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Voicemail

Monday, July 28, 2008
So the object of my deepest loathing lately has been a 30-year-old technology known as voicemail. Yes, that ubiquitous messaging system that has infected almost every phone on the planet is something I can't stand. I don't mind much leaving messages, but the process of getting one and trying to listen to it is infuriating.

In leaving a message, the biggest annoyance is the "Hi, this is so and so, I'm not here, please leave a message. TO LEAVE A NUMERIC MESSAGE, PRESS 'POUND' NOW." Yes, that last bit in caps that added to the end of almost every voicemail just grates on my nerves every time. I wonder how often it's used? In the thousands of voicemail experiences I've had, I've seen it used just once. Yet we have to listen to it every time!

But wait, leaving a message is actually the convenient part of voicemail. Let's talk about receiving one. As a member of the Verizon network (currently), I'm subject to their absolutely annoying system when it comes to message retrieval. Allow me to walk you through the process. It starts with me getting a voicemail. I dial into the voicemail system...

PLEASE. ENTER. YOUR. VOICEMAIL. PASSWORD.
*beep beep beep beep*
YOU. HAVE. ONE. NEW. MESSAGE.
FIRST. MESSAGE. FROM. FIVE. ZERO. THREE. FIVE. FIVE. FIVE. ZERO. ONE. ZERO. ZERO. SENT. TODAY. AT. EIGHT. O'CLOCK. AM.
*message plays*
PRESS. SEVEN. TO. ERASE. THIS. MESSAGE. PRESS. NINE. TO. SAVE. THIS. MESSAGE.
*beep*

Hopefully the caps and periods in those sentences let you know how irritating and slow it is. Furthermore, let's assume I'm somewhere where I can write down any pertinent information left in the message... 'cause if I'm not, I get to press "9" and then fight my way through the system again later.

But wait! Let's say I did save the message. It's a message I might need later! So I fight back through and play it... but don't delete it. After a set amount of time (it feels like three weeks, give or take) I then have to deal with erasing or re-saving this message when I sign in to get my voicemail. So the process I described above gets even more painful as I have to wait for each call to be described to me ("YOUR. MESSAGE. FROM. FIVE. ZERO. THREE...") before dealing with it (again) and then trying to listen to my message.

My point to all this? It's frustrating and stupid. We have the technology now to do better. One of the many neat features of the iPhone is "Visual Voicemail", which allows you to skip all that nested menuing and deal directly with the message. It's just one more feature that makes it difficult to resist the iPhone's siren call...

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Monday, July 21, 2008
My girlfriend and I saw The Dark Knight this weekend. We both loved it.

The movie was, to borrow a cliche, dark and gritty. Like its predecessor, Batman Begins, it deals with a much less kid-friendly Batman. This is a Batman who will break all the rules, save one: He won't kill. But he'll beat information out of a someone, he'll kidnap a fugitive safe from extradition, and he'll knock out a SWAT team to stop them from accidentally shooting hostages. Batman will do what it takes to fight the bad guys, with little regard for laws. Is he right in doing so?

Heath Ledger brings a depth to his psychopathic portrayal of the Joker. He is, as he comments in the movie, "chaos". His performance is excellent - you really forget that it's Heath Ledger under the makeup, and he is a pleasure. Aaron Eckhart does a fantastic job (as usual) as Harvey Dent, and as a broken "Two-Face". He has a realism of his character - a man who's had everything taken from him, a man who has lost the vision of the rules and laws he once cherished. Gary Oldman is fantastic as Lieutenant Gordon, Maggie Gyllenhaal does a great job as Rachel Dawes, and both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman bring their usual excellence with them as Alfred and Lucious Fox, respectively. In essence, the acting is superb.

If I had to have one gripe about this movie, it's the lack of Christian Bale. He's a charismatic actor and a pleasure to watch on the screen. We get plenty of Batman, with a voice hoarsened to avoid recognition, but tragically little of the billionaire Bruce Wayne. It's the voice that grates on me. Still, it's forgivable - but I'd like to see more of Bruce Wayne at some point.

Final word on The Dark Knight? See it in the theaters... it's worth it.

A forgotten lesson

Dear Fellow Oregon Drivers,

I'd like to point you to the bottom of page 33 of the Oregon Driver's Manual. You see where it talks about "Keeping Right"? I'm sure you overlooked it last time you read it (or maybe you simply forgot the lesson) but really, it's quite important.

