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Events

Posted on Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Dave!Annnnd... Apple had another one of their "Special Events" today.

As usual, it was filled with cool stuff and left me wanting to have Steve Jobs' baby. Again.

The "big news" of the day was the revamp of the iPod line. The tiny iPod Shuffle (my favorite of all the iPods) took a disastrous turn during the last revision when they took away the navigation button. This time, they wisely brought the buttons back, but kept the sweet "VoiceOver" technology which uses a robot voice to compensate for the lack of display...

iPod Shuffle v3

I'd buy one, but I already have the original iPod Shuffle. Still, the new colors are nice...

iPod Shuffle V3 Colors

And, in even cooler news, Apple revised the iPod nano. My first-generation iPod nano powers my car stereo... I ditched it when I got my first iPod Shuffle because the size was better. Except the new fifth-generation nano is only a little bigger than my existing Shuffle. It's tiny! But, despite the size, Apple managed to fit a multi-touch screen interface, which is damn cool...

iPod Nano V

I must have one. And have one I shall. I'll just slip my iPod Shuffle into my next AnySoldier.com care package so it doesn't go to waste.

Apple also revised the iPod Touch, but I have an iPhone so I didn't pay attention. I did perk up again when they introduced the new Apple TV though...

Apple TV

They took out the hard drive, which makes the unit absolutely perfect. I never bought the original Apple TV precisely because of the hard drive... no matter how big of one they put in the thing, it will never be big enough. As your media collection grows, the hard drive eventually fills up. My media belongs on an expandable network drive system, not locked away inside a television box. So now I'm actually going to consider buying Apple TV. It's the simplest possible way to stream all my videos, photos, and music to my television (including NetFlix streams!) and the $99 price feels right.

His Holiness Steve Jobs also teased us with a sneak peek at new stuff coming up for the iPad, including PRINTING, which is a much-needed feature for the device. It's also getting all the sweet new iOS 4 iPhone goodies like multitasking and a unified in-box for Mail.

BUT, the thing that fascinated me most to come from the "Special Event" was the revisions to Apple's venerable iTunes. That I'll save for tomorrow...

   

Ping

Posted on Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Dave!Yesterday I waxed poetic about Apple's "Special Event" where they unleashed a bunch of new iPods, revised Apple TV, and teased us with new features coming soon for iPhone and iPad. It was all very cool, and renewed my Mac Whore certification (along with my undying love for Steve Jobs).

But His Holiness Jobs did not stop there. He also introduced a new version 10 of iTunes... Apple's venerable media player. Many of the changes I approve, some I don't, and much of it has me feeling indifferent. Let's take a look, shall we?

The first thing you notice is that the icon has changed. The old icon had a CD on it, which doesn't make much sense considering that online downloads are eclipsing CD sales. Pretty soon, people won't even know what the heck a CD is (much like the 8-track tape and cassette). And, while I approve of iTunes getting a new icon, I have to say what they come up with sucks ass...

New iTunes Icon

SERIOUSLY?

Seriously, Apple?

We finally get an opportunity to move past the gum-drop gloss of the original Apple "Aqua" interface, and you drop the ball by giving us a glowy blue blob that harkens back to design of of years past? What happened to the new "brushed aluminum" look you've been cultivating? That's pretty classy...

Brushed Aluminum Icons

It also matches the visual elements of iTunes' interface, and is inline with the DVD Player, but whatever.

   
The interior of iTunes, oddly enough, is where they are getting rid of the glowy mess and going for a refined, more classy look. Where there's color, it's bright but not offensively so...

iPhone Fillerup Bar

   
In still other places, the color has been eliminated completely. The small sidebar icons are now exclusively monotone. This is a little bit stupid, because color really helps to differentiate things when the images are so very small. Now they all kind of run together...

iTunes Grey Mini-Icons

   
Usability is getting a modest boost in some areas. My favorite being the album artwork popping up in List View if you have more than five songs on that album. Like Steve says, there's room, so why not? Visual information helps you find what you're looking for faster...

iTunes New List View

   
And Apple is also helping add some nice vertical space by shifting the Window controls to a smaller, vertical format. A very good thing, even if it is inconsistent when every other window interface...

iTunes Window Controls

   
Enough about looks, what's new in features? Well... there's finally the ability to rent television shows for 99¢ each. In many cases, that's half the cost of buying the same shows in HD, but you can only watch them once.

And the BIG announcement? It's PING!

Ping Logo

What's Ping? It's a "social networking feature" that allows you to follow artists and friends to see what they're playing so you can discover new music. Sound familiar? It should... that's what Last.fm does! I've been using Last.fm for years, sending my awesome musical tastes to the site via an iTunes plugin. I've made some great friends there, and discovered a lot of new music that I love. A part of me really, really wishes that Apple would have simply partnered with Last.fm... or even bought them out... rather than try to reinvent the wheel. Poorly, as it turns out.

First of all, since the service is new, the number of artists participating in it is limited. The "recommended to follow" people they keep giving me is nobody I'm interested in (except perhaps Linkin Park, who I did enjoy back in the day)...

Ping Recommends

And it only goes downhill from there. When it comes to people, the important thing about music is (surprise) THE MUSIC THEY LIKE. Unfortunately, Apple has limited the music you get to like to the music they sell. This is sublimely stupid. Like the Beatles? Tough shit. They don't exist. Love some local indie band? Too bad. Unless they sell their music on iTunes, they don't exist. One of my favorite bands is a-ha... they only partly exists. Some of their albums can be Pinged... but a majority of them can't be. Scoundrel Days? Nope. Minor Earth, Major Sky? Nope. Analogue? Nope. Their final album, Foot of the Mountain? Nope. The new Deluxe Edition release of Hunting High and Low and Scoundrel Days? Nope. Nope. Much of their live stuff? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Since Ping is supposed to be all about your music, you'd think you'd at least be able to talk about albums you like... even when they're not for sale at iTunes, right? Nope. If Apple doesn't sell it, it doesn't exist, because the like/post feature is tied to the iTunes Store, not your library...

Ping and Post

What the fuck?

Apple can brand this as "social networking" all they want, but it's total bullshit. It's a MARKETING TOOL! Apple is getting you to sell music from their store to your friends... AND NOTHING ELSE!! This is beyond FAIL! It's beyond EPIC FAIL! I don't even know a word that describes just how massive a FAIL! that Ping is.

I'll just come out and say it: I fucking HATE Ping. Apple does not get to decide which music exists and which music doesn't. The fact that they feel otherwise is a very, very scary prospect. And a bad business decision. People are going to notice what they're doing here. It's things like this that made Microsoft so roundly hated, and Apple has got to fix it fast. Because it's a short leap from hating Ping to hating Apple. Especially when it comes to something like music, which people get passionate about.

Apple says that they love music. If that's true, let people share ALL their music... not just the music that record labels allow Apple to sell. Otherwise, you aren't loving music at all... just the money it can generate. And while every company is out to make money, they shouldn't be out to become draconian evil bastards who dictate the music people are allowed to share and discuss.

   
UPDATE: Chris Carlozzi has created a few replacement icons for iTunes 10 which are much, much better than what Apple slapped on it...

iTunes 10 Replacement Icon

You can get the icons for Mac here. And you'll need to download CandyBar to install them.

   

Go!

Posted on Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Dave!

Vacation Countdown One Day Left!

   
National Lampoon's Vacation Movie Poster

   
Go-Go's Album Cover Vacation

Vacation Magazine

Curious George Vacation Video

   

   

   

Day One: PAX Seattle

Posted on Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Dave!VACATION AT LAST!!

Technically, my vacation isn't scheduled to start until tomorrow when I skip the country, but I was able to get a day pass to PAX, the "video gaming festival" going on in Seattle over the weekend. I don't have a lot of time to play video games anymore, but I still love them, and this was a great opportunity to see what's coming up from all the big gaming companies.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My vacation did not get off to the best start. This was made clear to me just as I was heading into Seattle...

