Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Deep Throat's identity revealed. Rather anti-climactic ending to the mystery.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Way back in March of 2002, I got a letter from a collection agency, claiming I bounced a check to Papa John's the previous month. I knew I didn't write a check to Papa John's, and was particularly surprised that the check was drawn on an account I closed well over a year prior. As I had just moved, I figured it likely that I threw out some paperwork with my old account number, and someone produced counterfeit checks (I would have surely destroyed any checks, but might have been careless with other paperwork, since the account was closed). I wrote to the agency telling them I did not write the check, and would assist them in the fraud investigation. According to the letter they sent, they would contact me within 30 days regarding the debt, but I never heard from them again. So I considered the matter closed.

Today, I get a letter from a New York-based "lawyer" offering me a generous settlement for the outstanding debt. If I send them just $190, they will consider the matter of the $40 bad check closed. So very generous of them, since the most they could collect is triple the amount of the check, $120, plus a $25 fee and court costs. So it might cost me slightly more if I went to court and lost, but they're still asking for more than they would get if they sued me.

What I found galling was the mention of my failure to respond to multiple inquiries regarding the debt. I received exactly one letter, to which I responded, and received no reply. I was worried I might be screwed for not using registered mail, but apparently my failure to reply would not preclude me from denying the debt in court. But I quickly drew up a reply to this letter demanding proof of the debt, and sent it registered mail.

After writing the letter, I started looking around on-line, and had my suspicions confirmed that this collection agency seems to be all about sending out threatening letters and hoping people will just cut them a check. I have a feeling I might not hear from them again. If I do, I think I will just write them again, and demand that they not contact me again. By law, they have to respect my request; the risk of such a request being that, if they are serious, you basically force them to bring a court action against you. But I really don't see a New York firm coming out to San Diego on the off-chance of making $100 or so. But we'll see what happens.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Lawn bowling thrives in San Diego. But what of the shuffleboarders?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Friday, May 20, 2005

I signed up for eMusic yesterday, and have been impressed with their selection. I will be continuing as a paying customer once my 50 free downloads are up. I got a Ray Charles song from his last album, an early Willie Nelson album, some Dead Milkmen tunes, a Robbie Fulks album, and some CCR, among other things. I was excited to see they have the Bloodshot Records catalog. I already have most of the albums I want of theirs, but there are a few I don't have, including some of the compilations they've put out. The nice thing about the subsciption model is, though you're still somewhat pressured not to waste downloads, you can be more experimental than when you are paying for every track, and I'm more willing to download an entire album then just cherry-pick a few tracks (though you can still do that, of course). They have some good comedy albums which I already have, including both of Mitch Hedberg's (they have all the Comedy Central Records releases, as well as Eddie Izzard and Bill Hicks, and probably more--though it's hard to tell since the comedy records are lumped in to the "soundtrack/other" category).

As for the site itself, it's pretty straight-forward to navigate, though it could probably be improved a bit on that count. You can download their download manager or use your own (or just download the tracks yourself one at a time). I have the GetRight download manager, but I'm using theirs, since if you don't, you have to manually change the file extension of each file, and since their program works perfectly fine, why not use it? The main disadvantage is that they only deal with indie labels, so it's hit-or-miss whether they have the music you want. But I've been happy with what I could find, though often I've just confirmed they have CDs I already have. I've even found several tracks I've already purchased off of iTunes (some Etta James, for instance). So I don't think I'll have any trouble using up my monthly quota of downloads. I highly recommend giving the trial membership a try (50 free downloads, credit card required...if you e-mail me, I'll send you a referral...I'll get ten free downloads, though I think you get the same free trial offer everyone else gets, so there's really nothing in it to you to get referred, but hey, help a guy out, ok?)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Pauline is in an assisted-living facility now, though she doesn't sound happy about it. She says she hears voices screaming at her at night. And she claims she has only days to live, though the doctors say she is physically quite strong for a woman her age (though knowing the family history of suicide, statements like that are off-putting, to say the least). And it seems like some of her friends are feeding off her delusions, and just making her more nervous. Bob actually seems to be doing a good job of taking care of things, though he seems a bit clueless sometimes, about things that happened in the past (he seemed only dimly aware that he owns half of Pauline's home, and apparently was unaware the home was uninsured). And the social worker and everyone seem to be on the same page, that she is delusional and unable to live on her own. So I think where she's at is where she'll be. Which is sad as I don't see her being happy there, but one must keep in mind the conditions she was living in (Bob says he's seen several rats in the house, and there is no working toilet--I will leave the puzzling and unsettling question that raises unexpressed).
Emusic seems to have a pretty good selection of songs, all available in MP3 format, so they can be played anywhere. It appears you have to sign up to see their whole collection (I haven't yet, but plan to when I have time to browse), but they apparently just posted a large collection of Sun Records early tunes, and they have Tom Waits new album, some CCR, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and apparently Frank Zappa is well-represented. The free-trial seems to genuinely have no strings attached, so I'll soon be giving it a try.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

