Saturday, July 30, 2005

I wish I had known about this earlier

A group of computer geeks met in the Netherlands for a conference called "What the Hack". The merry band holding this conference is a bunch of computer programmers, self-stylised hackers and IT professionals who approach their jobs with a little tongue in cheek humour (plus a few people who were just there for the party).

My favourite line from the article:
But in line with its anarchic reputation, organizers have made a parody of their own security arrangements, asking attendees to screen their own belongings at an unmanned baggage scanner. Rubber gloves for a "do-it-yourself body cavity search" are provided free of charge.

You can read more about the conference here.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Gratuitious pictures of Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter, most widely known as TV's Wonder Woman is in two upcoming movies, the silly remake of The Dukes of Hazzard and Sky High.

In Sky High, she plays the principal of a school for kids with super-powers. Apparently, she can turn herself into a comet. You can read more about Lynda in Sky High here.

And of course, this gives me a chance to peruse pictures of Wonder Woman and promote Wonder Woman on DVD.

You can also read her IMDB biography here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

My new digital camera

My old HP 733 digital camera died. It was a piece of crap. It won't power on unless I hold down the battery cover and the second I let go of it, the things shuts down.

I've been eying a new camera that's a little higher up on the food chain. I found it through the Steve's Digicam's website. I had looked at the Fuji S5100 and the Canon S1 IS, but finally settled on the Kodak Z740.

On one level it's like a point-and-shoot but in an SLR-style case. It doesn't have any of the advanced features some other cameras have but the learning curve isn't very steep and the functionality it does have is easy to use.

The quality is pretty good as you can see form these pictures.

The first pic is of the neighbour's yard taken from my porch.

This next one is from the same spot with the 10x optical zoom.

This last picture is also from the same spot and shows the 10x optical zoom plus the 5x digital zoom.

I expected a little more pixilisation from the digital zoom and my intial impressions are very positive. I wanted something with a better zoom than the 3x on my HP 733 and the 10x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom is very good.

One of my major complaints with the HP was that it chewed up batteries. My old HP 318 camera was a trooper (it still is, my stepdaughter has it now) and I didn't have any problems with it, but the HP 733 would only take about 75 pictures before the batteries gave out, while the HP 318 takes about 175 on one set of batteries.

Unlike a lot of other Kodak cameras, the Z740 does not use proprietary batteries, instead using AAs or a CRV3 battery pack. says the Z740 will take about 200 pictures on a pair of Ni-MH rechargeables; we'll see if that holds up.

It also uses SD memory, which is convenient because the HP 733 also uses SD, so I didn't have to buy a new memory card.

There are lots of things to like about this camera. It's priced (retail) in the $350-400 range, although I found it on the internet for $296 through Bizrate ($302 including shipping).

I'll let you know in a couple of months whether it holds up for the long haul.


Well, for once, the tagline lived up to its billing.

Before the show starts, the CBS voiceover guy comes on and says, "Tonight an elimination show you'd never expect". As this is being said, the images of Ty, Tara and JD pop up on the screen.

As you know, I was soooooooooooooooooooo hoping that JD would get canned.

After Marty is asked to sing the encore, co-host and über-MILF Brooke Burke asks which contestants think their names are card that reveals who is in the bottom 3. Heather, Brandon, JD, Tara, Daphna and Jessica all raise their hands, and all six of them may have deserved to be in the bottom 3.

There was a dramatic pause, followed by Daphna, Heather and Jessica being put in the bottom 3.

How the hell did JD survive!?!?!?!?!?!?

What is "the world" thinking? Did any of you hear this guy (and I'm not talking about him being a jackass)? He was awful last on Tuesday.

I think the people up the street heard me yell, "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

So each of the girls has to sing a song. First up is Daphna who was tasked to sing "What You Need". I thought she did very good. She took command of the stage and didn't reach out of her range. It was much better than "Rock the Casbah" on Tuesday.

Next up was Heather with "By My Side" and INXS song I'm not very familiar with. I have thought that Heather has been one of the stronger vocalists on the show, but she's either still sick or just wasn't in to it.

The last performance was Jessica singing "Elegantly Wasted" another song I'm not that familiar with. Maybe INXS is trying to get us to buy all their CDs after Kick. At a couple of points, she looked scared; the deer-in-headlights look was going full steam at one point. Her performance was pretty good and she quickly set out to prove that she shouldn't have been in the bottom 3 for the second straight week. Her vocals started out a little low, but she improved.

After a quick break, the band critiqued each of the three folks on stage. Peter Farriss had some good and bad things to say about Daphna, told Heather that she looked like she had already given up (the kiss of death) and then sent Jessica back to safety.

Now for the shocker: both Heather and Daphna were eliminated.

On one level, I'm like, "WTF?" but on another, I understand. Both girls were horrible on Tuesday. Heather may have been sick, but that's the breaks. Daphna just destroyed the song.

Still, INXS just cut the show a week short, and either CBS wants to wrap the show up quickly because the ratings are low (try showing the performance show at 8:00 or 9:00 pm instead of 10:00 to bring up those ratings) or they're not going to eliminate anyone next week.

I liked Heather better than I like some of the contestants who got to stay (JD, Suzie, Deanna, Marty) and I thought she had a shot. I don't think Daphna would have survived another four rounds and I don't think Jessica is going to make it too deep into the competition, but I don't understand the two-for-one elmination.

Oh, yeah, and I don't understand how JD is still alive. Who's voting for this guy? They should be taken out and beaten.

The Flap Over Kelly Monaco

For the first time since the show ended, Kelly Monaco is responding to the backlash against her from winning Dancing With the Stars.

