Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Sound Of Silence

I had a life failure yesterday.

Not a major one. In fact, it's downright trivial.

I have a lengthy commute to work, and last year my wife got me an iPod Nano as a gift. iTunes is the worst program on the face of the earth, so it took me a while, but eventually I got it so I could download podcasts on it to listen to on my way to work. This sort of became a ritual.

Well, just because I figured it out doesn't mean iTunes stopped sucking. Every once in a while it goes crazy. Earlier in the week it decided to download every single episode of a podcast, not just the new ones, which is not cool. So I had to manually delete them all since I had already listened to them (and was taking up all the memory). But it's not often.

Well, yesterday morning, I did what I normally do--plug it in, hit refresh, let it download new podcasts, then sync it up. Takes a few minutes. Well, this morning, I saw that it had downloaded everything so I hit 'sync', and it said it was done. That was quick, I thought to myself, unplugged it, and went to work.

Of course it was immediately apparent that iTunes shit the bed. It didn't download anything, and so I had zero podcasts to listen to--I was all caught up.

Well, I thought, I'll just turn on the radio.

I turned on the radio, and after I hear about 45 seconds of Penguins playoff updates they cut to commercial. I swear on a stack of anything you can find that is holy that they played fourteen minutes of straight commercials. Obnoxious car commercials, obnoxious lawyer commercials, and sketchy boner pill commercials. I know they got to pay the bills and radio is hurting right now, but holy hell on a stick I can't do that. (It sucks because morning radio is actually decent in this city...at least when you are actually listening to content.)

So I turned it off and drove to work in silence.

On the way home, I had the same dilemma. Well, I thought to myself, I can always listen to NPR. I like All Things Considered.

So I turn it on and...I get to listen to a riveting story about birdwatching. Birdwatching! In Columbia, no less! Come on, NPR, at least try and make an effort to not be the thing that everyone makes fun of you for.

It was a silent drive home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hot Dogs

Warning: this post involves a sad, gross story.

It's a story about two parents who made their child live off of a hot dog smoothie diet. They were, of course, arrested, and the local CPS has gotten involved after an embarrassingly long delay, but it's such a strange, bizarre story.*

Now, I am not one to make fun of someone's appearance, but I'm going to anyway because these people are monsters,** but that guy is totally, like, twelfth in line to the leadership of the Pacific Northwest Area Anton LaVey Appreciation Club. I suspect it's been a long time since his clothes haven't smelled like stale Cheetos.

Clearly something is wrong--no doubt there are mental health issues involved, but for those not into the excuse-making business there was a good dose of not-right-in-the-headness. The thing that baffles me the most is that this isn't neglect, because neglect would involve not feeding him at all, or feeding him lazily. No, these people actively made smoothies out of hot dogs and cooking oil. This took effort. This involved a lot of work to make this child's life hell.

And there's a certain brand of evil that they made him do pushups with a backpack full of canned goods, like "here's a bunch of food you will never have bwah ha ha."

I suppose this isn't funny, but it certainly is bizarre, and at the very least the judge involved seems to have  handed down an exceptionally long jail sentence given the circumstances. Little comfort to the kid, no doubt, but at least that's something. 

*A story, I would like to add, that as of this posting includes the word "wiht" when they mean "with". Come on, major news outlet MSN, don't you guys have spell checkers? Or, you know, editors? 

 **Allegedly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Candy Review: New Flavors Of Peanut M&Ms

It's been a while since my last candy review, and now that our great national holiday (Half Off Easter Candy) has come and gone, I figured it's time to post some new deliciousness.

I didn't get anything fun or innovating for Easter, but shortly thereafter I noticed that the M&Ms corporation is launching three new flavors--well, one new flavor, anyway. The public will get to vote on which one makes it to the regular rotation of flavors. As a (ahem) public service, I figured it's only right that I dive in and let you know the facts. I am nothing if not selfless.

The three flavors are Honey Nut, Chili Nut, and Coffee Nut.

First up is Honey Nut. I am lukewarm on honey--a little bit goes a long way for me. And so it was with this flavor; I thought there was too much honey flavor. (My wife, incidentally preferred these, and stated that it reminded her of eating Honey Crisp cereal.) I enjoyed it enough but of all the flavors it was my least favorite.

Next up is Chili Nut. This one was interesting--the flavor isn't very strong, which is probably good, and doesn't kick in until well after you've eaten some. The good news is that it's a very pleasant, very balanced flavor. The bad news is that if you're a unrepentant pig like me that likes to eat them by the handful, a lot of this subtlety is lost.  If you like spicy chili flavor with your chocolate and like to savor your candy, this one will be right up your alley.

