Awesome game (scary!)

This game is awesome. It doesn’t tell you anything about the point of the game or why you’re there, but half the fun is figuring it out.

It’s not for the faint of heart, though. There are several moments where it’ll frighten you right out of your skin, especially if you scare easily. :)


Beautiful song…

I was driving home from work today and, as I usually do in the car when not listening to a CD, I had NPR on the radio. Afternoons mean All Things Considered, and like every news show that’s been on for the past two weeks, they were pretty much covering Katrina and not much else—though over the last couple days I’ve been relieved to hear them start covering the John Roberts hearings.

Toward the end of the show, they played a story about a song by Eliza Gilkyson called “Requiem.” She wrote it last winter, after the tsunami. I was a little skeptical for many reasons, including the fact that I’d never heard of this woman or any of her music, and I was about to write it off as some unknown folk singer writing an overly-emotional song about something with which she had had no experience or understanding. Naturally, they were doing the story on the song because of the rather apropos connection between what happened there last year and what happened on our own Gulf Coast this month. I wasn’t expecting much, but then something amazing happened.

They started playing the song. And God, was it ever beautiful.

It isn’t much—just a piano, guitar, cello and two voices (Gilkyson’s and her daughter’s). But this song just… grabbed me. It’s quite hymnlike, and while its lyrics are slightly overwrought, it’s got this amazing quality to it. I think that ultimately, its simplicity is what draws me in: the song is just two people singing, in what I instantly recognized as that mode that I get into when I’m singing in a church. It’s that feeling you get where you just feel like the music you’re making is going directly out the roof of the church and right to where it needs to go, if you get what I’m getting at.

I just couldn’t stop playing it. I highly suggest you give it a listen at the NPR site. If you like it, it can be bought at the iTunes Music Store.

New Updates

I never realized just how fun working with CSS can be. I made some updates to the formatting of the pages, getting rid of that nasty old tables code and using CSS in its place. The page for the Mozart’s Requiem performance has been updated with fluid CSS, which makes the actual code for the page about half as busy and about a hundred times less complex. I also added a little box on my main page to show what music I’ve been listening to, courtesy of AudioScrobbler and its neat little Winamp and iTunes plugins and RSS feeds. Now that I’ve got that working, though, I need to figure out if there’s a way I can include it in the sidebar for my LiveJournal, which is why I started working on it in the first place.

Also updated/added are some dynamic updates to my Music Page, not only with a few new songs, but also so that I can add a song to the list just by creating a page in WordPress, which is going to be a huge timesaver when updates or changes are made. It’s a nice little hack, if I do say so myself, because it allows me to create a new category (right now there’s just “Songs” and “Projects”, but I could add more if I felt like it) and auto-sort the entries into those categories.

I’ve also futzed a little bit with the text formatting so that it looks more the same in Internet Explorer and Mozilla/Firefox. Talk about a war, there, though: Internet Explorer’s text formatting using CSS is a real bitch, and just when you think you’ve got it right, you notice that the sizing for IE is about two times as large as the sizing when looking in a “real” browser like Firefox or Opera.

Blast from the past – MP3

More than ten years ago (when I was just a lad), I spent a weekend in November of 1994 with a family friend who had recording equipment and a computer recording setup. I was only fifteen at the time, and it was all so amazing to me, as I had never dealt with anything of this sort before. What came out of the recording sessions was a single song, clocking in at a ridiculously ponderous ten and a half minutes.

Despite its obvious flaws, I was quite happy with the result, and my family and friends loved it as only family and friends can do.

The song lived its life out on cassette tape for several years, until the MP3 revolution first started hitting. When I had my first website, I took the tape, hooked it up to my computer, and recorded it in. I cleaned it up as best I could with the technology available to me, and encoded it to MP3. At the time, MP3s weren’t encoded at super-high bitrates like they are nowadays, and the result was pretty audibly compressed. I always wanted to re-record it from the original DAT, but I found out that the master had been broken, and as such the only version of it that I had, digitally, was the one I had made. I suppose that if I can ever find another cassette copy of it I could copy from that, but I haven’t been that fortunate.

Fast forward a few years… I’d had the website for a few years by then, and I’d moved servers a couple times. In the process of one of these moves, I accidentally deleted the only copy of the file that I had. I didn’t have a single backup of my website at the time (and yes, I know how stupid that was). And just like that, I was sans MP3.

