Saturday, June 30, 2007

The "Deaths" of two legendary wrestlers

One faked, one very real...

On the June 11 episode of Monday Night RAW, some viewers saw a cropped ending where Executive Assistant Jonathan Coachman points a depressed Vince McMahon (WWE Chairman) to his limo, and it cuts as he walks toward it. International audiences and some American audiences saw it continue: Vince lets himself into the limo, and just as he shuts the door, the limo explodes. Of course, in real life, Vince McMahon isn't dead, but his character, Mr. McMahon, is.

The WWE follow a practice called kayfabe, which is basically taking a fictional environment to the next level; for all intents and purposes, they live out their characters in public and pretend, even off the show, that they are the character they portray. In fact it's very seldom that the "real person" and the character differ at all; this is called "breaking kayfabe" and it's pretty much the industry's highest sin. They'll bend it - for example when Eddie Guerrero died in late 2005, rivals put on a match and shook hands afterward. Or when they go to the Middle East, they'll often ignore these rules. So while these people pretty much all get along in real life (they do work together), they maintain certain rivalries - like any show, just carried out further. If you look up kayfabe on Wikipedia and read the article (or click kayfabe here or above) you'll understand it a bit more.

The obvious primary subject was the subject of McMahon's aforementioned depression, then ECW (a former rival federation, now the third WWE brand, after Smackdown) Champion Bobby Lashley, who had just about slaughtered McMahon in a street fight (no disqualifications, win by 3-second pin inside the ring), even after WWE monster personality Umaga interfered, as well as Vince's kayfabe and real life son Shane. The night McMahon "died" was the WWE Draft, where performers/personalities were moved across brands at "random" (random in kayfabe but of course predetermined) and Lashley was moved from ECW to RAW, forcing him to drop his title with no contest. So he was suspected. On the night of June 18, a "federal investigator" (aka, an actor playing one) had interviewed various wrestlers but had not named any suspects.

Internet rumor has it that on June 25, the investigator was supposed to arrest Vince's wife Linda. Also according to Internet rumor, it was going to end up being pinned on Triple H, who has been out on injury since January and is supposed to return "sometime this summer". We do know (from an interview, I guess) that behind the scenes, Vince had persuaded his daughter Stephanie to name him the father of her child, born last year. (Triple H is in real life, the father; within kayfabe the father is still unknown.) She flat out refused him, so he suggested Shane, her brother. She refused that as well - but this was months ago. The rumors go that Triple H was going to find out Vince was the father (in kayfabe) and thus had him killed. Besides Vince himself, no one has been more of a heel (villian) than Triple H, and what better way to bring him back than the greatest possible "push" they could come up with?

But what they were supposed to do with the Vince storyline doesn't matter, because on June 25, RAW started with Vince in the ring, announcing that while they were supposed to be continuing the story of his own demise, they had recently (within a few hours) been surprised with a real-life tragedy: the death of Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit. All they knew at that point was that he, his wife, and 7 year old son had been killed, and gunshots were ruled out. So they dedicated the entire 3 hour timeslot to a massive Benoit tribute. Rightfully so, as he was one of the greatest wrestlers they lost. It wouldn't be fair to compare him to others, such as Andre the Giant, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Owen Hart, but he was most certainly Legend material, had more than earned himself a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.

However, on the morning of Tuesday the 26th, more facts came to light. Investigators (real ones this time) decided that Benoit strangled his wife on Saturday in their Atlanta home, then watched the Vengeance Pay-Per-View with his son on Sunday (which he called out of due to "personal reasons"), smothered his son with a pillow, and finally on Monday, hanged himself from his home exercise machine. (Some of these dates may be wrong as they are currently in dispute.) Chris Benoit was replaced on Sunday by Johnny Nitro, who beat CM Punk to take the ECW title (which had been vacated by Lashley; Punk didn't hold it). So we can assume that the script called for Benoit to win that match. Vince again appeared on the Tuesday night show, ECW, saying that the current mention would be the last time Benoit's name was mentioned on their show. He apologized for "wasting" a 3 hour segment on a murderer, and vowed to begin the healing process by putting on a great show.

But even though the WWE is washing their hands of Benoit, the media sure isn't. More and more details are coming out each day. The latest is that they believe Benoit's perscribed steroids/stimulants drove him to "snap" in what they call "roid rage". Apparently, he placed a Bible beside the bodies of his wife and son - no note was left. Oddly, there was a mention of text messages he sent somebody shortly before taking his own life, but all they did was give his home address, and one stated that the dogs were locked up and which door he left unlocked. The strangest aspect, however, is that somebody edited Chris Benoit's Wikipedia page at 12:01AM Monday morning, about 14 hours before the bodies were discovered, to say that Benoit bailed on the Pay-Per-View because of the death of his wife. Wikipedia officials traced the IP to Stamford, CT - home of WWE headquarters. The WWE is denying any knowledge, of course, but apparently the Wikipedia editor noted on Wikinews that the death was a rumor going around. But somebody in Connecticut, presumably at the WWE, knew that Benoit's wife was killed 14 hours before anybody else but Benoit himself did.

Personally, I don't know what to think beyond being intrigued by the mysteries surrounding the case. I had great respect for Benoit, but had only seen him in action once or twice. As long as I've been watching wrestling (since late 2005), Benoit's been on the Smackdown brand, which is on Friday nights from 8pm to 10pm. I start work at 10pm but it takes a half hour to get there, and I don't have cable, so I just miss it every week I work. On the draft, Benoit was transferred to ECW, which I enjoyed because I'd be able to see him as I'm off Tuesdays. On the ECW episode immediately following the draft, he defeated Elijah Burke (one of the brand's most talented new performers) to earn the right to face CM Punk for the title vacated by Bobby Lashley. This was five days before the Pay-Per-View he called out of.

I see a lot of people on the Net real quick to condemn Benoit, but most of them had been supporting Benoit until they learned the truth. Personally, I feel as though his accomplishments as a wrestler should be held separate from his personal life, because up until now that's pretty much all he was. I didn't know anything about his personal life. And while it's terrible what he's done, I can't help but think of him as the legend he's always been. I think it's a shame (though I do understand) that the WWE isn't going to acknowledge him and (they implied) he won't be in the WWE Hall of Fame. I think after a few years, a decade, whatever, he should get the recognition he deserves by his peers in the industry he'd dedicated about 20 years of his life to. I don't think that would dishonor the memories of his wife and son.

Looking in my (very small) collection of wrestling DVDs, I see I only have one Chris Benoit match, vs. MVP for the US Championship at Wrestlemania 23, a match he won to retain the title. I think I'll watch it again at some point in the near future.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Updates to the blog

Not your average blog post, but I've added a few things to the blog I'd like to point out:

1. I've tied my Googlepages site to my blog. Stuff I can't or won't put up here, I can put there and drop a link. The post below is a great example of how I can use this setup. I may also put pictures there instead of PhotoBucket; Google is faster and I can put whatever I want around/with the picture.

2. I've added links to my Googlepages site and Blogmail* at the bottom of the blog page. Scroll all the way down and look at the links section.

*3. Blogmail, which I send out weekly (or try to) to friends and family, is now archived on the web for anyone to read and is linked in the links section. If you want to subscribe (or unsubscribe) you can email me via links provided and I will oblige one way or the other. It doesn't say anything the blog doesn't, it's just a summary and a reminder to those who don't regularly read the blog, that it is still there.

Music Mystery #1: November Rain

If you're my age or older, chances are at some point, you have heard the Guns n' Roses song "November Rain". It was a very popular song when it came out in 1990-1991 with heavy radio play. Perhaps you've even seen the music video, which came out in 1991, I believe. The song was popular for at least a couple years, but pretty much faded from most radio stations in the mid-to-late nineties. Nowadays it's mostly forgotten and overlooked, but I firmly believe after 20-30 years of it being out, it'll be remembered as a classic. Matter of fact, Guns n' Roses are one of the bands from that time that will be remembered, right along with Metallica. Back when they still had their hair, were true to their roots, and were basically in their prime - but Metallica is a story for another day. Anyway, back to November Rain, the video for which was a mystery for over 10 years to most people - and sadly the mystery was forgotten, as it was never solved within the song's reign on the charts. But I reveal it to you here. I've posted it before, and that post (I had it saved for quick posting) was copied by others, so maybe you have heard this, or even read it. Well, here it is again. Not copied from the original, but completely rewritten.

Not sure you've seen the video? Maybe this will jog your memory. Axl Rose awakens from what appears to be a nightmare. We see a huge opera house (I guess that's what you'd call it) with a crowd watching Guns n' Roses perform on-stage. Axl is on piano, and they have a symphony with them. We see a wedding, between Axl and model Stephanie Seymour, to whom he was really married for some time. The video goes through the wedding, and after Axl kisses Stephanie, guitarist Slashs steps outside and performs a wicked solo in the desert, the camera all over the place. Guitarists love this part. It goes back to the opera house from time to time, and then back to the happy couple, now at the reception. Everyone's having a good time, and I swear Pierce Brosnan (ex-James Bond actor) was a waiter, though I don't think IMDb agrees with me. At some point it starts raining, and everyone runs like people started shooting (but no violence is seen). A dude dives over a table through the wedding cake. Red wine runs down a white table cloth. The VERY next scene, back to the opera house, song slows down - this is before the heavy part at the end - and Slash gets up on the piano and lets 'er rip. We see Axl in a pew, same church (I think), in tears, and pallbearers are carrying a coffin down the aisle. We see Stephanie in the casket, unmarked and undamaged but very dead. Axl's in tears, the priest says some words, they have the funeral. It ends with Axl alone at the grave. Flash back to Stephanie as a happy bride throwing the bouquet, fade to the coffin - the roses, once red, bleed out to white. The picture fades and "Based on the short story "Without You" by Del James pops up.