Finally, we get to Coffee Nut. I love coffee + chocolate, and so it was with this flavor. I'll register it my favorite off the top. Like the Chili Nut, though, it also didn't really kick in until the aftertaste, and even then the flavor wasn't overpowering like coffee candy sometimes can.

I'd eat any of these again, although I'd probably reserve the Honey Nut for someone else. But if I had to vote--which I am encouraged to do--I'd go with coffee. Unlike other things we vote for this year, though, I'd be happy with any of the choices.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Guest Post: But, Wait! I’m Not a Liberal! Am I?

Today’s post comes from J.J. Hensley of Hensley Books and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on amandanarcisi.com, where I posit what the new Indiana Jones movie would look like if it were shot in Pittsburgh. There's a list of everyone participating in today's event at the bottom of this post.


In the 1990s, I was a moderate with conservative leanings.  At least that’s how I classified myself since my opinions were somewhat liberal toward social programs, but may have been classified as conservative in matters of national defense and law and order.  I prided myself on being a moderate.  I didn’t feel like I could be accused of attaching myself to a specific party platform or supporting a specific candidate due to party affiliations.  In fact, while I considered myself to have conservative leanings, I was a registered democrat.  TAKE THAT, political establishment.


Over a twenty-year period, I voted for GOP candidates as well as some with the Democratic party.  I even voted for Ralph Nader once.  Boom!  Liberal some days, conservative on others, moderate by choice.  That was me and my views haven’t changed drastically since those days when grunge music was hitting the airwaves and hair band guitarists went looking for the closest pair of scissors. 

Fast forward to 2016.


With a few exceptions, my core values and beliefs are pretty much the same.  I strongly support my former vocation, law enforcement, but believe in improved training, pay, sensitivity training, and the need for increased professionalism.  I support gay marriage.  I believe religious extremists, not all believers in any particular religion, need to be dealt with forcefully and decisively.  I believe in gun control, but not gun abolition.  I don’t care if someone smokes weed, as long as they don’t get behind the wheel of a car.  I’m pro-life, but not pro-abortion.  I’m against capital punishment, but only because the system is highly flawed, biased, and it does not have a deterrent effect because, to be effective, punishment has to be swift, certain, and severe.  


Two decades ago, these beliefs put me squarely in the moderate category.  Today, I’m a liberal.  And that is an extremely scary thing for all of us.  


How has this happened?  How has the U.S. political landscape shifted so drastically, that 1990s moderate—as well as some conservative—beliefs are now liberal?  While I’ve voted for some GOP candidates in the past, I wouldn’t use a ten-foot pole to reach into a voting machine and cast a ballot for any of the latest batch of GOP Presidential candidates.


This is the frightening reality our two-party system is currently facing.  The current GOP has adopted its own brand of corporate sponsored extremism and the democratic party is struggling to keep up with the sound bites produced by those who get headlines by trumpeting the outlandish.  In today’s media environment, ideas and discourse cannot compete with the ratings gained by constantly talking about Presidential candidates who openly insult each other and disparage women, minorities, and the handicapped.  


So like many others, I’m now considered a liberal with moderate leanings.  We stood firm, yet the sun moved around behind us, casting a shadow in an unfamiliar direction.  That’s fine.  The sun was blinding us anyway.  


J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.


AVAILABLE NOW!



Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

2014

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.


Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.


Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel

Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!

Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

Thursday, March 31, 2016

From Zanzibar to Barclay Square

I had a minor pop culture meltdown earlier today.

Sadly, Patty Duke passed away recently. Any time I am confronted with such sad news, I tend to do what normal people do, which is make a slightly tasteless joke on twitter about their passing.

My downfall, though, was that I didn't know all that much about Patty Duke aside from the fact that she had a sitcom in the 60s about having a twin. I mean, I watched the show when I was a kid, but me being a kid involves a world where the Soviet Union was still a thing. It's, uh, been a while. So all I had were fuzzy black-and-white memories of something that might have been about a mildly attractive girl who had a lookalike with a different accent and some rudimentary camera tricks that would make the crew of Bewitched shake their heads in shame.

So my lame-ass joke boiled down to something like "Has anyone told Patty Duke's twin the sad news?"

I was promptly told by my friend Dana that--well, her response was simply "cousins." For a moment I was confused, but then I got it--did Patty Duke play not lookalike sisters but cousins? That can't be the case--that's genetically impossible! That's insane! Maybe we were just wrong.

After extensive research by spending ten seconds looking it up on wikipedia--whoops, it looks like she was right. Patty Duke had a twin cousin!

