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My hot water heater broke--stopped producing hot water--and I have to have a plumber come by to fix it. This is not good as we are also having (a) a potential roof leak looked at, (b) some work on the pool needs to be done, and (c) we want to put up hurricane glass to reduce our insurance rates as they went up about 5k per year.

My nice remote control for my Bose sound system also finally succumbed to being thrown on the floor by my three-year-old. I wanted to replace it. Bose told me it cost 150.00 ... plus shipping.

I told them "Thanks--but my hot water heater just broke so I'll get back to you." It turns out the price is negotiable. It was then 100.00 with no shipping. 

I'm gonna have to keep that in mind ...

The Hobbit

This isn't a review--and it'll be full of spoliers.

Early on in The Hobbit we see the elder Bilbo writing his memoirs of his adventure ("There and Back Again"--which i exactl the kind of title a hobbit would give that adventure--it wouldn't be "How I Pwnd Smaug"). The narration has us hear him write the opening line of the actua book The Hobbit about there being a hole in the ground where there lived a hobbit. We are told (by the actual book) that it's not a nasty wet hole in the ground--it's a nice one.

To whom is the character Baggins supposedly writing this to? Frodo? Who lives in the same hole-in-the-ground and therefore knows exactly how nice it is? Potential future hobbit children? It seems unlikely--I think there's no rational explanation for this in-story. Tolkien wrote it because he was going to explain to children that there are these little-folk who live in cozy hobbit cottages, therefore making the statement make sense. For the little folk in the cozy cottages it doesn't make sense.

So why's it there?

The easy answer is this: nine-hours of hobbit (the audio book is apparently 11 hours long) won't fill itself up. If dwarf-singing won't do it, narration-quoting will have to. This is bunk, of course: Jackson can fill those seconds with twelve more goblin murders and while the cost will be higher, money's no object.

I think the reason he does it is because the first line of the book is pretty darn good--iconic, perhaps, by first line-standards. I'm not sure if it's up there with "Call me Ishmael" but I've never understood why Ismael got top-billing anyway. I think Jackson knows that his viewers--who all read The Hobbit 30 years ago or more in grade school--might remember that line and won't remember any other (such as the GREAT line about how Smaug gets mad when his cup is stolen because he's so, so, so rich that taking ANYTHING from him provokes indignant apocalyptic outrage: not just clever ... politically topical!).

We can see where Jackson goes through the rest of the first movie making the same sorts of decisions. He knows Cate Blanchett is hot so, hey, invented scene! He knows that Serkit's gollum is getting some people to the movie all by himself so, he gives us the most well-lit bottom-of-the-mountain caves in cinematic imagination. He knows you can never get enough goblin slaughter ... and so on.

Unlike many of the viewers, I really, really liked the Hobbit and I even appreciate making it three movies. How could this be? Well, the answer to the first part is low, low, low expectations. From what I had heard I was in for 3 hours of Dwarf-singing and so I was pleasantly surprised when there was other stuff. Ian Mckellan's Gandalf is watchable all by himself and the rest of the casting (including all the returns from LotR) are wonderful--so, you know, about 2 hours in I was very happy.

Even if it's slow, looks kinda (inexplicably) fake in some places, and is, well, padded.

I support the making of three movies because it will be a poorer universe when ALL the Lord of the Rings movies are made. Until that time--what? 2014? 2016?--we will have more returns to middle earth to look forward too. I know, I know: the Silmarillion--but really? I'll take six more hours of padded trekking Tolkien if I have to in order to keep coming back. And I'm not even that big a fan.

No--I think the success of The Hobbit (and I think it ultimately will be) as an artifact will give us things the same way that LotR gave us Game of Thrones. I think it will give us more Hunger Games style movies where the studios take a spec-fic property and give it the gold-plated treatment. Basically, if there's gold mine there people will keep digging.

I listened to the Slate Culturefest pod-cast where they all railed against The Hobbit especially the opening scene where we see parts of Smaug attack the dwarvish kingdom. They hated it: I dug it. Why?

There is no question that 20 minutes of CGI narration at the start of your movie is a HUGE risk. I remember The Kingdom opening with the thesis of Diary of an Economic Hitman--and it was fascinating--but, man: what a risk (although that was a serious movie and I r a serious cat--so maybe they were taking a lower risk with their target audience). In this case, the Slate-crew hated it--but I was like " ... view of the darven kingdom at it's height!? That's one of the the things I pay Peter Jackson to show me!"). I also felt that since the story is about the re-emergence of The Ring rather than being a children's introduction to Middle Earth that becomes progressively more mature until it's an adult work by the end they needed to set up the "We're going to raid the mountain to re-establish the dwarves" thing before having 13 comical dwarves drop in on Bilbo. It's actually less confusing and it makes the stakes higher than a hi-ho-hi-ho, it's off to the mountain we go--adventure--which is what it looks like from the Bilbo-eye view at first.