If you're asking what the problem is, it's this: We aren't told why Stephanie dies or how she died. There are clues, but they're vague. When the car pulls away from the church, the couple making their getaway, and Stephanie briefly looks at the camera and her face just says "this is the beginning of the end" or perhaps "now I'm stuck with him"; "now my fate is sealed". Shortly after, a figure is seen walking into a store, camera pulls back and it says GUNS above. But I can't tell if it's Axl or Stephanie - their hair is about the same length and style, and they're of a similar build, and it's from the back, so you couldn't see breasts (or absence thereof), and the clothes are baggy, so you can't see figure.

Your first thought now might be "well, read the story". That's very insightful and not a bad idea, but there's a problem with that. Del James published a collection of short stories, called "The Language of Fear", out of a small publishing company in Scotland - which went bankrupt just after the book was published. In fact they got less than 1,000 copies out. This was when the Internet was young, at least to most people. One of eBay's early most-traded items must be this book. It sold for hundreds of dollars, even thousands at first. Because they wanted to read that one story. And those that did, never spoke a word of it. Because they knew if they answered the question everyone wanted to know, they wouldn't be able to sell it again and make some of their money back - maybe even a profit. Every few years I searched - first the search engines, and later those plus the filesharing networks.

Finally in 2003 the silence was broken, and one brave soul decided to post the text of the short story "Without You". (The rest of the book remains unavailable, last time I checked.) I got it, and have posted it on various forums. Some admins frown upon my doing so, but the legal rights to "Without You" are tangled up. The only people who have any complaint with the story being posted are the collectors, and they have no more right to dictate what happens with the story than I do. So I've read it, and I'll provide a link to it below.

Now, the following, I must warn you, is not safe for work and is not appropriate for children under 16. Profanity and descriptions of sex and violence. If this does not offend you, go ahead and read Del James' Without You, followed by parts of the foreword to "The Language of Fear", written by none other than Axl Rose. Whoever posted this, typed it - they didn't have a way of importing it automatically. There will be mistakes. I corrected those that Word had a problem with, but mostly I'm leaving it intact. If you are a Guns n' Roses fan, I encourage you to read it. Were it in the book, it would be at most 10 pages long. It's not written traditionally or conservatively at all. This isn't the kind of thing you read in school; it's not "Walden". It's not even like any bestseller - well, except maybe for Fight Club (the book, it's written just like the movie). Del James writes like you'd expect a rockstar to write. Give it a chance - it will hook you. (And if foul language offends you, read my own summary as follows.)

Read the story here.

Basically the story is about a band called Suicide Solution, meant to be Guns n' Roses, and their vocalist, Mayne Mann, who is of course supposed to be Axl. Mayne has a girlfriend or wife, Elizabeth - you guessed it, she's Stephanie. So SS are on tour, and it's the last stop. A tour's last stop most often means one or both of two trends - first, that they end (and start) in their hometown; second, that it's the best show of the tour. Mayne wants to celebrate after the show with Elizabeth, but she's called out of town on business (I think she's a model, too). Mayne's mad, so he picks up a groupie after the show, and they're making magic in his hotel room. Matter of fact I think there are two girls, they're having a threesome. The drummer comes by, and Mayne offers him a girl; he turns him down. Then it turns out Elizabeth's trip was at the last moment. She finds out what room he's in, and goes there to surprise him. Mayne hears a knock, thinks his drummer is back, so he answers the door nude with a girl on each arm, nude as well. He's lookin right at his wife, and she takes off. He gets dressed and gives chase. She loses him, gets home, and when he finds her, she's playing "Without You" (which is the fictional "November Rain") at full volume on loop, and she's shot herself in the head

From that, I assume that the band seen in the November Rain video was actually Suicide Solution, not Guns n' Roses. And that we're not seeing Axl and Stephanie marry, but Mayne and Elizabeth. And that Elizabeth dies and Mayne is mourning her. The nightmares are because he's haunted by his stupid mistake that cost him the woman he loved. I can't explain Elizabeth's look. Maybe she realized Mayne wasn't going to settle down, I dunno. But I believe it was Elizabeth who went to the gun store. As for the rain panic, I can't explain that. Maybe that was just their reaction to being rained on in their Sunday best.

And as for Elizabeth looking untouched in the coffin, this is another thing I found out (thanks to Amber from WI for pointing this out!): When the coffin is shown for the second time, if your copy of the video is high-quality, freeze frame it and you will see a mirror splitting the coffin, her left side hidden. And yes, you guessed it, a funeral home would do this to allow an open-casket funeral for someone whose face or body was damaged on one side. That about cinches the deal - she must have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, from the barrel being inserted into the mouth and the bullet traveling up and to the left, so she held the gun with her right hand. They cleaned up the right side, but the left side they couldn't fix. Hence the mirror.

As I understand from watching "Making F'n Videos: November Rain", a documentary produced by Gn'R's label, Geffen, about the video. This revealed much more. Del James was a close personal friend of Axl Rose and the band itself. "Without You" was tied to more than just "November Rain". Two other Gn'R videos tied in as well: "Don't Cry" and "Estranged". I believe the order is Don't Cry - Estranged - November Rain, although the events in the videos are probably not in the right order. I have to wonder if Gn'R and Del James weren't going to make a movie containing the story, the events from those videos, and of course the song. It should also be noted that the last line in "Estranged" before the last chorus is, in fact, "Without You".

PS: In regards to the title, there will be another Music Mystery. It's about a more current band, but unless you're Jen and thus you know what it's going to be, you're going to have to wait and be surprised.

Use Your Illusion I by Guns n' Roses on
This album contains the original, studio version of November Rain.
Guns n' Roses: Welcome to the Videos DVD on
This DVD has most, but not all of their videos. November Rain is included. (Sadly, "You Could Be Mine" is not up here, but Don't Cry and Estranged are as well.) The quality is very high, so if you want to see the mirror in the casket, this is the way to go.
Guns n' Roses: Making F@*!Ing Videos, Vol. 2 VHS on
Sadly this is not available on DVD, but I found my copy on one filesharing network or another. If you have VHS, get this used because Amazon doesn't actually sell it themselves. I doubt it will be rereleased on DVD. I would like to discourage piracy, but if you want to see it, you do what you have to, right? If you want to stay on the straight and narrow with the law, you can always delete it when you're done watching it - no harm no foul, right? This awesome documentary covers all aspects of what I've been talking about and then some, plus it includes the video at the end.
The Language of Fear paperback by Del James on
Here is a link to the book. Currently the low price is $89.44 but that is subject to change. I want to read the rest of it, but I won't pay more than ten bucks.
The full text of Without You, and Axl's intro
I linked to this above but provide the link again for convenience.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Emulation: One of the coolest things your PC can do

Of all the awesome things you can do with a personal computer these days (let's review: make and enjoy music, make and enjoy video, meet people around the world via the Net, various games, etc.) by far the coolest must be Emulation; or, for you non-technical readers, making your computer pretend that it's another machine. To emulate a machine, your own machine must be many times faster than the machine you're emulating, so you can count Playstation and Xbox (all generations) out. Even the first Playstation can't be emulated on most machines. Same thing with Macs - a small percentage can but most cannot.

This day and age, however, you can emulate a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES - the first Nintendo in America), a Super NES, a Sega Genesis (presumably a Sega Master System as well), and various arcades and other computers from 15 years ago. But this limitation, if you'd call it one, isn't so bad. The current Xbox and Playstation consoles are reverse compatible and will play their old games, or most of them, as I understand it. If you're emulating, you're not doing it to save money or defraud the publishers (whichever side you choose to take), you're doing it to play something that isn't available and in a new way.

Emulation has created a huge stir in the industry. Nintendo is 110% against it as well as any form of enhancing or changing their games (e.g. cheating devices). None of them are really "for" it - either the creators of these classics are out of the industry and don't care, or they're making new games and would rather you fork over your hard earned dollars for those instead. For the most part, game publishers are content to let their older titles be forgotten. Some have made small concessions, either because of emulation as in, in response to it, but a few have done it on their own. For example Nintendo putting all the NES Mario games in one cartridge on the Super NES ("Super Mario All-Stars"). It's too bad they didn't do the same thing with Zelda or some of their other franchises. But now they're putting a lot of their classic games up for paid download on the Wii - provided you can get a Wii (they're not available here) or you have high-speed Internet (not available here).

Wondering how all this works? As I understand it, in Japan where copyright laws are largely ignored, you can get a device classified as a cart copier, which you plug the cartridge into, and it plugs into the console - like a Game Genie - but a wire connects the device to your computer. You can "back up" a game to the computer, and you can play games off the computer via the copier itself, while connected. Then some hacker in America or Australia found out how to take that backup and run it. The first emulators were buggy, designed to run one or two games, and others may or may not work. Now, emulators can fully recreate classic consoles.
Two of the emulators I am most familiar with have rather rude names. NESticle plays the NES games, GeneCYST plays the Sega Genesis games - and ZSNES plays the SNES games. There are a few different choices for each platform, and some emulators might do things a little differently, but a good one should be able to play the game.

