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Jad Chambers Blog



When Dumb Isn't So Bad

Dumb usually annoys me.  Dumb in many forms; dumb people, dumb ideas, dumb TV and movies… that’s why I don’t dig on reality TV.  But, there are times when I’m not looking to overthink something.  It happens every once in a while, not enough to make me follow a dumb TV show…

But occasionally watch a dumb movie?  Yeah, that’s more my style.  I even really like using this occasional indulgence to annoy friends and co-workers.  Like talking with my friends and making a point using a “Hudson Hawk” reference.  I’ve even done it to Steve and Ted during the morning show.  Steve will mention during the almanac section that it’s say… Dennis Hopper’s birthday and rattle off a couple of mega blockbuster hits and critically acclaimed movies in his filmography.  And I’ll mention that he also starred in “Space Truckers.”

Sometimes I wish we were rolling a camera, the looks I get from Steve with comments like that are totally worth it.  Like he has any room to talk anyway; he and Ted can joke about Sean Connery in “Zardoz,” but I can’t roll out “Space Truckers?”  Just because the bad guy in “Space Truckers” had a pull starting…

Prosthetic appendage.  (Yeah, probably the safest way to word that.  For clarity, if your mind went “there” you are absolutely correct.)

Anyway

It’s Halloween, and if you are staying in I’ll suggest a scary, but entertaining (if stupid,) movie.  “Split Second,” 1992 starred Rutger Hauer, Alastair “Neil” Duncan, and Kim Cattrall as (respectively) a caffeine and sugar-fueled paranoid gun-freak detective, a super-neatfreak wimp, and a shower scene.  Setting the scene; it’s half-past the future in a global-warming flooded London and the “Ripper” style serial killer menacing the streets of London is half xenomorph (the bad guys from the Aliens movies,) half plague rat, and half demon.  Yes, three halves as he is also fairly huge.  But as Hauer’s “Harley Stone” would be quick to remind everyone, there’s no problem that enough bullets can’t solve.

Really movie, you named your main character “Harley Stone.”  OUTSTANDING. There’s some great, funny dialogue throughout.  A couple of standouts include:

female bartender: What'll you have?
Harley Stone: Coffee.
female bartender: It's a two-drink minimum!
Stone: Then get me two coffees.

and

Lt. Thrasher: How many weapons are you carrying, besides this 'cannon'?
Harley Stone: An MP15.
Thrasher: What else?
Stone: A Glock 50.
Thrasher: And?
Stone: An A3 Assault Shotgun.
Thrasher: If that's not paranoid, I don't know what the %#@& is. I'm surprised you don't have a grenade launcher.
Stone: I couldn't get a permit.

So yes, it’s a dumb movie.  But there’s a lot of entertainment value.  Funny lines, over the top action, and some fairly creepy moments.  A good Halloween suggestion.  

Interested?  HAH!  There’s my trick.  I really doubt you’ll be able to watch it.  The DVD is out of print, and fairly rare.  How rare? NETFLIX doesn’t have a copy.  A DVD copy is selling for nearly $250 on Amazon and eBay.  Actually you’ll see copies for a lot less, but they’re region 2 and won’t work on a US DVD player.

I’d be really impressed if you could find a copy somewhere.  All you could hope for is to come across it in the forlorn DVD/VHS section at a used bookstore.  And if you HAVE a copy… You own something pretty rare there.

I’ll give ya $5.00 for it.

Anyhow, see you at the Palace (either Fri or Sat, I don’t know which yet) for John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”
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It’s Almost Time Again

We are on the edge of another October, easily my favorite month of the year.  Now last year I did a new blog update every week about some good, scary, chilling entertainment perfect for the season.  Now I’m not going to be that comprehensive again this year (maybe next year,) but I do have some things I will talk about next month (October) that will fit in nicely with the theme.  But I want to start out with a little preview.

I’ve had a lot of fun at the last 2 “Cult Classics” showings at the Palace Theater.  Earlier this month I had a great time watching 1989’s “Batman.”  Tim Burton’s “Batman” was the first movie I ever saw at the Palace, and it was really great getting a chance to re-live a couple hours of my childhood.  And then a few weeks later, I visited again to see “Monte Python and the Holy Grail.”  No need to elaborate, that is ALWAYS a good time.  I think that was my 3rd Grail watching at the Palace over the years.

But the Palace’s Cult Classics Series is always best in October.  Three weekend classics series this year and I can recommend all of them (although I may only go to 1 or 2.)  First up on the 4th and 5th, is “Child’s Play.” That’s the original “Chucky” movie.  The little Cabbage Patch Doll that kills people.  Now I will miss this one.  80’s and 90’s “gorefest” style slasher films (Jason, and Freddy, and that bunch) were always more comedy than horror for me.  Much like these days the “found footage” Blair Witch style movies are just hollow and insubstantial to me.  But if you are a fan of those kinds of films, Child’s Play is a good one.

