31 October 2008

2007 Hyundai Elantra

Unfortunately I had the opportunity to drive a 2007 Hyundai Elantra this week.

It's supposed to be a sedan, right? The seating position felt like a high chair. In the first five minutes I was reminded of that thing called body roll. One U-turn and the Elantra abruptly disabused me of the notion that I could drive the Elantra like I drive my R -- I suppose whether that was a good or bad thing depends on the point of view.

The Elantra has great cup holders relative to my R. The R has two cupholders designed such that one of them is pretty much useless. It's so shallow than any small cup is going to turnover as soon as I make a turn. Any cup in there also interferes with the parking brake. I have no idea what VW designers were thinking. The Elantra on the other hand, has two useable cupholders in the center divide, and furthermore these large cupholders are designed to hold firmly variously-sized smaller cups, as well. This was a revelation. Why this cupholder design isn't mandatory in all makes is beyond me.

The Elantra also got me to where I wanted to go. It's quieter than the R, and I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the ride was -- as long as I was driving in a straight line. Remember that thing called body roll? No turns, please.

It also occured to me that it's actually comfortable to be a slow driver in the Elantra. In the R I might get annoyed at traffic and at people driving slowly in the passing lane, but in the Elantra? It's much more comfortable and stress free to be a slower driver and hold-up traffic. It's not that I don't want to drive faster, it's just that the car's capabilities warrants slower driving. See that large gap in traffic a car-length ahead? Forget about it. You won't make it.

I'm being facetious, of course. Still, this was my mild epiphany as I rock'n rolled through a turn.

30 October 2008

Credit Card Theft

On my monthly credit card bill I occasionally see a vendor whose name does not quite match the name of the store I patronized. It's not unusual for a purchase to be charged to a parent company, and these instances are easily verified.

Recently however, I noticed a puzzling $0.10 charge from CENTR LIMITED 888-560-6635 TX. First, I don't remember ever making a $0.10 purchase using a credit card. Second, I have never had the opportunity to visit Texas nor have I -- as far as I know -- had any business with an online company based in Texas. Huh.

I can only assume that some criminal accessed my credit card information from one of my online transactions and the $0.10 charge was a test to see if I was someone who paid a modicum of attention to their monthly bill.

Moral of the story? Check your bills regularly, and question every charge you don't remember.

I googled the above phone number and apparently I'm very much far from the only victim of these criminals.

15 October 2008

U.S. 3rd Presidential Debate

Tonight was the third and last U.S. Presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, moderated by Bob Shieffer from CBS.

Random thoughts:

  • Much of the camera work was a split screen so you could see both nominees at the same time. While Obama was talking, McCain looked very stiff and only slightly creepy -- but that may partly be due to old injuries.
  • Shieffer did okay, I guess.
  • Obama performed well, again. Very presidential and calm.
  • McCain appears more energetic than in previous debates.
  • Because Obama is leading the race by at least a 6-7 point margin, McCain had to out-perform Obama to win the debate. I don't think that happened. At best it was a tie, and a tie is good for Obama. Besides, if you ignore issues, I think Obama did slightly better than McCain.
  • I was cringing when McCain was spewing about Ayers. Guilt by association -- it reminds me of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
  • McCain... please don't smile or laugh on television. Grin, chuckle... perfectly fine. And I know it's not your fault, nor do I place any fault. But your smile looks like a rictus. It puts you in a bad light. So please.
  • ACORN? Currently I find it extremely difficult to believe ACORN is fomenting wide-scale voter fraud, given what I've read and given that claims of voter fraud is a typical Republican tactic to disenfranchise voters who mostly vote Democratic. As Obama said, ACORN pays individuals to collect voter registration information. Some individuals are stupid and break the law; that doesn't tar and feather an entire organization. That's like saying because one high-schooler plays hookey all the other students do, too.
  • What scares me is the thought that McCain really believes Palin is qualified to be President of the United States. What scares me is the thought that McCain really believes his own lies. And if so, what does that say about his judgment?
  • And what the $%^&@! is it with this false equivalancy!?! How can McCain calling Obama a terrorist be equivalent to Obama calling McCain erratic? How is McCain calling Obama a traitor equivalent to Obama saying McCain is lying? I really wish people ie. the media, would start calling McCain on it.

14 October 2008

A few months ago I was wondering why my blog was valued so high on Blogshares, somewhere around B$237k.

But just as the economy has recently been taking a precipitous plunge, it appears the bubble has popped on my blog where its current value is around B$46k. That's approximately a drop of 80%.

Fortunately, my real world savings -- while still painful -- has not dropped by quite so much.