In her usual defiant (and I don't mean that in an endearing way) attitude, Kelly basically told everyone who didn't like the show's results to go to hell.

My problem with the show isn't that Kelly won, it's that she started off as the worst dancer in the bunch (go look at the tape; she was positively gawd-awful when the show started), and then got straight 10s from the judges on her least dance when no one else got close to a 10 throughout the entire competition (and she wasn't even that good).

That just smacks of the show being rigged.

The judges from the show are of course covering for her because ABC is signing their paychecks, but it makes me wonder if they're going to be welcome as judges on the ballroom dancing circuit because they've obviously shown that they can be bought.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Rock Star: INXS

I can't believe I'm taking notes on this show. Here's my review, one contestant at a time, in the order they appeared.

Jordis, "Gimmie Some Lovin"
Despite dropping a line at the beginning of the song, Jordis rocked. It's hard to believe she's the youngest of the contestants. Vocally she's very strong and appears very comfortable on stage.
Verdict:: ↑

Suzie, "Supersitition"
I don't know that Stevie Wonder songs are considered "rock", but Suzie did okay. She came out on the harmonica, which was okay, but the song sounded too pop.

Jessica, "Because the Night"
Kirk used the word "pitchy" when talking about Jessica. I wonder if Rock Star: INXS has to pay Randy Jackson a dollar every time someone uses that or the phrase, "I'm feeling you, dawg". Jessica is not the most vocally talented of the group and she made it harder on herself with the song; Natalie Merchant has a very distinctive and sytlised voice and it's hard for anyone to pull of this song.

MiG, "Lola"
MiG is one of my favourite contestants, despite his resemblance to Willem DeFoe. His version of Lola was excellent and I think he is one of the front runners.

Brandon, "Tempted"
Brandon is a good performer, but not a good vocalist. Tempted was out of his range and he knew it. I think he'll easily survive this week, but in about a month, a performance like this will be his undoing.
Verdict: ↔/↓

Ty, "Everybody Hurts"
At first I thought Ty was going to absolutely butcher this song. REM is a hard band to sing (see Deanna last week) and Michael Stipe's vocals are hard to do. I felt like he was reaching in parts, but overall, it was very good.

Heather, "If it Makes You Happy"
I really like Heather; she is one of the better vocalists. She said she was sick this week, which explains why her vocals were off on what should have been an easy song for her. Like Brandon, I think she's going to easily get through this week, but she needs to be on her game if she wants to make it to September.

JD, "We Are the Champions"
I think the other contestants enjoyed watching JD self-destruct on stage. He says he got all emotional when he saw his sister (who he hadn't seen in two years), but I think that was just a cover for butchering a Queen anthem. As the band leader said last night, JD was awful. He started out too low, and doesn't have near the range of Freddie Mercury. As the camera panned to the other contestants, they clearly had no sympathy for JD. I may not be able to have an objective opinion of JD because I think he's such an ass, but tonight he was truly bad.

Deanna, "Give a Little Bit"
After taking one for the team last week, Deanna got to pick first this week and she tried to show of her vocal range. She's got a good voice compared to the other contestants. She wouldn't get far on American Idol (none of these contestants would based on their voices), but she was okay. The style of this song really isn't something I see INXS playing.

Daphna, "Rock the Casbah"
I don't know if Daphna picked this song or if she got stuck with it, but as the band said, she butchered this song. It seemed to me that she was shouting more than singing and it was bad. I'm going to start calling Dave "Paula" if he continues giving people bad news by starting with the "You look phenomenal" kiss of death. Daphna is serious bottom 3 material this week.

Tara, "Suffragette City"
After inexplicably being in the bottom 3 for the past two weeks, I thought Tara was good. Dave called her performance "cute" and he got rightly got booed by the audience. I don't know why people aren't voting for her, but she should definitely be out of the bottom 3 tomorrow.
Verdict: ↑

Marty, "Lithium"
Let me start by saying that I'm not a Nirvana fan and I really hate this song, so I figured I would have the same opinion of Marty this week that I had of Jordis last week. Marty proved me wrong and was very good, even with a song I don't like. Dave didn't like it, but everyone in the audience (and more importantly, INXS) liked it. He was a good choice to end the show.

Overall, I think the bottom 3 should be Jessica, JD and Daphna. JD is a polarising contestant (Rock Star's version of JPL) and I think he's going to get enough votes to survive until next week. Brandon or Heather may be in his spot when the results show comes on tomorrow.

I think the song selection process is interesting, to say the least. Whoever is picking the songs (INXS? The producers?) are clearly picking some songs that are designed to throw contestants for a loop. Maybe it's becaue they can only get rights to certain songs, but it seems to me that by restricting the contestants's choices in songs, it makes things a little more lively.

We'll see who can maneuver that minefield the best to get to the end of the competition.

Based on last week, I think Jessica is in serious danger of being eliminated, but from this week, I'd say Daphna, Heather, Brandon and JD are also on the chopping block.

Monday, July 25, 2005

JD's still a jackass

I can't figure out the Monday night shows. We didn't get to see any of the auditions, so maybe this is the way the producers of Rock Star: INXS help us to get to know the contestants. It's interesting to see the dynamic in the house, especially with everyone having loved Neal so much and everyone pretty much despising JD right now.

I'm happy to report that JD is still a jackass, and the producers seem to be going out of their way to portray him as such. He pretty much admitted to playing the game, something that doesn't sit well with Brandon, who comes off as being too much of a straight-shooter to play dirty.

Thankfully, JD appears to have jumped in over his head, first trying to manipulate Jordis into letting him have the song she wanted and after realising how hard it is to pull of a Queen anthem ("We Are the Champions"), trying to get her to switch back. He's either screwed or he's sandbagging (which I wouldn't put past him).