I may not get the chance to see “The Shining” (I have a possible schedule conflict,) but I will be there if I can.  They’re showing that one on the 18th and 19th. Kubrick adapting a Stephen King novel… yeah, I’ll be there if I can. There’s actually some downside.  If I’m honest, The Shining drags a bit.  Kubrick wasn’t one to chop a movie into a standard 90 or so minutes.  But The Shining could be a textbook on exploiting a setting and scene to create atmosphere. By the time Jack goes full-on axe wielding crazy, the tension has been very slowly dialed up to 11.

And rounding out the series (although it’s technically Nov. 1st and 2nd) is a definite must for me, I will be there.  It’s John Carpenters’ “The Thing.” I’ll admit I have a weakness for John Carpenter films, and this will be a chance for me to see The Thing in theaters, an opportunity I missed the first time around because I was too young to buy the ticket.
 

Thunder Hockey is starting up again, and I’ll try and make a couple of games in October.  And October 11th – 13th is the Encounters convention at the Best Western at 53rd and I-135.  And as if a Sci-Fi, Gaming, and Anime convention wasn’t enough to get me there; Jim Butcher, one of my favorite authors, will be there.  I’ve been to one Butcher book signing a few years ago in KC, and it will be great to get a chance to talk with Jim again and get another book signed.

Lots to do this October, it’s going to be a good one.

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The Abuse of Tragedy

I’m hearing rumblings of anti-video game sentiment after this latest tragedy in Washington.  Of course a sound political platform wouldn’t need to exploit big, splashy, deadly, tragedies; but the anti-video game "family" groups would rather strike while the emotion is hot rather than let logical cooler heads make decisions. And although the pro-gun lobby has sound Constitutional ground to stand on voices within the NRA and other gun lobby groups would rather engage in scape-goating, lest someone blame guns instead. Since there doesn’t seem to be an obvious video game link in this instance, the accusers (specifically this time a couple of Fox talking heads) have used coincidence.  The shootings happened in the same week as the release of “Grand Theft Auto V.”

GTA is one of the most picked-on video game franchises.  The games are far from the most violent or realistic, and yet ask one of the “footloose town,” book-burning, “won’t someone think of the children,” types about video games and that’s the one most mentioned.  But rather than just point out how pathetic and uneducated those voices are, I’m instead going to do something that they CAN’T.

I’m going to tell you what Grand Theft Auto IS.  They can’t because they have never experienced it.  They don’t play video games.  They condemn based on a title and cherry picked scenes from gameplay.  They speak from a position of ignorance.  I on the other hand have played nearly every Grand Theft Auto game, starting with the very first one.  You may be surprised by this story, unless you to have played GTA: San Andreas.

The in-game character the player controls is Carl Johnson, also called C.J.  Carl is from a poor, inner-city household.  Carl, his brother (called Sweet,) and sister Kendell were raised by their mother in this “bad” part of the city of Los Santos (the game world’s version of L.A.)  When the game begins Carl is returning home after spending several years living in Liberty City (the game world’s version of New York.)  Sweet had been tired of the police not taking care of the drug and gang problem in his (and his mom’s) neighborhood. To keep the pushers and gang members out, he started his own gang of neighborhood youngsters policing his own “turf.”  To kickstart the game, C.J. is returning because someone had murdered his (and Sweet’s) mom.  Unfortunately before he can even leave the airport, C.J. is confronted by a very crooked pair of police officers who lean on C.J. to do jobs for them.  Not like a legitimate police C.I. (informant) but instead as a clean-up man covering for the officers’ illegal activities.

There’s a very rich and detailed story of loyalty, betrayal, redemption, and vengeance in this “homecoming of age” story. There’s no doubt it is a brutally violent story and setting.  But the major themes of GTA:SA…

Nothing is more important than FAMILY.

Drugs are BAD, they hurt the user and everyone around them.

That’s what everyone is railing against, screaming in all their ignorance that the pro-family and anti-drug message is wrong.  I find that funny.  But it’s not the message they hate, it’s the framework that message is presented in.

And you know what?  They have a valid point.  GTA games (all of them so far) are brutally violent.  I really do think it might send a mixed message at the player unless that player has the experience to put the game in the proper frame of reference.  A player needs to be old enough to understand the context of the violence in order to properly interpret the message and separate it from the violent gameplay. And the ESA has addressed this issue as all GTA games have been rated M for Mature.  Placing blame for any underage kid getting his hands on the game squarely on the shoulders of the offending retailer or (far more likely by all studies) the parent who doesn’t care enough to monitor what their kids are playing.

