmmm, maybe I better bring the generator along.

Just in case.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Observation

Tiger Woods messed around with what? Twelve, maybe fourteen or so women?

Wilt Chamberlain claims to have bedded 25,000 women over the course of his career.

Amateurs. The both of them.

Joe Lieberman just screwed 47 million Americans, men, women, and kids.

What a stud.

Hope he wore a condom.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

As Promised, Brownies

image

Clicking on the image will take you to a place where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the forest folk.

You’re welcome.

 

I spent this evening moving snow, for the third straight day in a row.  We’ve had 32 inches here at Stonekettle Station in the last 72 hours.  I’ve moved more snow in the last three days than I did all last winter.  That’s Alaska for you.  Tonight I could no longer push the piles back with the ATV plow, so I had to get out the big snow thrower and move the berms back away from the drive.  So on top of feeling like crap all day, I now hurt pretty much everywhere and my ruined shoulder is just plain killing me.

What I’m trying to say is, enjoy the damned brownies because that’s all you’re getting tonight.

I’m going to go soak in the Jacuzzi and read some Destroyer of Worlds.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

This Week’s Lack of Posting Excuse

Major Alaskan Winter Storm, lasted two days so far.

Hours to get home on the highway, dodging what may be the world’s stupidest drivers.  Black ice. White out conditions.

Then a couple hours each night to plow snow out of my driveway (I have a big driveway and we’ve gotten feet of snow in the last two days. Feet).

And now tonight, my wife called from Anchorage (she was working late).  She’s having car trouble.  And it appears that I’m going to have to go get her. 

So, no posting.

No, stop that sniveling right now.  Look, no crying. I hate that.  I’ll make you brownies or something tomorrow.

Promise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Note About the People You Marry

You know, I hope that if my spouse ever decides to kill me, she’s smarter about it then this dolt – and comes up with a better alibi.

I know, but see, this kind of thing sort of reflects poorly on you, doesn’t it?

People read about this and they don’t think “Oh, that poor woman.”  No. They say to themselves, “What kind of fucking idiot did she marry? Christ, if she’s that stupid, maybe she did wander away, naked into a snow storm…”

Of course, in my case, people would probably say, “It’s about time she got rid of that idiot…”

Monday, December 14, 2009

And A Happy Festivus To You!

Got an email and some quizzical direct twitters in response to something I said this morning.

To wit: What in pluperfect hell is “Ookymmas” and why are you wishing people a happy one?  Also, why do all of your followers seem to know about it, but I’ve never heard of it?  Also why are you so damned sexy, it’s unfair to the rest of us.

OK, I might have made that last one up.

 

Right.

Ookymmas, for those of you not in the know, is a new internationally recognized holiday.

 

Frankly, I am shocked, shocked, that you haven’t heard of it, it’s been the talk of all the media that’s fit to read. Major celebrities, politicians, talking heads, pundits, dads, cads, and small lads are all gushing on about Ookymmas.  Really, where have you been?

Very well, as a public service, I, your humble servant and Ponderous Perambulating Pananjerum of the Ookymmas Parade and Drinking Festival, hereby outline the basic precepts of Ookymmas:

First the name, Ookymmas. It is an ancient word from a lost and mystical language. The language itself is unnamed in English and defies the Google translator because it’s one of those that consist mostly of grunts, click-click noises, and glottal stops.  Ookymmas is one of only two words in this language that is pronounceable in English (the other strangely enough is “teabag”) – it’s sort of the Esperanto of holiday labels.  The word, Ookymmas, is steeped in mystery and strong voodoo magic.

OK, not really. 

It’s just a made up word that sounds really, really funny when you’re saying it in a drunken slur to the police officer who pulled you over for driving without lights, signals, or pants. 

(A note on pronunciation:  The last syllable should be pronounced maaaazzzzzzzzz! Rhymes with Taser)

And let that be your first introduction to the fun that is Okymmass, a day of unbridled consumerism, gleeful silliness, gay abandon, wily trickery, arcane humor, and booze-fueled naked-legged shenanigans.

