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Big Media

Friday, September 30, 2005
So NPR was running this report this morning on the Tribune Company, a media company that owns such minor journalistic endeavors as the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune and plenty more. Apparently the Tribune Company is in dire financial straits because of a) a billion-dollar judgement against them by the IRS, and b) because their operating profits are down. Not in the negative numbers, mind you, just not in the high mega-millions like they'd like.

So this is where I get to talk about Big Media, and how I'm not a fan of consolidation of large media companies. The problem with large media companies is that small media companies can't effectively afford to compete with them. You also tend to get a shrinking of coverage as they share news stories with each other, which leads to very few perspectives out there. I mean, half the news stories seem to come from the "Associated Press" anyway, which means that EVERYONE's printing the same news.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. We'll see what happens.

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Today's mood: Jet Black
I'm not always this negative, but someone out there has hurt me, badly. Is it wrong to hate? In hating, does that make me bad too? They say the best revenge is to live well. I'm going to try...

Sigh

Thursday, September 29, 2005
When it rains, it really pours. I've always said, "at least I'm not on fire"... but that might keep me warm on these cold nights.

Somebody explain this to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005
So there's this proposal to widen 217 to accomodate more traffic. I've spoken on this before and think it's a bad idea. But that's beside the point.

Check this article out. In it, the Metro Advisory Council whines that - withOUT financing the widening of 217 by tolls - the project could take until 2089. That's 84 fucking years from now. I'll be dead, but I could have dug a 7 lane tunnel with my BARE HANDS the length of 217 in that amount of time. Please note that this project will cost $500 million dollars, probably because it's the government and they don't know how to spend money.

As a reference point for these outrageous claims, please check out this page from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Please note that, on Highway 26, the government is widing a significant stretch of that road (adding another lane) and modifying on and off ramps (including a tunnel) for $37 million - just over 7% of the cost.

Do these numbers make sense? Am I the only one wondering what the problem is? Looking at 217 from a map, there's room to widen it on either side, it seems.

Church Meetings

I go to Westminster Presbyterian Chruch, and have since I was a wee lad. When I was in high school I served on the board of deacons and was basically the token young guy.

After college, I was asked to serve on session, which means I had to be an elder. So I was... as the token young guy. For the past (almost) three years, I've been going to so many meetings that I barely find time to go to church. Of course, I'm not a morning person, either, and I was in the minority vote for moving the worship time later.

Has this been a good experience? Yes. I feel that many of the experiences there have helped me grow as a person. I'm younger and slightly more conservative (hard not to be!) than most of the people on session and it was very intimidating at first. But I've learned how to speak up a little better, ask the questions that need to be asked, and disagree publicly without getting freaked out about it.

But my term is almost up, thank God. I'm kind of burned out (it happens to a lot) and the work is never-ending. Soon, though, I won't have to be on a committee for a while.

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Current Color: Black
A combination of bummed out and pissed off. Karma's a bitch, though. Someone out there knows what I'm talking about.

Joining the ranks of the damned

By popular demand, I'm now signed up to play World of Warcraft. Damn near everyone I know is playing it, so I guess I'd better jump off this bridge, too.

However...

I was never that into Blizzard's Warcraft to begin with. Warcraft II was kinda fun, but one of my all-time favorite games of theirs was Starcraft. Why couldn't they make a game called "Systems of Starcraft" or something like that? Fantasy-type books and games never really appealed to me - with the exception of Terry Pratchett's excellent Discworld. Even that is more of a commentary on our society than anything else. I enjoy science fiction far more than fantasy; I prefer the Ringworld to Middle Earth, I prefer the Foundation to... fantasy stuff.

A MMORPG based on Starcraft would be ultra-cool, with the terrans, the Protoss, and even the Zerg for those who want the hand-on feel of death and destruction.

Also, even cooler, would be one based on the Fallout series of games. Miniguns, rocket launchers, and a faithful dog named "Dogmeat". Does it get better?

Anyway, I hope to see some of you online!

Movie Review: Lord of War

Saturday, September 24, 2005
Well, this is my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want. So now I review the occasional movie, too, except they may not always be new movies.

So I saw Lord of War tonight, based in no small part on an article I read in The New Yorker. What a fantastic film. I left feeling like humanity was shit, and so was I. Not a lot of films can do that me.

The plot is available anywhere, so I'm not going to bother typing my own summary. But this film raises all sorts of questions we each need to answer. Questions like: Is not stopping someone else from committing an atrocity an atrocity in and of itself? Can I do something wrong and be okay with it because if I don't do it, someone else will? Finally, what is the nature of humanity?