Still, GTA games are a framework for those stories.  You don’t have to constantly work on progressing the story.  I freely admit that I’ll sometimes kick on GTA just to virtually break some law in front of a cop and start an exciting and fun police pursuit, placing myself in a fleeing vehicle vs. the fictional SAPD.  By the end of the chase (win or lose) along the way I may have wrecked and stolen a dozen or more cars and even possibly hijacked an airplane or two. And other players do much worse; it’s easily possible to go on brutal, rampaging, killing sprees in GTA games. Making the anti-game violence crowd roar in protest, mainly because that’s all they ever see of the game.

But they (like children themselves) don’t put the violence in the right context.  It’s a virtual, cartoony, unrealistic kind of violence that physically injures no one since the actions portrayed are not happening in real life. Engaging in virtual violent behavior can be cathartic.  Just knowing I can go home, pop on GTA, and go on one of my epic police chases seriously decreases the chances that I will instead follow the car that just cut me off and take a shovel to it and its driver as soon as it stops.

Now one of the problems I’ve heard discussed about the latest (and billion dollar selling) GTA game just hitting stores is that It’s 3 main playable characters aren’t as sympathetic as say C.J. from San Andreas.  But even if that is true, the real solution of the “problem” of violent videogames is pretty easy.

Parents or Guardians… DO NOT BUY A GAME FOR A KID THAT EXCEEDS THE RECOMMENDED AGE RATING FOR THE PLAYER.  There… problem solved.  Now just take all that excess ire and get riled up about something the other political party is doing. After all, the only way to prove that they’re wrong is to yell talking points louder than they do. It requires just as little thought as condemning an entire entertainment medium that they know nothing about, should be right up their alley.

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Locations : L.a.New YorkSantosWashington
People : Carl JohnsonKendell




 

Am Banking Issues

Is anyone ever falling for some of these?

I’m talking specifically about an email I recently received.  The subject line read, “Am Banking Issues, Needing Urgently Response Please.”  Verbatim, that’s what it said.  Now this isn’t anything new, it’s just the least literate one of these I’ve ever received.  Some cyber criminals I have to give begrudging respect to for inventiveness, or even acknowledge that their scam may be dangerously effective.  But seriously, “Needing urgently response?” Not even Google translate mangles a translation that badly. I mean it didn’t help that it was from an unknown sender who supposedly worked at a bank I have no account with, but come on scammers.  A little effort please.

Not that I want them to get any better at what they do, but I do have standards.  I’ve been receiving daytime phone calls beginning “This is an important message about your ___ credit card account,” even though the ____ they mention is not the kind of credit card I carry. I’d just be ignoring them, but I sleep during the day.  So I’m reporting them to the BBB and the State AG’s consumer protection division.  Not because I think it will be effective (the wheels turn slowly) but just because a: I hate the scammers, and b: it might someday help someone not get scammed.

Although the biggest cybercrime in the news recently seems to be the NSA spying on us. Some people have asked me (because I’m “computer or internet guy”) what I think about this scandal.  My answer seems to shock most folks.

What “scandal?”

Yeah, please.  Anytime a new communication medium is invented the first thing anyone does is figure out how to spy with it.  Anyone who thought their email was ever secure from prying eyes was wrong and endearingly naive. Anyone who thinks anything you post on social media sites like facebook or twitter is safe and only going where you want it to… well that’s just downright laughable.  My “rule of thumb” is simple.  If you put it on the internet… make sure it’s something that you wouldn’t mind everyone on the internet finding out.

Now yes, I do some shopping online, and do e-file my taxes.  But I take extreme caution when I do so.  The payment system I use is highly rated as a “trusted” site by many consumer advocacy groups and computer security firms.  And it only accesses an account I maintain specifically for online shopping, and it’s pre-pay and will not spend any money I don’t clear by transferring it into the account for the purchase I’m going to make (consult your tax or banking professional for more specific advice.)   Taxes I do behind a massive firewall using very reliable computer security.  And I never save any information to the cloud. “Would you like to save the information to make the next transaction easier?”  No, I would not.  As an act of supreme security paranoia, I don’t even save passwords on MY OWN computer.  If I get hacked (my security makes it unlikely, but it can happen to anyone) my passwords aren’t saved anywhere on my computer. That won’t protect against a keylogger, but my security will pick up on a keylogger before I have a chance to enter any passwords.

And those aren’t even the only precautions I take.  Some of the precautions I take to separate myself from my online “identity” actually VIOLATE the TOS (terms of service) of the web services I’m using. So I won’t mention those, I don’t want my accounts closed.  Hypothetical examples of such violations would include registering for an internet service using a fake name or phony address.

