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Friday, October 29, 2010

My Kingdom For a Pair Of Red Sweatpants

Somewhere, hidden from view, is a secret society. This group’s soul mission is to raze the retail industry of fashion faux pas. They spite me. They mock. They laugh and point as they monitor my futile attempts to locate a pair of red sweatpants.

It’s not that I would normally find red sweatpants acceptable, in any sense. Sweatpants aren’t exactly the best option for a guy as it is. Sure, they were comfortable but as young boy, going through adolescence, they were a ticking time bomb. Who doesn’t remember those awkward moments in grade school? There you would be, sitting at your desk, trying to appear all studious and suddenly, it would happen. Your little friend would wake up. There was no reason for it. It would just happen. You had not one thought in your head that could be confused as arousing and yet there you were, half mast. The more you tried to hide it, the…um…bigger…cough… the problem would become. Next thing you know, “Young Mongo, could you come to the board and complete the math problem?” 2 + 2 is OMG WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU POINTING AT ME FOR WITH THAT?!?!? GO TO THE OFFICE!!!! Then there’s letters and meetings and counseling and awkward apologies in front of the class.

Anyone? Really? No one? Um, well, I was just over dramatizing a situation.


OK, the last part.


And we’re walking….

As I try to repress those memories, along with the Afghan Incident, I am reminded that I need to get my Halloween costume ready for a party tonight. Up until yesterday, I could not find a pair of red sweatpants in the Southwestern PA area. I tried Walmart. I tried Kohls. I tried Target. I tried The Goodwill. I tried Bob’s Big House of Red Sweatpants. They were out, too. No lie.

OK, lie.

Now, I found plenty of red sweatshirts. Oh, there were stacks upon stacks of red sweatshirts in various stores but when it came to pants there was Black, Navy, Gray, and other Gray. No greens. No yellows. No ‘effing REDs!

“Why red?” You may ask.

We decided, and by “We” I mean I decided to change the costume choice for my wife and I at the last minute. Originally, we were going to go as Snooki and The Situation. She was going to go as….. The Situation. But, I really did not want to shave and do all that down there stuff and get into tights. I hate shaving my face, why the hell would I shave my legs. Besides, no one wants to see me in a dress. There’s got to be some cosmic Megan’s law that should prevent that.

So, at the last minute we decided to go as Thing 1 and Thing 2 while our daughter would be The Cat in the Hat. It was so simple. All I had to do was make up some shirts through my store and then find a wig and red sweatpants. No one told me there was an embargo on red sweatpants from Sweatpantsistanastonia. I would have planned ahead. My wife. She has a pair of sweatpants. Her mom had five or six pairs of red pants. Hell, her dad even had a pair but under martial law from that secret society, he was forced to through them out. It was crunch time. I mean, how cute would it be for my daughter to go trick or treating as The Cat in the Hat while we dressed up as Thing 1 and Thing 2? It would be priceless to see her in that little cat suit.

She’s going as a ladybug, mind you.

Last minute, Yo.

I couldn’t find a damn Cat in the Hat costume, anywhere, that didn’t require shipping charges in the amount of a “Butt Load” to get here in time for Halloween. And remember, “Butt Load” is an acceptable unit of monetary measure, somewhere between “An Obscene Amount” and “Gruesomely Huge.” Shout out to Ginny over at That’s Church for Gruesomely Huge. We opted for a ladybug costume, which is cute and in all honesty that kid could make a burlap sack look adorable. Hey, that’s half my genes in there…. Which means, I’m half cute, right? [crickets]

So, after all is said and done, I opted to squeeze my big ole butt, OH YEAH, into my wife’s red sweatpants while she wears a pair of her mom’s pedal pushers. At first, I thought it was “peddle pusher,” which made me think it was something created by the The Redundant Department of Redundancy. Hey, I’m a guy. There’s no capri, skort, culotte, or pedal pushers. We know jeans, slacks, and sweatpants. This could all go horribly wrong. I’m going to have to loosen the drawstring all the way to the end, and hope I don’t lose the end in the abyss that lies just beyond the eyelet of the pants. You know, that never ending tunnel that wraps around the sweatpants and holds the drawstring. When you lose and end you have to spend the better part of a day shimmying the drawstring along, millimeters at a time in the hopes that the Flugelbinder, yes that it is the technical term, will emerge from the other hole like snake. OK, it’s really aglet, but Pop Culture taught me Flugelbinder.

Crisis averted. Order restored. Call off the hounds. I’m good to go on that sweatpants deal… for now. Although, I have to wonder if my wife, forcing my father-in-law to throw away those old pair of red sweatpants was simply a karma boomerang that nailed me in the face, because she ducked. I wouldn’t have wasted three days searching for red sweatpants if he still had them. That’s why I’m probably about three cats and two mailers, from Fisher’s Big Wheel, away from being a hoarder. By not throwing anything away, I’ve found myself using it later. My life is filled with Chekhov’s Guns, just waiting to go off at a seemingly fortuitous moment.. “Oh, look here at this seemingly random object that I should just throw away. It couldn’t possibly be relevant at all to anything involving me or an event later that might require it.”

This is why I still have a padded Domino’s pizza bag that I stole in college. OK, I didn’t steal it. The pizza guy left it behind and I just kind of claimed it. You never know when it might be useful, like when you have a craving for Papa John’s pizza and the nearest one is twenty minutes away. Just saying.

