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Steve Hynding

Steve Hynding

…rhymes with 'leave finding'

My Interests —

My wife commented to me recently when doing her holiday shopping that I had very little interest outside of family and video games. I agreed with her at first but then realized that was completely untrue! The truth is I have lots of interests but I’ve learned to keep them to myself in conversation as nothing could be less interesting to my wife than about 80% of what I’ve listed below:

My Interests

-Family
-Home Improvement / Tools
-Power
-Garden
-Cooking
-Home Theater
-News
-Current Events
-Politics
-Science and Technology
-Media Review Articles
-Programming
-Objective C (Apple products)
-Flash
-Game
-History
-Earth/Universe
-Pre-human
-Ancient Civs
-Religion/Culture
-Film
-Literature / Audio
-Horror
-Stephen King
-Zombies
-The Walking Dead (have read vols. 1-8)
-Self Help
-Financial
-Motivational
-Steven Covey
-Humanism
-Richard Dawkins
-Comics
-Far Side
-Calvin and Hobbes
-Garfield
-Sci-Fi
-Humor
-AM/Talk/Web Radio
-Dave Ramsey
-Adam Carolla
-Tom Leykis
-Dr. Laura
-Jon Phillips
-Mark Levin
-Sean Hannity
-TV
-Futurama
-American Dad
-Simpsons
-South Park
-The Venture Bros.
-Family Guy
-Monty Python
-History/Discovery
-Poker
-Sports
-Giants/Dodgers
-LA Kings
-Clippers
-49ers
-LMU
-Games
-Video (360/PS3/Wii/iPod/Facebook)
-Puzzles
-Word/Number
-Brain Teasers/Twisters


In the news today… —

First off, I saw my daughter crawl for the first time today! That’s right, she’s already been walking for six months now but she hasn’t made the slightest effort to crawl or stand up, until now! I had only heard rumors until just this afternoon while I was picking up Lily up (Sheri was prepping for Open House). She was crawling and trying to stand up for nearly five minutes until I couldn’t help but stand her up (where she proceeded to play with an electronic letter button toy; turned it off when she was done).

Second, I’m back on creating my first original game at Animax using the Box 2D engine and some simple puzzle elements. I can’t get into too much detail right now but I’ll be sure to keep this posted.

Third, some relief has been measured for the family and friends of Jeff Fontana, an old classmate and friend-to-all who was murdered in the line of duty on only his first week with the San Jose Police Department. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/05/27/BAQ217NTB9.DTL

By the way, from what I read of the convicted killer, he seemed pretty sound and aware of his actions and all signs point to his defense hiding behind mental retardation as an excuse. He was a known gang member and I’m pretty sure gangs are pretty keen to weed out the mentally retarded before initialization.


Pros and cons of Flash ActionScript MovieClip.addFrameScript —

Starting in ActionScript 2, Adobe introduced a new public function available to the MovieClip class called addFrameScript that essentially allows ActionScript to be placed direct on a frame similar to just injecting it into the Flash movie’s (FLA) timeline via the Actions window. There are quite a few pros to be had with using this method, but Adobe mysteriously does not seem to support this method in their AS3 documentation:

Adobe’s LiveDocs Flash 9.0 flash.display.MovieClip summary

But before we get into the cons, let’s start with how it’s used and why this method is potentially useful:

Usage:

MovieClip.addFrameScript(frameIndex:uint, method:Function):void;

Example:

//must have a timeline with at least one frame (totalFrames)

public var someAlreadyLoadedClip:MovieClip;

//the currentFrame of the MovieClip is one greater than the index used to inject the script, thus the “-1″ at the end of totalFrames

someAlreadyLoadedClip.addFrameScript(someAlreadyLoadedClip.totalFrames-1, calledFrameScript);

//scope is not relevant when called within the same class

//note, parameters and return values are not required for the called function

public function calledFrameScript():void

{

someAlreadyLoadedClip.stop();

}

Why this works:

