Friday, April 29, 2011

I'll take royal weddings for $32,000,000, Alex...

The Royal wedding is the talk of the town, in particular the cost to John Q. Public. Apparently the Royal family is picking up the bulk of the tab but you don't have to be an economist to know where they get most of their wealth from. Investments? Yes, okay. But where did they get the money from to invest? I see. This could take longer than I thought.

When one of my friends made a comment on FB about the Royal wedding one of his friends referenced the figure $32,000,000, which a little research revealed is the approximate cost (in U.S. dollars) of security for the wedding. Just security. It doesn't include the flowers, or the food, or booking the chapel, or sending out the invitations, or the bridesmaids' dresses, the open bar at the reception (which probably cost a lot more than US$32M). The cost of security alone was estimated at US$32M. So this figure was referenced by my friend's FB friend, along with the comment that "you could feed the world" on US$32M.

The global population is estimated to be approx. 3,915,000,000. Dividing $32M between 3,915,000,000 people comes out to half a cent each. Now I know that two people can eat as cheaply as one, unless one of those two is a pregnant woman. Seriously. Have you seen what they can put away? There's a reason Home Town Buffet tried to ban pregnant women from their restaurants. No, they didn't. I'm kidding. April Fools! What? It's still April. Who says April Fools has to be limited to just the first day of the month? Have you ever tried fooling someone on April Fools Day? Good luck! You can't fool anyone on April Fools' Day because they know it's coming! What idiot thought up "April Fools" then decided to limit it to one, specific day? That guy was the real April Fool. Amiright?

So, back to two people eating as cheaply as one, which we know is a crock. If two people can eat as cheaply as one, then four must be able to eat as cheap as two, right? And because two can eat as cheaply as one, logically that means four can also eat as cheap as one. It makes perfect fucking sense IF two really can eat as cheaply as one. But because four cannot eat as cheaply as one then two cannot eat as cheaply as one so forget this argument because it holds about as much water as Jesus' cupped hands. (I can't believe you went there! I thought you were going to reference the Loaves & Fishes thing!)

So, back to feeding the world on $32M, or 1/2 a cent each. Let me know how that works out for you.

This leads into the real problem with the world today. There is not enough money, not enough food, not enough resources, not enough anything to take care of everyone living on the planet. You can throw all the money you want at the problem but it won't solve a thing. Sure, a few people will live, but many are going to die and nobody can do a damned thing about it because there's just too many of us. Some of us need to die. A lot of us. And the rest of us? We need to let them die.

What's that? I should start by killing myself? Riiiiiiight. I'm a producer (and yes, a consumer). I'm living in a First World Country, with a job, making money, and providing for my family. Other than my employer nobody is giving me money to buy me food, or clothes, or a computer. I've got a daytime job, I'm doing alright.

But all those Third World people sitting on their arses in the dust, just existing (not living, I'm not calling that living because they're alive but they're not living; they're existing) they can die. Because they're not producing. They're not working, or doing anything to sustain themselves, because Karma dealt them a handful of crap and they literally cannot survive without a handout because the land cannot support them. Give them a fish today and what does that accomplish? Nothing! You've fed them for one day. Aah, so teach them to fish, I hear you say. Wise you are, grasshopper, for if we teach them to fish, at least they'll have a hobby to keep them occupied rather than sit on their arse in the dust all day. /sarcasm off

This is the truth: There are far too many people in this world, we cannot help them all, and complaining that the money spent on the Royal Wedding could have been used to feed them is a pipe dream. Okay, maybe just counting all the starving Third Worlders, maybe $32M could have fed them for one day. Maybe. But what do they do for the rest of the year? What about the other 364 days? Anyone got a spare $11,648,000,000 lying around? You do! Excellent! Let's have it. Oh, and if you could come up with $11,680,000,000 by the end of the year...for next year...that would be great, yeah.

People need a hand-up, not a hand-out, but if the country will not sustain them at their current population even a hand-out is pointless. You'd be better off letting them die then plowing them into the soil. If nothing else, at least they'd make good fertilizer. Finally! They're producers! /black_humor off

Don't be offended, accept the truth; the world is grossly overpopulated, millions of people need to die, and we need to let them. It's okay to be a dreamer, but we live in the real world.

/end rant

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blu-Ray, HDMI, and LOTRO @ 50"

As much fun as it is to stream Netflix videos via the Wii and it's Wii-Fii (???) the novelty quickly wears off when the LAN bogs down and the movie needs to buffer every 5 minutes. Watching movies at the Wii's 480p was also not what I'd become accustomed to after watching HD Cable for a few months, so the wife and I decided an upgrade was in order. Queue in a Blu-Ray player with its glorious 1080p, hard-wired into the LAN (no Wii-Fii here). In the Wii's defense it could have been hardwired into the LAN as well, but it would have required the purchase of a $30 "dongle" to plug in the Cat-5e cable, whereas the Blu-Ray comes with a more sensible and LAN-friendly RJ45 port.

