Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Financial tip o' the day: If you're looking for someplace safe for medium-term savings, you might want to know that I Bonds are paying 6.73% interest until April. No long-term guarantees as to the interest rate is adjusted semi-annually (they pay 1% plus the rate of inflation as calculated by the consumer price index), and furthermore you can't make a withdrawal for the first year, and withdrawals within five years are subject to a two-months-interest penalty. But still, this seems a good place to park some money you don't plan to need immediately (I keep the savings I budget for medical emergencies in I Bonds). And with a $25 minimum investment, one can start small.

Of course, the reason they pay 6.73% is that inflation was up 5.73%. So basically I'll make an extra dollar on my savings, because I have to pay an extra five bucks every time I buy a tank of gas. So I guess I should really hope the interest rate plummets the next time the inflation adjustment is made, as that means my daily commute has become more affordable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Direct-to-DVD Futurama movies greenlit.
I should be outraged by this, but I just can't quite manage. Has my sense of moral indignation finally short-circuited? I guess it's just because the music isn't that bad. "Uncontrollable Urge" is the only song I listened to that actually seemed painfully bad. Hard not to tap one's feet to "That's Good," whoever's performing it. The whole enterprise reminds me of that band A*Teens that released an ABBA cover album some years back, which I believe was selected as the least-essential album of the year by The Onion. I do like to think of the music of Devo as having a bit more integrity that that of ABBA (no slight to ABBA, I enjoy both bands very much). But the two cover projects seem related in that it's hard to hate either. But you have to wonder: Why? Especially in this case, as not only does this album not really add anything to the music, but what is the financial motivation? I mean, really, does Disney think that Devo-fever is about to overwhelm the country's eight-year-olds? It just really seems like a hard sell to kids. "Hey, kids, do you like Rugrats? Then buy this album of kids singing songs from the old band of the guy who wrote the theme song to that album, while wearing funny hats!"

The more I listen to this, the more I feel my old friend indignation rising up in my gullet. But hey, I guess this is just part of the path of deevolution. It's no worse than the time American Idol used "Whip It" with crass product placement to sell cars. This time, the motive is just to get little boys and girls dancing to the hits of Devo. Good luck, Disney.

The end of January is nearing, and so far my new year's resolutions are going okay. I've lost about six pounds, and have been reasonably consistent in my workout routine, and hopefully am forming healthy habits. I've even been fairly disciplined about weight training, which I don't enjoy. I did injure myself, however, while trying to adjust the seat on one of the nautilus machines, which can't be a good sign. Bumped my knee against something, and it's a bit bruised and sensitive now. But nothing major. As things stand now, I am confident I will meet my fitness goals for 2006.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Onion's A.V. Club recently had one of their periodic round-ups of questionable food available at 99 cent stores, and lo and behold, they profiled Tiger cheese. Yes, a preservative-free cheese that doesn't require refrigeration is a tad disturbing, but it really is better than this article suggests. It tastes like my childhood. Trips down to the FedCo, where I would be rewarded for my not-too-horrendous behavior with a wheel of Tiger cheese to share with my sister. It had the same general flavor as string cheese, to my undeveloped taste buds, but a more pleasing texture. And as an added bonus, it came wrapped in foil, which was very exciting.

FedCo has been closed for many years, and so I doubted I would ever again see Tiger cheese, until one day I was at the 99 cent store, and stumbled upon the product, 99 cents a wheel. I bought about twenty. I gave them to my sister for her birthday. I was sure they were just using up the last of the FedCo surplus, and soon Tiger cheese would again be gone from my life. But the next time I was there, the cheese was there again, this time in a cardboard display case (a marketing plan no doubt developed after my purchase led them to detect a sudden upsurge in consumer demand). Having Tiger cheese in my life again was a joy, and I began dropping references to Tiger cheese into my conversation, as though all were aware of this fine product, and refusing to explain what Tiger cheese was to those who asked ("If you have to ask..."). Unfortunately, like Iron Chef, overexposure did in Tiger cheese for me, and I haven't had it in probably about two years. Methinks a trip to the 99 cent store is in order, to rekindle an old affair.