That is stupid. Even by the 1960's-talking-horse-sitcom standards, identical cousins is a stupid, stupid idea. The Patty Duke Show was built on a foundation of sand and lies!

The biggest shame--the theme song! I don't remember the theme song, but apparently when I was a kid I blacked out every time the theme song came on the TV. The lyrics go roughly like this:

Cousins!
They're identical Cousins!
Cousins!
Seriously, we can't emphasize enough
They aren't twin sisters but
Cousins!
Hey dumbass!
They're COUSINS!
(doo doo de do)

And of course following the rules of the early days of television, the theme song was repeated enough times that even the slowest of viewers would get a hint of what was going on. 

Now, growing up, old sitcoms were my bread and butter; not having cable will do that do you. So when I am challenged in my knowledge of nostalgic old sitcoms, I get defensive and cranky. I can tell you who the deputy was after Barney Fife (Warren) and I can tell you that Jeannie used to flutter her eyes before the more iconic folded-arms-and-nod to activate her powers, but I'll be damned if I let some improbable genetic mutation sully my memories.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I C U P

Let's get this over with right off the bat--today, we're going to be talking about pissing our pants.

Technically, underpants. Technically, just women. And technically, I think we're talking less about full stream activity and more about the occasional tinkle.

My wife recently forwarded me the web site for a product that falls under the official Dave Barry "I Am Not Making This Up" category: underpants designed to handle peeing your pants a little.


Of course, you can't just tiptoe around such a sensitive subject; the web site is loaded with urine-based puns (sign up to be a VIPee!) and indirect yet obvious references to the unfortunate vagaries that are the stuff of women's inside piping, which as far as I'm concerned is a mystery wrapped in a riddle.

Here's the thing: I get it. There is a market for this sort of thing, and the internet in particular is a fantastic place to be able to produce these things if you want to be discreet about it--or have it plastered on every single ad space you have for all to see on your personal computer, as it did for me when I visited the web site and got to see those banners above for like three weeks afterwards. But the web site treats the issue with just the right balance of whimsical aww-shucks-ness, Serious Business, and attractive design to make you want to buy potty pants.

(More to the point, the pants are designed to help a specific condition, fistula, which sounds like a kinky vampire but is really an actual concern for women who have given birth. So, yeah, I'm making fun of it, but I get the point.)

My main gripe is that it's marketed for women. How about us guys? Sure, we don't have as much of...a biological issue as women do, but for those women readers who aren't aware...well, have you ever kinked a garden hose? And has said kinked garden hose ever really stopped all the water at once?

But there's also other reasons why we might get a little drip here and there:

1. We might be too lazy to get up to piss when watching six episodes of Better Call Saul and an unexpected cough arrives.
2. We might have just drank 40 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper and shortly thereafter get a surprising push on the gut by a small child or a large dog.
3. We might be watching Russel Wilson throw to Ricardo Lockette instead of pass to Lynch for WHO KNOWS WHAT REASON YOU SON OF A BITCH.

So good for you, Icon, for filling a market need and doing it with style, sprinkly though it may be. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No Rest For The Stupid

I saw two remarkable things today:

1) A truck going down the highway with what appeared to be a dozen mattresses rather haphazardly secured in their bed passing me on the left; and

2) Several minutes later seeing three mattresses strewn along the highway and said truck pulled over the side of the road with the driver in a state of panic.

If you want to wonder if karma ever reached what was almost certainly an underground used-mattress smuggling operation, mere seconds before I saw the mattresses on the road a state cop passed me. I strongly suspect he helped get the mattresses off the road. Then perhaps the driver of the truck and him had a little chat?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Deal At Any Price

You know what I love more than witnessing the slow but inevitable downfall of Western civilization? The aiding and abetting of rogue AIs in that process.

And what more fun could there be than the Amazon pricing algorithm. Readers, look upon this fantastic deal and one-click buy your way to infinite amazement!


(For the record, the price has changed, like, three times in the last ten minutes before I snapped a screenshot.)

Helpfully, Amazon lets me know that:
For the record, Arboretum is out of stock, but only recently, and its retail price is normally $12.99. It had a solid but otherwise unimpressive rating of 6.669 at boardgamegeek.com. Better get it in your cart while you can!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Whistlestop

My current guilty pleasure* is Whistlestop, a podcast about historical presidential elections.

I've always been fascinated by campaigns. Obviously I love history and (not so) obviously I love politics, but just learning about the personalities, the trends, the gaffes, the opportunities--it's all so interesting to learn what people like and hated and let sway their opinions. Saying phrases like "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" or "Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?" to an old history nerd like myself will get you the appropriate response in return**, so you can both talk about WIlliam Jennings Bryan in the corner while everyone else at the party is getting laid.