Ok, I’m out. Have a good weekend all and I promise to really consider posting pictures of my gruesomely huge ass dressed up as Thing 1. For realsies. By the way, I am not only taking extra clothes with me to this party, I am wearing a pair of shorts under the sweatpants. If I’ve learned one thing in my life is that you always prepare for embarrassing moments by diffusing them ahead of time. It took me nearly failing sixth grade math to figure that out.


No, I’m not.

Yes, I am.

OK, it was fifth grade math and I almost got a C.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just Not Feeling It This Year

It might be that this year’s holiday season has been marred by the absence of a true holiday lover, my wife’s mother. It might be that I just don’t have the time or the patience to get my ass in gear this year. It might be that I’m growing old and losing that childlike wonder about the holidays. For whatever reason, I’m just not feeling it this year.

I’ve heard parents talk about how holidays, like Halloween, become fun again because you get to relive it through the eyes of your child. I don’t know. I mean, my daughter is digging the whole Halloween scene but I’m having trouble seeing it from her perspective. I’m sure if bothered to put the laptop down and stopped spending so much time on the shirt side of Mongo, I’d be able to see it. Maybe not. Trying to build that empire, right? I know. It sounds silly to me, too. I’m trying to cram all the things I want to do into the space of four hours and probably missing out on life. I’m missing out on the life of my child.

Of course, that’s the only reason we’re even celebrating Halloween this year, for her. If it were up to us, we’d give out candy and go trick or treating but that would be it. No decorations, no big to do over a meal, no fanfare or fete. Yet, we are going above and beyond and attending a Halloween party. It’s a costume party to boot.

The last time I dressed up for Halloween was back in 2002. We went to a party, at a friend’s house, dressed as Sharon and Ozzy. It was during the whole craze over The Osbournes. One of the other guests showed up as Ozzy. Of course, he looked more like Ozzy from his Black Sabbath days and I was from the reality show days. We deemed him “Ozzy on Heroin” and me “Ozzy on Viagara."

This year we tried to coordinate our kid’s costume with ours. She was going to be the Cat In The Hat and we were going to be Thing 1 and Thing 2. I even used my shirt shop to produce the Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts. All we needed to do was buy blue wigs and get red sweatpants. Well, who knew that red sweatpants were so hard to find? My wife had a pair but checking three stores yielded no results. That and we couldn’t find a Cat In The Hat costume. We dropped the ball and went shopping way too late to find one. Luckily, the little one was alright with going as a ladybug. It works out because at least we aren’t all going to be dressed up for the same event.

The big thing for this Halloween will be the addition of the fire pit. My in-laws bought us a portable fire pit for the summer time and for Halloween. It was my mother-in-law’s idea. It’s bittersweet that we get to use it on one of her favorite days, but sad that we never got to use it until after she died. She would have loved it. We’re still having people over for dinner after trick or treating, mostly because The Steelers are playing The Saints on Halloween. The World Champs against us. Should be an interesting game, considering the season, so far.

I will still watch It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown with my kid, not because she loves it, but because I do.   She’s just hostage to my nostalgic whim.  I know she enjoyed it in the past but she’s fickle.  It took repeated attempts to get her to watch Toy Story and now I’m fighting a losing battle with Shrek.   She’s three, what does she know?   But this Halloween, she has no choice.  We’re even going to watch it recorded off of television instead from the DVD.  Why?  Because there’s just something special about it being on television.   If only it still included the old CBS Special Presentation intro from when I was a kid.   It’s on ABC, now, so I know that won’t happen.  Those bastards better not edit it like they did with A Charlie Brown Christmas or there will be hell to pay.

I suppose maybe I am feeling it a little. It just sucks that we waited until this past weekend to get the decorations up and it’s hard with my wife being out in the pumpkin patch on the weekends to make some extra cash. It sucks that Halloween is basically a one off holiday whereas Christmas kind of starts around the end of November and lasts until January. I’m sure that’s the malls’ fault but I can’t prove it.

There was just something so special about Fall as a kid. Even when I’m watching Michael Myers rip teenagers to shreds, the atmosphere of those films just lend themselves to a time when being a kid was fun. There was so much excitement over going out trick or treating and seeing the leaves turn and feeling the crunch of them underneath your feet when you traipsed through the neighborhood after dark. The shadows created a world beneath the one you knew. The Fall made the world feel brighter and more alive even though season was signified the transition towards death, the sunset of life. Perhaps it was the ever changing landscape. Something made it fun. I just have to find it in these last few days leading into winter. Of course, it didn’t help that it was 82 degrees yesterday with the threat of a tornado and Windapalooza.

If only that tornado could have swept through and gotten rid of all the leaves that are in my yard.  That’s going to be a bitch to clean up.   I love the Fall, but I hate those damn leaves.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Daddy Tax

It’s time again for tricks and treats. It’s time again for you to smell my feet! OK, I won’t hold you to that. I’ll just help myself to some of your candy.

At the age of three, my daughter knows exactly what candy is and how Halloween figures into getting it. Her first year was more about showing her off in a cute costume than about getting candy as she was only a couple months old. Year number two was pretty much the same thing. Last year, she started to understand it, but didn’t understand the concept of candy all that much. Oh, but she gets it now. She knows full well that she’s going to dress up and go house to house saying, “Trick or Treat” in the hopes of getting candy. I assume that, once the night is over, she will already have a mental checklist of each and every piece she collected and will make sure it’s all still there in the morning. But she has to account for the Daddy Tax.

