On Qualifications

•Friday, Oct 17, 2008 • 1 Comment

I’ve been noticing recently, how qualified do people really need to be to do a job?

Before we go to the obvious (and hilarious) example of the Coldest State’s Hottest Governor, I’d like to take a moment to analyze an example in my own life. My Greek Literature teacher doesn’t seem to know Greek myths. I’m not joking, I have to correct her nearly every time. And it’s not just small details, either. Motives of characters, abilities of gods… These are pretty big holes in her stories. Apparently she’s been at the job for more than a decade. I feel like that’s sort of important, if you’re teaching Greek stories.

Let’s take another look at someone closer… Me. I recently was hired a $5 a job helping with code in iPod/iPhone applications. The best part? I don’t even know the code language they’re written in! Doesn’t that seem like one of the basic requirements for the job? Not that I’m complaining, of course; in these day of economic turmoil I can use all the money I can get. But still, it seems natural to want a coder who knows code.

A few nights ago, Sen. John McCain, presidential candidate, stated on-air during his final debate with Barack Obama that he would give teaching degrees to veterans coming back from the Middle East, despite not having gone through the necessary classes and degrees.

(video clip from 3:55 to 4:11)

Do you want your children taught by unqualified teachers? Is that even an option?

And of course, no article about insufficient qualifications would be complete without a mention of that gem of a woman and potential vice president, Sarah Palin. Sure, if we ever needed someone to guard the border between the US and Russia, she’s our girl, but beyond that… Well, let’s just hope McCain doesn’t die on us.

I’m sure you’ve all seen it before: someone at your job, your school, getting promoted or getting good grades that definitely does NOT meet what should be the necessary requirements. Whether it’s a dumb person in your AP Calculus class, a jerk taking your Executive VP job at your company, or something else, these sort of things happen all the time!

I guess we can’t all meet standards, but come on. This is a bit ridiculous. If you can’t meet logical minimums, please, take a less complex job. I’m sure Joe the Plumber can hook you up.

On the Drinking Age, the Driving Age, the Middle Ages, Age of Empires, and Everything In Between

•Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Now, I haven’t been following the presidential election campaigns too closely. From what I know of the candidates, it doesn’t matter who we get stuck with, it’s just a matter of how we like our bullshit, medium or well done. I try to sorta stay out of politics as much as I can- in part because it;s depressing, but for the most part it’s so I can get out of conversations with a particularly outspoken individual by saying “Sorry, no clue.”

One of the issues I do know of, however, struck a chord with me. An issue being brought up in debates is that of the current drinking age (in all American states being 21). It was a point of contention whether it should be kept the same or lowered to 18. This point may have died out recently, since all the candidates remaining have the same view on the matter, but early on it was brought up in many a debate.

I applaud those candidates that did advocate a lower drinking age. Indeed, I’ve been thinking this very same thing for years now. Here’s what I think should happen: The drinking age should be lowered to 16, and the DRIVING age should be raised to 18.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “But Mike, you [insert your own compliment of my looks here], that would mean you yourself, as a 16-year-old, would drive later! Why would you do that to yourself?” But there is a method behind my madness. The problem with the drinking and driving ages as they stand is this: Drinking, the ability to actually swallow a liquid, is an instinct to all humans, and most can do it from birth (yes, I point out those extremely unfortunate few that cannot). Driving, on the other hand, requires months of preparation and teaching before the skill can be mastered. Learning to do the harder one before being legally allowed to do the easier seems counter-productive; it leads to irresponsible drinking while driving, since people are not taught to drink responsibly until 21 (5 years after most states’ driving ages).

However, if the drinking age were LOWER than the driving age, it would be a much better system. Responsible drinking would be taught at a younger age, at an age where the more dangerous driving knowledge is not yet in place. It gives a preparation time of being able to get the irresponsible drinking out of a teenager’s system before they even know how to get behind the wheel of a car. This way, I predict, would lead to far less accidents on the road, and more people alive. And we like that, usually.

