Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reflections on a transatlantic move #1 - Making Friends

I moved to Toronto at the end of September, which has been a great experience so far, but since it's been almost two months since I posted about the motivations behind the move, I thought it'd be appropriate to follow up with some more introspection on how things are going.

Making Friends
It's incredibly easy to make friends when you're a foreign guy in a new city, especially if you have no friends. My friend-making skills are rusty - I've tended to ride the coattails of my childhood friends or girlfriends for the past few years, but now that I'm away from all friends and family, I need a support-network, and my efforts reflect that.

Some friends of mine were playing a few gigs in Toronto, which meant I had people to tag along to bars with for a few evenings. I'd walk up to people, introduce myself, and make chit-chat for a while. This approach can't fail, especially since many of the conversations with Canadians start with "You're from Ireland? That's so cool!" I've been the foreign guy in a few different cultures before - you never run out of things to talk about, because people are generally interested in hearing about the curiosities of their culture that they take for granted. Armed with a few humorous ice-breaking anecdotes of my first-impressions of Toronto, I got into plenty of fun conversations with people that led to valuable advice on finding places to live, work, or just things to experience.

One facet of psychology that's always stuck with me is that if you want people to like you, have them do you a favour - it seems counter-intuitive, but even if someone is telling you a load of information you already know, or offering to take you to a place you've already been, just go along with it.

From my first couple of nights out, I had a stock of phone numbers, twitter-handles and e-mail addresses to follow up on, and I realized that my friendship 'problem' was now a matter of quality control (granted, most of the consideration that went into deciding who to get in touch with was who is most likely to drug and rape me).

I was concerned that since I'm in a relationship, it'd cripple my appeal somewhat, and cut off certain 'shortcuts' that have worked in the past (to paraphrase a dear friend; I can't fuck my way into a social circle), but I've met some great people that I'm excited to call my friends - I'll delve into the 'reinvention' clichés in another post.

Being a teetotaller does not help one in making friends. Minds boggle at the thought of alcohol abstinence. Everybody wants or expects a quick, narrative explanation, and since I don't have one, they assume that I'm hiding something dark. Alcoholic? Religious-nut? Dryballs? My strategy is to hold off admitting to it as long as possible (depending on the circumstance, naturally), but I could tell that I was disappointing a lot of would-be friends by declining drinks, or passing shots off onto my coconspirators. The cooler people would say "that's awesome that you don't drink - want to go outside and get high?" I'm offered weed in Toronto about as often as I'm offered tea in Ireland, and I feel about as bad for not being interested in this social icebreaker.

I find that I've been hesitant - almost hostile - about engaging with the Irish community in Toronto, as if not having an entirely Canadian support-network constitutes a failure to emigrate 'properly', but every fellow expat has been awfully decent, with many going out of their way to offer some sagely wisdom to spare me weeks of figuring stuff out for myself. I'm pretty sure that as the weeks crawl by, and the need to get more stable work grows, I'll be pulled into the orbit of the Irish community proper. Which will be a good thing. One can never have enough people to not drink with.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Keith Barry and the Massive Os

Keith Barry is an Irish magician. That's about 90% of what I know about him. I caught his Irish TV show a few years ago, and it seemed that he was just aping Derren Brown's tricks and style, but without the charm. I didn't pay too much attention to him.

When he was hosting Ireland's version of Deal or No Deal, I had assumed that he had given up on the magicianing lark, but it seems that his star has continued to rise - his hypnotism shows have drawn major crowds and broken records in Ireland, and he even made a 4-part series for Discovery.

He's clearly doing something right, and I've great respect for magicians, but when I tuned in to his appearance on Limerick's Live 95FM to promote his tour, he just sounded like a perverted 13-year old boy, giddily bragging about how ladies were having "massive Os" on stage. In case you missed it, he said it again and again, each time more unnerving, an ill-fitting phrase-of-choice for a man in his thirties. Yes Keith, your potency is such that ladies can orgasm from your very suggestion, but please don't sound like such a potential-sex offender next time you're trying to lure in the bawdy blue-collar crowd.

I couldn't find a copy of the recording, but in the first interview I found on YouTube, he asserts that the camerawoman is 'waxed, not shaven' within the first minute. Classy, classy guy!

Anyhow, what really prompted this ad was catching a few minutes of 'Deception with Keith Barry' on Discovery. I noticed that the producers put as much effort into designing the title card as Keith does into creating his act. Keith sees what other magicians are doing that looks cool, and then claims it as his own.

So the producers are making his title screen - they take a picture of him standing in front of something with his arms crossed, slap some text over it, then click through the fonts until something looks decent, like 12-year old girls formatting a book report.

"'Cracked' looks cool. Good enough for you? Let's pillowfight!"

It bothers me when this is done, so to punish Keith Barry and the lack of effort, I made a graphic of the show that I wish I caught five minutes of:

Still not painting a proper picture? Okay - everyone knows and is sick of Comic Sans, right? This is how much effort they put in:

Alright, that's all for today. File this under 'General begrudgery of successful Irish people'.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Perfect Storm

A few weeks back, my Twitter account was successfully phished.

Since I have an image of myself as a person who does not enter passwords willy-nilly on spurious websites, cognitive-dissonance reduction has kicked in to assure me that I couldn't have not entered my password on that fateful day. I was at the mercy of the perfect storm.

Let me introduce all the moving parts in this sequence.

About a month ago, I moved to Toronto. Since I figured I'd need to stay connected to the internet, I sniffed out the cheapest smart-phone & plan possible to get me started. My friends were playing a music festival in town, so I let them crash with me for a few days. Since the place was small, sharing beds was inevitable. Since one of my guests is a total shutterbug, there were plenty of photographs taken at inappropriate times, and threats of ruined political-careers flying about.

A few nights into their trip, we were all dispersed within a single pub, mingling with the locals. My friends and I had been using Twitter to stay in touch while we were apart, so when I got a direct message alerting me to a 'funny picture' of me making its way online, I didn't suspect its veracity. I had seen some of the incriminating photos on his phone, so I clicked on the link to see what the damage was.

The phone I've been using is a piece of junk. It's an Acatel 980S, and it's plagued with a grotesque lack of memory, so it regularly flushes the browser-cache to keep things moving. It's not unusual to be logged out of a website I was just using, so when I clicked on the link from within my TweetDeck app and was presented with the Twitter login page, it didn't set off any alarm bells. I wasn't thinking too much about what I was doing, other than pretending to still be interested in the Canuck droning on about how cool Ireland was when he visited as a nipper.

