Monday, May 30, 2005

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Having read this article through, I feel safer knowing that the TSA airport screeners interrogate travelers about their barbecue meat consumption. Ascertaining that travelers have eaten at the appropriate Texas barbecue restaurants is so much better than using the taxpayer-funded time trying to keep air travel safe.

Next up: the Shoe Phone

Someone finally invented a practical Cone of Silence, and it looks like it won't hit you on the head when it activates.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Movie News

This is going to be a good summer for movies. Just got back from seeing Madagascar. The penguins were, of course, the highlight of the 86 minutes. They should have ditched the lion/zebra/hippo/hypochondriac giraffe storyline and just done the penguin escape and the lemurs. The zebra going to Connecticut in search of the Wild was mildly amusing, but nothing to keep up an entire film. The psychotic penguins bent on escape, tunnelling out of Manhattan with plastic ice cream spoons then hijacking an ocean liner and landing on an island full of lemurs ruled by the batcrap nuts King of all Lemurs--that's a movie. Unfortunately, since the theater was not even half full on opening day, prospects do not seem bright for a Madagascar II: Attack of the Penguins.

Study says...

We've all looked for Waldo. Now researchers at MIT have shown how we find him.

In the News

FDA Looking Into Blindness-Viagra Link

Insert your own "it'll make you go blind" joke here.

Also, "looking into blindness link"? I can't figure out if someone was trying to be amusing or just didn't consider at least three appropriate verbs that would not have created a bad pun.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Note on the Ads

If I had any control over the advertisements that pop up on the right there, I would not currently be displaying an ad for a website offering downloads of Star Wars Episode III. Given that the movie has been on theaters for just a week now, I'm reasonably certain LucasArts has not authorized an online release. It may be a violation of the terms I have with Google AdSense, but let me make it perfectly clear that I in no way support any sites that provide pirated movies, especially not ones that can't seem to handle the traffic they generate. Besides, for goodness sake, you need to see Episode III on the big screen.

For the Record

Most of us Star Wars fans are smarter than this. Most of us know to use polycarbonate for the blade if one intends to make a semi-functional lightsaber. They give Darwin Awards for doing things far less stupid than dueling with glass fluorescent light tubes filled with an undisclosed flammable substance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Strange What You Remember

When ME posted the news of Howard Morris' passing earlier this week, Elie saw it before I did. When he told me, the conversation went something like this:

"Howard Morris just died."
"Howie Morris. From Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows."
Baffled look from me. Throough a minor oversight, I've only seen about 45 seconds of any Sid Caesar program. That will be rectified.
"He was in High Anxiety."
Another blank look.
"Earnest T. Bass on the Andy Griffith Show."
It went on like this through a good chunk of Howard Morris' extensive filmography, until Elie got to, "He was Wade Duck in Garfield and Friends."
"No, that wasn't him. That was..." My brain, scanning the cast list of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon show, finally caught up with my mouth. That was Howard Morris. "Wade Duck is dead?"
"All that, and you say 'Wade Duck is dead'?"

Fly the Sweaty Skies

I'm all for physical fitness, but airline travel is bad enough with the screaming infants and people reclining the seat in front of me until my tray table jabs me in the gut. Now I run the risk that the guy in the seat next to me just left the gym.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Recommended Reading

Here's an article in the Washington Post about the fashion of Star Wars: specifically, the fashion of Group #2, the ones who wait in line for Star Wars dressed as Stormtroopers, Jedi, galactic senators, or assorted Sith Lords.

While I am not in the class of people who have forked over "thousands of dollars" for stormtrooper armor (and, incidentally, the full suit is only about $800-$900 on eBay), I have been known to sport the Leia buns for special occasions. All right, I've worn the Hoth hair and the Massassi Temple Scene 'do to work before. I do the Bespin Braids, too, but not very often because they remind me of a basset hound. Then there was that one time at a comic book convention when Sergio Aragones noticed a passing resemblance between my outfit and one of his characters.

The author of the Post article notes that adults who dress up have "a remarkably high threshold for public embarassment." Not really. On paper, perhaps there appears to be something odd about wearing a belt made out of styrofoam and aluminum foil, but once you're roaming the halls of a Hilton, it's no big deal. It's not like you're wearing lime-green and lavender paisley. That would be embarassing.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Addendum to Previous Post

No, Ann O., I'm still not getting a goat to take care of my lawn for me.

More Mundane Stuff of Life

For the first time in my life, I have mown a lawn, all 2.14 acres of it. By the time I got to the front yard, I think I really had the whole mowing thing down. The back yard, however, looks like crop circles made by a drunk alien.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars

I've been out of the theater for five hours now, which gives me a little time to digest Episode III, catch a catnap, and wait for the midnight showings to end on the West coast. Don't worry. I'm not going to blog anything that might ruin the surprises (and, in spite of knowing where everything must lead, there are a few surprises). Part of the reason we went to the 12:01 a.m. showing was to avoid dodging spoilers, so I won't put any out there myself. Mostly, though, we arranged to be at the midnight showing because it was the midnight showing.

