Monday, January 18, 2010

Interesting Times, or Living in the Future

Interesting Times
If I may be serious for a moment, and at the risk of sounding like granddad ranting at Christmas dinner, kids these days are really missing out, and they either don't know or don't care. Walk around any school. Take your pick of any elementary or middle school, just make sure to dress in conspicuously friendly clothes. We don't want anyone slapped with a restraining order or registered as a sex offender. If you just take things in for a moment you will notice nary a kid without a phone, ipod, blackberry, notebook, netbook, iphone or some other electronic do-da or gadget designed to keep them connected to the digital broadcast-net. What I will call here, the 'broadnet.' I know that sounds like a low-end porn channel, but hang with me for a moment.

People of a certain age, such as myself, have a really interesting perspective on the development of our ability to interact without connecting. Let me explain that a little bit, and just for kicks I'll stick with the 'granddad ranting at dinner' motif. When I was their age we didn't have all these fancy cell phones and knick-knacks. If we wanted to look stuff up, we went to the library. If we wanted to talk to someone on the phone, we left a message on an answering machine or actually talked with that person so they would know when we'd be home and could call. If we wanted to hang out, we actually got together instead of logging on to Facespace or MyBook, or whatever the hell these kids are calling it.

The point being, we got outside. We connected. It can be argued that we're more connected now than ever, thanks to the Broadnet (like the use of capitalization there? Thanks.). I would argue the reverse is true. We don't connect. We don't get personal. Young people these days may have more friends than ever, if a lengthy friends-list on Twitspace (wow. that works better than I expected) is any indication, but all of those people are kept at a safe distance.

The saddest manifestation of this is something my wife commented on at some point. She happened to be passing by a couple of girls who were on lunch from school. These two girls had cell phones out and were giggling like mad while they sent a flurry of text messages, the accumulated cost of which will likely be larger than the GDP of a small country. What she discovered as she listened to their chatter, was they weren't texting to friends who were in class, or at another school, or out sick. They were texting each other.

It might sound strange for someone who works in a technology related field to say this, but I don't believe that technology is bringing us together. Sure, I can talk to a developer in Indonesia about a project without ever dialing an actual phone, and that's pretty cool. I can talk to him about the rainy season and whether or not he had a good weekend, and it's kind of fun to think that I'm hearing a voice from the future (his timezone is fifteen hours ahead of us in Southern California). On the other hand, I remember getting along pretty well when there was no Internet. Games? Just because it didn't come on a disc didn't mean there weren't games. If you wanted something to do, you went outside and found something to do, rather than plopping down in front of the TV and zoning out to bubble-headed celebrity infotainment spoon-fed to us by model-gorgeous women sporting two degrees with a 'D' average.

I think if we want to do kids a favor, or do something really great for them it would be to take them camping out where there is no cell coverage and no electricity. Even if they have their iphones and laptops, there's no signal and no way to recharge them. Take them out there, play games outside (who remembers hide and seek, or flashlight tag after it gets dark), and sleep out under the stars. Give them some perspective. Some of them might even come around. I bet they'd even tweet about it when they get home.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From the Department of Hundreds of People Sharing a Single Brain

I hate the TSA: Meet Mikey, 8 [years-old]: U.S. Has Him on Watch List!

His mother makes a good point, though. A would-be Nigerian suicide bomber can get on a plane and blow his junk off with an underwear bomb (of the high explosive variety, not the Taco Bell type) but her 8-year-old son can't get on a plane for a family vacation without getting frisked.

On a related note, the TSA indicates they are creating a new database that will be used for suspects on their no-fly and suspectee lists. The new database will include the person's birth date and gender in addition to their name. Really? It took this long for someone to deduce that a database of fucking terror suspects should include vital information about that person beyond their goddamn name! Who made the first database? Some white house bureaucratic ass-hat's six-year-old? Was she reading from Baby's First Access Database? Couldn't be. Most six-year-olds have more sense than that.

I will continue to include amusing bits of TSA ass-hattery until they can prove they are doing even ONE thing that actually keeps us safe.