I wasn't on the real Twitter site, and I didn't realize until I had entered my username and password (probably incorrectly, since the tiny screen makes the onscreen keyboard worthless) and hit submit. The error page wasn't quite right. Something was wrong. I went looking for my friend in the pub and asked him if he has sent me a picture. He had no idea what I was talking about. I had just done something incredibly stupid.

Serves me right for being such a rude prick.

From there on, it was actually quite tricky to change my password - I couldn't find the option on the Twitter mobile site, and the regular Twitter site kept redirecting me to the mobile version. Eventually I had to Google 'Twitter password change' to be brought to the page I wanted.

Lesson learned: pay more attention to links you click on. Fundamental of internet-security proven: having different passwords for different services is essential, and in this case I was quite relieved to think that the password I volunteered to the phishers wouldn't get them in anywhere other than my fairly unimportant Twitter profile.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Robocop 2 - Déjà Vu Revue

It's been years since I've seen Robocop 2. The only details I remembered from my childhood is a fight in an arcade, a terrible CG face, and that the main villain is a kid.

So, how did it hold up? Read on!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Random Thoughts From A Worldly Primate

This post is a blatant ripoff of the frighteningly insightful knowledge-bombs frequently dropped over at Apes In Elysium, which you should be reading instead of this piffle.

The only real-world use I have ever got out of the Irish language is impressing foreigners or talking about them. This is all I ever expect to get out of it. That so many of my peers are incapable of stringing a basic sentence together in Irish strengthens the notion I've held for years that we are pissing away millions of man-hours keeping a braindead language on life-support. This time and money could - and should! - be put to much better use elsewhere. Traditions be damned, keep a few experts trained up and leave it at that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh... Canada

Note: This is a personal post. If you’re interested in reading about a white dude making post-hoc rationalisations about why he left his homeland, you might get some enjoyment out of the following.

Dear reader, I have joined the growing number of recent Irish-graduates who have emigrated fled from the homeland in search of greener pastures abroad. Eleven days ago I arrived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with no job, no friends, and no idea of where I was going to live. The days that followed were a blitz of e-mails, phonecalls, apartment viewings, and disappointments. It was quite an adventure.

So when people ask me “Why Toronto?”, that’s the short, polite answer – it’s an adventure. I’ve been asked to elaborate a few times since I arrived, but my answer varies every time, so I’m sitting down now to try and tease out the motivations. Here are the first few to come to mind:

It’s closer to the USA 

This is such a stupid reason, but I’m awfully fond of that girlfriend of mine in the States.

I’d move there if I could, but for a dude with no ‘soft’ skills like mine, I’m not an attractive prospect for employers in the US of A, who must prove that the dirty foreigners they hire are so uniquely talented that they’re not stealing jobs from the natural-borns.

Taking time off to see the missus can be awkward when it requires a transatlantic flight, so hopefully moving to the same continent will facilitate some more face-time.

It’s not Ireland

That title might be needlessly broad. Specifically, it’s not Limerick, which is where I’ve been keeping busy for the past few years. Since my work didn’t feel like it was building towards something, I decided it was time to try something else.

With the ladyfriend committed to another 2 years of school and work in the States, it doesn’t seem like there’s a point in starting some new endeavour in Ireland, when the plan is to leave eventually anyhow.

Furthermore, living in Limerick feels post-apocalyptic. People are obsessed with the diminishing supply of jobs. Permanently angry inbred-tribes maraud around in horses and traps, pilfering as they wish from the remaining businesses while the local authorities shrug their shoulders in languid indifference.

Guilt for a privileged existence 

Life was too easy. I had plenty of disposable income (which I'll choose attribute to not-drinking, and not being grossly overpaid), good friends that were consistently great company, and a stereotypical Irish mother who would browbeat me into doing my laundry and cooking for me as often as possible, despite my efforts to live independently (paradoxically, she would then complain about how I never did these things for myself).

When I had settled into a routine of family, friends and work, the only things that would stand out from my day were the frustrations. It’s my hope that by scrapping the infrastructure I had in place, I’ll be happier with my lot in life. Allow me to elaborate on that one:

To be a Self-Made Man

I’m not terribly good at making friends. Not necessarily because of my odious personality, but because of a lack of willingness. The friends I had in college were the same friends I had in secondary school. As the social circle grew through the outreach of these childhood friends, I was along for the ride, but didn’t contribute to the friend-tally.

Part of this is because I’m not terribly sentimental (which is why it tears me up admitting to a fondness for another human being), and my self-esteem isn’t based on how many people come to my birthday parties. The friends I made on my college-course amounted to a mere handful of intellectually stimulating sons-a-bitches, and they were kept separate from my other group. When I went to Pittsburgh Billy-no-mates, I made a few dear friends that I still try to see as often as possible.

Of course, in college, there’s a structure in place that lends itself to meeting people. Wiping the slate clean and trying to build a support network in a foreign city is a whole new challenge, one that should get me excited about just one stranger asking me if I want to meet up again sometime.

On this note, I should note that I already felt a spike of elation when I secured a place to live starting in November, and the few successful social interactions I’ve had so far are all the more gratifying, since it feels like the foundations of a new support-network.

All the cool kids are doing it

It’s somewhat disingenuous of me to say that I’ve left all my friends behind, since they’ve been leaving me behind in growing numbers for the past few years; relocating to various parts of the world in gainful employment, or on a world-tour of the pubs and dives of planet Earth.

If they can do it, why can’t I? And if not now, when?

That’s all the introspection I’m going to allow for now. The tone of this is rather final, considering that I’m over here on a one-year work permit, but my current hope is that - whatever my relationship with Canada over the coming years - this is the beginning of the end of me calling Ireland home.

Don’t be surprised if this blog gets a little travelogue-y as I come to grips with my new city. I might also post some advice and resources for anyone about to follow in my footsteps, so that they can avoid all the social pitfalls I'll be hurling myself into over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

EE11 - Rage Hands On

Day 3 at the Eurogamer Expo saw the biggest queues yet, but I still managed to take in some very worthwhile developer sessions, and I got chatting to id cofounder Tim Willits, who was aptly introduced in his talk as "the nicest man in the games industry" (he initiated a conversation with me and Fin because I was wearing an id Software shirt"). I spent some time with Rage on the showfloor, and here are my impressions:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

EE11 Hands Ons

Attendance at the Expo today is at least quadruple that of yesterday's, making yesterday feel like off-season in Disneyland, considering the amount of queuing that had to be endured to get near a gamepad. If only I had known!

Anyhow, here are the highlights from my day is the full extent of what I'm willing to type up before passing the hell out. I'll proofread and add photos later.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eurogamer Expo 2011 - The First Day

It's been a busy day, and I'm pretty beat, so here's some of the key things that stick out from the first day of the Eurogamer Expo.

