Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Lucas

Episode III was like Episode II, except with a lot more violence. Many reviewers have been saying this is a good movie, but you should understand going into this that

a) what they generally mean (though few of them admit it) is “this is a good movie considering my extremely low expectations after the first two disasters”

b) they believe that it is possible to take a bad movie, add a bunch of fight scenes, and come away with a good movie, which might have been true when I was 13 but couldn’t be further off the mark at this point

As for the movie itself, the massive, indiscriminate infusion of CGI left me thinking I was watching a video game; the awful, stultifying acting and dialogue made me think that video game was initially released in Korean and translated by the lowest bidder as an afterthought.

Caveat emptor, ladies and gentlemen. Half a Pochacco, on a scale of 5 Pochaccos, and the only reason I’m rating it that high is because I like the half-Pochacco image.

Kill the Drudge Popups in Firefox

Now that I use Firefox, I pretty much never see unwanted popup windows – that is: everywhere except for the goddamn Drudge Report. Drudge uses some sort of weird mutant strain of popup that manages to flummox Firefox completely. I’ve been staring at the Drudge popups like a dummy for the past six months, and I finally got irritated enough to search for a fix. I found a reference to said fix in this article, which was in turn linked on this site, which says:

To block pop-ups from plugins, open your Firefox 1.0 or 1.0.1 browser, type about:config in the address field. Right-click in the resulting config page somewhere and select New -> Interger. Type privacy.popups.disable_from_plugins in the resulting dialog, hit OK, type 2 in the next dialog and you’re all set.

This pref can actually take three values:

* 0: open allowed
* 1: the opened windows are treated as popups, but they’re allowed to open (we limit the number of these types of popups)
* 2: the window is a popup, block it

Note that these instructions have you adding an entire new value to about:config, not merely editing a value that’s already there. So there.

For those unfamiliar with about:config, it’s sort of a registry built into the Firefox that allows you to alter all manner of low-level internal values. I’ve seen other references elsewhere for changes that can speed up page rendering and stuff, but I don’t bother with that sort of thing since I have the patience of a zen master.

CPFC Meeting Minutes #215

Welcome, friends and special guests, to the April meeting of the Carter Pease Fan Club. Before we begin, I just want to make some general announcements. First, Betty Sue mentioned that somebody left an adze in the meeting hall after last weeks meeting, and she was nice enough to collect it for them. Unfortunately, the adze did not have its owner’s name and telephone number inscribed into the head (which we all know is a minor violation of the CPFC’s Non-Chickenshit Code of Conduct), so we could not track the owner down. If somebody is missing an adze, please see Betty Sue after the meeting to collect your shaping tool.

Also, Fred notes that raffle tickets for the $50 Grangetto’s Farm Supply gift certificate are being sold starting today, so please be sure to check with him if you’re interested. Remember, all proceeds from this raffle will go to fund bus fare our chapter’s annual trip to the Threshing Bee, so I’m sure we can all agree that this is for a terrific cause.

Now, as for the news I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: Mr. Pease was indeed featured along with the rest of the Escondido Historical Society on the Morning News last week. Now, I know that many of you may have missed this broadcast since it wasn’t available via satellite, but luckily Zeke was thoughtful enough to record the entire Carter Pease portion of the broadcast with his super 8 camera, and then transfer it to a digital video format using a machine he built himself out of a magnifying glass, an old distributor cap and a broken alarm clock. Nice hack Zeke – I’m sure Carter would be proud of your ingenuity.

I’m going to go ahead and place the video on our chapter website. It’s about 2 minutes long and weighs in at about 20 mb, so if you have dial-up or telegraph based internet access, it may be a little big for you. The file is a mpeg, so pretty much any computer should be able to view it. Zeke also wanted me to mention that there was lots of nice additional stuff about EHS mentioned in the newscast, but the bearings in his transfering machine didn’t hold out for all that footage.

Download the video here!

Right arm! Exciting stuff!

Now it’s time for our demonstrations portion of the evening. For our first presentation, Neddy will explain how to build a simple hydraulic avocado picker out of a spare 4-cylinder engine, an old bicycle, and a surplus pool skimmer. Take it, Neddy…

Scum of the Earth

On the heels of the Wendy’s chili with extra finger incident, we’ve got Clarence Stowers, who drove through at a custard (custard? must be a Southern thing) joint and got a pint of chocolate custard with a little additional protein. Unlike the Wendy’s case, where the victim appears to have surreptitiously added the finger herself after buying the chili, a worker at Kohl’s Custard actually lost the finger in some of the custard-making machinery. In the confusion following the injury the custard with the finger in it was inadvertantly sold to Stowers.

Stowers is understandably outraged when he finds an extra digit in his custard, and he returns to the store with the finger to complain. Here’s where the story gets really ugly–according to the doctors treating the worker, they could have at least attempted to reattach the finger at that time, but Stowers wouldn’t give it up, declaring that “he would be calling the TV stations and an attorney as he exited the store”. What’d he think–that after reattaching the finger, Kohl’s would be able to say “what are you talking about? All of our workers have all their fingers” when he sued them later?

