Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Update Rollup July 2007

To borrow a term from Microsoft (hopefully I won't get sued, LOL) I'd like to use this post to update some of my past blog posts. Some I've thought about going back and adding to, but what's said is said, and someone who may have read that post wouldn't think to go read it again, even if I provided a list of blogs I'd updated. So, I'll link to each one, and add what I will. Going from most recent, back...

"Punk'd by a damn burger!"
There was one thing I'd forgotten to mention. The hamburger meat had been frozen, thawed, refrozen, thawed, and then left in the fridge for a few days. I didn't want to waste it, so I cooked the last of it. Jen didn't think it would be any good when we used the first part of it, but it was fine. Then I left it in the fridge for a few days, and, well part of it looked partially cooked, you know, brown. It didn't smell bad, but it didn't look quite right. Still, I thought it would be fine. I would not have served that meat to anyone else, but I was hungry, it was there, and my mama taught me not to waste.

I don't know if the meat not being 100% fresh had anything to do with the smoke. I still can't explain that horrible smoke. I know I had it up too high for how thick that burger was, but it was more than that. The Italian seasoning? The minced onion? Perpahs I should have sprayed some Pam? But I figured the beef had enough fat. It's 80/20 (in NC they give you the meat/fat ratio - they didn't in CA) and it usually works. Oh well, the burger wasn't bad.

I did take a picture of it, which I'll post here (edit: no I won't, photobucket's down). It looks raw or close to it in the middle, on the edges. It didn't taste quite right - it's by far the worst burger I ever made. But then it didn't taste too bad, it's just I've done better - much better. Like last time, it was almost Fuddruckers good. Almost. And that's on a skillet - I'm sure they grill theirs. They got to, to be that good.

"The ethics of Emulation"
Discussing this on a certain popular gaming site, some forum warrior pointed out that Nintendo's new Virtual Console - an online service associated with the new Wii system - is offering many of these old games for sale. That would be a compelling argument, but for two things. First, you can't get a Wii out here. Walmart and EB Games don't sell them. They're still coming soon out in North Carolina, at least where I've been. I haven't been shopping for the Wii, but still, I've never seen one for sale - just the games. And second, the deal killer - Virtual Console requires broadband, which isn't out here, even if you could order a Wii off the Net or buy one in Raleigh or Charlotte.

So to get Virtual Console, I would have to move - and that is out of the question. I would not tell someone who wants to play Japan-only titles to move to Japan, as opposed to downloading these games - that's just too much to ask for a damn game. Moving any distance can't be justified by entertainment. I moved for love. Moving for money - for work - is also acceptable. For a bloody game, though? No. Virtual Console is not an option for us and our neighbors and peers, end of discussion.

Oh, and third - two of my three favorite games are, from what I hear, not available on Virtual Console to start with. So currently, the only way to play Super Metroid or Secret of Mana - barring getting an actual SNES - is to emulate them. And another I want to play, Seiken Densetsu 3 (the sequel to Secret of Mana), is only available in Japan, in Japanese, and for the Super Famicom (Japan's SNES, basically). The one going around the 'Net is translated to English. So that absolutely must be emulated - learning Japanese is also out of the question.

"Funniest videos on the Net"
I swear, I have showed the video of the little girl who can kick that monster's ass to at least a dozen people, young and old. I showed it to our 7-year-old nephew, forgetting he saw it the same time I did, on his grandmother's computer. I figure it's OK to show kids with a little discretion. This kid's heard a lot worse, and besides, at the end the mother corrects the child, tells her the right word to use. And it's not like it's obscene. I think one woman I showed, at work, was a little offended seeing a 3-year-old swearing, but she still laughed at it. Even a couple would-be tough guys had a good laugh at it.

"Never wanted to grow up"
With this blog, I set out to say something profound, and I think I hit the mark. I may have stretched it a little much, maybe I could have trimmed it some, but I said what I came to say.

There's not much I can add to it, save for that all the things I've seen (if not actually done) I sort of feel as though most of what teenagers could do (between sex and drugs) doesn't quite touch what I've seen. And I've seen some bad shit. Not as bad as some people have perhaps seen, but probably worse than more than half Americans/Westerners (I won't put myself in league with Africans and Middle-Easterners who see death and terror and disease and other stuff we take for granted in the West).

Sex and drugs are part of a natural stage called teenage rebellion, and while it does claim a few lives; while it does permanently scar and maim a few, we teach our kids right from wrong and can just sit back and hope that it was enough. Sometimes it doesn't matter, stuff just happens that can happen to anybody, and other times it makes all the difference in the world, that your kid knowing the difference between right and wrong is enough to save her life, stop her from crossing that fine line between fun danger and fatal danger.

Also we should remember that for the most part, we shame and punish our daughters for doing the very same things we reward and praise our sons for doing, in general. That is, most fathers will praise a son for his first kiss (or lay), and maybe give him "the talk", but a father hears about his daughter being kissed, he's ready to murder a teenage boy, doesn't matter which one. He's going to first think his daughter's a slut, easy, then become disappointed... and that isn't right. People are going to pursue pleasure regardless of their gender.

I think the real problem guys have, is we remember how we treated girls in junior high and high school. Even if we didn't (such as myself), we remember how we thought about girls. I was raised by my mother and my stepmother, and my favorite people in my latter teen years were younger girls (cousins, and their friends), but before that I thought of girls and women as objects to be stared at or used. So I, so we know that the teenage boys of today are thinking the same thoughts, and worse because each generation starts earlier and gets a little more extreme than the one before it. In my parents' generation, teenagers kissed. Their parents, it was holding hands. My generation, there was some sex, more heavy petting and fondling. This generation, we hear about a lot of oral sex in schools. So what we need to do is drop the double standards, for starters, and beef up the education. That's all easier said than done, of course, but it's what needs to happen. Otherwise, they'll be more prone to victimization. Sure, they'll still do what they do, but they'll know right from wrong.

See, this has gone way beyond the scope of the original blog post, and I'm glad I didn't go this far with it. This was almost - no, it was - its own topic, which I should get into more.

"New comment system"
Heh. Despite requiring my approval, two or three spam comments (illegal pyramid schemes, and scams) have been posted. I guess the fools have some automated system to do it. There is an option to require typing in some letters and numbers to post a comment. That should eliminate bots (which I suspect it is) but I don't want to create an inconvenience. But then those systems are becoming more commonplace (Yahoo has them all over) and they're fairly straightforward.

But at this point it's almost a non-issue. I get maybe one spam comment a week, and I can reject it right from my email inbox. Not a problem.

"Health problem - my right leg"

To cover the easy part - the asthma problem - I found out that that special inhaler, the Maxair Autohaler, would be $40 with insurance. The $10 price I was expecting was only for generics. So I told Walgreens what they could do with that Maxair inhaler (no, I was nice about it) and the next week, I got a perscription for regular-old Albuterol. $10, bigger inhaler, and the medicine I've used for years. It gives me a little energy boost - and it's mildly addictive. I took two puffs off it the day I got it and the 2-3 days after that, but only when I was short of breath. I haven't used it in a few days. I carry it, but I try to use it only when I consciously feel the need to, and even then I think about it, ask myself if sitting down, relaxing, and taking deep breaths won't help. The inhaler really is a last resort before the problem escalates.

Back to my leg. I didn't mention, but the doc put me in an Unnaboot - basically, medicine-soaked gauze wrapped around my leg, and then covered with an Ace bandage. I had to wear this sucker for a whole week! When it came off, my leg was pruned to all hell, but the ulceration, as she called it, was noticeably smaller. I would say it's 15-20% smaller, and healing. It doesn't ooze as much, and when it dries, it's more of a real scab than just the oozing stuff hardened. Yeah, I know that sounds graphic, but this is a health update.

"Women who find Ma'am inappropriate (DearAbby)"
I hadn't thought of women who consider "Ma'am" to refer to an older woman, but some do. Now I remember, you call a woman under 45, maybe 40 in California, ma'am and she'll take it as an insult. They say they're years away from being a ma'am. Down here in the South, though, it's acceptable, even if she's in her late teens. A waitress, for example. Or a customer, depending on where you sit/stand. I think it might be silly to call a child "ma'am", and a little sarcastic, because it isn't respect, it's patronization, but then if it's your kid or a friend's kid, a kid you know, and she's being bossy (our neice is like that) it might not be inappropriate.

"Game Review: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (NDS)"
I mentioned the "Julius Mode", where you go in after the main character, Soma, has failed, and you fight through in much of the same order Soma has done. Some things are different - you have different abilities, but cannot collect souls or weapons or armor or items. The gameplay is more like the Nintendo and Super Nintendo Castlevania titles - much simpler, much harder. Julius can only regain health after a boss fight, or by saving - the latter of which, is without consequence or limit, save for that you must find a save spot, and they can be far apart. But you have a map and conservative planning is not hard.

