Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Won The Mega Millions Jackpot!

Umm, no I didn't.

Florida doesn't even sell the Mega Millions tickets so we couldn't participate in the foolish dreams this past week as the jackpot for this multi-state lottery zoomed to $640 million.

But USA Today asked people who were in states where the tickets were selling in massive quantities what they would do if they won.

Here's the video. I love the old queen at the end. ;)

The winner hasn't been determined yet but they know the ticket was sold in Maryland.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

FLASHBACK: October 2002

SMACK! I slapped Gary hard across the right side of his face. He looked shocked.

"Don't ever bring the mark back to the room!" I sternly scolded him. He looked even more dumbfounded.

Ric and Gary had planned on visiting Busch Gardens for the weekend and I got invited along. I looked forward to it since I hadn't been to Busch Gardens in a while and this was to check out the Halloween themed "Howl O' Scream" treatment they did each fall which I hadn't seen yet. If it was anything like the Halloween Horror Nights that Universal did, I knew it was going to be great.

Ric drove us all, crammed into his little red Isuzu truck down to Tampa and we checked in at the Belmont Inn, a fairly decent budget motel right across the street from the west side of Busch Gardens theme park. After getting unpacked and refreshed, we all went down to Busch Bar and Grill right next door. It was a neighborhood sports bar type place. Ric and Gary, who had stayed at the Belmont before on weekends to Tampa had said they both liked this place for its cheap prices and amiable customers.

We all were in the midst of our usual party-now, pay-later attitude when I had started to strike up a conversation with some lady at the bar. I saw her pay for her drink order with a hundred dollar bill and I immediately thought that I should try to hit this chick up for some money.

After about 30 minutes of me telling her my sob story of the fact I was dirt broke and staring down eviction (which, it turns out would be true in a few months time) she started to cry (since by now I had turned on the water works) and broke a hundred in order to give me $50 (don't you know, I was thinking to myself, why couldn't she just give me the hundred!) and I humbly accepted her assistance.

After a few minutes, we'd all been ushered out of the place since it was closing and my posse and I headed back to our room. Now Ric and Gary had no part in my motives towards this lady but they had seen me crying with her and thought I had some special connection to she apparently thought...'cause not fifteen minutes after we'd gotten back to the motel room, she's at the door. Gary saw her outside the motel while he was smoking and invited her up. Apparently I'd let it slip during my conversation with her at the bar that I was staying with friends at the Belmont Inn next door.

She said she came over to check on me since I seemed really down and wanted to make sure I was alright. I assured her I was and she left telling me that things will get better..she has faith. I shut the door and turned to Gary who had no idea I'd gotten money off her and that's when I slapped him.

Ric, who was near comatose from drinking was lying on the bed that he and Gary were sharing, saw me slap Gary and rose up to his defense. There was a lot of shouting and pushing and accusations of who was drunker than who, but, like most drunk-on-drunk fights, it wore down quickly and we retreated to our respective beds to sleep it off.

The next day I apologized to both Ric and Gary. Gary would quietly confess to Ric that his jaw continued to ache for months afterwards and that he didn't like me as a friend anymore, but this is contrary to how he treated me. To me, he said he got over it. Ric was perplexed as to why I acted as if the incident were some sort of organized con or something.

But to me the night proved that I was in a different mentality. A desperate mentality. I knew the end was nigh, as they say, and I was mentally getting prepared for what I had to do to survive in the coming storm.

No matter what the costs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Taxman Finally Cometh

"I'm gonna make you my bitch!"
By the time you finish reading this post, the federal government will have spent $10 billion dollars.

And in all these years, spending all those dollars, many times in ways I felt were deplorable, I quietly glazed over my own personal responsibility thinking that surely, in such a vast system as is our nation's that I'd be but a gnat, easily overlooked and forgot about. And so it's been, for years - nay - decades...until this past week.

I filed electronically this year for the first time ever. Methinks that may have been the stimulus to get the ball rolling. Why else would the enormous gorgon of the IRS be concerned with my meager ducats?

