Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
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    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    Coolest. Idea. Ever.

    Avis (the car rental company) is offering a gadget with their cars that gives you a mobile wifi hotspot. has all the details.

    The device that transforms this humdrum domestic into a shining example of go-anywhere, do-anything internet is the Autonet Mobile WiFi router. Currently available only through Avis for $11 per day, the paperback-sized gadget plugs directly into an AC power adapter. Once a security ID number is punched in, the router blazes to life and delivers encrypted WiFi within a 100-foot radius. Suddenly, actions unheard of in an automobile are possible: surfing the internet, syncing GPS or just looking for directions on an iPhone.


    The sweetest bonus that the little black box has in store for me occurs when I roll into my hotel. What? Ten bucks a day for internet service? I donít think so. I head to my room, unpack the router and, using the supplied AC power cord, turn my boudoir into a firewalled hot spot voluptuary.

    But how is true mobile WiFi possible? Autonet has made it happen through a unique wireless internet service that interfaces with preexisting 3-G and 2.5-G (EVDO, 1xRTT) cellular data networks that cover 95 percent of the United States. High-speed access ranges from 600 to 800 Kbps while integrated WEP encryption, MAC address restriction and WAN port restriction offers Zen-inducing amounts of security. True, itís not as fast as a direct cable or DSL connection but the companyís proprietary technology works transparently while a car is in motion, seamlessly stitching together signals from one cell tower to the next.

    I am so totally renting from Avis next time I need to rent a car.

    And when is this AutoNet dealie going to be available as a consumer product for my car, with some sort of reasonable subscription rate?

    Starting next month, Pratzís vision will take its next step when Autonet hardware and services is offered at Toyota dealerships in Northern California. Not long after that, other (unnamed) car brands and dealerships will begin to offer Autonet Mobile.


    Service plans for Autonet Mobile installs are expected to be roughly $80 to $100 per month for unlimited service. Sound a bit steep? Yes. But also remember current mobile broadband services cost about the same -- and lock you into contracts and carriers.

    Ouch. A little steep, but still possibly worth it. Imagine having wifi every place I go...

    Final word:

    It may be that 2008 will be remembered as the year of the portable personal hot spot. Screw Starbucks. You wonít need to loiter in hotel lobbies like some sort of WiFi addicted hobo, squandering for a few kernels of data. No, because of pioneers like Autonet, you may just be able to get online wherever you want, anytime you want, regardless of whether the carriers like it or not.



    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2008 5:22:04 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    Great moments in TV

    Most of my friends and family seem to despise the old show Married with Children. Truth be told, it wasn't the greatest show, but it did have its moments. The top moment, and one of my favorite TV memories ever, was the day a little sunshine came into Al Bundy's life, and he was truly happy for a while. It was the day he got his Ferguson:

    Every man should have a dream, no matter how humble.

    Posted by Tom, 1/30/2008 6:36:06 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    By the numbers

    One of things I love most about weightlifting is that I have objective numbers to work with. I either can or cannot lift X amount of weight in Y exercise. As I progress, I can objectively measure how well I'm doing by comparing today's weight to last month's or last year's.

    Most of the time though, I hate talking about my numbers. I'll occasionally share a new personal best with a friend or family member, because I'm proud of my accomplishment and want them to share it with me, particularly those who are also interested in fitness. But I generally don't talk about my numbers, though I will discuss weightlifting in every other way until the cows come home. I was reminded the other day of why I don't really like talking about those numbers outside a small, select group of people.

    That morning, I had just put up my highest squat ever, for 6 reps. It was twice what I started with 6 months ago, and followed two or three incidents where I screwed up my form and hurt my back, forcing me to start all over again. I mentioned it to a friend, all proud of myself, and his response just crushed me: "That doesn't sound like very much."

    We talked about it some more, and in the course of conversation recognized the fact that he has some significant genetic advantages on me, being one of those guys with the classic "Grizzly Adams" build. So it might be expected that my weight might not approach his without some serious time in training. In fact, I have little doubt he could put up my weight without really exerting himself too much (though he might blow a knee trying). But the comment still stings. I put serious effort into getting that weight. I couldn't walk right for an hour or two after doing it, because my legs felt like rubber, but in a good way.

    My wife didn't understand a while back when I told her that I hate people asking "how much ya bench?" and similar questions. I see such questions as intensely personal and invasive -- like they're asking if I'm circumcised or something. As I was thinking about this post, I realized that most of the people who do hear my numbers aren't weightlifters, or are in a different class than I am. For example, I'll tell Mrs. Curmudgeon, who also lifts, but being a woman she isn't really expected to perform like I do.

    I think part of the reason is that I don't want to compete with anyone but myself. I'm also terrified of injury -- my back strains have been bad enough, but a serious injury like torn muscles or ligaments could put me off this habit for good. And I know that competing with someone else would lead me, by virtue of my personality, to throw caution to the wind and start lifting really stupid amounts of weight for my fitness level.

    One of my friends is also hitting the gym quite a bit, and he and I have talked about our progress at some length, but neither of us really talks about our numbers -- it's not necessary. Instead, we talk about how we're doing more weight now than a month ago, or how we've finally broken through a barrier on this exercise or that. We share our sense of accomplishment with each other, and I think it's made us closer friends in some small way. Neither of us has won the genetic lottery in terms of bodybuilding, but we can both appreciate the effort it takes to make it to a new level, and can congratulate/support one another without having to know the details. Isn't that what's important?

    Posted by Tom, 1/30/2008 8:32:51 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    Like a new computer...

    This weekend, the boss gave me the go-ahead to wipe the Vista virus from my work machine and upgrade to Windows XP. I started out doing it with an ISO image downloaded from our MSDN account, but that didn't seem to be going very well. Out of desperation, I looked through my documentation that came with the machine, and happily discovered that Dell had provided a complete Windows XP retrograde kit.

    After backing up all my files to my Mac, wiping the drive, installing XP, and restoring all my files, I'm happy to report the newly revitalized machine is one that I can actually work on. I click on system icons, and they actually do something -- not 5 minutes after the click, as with Vista, but immediately. It also turns out that this laptop they bought me is actually pretty zippy now that Vista isn't sucking the life out of it like some bloated electronic vampire. You might even say it's downright FAST. Whatever gremlins inhabited the network drivers in Vista are completely gone. My VPN connects instantly. My wifi connection is smooth and responsive. Applications launch so fast it's like they're just dying to please me.