The Julius mode has been fun, as a novelty. You play a Belmont, you have the classic powers... But it just became a lot cooler for me. Right in the beginning you get a second character, who you can switch to on the fly. She's not very good, but I'm sure she has her uses. But now I've just got the third character, Alucard from Symphony of the Night. This is my favorite Castlevania character. The son of Dracula, he's dedicated his life to fighting evil, though he still has a few of his father's powers. He can throw three fireballs in a vertical pattern, he can morph into a bat, he can rocket right up into the air, and he carries a sword. Oh, and he glows. He just about has Sephiroth style, but not quite - nobody's Sephiroth but Sephiroth. He's close though. Julius is fun to play as, but it's amazing having Alucard again. I just wish he were playable from the start, and could collect weapons, items, and armor, but not souls, and swap Menace at the end for Dracula.

"In sickness and in health"
Jen is doing much better, thanks to all for well wishes. Her wound is mostly closed up and no longer requires stuffing (packing), but she still keeps either a band-aid or a gauze bandage over it. She's well on her way to a full recovery, much farther than I am. (Although, as she points out, at least mine's not on my butt.)

And with that I close, my longest blog entry to date, I do believe. (But alas, Photobucket is currently down, so I will put up my images later.)

Old Movie Review: Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Last night - by which I mean early this morning - I picked out eleven movies out of our 300+ DVD collection. Jen's always been bad at making specific decisions, so I narrowed it down some. 20 minutes later, she still hadn't decided, but, well, nature calls and that b**** won't be put on hold. So I gave her a 10 minute extension. Not to be impatient or anything, but we don't want to be up all night.

I come out, and she's picked, of all things, Dungeons & Dragons. Which is a decent movie, but the least critically acclaimed of the selections, which included (off the top of my head) Bicentennial Man, Fight Club, The Doors, Total Recall, and What Dreams May Come. Dungeons & Dragons was ripped apart by Academy-chasing critics and fans of the roleplaying game alike, but it was really a fun movie to watch.

I used to play Dungeons & Dragons all the time when I was 14-16. It was Second Edition, which has been since replaced with Third Edition, and now 3.5, which means the rules and gameplay change - it's a whole new game now. As such, I was initially disappointed with this film. But my D&D days in the past, I look at it again, and it is not a bad movie. It doesn't represent D&D well, but that's fine. It seems they didn't set out to make a D&D movie - which, I imagine, would be more accurately about people playing D&D, and the positive and negative impacts it has on their lives.

No, Dungeons & Dragons - the New Line movie - is a generic Lord of the Rings inspired fantasy film (the pen-and-paper roleplaying game was itself based on and inspired by Tolkien's work) which happened to be blessed by the TSR (now Wizards of the Coast) license. As such, it's better than Eragon, which simply plagairized the greats. The story itself is fine, but sprinkled throughout are stereotypical characters designed to highlight some of the basics of D&D. We have the mage, the thief, the fighter, the dwarf, the elf, a couple orcs in the bar, Beholders, and of course, dragons.

In many movies, cheesy dialogue helps to bring a cheesy movie down, but I would argue that the cheesy dialogue helps Dungeons & Dragons. Since the characters perpetuate their stereotypes so well, the cheesiness is expected and mostly forgiven. Again, the story is fairly good, although it does have some holes. Try not to think too much (for example asking yourself why a liberal young girl is Emperess in a Fascist empire run by corrupted Mages) and you'll probably enjoy the movie. Once it gets going, it's easy to get caught up in the adventure and even feel for some of the characters.

The graphics in this movie are stunning. It might overuse CGI with those castle shots, but the dragons are all well done. If you like dragon movies, the beginning and end will not disappoint. It beats, in terms of dragon use, Reign of Fire. (Not sure about Dragonheart, it's been too long. Connery owns all, but Draco was just one dragon, and there are tons here, fighting one another, and the way the second one dies is awesome.) The sound is pretty good - not quite as good as in a Star Wars movie (any of the six, it doesn't matter), but it's along the same lines.

Overall, this is a good movie that fans of fantasy adventure really shouldn't miss. It isn't the best, but it's at least worth a rent if you haven't got anything else you particularly want to see.

Monday, July 30, 2007

No excuses for leaving your kids in the car

Saturday night, I read an article on my phone about different treatment between mothers and fathers, parents and other caregivers, when it comes to leaving a child to die in a hot car. It always pisses me off (and no, a milder term wouldn't be appropriate) to hear about stuff like that, whether it's an animal, or to a much greater extent, a child. And thought the Washington Post sympathizes in the linked article, I cannot believe a truly loving parent would just leave their child in the car. (I read it on my phone from Yahoo News, but when I searched for it on the computer, Washington Post is what came up, and the text looks the same.)

Sentences vary when kids die in hot cars - Washington Post

Statistically, the Post reports that mothers and fathers are charged at about the same rate, mothers do more time. And while paid caregivers are charged at a higher rate than parents, they're actually jailed less, and when they are, for less time. I don't think these statistics mean much - the cases are handled on a case-by-case basis and I don't think there's a prejudice, really. If it were me handing down the sentences, they'd be a lot worse.

The biggest reason, the Post goes on to say (on page 2 of 5, now) is that in the mid-90s, when they say most parents started putting kids in the backseat, as opposed to the front, and had the seats facing back, because of the airbags.

Then you go to page 5, where they explain the actions of one man who left his year-and-a-half-old daughter to die in the car. I count a total of 14 kids he's taking care of - either they're his, between his and his wife's from previous relationships, or some are friends, being babysat - whatever the case may be, he's supposed to be responsible for those kids. If it's too much to be responsible for kids in your care, you obviously have too many, and the article lists... let's see... He "was watching 12 children alone while his wife and oldest daughter" were away - that's 12 (not counting the one that was away), He "he'd asked two teenage children _ both of baby-sitting age _ to attend to their younger siblings while he went back to school for another daughter". Now we're at 13, the 12 at his residence and the one at school. Assuming the two teens he asked were included in the initial 12, that is. Then you add one, the one who died after being left in a car.

14 kids?!? Should one person be allowed to care for that many kids, alone? And whatever answer comes to mind, should he be excused for leaving one in a hot car on a summer day without even asking about her for 7 hours? Can someone be said to love their children if they can go 7 hours without seeing one still in diapers who has to be fed, if she's in his care?

Hey, I may be harsh, but I don't care. That's a damn horrible way to go, equivalent to torture. The Post explains how they die, that "Children, often too young to escape, are particularly vulnerable because their immature respiratory and circulatory systems do not manage heat as efficiently as adults'. After a short time, the skin grows red and dry, the body becomes unable to produce sweat, and heat stroke kills the child." And I'm sure they just gave an overview, that it's much worse than that. I can't even imagine.

A good parent's job, in part, is to keep their kids safe from harm. So for someone to just forget about their kid, for their kid to die in a horrible way out of nothing more than plain ignorance and negligence, shows a person who shouldn't have kids, perhaps shouldn't have had one/them to start with.

And I understand there's some severe guilt associated with being the direct cause of your child's death... If such a person is feeling suicidal, just do it... Take yourself out of the gene pool, make that one last contribution to the human race. Your guilt is over, and your chances of creating equally stupid offspring eliminated. For the rest of us, you take your kid somewhere, even if you're just going in for a minute, you take the kid with you. If you don't understand how fast a car can heat up, don't think it could happen in whatever time you think you'll be - don't. Or take the kid to a more responsible relative who can watch them while you do whatever it is you need to do. Because whatever happens to them (or you) is better than them dying in the damn car.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Punk'd by a damn burger!

I was gonna come up here and write about something else, which I was forming in my mind as I made myself something to eat: a 2/3-3/4lb hamburger, fried. Growing up around my mother's kitchen, I developed a rebellion against the blandness she tends to prefer. In other words, I spice the hell outta my cooking. My favorites include the crushed red pepper, garlic powder, black pepper, Italian seasoning (in small doses)... oh yeah, and Tabasco sauce.

I've fried burgers before, never did too well, until we started getting "logs" of ground beef from both Food Lion and Harris Teeter. It's real easy, cut off how much you want, put the slice flatways on your cutting board, and pound into a patty, rounding the edges with your hands. I could never get this right from ground beef in the trays, and it's actually cheaper this way if you catch the sales - I've gotten 2lb. logs for $2.98. You can't beat that.

Anyway, back to my burger. I've got at least 2/3lb of meat, but not much more than 3/4lb, if that. I hammer it out, and put my usual seasoning mix on the patty. I drop it facedown into the skillet, and then season the other side.

I walk away - no, not like that. I wasn't gone long, not at all. I think my problem was having the heat on too high. It wasn't on High, but it was close enough, and for a patty that thick, you gotta cook it longer, lower. That and maybe the Italian seasoning and/or minced onions, which I don't think I've put on a burger before. Either way, this terrible, horrible smell and there's more smoke than you'd believe coming off the skillet. The fan was on (leads directly outside) but it wasn't pulling enough.