Of course, emulated classic console games are a little different from the games as you remember them. First, the game is stored in a file. It's much faster to swap games. Your game's file will not get dusty or corroded, and you don't have to worry about blowing on the contacts in the cartridge and in the console. Second, computer monitors and digital TVs have higher resolutions than analog TVs, so picture will be greatly improved. Then there are some perks. A lot of games don't let you save or make you find a "save point" to save. With an emulator you can save ANYWHERE with the touch of a button, and load just as fast. You can load Mario, jump in the air and save, and keep hitting the load key, and have him fall, fall, and fall again. Some games time you, and they keep the timer running even if you pause the game (e.g. you hit Start). You can pause the emulator, however, and this will stop the internal clock. You can literally have your best time in games like Super Metroid (SNES) by pausing the emulator for your breaks. Also, you can cheat! Say you're playing Zelda 3 (SNES) and you want unlimited bombs. You currently have 8, say. So you tell it to search for 8 - you'll get lots of results. Waste a bomb, then tell it to search all the '8' results now for 7. It'll take a few tries, but you'll find your code. Set it to something reasonable (like 5) and it will be frozen at that value.

It sounds almost too good to be true. Well, it's true, but the legal issue is a big grey area. The commonly accepted rule is that you can have a ROM - that's the game backup file - if you own the original cartridge. But it's hard to find ROMs on regular websites, because the game's publishers will go after them for copyright infringement. So determined emulator users turn to filesharing. You download an archive with, say, every NES game ever made (around 100MB). Are you really going to take what you have the cartridges for - maybe what you had back in the day - and delete the rest? Heck no, you're not! (If you say you would, fine, but most people just keep the whole set.) I personally don't feel that there is anything wrong with emulation, in the moral sense. You can't buy most of these games - with rare exception you can't buy any of them for the PC. (Konami released a pack with the three Castlevania games and two Contra games that were on the NES, on the PC - basically a legal emulator/rom pack.) It's just one of those cases where the law doesn't reflect right/wrong, but rather the interests of a company or companies with money to grease the proverbial wheels - the game industry figures if you're playing the classics, you're not paying for the current games. (One would think they would see this as a hint, and look to the classics for inspiration, but only Nintendo seems to do this - hence why I love my Gameboy/DS so much.)

Still weirder, online communities have differing rules governing talk of emulation. Some allow it, some turn a blind eye, and some disallow it entirely. And then you have fence-sitters, like GameFAQs... Couple weeks ago I was talking about a Playstation game, when someone asked me if I'd like to play it on my computer. I knew Playstation emulation wasn't a possibility that I knew of, but I wanted to see where he was going. So I said sure, email me or whatever - next thing I know, my post (not his) gets deleted, where I accepted. So I guess it was a little fishing experiment - "let's see who we can sucker into asking about emulation here" (as opposed to just disallowing talk of it at all). So for a site like that, one really has to be careful and not take the bait. Lesson learned, I suppose.

For legal reasons of my own, I can't tell you where to get ROMs on here. I could probably tell you where to get the emulators, but a quick Google search for the names as I've given them will do that for you. Comment if you have something to add, but if you'd like to ask a question, you ought to do it via email, where I can be more free to answer the question as best I can.

That all said, if it's something you'd like to do, I wish you all the luck in the world. It will take some messing around in the emulator's settings to get it right, but once you do it will be well worth it.

PS - Most emulators default to the keyboard. You can get a gaming controller for your PC. They used to plug into the sound card on this port that was about an inch wide - now they just plug in via USB, same as anything. Most controllers I've seen use the basic Playstation2 layout, which is probably the best controller layout of the consoles. PC controllers have vibration and come wireless, just like the consoles. And as long as Windows recognizes it, the emulator should be able to use it. You can get a cheap controller for around $20 or less. You can even get two and play 2-player games just as you would on the console you're emulating. (Of course, pre-vibration games will not vibrate your controller if it does that. But wireless controllers should be a go.) Oh, and I believe shooting games (e.g. Duck Hunt for the NES) are emulated through the mouse, though I've never tried these.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"When Daddy let me drive"

I can't fully identify with the lyrics to this song by Alan Jackson; my father didn't let me drive when I was a kid like they do in the country, but he did teach me how to drive once I had my permit. So it does sort of apply.

You know sometimes you hear a song and it just clicks, you think it's an instant classic? Well, I heard this song on the radio a few weeks back and thought it was a new song, but I understand it's been out a while. It's on Alan Jackson's second greatest hits, which came out in 2003, but I don't know if it was recorded for that compilation or taken from a previous album, and I'm not in a situation to look that up just now. Here's the lyrics:

It was painted red, the stripe was white

It was eighteen feet from the bow to the stern light
Secondhand from a dealer in Atlanta
I rode up with Daddy when he went there to get her

We put on a shine; put on a motor
Built out of love, made for the water
Ran her for years, 'til the transom got rotten
A piece of my childhood that will never be forgotten

It was just on old plywood boat
With a '75 Johnson with electric choke
A young boy, two hands on the wheel
I can't replace the way it made me feel
And I would turn her sharp
And I would make her whine
He'd say, "You can't beat the way an old wood boat rides,"
Just a little lake across the Alabama line
But I was king of the ocean
When Daddy let me drive

Just an old half-ton shortbed Ford
My uncle bought new in '64
Daddy got it right 'cause the engine was smoking
A couple of burnt valves and he had it going
He let me drive her when we'd haul off a load
Down a dirt strip where we'd dump trash off of Thigpen Road
I'd sit up in the seat and stretch my feet out to the pedals
Smiling like a hero that just received his medal

It was just an old hand-me-down Ford
With a three-speed on the column and a dent in the door
A young boy, two honds on the wheel
I can't replace the way it made me feel
And I would press that clutch
And I would keep it right
And he'd say, "A little slower, son, you're doing just fine,"
Just a dirt rood with trash on each side
But I was Mario Andretti
When Daddy let me drive

I'm grown up now, three daughters of my own
I let them drive my old Jeep across the pasture at our home
Maybe one day they'll reach back in their file
And pull out that old memory
And think of me and smile and say

"It was just an old worn out Jeep
Rusty old floorboard, hot on my feet
A young girl, two hands on the wheel
I can't replace the way it made me feel
And he'd say, 'Turn it left, and steer it right,
Straighten up girl, you're doing just fine,'
Just a little valley by the river where we'd ride
But I was high on a mountain
When Daddy let me drive"

When Daddy let me drive
Oh he let me drive
Daddy let me drive

It's just an old plywood boat
With a '75 Johnson with electric choke

The lyrics just do not do the song justice. And I thought Chatahoochee was hot. It still is; you'd have yourself a tough time convincing me that a better country song was ever recorded, because back when I didn't even like country, I loved that song from the first time I heard it, and I still love it just as much. But this song is four stars, five stars, 10/10, whatever. The music is good, the singing is great, the lyrics are fun, and the little reversal at the end (which I'm noticing is fairly common in country songs) appeals to me because I'd prefer to have girls, but in any case I know I'll be showing our kids everything, including driving. How to drive safely, that is. (The experienced driver can drive fast, one would think, but safety is always first.)

If you can get a copy of this song, I'd strongly recommend it. Good stuff. Other top-quality Alan Jackson songs inlcude, of course Chatahoochee, but additionally Little Bitty, Mercury Blues, Gone Country, Midnight in Montgomery, and It's 5 o'Clock Somewhere (with Jimmy Buffet). If you like 9/11 songs (which I don't particularly care for), Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning? is another. Ironically, I have the two greatest hits albums, but I never got into anything beyond the singles.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why I want to be a father

It's Fathers' Day today, and I should be, at this early hour, thinking of what I'm going to say when I call my father and thank him for all he's done for me, but this is 2007, and in 2002 he was taken from us by lymphoma, which I understand is a cancer of the blood. He did not tell me about his condition, although he had known for over ten years. He told his second wife, who in turn told her mother, who in turn told her grand-daughter because she had recently lost a friend to cancer. This girl told me in 2000, maybe 2001. I don't know if I asked my father about it afterwards, or if he came right out and told my brother and I. So it was rather sudden when I got the call that he wouldn't make it through the night. It seemed unreal to me, and I was somehow able to sleep. I found out he had in fact made it through the night, but not to noon, so I do hold on to that.

Back then I was a loser, at least in the romantic sense. I'd never even kissed a girl and thought I would die a virgin. Now, five years later, I am married and we are trying for a baby. Because I knew long before that I would one day be a father myself. It's been sort of my core meaning of life for almost 13 years now, almost half my life. When I was a kid, I couldn't fathom and never considered the possibility of having kids of my own. When I was 12 or 13, I was in a bad situation where I basically lost all respect (as if, you know, at that age, I had any to start with) for girls and women, because of one of each who had done me wrong (which is itself a story for another time... wait, no it's not, besides the people involved, I've only told my wife). I had taken to calling women "bitches" and "hoes" and kids, well, I pretty much ignored them and still didn't think of having any of my own.

