August 29, 2006

Literacy Matters

Posted in Books, Movies, Television at 11:48 am by Calico Jack

Last night, I watched one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen. I was at the library when I noticed a young boy of about four or five walking around by himself. He walked over to the children’s department and started to go through some of the shelves, pulling out books that he thought looked interesting. With a small stack of books in his hands, he went to his mom, who was in the audiovisual section looking at movies. At first she didn’t notice him until he softly called “Mom!” a few times.

After he got her attention, he looked up at her, and said “I want to read these, Mommy.”

Without even bothering to look at the books her son had so carefully chosen, she pushed a stack of movies at him and said, “No, no books for you. You can check out these movies, but you’re not going to read any books.”

He responded, “But I want to read these, Mommy.”

She simply shook her head and retorted, “No, you don’t need to read no [sic] books. You can watch movies if you want something to do.” He turned away, and carefully put back each book where he had found it.

After that little exchange, I walked over to the librarian sitting at the desk and relayed what I had just seen. She smiled sadly and told me that it’s much more common than anyone realizes. Parents aren’t willing to read to their children because it requires time of them, so they force their kids to watch movies and television instead.

Here was a young boy who had an interest in reading, but his mother completely abdicated her responsibility to help foster her son’s interests. So many little children are growing up without a love of reading, only because their parents are too lazy to spend time with them. How many parents actually sit down with their young children to watch the movie or television show that turn on? The television is used as a babysitter, and many children will grow up with shorter attention spans and an inability to express their imagination as a result.

That mother was woefully ignorant of the repercussions that could result from not letting her son read. But it wasn’t my place to say anything to her, either. I can only hope that she will eventually realize how destructive her behavior is.

Turn off the TV, and go read a book. Literacy matters.

August 27, 2006

Survivor: Race to the Finish

Posted in Politics, Television at 7:52 pm by Captain Morgan

Clever title, isn’t it?

If you read any kind of entertainment news site, or are addicted to CBS, by now you know of the plan for next season of Survivor. According to reports, the producers are separating the contestants in 4 groups. By races. White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic.

This, naturally, has enraged many a politically correct person. The main complaint is that this decision will be more divisive than anything else. Apparently, by seeing people divided by race on TV, in our lack of free will and intelligence, we will want to be divided ourselves. What a dumb argument!

I have not watched Survivor since the first season, but I will definitely be watching this season. I think it’s a fascinating idea. Survivor has always been a study in human behavior, so I don’t know what the big fuss is about. I don’t recall Gloria Steinem complaining when they divided the contestants by gender. So why now?

What are your thoughts?

Princess Sela adds: I don’t think separating teams by gender is something to complain about. I do, however, thinks it’s riding a line that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. That doesn’t make it a bad thing though. As a psychology minor, I think it will be very interesting to see how they project the teams and what comes of it. If nothing else, it will be an interesting show to watch during study breaks…:-)

August 25, 2006

Movie Review: Snakes on a Plane

Posted in Movies at 11:03 pm by Calico Jack

Let me get this out of the way first: Snakes on a Plane is the funniest movie I’ve seen all year. Yes, you heard me correctly. It is also one of the worst movies of the year, but its sheer awfulness makes it surprisingly hilarious. I went to see this movie with Princess Sela and her boyfriend, and the three of us laughed practically the entire time. Unfortunately, most of our laughter was directed at the the film itself, and not one of the few intentionally-funny punchlines. So where should we begin? How about…

The plot. Everything you need to know are those four words in the title. Apart from a few setup scenes in Hawaii, an occasional cut to an FBI office in Los Angeles, a herpetologist’s house — wait, what happened to the plane? By the time that FBI agents were chasing down an exotic snake handler and having a shootout in a barn in the California desert, I was about ready to die from laughter, most of it resulting from….

The dialogue. It’s pretty sad when even the serious dialogue elicits howls of laughter from the audience. One of Samuel L. Jackson’s most repeated lines in the movie is “Do as I say and you’ll live!” Other worthy samples include “All praises to the PlayStation!” “You sure you can fly this thing with one hand?” “We’re having a problem with our avionics!” and my favorite, “Great! Now they’re snakes on crack!”

