make sure you remember to unplug

I tend to be among the last to hear about trends.  In high school or at work I’m pretty much the last one to hear or realize that two people happen to be dating.  I guess part of the issue is I typically just don’t care.  I’m kind of set in my rhythms, as shall become apparent once again as I lay out this stuff here today.

Only in the last week or so have I become aware that this Amazon Echo trend thing exists.  For the uninitiated, the Echo is a new piece of technology that can respond to your voice, like that Siri lady does.  Only it’s not a phone, but a weird black cylinder that you can either put on your kitchen table, take into the shower with you, or snuggle under the covers with.

By giving the Echo voice commands, you can get it to play music, tell you the weather, call a cab, order explosives from a Belarusian junk dealer, check local traffic, compile a list of your favorite mustards, buy stuff from Amazon, construct an enemies list, and so on.  Much to my surprise (and apparently that of business insiders as well) the Echo has sold quite well.


Oh no.

I don’t understand why this is a thing.  Why can’t people take out their mini-computer smartphones and check the weather using that instead?  Or why can’t folks just look out the window?  Is there really a benefit to one’s life by saving six seconds to audibly ask a machine what the weather is instead of doing it ourselves?

The Echo is also supposed to interface with other smart devices in your home.  So you can play music via other speakers, or have the Echo talk to your smart thermostat.  That way, instead of walking up to your thermostat to change the setting, you can just have the Echo do it for you thus saving you the nine seconds it would take you to get up off the couch to walk over to your thermostat to do it yourself.

Oh man, this Orwell cat had no idea when he wrote 1984, dude was totally clueless.  In his world, Echo would be used by the Giant Eye to enslave humanity.  In Amazon’s world, the Echo is a means to separate money from your wallet.  Here is how the brave new world is supposed to play out in the globe of Amazon:

1) Your smart refrigerator has sensors to determine what’s inside.  The fridge detects you’re running short on mustard.

2) The fridge tells the Echo that you are short of mustard.

3) Based upon your personal settings, the Echo either automatically buys more mustard or audibly asks you if you’d like more mustard.

4) Amazon sends you mustard and charges you for the trouble.

5) Amazon delivers mustard (and whatever else) to your doorstep via drone.

And thus, the end state is that you would always have mustard in your fridge.  All without ever thinking about it.  Without ever having to take any action yourself.  To some folks, I suppose this sounds liberating.  To me, this is quite weird.  From my perspective, I can just open up the fridge before I go shopping and realize I need more mustard.  Then I write that on a list and go get it.  It’s pretty straightforward.  Yeah, it does take some time, and going to the store can be a pain in the ass, but that’s called life.

I’m not entirely sure how humanity benefits from all this.  It’s not like people who are liberated from ever having to think about buying mustard again are going to use that extra time to solve groundbreaking math equations.  Folks would probably just use it to binge Netflix more or Snapchat friends.  I’d probably just play more video games.

In short, I don’t think the human race needs a tool like the Echo.  But Amazon is more than happy to provide it as extra credit to your life, for a price.  It’s the very definition of excess.  You don’t need this.  But you will buy it.  Please don’t resist.  Amazon thanks you for your cooperation.

palpy and vader.jpg

Palpy:  “For you see, Lord Vader, I’ve determined that the replacement Death Star is obsolete.  Instead, we’ll place Echoes into every home within the Empire.  Once the masses can get mustard without even thinking, our circle will be complete.  Our rule unchallenged.”  [cackles]  Vader:  “Yes, my Master.”

Then there are the privacy concerns that come with hooking up your fridge and Echo voice box to the Internets.  I’ve hit the dangers of this concept on this degenerate blog many times.  But I’ll go there again, thank you.  For example, just take a gander at the Wikipedia verbiage on the Echo.