Then I met a cousin, who was 3 at the time. At first I wanted nothing to do with her, but she wanted to play and wouldn't give up. So I chased her around some, and by the end of the day she was my favorite cousin (and still is... well, tied with her sister) and I had told my mother that I had wanted one - a kid, I mean, of my own, when I was old enough. And then my life sort of changed. Something changed to where kids were somehow drawn to me. I mean extraordinarily. A kid that isn't shy will want to meet everyone who comes to their place, or talk to most people... but for example, a couple years later, I would go over to my best friend's house, and his mom babysits, and one day there's a girl around 6 who just all of a sudden wants me to pick her up. Once I do, she doesn't want to be put down and doesn't want me to go when I have to go. And every time I go over there and she's there, she loses all interest in what's on the TV or what other kids are doing, basically everything but me. One night my buddy and I were up late playing Dungeons & Dragons (yay! geek cred) and his mother leads her in, says she can't sleep, and asks if she can hang out with us. We say sure, and she ends up going to sleep on the couch beside me. Later it came to her being sort of my "secretary" - she'd roll dice for me and make appropriate changes on my character sheet. Over the years, it's been much of the same. Kids who come over with people coming to see us end up following me around. And even after moving out here, even after getting married, it still happens. I can make unruly kids behave and I can make babies stop crying. For some reason the influence is stronger with girls, so I've taken that as a hint, that that's what I'm supposed to have. I mean, I have intermediate sporatic experience with raising girls from age 2 to about 12, and I want to put it to use.

I also want to have one that doesn't have to go home at the end of the night. One that I can watch playing in the bathtub, one I can read a story to and tuck in, one I can make breakfast to, walk down to the bus stop, or go driving with. Anybody can make a baby, it seems (everybody but us...) but we want to make a person, a good person. Someone who can think for herself and know the right choice to make, and make it at least most of the time. And of course have some of our (Jen and I) common interests. I'm hoping at least one will be a Trekkie, and at least one will watch wrestling with me. We know a guy who watches with his daughter, and he teaches her moves. I always wanted to put a kid through Karate, but the dojos around here are run by the Church, so that's now out. We're not going to brainwash our kids with a religion, but rather when they start asking about a higher power, we'll let them explore those aspects of society on their own. We won't discourage them, but they'll know our beliefs. (Which means they'll know Jen grew up Catholic and I grew up skeptical of anything I couldn't verify was real.) Ideally we'll have a smart, pretty girl and a tomboy for girls (A Sansa and an Arya, for A Song of Ice and Fire fans) and for a boy, a smart geeky one like me. Jen's the one who really wants a boy - the ones she grew up with and the ones her sister have aren't enough - and I have no idea what ideas she has. All she'll say (pretty much) is that she wants to let our kids be who they will be. That's all well and good, and I agree, but I have ideas, and naturally they're going to be exposed to the things we like. My mother played a lot of classic rock when I was a kid, so while I think I prefer country now, classic rock will always be my first love. And yes, our kids will know classic rock. They'll know Jimi, Zeppelin, CCR, the Eagles, and many others. As well as our current favorites.

So why, in short, do I want a kid? Well, they're fun - that's easy - but there's a certain appeal to the challenge of raising a good kid, a good person. And I partially believe what my family's been telling me, that I have my father's genius intelligence - but the problem is, I lack the motivation, the ambition to go out and get an education and get a really good paying job. But that's fine, I make decent money doing what I'm doing, and I find the simplicity fulfilling. I don't want to change the world, I just want to be myself. So I'm hoping we have at least one super-smart girl who stays in school and makes the family proud time and time again, because that was expected of me, but I never wanted to be more than a good husband, and a good father. If our kids are slackers, too, so be it, but we'll give them everything we can and hope for the best.

PS: I even suggested adoption to Jen. My father suggested it to my mother, and I think he was a little more passionate about it. But he had a good point. That there are a lot of unwanted kids in this world who really need a good home. I can't argue with that. But Jen, like my mother 30 years ago, wants to carry it for nine months, give birth naturally, and have the kid be of our own blood. Someone once told me that the reason so many people wait for adoption is that they want white babies, that most of the babies and kids up for adoption are from minority races. So the question becomes, would we adopt a black or Hispanic or Asian child? I'd like to say that we would - we're both pretty unprejudiced - but some areas around here aren't friendly to mixed families. So that would become a challenge, mostly for the kid who doesn't understand. That's one good reason I have for wanting to have a child naturally - that way it's not an issue.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Company releases bad program, spams with good reviews

In an ironic twist, anti-spyware software Ad-Aware maker Lavasoft has exploited the worst aspects of the Internet to cover up for some pretty obvious mistakes in their own program.

First of all let me state for the record that Ad-Aware has been a great program in the past few years I've been using it. Never had a single problem, and it did what it said. I always used the free version, but two levels of paid versions are also available - Plus and Pro. Free worked for me so that's what I used. So when I heard they were updating it, I waited until it droppd its "Beta" status (which for you non-technical folks, means they're still working on it, but it mostly works and those adept with computers are welcome to try it), and downloaded it. The installer looked nice, so I was optimistic.

Strike one: When I go to start it, it asks for a license code. There's a drop-down box which lets you choose license type, and free isn't one of them. It took me a couple minutes of scratching my head to try clicking Cancel. Sure enough, the program continued to start. But it also put the Ad-Watch icon on my desktop, which is for Plus and Pro users only. Two problems but it's one strike.

The program looks nice. Real nice. So I go to do the first thing one should do after installing a security application - install the latest updates. Any company worth anything making one of these should release updates every couple days, and they don't update the download of the program, so the program is days or weeks out of date upon downloading.

Strike two: I go to update, and there's no progress bar or anything. It just appears to hang. When it's done updating, it tells me the update failed, or the download failed.

I figure this could all be explained, that maybe C|Net's might have an update that fixes at least Strike 2, but what do I find instead?

Strike three: It would appear that the company, instead of fixing the problem, is instead spamming the review/rating system on, giving it 5 star reviews and talking, not even in depth, just vaguely, about how great it is. Although the most recent reviews are more honest, it's pretty obvious something's wrong when the average user review is 4.5 stars, and people are giving it 1 and 2 stars. Going back, one can see some very vague reviews, some of which are terribly written. Just see for yourself!

It's a damned shame that such a good company has turned to desparately trying to convince everyone they didn't just mess up, rather than burying themselves in code trying to find the actual problem. One can only hope that they are doing both.

Communication is everything

This goes back to an earlier post I had made about a funny church sign, but moreso putting one's wife first in any situation. To make a long story short, Jen tested my resolve this morning. To make a short story long, read on.

The first thing that went wrong was my phone's earpiece went out. Jen's psuedo-brother's (a story for another time) girl and baby-mama called me - or rather, her phone did, so it could have been him, as he hasn't got a phone - but when I picked up, I heard nothing. No voice, no dead air - nothin'. So I hung up and called back. Again, nothing - no dial tone, nothing. I then blamed her phone. Lack of signal or a carrier other than US Cellular, who are the only ones who serve the rural areas out here. Then I called Jen after she got off work and the same thing happened, but this time I hit the Speaker button, and sure enough, I heard what I was supposed to over the speaker. My handsfree kit also worked, which is what I ended up using.

OK, so anyway, I got ahold of Jen, and we decided that we'd have to take the phone to US Cellular later, after we sleep. (Which is now, but while I'm up, she's still out. C'est la vie, or however the French say "such is life".) She went to Wal-Mart, had to pick up some stuff. We got off the phone when she reached the checkout lane. But my phone's battery was going out, so I called her again a while later - long enough for her to have gotten home - but no answer. I was just going to tell her that I was putting it on the charger. When she didn't answer, I just took this "fine, then" attitude and put it on the charger, in the car, without informing her.

My phone takes about 2½ hours to charge, but after an hour or so, I wanted to talk to her, ask her a few questions, like what time we wanted to be up and all that. So I go get the phone early, and it's only halfway charged. The way a phone charges is funny, it'll charge most of the way in almost no time - like half the time, or a little more. It takes the other half of the time to slowly crawl to a full charge. That and the fact that experts recommend you let the battery die so it doesn't forget its "zero point" are just too weird. Anyway...

I try to call... 5 rings and voicemail. Being the smartass that I am, I hang up and try again. Same thing. In a not-so-common display of arrogance, I decide to call over and over until she picks up. I didn't think she might be taking a shower. Instead I thought she'd be watching a movie (Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back was in the DVD player - I'd watched it before work, and she said she might watch it) or perhaps doing the dishes with the music up, and was hoping, at some point, she would be able to hear her Taproot ringtone ("You're cuh-cuh-cuh-calling, but I can't hear you, I'm not listening anymore; you're subject to falling, but I can't save you..."). After a few tries, I left a text message.

