Friday, May 30, 2008

"Saturday night, and you're still hanging around.
You're tired of living in your one horse town.
You'd like to find a little hole in the ground,
For a while."
-Captain Jack, by Billy Joel

Well, it's Friday night, not Saturday. I'm still hanging around. I went back to work today, well, a temp job actually. Four days, but it's better than nothing. It's good to get back on the horse, even if it's an exhausting horse.

I watched the first episode of the new season of The Venture Bros. tonight. Jen was kind and watched it with me, though I know it's not at all her cup of tea. It's the sort of thing that I wish I had a like-minded friend to watch with. The truth is, I'm lonely, and miss my close friends who are spread out across the country. I know it's confusing: I have the honor of being married to my best friend. Although we're the same type of people - which is why we love each other so much - we don't share a lot of interests. My son is good to see some movies with and spend time with, but he's still a kid, and of course, I have to be his father before being a pal.

I'm tired.

Perhaps I think too much about being happy - what would make me happy, what would make me a better person, what would make me thinner, a better writer, a better father, have more ambition, a better husband, be more successful, live somewhere nicer, blah blah blah. I used to be a night person. Now my days are fine, but I spend most of my nights staring at the ceiling in confusion. Maybe happiness is too overrated. Perhaps life just is, and I spend far too much time judging it and myself.

I find myself not caring anymore about things beyond my control. It's pretty liberating. I don't really give a crap about or feel like arguing politics, religion, who's the best Dr. Who (Tom Baker, of course, but if kids today can't see that, what's it to me?) Sometimes it seems like I'm not really here, I'm just watching everything from a vantage point. It's not always like that - spending time with my wife and kids is real, work is real. But otherwise, I just feel like the world is receding further and further. Was there something I missed?


Saturday, May 24, 2008

What, Me Worry?

Illustration Friday: Worry

I felt bad for the poor animals in Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wii Fit or not Wii Fit?

(My review on the latest craze.)
As we pre-ordered it a month ago, Jen was able to pick up our Wii Fit today. (A side note to Google's News service: if you're going to feature an article about a sci-tech product every day for a week before its release, it's not news, it's advertising. Now stop it.) There was a mild annoyance at how Nintendo had previously touted a release date of the 19th, but it turned out that was only for the Nintendo Store in Manhattan.

First, let's look at the price. $90. Wow. It's a bit high, especially considering that the Wii cost $250 in the first place. But as games normally cost $40, you're really paying $50 for the Wii Balance Board, which is basically two scales (one for each foot) and the wireless hardware needed to connect to the Wii. My only concern is how well it will stand up to daily use, especially by someone on the larger side, such as myself. A plus note is that some future games plan to use the board, so there's extra value.

Let's look at the box. Like any gym or diet ad, it has nice healthy people who don't need to get in shape all over it. It's like Lane Bryant - the chicks who actually shop in the store don't look anything like the ones in the catalog. Understandable, but it's always nice to point out how the advertising machine works.

Let's fire it up. Aw, there's a cute little marshmallow version of the Balance Board talking to me. I enter my height and my age, and then it weighs me. Now it tells me that according to my BMI I am obese, and inflates my Mii (my Wii character) up like a balloon:

OK, I AM obese, I admit it. However, it told Joe the same thing, (although his BMI was about half of mine) which devastated him. The kid isn't skinny, and I'm all for being honest and facing reality, but in no way could he be characterized as obese. Adults can take such things with grains of salt, but it's harder for kids.

Let's take a moment to talk about BMI. According to the Body Mass Index tables, Russell Crowe and George Clooney are also obese. It doesn't take muscle into account at all, so a body builder would share the same BMI as Rerun from What's Happening. In short, it's a load of... Well, let's just let Penn & Teller explain. (WARNING: naughty language!)

OK, so before we get on to the actual games, let me bitch about one more thing. Look at the game case: it says "Check your BMI and Wii Fit age every day to Keep tabs on your health and work towards a more fit you." The first thing I noticed was that the "k" in "keep" was a capital letter. (Is that one of the secrets to the location of the Holy Grail?) The second thing is that even though it says BMI and not weight, the BMI is based solely on your weight (an adult's height isn't going to change,) so it's basically the same thing. It's not a good thing to check your weight every day. Your weight fluctuates with what you drink and eat and what you excrete, and it shouldn't vary much from day to day. Overweight people can get very obsessed with that number, and a slight rise, along with a little on-screen character chiding you for it, can send someone with a delicate disposition into fits. I would suggest checking once a week or once every two weeks to get an accurate idea of how you're progressing without becoming obsessive and depressed.