Well, I was looking through some old CDs I’d burned, and came across a backup I’d done of some of the files on my computer back in 1999, and what did I find when searching through an MP3s folder (it must have contained all of about 50 files tops–that must have been every single MP3 on my entire hard drive at the time!) but the file, in all of its super-compressed, 128Kbps glory.

So naturally, I’m re-posting it on my website. I will warn you ahead of time that not only is the quality not so hot, but having written it at age 15, it’s not very… let’s say it’s not very mature-sounding. It’s repetitive and a little self-indulgent at times, but if I can say so about my own work, I think that there are really some great moments in it. It’s also a little ponderous at a whopping 10 minutes and 16 seconds.

So if you think you can handle it, give Untitled a listen. Comments, of course, are welcomed.

A special note: This is my first LiveJournal post using my new blog software on my website, which syndicates to LJ automatically. I’m planning on doing all of my updates from my website from now on, assuming that it works okay, but there will probably be updates that I do on the website that don’t show up on LiveJournal. I believe that you can subscribe to find out if there are any updates on the website, and if you can’t do that, then I’m going to figure out a way to get that functionality.

In case you’re wondering…

In case you’re not quite sure of why there are some posts here that are several years old: I’m copying over some of my “columns” from the old website, because they get read (some of them, at least, and quite a bit, too) and I figured they should be here, too.

New site

I’ve moved my site, this time to a real hosting environment, and decided that it’s time that I redesigned the site as well. I’ve decided I’m going to treat this as more of a blogging-style site than anything else, as it’s rarely read anyway, and why not follow the rest of the pack?

Customer Service is going to hell.

What is it about customer service nowadays?

I went to McDonald’s for dinner tonight, because I just couldn’t bring myself to put the chicken I’d thawed out into the oven. This was, without a doubt, the worst trip to McDonald’s I’ve ever made.

For starters, the line was ridiculously long at the Drive-Thru. It was nine at night; there was no earthly reason they should be backed up at that time. Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence at this particular McDonald’s. It says to me that the management can’t seem to run a tight enough ship that they have enough of what they need for whatever people do show up at that time. This is the first sign that things aren’t as they should be.

The second is when I actually place my order. I pull up to the order-placing-thingie (speaker?) and despite my already-long wait, the guy running the register said something along the lines of “Welcome to McDonald’s, you’re going to have to wait a minute.” I am not kidding. Let’s ignore the fact that it was busy for a second and look at what it was that he said. First, while I’m not entirely sure that was exactly what he said, that was the gist of what he said; what’s more, it was said in a way that made it sound like I was inconveniencing him. I mean, the gall of me to want to order food.

Now, let’s address the “we’re busy” issue: When I worked at McDonald’s (all of six months, but this actually demonstrates how easy this is), I could easily take a customer’s money and place another order at the same time. What’s so hard about it? This guy was making it plainly obvious that he couldn’t do both separately, let alone simultaneously.

When he finally got to me, I began to place my order, and he interrupted me. If he had let me finish speaking, he would have known what else I wanted, but no; he decided it was more important to get the question out.

Fast forward a few minutes, when I finally pull up to the window. Yes, it really took that long. The guy wasn’t at the window any longer, and I’m starting to wonder if that ended up being a good thing or a bad thing. In his place was a girl who made it blatantly apparent that I was severely annoying her by being there. There was no greeting, no smile (I’ll get to the smiles in a little bit), and what’s more, she had no idea which order I had made. I had to tell her what my order was—again. This was apparently because she had to double-check to make sure that nobody had screwed up and charged somebody for the wrong order.

She didn’t give me a total or anything; she just held out her hand, as if to say, “Well, it’s not going to pay for itself.” I handed her my money, not even certain whether I’d get appropriate change back. Luckily, I did, and she handed me my order. I asked for some barbecue sauce for my chicken nuggets, and she replied simply with “We don’t have any of that,” as if I’d asked the stupidest question in the world.

Well, last time I checked, barbecue sauce is something that’s offered with nuggets. Let’s ignore the fact that she’s supposed to ask if I want any sauce to go with my nuggets. But “We don’t have any of that”? What the hell? To clarify, I asked if they were out of barbecue sauce, and with another semi-exasperated look, she said yes, that they were out. Boy, wouldn’t it have been easier if she’d merely said that they were out?

Then, to pour salt in the wound, she merely turned away from me. Not satisfied with that, I extended a “Have a nice night” to her and drove off.

Let’s examine this step by step.