Sully's Blog: Eurogamer Expo Edition

The dearth of updates lately is due to a busy few weeks of fruitless labour that has yielded little grist for blogging, but I'll delve into my many failings as a human being in a later post.

I'm writing this up on the Stansted Express, bound for central London, where (after getting lost in the Tubes for a few hours) I'll be attending this year's Eurogamer Expo (thanks to Mr., a videogames event that's open to the public, highlighting some of the releases coming this holiday season, and hosting some hopefully illuminating panels on game development and the industry from some big names.

Despite being an avid reader of gaming blogs and news-sites, I've held back on writing about my main hobby on this site - mostly because I didn't want to contribute to the overabundance of terrible gaming blogs on this limited internet. Hopefully the next few days should bring opportunities to play games that most won't have played, bringing value to whatever I upload.

That, or come back with a few photos of dudes with neck bears and stories of crippling BO (these notions are based on Fin's experiences in 2010).

If you're interested in reading up on what the Eurogamer Expo is all about, check back over the next couple of evenings and I'll try to make it worth your while. If you see any game or panel listed on the expo site that you're worried I might overlook, leave me a comment or hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.

Not interested in games or what I have to say about them? Regular programming resumes in October.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Oh, Internet

If you're a tech-savvy, intelligent person, it's a great time to be a shopper.

It excites me that I can walk into a store, browse through the offerings, and scan the barcode with my smartphone to pull up price-comparisons across physical and online outlets. It's the cutting edge of subversive thrills.

One category where the gulf between online and retail prices is at its most gaping is cables. This applies to any kind of cables, but Audio/Video cables seem to be subject to the most marketing nonsense and price hikes. Since HDMI cables are (arguably) the most convenient way of hooking up your high-definition equipment, they're subject to the most egregious price inflation.

Monster cables have long been a target of internet watchdogs for their often shady practices of comparing their HDMI cables to archaic composite cables, then using this evidence to charge customers $80, when the exact same thing is available online for less than a dollar apiece. Bear in mind that these are digital cables - any claims of double-insulation or gold-tips increasing the fidelity is utterly bogus.

It seems that some enterprising company asshole has seen their scam and decided to crank it up to 11.

Three and a half feet of cable for $1,095.99! That's 5768 times more expensive than the $0.19 I paid for my cables, which were twice as long! The blurb had better be impressive:

Oh boy. Well that's a load of impressive-looking piffle. Let's hope that the last line of defense keeping fools and their money united is vigilant. To the customer reviews!

Urk. All the reviews are 5 stars, and a full two thirds would recommend the product to a friend. At least we can read the text of the reviews as a case study of cognitive dissonance in action!

At least that's what you'd think. Read past the gushing headlines like 'Amazing!', 'Your Life Can Change Too!' and 'Not just a cable, an investment!', and you'll find a consistent subtle (and not so subtle) ironic tone in each of the reviews.

They take on the persona of materialistic luddites trying to regurgitate sales pitches:

Similar to a BMW (or if you remember from the golden age of automobiles the classic ‘Monza’), this will only increase in value as time goes by. So I would definitely recommend this cable. But with one caveat… only use it when important guests are over say of a caliber such as Donald Trump. Do not use it for run-of-the-mill every day guests. If you overuse it, the quality of the signal may eventually degrade and of course that would affect the resell value down the road.

They heavy handedly satire the kind of heavy handed marketing nonsense that is crammed down the consumer's throats:

I bought this HDMI cable around Christmas time. Even though I just had a small 20-inch vacuum tube television and VCR-laserdisc combo player, my favorites immediately were up-converted to High Definition. I've honestly never seen Mulan like that before. Now I don't have to imagine what it would have been like to face the Huns - I can experience it every Thursday night in the comfort of my own home.

They take the mickey out of the steepness of the pricetag:

After a few months I have finaly saved up to buy this cable... lets just say I am thrilled! Definately worth the buy, it is a very pretty cable. Now I am saving up for my TV.

These six reviewers have silenced that part of my brain fretting about the plight of misled buffoons, and have caused me to bookmark this page for the eventual angry 1-star review taking the others to task for their enthusiasm for a worthless product.

There's a lot more on the product page that I haven't posted, so check it out if you want to witness a well established subversive shopper behaviour.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reflections on Glory Eluded

I could have been a contender, instead of a lousy bum.

I could be eyeball deep in internet bucks right now, but my own dilly-dallying has given another sufficient time to snatch my glory away from me.

Since 2001, I have been painstakingly chronicling the appearances of one of the worst TV and movie extras ever to grace celluloid. This extra is not only a strange looking man-child, he's an overactor who pulls attention towards the background that his participation is supposed to immerse the viewer in. And sadly, because of this internet video, you've probably heard of him:

I first noticed Jessie Heiman, the 'World's Greatest Extra', when his odious acting skills ruined one of the crucial scenes in 2001's Spider Man (a YouTube viewer also noted it and put it online here). Ever since then, Jessie has been haunting my films and TV shows. There he is in Goldmember. Now he's in Old School. I could pull one of my DVDs off the rack, and if I paid enough attention, he'd appear in the background. Holy Christ, there he is in Catch Me If You Can.

I started a Word Document with a list of all his appearances, years before I had a blog to share it on, but eventually, I just had to stop. I was obsessed, turning on films just to scour the background. "That Fat Extra" is in here somewhere. I'd terrify new girlfriends during movie-time by jumping up from the couch and pointing at the screen - "IT'S THE SAME FAT EXTRA FROM SPIDERMAN! HE'S TERRIBLE!"

Things eased off when I moved to the States in 2006, until I saw that he was in a mobile-phone commercial. I took to YouTube and found his profile. The fat extra had a name. He was just some kid earning a crust, and not some demon that only I could see. For a while, I was at peace.

But then he started showing up in the TV shows I was watching. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Arrested Development. Heroes. He was there, and he was taunting me:

I started a new list chronicling his every move, as the old file was three-computers ago. The monomania was back. I started a blog entry draft called "that fat extra". I scrawled down timestamps from episodes of his appearances. It grew and grew and grew, and since it kept growing, I thought it best to sit on it for a while longer.

This decision was follysome. The YouTube embedded above video came out in March of this year, and 2 million hits later, Jessie's a guest on Jay Leno. This obscure flush-faced fattie just went mainstream, and the screengrabs and scrawled notes now amount to naught.

Still, I can take some solace knowing that I wasn't the only one bothered by his ubiquity, and even though his newfound fans are flooding his YouTube page with gushing comments about how great he is, there's one comment there that predates all the others by a good few years; mine:

And in case you're curious, he wasn't kind enough to reply, the talentless prick.