  1. In programming it is essential to have assets separated from actions so that the programmer has full control of the applications mechanics. Inserting code directly into a timeline breaks this rule as the MovieClip is now bound to those actions on the frame and retains thoses properties when used as an asset. A programmer has limited control when it comes to changing the behavior of those assets from their compiled form.
  2. In Flex development, embedded SWF assets with timeline code typically lose much of their functionality and can be difficult to trace the problem. Using addFrameScript on the loaded, embedded asset can prevent this for complicated gotoAndPlay/gotoAndStop as well as just injecting standard stop() or play() calls
  3. You can reduce or completely remove the dependency of linked MovieClip symbols in the library by using addFrameScript to inject functions when specified frames are played or stopped upon an ENTER_FRAME event
  4. The delay between a changed symbol being completely available on a new MovieClip frame triggering the ENTER_FRAME event is not an issue when using addFrameScript instead (i.e. someClip.addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, onEnterFrame) vs. someClip.addFrameScript(someFrameNumber-1, callFrameScript))

What goes wrong:

Those are pretty good reasons to use addFrameScript as a serious, ActionScript developer, however, here is the one major problem I found with using it that does not have a work-around solution. Using the Flex Builder 3 Profiler, available on the Professional release, a collegue and I found that the memory of assets loaded and given an addFrameScript somewhere within it’s frames did not fully release their symbol on destruction. I created a small test project that had just one addFrameScript on one loaded MovieClip, simply telling it to “stop()”. I implemented a timer to destroy the clip and nullify it after five seconds and took a profiler snapshot of the allocated memory and Symbol available. To my disappointment, the MovieClip was still being allocated some space, despite using every method I know of to remove it. The major problems with this comes with building large-scaled applications that require the continuous destruction of assets to free Flash Player memory and ensure the application runs at peak performance. Without deallocating that memory, many large applications that would rely on addFrameScript would start to slow down considerably after extended use and eventually crash the browser. Unfortunately, there is no matching “removeFrameScript” hidden within the MovieClip API. If there was, it would have definitely been added to address the one major upset to this undocumented gem.


Baby’s Day Out —

I was in the guest room playing video games when around 4:20am I heard Sheri coming down the hall. I switched the Virtual Console game I was playing on the Wii to the menu, closed my laptops I was using to cheat and pretended I was half asleep. She opened the door and I lifted my head immediately.

“Hi honey.” I said sleepily.

“Hey, umm,” she slightly hesitated, “my water just broke.”

Pause for a moment before the rest of the day unfolds and read how she came to realize this. Apparently during the night Sheri had a dream involving her sister and hanging out in some random public place that only a dream can invent. In the dream she tells her sister that she really needs to go to the bathroom. Her sister tells her quite casually to “go, just go, it’s okay” and that no one around will mind. As she start to “go”, Sheri wakes up and notices she’s wet between the legs and thinks she just wet the bed. Well without going into too much detail she comes to realize her water broke and then came in to tell me.

Without thinking, I jumped out of bed with a start, which was the wrong move both literally and figuratively. For one, I was laying awake in the same awkward position for about three hours and second I had just finished one of the 16oz. Monster energy drinks I bought only eight hours ago. The sudden change in posture and thinner-than-normal blood resulted in a very painful pull in my lower back that happened almost instantaneously as my feet hit the floor. Fortunately the severity and excitement of the situation provided enough adrenaline to get myself dressed, packed, dogs fed and lock down the house. It took about 25 minutes to do everything, but this was only because Sheri wanted to wait a little while before getting in the car.

On the road to St. John’s, Sheri called her doctor to give them the scoop and both our parents to set them on track to Southern California. It was still dark outside, but traffic was picking up on the 405 and three out of five lanes were closed between Culver Blvd. and Venice Blvd. Regardless, I drove pretty quickly through it and Sheri reminded me that I didn’t need to rush. Secretly I was hoping I might get pulled over so I could use the classic and often malformed excuse given by men that he’s rushing to the hospital because his wife’s pregnant (unfortunately it never happened).