So I run and get our spare fan, a piece of crap I got for under $5. It can push some air, but it won't keep ya cool. Got that set up to aid the wall fan - didn't do much, the smoke detector goes off. So I pull the smoke detector, toss it on the bed in the spare bedroom, and go get the main fan we have in the bedroom, opening the back door along the way. I put it by the front door, opened that too, had to prop it open with my cooler. And I turned the stove off.

Believe it or not, I plan on eating that burger. I don't think there's anything wrong with the meat itself, but I expect with the combination of spices, it may taste funky. Anyway, I checked the burger, put the slices of cheese on it, was about to take it, but thought twice. I cut it clean in half - red and bleeding in the middle. Now some folks would eat it like that, but not me. I don't like my cow to moo when I bite into it, y'know? Now it's cooking again - and not smoking near as much.

Update... It's done, and... Bloody hell, I forgot to put the fries on! I am going to call this the "Hell Burger". It was hell to make and it's gonna be hell to eat, too. And I'm pissed as hell I don't got my fries with it.

Another update, having taken a couple bites... It's not bad. A little chewy because the top and bottom got burned. I see a little pink in the middle, but that isn't bad. As long as meat's medium well - which this is - it's fine. But medium to rare or less cooked, and I just wouldn't be able to hold it down. I think my stomach will reject food that isn't cooked all the way (or maybe it's just a mental thing).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The ethics of emulation

First of all, to define emulation and give a little history on it. A flashcart is defined as a blank cartridge which fits a video game console the same way a game does, but comes blank and can be filled with one or more games. Japan, with its looser copyright laws, has toys you can't really get in America. One such toy, the cart copier, sits between a game and a console, with a wire that plugs into your computer (used to be serial, now USB, I imagine). You plug this bad boy up, and you can copy games to your computer or run games on the console, from the computer. I think the Japanese had services where you could pay to download games into a flashcart, like renting or maybe even buying. At some point, some genius somewhere took a game backup (aka, a ROM) and made a program which would let them play it on the PC. Now, many years later, every Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis game ever made can be downloaded and played on your computer, you just gotta know where to look.

Naturally this has shaken up the gaming industry a bit. Most developers (Nintendo, for example) are completely opposed to it. Most gamers are on the fence - they couldn't care less. But a few of us are pretty passionate about emulation, one way or the other.

The argument against emulation is a strong one. If people don't buy games, the developers lose money. If a game doesn't meet sales expectations, the development team will be less inclined to make another one, or their publisher will be less inclined to ask for another one. And then of course you have the older-than-time argument that you should pay for what you use, regardless of how much money the industry has and what they do with it.

But I think the argument for emulation is stronger. While all but the last points apply to current games, the number of people pirating current games is much lower. And there is a difference in terminology here. You can't emulate current games. It is possible to play Xbox games illegally on an Xbox, or Nintendo DS games illegally on a DS. And of course PC games. But that isn't emulation, if it's same system to same system. It's only emulation if you use something else.

As for actual emulation, the systems being emulated are no longer sold in stores, nor are the games. There are some people who are technically losing money on emulation, though - the people trying to sell this stuff on eBay for hundreds of dollars. But no, Nintendo isn't losing money if you emulate, say, Super Metroid for the Super NES. They're no longer selling the title and have no plans to port it to the DS. That's a game I would pay for to play on my DS.

The biggest hole in the argument against emulation is that emulation - software piracy in general - cheats the publisher of money they would have made. In other words, if I were to hypothetically download Windows Vista, Ultimate Edition (which is hypothetical only because I'm on Dialup and it's over 4GB), I would be taking $400 from Microsoft. Now, I'm broke as a joke. I work for a living, and I got bills to pay. Not to mention this hospital bill from last year I got to pay off. Wife and I haven't eaten out since our anniversary, and we're buckling down on everything. Say, if I were to somehow acquire Vista Ultimate, and then send it back to Microsoft, could they send me the $400 I've given up? So that argument doesn't hold water, because something that is downloaded hasn't got the same value as the same thing in the store. Heck, Windows is a great example because it doesn't even have the same value from store to store. If you buy it with hardware it's cheaper (but the license is more restricted). If you're a student it's cheaper. If you buy more than 5 copies, or you're the right kind of journalist or blogger or other "friend" of Microsoft, it's cheaper. I think you can even get it for free (legally) if you know where to look, what deals to (legally) exploit. I could have got XP Pro for free (legally) from Microsoft, all I had to do was lie and say I worked for a place that sold XP, like Best Buy.

And then there's "pirates/emulators don't buy games". Well, I buy games. All the Super NES games I would like to emulate on my DS, except a couple, I owned. I owned my favorite 3: Super Metroid, Secret of Mana, and Zelda 3. I bought those games new, maybe used, but I legally bought them when I had a SNES. I bought the SNES, and Super Mario 3 (a NES title) with my own money, allowance I saved up when I was a kid. Other games, my parents bought me. We had probably 20 NES games, and 10-15 SuperNES games. We bought the N64 and half a dozen games. We bought the Playstation and Ps2, half a dozen games each. We as in, my parents, my brother, and I. I bought the Game Boy Advance, the Nintendo DS, and about half a dozen games between them. Not to mention countless PC games over the years. So I'm a fan of, and have financially supported the gaming industry over the years.

I don't believe that someone who has bought a few games has the "right" to download the rest of the games, not necessarily. NES, SNES, Genesis, nothing wrong with it, because these are "dead" systems. The publishers don't care about 99% of those titles (the other 1% having been ported to new systems) and the only people making money on legitimate purchases, are collectors. These people will tell you that Nintendo and whomever need to still make money on these games, even though that's not possible. What they really mean is they want you to give them money. As if somewhere they were guaranteed to sell their games or game system for two, three, four, five times what they paid for it in the 80s or 90s. And, ironically, it's these people who help to encourage emulation, or piracy, whatever you call it, because these systems and games are still around, but collectors keep the price high.

A little rich brat can buy an NES on eBay and some games for it, and that's fine, but us working class scrubs can play the games on the PC, and that's fine too. It may not be as authentic, and it may not be approved by Nintendo, and the collectors selling them on eBay might get mad, but there's really nothing wrong with emulation, in most forms. What Nintendo needs to do is spend more time listening to the consumers. They've ported a few NES games to the Game Boy Advance, and a couple SNES games, but only one of the best three. For a DS owner and PC user, emulation is still the only choice to play a lot of the classics.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Our DVD collection

I know sometimes I get to talking about movies and might come off like I know a lot or have seen a lot about movies, but all it takes is a quick look to the right to justify it.

If you want to see our DVD collection, click here. The site seems (to me anyway) a little more than it needs to be for what it does, but it lists the movies, and shows the covers. The covers might not be correct, because I don't always pay attention to what version, what region, etc. I figure it's the same movie regardless, and most people aren't going to care about those details. I got the movie and that's what matters. (Yes, I know this contradicts my earlier post explaining the difference between widescreen and fullscreen, but there is a difference. Somewhere.)

Anyway, we do have a lot of crap, but some of the best movies made are there, too. If you see a movie and you don't know it, you can click "imdb" to the right in the same row to look up the movie on IMDb, which has a ton of information on movies. Also the "amz" link in the same box will take you to its Amazon.com page, which will have some of the basic information, and then a lot of reviews.

I don't update DVDaf every time I get a DVD, so when I do update it, I scramble to figure out what all DVDs I've acquired since the last time. I may have missed a couple. But if that's not all of them, it's most of them.

Again, our movie collection.

Oh and this picture is a little dated - a month old, so maybe not - but it has most of the movies. I have more in a binder that I just didn't have room for and are separated from their cases, which are boxed up...

Movie Review: Black Snake Moan (2007)

I remember when Black Snake Moan came out. What I remember most about it - besides, of course, Samuel L. Jackson chaining Christina Ricci up - was accusations on the Internet that the movie was racist. "What would people think," they asked, "if it were some young black actress chained up by some old white actor?" I couldn't really disagree, it was a good point.

I should start out by saying that she's not chained up for the whole movie. She's chained up for 33 minutes of it - from 43 minutes in to 77 minutes in, of a 115 minute movie, so just over a quarter of the movie. Compare this to, basically the entire trailer, and it's a big difference. Well, I could have just said that the part about Ricci being chained up was a small part of the movie, Sam Jackson making a point, but as my friends from work would tell you, sometimes I gotta get all technical about it.

If there would be one point to the movie, aside from the obvious, I would say it's about Samuel L. Jackson's character dealing with the loss of his wife to his younger brother, and part of how he deals with that involves him trying to cure Ricci's character of what amounts to chronic nymphomania - the overwhelming desire of sex. In her case, it was brought on by her abusive mom and her boyfriend (him for doing it, her for approving of it and allowing it) but also, to a lesser extent, the film implies, by sin, temptation, maybe even the Devil.