  • BAD: Getting a speeding ticket because you didn't see the sign changing the speed from 70mph to 60mph.
  • BADDER: Having just 15 days to respond to the ticket when you'll be out of the country 16 days.
  • WORSE: Having to go to "Money Tree" so you can hand over your hard-earned cash to get a money order so your ticket is paid within the 15-day window.
  • WORSER: Standing in line behind a man at "Money Tree" who has no concept of what "personal hygiene" means.
  • ARMAGEDDON: Having to listen to the Glee soundtrack at full volume as you stand behind a man at "Money Tree" who has no concept of what "personal hygiene" means because you have to get a money order for a speeding ticket you got because you didn't see the sign changing the speed limit from 70mph to 60mph.

Yes. Not so much a good time so far.

But then I made it to PAX, and everything got better again.*

What I was most interested in was seeing the sequel to one of the best games ever. The line was really long to play, but I did get to see... PORTAL 2!!

Portal 2 Booth at PAX Seattle

Portal 2 Booth at PAX Seattle

Uniquely awesome in every way. I cannot WAIT for it to be released! My beloved Weighted Companion Cube lives on!

Lil' Dave with his Weighted Companion Cube

Surprisingly, many of the other "hot" games at the show all looked like Worlds of Warcraft clones. They all had guys running around with a shield and sword killing monsters... Guild Wars 2, Rift, Alion, Tera, Lord of the Rings, etc. etc. And if it wasn't a "swords and sorcery" Massive Multiplayer Online Game, it was a military shoot 'em up in either a modern, future, space, or post-apocalyptic theme.

FORTUNATELY, there were some properties that takes this kind of gameplay and makes it interesting just because of the property attached. The Disney-themed Epic Mickey was pretty darn cool (even if the controls weren't that tight) but it was Star Wars: The Old Republic that took it to the next level. You haven't lived until you're hacking everything in sight with dual-lightsabers and blowing the crap out of stuff with Force lightning!

Star Wars The Old Republic

The biggest disappointment to me was the Xbox "Kinect" where the games were somewhat boring (the dance game was just plain stupid)... and I didn't really get the sense that the "virtual controller" was being used in any way more revolutionary than just holding onto the Nintendo Wii controllers. Of course I didn't get a chance to play for very long or see all the games, so maybe there's more to it than what I got to see. Otherwise, it was definitely "meh."

The second biggest disappointment was the number of "closed" booths, where you could ONLY see the game if you stood in line to play it behind closed doors. This SUCKS because some of the lines are so long I had -zero- chance of that. I wanted quite badly to see Dragon Age 2, but wasn't able to. BOOOOOO!

Since I only had four hours on the Exhibit Floor, I didn't get a very good PAX experience, but I still had a lot of fun...

PAX 2010 Shots

Maybe next year!

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Day Two: Atlanta

Posted on Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Dave!So I could save money, I took a wacky flight through Atlanta which had one of those dreaded layovers that's too long to just hang around the airport, but too short to do much of anything. Pretty much a day-waster... which sucks when you're on vacation, but good for traveling on a budget.

Even though I'd only have an hour once I got to downtown Atlanta, I decided to go anyway. I wanted to pick up something at World of Coke without Lime, and sitting around a boring airport drives me nuts. This ended up being a good move because Dragon Con is in town, which provided endless people-watching opportunities. The costumes people come up with for these things are pretty impressive and, since I was downtown at lunchtime, they were all out wandering the streets of Atlanta.

Playing around with my new wide-wide-angle lens was fun too. I can get a lot of picture in a photo now...

World of Coke Inside

World of Coke Showcase

I'll need to figure out how to take care of the freaky lens distortion when I have time to experiment a bit, but I am pretty happy with everything so far.

But the best part of my day was when I found out I had been upgraded for my flight. The extra legroom and ability to lay your seat flat for sleeping is a big plus over being shoved into a cramped coach seat for 9 hours...

World Business Class Legroom!

A far cry from my early days of travel.

I remember 20 years ago where traveling like this wasn't even a remote possibility for me. Of course, back then I had no money left after buying my plane ticket, and ended up staying in cheap hotels and hostels with nothing more than a backpack and a bike lock to keep me company. I'd need a bike lock, because if I couldn't afford a cheap hotel or hostel, I'd take an overnight train to my next destination so I'd have a safe place to sleep. And falling asleep on a train meant the possibility of waking up to find your stuff stolen unless you bolted it to the luggage rack. Ah yes, there's no better friend for the cheap traveler than a bike lock!

And now I have to put my laptop away before the flight attendant yells at me.

Except they don't really "yell" at you in the front of the plane... but they do have a way of shaming you into doing what they want in the nicest possible way.

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Day Three: Barcelona

Posted on Monday, September 6th, 2010

Dave!Um. What the heck is happening back home?

Reading the news, it looks as though stupidity has escalated at an alarming rate after I left. Just when I think blatant dumbfuckery has reached its peak, I see that a Christian minister is planning on burning the Qur'an. Forget about the fact that this kind of thing is categorically wrong on every possible level, the people behind this travesty are obviously clueless morons who have no understanding of the consequences of their actions.

The vast, vast majority of Muslims are kind, thoughtful, caring, and wholly wonderful people who want nothing more than to live their lives and practice their faith in peace. Just like most everybody else. But when idiots attack their faith... by ohhh... I dunno... burning their most sacred texts... shit is going to happen. Just like it would for most religions.

Stupidity like this puts American lives in danger. Not just our troops who are serving in Islamic lands, but pretty much ALL of us everywhere. If there is no respect for peoples of all faiths (particularly from those who are leaders of those faiths) then there's no respect for the people who follow them. Without respect, there can be no understanding. Without understanding, there can be no acceptance. Without acceptance, there can be no peace.

And yet I'm sure everybody will still be all shocked when the retaliations hit.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to try and enjoy my vacation the best I can in this sick, sad world.

The symbol of Barcelona would have to be Gaudi's masterpiece... the still unfinished Sagrada Família church. To be honest, it looks much the same as it did when I was last here five years ago, but I'm sure much progress has been made...

Sagrada Família

The interior is just as breathtakingly beautiful as I remember it...

Sagrada Família Interior

Sagrada Família Stained Glass Window

Sagrada Família Interior Columns

Sagrada Família Interior

Sagrada Família Interior

And, despite my fear of heights, of course I had to go up one of the towers...

Sagrada Família Heights

Sagrada Família Overlook

Sagrada Família View

After my pilgrimage to Sagrada Família, I wandered around a bit until I found myself at Parc Güell, another site of Gaudi genius...

Parc Güell

Parc Güell

Parc Güell

Hmmm... that looks kind of like Castle Greyskull!

Dinner was at the Hard Rock Cafe, because I just couldn't help myself.

Tomorrow? More of the same, I'm afraid...

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Day Four: Barcelona

Posted on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Dave!Since I've been to Barcelona a couple times before, I've seen all the "top sights" in the city. Rather than hunting for new things to see, I thought that I'd buy a ticket for one of those "Hop-On Hop-Off" tour busses and see some of the place they recommend. This was a huge mistake and a big waste of money. It took forever for the busses to show up, half the places they went were not at all interesting, and I would have been far better off planning things myself with a Metro Pass and an occasional taxi... probably for less money too.

Oh well. Live and learn.

I did spend some time at one of my favorite museums on earth... Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. They have got some incredible, incredible stuff. And you don't even have to go to Barcelona to explore their collection... they've got most everything available online! Here are a few of the coolest things I saw...

Apparently, this guy really needs to pee. I feel bad for him, because he's looking a little desperate. Oh well, we've all been there...