In other Onion A.V. Club features news, they have declared "Summer Girls" by LFO as amongst the best of the worst. Vindication for yours truly, who had the misfortune of getting a cassette single of the song stuck in my car's tape deck. It saved me some cash, as I was unwilling to buy a new car until I could remove the tape, and avoid the embarrassment of trading in my old car with the boy band anthem stuck inside. It really is a bizarre song; when I first heard it, I simply assumed it was a joke (a very funny one), for what else could it possibly be? I assumed it was a dead-on mockery produced by 2gether or someone similar. Yet somehow the fact that it was apparently earnest made it that much better. Sort of the Mrs. Miller of my day. Or maybe it was simply a trailblazer for "Lazy Sunday." Very strange stuff. I purchased the CD on recently for a very low price, since the song is not available on iTunes. I can't say I care for anything else on the album ("Girl on TV" is their other hit), but it was nice to have a digital copy of the tune to replace my old cassette. And I wish Rich Cronin all the best in his comeback from leukemia.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Whisper of the Heart was a delightful film, as you might imagine. I was a bit concerned during the credits, when Oliva Newton-John's version of "Country Road" began playing. I feared that the localization of the film for American audiences had gone horribly wrong. But I was able to ascertain that the song was used in the original Japanese version, and I felt better. Actually, the song has a rather pivotal role in the film, which is somewhat puzzling, but effective.

The film was written by Miyazaki, but is the only film directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. He was apparently being groomed to replace Miyazaki in the event of his oft-threatened retirement, but died of an aneurysm shortly after this film was made.

Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist finally appears to be coming to DVD.
Wilson Pickett, dead at 64.
Apparently Turner Classic Movies is showing Miyazaki films every Thursday this month.
News Flash: I just turned on Turner Classic Movies, and discovered tonight's theme to be Hayao Miyazaki. My Neightbor Totoro is on now. In primetime for us west-coasters, they will be showing Whisper of the Heart, which I've never seen. Guess I won't be getting anything done tonight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

From McSweeney's "Sequel Week": "Clue Confessions," a sequel of sorts to "Goofus, Gallant, Rashomon."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Friday, January 13, 2006

According to Harper-Collins' Lemony Snicket e-mail list, Friday, October 13th appears to be the street date for the final chapter of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Plan your life accordingly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I only had time to skim this background information on Indian gaming in California, but it looks to be a quite useful resource.
I have begun work on some web-based projects I hope to reveal in the coming months. A new hobby, I hope to actually make a few bucks on, if I can (with hosting/domain registration prices so low, I expect my out of pocket expenses to be quite low). And no, I will not be charging for full-frontal photographs of myself (those are already available in spades for free, I'm afraid...if only I'd listened to Alyssa Milano and defended my image more fiercely). Anyway, it might be awhile before anything is ready for public display, what with school and all, but stay tuned!
Native American tribes already feeling a backlash from the Abramoff scandal. I was unaware Agua Caliente was connected to Abramoff. The Native American Times wonders to what degree tribes can truly call themselves victims.

As the Union-Tribune article notes, a scandal is giving momentum to the foes of Indian gaming. I hope the tribes are paying attention. They face real threats to their political clout from this political scandal. So what will happen, I ask, when a Native American casino is implicated in a cheating scandal? What do I think the chances are of a major Indian casino (I.e., any of the ones in San Diego) rigging games? Virtually nil. Why take risks when you already have a virtual licence to print money. What are the chances of some podunk tribe with financial woes trying to gild the lily? Low, but certainly a possibility. What will be the impact on the major tribes' business when someone, anywhere, gets busted? Substantial, and devestating if their opponents are able to run with the story. If tribes find the legislative impediments that will be put in place due to the Abramoff scandal confining, maybe they should consider accepting tougher regulation of their industry, in the model of Nevada's gaming commission. I doubt they would notice an impact in their bottom line, and they would stand to benefit more from the insurance provided against rouge tribes bringing down an industry's reputation than they would ever be hindered by regulation. Give the California Gambling Control Commision some teeth.