As to the action and everything? It was watchable and, I felt, true enough to the books to earn its keep. Where Jackson diverged he did so for good reasons. Where he had to innovate things (a describer, Tolkien was not) he went big. I liked that.

Sandy Hooks

Here's The Political Omnivore on the Sandy Hooks shootings:  http://politicalomnivore.blogspot.com/2012/12/firearms-massacres-and-second-amendment.html 

Here is someone's post on their facebook:
My problem is ... specifically ... with the stupidity: identity politics invoke stupidity. It's not ... specifically ... with the message (although the delivery system is so weak and so tangential that whoever created this had to put their thesis in all red, ALL CAPS--which should be some kind of 'Godwin'). 

My problem--my towering lack of respect for the poster (whom I don't know--and will be no loss if I drop him)--is that if this--this snide little non-sequitor--this light-weight amateur argumentation--this cynical attempt to make a 'clever point' is what you come up with when looking at 20 six and seven year old children shot multiple times? If this is iti?

Stop while there's less I could think of you. 

Oh shit, too late!

Armed and Operational

I got my slew of cables in for my iPhone 5. Changing the cable was kind of a final-fuck you from Steve Jobs (I think--maybe I'm wrong) which made my (expensive) collection pretty worthless. I needed one for my office, one for the bed-room, one for the car ... and maybe one for travel.

I ordered some off-brand cables through Amazon and they took a while to get here--but they got here. So I'm good.

In the future we will have wireless power and I can't wait.

The Two Star Review

When I'm looking at something (a video game? A book? Anti-Obama movies) I find clusters of 1 or 5 star reviews that are, generally, meaningless (if the thing has all of one or the other or a massive shift, well, okay--but if there's only a few it doesn't mean that much). As a rule:

4 Star - Ain't no such thing as a 10! (the reviewer likes it but doesn't hand out 5-stars ... no sir!)
3 Star - Believer in the law of averages. The reviewer considers themselves measured and logical. Or, perhaps, whatever it was just didn't impress ... but did not rot their privates off either.
2 Star - This is a person who is critical--very critical--but not affronted.

So I'm interested in the two-star reviews. It doesn't mean they're the most insightful (I will take the average of stars for meaning--and I'll usually look at the 1-star reviews to see what a "worst case scenario" would look like)--but I'm interested in the thinking of someone who would write a 2-star review.

As a collary it's my belief that when trying to whack someone, the 2-star review is more meaningful than a 1-star: it drags the average down but it doesn't look political.

(This post came to me while reading reviews of David Frum's Why Romney Lost book--which has around 70 reviews but exactly 1 two-star review).

I've used those ...

My daughter has to wear a school unifiorm on Fridays unless she pays a dollar to the school for the privilge of dressing in normal clothes. She asked why they did that and I told her it was probably for school funding. I reminisced about getting these little book-order forms in grade school where we'd get to choose several titles and our parents would pay for them. I suspect that the good-of-reading aside, this was funneling some profit to the school itself.

We talked about book fairs and she noted that in the future there might not even be books sold--she knows I download them. I'm getting her a tablet of some sort for Christmas. She said she'd heard of DVDs "Going away." I asked her if she'd ever used a cassett tape.

She assured me she had--she had some ...

And if her player wasn't broken, she'd watch movies on them.

Working Out This Morning

I work out with a trainer and it's fucking ass-busting. I try to do 2 days a week and two days of marital arts training--but I've been sick and traveling. So today was my day back after missing Wednsday (the kid was up at 3:00 so I didn't make it in at 6:00 as I had to keep an eye on him ... yawn). It was fucking hard and I felt hideously out of breath. Part of that is just not having been in it for a few weeks with my normal intensity--but I'm also having (mild) trouble breathing which sucks.

I felt dizzy. 

I mentally divide exercises into two categories:
  1. If I reached failure catastrophically I would mostly be fine.
  2. If I reached failure catastrophically I would break my ass.
In the first category is, like, running. Also, like curls. Maybe dead-lifts. Bench press with a good spotter. In the second category: Stairmaster on high level. Treadmill on high-level. Dumbells at the 50lb+ mark if I am not being spotted--especially if over my head. Lunges count if the floor is hard since I will fall on my knee.

I kinda try to avoid type-2 when I'm feeling bad.

