Corporations suck…

I love America as much as the next guy, but sometimes American corporations make me so mad… I just don’t even know what to do.

Here’s a couple examples:

– Xcel Energy, an energy company in the American Midwest, is hurt and angry that people might have the nerve to use solar power instead of (or in addition to) the company’s electricity. Their solution? Charge people for not using them!

– Did you know that many companies have arrangement with AT&T to provide discounted wireless services to their employees? Well, guess what? To get the discount, you have to pay a $36 activation fee!

This last thing isn’t about an American corporation, but it bothers me nevertheless: you know those American flag lapel pins that Barack Obama got in trouble for not wearing during the campaign? Well, British police officers have been wearing similar (British) ones in support of their troops overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan… until now. Someone found them “offensive”, and now the cops are being ordered to cease wearing them.

What’s with Europeans? I “get” that they think Americans are weird for flying the flag everywhere. And I can even almost see their point. But there are people who live in Britain who find the flag offensive? Really? Really? Sure, America’s got a few neo-Nazis, Communists and Black Panther types that feel the same way, but they’re hardly numerous enough to be taken seriously.

Europeans are weird.

UPDATE: The Metropolitan Police changed its mind; the Union flag lapel pins are now OK.

Save the Cheerleaders!

This is just disturbing:

[A] suit was filed in Mississippi that alleges a school official—more specifically a teacher acting in her capacity as a cheerleading coach—demanded that members of her squad hand over their Facebook login information. According to the suit, the teacher used it to access a student’s account, which included a heated discussion of some of the cheerleading squad’s internal politics. That information was then shared widely among school administrators, which resulted in the student receiving various sanctions.

This is wrong on so many levels. I understand that many schools have “conduct policies” where students may be disciplined for activities that take place off school grounds and not on the school’s clock. For example, a kid can get kicked off the football team for posting to MySpace or Facebook a picture of himself smoking a joint. I don’t agree with those policies, but I can see where school administrators are coming from.

Continue reading “Save the Cheerleaders!”

Space Stuff

Here are a couple of groovy new things from the astronomy geeks:

Soap Bubble Nebula

Pictured above is the “Soap Bubble Nebula”. Originally discovered by amateurs, this rare nebula shows the moment when a star explodes and expands out to form a gas ring. Read more about it here. You can find a high-res version of the above image here.

Flying Saucer Cloud

Pictured above is a cloud that looks remarkably like a flying saucer. The picture was taken by scientists aboard the International Space Station. Read more about it here.

Neat VLC Trick

Video LAN Client (better known as VLC) is one of the most popular cross-platform media players. Long famous for the ability to play almost any type of video file and the ability to stream video over a network, the newly-released VLC 1.0 has one cool new feature: the ability to quickly and easily create clips from almost any video file!

Just open a video and click on View > Advanced Controls on the VLC client. You’ll see a new toolbar with the following buttons: record, take a snapshot, loop point A to point B, and frame by frame. All of the options are pretty cool: “take a snapshot” captures an image of the video and sends it to your “Pictures” (Vista) or “My Pictures” (XP) folder (it’s what I use in all my Ashes to Ashes and Mad Men recaps). To use the “loop” feature, you simply click the “loop” button where you want the video to start looping, then click it again where you want it to stop looping; VLC will then play the loop back forever or until you press the STOP button. “Frame by Frame”, as the name suggests, lets you go through a video frame by frame; just click the button to stop on a frame, then click it again to advance the video.

But this post is about the nifty “record” feature. Just click the “record” button when you want to record a clip, then click the same button again when you want it to stop recording. VLC will automatically save the clip in your “Documents” (Vista) or “My Documents” folder (XP).

VLC clipSee the big red button? Just click it to record!

The video will be the same format as the original, and there doesn’t appear to be any way to have VLC convert it to say, FLV or MPEG. But still, it’s a nifty feature for quickly creating a clip from a TV show, movie or sporting event to send to friends.

Download VLC for Windows, Mac, BeOS, most flavors of Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris and more here.

Odds and Sods

As always, I’ve got a bunch of random stories piling up on my virtual desktop, so let’s get to it, shall we?

– Peter Pan got married! Randy Constan, who became one of the first “Internet celebrities” by dressing up as Peter Pan, tied the knot recently at Fiddleworth Chapel at the Bay Area Renaissance Faire (BARF?) in Tampa. Randy and “Princess Dorothy” appear to be very happy together!