    After my conversion to the Mac, I never thought I'd be singing XP's praises again, but compared to Vista, it's a dream. Of course, compared to Mac OS X, XP is the pits. But at least now I can get some work done.

    There is now no doubt in my mind that Vista was not ready for market when it was released. Given that the first service pack still has not been released, Vista is still not ready for market. If you're using it, I feel sorry for you.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2008 7:43:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Which Simpsons character am I?

    According to this quiz, I'm Comic Book Guy.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2008 6:50:42 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I had the same idea..

    This guy has already decided where he'll be spending his "economic stimulus" tax rebate check.

    Soooo, in order to help boost the economy, I plan to immediately plow that "up to $1,200" right back into my community with a local retailer. There is a nicely-fitted little chromed item I have had my eye on for some time now.

    As the top Congresscritter put it:

    "Tens of millions Americans will have a check in the mail," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "It is there to strengthen the middle class, to create jobs and to turn this economy around."

    There's a certain item I've had my eye on for well over a decade now... and like the title says, I had the same idea. I think everyone should do likewise... it'd be funny to watch an anti-gunner like Pelosi help us buy more guns en masse.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2008 6:21:24 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Doesn't anybody think anymore?

    I'm really starting to hate hearing the phrase "I feel" in a supposedly rational discussion.

    "I understand what you're saying, but I feel that you're wrong."

    "I feel that so-and-so is the best choice for President this year."

    And so on.

    I've seen people quoted using the phrase in a bunch of news articles lately. Like this guy:

    Though not affiliated with Huckabeeís campaign, Jason Tighe drove down to the rally from Brunswick, Georgia to hand out pro-Huckabee bumper stickers and give his support to the effort.

    ďOur system right now is really broken, Congress and people like McCain, they have been there and they havenít done anything. I feel like the Fair Tax gives everyone a fair shot,Ē said Tighe.

    OK, now we know what you feel, but what do you think?

    I'm pretty sure (though I can't find any examples right now) that I've even seen some of the candidates using it. I'll admit I can get awfully picky about syntax (my excuse: I program computers for a living), but this one just drives me buggy. I see it as a sign of moral cowardice -- the speaker doesn't want to own or defend their thoughts, so they phrase them in terms of emotion.

    See, if a person says "I think such-and-such", they've indicated an act of volition. They did something. They fired up the brain cells, rubbed a few of them together, and worked out the answer to a problem.

    In contrast, "I feel such-and-such" communicates a passive process. Some external stimulus came upon them and now forces them to espouse their ideas. They're not responsible, they're just a victim of circumstance, and therefore shouldn't have to defend what they're saying. They just feel that way, and you're a big meanie if you challenge their feelings.

    "I feel" should be followed by a word describing an emotion: "I feel angry." "I feel sad." It can also be used to describe a sensation: "I feel pain." But as soon as the topic shifts to logic or reason or a rational evaluation of something, it's no longer appropriate. "I think this" says that the speaker has made an evaluation or decision. It says he owns the results of his evaluation, and is willing to defend his thought process. It is also an invitation to learn or discuss.

    I don't know why or when this whole "feel" thing started, but I for one am certainly ready for it to end. I think the language we use to express ourselves is terribly important. I think our language patterns mirror and reinforce our thinking patterns, so when we use poor syntax we reinforce poor thinking.

    Taking responsibility for our thoughts in our language makes us more diligent in properly forming those thoughts in the first place. If I have to claim a thought as my own, I'll spend some extra time making sure it's a good one before spouting it off to the public at large. But if I can just deflect criticism and challenge by using emotive phrasing, I'm more likely to say any stupid thing that pops into my head. While the latter can be amusing, the former tends to make more sense.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2008 6:41:50 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    The next Joker...

    With Heath Ledger dead, I started wondering who might fill his shoes as the Joker in the newly revitalized Batman franchise. I'm assuming, of course, that the producers and whatnot have avoided the mistake of the 1989 film and have not actually killed the character (I will be sorely disappointed if they do). The incomplete resolution of the first film (Scarecrow got away) leads me to believe that they're committed to doing this right, so I'm not too worried for the Joker's longevity, even with Ledger gone.

    Some may think it's rather shallow of me, so soon after Ledger's death, to be wondering this, but let's be honest: our relationships with celebrities are shallow anyway. We generally care more about the characters they play than the actors themselves, so why not just admit it? I liked Ledger in A Knight's Tale, and I was looking forward to his take on the Joker, which by the previews looks to be one of the best ever. But as for the man himself, he's pretty much like any other stranger who dies. It's sad for his family and friends, but doesn't have a whole lot of impact on me.

    So anyway, who would be a good Joker, in the new, sociopathic, properly maniacal vein that Heath Ledger has apparently portrayed? My thoughts ran to Matt Damon, because while I can't recall him playing a bad guy, I think he's got the range to pull it off. Hugh Jackman might also be a good choice, since his portrayal of Wolverine in the X-Men movies was spot-on, and combined with his recent work as a villain (or at least very dark hero) in The Prestige (coincidentally also played opposite Christian Bale, the new Batman), he could probably pull it off. And having seen Johnny Depp play the psychotic barber in Sweeney Todd, I think he could do it, but I don't know if he'd stick with it -- though he did hang around for 3 installments of Pirates of the Caribbean.

    My most amusing thought was to get "that delightfully scary guy from American Psycho", which I immediately realized was Christian Bale. That'd be a switch. Wonder if he'd get paid twice for doing it.

    Posted by Tom, 1/26/2008 3:27:16 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Missing the Point

    Seen here:

    "I applaud the supporters of Congressman Paul for their enthusiasm and superior organizational ability," [Republican Party of Louisiana Chairman Roger F.] Villere said. "Our Party needs the infusion of new activists who have both political skill and a passion for protecting the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution..."

    Dude, you are smoking some serious crack if you think that Ron Paul's activists are going to stick around and help the party machine if RP doesn't get the nomination. I've seen a bunch of articles in various places taking note of RP's activist numbers and commenting how few people are excited about any of the other candidates by comparison. There's a reason for that.

    All of the other Republican candidates are peddling the same tired script to the same "Republican coalition". Family values, strong America, blah blah blah. Ron Paul represents change, and that's what these activists are excited about. Many of them have crossed party lines and registered Republican to support him. If anything, they/we see RP's "Republican" designation as a hindrance, not a help. We are not Republican activists. We are Ron Paul activists. Until the Republican Party returns to embracing the Constitutional limits on government, none of us will be as excited about the Republican Party as we are about Ron Paul, which means our activism will end (as far as you are concerned, anyway) and you can go back to bemoaning how few activists you have to work with.

