29 January 2010

Cookie Monster vs Lady Gaga

Because, dammit, someone had to do it.

And yes, my Cookie Monster impression sucks. I know. Which is why there's not much to it. I cut out the whole first verse because I wasn't happy with it. CTW/Henson/Muppet Labs - I hereby grant you any and all rights to these lyrics you want. I just wanna see this little dream of mine come true.

Because Cookie Monster in a Lady Gaga wig... I mean, really. Do we need more incentive than that?

You can listen to it with the player below, or download the audio directly here.










om nom nom nom
om nom nom nom

Me wanna munch whole boxes of 'em, please
Crunch 'em let 'em dunk 'em, pass on crullers and brownies
Dunking chocolate chips in milk is the way to me heart
Me can't stop eatin' 'em after me begin to start

Om, nom nom nom, Ommmm, nom-nom-eee-nom nom nom
Me like 'em hot, from scratch in a pot
Om, nom nom nom, Ommmm, nom-nom-eee-nom nom nom
Me like 'em hot, from scratch in a pot

Me wanna bite, wanna bite
Wanna have that cookie taste
(even when they stale and crunchy)
Me wanna bite, wanna bite
Wanna have that cookie taste
(even when they stale and crunchy)


C-c-c-ookie taste, c-c-cookie taste
(om nom nom nom)
C-c-c-ookie taste, c-c-cookie taste
(om nom nom nom)

Me wanna munch 'em all one cookie two or three
Sometimes food it is, sometimes means now to me!
Big box of chocolates, will you get the nasty one?
Me want to find the chocolate chip, me hope there's more than one!

Om, nom nom nom, Ommmm, nom-nom-eee-nom nom nom
Me like 'em hot, from scratch in a pot
Om, nom nom nom, Ommmm, nom-nom-eee-nom nom nom
Me like 'em hot, from scratch in a pot

Me wanna bite, wanna bite
Wanna have that cookie taste
(even when they stale and crunchy)
Me wanna bite, wanna bite
Wanna have that cookie taste
(even when they stale and crunchy)

C-c-c-ookie taste, c-c-cookie taste
(om nom nom nom)
C-c-c-ookie taste, c-c-cookie taste
(om nom nom nom)

C-c-c-ookie taste, c-c-cookie taste
(om nom nom nom)
C-c-c-ookie taste, c-c-cookie taste
(om nom nom nom)

28 January 2010

Freeware I ALWAYS install. You?

I've rebuilt two Windows OS'es from scratch lately, and I thought I'd share my "holy crap I need to install" programs with you. (That and I'll have a reference page!) While some of these have "Pro" versions, you do not need to buy any of those. If you want to - or are able to support the independent developers - then do so. This list is extremely Windows-centric, and yes, I realize the irony in using an Ubuntu image to illustrate it. I have Xubuntu and Puppy running in Virtualbox right now, so back off. You may notice that some links point to "Last Freeware Version", a great resource in itself. Personally, I have a lot more tweaks and hacks running - I use Blackbox4Win as my shell, for example, and a customized Samurize config - but these are the ones I hand out to people who are regular users.

Firewalls
Kiero Personal Firewall (XP and earlier)
Zone Alarm (XP/Vista/7)

Antivirus
Avast (Free Antivirus)
AVG
The (free) registration that Avast asks for every six months has confused people before, so I keep that in mind when choosing which of these excellent programs to use.

Spyware Protection
Spybot Scan & Destroy
Spyware Blaster
Install both. If you share the computer with your kids, install TeaTimer and the IE protection stuff from Spybot.

Other Tools
CCleaner
General cleaning of temp/excess files

SpiderOak
2gb free backup. It's what I use. I've heard people say good things about Dropbox, but since I know this system, I like it. It is also cross platform (and can sync), so if you have a work Mac or *nix system, you're almost certainly covered.

WinDriversBackup
I've had so many damn problems with non-standard drivers that it's not funny. Use this to back them up to a CD to avoid having to scour the web when you reinstall your OS.