I gots ta pee!

I'm guessing that the poor state of dentistry was responsible for a lot of people being all miserable with toothaches...

Statues with a Toothache

ZOMG! IT'S THE ARC OF THE COVENANT!!

Arc of the Covenant

This is one of my favorite paintings. In the middle is Baby Jesus. Around the outside are Saints and the awesome ways they were martyred for Him...

Pick-A-Death!

I wonder if you get to choose which way you're going to die? There's sawed in half...

Pick-A-Death SAWED IN HALF!

Boiled in oil...

Pick-A-Death BOILED IN OIL!

Sliced repeatedly with a sword...

Pick-A-Death STABBED WITH A SWORD

Or, my personal favorite... nails in the face... IN THE FACE!!!

Pick-A-Death NAILS IN THE FACE

But no worries... Christians definitely got their revenge during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and numerous interfaith and denominational wars. Here's part of a mural showing two Christian soldiers chillaxin on the battlefield...

Crusades Chillaxin

Right before they go out and kill some black people...

Crusades Killin

This is much like I'd imagine a Glenn Beck rally would be like if it took place 900 years ago. Or possibly two years from now. And since we've got dumbfuck Christian ministers burning the Qur'an in "The Land of Religious Freedom and Tolerance" back in the USA, I'd say that a new round of Crusades is just around the corner.

It's so convenient how an increasing number of Christians seem to forget their own bloody past when accusing Islam of being a violent religion. Historically, Christians are among the most savagely violent and destructive people ever to have existed. And when I see all the raw hatred coming out of the so-called "Religious Right," I have to wonder if things are coming full-circle. Obviously this isn't the path chosen by ALL Christians... for now... but if the past is forgotten, I have to wonder what the future will bring...

Monk!

I rode the bus around to various sites taking pictures... blah blah blah... but ended up going to another favorite location in Barcelona. Casa Milá, better known as Le Pedera. This is Gaudi's freaky apartment complex and one of his most famous works...

Casa Milá

A lot of the stuff here is way ahead of its time. Like these HR Giger-esque doors, straight out of Alien...

Gaudi Alien Door

But it's the roof that everybody comes here to see. It's got all kinds of interesting structures stuck to it...

CasaMilá Roof

CasaMilá Roof

CasaMilá Roof

After goofing around Station Diagonal for a bit, I decided to hike up Tibidabo Hill to get a shot of the sun setting...

Sunset Over Barcelona

Then it was time for delicious Patatas Bravas at a tapas bar...

Patatas Bravas and Coke!

Mmmmm... yummy greasy potatoes. Probably the best way you can end a day in Barcelona!

   

Day Five: The Disney Magic

Posted on Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Dave!Wheeeee! I'm cruising with Mickey Mouse!

I am not much of a "cruise person" as the idea of being trapped on a big boat full of idiots is not something I find relaxing or entertaining. Taking a Disney cruise is doubly heinous because being trapped on a big boat full of idiots AND THEIR KIDS sounds like a form of torture I have no intention of enduring. At least not while sober. Or conscious.

Buuuuuuut...

The Disney Magic ship.

The reviews I've read rave about Disney, and they had an itinerary that looked interesting, so here I am.

All I can say so far is that chocolate pudding is excellent.

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Day Six: Somewhere In The Mediterranean

Posted on Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Dave!As I am not so much the cruising type, I always try to pick itineraries with the fewest days at sea. If a cruise has more than two days in a row with no port call, it's eliminated. If a cruise doesn't spend at least 3/4 of it's time in ports of call, it's eliminated. Not that there's not a bunch of stuff to do onboard... far from it... there's all kinds of activities and non-stop eating to keep you busy. But, for me at least, time on the boat is wasted time. No matter how nice the ship is it still feels like I'm trapped with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

And it's not like you have the internet to keep you occupied.

Because the internet is outrageously slow (when it works at all) and even more outrageously expensive ($150 for 500 minutes... which is actually more like 150 minutes because of the slow speed, or around $1 a minute). Not really an option unless you're made of money. Which I'm not. Especially after paying for this cruise.

Anyway... internet aside, the Disney Magic is a pretty amazing ship.

A lot of the more impressive elements (such as a grand atrium) that you find on other cruise ships have been sacrificed to make room for more kid-based activity areas, but the more adult-oriented activities and area are still here as well. This is a win-win, because the kids are pretty much segregated so adults traveling without kids aren't having to deal with screaming children all the time. On the contrary, I rarely see any kids unless I'm passing through an area they frequent. Even at dinner, they seat people without kids with other people without kids. So, despite being a "ship built for families," I find the Disney Magic no more annoying than any other cruise I've been on child-wise...

Kids on the Disney Magic

Disney Magic Mickey Kids Pool

This was a very pleasant (and very welcome) surprise.

Disney Magic Sports Deck

So far, all the food has been amazing in both quality and variety. The service is impeccable. Everything is clean to the point of being spotless. The ship itself is beautifully-designed. This is pretty much par for the course with all cruise lines, but Disney takes it all to new levels by adding their unique theming to everything. Restaurants are all Disney-inspired. Amenities are all Disney-branded. Disney characters are always making appearances around the ship. It's Disney through and through so, if you're a Disney-whore like me, you couldn't ask for anything more.

Disney Magic Donald Duck

Disney Magic Outdoor Screen and Pool

If I have to be trapped on a giant boat at sea, I'm glad it's this one. With Mickey Mouse as the ship's captain, how could I not be?

   

Day Seven: Malta

Posted on Friday, September 10th, 2010

Dave!Visiting Malta was a big plus on this trip, because there are not one... but two Hard Rock properties on the island (three if you count the cafe extension at the airport). I've been meaning to visit here for years, but the airfare and hotel cost was always high compared to other "Hard Rock Cities" in Europe. Now, however, neither airfare nor hotel were required. Cruises do have their benefits.

My day started with a tour through the current capitol city of Valletta and the previous capitol city of Mdina. Both places were filled with wondrous things to experience, so having only a single day ashore made seeing it all impossible. Cruises do have their drawbacks as well.

First stop... the current capitol of Malta, Valletta...

Approaching Valletta

Approaching Valletta

Valletta Cat

Valletta Church

Inside Valletta Church

Valletta Church Skulls!

Then to the former capitol of Malta, Mdina...

Mdina Church

Mdina Church

Mdina

Mdina Alleyway

Then a pricey taxi ride to the other side of the harbor for a Hard Rock Cafe visit...

Hard Rock Cafe Malta

Inside the Hard Rock Cafe

Then back to Valletta for the Hard Rock Bar...

Hard Rock Bar Malta

Inside the Hard Rock Bar Malta

Alas, this ends my first shore excursion.

   

Day Eight: Tunisia

Posted on Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Dave!And here I am back in Africa... this time in beautiful Tunisia.

The first stop was in ancient Carthage, which was a major city back in its heyday. There are a number of ruins around, but the tour I had focused on the colosseum and Roman baths... both in pretty bad shape, but still very interesting...

Colosseum at Carthage

Roman Baths at Carthage

Roman Baths at Carthage

From there it was a quick stop at The Bardo Museum, which was something I was very much looking forward to (and the only criteria I had for picking a shore excursion package). Their collection of mosaics is fantastic, and to be able to see them in person is like a dream come true. In many ways, mosaic is somewhat like the early days of computer pixel art, and I've always been fascinated with the stuff...

Bardo Museum Mosaic

Bardo Museum Mosaic Detail

Bardo Museum Mosaic Four-Panel

Bardo Museum Mosaic Tree Man

Bardo Museum Mosaic

I could have easily spent a full day here, but with a mere 40 minutes I just pushed my way through as many rooms as possible before heading off to the Tunis Medina. Much of the Medina market was closed, which ended up being a total blessing. With many of the side-streets vacated, I was left with photographic opportunities literally too good to be true, but still had some excitement to experience down the main passages...