You might be familiar with the Daddy Tax, even if you’ve never heard it called that. The Daddy Tax is the candy that gets collected taken out of your stash before you get it. It’s so wrong, I know. You know, I don’t remember if my father ever took any of my candy as a luxury tax for living in this world. I know there were times I got tired of seeing Pop Corn Balls and Bit-O-Honey in my bag and wondered where my Reese’s Cups went. I don’t know if was because my dad took some of the good stuff out of my bag claiming it had to go through closer inspection for things like razor blades. I do know that I hated those black and orange wax paper, awful tasting, filling removing, candies that tasted like they had gone rancid before getting into your bag. I lived for the Reese’s Cups and Fun Dips. I was even OK with SweeTarts or that strip of candy in the shape of different fruits including watermelon. I detested anything licorice or anise flavored and couldn’t stand Chunky. I was alright with getting a mini pack of raisins but Chunky? WTF?!?!

My kid tends to like chocolate, for the most part, which should be good in the case of me getting my hands on a few Snickers bars. She's not a big fan of peanuts. Hopefully, there will be some caramel in there. A Caramello would be preferred over a Rollo but I’ll take what I can get. Thanks to my wife’s father she has a predilection for Milky Way, Tootsie Rolls and lollipops. We frequent a place that has one of those crane games that will let you keep playing until you win some candy. It’s a ritual that she gets to have Pappy win her some candy before we go. Halloween will be a jackpot for her. At least it better. I went to Sam’s Club this weekend and bought two 120 count bags of the good stuff and a five pound bag of the cheaper stuff. You may think I’m nuts but I remember running out of candy the first year I lived in my current residence. It was almost like Night of the Living Dead when we ran out. We were flipping off the lights, shutting the blinds and hoping the hordes of monsters wouldn’t see us inside. The next year it poured down rain and I ended up with lots of leftover candy which ended up going to her piano students… and me. This year I fully expect to fill the bowl at least three times.

These days, the Daddy Tax almost seems foolish. If I have a lot of leftover candy after all is said and done, there’s no need to pick through my kid’s bag since she doesn’t need it. Not like I do, but I’m only looking out for her best interests. LOL. It’s inevitable that I will have leftover candy because we always buy too much as a conditioned response to that first year. However, I may spy something in my daughter’s bag I really like. In that case, I may have to have sit down and discuss a deal before the trade deadline.

If I see a Fun Dip in her candy bag, though, it’s totally mine. I’ll put up a blockade, post guards and enforce martial law if I have to. That damn thing will be mine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Chicken In Every Pot And An iPad in Every Room

Back in January I laughed off Apple’s iPad by comparing it to those oversized button remote controls that you buy for Nana and Peepop.  Lord knows how many times I’ve had to fix the settings on my father-in-law’s television because he mistakenly pushed the SAP button on his remote, changing the sound settings to secondary audio program ones.   “Why is Law & Order in Spanish?!?!”  LOL.

But for all my chagrin and snark over the iPad I’ve had a change of heart.  Well, I’ve had a change of mind.  I still believe the iPad was a fundamentally flawed concept due to its limited capabilities.  A USB port would be nice.  The ability to run more than one App at one time would be, too.  "The iPad is meant to be an easy-to-use appliance, not an all-purpose computer. A USB port would mean installing  drivers for printers, scanners and anything else you might hook up."   Steve Jobs says in an article from Wired. (NOTE: Multi-tasking should be available this fall.)

Appliance?  Appliance for what?  It’s a digital device.  It’s THE digital device, the one we’ve supposedly been waiting for to revolutionize hand held mobile devices.  Could it be that Apple couldn’t get to do all  the nifty things we, as tech-geek consumers, wanted it to do but had to release something in order to stay ahead of the curve?   Maybe.  After all,  if we’ve learned anything in the computer and digital age, the early bird gets the worm.  If Apple can hook everyone on the concept of the iPad, they can go back and work out all the wrinkles in time for the second generation.  It worked for the iPod.  Other portable media devices have tried to knock the iPod off the top of the market share hill but with every iteration or next gen iPod more features continue to draw in customers, including ones who had bought the previous version.

However, the iPad makes a leap, in terms of technology, and in this case, Jobs better start listening to the masses and add some of those features quickly, because while the early bird gets the worm, the second mouse gets the cheese. If someone figures out a way to emulate what Apple has done with additional features that please the consumer, Apple may be stuck in the trap.

An appliance? That makes me laugh. I do not pretend to be the geekiest geek that ever geeked but from a user standpoint I can see so many more uses for a tablet PC than to just read a book or run goofy apps, one at a time. I think in terms of outside the box application. Finding ways to use technology in areas that it was never originally intended to be introduced to. The iPad or a tablet PC by any company gives freedom. Yes, you can do a lot of things with a mobile device like an iPhone or Blackberry, but the tablet gives you greater ease of interface and visual aesthetics. Some people, like me, have fatter fingers or aren’t as good at fine manipulation of objects. Those of us suffering from banana hand syndrome or have all the dexterity of an oven mitt need a larger area in which to work. Case in point, I don’t text. I use a laptop but would much rather have a standard keyboard to type on and a mouse in my hand instead of a pad on the laptop to run my finger around. In that instance, a tablet PC would give me more workable area to maneuver my flippers around.

Like I said, don’t get me wrong, mobile phones already have the ability to do what I would like them to do. My brother showed me live images from security cameras where he worked on his phone. He could run an office from his phone, if given the chance. But one would think that, with the introduction of a device that is built on the technology introduced in the iPhone, it would be able to do that much and more.