So the Blu-Ray arrived last week and the first thing I did, even before plugging anything in, was RTFM. Yes, I did. Which is how I read that Blu-Ray players apparently like the faster, Category2 HDMI cables. So off to Target I went, armed with a $25 Gift Card provided by my thoughtful wife, where I found 3' cables for $30, and 6' cables for considerably more. Best Buy were next door, and while their online store said the brick & stone store did not carry the el cheapo $10 HDMI cables readily available online (& for in-store pick-up, if you want to wait a week), I thought I'd check there anyway. I left empty-handed when I saw their cheapest 3' cable was $40, and made my way across the road to that bastion of the working class man, Walmart, where I picked up a 6' cable for $20. Hooray!

Back home I got everything plugged in, tuned the TV to HDMI#2 and...the words "Invalid Format" appeared and began floating around the screen.

Invalid Format? Whaddayamean Invalid Format???

It took a day and a couple of visits to an online forum for my Blu-Ray player to work out that my 50" Plasma HD TV is not 1080p like I thought, but only 720p (which sucks, but I'm old, so my eyes probably can't tell the difference anyway) and solving my "Invalid Format" problem was as simple as telling the Blu-Ray to output a 720p signal.

That was all it took to get high quality Netflix movies streamed to our HD TV without pauses to buffer every few minutes. A bonus is that the Blu-Ray will also do Pandora, Hulu, and other streaming media sites, including Youtube. I now have the ability to watch Youtube videos on my HD TV, which means when BBC-USA wants to edit & cut episodes of Dr. Who so they can get in more commercials, we can watch Dr. Who on the 50" TV via Youtube. Another bonus is BBC-USA sometimes delays airing certain episodes, sometimes for a week or more, but considerate fans will often record those very same episodes & upload them to Youtube literally the second that episode has aired in the UK.

Getting the Blu-Ray hooked up and streaming Youtube also piqued my curiosity about hooking up one of our PCs (albeit temporarily) to the 50" TV, which I initially thought I could do via DVI. Except even though the HDMI#1 port (for the HD Cable) is labeled HDMI/DVI, the 50" TV doesn't actually have a DVI-in. Curiouser & curiouser. What it does have, however, is an RGB port, being the current industry standard PC video plug. Awesome. Unlike the Blu-Ray, hooking up the PC was as simple as plugging it in and switching to the appropriate Input. Okay, so there was also the issue with turning off & unplugging my son's PC, then dragging it downstairs, then getting it all hooked back up again, including unplugging the Cat5e from the Blu-Ray so I could have wired Internet access on the PC. After that, it was simple :)

And that was how my wife found me, kicking back on the sofa, playing Lord of the Rings Online on our 50" HD TV. Additionally, rather than rest the keyboard on my lap, I'd dragged over our two small side tables and had the keyboard on one and the mouse on the other and had my legs stretched out between them. If you currently have a mental picture of someone piloting a starship a la "Flight of the Navigator" you probably have a good idea of what I looked like.

I was only able to get in a few hours playing like this before the boy was due back home and I wanted his PC back in his room before the in-laws dropped him off (I didn't want him to get any funny ideas...maybe as a special treat, maybe ;) but those few hours of playing LOTRO @ 50" was awesome, and very, very comfortable :)

As for streaming Netflix, I'm in two minds over that. While it's great having a ton of movies-on-demand for a very low price (we have the cheapest 1 physical DVD at-a-time package), the selection of movies that can be streamed is somewhat limited. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of movies you can watch, including some relatively new releases (the bunny was watching Astroboy last night), but many of the movies I'm interested in are only available on DVD, like Clint Eastwood's two classic "Clint & Clyde" movies, Peter Seller's "The Party", and Terrence Hill's obscure but hilarious "Trinity" movies. I'm happy to have streaming Netflix at 720p, but not happy that many of the movies I want to watch are not immediately available.

Monday, April 18, 2011

One fine evening, down at the running track

Among the 20 or so runners/walkers at the local High School running track were:

An elderly Chinese man running the wrong way. No, I'm not saying there was something wrong with his technique. I mean he was running clockwise while everyone else was running or walking counter-clockwise.

One couple strolling along together, side-by-side...hand-in-hand. Nothing wrong with walking on the track, lots of folks do, and at least they weren't walking on the inside couple of lanes (track etiquette dictates that the inside lanes are for runners) but they looked they were out for a casual romantic Sunday afternoon stroll rather than serious walkers getting their laps in at 8 o'clock on a Monday night.

