Monday, June 30, 2008
That's the question I've been pondering this week. I received a call from a former co-worker asking me to come back, for no travel (the main reason I left). He was given carte blanche to start his own team, and wants me to come back to help him with the new reset that is starting next week.
On the one hand, he's a no B.S. sort of guy, and I respect that immensley. He also helps with the work and doesn't shirk when someone asks him to explain something, unlike a certain other person I worked for recently. No travel is key here, and the income would certainly be nice.
On the other hand, as much as I respect my co-worker, I know for a fact that upper management is incompetant to the point that it would surprise me if they remained in business for more than a year. No travel in this company doesn't necessarily mean close to home either - a lot of my co-workers traveled more than fifty miles one way just to make it to some of the stores we handle regularly. I'm not interested in night shift work either (I can do it, I just don't prefer to). I really don't like the type of work that I have done for this company (if I'm going to work that hard, it should be doing something more productive). I have been looking into going back to school (though I don't think I have much of a shot at that), and doing this would almost certainly scuttle that proposition.
It really only boils down to two things:
1.) If the state approves my unemployment (I'll find out next week), I won't need the money. I won't make very much being unemployed, but enough to pay my bills while I find work that appeals to me.
2.) If the state doesn't approve my unemployment I will probably go back out of loyalty to my co-worker (who I think will make a great boss), at least for a time while I look for something better suited to my abilities and needs.
I hate being put in these positions.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Sure. That's how it went. The following events have been changed to protect reality:
What's Killing Machine, you may ask? Killing Machine is the system name of the computer my roommate Nick dug out of the trash on a street corner a few years back. It's an old Gateway PC that the previous owner didn't like, or thought was broken. Judging by some of the bios configuration, I think that it's fair to say that they got it from an office or school that was cleaning out their old PCs. In the span of a week we got Killing Machine, two slightly damaged monitors and a computer stand - all from three different trash piles! But I digress...
It really wasn't much to look at:
Plus, when you consider the case is only about 5" wide from outside to outside, there isn't room enough inside for a full-size PCI card of any kind:
The many problems with this case included that it was loud, unshielded from dust, had no room to work in, and that it was just plain ugly.
Oh yeah, it didn't work either but between the three of us we managed to fix it in about twenty minutes so that it did. We discovered that it had a legal copy of Windows XP on it (yay!), a 1.8 GHz processor, and a 50GB hard drive. There wasn't a CDROM drive, but I had a spare from my parents' old Gateway that was just going to waste (incidentally, it also scratched up disks, so we never put original CDs in it). I spent the next five hours purging the previous owner's data from the computer without harming any of the sweet, sweet Windows XP. When that was satisfied, we had a secondary PC with a monitor that had a lot of burn-in and that literally drowned out the conversation in the living room with all of its white noise.
What did we use this piece of junk for, one might ask? Ostensibly it served as a network backup for some of our school files, and also as a computer for guests to use when they visited. A little later down the line though, I felt it would be best utilized as a media PC. There were just a few problems, not in the least was that we couldn't put a video card in it that had an S-video port, simply because the case was too broken. That project just sort of sat on the shelf until one day when I purchased a new DVD R +-RW drive, or whatever the hell they're called. It was time to build a new case.
I had one material available to me at the time, and it wasn't money. Instead, I used my Fisher-Price Construx (tm) to assemble a case with the idea that I could make it modular, so that when new pieces were added you could just connect them to the tabletop computer. While this was all well and good in theory, when it came to building it I found that they new nVidia card that I had purchased added quite a lot more bulk than I had anticipated. Even though I expanded the IDE cables, the replacements were still too short to make it the way I wanted to, and the result was a weirdly-shaped tabletop "thing" that very quickly got in everyone's way, because of the cables that had to be connected to the television. I wish that I could show you some clear photos of this disaster, but alas like the sasquatch they must remain blurry, almost mythic images, forever captured on my crappy old cell phone's digital camera, with no way to get them off (thanks Verizon, for all of your fine services).
It became more apparent as time went on that to make it a decent media PC I would have to get it closer to the television. Construx (tm) is not exactly the most airtight of building materials, and so to put it on the floor with dust and cats running around was a challenge. One day, I just pulled the thing apart and made it into a more traditional tower shape, which I had the good sense to photograph:
I discovered that in an open case with the fans blowing outward, the Construx (tm) "knots" (the little blue pieces) actually acted like a filter - when I finally pulled the case apart, there was almost no dust build-up inside. One thing that I liked about this case was the little power light I rigged up into a glow-in-the-dark hemisphere and covered with a clear piece of antennae-like plastic. This was a neat effect, and I was thinking about exploring other uses of on-board lights, but never got around to it.
This configuration was still less-than ideal - if you wanted to add anything, you had to almost take the entire tower apart to do it. The motherboard wasn't exactly secure, either, and sometimes the graphics card would come unseated (though this was a rarity for all of the abuse levied on it). The biggest problem was that damn power switch. It was very hard to push, and when you did hit it sometimes the cables in the back would come undone (I had to pull the heat-shrink off in order to get it out of the first case), meaning that if one wanted to do a hard reset it sometimes couldn't be done without having to pull the case apart to fix the wires. This case also wasn't good for our living room's footprint at the time - the old TV stand had round edges that the tower didn't sit behind very well. It was altogether not something that I particularly liked.
I kept these things in mind when I started the new case. From first glance, it looks like something IKEA would sell:
On closer inspection, one would see that it is, in fact, homemade furniture at its worst: lopsided, unfinished, boxy, and ugly.
(Before anyone out there feels the need to warn me about the Xbox 360 being in such a confined space, I would just like to state that there is an array of three fans connected in back to cool it, so cool it!)