So, I've gotten some more details about Pauline. It appears she was only down about two days. She pulled the phone out of the wall when she fell, so her line was busy, which isn't unusual. But when her neighbor came over, she heard her screaming for help, and called 911. They took her to the hospital, where she claimed her other neighbor beat her and knocked her down and left her without water. This is the same neighbor she blames for everything that she sees going wrong, who spies on her and causes her gates to rust and is responsible for strong winds, and anything else she perceives as being done to her. To the best of my knowledge, he is unaware of her existence, but now that social services is on the case, he soon will. The plus is, she's now in the system, so they will see her mental state and the filth she lives in. Of course, she is an adult, and as long as she is seen as being of sound mind, there's nothing anyone can do, and she wasn't very polite when my parents went up years ago, when she kicked them out of her house just for asking her to let a cleaning crew come in. And regardless, Uncle Bob has power of attorney, so he's the only one who could do anything. But hopefull this might put her in a better place. Her neighbor said the paramedics had to scale fairly substantial piles of garbage to get to her (and the cats being trapped in the house for days couldn't have made things more pleasant). I imagine a medicaid nursing home isn't the happiest place on earth, but her current situation ain't all that great, either.

Anyway, hopefully Bob will step up to the plate and things will turn out okay. Things like this make me want to cash out my IRA and buy a dune buggy. Why put money aside on the hope that you'll reach a ripe old age, when it seems like for every contented elder, I can name about a dozen stories of prolonged misery. Of course, being broke in your golden years would just make things exponentially worse, so I guess I have to still sock aside a few bucks from time to time. Besides, I've been alive for 27 years and not gotten old yet, why should another 27 or 54 years make a difference?

Apparently my Great Aunt Pauline fell and spent the last three days trapped in her house. I don't know anything about her condition, as we haven't been able to get in touch with anyone. Mom and I were going up tomorrow, but now she's talked to Ace who's talked to Bob, who has said he will take care of the matter. I don't exactly have great confidence in Bob, so God help Pauline, but Bob has his own problems, so I should be understanding and give him the benefit of the doubt. But past experience indicates her siblings will end up puting the responsibility on Mom, as they have in the past. But time will see. For now, it's not our problem, and unless she's dying, I won't be heading to Santa Paula just yet.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Jon Langford has developed a multimedia show entitled The Executioner's Last Song. Though the name comes from the series of albums he worked on to raise money for an anti-death-penalty group (I highly recommend the first, and vol. 2-3 aren't that bad), the stage show seems based more on his own artwork than just the album.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The good people at Cheapo Vegas have their review of the Wynn Casino up.
Wong on dice. I've only been sporadically following the developments in craps recently, but I think my basic concern is the same voiced in the article by Fezzik: I believe Stanford Wong can beat craps, but can I? I don't know that I'm prepared to put the time in to practice. Also, I think you'd probably need some hands-on tutoring; I doubt this can be learned easily from a book.

Also, one argument about why casinos shouldn't react so vehemently against card counters is, for every card counter, there are ten people who think they're counting cards. I think the potential for self-delusion would be far stronger at craps than at blackjack, at least in the short-term. One can easily quiz oneself at card counting, just count down a deck and make sure you end up at a count of 0. At craps, you only have the results of the dice to judge by, and could easily discount bad results as a statistical anomoly. It might be an interesting skill to learn, if I was sure the casinos aren't going to turn ugly on advantage crap players in the near future (the comp potentials seem strong). But I have always found cards far more intriguing than dice.

Ry Cooder's new album sounds exciting.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I probably would have left out some juicy details had I written about Saturday night's Dr. Demento program on Sunday, but now that a few days have past, I'm sure I'll be even more vague. But I hope I can at least capture the tone of the evening, and a few of the highlights.