The podcast takes a single aspect of an election and tells the story behind it. Hosted by Slate magazine and narrated by the wry, amusing, and authoritatively John Dickerson of Face the Nation fame (so he's legit and all), they tend to be about a half hour where he delves into the details and the framework of an election.

Previous episodes include the infamous "Dean Scream," the inability of Mario Cuomo to jump in the race, Ed Muskie crying like a little girl, and Bill Clinton feeling your pain.

Even if you aren't a fan of either politics or history, I suggest listening to an episode or two. They are entertaining in and of themselves and aren't just dry bits of history chopped up for ease.

It does sadden me a bit to know that in anther generation or two, an episode of Whistlestop (or its functional equivalent) will be talking about the size of Donald Trump's penis. So goes the nation, and all that.


*Apparently, I don't know what "guilty pleasure" means. Listening to a historical podcast is rather enlightening, don't you think? It's not like I'm streaming Kim Kardashian Nudes on my phone. Well, not at this exact moment

**"Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!"

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Generation Lost In Space

One of the very first memories I have of the internet is reading an analysis of American Pie.

Let's stop a moment and take stock of the situation.

I am old enough that the internet wasn't even a thing when I was a kid, assuming I wasn't from the Department of Defense or worked at the tech help desk in Seattle. It wasn't until my mid-teens that we started getting random disks in the mail for a variety of internet services; at one point, a computer I purchased had a packet with, like, twelve different packages to sign up for. (Ah, CompuServe and AoL!) Imagine my sadness and shock when I realized you had to pay for internet access!

Anyway, I was soon off to college, where I had (intermittent) internet access. I had shitty dial-up in my dorm room, and somewhat better (if much less private) access in the computer lab.

Kids, remember how you hate it when old people talk about how candy bars cost a nickel and party lines existed and records were a thing? I'm about to sound like that about the internet.

The internet was not like it is today. Data speeds were much, much slower and the computing processing power paled in comparison to today. As such, there were no streaming services, no YouTube, no...well, not much of anything. The best you got was text, static graphics, and maybe gifs if they looped in an abbreviated enough time frame as to not shut your computer down from overheating.

Those heady, wild-west-ish days for us regular folks were a treasure trove of sketchy information. For those of us who either weren't old enough to have gotten on the gravy train at the beginning, or techie enough to understand, we were looking at primitive Angelfire web sites and delving into the (admittedly brief) lore created by Usenet and BBSs.  Wikipedia didn't exist, so information was largely scattered and patchworked; some places (Yahoo, famously) tried to corral them all into organized directories. (That's right--at one point the internet was small enough that you could petition Yahoo to get your web site added to their directory of subjects.) We were taking unnecessarily complex purity tests, locating FAQs for our analog board and card games, and reading elaborate analyses of popular culture.

Which leads us to one of the first things that I remember: an analysis of the song American Pie.

The song--by Don McLean--well, the only song by Don McLean; Vincent doesn't count--was notoriously enigmatic upon its release in 1972 and had just grown in this notoriety for decades. It was a chart-topper in its day, but unusual in that it was much, much longer than standard radio fare. And its lyrics were dripping in half-obvious symbolism. Ostensibly about the "day the music died"--when Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper all died in a plane crash, its lyrics soon spiraled out into a sort of oral history of rock music from the 50s until the early 70s, coded in mysterious allegories (and, of course, blatant allusions).

I was a fan of the song, so imagine my surprise when I found that someone had done a line-by-line analysis of the lyrics. Online! That I could read! For free! And print out! Of course I printed it out, because why not? Paper was free in the college computer lab, and no one would care if I printed out 30 pages of analysis from a classic rock song instead of working on my symoblic logic homework.

It seems quaint and primitive now, but this was awesome to me at the time. It is very, very hard to remember what life was like without having an internet at the ready. Hell, now, we all have little internets in our pockets. Literally twenty years ago our internet was 25 leather-bound books that a pushy salesman pressured our parents into buying by convincing them it would help us get into college. And it's not just the internet--to think at one time I didn't know all of the cultural references in the song at one point of my life is fascinating. They're low-level trivia questions now, but at the time it was an education unparalleled.

Anyway, I decided to see if that analysis was still up in its regular old site, and I think I found it--here. It's there, I think, it all its starry-background HTMLy goodness. I vaguely recall the one I had was just in plain text, so the whole thing printed out like a common textbook, which doesn't mean I didn't collate that thing to bring into class so I didn't have to pay attention.

The internet made me an unparalleled genius. Well, at least in the realm of hackneyed classic rock songs with a lazy chord structure. Or at least one of them.