I really hope that he's screwed because it will be good to see him sweat.

The clinic this week was about stage presence with some commentary from other contestants as well as the band. Lots of the comments seemed to be contructive, although some of the contestants seemed to be taking shots at some of the others.

I realise that this is competition, but the vibe that was originally coming out of the house was that people were rooting for each other, and may the best contestant win. With JD taking his shot at the others from the stage, the tone of the show has changed (and not for the better). Everyone now seems to be watching their back now, and much more guarded.

For poisoning the house, JD deserves to be kicked off. I hope "the world" gets it right and puts him in the bottom 3 this week and that the band realises what a cancer he he will be and sends him home.

Was this really necessary?

Something must be wrong with my TV because I when I turned it on today, MTV was actually showing videos! Not Real World 56, Made, Pimp My Ride, Date My Stepfather's Ugly Alcoholic Cousin or any of the other programmed crap, but actual videos. The world must be ending.

Anyway, what came on was the video for Jessica Simpson's cover of the classic "These Boots Are Made for Walking".

This video is wrong on so many levels.

First of all, does the world really need a cover version of Nancy Sinatra's song? Of course not.

Second, I am still questioning the need for a Dukes of Hazzard movie, especially one that features Stifler, Jackass and JJ McClure.

Third, I'm not sure I like the new interpretation.

Don't get me wrong; I'm no Dukes of Hazzard purist. I think Willie Nelson will do a fine job as Uncle Jesse and Burt Reynolds is a plausible Boss Hogg. But Stifler and Jackass aren't quite redneck enough to be Bo and Luke. At least there has been no sign of Coy and Vance.

But my biggest gripe isn't really about them, it's about Daisy. Or rather, Jessica Simpson's Daisy.

Many guys my age became men watching Catherine Bach on TV. If they say they didn't, they're either lying, weren't allowed to watch CBS on Friday nights or were already in love with Erin Gray and Lynda Carter (who also appears in the new Dukes movie).

Daisy was definitely a hottie, but she was a flirt and a tease, not a slut.

In the video for the new "These Boots are Made For Walking", Jessica prances and romps around like she was at a strip club. Seriously, as I was watching this video, I almost reached into my wallet to get out some small bills.

I saw former Congresssman Ben Jones (D-GA, aka Cooter Davenport) on TV saying that he and some of the other cast members weren't asked to appear in the new movie and from what he had seen, he didn't approve. He thought the PG-13 rating of the movie was a little too racy for the show's target audience, kids.

I can't help but agree. Despite all of the shows many flaws, at its core, it was always a family-oriented TV show, and it doesn't appear that the new movie is the same.

If Jessica Simpson's new video is any indication, I don't think the movie will bring back fond memories from my childhood.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Rock Star: INXS

So far, I am 2 for 2 on elimination picks. After a weak vocal performance on Tuesday, Neal was kicked off the show.

Rock Star opened with replayed video of JD sucking up to INXS and dissing the other contestants, something that (rightfully) didn't sit well with the other contestants. Of course, JD said that he wasn't aware that he was offending anyone, which I think is a huge crock of hooey.

JD knows exactly what he's doing. He knows what the score is and he knew that it would piss off everyone else on the show. He's playing the game, I'll give him that. However, I don't think it makes him look like a team player and while the band says they only care what's takes place on stage, I hope they realise that if he's disengenuous with the other folks in the house, one day he'll pull that crap on them.

I also think he's destroyed any goodwill the other contestants have towards him and that no one will do him any favours or cut him any slack. I think he's hurt himself in the long run. If I were in that house with him, I'd take him out behind the woodshed and make sure he didn't survive next week.

Since they all have to pick songs the band picks, look for the other contestants to stick him with the worst song on the play list.

Tara and Jessica rounded out the bottom 3, giving Tara yet another chance to dodge bullets. She's the blood in the water. If she doesn't step it up big next week, she's probably gone. Jessica was a surprise for me in the bottom 3. She wasn't great, but I didn't think she was bad.

So Rock Star: INXS is on three nights next week with an "around the house" show on Monday. I am interested to hear how the other folks feel about JD and if they're basically going to cut him out of the clique (I would, but then again, I hold grudges and I can't stand people who pull crap like that).

So You Think You Can Dance

Holy (bleeping) (bleep)!!!!!!!!

This show is great. Some of the dancers are good, some are bad, and some are really, really bad.

I can't dance to save my life but at least I'm not delusional enough to think I could do well on this show.

The opening show was two hours, filled with mostly bad dancers. They're going back to the American Idol model of TV time, showing a handful of the good dancers, a select few of the people on the bubble and gobs and gobs of the bad ones.

Everyone got a freestyle dance, and were given an up or down "You're through to the next round" or "Thank you for trying". After that they had to learn an individual coreographed routine by Carrie Ann Inaba (yes the same Carrie Ann Inaba from Dancing With the Stars). Those who survived that cut then had to partner with another dancer and do another coreographed routine.

The survivors of that cut down round were then sent to Hollywood for the next round.

To the producers credit, they're showing a lot of the people who made it through, hopefully negating the "TV time" fiasco that plagued American Idol Season 4. They're also showing a number of people who get to the middle rounds; let's hope that when "America" starts voting, we know what the hell we're looking at.

At least there's no Fox star on the show for them to rig the competition around.

Some other Rock Star: INXS thoughts

  • Two words for Brandon: Shampoo. Shave.

  • Is it just me or does MiG look like Willem DeFoe?