This went on for a while. 2-7 calls, then a text message, repeat - with the occasional voicemail thrown in. At first I was getting mad. I'm not obsessive and I don't expect her to answer my call on the first try on the first ring and drop everything she's doing to come talk to me, but we're paying well over $100 a month for these phones, so I figure we ought to be able to communicate. If not, something's wrong. Well, after about an hour (when I had dropped down to calling every few minutes) I began to worry. Though I can't imagine why, had she been arrested or something? Had she been harmed on her way to the car or whatever leaving Wal-Mart? (I was accosted by a very insistent crackhead at that same Wal-Mart a couple months ago.) Or had she been in a traffic accident? (A couple weeks ago some idiot almost hit her after swerving at her.) So finally I sent her an ultimatum in a message. Contact me by 3AM (it was about 2:30AM) or I come home and find out what's wrong. I figure, if she's playing a joke on me or whatever, with her work ethic (it's actually stronger than mine) she won't let me leave work. But at the same time it's messed up, because if she's dead and dying on the side of the road, that time could mean the difference between life and death. But dammit, I'm at work and we live in the real world, and I had to give her a warning and a grace period.

Oh yeah, and this punk I work with (yes, you D) starts suggesting she's got another man, is cheating on me. Of course I only mention this for the sake of knowing he reads my blog, so I guess this is also a shout-out to that Umaga-lookin' dude. I know Jen would never cheat on me, but she's not answering the phone, so I can't entirely discount it, either. Y'know, like the Sammy Kershaw song, she don't know she's beautiful and doesn't see how I can sometimes, in stressful situations, suspect some lucky SOB might have picked her up (although I do trust her faithfulness to me).

So anyway, I go clear it with the boss man and get ol' stool sample (the Big D, and I don't mean Dallas...) to cover for me, tell them I'm leaving at 3. It's all good until she calls at the last bloody minute. No joke, nothing's wrong - she just left the phone in the car.

And the moral of the story, folks, is that even though nothing was wrong, I had to put my wife ahead of my job. I had to make sure she was alright. And I would have risked losing my job (even though it wouldn't have come to that) because she's more important than any job. (Although the guy who oils up the Divas on the WWE shows before they come out has got it made.) So everything's alright, except for the fact that I had to finish out the last three hours of the night. If she would have waited just 5 minutes to call me, I would have been punched out, in the car doing 90 down the streets of Greenville getting home. Well, maybe not - I would have done about 50-55 down Charles (45mph zone) until I hit Firetower (also 45) where I'd bump it up to about 60, and then on the back roads, it'd be no less than 60 all the way home, except in turns, the sharpest of which I can take at 50. And we'd have gone to sleep 3 hours earlier, and be both up and doing something right now. But that's OK, it all worked out.

The second moral of the story - communication is everything. If you don't have it - well, you're up the old creek.

Brad Paisley's "Ticks" - instant classic (country song)

It isn't every day that you hear a new song and know pretty much right from the get-go that it's going to be a classic. The first time you hear this new single from country artist Brad Paisley, you'll probably laugh. But it's hard to deny that this is a classic in the making. Here are the lyrics:

Every time you take a sip
In this smoky atmosphere
You press that bottle to your lips
And I wish I was your beer
In the small there of your back
Your jeans are playing peek-a-boo
I'd like to see the other half
Of your butterfly tattoo

Hey that gives me an idea
Let's get out of this bar
Drive out into the country
And find a place to park.

'Cause I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers
And I'd like to check you for ticks.

I know the perfect little path
Out in these woods I used to hunt
Don't worry babe I've got your back
And I've also got your front
I'd hate to waste a night like this
I'll keep you safe you wait and see
The only thing allowed to crawl all over you when we get there is me.

You know every guy in here tonight
Would like to take you home
But I've got way more class than them
Babe that ain't what I want.

'Cause I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers
And I'd like to check you for ticks.

You never know where one might be
There's lots of places that are hard to reach
(I gotcha.)

I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you baby way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers
And I'd like to check you for ticks.

I'd sure like to check you for ticks...
(Come on!)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Blogger's code of conduct?

The other day I was asking myself, "What is blogging, exactly?" See, I just use it as a way to type, practice my writing, so to speak. Whether I need the practice is another matter entirely, but I do enjoy writing, so I do. As I was reading, mostly on Wikipedia (amazing site), I found this:
  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
  4. Ignore the trolls.
  5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
  6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
  7. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.
OK, so let me see here...

1. I don't get a lot of comments (only 1, from a family member, so far) so I'll have to wait on that one.

2. Label? Huh? If by label they mean disclose, I hereby state that any derogatory, sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive comments will be deleted. I do realize that saying so invites such comments, but whatever. From here on out any comment which is meant to offend will be deleted. If you'd like to debate something, I invite that, but keep the peace.

3. Hmm... No, I don't think so. Unless I start getting a lot of comments, I'm not going to be picky about who can and who cannot comment. My blog is not popular enough for me to expect people to register with Blogger or Blogspot just to comment on it.

4. Ignoring trolls is more easily said than done, but doesn't this fall under the first two? If someone's trolling, those comments are going to be deleted. As a forum admin, I had to deal with a few trolls, so that's nothing new.

5. Take it offline? Well, I'm much more adept with words online, when I can think of the best word or the best way to word something, so calling someone up and discussing something "offline" would hurt my position, if it were a debate. If it's someone I know in person, local - that's one thing, but otherwise I disagree with this one as I understand it.

6. Tell them? As opposed to deleting their comment? Isn't this contradictory? In my experience, adults behaving badly know they're doing it and they have a purpose. Telling them shows you're two steps behind them, and good luck being taken seriously after that.

7. This is the important one here, and I really have to watch what I say, because I could be more controversial than Howard Stern if I didn't care for consequences. If the blog were anonymous, I wouldn't worry, but I used my real name as sort of a check and balance for myself. You know, everything I say up here I'm putting my name on, and if you can't put your real name on something, how much do you really believe it? I try to avoid the really controversial stuff, but I have opinions on most controversial topics. When I do make those posts, I will be very careful about what I say while trying my best to stay true with my position.

Just a little quickie I wanted to put up.

Rollin' in new movies (and tips on buying them)

As anyone who knows me personally can tell you, I love watching movies, and I am very proud of my DVD collection. As well I should be, having over 300 titles. I don't collect Criterions (high-dollar remasters) or Superbits (extras-free high quality masters) or anything, but I do insist on widescreen, primarily to preserve the director's vision, and secondly because we now have a widescreen TV and want to make the most of it. (Actually, many widescreen titles still show the black bars on our TV, because a widescreen TV is the aspect ratio of the widest widescreen format, and some are even wider - hence the need for the black bars. But at least it looks better than on an analog set - to make a long story short, DVD is a digital format and therefore pixel-based, with square pixels, and analog TVs (anything that isn't HD) have round or hexagonal pixels. VHS might have looked fine on your SDTV (what they call non-HDTVs now) because the signal was analog. Your DVDs might even look fine, but trust me, you're losing quality.

Our DVD collection. Most of it, anyway. We have a lot in a binder, too, and that hexagonal .hack//SIGN case has five of the six volumes of the epic anime series about a gamer unable to log out of a popular MMORPG (what World of Warcraft is). Oh, Jen and I need to watch that again. Anyway, click the image to make it grow.

Anyway, I scored some new DVDs over the last couple months. The links go to IMDb, which has a ton more information on these movies, if you're interested.

Asylum - This came with Hannibal Rising (see below). I have no idea what this was. A TV movie, with Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Star Trek VII: Generations) and Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Marine). McDowell's cool, but Patrick is hit-and-miss. I'll check it out sometime but I am in no hurry.

First Blood - As much as I consider myself a film buff, I haven't seen some key 1980s movies. Indiana Jones, Rambo, Rocky, Jaws - I have seen none of them. First Blood is the first Rambo movie, so I'll see what I think of them. Funny thing is I actually like Stallone in what I've seen him in (I'm thinkin' of Demolition Man, where he starred opposite Wesley Snipes in the future) but I haven't seen anything from his two main franchises.

Free Enterprise - All the hype about this movie is around two nerds meeting their idol, Star Trek star William Shatner, but this is really a movie about these two guys nearing the big 3-0 and their romantic lives. If you've seen Kevin Smith's masterpiece Clerks., or his follow-up Mallrats, and enjoyed those, this is right up your alley. Two buddies who know everything about a particular niche of pop culture. With Kevin Smith it was superheroes, here it's Star Trek. I found this movie to be about 20 minutes too long, but it was enjoyable.

Friends - The One With All the Parties - Jen wanted a specific Friends episode
, and she's pretty sure it's "The one with all the resolutions" on this collection of 7 episodes from the popular show. But either way she'll enjoy it. I don't much care for this. Or Melrose Place. And especially not F'in 90210 - words cannot describe my dislike for these stupid shows. They call Star Trek fantasy, but future tech aside, I consider the diversity of Star Trek casts to be far more realistic than these "everbody's a supermodel" shows. By far.

Hannibal Rising - I've always been a fan of Hannibal Lecter movies, from Silence of the Lambs to Hannibal, even Red Dragon. I didn't check out the first one without Anthony Hopkins, Manhunter (which is the same story as Red Dragon anyway, just with different people - yawn) and this one doesn't have Hopkins either, but can't because Hannibal is much younger - no more than 20, I think. Well, it starts out with him as a kid, and cuts short of showing us what made Hannibal so crazy, which is revealed slowly throughout the film. I read Hannbal, the book, and it explained that already, but wasn't in that movie, so I kind of knew this was going to be made at some point. Anthony Hopkins is the definitive (if not first) Hannibal Lecter, but this new guy does alright, too.