After a long wait for dinner, and some compulsive gambling afterwards, I arrived at the California Center for the Arts right at 8:00. I made a mad dash from the parking lot, up the stairs, and took my seat, sweaty and out of breath, just as the lights dimmed. The show opened with a short montage of clips, starting with a clip from Bobby's World and concluding with a great clip of "Weird Al" Yankovich, showing his gratitute for making his career skyrocket, by giving Dr. Demento a piggy-back ride. The audio wasn't very good for these clips, a warning of what was to come. Dr. Demento took to the stage to riotous applause. The format of the evening, it soon became clear, was about what I expected; Dr. Demento would talk a bit, give some backround on the songs and acts he would present, and then play some songs, some with video clips, some without. The first song was Yankovich's "Dare to Be Stupid." I hadn't seen the video in some time, but unfortunately the sound was horrible. A technician took the stage, and by the end it sounded pretty good, but sound problems would plague the entire first act. The pure audio clips were fine, but apparently the DVD player wasn't hooked up quite right, and feedback and static really marred that aspect of the performance.

But it was still enjoyable, even the marred first half. Along with Yankovich, Dr. Demento peppered the first half with clips by Tom Lehrer, Frank Zappa, and more old favorites, as well as a montage of songs popular in the past year on the Dr. Demento Show (which the good doctor acknowledged most of us would be unfamilar with, as the show is not carried by any San Diego station, thanks to the good people at Clear Channel--whose mention warrented a spirited razz from the crowd). I can't remember what video clip preceded intermission ("Fish Heads," perhaps, or was it "Jurassic Park"), but the sound for the last clip was almost unbearable. Fortunately, after Dr. Demento was drug off-stage to the accompaniment of "There's Coming to Take Me Away," the tech people pretty much took care of the problem during intermission.

The second half of the show was more enjoyable, both because of the sound quality and the quality of the material. He played some vintage recordings of early comedy albums, going back as far as 1910. A Spike Jones clip was a highlight of the evening, featuring Billy Barty as Liberace (and he really looked the part!). He performed a group of songs with a San Diego connection (though this might have been in the first half, I don't really remember), including Country Dick Montana's classic "Lakeside Trailer Park" (Dr. Demento introduced this as a solo work of his, though it seems to have appeared on a Beat Farmers album). And a segment of songs that can't be played on the radio gave the libertarian doctor a chance to mock the FCC, playing Monty Python's "Sit on my Face," and "Penis Envy," featuring the lines, "If I had a penis/I'd still be a girl/but I'd make much more money/and conqueor the world" (both tunes have resulted in substantial fines when played on the radio, though of course neither sit, face, nor penis are in fact dirty words).

There are songs I'm forgetting, that I enjoyed (a recent clip of Boris Pickett performing "The Monster Mash" just sprung to mind, as did the very short film "Bambi Meets Godzilla"). Dr. Demento was dropped from 91X a long time ago, and even when it did air in San Diego--confession time--I only listened to "The Dr. Demento Show" sporatically. So for me, a casual fan, this was a great mix. I heard the classics I expected to hear, and a good number of songs new to me. The show concluded with a performance by the good doctor himself, his only (that I know of) hit, a cover of Benny Bell's suggestive chart-topper, "Shaving Cream." I had been forewarned that he adds new, topical verses to the song in performances, and this time was no exception. As I can't remember the exact wording, I won't attempt to share any bowlderized versions here. But he sang a verse about the lovely sewage off our coast, a rather awkward verse about Governor Schwarzenegger, and a funny verse about our soon-to-be-ex mayor, who was striken by the California sun, apparently, and fell face first in the sh....aving cream. That went over well with the crowd, as did the whole evening. Well, at least portions of the crowd. It was an odd mix; there was a younger crowd, not many kids, but college students and a fair number of high schoolers, it seemed. But there were also a lot of seniors. It reminded me of many of the Randy Newman concerts I've attended, where most of the people seem to be there because they attend every concert, not out of a fondness for the music. There were older couples on either side of me, and neither returned from intermission (to be fair, I think one was more turned off by the sound quality, and seemed to enjoy the songs). Which helped out with the leg room situation for me.

Dr. Demenot signed autographs after the show. I decided I would buy his greatest hits CD and have him sign it, but apparently they sold out of CDs at intermission. So I didn't get a chance to meet him personally and name-drop an aquaintance of mine who is a friend of his. But no worries. I had a really good time, and having gotten the ticket on sale, it was a real bargain. I wasn't sure what a live Dr. Demento performance would entail, but I wasn't disappointed. The show served up some numbers I've always loved, a lot I've never heard before, rarities from artists I've long admired, and some things, well, a bit demented (a farting contest from, I believe, the 1940s was quite amusing). If Dr. Demento is ever live in your neck of the woods, check out the show. Until he comes my way again, I'll be downloading some classic Dr. Demento shows and joining his fan club.