We arrived at the hospital around 5am and parked in the $12 valet lot out front. Remembering the instructions from our tour six weeks prior, I walked Sheri through the security area to get escorted to the maternity ward in the opposite building. The security guard wasn’t much help at giving help, so after determining the electronic doors to the new ward weren’t opening, I ran back to have him send an assistant to help us. When we finally made it through the building, then through the courtyard, then through the other building entrance, up the elevator to the 4th floor and through the maternity doors. There wasn’t a soul in sight and the only thing I could think of to get someone’s attention was banging loudly on the only door I knew someone was behind. I should have spent more than half a second thinking about it before rapping my fist a half dozen times on the door to the nursery and I jumped back from it as soon as I realized my mistake. Sheri made a gasp and shocked face at me, but I was already apologizing to the air. A nurse opened the door looking very concerned, and not so much angry. I doubt I was the first anxious father-to-be in these odd hours of the hospital to do this, but it was still rather irresponsible of me. The nurse at the door directed us down the hallway to the delivery section where we met a trio of nurses who escorted us to room 2418, the last room on the right.

The room was quite large and besides the typical hospital equipment, bathroom and heating crib, the room also sported a 32″ flat screen TV, a modern version of a simple rocking chair and a reasonably comfortable couch mat for tired and aching husbands. My back being in the condition that it was made it look mighty comfortable.

The nurses ran their tests on Sheri and each one came out very positive: blood pressure was normal, baby’s heart beat was steady and the contractions were five minutes apart. They also performed rather invasive tests to determine her cervix was 2cm dialated (10 is considered the max). Within the first hour, the nurses informed me that they didn’t have any of Sheri’s information on file which irritated me as I had handed it in to the hospital in person over six weeks earlier plus Sheri had some minor surgery completed in that very hospital only 18 months prior to today. While I was completing a new pre-registration form, the nurse came back in to inform me that they have information on her, just in her maiden name, which to me just sounded like the person entering in the data got very lazy.

As the sun started to rise, Sheri’s contractions got more and more painful. She has mildly convinced herself she was going to give birth naturally, namely meaning without an epidural (basically an IV of a novicane type drug into the lower back). This idea lasted about an hour when she decided the pain was just too much to take and she sent me out to fetch a nurse.

The ordeal in getting Sheri an epidural lasted nearly two hours. At first I couldn’t find a nurse anywhere, then I couldn’t find a nurse that could help us. Finally when we did get some help, we were told the anesthesiologist was in an emergency Caesarian operation and would be available for at least an hour. I tried to sit up next to Sheri for as long as I could but I had to take the occasional rest off my back to ease the discomfort. The time I did spend sitting next to Sheri involved holding hands through each painful contraction and feeding her soothing words of encouragement until she told me to stop. The nurses attempted to add a mild and safe drug to her hydrating IV to assist pain relief, but it never lasted more than ten minutes and provided very little relief when it did. Finally, around 9am the anesthesiologist arrived and he couldn’t have been a more likable guy. He was very chatty, which helped ease some of the pain before the drugs kicked in. In the conversation he was able to extract that Sheri was a teacher at the school where his daughter went and that her best friend was a previous student of Sheri’s. By the time he was finished, the nurse did another test on Sheri to determine she was now 6cm dialated.

Once Sheri’s pain was finally taken care of, my mom and sister arrived. They had kept in touch by phone a couple of times on their drive down so we could pretty much predict their arrival time. After some visiting, they made a trip down to the food court and got met a turkey and cranberry sandwich and a bag of chips, seeing as I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before. By now it was about 12pm and Sheri’s parents still hadn’t arrived. Apparently they waited until 7am for the dog pound to open so they could drop off their little dog.