This is one of the better movies I've seen recently. It's a great story, beyond the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is one of my favorite actors. I'm not too big a fan of the blues, but the music helped make the movie, from the music in the background, to what Jackson sings at home and in the bar, to even what Ricci sings later on in the movie. It's also good because there aren't too many movies like this - and if they are, they don't have the chain part, and they probably don't have Jackson, who really does add to any movie he's in. I was trying to watch Justin Timberlake as well, as he's not too well liked in online movie communities, accused of being a bad actor. I haven't really got an eye for that, but I tried, and couldn't find any fault with his performance. He was just as convincing in his role (albeit a small one) as Jackson and Ricci were in theirs.

The only thing I could possibly have wanted more would be to see Ricci's mom or the other abuser

I would recommend this movie for anyone - adults, anyway. The profanity in this movie seemed just a little over the top (were the Star Wars prequels the only movies Jackson didn't say "motherf***er"?) even for a Samuel L. Jackson picture - and I've seen movies with more profanity. It was more than fit, I think. And the sexuality, while it had a point (and did fit), had more than your average R-rated movie. So for adults it's fine, and in this day and age most teenagers have seen more - just don't show around any young kids, because that wouldn't be right.

PS - When we went to see a movie - damn it, but we can't remember which one, they had a big cardboard cutout promo for Black Snake Moan, complete with mini half-sheet posters. They had a ton, so we didn't get any when we came in. I grabbed two - one for me, one for this dude I work with who I know is a Jackson fan. As we were leaving, I noticed they had Jackson on one side, Ricci on the other, so I went back for a third. They're both up in our living room. The one on the left is the poster on IMDb (link above, or here), the right one is basically the same with Christina Ricci, laying down, and some minor differences. They don't go together or anything, but they look good together. See? (You can click it to see it bigger.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oh, how I love that woman...

No, I haven't had any to drink. Well... OK, I used mudslide mix as coffee creamer in my last cup, so I have a bit of a buzz. But that doesn't change anything, except perhaps to lower my inhibitions to write a sappy blog post half the recipients of my Blogmail newsletter don't want to see... Anyway.

Last night I told Jen to wake me up by 3 or 4 if she wanted to do anything special. We're broke and will stay that way for a while, but I figured we might go walking somewhere, go see friends, something like that. I woke up, briefly, at 5 - this is PM, now - and quickly dozed off again. When I woke up at 6, I called to her - or at least thought I did - nothing. So, still tired, I get up and come out... What's she doing?

Is she browsing MySpace or the UDMB (the latest incarnation of the board we met on)? Is she reading GameFAQs, doing one of those stupid quizzes, or answering a survey that will just end up telling her she's not in the 2% of the population the survey's sponsor is looking for? Is she watching some Family Guy or Law & Order episodes?

Nope, she's cleaning the kitchen. And I don't mean doing the dishes - she did that last night. No, she's got the counter cleared, has cleaned it, and is straightening up the mess that is our kitchen. And then she mops (well, Swiffer, but the same thing) the floor, but not before letting me get 2 cups of coffee.

So I'm on the Net, surfing forums, doing my normal thing, and at some point she's not around. I kind of knew she wanted to cut the grass, but it didn't quite register - I guess I was still waking up.

So I go into the kitchen - floor's dried by now - and I'm standing there, looking out at her. I cut the over-the-sink light on, hoping she'll see me, but she doesn't, just busy, hard at work, pacing back and forth on the lawn, and we have a huge front lawn. I talk about how we need to get out and walk, but she just spent the last couple hours walking back and forth on the grass.

She's a good woman and I'm lucky to have her. It's days like these I feel it was so worth it to drive all the way across the country to be with her.

The real difference between Fullscreen and Widescreen on DVD

In my own words, of course - there's probably a lot more on Wikipedia, other sites, not to mention the preachings of home theater enthusiasts (aka DVD snobs) such as myself. I'm tired of educating boneheads on sites populated by militant movie buffs living in their parents' basements downloading scripts and sharing insider information about people they claim to despise yet can't stop discussing... Oh wait, that was Affleck's line in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back", wasn't it? Yeah... Now then...

Lesson One: How movies are shot (filmed)

Most movies are filmed using a wide-angle lens. There are several choices to choose from, one of the more common being 16:9 (meaning the frame is not quite as wide as it is tall, but close). Some are wider still, like you may see 2.39:1 or 2.85:1, meaning it's much wider than it is tall. However, most television programs are shot with a 4:3 lens - you guessed it, almost square. Nowadays, television programs are starting to be shot at 16:10, but I'll get to that in Lesson Three. There isn't much else to cover except to go over the various aspect ratios. As to the why, it's up to the director and/or producers. Human vision is naturally wide-angled, but most TVs are 4:3, so it's a balance of convenience and staying natural.

Lesson Two: DVD Choices (more than you think)

You probably know about Fullscreen and Widescreen, but within those categories, there are a couple subchoices. Fullscreen is a misnomer, assuming your screen is 4:3, and refers to the fact that the image will most likely fill your screen, corner to corner, top to bottom, left to right. And widescreen is also a misnomer, being that it implies it fills a wide TV, when the reality is that, unless the movie is anamorphic or 16:10, you still get black bars (albeit smaller).

Fullscreen is usually substituted for Pan & Scan, which is what they were called in the VHS days. Since a fullscreen transfer loses about a third of the picture, the transfer process involves choosing what will be cut. Mostly it's extra landscape that isn't needed, but sometimes there is important visual data on both edges. A pan is when the camera slides to the side or up and down in a straight line, but in this case it's when the focus shifts from one edge of the frame to the other. Sometimes you can tell - I can. It'll seem unnaturally smooth. The camera isn't moving per se, but you go from, for example, looking at the very right, to looking at the very left.

Then there's letterbox, and it's important to differentiate widescreen from letterbox. On widescreen, there are no black bars - the black bars you see is just where there is no visual data. A letterboxed movie uses 4:3 frames, and the black bars are added to force the director's original vision onto a 4:3 TV. A proper widescreen video on a fullscreen TV will often stretch vertially to fill the TV, depending on the TV and DVD player. Letterbox is fine if you have a 4:3 TV, but it's terrible on a widescreen TV, because you get the black bars all around.

Within widescreen, you have all the different aspect ratios, of course. The main choice here is Anamorphic, which means it'll stretch to fit the screen. Apparently, this is a good thing, as opposed to a widescreen DVD stretching to fill a TV. I actually don't understand this, and Wikipedia is a little too technical on the issue.

So you have Letterboxed Fullscreen (Rare, avoid this), Pan & Scan Fullscreen (common, second choice), and Widescreen (best choice).

Lesson Three: Your TV, and choosing the best DVDs

As I understand it, there are two kinds of TVs as far as aspect ratio goes. 4:3 is your average TV. At least 90% of televisions are 4:3. Your grandfather's TV was 4:3. The TV in your work's break room is probably 4:3. With rare exception, most TVs most people will have will be 4:3. Within 4:3, there are two kinds - round and flat. This refers to the front surface of the tube. If the face is flat, resolution will be much higher. If you must get a 4:3 TV, make sure it's flat (this doesn't mean LCD/Plasma). Usually these are CRT - tube based and heavy - but there are a few LCD ones, and the big projection TVs that were hot in the 80s.

Then there are 16:10 TVs, and they come in a few flavors of their own. They actually make CRT wide TVs, and they are comparable in price to the 4:3 TVs. LCD is the base flat kind, and then Plasma if you have the money. These are what home theater enthusiasts have or want.

If you have a 4:3 TV and 1) you don't plan on getting a 16:10 TV and 2) you don't really care about that extra third of the frame in your movies, Fullscreen Pan & Scan is your best choice. If you plan on getting a 16:10 TV in the future, you should probably select Widescreen. Fullscreen movies look bad on 16:10 TVs. Instead of black bars on top and bottom with widescreen, they're on the sides, and it's much worse. (As I said, the human eyes naturally see "wide", so it obscenely looks as though something is missing.)

Most TV programs are shot in 4:3, or at least they used to be. Some still are, but some now (and more later) are shot in an anamorphic ratio that almost fills the screen on a 4:3 TV (you might notice real small black bars) and fills a widescreen TV perfectly. This format will probably take over. I'm not even sure if HD-DVD and Blu-Ray (DVD's would-be succeesors) even come in fullscreen. We could be looking at a future (say, 5 years down the road) where everything is simply widescreen, except for some "archaic" movies and TV sets.

Stanley Kubrick was known for shooting movies in 4:3. Full Metal Jacket certainly is; as for the others, I think some are and some aren't. But if you have a wide TV, there's almost no getting around buying movies or TV shows in the format they were shot in - for those, you'll most likely have the choice to stretch them, or just watch them as intended.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Funniest videos on the Net

I can't now recall if, when posting about the vacation, I posted a link to the wrestling fan crying. I belive that I did, but if not, here it is: It's still real to him!