– In more marriage news, it seems that comic book character Archie Andrews is finally getting married too! The comic’s publisher attempted to create some excitement by keeping it up in the air as to whether Archie would marry sweetheart blonde Betty or saucy brunette Veronica. But word has leaked out… and he’s going to marry Veronica! I think that’s a wise choice. Sure, Betty was sweet and all, but Veronica must be wildcat in the sack, no?

– You know blue M&Ms? Apparently the dye used to make them blue might be an effective treatment for spinal injuries. According to the linked article, “[t]he compound, Brilliant Blue G, can block a chemical which makes injuries worse by causing inflammation and destroying cells”. One bizarre side effect of the treatment: the skin turns a brilliant blue for a few days!

– This can’t be good: British bouncers and parking attendants have now been given power to issue tickets for anti-social behavior. So not only can the jerk working the door at some snooty nightclub not let you in, he can give you a citation for arguing with him over it, too.

– British couple Peter Clarke, and Sharon Arthurs-Chegini enjoyed a “champagne and cocaine” lifestyle after stealing a luxury yacht… but they died a horrible death after starving to death off the coast of Senegal. To make matters worse, they ran out of fresh water, too. When I visited the Dachau concentration camp back in 1991, I learned all the gory details about what happens when a person dies from total starvation (Nazis would often lock camp troublemakers in a room without food or water until they died). It’s not something I’d wish on anyone, and I can’t imagine what those poor folks went through!

– And lastly, here’s the opposite of starvation: the Rubik’s Cubewich

Rubiks Cubewich

Man, I want one of those!

Fun With Candy

My father owned a wholesale grocery business in Atlanta. It was like a Sam’s Club, only a “Mom & Pop” place that catered to convenience store owners. Although the store sold a wide array of grocery items, the vast majority of sales was in candy, cigarettes, chips and drinks.

I worked there in the candy department for almost 8 years. In that time, I had my share of bizarre run-ins with customers. Here are some of my favorites.

*     *     *

“Bulk candy” is loose hard candy or gumballs that come in a giant box. Some candies, like starlight mints, are individually wrapped. Others, like gumballs or buttermints, are not. Such candy is mostly purchased by people who run candy stores or restaurant owners who give away mints with each meal. Although we frequently got calls asking if we carried bulk candy, we actually didn’t, because there simply wasn’t enough demand to make it a regular item in inventory.

One day, a call about bulk candy was put through to me. Keep in mind that the woman on the other end of the line had an obnoxious New York\New Jersey accent:

Me: “Good afternoon, candy department…”
Customer: [with obvious Yankee accent] “Do ya sell bulk candy?”
Me: “No, ma’am, we sure don’t, but if you call [local distributor] I’m sure they’d be able to help you out.”
Customer: “Thank you… Just out of curiosity, where are they located?”
Me: “They’re on Phil Niekro Parkway in Norcross, and…”
Customer: “WHAT?”
Me: “I’m sorry?”
Customer: “I can’t believe that YOU PEOPLE would name a street that! It’s not the 1950s anymore!”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Customer: “That’s disgraceful… naming a street Phil Negro Parkway… YOU PEOPLE should be ashamed! If they did that up where I’m from…”
Me: “It’s ‘Niekro’, ma’am… after Phil Niekro? The pitcher for the Atlanta Braves?”
Customer: “Who?”
Me: “Phil Niekro. N-I-E-K-R-O. Pitcher for the Braves. Had a mean knuckleball, ma’am.”
Customer: [sheepishly] “Oh. I’m sorry.”

Continue reading “Fun With Candy”

Chaos Erupts in Korea

Chaos exploded in Korea today, as Korean contestant Debbie Lee, who is Korean, was voted off The Next Food Network Star television show. Debbie’s two dishes, Korean-style Korean shortribs from Korea and Korean pear rolls a’ la Korea, were deemed inferior by the show’s panel of judges, who are not Korean. Lee, who is Korean, appeared to be devastated by the news.

“As a Korean with Korean parents from Korea, I’m completely at a loss. By the way, I’m Korean”, Lee was quoted as saying.

As soon as news leaked out from New York, violence broke out in the Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul, which quickly moved to the Insadong and Itaewon neighborhoods.

“Debbie has insulted Korean’s citizens, Korea’s culture, Korea’s past, and Korean’s proud culinary traditions”, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was quoted as saying. “May the ghosts of her ancestors haunt her for all eternity for the shame she, as a Korean, has placed upon us”.

Lee, who is of Korean decent, is Korean.