MyDefrag
Best defragger in my experience. Especially with Vista, but also XP.

KDE-Mover/ReSizer
Ever have a window offscreen and you can't grab it back? This helps. An absolute MUST for netbooks.

Revo Uninstaller
Uninstalls all of a program, including crap left in the registry. You want the free version.

K9 Web Protection
If you have kids and want a netnanny, I use this one, largely because it's so customizable from *my* end, so *I* choose what gets through and what doesn't. You can also allow temporary access.

I love the desktops at Simple Desktops.

What's your favorite freeware to put on a clean install?

27 January 2010

Paying for the freeloaders - you're already doing it.

"I don't want to support freeloaders."

He stopped; his argument against any kind of universal healthcare consisted of nothing but that one soundbite. [1]

That kind of argument pisses me off - because the guy was proud of paying for his health insurance.

And that made him a stupid self-serving hypocrite.

It's like the "free market" meme that annoys me to no end. See, the thing about insurance is this: When you purchase insurance, you're either paying for freeloaders or being a freeloader yourself.

Think about it. You are either paying for others on the plan who are sick (some much sicker than you will ever be), or healthier people are paying for you.

If this guy really wanted to avoid the freeloaders, he would have to pay for all of his own healthcare out of pocket, cash and carry.

I was a car accident two years ago. The ambulance bill was over $200 - and that was with insurance. If I remember correctly, the ambulance transport alone originally cost over a thousand dollars. That doesn't count the ER nurses and doctor, or the CT scan and X-rays, or the radiologists who read those.

I don't know about you, but I know that absorbing a sudden bill of a couple thousand dollars would sure hurt.

The idea that avoiding universal health care is about "keeping freeloaders out" is a hypocritical idea - unless you never have health insurance again. [2]

Can we move past this stupid overwrought hand-wringing fear that someone, somewhere, may get a "free ride" now, and get onto the real merits and drawbacks of plans?

kthxbye.

[1] I heard about this exchange; I didn't witness it personally.
[2] And as a side note? I love how wingnuts are blaming current problems with their insurance companies on "Obamacare"... even though "Obamacare" (whatever it ends up being) hasn't happened yet. ::shakes head:: While the wingnuts are complaining about the system they are fighting to keep, they blame it on the guy trying to change the very system they're complaining about. That takes some serious cognitive dissonance.

26 January 2010

Kilt - A 100 Word Story

Yadda, yadda, yadda. You know the drill. Weekly Challenge here. Vote for my story, read the other entries. Listen to the audio production below, or this link if the player's borked like in some feed readers. The background music is from Hopeful Machine's Doom demo.









"I kilt Paw."

For a moment, I expected the boy to present a bear foot dressed in Highland tartan. Instead, he held out a bloodied shovel.

"I kilt my Paw with this'n shovel."

Cool filtered air blew into my isolation suit. I patted the boy's matted hair with a gloved hand. "Where's your mother, son? Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

The boy pointed to the locked root cellar. We both heard undead moans.

"Paw bit Maw and Sissy," the boy said.

I drew my pistol. The boy stopped me with a hand, raised his shovel, and went in.

22 January 2010

Get a strange call offering a part-time job? Read this first.

I got a call the other night. Travis Pello (or perhaps Pellow) left a message wanting to talk to me about the part-time job I'd applied for, and to call him back at 937-262-7858.

I've not applied for a part-time job.

He's not returned my calls since. I suspect that may be because he googled me. You see, what follows is a slightly reworked post that I repost every time a multi-level marketer tries to recruit me. I don't know that Travis *is* a multi-level marketer - but his business phone number is unlisted, I can't find anything about him on the internet, and he *never* identified the name of his business (whether on his voicemail message or when leaving a message with me). As you'll see below, that's a big warning sign. Maybe Travis works for Ohio Premier, maybe he's a different organization entirely - I don't know what he does for certain, but the pattern of behavior is very suspicious. I do know, without a doubt, that I did not apply for a part-time position, and that by contacting me he violated all the do-not-call laws.