First: The mismanagement in terms of keeping proper amounts of product for people to be served in a decent amount of time. From the moment I drove up to the joint until I left, about fifteen minutes passed. Fast food? I think not. If this was an isolated incident, I could understand that maybe they just weren’t ready for a rush of customers, but this is a regular occurrence with this particular store.

Second: Being so curtly told that I was going to have to wait. Being busy is no excuse to act this way to a customer.

Third: The dismissive attitude with which I was treated by the girl at the window.

What has happened to customer service in this society? In every situation where I worked to serve other people, I’ve always made sure that the customer felt as if they were the only person in the world and that I was there just to help them. I smiled. Smiling can go a long way toward disarming a potentially annoyed customer. In all honesty, I can’t think of a single instance of buying fast food in the last, oh, year or so where the person actually smiled for me. If we couldn’t help a customer (as in, for example, being out of a particular product), I would politely explain how sorry I was that we weren’t able to fulfill their request, and I almost always offered a suggestion for what we could do in its place. Again, something I haven’t seen much, if at all, in recent memory.

When did working in service positions become an entitlement issue? It’s almost as if these people seem to think that I owe them something because they’re there to help me. No. I don’t owe them anything, because I am the one who is paying for the service.

We need to start realizing that a lack of customer service contributes directly to a lack of interest in the product. When people feel good after working with us, they’re more likely to return. A little more pleasantry and a little less expectation from those we serve might just make us all feel a little better. It’s a thought worth having.

What’s the real importance?

Sometimes, you find your eyes opened up by the strangest things.

A couple days ago, I found out that my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The news hit me like a freight train; I immediately began to think about all of the time I had spent with this wonderful woman and how that would probably never be the same again. Because Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease, I can be pretty sure that the next several years will be difficult, full of having to watch someone I love slowly retreat into a world of which I can only imagine.

All of this got me to thinking. Though I am aware that there isn’t much cause for hope right now, it’s not completely a lost cause. My grandmother is joining a clinical trial of a new drug, and while it’s likely that this isn’t going to be anything revolutionary, the truth can never really be known; there may be a cure right around the corner. If it weren’t for the miracle of medical breakthroughs through research, there would be no cure for polio, smallpox, measles, or influenza.

Which brings me to the greater topic at hand. The public at large claims that things like medical research and education are two of the most important things to its well being. I’m sure you’ve heard every politician talk about how important our youth is, and about how vital the educational system is to the future of our country and our world. And let’s face it: the public just eats that up. Everybody is concerned with education—during an election year. But when it actually comes time to vote for your district’s school budgets, all of a sudden that well of interest dries up. It never fails: nobody minds being political when it’s not their pocket that has to be dug into.

I find, not so surprisingly, that the same holds true for medical research. I have no doubts that if the same enthusiasm was put into researching diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and HIV/AIDS, we would have seen far more impressive results by now. AIDS has been around for more than twenty years now, and we seem to be no closer to finding a cure than when we started. Let’s remember, folks, that this is a disease that has affected us more than any disease in history.

Because drug companies are private organizations whose main drive is, like any other private corporation, to drive up their profits, I have to ask myself how hard they’re really working for the cure of diseases like this. The amount of money spent on drugs like AZT and the other HIV cocktails is astronomical. The reason these drugs cost so much is that the research and development costs are so high, so the companies say. So I have to ask the question: how much more can a company make on the cost of a drug if their research and development phase lasts twice as long as it should? How long can they hold the prices up before they can no longer use “research and development” as a crutch for the high prices?

But above all, I have to ask if it’s really in a company’s best interest to find a cure for these diseases. After all, if they can make a ton of money by treating the so-called “incurable” diseases, why would they want to prevent that revenue from flowing in by releasing a drug that could cure the disease right out?

I’m obviously not saying that the drug manufacturers are deliberately trying to make more money by prolonging the suffering of their customers; such practices are so far below the decency of any human being that I couldn’t even imagine a company doing this. But as much as I approve of the idea of capitalism, I find myself questioning the true motivations behind companies like these. Wouldn’t we be far better off by subsidizing the costs of research and development by investing that which is of interest to all of us—the taxpayers’ monies—and would facilitate more rapid and driven motivation? The American government certainly could afford to earmark a not-so-small amount by taking some money away from other sources, like, I don’t know, the $87 billion reserved for rebuilding Iraq?

