Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fringe Benefits.

Twenty-eight varieties of caffeinated and decaffeinated teas, coffees, and chocolate. Essential ingredients to keep the monkey operating in front of the computer for ten hours a day.

My creative amusement for the day? Convincing the machine to dispense "espresso shot" amounts of water to a packet of hot chocolate, then inserting another hot chocolate packet, and getting another "espresso shot" to get uber strong/thick hot chocolate.

As the temperatures plummeted, I discovered that the awesome mobile drives like a quiet Lexus when I'm wearing a winter hat and listening to NPR and Feist on the radio (I've been keeping the air conditioning/heater off and getting 35-40mpg averages per tank).

Why aren't rear windshields polarized? There are too many modded cars, pickups, and suvs with overly bright HID lights aimed too high above the ground.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

West Virginia Adventures.

I've been fortunate enough to find a temporary job in West Virginia.

Before I devolve into a semi-serious tone, let me emphasize that I recognize that West Virginia, being an inanimate political/geographic division, does not in anyway impart a particular mode of behavior on its people, so please recognize that I have no intention of dissuading anyone from visiting this land they call "almost heaven," which inspired that Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver (even if he was possibly high as a kite when he wrote the lyrics).

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's learn a little about West Virginia.

West Virginia, with 24,230 square miles of of surface area, is larger than roughly 110 countries in the world, and similar in size as Latvia (somewhere in Europe, I think it is next to Egypt).

West Virginia, with an estimated population of 1.8 million people, has approximately one-twelfth of the population of Taiwan.

West Virginia also has a GDP of approximately $55 billion USD, which is roughly 7.8% of Taiwan's GDP.

Now... I will be the first to admit that before I began commuting to work in Wheeling, West Virginia, I had reservations about the hospitality of the West Virginian people.

I had heard jokes about how the toothbrush was invented in West Virginia (because anywhere else it would be called a teethbrush), and read about how the Ohio River was basically the natural border of the Mason-Dixon line (and Wheeling was south of the river).

Basically, I was prepared for the meeting the simultaneously most comical, offensive, and possibly the most blatantly bigoted North Americans someone can encounter without turning in to Rush Limbaugh or Lou Dobbs.

Unfairly wary of West Virginians, I initially avoided contact with locals outside of the office while I worked there. But eventually my cat like curiosity overcame my own bigotry, and I decided that I would attempt to make contact with West Virginians. After all, it is part of my American assimilation to make contact with all Americans, particularly ones that remained loyal to the union during the American Civil War (author's note: I have no kind words for rebels! Unless they're from New England and were fighting against tyranny from London, because then they're PATRIOTS!).

Feeling bold and empowered by my acquired American optimism, I would smile and say hello to the custodians and staff, and remembered to say "how are you?" and reply "good" when asked (even if I didn't really have the time to listen to how someone was doing or if I was not feeling good). Armed with these maxims, I believed I could safely introduce myself to West Virginians without drama and incident.

Initially, the custodian and some members of the staff appeared to be taken aback at my presence. I hypothesized that it may be because of my dashing good looks (but it also could been my wonderfully All-American appearance). But! After several days of gradually increasing the level of exposure the locals had to endure, people no longer double-taked, and the local employees became accustomed to my presence.

Confident that I had desensitized the locals, and eager to do more work, I decided to stick around until the office was closed at 8:30pm, before getting in the car and driving back to Pittsburgh.

Not quite sure whether the G-20 had turned Pittsburgh into a war zone, I decided to stock up on petrol by refueling the awesome car before driving my merry way back to Pittsburgh.

That was when I was exposed to the full friendliness and multiculturalism of West Virginia. There I was, in my business causal attire, with my fancy Pennsylvanian license plate, pumping some petrol into the fuel tank, when a white pickup pulls up along side.

The white pickup had two adults (whom I presumed to be Mom and Dad?) and three kids (theirs?). Mom and Dad got out and went inside (to pay for gas? use the bathroom? perhaps to buy some caviar and fish tacos?).

The pump clicked off (after only 9 gallons), and I was getting back to the driver's side to drive home when I heard a voice utter "konichiwa". Being somewhat exhausted from the long day, I was taken aback, as I hadn't expected to have to deal with Japanese people in West Virginia. Was it the second Pearl Harbor? Some sort of secret Japanese invasion of epic Red Dawn proportions?