Alternatives to Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office 2010 is due to launch (go figure) this year. Microsoft has already announced the price for the 'standard' edition, or what they're calling the Home and Business edition. You can get your hands on this software for one easy payment of $279, or $199 if you download it. For your money you get to install the software on a whopping two PCs. By now you may be scratching your head looking at this and going "What the fuck? Aren't we in, like, a really bad recession? Who the fuck has $300 to spend on bloated, resource gobbling software from Micro$oft?" You wouldn't be alone. PC World published an article today covering inexpensive alternatives to Microsoft Office. "What do you mean, inexpensive," you ask with a cynical sneer. Well, Mr. Justifiably Jaded Consumer, by inexpensive I mean that two of them are free, and the one that isn't is only $80. "What kind of Microsoft Office alternative is free, or comes that cheap?" You sneer at me again, "Don't you get what you pay for?" Well, Mr. Justifiably Jaded Consumer, the answer is both yes and no. Let me explain. There is too much, I will sum up.

The solutions put forward as alternatives by the good people at PC World are, Zoho Office, and Softmaker. Two of these I've used myself. I'll start with those. In short is made of Oreo crusted goodness. Not only is it free, but it includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, and (though this is less important to the majority of users) database. Not only are these fully-functional applications in their own right, but files produced in these applications are compatible with similar applications from Microsoft. The cross-compatability isn't perfect but its good enough to pass files created in OpenOffice to people using Microsoft Office and have a reasonable expectation of them being able to work wih them.

Zoho Office: May I say something sincere, here? Just for a moment? Thank you. I like this application suite. That cost me something but I think I'm stronger for it. Unlike and Softmaker Zoho is hosted online. There's another well known, fully-hosted suite of applications out there but...I like this one better. Why? It's fully-featured, light, easy to use, and offers a huge number of options. Want to write a novel? No problem. In fact, that's what I use it for. Want to put together a basic budget in a spreadsheet? No problem. Want to create a wiki to manage your comic book collection online you dirty, dirty, geek? No problem. Oh, and if you happen to be a devotee of that other online suite of applications, no problem, Zoho and that other suite that rhymes with 'snoogle maps' are compatible.

Softmaker: Deskside application that offers their suite with word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations for $80. One license lets you install on three computers...That's about all I know about it.

I was going to go on and recount my adventures in the world of Ferelden and Dragon Age: Origins, but I think this has gone on long enough. Shame. I even had a clever name for the section heading. You will all just have to wait for that.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Aging Dragons, Happy New Year, and a Ten Minute Rant

Originating the Age of Dragons (SPOILERS)
Play has continued somewhat in Dragon Age: Origins, and I've even started a third character. The third character is an Elven female mage, but I'll come back to her another time. For a while I was just faffing about with my main character, traveling here and there, and trying to complete side quests to gain experience and level. Just for kicks I tried to complete the Morrigan companion quest having to do with acquiring Flemeth's grimoire. I figure she's going to be tough, but not something I can't handle so I go and talk with her. The conversation goes along the lines of "You're a bad, bad woman and I'm not going to let you kill your daughter and take over her body in some weird reverse Oedipal complex but with chicks I'm not kidding...stop laughing at me...let's fight." To which she is more than happy to oblige and promptly turns into a dragon. The fight goes along the lines of *squish-dead party, dragon picks teeth.* After watching my party fight en flambe a few times I decided she could just keep her grimoire, see if I care, and I hope she chokes on it. I've moved on to Orzamar to complete the "Paragon of Her Kind" mission which should bring the Dwarves into the fray on the side of Ferelden against the blight. That was just so nerdtastic that I really feel it's time to move on before I paint the walls with nerdism.

Happy Freaking New Year
It would be disingenuous for me to say this was anything but a crap year. There were some bright spots. I shot a short film directed by a really terrific USC student, and had a blast the entire time hanging out with my great leading lady. There was a scene that I shot for an educational film that'll be used by the Church of Scientology (I am not a scientologist), which was really a fun day and everyone was very professional and cool. Finally, I shot a commercial for Oh Henry candy bars which should start airing in Canada sometime in the next few weeks. Even given that there have been family issues, work is an ongoing struggle, my wife and I have both lost family members, and there have been health issues for enough people that I care about that, on the whole, I'm glad to put this year behind me. Am I optimistic about this year? No. I was very optimistic about 2009, and about half-way through it I found myself wishing I could have 2008 back with everything that went with it. I've been burned too badly by optimism to go down that road again. Instead I'm being practical. I'm taking this year a day at a time, and I"m going to work to make it the best year I possibly can.