Sheri’s petosin (sp) was increased to bring her contractions closer together to speed up the delivery process until she reached her 10cm cervix dialation. Dr. Yashari, Sheri’s prenatal doctor, arrived around 2pm to deliver the baby. As the process started I reminded myself that I still wasn’t 100% convinced we were going to have a daughter (more around 80%) and that my friend, Reed, was born with both parents 100% expecting a girl. Dr. Yashari gave his usual inspection to check her cervix then we started the major process of pushing. With the assistance of one of the nurses, we each took a leg of Sheri’s to push up and back for maximum pushing capacity. Sheri did her absolute best at pushing and I was fascinated by the far-out but not at all disturbing (well, not to me) process of vaginal birth. I could even see the very top of the baby’s head, decorated with a wet patch of hair. After about five minutes of pushing with the baby in this position, Dr. Yashari made the call to use a device nicknamed the vacuum. Just as it sound, the vacuum is designed to suction onto the top of the baby’s head and allow it to be pulled out with greater ease, apparently safer and just slightly more comfortable than forceps. The suction didn’t work as well as the doctor thought, because after about five minutes he pulled out his scalpel and went forward performing an episiotomy. The effect requires an incision at the bottom of the vaginal to the sphincter, ah hell this is my blog, the asshole, and its purpose is to give instant gratification, namely birth. I actually witnessed this incision take place which amounted to an immediate gush of blood into the catch bin below but it was followed immediately by the birth of my daughter. Yes, daughter. The estimate was correct. The doctor asked if I would like to cut the umbilical cord and I happily accepted after he placed two clamps on it close together and instructed me to cut between them. The time of birth was 2:28pm.

My eyes were filled with tears of joy; more than I ever expected myself to feel at this moment. It was such an amazing feeling and overwhelming experience that I just couldn’t contain my emotions. Sheri, of course, was also crying and I only hoped it was entirely from joy rather than the soreness and episiotomy pain. The doctor was finishing his job by sewing up the episiotomy incision and then called it a day. I shook his hand thanking him with my swollen eyes then I turned around, kissed my wife and rotated my head back and forth between the two women I had pledged my life to. Once the nurse was done cleaning off the baby he wrapped her up in a blanket, handed it over to me and I held Lily in my arms for the very first time. Moments later my mom, sister and Sheri’s parents, who had finally arrived, entered the room. Later I would be told that I showed no reaction to the commotion surrounding me and had 100% of my focus directed entirely toward my daughter. Of course, I knew they were there, but I had seen them all before and I would only have this moment once in both our lives so I soaked it in for all it was. She slept in my arms and was so beautiful I had no words. The only noticeable irregularity to me was a large, mushroom looking cap of skull covering a third of her head. The doctor and nurses told us this was natural when a birth is assisted by vacuum and that most of it would fade away over the next couple of days.

Eventually I handed off Lily to my mother, who had been the biggest, and earliest, promoter for Lily’s existence since our wedding. She was exchanged to everyone but my sister who was too nervous to hold her right away. In this time I talked with my brother, who called around 3:15pm, when he got off work. He explained he was going to try and visit the following weekend, presumably when all the family had cleared out. I explained that Cindy would be staying with us for about four weeks which is when I learned from her it was going to be more like one week. When the baby was finally sent to the nursery my mom, sister and I took a walk to my office, mostly to help walk off the pain in my back. With my awkward limp it was more than just obvious. A little over halfway through our trek, Sheri called me from her cell phone to tell me to get back to the hospital right away. Apparently I was needed in the nursery to oversee the weighing. We turned around and made it back in five minutes.

The nurse in the nursery reminded me very much of Sheri’s friend Heidi and was very friendly and knowledgeable. She weighed Lily, who came in at 7lbs. and 5oz. I tried to signal this to my family staring through the visitor glass, but they had no clue what I was trying to get across. The nurse ran the protocol of matching the number on my bracelet with that put on both of us at the time of her birth. Sheri had one too and it was just one of the security measures to make sure our time at the hospital goes uninterrupted from clerical errors. Another precaution was an interesting monitoring device attached to Lily’s left ankle. If any tampering happens to it, an alarm would go off. If Lily were to be passed out the doors of the maternity ward, an alarm would go off. It it were to somehow get wet or slip off, well, you get the picture. I limped back to the delivery room to share the news with Sheri and pack all our stuff to be transfer to the post-partum wing on the opposite end. The room was noticeably smaller and lacked the two spotlights on the ceiling that the doctor used to assist in the birth.