Even though some of this text is clearly ghost written by somebody in the employ of Amazon, it’s still rather stark at what the Echo does:

a) “…can identify who is present in the home and who is not…”

b) “…though the device is technically capable of streaming voice recordings at all times, and in fact will always be listening to detect if a user has uttered the word…”

c) “…Amazon retains digital recordings of users audio spoken after the ‘wake up word,’…”

In other words, the Echo is a listening device that is always on, never turns off, and stores certain parts of what it hears in the Amazon Cloud, aka Amazon Web Services.

And since our Internets is always vulnerable, somebody can hack these things too.  Although I’m sure Amazon has tried rather hard to prevent that.  But whether folks are risking hackers, or happy to turn over things they say in their own home to the Amazon servers?  Either way, I guess I’m just surprised that millions of folks are perfectly comfortable putting a live listening device in their own home.  Just to make their lives a tad bit easier.

I guess I’ll make two closing points.  Both along the lines that we should all make sure to remember and unplug.

– Even if you go down this Echo, automated, smart route, please remember to unplug and do things the old way.  Just to keep life exciting and maintain an active brain.  For example, just for the hell of it, instead of using your smartphone to guide you on your next car trip to an unknown location, use your own brain.  Look at a map (an online one is fine) and write out your own route using a pen and paper.  Then use said pen and paper while you’re in the car to drive yourself there.  For those who can’t remember pen and paper, here’s what my own pen and paper look like:


Or even if you use Echo to get mustard from now own, every once and a while just go buy it yourself.

– Make sure you unplug your wireless router at home when you’re not using online devices.  I do mean actually unplug it from the wall.  So when you’re cooking, reading, walking your dog, at work, asleep, etc, etc, physically go and unplug your router from the wall.  This saves power and makes it virtually impossible for any part of your life to be hacked.  You can afford to spend some time unplugged.  You’ll live, trust me.  And your brain and body will thank you for it.

Busan – hiking and the monk’s car

Some of the best days are the ones where you wake up and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.  I’ve gone through these phases.  I used to plan nothing for trips, then I planned everything, and now I’m back to planning almost nothing.  Busan was the early days.  It was Korea, that was enough for me.  So we scheduled nothing in advance.

We wake up one day and the rest of the group doesn’t want to do much of anything.  Probably because they were hungover.  I’m sure I was too, but I was young then and didn’t need to lay around suffering.  So Tim and I decide we’re just going to leave everyone and go, somewhere.  I think we just picked some random temple off a map in the suburbs north of downtown Busan.  It was December, but not a completely freezing typical Korean winter just yet.  So we bundle up and roll out.

We had to take the train and then the bus to get there.  Neither of us spoke anything above bare bones Korean.  We quickly got lost and are just standing there on some random suburban street corner trying to figure out what bus to get on.  Then this middle aged woman walks up and in halting English asks us where we want to go.  We show her the temple on the map and she agrees to help us.

But she refused to give us directions.  Instead, in one of the most generous things I’ve ever seen in my life she decides to ride the buses and escort us to this temple.  Then she says she knows a good place for lunch next door to the temple.  So she walks us there and explains to the owner in staccato Korean probably how these two American idiots didn’t know what they were doing.

The two women essentially shrug and our kind escort wishes us luck and carried on with her day.  We couldn’t thank her enough but she treated it all very matter of fact, smiled, and was gone.  The lunch was incredible.  In the Korean style we each had the ten or so little bowls of various meats, vegetables, and sauces.  It’s probably in my lifetime top ten of meals.


I think this is the temple, I’m not so sure.  The shot is logged wrong by how my memory remembers this trip.  So who knows.  But I’m pretty sure this was it.

We walked around the temple for a bit and then Tim being the far more adventurous of the us simply states we should stroll up the nearby mountain.  So we point ourselves toward the hill and just start walking.  As we got higher we realized we’d stumbled upon a routed hiking trail and so we continued to follow it on up the mountain and across the peaks.

It’s hard to describe how mountainous a good chunk of Korea is.  Cities are perched precariously along the coast with ribbons of suburbs rolling out in the valleys.  The inclines of the hills are quite steep and it’s rather sobering to think that when Busan was the last holdout against the Communist siege in 1950 that these mountains held hundreds-of-thousands of young men who would decide the fate of Korea.