Well, concerned they are. I got a notice that looked like it had been part of a long series of bills that had been mailed to me, well, to the Lake Mary address I guess. The latest one explained why my $31 refund for this tax year was not being deposited into my checking account. It would be used to pay back a portion of the almost $700 the IRS says I owe them from the 2009 tax year.

Flabbergasted, I looked through my haphazardly kept records and fortunately I found a copy of that year's return. In fact, it showed I filed and factored in a refund of just over $600 which MS Money records I did receive. Along with a $400 stimulus bonus everyone else got. But the "wages earned" line did look a little low...only $12,000 or so. Uh oh, did I do my taxes when I was drunk and frivolously omitted items in order to perk up a return? It wouldn't have been the first time.

Sure enough, after speaking with an IRS rep on the phone for 45 minutes and then having a copy of the original bill with the IRS figured corrections for my 2009 tax form re-mailed to my current address, it does appear I "forgot" to include some $8000 in extra taxable income for which there was very little (if any) withholding.

What's more, now that the proverbial cat was out of the bag on my account in the IRS computer system, the rep exclaimed to me, somewhat alarmingly, that she showed I had not filed for the tax years 2005, 2006 and 2007. (I thought she'd keep rattling on since I know it's far longer than just those three years...guess their computer has only scratched the surface.)

I re-completed my 1040EZs for those years today, with the help of the pertinent W-2 information they mailed to me and, well, I can clearly see why I didn't file. Every year is a debt...

2005: $434
2006: $670
2007: $1094
and now 2009: $698.69

Except for '09, the others are what I owed during those filing years. The figures don't account for the years of penalties and interest they'll tack on.

And I know there will be issues with 2010's taxes where I took a $4500 exception I wasn't really entitled to. They will probably figure that one out too.

I predicted this all a while ago, of course. I guess it's like they say. There're two things you just can't avoid. Death and taxes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

21st Century Slavery?

Who knew?

I happened upon this recent article and it enlightened me that the crime of slavery endures to this day in some parts of the world.

Makes me think twice about lightly using a "Roots" scene as a humorous metaphor in my previous post, hmmm...

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (CNN) -

As a member of Mauritania's slave-owning class, Abdel Nasser Ould Ethmane could have had anything he wanted as a present for his circumcision ceremony: a toy, money, a camel, or, as his brother would choose, a bicycle.

But the 7-year-old wanted something more sinister.

He chose Yebawa Ould Keihel, a young boy with skin the color of coal. At that moment, Abdel became a slave master.

It's an experience that's common here in Mauritania, a vast country in West Africa's Sahara Desert where activists and the United Nations estimate 10% to 20% of people are enslaved -- usually dark-skinned people who have lighter-skinned masters.

For the owners of slaves, a group of Arab people called the White Moors who raided sub-Saharan Africa for slaves centuries ago, this is no big deal.

"It was as if I were picking out a toy," Abdel, now 47, said of choosing Yebawa as his slave. "For me, it was as if he were a thing -- a thing that pleased me. This idea came to me because there were all these stories about him which made me laugh -- that he talked in his sleep, that he was a bit chubby and a bit clumsy, that he was always losing the animals he was supposed to be watching over and was then always getting punished for this. So for me, he was an interesting and comic figure.

"It's normal that I chose him."

Sadder still, Yebawa didn't consider himself human either -- at least not in the way Abdel was. Mauritania's slaves are very often brainwashed by their masters into thinking they are less than human and that their place is at the bottom of a rigid and still-enforced caste system that allows them only to serve their masters without pay or free will.

How very much more must be done before the hundreds of thousands of slaves and former slaves here can truly be set free.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

My Name Is Kunta Kinte!

Remember the unforgettable scene in "Roots" when the slave Toby is corporeally punished and instead of caving-in to the demands of his master through the crack of the overseer's whip he defies them by exclaiming out loud for all to hear that he was not the slave Toby, but the proud African warrior Kunte Kinte.