    Now put the crack pipe down and back away slowly.

    Posted by Tom, 1/24/2008 5:54:24 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Theory vs. Practice

    John Connor has some great things to say about this, as it pertains to carrying and shooting handguns. "The Book" is a great place to begin, but if something isn't working for you, and you can modify it safely, then ignore The Book. I especially loved this bit:

    Expenditure of Ordnance: Let me add this -- I also think an emphasis on "making every shot count" has led to the false impression that one should only shoot when one has a clear, crisp sight picture on one's "object opponent." I believe that "making every shot count" also applies to suppressive and "suggestive" fire, that is: any fire which causes your opponent to do or not do ANYTHING, when such action improves your chances of winning the gunfight is in fact, "effective fire."

    The doctrine that says you should only shoot when you can absolutely put a controlled round dead-center into your target is in my opinion, (a) guidance, not gospel, and (b) mostly touted by those who haven't shot for their lives. If a couple of rounds careening down the side of a building forces your oppo to leave a good position and head for a bad one, that's effective fire, even if all it does is scare him and coat him with plaster-dust. If rounds smackin' solid cover in front of him cause him to keep his head down while you move from a poor position to a better one, that's effective fire too. There are a million good examples, and I've used a bunch of 'em.

    Any time I try to teach someone the basics of guns for self-defense, one principle I try to drill into their heads is "shooting to stop". We don't shoot to kill, or even to wound. We shoot to get the bad guy to stop doing whatever it is he is doing, or to prevent him from doing whatever it is he's about to do. If one bullet into the air stops him, good. If five bullets to the body fail to stop him, keep shooting. But if you shoot to stop and he does actually stop, it's time to stop shooting.

    The idea here is that by focusing on the "stop" rather than a "wound" or "kill", you are primarily focusing on the bad guy's behavior. It makes it less reasonable for others to accuse you of shooting him because he's a certain race or some other stupid idea. They'll still do it, mind you, but they'll sound more like idiots. And following the principle of shooting to stop does two other things: first, if you make it part of your thinking, your actions will follow. By teaching yourself to think about the target's actions rather than your perfect sight picture, you give yourself more chances to break off and not look like a trigger-happy lunatic. This of course brings us to the second benefit -- the principle of shooting to stop lines up very well with most laws on self-defense, unless of course you live in a liberal hellhole like New York or California.

    Anyhow, the rest of the article is a good read, especially on matters of technique and making reasonable adjustments to one's shooting form, despite what the purists might say.

    Posted by Tom, 1/23/2008 5:52:19 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Mac vs. PC

    Fellow blogger Vortmax discusses his frustration with the Mac vs PC war. I'm going to go ahead and disagree with him a little. He starts off with a bit of a non sequitur:

    How can someone be so vehement about a choice of a tool? It would be like someone advocating a Ryobi rotary saw over a Skil rotary saw: they both get the job done, so what's the difference?

    I have not used a Ryobi, but I have used a Dewalt, and I own a Skil. There is a difference, in balance, handling, and power. Dewalt simply makes a better product, and high quality tools make jobs easier. I have a drawer full of crappy Wal-Mart hand tools, and a few high quality Craftsman tools. The Craftsman tools break less, are more precisely machined, and generally work better. My favorite socket wrench is not one of the three or four generic-brand pieces of crap I've bought for myself, but the Craftsman socket my dad gave me -- not for sentimental reasons, but because it actually does the job better than the others.

    What does this have to do with computers? Nothing, really -- except to establish that quality does mean something. It's an argument I've had with other people over other things. I'd rather pay more for good quality than pay multiple times for cheap crap that fails. Granted, a lot of this is related to a person's "repair tolerance" -- how willing they are to troubleshoot and fix the device in question rather than have someone else do it. But let's assume that repair tolerance is fairly low in most cases, because I think it is for most people.

    Vortmax goes on to the computer question:

    The most confounding thing about being a Mac user, or even a neutral computer professional who favors no single maker of computers, is the vehement opposition presented when another's choice of computer is challenged. It's not just limited to PC advocates. Mac enthusiasts, Linux users, Unbuntu, the list goes on. You say "Why don't you use (insert OS here)?" They will often reply "Because it SUCKS and my OS is the BEST," especially if they haven't even used the latest version of said OS.

    This much is certainly true. Dealing with outright fanboys can certainly be a pain. But I'd expect Vortmax to have a different perspective on the argument. After all, he and I worked in the same environment, with a PC and a Mac side-by-side on our desks for the 5 or so years I worked with him. Come to think of it, he was there much longer than I (and still is), and we're both still working in that kind of environment, since my home computer is now a Mac and my work laptop is a PC.

    I was a PC guy for 15 years. I lived, ate, and breathed DOS and Windows. When I went to work with Vortmax, I was given a Mac to work on and promptly shoved it to the corner of my desk to make more room for my PC. Our boss constantly prodded me to just try the Mac, and some of my work forced me to use the thing. It took 3 years, but I finally realized something: Most of the time I spent on my PC, was spent working around Windows, rather than with it. If I needed to do something that the basic programs didn't do (or even if they did do it but just in a really stupid or unsafe way), I had to go download or buy someone else's program to do it.

    I didn't listen to music on my computer, because it was too much of a pain in the butt, even with the myriad programs recommended to me by friends. Internet Explorer is a security train-wreck, so I had to download Firefox just to be able to surf in peace. Photos from my digital camera? Every piece of software out there for Windows is a giant piece of crap that makes handling photos a chore and a half. Most of them were "demo" programs that either came with my computer or my camera or my printer, and expected me to pony up additional dough to get the "fully functional" versions, which generally aren't. Kudos to HP on the universality of their printers, but their software people need to go pump gas for a living.

    And email... OMG the email. Outlook Express was functional enough, until you got on some spammer's list. Then there just weren't enough hours in the day to delete it all. So I'd look for something that could handle filtering, both whitelist and blacklist. That meant downloading yet another third-party app, which also meant most likely having my email stored in some new proprietary format from which my email could never be rescued should I decide to change products. And of course every time I changed computers, getting my email transferred was the biggest nightmare. Half the time I was manually copying and pasting important information into text documents just to make sure I could keep it.