What an experience! The crowd divided into three distinct groups:
1. The drunk college kids. They're the ones who like Yoda because he's so Zen and who bring the toy lightsabers so they could make penis jokes while waiting for the Coming Attractions. The largest contingent of these were, unfortunately, seated directly in front of me and on my right. These are the rowdy ones, and I think they would go to any movie with a midnight showing. These people can spot each other because they've previously bonded over mutual alcohol poisoning.
2. The fanboys and fangirls. They're the convention-goers, the ones who dressed for the occasion and brought the lightsabers to stage impromptu duels in the front rows waiting for the Coming Attractions. One was there dressed as the Death Star. Me, I wore my t-shirt from Episode I and the cinnamon bun hairdo (all my own hair). Elie proudly wore his t-shirt from last year's Star Wars Fan Breakfast. Fanboys and fangirls can spot each other at 50 yards, because whether it is Jedi robes, a Star Wars shirt, or a George Lucas costume, we all wear the uniform. I was mildly disappointed that there were no stormtroopers.
3. The people who saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977 and seriously want to see how the saga ends (middles?). These people deserved their own exclusive theater away from the rest of us. You could tell this group because they were, as a rule, at least 20 years older than the rest of us.

I won't say too much about the content of the movie to spare those who haven't seen it yet. It was exactly the movie I wanted to complete the saga. Everything fell into place while still leaving enough wiggle room for my imagination to go wild for the rest of my life. I got answers without definitive answers, and that is far more satisfying than it sounds.

Of course there were things to dislike, but they were the same things that there were to dislike about the other five movies. No one should be surprised at that. That is just part of the Star Wars experience.

When you do go see Episode III, you will do yourself a load of good if you leave the "Darth Vader (or Palpatine) is George W. Bush" at the concession stand. I'm not saying that line is complete malarky, but at least on the first viewing, just keep your mind on the here and now. Enjoy what is before you. The Star Wars films have always had more than a hint of topicality to them, and that is one of the hallmarks of great sci-fi, but more than that, they're wonderful movies that tell a story we've been replaying since the dawn of organized government. Watch them at least once just to appreciate the story they're telling. Later you can go back and try to figure out which political figure corresponds to Mace Windu.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Let Me Get This Straight

Apparently, the US House of Representatives thinks that only straight males can wage war. How else can one explain why, in a time when the Army can't even meet its quota of warm bodies in uniforms, the House has put forth a measure that would further restrict the Army jobs to which female recruits could be assigned?

Episode III Countdown

14 hours, 37 minutes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Yet More 888-872-2629

I'm glad I could help everyone with these pesky and very persistent Chase telemarketers who keep calling from 888-872-2629. I am a touch concerned that several people seem to be jumping mighty quickly to filing FTC complaints, though.

Registering with the National Do Not Call registry does not mean that no one can call you. Even if your number is registered, there are still certain telemarketers who are allowed to call you.

If you have any of the credit cards offered by Chase or Bank One (they're both owned by the same company), these telemarketers can call you if you have made a purchase or payment on the card in the last year and a half even if your number is on the national Do Not Call registry. You can request that Chase not call you, and the company must comply. I have not found in the regulations any mention of whether that compliance must start immediately upon the request or if the company is allowed some sort of processing window, but I imagine there probably is since there is a 30-day window on DNC registrations. Chase's automated system notifies callers to allow 30 days for the request to take effect, so I would suggest not lodging any formal complaints with the federal government until the 30 days are up. Until then, turn the phone's ringer to low or off if you don't want to be disturbed.

Remember: the more complaints that the FTC receives on companies that are not, in fact, in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the less time they have to go after legitimate violators. Before lodging a complaint, please make certain that the company is in fact in violation.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What I Did Today

Today, for the first time in the eight years I've been living on my own, I locked myself out of the house. Conveniently, it was the day after Elie finished installing the pick-proof locks on all the outside doors. Also conveniently, it was the first time Elie has ever left the house without his cell phone. Good thing I only locked myself out of the house, not the garage, and a magazine came in the mail.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Rant of the Day

The New York Times has an intriguing op-ed piece about the importance of writing skills in the modern workplace.

I've spent much of my working life as the one in the office who covers for the others who can't write well. However, unlike the scenario presented in the article, my employers have never cared whether I could write when they hired me. Somewhere down the line, they find out I have a knack for effective written communication, and writing everyone's business correspondence becomes part of my job. I don't mind. I enjoy writing and I'm good at it.