Plot holes. Coming up with a reason to have dozens of poisonous snakes on a plane is flimsy enough. But that is only the start of the mess. An empty first-class cabin suddenly has storage bins full of carry-on luggage. Snakes chew through exposed wires and insulation, wreaking havoc on the plane’s “avionics.” Harmless corn snakes are shown right along the deadly coral snakes. A very large, very fangy python/ubersnake suddenly appears in the ceiling of the plane…you get the idea.

Okay, now you need to ignore everything I just said. Snakes on a Plane is an awful film, critically speaking. I’ve only scratched the surface at how terrible this movie is — provided, of course, that you sit by yourself in a darkened theater. However, if you go with a big (or even small but vocal) group of friends, you’ll have a great time at the movies. Unfortunately, our screen was rather empty; I can only imagine the level of raucousness that would occur with a packed theater.

Unlike most bad movies, this one is so bad it’s extremely funny. I don’t think I’ll buy it on DVD; but when it does come out I’ll get a group of friends together to watch this late at night, with a big bowl of popcorn and lots of pillows to throw at each other. And once you see the film, take a look at this thread from IMDB about audience members’ quotes during the movie. It’s nearly as funny as the film itself.

Snakes on a Plane doesn’t even qualify as an average horror/action movie. It isn’t scary, the plot holes and dialogue ruin any suspense that could be built up, and there are only three jolts that come from the “snakes-appear-out-of-nowhere” cliche. However, this is a comedy that provides more laughs (unintentional or not) than most other movies. As a critic, I give Snakes a D. But you can’t beat the experience of watching this film with your friends; in that regard it’s quite unique. So go see it, but don’t expect anything approaching mediocrity. Just be prepared to laugh — a lot.

August 22, 2006

The End of Facebook?

Posted in Technology at 11:53 am by Calico Jack

This morning, I noticed that Facebook had added a new feature to their ever-growing list of ways that you can promote yourself. Facebook has been hit-or-miss when it comes to adding new features. Some, like having global groups or allowing unlimited photo uploads, have revolutionized the way that people use the site. A few features are simply ignored (how many people actually look at their social timeline, or care enough to receive updates from Facebook Mobile?) And a few features have been big flops, such as when the creators moronically decided to lump all of your friends together in one big group instead of separating them by school. That was quickly overturned less than a week later due to an enormous number of complaints. And don’t even get me started on the whole “High School Facebook” fiasco; when they opened up this website to non-college students some of the appeal of exclusivity was gone.

However, Facebook has stayed remarkably consistent in a few key ways. Most importantly, they have kept their website clean. Apart from banner and side ads, every Facebook page is both easy-to-read and attractively uniform. Unlike MySpace or Xanga, users are unable to change much (in terms of layout or graphics) about their personal pages. This is a big draw for those of us who hate going onto MySpace, only to be bombarded with pop-ups and blaring music and horrendous backgrounds that make it impossible to read text or blog entries. Xanga has always been more of a blogging site for teenagers, but lately they’ve added photo and video uploads in a belated attempt to compete for MySpace. But Facebook has always stayed away from blogging, although this is a feature that a few people have wished for.

Apparently Facebook has been listening. Now comes Facebook Notes, a Xanga-lite version of blogging. From their FAQ:

Notes allow you to describe what’s going on in your life through written posts. You can upload photos to your notes and tag any friends that you mention in a note just as you would tag a photo.

Honestly, I think this is the worst thing Facebook could have done. What was once a very professional-looking website could now become cluttered with people’s musings on themselves and their boring lives. I would hate to go to someone’s profile and see “OMG!!! did u just hear about wat happnened to Melissa??? her and Dave broke up andnow he just went to a party w/another gurl!!! Im so sad, but I have lots of pics of them for u!!!”

Thanks, but I already see enough of that on people’s walls. Part of what made Facebook nice was the inability of people to show their illiteracy to everyone else, apart from the little “about me” box. Now we’re going to (maybe) get treated to a bunch of unnecessary crap. What was once a refreshing social-networking site is now a nicer-looking version of MySpace, only without the annoying music. Give it time…

I suppose the only redeeming thing about Facebook Notes is that you can upload your outside blog’s RSS feed, and it will display that in addition to any notes you choose to write. So if you have a blog that isn’t getting much traffic, everyone will be able to read your posts on your profile. I tested it with Ignorant Critics, and it seemed to work well. But I’d rather have the traffic head here, thanks.