Everyone left. I suggested they go to Callender’s Grill for dinner. I stayed until 6pm. Was going to go to taco bell but called Kristi instead to pick up a Cabo San Lucas salad. Got home, went to bed. Sheri called 10 minutes later at home (at first upset I didn’t hear my cell). She needed her nursing bras. I asked if she needed them right away and she said no, only in the next hour or so.

I got back to the hospital before 9pm where Sheri was in bed with the post-partum nurse, Isabella. Around 10pm Isabella had me change Lily so she could watch and judge my style. It was Lily’s first change ever. The baby crap was mostly meconium, or so I’ve been told, and was a very dark brown, almost black, solid sludge, not unlike rich brownie batter (the point of me writing this is for historical record only).

Sheri was in a lot of pain so I had Motrin ready for her. I finished my salad early, I was very hungry and held Lily for a while. I eventually went to bed on hospital mat which doubles as a couch. Sheri wanted me to stay up for her because she was in so much pain. I had a lot of trouble staying up. By now I was up for 38 hours and running on empty (I admit it was my own fault). I went into the hallway a few times to beat myself awake (hard, repeatative slapping of the face works every time). Eventually Sheri allowed me to sleep on the husband mat, which was not as comfortable as it looked under the circumstances. Still, at that time I felt I could have slept on the floor (I actually slept on the floor for a short while earlier because Sheri didn’t want me to leave her side). Around 3am I woke up and Sheri told me that I slept through her trying to breast feed. After changing Lily again I asked if I could go home to sleep and she said yes. I walked back to my car which I had parked a block and a half away to save on hospital valet.

When I finally arrived home I stayed up for another hour watching tv, effectively falling into a deep sleep around 6am for the very first time as a daddy (the hospital husband mat doesn’t count).


Mom and Pop Roots —

The Hynding’s1 can trace their roots back in the Bay Area to the 1870′s, where my great, great grandfather, Christian J. Hynding, was the first mayor of South San Francisco. Thanks to census records and family history, we know the Hynding family has roots in Denmark and Germany. There’s even a small, agricultural townsite located in southern Denmark, near the border of Germany, called Hynding2. In 1977, my grandparents traveled to this location where my grandfather, Norman Christian Hynding, had a very memorable picture taken of him standing behind the town sign. In November 2001, my cousin Michael and I, while on a road trip through northern Europe, paid a visit to the township of Hynding, Denmark. Of course, we each had to get our picture taken in front of the town sign as a sort of improvised rite-of-passage.

My mother’s father was able to trace his lineage back to James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence! He was also one of the original six Justices of the Supreme Court selected by George Washington and a major force in drafting the Constitution3.

  1. According to my grandfather, the name Hynding comes from the German word hund, meaning, uh, dog. Well, we’ve always kept many dogs as pets in all our households so I guess it’s somewhat fitting.
  2. Hynding, Denmark on Google Maps
  3. Wikipedia entry for James Wilson

TV Review – Family Guy – Blue Harvest (a.k.a. The Star Wars Episode) [2007-09-23] —

Family Guy is back for another season and love it or hate it, they brought out all the bells and whistles for one amazingly cool and satirically ingenious spoof of the original Star Wars movie. This hour long (read 44 minute) episode starts with a short introduction from the Griffin family sitting around their TV together when the power goes out. Peter regales his family with the telling of Star Wars starting, in his words, with the fourth episode. The show then cuts to it’s featured parody which includes nearly every scene remade from the original film and, obviously, incorporates all of the shows characters into characters from the movie. Chris is Luke, Lois is Princess Leah, Peter is Han Solo, Brian is Chewbacca and Stewie is Darth Vader but I don’t want to ruin where you’ll find Meg (here’s a hint, it’s in the Death Star). Perhaps the best casting choice would be Cleveland and Quagmire who play R2-D2 and C-3PO respectively. The personalities of the two really carry over into droids from the movie. R2-D2 sports Cleveland’s voice but all except for the gangster-ish bandana tied around his dome, he is entirely robot. Quagmire is a bit more visually defined, sporting his visage over the robots, but he’s still glazed a shiny bronze and walks in our favorite C-3PO fashion. Moreover, Quagmire is still the pervert we’ve known and loved. At one point after being rescued from the Jawas he brags about scoring with a 90′s printer!