We saw that on TV, on a VH1 program called Web2.0, and at the time, it was the funniest thing I'd seen in a long time.

No more.

There is a new "funniest video on the Net", and it's not surprising it involves a little kid. What would be surprising is if you hadn't heard something about this. Ellen even flew her out for an interview.

Little girl kicks monster's ass Ellen interview

If you don't care to watch it, or if your connection is too slow, here's the transcript:
MOM: And tell Mommy again what you said you were gonna do to him if he came here.
GIRL: I said, "I'm gonna kick his ass."
M: Oh... *laughs* That's not nice.
G: If he's gonna come in here, he's gonna kick my ass!
M: *laughs* He will?
G: Yeah, uh huh... he's gonna come outta the movie, come out, he will come out and kick my ass.
M: *laughs* OK
G: And I can kick his ass!
M: OK... But that's not a nice word. You should say "kick his butt".
G: ....Oh...
New funniest video ever. The transcript is funny, now that I read it, but you have to see the video for how it's said.

Today, the Harry Potter saga comes to an end

"Will you be with Harry in the end?" Yeah, it's cheap marketing, but I like it, for some reason...

First of all, I would like to start by saying that the spoilers I linked to previously turned out to be correct. I apologize for any part I played in ruining the ending for anyone who read it - but then, to be fair, you had to be looking for spoilers to find it, as was I. Personally I think, from what I've seen, the end of Potter 7 is a letdown, especially since Rowling said two major characters would die. A lot of us were thinking two of the "three" - Harry, Hermione, and Ron, that is. It seems a lot of Rowling's grim foreshadowing was overhyped, but then I have not actually read the book - and eagerly await its paperback release. (Jen confirmed the ending, went to Walmart and skimmed it.)

But, unlike so many other authors, I didn't come here to talk about the end of the Potter saga, but rather the beginning. The year was 2001, and if I remember correctly (memory is so often replaced by technology these days) the first three books were out. I didn't take them seriously at all. The fad that was the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was fading, and Pokemon was just starting its rise, or perhaps at its peak. Off in the peripheral sights was this popular childrens' series that I heard about, inadvertently through the Church, ironically. This was when they started protesting the books. I was curious, but not curious enough to read a kiddie book. The first film had just come out, and while it looked interesting, I had no intention of seeing it.

One day at work - well, at a temp job I was working between jobs, actually - a guy was being fairly generous with some bootleg DVDs he had. Nothing he had really interested me, but I saw he had the (then) new Harry Potter movie. He loaned it to me, on 2 discs, with the promise I'd bring it back the next night. I was still living at home at this time, and my mother really had no interest in it. I tried to copy it to my computer, but couldn't figure it out. (I would later come to understand that it was a Video CD, and all I had to do was copy the big .DAT file over, and rename it to whatever.MPG, maybe join the two and compress with something like Divx.) So I tried to watch it with Windows Media Player, and miraculously, it worked. The film held my attention from the start. When dinner was ready, I could barely pull myself away. I took supper in my room, and when the movie was over, I wanted to watch it again. But not in the same night.

I returned the movie as promised, and on the next day off I got, I went and saw it in the theater. Big mistake, or at least the timing. There was no fewer than three grade-school classes on field trip in there, kids in second, third, fourth grade giggling at every scene. Lucky for me I knew mostly what was going on. I'd just wanted to see it in the theater, better quality and all.

Naturally, I have another story, for when it came out on DVD. We still had our very first DVD player, which is its own story (in short, we won it in a drawing at Hollywood Video for renting one several months prior). I had bought the craptacular Planet of the Apes remake, with Mark Wahlberg, and it would freeze up now and again. It was explained to me that movies were starting to come in the dual-layer format, and the first-generation DVD players could not handle that. So we needed a new DVD player. I also needed a new Playstation - my first one was starting to go out. So I dropped $250 on the new PlayStation 2, which also served as a DVD player, and I was assured it would play the dual layer discs. For years, our DVD player was a PS2. I bought the remote and everything. Barely a month went by, and Sony dropped the price to $200. I was mad, until I went into Best Buy, where I bought it, and they told me they guarantee low prices, and gave me $50 in store credit. Another month went by, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone released on DVD, and was included with all DVD players, including the PS2. In other words, had I waited 2 months, I would have paid $50 less and gotten a free Harry Potter DVD. I ate the difference that time, simply buying the Potter movie separately.

Since then, I've bought each movie (widescreen edition, as always) near the time they come out on DVD. I missed Chamber of Secrets (the second one), still burned by the theater experience with the first one. With Prisoner of Azkaban (Potter 3) I wised up and caught the midnight showing. And Jen and I saw Potter 4 (Goblet of Fire) together.

But let's backtrack some, shall we?

After seeing Potter 1 in the theater, I wanted to read the books. I had all three read by the time Chamber of Secrets came out in theaters. After Goblet of Fire came out in paperback, I bought it and then read all four books. I read and disliked Order of the Phoenix (Potter 5). Unlike the first four, it was not a page-turner, and was very dark, which is fine - but not so much for the Harry Potter series. At one point, I intended to read the four again, but only got the first three, quit partway thorugh Goblet. I very much enjoyed Half-Blood Prince (Potter 6). Now that the spoilers are on Wikipedia for Book 7, I'm not sure how much I anticipate it. Oh sure, I'll get it, but will it top Potter 6? Sure, I'll enjoy it, but will it be an ending worthy of such a great saga? Only time - a year at least - will tell.

I lost my books (perhaps left them behind) when I moved to North Carolina. Since then I've found the first two in the standard paperback size. I'm hoping to complete the collection in that size, actually, because they're so much easier to carry. And they look a little more professionally done, less like kids' books.

All in all, the Potter saga has been an enjoyable experience so far, and I'm sort of kicking myself for having not discovered it until later. But that's fine, better late than never, eh? If you're looking for a start, a way to "break in" to the excitement, rent "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on DVD, and watch it. The movies are pretty good as far as book-to-film adaptations go, especially the first couple. If you thought the first one was flat - well, its primary purpose was to introduce the characters. If you thought the first one was at least decent, but it left you undecided, check out "...Chamber of Secrets". Those two should give you an accurate reading as to how you'll take to the series. After that, 3 is a little darker, and 4 is a little more expansive, but it's really much of the same - which is not a bad thing if you find yourself liking the series.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Movie Review: Hannibal (2001)

Of all the movies in my DVD collection, the goriest and most brutal isn't a zombie movie, or a horror film. It isn't either of the three Saw movies (though those do come close). It's also not a war movie, though, again, Braveheart comes pretty close as well. As is the case with the most disturbing movie I've seen (which I do not have), it's a drama: Hannibal, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins for the second time as the cold, calculating killer, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, who first appeared in the award-winning The Silence of the Lambs, and would go on to appear in Red Dragon. There are two other Lecter films - Manhunter, a direct-to-video adaptation of Red Dragon in 1986 (and not featuring Hopkins), and Hannibal Rising, the prequel which came out last year, in which Lecter was too young to be portrayed by Hopkins.

Hannibal never throws too much violence or gore at the screen at any given time, and there isn't anything outstanding as far as that goes in the first half hour or so. Any younger viewers who wanted to see it might lose interest before coming to anything they might consider rewarding. But overall, it isn't lacking for statistics. We have at least one stabbing death, several by gunshot... and then it gets interesting. Two eaten alive by wild boars, one hung and disemboweled at the same time, and I can't even say what happens to the final victim. I could, but that's probably the best shocker.

A brief history: Lecter was born to nobility in Eastern Europe and grew up in World War II. His parents were killed in the war, and a band of rogues found the lodge he and his sister were hiding in. Faced with the choice to "eat or die", they killed, cooked, and ate his sister, who was no more than four or five at the time. Somehow he got away, ended up being raised by his uncle's Japanese wife, and studied medicine in France, and eventually psychology. The guy's a genius to the point of nearly being a savant, but insane, and has killed over a dozen people before finally getting caught. Even while behind bars, he still manages to kill a doctor or orderly who gets too close. And nobody wants to talk to him, because he can read people like a book, discover their secrets and use them against them. To his credit, Lecter only kills people who he feels deserve it, although this has included those he thought were merely rude, or doing a minor disservice, such as an instrumentalist in a symphony playing out of key.

Hannibal (again, the movie) opens, for the most part, with the one Lecter victim who lived, Mason Verger, a billionaire and child rapist Lecter convinced to cut off his own face and feed the skin to his dogs. Throughout the course of the movie, Lecter is hunted by men hired by the billionaire, as well as authorities in both America and France who want to bring him back to custody. Or at least that's how it would appear, at first; nobody "hunts" Hannibal Lecter. This is a character who is found only when he wants to be, a character who hunts and outsmarts his hunters. All the while being polite about it, as he does adhere to the code of morality he holds others to; warped as it may be, decency and manners are at the core.