And all of that’s why NSA spying doesn’t bother me.  Because I had always assumed they WERE already spying.  Or rather I guess it does “bother” me, but fails to “surprise” or “affect” me in any way.  I don’t blame the government, (current or prior regimes) but rather I see the misuse of technology as an unfortunate side-effect of the development of that technology in the first place.  The question I have to answer is “Do I like the internet?” It it’s existence as a whole worth the fact that it can be used to spy on me?  To me it’s worth it.  I don’t do anything illegal, online or otherwise so I don’t really have a dog in the hunt either.  Then again if I were doing anything illegal, I certainly would be lying about it here on this blog. BECAUSE ONLINE ADMISSIONS OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY WOULD BE A BAD IDEA, PEOPLE MIGHT BE LISTENING.

So to any NSA guys that might be reading this or anything else from me (emails, forum replies, etc.) I apologize for wasting your time.  I realize that what you can find out about me online is pretty boring.  Just a suggestion… stand up, stretch a little bit, maybe go get a coffee.  Now back to work, those cybercriminals and terrorists aren’t going to catch themselves.  You know, unless they brag about their activities on twitter.
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It’s The Same Dumb Argument Every Time

I do like the occasional blog update about video games.  If you (like me) enjoy games then I’m sure all this is common knowledge.  But if all you hear is the easily refuted “studies” that show a link between violent behavior and video games then you might be the type of person who has never heard anything about them from an advocates’ point of view.  Most will never admit it’s the same thing, but how many times did baby boomers hear, “TV will rot your brain,” while they were growing up?  Yet boomers from their easy chairs will actually yell at folks my age “stop playing those games and grow up.”  Which I’ve always found funny, it’s a pastime.  Like reading, or television, or golf, or model railway…
 
And yes, it is exactly the same thing.  “But oh,” some blame pushing parent might say, “those Columbine kids played shooting games and so did the Sandy Hook shooter.” 
 
Well, here’s the response.  Did you blame “Taxi Driver” or Jodi Foster for the actions of John Hinckley, Jr.?  Charles Manson not to blame, he was only following the instructions set forth by the Beatles in the White Album and “Helter Skelter?” 
 
The real answer… crazy people will do crazy things for bizarre reasons that are usually unrelated to their actions and only connected by their link in a diseased mind.  And at some point in time every “newer” form of entertainment medium has been blamed for “behavioral issues” that are more easily linked to social situations (like bullying) or home life (abuse and neglect.)  I’m sure bad parents in the Victorian Era were all talking about how terrible their kids were acting and how it was all the fault of those new-fangled zoetropes. 
 
But it’s not ALL bad, lazy, irresponsible parenting.  Although the bad ones really do try hard to blame others before taking on any responsibility on themselves.  There are plenty of genetic disorders out there that really do cause potentially dangerous behavior no matter how good a home environment a kid might have.  
 
But to blame an entertainment medium… is just ignorant.  Any pastime or hobby can become unhealthy if taken to the level of obsession.  I’ll freely admit to “binge” gaming on occasion.  I’ll fire up a game and then the next time I check the clock 4 or 5 hours have passed.  I’m usually a little too hyperkinetic to sit for that long but it happens.  Then again, I’ve done the same reading a book I really like.  Pick it up to read a chapter or so only to finish it and find I’ve been reading for several hours.  A new trend in TV watching with shows being available to stream on services like Netflix and Hulu is being called “binge watching.”  A new season of a television show becomes available, and someone watches all the episodes back to back.  That’s not really one that gets me (I don’t like ANY shows THAT much,) but I’ve done “movie marathons” before.  I don’t see occasional indulgences to be that unhealthy, but ANY pastime can be taken to the level of obsession.  I’ve never let indulging in a hobby make me late to work.  Maybe miss out on sleep but always managed to get myself to work.  And when I say ANY hobby… I mean it.  If it negatively affects work or social activities, even if you are just a stamp collector or a lepidopterist, taking any hobby too far is easy to do.  You hear horror stories about parents (dads usually) getting so upset over kids’ baseball or soccer that a shouting match or a fistfight ensues.  Golf clubs get thrown through windows, church ladies cheat at bingo, people buy “yoga outfits…”
 
You get the idea, anything can be taken too far.
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Ain't That a Kick in the Head

I recently had a “virtual” moral quandary that I found interesting.  It involves the content in a video game I’m playing.  Not the “graphic violence” or “coarse language” type of content (although this game contains plenty of both, ESRB rating of M for Mature, NOT FOR KIDS,) but a quandary of interactive storytelling and the choices I (through my in-game character) have to make.