Anyway, as I've previously stated, I don't have the proper tools to mold the board correctly, and I don't have the money to buy them, so it's going to have to look nearly done for now. The melamine board isn't in great shape either, having been scrap at one point, but oh well. As one can see from the following photo, the edges around the holes in the front aren't exactly even, but I don't have anything that cuts in a straight edge to even them out:
My proudest accomplishment as far as the facade goes is the button. It pushes real springy-like, and is orange at first and then turns green when the PC is on. I was standing in the Home Depot one day in the electrical isle looking at networking cables, when I spotted some buttons and thought to myself, "That one would be perfect for Killing Machine!" It turns out that it was a lighted doorbell button. I wasn't sure if it would work, but I was willing to risk the four dollars at the time to find out. Upon opening the package, I discovered one set of two leads coming out of the back, which worried me (where were the leads for the light?). When I tested it at first, I discovered that Killing Machine always registered it in the "closed" position whenever you tried to connect it. That was bad. I pulled the switch apart and discovered the problem. The light in the doorbell was connected across the contacts internally. I still don't see how this would prevent a doorbell from going off all the time, but I don't know much about doorbells so whatever. I clipped the light out of the switch, and then tested it again. Eureka! It worked, but now there was no light. I drilled a hole in the back of the switch (it was big enough to do that), and inserted the power light into the button (it was a tight fit), so now I have a lighted switch. Just one keeps it simple, and you can't see the hack-job from the outside. I found brushed nickel handles for the drawer part that matched the button, so it at least looks somewhat acceptable.
When you open the drawer, that's where the real mess begins:
I just want to state, for the record, that that power supply is going to go away as soon as I can afford a new one. It's awkward, bulky, and not all that powerful (only about 300W). It isn't that Killing Machine needs a bigger power supply, it's that this one just doesn't fit very well with what I'm trying to do. The drawer hardware that I purchased to mount it was pretty expensive (about $20), but it is pretty heavy duty and won't bend even with almost fifty pounds of weight attached to it (it's rated to 100 lbs, but I'm not going to tempt it). The motherboard is directly attached to the melamine, with long screws and insulated plastic feet. I need to cut a hole in the wood under it at some point for heat dissipation, but I'll probably do that when I get a new power supply.
Because this is a media PC, it has standard audio ports and an S-video port right on the back of the box:
To do this, I purchased some A/V extensions from Radio Shack (at a ridiculous price, but they fit my needs at the time), drilled some holes and then pounded (yes, with a rubber mallet) them in. They won't move now, and are sitting pretty securely. I also added an external network port:
This was pretty simple. I purchased a wall-mounting kit and faceplate, then just got a short Cat-5 cable and stripped the end. I had my roommate Isaac (who is much more familiar with making cables - I didn't want to leave room for error) connect this cable to the back of the female wall-port. Thus, you plug the network cable from the outside, and then plug the extension into the back of the motherboard on the inside. I used a similar trick for the power supply. I used a six-port surge protector faceplate that I mounted from the inside and then bored a large hole in the board on the back of the cabinet to plug an extension cord into. I can plug six devices into the surge protector internally and only have one plug coming out the back.
I put a hinged door in the back of the cabinet for easier access. The real ingenious part, if I may massage my own ego, was the retractable cable pulley. I purchased a retractable pen from a dollar store, removed the pen and tied all of the wires going to the back of the cabinet together. When I open the door in the back or the drawer in the front, the pulley drops the cables to their full length. When I close either door, the cables retract to the top of the case and out of the way of the bottom shelf of the drawer allowing for smooth opening/closing until the pulley wears out (NOTE: there is a problem with this too - the cables now block the output fan, hindering air movement somewhat).
So that's it. That's the history of Killing Machine, now my media PC. I realize that it's not cutting edge or anything, and that it has a lot of engineering problems that I didn't foresee, but I'm surprised at how much I was able to get this to work, and how many problems I was able to solve in the process.
This and the gaming table I built for a New Year's Eve party (more on that later), are the two pieces of furniture I've made. Yes, they do indeed suck, but as soon as I get the tools, the space, and the time I'll start making them better.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Alright. As per my previous post, I have been going through old works and consolidating them so that I might later roll them into some sort of large portfolio. This next article kind of sent shivers up my spine when I read it. I'm not sure what day it was written on, but I'm pretty sure the year is 1997 because the letter that I wrote in the legal pad right after this one is from just before I moved into my (grandfather's) house, which was in 1997. Just for clarity, Tech TV debuted in May of 1998, the Dilbert show in 1999, G4 in 2002. I've left the wording and grammar untouched and full of errors and poor esthetical choices, but corrected some spelling. I was going to send this to Turner Broadcasting Networks for a pitch, but I never had the gumption to do it (though considering the current state of G4/Tech TV, maybe I should send it again). Here we go:
TO WHOM THIS MAY CONCERN:
I have a vision. To some this may seem like a trivial matter, but to me it is a matter of much forethought and many sleepless nights. Even if you do not embrace my idea it would mean quite a bit to me (and perhaps to you as well) if you would only consider it for a while.
As you may or may not be aware, there has been an exciting new media that has entered our everyday lives within the last quarter of this century: home computers, interactive television, video games and of course the internet. The increasing technology involved in the creation of these has become incredible, each new generation eclipsing its forefathers to the point where there is always something to astound all but the most dedicated enthusiast.
To the more casual observers however, the improvements not only make them more productive (hopefully), but also keep them entertained. From the spectacular digital effects of Hollywood's blockbusters to the Solitaire icon on a computer's screen, electronic entertainment is fast becoming an unavoidable part of our lives. The "Hollywoodesque" flashiness of modern software has begun to blur the line between television and video games, and it is from this that I draw the inspiration for my less-than-modest proposition: A twenty-four-a-day cable network dedicated to the hardware and software in this age of electronic information.
Twenty-four hours a day of news, reviews, tips, secrets, and trade-show coverage dedicated to the multi-billion dollar computer and game markets!
I know what you're probably thinking: "We came up with that idea years ago, and there's just no market for it." Well, my primary reason for this letter is to tell you that there is a market for it, one as diverse and faithful as that of any major network.
The truth is that I am an adult, and I play video games. I am both amazed and disappointed by modern technology. I mean, software commercials are hardly ever modest about their product, and though you may see a screen shot in a magazine, it is still a poor example of the actual product. Then there is television; like many other people I am excited about new technologies, but with the rare exception of a few computer-based shows and an occasional documentary there just isn't enough to keep me interested. For example: it does little good to watch a news network, only to hope that they tell you something of Intel's latest chip. I would love a channel that I could turn to at one in the morning, to wind down a hectic day with information that could aid my game or show me what's up-and-coming.
Another simply amazing facet of this proposal is the sheer range of lifestyles involved – every age, every class – anyone who has an interest in the human side of our electronic world. From the parent wondering what game to purchase for a child to a senior citizen wanting to get on the information superhighway, the adult appeal is definitely there.