Uncertain of whether I was dealing with a ghostly creepy Japanese little girl (ala The Ring), or some modern airborne Isoroku Yamamoto, I pretended as if I did not hear "konichiwa".

"konichiwa!" The "thing" shouted again, this time with more effort.

I dared a sideways glance. OH THE HORROR! It was the West Virginian family! THEY SPOKE JAPANESE!!



Not wanting to be mistaken as a ghost or some sort of Japanese spy, I ignored what appeared to be an obvious Japanese plot to assimilate AMERICANS!

But the voices did not stop.




The voices became louder, more irritating, and somehow... mocking? It is as if these Japanese disguised as West Virginians were rubbing their Japanese superiority in my face. HOW DARE THEY?! Is it not enough that they have Honda and Toyota? Now they must bring Japanese to Wheeling, West Virginia?!


In my silent moral outrage at the Japanization of America, I thought of and was tempted to say "I'm sorry? What are you saying? This is AMERRRRICA!" in my best Alabaman accent.

But just fractions of a second before I uttered my AMERICAN comeback, I realized... that these West Virginian Japanese spies may be armed with katanas and shooting stars. DAMMIT! I hadn't gone to Cabela's to pick up my G-20 spec personal defense weapon. 5 Japanese disguised as West Virginians vs. 1 unarmed assimilated American. Damn.

I bit my lip, and drove away from the station.

Japanese 1 - American 0. I am sorry America, I failed to defend this blessed West Virginian country from foreign evil doers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I am too chicken to play F.E.A.R.

There is this game that has been recommended to me by multiple people, called F.E.A.R., an abbreviation of First Encounter Assault Recon. What does First Encounter Assault Recon mean? I have no idea. But - I suspect the game creators just wanted to call the game FEAR, but wanted to put in a pseudo-"military" spin to it.

Basically the game starts off as any other first-person shooter. You're this bad ass "military" dude - have a bunch of guns, and you have some buddies who are practically useless and will inevitably need you to save them from annihilation (this is a common theme for first-person shooters).

Under the false impression that I am a self-assured confident young male, enjoying the time of my life where my emotional, intellectual, and physical maturity is at the peak of my prime, I embraced the challenge of F.E.A.R.

I was.... W. R. O. N. G.

A little background... (SPOILER ALERT)

Every good story needs antagonists that also make good cannon fodder. Traditionally, video game makers use Nazis or aliens (i.e. Wolfenstein & Doom). More recently? In games like Grand Theft Auto, the fodder can be anything from stupid mobsters to the random civilian on the street.

This time - the bad ass soldiers meet "something" that cannot be killed. No, I'm not talking about zombies - zombies, while scary, can be killed.

I'm talking about scary little girls.

Like the ones that scare the hell out of everyone in Japanese horror movies, like the Ring (1998), or the Orphan (2009).

It would appear that in F.E.A.R? The cannon fodder is you.

Being a fiscal conservative, I did not buy F.E.A.R. Instead? I found a free demo for F.E.A.R 2, the sequel, which I hear is a pretty good sequel to the original game (critics say F.E.A.R. 2 is apparently less suspenseful). I figured if I enjoyed the demo, I'll buy the game.

Demos usually are designed so the player gets about 45 minutes of enjoyment. F.E.A.R 2's demo? It took me about 2 hours to complete. The gameplay wasn't tedious, or hard - I just couldn't play through it without hitting the pause button, and leaving the couch to find something to drink and maybe wash my face.

Don't get me wrong - I generally enjoy horror films, but playing a game where you go from fighting for your life against super-clone soldiers to fighting against an immortal little girl called Alma is not my idea of relaxing fun.

You're exploring what appears to be a medical research facility/office - the next moment you're fighting for your life against the super-clone soldiers.

Ok. I can take the testosterone filled moment - that's the time when you go AHHHH! and blow the soulless clones away with your shotgun.

Then out of your peripheral vision, you see some strange movement. You turn around, hear some creepy sounds, and then Alma strikes.

For example? You're riding in the elevator. Minding your own business. Then suddenly...