Tunis Medina

Busy Main Passage at the Medina Market

Medina Lighting Seller

Medina Empty Alley

Medina Market Toys

Medina Market Door

Medina Market Wiring

Roof View of the Medina

Time for a lunch break...

Arabic Coca-Cola!

Since the tour group consisted mostly of Americans, the guide was kind enough to then drive us through the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial, where soldiers from World War II are buried. As it was 9-11, the flag was flying at half-mast...

Tunis American Cemetery

Flag Half-Mast at the Tunis American Cemetery

The final stop on the tour was the beautiful blue-and-white city of Sidi Bou Said (sid-dee boo sigh-eed). Much like Santorini, all the buildings are colored to compliment the sea and sky. I could have stayed here for days just photographing the amazing doors that permeate the city...

Mosque of Sidi Bou Said

Blue Doors

Blue Doors

Blue Doors

Blue Doors

Many of the doors have beautiful decorative nails pounded into them. The guide explained that Muslim houses are typically very plain on the outside so you can't tell what's inside. To illustrate how wealthy a person was, they used to decorate their door with ornate silver and gemstone patterns. Now-a-days, of course, any such valuables would be stolen immediately, so the painted nails are used as a symbolic expression of how the decorations used to be.

After an exhaustive day running around Northern Tunisia, it was back to the ship for dinner and one amazing sunset at sea off the African coast...

Africa Sunset

And that's the joy and hurt of a cruise... they allow you to see so many wonderful places in a single journey, but only for a very short time. As I boarded the ship I wanted nothing more to run back to the dock and lose myself in Tunis again but, alas, I'm off to new places and new adventures...

   

Day Nine: The Amalfi Coast

Posted on Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Dave!Though I've been to Italy three times, I've never made it to the Southern part of the country. After seeing the beauty of the Amalfi Coast in a number of movies and travel shows, it's someplace I've always been dying to go.

Today was the day.

Not finding a shore excursion tour that I liked, I booked a personal car and driver. It was expensive as hell, but I wasn't going to quibble over cost when it came to the destination highlight of my entire cruise. Being able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted was invaluable. And, hey, sometimes you just have to say "forget food and rent, this is something I have to do."

The problem is that the Amalfi area has been besieged by torrential rains and flooding over the past couple of days. Yesterday, there were landslides which tore through a small village just south of Amalfi itself. When I woke up this morning, I was wondering if it would even be possible to go.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

My driver told me that today's weather is about as good as it gets... blue skies and sun with minimal haze. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled at my good fortune. The day started in the city of Sorrento...

Sorrento View

Sorrento Square

Sorrento Church

From Sorrento I was dropped down the coast in Positano. Easily one of the most beautiful places on earth...

Positano View

Positano Steps

Positano Church

Positano Beach

Positano Beach View

After Positano, the driver dropped me in Amalfi for a while...

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi View

Amalfi Beach View

Amalfi Beach View

Amalfi Church

Amalfi Church

And the final stop was the beautiful city of Ravello...

Ravello View

Ravello Villas

All in all, it was an amazing day. The best day. And the night views of Naples back onboard the ship were pretty spectacular too...

Moon Over Naples

And who knows what adventures tomorrow will bring...

   

For anybody Googling information about the Amalfi Coast and looking for a car and driver to see the sights, I give my highest possible recommendation to Sorrento Limo. They specialize in handling cruise ship excursions, and are able to go places that the big tour busses cannot. But even more important, my driver Genarro asked questions to find out my goals for the trip. Once he found out I was interested in photography, he went out of his way to create the perfect itinerary and find spectacular photo spots for me. I could not have been happier with the service I received, and give them my highest possible recommendation.

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Day Ten: Rome

Posted on Monday, September 13th, 2010

Dave!Blah blah blah... Vatican City... Blah blah blah... St. Peter's Basilica... Blah blah blah... The Colosseum... Blah blah blah... The Pantheon... Blah blah blah... Trevi Fountain... Blah blah blah...

FETTUCINI ALFREDO!

As I've mentioned more than a few times before, my favorite restaurant on earth is Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa in Rome. So when the ship docked at Civitavecchia, I jumped at the chance to take a bus into the city so I could have my favorite meal...

Fettucini Alfredo

It was, as expected, beyond delicious.

Other than that, I just wandered around The Eternal City... killing time until my bus returned to port...

St. Peters Basilica

St. Peters Basilica

St. Peters Basilica

St. Peters Basilica

Colosseum

Colosseum

Fresco Painting

The Pantheon

Trevi Fountain

Rome is very beautiful and exciting... but it's the Fettucini Alfredo that makes me want to come back.

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Day Eleven: La Spezia

Posted on Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Dave!Most people on the ship seem to be taking a long bus ride into Pisa or Florence from our place of landing here in the port city of La Spezia. Since I've already been both places, I decided to try something different and visit the coastal cities of Santa Margherita and Portofino.

It turned out to be a good decision.

Both cities are absolutely beautiful... rivaling even the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. Santa Margherita is the larger of the two, and has a beautiful cathedral that's a little plain on the outside, but magnificent on the inside. In a disturbing turn, they seemed to be selling tribbles at the fruit markets here...

Santa Margherita

Santa Margherita

Santa Margherita Statue of Mary

Santa Margherita Fruit Market Tribbles

Santa Margherita Cathedral

Santa Margherita Cathedral

And, as if Santa Margherita wasn't beautiful enough, along comes Portofino. The city is just fantastic for tourists, and has terrific gelato...

Portofino, Italy

Portofino, Italy

Portofino Gelato

Portofino, Italy

Portofino, Italy

I never get this lucky when it comes to vacation weather. I'm guessing a thunderstorm will be coming along any minute now...

   

Day Twelve: Ajaccio

Posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Dave!Pulling into the Corsican port of Ajaccio under flawless blue skies, I'm once again thankful for my unprecedented luck with the weather. On every other cruise I've taken, there's been at least one port that's overcast and rainy.

When it came to shore excursions for Corsica I decided on the long drive to Corte, the former capitol. The tour description promised a look at Corsica's rich and interesting history, which was all I needed to know.

Surprisingly, the road to Corte in the interior of the island is pretty rugged and mountainous...

Corsican Mountains

Road to Corte

Road to Corte

Corte itself is a nice city with some interesting places to eplore...

Corte Corsica

Corte Corsica

Another day gone. My vacation is passing all too quickly.

   

Day Thirteen: Villefranche

Posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Dave!The internet connection onboard has been sucking even worse than usual. It's been so bad that I couldn't upload yesterday's entry despite numerous attempts. So glad I paid $150 for this.

Today is the cruise's final port of call in Villefranche. Sandwiched nicely between Monaco and Nice, it's a great place to start exploring France's Cote d' Azur...

Villefranche

Overlooking Villefranche

After a great drive along the coast, the first stop was Monaco...

Monaco Overlook

It's a beautiful place, with plenty of photo opportunities...

Monaco Street

Seagull in Monaco

And since you can't visit Monaco without a visit to the Casino at Monte Carlo...

Monte Carlo Casino

The interior is pretty spectacular... even if you have to pay 10 Euros to see it. I was going to go all James Bond and play some Roulette, but the lone table they had running was packed so I played slots instead. After winning 30 Euros almost immediately, I was going to cash in... but felt more than a little silly cashing in such a meager amount, and instead played it all until it was gone.

Lunch was at the famous Cafe de Paris...

Cafe de Paris

After which you are given time to wander around the pricey shops and see the sights... like the infamous hairpin turn of the Monaco Road Race...

Monaco Race Route

After goofing around in Monaco and Monte Carlo, the final stop was the medieval village of Eze, which was pretty cool...