O.K. If you've read this far you may still be interested, but now you're probably asking where to get these intended programs. The sad thing, as mentioned before, is that all of these proposed programs will have to be filmed and edited by contract, since there are really very few shows like this on anywhere. I do not have a degree in economics, but I would bet that if large companies such as Microsoft and Nintendo would advertise on an unrelated network, they would only be too eager to advertise on one dedicated to their products. The commercial value would be too much for them to turn down.
As for the shows themselves, there are many interesting ideas to consider:
1. I like the idea of a forum where various panels of normal people of varying computer literacy debate their likes (or dislikes) of recent products, perhaps for a half-hour or so.
2. Shows made in contract with various popular magazines such as DieHard Gamefan or PC Gamer, in which games are previewed, reviewed, and criticized if necessary (if more companies could see a reaction to their product, they might make it better next time).
3. A program set along the lines of "This Old House," except pertaining to personal computers would show even the most computer illiterate how to improve their existing systems. Perhaps best as a morning series.
4. A review of the best online businesses and markets, to make finding the perfect website for your application just a little easier.
5. A history showcase of documentaries showing the history of various consumer electronics, such as radio, television, and computers.
6. A news show of upcoming events, electronics mergers, development news and interviews with the publishers of some of the most recognized software (i.e. Bill Gates of Microsoft, Howard Lincoln of Nintendo, David Perry of Shiny Entertainment, etc.). Probably best in a talk show format.
7. A series that goes behind the scenes at some of the world's leading hardware and software giants, to take a little mystery out of the industry and to show the public what they're really like.
8. Live coverage of trade shows and expositions, both foreign and domestic, letting consumers see (or not see) what to expect in the future.
9. A consumers' guide to building software would be most welcome to the more hardcore enthusiasts, perhaps showing how to setup a web page or what's involved in learning a computer language.
10. To appeal to the very young to teen groups a Saturday morning cartoon show lineup would be terrific. There are a number of video game and computer related programs now, as you may already know, and the addition of any of them to a lineup would be both campy and appealing to many.
11. Computer-oriented game shows may not be a wholly original idea, but could be made fun and educational for all. I should point out though, that very few of these game shows today ask almost no questions involving computers or software, even though they have names like "Video Challenge."
12. Sketch comedy on a computer network may sound dry, but anything along the idea of Scott Adams' "Dilbert" or satirical advertisements may be a welcome break from the news and instruction the channel provides the rest of the time.
I realize that it is at your discretion to review this letter and to approve and disapprove with some or all of these suggestions. I only want to make you aware that there is another target audience out there, some of us more willing to see a review of the latest computer game than catch the season finale to such shows as "Melrose Place" or "Frasier." I don't watch television as much as I would if there was something on that interested me. Maybe this channel I proposed already exists. If so, where is it? If not, where is it?
Michael R. Adams
(John Q. Public-at-large)
In case you missed it, I've been gathering works from the past in order to centralize them and put them in some sor of web page-portfolio. While that materializes, I'm going to post a lot of this stuff here just to see if anyone reacts to it. I present to you another essay from my school days, this one was a music review. Enjoy!
AIR FORCE ONES
Michael R. Adams
Rather than bash my head into the wall wondering who let the dogs out, and spend the afternoon laying in a pool of blood and bile pondering why I can't touch this, I turn off the radio. Instead of disemboweling myself in an attempt to discern L.L. Cool J's idea of paradise, or gouging out my eyes to avoid another shameful video of the Humpty Dance, I turn off (and no longer want) my MTV. Still there's music on the airwaves that I just can't seem to avoid, no matter how much I try. Having said that, the rest of this article will be directed at one song that has frustrated me for some months now. +"Air Force Ones," a hip-hop song by Nelly, is the worst song ever created, for three reasons. *The lyrics are undecipherable; the product that it promotes is of questionable quality; (sadly) it is the best representation of the music genre that it belongs to.
I'll put this quite simply: If I hadn't seen the title of the song, or watched the too-much-attitude-not-enough-brains video, I would not even know what this song was about. To be completely honest, I'm not sure that the "artists" or producers did either. It is most probable that they took the ambiguous non-annunciated caterwaul of a group of talent-deprived pretty-boys, and added the words later. This would explain why such barely audible nonsense as "Ayuh urf unh!" would be conceivably translated to the name of a brand of shoes. After one heroic attempt at listening to the song (one more time) all the way through, I decided to investigate in a manner less offensive to my ears. An exhaustive internet search for lyrics to the song, using such relevant terms as "Air Force," "Ones," and "Hot girl-on-girl action," yielded fruitless (if not entertaining) results. I hit the databases, and finally managed to locate a written transcript. My hopes of finding some meaning to the song were dashed when I was exposed to such poetic gold as "There's somethin bout dem that's dirty why I got em," and "The last person that touched um I been shot um." It seems that the person who wrote the lyric sheet was just as confused as I was.
Unlike the majority of the people who listened to this song on the radio, heard the title of the song, and ran out to buy a new pair of shoes, I have actually owned a pair of Air Force Ones, pre-Nelly. I purchased mine at a time in my life when I was trying to find the ugliest pair of shoes imaginable, and they fit the bill. They're not great shoes. They're overpriced, poorly crafted, and very difficult to keep clean. The song, with its highly repetitious chorus line, would have me believe that they're some sort of incredible super-shoe that will make me athletic, popular, and "bad-ass." They did not give me game. They did not help me to woo (to quote the hip-hop culture) "the bitches." They were, if nothing else, uncomfortable, and nearly traction-less on any graded surface. These facts led me to the conclusion that Nike (the creators of Air Force One basketball shoes), knowing that the general human populace is becoming acutely aware of the flaws in its product, has positioned itself to sell its wares to humpback whales by playing the very whale-bellow friendly Nelly song underwater, where it belongs.