I've used a reference to this character before of course back in 2006 when I felt I was unfairly being singled-out by my-then-nemesis Cheryl at Symantec.

Back then I had to placate. I had to stand down. I had to take it.

But a lot has happened between 2006 and 2012.

Susan had the audacity to send me an email notifying me that I was now in jeopardy of disciplinary action in the form of 3-days suspension without pay.

The Center has a policy about clocking-in which states, pretty much word-for-word, that an employee would be suspended for 3 days without pay if they accrue three infractions in a rolling 2-month period. These infractions are defined explicitly as clocking-in later than or earlier than 5 minutes of one's starting time.

Last week I admittedly was late by 7 minutes because I forgot that my schedule had been modified in order to accommodate June's PTO. I accept this is a legitimate infraction.

But Susan is counting a clock-in of mine two weeks earlier when I clocked in 8 minutes early in order to cover for June's lateness on that date. You see, June had called saying she'd be late around 10:30 pm, I didn't know she had called in late but, as usual, I had arrived more than 10 minutes early for my shift. So I chose to clock-in once the evening shift told me I was going to be alone for a while. A counting of the controlled meds needs to be done each shift change and since it was told to me that June wasn't going to be in until midnight I knew I'd have to count off with Phyllis in order for her to leave her shift on time.

So by this account, I'm up to 2 infractions within 30 days, well within the 2 rolling months of the policy. In the email it says if I have another infraction before April 8th, I'll be suspended.

I've answered her with a tersely worded reply, let me tell you. I even go so far as to presume to school her on the definition of "using one's judgement".

It's after 9:00. I'm sure she's read it. But I haven't seen a reply by email just yet.

It may be she's busy oiling that bloodied and chaffed leather cat-o-nine tails.

Do your best, bitch!

But you'll remember my name.

You WILL remember my name!

UPDATE: Her reply pointed out that the 2/8 infraction was NOT the night I clocked-in early but another night I'd forgotten about in which I was actually late because of traffic. She was not pleased with the "disrespectful tone" of my email. Needless to say I now have a cowed expression having been forced to eat crow pie.

I guess my name is Toby after all.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Dear Google: Leave It Be, Already!

I can understand why websites decide to change the look and sometimes even the function of their layouts over time. Things on the internet age really fast. I guess it's a bit of planned obsolescence (you know, like car styles) or revenue-generating features, or, most likely, a combo of both.

But some key Google properties have really undergone some quite derpy design and/or functionality changes of late and I don't know what fitting analogy to make out of it...

Is it like the artist who can't seem to finish his painting because he can't figure out when to call the last paint stroke the final one?

Or maybe the cook who keeps adding this spice and that seasoning to the stew, only to end up with an inedible mess?

Actually I think it's most like that woman we all know who keeps telling her date "Just another minute..." as she's still getting ready for the night on the town, her date impatiently pacing outside the bathroom door as she applies touch-up after touch-up to her makeup, only to end up looking like a freaky old drag queen.

First it was changing the menu bar on the classic and iGoogle homepages from a white background (appropriately matching the classic background) to black. Why? No one seems to know.

Then YouTube's look and whole operation changed dramatically. And IMHO, for the worse.

The styling and graphics look a bit more Web 2.0 (finally) but it's not that great. The functionality is the worse though. Recommendations are seemingly no longer an option on your homepage and the main ad at the top is ginormous (like IMDBs annoying one) and, no doubt designed to distract you. The new channel layout looks slicker but offers far less optimization and confusing functionality.

And they seem to be convincing everyone to monetize their accounts. So now even stupid low-popularity vlogs have pre-show mandatory advertisements. Hope they enjoy their meager pennies they earn. Ugh! YouTube used to be all about sharing!

Next it was this site, Blogger. No real surprise, Google has changed the look and feel of Blogger a lot since they bought it a few years ago. I know, as you can see I've been blogging here for almost seven years. An eon on the internet.

But the newest are seemingly-irrational changes...