  • Daphna scares me (and not in the good way). In one of her pictures on the website, she looks kind of like Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science but sometimes she seems to be hiding behind that big porn-star hair.

  • I watched the show again today and some of the performance videos and I'm beginnning to like Heather more and more. She has a very nice voice and doesn't always try to overpower the lyrics, but nor does she get drowned out by the band.

  • Marty needs to stop hiding behind his hair, too.

  • On Monday, night JD was seen encouraging Tara to sing Black Sabbath's "Paranoid", and then he says, "It's to my advantage to encourage someone to choose a song you don't think will be a good fit" meaning that he doesn't think she will do very well. He's playing the game. That may be what INXS meant when they said that he seemed to want to win more than the others and then he popped off with his ass-kissing. I'm hoping that was a test and that his true colours showed last night and that he'll get eliminated tonight.

    Everyone on the show seems to be very genuine. Even though it's a competition, some of the folks appear to be rooting for the other contestants and JD stabbing people in the back might not make INXS want to keep him around. After all, if he's not a team player at this stage, what's to say that he won't hang them out to dry in the future?

    Even though Neal was horrible last night, I'd rather he stick around another week than a scumbag like JD who's win at all costs portrayal makes him seem like a jackass.

Here are how I feel about the contestants right now (overall, not for this week):

↑ Brandon, Heather, Jordis, MiG

↔ Daphna, Deanna, Jessica, Marty, Tara, Ty

↓ JD (brown-noser), Neal (horrible performance), Suzie (trying to get into Marty's head during week 1)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Rock Star: INXS

This show is everything American Idol should have been.

I love it.

So who did you guys like?

For me, the 3 best performances were (in no particular order):

Heather, Mig, Brandon.

Mig gets major props for choosing the hardest song ("Walk This Way") and pulling it off. It's hard to mess up "Sweet Home Alabama" and Brandon made it happen. Heather has a great voice and she's coming on strong.

Also doing well were Marty, Jordis, and JD (more on him later). Everyone else was so-so.

(Jordis would have been in my top 3 except that I absolutely hate that Hoobastank song. I know it's not fair of me to judge her performance just because I didn't like the song she got, but I dislike it so much that I can't get over it.)

I thought the 3 worst performances were:

Neal, Deanna, Daphna.

Hands down, the worst performance was Neal. He was absolutely gawd-awful. Do you think he had ever heard "Summer of '69" before? His performance couldn't be over soon enough. Daphna was okay, but I think she's shouting too much instead of singing.

Deanna also was not good, although I wonder if she gets a pass for taking one for the team by taking "The One I Love" instead of sticking another contestant with the song. In what may turn out to be something akin to American Idol giving some contestants extra TV time, Deanna explaining how she really doesn't "feel the song" may get her some extra votes where other contestants might be struggling. The good thing is that on this show, the band gets the final say, not the audience, so I think she'll be around for another week or so.

Bottom 3:

I think the bottom 3 should be Neal, Deanna and JD.

I put JD in the bottom 3 not because he did poorly (he didn't) but because of his sucking up to the band at the end of his time on stage. He said something to the effect of, "While these other folks are learning INXS's songs, I know them because I love them." Blech. Ass-kisser. Despite a very different (and I mean that in a good way) rendition of Alanis Morrisette's "Hand in My Pocket", this just shot any sympathy and goodwill I had for him. I hate brown-nosers. And so should you.

One thing I've noticed is that we don't know if these folks can really sing. Sure they can rock, but can they sing? Stage performance is only part of the equation. If someone is a weak vocalist, the band will ditch them. Some of the folks are good (Jordis and Heather come to mind), but all we have heard from Ty is him screaming into a microphone.

I would be interested to see if INXS has an acousitc week to weed out the singers from the shouters.

Based on this week's performances, Neal is the weak link and should be sent home for butchering Bryan Adams (there's something you don't hear every day). I also think all the other contestants should get a free shot at JD for kissing INXS's ass on national TV.

We'll see who goes home tomorrow.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Dubya's a flip-flopper

Dubya said that he would fire anyone who committed a crime in leaking the name of a covert CIA agent to the media. Previously, Dubya had said that he would fire anyone involved with leaking the name of the agent.

Sounds like he's flip-flopped to me. Is it just to protect his buddy Karl Rove, who we now know was involved in the leak? Dubya has always rewarded blind loyalty and it appears he's going to bat for Rove over this, regardless of how it impacts not only his presidency, but the national security of the country.

Can you imagine what a big deal this would be if it had happened during the Clinton administration? The Republicans would be going apeshit over this. Now they're towing the party line and protecting someone who once again, leaked the name of a covert CIA agent to the media. This from an administration that has trampled all over our civil rights in the name of collective security, but won't hang out to dry someone who compromised an undercover operative.

This smacks of hypocrisy.

I hope everyone who voted for Dubya is happy. We got what we deserved and it's not good.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Amazing Race

I am looking for a partner to go on CBS's The Amazing Race, not for this year, but for next year.

My wife has already said she doesn't want to be on the show and I am in no shape to be on it this year, but if anyone would like to go on for next year, drop me an email (the address is to your right).

We could be the team that met over the internet but never met in person until the day the race started.

Requirements include being in good physical condition and having a strong desire to win. Emotional and mental stability is a must. Fluency in one or more foreign languages desired, but not necessary. Being a triathlete, distance runner or former SEAL, Marine Force Recon, Air Commando or Special Forces a plus. If you are female, you must either be married (or otherwise attached) and/or a lesbian so my wife will let me team up with you for the race.

See the world with me!

You also get the chance to split the prize of a million bucks with me and then go on the reality show has-been circuit for the rest of your life!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wil's gone! . . . Yes!