Jurassic Park - You get a big-screen TV, this is one of the first movies you get after the Star Wars movies, the better Star Trek movies (2-4, 6, 8-10), Independence Day... basically you get the ones that were just made for the theater. I haven't watched it on the big screen yet (well, since I saw it in the theater in Petaluma, CA, before they closed that one) but Jen and I will, soon.

Meet the Fockers - Meet the Parents was the only thing I liked Ben Stiller in until this came out. The sparring between Stiller and Robert DeNiro is great. As a sequel this is more of the same, but still fun and very much worth watching if you want a laugh.

U-571 - I used to not like "sub movies" but after this, Hunt for Red October, and Crimson Tide, I can't really say I don't like them, although I still maintain that, in general, I don't care for war movies (Braveheart being one notable exception). I can't remember what this one was about, but I know I liked it, and I got it for $4, so I couldn't lose there.

WrestleMania 23 - I just had to get this. The WWE usually (though not always) saves their best matches for the pay-per-view, and they try to get the best contests happening around March-April to culminate at WrestleMania, the company's flagship PPV. This one had some decent matches, but sorely missed a Mick Foley match to compete with Edge spearing him into a flaming table in WM22. Chris Benoit is one of the most talented people up there, but relative newcomer MVP gave him a decent challenge. The monster and diva matches were pretty much filler. The ECW match, the "Originals" vs. the "New Breed" had me divided. The originals have some legends - Sabu and Tommy Dreamer - but New Breed's Marcus Cor Von and Elijah Burke are two of the most exciting performers on the ECW brand. Money in the Bank III was amazing - eight guys, every man for himself, the objective being to take a ladder, bring it into the ring, set it up, climb to the top, and retrieve a briefcase hanging high above the center of the ring. (The value of the briefcase is the right to challenge any solo title holder for their belt at any time - it's usually cashed in at the end of a match when said champ is beaten bloody.) Battle of the Billionaires was a joke, but fun - McMahon and Trump putting their hair on the line with representatives (Umaga for McMahon, and Bobby Lashley for Trump) fighting it out and future hall of famer Stone Cold Steve Austin as the ref. This match had a couple surprises, too. (Shane helps his dad cheat.) The two championship matches - Batista vs. Undertaker and John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels - were pretty much the usual, excpet for Cena's entrance, driving a brand-new Mustang GT (cuz the match was at Ford Field) through town and eventually crashing into the arena, which was real cool. If you're not into wrestling and want a start, grab this and watch the Money in the Bank match - it's this collection's best offering.

But that's not all! I have a few on the way from

A Time to Kill - The film adaptation of John Grisham's debut novel, and one of his best movies. I do prefer Runaway Jury (which I also have) and The Rainmaker (see below) is also good. This one is up there for sure. It starts out with the brutal rape of an 8-year-old black girl by two white men (it's an American film - you don't see anything, just hear screams... as opposed to the book which gave just a little too much information) and is shortly followed by their murder by the girl's father, played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, who winds up on trial for it. Great courtroom action, great drama, good movie about race relations, too. The subject matter is a little offensive, but it's not that hard to watch.

Good Will Hunting - I never saw this when it was out. I didn't take it seriously. But Kevin Smith, a new favorite director of mine and Jen's longtime favorite, seems to like it, and I think he had a part in it (producer?) so we're checking it out. I want to say Robin Williams is in it, too - another point for it - but I don't know for sure. I want to see this, in any case.

The Rainmaker - Another good legal thriller by John Grisham made successfully into a good movie. Matt Damon plays a rookie lawyer going after an insurance company, and Danny DeVito (always entertaining - that reminds me, I need to get Twins) is his mentor, despite failing the bar exam about 15 times. Normally he'd be called a paralegal, but he calls himself a "paralawyer" because he knows more about the law than anyone, just can't pass the test to become a bona-fide attorney-at-law.

Speed - File this under necessary big-screen TV viewing. Though they'd both done other stuff before, this is really what got both Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock started. Dennis Hopper plays a wicked bomber. You all know the story - the bus goes over 55, the bomb is armed, but once it falls below, the bomb is detonated. Good stuff.

Swordfish - If you've heard people talking about this movie, they were probably talking about the famous scene in which Halle Berry bares her breasts on-camera. That's all well and good, but this John Travolta action film has more than that to offer. I just haven't seen it in so long, and wanted to see it again. (And I won't deny seeing Halle Berry on the big screen plays some part. I am a man, after all.)

Looking at this list you might think I'm spending too much on movies, that I don't have my priorities in order, but that isn't the case. I've built a massive DVD library, but I haven't paid nearly as much as you might think. I'll share three of my biggest secrets. Some secrets are just not meant to be shared, but here's the three best ones:

Avoid buying new movies. They cost more, of course, and there are undoubtedly plenty of better movies you've missed over the last few years. Hit up your town's pawn shops and other such secondhand stores. Check flea markets (although NEVER buy a DVD that's been sitting in the sun, even if it's in the case). Movie rental places (e.g. Hollywood, Blockbuster, even some independents) sell used movies. They buy too many copies of popular movies and sell them when the demand goes down. The biggest thing about buying DVDs secondhand is quality. Ask to inspect the disc. Make sure the bottom is free from scratches. Some can be fixed, but if it goes through the label or the label is dinged, the DVD will not play correctly. Insist on quality - if it isn't like-new, reject it. We just got 3 movies for $12 at a pawn shop. Movie rental places like to do 3/$20, 4/$30. If you can pay around $10 for a DVD, that's alright if it's good. If you can pay less, that's good. If you can pay under $5, that's great and ideal. Usually you have to buy in quantity, but that's fine.

Second, buy online. Brick-and-mortar places mark movies up too high. They're fair on new releases, but if you look at what Amazon wants for movies that are just a few years old (around $10) you can see how badly places like Best Buy and Walmart mark up their movies (although both are the best the first week a movie's out). There are places besides Amazon, but they're who I have an account with. I feel comfortable shopping with them, and they've always been good to me. Plus, their site is very fun to browse. In fact Amazon and Google are my two favorite online companies.

Third, save your coins. Use a mayonnaise jar or something. Not too big - ideally, I'd say, something around 1-2" wide and 4-5" tall. Ours is pictured below. Here's how I save mine: I put every quarter and every dime I get into the jar. I'll put some nickels in there, but I'll spend some, too. When purchasing items at the store, I only pay with paper cash and pennies (the occasional nickel) - or plastic. Like if the order is for $2.33, I'll put three pennies, a nickel, and then three ones in, and get 3 quarters back. When the jar is filled, I take it to the store, where they have a machine called Coinstar, at which most people pay 8.9¢ on the dollar for it to count their coins and give them a cash voucher. I pay no fee and instead get an gift code - a long alphanumeric code which Coinstar registers with Amazon for the exact value of my change. Look at the coin jar - that filled with 110 quarters, 122 dimes, 21 nickels, and 6 pennies (the Coinstar slip tells you exactly how many of each you had) got me $40.81. will ship for free on orders over $25. If I kept it under, I would have gotten four of those last five movies free, with shipping. But I went just $2.13 over, so that's all that I put on the card. Oh, and it only took me about 2-3 months to save that much. That's a movie every couple weeks - not bad if it were my only way of getting movies, but it isn't.

Our coin jar, to the right of the duct tape and to the left of the pez dispenser. I had to get Frank in there - the demonic bunny from Donnie Darko. So you can kind of see how big it was. That slam-packed with quarters and dimes was worth just under $41, just about enough to get me 5 movies on Click the image to see it full-sized.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Funny church sign of the ... whenever

Putting God first
makes your marriage last.

I'm not into religion, but there are so many churches out here, most of them have signs, and they're pretty funny to read sometimes. But sometimes I just feel the need to say something about them. Like this one.

In my marriage, I put Jen first. Well, every now and then she catches me on a bad day or something's on my mind and I act like a jerk, but these are few and very far in between, but for the most part I put her first in just about everything I do. My take on religion is that it's in the category of hobbies. A Christian, for example, might say that they take their religion far more seriously than any hobby, but in doing so prove that they have not met any true hobbyists. Some of these people get really into their stuff. Like a hobbyist, the religious person dedicates time, money, and mental exercise (reading, learning, studying) to their hobby. And some of those fanatics really do worship Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker or whomever.

Jen and I both have our hobbies. Nothing we're that serious about - speaking for myself, computers, movies, and driving - and we have a couple shared hobbies. She got me into wrestling (WWE) and I got her into Star Trek. I've always been of the understanding that putting any hobby, or even work, before your partner is bad for a marriage. Besides, not knocking religion too badly here, but most of them acknowledge that they have no proof of their god's existence. When asked about proof they tell you about faith - and that's fine. But putting something you can only have faith in over someone you know exists... or putting something that you can only hope cares about you over someone you know loves you... or even putting something whose actions you've only read about or been told about over someone who has said the vows, dedicated their life to you - it's just the pinnacle of absurdity.

I'm thinking - with my massive 11 months of experience as a married man - that the key to making a marriage last isn't focusing on how long it will last per se - because that's taking the person for granted - but doing things that will make it last today. I've made it a point to tell Jen I love her at least every day lest she forget. It's not that I suspect that she will; in fact, it's for myself as much as her. And it's not like I need a reminder, either, it's just... what I do, I guess.