Right for the Wrong Reasons

In the past year or two, I've been referring to myself as a 'skeptic' on this blog with increasing frequency. So what's that all about then?

A 'skeptic', in the sense that the online community around it intends, refers to a person who arrives at their beliefs and conclusions via the scientific method. Listen to any of the myriad podcasts, or browse the countless blogs and you'll see again and again that the skeptical community will not tell you what to think, but how to think (and not in the scary, cultish way). [Primateus advises you to be be wary of self-proclaimed skeptics]

I discovered the skeptical community in April 2008, by way of Richard Dawkins - his website linked to a interview on the Skepticality podcast discussing a creationist PR debacle. I kept listening to the show after the interview ended, and have been listening ever since, emboldened to by the knowledge that a quasi-organised community of freethinkers were sinking their teeth into much more than just endorsing a humanist agenda.

However, before I had developed a robust framework for evaluating claims, I was a bit of a jackass. Still sceptical, and sometimes right, but often for the wrong reasons.

I've always enjoyed being a pot-stirrer, and I learned early on that subjecting religion to criticism and exposing its logical fallacies is a surefire way to upset most of the population. Religion was my favorite class as a young 'un, because it was an introduction to rhetoric, and the grown-ups would get flustered when presented with questions that undermined any of its framework.

I recall not being terribly interested in rituals as a child - and I can vividly recall that I spent my confirmation mass muttering to the classmate next to me about how disgusting it was to have to pray about 'not being worthy', and other statements my narcissism couldn't reconcile. Rather than just conclude that all religion was a pile of nonsense, I spent the next few years wasting brain power by living through a different religious prism (albeit hugely watered down). I'd precociously chide my friends about 'bad karma', and catalogue their past transgressions as evidence of why the universe was being mean to them lately. Similarly, I'd attribute good fortune to acts of kindness. Even though I presented it to my friends as a thought experiment, my efforts were motivated by a desire to make them doubt their own beliefs, and not to push towards a more valuable set of humanist beliefs.

Similarly, and most shamefully, when the twin towers fell, I peddled the worst information I could get my (fifteen-year old) hands on. One example is the e-mail forwards that told users that the flight number (or plane number, in varying stories) of the vessel that first struck the Word Trade Center was Q33-NY, then implored readers to view those characters in the Wingdings font, which revealed the following:

Spooky coincidence, or proof of Microsoft's involvement? It wasn't until a schoolmate showed up to class with the same printout that I bothered to actually investigate the claim so that I could expose his blind belief as the gullibility it was. [Snopes link for the curious]

My next 9/11 related nonsense was fuelled in part by the 'documentary' Zeitgeist. Split into three acts, the first was a takedown of Christianity by highlighting its many plagiarisms from older belief systems, the second examined the possibility that the Bush Administration orchestrated the attacks, and the third went off the deep end in conspiracy nonsense about one-world governments that would only titillate those with extensive tinfoil collections.

Since I was more interested in seeing people react to uncomfortable information rather than propagating good information, I mined whatever probable 'factoids' I could from the video and similar sources and presented them to my friends, not necessarily as my beliefs, but as 'compelling' information.

So why have I shared these disparate examples of my peddling of nonsense? As much as I feel as it's repentance, I hope it will serve to illustrate that there are intelligent people out there who will be excited by information that purports to be clandestine, or contradicts the boring reality, even if it's out of sheer boredom.

If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is defending the indefensible, take a step back. Ask them if they really believe what they're saying, because some conversations aren't worth having. A friend of mine once got quite worked up trying to refute the infinite monkey theorem. We're talking a good fifteen minutes of flushed red cheeks. Arguing against infinity. That's pretty intense. Try to keep your mental masturbation in check when you're in public.

Getting people to stop engaging in harmful practices motivated by stupid beliefs that impair the human race's progress is a Sisyphean task, but it's one that intelligent, free-thinking people can and should rally behind, particularly if they know that their one voice is part of a worldwide chorus. Those who get in your way with naive notions may be your future allies who just haven't perfected their critical thinking skills yet, so help them along. Rabid allegiance to established beliefs safeguarded by emotional arguments and illogical rhetoric is the ultimate enemy, and open, intellectually-honest debate is the goal.

Gosh, my brain lights up with implausibly utopian notions every time I consider such a thing!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bullshit hunting at the Wisconsin State Fair: Part 2

As time was working against my noble efforts to document more perversions of common-sense, I was unable to interact with any of the shillers of snake-oil in any meaningful way.

Much like how the 'Acupressure' [read: backrub] stands were a franchise available on every row, I passed a number of signs reading a variation of 'Got pain? Have a seat!'

Whatever this product is, it implies that it's an efficacious remedy for pains caused by 'diabetes', 'restless leg', 'degenerated disk', and 'sports injuries'. In an effort to tick the box of every possible customer, it seems as though they just brainstormed afflictions until they ran out of space on the sign.

Sure enough, a few people had taken a seat (possibly because it was the only place on the showroom to sit), but there was only one woman who was availing of the product on offer:

Neither of these ladies seemed terribly impressed by what they're witnessing
So what is the machine? A calculator-sized device with wires coming out of it that are connected to pads that stick to the skin. Not entirely sure what happens from there, but since I was snapping pictures and running, I just took a blind guess that a product that promised so much and was being advertised in such a hucksterish fashion would be utter rubbish.

In truth, I had hoped to find a similar stall in a less-crowded area of the salesfloor so I could get some more info. I'm not sure if the affiliation is the same, but I did find the following device at a similar booth that invited attendees to sit down and have their ailments cured;

The Rhythm Touch 2-Way! Its website describes it as an "Electrical Muscle Stimulator", which sounds like a fancy way to say 'massager' to me. Sure enough, buried beneath the woo about 'acu-therapy' and how Koreans (glad to see the Koreans represented in the ancient Asian wisdom) have pioneered the technology. How much would you pay for a massager. $20? $50? These pricks want to sell you this and some janky accessories for $299.95 US!

But back to the fair. Have a look at the info sheet available:

Show Special $299.00? (And that's without half the accessories available online). Sheer madness. It also irks me that this tattered piece of paper doesn't have the decency to specify which 'show' this 'special' applies to. Embiggen the picture if you want to strain your eyes reading about how acupuncture has existed for over 5000 years, thereby making it better than every medical practice devised since. To prove how sciencey this product is, they've included the obligatory acupressure map:

[Click here to read about my encounter with a therapeutic touch practitioner]

My favourite bit is the bit right above the pricing details:

"We are looking for people who want to make extra income. Please call us after the show for more information. Ask the sales person for more information"

Not only do they want you to buy their lies and preposterously priced vibrator, they want you to shill them too!