But, no one will listen to me. Hell, I’m only 16, what do I know? Obama, Clinton, McCain, they have experience, of course they know what’s better for us than I do.

That is, until they lower the voting age to 16 too.

On Magic, Mystery and M….Really bad books.

•Sunday, Mar 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’m not going to start as I usually do, saying “If you haven’t heard recently…” Of course you’ve heard of this next topic. And if you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, you’ve seriously been living in a cave, without a TV or computer, and how are you on the Internet, that’s really weird. This is the series that brought the wonder of reading back to children of our age, jaded as they were by mind-numbing cartoons and the rise of the Internet (remember, when AOL was fast? Good times). It’s created a fan following of teenagers that mirrors the cult following of Star Wars. The series is the proud owner of movies to all of its books (currently made or future-released), as well as having spawned a number of board games, video games, action figures, journals, candies, costumes, and tons of other products I can’t list off the top of my head.

The seventh and final installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was one of the most anticipated media events in fifty years. I know, for me, at my camp (where I was in July ’07), I was hard pressed to find one person out of the 800 or so people around me that wasn’t reading it (either owning the book or reading over someone’s shoulder) the first day it was released. Spoiler sites ravaged the ‘Net, followers camped out in front of book stores, Christian witch-burners were out in full force, and the general public, whether fans of the series or not, respected and admired the herald of the new era’s end.

Now, I’ve been a fan of the series since 2001, when I first read Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosoper’s Stone for you British types). I read every book religiously, and I was one of those that couldn’t wait for the last installment to come out. I read it in about 5 hours (give or take, it was broken up over the course of a whole day).

However, unlike when reading 1-6, I felt something… Off. Something different about this book as compared to the other six. Given, it was the series end, but still. The book’s focus, rather than being on Harry and his friends’ adventures in school, took them outside their element into the wilderness. This seemed a lot more like classical Lord-of-the-Rings-type fantasy, with protagonists questing through wilderness to achieve their goals. However, the set-up of the sixth book (to quest for the Horcruxes that held pieces of the antagonist’s soul), while followed for the first part of the book, was then completely ignored through the last half when they abandoned that quest to search for new items, the eponymous Deathly Hallows.

Putting on my critic’s hat for a moment, I really don’t think this was a good end to the Harry Potter series. The writing was significantly different, the characters were thrown into emotional places they wouldn’t have gone in the previous books, and on the whole it was really more like a Harry Potter fan-fiction than a canonical novel.

That said, I do think this was a good beginning to the rest of JK Rowling’s career. This was a departure from her normal Harry-goes-to-school formula, and it really showed that she has a future past the scarred wizarding teenager. Sure, her future books will get more press than they may deserve due to her previous books, and they may continuously be compared to Harry Potter, but this book really showed that her future books will be somewhat good, as opposed to being piles of badness and only getting press due to the Harry Potter novels.

So, while I think Harry Potter deserved a better ending, I’m not worried for JK Rowling’s status  as an author. As long as she can avoid writing awkward endings to series, and avoid any other controversy (gay Dumbledore anyone?), she should have her future set.

Not bad from a nigh-homeless clinically depressed woman from Scotland, eh? Kinda gives you hope for the rest of us.

On Pumping *clap* YOU Up!

•Monday, Mar 3, 2008 • 2 Comments

We’ve all seen the recent (who am I kidding, it’s been going on for years) controversy with steroid use in major league baseball.  Anabolic steroid use to enhance performance is illegal in the sport, and a recent report came to light naming over 80 players, currently playing or not, who were suspected of using the drugs. This caused great controversy in the sport, both because many of the players sought to defend themselves against the claims (whether the report was true or not) and because it cast into question some of the players’ records, and whether or not they were substantiated if the player who set the records were using drugs. It’s been all over TV, newspapers, and other media in the US for months now.