This film shows us at our worst. That parts of this world live, fight, and die in such animalistic conditions - and here in America we can watch it and be entertained by it on the silver screen. There are places in this world where people are fighting and dying to get the the top of a hill that's meaningless... it's only relative power in which to oppress those around you. Is it worldwide power? Is it lasting power? Of course not. As I was driving home afterwards I looked around at the civilization we've built up here and I wonder if it's not just a shiny veneer propped up by an animalistic society that hides underneath the surface, hoping we'll imagine we're better than we really are.

In any event, it's a great film. The acting is solid (though Nicolas Cage looks the same age despite 20 years of film progression), the writing is great, the visual imagery is incredible, the writing is terrific, and the direction is... well, I'm out of adjectives that describe "really fantastically good".

Final word: See this movie even if it means you can't afford to eat for a week. It's worth it.

I'm not a fast driver*

I am not a fast driver.

Now, for anyone who knows me and firmly believe that there is more than enough incontrovertible evidence in the world to declare the previous statement to be complete bullshit, let me explain. I believe that I'm not a naturally fast driver, but there are caveats to that statement. Those are: stupid drivers, open roads, and a few more.

When I get on an open road, I'm the kind of guy that would LOVE to set the cruise control for 7 mph above the speed limit and happily (and safely) coast down the road, staying in the right-most possible lane. I'm serious. However, there are some folks in this world who seem to think that's excessively fast or are just incapable of getting out of the way. I call these people stupid drivers.

Stupid drivers cruise at the speed limit in the fast lane. Stupid drivers fail to accelerate to a reasonable and safe speed with any sense of urgency. Stupid drivers don't let faster drivers pass them on the left, often forcing us to pass them on the right. Stupid drivers don't use their turn signals. Stupid drivers tailgate. Stupid drivers slow down to a near stop to make a turn. Stupid drivers interrupt the flow of traffic around them.

Faced with a stupid drivers, I turn into a fast driver. I just want to be safely in front of them, usually going only a few mph faster, but they often require work to pass. I just drove back from the beach on Highway 26 and let me tell you I can't COUNT the number of people who wanted to do 47 mph in a 55 mph zone. I had to pass them all, and I did. Yet these same people that I passed at damn near triple-digit speeds eventually caught up to me in Aloha and Hillboro because I was just humming along in the right lane at 62 mph. See what I mean?

Anyway, I'm not a fast driver. I just can't stand to be behind people, I guess.

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Current Color: Blue
Yeah, I'm down right now. I'm sure someone out there knows why.

My Business Plan

Friday, September 23, 2005
So with the hurricane season kicking the shit out of our oil production and nationwide gas prices reaching the point where it would be cheaper to fuel my car on liquid gold, I heard someone comment that we're getting a reasonable amount of oil; it's our refineries that are the hold up.

Well, I'm a big fan of eliminating bottlenecks, so I think maybe we should build some pipelines into areas less susceptible to enviornmental forces. That's right, I'm talking about Oregon. (Though we have our own environmentalIST forces running around.)

But Burton, you say, that sounds evil!

Well, you're probably right. And I try not to be an entirely evil guy. So how about this? Instead of bringing in crude oil and spilling it all over the place yadda yadda yadda, we build the nations largest BioDiesel operation? I'm sure there's some pretty unused, unwanted land over in parts of Oregon I don't live in where we could set up a nice, clean operation that is a good thing all around.

And let's take that a step further. The big problem with BioDiesel (as I see it) is that you need a diesel engine to run it and we don't sell a lot of those in small cars. Basically, just Volkswagen does (maybe Mercedes, too). So I would suggest to the Big Three that perhaps in the interest of selling your humongous SUVs we might at least get them to run on a fuel supply which we don't get at the expense of our foreign policy. But now I'm just going off the deep end.

Anyway, I think we could make it work with some help from the Oregon government, but I leave that as an exercise to the reader.

Let me know what you think.

God hates the south

Thursday, September 22, 2005
So now Rita's been well fed and is poised to wreak a level of havoc on Texas not seen since 1900 - and people haven't even been let back in New Orleans yet. God must hate the south.

Not to sound flippant, but these tragedies suck. I have to detach myself after a while, I find, from the news and the stories lest I become too deeply emotionally involved. The build-up is fun (everyone loves a good disaster), but then listening on the radio and on the news to all the horrific personal stories I just get overwhelmed by the suffering of so many individuals. I don't think I'll run for president ever - because I care about individuals too much. I get sucked in and can't get out.

Anyway, we'll see what Rita does to the Gulf of Mexico in the next 48 or so hours...

I hate Beaverton

Monday, September 19, 2005
There's one Portland suburb that I hate more than anything else, and that's Beaverton. I think it boils down to city design.

I'm from Portland. I like Portland. In many ways, I think Portland's fairly reasonably laid out (given the terrain.) However, once growth went west of the West Hills, any rhyme or reason was quickly lost.