It heartened me to see that in the minutes I spent observing the people of Wisconsin in this arena, they were generally more interested in buying meat-snacks and curious tchotchkes than dumping money into the stupidest of stupid nonsense, so I was able to enjoy the rest of my time at the fair without that lonely feeling of being a sensible man in a mad world that grips me from time to time.

This at-peace feeling shattered just as I was leaving the fair. 9/11 Truthers were set up on the sidewalk right outside the park's pedestrian entrance - a scrawny chap in his 50s was screaming his lungs out to nobody in particular, directing half his sentence at passing groups of fairgoers, then the rest towards the cars stopped at the traffic lights. His agitated nature didn't do his cause any favours; he was waving his literature so furiously it was as if he was battling demons only he could see with it.

The snippets of rhetoric I caught were "They lied to you about the Iraq war, they lied to you about the twin towers". Again, I'm happy to report that he was almost universally greeted by groans of dismay and head-shaking, and I felt as though I should be ashamed in being the only one to approach him and gingerly take the literature he was waving around. Sadly, despite telling my stalwart ladyfriend to snap a picture as I approached the gentleman, she failed to take the shot, but I can't blame her - nobody wants to piss off a feral 9/11 truther.

So what kind of BS did I walk away with? Well, for one, I got a sweet copy of 9/11 Investigator [PDF here], a well-designed four-page broadsheet-style newspaper that's like a bullshit bible for 9/11 Truthers.

As well as that, I got an insert with more information about the Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth Organisation and their strongest evidence. WTC 7 is their monomania, and the lack of publicity its received compared to the twin towers seems to be what fuels their fury. Nutters.

Brilliantly, one of the inserts was a less-slickly produced, photocopied page entitled "Take A Second Look Investigate/Research What Happened On Sept. 11th, 2011" - a 41-point list of miscellany that features a few gems. Here's my favourite:

35. Eyewitness testimony about toasted cars, instant disappearence of people by "unexplained" waves
"Unexplained waves"? Hah? Let's read on to the bottom:

"* Is it possible that such a technology exist? Since invention of the microwave for cooking in 1945 and lasers in 1955, comercial and military development of directed-energy technology has proceeded apace, so use of directed-energy technology is likely to exist -- and the data tells us it does exist.
So not only was 9/11 an inside job, but the government also has a device capable of making people disappear. And we know that this exists, because microwaves were invented long ago. By now they've surely improved the technology, so I can conclude that this data set proves that eraso-rays exist.

Your move, lizard-people.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bullshit hunting at the Wisconsin State Fair

After 5 years or so of visiting Wisconsin regularly, I finally got to experience the Wisconsin State Fair for the first time this week. I was hoping to lift an official paragraph from the State Fair's website that would explain to the uninitiated what it's all about, but there was none to be found. Hopefully this Q&A lifted from the FAQ page will accurately set the tone.

"Will there be food on a stick? 
  Yes, our vendors will supply a delicious variety of your favorite foods on a stick. For a list of foods on a stick, please visit our Food tab[Note: This is a long ass list]

For the sake of expediency, let's just call it a ten-day long celebration of Wisconsin's food and culture presented in a carnival / street-festival / outdoor market hybrid. With concerts. And livestock.

I'm getting bogged down in details here, but the point is, it's a big deal (attendance is regularly over 800,000 each year), and there's stuff for sale there, so I knew that there'd be plenty of woo on sale.

It didn't take too much wandering around in the Expo Center before I hit paydirt:

Extreme Balance Bands!
Extreme Balance Bands! Awesome example of total bullshit, right there. These bands are a ripoff of the original Power Balance Bands from an Australian company who got into a spot of bother with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for claims made bout their snake oil, and they've since had to scrap their stock, cease the misleading marketing, and reimburse customers who felt ripped off.

Can't touch your toes? It's a balance issue that this accessory can remedy!
I've encountered and documented their cousins in Limerick City already, so I won't go into the tired reasons as to why the claims are nonsense, but I wanted to share the woo-porn.

Where these scammers have shown some originality, however, is the sports watch accessory, which according to the front of the package is a "Tourmaline power minus ion Healthy Sports Watch", so while you're getting a big fat load heaping of codswallop, you're at least getting a timepiece.

If you have a rigorous scientific mind, you might want to view the actual specifications though, so you'll be glad to hear that the back of the box boasts "1 ATM Water Resistanee", "Minus Ion(above 1900ions/cc), Far Infrared Ray (above 90%)", and of course, the "HQ silicone rubber is no harm to skin". [All of these typos are accurate, but read the back of the box yourself if you think it'll help to read this tripe in context:]


I asked one of the ladies shilling these products for the cost - she started by telling me that they sell in malls for up to $75 (I failed to suppress my scoff), but they were selling them for $20, and would throw in the watch for a few dollars more. If the watch keeps time okay, it's probably not an obscene price, but judging by the disposition of the salesgirls, and the decidedly unimpressed looking member of the public testing out the band, I think they were having a tough time flogging their wares. Taking this into consideration, I decided that toying with them by asking awkward questions about research and scientific concepts they had zero interest in seemed like a waste of time.

Since I was under serious time constraints, I zig-zagged through the 200,000sq ft.  Expo Center at random looking for more woo (passing only one table giving out free-samples, sadly), hoping to find some more nonsense to document. It rankled me that the stalls set up for massages were big, red, mega-Chinesey affairs, with Chinese lettering surrounding the word 'Acupressure'. Paying money to have a wizened old Asian person rub my shoulders is magical enough without all the 'ancient-wisdom' mumbo-jumbo.

As I pushed my way through the throng of people, choosing directions on instinct alone, I turned to my girlfriend and proclaimed: "I know there's more bullshit in here. I can smell it. And I'm going to find it if it's the last thing I do."


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Sweet Chocolate Jesus

In this age of RSS I’m a bit old-school in my browsing habits, typing URLS from memory into the address bar, which often leads to misadventure. Last night, when I wanted to go to my friend Cait’s blog at, I forgot about the “.tumblr” part, and found myself at

Word Is King? It's not too much of a stretch that it redirects to a site called Biblical Black Art, is it?

Picture the Last Supper. Hard not to think of Leonardo Da Vinci's version, isn't it? Let's see if this becomes your new go-to image:

Sweet chocolate Jesus!

These images might seem 'out there', but is it any more offensive than the white, European look of Biblical characters that are drummed into the consciousness of most in the West?

I'm not going to try and make a point here, I'm just going to post these pictures in the hopes that someone stumbles across them and contemplates the tacit racism in claiming culturally significant Middle-Easterners for ones own ethnicity. Or preferably, some racist gets brain-pain from seeing Jesus with cornrows.