I try not to think about it.

13 October 2008

Anime Mecha

Protagonists in mecha anime I've seen tend to be annoying brats. I'm probably not within the target audience but nevertheless that's what they are. Brats. Why are 14 year olds entrusted with saving the world? Must be that target audience thing.

Let's see... Neon Genesis Evangelion had the invariably passive agressive Shinji who never seemed to get past, "Why me?", and as such was willing to let other people die as long as Shinji didn't have to do something. Oh yeah, and Shinji was a pervert. What a wonderful protagonist.

Kira from Gundam Seed wasn't as bad. Whatever you say about his whining and crying, at least Kira went out and did something. Still, the look-at-me-suffer, woe-is-me stuff grew old, quick.

Now I've just seen another mecha anime with a 14 year old protagonist who at least isn't passive agressive. In fact, this protagonist is agressive to a fault, clearly delusional and stupid. Describing him as egotistical wouldn't be wrong, evidently lacking understanding of cause and effect all too depressingly true.

The appeal of these characters to children is unfathomable. And yet, here I am drawn to the next episode to see if the protagonists can grow and change for the better, but ultimately and inevitably disappointed, cursing their very existance all the way to the series finale.

Perhaps that's the trick. Maybe this is a case of nice guys finishing last. Shows don't necessarily have to make characters likeable or well adjusted just as long as people watch the anime, bemoaning the waste of their time until the very bitter end.

10 October 2008

Star Wars: Clone Wars

I think of myself as a fairly big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, so I had been looking forward to the animated movie and television series that was being produced. That changed as soon as I started seeing promotion clips.

First, I very much dislike Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader, good. Anakin, bad. I suspect that George Lucas wanted people to sympathize with Anakin and his transformation-redemption bit. All I wanted was Anakin to die. Quickly. ASAP. Die in Episode I; who cares if it would screw up Star Wars continuity. Die, Anakin... die.

All this to say I was very disappointed to discover that the recent movie and current television cartoon takes place in the time between Episodes II and III. Ugh. Even worse, Anakin appears to be the main character, along with a new-to-the-mythology padawan perky enough to make me ill.

If Lucas wants to fill in the gaps, he should have made the series take place between Episodes III and IV. I want to see the original trilogy characters before the trilogy. Truthfully, I'd love to see more Han Solo, others not so much. Hey, they could get Shia LeBeouff to play a young Solo; LeBeouff's already played Indiana Jones' son.

Anywhoo, to cut this short I didn't see the Clone Wars animated movie and I have no intention of watching the television cartoon... except for tonight when while channel surfing I caught the last 20 minutes on an episode.

My worst fears were realized (see 2nd paragraph)... double ugh. The character animation style... triple ugh. Story... quadruple ugh. They turned General Grievous into a stereotypical comedic enemy. Dialogue... quintuple ugh. Awkward and forced. Pacing... sextuple ugh. Too slow. Voice acting... septuple ugh. It sounded flat.

As I said I only caught the last 20 minutes of a single episode... nevertheless nothing I saw makes me want to watch it again.

07 October 2008

U.S. Presidential Debate: Town Hall

Tonight was the second of three United States Presidential debates between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Tonight's was in a "Town Hall" format moderated by Tom Brokaw (NBC).

I came into this second debate planning to watch the entire 90 minutes. You know what? I turned off the television after 10 minutes. This debate was miserable. Miserable enough within the first ten minutes that I turned it off.

Was it the "Town Hall" format (with questions from the audience and online; 2 minute answers, 1 minute follow-ups) that turned this debate in to torture? Compared to the format in the first debate tonight's was pitiful.

Random thoughts, given that I turned off the t.v. after ten:

  • I groaned -- painfully -- when Brokaw recited a submitted question and then immediately added his own question on top of it. Hey, Tom. Kind of defeats the purpose of this type of format, doesn't it?
  • It's hard for me to describe, but Brokaw rubs me the wrong way. Something about him irritates me, like a tiny pebble stuck in my shoe. I can't quite say exactly why that's so, but I can say that Jim Lehrer (1st Presidential debate) and Gwen Ifill (vice-presidential debate) didn't irritate me at all. In fact I was mildly impressed with Lehrer's performance.
  • Part of the reason I turned off the debate is that McCain now officially aggravates me. These days whenever I hear McCain speak I start cringing. McCain doesn't even have to be spouting bald faced lies anymore (lies, not gross exagerations, plain lies), McCain says anything and I cringe like Pavlov's dogs.
  • I saw one debate clip where McCain was lurking evil-like in the background as Obama talked. Creepy as all heck. Unfortunate for McCain. It makes me wonder what the cameraman was thinking. Perhaps the screen would have cut McCain in half if the camera had been centered on Obama?
UPDATE: Oh yeah, McCain's oratorical habit of saying, "my friends"? Entirely too presumptuous. I'll decide who my friends are, thank you. Please, just stop it. Stop it. I'm begging you. STOP.