Multi level marketers - at least in my area - get the phone numbers of students from area colleges. They also call right when semesters (even though two of the universities here are still on the quarter system) change. They prey on people who are desperate for money.

So the first time they called me, I decided to experience their recruitment pitch myself. If you've gotten one of these calls, please read about my experience before going to the sales pitch - I mean, interview.



I was contacted by "Ohio Premier" for a potential business opportunity in the health and wellness industry. They would not tell me much about it over the phone, preferring that I instead come in to their office and talk to them. Ohio Premier is located at 195 Byers Road in Miamisburg, Ohio. It is a suburb of Dayton. (If you’ve ever thought about doing a work-at-home plan about selling “health and wellness” things, you should read on anyway.)

I could find nothing about Ohio Premier on the Internet, which was a warning sign in and of itself. (That is part of the reason for this write-up.) A co-worker's husband (who also attends the university I do) had been contacted by Ohio Premier, but he had not followed up.

So I went.

Ohio Premier is a front for Symmetry ( http://www.symmetryinternational.com/ ) a direct marketing company that has a multi-level marketing component. (You sell to a few people, then you get a cut of the people they refer, and so on.) They sell herbal supplements, including "Genesis", laughably labeled "the infused Bible juice". As the CAI points out (link at the bottom), 99.96% of the people who get involved with Symmetry LOSE MONEY. Only 0.04% make money.

When you first walk into 195 Byers Road, there is no sign for Ohio Premier, just "suite 101". You see a receptionist's desk, a few other office desks in the back, and several well-dressed professional types in the "U" shaped open office space. There are no - repeat, NO - hints of Symmetry or what you will be doing when you first walk in. It is not until the entire group is ushered around and sat down (about 16-20 people) that you see the supplements. The professionally dressed people made sure that they sat down with the newbies.

What followed was a very slick hour-long sales pitch. The planted workers responded to everything the presenter said, so you got the opinion that others agreed with him. The video presentation was hypnotically fast - but full of things about past trends that other people got rich from. "Wouldn't you get in on those trends if you knew about them?” "Facts" were tossed out so fast that it was hard to catch what was said - and often times, the facts were not relevant. For example: "One report from an Ivy League University was printed in 509 newspapers!" Except, of course, that it was only one report. Apparently, they had never heard of AP or Reuters. Many of their facts were correlations at best, non-sequiturs at worst. Yeah, buying stock options in Microsoft in 1985 would have been a good deal - but that is not the same thing as the (saturated) supplement market today. But the plants in the crowd were quick to support every thing the presenter said.

There were MANY rhetorical questions, especially at the beginning, that were designed to get you to agree with the presenter. "Do you like making money?" "Wouldn't you like to work less and make more?" And so on. Getting into a pattern of agreement like that is a well-known brainwashing (my term, not theirs) technique. One woman left, and was made fun of throughout the rest of the presentation. Another asked very pointed questions - and she was made fun of to her face. Especially when she tried to ask questions about marketing and the cost of the supplements. Not surprisingly, her questions were dead-on. (The basic pack is $160 dollars, up front.)

The sneakiest (and most bastardly) technique was this: "This opportunity isn't for everyone. I am not trying to convince you. Some people just can't get it. Not everyone is able to see the chances in front of them, or is wise enough to ..." You get the idea. High SOCIAL pressure techniques in a group setting... even as they said, "I'm not out to convince you."

Of course, there "just happened" to be ANOTHER hour of training right afterwards for those who were motivated - and a special trip to Chicago that leaves... TOMORROW. (That costs $300. Only two seats left!) Enticement both by scarcity, a "money back guarantee" (not in writing), and more social pressure ("if you're serious about making money and not having to work so hard...") So you would be quickly uprooted and put into a hotel FULL of other people like this? Starting to sound like a cult, anyone?