I missed Silence of the Lambs when it came out, was generally uninterested at the time. I was about 12, more caught up in movies like Terminator 2 (which remains a favorite to this day). It wasn't until later that I'd seen it. I never really was a fan of the movie, but more of Lecter himself. Like Darth Vader from the original Star Wars trilogy, he's a villain you can root for, one you almost want to win. Although unlike Vader, in every Lecter movie, he isn't the villain, and here, it's Verger. Not only because of the horrific crimes of his past, but for the plan of torture he wants to exact on Lecter. If you watch this movie and don't feel anything for him three-quarters of the way in, you surely will when Verger spells out exactly what he plans to do with Hannibal.

By the time Hannibal came out in theaters, I was interested, but I hadn't yet read the books. When I talked to a good friend about it, who had read the books, his first question to me was, "Are they gonna have the boars?" I hadn't heard anything about any boars at this point, but it intrigued me - and got me reading the book (although I did see the movie first). The book did cover more ground - it was a lot more in-depth - but the part with the boars wasn't any better in the book. (If you're wondering what I mean, ask yourself what you think a billionaire would use wild boars for as far as revenge. If you knew how big these things are - bigger than any pig or dog - your best guess might be pretty close.)

I'm surprised this movie is only rated R. There is a lot of stuff in this movie which would likely give someone nightmares, much more so than these horror movies that have come out over the years. The boars, the hanging, the scene at the end - even Hannibal himself, are just the thing nightmares are made of. Still, it's one of the best movies I have, and if you haven't seen it - and have a tough enough stomach - you're missing out.

Why I don't care about Potter 7 spoilers

Note: No spoilers posted here. Linked, perhaps, but I don't endorse any as real (and am not in a position to).

The first and primary reason is simple: For me, the book isn't coming out for at least another year. I don't read hardcovers; they're too awkward to hold. The price has nothing to do with it - I would pay that price for the paperback if I could. I just want something I can comfortably hold and maybe tote around with me.

And the second reason is that with Half-Blood Prince (aka Potter 6) the major spoiler was out the day it came out. At first it was a shock, but then it was like "oh, ok..." and when I got to read the paperback, it was still a good read.

Now with all the excitement over potential spoilers - which, it hasn't even been verified that any are in fact real - it's hard to find a good source of information, even with Google. A semi-authorative site like Wikipedia or the major Potter fansites aren't going to carry spoilers, real or fake. I've been searching, and everything conflicts.

The following are not spoilers, but an either-or analysis of how I'll probably react.

Harry lives/dies/becomes evil. Harry's fate is the most important spoiler of all. J.K. Rowling has said a few times that she doesn't want to continue writing Potter books and that this is "the end of it". If Harry dies, that would be a smart move on her part. Kill off the possibility of potential sequels, official and fan-written. Although if she either comes up with more stories to tell (or needs the money), the franchise is guaranteed to earn big bucks and that could be open. If he lives, it'll be like "yawn... what's the big deal". Most of us, I think, expect Harry to triumph over Voldemort and restore peace to the wizarding community. I don't like the theory people toss around about Harry going over to the Dark Side. This isn't Star Wars and he isn't Anakin Skywalker. Where Anakin was good, but had that dark streak, Harry is pretty much pure. Him allying with Voldemort or becoming the new Dark Lord just doesn't make sense.

Now, the following link, may contain spoilers. Doing some Google searching, I found an article which not only has statements about what will happen - but what appear to be photocopies of the last chapter as well as chapter lists. Again, I'm not endorsing this, but it's the most reliable site I could find in 3 pages of Google searching. I realize that's not very deep, but I don't care to find the spoilers THAT badly.

Gryffindor Gazette

And the book will be out tomorrow, after which time the fake spoilers will fade away and we'll all know what really happens. Heck, anyone can ride down to Walmart and peek in the book themselves and see what's what.

PS: Comment moderation is enabled, so don't post spoilers. They'll be deleted. A link with a warning, sure - as long as the link is valid (actually has spoilers, no adult stuff, no warez, minimal if any advertisements).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Never wanted to grow up...

I just recalled, the other day, the old (possibly current) Toys 'R' Us slogan, "I don't wanna grow up..." None of us do, and it didn't originate with the toy store, but perhaps with the story of Peter Pan and his world where boys never grow up. Now, approaching my 28th birthday - still young in the eyes of my elders, and a grown man to children - I'm wondering if somewhere along the line, I grew up and just didn't notice. Few people, I think, recall various milestones of aging such as growing out of diapers, eating solid foods, first day of school - maybe even the start of puberty (more obvious and memorable to the girls, of course). And I'm not one of them. The first milestone I really remember (though not the year) is stating my resolve to give up cartoons by my next birthday. My parents had divorced, and it was in the short time (six months at the most) that my father was staying with my paternal grandmother (his mom) before getting back on his feet and getting his own place again. Or maybe we were visiting, but I think he was living there. I mostly kept my word, but naturally I slipped a few times, and that resolve went away later. I won't watch cartoons for the sake of doing so, but I enjoy some animated movies (Shrek and Over the Hedge, Cars for instance) and don't mind seeing cartoons when they're on. (Though I don't get Pokemon and Spongebob - I still respect the classics, like Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, etc.)

Then, as I became a teenager, it became "I'll always listen to heavy metal music and so will my kids" (as my parents played for me "their" music, classic rock). As I got online, I talked with people who were raising kids on Korn and Disturbed, with little critique even from the conservatives. But before that, I was a huge Metallica fan. Now - mostly following the lawsuits against the fans stemming from Napster downloads in 1999, but also a big part because of how my tastes changed, as well as their style - I don't even listen to them. If I hear Enter Sandman, or One, or The Unforgiven on the radio, I listen to it and even enjoy it some. But you won't catch me listening to their albums all the way through or intentionally. After I got out of metal, I rediscovered classic rock, and discovered Enya's "A Day Without Rain" album. I'd still go back to metal from time to time, but it was different bands. Metallica, then Disturbed, and then Nightwish (if you haven't heard of them, don't worry - they're from Finland - northern Europe - very few Americans know of them). Now I find myself listening to more country music than anything else. I've gone from liking angry and loud music to preferring soothing sounds with honest and straightforward lyrics. The metal bands I've loved will always hold some place in my heart, I just don't actively listen to them.

In high school, I think we were required to vote in Government class, or at least encouraged to. When asked the difference between Democrats and Republicans, I was instead given the definitions of a democracy (basically, everyone has a say) and a republic (elected officials make the rules, individuals don't have a say). The democracy sounded better, so that's what I registered as. Clinton was a hero, and Bush (father and son) were the Devil and the Antichrist. I actually found myself liking Clinton and disliking the Bushes on their positions on certain issues, but I still found myself prejudiced. Now that I've moved, I haven't even registered to vote. I don't know what I'd choose if I did, but lately I haven't been impressed with Democrats. I still haven't found a Republican I like, but there are other choices I wasn't really given in school. The Green party is interesting, but I disagree with them on a few key points I won't go into. Then there's the Liberitarians, who seem to fit my ideals - from what I've heard they believe the government should regulate less - the old, "if you don't want an abortion don't have one", "if you don't like gay marriage don't marry someone of the same gender", and "if you don't like guns don't own one". But it sounds too good to be true, there's got to be something they have that I disagree with. The point is, I'll definitely learn more before selecting a party to stand behind.

Then there's teenagers. I raised a little hell in my 15th summer, but not much. I hadn't had a single romantic or even sexual experience until I was in my mid-20s. My mom says I've got my dad beat by 6-7 years, so I guess I can take comfort in that, but it seemed like every guy I knew had girls left and right, and the few girls I knew had at least one guy. Talking to some of these guys now, they downplay it - and perhaps exxagerated it then - but I still felt behind. However, I did my share of cursing. I listened to the bands and watched the movies I wasn't supposed to. (Back then, there weren't games like Grand Theft Auto that kids aren't supposed to play. Nintendo was still committed to families, Sega was dying, the Playstation wasn't out yet, and the Xbox was a long way off. Video games were innocent, for the most part.) Thus, the peak of my rebellion was hanging out with a friend my mother hated, and general delinquincy. Mall loitering and the most minor of vandalisms were my greatest offenses. Oh, and I started reading Dean Koontz, starting with the book Lightning, because a friend told me it had profanity in it, in so many words. And then I pretty much became a nerd. So now I see how today's teenagers are - and more recently and specifically, my favorite cousin - and my first reaction is of shock, followed quickly by a small amount of disappointment - and then, once I've had a moment or two to think, understanding that I was part of that (even if just on the outside looking in) a little over 10 years ago.