In a radical departure from other holidays, Ookimmas is not associated with the birth, death, or zombification of any prophet or deity (or the sequel, Son of Deity: The Second Coming). Nor is it in commemoration of any president, potentate, explorer, animal, science fiction writer, disaster, attack, bank, skank, war, bore, woe, ho, smoe, or Holy Joe.  Any attempt to hijack Ookymmas by any person, religion, nation, age group, ethnic group, or fruit loop will be looked upon with extreme disfavor and such attempts will be treated with scorn, sarcasm, ridicule, and the baring of buttocks in the general direction of the offending party. Also, the offending party will be assigned duties as the designated driver and barred from the consumption of fruity alcoholic beverages and easy gratuitous sex for the duration of Ookymmass (the rest of us will be hooking up, you keep your eyes on the road, Buster, also the backseat needs a good steam cleaning).

Ookymaas doesn’t fall on any particular date, rather it may be substituted at will for any other local, state, provincial, federal, or nationally recognized holiday (up to and including Fridays), as many times a year as necessary. It’s not intended to disrespect others’ beliefs, neurosis, hypocrisy, or pet bugaboos – that’s just sort of a free bonus.   For example, whenever a fundamentalist TV evangelist looks out from his multi-billion dollar empire of glass, chrome, and blowjobs to decry the commercialization of little baby Jesus’ birthday – you should immediately declare Ookymmas! and commence some form of generally immoral activity (Drunken sex consummated in the manger display in front of your local Wal-Mart is a good place to start, just saying). 

OokymmaX and the spelling thereof: nobody cares.  Because Ookymmass is a totally made up word and isn’t associated with anybody’s God, gods, nation, relations, adulations, or ablations – nobody cares.  Whenever anyone, anywhere, expresses outrage or puffed up offense at the usage of the abbreviation “Xmas,” Christmas shall be immediately suspended and Ookymmas substituted in its place.  Period and no exceptions.

There are no symbols associated with Ookymast. No crosses, no crescents, no curly eared bunnies.  No drunken goofs in red suits who smell of vomit, bourbon, Marlboros and foodcourt burritos.  No resurrections.  No tinsel. I don’t want to see yards full of cheap inflatable snowmen, Peanuts characters, or the Virgin Mary.  Though I do personally admit a soft spot for that giant Marmaduke balloon they have in the Macy’s Day Parade (it may come in useful in a later step, bear with me).  Mistletoe is acceptable, smooching random strangers is sort of the whole point of Ookymmas to begin with – if you don’t end up with a cold sore, you’re not doing it right.

There is no traditional food associated with Ookymaaz. Nobody has to get up early on Ookymmas to slaughter a ham or a flock of wild cranberries. Nobody has to make soup or defrost an ostrich.  Sleep in. Order out. Get extra and give it to those less fortunate.

No Sermons. Period.  Anybody wearing a robe and a funny hat on Ookymmaas better be headed to a toga party and/or an orgy – especially the clergy.

No nation is allowed to start a war for the duration of Ookymmass (OK, this isn’t an actual rule, but I’d like you to think about it).

No fucking caroling.  The only music associated with Ookymmaass shall be the kind you can dance to.  Anybody even thinks about teaching dogs to bark Ookymaas jingles will be fitted with a pair of headphones plugged into a iPod playing an endless loop of ABBA’s Fernando,  lashed to the aforementioned Giant Marmaduke Balloon and set adrift in the jet stream (see? Told you it would come in useful). Everybody got that?

No trite phrases.  Well, ok, you may use the phrase “don’t be a dick” if you feel it necessary (a perfectly acceptable Ookymmas response to “remember, the ancient midwinter Druid fertility rite is the reason for the season!”).  

Greetings. Whatever. Happy Ookymass! Merry Ookymmass! Live Long and Prosper! Woooo, I’m fucked up, that’s some good eggnog, Grandma! Evening, Officer, what are you doing all the way up here?!  Are all perfectly acceptable Ooky salutations.

Gift giving.  Hell yes.  But, buy yourself a gift first, just a little something. Because you deserve it. Keeping in the spirit of the holiday, I recommend pornography. It’s cheap, widely available, comes in a variety of personal flavors, and you can wear it with anything.

Stores may have Ookymmas sales any damned time they like, the more the better. Done right, Ookymass will singlehandedly kickstart the economy like a set of jumper cables clamped to Paris Hilton’s nipples.  You don’t have to buy anybody a card for Ookymass, but you know it wouldn’t kill you to make the gesture either. Just saying. Cards should be humorous and preferably ones with pictures of naked people in them and some kind of pun.

Outside of that, anything goes.

Basically Folks, Ookymmas is the Calvinball of holidays.

Have fun.