    Along came the Mac. Eliminating some of the specialized programs I use as a programmer, it has everything built-in. The email application is fully functional. Photos and music are handled with ease. Even instant messaging and videoconferencing is made simple. A lot of it has to do with the standards of Mac software users. If you try to publish a Windows program on the Mac, without attempting to follow Apple's user interface guidelines, Mac's users will excoriate you for it. Just look at almost any user review of Quicken for the Mac.

    Apple has these user interface guidelines for a reason. The whole idea is for the computer to get out of your way and let you go about your business. Windows doesn't do that. Apple holds yearly conferences where they constantly pound good design principles into the heads of programmers. Microsoft doesn't do that. Apple has workshops at these conferences where their engineers will sit down with you and review your program and tell you how to make it better from an end-user's point of view. Microsoft doesn't do that.

    And the really bizarre thing? Apple gives its developer tools away for free. Microsoft charges an arm and a leg. But it's Microsoft that has the vast array of craptacular software available for its platform. Crapware doesn't last in the Apple universe. It's kicked to the curb in favor of something better. Again, it's the users. They'd rather go without than use bad software, not that it comes to that choice very often.

    As I said, it took me 3 years to realize all this, but once I did, I realized this simple fact: Anyone who is not a programmer or other computer professional needs to be using a Mac. In fact, programmers and computer professionals should also be using Macs, because there are very few tasks we do that actually require Windows. It should have come to me in that first year, because I introduced several family members to the "joys" of PC computing.

    I think part of the reason the PC crowd thinks their computers are not so difficult to work with is because they have gotten used to working around the flaws. They've become accustomed to uninstalling and reinstalling software, troubleshooting bugs, and generally playing tech support for themselves. They don't actually feel the pain anymore, because it's just them and their computer. They need to do what I did: find 5 family members without computers and get them hooked up. Then you will know how much screwing around you do just to keep the damn thing running, because you'll be doing it for each of those people as well. You'll suddenly realize how many pitfalls and traps exist in the Windows environment, because I guarantee at least one if not most of those new computer users will fall into every one of them -- traps you learned to avoid and no longer think about, but which are constantly tripping up your loved ones.

    If you're really lucky (or a jerk), you'll take the approach of IT managers in corporations all across this nation, and lock down someone's computer to keep them from doing anything that might break it. I hated it when it was done to me, and my grandmother hated it when I did it to her. She still isn't talking to me about computers as a result.

    I got one couple to switch to a Mac. I basically haven't heard any problems from them since. They're emailing and surfing to their hearts' content as far as I know, but I haven't had to do any tech support. Another person switched to a Mac just last summer... and other than a single issue which I'm still not sure about, regarding burning home movies to DVD with music from her iTunes library (more a legal than technical problem, I think), there have been no problems from her either -- I get emails, I assume she surfs just fine, she's got the wireless network going on, and we've had videoconferences. It all just works.

    So for my friend Vortmax, I propose the following experiment: find 10 friends who aren't "computer people". Give 5 of them PC's, and 5 of them Mac's. Make sure they have your home and cell numbers in case they have any trouble. Wait one year. Then tell me if you're still "a neutral computer professional who favors no single maker of computers". I have 50 bucks that says you'll be telling everyone to buy a Mac.

    Posted by Tom, 1/23/2008 6:37:47 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 21, 2008


    I almost went to see this movie. Then every reviewer talked about how badly it was filmed, with shaky-cam even worse than one of Paul Greengrass's abominations. So forget it. I'm done paying 8 bucks to see a bunch of motion blur. I'll catch it when it's in the bargain bin at Blockbuster and I can rent it for $1.99.

    Posted by Tom, 1/21/2008 8:22:49 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Extended Warranties

    Financial guru Dave Ramsey always warns against buying extended warranties. He runs through the math and probabilities, showing how the companies must be making money on the extended warranty, otherwise they wouldn't sell them. If that's the case, then the failure rate must be less than the cost of the warranty. I agree with him on this subject.

    My PlayStation 3, purchased from Amazon a month ago, suddenly stopped reading discs. DVD's, Blu-Ray's, games, nothing would work. I called Sony. Within the one-year warranty period, they will happily replace your unit. All you have to do is give them some information, wait a week for them to send you a shipping box, send it in, and wait another 3 weeks to get a new one after Sony has gone over your old system and confirmed that it is indeed broken. After the year is up, or if you can't find the proof of purchase documents for your system, Sony will happily perform the same service for the modest fee of $149.

    In contrast, Best Buy will sell you a 2-year extended warranty for $60. With that warranty, the minute your system burps or hiccups, you can take it in to any Best Buy and walk out with a new one. Now, I agree with Dave that it's extremely unlikely for me to get two bum units in a row. But what if I did? I'd be out a PS3 for another month while I waited for Sony to fix/replace the new one. Granted, it's not exactly the most valuable or important thing in my house, but I bought it for a reason. Nobody likes to buy expensive electronics just to spend time shipping it back and forth to the manufacturer. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say.

    So, long story short, Amazon's return window is still open on my PS3, so I'm sending it back as "defective" for a refund. I went to Best Buy and picked up a new one for the same price. And I bought the extended warranty. Sorry Dave.

    As for Sony... how about some kind of "expedited" service? Not that it'll matter to me for another 2 years, of course. I'm just sayin'.

    Posted by Tom, 1/20/2008 1:46:59 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    More Home Improvement

    Today we started tearing apart the guest room to repurpose it as my office. Wallpaper was the first order of business, and after three and a half hours I think we've pulled the last scrap down. We also found the penciled notes left on the drywall by the building contractor, which was kind of neato.

    My pain has taken a dramatic turn for the better. Yesterday I didn't need any pain meds until bedtime, and today I might not even need that. Looks like I might go to the oral surgeon on Monday just to tell him I don't need his help. Here's hoping.

    Posted by Tom, 1/19/2008 6:42:21 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    The pain continues...

    Still having that nerve pain in my jaw. It takes a bit longer to build to full intensity now, but it does get there. Right now I'm on 10mg hydrocodone every 4-6 hours as needed. I had a bottle of 5mg pills, but could only make it about 3.5 hours before the pain was so bad I needed another one. The 10mg pills are doing the trick, but it's hard to tell now whether I'm getting better, because the increased dosage threw off the timing.

    The dentist is supposed to be checking on a consultation with an oral surgeon. I'll call him tomorrow to see how that's going, and to report my progress. I've got some kind of swelling in the cheek/gum area right near the infection, and when I move my mouth a certain way, I can tell that part is numb. That's kind of interesting, since everything around it is on fire.