This song is by far the best example of its genre. You might mistakenly believe that the term "hip-hop" means, "hip music that is hoppin'. Word. Aight, dawg?" The fact is, however, that its origins lay in the Latin iphe ophe (pronounced "ip-HAY op-HAY"), which literally translates to "twenty million eight-year-olds will buy this album because we pay to have it played on the radio every hour on the hour." Although other genres of music have their own soulless commercial properties (pop music has Britney Spears and its "boy bands," country music has… well… country music artists, classical music has Mozart, etc.), this song stands out. It is not the first, best written, best sounding, best selling, or most socially controversial hip-hop song - heck, it's not even the genre's first song about a particular brand of shoes as it was beaten to the punch by Run D.M.C.'s not-so-great-but-clearly-spoken "My Adidas" by almost 20 years. It is unique in the fact that not only is it unintelligible, arrogant, and about a completely inane subject, it is also marketed so astoundingly well that it has achieved multi-platinum status. Never in the history of the world has a song gone so far with so very little, and it has truly deepened the septic tank by which all other hip-hop (flim-flam) artists seek to be judged.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that this song is popular based solely on its marketability rather than on any sort of artistic merit. All of the facts are laid bare, including the ones that I have chosen to make up. The sweet, gentle sound of a livestock slaughterhouse set to a repetitious drumbeat would be every bit as appealing as this mindless bit of audio tripe. The mere existence of it shows that in this day and age artistic merit is viewed as undesirable, as our music industry (meaning the big industrial factory where music is manufactured rather than written and performed) moves into full swing to bring us such "classics." While I don't hold Nelly completely responsible, they (as the singer who lends his name to this band of losers has never preformed without his equally untalented associates) are one of the many guilty parties who should be on the chopping block when the long-overdue cultural revolution rears its bloodthirsty head.
The first thing is the short and simple intro, which was handled absolutely brilliantly. If you're a fast read you'll catch the numerous references made to some other Marvel characters (Nick Fury, Doc Samson, Rick Jones, and Stark Industries just to name a few), but the real brilliance is in the Hulk's origin itself: it seamlessly melds the supporting cast of comic book characters into the fondly-remembered intro to the beloved 1970's series. At first I didn't think it would work, but they recreated the 70's feel almost frame for frame and pulled it off quite nicely; comic book fans will love that the basis for the story was kept intact, while people who have only watched the television show won't feel left out either.
"But Mike, " you say, "I'm a big fan of Ang Lee's Hulk movie from a few years ago. Am I going to be able to catch up on my sleep during this film as well?" Not unless you're narcoleptic, because once the action in this film starts, there's far more of it than you'll see in almost every other superhero movie, and it's handled really well. Sure, it's mostly computer animated, but its animation is top notch. Unlike the jumbled mess (that should have ended Ang Lee's career), someone on the set of this film, whether it was the director, the writer, the production crew, or the star, actually took the time to read some of the comic books. That being said, the hulk is about the size he should be (really big, but not to the point where he dwarfs trees and houses), he actually uses some of his more famous fighting moves (such as the thunderclap), and he speaks. I'm sorry, but when he says "Hulk smash!" it was the coolest made-me-feel-like-I-was-seven-again moment I've had in a long time. It was cheesy, yes, but in a really good way.
I know that some of you were hoping to see some of the television/old movie Hulk's more memorable fights, like when he beats up slum lords and redneck truck drivers, or fights his famous enemies "mutated bulldog 3" and "the noxious cloud that is Nick Nolte," and I'm sorry to disappoint you by revealing that the green machine actually fights a super-villain this time. Yes, the Abomination. I know, I know: "but the Hulk is such a powerhouse, shouldn't the villain be a weak little guy who for some reason can't outsmart America's favorite mentally retarded superhero?" Well, they're saving that for a sequel (trust me), but for now we're just going to have to bite the bullet and watch an impressively filmed action-packed brutal battle between two incredibly super-strong opponents. Really, I think the director should have taken a cue from Superman Returns and just had him fighting normal human bank robbers, facing down human criminal masterminds, and *yawn* catching things for two hours.
I think a lot of it had to do with the casting. It turns out that if you spend the money and get people who don't act in a lot of schlock, they can perform admirably even when the material falters slightly. Edward Norton is superb as always (I know that this is a popcorn flick, but I can't believe he hasn't won an Oscar yet for his other roles). William Hurt is necessarily calculating and cold as General Ross, although I do have to admit that I miss Sam Elliot's drawl in the role. Liv Tyler is mostly silent but very emotional as the love interest Betty Ross, and Tim Roth makes one convincing over-the-hill and willing to do whatever it takes to win bad-ass. Comedy relief comes in the form of Tim Blake Nelson, the over-the-top mad scientist who tries to help Bruce Banner rid himself of the monster inside him, with possible side effects.
I wouldn't recommend this movie to just anyone (it is definitely not something to take your grandmother to). I'm sure that there are people reading this blog who are burned out on bad action movies. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. I liked this film only slightly less than I liked Iron Man, and I was really surprised by how good that one was. If the end of the film doesn't make it clear by now, Marvel is ramping up to do some serious movie business, and it looks like they're finally on the right track, and off whatever track spawned those Blade sequels, the Fantastic Four movies, and the last X-men movie. Thank goodness...
This is an old essay from one of my English classes. It has its fair share of errors, but my instructor really liked it. Please understand that it is over five years old now and some of the resources might no longer be available, having been put under lock and key by the evil Del Monte corporation.
The Star-Kist Tuna Conspiracy
By Michael Adams
There is a powerfully negative trend sweeping the United States today; gas prices soar out of control, pension funds are raided mercilessly, and fast food companies charge ninety-nine cents for items that only a few years ago would have sold for less than half that price. Consumer values in this country are slipping away at an unprecedented rate, causing the American public to spend more to get equal or lesser value. The companies that provide us with the goods essential to our continuing lifestyle cry foul at our supposedly weakening economy, and yet national revenue is on par with where it was a scant few years ago. Even during the economic boom of the 90s things started to go devalue relatively quickly, and that leads to the question of why. We must examine these companies closely to see where the fault belongs. +I am going to examine the Star-Kist Seafood Company. *I will discuss the company's history, provide examples of changes in the quality of their product line, and finally determine whether they are the victims of a weak economy or if they are part of a nation-wide conspiracy.