So, I invite you into my fantasy world. Not that one… The other one, the Mongo Sandbox, where I have a disposable income and a blank slate on which to build anything I want. And for this sand castle I am using the “Mongo” brand smart tablet to run everything.

Back in my June post about the iPad I mentioned that it would be nice if you could come home from work and prop your feet up in front of a small screen to catch up on the news or sports. I’m not talking about a 50” LCD HDTV. I’m talking about a sleek and stylish thin screen sitting on a small stand hooked, via USB cable to a digital tuner. Once you are done watching Sports Center, you decide you want to read a book. You stand up and walk over to the screen you’ve been watching, unhook the USB cable and take the device from its stand. You turn it 90 degrees and now you have an eBook reader. That was my original idea. But in the sandbox of my mind that was only the beginning.

What if you decide that the lights are too bright in the room for you to read the eBook. You simply minimize your reader and open the app HOME which runs your home. You can then navigate a path to something like Systems\Utilities\Lighting which shows a wireframe map of your home by floor. You choose the room and, with your finger, adjust a slider which controls the level of lighting in the room, much like volume control on your computer. You then close that app and restore your reader app and continue reading your ebook.

Let’s say you get a phone call. Simply minimize your reader again and use the Phone App to answer the phone. Either through a blue tooth handset attached to the tablet or even by using the speaker on the tablet you can chat with your friend who wants to go catch a movie. Without ending the call you can open up the Web Browser and look up show times and purchase tickets which can then be printed via WiFi to your printer. All while you are still talking. I know phones can already do this, but this is a bigger interface that is tied to more systems and works with several other devices.

Remember, in the sandbox, the possibilities are endless as well as the funds to make them happen. Now, you could say all this dependence on a tablet PC is bad, like Skynet bad or Wall-E bad. True, but what if you are elderly or confined to a wheel chair or have the inability maneuver around your space to achieve these tasks? This might make your quality of life a little better and, in an age where medical costs are rising or they are not being reimbursed as well as they used to, the ability to be more independent with this type of technology could be a welcome savings. So, that covers one application in a small capacity, but I’ve got bigger ideas and with multiple devices around the home, thanks to that sandbox income. The previous scenario covers perhaps a den setting. Let’s move this towards the whole house.

One of the greatest things about my car, which I miss, is the remote start feature. I went to change the battery in the key chain remote and one of the solders broke, severing the circuit. I’m just too lazy, and probably inept, to fix it, so I have to go out and not only start my car on a cold day, while inside it, I have to use the key to unlock it. Since the car only has one key hole, I have to use the driver’s side lock to unlock all of the doors and open the hatch. But what if GM had an app for that? Well, someone does.

So, now when it’s ten degrees out there and a foot of snow is on the ground, you can use the that same technology, along with a few others to get to work easier.   Now, the simple solution would be to park your car in the garage, but what if you forgot too or some other reason prevented you from doing that.   You’ve got to go outside and get in your car, which is cold, and there’s a foot of snow in the driveway.   You just don’t have time to shovel or get out the snow blower before work.   With the Mongo Smart Tablet, you don’t have to.  From any Smart Tablet in the house, you can call up your automobile app, and remote start your car.   But what about the snow?   Easy, when you first get up in the morning and notice the snow, you use your smart tablet to turn on the radiant heating system that is installed underneath your driveway.   While you shower, shave, and have your coffee, your driveway is clearing itself of all that snow.   You simply walk out onto the empty driveway and get into your already warm vehicle.   Warmquest is a company that can do that.  This same company can also install under shingle roof deicing equipment which would have been perfect this past year with all the reports of collapsed roofs due to snow from Snowmageddon.   Not to mention, icicles are dangerous and could be eliminated in this case.

Wasteful energy could be a thing of the past with your Mongo Smart Home because you could remember that you left the lights on upstairs or in another part of the house and the smart tablet could alert you and could be used to turn off the lighting in those empty rooms.    You could check out noises outside the house by accessing the CCTV system, like my brother showed me, activating or deactivating flood lights to get a clearer picture, and call authorities if needed.   CNN had an article about this, but it was only one of eight different money saving tips which was crudely advertised as an article devoted to running your home on an iPad. 

The applications are limitless in the sandbox of my mind. I could be in the kitchen, getting ready for guests and be using the smart tablet there to follow a recipe online while setting the light levels in the house, deicing the driveway and starting up the fireplace for ambiance. It sucks when you are trying to do 15 things at once while watching a pot of sauce or soup. In the event that you have to leave the kitchen and attend to something that requires some time, you can use the smart tablet in any room to call up kitchen functions and shut off the stove to keep things from boiling over. One of the coolest amenities we had in the beach house we rented this year was the sound system. From a main receiver/tuner in the living room we could supply the entire house with audio. There were individual volume control knobs in each room wired for sound, but the source of the audio came from the living room. We discovered this by accident after setting up my Nintendo Wii and letting my father in law play Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2010 while we were outside on the deck one night. It was all peaceful and serene on the deck, overlooking the sound, when all of the sudden gun shots ripped through the air. We thought we were under attack. Hell, the neighborhood probably thought they were being invaded, Red Dawn style. We just didn’t know that all the volume knobs were left on by the previous renters and the surround sound of my father in law blasting away Bambi echoed outside and across the street. So, yeah, it would be nice if your smart tablet could control something like that, without having to go into every room of the house and adjust the volume.