There must be something in the water here because this makes 3 blog posts in one day.

To me, last night Wil was clearly the weakest performer in the group. He may be a good singer, but he's not putting out the same amount and type of energy some of the other performers are. Where Jordis and Mig were out to win, Wil was almost quiet.

The show opened with the band asking JD to sing; in a bit of trickery, he thought he was in the bottom 3, but they thought he was so improved from the first show that they wanted to hear an encore of "California Dreaming". Personally, I thought it was bad, but he was safe.

The bottom 3 tonight were Wil, Tara and Suzie. Each was asked to perform one INXS song of the band's choosing. Tara went first and did well with one of INXS's most pop-sounding songs, "New Sensation". Not spectacular, but good.

Wil was called on second to sing "Need You Tonight". Again, he was awful. Here's what bugs me about Wil: he reminds me of Constantine, and as any of my long-time readers know, I can't stand Constantine. Wil was pouting and preening for the camera. It was unwatchable.

The final performance was Suzie singing "Never Tear Us Apart" and she brought it. I think some people were put off by her playing head games with Marty, but she was good on this number.

After deliberating, the band chose to eliminate Wil, saying that he wasn't right for INXS. There probably is a lot of truth to that; after being told that he needed to ramp up his performing skills, he really didn't get any better. At the beginning of the show when Brooke was said the bottom 3 would be announced, I said, "Wil had better be going home." Thank goodness I was right.

A couple of other comments about the show:

If I never hear the words "after the break" again, it will be too soon, but somehow, I'd much rather hear them coming from Brooke Burke than Ryan Seacrest.

Hey, 19E: Replace Seacrest with Brooke Burke!!!

I think we should start a write-in campaign for this. Seriously.

When they brought JD up, he had the "dead man walking" face on. I hope the producers of Rock Star don't think they have to resort to the kinds of stunts American Idol pulled with manufactured drams (like the crap they pulled on George and Judd), because that will piss me off to no end.

Everyone on the show, from the contestants to INXS to Dave Navarro seems to be of the straight-shooter variety, and the contestants deserve straight up results. No drama. No "twists". No BS.

American Idol thinks they have to manufacture drama and jerk the contestants around so the audience can get a rise out of the suffering of others, but let me say (and perhaps warn CBS) that it's unnecessary. The contestants deserve better. INXS deserves better. The audience deserves better.

Don't resort to cheap laughs and mean stunts to heighten the tension on the show. The contestants are under enough pressure already.

Now that Wil is gone, I don't have anyone to hate because I think most of the other contestants are pretty good. Now it remains to be seen who is just good and who is in the top tier.

Easy as Dell . . . yeah, right!

I had my first negative experience with Dell last week. It's a good thing I never have to worry about that for my own computer.

A friend of mine has a Dimension 8400 desktop computer that had a blown-out network card (NIC). She hadn't called Dell and didn't want to deal with them so I went over to help her out. Thankfully it was still under warranty.

For the record, I have made a living out of doing computer technical support for the last four or five years. I'm a certified Dell technician on desktops and notebooks; in fact, I used to work for a company that Dell used to outsource their technical support and did the job of the folks I was about to call until Dell sent my job to India in a cost-saving move. I like to think that I have a pretty good idea of how to troubleshoot and fix computers.

The basic symptoms of my friend's computer were as follows:
  • When the computer starts, after the Dell screen, but before the Windows screen comes up, there is a message that says, "Alert! Error initializing PCI Express Slot 1. NIC failure. Press F1 to continue, press F2 to enter system setup."

  • Pressing F2 gets the BIOS to load, and pressing F1 boots to Windows.

  • The NIC link lights do not come one when plugged into the cable modem and there is no internet connectivity, but when I plugged the cable modem into another computer, it connected right up to the internet.

  • When I opened the Device Manager, there was no device category for Network Adapters.

  • The problems started after there was a power surge in the house; before the surge, the computer had no network connectivity issues.

Given these symptoms, 1) what would you say is wrong with the computer? 2) How would you fix it?

The correct answers are: 1) The NIC is bad. 2) Replace the NIC, which on her computer means replacing the whole motherboard (onboard gigabit LAN).

Pretty simple, huh? I went over to her house thinking I would call Dell and have the board replaced. She didn't have all her documentation in one place, so we didn't know what number to call to get Dell on the phone, so I booted up the other computer went to and started searching for a number to call Dell technical support.

As I'm searching for the number, I see a button that says, "Chat with a Dell technical support agent. It's quicker than waiting on hold for a phone agent."

I think to myself, "What the hell?" What a mistake.

The chat client loaded and I was put in touch with an agent whose user ID was Abhijit_Basu.

I explained my problem to Abhijit_Basu as completely as I could and he replied, "Thank you for the information."

There was then a long pause. Long pauses were the hallmark of my chat session with Abhijit_Basu. Abhijit_Basu was either 1) playing an online game and only getting to me after about 10 minutes of me sitting there, 2) Abhijit_Basu was incompetent and had to keep checking with a level 2 technician or the Dell troubleshooting tree they use, or 3) Abhijit_Basu didn't want to ship a motherboard in an effort to keep the dispatch rate down.

If I had been on the other end of this chat session, I may have asked about two questions and then shipped a motherboard. The whole process, from beginning to end, especially given that there is a technician calling in who isn't a moron, should take about 14 minutes.

My chat session with Abhijit_Basu lasted well over an hour and was puncutated with lots of patronising messages from the person on the other end, lots of unnecessary troubleshooting steps and complete unmitigated frustration on my end.