Look, these techniques - and using so many of them so brutally - could not have been happenstance. Ohio Premier is a multi-level marketing scheme front for Symmetry Direct. Their "interviews" are hour-long brainwashing sessions. It was *hard* to resist them for the whole time. Knowing the techniques they were using (and identifying them as they used them) helped a lot; not actually needing the money or job helped more. Even still.... That feeling you get when watching infomercials, where you start to wonder if maybe it actually IS worth buying? It was like that - only much, much more intense.

I do NOT repeat do NOT recommend anyone else even bother going to an "interview" with them. The sales pitches are slicker than you think they are - and they want you to commit right away, before you have a chance to go and check them out.

Ohio Premier (and yes, I'm repeating the name and address on purpose so that others who Google it can find this report) at 195 Byers Road in Miamisburg Ohio is a front for Symmetry Direct.

They do not call themselves a Multi Level Marketing scheme or MLM scheme, preferring the term direct sellers. But, as the CAI points out: "Avoid falling for the semantic trap of chain-selling promoters who say they are not MLM, or multi-level marketing. If the program pays on more than one level of participants, it is multi-level or MLM. If you get paid only for selling directly to customers and get no override commissions (other than a small referral fee) for recruiting more than one level of participants, it is single level compensation and could be considered true direct selling."

Cockeyed.Com's 27 unsuccessful Herbalife (a similar company) stories:

http://www.cockeyed.com/workfromhome/epilogue/unsuccessful/unsuccessful2005.html

His basic primer on pyramid schemes is here:

http://www.cockeyed.com/ebay/scam/laptop_pyramids.html

MLM Watch is here:

"Accurate information about multilevel marketing is not easy to get. Few publishers, editors, and broadcasters are willing to examine this topic in depth. Most reports reaching the public express what the companies and individual distributors would like people to believe. Nearly all MLM companies selling health-related products exaggerate their value, and the vast majority of people who become distributors do not make significant income."

http://www.mlmwatch.org/

Consumer Awareness Institutes 5-step DIY evaluation of MLMs is here:

http://www.mlm-thetruth.com/Symmetry.htm

CAI's profitability report is here:
http://www.mlm-thetruth.com/COMPARE12MLMs-vsSellingvsNPSvsVegas-2p-6-06.pdf

And apparently, Ohio is not the only place where Symmetry has a front organization:
http://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/0/173/RipOff0173038.htm

Ohio Premier does have a BBB listing that lists Symmetry as their website.
http://www.bbb.org/dayton/business-reviews/telemarketing-services/ohio-premier-in-dayton-oh-699

And here's a site I reviewed back in June 2006 for my homeschool resource list:

http://www.skinnyshoestring.com/reviews/

"You want to make money in an at-home job. That makes you a sitting duck for
scam perpetrators who just want your money. Plenty of people online are
willing to take your payment, while promising you big returns that they
cannot deliver. And you just can not know what works and what does not unless
you try, right? Wrong."

21 January 2010

I heart my CPAP. Wanna hear?

Hi. My name is Steve, and I use a CPAP.

I first ran into a CPAP machine when I was in the military; a colleague of mine from the Air Force had one (this was about 1997). He had an oxygen tank, and yes, it sounded a lot like Darth Vader. Then I got out of the military, stopped running, and my thyroid decided to up and die. I gained nearly 60 pounds in two years, and my father has always snored like he's having trouble breathing. Unsurprisingly, I went from being a snorer to full-blown sleep apnea.

It was horrible, especially since I really didn't know it was happening. I was in bed for six to eight hours every night, but woke up with headaches. I nodded off at work, at church, in school. Naps were worse than useless - I didn't feel any better, and often felt worse. I denied that I had sleep apnea... until I heard a recording of me while asleep. I'd heard sounds like that - in the ICU as patients struggled for breath.

I had over 60 apnea events an hour. I stopped breathing more than once a minute while "sleeping". As a result, I was never getting into the deeper stages of sleep. I was never getting any rest.