(More after the break)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Valuing Video Chat

I haven't heard a lot of enthusiasm from the Tech-press over Facebook and Google's recently announced plans to implement video-chat into their social networks, and a recent post on TrustTommy questioned the focus on these services, when there's still plenty of work yet to be done on the basics (such as worthy mobile apps).

The comment I posted on his almost week-old post got no feedback, so I thought I'd expand my thoughts here, which should dovetail nicely with my recent reflections on my long-distance relationship, and my openly declared affection for Google's services.

Basically, video-chat is pretty much the most important thing my internet connection brings me, mostly due to that pesky long distance relationship I'm in. Human interaction is just richer when you can see who you're talking to. I don't just mean reading body language and facial expressions - I feel rewarded when I make my girlfriend smile, and punished when she gives me a withering look, meaning her ongoing behaviour modification can continue in earnest despite our lack of physical proximity.

At present, I'm in a state of transition, spending the Summer with my ladyfriend before moving onto Canada with a work permit, and even though I'm living in the same house as my number one reason for having Skype, I'm still getting regular use out of it to talk to those back in the motherland.

Before I left, I was genuinely concerned that my 18 month old nephew would forget about me in my absence, but a few Skype calls was all it took to assuage this fear. Even though his vocabulary is insufficient to hold a conversation, he happily sits on my brother's lap in front of the computer, warbling at the low-bitrate video stream that he recognises as his uncle. Thanks to the video-chat, I even get to see the pictures he's drawn of us hanging out, like old times!

The next step is convincing his father for a high-quality scan for my fridge

Moving aside from the touchy-feely stuff, consider for a moment the current state of Ireland, and the new generation of Irish diaspora. I think it's safe to say that video-chatting will enjoy a greater prominence than ever before, thanks to how accessible it will be in the years to come.

Facebook is one of those things that almost everybody who has the internet uses (including begrudgers like me), so even the luddites incapable of navigating to and downloading the appropriate software will be able to avail of video-chat goodness, integrated almost seamlessly with the existing instant-messaging service they use to while away their evenings (this assumes that they are able to successfully click 'yes' to installing the necessary java applet). Friends of mine embarking on international excursions talked about 'setting up Skype' as if it's a major chore, so the lowering of this barrier is definitely a good thing.

The most recent video-chat development that I'm excited about is Google +'s group-video chat, in which up to 10 (ten!) users can hang out with a video feed each (once again, Google makes me happy by rolling out free feature that trumps the paid-model offerred by competitors). I've only tested it with one other user (you're still better off with Google Talk or Skype for a one-on-one conversation), but there's a lot of smart ideas at play, the best being how the main video window will change to highlight whoever is talking (or talking the loudest if you're in a rabble).

Video, text-chat, and synchronised YouTube watching (which didn't work when I tested it with earlier) for a group of friends sounds like a good time, particularly since keeping in touch with a large group of people is hard work. Consider the way it is today for the world-adventurers you surely know: connect to someone on Skype, tell them all your news, then connect to someone else, and repeat half the conversation - to date my diplomatic way to avoid this has been to not pick any favourites and not tell anyone anything, Google +'s hangout feature gives me hope that I can catch up on my scattered college buddies in a fun, casual forum.

Et toi, reader? Are there any features about the bold new frontiers of social-networking that excite you?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How I do it - Part 2

Picking up where we left off yesterday, today I’m elucidating on what I consider the important bits of keeping my long-distance relationship alive:

#5 Technology on your side

As far as I'm concerned, communication is everything in a relationship, so getting that all important conversation in each day can be a logistical and financial burden.

Skype is essential, but it's not the only option. (If your technology aligns, FaceTime is also a great viable service). We use free webtexts and Google Voice to pepper one another's day with sweet-nothings at no price. Google Voice (available from within Gmail) has been offering free voice-calls to the States from the end of 2010 through to the beginning of 2011, effectively making it cheaper to talk to my girlfriend 6000km away than my friend in the same city.

For the past year, I’ve been using a smart phone, which has made everything even easier. Skype over 3G (or even 2G) is a great service, but having essentially free access to Google Voice and webtexting services mean that keeping in touch doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Not having to justify spending €0.35 to brighten up my lady’s day with a cute message from the road is a luxury that I might not be able to live without, and the exchange of e-mailed photos of curiosities and encounters of our days does wonders to close that gap.

#6 Some basic character traits

Patience is important for a number of reasons that should be obvious.

There's no point getting pissy if the conversation is cut short, for whatever reason. There have been times when I've been excited to share my day with the person I hold most dear, but she can't talk for longer than a second. After staying up hours past bedtime for what is essentially an exchange of pleasantries, it would be easy to dwell in the disappointment, so occasionally I will have to remind myself of the choices I've made and why to keep perspective.

I don't fret when I hear that she's been spending time with guys more attractive and accessible than me, despite the cross-examination by my friends ("she's at the cinema with another guy? You know what that guy is after, deep down"), despite my misanthropic nature (particularly towards fellow males), I have absolute trust in my girlfriend. Anything less and the relationship would surely crumble.

I will admit that I could keep my cool much better when the technology lets me down. A choppy connection with missing and distorted sound irritates me - a monomania that often rankles my ladyfriend, and decays the conversation into one about our connection trouble. When the lifeblood of my relationship is being blocked by some glutton sharing my Internet connection, it's not uncommon that I find myself suppressing the urge to rain blows upon friends and family.

#7 An unwavering commitment

Yes, this is #1 again, but it's worth repeating. I've been in relationships before with commitment and mutual affection, and I had no intention of settling down anytime soon when Kate came along, but it just seemed like it was worth a shot.

Over the four and a half years, the relationship has gone from strength-to-strength, but an uncomfortable thought has continued to lurk in the back of my thoughts - 'what if I feel so strongly about this because it's difficult?' What if the moments we share are so special because of their scarcity? And what if I'm not seeing the true relationship dynamic, as we're both holding back on our petty gripes to not spoil the limited time we have together?
It seems to me that the only way to eradicate these fears is to close the gap, so that's what I'm doing.

I'm one week into my extended stay in the US of A. The plan is to stay for as long as I can via the tourist visa-waiver program, before heading off to Canada on a one-year work permit.
If you asked me five years ago if I'd ever inconvenience myself in such a fashion for the sake of a woman, I'm pretty sure that I'd have the hubris to scoff at such an irrational course of action. The trouble is, leaving behind my friends, family, and a quarter-century worth of accumulated material-possessions for the sake of narrowing (not closing!) the gap seems like the only sensible thing to do.