For instance, after initially explaining my problem, Abhijit_Basu wanted me to run the diagnostics on the NIC, which in all truth, is not an unreasonable step to take. So I found the diagnostics CD, booted up the diagnostics and lo and behold, the diagnostics failed to recognise the NIC. Coupled with the fact that the "NIC failure" message came up before Windows loaded, the first thing any reasonably-qualified technician would think is "hardware failure."

Still, Abhijit_Basu kept going down the path of unnecessary troubleshooting. First, Abhijit_Basu wanted me to remove the NIC from the Device Manager and then run the New Hardware Wizard. I had to remind Abhijit_Basu that it wouldn't make any different because the NIC didn't show up in the Device Manager. That shut Abhijit_Basu up for a while before the message came up on my screen, "Are you ready for the next step?"

Incompetent bastard. I used to do Abhijit_Basu's job.

Abhijit_Basu then wanted me to reinstall the driver for the NIC. Abhijit_Basu then copied and pasted instructions from the Dell troubleshooting tool into the chat session.

I replied that reinstalling the driver wouldn't do any good because 1) the NIC failed outside the operating system; reinstalling the driver wouldn't affect the system startup error, and 2) the NIC didn't show up in the Device Manager; Windows did not see any device that needed a driver.

There was a very long pause. Abhijit_Basu was wasting my time.

Finally, the message comes up, "Please complete this step."

At this point, my friend's kids almost learned a few new words that they would get in trouble for using at school. I type in, "Is there a level 2 technician or a supervisor there I can chat with."

Another pause. A long one. Then Abhijit_Basu comes up, "Please complete this step."

If I ever meet Abhijit_Basu in person, I may need to have a friend with me to explain to my wife that I was going to be the guest of the local sherrif for a few days and that I won't be home for dinner.

I typed in again, "Is there a level 2 technician or supervisor there I can chat with, please?"

Abhijit_Basu either walked away or wanted to let me stew for a while, because at least ten minutes passed. I figured I'd only get more pissed off, so I shut down the chat session, cursed a bit under my breath and then looked up Dell's phone technical support number. Abhijit_Basu cost me well over an hour of my life, and that's time I don't get back, kind of like Time Machine and Glitter.

I was on hold for about 15-20 minutes, bringing my total time spent with Dell up to about 85 minutes. Finally, I got through to an agent named Michael, who I'm sure worked for a company Dell outsourced to do their technical support, only this guy wasn't in India because Dell moved their tech support back to the US after the customer response was so negative to having to deal with technical agents (which is hard enough without the language barrier) in another country.

Michael was very nice, even after I opened the conversation by saying, "I've been chatting with one of your agents and he's done nothing but piss me off."

I gave him the same opening description of my problem that I had given Abhijit_Basu, and I kid you not, the first words out of this guy's mouth were, "That's a bad NIC. Your motherboard needs to be replaced." I then told him that Abhijit_Basu had me run the diagnostics on the NIC and wanted me to reinstall the drivers. He mumbled something about that being a waste of time and then set up my parts dispatch.

The only thing Michael asked me to do was to read back the complete error message about the NIC failure (which I would have done when I worked at Dell).

My time with Michael was maybe 12 minutes. He set up the service call, gave me the dispatch number and sent me on my way. I told my friend that someone from Dell would be there the next day and that they would call before coming out. Everything went like clockwork, although my friend did say that the service guy didn't come out until about 8:00 pm.

Still, everything that was supposed to be fixed eventually got fixed; I just wasted an hour of my time chatting with Abhijit_Basu when I could have called in and saved myself the aggravation.

So here's the lesson from me to you:

Don't chat with tech support people. Call them directly. You may not get the best agent on the planet, but it sure as hell beats trying to solve your problem via a chat session.

Learn from my mistakes.

Rock Star: INXS

Is anyone else watching this show?

The only think I don't like about is is the time slot. Tuesdays at 10:00 pm. Maybe CBS thinks that rock fans stay up later than the teeny-bopper crowd that watches American Idol, but that's awfully late to be on.

The basic premise behind the show is that INXS is looking for a replacement for lead singer Michael Hutchence who died in 1997 as a result of a drug overdose/suicide. Fifteen contestants were brought in from around the world and they are competing for the one open spot in the band. In the first episode, the band eliminated Dana, a woman whose voice gave out. From here out, the audience will vote via Verizon text messaging and online. The three lowest vote getters will be put up for elimination and then the band will pick who goes home.

It's a good show, but I have a few problems with the basic show (aside from the time slot):

  • Of the 15 contestants, 8 are women. While I don't have problems with women as rockers, what would having a woman front the band do to the chemistry of the existing group? Granted that INXS hasn't been active on the American music scene for the last 15 years, but what would happen to The Who if they replaced Roger Daltry with a woman? Or would people still pay for Van Halen albums if Sammy/David/Gerry were gone and the band were suddenly being fronted by a female?

  • All of the contestants appear to be under the age of 25, while the rest of the band is well over 40. How will a singer fit in to a band where everyone else is old enough to be their father?

  • Age and gender concerns aside, is it really in the long-term best interests of the band to let an audience pick their new lead singer? The audience will vote for people based on personal preference and as we've seen from American Idol, the audience favourite isn't always the most commercially-viable contestant (Rueben Suddard, anyone?). Also, what happens when the new singer wants to try some things and the rest of the band says, "Hey, kid, shut up and sing the songs. We've already been there, done that, bought the t-shirt."? While it could work out wonderfully, I see there are lots of potential pitfalls in letting an audience put a group together, especially one that has been around as long as INXS.

Those concerns aside, there are lots of things to like about the show.