The history of the Star-Kist Seafood Company is a complex and confusing one. Star-Kist was started in 1917 as a French sardine company. In 1953 the company expanded its product line and became known as Star-Kist Foods. It was in 1961 that Star-Kist adopted their now-famous spokesfish, Charlie the Tuna, whose self-worth was consistently and mockingly brought into question, as his constant suicidal attempts to be processed into a canned food product were to be denied by the haughty elitist Star-Kist ("Sorry, Charlie"). Star-Kist was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Company during a company-wide reorganization in 1963. The company adopted a dolphin safe policy in 1990 that states "Star-Kist will not purchase any tuna caught in association with dolphins" and "Star-Kist continues its practice of refusing to purchase tuna caught with gill or drift nets, which are known to be dangerous to many forms of marine life. Star-Kist condemns the use of these indiscriminate fishing methods that trap dolphins, whales, and other marine life along with the intended catch of fish." ("FAQ") "Charlie and Star-Kist have had many major innovations over the years but their biggest came in the year 2000 when Charlie helped Star-Kist introduce the new Flavor Fresh Pouch," (Star-Kist Corporate Profile") states the parent company, when in fact this is when the company began to deceive consumers. In late 2002 the company, along with other H.J. Heinz properties, was purchased by Del-Monte Foods Corporation.
There have been many changes in Star-Kist's product line in the last couple of years. Though the company claims to be an industry innovator, constantly introducing new technology to the market, as a tuna consumer for the last 25 years I can safely say that before they started making pre-made tuna salad in the late 1990s there wasn't much of an obvious change in the product line. In 2000 the company changed the labels of its cans from the familiar green-and-white design to a new deep blue color. While the moniker "New look, same great taste" applies to most products, it was not applied to Star-Kist's advertising campaign, and there was a reason. This new look coincided with the introduction of the new "Flavor Fresh Pouch," and the results weren't exactly obvious to mister Joe Schmoe consumer. The benefits of the new pouch were many. To quote Star-Kist, "It's the new wave in tuna that makes eating tuna easier, better tasting and more enjoyable than ever!" ("Products") Through nearly two decades of consuming nothing except tuna for lunch, I developed a sense when something was amiss with my favorite tuna franchise. I couldn't confirm it at first, as canned tuna always had a fairly random texture to it, but something about it seemed a little lacking. The truth was discovered by my own research, having been given a can of the green-labeled tuna for my trip to school by my parents. The pre-pouch tuna had significantly larger and variably colored chunks, while the blue-canned post-pouch tuna was mostly finely minced meat of a single darker color. Suspecting foul play, I purchased a significantly more expensive flavor fresh pouch to confirm that it did indeed contain larger chunks of tuna, but still of one variety. A trip to the grocery store showed that there were significantly more varieties in the Star-Kist line than in years previous. There could be no mistake now - Star-Kist wasn't changing the quality of their tuna, they were separating what was once a superior product into components of varying quality. At the top of this new line was the more expensive white albacore tuna. While once just another component of the tuna processing procedure, albacore is now more desired than 'regular' tuna, and a higher price tag is the result. In the mid-range area is the "Flavor Fresh Pouch," which is the larger chunks of the darker variety of Skipjack tuna, packaged in an easier to use foil pouch. On the bottom rung is the minced canned tuna, which seems to be whatever is leftover from straining out the larger chunks for the pouch. Despite its obvious drop in quality from a few years ago it still remains the same price as before, if not a little more expensive. There are other variations of course, such as tuna salad and tuna fillets, but for the purposes of this discussion they are insignificant.
So the question one has to ask is whether Star-Kist is the victim of a weakened economy, or the puppeteers of one of the vilest conspiracies to ever infect the canned tuna industry. There are several factors that could perceivably affect Star-Kist's revenues, forcing the company to reorganize and restructure their product line as quietly as possible. The dolphin-safe policy that the company had adopted in 1990 no doubt limited the number of tuna suppliers, and drove up the costs of those suppliers remaining (after all, it must be simpler to catch everything and kill what's left than to selectively fish for tuna). This alone would be enough to send most companies into an economic tailspin, but the over-fishing of tuna as a whole is driving up costs as well... or so the industry would have us believe. While some species are declining, and others are unstable, Skipjack tuna (the primary variety found in "chunk lite" tuna) are "still large, though declining in parts of the Atlantic." ("Tunas") Is it likely that Star-Kist, as a result of the declining population has raised the price in an effort to curb tuna consumption? If so, is the company risking a loss of market share to tuna companies of less reputable status? It's not likely. The company proudly places "America's Favorite Tuna...AC Nielsen Total Tuna Category Sales, Latest 52 Weeks" ("Home page") on their website, proving that even though they are the most expensive commercially available tuna, they are still the most popular. The company has been experiencing more growth than any other tuna company in the market. If anything, they are responsible for more over-fishing; no, it's far more likely that Star-Kist is merely breaking down its once-superior product into several components: selling the inferior minced tuna at the normal price to unwitting poor consumers, and packaging the coveted larger chunks for sale to the rich bourgeois in a plot to further separate those that have and those that have not. The best argument for this lays with Star-Kist's parent companies - Del-Monte is headed by Richard G. Wolford and H.J. Heinz Co. is headed by William R. Johnson, both silver-haired rich white males. It is a generally accepted fact that it is this very demographic that is ruining our nation, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey notwithstanding. Because the single most powerful tuna company in the world is now under the reigns of these two shady and incredulous characters, we have given them ample resources to divide our democracy into a virtual fiefdom, one piece at a time.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Star-Kist is not a victim of economic distress, they are perpetuating a conspiracy of the direst kind: the kind that isn't immediately noticed. The thousands of these tiny conspiracies, from the "Mexicanization" of American automobiles to the obvious drop in the quality of The Simpsons, are very quickly adding up to overwhelm and crush the dreams of average Americans. The conspirators are taking what was once available to everyone and raising costs so that it is only attainable by their luxury-car-driving ilk. Americans must come together as a people to take their nation, their jobs, and their homes back from these white-collar demons. I would have presented you with the substantiation of this particular cabal, but for my part I am poor and hungry, and edible evidence doesn't last long in such conditions.
"FAQ" Star-Kist Seafood Company official website. 2003.
"Home page." Star-Kist Seafood Company official website. 2003.
"Products." Star-Kist Seafood Company official website. 2003.
"Star-Kist Corporate Profile" Del-Monte Foods official website.
"Tunas." Audubon's Living Oceans website. 1999-2002.
I realize that I haven't posted a new blog in awhile with all of my recent hardships (more to come on that later), but now I should try to get back into the swing of things. This is from yesterday.
Tonight I attended the Caregie Museum's "Art Under Pressure" featuring an exhibit entitled "Life on Mars" and a few performances by Pittsburgh's own Attack Theatre. I must confess, I came away from the experience with mixed feelings.