Onward. First, the program tests your balance, and gives you a "Wii Fit Age" based on you're result. While my real age is 35, my Wii Fit Age is 46 - 11 years out of balance. Other Wii games do that as well - Wii Sports gives you an "age," as does Big Brain Academy. The cool thing is that you can actually see on screen where your center of balance is, and adjust appropriately.

Pick a trainer. You can either choose the (literally) white guy, or white girl with ridiculous looking balloon-boobs. Being a male chauvinist pig, I pick the girl. Eh, cgi women don't do anything for me. (I never had a Laura Croft or Samus Aran fetish.) Let's switch to the guy. Better. I'm surprised you can't download additional trainers.

Let's start with Yoga. I can do the breathing exercise ok. Half moon? No problem. Cool - it shows my center of balance, so I can try to keep it in the center. Warrior pose? A little harder, but doable. Tree pose... wait. You want me to jam my heel against my testicles and balance one one leg? Uh uh. Let's go on to strength exercises. Most of these I can do, except the side planks. Aerobics? I can run in place (but if I just shook the controller up and down, you wouldn't know the difference) Hula Hoops are annoying. Basic Step is cute, kind of like "Dance Dance Revolution." The Balance games are nothing spectacular. The only one I really like is is Table Tilt, where you lean the different ways you want the platform to tilt, and try to get the marbles in the holes.

OK, this is all cute, but I have one big complaint. You're just given a bunch of exercises. There's no training program, per se, although the more exercises/games you do, the more become available. The game doesn't give you a schedule, or start you out with very easy things and have you work your way up, or give you tests before moving you on to a next level. This really disappoints me. Perhaps it was a legal decision - they didn't want anybody suing them because they had a heart attack or broke a toe doing what the Wii fit told them to. But I did feel that such a training program was implied.

To sum up. It's fun, costly, make your own sort of schedule, and don't let the BMI thing bother you, or become obsessed with checking your progress. Also, it's nice outside. Go for a walk.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Please Explain it to Me

As someone who bought a copy of Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune, when he was 12, and a fan of SNL in the 70's and 80's back when... well, we don't need to get into it - you know. Anyway, as someone who enjoys comedy and classic rock, I have one question, a question that I really would like answered before I die:

What the hell is up with the cowbell sketch?

Honestly. I just don't see how the fact that there's a cowbell in "Don't Fear the Reaper" warrants a five minute sketch, much less one that many consider a "classic." So many people think this is hysterical, and I just don't get it.

Please, please, will someone explain it to me?


Friday, May 16, 2008

Miomarmo - That's a Spicy Meataball!

I can't claim that I've ever been a crusader for anything, including the environment. I've often taken George Carlin's stance on such issues: "The planet is fine. The people are fucked!" My feeling has been that regardless of whether pollution has caused global warming or not, it just can't be a good thing to poison the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. (Of course, you can always take the stance that since humans are members of the animal kingdom and creatures of nature, everything we create is as natural as a beaver's dam, but I'm sure some would disagree.)

Environmentalism has sadly become just another ism. There are those who cannot differentiate between different parts of an ideology or look at all sides of the picture rationally. Others just use pet causes for popularity or celebrity status. The worst problem with the environmental cause is that it's become one of those polarizing political issues: Democrats are for some reason automatically seen as "for" the environment, and Republicans "against." I think it has something to do with Al Gore.

Anyhoo, over the years, I've been able to separate the people who just like crusading and protesting for causes because it makes them feel special from those who actually care about things and try to make a difference. The labors of the latter (like Elena, for example,) can be found at Miomarmo, a new website dedicated to... well... they put it better than I ever could:

The World We Live In
We live in a world beset with enormous challenges in every category of human endeavor. The struggle for peace, prosperity, and liberty has taken on a desperate, shrill edge. Although daily news reports of atrocities and catastrophic trends in our weather and atmosphere are older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, our progress toward self destruction is clearly accelerating at a rate that only 100 years ago seemed inconceivable to all but the most profoundly radical thinkers. Wells, Einstein, Thoreau, Huxley and the like foresaw vast social and environmental collapse brought on by fast changing technology and human population growth. They painted harrowing pictures of unchecked and unsustainable exploitation of the planet. But they were dismissed by practical minded men as eccentric philosophers and purveyors of science fiction. In the hubbub of everyday life, our planet seemed an inexhaustibly renewable source of human consumables. And, only 100 years ago, common sense seemed to dictate that the Earth’s bounty was indeed inexhaustible and endlessly renewable.