August 20, 2006

Quality Dates Quality, Or, You’re Not Good Enough For Me

Posted in Personal, Random Oddments, Relationships at 11:01 pm by Calico Jack

Once in a while, I run across something on the internet that seems so laughable as to be a parody…until I find out that it’s completely serious. Take Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey, for example. I had never heard of her blog until I ran across a link to it this afternoon. It seems that a week ago, this woman decided to write her list of qualities that potential boyfriends should know about. That’s nothing new, right? I mean, people strew personals all over the internet in the hopes that someone will find them interesting and/or attractive. But Paisley Passey (sounds like a children’s book title) is apparently unique in that she is hit on by guys everywhere she goes, and she felt the need to try to fend off some of their advances. Let’s take a look at her lovely blog post, shall we? I’m being selective in what I put on here; otherwise I’d spend all day on this.

I’m slim (whereas 62% of American women age 20 to 74 are overweight)

I’m attractive (my new picture has been rated more attractive than 86% of the women on Hot or Not — and the women who upload their pictures are a self-selected sample that is probably already biased towards being more attractive than the general female population)

Ahem. Let’s look at the evidence.

I’m relatively young (whereas 82% of American adult women are over 30 years old)

I’m intelligent (IQ tested at 145 when I was a child, which is 3 standard deviations above the mean — higher than 99.85% of the population. Even if I’ve gotten dumber as I’ve aged I’m probably still at least a 130, which is higher than 97.5% of the population.)

Three standard deviations? Umm…I hate to break it to her, but three standard deviations above a mean only makes her smarter than 99.73 percent of the population — a full .12% lower than she thinks she is. That must account for her inaccurate statistics. I think she should stick to blogging; leave the math to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

I’m educated (whereas 77% of American women do not have bachelor’s degrees)

I really, really doubt this.

I have my financial s*** together (no debt, perfect credit history, 6+ months living expenses saved, adequate insurance, self employed)

And she curses? What a catch!

Most of my interests tend to be more popular with men than women: science fiction, libertarianism, blogging, politics, economics, guns, gambling, etc.

Given that self-improvement is an ongoing project of mine this list will continue to grow (I’m currently working on adding bilingual, very physically fit, well-traveled, higher income, and fantastic cook to the list). So even when “relatively young” (an important criteria for most men) drops off that list, I should have added enough other things that my overall dating market value should remain the same or even improve.

“Overall dating market value”? What is she, a commodity to be traded at a livestock fair along with other swine?

The above list explains why I typically receive 50-100 (sometimes more) responses whenever I post personal ads. This is in addition to getting hit on almost every time I go out alone (and all that those men know about me is that they like the way I look, they don’t even know about all the other qualities I have that make me more appealing than most other women).

I just have one tiny, insignificant question. If she’s such a great catch, why is she posting personal ads? Shouldn’t she have found a great guy by now? And if by “other qualities that make me more appealing than most other women” she means “arrogance, insecurity, and a forehead with its own ZIP code,” then yes, I agree with her.

I realize that some of you will find this post depressing because you’ll realize that you don’t qualify as a high quality man and thus won’t be able to get a high quality woman.

Now that I realize I can’t get a high-quality woman, my life is over. I have no future. I must cry myself to sleep, sobbing in my pillow. “Why can’t I be a high-quality man for you, Jacqueline? Why?”

You have a few options:

Whoopee! I’m saved!

Lower your standards and stop pursuing women who are out of your league. There are lots of fat single mothers out there who can’t find dates either.

Wait a second…if you’re implying that all of the guys who hit on you can’t normally find dates, wouldn’t that mean that you are a last resort for many of them, a desperate attempt to find a mate after going through the entire barrel? You’re the dregs, Jackie. Hate to break it to you.

Look in the developing world. If you’re literate with a home computer and an internet connection you are very wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Citizenship or legal permanent residency in a rich country makes you more attractive to women in poorer countries. Your value on the dating market is thus much higher there.