The op-ed is right that people need more training in effective written communication, but not for the reasons it suggests. Employers do not see writing as a job skill. Touch typing is a skill. Operating Microsoft Word is a skill. Writing--well, if you can touch type and operate Word, you can write. At least that seems to be the majority opinion of employers. Formatting a business letter is a skill, but no one seems to prize the ability to compose that business letter in a clear, concise, interesting manner. People seem to believe that the ability to put words to a page, and to order those words into more or less proper sentences, is writing. Technically, that is correct. Of course, technically, my 14-month-old niece can speak, too, but no one is letting her deliver the keynote address to the board of directors.

If we took time to teach proper written communication, writing might finally be seen as the essential workplace skill that it is, and as something society values. People do not value what they do not have; if they valued it, they would take the time to acquire it. As it stands now, most people have no idea how atrocious their writing is, and I've seen some truly awful writing come from some people in high positions. Now, if the person on the other side of the interview table has gotten to where he or she is with only mediocre writing ability and doesn't even know how mediocre those abilities are, what are the chances that he or she is going to value better writing skills in a new hire? What are the chances that he or she will even consider written communication skills in the interview process?

The reason we need to teach written communication more is not to produce better writers, but to increase the value writing has in society.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Class Wars

The New York Times has an interesting interactive graphic that you can use to find out if you really are middle class (or whatever class you profess to being). It is somewhat subjective, as one of the four components of class relies on relative prestige rankings of various entirely unrelated occupations. For instance, an animal breeder ranks a 158, two points more prestigious than an artist. The prestige rankings are based on census surveys, but how many people sit there thinking, "Given the choice, would I prefer my daughter marry an urban planner or budget analyst?" The other three components are more straightforward and objective. The higher your education, income and assets, the higher the overall class score. Take it with a grain of salt, since it doesn't really matter all that much. Will knowing you are in the 61st percentile, making you technically upper middle class by this chart, mean you are any better than the person in the 59th percentile who is just middle class? Not really. Think of it as socioeconomic rubbernecking.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Has Sci-Fi Taught Us Nothing?

Scientists have now invented robots who can self-replicate. That's all they do: build more of themselves. I have an idea for everyone who worked on that project. Watch seasons 3-6 of Stargate SG-1. For those of you without the time or inclination to do that, just read the entry for Replicators in the Stargate Omnipedia.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Sometimes the headlines make Irony Policing too easy. Two of the top 3 national news headlines on AOL at the moment are Greenpeace Found Guilty of Breaking Environmental Laws and Fired Worker Kills Ex-Colleauge at Mental Health Clinic.


Jesus Christ in Legal Battle in West Virginia

Seems Jesus Christ has moved and is attempting to get a driver's license in West Virginia. It's not going so well because his birth certificate still reads Peter Robert Phillips, Jr. and he had not yet received a legal name change in his former place of residence, Washington, DC. According to his attorney, "Christ is not speaking to the press at this time."

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Educational Corner

Here's a primer on lightsaber construction and household uses, including simultaneous slicing and toasting a bagel. Never reheat coffee with anything, even a lightsaber.

Speaking of Star Wars, though, Episode III opens next week. Do you have your tickets for the 12:01 a.m. showing? I do.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

In Penguin News...

Chlamydia Strikes San Francisco Penguin Colony. Twelve of the Magellanic penguins have died, leaving 55 in the colony. Among penguins, this is not an STD, and keepers suspect gull guano.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


New Study: Hell Not as Bad as We Thought

Lest I be accused of misleading you, that is a geology article dealing with what is known as the Hadean Eon and has nothing to do with theology or the afterlife. Catchy headline, though.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Grammar Cops on Patrol

Good to see that someone is taking care of this. Thanks to Karen for the link. I cringed every time I went into my former Laundromat and had to pass the sign posting the "hour's" of the establishment. Grammar policing can be a full time job, and while I am currently in search of one of those, I have yet to find a Grammar Policing position that actually pays.

Quick rule of apostrophes with the letter S: Used to indicate the possessive, or to indicate a contraction of a noun and the verb "is." If Frank has a dog, it is Frank's dog. If, on the other hand, Frank is the name of the pooch, it would be "Frank's a dog." The apostrophe is NOT used to indicate more than one of anything. When in doubt, ask yourself "Do I mean that there is more than one of this, or that something belongs to this?" If the former, there is no apostrophe. If the latter, the apostrophe is OK, with one exception: it's/its, where the apostrophe version is used only to indicate "it is" and the non-apostrophe is for all other uses.