Let's look at access to Beaverton. It's primarily the over-used Highway 26 ("The Sunset") that heads west from Portland towards the coast. Someone, at some point, looked at a map and decided that we could use a state highway that connected Highway 26 to I-5 further south. Thus was born 217. Conceptually, it was a great idea. As it stands today, however, I submit that it contributes far more to congestion than it solves.

Let us consider access to 217. Access is allowed from either termini and from roughly 8 on-ramps along the 7 mile length. Thousands of people use this highway daily and traffic ties up pretty handily during the day trying to get on or off this highway. A convenient byproduct of this is that the roads allowing access to 217 get congested during rush hour, so it takes forever to get on, off, or across the highway on these roads. But wait, it gets better. There are only something like 12 roads TOTAL that allow access across 217 in its 7 mile length, meaning someone has to go through great trouble just to cross it, much less waiting in any traffic trying to use it. It's easier to get across the river in Portland than the highway in Beaverton.

Then there's the issue of neighborhood design. The farther west of Portland you get, the more independent developers have been allowed to run free with terrible traffic flow designs. There's no continuity of names and access to these pre-fab neighborhoods is quite limited (tying up traffic trying to get in or out of one)! The whole setup is designed to be as inefficent as possible.

On a final note, I should say that downtown Portland consists mainly of one-way streets. To some it can be daunting, but I maintain that it improves traffic flow because forward traffic never has to wait for opposing traffic to turn. Lights in Beaverton are hell because you creep forward from light to light, only to wait for it to let everyone turning go before briefly allowing forward traffic. Furthermore, in an effort to keep the wait to minimum, the cycle time is reduced so that only a few cars flow in each direction at a time. So much time is lost in each light transition that it's possible that more traffic flows through on off-peak hours than on rush-hour, simply because so many cars are waiting for the lights to cycle!

Okay, I'm done ranting about Beaverton, for now.

Obligatory friends post

Sunday, September 18, 2005
So now that I'm part of the blogging scene, it seems only reasonable that I have to link to other people as well. After all, we don't just exist in a vacuum. We're like air molecules in a sealed box that way: each particle's movements will have an effect on the movements of another. Expand that out to look at humanity as the molecules and (much like fractals) you'll see the pattern is the same.

Of course, there's the semi-famous Utterly Boring web page, authored by a college buddy of mine Jake Ortman.
Then - dating way back to high school - there's Jon the Doc, Emo Mike, and Crazy Laura. Actually, I made those last two nicknames up.

EDIT: Apparently The Dude has a blog, too. What is the world coming to?

Well, we'll just call that due diligence.

The big picture and asking the right questions

So I recently quit my job at Unisys and lost my health benefits (though I'll eventually get benefits through my new job.) In the meantime, I have the option of continuing my benefits (at my own cost) through COBRA. My health benefits were through Aetna.

Now here's how it works. I wanted to sign up for continued benefits as soon as possible because I ride my motorcycle around and there's a potential of not keeping the rubber side down, and I want to make sure I'm covered. So I logged on to the Unisys benefits page and they said I was still enrolled, so I couldn't get COBRA yet. So I had to call them to fix the glitch. Then I had to call them again (two weeks later) to find out why I still didn't have benefits and nothing had been processed. Each time I spoke to very nice, helpful people and they assured me that they would get it taken care of in the next couple of days - and they did.

Let me also say that this isn't the first time I've had to go through this with Unisys.

So I get a call from a research firm wanting to know about my experience with the Unisys Benefits Resource Center. Almost all the questions asked about the phone menu (terrible) or the person helping me (great.) None of the questions ever asked, "Did the process work for you?" The problem I'm having with Unisys and the Unisys Benefits Resource Center isn't at an individual level; it's at a system level. *I* have to call every time I want something done that should have been taken care of. If *I* haven't made sure *they* have done *their* job, it's won't get done. Talking to some low-level customer suport person is nice and they did a great job, but that's just applying a layer of shine to what is really a big pile of shit. By asking all the wrong questions, the answers that they'll get are "customer support is doing a great job" which will make everyone feel great. What they're ignoring is that the company is not doing a great job, but no one's asking about that.

While I'm speaking about asking the wrong questions, let's talk about the war in Iraq. (I feel like Arlo Guthrie talking about Alice's Restaurant, misdemeanor littering, and the draft. )

Has anyone else noticed a pressure being applied in Washington to those who may not support the current war? The administration is hell-bent on maintaining that we're doing the right thing as a system, but for anyone to oppose them they're "not supporting our troops." I maintain that it's quite possible to be fully in support of our glorius, invincible American troops and still be wholly opposed to this particular war. Yet the spin game is Washington never asks the question, "Do you support the war?" Instead the game is played so that the question is, "Will you adequately fund our troops?", which IMPLIES a support for the war. If you vote no, you're voting against the troops. If you vote yes, you're supporting the war.

Do you see how it's all a matter of asking the right questions?

First Post

Saturday, September 17, 2005
This is my first post. Hopefully more will be coming!

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