I have no comment.

Self-improvement! I used to be a fat unattractive college dropout who couldn’t get her life together. Now I’m thin, attractive, and successfully self-employed after graduating. You can make yourself over into a higher-quality man capable of winning a higher-quality woman too.

Hey! You don’t have a boyfriend, but you feel the need to write this long, self-love post because you’re insecure! We have a word for people like you, Jackie…loser.

I do still want to spend time with *friends* as *friends* over the next few weeks, but I am *not* in the market for a new boyfriend right now.

On this, I completely agree. You’ve just spent an entire post going over all of your ugly attributes, which means that every guy in America now knows to stay away from you. I’m so thankful you aren’t looking for a boyfriend; I’d hate to see you so disappointed.

One final note: on her About Me page, Jackie Mackie Passey (hey, that rhymes!) reveals that she has previously been married (read: damaged goods) to a guy for a year and a half before he revealed to her that he was, in his words, “GAY GAY GAY.”

I have no idea what could have brought on his sexual orientation switch. None whatsoever.

Read the 500-some-odd comments after her post, too. This woman has become the latest celebrity in the blogosphere, as everyone seems to be lining up to take a crack at her. We here at Ignorant Critics never want to be left out of the party, of course. This is true entertainment.

Thanks go to Ace, pretty much my favorite blogger of all time, for bringing my attention to this barrel o’ laughs.

Princess Sela adds: Woah! Some people take themselves waaay too seriously! While reading her post I constantly had to ask “Are you kidding me?!”

August 18, 2006

On Kissing

Posted in Personal, Random Oddments, Relationships at 12:14 am by Calico Jack

Thanks to Digg for this article

So how does one gesture come to signify affection, celebration, grief, comfort and respect, all over the world? No one knows for sure, but anthropologists think kissing might have originated with human mothers feeding their babies much the way birds do. Mothers would chew the food and then pass it from their mouths to their babies’ mouths. After the babies learned to eat solid food, their mothers may have kissed them to comfort them or to show affection.

In this scenario, kissing is a learned behavior, passed from generation to generation. We do it because we learned how to from our parents and from the society around us. There’s a problem with this theory, though: women in a few modern indigenous cultures feed their babies by passing chewed food mouth-to-mouth. But in some of these cultures, no one kissed until Westerners introduced the practice.

Other researchers believe instead that kissing is instinctive. They use bonobo apes, which are closely related to humans, to support this idea. Bonobos kiss one another frequently. Regardless of sex or status within their social groups, bonobos kiss to reduce tension after disputes, to reassure one another, to develop social bonds and sometimes for no clear reason at all. Some researchers believe that kissing primates prove that the desire to kiss is instinctive…

Scientists don’t entirely agree on whether kissing is learned or instinctive. There’s support for both arguments, just as there’s support for the different theories of why people started doing it in the first place.

There is quite a lot of disagreement over this issue, isn’t there? I, for one, suggest that we do some more research to solve this problem. Are there any volunteers?

August 16, 2006

Applebee’s, Atrocious Food, and Automatic Gratuities

Posted in Food, Personal at 11:26 pm by Calico Jack

Last night I went out with a large group of co-workers to our local Applebee’s. The company was great, but our experience at the restaurant wasn’t very good. After the waiter took our orders, it took a long time for the food to arrive, especially considering that the restaurant was only half-full.

I had ordered a bacon cheeseburger, but it definitely wasn’t worth the $6.99 that I paid. The bun was soggy, the hamburger patty was lukewarm, and the bacon was limp. My friend Nicole had the fiesta nachos platter, but when it arrived the melted cheese was caked over, as if the dish had been sitting out for a long time. And others had problems with their food too.

After all of us received our entrees (at the same time, which might be part of the reason why quite a few of us had crappy food), the waiter left and didn’t come back once to see how we were enjoying our food. Nicole became so disgusted with her platter that she had to flag down a passing server, because our waiter was nowhere to be seen. The server apologized and promised to return with another fresh platter of nachos, but she had to wait a while as the rest of us finished our meals.