News flash: New Medicare drug plan a disaster. And in other news, water is wet.

But hey, what's the worst that can happen when people can't get insulin? I was going to complain about how much more we'll spend on hospitalization for people who can't get their preventative medication, but hell, with the price of drugs being what it is, it might be cheaper to fill up the ER than prescribe drugs. Of course, drug program or no, the fact that there are people in this country of plenty in such dire straits that they need to leave their insulin behind because they can't pay a $3 deductible shows that the insurance crisis in this country is just the beginning of our problems.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

At long last, I made it to the movies to see Walk the Line. I decided to play hookey from my science class (skipping class on only the second day of instruction can't be a good sign as to my chances of excelling this quarter) to go see an afternoon showing. I went to the Pacific Trolley Cinema, and was surprised that there were some customers there, seniors mostly, for the early show on a Wednesday. I also noticed there was some commotion at the front of the line, where an argument between an elderly customer and an employee was concluding. I didn't catch the substance of the argument, but the gentleman took his ticket and went inside, saying something about how his wife would be following him shortly. The guy in front of me bought his ticket, also yelling at the box office employee for raising her voice in anger (in fact, she just wanted him to be able to hear her), I purchased mine, and went inside.

The trailers had just concluded, and I quickly and quietly took my seat in the back row as the feature began. About five minutes later, an old woman came in, flashlight in hand, and took a seat in my row, shining her flashlight around the theater in the process, and then starts digging in her apparently-velcro-fastened purse for something (cell phone? hard candy wrapped in cellophane? air horn? I couldn't say), and making various noises to accompany the movie. A few minutes later, it is discovered that she is apparently the wife of the old man I saw arguing at the ticket booth, who was sitting on the opposite side of the auditorium. The have a loud and hearty reunion at the back of the theater, discussing in great detail the fact that they both apparently sat in different parts of the theater, but now had cheerfully been joined together to enjoy the film (if they ever bothered to pay attention to it). And joy of joys, rather than she joining him in his quadrant of the theater, they were coming back to my row. Again the flashlight is deployed, with far less care this time, and once seated, their conversation turns to the fact that apparently the woman dropped something. Fortunately, they have a flashlight, to shine up my row, and the rows further up. Why oh why do they insist on keeping theaters dark?

I tried to ignore them, but finally I had had enough. I got up, walked over to them, and told them, "Whatever you dropped, you can find it after the film, when the lights are up. For now, sit down and shut up and watch the movie." Naturally, they were silent at that point, until I had taken my seat further down the row, so that the gentleman could shout his witty rejoinder, "I think YOU should sit down and shut up," loud enough for the entire theater to hear. So I get back up, get in his face, and quietly yet sternly tell him to shut up, lest I shut him up. I sit down, and the woman, sweet cherub that she is, starts shining her flashlight in my eyes, like it's a fucking lightsaber. I briefly considered grabbing the flashlight from her shriveled monkey's paw of a hand, with a triumphant shout of "Now I keep it!" but decided that might be construed as escalating the situation. So I reached the conclusion that I would no longer be able to enjoy the movie, and I went to find the manager and get a pass to return. He offered to speak to the couple, which I encouraged him to do, for the other patron's sake, but said I felt I'd rather just leave. So I got my free pass and left, blood pressure gradually subsiding, to hopefully return this weekend or next week.