I remembered my colleague's Darth Vader getup from years earlier, and didn't know how I'd be able to sleep with that much racket. I slept on my stomach, and with many mask styles you have to lie on your back. Still, I went back to the sleep center, and they let me take a twenty minute nap with a CPAP machine.

That twenty minutes was more restful than any night of "sleep" I had in years.

The machines these days are not particularly loud. [1] They're smaller, too (the one pictured is not mine, but similar). They're definitely better - and quieter - than a snoring partner. In fact, many people compare the sound to that of a wave machine. So much so, that once you get used to the sound it's difficult to sleep without it when your significant other is away for whatever reason.

So I've made a recording. If you have a SO who uses a CPAP and you're not with them and have trouble sleeping, feel free to use this. If you're just curious what a CPAP might sound like, take a listen. It's a 35 minute segment (somewhat edited), so it's long enough for the former purpose. A few quick notes about the recording, though:

  • It's a 16 meg MP3. Dialup users, beware.

  • This is amplified. Normal operation is quiet enough that it was hard to hear and record. I ended up having to literally strap the mike to the mask.

  • This is using the loudest mask I have. When I tried recording with my normal mask, I could barely hear it in the recording - but I could hear my cat a lot.

  • The hose and mask I had to use for this recording are slightly leaky; also I've gained weight again, so my settings probably need tweaked. You might hear a soft snore here and there, and that's why. Normally there is no snoring at all, but this works well for the purpose.



If you've been curious, or are away from someone who uses a CPAP, feel free to use this recording. It's under a Creative Commons license (like everything else on this blog), so you can share it as long as you give attributation back to me (preferably using my name and a linkback). You can preview it below, or download it here.










[1] When the seal on the mask breaks, or if you don't have it connected to anything, yes, then it can be loud. But that's not normal operation.

20 January 2010

The customer can be horribly, horribly wrong...

As you might remember, I rent virtual apartments in Second Life. [1] I had a conversation with another resident inside Second Life that leads me to offer these PROTIPS (which that person completely ignored) for those wanting to buy goods and services both in Second Life and in the real world:


  1. Insulting a merchant's product and prices does not make them want to do any favors for you.
  2. Telling an apartment complex owner that you found a better or different deal at another complex isn't going to change anything.
  3. Insulting the merchant does not make them want to do any favors for you.
  4. Wanting to see if they can handle the pressure is a crappy reason to insult a merchant and their products.
  5. All of the above will get you thrown out or ignored, not get you a special discount.
  6. Suggesting that an openly heterosexual male performs sexual acts on females is not an insult.


I didn't let this person get to me; it was puzzling and eventually amusing. But that drama llama did waste my time - including missing out on helping a customer who really did want my help. So the PROTIPS for the merchants out there:


  1. The customer is not always right.
  2. While you're spending time with the pain-in-the-butt customer who will never be satisfied, you're missing out on helping the customers who are genuinely interested in your products.


I have a lot of good tenants. I have added features, created new things, or - in a few instances - cut a deal [2] for polite tenants who have asked nicely. I've refunded money or given extended rental time when the customer experienced an inconvenience that was my responsibility.

But the asshat drama llamas simply aren't worth my time.

[1] I find it amusing that I've heard people talk seriously about buying things for Farmville, but dismiss the idea of an apartment in Second Life.
[2] Though that's only happened twice; both times were exceptional circumstances.

19 January 2010

Pattern of Blaming

Last week Pat Robertson (as you've probably heard) blamed the earthquake in Haiti on some kind of pact with the Deviil. [1] Honestly, it really doesn't matter to me how much aid he sends afterward, or how many prayers he asks for. He's morally bankrupted himself. I mean, imagine this situation:

"Well, daughter, it's too bad your date didn't listen when you said no. You shouldn't have worn such a sexy skirt. We'll pray for you."

Um, no. And yeah, there was some outcry when it was first said - but this isn't a new thing.