The girls rock. Three of them, Heather, Jordis and Deanna all brought gallon-sized cans of whoop-ass and opened them up last night. Some of the other girls are okay, but they're all clearly representing.

The guys aren't bad, either. Ty, Brandon and Mig were also good, although a couple of them are going to have problems down the stretch.

One of the things I've noticed about the contestants is that they're all hard rockers. I wonder if Bo wishes he'd waited for this show instead of going all-out on American Idol. He'd wipe the floor with at least 10 of these contestants and make the rest really work in order to win.

Each of the contestants seems to have spent a lot of time on stage and in front of crowds. None of them seem to have the kinds of stage fright that have plagued American Idol contestants. It helps them that they're all older (at least older than John Stevens, Janay, Camile, Leah and all the other American Idols who were chewed up on stage and cracked under the pressure) and seem to be very seasoned.

The group shots also show them seeming to gell as a group, and aside from Suzie trying to get into Marty's head, it appears that they're rooting for each other. I wonder how they'll hold up as the weeks wear on. This is a competition, after all, and only one person can win.

The 14 remaining contestants sang last night and in my opinion the three people who should be up for elimination tonight are Wil, Suzie and JD. All three were weak, especially Wil, who doesn't have the stage presence of some of the others. He would do better fronting a band like Journey, but INXS is out of his league.

I really like that super-hot über-MILF Brooke Burke is hosting the show, but I can't figure out why Dave Navarro is on. We'll see how the show progresses as the weeks go on.

You can find out more about the show on CBS's website or at

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What are you doing reading this?

Are you at work?

If you are, reading my blog must fall under the 2 hours or so per day that are "wasted" by employees while at work because God knows there's not a lot of redemming social value in reading my blog, and unless you review American Idol or The Next Food Network Star as part of your job, it probably doesn't count as productivity.

How does this compare with your job? Do you think you waste more or less then 2 hours per day doing things at work that are not directly related to your job?

Surfing the internet, prowling eBay, standing around talking, taking extra-long breaks; I'm sure everyone does it. If you don't, you're either a stress-related heart attack waiting to happen or you're lying. How do you think your boss feels about you wasting company time? Do they waste more or less time than you (probably more)?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Is Paula leaving American Idol?

Star Magazine, which is never wrong, reports that Paula Abdul may be leaving American Idol to be on FOX's new show So You Think You Can Dance full time, and Fox is in talks to replace her with either Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. Whitney is reportedly the show's first choice.

First of all, can anyone other than Star Magazine vouch for this report?

Second, who is behind this? Does Paula really want to leave American Idol? Frankly, I don't see that as very likely. Even if she wants to pursue So You Think You Can Dance, why would she want to give up the visibility being on American Idol brings her. American Idol is a ratings monster and doesn't look to be stopped any time soon. Other than Survivor, there is no reality show that can even approach American Idol, so why would she give that up for a new show?

If Paula does leave, it seems that Fox may be pushing her out the door in the wake of her alleged affair with Corey Clark and as an excuse to get rid of her in favour of someone who may be a little more critical and less cheerleader-like.

So if Paula really is leaving, replacing her with Mariah or Whitney isn't exactly the most brilliant of moves on Fox's part. Sometimes Paula seems like she is on drugs when she gives compliments on performances that are less than stellar. Whitney is a known drug offender and Mariah is a whole 'nother level of ditz and diva above Paula. Is that truly an impovement?

If American Idol is going replace Paula, it should definitely be with someone who is a performer. Randy is the producer and Simon is the executive, so they need a performer (and female) to fill the middle seat. The question is this: who do you get?

Mariah and Whitney are too high-maintenance for the show. That should go without saying. American Idol needs stability, not the antics of a stage diva like Mariah (did you see her on MTV's Cribs? She changed outfits 20 times and has a contract rider longer than the old Soviet Constitution) or Mrs. Bobby Brown comes with her own set of problems, not the least of which are image-related.

If I were the producers of American Idol, I would be looking for solid performers, but not necessarily the biggest names, which are about all Mariah and Whitney bring.

My pick to replace Paula is Debbie Gibson. Before you fall out of your chairs laughing, remember that she was a very successful teenie-bopper star in the 80s. She had 5 top 10 singles (including 2 Billboard Number 1s) and 2 multi-platinum albums.

She has also been a successful Broadway actress, and unlike Mariah she's not empty between the ears and unlike Whitney never did a stint in rehab or resorting to Kabbalah in order to get over her bad influence husband.

Debbie (or Deborah as she likes to be called now) has enough confidence to balance out the egos of Randy and Simon, plus since she actually wrote and produced some of her own songs, she could share some insights with the contestants Paula could not.

I really don't know that I want to see Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston on American Idol and I don't think the show would be very good with them, but Debbie is a good down-to-earth girl who would make the show better instead of a freak show.

Please, Fox, don't stick us with a lame judge in the center seat.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I pity the fool who don't like Mr. T

Check out this story about a couple of guys who idolise and revere Mr. T. On one level, it seems kind of silly, but on another, the story is quite touching. You can also check out their website

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Dancing With the Stars is Rigged

Maybe I'm just bitter that my favourite couple, John O'Hurley and Charlotte Jorgensen, didn't win, but how did Kelly and Alec inexplicably get 10s when no one else did throughout the entire competition!?!?!?!?!

I had already resigned myself to the fact that Kelly and Alec were probably going to win the popular vote and therefore the series because Kelly is ABC's hometown girl and how embarrassing would it be for a star of General Hospital to lose to a character actor?

Still, John and Charlotte were the most consistent, week after week after week, and tonight they turned in two performances that each brought 9 out of 10 from each judge, the highest score seen throughout the series.