All of these innovations are reminiscent of a Merry Melodies cartoon, called "Design For Leaving", where Daffy Duck retrofits Elmer Fudd’s house with buttons of all sorts. And to that end, all sorts of things could go wrong. As much as I would be a champion of this style of design, I understand chaos theory and Murphy’s Law very well. The power can go out, Blue Screen of Death types of failures, firmware issues, updates, and viruses could render your Mongo Smart Home inoperable. I would never dream of turning control of your home solely over to a computer. Everything would still function as it would without the smart tablet interface, but the addition of the interface is like a dimmer installed in a light circuit. You use a switch to supply power to the light but dimmers installed in certain places can adjust the settings to the already powered lights. The same here, it’s an added feature not a control over the functionality of the appliances and utilities.

Okay, perhaps the sandbox ideas are a dream for those who have the income and technical savvy to pull it off in the real world. But that’s the fun of imagining what a device like the iPad can do. There are plenty of real world, business applications for a smart tablet. Schools are beginning to adopt the iPad in the classroom.  Teachers can conduct a lesson and students can interact with the lesson, adding notes and asking questions into a notepad style environment. Just think about huge lectures, with 400 students in them. If students had an iPhone app or smart tablet in the classroom, they could ask a question from the back row and the TA could capture all this for the professor to expound upon or address during the lecture, while it’s fresh. The student, at the back of the room does not have to shout or draw unwanted attention because the question could be anonymously asked, filtered by the TA, of course. The TA could even respond with an answer without having to disrupt the flow of the lecture.

As a Theatre Arts major in college, I have gone through tech rehearsal boot camp. You get up really early on a Sunday and come down to the space, ready to spend the next 12 hours doing mundane but very important work. You begin pulling together the important changes and cues that occur during a show with all of your tech heads like lighting, sound and such. With a smart tablet interface, you could run a sound board or light board remotely, while sitting next to the director or stage manager instead of up in the booth. The process could become more efficient without a lot of shouting back and forth or headset chatter.  The director could simply lean over and talk to the designer or tech. No yelling, “Give me channel 4 up 10%.”   Here is an article about the application.

Also, notes could be taken with a handwriting converter. I’ve done it and I’ve worked with directors who have stood there and tried to decipher scribbles into an important production note. Some of these innovations are already in place with iPhone apps but, again, broad spectrum, bigger interface and multiple applications running at once.

And let’s not forget the healthcare field. Doctors could see a patient, look at their charts, prescribe meds which could then be printed at the receptionist desk to be handed to the patient or even sent to the pharmacy, eliminating handwriting errors. Doctors could be linked into a database of information about symptoms and diseases. The CDC could help control an outbreak by recognizing these symptoms and posting to a board where providers could tag them and compare against diagnoses they have in their office, all during a patient’s appointment. Doctors could monitor patients’ vitals remotely and prioritize various patients from their tablet. Of course, there would have to be a huge amount of security attached because of HIPPA. Applications are endless.

Facilities management could be streamlined. Systems could be monitored for changes or failures. Lighting levels and schedules for automatic lighting could be adjusted on the fly. Sensors could pickup issues like security or climate controls. The ability to pinpoint a problem could correct it faster. And with that built in webcam, missing from the iPad, you could snap a picture and send it to the tech who will be correcting the issue in the case of building and grounds issues.

So, my mind isn’t too far into the clouds when it comes to technology. When I started writing this post, did the bare minimum of research to see if what I had thought of was already in use. Some things were there for the iPhone and some were there for the iPad but not everything as far as I can tell, although Smart Homes are a reality in regards to mobile devices.    For now, I have little interest in buying an iPad because of the missing features I feel would be important.   Also, as much as I tout being a geek, I don’t even have a data package for my phone.  I don’t text and I use my phone to um… make calls.   Whenever Apple or another company comes up with the smart tablet that I would want I’ll think about crossing that bridge.  Until then, there’s always room in the sandbox.  

Got any ideas on  how to use an iPad for something it wasn’t designed to do?

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Wanna Be a McMillionaire So I Can Pay For Heart Surgery

It’s October again, and that means some of us will inevitably pack on the pounds as we try to win a million dollars from McDonald’s Monopoly.   I, for one, will probably not be participating with as much gusto as I have in the past.  It used to be that I lived for the days where I could justify buying a Big Mac, large French fry, and large drink just so I could get a few game pieces in the hopes of finding the elusive “Boardwalk” game piece.  Now, I’m a little older, a little wiser, a little bigger and a little less richer.   So, for me, the road to riches will not be paved in little pieces of paper with Monopoly properties on them. 

Monopoly is one of my all time favorite games.  I have two board game versions, two console editions, one for Playstation and one for the Wii.  I also have a version on my mobile phone which makes time go by quicker when you are stuck in waiting rooms or lobbies for various appointments.   Another favorite of mine is McDonald’s.   Of course, heading into my late 30s I really need to curb that love.   I have, in the past, frequented a McDonald’s two or three times a week just because of the Monopoly game going on at the time.  Hoping and praying for that little Boardwalk piece to show up on my large Diet Coke.

But it will never happen and I may have finally turned the corner on that hope.    Let’s face it.  You probably have a better chance at winning the Powerball than you do at hitting that top prize.   That is, of course unless it’s the year 2000 and you know Jerome Jacobson.  He’s the guy that was the chief of security for the sub contracted company hired by McDonald’s to handle the organization and promotion of the game.  He pulled out all the rare pieces and handed them out to associates who then would go and claim most of the top prizes that year.     I had no idea what these “rare” pieces were about.  I was under the impression that there were pieces just scattered about and it was luck of finding them.