After spending my $5 for parking in the parking lot for this "free" event, I made the inconvenient walk to the main entrance (you have to cross a possible two lanes of traffic at some point in the journey, there's no way around it). Immediately I wished I could have gotten someone to go with me. All of my friends are either out of town or had plans before I could invite them, save for a few that wouldn't have been interested. This made me an awkward in-between: somewhere between the fifty-plus crowd that was touring the museum and the high-school and college freshmen demographic that only seemed to be there to mooch food and attend the live band and DJ music that was blaring from eight o'clock onward. Thus, I neglected to talk to anyone else, for fear of being perceived as the weird old-guy trying to hit on stupid young girls or the young failure with an abortive maturity complex. It's funny how in both situations I find myself being more self-conscious about my hair loss.
Anyway, to get back on topic, the art was a mixed bag of disappointment and illumination. Some of the fixtures were positively brilliant, from the multicolored mosaic that adorns the entrance hall (complete with portions that bulge out like the wall is failing to contain its own opulence), to the room with small triangular paintings that change size and position to give the room an unnerving illusion of depth and motion; other fixtures were decidedly disappointing studies in the mediocrity that is postmodern art, such as the giant canvas covered with comic book pages covered up by gallons of black paint that the artist rolled tires over, the customary screen prints of simple geometric shapes, and last but not least the completely untalented paintings that have no real composition, poor use of color, and of course, a pretentious theme to make them "personal."
I think that the inherent level of pretentiousness in this newest age of art is what is devaluing it for me. I could paint just as good (or if you prefer, as bad) as most of these people. Anyone can. The fact that there is an entire clique of douche-bags out there making careers out of it is the real lie. I could forgive the lack of skill if any of these people had anything original to say, but it is easy to paint badly and then blame your own lack of skill on everyone else's perceptions.
Back to my story: I felt that overall the "Life on Mars" installations were better that what I've seen at the Carnegie in the past, but the real fun for me was when I snuck into the natural history portion of the museum, to see the dinosaur exhibit after the natural history section had closed (they were locking the doors all around as I was trolling the galleries). I felt vindicated by this, partly because the flyer said that the galleries were open until eleven, and partly because in the five-plus years that I've lived in Pittsburgh the dinosaur skeletons have been alternatively in repair, redisplay, or reconstruction and I've not gotten a chance to see them. I have to say, the new display is certainly interesting from an architectural standpoint, although it seems like they eliminated some of the less-cretaceous displays to expand it. I really wanted to take photos of it to share with you, but I didn't want to risk getting caught prematurely by the museum guards. Finally, as I was making my way through the Arctic display, one of the blue-jacketed gentlemen told me that the natural history portion of the museum was closed, ending my exploration.
Having had my fill of the art section, I headed downstairs to find the food. There wasn't too much variety: bad cheese pizza, salsa and chips, party mix, and celery and carrot sticks with dips. There were some delicious cupcakes with thick icing on top (which you could make your own design on), but overall the food was as unpleasant to look on as it was to consume.
There were tables with art supplies for guests to make their own "masterpieces," but by my reckoning they were poorly planned out. The watercolor portion was particularly disappointing. I wanted to make a wash and then paint overtop, but there was no white paint to mix with the black to form gray, and I ended up having to dilute the black to the point that it didn't dry very quickly, the result was that anything that I painted over it bled really badly (it was evident to me that the paper wasn't pre-soaked either -- a big no no when working with watercolor). Plus, I prefer a mixed media of ink and color as to straight up tonal watercolor (especially when the paint is the K-mart equivalent of Crayola, and therefore impossible to mix workably). I ended up throwing mine away shortly after beginning it.
After that I watched some girls drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, and decided to go. I went to my usual retreat: the Beehive on Pittsburgh's Southside. It's a filthy little coffee house that all of the local artists, drug addicts and homeless people frequent. I got a pot of Russian tea, a cup of ice, and some Equal. I spent a good deal of time writing this on my PDA with the expandable keyboard, smoked a couple of mini-cigars, and drank my tea.
And that, my friends, was my night.
1. My employer didn't pay me what they owed me for going out of town, after they had said that we were done going out of town.
2. I went out of town again, got two new chips in my windshield.
3. They wanted me to go out of town again.
4. I decided to quit my job, not just because of all of the deceipt and incompetance, but also because I was having nightmares about having to go back.
5. I got a speeding ticket in Jamestown, NY, which I can't really fight because I can't afford to drive there.
6. My former employers at the mortgage recording company, aren't returning my calls, even though they had expressed interest in having me back.
All caught up? Good.
Somebody broke into my car today. They didn't just scratch the door and jimmy the lock, they smashed the passenger side window. This was in Oakland this afternoon. They stole my 10-year-old Garmin Legend GPS, a case of burned MP3 CD's, and my owner's manual (I can't even begin to guess what they wanted with that). They also went through my art portfolio and dumped my pencil box out, but didn't seem to take anything from there (which of course, means that I couldn't even give my drawings away). They left the CD's in my visor, left my glasses, my electronic tire guage, the money that I had in my ashtray and the hundreds of dollars in tools that I had behind the back seat in my little "trunk" area.
It's going to cost me $250 to have the window repaired, as I reported it on my insurance (my deductible). That's the biggest blow. I am (supposed) to be getting one last big paycheck from The Beam Team, and now ALL of that will be gone as soon as I pay my rent, my utilities, the speeding ticket and whatever else I owe people.
I just can't win. I wish that it wasn't some random theif. I wish that I could just get mugged by somebody with a gun so that they could shoot me and get this hell of a life over with.
Everywhere I've worked, I mean EVERYWHERE I've ever worked they've lost my paycheck at least once (Blair did it to me several times, when I changed departments). Every time I try to better myself and learn something, somebody always manages to pull me down by making me spend money on materials I don't need, asking me to invest time I don't have and to lose sleep that I've already lost. The correspondence course I took back in '95 sent me the wrong materials, for a completely different course, and never sent me the right ones even after I wrote and called them about it.
I mean, what am I doing wrong? My grades in school seem to indicate that I'm reasonably intelligent. I rarely drink, I've never done drugs, and by anybody's account I'm a pretty hard worker. Once, long ago, I even tried being nice and understanding to people (which led to people shunning me). Why do I keep failing? WHY DOES THIS SHIT KEEP HAPPENING TO ME? Is it because I'm ugly? Because I can't change that.