The proper response upon hearing that a worker at the store lost the finger and it might be reattachable is “we’ll work out my compensation for a disgusting experience with your product later, but for now, I drive faster than you, so tell me what hospital he’s at.” Jesus, some people really make me sick. [via boingboing]

Have You Hugged Your Landlord Today?

Recently, I had one good thing end, and a good opportunity take its place, when my under-market rent apartment went condo, and I was able to buy it at an under-market price due to some city regulations and a bone-head mistake by the developer. I’m quite happy with the deal I got, but let’s take a moment to honor the generous landlords of America, who are essentially donating money to their tenants every month. Let’s not use my screwed up financial transaction as an example… but the condo next to mine sold for 396 times the monthly rent. To put that into SoCal perspective, that means your $600,000 ghettoriffic 3br 2ba house would fetch a just over $1,500 a month. An extreme example, I know, but indicative of the madness that has hit SoCal and most of the U.S.. It begs the question… just what exactly do people think they are buying?

I’ve often heard people repeat the notion that rent is “money down the drain”, as if somehow they weren’t getting anything of value for their monthly payment. Nobody anymore compares the cost of renting to the cost of owning. That same $600K house would cost $2,899 per month just for a 5% 30 year $540K loan (not even counting the significant opportunity cost of your $60K downpayment). Once property taxes, insurance, and maintenance are thrown in, you’re probably not getting out of this for much less than $4,000 per month. From that you can deduct the tax benefit you get, which starts out at your tax rate (lets call it 30%) times the monthly interest payment of $2250, or $675 per month (note this benefit declines each month as you pay down the principal). The remaining $3,325 per month is all cost, or “rent equivalent”, on a home that, realistically, will rent for about $2000 give or take.

Ah, but what about the investment value? It is true that real property has been the greatest investment of the last 5 years. And that’s pretty much the only justification I hear anymore for buying. “But my Uncle Bob bought a house in the OC 6 months ago and turned it around for a $75,000 profit!” My favorite, which I’ve now heard at least five times, is this: “Well, there is a limited supply of property, so I don’t really see how property values could go down.” You got me. I can’t argue with good old Econ 1.

That’s fine, but let’s just call a spade a spade. You’re paying $1,000 per month out of your pocket to speculate on the property market. And so is everyone else. On a trans-pacific flight a few weeks ago, I met a woman who had come out from the Philippines to invest in California property. And last week, some Vietnamese relatives suggested that they should send us money to invest in SoCal property for them. Bubbleicious.

The Economist keeps track of a prices to rents ratio (membership required). It’s like a p/e value for homes, recognizing that rent and home prices are different ways of valuing essentially the same product. This ratio is 32% above historical norms in the U.S., and at its all time high.

To bring the ratio of prices to rents back to equilibrium, either rents must rise sharply or prices must fall. Yet central banks cannot allow rents to surge as this would feed into inflation. Rents directly or indirectly account for 29% of America’s consumer-price index, so rising inflation would force the Fed to raise interest rates more swiftly, which could trigger a fall in house prices. Alternatively, if rents continue to rise at their current annual pace of 2.5%, house prices would need to remain flat for over ten years to bring America’s ratio of house prices to rents back to its long-term norm. There is a clear risk prices might fall.

Low interest rates, they point out, justify a somewhat higher ratio. However, and this is a big however, a lot of people (including me) have been buying on variable rate mortgages. Mortgage rates go up, payments go up. Banks have been more than happy to let people stretch themselves beyond the breaking point. Can you say “foreclosure?”

All of this rant is basically just to say that if you hear someone tell you that they want to buy because rent is “money down the drain”, you should tell them to go hug their landlord. She’s doing them a favor, and she may really need the hug soon enough. I still find myself pining for the days when my monthly expenses included rent.

Some Music

Deb and I took a trip up to Monterey this weekend. It was fun and I’m sure we’ll post some pictures and more info eventually.

On the way back, we stopped at a Best Buy so I could get some CDs. Here are my extremely short reviews of them.

Amerie, Touch

I had never heard of her before last week–shows how much I follow pop these days–but Amerie’s got this one song that’s got me trippin. I really really enjoy that song. “1 Thing” is featured both with and without Eve on this album, and I love both tracks. The other 11 seemed, at first listen, pretty damn bad.

Here’s the weird thing: once we arrived at SD, we tried to eject the CDs so I could make mp3s out of them, and her car wouldn’t give Amerie back to me. I guess it likes that song too.

Tracks 1 and 12:

Everything else:

New Order, Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

I’m a big New Order fan from back in the day, but so far everything I’ve heard off this CD is garbage. Where’d the cool-ass Eurotrash synth stuff go?

Beyonce, Dangerously in Love

I like that “Crazy In Love” song almost as much as I like “1 Thing”, so I picked this up too. Much like the Amerie CD, though, I didn’t hear anything else that I really liked on first listen. Way too much of that douche Jay-Z.

Track 1:

Everything else:

The Cure, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

I used to have this CD, but it got ripped off or I let someone borrow it or something. I had no idea the Cure remained all that popular, but I had to dig through about 25 Cure CDs of various flavors to find this.

“How Beautiful You Are” is my favorite song off this album–it’s the rockinist song with accordian and violin I know of–but most of the album is good. Man, this band used to be really good before they completely went in the dumper in the early 1990’s and stayed there through today.