But I learned the hard way.   In 2006, I made a trip to San Francisco on business and our meeting space was right next to a McDonald’s.   During lunch breaks I made the trek across the parking lot for a Ranch BLT Chicken sandwich, large fry and diet coke.  Hey, I’m a cheap date when it comes to business expenses.  However, I don’t know how my employer would have felt about me possibly winning a million dollars on their dime.    Not like they had anything to worry about anyway, but still.    My thinking at this time was that perhaps it was a regional issue.  Maybe the pieces were split up among regions.  Perhaps pieces like Park Place were distributed into the East while Boardwalk was sent into the West.  Maybe, by getting pieces from different parts of the country I could put together a winning set.   Unfortunately, in the age of the Internet, this is a highly unlikely scenario because communications about those pieces would flow back and forth creating opportunities for people to make deals with others holding the complementary pieces.   However, the deception is even greater than that.

Turns out, in case you didn’t know already, there are these “rare” pieces.  For each set of properties, including railroads, there is one piece that is considered rare, usually the last property in a set by alphabetical organization.    The exception is Boardwalk which is the last property in the arrangement of the game as well as the most expensive.    I haven’t seen all the statistics but my guess would be, that out of all the game pieces in circulation, Park Place has the highest number of appearances.  Why?  Because that entices people to keep playing. “Hey, if I have Park Place, then I only need to get Boardwalk to win.”   Since Boardwalk is a rare piece, you’ll never see it and at the end of the contest, you’ll be holding fifteen Park Places and an extra 15 pounds instead.

A few years later, I had not learned my lesson and continued to purchase unhealthy meals in hopes of finding the elusive rare pieces.  In fact, I escalated my obsession into keeping all the pieces and playing online.   The online version of the game allowed you to enter in the codes listed on the pieces for a roll of the dice.  As you moved around the virtual board, you picked up properties and other items.  The rolls always seem to put just to one side of the last piece needed to win, another carrot dangled.  In the end of that promotion year, I ended up winning a ringtone for my phone. Oooh, I’m a big winner, huh?  Turns out, it was a Sprint led promotion and I have Verizon wireless.    Bummer for me.  I ended up writing them to complain about it and in exchange for winning the incompatible ring tone, they gave me a free game download, which was a joke.  It was a flash game in which you had to slide blocks in certain directions and in a certain order so that you could move your cell phone shaped game piece along a straight line and out of the board through an opening.  I then learned that even the roll of the dice was not random.   The outcome of the dice rolls are scripted to randomly select moments when they could result in a player landing on a winning square.  There are even instances where the game would crash if you did complete a set of properties.  That’s all gone now as it is simply a random choice of cards.  No dice rolling or board advancement is involved.

So, over the last couple years I’ve given up on the whole scheme because every time I would go to the store, my choices for food with game pieces were limited to stuff I could care less about and half the time, that particular location would always be out of the containers holding game pieces.   That’s not to say that people aren’t figuring out ways to win or at least make money off the game.

There are blogs, message boards, forums, and a number of websites devoted to tips and tricks to winning.  In fact, there were even free game pieces by mail (along with a SASE, so that’s almost a dollar in postage) which could hold another 15 Park Places.  For awhile I had a bunch of Best Buy Bucks or discounts from Foot Locker if I spent a certain amount.  Truly, can anyone see the value added by wasting time on this game?   Instead of spending the money on McDonald’s, unless you naturally go there a lot, why not use that money to buy what you want at those stores.  Best Buy no longer gets involved and I didn’t even know Foot Locker was still around.

But beyond the actual purchasing of food to win money, there is a subset of people who are using the contest as a way to scam people into thinking they can win.   I will give humanity credit because they are getting somewhat smarter but a few years ago EBay was rife with scam auctions promising you an edge to winning.  First of all, there is the cheaply listed rare pieces list that gets emailed to you for the low price of $0.99.  In this scam, hucksters promise you a competitive edge to winning by identifying the rare pieces in the game and a few tricks and tips to winning more prizes.  First of all, the rare pieces are easy to list.  In fact, that information is available for free, everywhere.  All it takes is a simple search.

There are outrageous Buy It Now auctions listed for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The item for sale is Park Place.  The piece that is everywhere and everyone always has was being sold for up to $500,000 because someone thought that “Hey, I have Park Place and could sell it for half the winnings because some idiot might believe that they can find Boardwalk on their own.”   That’s true dickery, there, and I know dickery.     LOL.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that corporations that run contests like this are not looking to really pay out to a winner.  The quicker consumers learn that the better.   Yes, it’s fun to play and get caught up in the machine but realistically, understand this.  McDonald’s is out to make money, just like everyone else.  The contest has been set up to maximize revenue on their part by continually enticing people to play through promotion and marketing, i.e. the prevalence of Park Place in nearly every cup or container that has game pieces on them.   The online version is just as  controlled, or rigged if you wish to believe it, to only pay out a certain amount of low level prizes.  People, smarter than us, sit in boardrooms and come up with plans to maximize buy in and minimize pay outs.  Remember that, in most cases, all chances of winning are subject to randomness based upon odds that are in favor of the house, i.e. rare pieces.