Eze

Eze

Eze

And that was that. The last port excursion of the trip, and time to go back to the ship...

The Disney Magic

Just in time... the clouds are really starting to move in.

   

Day Fourteen: GHOST SHIP!

Posted on Friday, September 17th, 2010

Dave!Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later... RAIN!

I'm just lucky it decided to wait until all the port excursions were over.

After the incredibly beautiful weather I've had since day one, it's impossible to complain about things now. In a way, it's perfect, because I can just kick back and relax without feeling any pressure to do anything. Except pack. And pay my bill. Blech...

Storm on the Sea

If there's one benefit of having crappy weather, much of the ship is abandoned...

Ghost Ship!

Ghost Ship!

Ghost Ship!

Ghost Ship!

But the best part of my day? I got to have breakfast with Mickey Mouse...

Dave2 and Mickey!

Fortunately, I was dressed for the occassion.

Onward to Barcelona...

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Day Fifteen: Barcelona

Posted on Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Dave!And then, as quickly as it began, the cruise was over.

Truthfully, it doesn't feel like I had a vacation. With a port excursion most every day, I was waking up at 7:00am, getting back to the ship for dinner at 6:00pm, then working before going to sleep at 11:00pm so I could start it all over again the next day. But, then again, the idea of doing nothing and just lounging around the ship for ten days would drive me insane, so I guess this as good as it gets. I did get to see a lot of interesting and beautiful places, that's for sure.

In the end, I was very impressed by Disney Cruise Line...

The Disney Magic

A few observations...

  • I was never really bothered by a bunch of kids, as I had expected. There are adults-only areas and adults-only shore excursions which keep your exposure to screaming kids to a minimum. Even at dinner they take care to seat people traveling without kids with other people traveling without kids.
  • That being said, there are a lot of kid-oriented activities to keep them entertained throughout the cruise.
  • The staff was, as expected, exemplary. At every turn in every area the crew was at the top of their game. At times I was blown away at the lengths they'd go to fix a problem. The bad internet, for example, was immediately refunded 50% after I complained about it being unusable at times. When my "character breakfast" time was mis-printed on my dining ticket, the head server arranged another for me. The dining staff was insanely obliging for my every request. If I didn't like the vegetarian options on the menu, they'd create something else... or even order me a pizza... rather than have me leave disappointed. Even the retail shop staff went the extra mile to make sure I was happy. Service is usually good on cruise ships, but Disney takes it to the next level entirely.
  • The food was incredible. Just incredible. The vegetarian options were often fantastic and really delicious, and only twice did I opt for pizza instead of the menu. If you could taste their pizza, you'd understand why... it was great.
  • Like most ships, Disney has an "upscale" restaurant which requires a fee to dine in. On the Disney Magic it's Palo, an adults-only dining area with a Northern Italian menu. The food, while truly excellent, wasn't really that much better than what you get from the restaurant menus. The service, surprisingly, was worse. The poor waitress at my table had to take orders, deliver drinks, deliver food, AND bus tables for four groups... two of them with six people! Naturally, she fell behind, and service definitely suffered. This was a really crappy thing to do to the poor woman... they should at least give her a busser to clean off tables for her. If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely pass on dining at Palo.
  • One area where I think Disney falls behind is when competing with Norwegian Cruise Lines "Freestyle Cruising." While I was never disappointed with my restaurant rotation... I still like the ability to choose my own restaurant and dress how I want. With Disney, if you don't like the restaurant your scheduled for (or want to eat at a different time), you can always go to the buffet or order a burger at the pool... but that's a far cry from eating when you want where you want. And I hate... hate... having to dress up for "formal night" and "semi-formal night" in order to attend my dinner. I AM ON VACATION! DON'T MAKE ME DRESS IN A SUIT FOR DINNER!
  • The port excursions were, as with other cruise lines, not run by Disney. They were operated by a local tour company at the port of call. But what makes Disney different is that they usually send one of their people with the tour group. This removes any worry of something going wrong because you never feel abandoned by Disney... even when you're not with Disney. This was entirely unexpected, but a great idea.
  • The ship itself was nice. Very nice. Everywhere was beautifully designed and impeccably maintained. Disney touches and theming were everywhere. Some things I'd expect to find (a library, for example) were missing... probably to make room for all the kids areas... but it didn't really detract from my experience. A big plus with Disney is a separate toilet room and shower room in most of their cabins. This would make traveling with family a much easier experience.
  • Hands-down the absolute best embarkation and debarkation experiences I've had with any cruise ship ever. Given the total mess that most cruise lines make of this, they could definitely learn a thing or two from Disney.

Overall, I thought this is one of the best cruises I've taken. And, while I prefer the "freestyle" aspect of NCL or the flexible options at Princess, I'd take another Disney Cruise in a second. The problem is that they only have two (soon to be three) ships, so their itineraries are really lacking. Unless you want to take the same Mediterranean Cruise over and over... or hop on a short trip through the Caribbean... your options are severely limited. Earlier this year, they had an amazing "Balkan Capitals" cruise that I'd love to take, but it's not available in 2011. Instead, they're going to Alaska, which I've already done. I'd say the odds of me cruising with Disney any time soon are pretty low... not because I don't like the company, but because they're not going anyplace I want to go.

So... if Disney is cruising a place you'd like to see, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. Everything from the ship to the service to the port experiences were gold.

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Bullet Sunday 198

Posted on Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Dave!Even though I'm not quite home yet (only made it as far as Amsterdam today) I'd have to say my vacation is definitely over. So after a two-week break from Bullet Sunday, here we are again...

   
• Newsworthy. I made a very concentrated effort to avoid any hint of "news" while I was on vacation. I never visited news sites. I turned off any news feeds I subscribe to. I even avoided anything news on the television. Just about everything on the news is horribly depressing now-a-days, and I just wanted to leave it behind for a while. Then yesterday while waiting for a room at my hotel in Barcelona, I finally broke down. I really wish I hadn't. The state of politics back home are so embarrassingly sad that I almost dread going back home where I'll have to live with it every day.

   
• Fried. I arrived in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport just after 10:00pm. Naturally, the Patatjes met stand was closed...

Vlaamse Frites Stand is CLOSED!

Life doesn't get much more depressing than that.

   
• Tunisia. As I pack up all the various postcards and souvenir crap that I accumulated on my vacation, there's a notable lack of anything from Tunis. This really sucks, but there's not much I can do about it. Not only did the tour bus get a flat tire, we were delayed getting back to port, so there was no time to shop for stuff. No time for anything but running through the customs checkpoint and climbing on the ship. So now all I have are memories and photographs, which should be enough... but, strangely, are not. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a website where you could purchase postcards from around the world? That would be helpful to people who want a souvenir from places they've been, but don't have one for whatever reason.

   
• Feet. It always blows my mind how people just lose all sense of manners and decorum when traveling. This nasty shit was on my plane...

Feet on the Airplane Wall

Do you think this bitch puts her feet on her own walls? What about when she's invited to people's houses? I'd hate to know what goes on inside a bathroom stall with her, that's for sure.

   
• Televised. The new television season is starting up back home. When it comes to new shows, I record everything and then weed out the losers, so I dread to think how much crap is stacked up on my DVR. If previous television seasons are any indication, at least 50% of the stuff will be unwatchable right off the bat and dropped immediately. The other half will be interesting enough to continue recording for a while but, in the end, only one or two of the new shows will end up being something I want to keep watching. For the most part, I'm grateful, because I don't have a lot of time for television any more.

   
And now I wait for my flight home tomorrow morning. Good night, Amsterdam.

   

Chat

Posted on Monday, September 20th, 2010

Dave!Hey! What the heck happened to the Bullet Sunday I posted yesterday? Blech. I'm back one day and am already having blog problems. Oh goody. A mystery to solve tomorrow morning! But enough about yesterday...