This is why I don't go to the movies more often. Yes, having to pay for movies these days (now that I'm no longer in the industry) is a drag, but the main reason why I watch more and more films on DVD is that at least three out of four trips to the cinema, the audience has a negative impact on my enjoyment of a film. Usually not this dramatically, and I've actually been lucky the last few times I went to the movies prior to this, but overall the problem is getting out of hand. Living in a border town, most of our television and radio broadcasts originate from Tijuana, which permits stronger broadcast signals than the U.S. One of the requirements on T.J.-originating broadcasters is to run Mexican public service announcements. Recently, they've been airing one that reminds the citizens of Mexico to treat each other with respect. "Today, many citizens will want to be the first one on the bus, but they will still wait in line." And so on. The first time I saw the ad, it struck me as incredibly odd, and most certainly ineffective. But maybe we need this message spread to our citizenry, as well. With enforced indoctrination on theater etiquette for those found in violation of prevailing standards.

I remember when I was in elementary school, watching filmstrips in the library, the librarian had to explain to me that I couldn't talk while watching the film, because while I thought I was being quiet, I was actually shouting in order to hear myself over my earphones. So let me explain this to you, Mr. and Mrs. Elderly American: I am sorry that you are losing your hearing. I am sorry you are losing your eyesight. I understand this will happen to me someday, and I don't wish to be inconsiderate. But when you whisper to your spouse, it may sound like a whisper to you, but it ain't a whisper. So when you go to the movies, don't speak. And if you can't see in the dark, bring a flashlight if you must, but arrive on time and take your seat before the film begins!

And let this be a lesson to all of you out there: If you're an elderly couple (or a woman holding a baby), don't piss me off, because I'm not afraid to stand up to you.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The long-awaited announcement of the Stardust's fate has finally been made.
Pink Martini's live performance on NPR's New Year's coverage is archived online. I haven't listened to the recorded performance yet (I heard it live on New Year's Eve, because that's the exciting life I live...New Year's with NPR), but it looks like you'll have to scan through the ringing in of New Year's in several time zones to hear it. It's worth it, though, as they perform several songs from their live set that aren't yet on CD. “Dosvedanya Mio Bambino” is brilliant.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

2006 is now well underway, and I hope everyone has started the new year on a good note. I went up to Valley View Casino for New Years, where I was invited to a nice buffet. Their buffet is always excellent, and this time was no exception. Due to the crowd and their limited space, we had to share a table with a couple, but they were nice enough. I had no luck at the tables or the machines, unfortunately. Which isn't a big surprise, I've had no luck online, either. But hopefully I can stanch the bleeding in 2006.

This is the time, of course, for making resolutions, and reviewing last year's resolutions. My resolution for last year was to get back to my level of fitness at the end of 2003. I'd gone down-hill in 2004, and I'm afraid I didn't turn things around in 2005. In fact, I gained over ten pounds, after gaining weight in 2004. I weighed in at the gym yesterday at 242 pounds, which is about as big as I've ever been. And the year ended badly, as I was too sick to run for the entire month of December. So I could just make a similar resolution as last year, to get back to a level of fitness I previously had. But I think I learned last year that's a bit too nebulous a goal to easily reach out after, so I will be more specific, and also push myself a bit further. My goal for 2006 is to be running 20 miles a week by the end of the year. As I find it quite an effort at the moment to just run two miles in a sitting, that seems like a lofty enough goal to keep me motivated, but I know from my own history that I am capable of maintaining a training regimen of 20 miles a week, as long as I build to it gradually. And a year should be enough time. People have run marathons with less time to prepare. So by the end of this year, I should be maintaining a rigorous training program, on which I can build for future goals. Also, I hope to eat better, and to graduate from college in 2006.

If you saw Grizzly Man, you might be amused by Grizzly Bear Man.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I recently mentioned a security hole in Windows, with a suggestion for disabling certain features of Windows to protect yourself. Since taking my own advice, I've had lots of problems working with photos on my computer (which really interferes with a project I'm working on), and have decided to take my chances and reactivated the feature. As I neglected to mention how to reactivate it (though the post I linked to had the information), just run the following command, if you also disabled the feature and are now having problems:
regsvr32 shimgvw.dll