And even worse, I don't see this kind of kneejerk evangelical reaction when disasters strike Western - and especially norteamericano or European white people. Katrina and Haiti? People of color, and Pat Robertson says that their sin brings it on them. Sharon's (the Israeli politician and peacemaker) death? Pat says that was God's vengeance. The Christmas tsunami in 2005? This other Baptist leader says it's brought on by sinful ways. (While Robertson didn't claim this one as God's vengeance, he certainly did tie tsunamis and God's wrath in his 2006 predictions.)

So not only is this blaming the victim - but it really looks like it's racist too.

So when are other Christians going to get fed up with this kind of morally bankrupt racism being the public face of their religion? Like it or not, if other Christians do not continue to denounce him, they are tacitly approving of it. [2]

Stop watching the 700 Club. Write to sponsors of the program, saying that you're going to stop using their products - and then do so. Talk to your friends about how Robertson et al are not living by "WWJD". Write letters to the editor - both of your local papers, but also of any religious magazines you read. Talk to your religious leader, and ask them to talk about this.

And in the meantime, consider how fast you donated a dollar, five, or ten last week. Think about how little you missed it. Then do it again. Maybe every day. Maybe every week. Maybe even once a month. Whatever you can spare. Whatever you can afford. Give to Unicef. Give to the Red Cross. Give to Kiva. Doctors Without Borders.

Because I really believe THAT is what Jesus would do.

[1] We can skip the hypocrisy where he's said that God doesn't cause natural disasters, but predicted and blamed disasters based on God's judgement.
[2] And yes, the exact same argument goes for the Pope telling HIV-ravaged Africans to not use condoms, or any other faith tradition.

18 January 2010

I Saw It Move - A 100 Word Story

Yadda, yadda, yadda. You know the drill. Weekly Challenge here. Vote for my story, read the other entries. Listen to the audio production below, or this link if the player's borked like in some feed readers. Background tuneage from NiN's CC-licensed album The Slip. I hope you enjoy it!









It's not my fault. I didn't do my schoolwork because Tommy McDonald kept flicking my neck with his pencil. Then the teacher yelled at me when I told him to stop.

And I didn't put the monster in my closet.

I crawled into bed next to Mom. She didn't wake up until Dad started yelling again. He said I was too old to be scared of monsters, and smacked me around for crying.

Mom didn't say anything. She didn't stop him.

Before I left their room, their closet door opened. A big fanged mouth smiled at me.

I smiled back.

15 January 2010

Assuming a spherical stay at home parent...

[Steve's note - the title is a geek joke.]

The single-income family is a thing of the past. This is no surprise to most people in the USA. Even if they're somehow able to pull it off themselves, they're well aware that their friends and neighbors do not have that luxury.

Unless, of course, you're a school system.

The model for school systems inherently assumes that one parent stays at home. (And if you're a single parent, it's worse.)

The rules may vary with location, but the trends are clear. If your child is sick, they need to stay home. If there's snow, they have to come home early. Or leave later. Or stay at home the whole day. If you need to meet with employees, expect to do it during regular business hours [1], even if you are also working during that time.

Daycare helps - especially with snow days - but many daycare centers only go up to age 12, and some of them won't watch your child if they have a fever. For example, I'm working Monday - it's going to be perhaps our busiest day in a week since so many other people have it off.

It's hard enough for me - and I'm in a white-collar job with a supervisor who is pretty understanding about these kinds of things. I can only imagine how much harder it would be if I was still in a food service job, or on a factory floor, or construction site.

I'm not sure what the best solution to this is. But the assumption that one adult is always available is not only wrong, but will make communication and cooperation between the school and home more difficult.

[1] As a side note, many teachers go out of their way to meet after regular business hours. Administrators and other employees who come in contact with your child - like bus drivers - are a different story entirely.

14 January 2010

Happening at just the right time...

Things have a habit of happening to me at exactly the right time.

This is annoying as hell.

As I'm writing this, my monthly writer's group meeting looms in my future. I have little to show - the 100 word stories that I've posted here, a crappy dark Christmas story, and about 3500 words in three fragments. I've not been able to make ANY of them work past those little fragments, but I wanted to bring something to the group.