The show takes it biggest leap of all by adding a level of special effects it has never introduced before, namely 3D cell shading in the space and action sequences. This is of course something Futurama came close to perfecting over seven years ago and it looks even better today. Added to the mix are tiny clips actually taken from the movie, namely the exploding Death Star sequence and one or two planet exterior shots. Other exterior shots, that are indeed animated, are also taken straight out of the movie, only now they include some humorous punchline fitting for the likes of MST3000. For example, in an exterior, establishing shot of the Millennium Falcon entering the docking back of the Death Star, it looks just like it was from the movie, only two of the navigators in the distance of the lower right corner are apparently having a silent lovers quarrel. Clips such as this dot their way through the episode just as Lucas’ establishing shots did in the film version.

The writing is clever and the jokes deliver, as it should since the plot outline has been embedded in every fan’s mind since 1977, essentially taking out half the work. The fact that the movie has been spoofed so many other times before in other shows (including the various comedic, side-spun gags from its previous seasons) does not spoiled the end result. Much like South Park and The Simpsons, Family Guy has finally perfected it’s character study and comedic style where nearly any spoof or story should pack in the laughs, so long as the personality of the show remains constant.

The show ends very much in the same way as it began: the family sitting on their living room couch listening to the end of Peter’s story. The final punchline is only worth mentioning as a fan of Robot Chicken and falls pretty flat if you’ve never heard of it or its connection with Seth Green, the voice of Chris Griffin. If this is you, here’s the skinny: Seth Green independently c0-created his own stop-motion animated sketch comedy on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim (consequently in the exact same time slot that saved Family Guy). About three months ago, Robot Chicken had their own Star Wars spoof episode, which in all fairness was just comedic clips involving anything Star Wars, be it outtakes, obsessive fan reactions or just re-using Star Wars sketches they had done in previous episodes. The only likeness it has to this Family Guy episode is the theme (and also most of the actors worked on both projects, including Family Guy creator Seth MacFarland). As a fan of both, and having the Robot Chicken special fresh on my mind, the show concludes with an argument between Peter and Chris (Seth and Chris) on originality and freshness about, funny enough, having a Star Wars episode fresh off the heels of Robot Chicken. Let’s just say Peter pretty much thinks anything on Adult Swim goes more or less unwatched an unloved. In the scope of the show’s lackluster closers, this one is near the top.


TV Review – Bionic Woman – Pilot Episode [2007-09-26] —

I do not remember much about the original Bionic Woman series only that Wonder Woman eclipsed it for best female superhero show of the 1970′s. So I was expecting a mind-blowing action series when the multi-million dollar advertising campaigns for the new Bionic Woman series starting coming in from all ends of the media spectrum. LOST, for me at least, re-defined the action-drama-mystery genre for television and this series looked like it might have similar potential. Unfortunately, everything LOST does well: namely revealing tiny bits of a larger picture each episode and shrouding its characters in mystery and beguile, are obsolete in this pilot episode.

We are introduced to our lead character, Jaime, only about five minutes before her inevitable accident. In that short time the show abrasively forces on us a couple of things it thinks we should know about: Jaime has a much younger sister, a father they both don’t appreciate, and a mysterious boyfriend with intentions to marry her. Most noticeably, however, is the show’s opener which identifies that there’s already at least one other pre-existing bionic woman and she’s gone bezerk, presumably for love. Oh yes, and her lover is also a bad-ass scientist who shoots a 9mm round in her head just before professing his love. All of this before the first commercial break. This first segment also jams the paralyzing car accident scene before the commercial as well as one other twist that really seems all to sudden: she was hit by the crazed (and somehow revived) pre-existing bionic woman.

Before the second commercial break, Jamie is already conscious and her bionic parts have been installed. To cut on costs, this is all laid out for us through the dialog, including exactly how her mechanics will work. Her mysterious boyfriend also happens to be the lead scientist involved in her reconstruction, who gives Jaime the bad news (you lost 3 of 4 limbs and an eye) and the good news (you’re now a cyborg).