I've stopped measuring the length of my flights in hours, and instead measure them by how many episodes of Kevin Pollak's Chat Show I can watch before I land. Oh how I love this podcast. Kevin Pollak's interviews are 100% pure gold, and better entertainment than most anything you'll find anywhere. I am insanely addicted to the show, and more thankful than I can express that the internet allows true talent to have a forum where they can do what they do without interference from television networks, ad execs, and all the bullshit that fucks up "regular" television.

I have to work very hard to restrain myself not to watch the shows live, and instead download them to my iPhone so I have something to watch while I travel. This has made me go from "HOLY CRAP! HOW MUCH LONGER BEFORE WE FRICKIN' LAND?!?" to "WHAT? WE'RE LANDING ALREADY? NOOOOO! I HAVE TWO MORE EPISODES OF KEVIN POLLAK TO WATCH!!"

Kevin Pollak's Chat Show Logo

I swear... the quality of guests he gets... the amazing information he gets out of them... the hilarious way he keeps things moving... THIS is the job he was born to have. I managed to see eight episodes on my way from Barcelona to Amsterdam to Seattle. It was a who's who of fascinating people that couldn't have been better picked if Kevin Pollak had asked me who he should interview...

Kevin Pollak Chat Show Guests

Paul Rudd. One of my favorite people, he is consistently one of the funniest actors working today and has turned in dramatic performances that rival the best you'll ever see (not only that... he was a guest-star on Veronica Mars!). He's just as amazing off-screen as on, making this an interview you don't want to end.

Rob Riggle. I've mentioned a couple times here how big a fan I am of Rob Riggle and the many places he seems to pop up (The Daily Show, Gary Unmarried, The Hangover, etc. etc.). I knew from his banter with Jon Stewart that he was in the Marines, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. What an amazing, heroic, fascinating guy. Hearing what he's been through and what he gave up for his love of comedy and performing is nothing short of amazing. This is a MUST-SEE interview.

Craig Ferguson. Pretty much the best late-night host since Carson, this interview adds yet another level to a very funny and complex guy.

Maggie Lawson and James Roday. As if Psych being one of my favorite television shows wasn't enough to get me to watch this interview, these co-stars (and real-life couple) were an interesting interview in their own right.

Cheri Oteri. A Saturday Night Live alum with a great story and a fascinating look behind the show. After being entirely too ignored by the superficial "main-stream press," it's about time that Cheri got the interview she deserved. Thank you Kevin Pollak!

Steven Weber. The guy has a wide assortment of terrific roles (including Brian on Wings!) and seems to be fearless in his acting choices. But that doesn't even scratch the surface of who he is. His comedy and political writings are genius... just like this interview.

Neil Patrick Harris. Yet another interview that was so good it could have gone on for four hours and you'd never notice the time passing by. Everything from working as a child actor to adopting twins with his partner... it's all here and it's all good.

Adam Scott. This is one of those actors that keeps popping up so often (Veronica Mars!) that you can't help but notice him. Eventually he landed on Party Down and has joined the cast of Parks and Recreation. Out of all the interviews I watched, I can honestly say that this frank, honest look at "making it" in Hollywood was easily my second-favorite after Rob Riggle's interview.

   
Next up in my queue... Greg Proops, J.K. Simmons, the Sklar Brothers, Bryan Cranston, and Fred Willard. As if that wasn't awesome enough, there's still the first 22 episodes which I haven't seen yet. I honestly don't know if I can wait until my next trip.

If you haven't checked out Kevin Pollak's Chat Show, you owe it to yourself to give it a look. The main website is here. The iTunes video podcast link is here. The iTunes audio podcast link is here. Highest possible recommendation.

   

Trip

Posted on Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Dave!I currently have 67 emails remaining in my inbox. Hopefully none of them are from you.

One of my favorite iPhone apps is Trip Journal (which I reviewed here). For the traveler, it's an awesome way to track your movements with the built-in GPS and document the things you see and do. Since Apple made the iPhone OS multi-tasking, it's even more awesome because you can leave it running in the background all the time. This way, it keeps track of where you go even when you're doing something else. Like making a $70 phone call back home. Or trying to calculate how totally worthless the US dollar is vs. the Euro. Or looking up the Italian translation for "There's a burning sensation when I urinate."

This afternoon while I was put on hold for entirely too long, I remembered that I had Trip Journal running during my vacation and decided to take a look...

Mediterranean Cruise Tracking

The black lines are where iPhone ran out of battery or lost signal or aliens abducted me. The lines in red are where I've been. The app tracks you down to street level, and so everything is there. Including when you go to the bathroom. Or visit a urologist. This is really cool, because you can re-live your entire trip...

Malta GPS Map

After a while, you'd be surprised what you can remember...

Amalfi Coast Map

Rome GPS Map

Monaco GPS Map

Of course, it can also make you entirely confused too...

Eze GPS Map

Hmmm... maybe the lines DON'T turn black when you've been abducted by aliens?

   

Hope

Posted on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Dave!I hate new television season.

Because there's always one of those shows that you end up really liking that ends up getting canceled. This makes being a television fan kind of an abusive hobby to have. It doesn't help that a show's fate is determined by the American public at large... most of which have the attention span and interest level of an epileptic hummingbird on crack.

This season my early favorite show is the very funny Raising Hope...

Raising Hope

The show is flawlessly cast and really well-written. This alone is grounds for its cancellation, but it's also kind of goofy and has a little white trash appeal which gives me hope it will stick around for a while...

Raising Hope Promo Poster

But I'm not holding my breath.

I'm sure there's some shitty reality television show we can't live without that's looking for a time slot.

   
UPDATE: For those who missed the premiere, you can currently get the episode for FREE on iTunes. It's also available in its entirety at the FOX series website... but who knows for how long.

   

Flash

Posted on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Dave!Today as I was driving home from work, I was very nearly broadsided by somebody in a hurry to leave a parking lot.

As my life was flashing before my eyes, I was temporarily blinded by the awesomeness of all my earthly endeavors. Being blinded while driving caused my life to flash before my eyes... again... as I very nearly ran off the road into a bin of apples. Not the coolest way to die, but I do like apples so there's that.

It was nice I didn't die, because Betty White was guest-starring on Community tonight. AND SHE WAS TOTALLY AWESOME AS USUAL!

Of course, my Betty joy was short-lived once I had tuned into the two new shows of the evening...

S#*! My Dad Says. Truly, gut-wrenchingly awful. About as funny as having diarrhea while getting a root canal after totaling your car. So not-funny that I started laughing at the commercials because they were hilarious by comparison. I love William Shatner more than cantaloupe, but he is given nothing here worth anybody's time. His Priceline Negotiator commercials have more substance than this show. And are a hell of a lot funnier. How the bloody fuck did this show ever get greenlit?

Outsourced. This television show totally gutted a rather charming movie I liked of the same name... with absolutely no payoff. The film had an exotic feel of foreign lands and performances that drew you into the story. The television show has none of that and just feels petty, small, and even a little offensive. I don't like the lead character, hate the amateurish and unfunny digs on Indians and their culture, and everything just falls apart from there. When I see messes like this, I can't help but think of all the amazing shows which were canceled so that total shit like Outsourced has room to air. Even more tragic? Parks and Recreation was moved to mid-season so this show could have a time slot. Blergh.

So... the scorecard for this new television season so far is looking pretty grim. Only one show so far is in my "love it" column (Raising Hope), a mere handful in my "maybe" column (Undercovers, Lone Star, Running Wilde), a few in the "last chance" column (The Event, Hawaii Five-0, Better With You), and everything else in the "abort" column. With only a few shows left to debut, it's looking like slim pickings. After inevitable cancellations, I'll probably only be left with one or two shows to carry over.