But times are changing and today’s voices are resonating more distinctly and effectively. Rachel Carson, Al Gore, Edward Wilson, and the like, clear-eyed observations that the Earth is showing undeniable signs of exhaustion. At the same time, man’s inhumanity to man is fueled by rampant economies driven by cheap labor and a culture of violent politics that prize weapons whose killing efficiency over matches debate and compromise. Voices of peace and reason rise, and then are struck down by ruthless opponents. Animals, land, and vegetation are plundered with a reckless, efficient pursuit of excess and wasteful consumption. There are many, many places in the world and hundreds of millions of people who have never known the feeling of a bountiful and safe Earth. Animal and plant populations, both domestic and wild, are wiped out or consumed with horrific efficiency to attain objectives of comparatively little value. Forests are cleared, oceans stripped of life, and toxins dumped into the food chain from multiple sources.

Not a pretty picture. Yet we believe humanity and life on Earth will abide. As science and common sense come together to point to clear priorities for human conduct in the years ahead, many of us hearken to voices of the past as well as emerging voices of our time for guidance on practical modes of living. We are coming to understand that the single act of conservation or kindness repeated over and over can be part of a global pattern of such acts and persons. MioMarmo is a place for where we come together to share insights, advice, experiences, resources and paths to practical action for improving all life on Earth by improving our own lives.

Eloquent, no? So head on over, not just today, but every day, because there's always something new and insightful to read. But there's a much more important reason you should go there: Every time you do, you'll be put at ease by the soothing and adorable marble I made for the logo:

So you see? There's something there for everyone.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anti-Smoking Terrormercials & You

Joe woke us up this morning with this question: "Mommy, did you ever smoke?"

"No," Jen said. I elbowed her in the ribs and made a loud coughing noise. "Ok, yes," she admitted, "but not since long before you were born."

"Why do you ask?" I asked. (I've explained to the boy that yes, once upon a time, I've puffed a few Marlboros as well.)

"No reason," he said, shrugging.

It hit Jen. "Wait a minute," she said, "is this because of those commercials where the lady has her fingertips cut off because of smoking?" (For those who don't know, Jen's fingers are different sizes because of a birth defect.)

"...Yeah," Joe admitted.

"Haven't I explained to you before that I was born that way?"

"I know."

"So why are you asking?"

"I don't know..."

Now, I know smoking is bad, and kids should learn not to do it, etcetera. Such education started when I was a kid in the 70s. It didn't work, because by the time were were teenagers, we had done most of the stuff they had been telling us non-stop not to do. When I was a kid, I would go so far as to replace my grandfather's cigarettes with little rolled up pieces of paper that said "Please stop smoking, I love you." Part of this was because of my father. He had smoked, once upon a time, and hated the habit with a passion. I was much more afraid of what my father would do to me if he caught me smoking than I was of any health risks. However, by the time I was 14, I was bumming smokes off my friend's older brother. (I admit I didn't actually inhale until I was 18.) While there was never any of the "peer pressure" that ABC After-School Specials blamed everything on , the fact that the cool kids did it was enough. Part of the problem was Antioch. Antioch was a Catholic youth group, where a lot of smoking went on in the parking lot. No one really cared that much. Hell, in our High School we had a smoking lounge, much to the chagrin of the lady who would come on Smokeout Day to show us all pictures of rotted lungs.

I rarely smoke anymore, due to the bar ban, as I'd never do it in the apartment or around the kids. The only time I would really smoke as an adult was when I was having a beer. I never had a pack a day habit, or even a pack a week habit. I'd go through a pack in a month, which would mean the cigarettes would be stale before I reached the end of the pack. I think all these bans have less to do with actually caring about public health and more with skyrocketing health-care and insurance costs.