To give you a different analogy, imagine that the instant win pieces on items are akin to prizes won at a “Guess Your Weight” game in an amusement park. You pay $2.00 and the attendant guesses something about you and gets it wrong. You walk away with a sombrero or blow up toy. You feel pretty proud of yourself for being able to fool the guesser. However, that item you are so proud of owning only costs a fraction of what you paid to get it. Go back and watch The Jerk. There’s a hilarious exchange between Steve Martin and a guest where explains what they can actually win. That’s the same philosophy here. A scale game at an amusement park is always going to come out ahead because the cost of any item is always going to be a small fraction of what the game costs.

In fact, the attendants aren’t there to be psychic or somehow intuitive. They don’t even have to get it right half the time. They are they to get you to play. They use their people skills to draw in a crowd of people to watch them. They use their people skills to get someone to play. When that person wins it makes others feel confident that they can win and that means more revenue coming in and low cost toys going out. Those items are then used as free publicity and promotion to pull other guests in when they see someone walking around with the prize they won at a scale. Put that in terms of McDonald’s Monopoly and you can see how the machine works and why it’s silly to imagine yourself with a million dollar payday. The online version used to advertise winners on screen while you were playing as a tool to get you to play. Who knows if these people really existed. It doesn’t matter, it’s the power of suggestion. They won, so I can win.

It’s just food for thought.

Here's some more food for thought.
How many Big Mac's do you have to eat to win X prize?
How are you faring at McDonald's Monopoly

Monday, October 11, 2010

Somebody Touched My Stuff Again

A while back I talked about what happened the last time I went shopping at Giant Eagle in Harrison City.  Well, it happened again.  Same scenario.  I go in and grab things I need to buy.  I go to the self-checkout lane and purchase said item.s  I go to the end of the lane to bag up my items.  Somebody comes over, crumbles up the coupons sitting next to the scanning plate and throws them away.  I get pissed.

This time it was an employee because they were wearing a uniform.  This time I hadn't paid for my purchases yet, so my receipt didn't end up in the trash.   This time I...  said nothing.  OK, but if a third time occurs, I'm flipping tables over and going wild bunch on these guys. [pew pew]

I can hear it now.  "Oh, Mongo, stop being so passive aggressive and just go through a regular check out lane.  You are doing this to bait them, now."   Well, yeah, you're right.  I am baiting them.  I want them to do it because a third time will not be tolerated.  And as for the regular lanes, I don't want to hear anybody complain that it takes away from the need to hire cashiers.  That's a load of crap.  There were three cashiers before they put in self-checkout lanes and there are three cashiers, now.    What does happen is that when you go through a regular check out, you run into these issues.

  • Waiting for the person in front of you when you can just zip through the empty self-checkout lanes.
  • The cashiers do not give you the coupons printed out from scanning your Advantage Card in the self-checkout lane.
  • Nine times out of ten, the regular checkout cashiers have not asked me if I wanted to apply my discounts from pumping gas to my total.  That's a screen you have to navigate through in self-checkout lanes.
It may seem that I am impatient but I am usually heading to the store after I leave work.  I want to get home because, I'm tired from being at work and I really don't want to spend anymore time than necessary at the store.  I am also usually relieving my father-in-law from babysitting duties since my wife is working at the time and he's been at work, too and just filling in for a couple of hours to bridge the gap.   That's my main reasons.

Now, the last time I went to the store was yesterday to grab one item for dinner because the ones I had were out of date.   No one bothered me but the next time... ooooh, grrrr.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dork Star

I know I’m a dork. OK. Let there be no preconceived notions that I think I’m the coolest thing since locker answering machines. Remember those? I actually used that little gem of an invention as a pivotal piece of a plot twist in a story I wrote in Junior High. Further proof of my dorktitude. But still, I come here bringing nothing to the table in terms of coolness. So, it goes that there is still damning evidence of my days of dorkdom somewhere in my house. My wife will say it’s very easy to find by just looking at me and some of the shirts I wear, self made mind you. And as I write this, I can see the shaking of her head and can hear the voice coming from a place of both two parts pity and one part love proclaiming, “You are such a dork.” The evidence, at least one that we can call Exhibit A, is a video tape. A VHS-C tape smaller than an iPhone but thicker than a digital camera exists with me acting like the biggest nerd this side of Adams College.

It was 1993 and I was a freshman at Coastal Carolina University. It was my one and only semester at Myrtle Beach University and I was a bit homesick. Well, that’s what I told myself, anyway. I didn’t know a lot of people there and those I did know had way better things to do than to entertain the likes of me 24/7. Needless to say, I spent a lot of nights bored out of my skull. This was a full decade before Facebook and the best distraction I could hope for was a few hours of SimCity Classic. I didn’t even have email or the Internet to waste time on in those days. What I did have was a girlfriend 600 miles away and no cell phone or long distance. Sometimes, I had to decide on clean laundry or a phone call when it came to quarters.

I also had a video camera and wanted to do something both innovative and sentimental for her. A friend of my brother’s had asked me to film him and my brother rocking out to White Snake. Both his and my brother’s girlfriend were sisters so that’s where the connection lie. Oh, it was "Deeper the Love", in case you were wondering. A few of you might be thinking it was "Here I Go Again", but that would be silly, right?  Ok, it was all silly because it was lip synched in the end.  Anyways. I took the master video and mixed it with the song, matching up a specific movement in the video with the tape that was playing in the background so that I could match it in the editing. That’s where my idea came from, except I took it to a whole new level of dorkiness. I wasn’t going to just film myself singing a song. I was going to film myself singing three parts of a song and then mix them all together. My choice of song? "All For Love" by Bryan Adams, Sting, and Rod Stewart. Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me. It was cool… wasn’t it? The Three Musketeers had just come out and I snapped up the soundtrack and hatched a plan. I would film all three vocals in different locations, run them all through my editing box that I had with music synced up to the action and then just flip between each video, recording my final masterpiece. It could not fail!