Oh well... I watch entirely too much television anyway.

   

Smiths

Posted on Friday, September 24th, 2010

Dave!"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" —Morrissey

As I was exiting from high school in 1984, I thought that all the wisdom in the world could be found in lyrics of songs by The Smiths. When their second album, Meat is Murder, was released, I was sure of it. I found disturbing truths in their music and, even though they sang from a perspective of being British, the underlying messages were universal and transcended any single nationality...

The Smiths

Back in those heady post-punk movement days, there was a growing concern over teen suicide as the music they listened to grew darker and darker. I remember an episode of some teen-based drama television show (probably 21 Jump Street) had a storyline specifically saying that listening to music by The Smiths was a warning sign that your kid could be suicidal. I had a good laugh over it at the time, because I was of the opposite opinion. I was firmly in the "truth will set you free" camp, thinking that the revelations in their music were a beacon of light in the darkness. But I was young, stupid, and drunk most of the time so what did I know?

In 1987, The Smiths broke up. At the time, it felt like my world was ending. But the tragedy was short-lived, because lead singer Morrissey released a solo album (the magnificient Viva Hate) just months later. Far from "going commercial" and dumbing down his music for the sake of selling records, Morrissey instead turned things up a notch. And continued to turn things up a notch in his follow-up albums like Kill Uncle, Your Arsenal, and Vauxhall and I).

Morrissey is still alive, kicking, and making music... his latest album, Years of Refusal, was released just last year. But, even though he's just as brilliant and relevant as he's always been, it's his past efforts that have had the most impact on my life.

And continues to do so.

This morning I was privy to an email conversation where somebody was bemoaning the fact that one of their best friends has gone on to be successful while they've been mired in failure within the same profession. It started as an observation but, as things progressed, became a rant of not-so-veiled jealousy. You see this type of thing all the time. And whenever I do, I can't help to be taken back to 1992 when Morrissey's Your Arsenal dropped with the insightful track We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful...

We hate it when our friends become successful.
And if they're northern, that makes it even worse.
And if we can destroy them, you bet your life we will destroy them.
If we can hurt them well, we might as well, it's really laughable.

You see, it should've been me.
It could have been me.

Everybody knows...
Everybody says so.

Pretty much what everybody thinks in those kind of situations, but rarely says. At least not out aloud. And yet Morrissey does. Because he can. And because it's the true.

When I first started studying Buddhism back in 1998, one of the first things you learn is how wishing bad things upon others only ever harms yourself. I honestly believe this to be true. Which is why I really don't hate it when my friends (or even enemies) become successful*. And yet experience has taught me that this kind of thinking will offer little comfort to most people.

Which is why, thanks to Morrissey, I know exactly how to respond when the occasion arises...

"They must be destroyed, of course. It should have been you."

   

*Unless they become successful at my expense, of course.

   

Severed

Posted on Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Dave!

In ancient Egypt, kings would keep track of how many enemies had been killed in their name by being presented with piles of severed hands and penises from their vanquished foes (hopefully after they've been killed). We know this because there are carvings and hieroglyphics in temples recording the gruesome tradition...

Severed Hand Pile in Egypt

The genius of this is that there's no room for error. If you tell your king that you killed 50 of his enemies, then you had better be prepared to pull out 100 severed hands or 50 severed penises to prove it. Otherwise... well, it may just be that it's your hands or penis served up to the king.

Nasty, sure, but... you can't make good decisions unless you can trust on the information you're getting.

And therein lies the problem with the world today. When images can be Photoshopped, video can be fabricated, and audio can be edited or changed completely... how can anybody trust that the information they're getting is accurate? How can you make decisions when everything has the potential to be a lie and any proof which substantiates "the facts" can be faked? Heck, you can't even trust what you read on the internets!

This has been weighing on my mind a lot lately because of the upcoming November elections. Since I don't blindly vote along party lines, and cast my ballot based solely on how I feel the candidate will benefit me... or people I care about... it seems impossible to make an educated choice. Because when it comes to desception, exaggeration, and even outright lies, politicians are the absolute masters. They will do or say whatever it takes to get them elected, and then spend their entire term in office trying to get re-elected for next term. Even if it means going back on campaign promises or flip-flopping on their track record.

Case in point? President Barrack Obama. Not that I had any grand illusions that he would be different than any other politician... far from it... but I fully admit I was hoping for more than I got when voted for him. Granted, he's still a far less dangerous option than hypocritical ass-hole traitor whack-job John McCain and his beyond stupid dumbass VP choice Sarah Palin, but still... very disappointing.

Health care reform? Eviscerated. Prescription drug imports? Scuttled. Don't ask don't tell repeal and support for the GLBT community? Fantasy. Public debate before bills become laws? Nope. Political lobbyist reform? Fat chance. Government transparency? An outright lie. Etc. Etc. Obama is working so hard not to rock the boat and make everybody happy that he's dodging, caving, or compromising on the issues I was voting for him to fix. As I said, no big surprise, but disappointing nevertheless. Such is politics.

So what to do?

Well, until I get proof that's equal in veracity to severed hands and penises as to a candidate's intentions... all I can do is research whatever I can and pick the one whom I feel is the lesser evil...

DAVETOON: Egyptian Penis Sacrifice

Not a perfect system, but neither is the political process.

And does anybody really want a pile of severed penises showing up on their doorstep?

   

Bullet Sunday 199

Posted on Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Dave!It's time for Bullet Sundayyy! It's time for Bullet Sundayyy!

   
• Sharktopus! As a fan of stupid crappy horror movies, I was ecstatic when SyFy Channel (the queen of stupid crappy horror movies) announced SHARKTOPUS!!!

Well, the movie finally debuted last night, and I am happy to say that it was indeed so unbelievably stupid and crappy that it's raised bad television to an entirely new level of awesome. I can't wait for the Director's Cut Extended Special Edition Blu-Ray release!

   
• Elmo! Yes, it was a little odd that Katy Perry decided to wear a very low-cut dress so she could stick her boobs in Elmo's face for an appearance on Sesame Street. But Katy Perry is Katy Perry, so what can you do...

That being said, whoever it was at Children's Television Workshop (now called "Sesame Workshop"... the production company behind Sesame Street) who decided to leak the video on YouTube is a complete genius. Not only do they get a preview of the reaction that the clip will receive, but they get free publicity for the show with millions of YouTube hits. Well, to the surprise of NOBODY, people across the country lost their minds over the thought that children might be exposed to Katy's cleavage, so her appearance was canceled. Heaven only knows how these puritanical nutjobs react when taking their kids to a pool or the beach. As usual, the young children they are so desperate to protect probably wouldn't even understand they're looking at something "dirty" and it's the ADULT REACTION that MAKES it "dirty" and damages their kids, but whatever. I still think it was kind of cute.

   
• Beheaded. I received a comment while I was on vacation asking me if I had changed the DaveToons that rotate randomly across the tops of all Blogography pages. Apparently they hadn't seen their favorite header in a while, and wanted to know what happened. The answer is YES! I replaced all of the old "flat color" DaveToons with newer "shaded color" DaveToons a couple months ago. Thanks for noticing!

DaveToon!

8 old ones were kept, 2 were updated, and 40 were replaced. If your favorite is gone, I'm sorry... maybe it will come back one day. But the good news is that all the old headers have been archived from the past five years so you can look at them whenever you like...

   
• TV Scorecard. For anybody who cares, I've put a quick rundown of the new shows for the 2010-2011 season with my score (based on their first episode) in an extended entry. For everybody else, I'll see you tomorrow when we're back to the daily grind...

→ Click here to continue reading this entry...

   

Modern

Posted on Monday, September 27th, 2010

Dave!omg... OMD...

History of Modern by OMD

   

Yeah, it's pretty frickin' amazing and was well worth the wait. I'd blog more about it, but I'm too busy listening to it. Get your own copy at the iTunes Store!