    The worst was last night when I fell asleep on that side... the pressure must have made it worse, because I woke up about 10 minutes later in agony and had to go sleep in the recliner again. I'm hoping to avoid that tonight.

    Posted by Tom, 1/16/2008 8:36:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008


    So we've started giving me the allergy shots at home. It's amazing... Mrs. Curmudgeon, with 5 minutes' worth of training, gives better shots than many nurses, and is WAY better than the Harpoon Lady.

    Anyway, as we were getting set up for this deal, I was wondering A) what it was going to cost relative to having the nurses do it, and B) what we do with the old needles. The answer to the first question was amazing. A pack of 30 needles cost something like 5 bucks. It will last me about three and a half months, taking shots once a week. Having a nurse do it cost my insurance company $20 per visit. Yowzers.

    The more amazing thing was the disposal. I asked where we could get one of those red "biohazard" containers like you see in all the doctor's offices. I was told to just put the needles in an old bleach bottle or other needle-proof container and when that fills up, just throw it in the trash. Or I could just break the needles off in the serum vials and throw those in the trash.


    Every other time I'm introduced to a new product, I'm lectured about safe, sanitary, environmentally-conscious disposal, and you're telling me to just chuck this stuff in the trash?


    Maybe it's just the last couple of decades' worth of being constantly brainwashed about recycling and all, but that just makes me itch. Right now, I'm tossing the syringes into the plastic containers that used to house my protein powder... but I think I need to do a little research and see if there's something I can do with them besides just close up the container and give it to the garbage man.

    Posted by Tom, 1/15/2008 6:52:20 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Road Trip!

    Here's a handy tool for those of us with concealed weapons permits, who want to travel around the nation. It tells you what states will recognize your carry license, and what states will give you a hard time about it:

    Pack n Go Concealed Carry Trip Planner

    I'm just glad somebody stepped up now that Packing.Org seems to be kerput.

    Posted by Tom, 1/13/2008 3:35:15 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Oh, the pain...

    A couple of months ago, I developed a mild toothache. Since it was coincident with the whole Fred thing, and since I'm one of those people who grinds their teeth in their sleep (especially under stress), I figured that was the problem and just waited for it to go away.

    Well, it didn't go away.

    A month went by, and we were headed for Christmas. Just the week before, I added some hot and cold sensitivity to the mix, and it really started to bother me. But there were things to be done, with relatives coming to visit, and I just felt too busy to go take care of it. During and just after the holiday, things settled down, but I'd gotten used to the new level of discomfort, so I forgot about the whole "call the dentist" thing. At some point, I did go to my new insurance company's website and request a referral for dentists in my area (this being the third time in as many years that I've switched dentists for insurance reasons). I got a list of about 50 dentists, but did nothing with it.

    Friday was a normal day. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, I didn't eat anything unusual, and certainly didn't do anything to deserve what befell me at bedtime. Within a few minutes of getting into bed, the pain spiked HARD. It went from something manageable to just about the worst pain I've ever felt in no time flat. It felt like someone was trying to push a screwdriver through my lower jaw. It was just as intense as the pain I felt at my cystoscopy a few years back, but lasted longer.

    I got up, took some Advil, and found an old tube of Orajel that Mrs. Curmudgeon had lying around. After squirting some into the areas where the pain was most intense, it seemed to go away, only to return about 10 minutes later. So, leaving Mrs. Curmudgeon to sleep, I went out to the living room and settled in for a long night on the recliner, getting up every 10 or 15 minutes to use Orajel and Chloraseptic spray in the hopes of numbing it up enough to fall asleep before the next flare-up.

    Around 2:00 AM, I started going through the list of dentists I had, looking for one who kept Saturday hours. I found 3. I liked the looks of the first one, since the practice he was part of called itself "Gentle Dental", and I'm a big coward when it comes to dentistry. (My childhood dentist was a monster, and I didn't go to a dentist for many years as an adult because of him. I hope he's doing something more suited to his demeanor and more valuable to society these days, like butchering hogs.) Alas, the lady at the Gentle Dental answering service informed me (rather coldly) that the hours were a misprint. The next guy's answering machine didn't fill me with a lot of hope -- something about it said that he was probably only "on call" for Saturdays, and would probably be golfing instead. The third guy's machine was a little more reassuring, so I left a message and went back to my Orajel dance.

    I don't know when I finally went to sleep, but it couldn't have been earlier than about 4:00 or so. Then Mrs. Curmudgeon woke me up at around 7:30, and instantly the pain was back. I tried calling all the dentists again, and the third guy actually answered. Seriously -- the dentist himself answered the phone. That was a new one on me. So we chatted for a moment, and he told me to come in at 10:00. I didn't want to wait that long, but it was better than waiting until Monday, so we got ready and she drove me to the dentist (the pain was so bad that I couldn't drive safely).

    I gave the receptionist my information. In pain.

    I sat in the waiting room. In pain.

    When called, I went to an exam room and talked over the problem with the nurse. In pain.

    I submitted to X-rays. In pain.

    I re-told the story to the doctor, while looking at the X-rays. In pain.

    According to the X-rays, nothing was wrong with my teeth. There were no cavities, no abscesses (abscessi?), and no X-ray visible gremlins. What there was, was a small piece of bone missing. Y'see, on the left side of my jaw, the space between my premolar and the second molar has suffered some bone loss due (according to a dentist I had in the past) to the massive amount of orthodontal work I required as a kid. It's only about a millimeter, but that's enough. The doctor theorized that this had created a nice little pocket where I got some food stuck, possibly helped by a tiny burr on my molar's crown, and that had given me a nice, chronic bacterial infection in my gum. The bacteria colony had grown, elected a legislature, passed laws, held a draft, and gone to war -- on me -- and had thus transformed into the acute infection I was now experiencing with ever so much joy.

    Still in pain.

    He then discussed his plan of action: pop the crown off, clean out the infection site, and set up for a replacement crown.

    I was just about ready to grab the doc by the jewels and say "look doc, all this is very well and good, but if you don't grab a needle, fill it with some sort of anesthetic, and commence the stabbin', I'm going to get really cranky", when he announced that it was time to numb me up and give me some relief. I can honestly say, I have never looked forward to a shot in the mouth so much in my life.

    Anyway, once the shot was in and the jaw numb, things went pretty smoothly. The crown was cut off ($900 in the trash), the site cleaned up, a temporary crown put on, new crown ordered ($900 on the way), and I was sent on my way.