05 October 2008

Luke Skywalker is a wimp

Luke Skywalker is a wimp. Relatively speaking.

Let's see, in Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker was defeated by Emperor Palpatine. Only via Anakin Skywalker's intervention was Luke saved and the Emperor killed.

Now we have Star Wars: Force Unleashed for the Nintendo Wii -- MAJOR SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW -- with the main character Starkiller.

Starkiller, if you complete the game, ends up defeating both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine in turn. See that? That's how it's done, Luke.

Oh yeah, speaking of the game, what's with the extreme don't kill the Emperor, Palpatine is already defeated moronicity. Starkiller won't kill Palpatine because even though he's just killed hundreds of stormtroopers on his way there, executing Palpatine would be wrong. What's up with that?

What were they planning on doing?! We'll let the defeated Palpatine live as we escape the Death Star, so that we can officially form the Rebel Alliance who's prime directive is to oppose the Galactic Empire led by... Palpatine.... Eh?

02 October 2008

U.S. Vice - Presidential Debate

Well, I just finished watching the first and only United States vice-presidential debate for this election (tonight is/was also the first English and second Prime Ministerial debate in Canada, by the way) between Democrat Senator Joe Biden and Republican Governor Sarah Palin.

Random thoughts on tonight's debate (comments on the first presidential debate can be found here):

  • Biden performed very well. He acted like a vice-president, or for that matter a president, as well. Experienced, knowledgeable, passionate, and regardless of whether you agree with his politics Biden was someone I'm accustomed to seeing on the national and world stage.
  • Palin, unfortunately, is not ready for national or international politics. It felt like Palin had prepared talking points and if she didn't like a question Palin talked about those instead (typically energy policy in the first half). To me, Palin is a local politician with a shallow grasp of issues. For example, with the topic of McCain's support of deregulating financial markets and Wall Street Palin instead talked about Alaskan energy policy.
  • Palin kept on hammering the talking point that Obama-Biden are too focused on the past (ie. Bush-Republican screw-ups) to be agents of change. Every time I kept wanting to shout:
    "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." -- George Santana.
    Biden was much more succint: Past is prologue.
  • Perhaps part of the reason I have such a good impression of Biden is that for once someone on television actually did what I told them to do. Palin stupidly said, and maybe it's the scientist in me but that's just what it was, stupid:
    "...there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"
    I was silently screaming, how can you formulate a solution if you don't know what causes it!? And to my elation Biden's reply:
    "If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution."
    Ahhh... balm to my wounded soul. You'd understand if you knew how rarely this happens for me.
  • Palin acted like someone who had crammed for an exam, reciting talking points from memory, with no deep understanding of the issues and unable to answer anything not in CliffsNotes.
  • Most of my points being critical of Palin (she scares me), I should add that Palin performed adequately (if you weren't looking for substance), given how low the expectation bar had been set.
  • I haven't read what the pundits have said, yet, but it wouldn't amaze me if Republicans declared this debate a tie. Given where the polls are right now, Palin needed to do more than just hold her ground. Who knows, Palin may halt the crash but her debate performance alone won't reverse the declining polls.
  • Palin being one step away, one heart beat, from the presidency scares me. I can't say it enough. It scares me. McCain is what, 72 years old? With a history of recurring melanoma? With a 1 in 7 to 1 in 6 chance of dieing in the first two years of a first term? How can this not scare people? I'm all for privacy, but President of the United States is too important a job for this type of uncertainty. McCain should stop playing peek-a-boo with his medical records.

01 October 2008

My Credit Score

Although it's possible to get a free credit report every four months the same is not true of credit scores. This deficit has always annoyed me. It's a reflection of my credit history so why can't I see what it is without having to pay?

Anywhoo, today I discovered a credit score calculator on msn. I know that online you can find calculators for anything from unit conversions to home loans, but it never occurred to me that there would be one for credit scores.

Why not for credit scores? Because if you can calculate it for free why would anyone bother paying for it? Of course, the calculator linked above only gives you a potential range for your credit score as opposed to the actual value obtained under mercantile duress. So who knows, the calculator might be horribly inaccurate.

It makes me want to actually pay for my credit score just to see how accurate the calculator is, but that would defeat my purpose of getting something for free.