The game in question is Bethesda Studios “Fallout: New Vegas,” developed by Bethesda’s Obsidian Entertainment. It’s the follow up to “Fallout 3” (which is also very good) and it puts the player into a rich, detailed, world on the edge of a disaster or two.  Normally that would be a player’s (or character’s) call to be “the hero.” Fighting against all odds to save the world for the good of mankind.  Which you can do in F:NV (as it’s abbreviated on the internet.) Or not.  See, this game lets you make the decisions.  You CAN fight against the forces of evil and save the world.  OR you can join with those dark forces to conquer and enslave.  OR you can go to every house in the game and put a teddy bear and a spork in every toilet tank in Nevada, it’s REALLY all up to you.  A short set up of the game world… It’s a couple of hundred years after a nuclear war (mainly between the US, Canada, and China) devastated the earth and what’s left of humanity is rebuilding society, which resembles an odd cross between the U.S. South’s reconstruction era, the U.S. pre-Civil War frontier era, the Cold War nuclear scare era, and the great depression. All set to the music (and stylings) of Rat Pack crooners and the Big Band era.

Our hero (the character the player controls, in my case a character I gave a ridiculous handlebar moustache and the equally ridiculous name of Ezekiel Deschain) is a courier with a bad case of amnesia after being relieved of the package he was delivering via gunshot to the noggin from a gang leader named Benny.  Story is simple at first. Track down Benny, exact revenge (or not,) retrieve the package, and finish the delivery.  Along the way I became a kind of post-apocalypse white knight.  Helping the people of all the little towns along the way, protecting the helpless, and making the wasteland safer for good, honest folk.  I picked up a sidekick at a trading post on I-88, and she (Veronica) became the “Robin” to my “Batman.” Helping me do-good my way to New Vegas and I in return helping her and her tribe and family.

After fixing some of her problems, I urged her to spend some time with her family while I finally made my way on to “the Strip” of New Vegas.  And that’s where “Zeke’s” story gets complicated.  3 factions are vying for control of New Vegas and the power produced by the Hoover Dam.  The New California Republic (or NCR,) Caesar’s Legions, and Mr. House.  The NCR isn’t so bad.  A democracy (more or less)  with more or less civil laws.  But they are expansionist, and don’t give people much choice when annexing territory (join, leave, or die.)   The Legion is a coalition of gangs and savage tribes trying to carve an empire out of the west, building it on the back of slave labor (these are the “bad” bad guys.) And the mysterious and reclusive millionaire Mr. House who currently runs New Vegas from his penthouse high atop the “Lucky 38 Casino.” The “good” choices are to either help the NCR or Mr. House.  I chose Mr. House because although the NCR isn’t that bad… they are expanding by force.  While House only wants to make New Vegas the shining city he remembers from before the bomb, giving the citizens and tourists back everything they lost to the war.

Or I was working for him, until he demanded I destroy Veronica’s tribe and burn their home.

Now that’s not any kind of moral dilemma.  I can’t do that and still BE the good guy.  And I can’t let Mr. House try and do it another way. And there’s no way to talk him out of it, he’s absolutely convinced they will oppose him.  So… I made the decision to depose Mr. House. Killing him was an option, but I chose instead to just take away his authority over the police and defense forces of New Vegas.  I suppose at that point I could have handed the keys over to the NCR.  But with ME in charge… the strip is still independent and free.  And I’M a “good guy,” right? I won’t abuse my position… right?

But my “good” intentions don’t change the fact that deposing (and or killing) Mr. House and taking authority over New Vegas was BENNY’S plan.  It’s the reason Benny shot the player’s character in the FIRST place.  Benny the murdering, loan sharking, crime boss I was bringing to justice in the first place. When that realization struck me… I was STUNNED.  And then I was stunned a second time.  This IS just a video game.  None of it really matters, and even had I chosen to play as maniacal murderer who sided with the slave owners, it’s just a game and would say nothing about me “in real life.” Yet I was immersed well enough in the game, its setting, and its characters that I was concerned about the ethics of my character’s actions. IS IT RIGHT to take the same actions that a criminal was going to… just because my intentions are (in my judgment) more altruistic than that criminal’s?  THERE’S the impressive moral quandary.

Well played Bethesda and Obsidian… well played.  And even though it’s taken me way too long to get at the point… here it is.  The interactive media of video game is the ONLY storytelling medium where that sort of reflection is possible.  In movies, books, or tv you can choose whether or not to like or root for a character based upon THEIR actions in the narrative. You can wonder what your reaction to the scripted events says about you as a person. But only in a well-crafted game can the narrative that unfolds as the result of YOUR actions make you question the morality of YOUR OWN decisions.

It’s examples like this that make me remember why I’m such a pro-game advocate.  I look at the popularity of the online MMS (modern military shooter) games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, and I wonder if those people who blame games for real life violence MAY be right.  But then added to the fact that playing a game can’t actually instruct you how to use any firearm depicted in that game (unless of course the trigger is a button on the side of the gun shaped like a video game controller) is the example set by Fallout: New Vegas… a game (even a particularly violent game) can make you reflect on the ethical ramifications of your choices and actions.