Two ladies walking together. One wearing a faux fur vest (it wasn't that cold), the other with her jacket tied around her waist, a black & white leopard print silk (or faux silk) scarf around her neck, and an umbrella. No, not a compact umbrella. She was walking around the track carrying a full-sized 2 1/2'-long umbrella. Wow!

And me? Why, I was a picture-perfect fashionably-dressed runner, of course. With my grey & black Under Armor t-shirt, my red basketball shorts with black "racing" stripes, and my coordinated white, red & silver Nike runners w/ matching ankle-high white socks.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fun with Voicemail

For several years our office never had voicemail, except for the receptionist (and maybe our Program Manager). Then we moved to a new office, with new phones, and a new phone system, and we finally entered the 21st century and had personal voicemail. Hooray!

That's actually not as exciting as it sounds. The novelty quickly wore off, and the red LED on our phone's handle signifying we had voicemail quickly became a thing of dread, especially when you handle a lot of problem calls. Some people took to covering the handle of their phone with a sticky note, which was rather obvious if you looked at their desk. I went one better. I discovered the LED was not in the handle but beneath it, and that a clear lens through the entire handle allowed the LED to shine through. One expertly applied piece of paper later, and the red LED disappeared from view. No red LED, no voicemails, right? Yeeeeeeah, it didn't quite work like that.

But out of sight out of mind, did. The problem then was forgetting to check the voicemail for a couple of days, and when you eventually logged in hearing, "You have 56 new message."


But there was also a trick to handling that. Alternately pressing the 3 & 1 keys quickly reduced that number to zero.


If it's really important, they'll call back.

Besides, if I go on a 2-week vacation and set my phone message to inform any callers to call me back in 2 weeks, or that for immediate assistance they can call "Jack Black" on 555-1234, then I'm not making any promises about returning any messages left during those 2 weeks that I'm gone. Either call Jack Black now, or call me when I get back. That's how it works. I've been gone for 2 weeks. I've got a ton of work to catch up on. How am I supposed to get any work done if I'm returning calls all day?

If it's important, they'll call back.

Then there's those voicemails left on the front desk phone, which the receptionist listens to, then forwards to the appropriate person/section. Except she doesn't. Oh, she listens to them, but she doesn't forward them to the appropriate person.

She forwards them to me.

Even though the caller doesn't actually ask for me, nor do they ask to speak to someone in my section. In fact sometimes the caller doesn't even mention why they're calling at all, but she still forwards the message to me.

Why? Because I get in early o_O

Apparently her sole criteria for deciding who is the correct party to forward a caller/message is based on who is physically present in the office at that time.

I just now slipped out for coffee, got back to my desk, and there's the red LED (I felt guilty about not being able to see it, and you can only delete 56 voicemails so many times without repercussion). I was actually expecting a call because I'd just sent out an email to a couple of folks and I want a response from them, but I want it in writing so I have something solid on which to base my decision. So I check my voicemail and it's not an outside call, well it is, but it's an outside call forwarded from someone else's voicemail box. This is not the voicemail I was looking for. Heh heh. What? That's gold, that is.

I listen to the message, twice, and I have no idea what the caller wants, or why the sender forwarded the message to me. So I hit 4 to reply to the message (which sends it back to the person who forwarded it to me, straight into their voicemail box. Karma, baby.). "Yeeeeeah," I say, in my best Lumbergh voice, "this is your Cap'n speaking. You forwarded the following message to me, and I don't know why. The lady doesn't ask for me, and she doesn't mention my section or what we do. I have no idea what she's even talking about. So if you could just go ahead and call her back, that'd be great. Yeeeeeah."

Two minutes later my phone rings, which is about enough time for someone to notice the red LED on their phone, listen to my message, then call me. I glance at the caller ID and lo! It's the morning receptionist!

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
(You have to say that like Gomer Pyle, otherwise it doesn't work.)

Me and her...let's call her Pyle, shall we? So Pyle and I, we have a good old chat, and she tells me it was her (she?) who forwarded the message to me, as if I didn't know that. (Actually I didn't realize it was her, but I should have) Pyle proceeds to tell me that she listened to the message, twice, before deciding to forward it to me. I tell her I listened to it as well, twice, and that the woman didn't ask about our section, never mentioned what we do, or said anything even remotely related to my job function.

Pyle tells me she knows that, but that she can't call the woman back because she doesn't have a Long Distance-authorization code and the caller is in the next county (We need to enter this code when we dial in order to authorize long-distance call). Actually Pyle does have an LD code, but she says she forgot it.

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

And she forwarded the message to me because?

She knew my coworker wasn't in the office.