Two minutes after the server went into the back room to tell the cook to make another platter, our waiter magically reappeared and asked us how we were enjoying our food. He said, “I heard that you guys were having problems with your food. I’m very sorry, and I promise we’ll get you fresh food right away.” I almost laughed out loud, because he had done nothing to help us out. He hadn’t bothered to check on us, and a different server had already gone into the back to fix the problem.

When all of us had finished eating, we were handed our bills. There were nine of us at the table, but three sets of couples who combined meals. However, because we were a party of nine, Applebee’s had added a 15% automatic gratuity onto each of our bills. And they helpfully provided an extra space if we wished to tip more than we had already been charged.

Now, I know that this is standard practice for restaurants in dealing with larger parties, but it still irritates me to no end. I wouldn’t mind the assumption that I owe the waiter 15% if the food had been good and the service decent, but they were neither. Why should I be required to pay a certain percentage for a bad experience at a restaurant?

Are tips not supposed to be an appreciation for quality service? I always thought that tips were dependant on the generosity of the customer. They are not mandatory; they are optional (although expected in certain situations.) For those who work in customer service industries, they should go above and beyond the minimum if they want a larger tip. And just as people are more likely to give a larger tip if the service is extraordinary, they should be able to tip less if they are displeased. Applebee’s gave us the ability to be more generous, but no matter how lousy the service was we were still going to have to pay a flat rate of 15% — standard for restaurant tipping, but only under the assumption that the service was normal; and ours most definitely was not. Short of calling a manager and becoming nuisances, there was nothing we could do.

Our culture has become so self-important that tip jars are sprouting up in the most unlikely of places. They are ubiquitous at coffee shops, although I’m of mixed mind on this. I pay a lot for a Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino as it is, and throwing in another dollar or so can be a fifth or more of the cost of the drink. And it isn’t like the baristas are paid horribly, that they depend on their tips for income. However, I would feel guilty about not leaving a tip after the barista spent a minute or so mixing my drink, so I usually just throw my change into the tip jar. It makes my coffee awfully expensive, though.

However, I have now seen tip jars at everything from bookstores to gas stations. I’m sorry, but selling items in a store to a customer doesn’t warrant a tip from anyone. Employees should expect tips for providing exceptional service, not for merely fulfilling their job functions. And I would be more likely to give a tip at a store if I’m pleasantly surprised with the attention paid to me, a customer. However, to think that I’m going to leave money in the jar just because the person behind the counter rings up my book and puts it in a bag is ridiculous. However, if they help me find a book that I’m looking for, or go out of their way to assist me, then I’d be more willing to leave something if they had a tip jar out.

I’m not anti-tipping — not at all. In fact, I’m a pretty generous tipper normally. I give a good tip to my hair stylist, although I don’t understand that practice whatsoever. I mean, if I’m paying sixteen bucks for a haircut, and she’s given me exactly what I paid for, why do I give her an extra three bucks? Still, I never fail to do it. I always leave my change at coffee shops, and I give anywhere between 15-20% at restaurants — even more if the service is excellent. What I am against is being forced to pay a gratuity, even though the food was poor and the service lazy. Automatic gratuities, although meant to protect waiters against stingy patrons, completely go against the point of tipping in the first place. It’s a voluntary apprecation for good service. Our waiter didn’t even say “Thank you” as he took our bills…and why should he? He’s guaranteed a decent tip no matter what he does.

It’s time to stand up against automatic gratuities. Adding to the cost of the food would be more honest than getting a bill and seeing an extra 15% added on without your consent. I don’t care if it’s meant to ensure that waiters get a decent wage; removing mandatory tipping would simply encourage waiters to provide excellent service to their patrons. Being a waiter or waitress isn’t without risk; there’s always the chance that they will run into a patron who simply refuses to leave a tip. But if they consistently provide good service, the tips they receive should more than make up for the times when they get stiffed.

And for the record, we won’t be eating at Applebee’s anymore. They just lost nine customers.

Edit: I think I was a bit unclear about my disgruntlement with Applebee’s. I didn’t mean to say that I’m putting a ban on them for life, only that my coworkers and I won’t be eating there anymore as a group. Every Tuesday, we go out for dinner after work, but we’ve decided to patronize other restaurants. A few weeks ago we went to Outback Steakhouse and had excellent service from our waitress; and she received a large tip from us as a result. With so many restaurant options available, we just don’t see ourselves coming back when we have better food and service at other places.