Looking Back.jpgLooking back toward Busan from the hills.


Ribbons of suburbs and the Nakdong River.


We walked for miles and miles, probably at least over ten miles.  It’s a blast, the weather cooperates, the trails are dotted with other friendly hikers, and oh, ah, it’s getting into the late afternoon.  We’re in trouble.  There’s no way we can go back the way we came in time.  We have no desire to hike back on the trail in the dark lest we fall off the darn mountain.  Fortunately we happened upon a temple nestled up there that’s near the trail.  We figure if nothing else we can call a cab from there to take us back downtown.

Temple From Above.jpg

Temple Gate.jpg

I walk around a while admiring the temple while Tim somehow strikes up a conversation with a monk who speaks immaculate English.  Decked in pristine Buddhist orange and thick glasses he says there’s no need to call a cab because he’s driving downtown anyways and he’s glad to give us a ride.  He asks us to wait for a bit while he gets ready and he’ll go get the car.

I’m raised in the Catholic Church, and so I have this idea of poor Trappist monks on a farm like my Dad used to visit.  I expect this to be a hair raising ride through twisting mountain roads in a Yugoslavian knockoff beater.  Instead, the monk rolls up in a pristine black BMW that easily cost north of $50K.  Tim and I were just cracking up.

It was nearly dark as we set off for downtown.  Tim sat up front with the monk while I dozed in the back.  Tim and him chatted away about everything.  I wish I remembered more of their conversation but I was exhausted.  I do recall the monk was headed downtown to party with his friends.  I never did catch the reasoning for the dichotomy between the wealth, partying, and religious lifestyle of the monk.  In retrospect I just find it hilarious.

Back downtown, we managed to link up with our friends again.  I don’t remember the rest, probably for valid reasons.  But I do remember the hills well, and that monk and his crazy car.  It was quite the day not worth planning.



how not to make a vinaigrette

As part of my continuing back to basics cooking push I’ve been doing a lot of simple salads lately.  You get those bags of green things, throw in some vegetables, make a quick dressing and you’re good.  It takes three minutes.  I’m getting hooked on this.  Salads are now more of a regular part of meals no matter what else I’m making.

So for this round it ended up being a half-spinach / half-arugula bag, a box of grape tomatoes (both generic store brand), a ball of mozzarella, and one avocado.  This will give you like four or five regular bowls of salad.  So I can make it once and eat it over two or three dinners.

The fun part is to make the random vinaigrette.  This takes about minute but invites you to customize.  I like red, white, or balsamic versions, it’s all good.

So here’s how this went down by exact brand picture, if you doubt my portion choices, just ascribe that to my own personal taste:

olive oil.jpg

1/4 cup


1/8 cup


2 Tbsp –  I love all kinds of mustard, I’ve tried like six different kinds in vinaigrettes lately


Dust to taste

So far so good, right?


Oh no.

High River Rogue.  So I love spicy food.  Some of my Indian dishes glow radioactively.  But I wasn’t going down that road here.  What I had in mind was to put a few drops into the jar to add a nice, even kick, and maybe some neat color.

I’ve used this hot sauce before on many things.  I know what it’s capable of.  I also know it has a completely open top.  There’s no dropper up there.  If you pour, it comes out quickly.

But as I grabbed the bottle to add those few drops into the jar, I think I tricked my own brain.  I think because I wanted to add just a few drops, I defaulted my brain into falsely remembering that there was a dropper on this bottle when there was not.

I turn that thing over and am shocked by the output.  I reflexed and stopped, but not before several tablespoons of this delicious fire liquid had made it’s way into the vinaigrette.  I knew this was not good.  I knew the power of this Rogue.