    We went to lunch, because by this time it was 1:00 PM, and I was starving. Chewing with half a jaw was thrilling as always, but I was too hungry to care. Then we headed home to get ready for a night out at a friend's house. It was in the car that the last of the anesthetic wore off.

    The pain came back.

    Big time.

    And then some.

    In a different spot.

    It subsided after about 2 minutes, but it was far more intense this time around. Previously, I'd been able to get through it with just some tensing up and (figuratively) gritting my teeth. Now, I was alternately whimpering and howling. This was godawful intense.

    5 minutes later, it was back, for another 2 minute session. At the end of this one, I called the doctor. He said to take some Advil and that should help. He recommended 800mg. I had already taken 600mg at lunch, but I said I'd look into it. He told me to call back if it didn't fix up, and he'd have me back in.

    About 5 minutes later, another one. 5 minutes after that, another one. Between episodes, I grabbed a piece of floss and dug it as deep as I could into the new spots, trying to see if I could find evidence of another infection site. No luck.

    I was beginning to lose count, and in the middle of one episode, I heard Mrs. Curmudgeon calling the doctor and saying it was way worse. We piled back in the car and headed to the office, with me writhing all the way. The nurse took a couple of X-rays of the new site, the doctor looked at them, poked around in my mouth for a bit, and said he didn't think it was another site. He didn't see anything wrong with my gums in the place where the pain was expressing itself. Instead, he figured that the combination of the infection, the shots, the digging around, the drilling, the cleaning, and all that had irritated the nerve, which was now just firing randomly because it was mad at both of us. He also said that because it's a nerve, it might last a day or so, or it might last the rest of my life (*GULP*).

    I told him that aspirin wasn't going to cut it, and that I'd already taken 1000mg by this time, with no effect. I needed something stronger to make it to Monday. He asked me if I knew of any drugs that worked well for me, or that made me sick, then wrote me up a scrip for hydrocodone. After getting that filled at Walgreen's (by the surliest pharmacist I've ever met), it finally took the edge off enough for me to function. We went to our shindig at our friend's house, then went home and I sacked out for a good 12 hours.

    The pain's still there, but the drugs are keeping it manageable, so at least that much is working in my favor.

    The infection? Caused by a tiny piece of popcorn kernel, wedged too deep to be reached with floss. I think I'm done eating that stuff.

    Posted by Tom, 1/13/2008 9:48:02 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Quote of the Day

    "Just remember--Your carefully considered, issues-based presidential vote will be negated by a hairdresser who likes the other guy's tie." --The Onion

    Posted by Tom, 1/11/2008 6:09:18 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Missed Opportunities

    A recent in-depth article over at Wired discusses the genesis of the iPhone. In it was one mind-blowing bit of information:

    Even as the ROKR went into production, [Apple CEO Steve] Jobs was realizing he'd have to build his own phone. In February 2005, he got together with Cingular to discuss a Motorola-free partnership. At the top-secret meeting in a midtown Manhattan hotel, Jobs laid out his plans before a handful of Cingular senior execs, including Sigman... Jobs delivered a three-part message to Cingular: Apple had the technology to build something truly revolutionary, "light-years ahead of anything else." Apple was prepared to consider an exclusive arrangement to get that deal done. But Apple was also prepared to buy wireless minutes wholesale and become a de facto carrier itself.

    Given the fact that AT&T/Cingular's crummy service and crummy network has been the sole black mark on the iPhone's record, Jobs must be kicking himself over that one. Users universally love the device and hate the network. They're hacking the device to use it on other networks. But if Apple had taken that option from the start, they could have simply offered users the choice of any network they wanted to use, and built the wholesale minutes-buying operation in the background to support it. It wouldn't have been as simple, from Apple's perspective, to do it that way, but it certainly would have made a lot more customers happy.

    Besides, given the rest of the story, and the incredible efforts Apple endured to build the iPhone AND keep it secret, what's a little wireless wholesaling? In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer.

    Posted by Tom, 1/10/2008 7:05:54 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    New Hampshire

    Reason has a post-action breakdown of what went wrong in NH for Ron Paul. Long story short: late entry into the "get out the vote" efforts, poorly targeted campaign ads. Looks like it can be fixed for future states, but we need to get on the ball.

    It also has this nice reminder:

    "Dr. Paul wouldn't want us to give up if we lose this election," said Drew Rushford, excitedly talking with two other out-of-state supporters. "If we give up, then we never supported him at all."

    This is not about an election. Winning would be grand, but freedom will need its defenders whether the election is won or lost. It will especially need them if McCain gets elected, though right now I'm trusting my friends who say that's impossible. It helps me sleep at night.

    Posted by Tom, 1/9/2008 4:19:22 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 7, 2008

    Hangin with my Gramps

    This is from my mom's retirement party back in November. It's a scan of a printed photo, so the quality suffers... still trying to lay my hands on a digital copy. Click for embiggenation.

    Posted by Tom, 1/7/2008 9:38:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    One-Two Punch

    Looks like Sony's Blu-Ray format is getting ready to win the format war. First, Warner Brothers announced they were going to cease production of HD DVD, and now the persistent rumor has resurfaced saying that Target will only be stocking Blu-Ray. Now if only Wal-Mart would get behind it...

    On a related note, the latest from NetFlix has me a little puzzled. Various wags are claiming that it and services like it will obsolete the HD discs before they really get going. I have to wonder what these people are smoking. For instance:

    I downloaded Real Genius. The 1 hour, 40 minute flick took about 16 minutes to finish on my 6mbit connection, which was being tapped at about 2mbits. And the stream started playing almost immediately. Netflix claims it can scale quality based on your bandwidth, and how hard their servers are being slammed, so quality will vary.

    "Quality will vary". Um... not for me it won't, because I'll still be watching discs, thankyouverymuch. I realize there are some people who don't care what kind of crappy video they're watching (after all, Planet Terror and Death Proof have their fans). I think what we're getting down to is a quality versus quantity battle. On the one side, you can download a whole bunch of videos in standard definition quality. But when you show them on your new big screen TV, they're going to look like crap, and you'll notice it if you've gotten the HD cable or satellite service, which most big screen folks have.