We're in this "until death do us part" and we don't put anything first but one another. Furthermore, in the unfortunate incident in which I outlive her, I will still consider her my wife and be faithful until my time has come as well. With dedication like that, I don't need a mythical higher power. The strongest concentration of my love goes to someone who has been there for me and will continue to do so, which I know not because I read it in a book, but because she's proven it time and again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The practice of water filtration

Now here's one from out in left field.

It's probably been 15 years since it started. No, not that long, but more than 10. I had just moved back in with my mother, maybe within a year or so. My dad's second wife was a health nut, for a while, and had a Brita filter - that's about when I started drinking water - like, often; like, daily; like, how some people drink soda, or beer.

Then I got back home staying with my mother, and started drinking tap water. I got sick, somehow something contaminated the city water and others got sick as well, not really an epidemic but kind of a big thing, I suppose. We got ourselves a contract, I guess it was, with Alhambra, for them to deliver 5-gallon bottles of water, and we leased a dispenser. (What my mom never knew, and I learned later, is you can get your own dispenser, even your own 5-gallon bottles, and doing either or both lowers the bill.) I would keep a gallon or two in the fridge to keep some cold, and more often than not fill my mug with a mixture of cold and warm, call it 40/60. But over the years it just kept getting more and more expensive. What started out as less than $20 a month became over $45 a month. So my mother asked me to find a more efficient solution. We got a Brita filter for around $30, and a 4-pack of filters for just under $20 at Costco, and that $50 investment let us make our own bottled water for close to a year, because a filter can last 2 or 3 months depending on use. (We replaced every 2 months.)

When I came out to North Carolina, the first visit in September 2004 (damn, it's almost been 3 years - and I'm married to her now), I knew I'd have to have filtered water, so I asked her if she had bottled or clean water. She told me about the well water (nasty stuff) so we stopped at Walmart and I bought a Brita filter (only about $20) and one filter. I tried but the water still smelled like crap. (Sorry Jen.) (She doesn't like it too much when I talk bad about the well water.) Now what we do is, we either get gallon jugs of water when we go to Wal-Mart, or we take empty jugs and fill them with tap water at Jen's sister's place. Chocowinity tap water isn't good, either, but at least it can be filtered to make good water. Well water from between Chocowinity and Grimesland - well, that's a different story.

I still buy bottled water, even when we can get it for free. I'll buy the 24-packs of half-liter bottles when they go on sale. Once the store had a deal, buy 1 get 2 free, and it was only about 5 bucks to start with. So you can't tell me you wouldn't take 72 bottles of good water for $5, if you weren't strapped for cash and you were inclined to drink it. (They had the same deal on the store brand ice cream, and pounds of strawberries, too. We took advantage of all three.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

WWE Draft and McMahon Appreciation Night

One aspect of myself I haven't gone into - one aspect of my relationship with my wife, actually - is that when we got together, we both fell hard for one another's favorite television programs. I've made a Trekkie out of Jen, and she's made a wrestling fan out of me. Before me, she never cared much about Star Trek, and before her, I never could dig wrestling. But what started as me keeping tabs on her favorite superstars became a fandom in its own right.

Tonight was the WWE Draft, which means that superstars tied to the WWE's three brands - Monday Night RAW, Friday Night SmackDown!, and ECW - are all up for trading. Each match was interbranded, and the winner would receive a draft pick - at "random" - for his or her brand. It started out weak - Great Khali going (back) to SmackDown, Boogeyman going to ECW... yawn, yawn. King Booker going to RAW would have been hot six months ago when he was the SmackDown champ, but now he's pretty much a nobody. Then Bobby Lashley was drafted to RAW (where he started, before going to SmackDown and then ECW) and therefore stripped of the ECW championship. (I'm sure that was Vince McMahon's doing, as Vince took the title a while ago and Lashley brutally won it back.) I was quite mad to find out the legendary Ric Flair was drafted to SmackDown, which I can't watch because of work. Also, Chris Benoit, one of the most talented guys up there, went from SmackDown to ECW, which I can watch (that, and RAW). So that's good. And the night ended with a 15-man battle royal, which means it's every man for himself, people are eliminated by being thrown out of the ring. A win for RAW's Randy Orton got RAW not 1 but two draft picks - ECW's Snitsky and SmackDown's Mr. Kennedy. So it was an OK night, perhaps one of the better RAW episodes lately. But maybe it didn't need to be 3 hours long. They made an animation for the Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night, which they showed no less than a dozen times. That could have been scrapped, and as always I felt they could have gotten on with some of the elaborate introductions and history lessons, but I know they need that time to set things up.

Now, just to be clear, I'm not exactly what they call a mark, in the industry. Yes, I suspend disbelief and enjoy the show as intended, but I'm also aware it's not all real, thank you very much. Fake isn't the right word - someone else put it better: "It's not fake, it's controlled." Indeed, many of the hazards are real. The matches are scripted and practiced, the outcomes all predetermined. Nothing at all up there is left to chance, nothing at all. The voting for the Cyber Sunday pay-per-view? All rigged and decided ahead of time. Same thing with the Diva Search voting. But for the record, American Idol is likely no different. Or Survivor. It's all television, and like other television programs, good or otherwise, it's for entertainment only. It only looks like a sport, emulates a real bona-fide sport. Some of those guys out there - Chris Benoit for one, Shelton Benjamin is another, Carlito, Randy Orton - they can actually wrestle as is done in bona-fide matches, but that doesn't change the fact that their matches' outcomes are predetermined.

That said, Vince McMahon gets a lot of hell. The first thing most people who know about him say when asked about him is that he's a jerk, or some more colorful foul term. The thing he makes it so easy to forget is that like everybody up there, he's playing a character. Characters you may like may in fact turn out to be jerks in real life. I've never met Mr. McMahon, but according to Mick Foley's second biography, "Foley is Good", he's supposed to actually be very professional, soft-spoken and kind, only playing the evil dictator for the sake of the show. In any case, the guy's as much a legend in the entertainment industry as anyone similar you can think of. Directors, writers, concept creators, whatever. He's got to be at least as influential as Star Trek's own creator, Gene Roddenbery, easily. Roddenberry's creation was much more intelligent, but whose made more money, has more fans? Easily McMahon's. Well, Vince McMahon didn't create "Pro" Wrestling, nor did he create the WWE, or WWF as it used to be called - I believe that honor goes to his grandfather, who passed it down to his father, who in turn passed it to him. (His own son Shane is still the supervillain's sidekick, though.) But it was Vince who brought it where it is today, into the mainstream and on cable TV - when his father ran it, it was pay-per-view only, no cable TV show. So it's come a long way since. Like it or not, if you're a fan of his products, you have to at least acknowledge what he's done for you and your entertainment. Oh, and he's what the industry calls a Heel, which means he's supposed to make you dislike him. Vince McMahon is probably the best heel that's ever performed in the ring. So if you really hate him, you then have to acknowledge that he does his job at least as good as anyone up there.

Well, that's all today. Didn't shoot any pool, unfortunately, but I still got one more day off.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jolly Family Country Mixes 2007

I am slowly coming to accept the quality and entertainment value of country music after years of disgust and ignorance of the genre. My mother always taught me to be more open when it comes to music, but when I lived with my Evil Stepmother (™), the house rule on music was either country or gospel. I counted myself lucky that I found a Christian hard rock band (Petra) that I dug at the time, but I know now I was really missing out on some great music.

While my mom's never admitted to liking country, she listens to much more of it than she's really aware. John Mellencamp, the Eagles, the Allman Brothers band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd aren't exactly country (some more so than others) but they all have something in common with what I believe country music is all about.

Rock - particularly classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, whose shirt I'm wearing now - will always be my first love, but country music is working its way into my life. My brother, Wayne, used to be real big on country back in the day. Back when I lived with his mom, I got hooked on my favorie country song, "Chatahoochie" by Alan Jackson. I loved it from the start and I still love it. But it was like a fluke then - I didn't explore more. When I got into country, the gateway drug, as it were, was actually Garth Brooks. Now, Garth Brooks is sitting right by the same fence John Mellencamp is. Mellencamp is as close to country as you can get while still being rock. Garth Brooks is as close to rock as you can get while still being country, so for a Mellenhead as I was, it was real easy to get into. I'd actually dug his song "Standing Outside the Fire" long before Wayne started on me, but again I didn't pursue it. Wayne had me use my online resources to track down a copy of the "Double Live" album, which I got him, and I dug it. I got a good deal on his box set, which contained his first six albums. I don't like every song, but I like most of the singles.

I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with Garth Brooks, or Wayne's recommendations, alone. I had to dip my feet in and discover what I liked. Sonoma County, California, had two main country stations. There was Froggy 92.9, which was OK, but played more of the older stuff, which I find harder to get into. I like the 90s and newer country, though some of the 80s stuff wasn't too bad. Then there was 104.9 Q105, and that was more my speed. I discovered "The Impossible" by Joe Nichols and "Riding With Private Malone" by David Ball up there, and I want to say a couple others that became favorites. After I moved to Eastern NC, I found one country station - Country 95.1 WRNS - and they're pretty good. But this new one, Thunder Country 103.7, has me hooked. So when I'm feeling country, I get caught up in the storm, as they say on there, first. But a country station plays less ads, it seems, than other stations, on both sides of the country, so I listen to more country on the radio than other genres.