Oh another plus for F:NV. There are a few in-game radio stations you can listen to.  Music, then a DJ comes on.  Maybe reads a listener letter, maybe does some news.  My favorite is the “rat pack crooner” station called Radio New Vegas.  When I heard it the first time I thought I recognized the voice of its DJ “Mr. New Vegas.”  Yup, the character was voiced by Wayne Newton.

Yes… Danka Schoen… THAT Wayne Newton.  Well played again Bethesda.
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Locations : CaliforniaMaineNevada
People : BennyWayne Newton




 

The End of an Era... Well, Not That Dire

It really isn’t that big a deal, but www.hotmail.com is gone.  Now it re-directs to www.outlook.com in Microsoft’s move to consolidate their web-based email server with the branding of their email client.  Not a bad move I suppose, but there’s something a little depressing and dark surrounding the change.
 
I’ve had a Hotmail account since 1997, it was my first personal email account. I’ve picked up several other accounts over the years, but most I’ve closed out or I have not checked for years.  Now I have not lost anything, Microsoft kept the accounts active and moved them over to Outlook.  And it seems to work pretty well, even (surprisingly) on computers that are not top-of-the-line fast anymore.  It shares the look of the latest version of Outlook available by itself or bundled with Word and Excel in the Microsoft Office package, meaning it shares the look of the most widely used email client in the world.
 
So if I didn’t lose anything and its better… why do I not like the change?
 
Well, small reasons, like muscle memory.  I can type the URL for Hotmail in less than a second.  I’ve been checking the account almost daily for 16 years now.  And I always type it first before remembering its Outlook now.  And Hotmail (and previous versions of Outlook) shared a similar look and design to the classic “icon and Window” look that Microsoft has been refining since Windows 3.1 (back in the early 90’s.)  But the latest Windows OS is Windows 8, and it sports a radically different design.  Less “icon and window” and more “touch tile” like the interface on a smartphone or tablet computer. And the new Outlook’s design seems to be making that change as well.
 
So I don’t like it because it’s a branding change, and its promoting Microsoft’s newest operating system.  Which has followed far to close on the heels of the successful and stable Windows 7, and is designed to create even more revenue through microtransactions and selling programs through their own Microsoft “app store” that’s right there on your desktop.  Microsoft is claiming its better in this and that… and I’m sure there are improvements, but it’s an unnecessary cash grab and I can’t really get behind it.  Windows even attempted (or will follow through) with only releasing DirectX 11 to Windows 8.  That will affect a lot of users as all games and many other programs require DirectX (so new games will require DX 11) essentially holding your computer hostage, disallowing even 3rd party new software, until you upgrade to Win 8. 
 
I don’t begrudge a company an honest profit.  But Microsoft is going a ways past honest.  They are walking the antitrust law tightrope and even if their business practices are legal… they are without question manipulative, punitive, and unethical. Oh, and if you are an Apple person you’re not any better off.  Microsoft is just adopting business practices that Apple has been using for years already.
 
So it’s bigger than just a new URL for my webmail client. It’s the start of a change away from winning customers by providing better services, in favor of winning by squeezing every penny you can from a customer base that is becoming more and more dependent on your services. Forcing them to buy upgrades for products they don't need and didn't ask for.
 
Just look at Microsoft’s latest commercial for Windows 8.  The tag line is… “don’t fight it, just switch.”
 
What’s next, “shut up and give us your money?”
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Topics : Technology_Internet
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Sorry It's Been So Long

But I just found a decent way to bring up a topic that's been in the news and on my mind for a while now.  So we've had these awful shootings last year in Colorado and Connecticut... as well as several incidents (and attempted incidents) of violence here in the U.S.  And just last night the Dorner/Cop killer thing comes to an end in California. 
 
Now first off, events like this are not new.  In varying degrees of severity things like this happen every year.  Have happened every year, and unfortunately will continue to.  It seems particularly bad right now, but that's amplified and inflated by the explosion of social media and the immediacy of information spread and the economic (downturn, recession, depression, recovery... wherever we're at.)
 
Which is specifically why ALL of the scapegoating seems a little overblown for my tastes.  I'm not against sensible enforcement of reasonable gun laws.  Pretty sure we need to close that "gun show" loophole (or at least make sure we are not selling guns to felons at these gatherings like we are now.)  But let's make sure we are putting the emphasis where it is needed (relatively few long rifles are used to commit crimes compared to say handguns) and not over burdening government, business, and the public with needless regulation.  A little common sense and less paranoia and finger-pointing (on both sides) and the "gun issue" could find a reasonable "middle ground' sensible solution.  It would not end gun crime or stop gun deaths completely... but nothing would.  The most effective we could be here will not "completely solve" the problem, so we do what we can and move on to people we can help and things we can improve.
 