So, what's my problem? I just think that as with almost every issue, terrormercials are not the answer, and are more misleading than anything. For example, Buerger's Disease (which is what the amputated lady in the Anti-smoking ad in question suffers from) affects 6 in 10,000. That's right, it's rare. Apart from grossing people out, I doubt if such shock tactics have had any real effect on anyone's behavior. Instead of trying to terrorize your kids, try actually talking to them, being honest, fessing up about your past mistakes, and yes, admit that while it's a horrible habit with health consequences, one cigarette isn't the end of the world.

Although it's about pot and not cigarettes, I'd suggest everyone to watch the South Park episode, "My Future Self 'n' Me." (free online!) They do the subject of over-the-top scare tactics much more justice than I could.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Do the Electric Slide

Illustration Friday: Electricity

(Click on the above picture for high-detail. Go on, you know you want to.)
This little steampunk fellow seems to have discovered a new power source along the cobblestone road, and he's quite happy about it. He started out as a sketch at the bottom of directions Jen had scribbled down:

Converting sketches to 3d is fun. I tried adding a few more details, like some hoses and an access hatch, but it just didn't look right. Being an electrician I decided to do something educational as well. If you ever wondered just how two (or more) switches can control one light, here's a 3-way switch diagram:

(To add more, you would need to put 4-way switches in between the travelers. I was going to draw one, but I didn't want to get too complicated.) Right now, the light is on. Change either one of the switches (pivoting from the center dot) and the light goes off. Change either one again, and it goes on. Ingenious, no?

What am I doing up at this ungodly hour, I hear you cry. I have some miserable chest congestion that I can't get rid of and I can't sleep. I've taken all kinds of expectorants to no avail, including something ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING called "Buckley's Chest Congestion Mixture." Not only is this the most foul thing I have ever tasted, I'm still sputtering and hacking and nothing's coming up. Thanks a lot, Buckley. With all the noise I'm making, my neighbors are probably taking measures to have me condemned.

In other news, after two years, Disco Daleks has been yanked by YouTube for it's use of the YMCA song. Sigh. From what I've been reading online, such use technically does fall under those murky waters called "fair use." However, YouTube is not going to get sued on my account, so I'll just let it go. Mabye I'll put some generic synthesizer disco music to it and re-post, but I doubt it; it just wouldn't be the same.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Why are Blue-Collars Supposedly for Hillary?

I'm a Local 3 IBEW member living in New York City. I've been unemployed for the last five months - which, sadly, is par for a NYC A-rated electrician ever since the dot-com bubble broke back in 2000. So, as a confused dues-paying union member, I'm begging - will someone PLEASE explain to me why the media keeps insisting that Hillary Clinton is the savior of the blue-collar workers? No, we can't lay all of our problems at her feet (or at the Republicans', for that matter.) But please, will someone tell me ONE DAMN THING she has done for labor since she took office eight years ago? How in any meaningful way has she helped blue-collar workers - especially those in the state she's supposed to represent? And no, speeches and spin don't count.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Ideologies Will Kill You

I've been reading one of the most fascinating books I've seen in years, titled God Wants You Dead. It's a study of ideologies, (ideas that take on a life of their own,) and how they control people as a queen ant controls her collective. (Did you know that ants and humans are the only species that actually fight each other to the death?) The controversial title refers to people who refuse medical treatment for religious reasons, or suicide bombers: if you think God would prefer you dead than alive for "His" cause, then by your logic...

The book goes on to explain that memes can be broken up into categories, including parasitic and symbiotic. Symbiotic ideas help you, enrich your life, and jive with your biological needs. Parasitic ideas are those that use people for their cause, and become more important than the well-being of the people who think them. This includes religion, nationalism, environmentalism, conservativism, liberalism - just about any "ism" you can think of.

A large part of the problem is when ideologies demand an all or nothing level of acceptance. The book suggests breaking every ideology down into its component ideas. A large example of this is the political parties our government is broken up into. If you're for a strong military but think we should leave Iraq, against illegal immigrants, for labor unions, support abortion rights, support the NRA, think taxes should be lowered, are against class-action lawsuits, against the patriot act, but for teaching creationism in the classroom - who do you vote for? You don't have a choice, you have to vote for one ideology or the other, neither of which truly represents your views.

Take a good look at the ideas that control your life. Of course, you will always have ideas in your brain. But if you find yourself getting angry when people's ideas don't jive with yours, find yourself unable to pick and choose which parts of a religion or political party you agree with, or find that there are no beneficial or logical reasons behind your ideologies, it might be time to change them.