 My question: Who cares?! Honestly, people in the US put too much importance on sports and their players. We’ve raised them up to something of a god status, making them into idols to which we turn season after season to fill some void in our lives (I say “our” because I happen to live in America and be a citizen, not because I enjoy that fact or because I enjoy sports). What everyone seems to forget is that sports, in all their many forms, are primarily an entertainment industry. They exist (at a professional level) for our entertainment, and for no other purpose. So, if steroid use causes more home runs, and more home runs are more entertaining, then why stop the athletes? It’ll make more money.

 There is an argument against this: “But should the players be risking their health for entertainment?” To this I reply: Take into account the recent death of Australian-born actor Heath Ledger. During the filming of the upcoming movie “The Dark Knight” in which he played the role of the infamous Joker, he was forced to take sleeping pills so he could sleep during the day and film at night. This, as many may know, caused his untimely death when he accidentally took too many of said pills. The point I’m making here is this: No, they shouldn’t be risking their health, but it happens elsewhere too, so it’s not like this is an isolated incident. An analogy could be made to the early factory worker. Sure, he risked his health by working with heavy and usually dangerous equipment, but if he got paid he was willing.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that steroids are not the only performance-enhancing drugs used in professional sports. Now, if you’re anyone that followed the reports on steroid use, you’d be thinking, “well of course, HGH (human growth hormone) was used too.” This is not what I mean. I am talking about pain killers used after surgeries and injuries.

This may be confusing, so let me use an example: Say a baseball pitcher sprains their wrist during the course of a game, and a doctor prescribes a pain medication for the injury. This allows the pitcher to play while he ignores the pain of his injury due to the drugs. Well, if the pain was as intense as intense as it would be if the pain medication were not a factor, wouldn’t the pitcher’s performance be lessened? The pain medication, then, enhances the pitcher’s performance past the level it would have been without the drugs. So, if the MLB were to ban performance-enahncing drugs, they would have to ban painkillers as well. Which, to me, as it probably does to most people, seems quite stupid.

If the steroids make more money for the league, they should be left in. All corporate ventures,  be them inventions, websites, law firms, you name it, have the goal of moneymaking in mind, if not at the start, then as a goal to keep them going. Baseball is no different. Yes, it is raised to a status in the minds of the people as more than simply entertainment. Yes, those that play them are more than mere celebrities, they are sports players. But keep in mind that, beyond high school level (and maybe college, but mostly not), sports are an entertainment business, and the players will do anything to make more money. If you really want to stop the steroid usage, here is my advice: Boycott baseball. Don’t go to games, don’t watch TV. If the league sees steroid usage is stopping profit, they will be more vigorous in their enforcement of the rule. Other than that, just sit back and enjoy.

On Picking An Apple II- Empty Space

•Saturday, Mar 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So by now, you guys must know how big of an iPod fanatic I am. In my not-so-humble opinion, the iPod is the single greatest achievement in marketing of the 21st century. It single-handedly killed the CD-burning trade, gave massive music storage to a people whose time was filled with diverse musics, and, although it was not the first to do these things, it has become the genericized trademark for MP3 players, as Q-tips has done to cotton swabs or Xerox has done for photocopying.

A brief history of the iPod: There have been six generations of iPods, evolving from the first model (available with a mechanical wheel and in 5 or 10 GiB models) to the most recent sixth edition (with color display, click wheel, and 80 and 160 GiB models). It has, since its inception, incorporated into its brand name a miniscule Shuffle ideal for runners or athletes, a Nano (which started as Mini) perfect for average users of computers (namely, adults), and, most recently, the Touch, the single most advanced piece of technology seen in the entirety of human history thus far.

That said:

I was looking recently at the new iPod Classic, the 6th generation of the main iPod line. Now, the iPod, as stated, started with 5 and 10 GiB models, which (at roughly 4 MiB per song) amounted to about 1,250 and 2,500 songs respectively. Now, to me, that is a fair amount for a player. Most people, myself included, don’t own more than 2,000 songs. The music-only iPods (that is, those before the video technology) went as high as 60 GiB in the fourth generation. That averages out to about 15,000 songs. Now, I personally, don’t know 15,000 songs. I could not name for you 15,000 songs. I don’t even think I’ve heard 15,000 songs in my lifetime.