Here's how I do it

I've been in a long-distance relationship for four and a half years. Some people are impressed by this, others react as if I'm admitting a severe mental instability. Regardless of how this information reflects on my psychological profile, I'm invariably asked 'how do you do it?'.

For those who wish to know, read on.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Confessions of a Google Lover

I like to think that I'm a rational creature who likes and dislikes things for rational reasons, but when I find myself openly begrudging something popular, I worry that I'm falling into the same kind of lazy thinking exhibited by 'alternative' people who valorize going against popular opinion. If you've ever watched one of your hipster friends clumsily trying to justify their about-face on how they feel about bands like Green-Day, you should have a fair idea of the type of archetype I'm trying to avoid.

Of course, even though these people often can't articulate tangible reasons for disliking popular things, they too have convinced themselves of their rationality. When I posted late last month griping about Facebook's shortcomings I was cognizant that I would be seen to conform to hipster-type, so I intended to post a twin-piece as soon as possible, extolling the merits of another popular online service.

It may be six months late, but here goes:

I love Google. I use as many of their services as I can. I'll leave the privacy-concerns to the bubble-bursting commenters and focus on what I love about what they do for right now:

For a start, the essential services are free. By 'free', I mean 'ad-supported', but not in an intrusive way.

More importantly, the quality is rock solid - Gmail is almost universally lauded as one of the best e-mail clients there is, on or offline. Google Voice's call clarity tends to be better than Skype's, Google Reader has a clean interface to organise my RSS feeds from any web-connected device, and has a layer of social-integration for those rare moments that I want to share something with friends or see what they're recommending.

Google products tend to have a sense of humour - on the occasions that Google's services have thrown up error messages, they tend to be quirky ones, like when Google Wave (RIP) went belly-up on me one time:

A goofy error message that tells me how to fix the problem? A nice way to assuage the inconvenience of having to refresh the page, eh?

Also, when sending my girlfriend bloated text messages, most composing applications will tell me when I'm spilling over into more than one SMS, but Google Voice does it differently - have a look at the remaining-character count as I continue to prattle:

Keep prattling on and it throws its arms up at you in protest - a sensible deterrent to rambling text messages
There are new features rolled out all the freaking time. Part of the glory of having the applications on the web is that the updating process isn't very jarring - every now and again I'll log onto Google Docs to see that some new feature has been added:

Priority Inbox on Gmail, Mobile-View on Blogger, Google Instant search - they are constantly tinkering and improving on the bread-and-butter of the basic online experience, and I like to see the progress.

These seamless-updates aren't just for web-apps either, Google Chrome, my web browser of choice, updates itself in the background - if I leave Chrome running for five days solid, I'll get a prompt to restart the browser if there are updates ready to go - this is how I wish it was for 90% of the software I use.

Attention to detail: This is great software, and it shows when you consider the effort that goes into localisation. Look at the difference between the 'Options' page on Windows XP running Chrome in US English, and my Mac running Chrome in British English:

Firstly, they adhere to the Mac parlance of referring to 'options' as 'preferences', but 'Under the Bonnet'/Hood?' C'mon! That's a loving touch right there. It warms the cockles of my hearts every time I see it.


There's much I haven't touched on here for the sake of keeping this at a reasonable length - I could fill another blog entry about Android and cloud-syncing stuff, but I'll cut off the gushing for now.

I surely seem like a die-hard fan here, but the most significant contribution that Google makes is competition. They have all the money in the world to pursue projects with big budgets, which is great news for those (like me) who shop around. Google Voice has successfully supplanted Skype as my go-to VOIP solution, and how could they fail? In addition to a competitive feature set (that includes Gmail integration, a US phone number, voice-mail transcription, free texts to US numbers), they also offerred free voicecalls to the US for the entirety of 2011. That, friends, is a no-brainer.

Gmail's killer feature when it launched was 1GB of storage - at the time (if I recall correctly) Yahoo! Mail was giving me 250MB (Hotmail was bragging about 100MB not long before) - look at the major providers now - space is rarely an issue, and it's from Google pushing along the competition.

I like talking to people who dislike Google for good reasons - and there are plenty of valid reasons for not liking the company, but the products they put out are top-notch, and even if you don't partake yourself, you can surely admit to benefitting from Google's participation in the service-provider arms race, whether you use e-mail, a mobile phone, or even a TV.

If that hasn't convinced you somewhat, just remember - if you don't love Google, the hipsters win.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Three things I envy about religious people

Despite how much effort idiots put into tainting the word, 'Atheist' is one of the few labels I'm comfortable applying to myself. Trying to pinpoint how long I've been on the agnostic/atheist continuum is difficult, but I do recall an event when I was seventeen or so that has stayed with me.

There was a school outing to the shrine at Knock, and the itinerary called for a gruelling day of prayer and gawping at sacred trinkets. Attendance was optional. But all of my friends were going. Nobody seemed motivated by my suggestion to spend the day off doing what we wanted, rather than enduring a long day of ritual observance [more likely, my friends' parents weren't giving them a choice], and eventually I was goaded into attending. I felt like an outsider, so to avoid looking like an outsider, I bit my tongue for most of the day, only breaking my dishonest silence to a priest when I was forced into confession like the rest of the sheep.

The point is, I've been an outsider for years now, and I've gradually become more comfortable in openly not attending religious services, but there are a few things that I occasionally find myself envying about religious people. This is a quick (and unplanned) blog entry that is as respectful of religion as I feel it's appropriate to be, so if you take offense or have insight on what  I've said as a believer or non-believer, leave a comment and let me know.

#3: Meditation
Alone, in private, Christians pray for all sorts of reasons. I don't think prayer itself is particularly valuable, and intercessory prayer has been proven in clinical trials to not have any effect in the healing of the sick (I'm trying not to launch into a tangent on the absurdity of billions actively trying to alter God's infallible plan). That said, the act of prayer is a form of meditation, where people take time out from their day to organise their thoughts and focus on the needs of others, or their own hopes and dreams. While believers may be parsing their urgent needs in the form of an appeal only heard by themselves, I would consider this a more fruitful labour than merely distracting oneself from troubling situations by engaging in brainless activities.

Taking moments to collect one's thoughts seems to me a great way to 'defrag' the brain, and my abstaining from this activity is consoled by the fact that sometimes prayer does lead to dangerous levels of inaction, and if you pay attention to yourself, you can keep your thoughts in check without having to invoke the supernatural.

While I'm on the subject, I might as well confess that I miss being 'able' to pray to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost articles, who would be petitioned by my family every couple of minutes when I was a boy. Regardless of his spotty success rate, I can still remember how comforting it was in the moments after soliciting the assistance of an all-seeing entity whose sole responsibility was to help me find my Ghostbusters proton-pack.