My personal favorite of the grammar infractions posted on the above link are "You Chuck's Bitch?" which is just funny, and "What's in the Pu Pu?" which speaks to my Rule #3 of eating: never eat anything with the word "food" on the label (devil's food cake and angel food cake excepted). If they have to tell you it is food, such as "pasteurized process cheese food," then it is not. Incidentally, rule #1 is "Never eat seafood in a state that does not touch sea," and rule #2 is "Never eat anything that is or has been entrails."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More Dumb Ride Pimping

I've found something that looks even more stupid than one spinning hubcap on a beat up Corsica: two spinning hubcaps on the rear wheels of a Plymouth Voyager minivan. The Jesus bumper sticker and the grey haired 60-odd-year-old driver did not help the look any.

More Dumb Ride Pimping

I've found something that looks even more stupid than one spinning hubcap on a beat up Corsica: two spinning hubcaps on the rear wheels of a Plymouth Voyager minivan. The Jesus bumper sticker and the grey haired 60-odd-year-old driver did not help the look any.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Slender Walk Tip of the Week

Here's another phone number for you: 888-567-8688

No, this one shouldn't be calling you trying to offer credit protection insurance. It is a number the major credit bureaus have set up to allow you to opt out of prescreened credit card offers ("You are approved for a Visa Platinum card with 0% APR on balance transfers!") from all of them at once. When you call, it prompts you to enter your Social Security Number, which concerns some people, although the FTC has put out a statement that the phone number is legitimate.

An alternative, if you don't want to use the dial-in method, is to write to the credit bureaus individually with a request that your information not be shared for promotional purposes. This will not affect legitimate inquiries into your credit. Be sure to include any name variants you use, your current mailing address, any mailing addresses you have had in the past six months, your date of birth, and your Social Security number.

Equifax, Inc.
PO Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123

Consumer Opt-Out
701 Experian Parkway
Allen, TX 75013

Marketing List Opt Out
PO Box 97328
Jackson, MS 39288-7328

Eventually, I hope to get the Slender Walk Tip of the Week off the subject of credit cards and telemarketers.

More News

An op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor asserts that Pell Grant allotments need to be increased, as does campaigns to make students more aware of them.

Having spent some time working in financial aid, and feeling more free to talk about my experiences now that I no longer am, I can say that, in my experience, lack of knowledge of the Pell Grant program's existence was not a problem. Students are aware of Pell Grants. I don't want to say they are too aware of them, but if the government is going to ramp up award amounts and publicity campaigns, they should really work on emphasizing that these are to assist the neediest students, not to pay the entire educational cost for anyone who fills out the application. Students are not necessarily underinformed, but many are misinformed.

Irony Alert

Usually, when a legislature votes to remedy some minor problem, my response is "I see we've managed to solve poverty, health care, the federal deficit, world hunger, war, and global warming, so we can move on to the big stuff." Today, I'm going to mix it up a little and instead, I'm going to ask if the Texas House of Representatives knows where it is located and what goes on there.

Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, has voted to ban suggestive cheerleading.

The utter stupidity of that is so obvious, I would not have made it up, and if I had been so creatively tapped out to have come up with that on my own, I would never post it here. It does not come close to the standards I set for Penguin Perspectives. "Suggestive cheerleading banned by the home state of the cheerleading squad that very literally invented suggestive cheerleading." Too easy.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Required (not recommended) Reading

Read this. It's in the New York Times, so the site asks you to register. If you don't want to register, has a load of logins you can use. Just read it. It's important, especially if you have slapped anything reading "Support the Troops" on anything you own. You should probably know what you're supporting along with the--I'm certain loads of--fine men and women in uniform.

I sincerely hope the military can prove these are isolated incidents, that somehow one guy was in the right combination of places to see every bad apple in the entire global military operation. Otherwise--well, we have some problems, even if they can prove that. For one, I doubt "Support the Troops Who Aren't Sadistic Assholes" will fit on one of those ribbon-shaped car magnets.

Since some of you won't take the time to click the link and read through the whole piece, allow me to quote the final two paragraphs of the story so you see what I mean:

Mr. Delgado [a private in the Army Reserve, stationed in Iraq], who eventually got conscientious objector status and was honorably discharged last January, recalled a disturbance that occurred while he was working in the Abu Ghraib motor pool. Detainees who had been demonstrating over a variety of grievances began throwing rocks at the guards. As the disturbance grew, the Army authorized lethal force. Four detainees were shot to death.

Mr. Delgado confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. "I asked him," said Mr. Delgado, "if he was proud that he had shot unarmed men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn't get mad at all. He was, like, 'Well, I saw them bloody my buddy's nose, so I knelt down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down.' "

Let me repeat that. "I saw them bloody my buddy's nose, so I knelt down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down." There are so many things wrong with that, I don't know where to start.

On a side note, people like the sergeant are one of the reasons I gave up organized religion.