It might be awhile before I post anything here again. I'm not feeling too happy at the moment.
No, I don't have any prospects lined up.
I've made some calls, and I'm confident that I'll find work soon, though I'm not really sure that I want to find another job. I'm tired of working all of these jobs that don't agree with me simply because they'll hire me.
I sent in my speeding ticket today with a "guilty" plea. I'm still not sure that I was speeding, but I probably was. I just want it over and done with.
I got my cat back last night. He was being all happy and hyperactive this morning. We played "laser pointer" for awhile. I missed him so much these last two weeks.
I'm not sure what else to do at this point. I'm not feeling the crunch of the loss of a paycheck yet - be sure to tune in a month from now to hear me whining about that.
I'm sick of my job. So much so that I'm not sure I'm going to go back to it Monday.
I'm sick of my boss, and having to room with him while out of town because he never shuts up about work. I have nightmares about work constantly. It's like I never leave my job even when I'm not there.
I'm sick of travel. I got two chips in my (less than a year old) windshield and my first speeding ticket ever this last week. I need new tires, and an inspection. How am I ever going to pay for all of this?
I'm sick of not knowing what I want out of life, and tired of exploring directions that ultimately fail (art, technology, etc.).
I'm sick of fast food, and not being able to afford the real deal.
I'm sick of being alone. I haven't even seen my cat in over two weeks.
I need to get my shit together, I guess, and just go back to pretending to fit in and forget about ever being happy. Life sucks unless one deludes one's self.
I was not disappointed at all.
I will grant that the movie isn't very deep (although in some ways, it is), and that it didn't have the same amount of action as some other superhero movies, but in this instance the key is quality and not quantity. This is some of the most impressive hero-on-villain action I have seen in a long time. The special effects were a little closer to being invisible than in similar films (what was there looked pretty convincing), the fights were incredible without being ridiculously choreographed.
The casting was exceptional (with two exceptions - Rhodey really didn't fit the picture that I had in my head, but his less-than-tough-as-nails portrayal was actually pretty refreshing, and Jarvis was somewhat absent in the movie, being written as a sentient talking computer program).
The story managed to incorporate the various stages of Tony Stark's development of the armor rather quickly, and you definitely get the vibe that this is a man developing a tool, not some lab mishap or mystical coincidence. The script has plenty of punch and humor and there's rarely a moment when it slows down.
I thought the music was a little off; not nearly as engaging as Spider-Man's Elfman score or Superman Returns's John Williams inspired crescendos, but you could tell that they were going for a rock-industrial theme from the beginning (even the Black Sabbath song is underused). Still, I wish that the soundtrack had a few more epic moments, but that's a small gripe in the overall package.
Of course, a blockbuster like this is set up perfectly for a sequel, and comic book fans will be pleased that ominous portents are subtly given to the identity of a future movie villain. Watch it, you'll know what I'm talking about.
It is what any Iron Man fan could want in a movie. It's faithful to the source material, it's incredibly well done, it's easily accessible to the people who don't read the comics, and it leaves you with a feeling that you're going to want to see more.
To sum up:
1. This film is awesome
2. You should see it
3. Stay in the theater until after the end credits (or you'll miss out on the best after-film add-in of all time).
April 25th, 2008
This was the Pittsburgh Gallery Crawl once more! I had considered going with a singles group on the tour, but after some forethought I decided it was against my interests - I'm perfectly certain that there were some charming people there, but being the extremely unattractive person that I am I felt it would be best for me to not go lest I run the risk of being the most unattractive person there and ruining everyone else's evening. I had on my Most Pretentious Art Hat (M.P.A.H., for short), to duly hide my bald head as well as protecting it from the elements.
I ate my lunch/dinner at Jimmy John's, one of the many sub places that I like more than Subway. I ordered the Billy Club combo on a roll, loaded and with pep (that's roast beef, ham and provolone with lettuce, tomato, onions, mayo, cherry peppers and an oil dressing). Mmmm... I could go for one of those right now... Too bad they're not open right now.
Jimmy John's isn't anything fancy, it's just good.
My sandwich ingested I headed over to my usual first stop: The Wood Street Galleries. The theme this time was Text Memory. The third floor installation was two printers on the cieling that would randomly drop excerpts from databases out on little slips of paper that you could pick up and read. A good many of them were prayers for loved ones or friends, and a lot of the other ones were personal ads (without names or details). It gave me the impression of the crap that God would have to go through to answer prayers if he actually gave a damn.*
I tried to get a photo of one of the slips, but my camera just doesn't have the focal length for it, so you can't read it. I would have taken the paper and scanned it, but it just seemed wrong to take someone else's prayers without the intention of fulfilling them. Fuck you, God.**
The second floor was a mixed bag. I couldn't get any real photos, as I think my camera's flash would have ruined the "effect" and probably would have gotten me thrown out. In the lobby when you get off of the elevator there are two photos in glass frames, and the frames diffuse at different speeds, blurring out the images. I don't know how the effect was achieved, but it was really cool. I shot some video of it and if MySpace wasn't being so hostile right now I would upload it. As things are it will have to wait until later. There was also a display of two analog clocks which stopped at random times. I must admit I didn't get this one. Maybe they were trying to show what life is like when you live in rural Pennsylvania and Penelec is your electrical service provider. Again, I shot video, but it will have to wait until later. The main installation on the second floor was just a bunch of lights that flashed rhythmically to simulate various effects. It was a pretty poor showing in my opinion didn't add much or raise my conciousness to any new level. Anyway...
My next stop was the Space Gallery. I didn't really see any connection with most of the art here, but there was a nice variety. The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was the bagpipes that looked like some kind of mutant bird.
Which was near another sculpture that looked like a bomb capsule, the innards of which were composed of recycled flutes, making me think that there was a common musical theme.
Then I saw the wall of "postcard" photographs, which were interesting to be sure, but most of them looked cheap and staged (a monk statue wearing a Steeler's helmet for example).
And then came the big painting...
I don't know if it was symbolic or representative of anything, but you can't make a painting that size and not inspire some sense of awe.
There were two projectors in the gallery with live images constantly streaming out of them, but I didn't see any cameras. After some careful triangulation I narrowed it down to a particular area of the gallery, which led me to the big green face.