Or how about our over-inflated military spending budget? I once read in a teacher’s office a bumper sticker that said, “It will be a great day when our schools have all the teachers they need and the government will have to hold a bake sale to raise money for a fighter jet.” While I agree with the notion that it’s obviously absurd to think that way, it does raise an important point. After all, what’s the point of defending a country when the country has no valuable assets to defend? What are we if we can’t produce artists and philosophers, musicians and mathematicians? Or physicists? Doctors?

Maybe if we all start to think about what’s really important in our lives, we can start to focus on improving our way of life by doing what’s really possible, instead of by reinforcing a status quo. It’s a thought worth having.

Pride and Prejudice, Rights and Responsibilities

Please forgive the fact that I’m once again using television as my venue for this week’s topic, but until I can come up with some ideas to work with, I have to go on inspiration.

Again, I was watching “Boston Public” tonight and I was struck by the show’s theme. It was a theme that I have taken very seriously over the last two years, and it provided me with some new insight into the topic. One thing that this show is very good at is addressing current affairs and real-life situations, and this week’s topic was anti-Americanism. It turns out that one of the school’s Social Studies classes was holding a mock U.N. summit and discussing current events—namely, the United States’ war with Iraq.

One of the students, who was at the time representing the country of Canada, expressed his distate with the U.S.’s policies regarding the war, and of its suspicious beginnings. The student claimed that the war on terror was inspired by the events of September 11th, which Iraq had nothing to do with, which is true, as far as any of us knows. He exclaimed that the real reason for the war had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and instead had more to do with the fact that the U.S. couldn’t find Osama bin Laden and instead focused on the leader that it could go after—Saddam.

A couple of the other students—ironically, those representing the United States and Germany—felt that the student agreed with his own argument a little too much, and a fight broke out. After the teacher insisted that she would have order in her classroom and the two students accepted this, they cornered the student in a bathroom and beat him until he lay in a pool of blood on the floor.

What came next was a barrage of rhetoric and argument the likes of which I have never personally seen in a classroom or a school, although I can only wish that I had seen something of its like while I was in high school. The school district insisted that the “inflammatory” debate be toned down or removed from the classroom, and the parents of the district agreed with its decision. The teacher involved felt that there was no way she could teach if she was forced to censor herself and her students’ right to political free speech—which, by the way, is one of the few rights that is absolutely granted to a student in a high school—and I must say that I completely agree with her.

Too many people in this country have a problem with those who practice their own brand of Free Speech. I suppose that it’s the nature of a group mentality: if you disagree with the majority’s opinion, you are ostracized for it. I saw it when I was in school—those who dressed differently or expressed alternative points of view were deemed as nerds or freaks—and I see it today in the general public’s opinion of those who go against the grain. As was mentioned in the show, people lose their jobs over the fact that they express so-called anti-American opinions. Commentator and talk-show host Bill Maher immediately springs to mind, when he was forced out of his ABC show, ironically called “Politically Incorrect,” for saying that no matter how you sliced it, staying in the plane while it goes into the side of a building is courageous, and that lobbing bombs from afar has no courage in it whatsoever.

What has this country come to? Where do we get the idea that some ideas are better than others? At what point does it become okay to force a majority opinion on others simply for the reason that it is the majority opinion? This country was founded specifically on the grounds that we should be—and are—free to express ourselves despite the fact that others may disagree with that opinion. We feel that rights are some kind of thing granted to us because of who and what we are, but we fail to see the fact that with those rights come responsibilities. In the matter of Free Speech, the responsibility that comes with the right is that we all have to ensure that others have the right to express themselves as well.

After all, where do we draw the line? When I was in college, I was a member of the student newspaper, and we came under heavy fire from the school community, as well as the administration of the paper, for running a paid advertisement in which the advertiser wrote a rather incendiary political statement claiming that the Holocaust had never happened. Is he right? Probably not; we all know that in the 1940’s, millions of Jews disappeared from the face of the planet, so it’s safe to say that the man is incorrect in his belief. But does that give him any less a right to express that opinion? No, it doesn’t, and that is why we decided to print his ad. Because he had a right to make his voice heard in a public forum.

People are so interested in preserving their rights, but it seems to me that more and more they are unwilling to make any effort whatsoever to ensure that those rights are preserved for us and for posterity. We are a society of convenience, and as a result of this, we prefer that we give up some of those rights in the interest of that convenience. We allow our rights to be slowly chipped away in the hopes that we’ll be safe a little bit longer. With efforts on the part of our government to help curtail terrorist activity, we are reaching ever closer to the insidious “Thought Crime” which was outlined in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” We live in a world of the Patriot Act and of a herd mentality, and together those are far more dangerous than one could ever imagine. People are far more intent to be sheep and follow the crowd—something that has been instilled in them since they were young—and in a world like this I applaud those who strive to stand up and say that they won’t tolerate it anymore.