The look and function of the new Blogger Dashboard. It's unaesthetic and it doesn't seem to offer any new or improved functionality. In fact, it's changed too much and I'm unfamiliar with it. I'm afraid I'll click on the wrong thing and in one fell swoop wipe out this blog. I'd probably want to kill myself if that happened.

And this irritating tooltip-like floating bubble that appears wherever you place the pointer. It just says "Composition Editor". (I guess to let you know your composing on that option rather than the HTML editor) It gets in the way and you've got to move your mouse so the pointer is away from the text cursor or the bubble obscures where you'll be typing. Frustrating!

The latest is a (for now) optional "update" to the iGoogle layout and themes display. No improvement whatsoever. Again, just more confusion and irritating bugs. The gadgets are still very ugly, too many are ad based and many just don't work right.

Please Google. It's time to wash your face off and step away from the mirror!

LIVE BLOG: Review of "Another Earth"

I rented this movie from Netflix after reading rave reviews and seeing its impressive 7.0 rating on IMDB. It's said to be a low-budget indie-type film. But it has a seemingly-implausible science fiction storyline? Not sure how this will be, but let's pop it in the old DVD player and see, shall we?

Looks cheaply mistaking its low-budget feel. The star actress already seems derpy in the first scene.

Driving after drinking, we know where this is going. Radio DJ mildly surprised about the discovery of an Earth-like planet near to us (what, just all of a sudden? what moved it into our solar system?), then nonchalantly goes on to play the next song. And a hip-hop DJ talking about science? I don't buy it.

She's so distracted by the tiny blue dot of the discovery in the sky that she rams into prof's car at about 70 mph on a road which is later revealed to be a minor road with likely a 35 mph speed limit. She wasn't acting THAT drunk.

Prof's stopped at a stop sign intersection and just sits there for a long time and never sees car coming being distracted by no doubt brilliant toddler in the back seat and pregers wife next to him.

After collision, windshield of prof's car all smashed out (in an unrealistic-looking way) but only the toddler is ejected, presumably from the open sunroof? Why did child safety seat fail so horribly?

She served 4 years time in a county jail not state prison? The discharging officer was a West Haven local police officer. The building was a county jail? Not New Haven county, I googled it, looks totally different.(CCF (County Correctional Facility?) stenciled on something near entrance)

On drive home from jail, her brother asks if she got any tattoos while inside. Didn't the family visit her anytime during the 4 years? He talks like he hadn't seen her in all that time. (In a later scene he tells her "you better write back this time" when talking about her upcoming flight to the other planet so I guess the writer wants you to believe that yeah, they hadn't seen or spoken while she was in jail due to her self-imposed isolation from her family?)

She moves out of her teen aged bedroom and up to the attic, keeping it Spartan and depressing. Why? Her choice? I guess it's the writer implying that she can't "go back" and live the life she once had anymore, but it seems stupid and contrived.

A school janitor job. Really? Ok, she said she wanted a low-profile job with little personal interaction working with her hands but a school janitor has contact with lots of people and if she is a felon, I don't think they hire felons for jobs were they'd be near minors. Especially DUI manslaughter (assuming that's what she got).

When commenting about proposed civilian travel to Earth 2 her brother says that the traveller might get sucked into a black star or something. Now even if the author of the screenplay is trying to portray a non-scientific persons naivete about astronomical terms, who seriously would ever say Black Star instead of the eminently-better known term Black Hole?

Why was "First Contact" 4 years after discovery? Now there was a quick TV or radio news blurb in one early scene that did state that radio communication wasn't responding, or something of the sort, at first, so I guess one could make the assumption the writer is justifying the delay in successful communication until 4 years later, but no scientific explanation is given for this. Never mind all the other scientific problems which are enormous: gravitational forces, the other planet is situated in every shot right near our moon, no matter what time of day (so I guess it's parked right near the moon and moving along with it in orbit around our Earth, not affecting anything gravitationally?)