So my first thought, eh, dump it and make it again.  But I hate, hate to waste food.  And I’m going to be a bleached skeleton one day.  So whatever, I decided to run with it.  I closed the jar, shook it, and decided to roll as is.  The vinaigrette ended up as a light red.  This color greatly amused and pleased me.

Eating it was not as spicy as I thought.  It was relatively mild.  My lips tingled a bit, but it didn’t burn my mouth like this sauce usually does.  I figure that’s because all the vinegar and oil evened it out.  I thought I was good.  I was not.  What my mouth could handle my stomach could not.  You try sleeping with this level of heartburn.  It’s not fun.  Especially when the dogs think you’re fully awake at 1am and thus decide they can ram the bed and ask to go out.

So this did not go well.  This is not the way to make a proper vinaigrette.

So, why, why oh why do I want to try it again.  If only I dialed down the spice level, I’d still get that neat red color, without the partial poisoning.  I can make it work the next time, honest.

Eh, what’s wrong with me?

clowns have always been evil, why is this news?

When my age was still in the single digits I had the unfortunate experience of accidentally catching a television scene where a clown brutally stabs a fellow human in a manner that’d probably be considered horrific even by today’s degenerate tv standards.  It melted my little child brain.  I couldn’t sleep for days.  My parents were freaking out.  Can’t sleep.  Clown will eat me.  It was at one of my relative’s houses and I figure somebody accidentally left it on a channel not appropriate for the kiddies.

Suffice to say, from that day forward I’ve always hated clowns.  So now lunatics dressed as clowns are walking around scaring people all across the country.  People are freaking out.  Oh, clowns are now all of a sudden evil?  What took you all so long to realize this?  Remember those party clowns when you were a kid?  Evil.  Who actually thinks clowns are happy, funny creatures anyways?  I seriously have never gotten this.  Here, just look at these random clowns:


Closet serial killer

french clowns.jpg

Cheese eating surrender monkeys


Evil robber baron

the joker.jpg

Upstanding ordinary average Gentleman

I always remember The Simpsons having it right.  This is what I thought clowns were like:

bart clown.png

Can’t sleep.  Clown will eat me.

Clowns or fools have been around since Caveman Overlord Steve turned his bitter rival Former Caveman Overlord Carl into his fire pit fool.  These jesters or whatever didn’t dress like creepy murderers though did they?  Where did this modern incarnation come from?  I’m guessing the circus.  Early in the 20th Century I’m sure all clowns looked like this, so it became part of the culture and that was that.  I guess I’ve just never understood why such a look became associated with fun or happiness.  I’m clearly not alone in this thought process because clowns are all over horror movies.

So now that social media has enabled the rest of the human race to see clowns my way, it’s turned into mass hysteria.  I don’t understand why.  Look, on any given day you could walk by a complete psychopath on the street.  He or she could be just wearing jeans.  You’d never know they were evil.  But now, since this clown thing is a thing, the psychopath’s are very helpfully dressed up as clowns.  Now we know they’re lunatics just based off their choice of attire.  It’s win-win!

We should support this.  And thus, anybody wearing a clown suit should be immediately arrested by the secret police and sent to a special island.  China’s building all those new islands in the South China Sea, right?  What we do is buy one of those new islands and put all the clowns on it.  Can you imagine the horror of an island with 9,634 clowns?  The thought sends chills into my soul.  But it’s okay.  If we get too freaked out by this, we can always get China to bomb the island.


The sweet & tangy taste of human flesh appeals to this man

I don’t care about robots

So there’s this Westworld thing that premiered over the weekend that’s supposedly pretty good.  It’s got a great cast, it’s likely well shot, slickly made, and probably fairly entertaining.  HBO is sure hoping it’s the next Game of Thrones.  But I don’t care.  I’ll not be watching.

So last year there was this Ex Machina movie that was supposedly pretty good.  They said it had a great cast, interesting dialogue, and a strong plot.  I didn’t see it.  I don’t care.