(The cameras were in the eyes).
There were also some slag sculptures there. That is to say, people collected pieces of slag and called them art.
Interesting to look at, but not especially artistic, I think.
My next stop was at the 820 Liberty Gallery, which was running a show called "One Cold Hand" made up of hundreds of lost gloves found on the streets of Pittsburgh.
There's even a website that you can go to, to see if they have one of your gloves so that you can get it back.
From there I went to the August Wilson Center Gallery, which I have to admit had one of the better shows this time around. There was some amazing sculpture by many inspired African-American artists representing different stages of their struggle in "Black Clay." Now, normally I find this sort of politically-correct guilt-badgering derogatory, much in the same way I'm getting sick of seeing topical art poking fun at President Dumb-ass (it's just not original anymore, I'm sorry), but when this much talent, craftsmanship and originality are involved you can't deny that art from people with something to say is more interesting than EVERYTHING coming out of our art schools today.
Check out these pipes
These are tobacco pipes, and they're just amazing! This necklace looks like it's fighting for its life
and that's something! This sculpture of a dress was easily the most disturbing thing I saw that night
These sculptures looked inherently noble and sad, and that really is something in a world of useless pop art.
Now to play the hypocrite for a moment, this piece of pop art was fantastic too.
Teacups screened with photos of celebrities and historical figures. They led down the stairs to the main piece at the bottom here. Just so one doesn't think that they were all limited to just African-Americans, here's one I picked out:
My next stop was to the Northside Urban Pathways Gallery, which is a public school for disadvantaged children with a focus on art. The main focus was African and Asian symbols and the children's representations of them. It was accompanied by the steel drum music of "Sounds of Steel." Who doesn't like steel drum bands?
My next two stops were uneventful. One was a hair salon and the other was a piano showroom. Large pianos give me the creeps. They just seem unearthly and dead, like coffins.
Having tired of those relatively soon I made my way to 937 Liberty Avenue, to the gallery that is always ironically called 937 Liberty Avenue. This is usually my favorite gallery, but the space tonight just wasn't in my taste. The first floor was just still pornography shot by local film makers, the second floor wasn't too bad, but this gallery has the unpleasant way of showcasing the male figure. Last time it was a naked cardboard guy which wasn't too bad from a Greco-Roman standpoint, but this time it was
And it wasn't just one wall, either. It was nearly half of the floor. The only thing weirder than staring at sculpted man-butts is strange old men watching a slideshow about man-butts.
There were some nifty old-timey slide viewers with slides in them, though they weren't especially interesting.
From there I journeyed to Future Tenant, but my photos didn't turn out very good, and there wasn't a whole lot there to see anyway. It was mostly a commentary on how people from different walks of life view their name, called "I am a Heather." There was an interactive work made by one of the Heathers, but it was occupied by some stupid little kid who couldn't figure out that it was just a visual thing and not "Halo."
My last stop of the evening was the 707 Gallery, which was showcasing a new architectural project for Pittsburgh. This entirely "green" plaza is supposed to be built sometime in the not-too-distant future. My own estimation of it is that it will not look nearly so cool when it is actually built, and what company would actually pay through the nose to have a store there and have to put up with all of the "eco-friendly" rules. Zero to none, that's how many!
Plus, this elevated park thing would be cool, but if I know the area (and I can safely say that I do), they will eliminate the second tier due to building codes or some other manufactured bullshit and just turn it into some boring office buildings. Even if they do come through with the elevated park they'll just close it to the public anyway. That's just the way this dumb city is.
I ended my night with a stroll across the Federal Street Bridge, or whatever their calling now (Roberto Clemente or Warhol, I don't know which is which), and snagged a bit of the Alcoa building in all of its early late-night glory.
Anyhow. That's all I have to say about that. It's late, I'm tired and my cat is trying to eat some leftover Christmas decorations I was throwing out.
* I realize that my views on God border on blasphemy, but a just and loving God would forgive me anyway.
** Seriously, get over yourself.
The other day I decided that it was too nice to stay inside playing with my video games and other indoorsy activities, so I went to the park. Here is a transcript of some writing I did that afternoon.
Today I am spending the afternoon at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park. Please forgive the pencil writing, but I seem to have misplaced most of my pens. It is a sunny, warm day to be enjoyed by the beautiful people of Oakland and not by doughy pale bastards like myself. Too bad for them.
I need to try and relax. The job has not been going too well as of late. I discovered this morning that the company has been docking me two hours every week for lunch breaks. The funny thing is, I never take lunch breaks.
I drove to the Target in Greensburg this morning with the hope of finding a cheap navigation system for my car, but no such luck – Target seems to be in the process of disassembling their electronics department and in the process getting rid of all of their clearance merchandise.
Because that was a bust I decided to make my next stop Oakland. Finding parking was hard. I finally elected to use the parking garage and walk to the park, but the attendant got snippy with me when I couldn't tell her how long I would be, so I left that and drove pretty far into Schenley itself and parked near Serpentine Road.
Anyway… today I am trying to be more creative, so I brought my various artistic implements to the park with me. The first picture I drew was of the Cathedral of Learning. I turned out disturbingly badly, with a lack of detail and an abysmal perspective. That's what I get for trying to do it quickly, I suppose. I brought a book of drawing techniques with me to the park, but have not been able to decipher any of the pencil techniques. Still, the book cost $10 compared to my $70,000 "education" in art, so I'm not that upset.
I was in my own little world when it was invaded by a young couple trying to find a shady spot. Without their permission, I drew them as best I could. I am better at figures, but I didn't get a good look at their faces so in the drawing they are kind of shapeless.
Their proportions are off, but it is still better than my first attempt at drawing them.
There are so many pretty girls here sunbathing. I can't bring my ugly face to talk to any of them.
I have since figured out that the paper I was using had too much "tooth" for the pencils I was using, making it hard to lightly sketch the drawings and then fill in the shade. The very next day I bought a new sketchpad and a proper pencil set, but the day was too overcast for me to get any decent lighting on the subjects (if that makes any sense at all). I might try again next week.
I'll wind it up with a panorama picture of Flagstaff Hill and the surrounding area. If you look closely, you'll see three young couples walking up the hill – they are in fact the same couple that I didn't notice as I snapped the pictures. I thought it was funny anyway.