But the scapegoating... Lord I wish the scapegoating would just go away.  Rather than something sensible (like blaming the perpetrators) what we get is "Oh, guns are the problem... we need more gun laws." or just as stupid "More guns could have prevented this... we need less gun regulation and a gun in every hand."
 
NEITHER ONE OF THOSE "SOLUTIONS" WILL SOLVE ANYTHING.  STOP BEING SO POLARIZED AMERICA.
 
One of the many things that made this country great is our ability to come together as Americans (regardless of background) to overcome adversity and solve problems.  And excuse my pessimism... but that part of our greatness IS GONE and a thing of the past we need to rediscover or we need to accept we are no longer a great nation.
 
And I for one don't want to have to do the latter.
 
But my pessimism is overstating the problem.  The political extremes on both sides are the all too vocal minorities of both parties. But whether it's Occupy or TEA, extremist groups are gaining in popularity.  Which is why I do believe we are in real trouble.  Because hey, when extremist groups gain control of a country... good things happen?
 
No, that's almost never the case. And history will back me up on that point.
 
And no, the TEA party isn't reactionary conservative, the ACTUAL extreme edge of the right side of the political spectrum.  Neither is Occupy true (by political science standards) liberal radical on the left side.  But I did call both sides "extremist" for a good reason.
 
Are you still reading?  Because the dangerous ones in both camps... aren't.  They labeled me a (whatever they call the other sider) the second I compared each group to the other and called them extremists.  That's the point that they stopped reading and if I had been speaking aloud they would have covered their ears and started screaming talking points like a 6 year old saying LALALALALA I'M NOT LISTENING LALALALALALALALA. And so they miss this valuable piece of political advice most people who are reasonable enough to still be reading already know.  It pays to listen to the opposition and maintain a civil relationship with them.  You never know when you might be agreeing with them or need their help. When 2 sides disagree with one another, never bending an inch from their positions... nothing gets accomplished.  Not to say doing nothing isn't sometimes a good idea, but ask yourself this.
 
Do you like how things are now?  Because refusing to compromise is the surest way to keep things going in the same direction.  And all the “never back down” talk that we are hearing from the loudmouths on both edges (whether they are shouting “no reduced spending” or “no tax increases” or “no more guns” or “no gun control”) is a waste of breath coming out of a waste of a human being.
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And a Little More

There are a few more things that go with the Halloween/October theme that I can recommend.  I won’t go into them in great detail (like I’m apt to do most of the time,) just assume that if something I mention makes this list it’s worthy of a look.

MOVIES

Event Horizon – Better at being “Hellraiser in space” than “Hellraiser: Bloodlines,” which WAS actually “Hellraiser in space.” Stars Lawrence Fishburne and Sam Neil.

The Watcher in the Woods – If you want something scary that’s OK for young kids… this will freak ‘em out plenty.  And some of the scares will get to adults too. Look for Bettie Davis in a very creepy role.

Pitch Black – A decent Vin Diesel action/horror movie.

Cabin in the Woods – Sends up many other horror movies while being a great one itself.  Written by “The Avengers” Joss Whedon.

Ringu or Ju-on (original Japanese versions) – Nothing against the American versions of Japanese horror movies, but if a horror movie is based upon a Japanese movie AND you can stand subtitles… get the original version because they are usually much better.

And that’s not knocking great classics like Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, The “original 3” horror classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man,) or any of the other big names.  Those are great, I was just trying to bring up some titles people may not be familiar with.

TV

Netflix has the full run of “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”  For the former, don’t miss episodes “A Game of Pool,” “The Hitchhiker” and “Shadow Play.” And for the latter I suggest “And So Died Riabouchinska,” “The Waxwork,” and “A Nightmare in 4-D.”

The X-Files is also on Netflix, and had some good scary episodes.  I recommend “Humbug,” “Grotesque,” “Ice,” and “Die Hand Die Verletzt.”

BOOKS

You can’t go wrong with the classics.  Mary Shelly and Frankenstein, Bram Stoker and Dracula, H.G. Wells and “War of the Worlds.” All great in their original forms.  And horror hit a new benchmark with H.P. Lovecraft. As far as anything a little more current, well…

“Storm Front: a Novel of the Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher.  This is not horror, it’s being called by some “urban fantasy.”  But it’s a good time to start on the Dresden Files, as the next book in the series (book 12 I think) is coming out soon.

“Regina’s Song” by David and Leigh Eddings. David Eddings was an author who has written several books I like. Most of them were parts of larger series, but “Regina’s Song” was a standalone effort that was pretty entertaining.