The remainder of the show focuses on Jamie discovering her powers. In one scene stolen from the pages of the first Spiderman and Matrix movies, she makes a single attempt to jump from one building roof to another across the street. The pre-existing, bionic bitch also makes a few appearances, testing Jamie’s fighting moves and killing that mysterious boyfriend/fiance of hers.

Even with all that goes on in this pilot, it feels very incomplete, even rushed. With series like LOST and Heroes, there is something to keep us guessing until the next episode. Within the first ten minutes I felt like I was given a whole episode only dumbed down and stripped of a budget. There was a lot the writers did not need to reveal to the audience, but they did right away. I assume the potential for action sequences propelled this decision into fruition, but even those suffer from lack of originality and choreography.

By the end of the episode we have a better idea of what we’re getting into for the rest of the season and the season looks pretty boring. I doubt the producer’s will kick up the production value for any future episodes this season as it’s typically the pilot that gets all the attention. All they can hope for is that the writers have some tricks up their sleeves to roll out some shocking twists or this show won’t last longer than Christmas.


TV Review – The Simpsons – He Loves to Fly and He D’ohs [2007-09-23] —

The 19th season of The Simpsons is nothing that I expect to be fabulous, but I’ve been anxious all the same. Having watched now all 400+ episodes and followed it’s uprising from the Tracey Ullman show at 10 years old, there’s heavy nostalgia lingering anytime they reveal something fresh and animated. Following up to the summer blockbuster shouldn’t be too difficult; not that the movie wasn’t great, but it still couldn’t hold a candle to any of the Top 50 episodes on their own. The majority of shows made in this century still may feel second, even third, class compared to the last, but as long as it delivers the punchlines with the classic Simpsons finesse and includes its vast array of disheveled, yet lovable, characters, it will always have devoted viewers like myself.

Knowing that fans still had the movie fresh on their minds, the introduction to the season premiere episode cut immediately from the opening title in the clouds to the Bart-and-chalkboard bit (fly-by of the town through the clouds to the window was cut). This led to Bart’s inevitable bursting out the school doors on his skateboard and riding home through town. This moment was it’s most memorable as it cut from the traditional opening of everyone heading home to Bart riding through the destructed town of Springfield, ala post dome destruction from the movie. They included Wolfcastle/President Schwarzenegger and the big-chested Intuit lady standing on the street corner, Homer’s car on the driveway had the pig crap silo tied onto it, and the couch scene featured the pig, with Homer cuddling it and proclaiming it as his “summer love”. It was cute and a nice shout out to the fans (something severely lacking from this show when compared to the innovative freshness of South Park and, at times, Family Guy).

Unfortunately, the opening was also the highlight of the show. The plot followed the standard Simpsons convention of following a few select characters in their nonsensical wanderings without any real direction for the entire first act. In summary, Homer gets a taste of success by being taken on a private jet after saving Mr. Burns’ life. Tuned in to her husband’s desires, Marge hires Homer a life planner to boost his confidence and motivate him for bigger success. After an unsuccessful interview where Homer would have had the opportunity to fly in a private jet, he lies to his family that he got the job and hides in the Krusty Burger all day to sulk. Bart gets wind of his dad’s routine and convinces him to come clean to Marge. In an epiphany on Homer could imagine, he feels the only way to come clean would to be on a private jet “where no one could be sad.” After hiring the services of a pilot at the airport, Homer takes Marge up in the air to give her the news, only to be interrupted by the pilot overdosing on heroin and leaving Homer to land the plane. With a quick call to the life planner, Homer gets through the situation and lands the plane. Homer doesn’t actually come clean to Marge at the end, rather he tells her that flying in a private jet is too dangerous and he’s going to get his job back at the power plant.

If the plot is any indication of how far-fetched the writers of the show are getting, it’s even more obvious with a guest appearance by Lionel Ritchie. Ritchie’s appearance was not very well thought out and did not offer anything to the plot, subtext or motivation of the characters. I’m not sure why he was added to the show other than adding another celebrity notch to the cameo bedpost. I personally couldn’t find the humor in having him sing the only hit I know him by to the theme of beer, then replacing every word with beer.