And today I finally got a chance to get back to OSC's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy [1] for the first time in months.

I had stopped on page 74. On page 75, he introduces the MICE categorizations of stories (Milieu, Idea, Character, Event). By page 76, I've realized that all three fragments are stuck because I'm trying to write an Event story as a Character story, an Idea story as an Event story, and a Character story as an Idea story.

sigh

So what's annoying about that?

I really would have rathered finding that out two weeks ago when I started banging my head against the wall with these stories.

C'est la vie.

[1] Yes, OSC's homophobia (discussion here) appalls me as well.[2] The guy can still write, though, and this book, along with Characters & Viewpoint and On Writing, is constantly mentioned as an exemplary text.

[2] I don't care if you think gay marriage is wrong. Don't do it, then. I do get pissed when you declare that others must follow your own prejudices.

13 January 2010

The Lady & The Tiger - A 100 Word Story

As mentioned on Monday, this is my second 100-word story for the topic of Choose. Voting for the first one is up over at the 100 word stories podcast; take a second to go vote for my (Steven's) story over there, where you can also listen (and read) the other entries. You can listen to it using the player below; if that's borked (like in some feed readers), try using this direct link.









The crowd's jeers stilled as the emperor raised his scepter, his voice booming over the arena.

"You slew five of my soldiers. But you killed with honor. Therefore, I shall let destiny decide your fate." The emperor smiled. "Behind one door is a beautiful lady. Behind the other, a fearsome she-tiger, starving and deprived of her cubs. Choose your fate."

The captive paced. He had come so close to killing the brat. That damn bear and panther always got in the way.

Khan thwipped his striped tail and chose a door. Either way, this was going to be fun.

12 January 2010

Sexist Music - or not?

A local rock/heavy metal station has a bad habit of running really, really sexist station promotion spots. Usually they'll talk about strippers doing anything for them (or worse). The latest one says "Don't visit our website if you don't like women!" - presumably because it's festooned with scantily clad women. Too bad, heterosexual female metalheads! (And somehow, I don't think a lesbian or bisexual female metalhead would get any more respect.)

I really don't know what this has to do with the music, though.

I almost think that it's a sad, pathetic way for the parent company (Clearchannel, natch) to try to prove how "edgy" they are. But I have to stop and consider... is this really fan-driven? Am I such an anomaly? Anyone have any thoughts?

(And yes, if you're my student and reading this, you can use this as a research topic.)

11 January 2010

Choose - A 100 Word Story

For some reason, the actual entries aren't up at the 100 Word Story podcast, but no matter. I came up with two stories for the topic of "Choose". I'll be posting one today, and one on Wednesday. They're very, very different in tone and feel - and I kind of like that. The background music is from Hopeful Machines' I Am Still In This Forest. Excellent stuff.

Also, I feel compelled to add this note in here. Whenever I write about killing zombies, or werewolves in space, nobody asks if the stories are autobiographical. Write a story about something more mundane, however, and everyone assumes that it's creative nonfiction. (This old story of mine is notorious for getting comments like that - enough that I've put a disclaimer on it as well.) So yeah, it's a story, folks. Hope you enjoy it, and we'll see you in a few days for the other one this week.

She lays in the motel bed with him, afternoon sun hot on bare skin.

Two rings lay on the nightstand. Hers is a frilly feminine one her husband chose. His is a thick, simple, plain band. He told his wife what style of ring he'd wear.

He didn't make a decision on his own after that. Not until they met.

She kisses the rough stubble on his cheek, and wakes him. She carefully does not say - refuses to say - "Time to go."

They kiss, and they dress. She will leave her ring on the nightstand, and wonders if he will.

08 January 2010

Midlife Crisis: not just for men anymore

Here's a little something to chew on over the weekend:

It's generally thought that the social phenomenon of a "midlife crisis" begins when the individual realizes that they won't be able to do all of the things that they once thought they could. That some possibilities are forever out of reach.