The next big step came when we came into some country singles online. Jen knew much more about 90s country than I did, so I had her take her pick. We have tons now, way more than I knew what to do with. Where to start? So I asked Jen to make a country mix. I listened to it, and filtered what I liked from what I didn't like, and then made a mix of my own. I believe I'll get a second mix out of the songs we got, but for now, here's Nathan's Country Mix 2007. (Despite the year in the title, it doesn't mean the songs are recent, the year is just when the mix was compiled.) Here's the track list:

01. How Forever Feels (Kenny Chesney)
02. Goin' Through the Big D (Mark Chesnut)
03. Awful Beautiful Life (Darryl Worley)
04. Heads Carolina, Tails California (Jo Dee Messina)
05. Kiss This (Aaron Tippin)
06. Sold (John Michael Montgomery)
07. Small Town (John Mellencamp)
08. It's Five o'Clock Somewhere (Alan Jackson, featuring Jimmy Buffet)
09. The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)
10. The River (Garth Brooks)
11. Don't Take the Girl (Tim McGraw)
12. One Boy, One Girl (Collin Raye)
13. The Best Man (Blaine Larsen)
14. Riding With Private Malone (David Ball)
15. One More Day (Diamond Rio)
16. Ol' Red (Blake Shelton)
17. What Might Have Been (Little Texas)
18. The Impossible (Joe Nichols)
19. She Said Yes (Rhett Akins)
20. Concrete Angels (Martina McBride)
21. Bless the Broken Road (Rascal Flatts)

I started the mix with Kenny Chesney, who has become a favorite name among the songs I've heard. I also like "I Go Back", in part because it references a bunch of classic rock songs, starting with John Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane". Pure class, and the song is great. But "How Forever Feels" is more appropriate for this mix, a good blend of catchy fun and sentiment, the two main ingredients for a good country song.

"Goin' Through the Big D" by Mark Chesnut is such a gimmick, but it's a sweet one. The kind of song that gets you humming its tune at work and laughing about the play on words in the chorus, "I'm goin' through the Big D and I don't mean Dallas ... I got the Jeep, she got the palace". I don't feel the divorce theme, but it's more of a fun song than anything. There's a song we have about a girl who tells the singer she'll be gone by lunch if he goes fishing, and he sings how he's gonna miss her. I think that one will be on the next country mix. "Awful Beautiful Life" is another one I discovered on the radio in California. Darryl Worley shamelessly rips off Alan Jackson's "Chatahoochie" with "Tennessee River Run", which is another favorite (gotta love the "Cajun sausage on a hotdog bun"). "Awful Beautiful Life" has a little too much religious-right stuff in it (going to church, supportive of the war) but it's done up in a good way, in a fun song.

"Heads Carolina, Tails California" by Jo Dee Messina appeals to us, naturally, because of how I moved to North Carolina from California. Heading to (North) Carolina, California to my back. The song itself is about driving, just wherever the road takes you, which I totally dig. Since the cross-country drive, I've been hot for road trips. To eastern Tennessee and back for the honeymoon and to Connecticut and back, twice, to see Jen's family up in Stamford - I love gettin' behind the wheel for a trip that'll take more than 8 hours, so I dig a good driving song.

Aaron Tippin's "Kiss This" is another fun-to-listen-to gimmick song that you'll love to sing along with. "Why don't you kiss, yeah kiss this, and I don't mean on my rosy red lips...". It's funny that a man's singing such a feminist song. It's about a woman saying that and more to a loser boyfriend, and the crowd getting into it. Still, a fun song to sing along with. "Sold" by Montgomery Gentry is another fun song. I don't get into it as much as the previous five, but it's a good tune.

Next we have John Mellencamp's "Small Town", pretty much as close to country as the Cougar's gotten. It doesn't have the twang, but the lyrics are in the right place. The next song, however, is all country. Alan Jackson singing "It's 5 o'Clock Somewhere", with Jimmy Buffet on guest vocals. This is another fun song, but it's more of a drinking song, and getting more serious as we move down the list. Country legend Kenny Rogers' hit "The Gambler" is next up. For old country, it's good. Heck, for any country it's real good. Rockers joke about Kenny Rogers (I did) but you know, the guy was at the Grammys, I think it was, in the front row in 1991 when Metallica played "Enter Sandman", and at the end of the performance, reportedly Rogers was one of the first to get up and applause. So you gotta hand it to the guy.

Now the list gets serious. There were a lot of great Garth Brooks songs I could have chosen, but I went with one I was just getting into, far from a favorite. "The River". It's a slow one, not so much fun, as just a good overall song. Another one with a lot of fun songs, Tim McGraw sings the next one, "Don't Take the Girl", a sort of tear-jerker. I guess you could take the ending either way, but the lyrics will have you waiting. Collin Raye's "One Boy, One Girl" is kind of in the same vein, but with a happier ending. Blaine Larsen's "The Best Man" is more upbeat, but follows this new trend of good from-the-heart lyrics, about a man whose stepfather became his role model. I heard this in the Texas steakhouse, for an Internet-invented "holiday" celebrated on March 20 (sometimes March 14) I'm not going to get into, but it involves a steak dinner. Kind of a man's holiday, if you follow.

Don't let David Ball's "Riding With Private Malone" fool you. It wasn't recorded in the 70s; it's actually fairly recent (late 90s), but it's that real natural, unsynthesized sound, sounds like he just got up there and sang and played, and it wasn't filtered digitally, so it has a more natural sound. Another good story, perhaps as supernatural as you're going to get in country. I remember hearing "One More Day" by Diamond Rio back around the time Dale Earnhardt Sr. died - I don't know if it was just the same time or if they put the song in a tribute video, or the music video was about Dale Sr., but I remember a connection. The lyrics don't exactly fit - about a husband who wants one more day with his late wife. Now there's a sweet song.

"Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton is a good story song, but it has a witty end. It's kind of similar to AC/DC's old single Jailbreak, twist and all, but where AC/DC's blues effort ends in tragedy, Shelton's tune ends in comedy. This is just a fun song to listen to. "What Might Have Been" is a good "breaking up/moving on" song with some good lyrics. Joe Nichols' "The Impossible" is yet another one I discovered on my own, out in California. It's the only song by him I like (I've heard a couple others), but it's a good one. Rhett Akins' "She Said Yes" is a good song about falling in love, and it was included on our wedding soundrack. Jen says it took her a couple years to find it on CD - she must have overlooked Amazon; they have everything.

"Concrete Angels" by Martina McBride is the saddest song on here - it's about a little girl who dies from child abuse. That subject just pisses me off like nothing else. Jen and I are trying for kids (preferrably girls), so the idea of people hating their kids that much to use them as punching bags (or sex objects) just makes me want to kill someone. There are so many would-be parents out there trying to adopt, they ought to just do the right thing and give the kids up. I really dig the song, though, but I can't listen to it too much. Lastly, Rascal Flatts' "Bless the Broken Road" is probably going to be the theme for our first anniversary. (The wedding theme was Nickelback's "Far Away".) It's about how all the bad relationships you've had on your way to the one that worked shaped you for success later, and that's exactly how I feel about Jen's previous boyfriends. I didn't have any romantic experience before Jen, but there were still people who shaped my romantic views to fit perfectly with Jen's.

Just as a final note, we are not selling copies of this mix, so please do not ask. We use this mix for private use only and are not looking to violate copyright law. But if you have iTunes or a similar legal downloading program, and have $20 to invest in a mix to get you into country (or you already dig it but are looking for a good collection), I have to recommend it. Or, if you'd like the original one Jen made for me, here's its listing. Folks we know and have played the mixes for tend to prefer hers. Note that it has a few of the same songs, but others as well.

01. Kiss This (Aaron Tippin)
02. Guys Do it All the Time (Mindy McCready)
03. What Might Have Been (Little Texas)
04. How Forever Feels (Kenny Chesney)
05. Heads Carolina, Tails California (Jo Dee Messina)
06. No News (Lonestar)
07. Speed (Montgomery Gentry)
08. She's Taking a Shine (John Berry)
09. Summertime (Kenny Chesney)
10. Be My Baby Tonight (John Michael Montgomery)
11. Goin' Through the Big D (Mark Chesnut)
12. Strawberry Wine (Deanna Carter)
13. Ol' Red (Blake Shelton)
14. I Can Love You Better (Dixie Chicks)
15. How Your Love Makes Me Feel (Diamond Rio)
16. Dust on the Bottle (David Lee Murphy)
17. I'm Gonna Miss Her (Brad Paisley) (this is the one I mentioned earlier, about fishing)
18. Rock My World/Little Country Girl (Brooks & Dunn)
19. Austin (Blake Shelton) (good one on par with "Ol' Red")
20. They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore (Boy Howdy)
21. Meet in the Middle (Diamond Rio)
22. Sold (John Michael Montgomery)
23. Old Enough to Know Better (Wade Hayes)

I know for damn sure that when we have kids, we won't force them to listen to music we like or even only approve of, but we will have country music playing. Maybe not as much as the rock, but there's something serene about country music playing, even loudly, throughout the house. Country personifies the slow and mellow life of the country, of lands far from metropolitan areas. Much of it has a lot of religion, but even as a sort of atheist/agnostic, most of it's appealing anyway - it's not usually very preachy. In general, I see country as lite rock that is more honest, more down-to-earth, more realistic, more personally identifiable. It's a more personal form of music, and if you don't know much about it, I advise giving it a chance.