You see, when you're cruising down the highway at night in the leftmost lane and completely failing to pass (or have any speed differential against) the car to your right, you're blocking the road. That means that drivers (such as myself) who prefer to pass on the left and use the left lane mainly for passing are unable to do so, and must therefore pass on the right.

I don't get a warm fuzzy from that. So please, give me a warm fuzzy. Stay right unless passing. PASSING. Please. If a car comes up behind you, obviously wanting to go faster... move right. If you're alone on the highway, happily motoring along... stay to the right. Do I need to draw a diagram?

Warmest regards,

Burton

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Thursday, July 17, 2008
I was introduced to the graphic novel "Watchmen" several years ago and was assured it was the greatest things since sliced bread. It, of course, was.

Picture a story of superheros, but instead of their dark, brooding personality and their tragic past, we see how they interact with society. Picture a story that digs to the soul of our fascination with superheros and exposes the personalities behind them. Picture a story that's, well, simply badass.

So when I heard they were making a movie, I was conflicted. I've seen a ton of potential turned squandered. Alan Moore, the author, has done some incredible work but the translation to the silver screen hasn't always been filled with the greatest success. And yet, the opportunity is incredible. The potential is unlimited.

Then the trailer was released today (technically yesterday, but I'm still awake, so it counts.) It is quite simply one of the best trailers I've seen in a long, long time. The pacing, the music, the suspense... they're perfect.

So yes. I'm completely excited about this movie. It's going to be a long wait until next March...

Ride to Work Day

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Just an FYI: Today is "Ride to Work Day". From the press release:
Motorcycle and scooter riders' 17th annual commuting day is Wednesday, July 16th. Participation in the yearly demonstration is estimated to triple the number of riders on the road. Motorcycle and scooter groups and organizations actively encourage riders to commute by cycle on this day. On Ride to Work Day, motorcycle and scooter commuters seek improved employer recognition and support for this form of transportation and increased public and government awareness of the positive value of riding.

Adding more motorcycles and scooters to everyone's daily commute makes urban parking easier and traffic flow better, according to Ride to Work, a non-profit advocacy organization. Studies have also shown that across the same distances, motorcyclists reach their destinations faster than those using automobiles. Many motorcycles and scooters also consume less resources per mile than automobiles. "Riding to work on this day is fun and shows the positive value of motorcycling. For many people, riding is a socially responsible form of mobility that saves energy, helps the environment and provides a broad range of other public benefits," stated Andy Goldfine, this year's event organizer.
Now I just have to get up early enough to do it...

RideToWork.org logo

Global Warming

Monday, July 14, 2008
This post does not include a position. You will find neither a pro-environment or anti-earth message here. There is no agenda behind this post. Seriously.

So I'm watching all the episodes of Burn Notice on Hulu.com and I keep seeing this ad. It's an ad for FightGlobalWarming.com (seriously, I thought it was "climate change" these days!) and it is, quite frankly, an ad that's designed to be disturbing. I give them full credit for just making me feel uncomfortable watching it.


The message I take away from this is, "Save the planet. Do it for the children." That plea, however, rests on one great assumption...

Spared!

Starbucks, back on July 1st, announced that it was going to close 600 stores in the United States. Apparently, the first wave of closures has been decided upon and the list has been published. Now, while there are a lot of SBUX haters in the world, I am not among them, and I'm pleased to announce the followed:

We were spared! (This time, at least.)

In the first round of closures, the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) have precisely ZERO stores on the list. Poor California, however, tops the list at eight stores... but their population is, of course, much higher than all three of our states combined.

What this means is that, for those of us here in the Pacific Northwest, we won't have to adjust our lives. Of course, in Salem, the only two Starbucks locations in downtown are on the same block, but still...

End of an era

Saturday, July 12, 2008
A part of Portland has died recently, and I only just found out. There was a time when I went to Stanford's Restaurant for the happy hour often because a) it was inexpensive, and b) the spinach and artichoke dip was amazing. Living in Salem for the past two years, I missed going there after work from time to time, and was looking forward to when I could move back and go again.

Well, I happened to be in downtown Portland the other day with some time on my hands and I went to the Stanford's Riverplace (just off the Willamette River.) I eagerly ordered a drink (whiskey and coke) and some food - including my much-desired dip. Imagine, then, my horror as the dip arrived and it looked different.

Puzzled, I asked the waitress about the bread crumbs now strewn across to top of my food. "Well," she ventured, "we were bought a few months ago, and they changed the recipe." Shocked, I asked why. "I'm not sure," she hesitantly responded. "I think they were just trying to be different."