Surprise! Surprise! Sur...wait. What?

My coworker, who works in my section, who has the same job function as me, and for whom the call would also not be relevant, was not in the office at that time, and Pyle knew that, and so she forwarded the call to me instead???

Surprise! Surprise! Sur...that actually gets old really quickly. The perils of working with a Gomer Pyle, I guess.

I know M is not in yet, Pyle says, so can you call the woman back and ask her what she wants?

Perhaps you should call HR and ask them for your LD code so you can call her, I reply.

Eventually I work out why the caller was calling and she did call the correct office, and Pyle didn't completely screw up because I actually used to work in the Section the caller needs...3 years ago!!!


Monday, April 04, 2011

Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?

I'm not terribly fond of beggars, for reasons which I've elaborated on in the past.

I pass a couple of homeless folks on my way to the bus stop each afternoon, and they're always there, every day, and have been for years. When the weather took a turn for the worse a couple of weeks ago they acquired a tent from somewhere (not that a cheap tent will do a lot to protect you from the elements) but for the most part they have their cardboard box bed layered with blankets, and a nearby shopping cart filled with their junk. From my perspective, over the past couple of years they've made no attempt to better their lot in life, other than the acquisition of a tent.

The L.A. Mission is not far away and there the Priests will provide the needy with a warm meal, clean clothes, and a shower, shave, & a haircut. So when you're wearing the same filthy clothes day in & day out and you haven't had a shave or a haircut for months if not years when real help is within walking distance, why should I help you?

My wife will say No to you and not even spare you a second thought. But me? I tend to over-analyze things.

This weekend we were down in San Diego when a guy approached us in the parking lot (for the U.S.S. Midway) asking for help. He was dressed just like the average tourist about to board the Midway. Clean, freshly shaven, polo shirt, bermuda shorts, & sandles. He even had a lanyard around his neck from which appeared to hang a tourist ID badge, although I didn't look terribly closely. And he wanted help. Then came the spiel of your typical, heart string-pulling beggar, laced with the personal touch they all give.

In this guy's case he'd discovered he'd left his wallet in his jean's pocket and now he needed $2.80 for the train to get back to his hotel & his wallet.

Sorry, I can't help you, I told him, while my wife just said, "No".

And off he walked, saying "sorry to have bothered you." And that bothered me. Him saying that. Because now I worried whether he was just a beggar, or if he genuinely needed our help and really did need $2.80 to get back to his hotel.

Except in addition to leaving his wallet in his other pants he'd apparently driven his car to the Midway, because in fleshing out his story he also mentioned locking his keys in his car, thus being unable to drive back to the hotel. Not that we asked. It was just additional information he volunteered.

Now if he drove in, what happened to the people he came in with? Did none of them have $2.80 to loan him? Or did he come by himself?

If he came by himself, how did he pay to park his car without his wallet? Shouldn't that have been the "OMG! I forgot my wallet!" moment?

If he really was a tourist, how did he know the train cost $2.80?

If he'd found out the cost of the fare at the train station, why wasn't he still there? Why did he come back to the Midway parking lot? Surely there were a lot more people at the train station who could have given him the change he needed.

As I said earlier, I tend to over-analyze things, but now that I have there appear to be numerous holes in his story, which all seem to indicate that as clean & well dressed as he was, he was still just a beggar. A beggar with a really good shtick, but a beggar nonetheless.

When he walked away while apologizing for bothering us, that made me feel like crap, because maybe he had genuinely needed my help. But now, having over-analyzed the situation, I don't. He deliberately picked the parking lot to the USS Midway because of the prevalence of people like us, a family of four, being adults more likely to respond positively in front of their children, especially to someone perceived as a fellow tourist.

He didn't look homeless, and he didn't act homeless. He succeeded in passing himself off as someone in genuine need of help, not someone living on the streets trying to bum a quarter. And if he can successfully do that then he's talented enough & smart enough to succeed in a more legitimate line of work. Instead, he chooses to hit up strangers for spare change, and he probably does quite well at it, too. He's not down on his luck. He's right where he wants to be because he's smart enough to recognize when he's on a good wicket. That's his job, tugging on heart strings and playing to people's emotions, and when he realized he was getting nothing from us he immediately cut his losses and walked away.

My wife said No, and went right on with living her life.

I said No, felt like a prick for doing so, then over-analyzed the situation. Eventually I arrived at the same place as my wife, I just needed to put in more work than her. But even now, there's still that niggling speck of doubt that says, "What if you're wrong, and he really did need help?"

Then I'll have to console myself with the thought that someone gave him $2.80 for the train, because he and his cause were believable. If he really was someone in genuine need of help then someone helped him that day, it just wasn't me.