And I’m more than willing to go to a different Applebee’s; I would just prefer not to eat at that particular restaurant again. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, though; if I am invited to dinner with a group I’ll come. But it won’t be my first choice.

_______________________________________________________________

Captain Morgan adds: I go to Applebee’s a few times a month, and have never had bad service. Or bad food. While I don’t discredit your experience, I hardly think one bad time is worth a lifetime of self-banning.

And also…..hair stylist? That’s the gayest thing you’ve ever said. I’ve been going to a barber, the same one in fact, since I was 10. And up until last month, he’s always charged $9.50. Now he’s up to $10.50, but that’s still better than $16. And I’ve never tipped him. Probably never will.

_________________________________________________________________

Edward Teach adds: Tipping of the hair stylist is entirely dependant upon the type of establishment. In a shop where the person cutting hair is the owner, tipping is unnecessary, since all the income is his alone. In a chain hair salon or a salon with multiple stylists, often stylists are paid a smaller flat rate and use tips to bring their income closer to a decent wage much like a waiter would. This is where you would tip.

On Applebee’s, I agree that one negative experience hardly qualifies a life banning. Also, it sounds like a situation where a manager should have been discreetly contacted. That is why they are there, to ensure good service and quality. Talking to a manager can be done without becoming a nuisance.

Intelligence wanted

Posted in Games, Random Oddments, Television at 12:57 am by Calico Jack

Out of all of the game shows that are on television, The Price is Right has to be one of the easiest to understand. The minigames are simple to play…right? Not so fast. Watch this video of a girl who is truly “dumber than a doornail.” I laughed so hard when I saw this…

August 15, 2006

Poop on a Plane

Posted in Random Oddments at 11:11 pm by Calico Jack

The most useless Reuters article ever.

Other than that, no comment.

Seriously.

Princess Sela adds: Does that article even count as a complete thought? ….

Whom do you call?

Posted in News, Personal, Relationships, Technology at 1:03 am by Calico Jack

A new Swiss study reveals some interesting facts about the way we communicate in the 21st century. According to Stefana Broadbent of Swisscom, 80% of our cell phone conversations are only with four people. On first glance, such a claim seems rather unlikely. But then I thought a little bit more about the people I actually spend the most time talking to, and I think Broadbent’s right. Many of us don’t necessarily use our cell phones to get in touch with casual acquaintances. We have a myriad of options when it comes to communication, from cell phones to instant messaging to email to social networking sites such as Facebook and the cesspool of the internet, MySpace. With so many choices available, I often IM or email someone if I want to drop them a note or ask a question. It’s my close friends and family with whom I take the time to communicate personally.

This doesn’t mean that I only have a select few with whom I only talk to my cell; a quick glance at my recent calls displays quite a few names. But the ones who show up most frequently, and for the longest duration, are only a couple of people. If I’m planning a party, I’ll call a bunch of people to see if they’re able to come. But I doubt I’ll spend much time talking to them on the cell, especially if I spent an hour instant messaging them the previous night.

I’m not sure that this study actually means much. What it does point out is that we have many diverse ways of communicating, and we use each medium for different purposes. One hundred years ago, people didn’t profess their love for each other through telegrams — they wrote letters instead. But for business, telegrams were much more practical and efficient than waiting a week or more to receive a letter in the mail. Our ways of connecting are different than our forefathers’, but we are alike in one respect: we seek closeness with other people. However, I wonder if we aren’t less connected with each other than we used to be.

Nothing compares to actually talking to someone face-to-face. It is nearly impossible to read emotions through text, and a phone call removes our most important way of expressing ourselves to each other — through facial expressions. Communication has largely become something that is stripped down to its bare essentials; many people can’t even be bothered to write out full sentences when they write each other. The richness of sincere, leisurely conversation is absent, and I suspect few mourn its passing.

So check your cell phone records, and see how many people you actually call on a regular basis. And think about how many names are on your buddy list who you never IM. Instead of trying to have superficial relationships with as many people as possible, make an effort to develop true friendships with a few people. I suspect we’ll all be better off if we do that.

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