The remainder of the humor involving regular cast members falls flat from the beginning as well. There is a scene in the beginning in which Mr. Burns gets sucked into a water fountain’s pump system and repeatedly shot out of each spigot as if something comically conceived from an old MGM cartoon. The level of thought put into it reeks of an uninspired imagination. Even Ralph’s one-liner fell flat of a laugh.

There is nothing I like more than watching new Simpsons episodes and I will continue to watch them no matter how bad they get, but so far this season is not looking too promising.


Expensive Suites vs. Open Source counterparts —

Computer hardware and printed materials such as instruction and documentation manuals cost money to produce and are palpable, deteriorable products. Software, on the other hand, such as operating systems, word processors and video games, are literally just binary numbers: ones and zeroes strung together in the millions and billions, each in their own unique, logical sequence, and can be copied at no expense. Of course, there is no denying the time and labor it takes to develop and support most software. Almost all software comes at a very high cost to produce, making the high price tag of some applications well worth the investment. But some software is debatably over-priced for the average consumer, even with the available support and advanced features offered today. For one thing, most support these days nows comes from overseas and often wastes more time clarifying the issue than addressing means to a solution. A second is that upgraded software often just consists of suggestions and improvements from previous versions that could have been address (even fixed) by the community had they had access to the pre-compiled source code. The caveat to this is that opening the source code means giving away the prize. Thus, the consumer is binded to purchased software at the mercy of their providers whim to provide free, periodic updates. Finally, most of the older, popular and more marketable software has now been written many different times, in many different ways, by many different programmers. Some have worked tirelessly for free, others have pioneered the logic for billion dollar companies. The point is that through the Internet these developers, over time, have come together to open their source code and create what is collectively known as the Open Source community. The software that has been produced in the Open Source community rivals and in some ways exceeds high cost software such as Windows Vista, Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Most people are familiar and comfortable paying for this software, in some cases the customer support warrants the purchase alone, but others, like me, would rather not pay anything at all, assuming it was compatible with all the major file types and features. In this entry, which I plan to expand upon in future entries, includes a comparison of my three favorite Open Source programs to their pricier, billion dollar corporation counterparts.

Adobe Photoshop vs. The GIMP
Don’t get distracted by the name, The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), is a powerful image processor that offers many of the same extravagent features that Photoshop and even Illustrator boasts. In addition, it offers a mighty scripting language (aptly named Script-Fu) which opens up the GIMP API and allows for limitless, customizable, image processing techniques. The GIMP requires the installation of the GNU GTK (Graphical Tool Kit) first, which is also free, and represents the foundation for rendering images with The GIMP. Updates occur about once a year and the community offers all kinds of support are custom plugins for those looking to do more than what’s provided. Most importantly, however, is the ability to recognize and save as other popular complex image file types, such as PSDs and animated GIFs.

Microsoft Office vs. OpenOffice.org
As impressive and extensive as the Microsoft Office suite may be, there is an equally matched software package absolutely free. Okay, that wasn’t purposely meant to rhyme (and I refuse to remove it now), but it’s true that OpenOffice.org is just that, free Office (or more importantly for the majority of us, free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). Again, like The GIMP, you can open and save as DOC, XLS, or PPD, meaning that all those files you put together at the office can now be worked on at home without opening your wallet any wider for Microsoft.

Windows Vista and Mac vs. Fedora
Operating systems are the central nervous system of every computer, so it makes sense to have the best, most robust and reliable operating system you can get your hands on. Many don’t even think or worry about choosing their operating system because it comes pre-installed when purchasing a PC or Mac. If however you have the option to boot Fedora, arguably the best free version of Linux available, I recommend you do so. You can’t easily do it with the Mac (and let’s be honest, if you have a Mac, you’re likely not interested in picking up Linux anyway) but many PC owners will experience an improved boost in overall performance and program stability over Windows Vista. Updates happen about twice a year and support, documentation and code base are consistently monitored by the community. Try to get any response from Microsoft in any amount of time for product support.