Now, examine that mental image of "midlife crisis" in your head.

I'm willing to bet that many USAians have an image of a 40-year-old in a convertible, trying to date 18-year-olds. That is, a 40-year-old male. (Think about [LINK]American Beauty for a moment, yes?)

The concept of the midlife crisis was, until only a generation ago, a moot point for women in the United States. Their possibilties were limited not by age - but by gender, and had been for their entire lives. During the late 60's and 70's, however, those women were constantly engaged in doing more than they had ever thought possible before.

My generation (I'm at the tail end of X, depending on how you count it) is the first where women have lived most, if not all, of their lives being told they can do more, that they can be anything they want to be. Just like men throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Which makes me wonder about stories like this 42 year old woman hooking up with a 16 year old boy.

Because right about now, we have the first generation of women who are suddenly realizing they won't be able to do all of the things that they once thought they could. They are realizing that some possibilities are forever out of reach.

Makes me wonder, it does.

[Disclaimer: This is all totally off-the-cuff. I haven't even done a literature review, let alone any kind of real academic work on this. I reserve the right to be completely wrong. Feel free to tell me so in the comments.]

KidsKonnect

http://www.kidskonnect.com/

KidsKonnect can be a valuable resource for students when faced with the challenges of finding information on the Internet.

I created KidsKonnect in the Spring of 2000 while working as the
Learning Center / Media Instructor at a model technology elementary school. With multiple computers in every classroom, I had to find a way that our kids could utilize the Internet in a safe and focused way.

Nine years later, KidsKonnect has over 425 pages and covers most of the topics taught in schools today, plus much more!

[this text taken from the website]

06 January 2010

Free Market? No, they're just greedy.

Let's get this straight: You are not supposed to get filthy rich in a free market.

It's pretty simple, really. In a free market, all the sellers want to sell for as high a price as possible. Buyers want to buy at as low of a price as possible. Eventually, this is supposed to reach an equilibrium.

This also means that sellers aren't making huge profits. The basic free market model says that if I'm selling at a ten percent markup, someone else will be willing to sell at a nine percent markup. To compete, I'll have to lower my prices. Then someone else will sell at an eight percent markup. Repeat. [1]

Open, transparent competition is key.

In this model, there's no big reason to invest in making new products - that's where patents and (to a lesser degree) copyright come in. I develop a new widget, and patent law gives me a couple of years to sell that widget at a higher price to make back what I invested in developing it. After that, the free market will force me to lower prices to compete.

But that's not what we see in our country today. We see an expectation of continuous and high profit margins. We see individuals and companies trying to game the system to keep their profits. They create exclusive partnership deals. They have (effectively) geographic monopolies. [2] They consolidate, and get larger. These larger companies then no longer have to compete with smaller organizations - they simply buy them or use their size to leverage them out of business. (Hello, box stores!)

Our society has become addicted to the profits that come with innovation - but no longer care about the innovation itself. Our financial sector believes that 1% growth is bad performance, rather than the norm.

They might say the words "free market", but what they want is nothing of the sort.

[1] The one big exception to this is when products or services are not "perfect substitutes". For example, Red Robin (a fancy burger chain) is not in direct competition with McDonald's.
[2] For example, my employer stopped offering a choice of health care plans in 2005. Geographic boundaries become even more crucial when transportation becomes costly or difficult.

04 January 2010

Owleyed - A 100 Word Story

This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.






I go over the edge of the trench with the gas. It rolls in thick liquid clouds.

The enemy is surprised. Both of us are hampered by gas masks. My bayonet slices up, straps snap, and his mask falls away.

His eyes widen into owl eyes, pupils dilating from the poison. Snot and blood pour from his mouth and nose. He clutches his chest and gasps to a stop. His bowels release, staining his trousers as he dies.

I breathe in through my mask's charcoal filters. I smell nothing.

I raise my rifle and shoot a stranger twenty feet away.