Kelly and Alec got 25 out of 30 on their first performance, and then on their second performance, missed a couple of steps, appeared to miss the final landing and still managed to get scores of 10 from each judge.

The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that ABC was leaning on the judges; after all, it's only entertainment and it's not like the scores really mean anything, but let's get real, the first two weeks, Kelly was stiff as a board and while she has gotten better, she is not a better dancer than John. I think that it was a given that ABC viewers were going to vote for Kelly, especially since ABC has been pushing this show every chance they get.

If it's on again (and I'm sure it will be), I probably won't be watching if ABC has another of its stars on; unless that person is eliminated early, there will always be a little voice in my head that says that the results are jacked up.

To be fair, Kelly has been the most improved dancer throughout the competition. From where she was at the beginning and where she is now as a ballroom dancer, she is certainly better than Trista and Evander, probably about on the same level as Rachel, but clearly an inferior dancer to Joey and John.

I would be interested to see if the powers that be in the world of ballroom dancing can get John, who clearly was having a good time throughout the competition, to show up at events and bring their ratings up higher than dog shows on TV. He would make a great amateur ballroom dancer and would be an even better spokesperson.

I, for one, would much rather watch ballroom dancing than bass fishing. (Are you listening, ESPN programming people?).

Monday, July 04, 2005

It's been a while

. . . and there's lots of things to catch up on.

Dancing With the Stars

It comes down to Kelly and John, which isn't surprising, just a little dismaying. I'm no New Kids fan, but Joey certainly deserves to be around more than Kelly. I think she is bouyed solely by the crossover GH audience who is voting her through. She is the most improved of the bunch, but her bad performances during the first two weeks (and her bad attitude) should have bought her a ticket home.

Instead, she is still around and sadly, she may win.

John O'Hurley has been the constistent performer throughout the competition. Even when he has an "off" night (like last week) he and Charlotte still manage to get 8-8-8 scores from the judges. He is clearly a better dancer but under the voting and judging format, going into the last week, it doesn't matter how well he dances or even if the judges score him a perfect 30/30; the final week is a pure popularity contest and I think Kelly is going to get more votes because she has the built-in "homefield" advantage.

Let me explain:

When the judges score the contestants, they are ranked from highest to lowest scores. Then, regardless of what the scores are, the lowest scoring couple is given 1 point and the highest scoring couple whatever the maximum number left is. There is no sliding score based on the judges scoring.

So if there are three couples left with scores of 27/30, 22/30 and 20/30, the couple with 27 gets 3 points, the couple wtih 22 gets 2 points and the couple with 20 gets 1 point. Nevermind that the highest scoring couple crushed the other two, they only get 3 points. Then the audience tallys come with the same formula being applied.

Then the two are added together, and the couples ranked and the lowest scoring celeb and their partner are eliminated.

Here's where the tricky part comes in for this week:

In the event of a tie, the audience vote breaks the tie.

This means that whoever wins the call-in/online voting this week will win.

Let's make the fairly safe assumption that John and Charlotte are going to perform better than Kelly and Alec and their score from the judges will be higher. That gives them 2 points and Kelly and Alec will get 1 point.

Now let's say that Kelly capitaliseson her GH association and gets more phone/online votes. That gives them 2 points and John/Charlotte 1 point. That ties the couples up with 3 points each. Since ties are broken by the online/phone voting, Kelly will win, beating out better dancers who were eliminated earlier (Rachel, Joey) and the couple who as been the most consistent and performed at the highest level week-in and week-out.

I understand that the show is a popularity contest, but I hope the voters at home will vote for the better couple, not the network favourite. Of course, ABC had the good sense to limit the voting per phone number so power voters can take over the competition (as they do on American Idol), so we can only hope the audience gets it right and puts John and Charlotte in the number 1 slot.

Hit Me Baby 1 More Time

I still think this show jumped the shark, but it was good to see them get back to their 80s pop roots last week for the season finale.

Animotion, Juice Newton, PM Dawn, Shannon and Missing Persons were all reasonably good, although I wonder if Dale Consalvi was just a little bit high when she was on. All of the cover songs were weak, although Juice Newton actually looked the most polished of the acts (probably because she looks like she's the only one who has been regularly performing for the last 20 years).

I wonder if ABC and NBC will renew these shows for next year. Dancing With the Stars is almost sure to get picked up again. I only wonder if it will be in the fall or if they'll wait until next summer to make a go of it again. If it comes back for the fall, I would look for it to wrap up sometime in November because no reality show except Survivor will fare well against American Idol, which will kick off again probably in January.

Hit Me Baby is a little more problematic for NBC. Some of the big acts of the 80s are either still around (Madonna, Bon Jovi, Duran Duran) or probably would not reuinte just to collect a paycheck and show everyone how badly they've aged, VH-1 got to them first with Bands Reunited, or they've gone to success in other genres (Debbie Gibson going to Broadway, for instance).

I just don't know that there are enough one hit wonders still around who could make the show go for another run of 5 episodes.

Either way, we'll see.

For the record, easily the best act of the year was Arrested Development. I am no big fan of their song Tennessee, but their cover of "Heaven" was nothing short of brilliant. I'd almost pay money for that single today.

The act I was anticipating most (who didn't disappoint) was Vanilla Ice; it was good to see him confronting the source of his noteriety and fortune, especially given how uncomfortable he has been with it over the years (watch him on The Surreal Life to see just how much he wanted to get away from Ice Ice Baby).

Of course, there's nothing like a good freak show/trainwreck and Hit Me Baby didn't disappoint there either. I only hope that if one day I go out in public looking like Mike Reno, someone will shoot me right there.