More about the twin earth issue: Even early on, TV and radio audio mention that scientists are astonished that the continents and cities of the other planet are in same orientation as on our world. I think even the most stupid scientist wouldn't think this an astonishing coincidence but would assume it to be an alternate or parallel universe and space travel in the ordinary sense would probably not be possible.

Prof doesn't recognize her when she comes to clean his house? We know there must have been a trial. Web site implies he was in coma at time of trial but surely he would have seen pics of her from her own publicity from the trial? (Later explained that the records were sealed 'cause she was a minor at time of conviction. Cop out writing!)

Prof's house is in a lot worse shape than just a few years of depression and alcoholism...walls have holes exposing slats, paint crackling from decades old age. I guess we're to believe that the house was a fixer-upper even b4 accident. Well, thinking about it, some people, especially perhaps, pretentious yuppie Yale professors love living in a decrepit worn down historic house so this is somewhat believable.

Um, she gets naked and lies in the snow? WTF?

About this house; it is at least 200, probably more like 300 years old. I know, I grew up in New England and am familiar with old colonial houses. The window glass may not be original, but it looked at least 60 years old, too much distortion to use a telescope through.

The most retarded "bonding" scene in cinematic history...the Wii Boxing video game scene

Voice over "scientist" on some radio show, presumably, mentioned that there are potential hazards in "inter-planetary" travel (um, the thing is in the orbit of the moon, and we've landed on that...over 40 years ago!) like cosmic rays from stars (yeah, like the most prescient star in this case, the Sun)

The crazy old Native-American janitor. Really? In Connecticut? All Native-Americans in CT get huge financial assistance by virtue of the Mashantucket-Pequot tribes insane wealth as a result of the largest casino in the world, Foxwoods. They wouldn't be janitors.

In the cosmonaut story scene, close ups of her hands revel soft dainty hands and clean fingernails...but she is a janitor and cleans the prof's ancient house on the callouses.

Black dude on the train is playing a transistor radio? This movie was made in this decade right?

Other problems with technology: The web sites she browses, namely the contest site and the prof's web site are archaic and simplistic html constructs with a decade or more old video embedding technology. The contest winner will travel by Space Shuttle?, slated for discontinuation even at the time (2010 or 2011) of this movie's filming.

Directorial issues: the scenes with all the floating dust make me feel like coughing and the super-fast camera, you're no Scorsese, bud.

Um, just got to the scene where he is playing the saw on stage for her. What? Oh, now she's fake crying. Oh my god she's bad. Eerie saw music. B&W dreaming of being on the Space Shuttle. I'm only continuing 'cause I want to see just how bad this all can get from here.

Oh now the obligatory unrestrained sex scene. Is it me or anyone else creeped out by this middle aged guy with this young girl? Eww.

Old Indian in the hospital. Again, smooth hands for a janitor. He poured bleach in his ears...he'd be on the psych ward. The overlaying cloyingly-dramatic music, her lying next to him, the lettering in his palm, the ear gauze pads. The implied deep emotion of the scene...made me laugh in its ridiculousness.

So she tells him that she won the contest and he's all like "let's celebrate" and pours two glasses of whisky from a decanter. 1. He's recently gotten his life back together with her cleaning, caring and attentiveness, and he didn't swear off booze? He clearly had a problem with drinking before she came into his life. 2.If he was still an active alchy, he wouldn't have had the bottle of whisky around long enough to decant it.

"The Joan Tallis costume from Halloween?" This is a reference to the scientist from SETI who made radio contact with herself on the other Earth on live TV? I guess she would be famous? The remark is too awkward for the sequence of scenes we've seen. There was also her mention of Joan Tallis during the car ride he gave to her about 10 scenes back or so. Weird.

Four Months Later. It's still cold? Winters are long in New England, but really!

She meets herself. Not surprised 'cause I already read the IMDB and Wikipedia articles about this movie but it wouldn't have been a twist in the shocking sense anyway, but I think it tried to be.

End credits reveal that this crappy movie was written by none other than both the bad director and the horrible main actress. No wonder!