Today, while listening to the news in my car on the way home from work, I heard that California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger may or may not have said more than two decades ago that he admired Adolf Hitler’s ability to speak well in public, and for his rise to power despite his beginnings as a “little man with almost no formal education.” The news story then went on to detail opinions of certain people who responded to the news tidbit by saying things like “I wouldn’t want a person like that as my governor.” Say what you will, but those are things about Hitler that were admirable qualities. Nobody will deny that Hitler had many things wrong with him, but his leadership qualities were hardly part of that horrendous side. He was a very charismatic man who believed in what he was doing and got others to believe in that as well. That, no matter how you put it, is an admirable quality, whether it’s in a saint or a dictator. I almost feel bad for Schwarzenegger because he was politically forced to retract the statement, regardless of whether he said it or not.

Perhaps if we all respect the opinions of others and help each other to face the responsibilities that come with the rights we all accept as gospel, we’ll be able to move on into a country that once again stands for true freedom and respect for all. It’s a thought worth having.

A Crisis of Faith

In true geek style, I spent my Friday evening where all geeks do—at home—and watched the new season premieres of a couple shows I thought would be good. The first was a new show, called “Joan of Arcadia.” The other was a show that I try not to miss, although with its move to Friday evenings at nine, it’s going to be tough not to miss it at least a couple times this season: “Boston Public.”

Though I was hardly expecting it because the shows are on two different networks and generally cover different topics, the shows were related tonight. Both were season premieres, and interestingly enough, both covered the topic of God.

This is hardly surprising for “Joan of Arcadia,” given the fact that the entire series is based on the premise that a teenaged girl is visited by God, who somehow manages to convince her that He really is the Almighty and that He wants her to “do some errands” for Him. Even the show’s title is punning on the idea. I suppose that the topic of God is rather, well, unavoidable in a story like that.

But what surprised me was “Boston Public” tonight. Part of its story was that it involved a young man who got electrocuted by a malfunctioning slide projector—believable, I know—and came out afterward thinking he was Jesus.

Both are interesting premises. But what really got me thinking was the reaction that both shows took to the “news,” so to speak. Obviously, if you were a teenaged girl and some guy walked up to you one day and told you he was God, you might be a little skeptical. And if some kid came out the other end of an accident thinking he was the Messiah, you might wonder whether the electrical current fried his cerebellum a little bit.

But in the first instance, it really is God. At least, that’s the way the show handles it. There’s no doubting on our end, no wondering if he’s really lying. It really is God, and He really does want to get something out of Joan. With the other, there’s obviously the fact that we know that this student is really a person who, up until the time he was shocked, did not believe he was divine. But afterward, his actions were, well, Christlike. He didn’t appear to have any ulterior motives in behaving the way he did; he just acted like it was in his nature to help people.

What got me thinking, and ultimately made me want to write this, was how the people involved dealt with the situations. And it made me realize that if something like that happened in real life, I didn’t know how we as a world would react.

After all, a vast majority of the planet’s population believes in God. And a vast majority of those people believe in Jesus. So why is it so hard to believe that God would set foot on the planet in the guise of an ordinary person, or that a person believed he was the Son of God?

I mean, what if the person really was God? You obviously have no way of knowing that it’s not, so how can you be so sure? We, as a world, are so dead-set on believing that God is some third party who doesn’t interfere that we tend to think that it’s impossible that God would actually deign to talk to one of us directly. As I once read: “When we talk to God, it’s called prayer. So why is it that when God talks to us, it’s called schizophrenia?” We’re so quick to judge anybody who says something as audacious as “God spoke to me today” that we won’t even allow ourselves to think about the larger message involved. But many of us continue to go about our supposedly religious lives assuming that God is out there, watching over us.

So where do we draw the line? I am what I would consider to be a spiritual person. I believe in God. I have some problems with organized religion, so I don’t go to church very often, but I still think I have a pretty close relationship to God. So I have to ask myself: How would I react if somebody walked up to me, knowing everything about my life, and claimed to be God? Would I be skeptical and brush them off, or would I try to open my eyes a bit?

Maybe we all need to take a step back and think about the implications of a situation like this. Or maybe, if we all treated the person next to us as if he was God, we’d all be a little more decent to each other. It’s a thought worth having.

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