    On the other hand, you can rent or buy the discs, and get a high definition, non-varying quality movie to watch. Or you can watch a standard definition disc on your upconverting Blu-Ray player. Granted, a standard definition video stream might look "upconverted" on your TV's PC input, but "quality may vary" suggests to me that when the "250k" or so customers NetFlix is targeting get added, "standard definition" (640x480) is going to drop to 320x240, aka "crap definition". No amount of upconverting in the world will make that mess look good on a big TV.

    This doesn't even begin to address the bandwidth issues. There's already a bajillion people downloading humongous files and clogging up the intertubes. Video is one of the largest files a person will regularly download, and even low quality crapola like on YouTube takes up some significant space. A standard DVD is something like 4.7 gigabytes of data. Multiply that by 250,000 users, and you've got a real mess every Friday and Saturday night.

    Of course, it will largely be limited to cable customers to begin with, because us DSL folks just don't have the bandwidth to make it worthwhile. And you know that once they get the standard stuff sorted out, they're going to push for the HD stuff. Congrats, now that copy of Steel Magnolias you're downloading for your grandmother is a whopping 25 gigabytes, 5 times larger than the standard def version, and just as stab-my-eyes-out-with-a-relish-fork boring.

    The only good side I see to this is that it might push the telcos to expand their infrastructure, which desperately needs to happen anyway. But I'm pretty sure that glorious event will be preceded by months or years of internet constipation, and none of this spells doom for Blu-Ray for at least 7-10 years or so, if I'm any judge.

    Posted by Tom, 1/7/2008 6:17:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...


    Of all the home improvement things there are to do, plumbing is my least favorite. The traditional jokes about how much it costs to hire a plumber always made it seem as though plumbers were ripping people off. It seems to me that they're probably charging just about the right amount. I know I wouldn't get out of bed to work on someone else's plumbing for less than 50 bucks an hour.

    Plumbing sucks. It's the only task I can think of where you can do everything right -- follow all the "best practices", read the directions, be extra careful about everything -- and still have your project leaking or not working. My least favorite plumbing projects are in the kitchen. For some reason, I've been "blessed" with an overabundance of kitchen sink repairs since I became a homeowner. This time around, it was the faucet... slow flow, low pressure, leaking around the base.

    We decided to put in a new faucet. I'd never shopped for faucets before, so I just mentally figured "it's more complicated than a showerhead, which I have bought before, but not overly so... must be about $75 for a good one". Imagine my surprise when $75 doesn't even begin to buy you a new faucet, unless you want the Wal-Mart special. Imagine my rising blood pressure when the faucets in the "eye-catcher" display were in the $400+ range. Holy crap, all that just for something to rinse your dishes!?!?!?!

    Fortunately, we found the more "reasonable" section and got down to decisions. She wanted a single control, I wanted separate hot and cold. We got the single control. She saw one she liked, but I really wasn't sure about a couple of things in its construction, so we paid a little more and got a very similar Kohler model. $175 for a faucet, a small jar of putty, and a roll of plumber's tape. Yes, I know the box says that the only tool I need is an adjustable wrench. It's lying. You need the tape and putty.

    So we got the thing home, and I commenced putting a kink in my back disconnecting everything under the sink. Took the old faucet out, put the new one in, got it bolted down, then discovered the new supply lines that came with it didn't match our fancy deal under the sink that hooks up to the dishwasher.


    It was too late to head out and get adapters, so I told the wife I'd get them first thing in the morning before work. So I got up at 6 am, had myself a workout, took a shower, then headed over to the local hardware stores to see what was available.

    I'm rapidly becoming convinced that it makes no sense whatsoever to talk to the employees at a hardware store. Most of them give you a blank stare when you try to describe what you want, or argue with you about whether it's the right thing to do the job. Long story short, it took me about 20 minutes longer to get the part I needed than it would have if I'd just ignored the guy when he said "can I help you" and followed me around like a lost puppy. He helped me pick it out, then as he was ringing it up, kept telling me that it probably wasn't going to work. Just shut up and press the buttons, OK Sparky?

    I brought the little dealies home, applied generous wraps of plumber's tape to the threads, tightened it all down...


    ...holy cow... actually works! No leaks or anything, on the first try! How very anticlimactic.

    I guess it's true what they say: the sun even shines on a dog's butt some days.

    Posted by Tom, 1/7/2008 6:09:21 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Hello Moto!

    There's some technology on which I like to be fairly current. That's why I've gone after HDTV and such, and my computers are relatively up to date.

    There's some technology where I prefer to be in the stone age. Cell phones fall into this category. I just can't see dropping $500 on a device that I'll probably lose or destroy (unless it's an iPhone, which I'm not yet ready to buy). So after limping along on our Samsung x427m's for several years, I finally got tired of the dropped calls and battery life that can be measured with a stopwatch, and decided it was time to upgrade.

    Not a serious upgrade, mind you, because that would cost real money. I was looking to go from a phone 4 generations old to one 3 generations old, roughly speaking. I figured I'd get a camera phone just to see what all the fuss was about, but what I really wanted was Bluetooth so I could sync wirelessly with the ol' iMac's address book. For purposes of convenience, my wife and I carry the same model phone, so that the car charger works for either one of us, as does the external antenna (cuz we live in the black hole of cell coverage).

    We use AT&T because we have a bundle for landline, DSL, and cellular, so I hopped on their website to see what was available in the Bluetoothy cameraphone with an external antenna jack space. Motorola RAZR V3's were going for zero dollars with a 2 year contract, so we ran to the store to check them out. Of course, the store only has the V3xx, which looks basically the same but costs $200. The wife-unit approved of the style and such, so when we got back home I ordered up some V3's, one black for me, one blue for her.

    They arrived tonight, and I'm already diggin' the Bluetooth. Rather than re-enter all my 30-odd contacts (twice), many of whom have multiple numbers, on that stupid little phone pad with its alpha-retarded keyboard, I set the phone to "discovery mode", told the computer to search for it, then zapped all the phone numbers in my address book to the phone in about 30 seconds. The whole experience lent credence to Apple's informal motto: it just works. I did the same to her phone, so she has all the numbers I do, which comes in handy on occasion.

    The camera is nothing special, but I've got a "real" digital camera if I need anything more than a snapshot. I just thought it would be handy for those times when I'd like to get a quick pic of something. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the device so far, and can't wait to see how it does in the real world. It can't be any worse than my old phone, and the price was right.

    Posted by Tom, 1/4/2008 7:58:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Oklahoma Address

    Ever since I came to Oklahoma, this has amused me about the government documents here:

    I don't remember ever seeing anything like it in Ohio or Michigan. This one's from our voter registration form. It's also on the driver's license application.