Yeah, I guess I grew up. I didn't realize it when I moved out of my mother's house. I didn't realize it when I married my best friend, and I didn't even realize it on our first anniversary; I still considered myself a "guy" (that stage between boy and man). I'm still a guy in some ways, still a boy in others (still play Nintendo games, love my Game Boy DS) but for the most part, I've found myself grown up, by learning that kids I've known since they were babies, are themselves in the process of growing up - so I must have at some point before, as I'm 11 or 13 years older.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New comment system

Just a small update in the commenting system. This blog has reached a level of popularity or size where it has become the target of illicit advertising groups selling scams or otherwise contraband merchandise (prescription drugs, stuff like that), and they do so by spamming blogs, emails - you've probably seen some in your own email inbox.

So I've simply added one step to the commenting - the comment must be approved before it can be posted. Since a comment will not appear on the site until I approve it, this blog should become unattractive to these spammers, as well as anyone who would post something rude or inflammatory. Since I check my email daily, if you post a good comment, it should show up on the page within the day.

Health problem, my right leg

First I would like to preface this post by warning you that this is fairly graphic and the pictures, maybe some of the description, are not for the faint of heart. The pictures, for that reason, will not be linked with reduced-size images as I have done in the past, but rather text links you can click at your own risk.

Back in November 2006, driving to work one night my leg felt rather stiff, but it was OK. When I got the chance, I examined it, and my leg appeared to have a rash on it, or perhaps a case of poison ivy/oak. It itched a little, but I found the skin to be tough, unlike either a rash or any skin infection I'd had before or heard of. Over the next couple days, it grew and began to welt up, and it hurt to walk on. One day Jen drove me to work, and when my shift ended, she took me to the emergency room at Pitt County Memorial Hospital, for my first experience there as a patient.

Here's what it looked like a day or two before we went to the ER. This image isn't graphic, but it is a little disturbing.

PCMH was quick to diagnose it not as a rash but as something called Cellulitis, which I won't even try to explain here. You can click the name there to read up on it on Wikipedia. Basically, it's an infection and it can be fatal if untreated. I was put on an IV drip and sent home with a 2-week supply (Jen remembers 1 week, but I remember 2) of two different antibiotics.

After the medicine was up, the redness had receeded to a smaller area, but still about 4-6" high and 4-5" wide. This actually opened up, as you can see in the next picture. Click here to see it. Note that this picture is pretty disturbing. I used various dressings to keep it covered, figuring (correctly) that it would heal. I learned the hard way that regular gauze would stick to it and hurt to remove (although it was easier to remove in the shower). I discovered J&J's triple-layer non-stick gauze pads and have been using them since, not just for my leg, but for Jen's condition as well. After a while, the area scabbed over, and when the scar began peeling (with my help), it left behind a dark spot, like a birthmark. (A doctor told me this is normal, and it will fade over time.)

In late December of 2004, I got what appeared to be a bite on my leg. It was about the size of a quarter, perhaps a centimeter or so deep, and filled with this thick mucus. I treated it with alcohol wipes, eventually got all that crap out, and kept it covered. Neosporin, which I swear by for minor scrapes and cuts, did nothing. However, the bite did have the tough skin around it, and I think tried to redevelop the cellulitis, but I'd been able to treat that with Hydrocortizone. I would have gone back to the ER, but I had no health insurance at the time, and didn't get it until much later.

Even after I had the insurance, though, I didn't seek medical attention. I'm not really afraid of doctors or even needles (though I used to be), I guess I just thought I could treat it on my own. In June I decided to do something about it, and had Jen (being that she knows the area better) pick me a doctor and make me an appointment. (I love being married. I don't like making appointments.)

I saw the doctor this past Monday, the 16th. She said that what I have is no bite, nor a relapse of the cellulitis, but an ulceration (ulcer) caused by poor circulation, which she said is common in the private security industry, caused by standing a lot. (My friends at work will laugh at this, because I don't stand much, but overall I guess I do stand more than some other professions.) She prescribed me one of the same antibiotics I had before, and something that will help to reduce and eliminate the fluid in my legs (the left leg even has some). My mother will be relieved to know that I also got a prescription for the asthma inhaler I used in CA, the Maxair Autohaler. (She didn't like me using the regular Albuterol-based stuff like Proventil and Ventolin, so she asked about an alternative - apparently Pilbuterol as used in the Autohaler is a modification on Albuterol which does much of the same thing without the "hyper" side effect.) My doctor actually didn't know what pilbuterol was (she wasn't an allergist, just a general physician, so it's forgivable) but did recognize it by the trade name of Autohaler. I can't afford to fill that prescription until tomorrow, though, when I get paid.

I actually don't need an inhaler, really. It's just that I should have one. My asthma hasn't bothered me much since I've moved to the South, despite the more aggressive environment and allergens - maybe I've grown out of it. Actually, the doctor should have checked to make sure I have asthma rather than taking me at my word. But albuterol (and much less pilbuterol) can't be abused, so using it would be almost harmless if I didn't need it. And I won't use it unless I need it. I was carrying around a Primatene Mist inhaler, and those are downright evil. They contain a steroid of some kind which raises the heart rate temporarily. One could kill oneself with one, if one used it enough times in rapid succession. I don't like putting my heart health at risk to relieve another problem. As soon as I got the prescription note for the Autohaler, I tossed the Primatene one. I should have held onto it until actually getting the Autohaler, maybe kept it as a backup, but no... Those things are bad news.

I should have taken care of both of these problems, if not right when I got out here, at least when I got the insurance. I get decent insurance ($20 office visits, $10 prescriptions) through Jen's work - my job doesn't offer insurance. It's not the best insurance I've been covered by, but it's affordable, I guess. So if you have insurance and you have a health problem, learn from my mistake and get it taken care of.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Women who find "Ma'am" inappropriate (DearAbby)

I think this would be my first blog entry posting a "news" article and commenting on it, and also my first blog entry to use the new label "Opinion" (which covers political, religion, and social commentaries).

DEAR ABBY: I may be alone in my thoughts on this subject, but I feel that addressing a woman as "ma'am" is an extremely derogatory term. I believe it is a derivative of "mammy" and simply a way of keeping a woman in her place.

How would any man like to be called "geezer" or "old goat" on a regular basis? I regard "ma'am" in the same negative light.

How can I politely, yet firmly, respond to those who persist in their rude behavior when I am called "ma'am?"


DEAR DEFINITELY NOT: You must be a recent transplant to the South, because south of the Mason-Dixon (and also in the military), to address a woman as "ma'am" shows respect. I don't know where you got the idea that "ma'am" is a derivative of "mammy," but it's a huge mistake, and I hope you haven't said it to anyone else.

"Ma'am" is a contraction of the word "madam," a form of respectful address to an adult -- usually married -- woman. If you prefer to be called something else, ask the person to call you "Lisa," "Ms. Jones," etc. But please don't pick a fight, or you will look foolish.


Shouldn't "Definitely Not" have sent this to Miss Manners instead, or is that column even around anymore? (I never liked Miss Manners, but it seems more a question for her than Jerry Springer... err, "Abby".)

I don't think I'd used the word "ma'am" to address a woman more than once or twice when I lived in California. It would have been awkard and maybe not even well accepted by the receiver. My parents did teach me some manners, but that particular address (as well as Sir) seemed out of place. Out here, it's expected. Heck, I even call Jen "Ma'am" from time to time, not out of sarcasm, but out of the respect that the word carries. And I use it whenever we go out, especially when we're on vacation here in the South.

Jen doesn't care for using the Sir or Ma'am in her own speech, but she'll refer to a woman as Miss _____, which she said comes from the North (Connecticut). I just can't see myself doing it, though I think I tried once.

"Definitely Not" should have consulted Wikipedia, at the very least, before making a fool of herself. Or maybe seen a few episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, which irked some Trekkies by having a female captain, who is addressed as Ma'am as well as Sir and Captain.

I've never even heard of someone (out here) being offended by being called Sir or Ma'am...

See also: Wikipedia on Ma'am (redirects to Madam) and Mason-Dixon Line

Also, this was posted on the UDMB, the latest incarnation of the Disturbed board, where I met Jen. Click here to hear what Disturbed fans have to say about the DearAbby article.

Game review: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (NDS)

When I got my Nintendo DS, one of the first games I got with it was a Castlevania game, Dawn of Sorrow, and I haven't regretted it - it hasn't left my DS in weeks. (I also got New Super Mario Bros - cool, but I'm on this Castlevania kick; Spiderman 2 - it's Jen's and I'm not interested; and Polarium, this cracked-out puzzle game I don't get and may turn in for credit towards the next Castlevania game.)

I've been playing Castlevania games for years, but I'm not that big a fan. The first Castlevania was mediocre at best, and the third one wasn't much better. Maybe a graphical update. The second one, on the other hand - now, these were all for the original Nintendo - was a great game. It pretty much set the standard for the kind of adventure game I'd come to like. A game where the character can grow, with a customizable weapon set, enabling different playing styles to offer a slightly different experience. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest was limited, but hey, this was late 80s. I didn't play the Game Boy Castlevania games, though due to the technological marvel that is Emulation, I may someday. I like to pretend the Nintendo 64 never happened and that all of Nintendo's systems (also forgetting Virtual Boy, everyone does) were good. (The jury's still out on the Wii.) And thus the Castlevania games on the N64 are also overlooked.