#2: Immunity from offense
Yes, I'm mostly taking the piss, but consider for a moment how much privilege is afforded to religion in society. Even after thousands of years of effrontery against science and reason, countless real innocents murdered in the name of expunging imaginary spirits, and countless bad PR days resulting from angry muslims and pedophile priests, gently tutting at the peculiarities of religion is terribly bad manners.

I try to muster as much self-righteous indignation as possible when somebody is trying to peddle misinformation about the world, but my protests don't hold as much weight as the poor victimized Christian, who may defend his religion by dismissing dissenters as ignorant pricks.

This is immense power. Don't want to come up with solid logic for vilifying abortion? Hide behind religion. Someone doesn't agree with your assertion that your wife is your property? Invoke religion and call them a vulgar scoundrel. This bleeds over into political rhetoric, bringing the conversation to a halt before any ground is broken. Equal rights for gays? How dare you betray the inerrant word of the Bible!

Being able to effectively shut-down discourse whenever the cognitive-dissonance gets too taxing is naturally a bad thing, but I envy the power. As an experiment, I once tried to take offense to the phrase 'my brother from another mother', as I have a brother who was born of another mother, but this did not wield the same conversation killing power as religious ire.

#1: Community
This is the big one. The human species owes a great deal to reciprocal altruism, and while I don't entertain the notion that altruistic acts exist because of divine instruction, I do think that in the modern day, having a focal point to build communities around is great for expanding and enriching social circles. My girlfriend attends a [presbyterian] church for community purposes, and on the few times I've attended services, I've heard people asking for 'prayers' for loved ones who are sick or jobless. Worthless though the prayers may be, these people are able to put up a distress beacon for emotional support or job-networking that may well lead to genuine benefits.

The multitudes of ways this can misfire are obvious: in-groups can be hostile towards out-groups, particularly when religious fervour is involved, assuring the aggressor of his divinely-granted inerrancy. Think Christian versus Muslim, Shias versus Sunnis, Protestant versus Catholic, creationists versus sensible people, and you'll get the picture. These conflicts may not necessarily stem from religious affiliation, but it's a convenient way of 'othering' fellow human beings.


What I've discussed here isn't really the most important stuff, it's just what came to mind to me recently as a result of contemplating my future. I've a few notes scrawled down that I might explore at a later date but in the meantime, leave me a comment and weigh in yourself.

The Best Bits of my last Week or so

Busy few weeks! Little time to blog, but here are a few bits and pieces that I found along the way.

Within days of endorsing some sceptical podcasts, I find a toilet that empties into a sceptic tank:

"I'm sceptical that this is natural waste, so I'm going to back up into the sinks now"

While out in Limerick City (for the first time in a long time) I found something oddly reminiscent of the religious graffiti I tracked for a few months years over the country a few years ago. Has the intrepid vandal moved onto a new uplifting message with less? Forensic analysis to follow at a later date:

Accidentally cut off a bit - it reads: "Hope - The unconscious mind works it out - Sleep on it"

Limerick Band Fox Jaw Bounty Hunters released a fantastic new album last week, and I finally got to listen to it uninterrupted. Well worth a purchase, if you're into solid rock with a menacing vibe [Amazon Link].

Here's the latest single, Hatch Sixteen, which I've yet to decide is a paean or condemnation of Limerick City.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Now she tells me?

It was my birthday a few days ago. I received a small influx of material goods. Which was appreciated.

My girlfriend tends to get me some awesome gifts on my birth-anniversaries, but more often than not, it's the joke stuff she includes that always seems to be most memorable. Old school readers will remember the Creationist DVD and the vile evolution-denying children's books that she's gifted to me in years past.

Earlier this week, while Kate was pulling out thoughtful gifts out of her (Christmas-themed) gift bag, I was waiting for the self-conscious titter to announce the arrival of some goofy trinket designed to offend my sensibilities. This titter never came, nor did any offending items. I kept my disappointment to myself.

While I was ignoring her for The Sopranos, she asked me why her Facebook feed was abuzz with chatter of the apocalypse. I paused my show for the chance to pontificate, but had gotten no further than 'some Christian crazies have somehow grabbed some headlines...' when she let out a squeal and ran for her backpack.

She grabbed some pamphlets and eagerly shoved them towards me.

"I meant to give you these with your birthday card!"

Click for hugeness
Three flyers, (each consisting of four double-sided pages), and a business card that asks if you've heard 'the Awesome News?'

The end of the world? The Bible Guarantees It! Awesome! This not-particularly meek and mild approach is seen throughout the apocalyptic literature, with another flyer starting with the assertion that 'GOD GIVES ANOTHER INFALLIBLE PROOF THAT ASSURES THE RAPTURE WILL OCCUR MAY 21, 2011' [no emphasis added]. They've got maths on their side! This is science!

Click for science!

My favourite part about this is that my girlfriend hands these over at 22:30 on May 20th, 2011. Not quite enough time to repent, let alone read through this drivel. How did she procure these items? They were shoved into her sister's mailbox. Someone is paying to get these printed and delivered across the States, and gullible people are losing their minds over it. Just bear in mind occurrences like these when you wonder why I'm flying off the handle about harmless tat for superstitious old ladies.

Fear not, dear reader, Harold Camping, the engineer behind these claims, was wrong when he predicted the same thing in 1994, and as he is now in his 89th year, we can take solace in knowing that he won't be wasting column inches for much longer, rapture or not.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A quick curiosity [Apple]

As a consumer whore, I have a habit of checking the Gold-Box deals on Amazon just to kill time, but rarely does something tickle my fancy.

Whilst navigating through the store the other day, I saw that I could 'save big' on previous generation iMacs, but the prices were tantalisingly out of sight. "Add to cart to see price", it exhorted. Fair enough!

A click later, and I'm looking at the iMacs available. The cheapest is marked down from $1099, but to determine how much has been knocked off, i must 'Click to see price'. Here goes!

$1,079.99? It's fallen by a whole $19.01! That's some serious bull right there. How dare you make me click three times to learn that last year's iMac has barely been discounted. Why, Amazon, why?

Click to read comfortably

Oh. Because Apple (and other retailers) won't allow Amazon to advertise a price below the "minimum advertised price", I wasted twelve seconds of my day thinking I could get a good deal on an iMac, then wasted three minutes of yours telling you about it. You learn something new every day.

But hey, if you were looking at an iMac 10 months ago and thought to yourself "Man, I'd totally buy that if it was only 1.7% cheaper" it looks like today is your lucky day!

Remember, if you're looking to buy anything from Apple, consult the MacRumors Buying Guide to avoid putting your tech-savvy friends in an awkward spot when you show them your shiny new iDevice that's three days away from being old hat.