Oh yes, it could.

I don’t know which was more sad, the fact that I actually did this or that I was able to get someone to film it for me. Probably both. The poor girl. She was such a trooper and didn’t once tell me I was nuts, though I’m sure she thought it. I mean there I was on a cool November Sunday wandering around campus with a boom box and a video camera. At the back of CCU’s campus was the Wall Building. It was fairly new and they were still doing construction on it. What was finished was this sweet bridge from the main part of campus over to the Wall Building. It had benches and pillars and lights and the back of Wall was a pretty nice backdrop.

We set up and hoped that people wouldn’t see us. Somewhere, in the back of my head, I knew how dorky this was. I think I blew like ten takes and a good two hours of this poor girl’s time. A jogger even ruined one of my takes and he was probably like, [heavy breathing] "dork" [heavy breathing].  After all was said and done, I had one third of the puzzle, my Citizen Kane. LOL. All I had to do was record Sting and Rod Stewart’s part.

When I transferred home for the Spring semester I found myself with a few options for filming but limited on crew. I highly doubted that I would have found anyone else willing to indulge my dorkiness. I headed down to the river via an old rail line that had been renovated into part of the bike trail. It had some great landscaping and was rather quiet in the Winter months. At one end of the trail was a bridge. I’ve heard it called West Jaw Bridge, West Draw Bridge, West Yaw Bridge and a ton of other names, but it’s a trestle bridge that kids in my neighborhood used to jump off of into the river for fun. I planned on using all of that area to do the second part in and then for Sting, I was going to use the castle turret at East Park for the final part.

Unfortunately, I got bored or ended up never having enough time or mental capacity to pull off the entire feat. Considering that the first third was filmed on the move and the second two thirds would be a stationary camera position made me feel like it wasn’t worth it since it would never look the way it should. And yes, once again, as I type that I realize how much of a dork I am for wanting scrap such a silly project because it just wouldn’t look right. In all seriousness, had this thing ever seen the light of day it would have been ridiculous. I would have probably made Uwe Boll look like Martin Scorsese.

Sometimes I’m glad that further proof of my ridiculous youth are kept hidden but it’s goofiness like this that makes me feel compelled to share. Yes, we can all grow and learn from this. Parents, don’t let your kids try and impress the ones they love with a boombox or a video camera. It will all end in tears, I just know it.

Now, where is my Kenny G CD?

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Cursor Blinks In A Mocking Fashion

I’m staring at a blank screen. The little cursor blinks in a mocking fashion. I have such a mental block that it frustrates the hell out of me. I have so few precious moments to sit and spew forth all the pent up strangeness that inhabits my brain and to waste them by staring at a blinking cursor is ironic.

Does that ever happen to you? There are times when I have so many ideas in my head just waiting to burst forth, like Athena ready for battle, and I find myself inundated with other tasks that I cannot get the voices to be quiet and wait for a moment when I have the capacity to explore them. Then, when I find myself with ample amounts of moments with little to no distractions, I just sit there and go all catatonic.

I’ve tried everything from putting on music to just going to a quiet place and organize my mental schedule and the brain just locks up like an engine void of oil.

I try to do my best to put out three posts a week and sometimes I phone them in, I mean seriously, do you really care about Jar Jar Binks or Return of the Jedi that much that you would applaud my efforts to expound on their impact on pop culture? The fact that I just typed out that statement with a straight face shows I need help. Let’s face it, for someone who wanted/wants to be a writer, I’m dropping the ball on quality.

The three post a week rule was more for me than anyone else. I’m trying to stave off a stagnated mind and enhance what little skills I have left, if I ever had them to start. I’m not saying that the views I get from day to day are anything to laugh at. Readership, or at least views of the blog, has increased but sooner or later, Cousin Oliver is going to kill the ratings here. Cousin Oliver being my inability to come up with something good to write about it.

The easy answer is that I’m trying too hard. I know that seems laughable when you continue read, what is now, six paragraphs of shit. I mean “trying too hard” in that I’m trying to force magic. I’m trying to produce something to hit a deadline. I’m throwing away quality in favor of quantity. Post, post, post or the readers will go away, right? But when you have little time to write because you have a family and a full time job along with a part time job that feels like a full time job you begin to think that maybe pulling the plug is the best option.

Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. It’s OK. I know you just feigned shock and sadness at the prospect that the least read blog in the world was going to call it quits like Amanda Bynes or more like Brett Favre. Truth is, I want to write. Sometimes I feel like if this was a full time gig I’d find better topics and more inspiration instead of scuttling it to the back of brain and telling it to wait a moment. Sort of like telling that to a child who wants to you inform you of some huge important deal like the puppy just licked his nose.

I guess that’s enough for Monday. I guess that’s a post. I’ll take it, for now. Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, October 1, 2010

REMINDER Last Day To Enter Halloween 2010 Giveaway

Just a reminder, today is the last day to enter the Mongo Angry Mongo Smash Halloween 2010 Giveaway over at the store blog.  A prize pack of 10 Halloween/Horror Movie/Pittsburgh themed items will be given to one lucky entrant.  Just answer the question posed in the blog article in the comments section of that post or join in on the madness at my Facebook PageEntries will be accepted until Midnight EST.

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