More wisdom from Paris Hilton. I saw the trailer for House of Wax for the first time recently; was I the only one wondering why Leatherface is in this movie? Are they just too cheap to make a new costume for each film?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

I was discussing the Lemony Snicket movie with some people at work, and started wondering about a sequel. According to The Quiet World, a Lemony Snicket resource, a script is in the works for a sequel based on The Austere Academy, though there have been script problems (scroll down, I don't see a way to link direct to the post). You can see Mad Magazine's take on the movie. Of course, criticism from Mad is the highest compliment, but also, of course, Mad Magazine is not as it once was. I did enjoy their comment that only in Hollywood can reading be seen as a personality quirk. But their comments about young actresses "hitting the wall" was slightly disturbing.
I had a full day yesterday, with a Dr. Demento engagement topping off a full day of adventures in Escondido. I'll post about my day, and post seperately about Demento (bizarrely enough, this site gets an average of 15 visitors a day--it shocked the hell out of me to think people actually read this--most looking for photos of the Birch Aquarium or Comic-Con, not my navel-gazing comments, but still, makes me feel like I should say something interesting from time to time...but anyway, my point being I know mention of Dementia will cause that hit count to soar, no doubt, so I will post the review seperately for easy reference).

The concert wasn't until 8:00, but I figured I'd make a day of it with a trip to the Wild Animal Park and a trip to Valley View Casino. First I drove up to the Wild Animal Park, and renewed my lapsed membership. I got there around 2:00 or so, so I didn't have a full day to spend, but I managed to see the new (to me) Lion Camp exhibit, which was mildly depressing, and the Heart of Africa, which had a lot of birds, both on exhibit and those just visiting. I rode their new (to me) motion ride, which was midly entertaining, but not worth the price. I took the tram last, which worked out well, as the animals were pretty active. I actually saw the lions and tiger, which I never see. I saw the antelope head-butting for the pecking order, a giraffe that climbed up a cliff and seemed confused how to get down (they're top-heavy, and don't generally climb things). Lots of babies, a few rhinos, a wild horse, and lots of others. And there was still plenty of color from the wildflowers surrounding the park, though I imagine it would have been more impressive a month ago. All in all, I had a pretty good time.

I left the park around 5:00 and headed over to Valley View Casino. I had a free buffet coupon, which was a $36 value, had I used both buffets, but it was just me. Still a good deal, though. I was concerned, because I'd been there before on a Saturday and the line was horrendous, but I hoped I'd get there early enough to get in without too much of a wait. But no luck, had to wait over 45 minutes to be seated. It was worth the wait, though; I really love the buffet. The weekend buffet features Alaskan King Crab. I don't care for crab legs, really, which was a good thing, since there was always a line for them, which blocked off a bit of the buffet. I skipped that corner and ate what I could get at more easily. Sushi, fried chicken, chinese food, dim sum, and lots of desserts, including their signature chocolate fountain. The buffet is the best thing Valley View has going for them. But I would recommend avoiding it on Saturday night.

I got there with plenty of time, but once I ate, I was a bit strapped for time. I played video poker for a few minutes, with little luck (one straight flush at deuces wild kept me going for awhile, but other than that, I couldn't hit anything). So I moved over to the tables, hoping to play a few quick hands of blackjack and hit the road. I got on a nice streak right away, and didn't want to leave, but the clock was ticking. I won back what I lost at video poker, and was starting to make a nice profit. I placed a fairly large bet, and the dealer called out "checks play," which was odd, because I wasn't betting more than I had been. I won the hand, and the dealer went to pay me, removing the red ($5) chip from the top of my bet. I thought I bet one green ($25) chip with a stack of reds, but apparently I actually grabbed a stack of greens with a red chip on top, and inadvertantly bet about $150. So that was a nice surprise; had I lost the hand, I probably wouldn't have realized what I'd done, but just been confused why I was down more than I thought. But as luck would have it, I won the hand, got a nice boost, and ended up winning a substantial amount. Given that I was the only person I saw betting substantially, I imagine my little win really hurt their Saturday night bottom-line. The blackjack game isn't very good, so I wouldn't go there just for that. They have the horrible 6:5 single deck, you should never, ever play. But the video poker isn't bad, and the table games aren't terrible, considering the comps they send out (I get a free buffet for two coupon every month; after I went there the first time, and barely gambled at all, I started getting free lunch buffet coupons). It strikes a nice balance, knowing they can't compete with the fanciest places, but not being as ghetto as, say, Casino Pauma.