And of course Stephen King is kind of “King of Modern Horror.”  But I really suggest his short story collections over any of his long form novels.  “Night Shift,” “Nightmares and Dreamscapes,” and “Everything’s Eventual” are all full of great scary, funny, and above all good short stories. Don’t miss “The End of the Whole Mess” in “Nightmares and Dreamscapes, one of my favorites.

VIDEO GAMES

I went into detail about “Silent Hill 2,” but for a (soon to be not) current generation console you could do a lot worse than “Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.”  It’s basically a remake (or in this case Wiimake) of the first Silent Hill.  But it’s not just the first one with better graphics.  It’s actually a pretty good entry in the series in its own right, kind of the first one from a different perspective.  And the Wii hardware use of the Wiimote as a flashlight to look around and also as you cellphone works really well.

“Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.” A very dark and Lovecraftian game.  It uses some cute 4th wall breaking tricks to make the player not only doubt the character’s sanity… but maybe his own as well.

And I hope I can suggest “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” It got good reviews.  People whose opinions I respect have said it’s good and very scary.  And I bought it last night for PC on Steam.  It’s on a 75% off Halloween sale on Steam and I have little doubt it will be worth the $4.99 sale price.

Feel free to suggest your favorite Halloween themed bit of entertainment.  Maybe someone will suggest something I haven’t seen yet.

I’d like that.
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It

They all float down here.  –Pennywise the Dancing Clown

I apologize if the pictures trigger some kind of clown-fearing flashback… but for people my age who were just kids in 1990 when the T.V. miniseries based upon Stephen King’s 1986 novel “It” came out, that is actually a possibility.  The book is frightening enough and in many ways more disturbing than the miniseries.  But, if you haven’t experienced “It” yet I suggest tracking down a copy of the miniseries first.  First of all it’s terrifying.  If you (like me) enjoy being frightened this is a huge plus for watching the miniseries. But what makes it truly GOOD is its frightening for all of the little intangible things it gets right, rather than the big and splashy “horror movie scenes” which it kind of gets wrong.

There’s not much of the “blood and gore” that makes the horror genre frightening because of the grotesque scenery.  It only uses “surprise jump” scares a couple of times, and each time it really telegraphs the scare. So much so you could almost do a countdown. “I’m gonna scare you in 3 - 2 - 1… BOO.” And even though I advocate that this is a mistake, you see Pennywise kill a kid in the first scene of the movie.  Partially defining the bad guy which (like I said in the previous post) can really decrease how frightening the monster or villain can be.

But what it gets right are so many of the little things that you don’t even really notice any of those criticisms.  The casting was very good.  Starring Richard Thomas (famous for his portrayal of John ‘”Boy” Walton on The Waltons) as the “main” character Bill Denbrough.  And backed up by a solid cast of actors including Harry Anderson (of Night Court fame) and the late John Ritter. But the casting was actually more difficult than that, because half of the movie is a flashback to the childhoods of the adult characters.  So for most of the main cast, there had to be and adult and child version of each character.  And relying on child actors to deliver a comparable performance to such a good cast for half of the movie was a risky move.  But it paid off, they did a great job.  Starting with the late Jonathan Brandis as the young Bill Denbrough, and backed up by a young Seth Green (known for roles in Austin Powers and Family Guy.)

And the cast worked in tandem with a fantastic script.  It was well adapted for T.V. from one of the GOOD Stephen King books.  But no matter how well a screenplay is written, it can only really “come alive” when read by a good actor.  And the REAL star (to me anyway) of “It” was Tim Curry in his amazing and pants-soiling terrifying portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.  Lots of writers could write great lines like “Let go. Be afraid. You all taste so much better when you're afraid,” and, “Oh you are priceless Brat! I am eternal, child. I am the eater of worlds, and of children. And you are next! I'm every nightmare you've ever had. I'm your worst dream come true. I'm everything you ever were afraid of.”

Beep, Beep Richie.

But none of that dialogue would be as effective without the amazing delivery from the super-expressive Tim Curry.  Don’t take my word for it, just watch here. The “early 90’s pre HD” slightly grainy television look is a little dated, as well as the 4:3 Television aspect ratio (as opposed to the more usual 16:9 widescreen format of today.)  But because half of the movie is a flashback… that actually works somehow.  And if you are reading this… you can watch the entire thing for free on youtube here.  That’s part 1, just follow the link on the page for part 2.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.  The look may have “aged” a little, but the scares are very real and have not diminished with time.  I’ve actually seen grown men pull the “hands over their eyes” move during this movie.  It’s memorable, scary, and very, very good. But it’s not for the faint of heart or people who don’t like a good scare.

I’ve gone over a movie, TV miniseries, book, and videogame.  I’ll drop one more October themed blog next week.
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