Game Science ...

It turns out I'm willing to pay between 1.00 and 22.00 for a "game" (in the case of 22 bucks, it was 3 games) so long as (a) it looks like something I might play once or twice or (b) it looks pretty. Steam and the App store is a potent combination as these games are streamed quickly to my device (computer for Steam, phone for App store) and I can play them in a couple of minutes.

Compared to the cost of a movie (for my wife and I) this is positively cheap assuming I can play for about an hour or so. This is a very attractive price point and I'm willing to take quite a risk.

Let's see:
1. I bought DEFCON. This looks like WarGame's Global Thermonuclear War. It's pretty. It looks like it has group play--but I'll likely never ever play it against anyone--but it looked cool and it was around 2-3 dollars.
2. Deadlights. This is a side-scrolling zombie game. It looked good enough to get my attention and got good reviews. The power of reviews is pretty scary.
3. Defense Grid. Some kind of Tower Defense game. I've enjoyed Plants vs. Zombies and Revenge of the Titans so I guess I'm in the market.

The free apps from the app store have a problem my PC doesn't: screen realestate. I'm reluctant to DL something to my phone because it'll take up a slot on the first two screens. I could fix that by foldering things--but then it's two taps to get to things. Either way, this isn't the apps fault. Just my laziness.

Tangetially related: my son walked in (he's 3) with the stack of black DVD's/CDs. I was like "No Max, those aren't toys--"
then I paused. "Well, maybe they are toys. Go play."

He stacked them, unsacked them. Left a pile. I recoved them and put them back on my shelf. I wasn't too concerned. Physical media is nothing I want these days. The only concievable use for a CD as far as I can tell right now is a firm-ware upgrade where I have to boot from the disc. Other than that? Cloud? Thumb-drive? I'm not using anything large, fragile, write-once, or shiny. It's also why GameStop is dead to me.


The Big Dude

I have my sole claim to plane-Naziism being this: "If you cannot manage your carry on lugage (i.e. get it into and out of the over-head compartment) without help--and you are not quick to ask for help--you have no business carrying that thing on the plane. I used to be pretty impatient trying to get in and out. Now I usually check lugage and just don't care. It turns out: it's nicer that way (even with the extra 20 min to get to the cab).

But there are many plane-Nazisms out there. For example:
  • Reclining the seat: some people take this as the mark of a supreme asshole.
  • Having your cell phone going after you've been told to shut it off: If it were really dangerous the terrorists would simply be using text-messaging to bring us down. If it were really dangerous they'd make us check them. But some people (especially airline personnel) get totally het up over this.
  •  Fat people next to you: I am broad shouldered. I am also no underware model. When I sit on the outside my (non-fat) shoulders sometimes get hit by the cart. I accept this. I am not usually worried about large people flying. I've been stuck in a tight squeeze and, you know, the airline is sometimes as much to blame for this as any normal human being. You want to enjoy a flight? Spring for first class. You want a really nice flight? Spring for a time machine.
However ... every once in a while ...

Flying home, in the airport (where they had a bar with iPads that you ordered through and had power-hook-ups at ever station) I saw this guy. He was not the largest guy I'd ever seen--but he was HUGE and his pants ... were not up to the job if you know what I mean and I think you do.

It wasn't Plumber's Crack. It was the Plumber's Grand Canyon.

And I was like: "If I'm next to him, I'm fucked."

I was not fucked--but the girl behind me was, like, squeezed into a question-mark.

I'm free-market qualified but I suspect that having airlines make *slightly* bigger seats is a solution I'd like better than chargiing guys for two seats if they're more than size 40 waist. On the other hand, there was no rational scenario that was going to work for this dude other than two tickets.

There comes a point.


After recounting my Chinese food experience I was told by someone about Seamless: a food delivery service that (I was assured) would work wonderfully. I tried it.

It did, in fact, work wonderfully.

The secret sauce to internet food delivery is this:
1. Get me my food hot or, at least, warm.
2. Give me a good ordering system.
3. Give me good selections.

In NYC, at least, Seamless does this expertly. There is no "create account" link (I tried sign-in after frustratingly looking for it and it said "just order your food, we'll create the account."--so I did. And it did).

It lists a huge variety of restaurants ... with star-votes. I picked Healthy Burger which had a 4-star rating and got a chicken-soy burger (with, uh, bacon), a blueberry cheese cake, and fries. It was delicious-the four-start rating was well deserved and I steered clear of lower-star eateries! It saved my (corporate) credit card for ease of ordering tomorrow. The food came hot.

It's ... LIKE A GLOW WORM. :-O