   

Actor

Posted on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Dave!And so Betty White was on Inside The Actors Studio tonight.

It's kind of odd seeing her relatively recent massive surge in popularity when I've been a huge fan of hers for as long as I can remember. I first saw her on game shows like Match Game, Pyramid, and (of course) various Password reruns and revivals. And while I didn't watch a lot of Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes, I (of course) remember her genius performances there. And then came appearances on everything from The Love Boat to Mama's Family... and (of course) The Golden Girls, where she (rightfully) became a huge star again.

From there, Betty gave me no shortage of reasons to remain a die-hard fan. Dozens of amazing guest appearances in just about everything... including a ballsy role in Lake Placid and her wicked turn as Catherine Piper on Boston Legal.

Now she's appearing everywhere, including her mind-boggling awesome guest-hosting gig on Saturday Night Live.

So what in the hell took James Lipton so long to finally get her on Inside the Actors Studio?

Betty on Inside the Actors Studio

I have no idea. But it's about frickin' time.

Sadly, as Karl noted on Twitter, it was absurd that they cut the interview down to a mere one-hour show. Her career is so brilliant, varied, and long that TWO hours would barely scratch the surface. Yet they butchered it down to just one? Stupid. I mean, hey, it's Betty White... so the show was understandably fantastic. But it was a rushed superficial hack-job of an interview and James Lipton should be ashamed to air it. All I can hope is that eventually they release the full two-plus hours they recorded on iTunes or DVD or something.

   
Updating my New Television Season Scorecard... tonight was the premiere of No Ordinary Family...

No Ordinary Family

Now, I've made no secret of my scathing hatred for the pile of shit television show Heroes which featured boring super-powered people rarely using their super-powers (unless they were lame-ass powers that didn't require special effects). Now, for reasons I cannot fathom, ABC has decided we can't live without a mash-up of Heroes and Modern Family by way of ripping off Pixar's The Incredibles. Along the way, they steal from comic books left and right (the "super-speed" wife has to eat huge quantities to maintain her metabolism, just like The Flash, for example). Not to mention a blatant rip-off of TV's Greatest American Hero ("instructions not included?"... SERIOUSLY?).

The result is an all-new show that we've already seen a dozen times before.

And while it doesn't 100% suck, it does mostly suck. Because there's nothing surprising enough... exciting enough... new enough... to draw me in. Hell, even the big fight scene at the end (well done as it was) ended up being a rip-off of Nightcrawler's invasion of The White House in one of those awful X-Men movies. Nothing in the show has any semblance of originality to me. I was b-o-r-e-d.

On the plus side, I do think the performances were pretty good. And I think they set themselves up for the possibility of doing something interesting with the show's background mythology (unlike shitty Heroes which failed miserably with theirs). So, despite my better judgement, I will be tuning in for a few more episodes just to see if they go anywhere I want to be. Final score? C-

   

Photojojo

Posted on Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Dave!Today was pretty crazy, so it looks like it's time for a product review!

I've been so busy trying to catch up with work after my vacation that I only just this morning had time to open my new Photojojo camera-phone lenses! There are two... a wide-angle ($20) and a fisheye ($25) which you can get as a set for $40. They attach to your phone in front of your existing camera lens, and stay in place magnetically thanks to a little adhesive ring that sticks on your phone...

Photojojo Lens Ring

Here are some snapshots I took. The first image in the sequence is with no lens. The second is with the wide angle lens. The third is with the fisheye lens...

Photojojo Lenses Images

Photojojo Lenses Images

The wide angle lens is pretty nice. It adds just enough extra width to make scenery shots a little easier. It also doubles as a macro lens, which is equally impressive...

Macro Shot with Photojojo Lens

The fisheye lens is kind of goofy. It probably works better on the older iPhones with a smaller lens hole, but on iPhone 4 you get some serious vignetting in the corners because it has a bigger lens. This is disappointing, since Photojojo doesn't warn you... but, it's still a way to fit an impossible amount of stuff into your shot...

Fisheye Shot with Photojojo Lens

Overall, I'm happy with my purchase, with three things in mind...

  • The little ring that sticks to your phone will completely cover the flash that comes with the iPhone 4. What I did was use a pair of wire cutters and cut out a notch in the ring so the flash can shine through. It works fine.
  • At least it would work fine if it didn't keep falling off. The magnets on the lenses are very strong... so strong that they easily rip the ring right off the camera. I'm not sure what the solution is here, but it's very frustrating. It would be cool if Apple would build in a ring for lens attachments but, since that didn't happen, I guess I'll have to look for a stronger adhesive and hope it doesn't ruin the finish on my iPhone.
  • The vignetted black corners on the fisheye lens really bother me. If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably skip it and just get the wide-angle version.

On the plus side, the lenses come with keyring loops so you can always have them handy and lens caps to keep them in good shape. This is pretty sweet, though my keys are getting almost too big to manage now...

Photojojo Lenses Keychain

If you're wanting some lenses for your phone, head over to the Photojojo Shop!

   

Golden

Posted on Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Dave!For all the dumbfucks out there who obviously have no concept of what The Golden Rule is, let me spell it out for you... TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED. If you're Christian, you might better recognize this as "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" from Matthew 7:12. If you study Buddhism like me, it's "Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful" from The Udanavarga 5.18. If you're a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or just about any other religion, this probably still sounds familiar because The Golden Rule is a universal concept for all humanity. It kind of has to be in order for people to be considered "human."

In fact, Scarboro Missions has an excellent poster you can get which illustrates this beautifully (click on the image to make bigger)...

Golden Rule Poster

The reason I bring this up is because I am sick and fucking tired of a horrific personal tragedy occurring only to have the person responsible say "I'm sorry! I never thought this would happen!"

I'm sure that's the justification the bullies who tormented 13-year-old Seth Walsh will use. After being deliberately and systematically bullied because he was gay, this poor kid couldn't take it any more and hung himself. Now everybody is all shocked and horrified and "sorry" even though they stood around and watched it happen (or actually made it happen). Well, too little too late, a life described as "loving and kind" is gone. Destroyed by hateful morons too fucking stupid to understand that people don't like to be tormented by bullying day in and day out, and this is the only way they could find to escape it.

I hear about crap like this and go insane. It's pretty much my worst nightmare.

And as if that wasn't tragic enough, now there's been another suicide when Rutger's University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped off a bridge because his roommate streamed video of him having sex to the internet. And I'm sure that the dumbfuck responsible will be all "sorry" because they didn't realize people don't like to be tormented by having their personal sex life broadcast on the internet, and this is the only way they could find to escape it.

I mean, seriously. Did any of these assholes take ten seconds to ask themselves "Would I like to be treated this way?"

Did those responsible for driving Seth Walsh to kill himself even once think "Gee, I'd sure hate to be victimized every waking hour of every day... perhaps this poor kid I'm tormenting doesn't like it either?" Did Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei who are responsible for driving Tyler Clementi to kill himself ever think for just one second "Wow, I'd sure hate to be humiliated by having my personal sex life broadcast on the internet... maybe this poor guy wouldn't like it either?"

I'm guessing they didn't, because if they DID consider The Golden Rule, and then went ahead and did it anyway... well, that would make them monsters. Inhuman, evil, devious, vile, disgusting monsters. People so abhorrent that they have no place in society, let alone humanity.

And what about me? Did I ever think for a moment "Hmmm... if I ever made the horrible mistake of tormenting someone so badly that they ended up killing themselves, would I want somebody on the internet calling me an evil dumbass inhuman monster?"

Yes. Yes I did. And I seriously don't give a fuck.

Which makes me the biggest evil dumbass inhuman monster of them all.

Somehow, I'm totally okay with that.

   

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