WTF? OK! Maybe the little girl in red is just being friendly - I shouldn't prejudge her based on her creepy appearance... after all - wasn't there that woman in red in the Matrix? Or the little girl in red in Schindler's List?

But then...

... it is like... do do do *whistle* - then AHHHHH! AHHHHH! AHHHH! DIE!!! *BANG BANG* I can't kill you YOU SCARY MONSTER GIRL!




So at the end of the game... you managed to survive. Congratulations you've reached the extraction point, and a helicopter picks you up. Your superiors decide to nuke the damn place, and you're watching the mushroom cloud... when...

... sorry - I'm just not cut out for this.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Curried Corn Chowder.

This recipe comes from Once Upon a Tart... by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau w/ Carolynn Carreno. I changed some elements to suit my palate, but it is simply awesome.

        • large onion
        • garlic
        • 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
        • 4 tablespoon of unsalted butter
        • corn (lots of it - like 4 ears worth or more)
        • 4 cups of stock
        • 1 teaspoon sugar
        • 1 tablespoon of curry powder
        • 1/4 cup of coconut milk

1. Dice the onion, mince the garlic.
2. Saute onion, garlic, thyme in a large pot with half the prescribed butter. Saute until onions are soft and translucent.
3. Pour in the stock, sugar, corn - salt & pepper to taste. I also took the liberty of throwing in some leftover chicken bits at this point (but you don't have to).
4. Bring the liquid to a boil, then simmer for half an hour.
5. In another pan, melt the remaining butter and pour in the curry powder, cook it until the butter and powder is well combined. Then pour this into the soup.
6. Add the coconut milk.
7. Salt and pepper to taste - add cilantro to serve.

The Result?


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Audi of America President on the Chevy Volt.

MSN Autos had a interview with Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen, who said the following regarding the Chevy Volt:

"a car for idiots,"... that few consumers will be willing to pay $40,000 -- the Volt’s estimated base price -- for a car that competes against $25,000 sedans and conventional hybrids. Nor, he noted, is the Volt a luxury car whose green-technology costs will be excused because it also delivers prestige or performance.

No one is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a (Toyota) Corolla,” he said. “So there are not enough idiots who will buy it.”

He did add that plug-in hybrids are good in concept and hold advantages over diesels in stop-and-go driving. But for the moment, de Nysschen noted, electric vehicles (EVs) are more about making a statement.

“They’re for the intellectual elite who want to show what enlightened souls they are,” he said.

De Nysschen expressed frustration with regulators and policymakers, saying the public has been hoodwinked into believing that EVs are the only answer to global warming. The U.S. government, he said, is pouring billions of dollars into EV technology, yet diesel technology could deliver a more immediate and dramatic decrease in global-warming emissions. And the man knows of what he speaks: Modern diesels already power half of Audi’s cars in Europe and have helped Audi dominate recent runnings of the 24 Hours of LeMans. Diesels have been shown to emit 25 percent less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines, while using 25 to 35 percent less fuel.

Mass electrification of cars, he argued, would result in a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions, because so much of America’s electrical grid relies on dirty coal for its energy. Cleaning up the nation’s power grid is the real priority, he said, and only then can EVs make environmental sense.

The Audi of America president ended with a bold prediction: The Volt will fall flat. And the federal government, having publicly forced GM to develop electric cars, will subsidize the Volt to save face and boost sales.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Google Voice is smart.

I've been trying Google Voice, which I previously mentioned here. The sign up process was really easy, and I was able to select my own telephone number and area code. Phone calls can be screened by #, filtered by group, or just ignored and sent to voicemail, where Google Voice transcribes the message so you can read your voicemail instead of listening to it. The feature I've found most helpful is the voicemail system's ability to transcribe phone numbers left by the caller. I don't know about you, but I've always had to press "replay" when listening to voice mails. Maybe I have a hearing problem, but most people speak too fast and I don't have the short term working memory for memorizing phone numbers and writing them down.

Another feature Google Voice provides is... a "call widget." Which will allow me to put a application that'll allow readers to click a button, and call me (while keeping my telephone # secret).

Naturally, I will not enable this feature... but in any case, Google Voice is smart.

Oh... in other news, I will be heading to Wheeling, WV in the near future. I shall take pictures, and see if John Denver's recollection of West Virginia is factually correct.