    Posted by Tom, 1/4/2008 5:44:14 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    A Thick, Porous Layer

    My mother is the second child of six. In order, they are Sharon, Karen, Terry, Jack, Debbie, and Bo. My Aunt Debbie was always "the fun one". I always loved getting to go over to her place, because it always seemed like my brother and I were going to have fun, no matter what we were doing. Most of the times I remember going swimming, it was with her. I don't ever remember her getting mad at us, even when we did something wrong. She'd just smile, maybe make a snarky comment, and move on, as if she knew we understood that we were out of line. It also never seemed like there were a whole lot of rules at her place, so getting in trouble never came up much anyway.

    I was the ringbearer at her first wedding. I don't remember it that well, but what I do remember is that it was at the biggest church I'd ever seen (which seems much smaller when I drive by it today), and I had to wear this little tuxedo that didn't feel like it fit all that well. I also remember that the bridesmaids made me nervous for some reason.

    The best thing in the whole world about Aunt Debbie, though, is that I can't ever remember a single time when she wasn't happy to see us. Like my grandfather, she always seemed to find joy just in the fact of our existence. It's not that anyone else really gave us a negative reaction or anything... just that her smile always got a little bigger when we saw each other. I can even remember some times when she looked completely worn out from whatever she'd been doing, but still got that big smile on her face when we were around. I always loved the way her eyes twinkled when she smiled at us.

    My friend Richard, who is a minister and counselor, once had a conversation with me about children. It was in the context of dealing with troubled children, but he phrased his main thought in such a way as to include all children. He said, "I almost believe that if each child has someone in their lives who values them just for being, whose relationship with the child communicates clearly 'you are valuable just because you are here', without putting expectations or judgments into the mix... that would almost be enough." At the time, I thought of my grandfather. But as I stop to look back, I realize that Aunt Debbie was another such person for me.

    So now we get the call saying she's ill -- the bad kind of ill. It's not a cancer that lets you linger for long, and it doesn't sound like it responds fantastically well to chemotherapy. And you'd think, with all these happy memories, I would be crushed to hear it. But somewhere along the way, I developed some sort of covering over my emotions for things like this. The information hit my brain and just sort of sat there, on this thick, porous layer, waiting to seep in. I can see it there, I can almost touch it, but I can't feel it. I almost feel guilty for being so calm when I talk to my relatives, when it's clear that they're so shaken up. Maybe that's a kindness for now... but it also comes with the knowledge that when it finally sinks in, it's going to hurt like hell.

    My brother and I are taking O-Dawg and Mrs. Curmudgeon back to Ohio to visit Aunt Debbie in February. I hope for her sake that she can experience that joy again, whatever it is, that she always seemed to derive from our presence. Like everyone with a sick relative, I hold the irrational hope that she becomes one of those people who says "they gave me a few months to live 5 years ago, and I think it's time they gave me a refund for that prediction." But I also pray that if she is in fact on her way Home, her journey is a peaceful one, surrounded by love and tenderness.

    I love you, Aunt Deb.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2008 6:33:20 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Top 5 Movies of 2007

    Here, in roughly ascending order, are my favorite movies from 2007:

    300: Having long been a fan of the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, I was gratified to see it finally on the big screen (it was only after seeing this film that I realized an earlier version had been made way back when). Since this particular movie is based on Frank Miller's comic book by the same name, it is more an artistic impression than a historical retelling, and should be viewed as such. I had at least one heated discussion with someone who apparently thought history must only be represented as dry and flavorless information, but that has not ruined my appreciation of the film. Even the action scenes are done in an artistic style, with slow-motion sequences to frame the horrific... beauty?... of the battles so that the viewer misses nothing. It's a pleasant contrast to the Paul Greengrass school of action, where the viewer is expected to shell out 8 bucks to watch a bunch of motion-blurred images accompanied by thumping sounds, and guess at what is actually happening.

    Amazing Grace: Not much I can add to my earlier review. It's a fine movie, and I'll probably make time to see it again.

    Juno: I haven't reviewed this movie, so I'll say a bit about it here. It's the story of a teenage girl who gets pregnant and has to deal with it. I think the movie is excellent for a couple of reasons. First, it deals with a serious topic (teenage pregnancy) in a respectful manner without getting all preachy about it. (I mean, come on... We all know that teenage pregnancy is bad, mkay?) So rather than state the obvious, the film moves on to "what now?", and does so with just the right levels of tenderness and gravity. What really makes the movie, however, is the fact that it takes this tragic situation, and without diminishing the tragedy, manages to laugh about it. It's a delicate balancing act, one which lesser films have completely screwed up, but Juno manages to carry it off beautifully. Most of the humor is in the dialogue, and a lot of that is delivered in teenager-speak, but accessibly so for us "old people". There are a few moments of crude language, but they don't feel like they're done for a laugh so much as an honest representation of how Juno thinks and talks in her situation.

    Reign Over Me: I liked this movie because it agrees with me. That's kind of narcissistic, but it's true. In essence, the movie shows how selfishness can creep into ostensibly altruistic behaviors, such as comforting a grieving or sick person. It highlights how we as Americans are intolerant of the sick and wounded, and how our concerns generally revolve around making the visible manifestation of suffering disappear. We often refuse to allow the suffering person to simply be, because it disturbs us to see them suffer. Or, as in the case of Charlie and his in-laws, we want them to somehow serve us in our need to feel needed or to comfort our own suffering. Reign Over Me shows how important it can be to allow a person the freedom to experience their situation as they will, without imposing our expectations on them. And that's why I like it.

    Martian Child: This is far and away my favorite film of 2007. As a portrayal of how difficult it is to love after being hurt, the movie is magnificent. As a person who is planning to adopt but fears the possibility of getting a child with emotional problems, I found it tremendously reassuring, especially since it's based on a true story. I can't recommend it enough, especially to those I previously told to go see it and who still haven't done so.

    I guess the theme here, with the exception of 300, is that this last year I was really drawn to movies that had something to do with everyday people facing everyday problems. Like most boys, I often dreamed (and still do) about doing something truly heroic like Leonidas, but it's easy to lose sight of the little trials and tragedies that occur with more regularity in the average life. That's not to say that heroism is necessarily absent from these situations, but it takes practice to think of them in that light, and I think these other movies I've highlighted are examples of heroic approaches to rather mundane problems.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2008 7:37:59 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...