Then the Game Boy Advance came out, which received one Castlevania title: Aria of Sorrow. This was a great game as well, probably my favorite to be released on a Nintendo system. (The fan favorite is Symphony of the Night, which was on the Playstation. I can't say it's my favorite, but it's up there.) AoS was a pretty good game, but it changed what Castlevania was about. Rather than having a member of the Belmont clan going after Count Dracula (or Dracula's son Alucard, in Symphony), we met this guy named Soma Cruz who has the power to steal the souls of his enemies and use them as weapons or enhancements. The castle was different, but then again, it changes with every game. And the good-ole 80s feel was replaced with an Anime overhaul. I don't much care for the Anime aspect of the game, or Soma's love life or friendships - but I find that you can skip most of the plot, and it still makes for a fun game.

Dawn of Sorrow is much the same, a sequel to Aria of Sorrow. The name cleverly carries the initials DS, and it makes decent use of the DS' touch screen. Soma still steals souls, but to defeat a boss, you have to trace a symbol on the screen using the stylus. In some parts of the game, you can break blocks with the stylus. And as a purely cosmetic touch, you name your save file by writing your name or drawing something on the screen, much like signing for a credit card purchase at the supermarket.

I love how the religious right jumps on the popular games, whether there's anything wrong with them (Grand Theft Auto) or not (Dungeons & Dragons), but something like Dawn of Sorrow is overlooked. Let's see, from the point of view of a religious fanatic. (Also considering Nintendo's family-friendly reputation.) First, you kill enemies over and over until you get their soul. You hardly ever get it on the first try - some enemies it takes hours. The reward for collecting all the souls is a ring which continually draws energy from Chaos (which we could interpret as Hell). Basically infinite spellcasting. Second, to kill the more powerful enemies (except the last one) you have to draw sacriligious runes (not really, but it could be interpreted so). And if you get the second ending, you become the Dark Lord (they mean Dracula, but this could be interpreted as the Devil). So this is a pretty dark game for Nintendo (to be fair, they didn't make it - it's from Konami).

And no, as far as I know, the infamous "Konami Code" (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A) doesn't work on any of the Castlevania games. I know it works on Life Force and Contra, but from time to time I try it on Konami's other titles, to no noticeable effect.

I love this game, though. It's a huge castle to explore, there are well over 100 different kinds of monsters to learn how to deal with, and there are a few side things to do. I already mentioned getting all the souls. You can also synthesize weapons by fusing souls with existing weapons to make new, better ones. (To make the best weapons, you have to synth boss souls, which can't be replaced - and therefore you can't get your Chaos Ring.) I mentioned that one ending has Soma becoming the Dark Lord. Doing so unlocks a new game, Julius Mode, where Julius Belmont has to go in after Soma and eventually defeat him. Fans say this mode is most like Castlevania 3. I've played it a little, and it's fun enough, but I prefer the main game. Also if you like a challenge, there's Boss Rush - fight the bosses one after the other. There are some cool prizes if you can do it in a short enough time. I won't mess with it until I've maxed my character to level 99.

There's a new Castlevania for the DS - Portrait of Ruin. It's got nothing to do with Soma, and I hear there's a heck of a lot more stuff to do - and it's harder. Dawn of Sorrow is too easy once you learn it. Oh, I know it's a spoiler, but the second to last boss is the easiest one in the game if you know the secret. One soul, Beur, has a fireball spinning around you. Max it out (get 9 Beur souls) and you get six fireballs. The boss, Abaddon, its main attack is to summon a swarm of locusts at you. With maxed Beur turned on, not a single one will hit Soma, and all Abaddon can do is run into Soma, and that doesn't do much damage. Pick a powerful weapon and go to town. Only the seal used to kill it is the hardest in the game, and if you fail, Abaddon gets more life. I got the seal on my 5th try, and still had a third of my magic and half my life, no potions used. That's pathetic. Even some of the bosses killed with the first couple seals will have you using at least one potion, unless you're really good.

If you have a DS, I can't recommend this game enough. 2, 3 years down the road I imagine it'll still be a favorite. I said before Symphony wasn't my favorite Castlevania title. Dawn of Sorrow isn't, either, but it's because I can't name just one. Simon's Quest for the classic gameplay (a Belmont going after Dracula), Symphony of the Night for the inverted castle (after you "beat" the game, a new castle is created which is basically the first one upside-down, and that's where Drac is), and Dawn of Sorrow for the soul system - it barely one-ups Aria of Sorrow - which, if you have that in when you start a Dawn of Sorrow game, you get a bonus item. Wish I still had it, it's still worth playing.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

In sickness and in health

While we were on our Myrtle Beach vacation last month (see the last half dozen or so entries), Jen had on her left upper thigh (right below the rump) what she first thought was a pimple. Then as it grew, she decided it was a spider bite. She was OK with it and content to let it run its course until last Tuesday, when she tried to go to work. She got to the end of our driveway, and had to turn around and come right back home.

We didn't want to mess with Beaufort County Hospital - we've had a bad experience with them not seeing our nephew for over 3 hours despite him having a fever of over 103 and being at risk for seizures. So I called in 'sick' (told my boss I needed to take care of my wife), and we went instead to the Urgent Care in Washington on Jen's doctor's recommendation, where they told us the doctors weren't seeing anyone else that day (apparently they wanted to get their golf game on, y'know). So we drove to Greenville's Pitt County Memorial Hospital (henceforth PCMH) to the emergency room.

PCMH is usually pretty good. We trust them, and they're one of the most modern hospitals I've seen, rivalling the best in my hometown back in CA. Actually, I'm more impressed with PCMH than any other hospital I've been to (which isn't many). However, it took them about 6 hours to get to us - apparently there was a prison riot/fight, and you know prisoners get priority treatment (sounds wrong, but otherwise it's cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional).

So they finally saw us close to midnight, and told us it was not a spider bite but instead an abscess - basically, a pimple/rash from Hell. They put her on an antibiotic IV, but the first nurse couldn't find a suitable vein on her right and more easily accessible arm. (Oddly enough this happens with me as well, but on my left.) So they called in an expert, a real cool lady who said all kinds of things, like that she could get a vein in the dark, stuff like that. Of course she gets it on her first try, and Jen became a pincushion.

That wasn't the worst of it, though. The prescribed treatment involved them cutting it out (the friendly hospital term is lancing). The first part was the worst, where she had to be stuck with this huge needle, a local anesthetic to numb it. She about broke my hand a couple times, but once she was numbed, it wasn't so bad when they went to the cutting, although she still felt pressure.

When they discharged her, they told her to see her regular doctor on Thursday. This was almost 4 in the morning! We stopped at a Walgreens and got her perscriptions (and these bomb-*** Whoppers made with coffee), and got home.

So she saw her doctor, who told her that PCMH hadn't done everything right, and someone would need to go in there and open more 'pockets' which hadn't fully drained. They couldn't find any free surgeons in Beaufort or Pitt counties (golf should be banned) but told us to go back to the ER at PCMH and have their on-call surgeon take care of it. And then this doctor changed her packing (her new hole was stuffed with gauze) and poked around inside without using any anesthetic, so she was in some pain. I only wish I was there, but when she had to leave, I had like 3-4 hours of sleep, so I was just out of it.

Thursday night, I'm at work, and I knew I'd have to take her in, but I thought I was going to drop her off. I had to work that night and couldn't really afford to take another night off. Well, Jen wanted someone there with her. So I agreed to go with her, and call out if I needed to. I didn't. We were in and out of there in like 2 hours. No prison riot, and basically a slow day for them. So it was cool. Anyway, they told her that it was in fact doing good, healing nicely - to cover their end they actually had a few people look at it. And we trust PCMH pretty much over the doctors in Beaufort County, in general (knock on wood, because I'm going to one tomorrow, but that's a story for later).

So far it's been doing good. Her sister changed it yesterday (I couldn't because of the kittens, but that too, is a story for later) but I changed it today with the help of a Sprite to settle my stomach. It wasn't too bad, but yesterday this hole was the size of your average adult nostril, maybe 1mm wider, a little deeper, and round. It's closing fast, though - today it was almond-shaped, and a little more shallow. But still - I had to remove a gauze bandage, and then a piece of tape holding the excess gauze down, and slowly pull the packing out. I rubbed the outer rim of the hole with hydrogen peroxide (every kid's favorite cut/scrape treatment), then carefully repacked it with more gauze, and put a new gauze bandage on it.

She can mostly sit on it, but it's a little sore. She's not feeling great, but she'll make it, and I'm there as always to take care of her the best I can. I vowed to be there for her in sickness as well as in health, and damn it, I meant it.