I resolved to eat this dip anyway, hoping it wouldn't be that different and might still be good.

I was wrong.

I managed to get through about half of the order and just couldn't finish it. It was TERRIBLE. I mean, absolutely flavorless, with the texture of too much mayonnaise. The best reason to ever go to Stanford's happy hour was now erased, much to my dismay. (And, apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so.) It seems that an outfit called RUI ("Restaurants Unlimited") now own Stanford's, Newport Bay Grill, and Billy Heartbeat's. Let's hope the food at the other places isn't as bad now, too.

The only happy note to this story was that my girlfriend joined me and we ended up going across the street to McCormick & Schmick's, where we got their happy hour spinach and artichoke dip - which still has flavor, and is pretty darn close to what Stanford's used to be!

Star Pirates!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008
As an avid reader of Starslip Crisis, when Kris Straub recommended trying Star Pirates, I jumped right in. Such is the power of the internet.

Star Pirates is a browser-based game centered around an Earth-less solar system. Now based out of Mars, civilization (mostly) lawlessly roams among the planets, mining for precious metals and stealing everything that's not locked down. The game is free to play, though should you find yourself with extra cash laying around you can purchase an advantage. (Basically, you can do faster what it takes normal "free" players longer to do.)

It's funny how a game where everyone's a pirate evolves a sense of honor and a code of conduct. Attacking or raiding someone while they're online is frowned upon, and retaliation is usually swift and virtually guaranteed. Successfully attacking someone online sends them to a shipyard for 15 minutes, severely limiting what they can do. Raiding someone doesn't have that effect, but it does take a percentage of any cash they're foolishly handling. Attacking someone with a higher level than you will almost certainly result in defeat; raiding someone (online or offline) is where every player is treated equally. The "rules" are simple and yet poor behavior (by pirates) is frowned upon.


The game is definitely fun and doesn't take much time. Unlike other games, there's not a very steep curve where it takes forever to do anything. It's designed to be played casually or all day. Sign up and try it out!

A brief, torrid affair

Thursday, July 03, 2008
I had a brief, torrid love affair today... with XM Radio. I was doing a dealer trade* for my dad, driving one brand new car up to Seattle and driving another brand new one back. The vehicle on the way back had XM Radio, and I was instantly enamored. The drive up had been fine as long as I was in range of the Portland-based terrestrial radio, but in that no-man's land right around Centralia all I could pick up was, essentially, static.

This was really my first XM Radio experience. I mean, 250 static-free channels, with no hunting for stations between cities! I was excited! I was enthralled! Then I started hunting through the dial for the good stuff.

It wasn't long, however, before I was reminded of a line from the Pink Floyd song Nobody Home: "I've got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from." It really reminded me of the cable TV problem, inasmuch as finding anything worth listening to was abnormally difficult.

Oh, I found a few fun channels. The techno channel "The System" helped soothe me through the wretched Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia megalopolis traffic+. I found the "Seattle" channel on the dial, roughly adjacent to the Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angles, and Canada channels. (Yes, Canada rates the same amount of dial space as Orlando, but I guess y'all have all the NHL channels, too.) But by and large, there just wasn't much in all that variety that I actually appealed to me. (And this is something you have to pay a subscription for!)

By the time I returned to Portland (5.5 hours after I left Seattle, to my infinite dismay), I had already switched back to terrestrial radio. The signal wasn't as clear and there were more commercials, but actually finding something I wanted to listen to was tons easier (or at least it felt that way.)

So I had my fling with XM radio. It was "nice", but would I pay for it? Not as it stands right now.

*The concept behind a "dealer trade" is that a car salesman might sell a car that he doesn't have in inventory, but that is somewhere in the region. By mutual agreement, the two car dealers will "trade" vehicles, essentially buying them from each other. Somehow, of course, the vehicles have to get actually moved, and that's where I came in today.

+The State of Washington is, I'm fairly convinced, a state full of the world's worst drivers. If you want to see a thousand people, smugly parked in the passing lane at the speed lane? Yes, sir, your taxes pay for the road... but the rest of us would like to use it, too. I used to be excited about the drive to Seattle because your speed limits are 5 mph higher than ours... and yet, we still drive faster here. Oregon drivers GET places. The journey's nice... but so is the destination.

Thunder and Lightening

Through some mysterious meteorological misprediction, I'm currently almost asleep, watching my room light up as if it were they day, and listening to thunder crash and roll across the sky. And it's magical, the light arcing across the sky, the deep rumble as if God Himself were clearing his throat. I need more nights like this.

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