With the integration of the iPod Video, the capacity was once again justified.The 5th generation came in 30, 60, and later 80 GiB models. 80 GiB, so you have a frame of reference, is about 20,000 songs. However, an hour long movie is about 1 GiB. So, if you add 10 full-length movies, that still leavs room for more sons than you can imagine. You could add your entire DVD collection (which, in my case, is 35 or so) and still have enough space for 11, 250 songs. One could see the marketability here, though 80 GiB is reaching a bit high for me.

Now we come to my point: the new 6th generation iPod. This powerhouse comes in, at most, 160 GiB. For those of you keeping score, that’s 40,000 songs, or about 180 hours of video. This, to me, seems preposterous. I don’t think that my entire group of friends, cumulatively, knows 40,000 songs. I don’t think I’ve seen 90 movies worth seeing more than once. Meaning, of course, that in my entire life, I will never even come close to using up the entire capacity of the iPod Classic.

What’s the point of this, I wonder? To show off, is my theory. It is Apple’s way of saying to its competitors (most notably of which is the Zune, whose biggest model is half of that of the iPod at 80 GiB) “Hey, look, look how big we are! Look how big our piece is!” (Yes, for those of you who didn’t get it, that was a dick joke.) It’s Steve Jobs waving his product in the faces of his peers and going “Nah nah, I beat you.”

Score one more on the GPC Patented Apple-Arrogance-O-Meter. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Mac products are fine. They have pretty user interface and are great for casual technologists’ use. But damn, if their heads aren’t shoved up their own asses so far they’re having a staring contest with their own eggshell-white-coated teeth.

There are lawsuits filed against Apple Inc. to have them dissolved as a monopoly. I hope they lose. I’d love to see Steve Jobs’ Keynote speech about that.

On Messiahs, Monsters, and Mortality

•Saturday, Mar 1, 2008 • 1 Comment

There are a variety of genres of books to choose from nowadays: mystery, fantasy/sci-fi, non-fiction, romance, etc. One genre that is severely lacking in content, however, is Comedy. There are very few authors around today that can truly provide a gut-busting laugh-out-loud-while-reading experience, and still pull off something of a coherent plot, interesting but lovable characters, and everything else that makes a good book.

One of the foremost of these proud few is a man by the name of Christopher Moore. Moore writes such books as (and just reading the titles should make you laugh) Fluke: Or, I Know Why The Winged Whale Sings, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and Island of the Sequined Love Nun. He spins hilarious tales of whimsy, drugs and sex (however, they are severely lacking in the rock and roll department), and neurotic but lovable protagonists thrown in way over their heads.

I’ve had the pleasure to read 2.5 books written by Mr. Moore (being in the middle of Lust Lizard), and I can say without a doubt that his writing is the funniest written since the days when Shakespeare’s comedies were funny (remember, back in the 1500’s?).

To show an example, his book titled A Dirty Job (in which a “Beta Male” secondhand store owner becomes Death and finds his life as a newly-widowed single father turned upside down) contains countless situations that are entirely hilarious and well-written. Here is an excerpt:

“Death to the infidel! Death to the infidel!” said the bearded man in response to Charlie’s irresistible charm. He danced around shaking his fist at the Death Merchant’s face, which scared [baby] Sophie so that she covered her eyes and started to cry.
“Stop that, you’re scaring my daughter.”
“Death to the infidel! Death to the infidel!”
[The hellhounds] Mohammed and Alvin quickly got bored watching the dance and sat down to wait for someone to tell them to eat the guy in the nightshirt.
“I mean it,” Charlie said. “You need to stop.” He looked around, feeling embarrassed, but there was no one else on the street.
“Death to the infidel. Death to the infidel,” chanted the beard.
“Have you seen the size of these dogs, Mohammed?”
“Death to-hey, how did you know my name was Mohammed? Doesn’t matter. Never mind. Death to the infidel. Death to the-“
“Wow, you certainly are brave,” Charlie said, “but she’s just a little girl and you’re scaring her and you really need to stop that now.”
Death to the infidel! Death to the infidel!”
“Kitty!” Sophie said, uncovering her eyes and pointing at the man[, who dropped dead on the spot].
“Oh, honey,” Charlie said. “I thought we weren’t going to do that.”

A book with writing like this simply cannot be bad. And believe me when I tell you, his characters get into way worse situations. He has Christ learning the art of “jew-do,” a pothead cop having an encounter with a crazy woman and her pet dragon, and a seven-foot-tall black man in a pastel green silk suit named Minty Fresh. Honestly, people, if these don’t sell these books to you, I don’t know what will.

What I like most about Moore’s writing style is the way he uses dialogue. Many times a character will try to tell a stressful tale to get it off their chests, and the listening character will be fixated on the words “butt sex” said in the middle of the story. His humor is deadpan, his sense of reality is warped, and all these things combined simply cannot be bad. There’s a rule somewhere.

I leave you with one last image: A consciously-psychopathic ex-actress who practices with a broadsword every morning at 6AM because she believes in an alternate dimension she is in fact Kendra the Warrior Babe, and that she should be prepared when civilization falls and she takes her rightful place. I kid you not, this is part of one of Christopher Moore’s books. In or out of context, it’s simply too hilarious to ignore.

In conclusion: Buy these books. All of them. Right now.

For more information: http://chrismoore.com/

On White Males, Ages 18-34, In the Tri-State Area

•Thursday, Feb 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Lately I’ve been noticing a definite decline in the quality of TV shows. Sure, there is the recent WGA strike to consider, but it’s not just the episodes of shows. The shows as a whole are just… Bad.

Most of these I’ve found on children’s channels. To cite specific examples, Disney’s “The Emperor’s New School,” a spin-off of a movie made by Disney years ago, is riddled with awful choices. The voice acting is ENTIRELY fake (I know, David Spade, the original voice of the main character Kuzco, isn’t the best actor ever, but still, this guy is worse), and the animation and art quality looks like the art director went into a 6th grade art class and commissioned the students to draw each episode. The jokes are over-used, the plots are repetitive, and there is hardly any entertainment value from what I can see. And yet the kids eat it up!

Now, I don’t blame the production companies. Indeed, I pity them. They’re simply catering to the masses, blindly fulfilling the wishes of those precious lifelines that keep bread on their tables. Rather, do I find fault in the intelligence of American youth. It’s the general trend of things: my parents (who are about 50) enjoyed reading and playing outside. They were around for the rise of the home television, and were entertained by things now known as “classy and snobbish.” My generation (15-20) was groomed with the Internet, a need for instant gratification and very little substance in anything (see Family Guy to find what I’m talking about). It only follows suit that those younger than us (5-12) would be worse.

I really do pity the production companies and show creators. Shows with substance, plot, and interesting characters (such as can be seen in Japan, where anime shows are made for adults and not just kids) are never let to light, and so the TV writers are forced to dumb down their ideas into the mindless drivel we see on our airwaves.

The solution: Well, I really don’t know. The average IQ in the United States of America today is 100. Mine is 133, which is close to those I keep as friends. Then again, something my father once told me comes to mind: “What you have to realize, is that  we here is [the town where I live] are in the top 5% of the population. And, while it may seem pretentious of you, you have to just deal with the other 95%.”

I’m sorry to those offended by this. Chances are, if you’re in my reader base, you’re in that top 5% too. But I guess we just have to deal with it, shut our mouth, and watch the crap filling the airwaves. Or, you know we could go outside, or read, or something.

But who wants to do that?