I don’t care about robots.  The very thought of the concept on screen just bores me.  I’d loosely heard about Westworld and was mildly interested.  I worship Westerns and was hopeful that HBO was going to attempt another go at the genre.  There’s a lot of room left to still make something as good as Deadwood if people actually tried.  But then I read Westworld was about a robot theme park.  When I heard this, I immediately fell asleep due to boredom by osmosis.  My dogs had to revive me with smelling salts.  They still won’t tell me where they got them from.


Yeah lady, I know.  I’d need a nap too.

I already know how Westworld is going to play out.  The robots will become more human over time and contrast themselves with the barbarity of the humans who made and abuse them due to our own primal nature and we’ll have to see in the robots what it really means to be human and maybe some of the humans in the television will see the robots and remember what’s it’s like to be human and for you see philosophy and the human psyche are concepts that transcend, … [sleeps]  [sleeps]  [dogs dart over with salts]

Oh, that and graphic violence and gratuitous nudity.  You need that in smart psychological dramas too.  There’s apparently a vicious rape scene in the very first episode of Westworld.  Don’t believe the HBO lie that it has anything to do with the plot or some high minded concept.  It’s there for shock value and eyeballs.  As is the overall level of brutality and nakedness.  Apparently Ex Machina had an excessive amount of nudity and violence as well.  I’m sure that was just a coincidence.


Yeah lady, I know.  I’d need a nap too.

Robots are not human.  They will never be human.  So the very idea of spending multiple seasons watching Westworld and trying to develop some kind of intellectual connection with a robot character is beyond my comprehension.  How can you relate to or root for a character that’s not really alive?  I’d feel more remorse killing a spider in my bedroom than watching some robot get hurt on screen.  If I was forced to watch Westworld with a girl on the couch, and she starts talking about how she understands the trials of Robot Emma and finds the show entertaining, I’d likely remark in my most deadpan condescending voice imaginable, “Why?  It’s just a fucking robot.”  And that’d be that relationship, and I’d have to begin a new online search.

Once upon a time I used to be in the 1’s and 0’s business.  I hated it.  I will never go back.  But I’ve learned enough to know that artificial intelligence is a crock.  A robot can be programmed to solve math, play chess, or even enslave humanity.  I admit it could happen.  But at its most base level that doesn’t mean a robot can attain self-awareness.  It’ll still just be a machine programmed by a human to fulfill tasks, even if in theory it can also self-learn.  1’s and 0’s is not consciousness.  Humanity is not God.  A robot is not alive.

Just about the only time I think I’ve ever felt any sympathy for a robot on screen is Data, or Arnold in Terminator 2.  You’ll remember that factory scene, right?  Despite the fact that Arnold was bound for the path of an adulterous failed governor and Edward a coked out mess this whole exchange is just awesome, as is the whole movie.  The scene really gets to you.  Arnold’s generally a likeable actor and really does a good job of turning this faceless killing machine into a sympathetic character.  You laugh at him, you root for him, you’re sad when he dies.  This I cared about, sort of.  But in the end it loses its impact over time.  Because in the end after you’ve lost the initial first time edge of the power of this scene, you remember it’s just a robot.


“I know now why you cry.  But I still don’t have a beating heart.”

The same basic concepts hold true for Data.  You care about him too.  You get to see him grow for seven years.  But I’ve always had this distant attachment with Data.  I can root for him, but have always felt him distinctly apart and separate from the other characters.  And, I guess once you’ve seen that robot development story done, it’s done.  Why bother seeing it done again?  That show was like 15 years ago.

In the end I suspect the way Star Trek told Data’s story is going to be infinitely smarter and more entertaining than anything Westworld can churn out for the masses.  And with 98% less nudity and bloodshed too.


Oh man, do I sure miss the low key, intelligent, entertaining ways of this show.

apparently we need to clarify what an explosion is

Samsung has rightly gotten a bad rap lately for shipping countless smartphones to customers that otherwise should have been classified as controlled live ordnance.  And now there’s news this morning that Samsung washing machines are also apparently exploding.  Maybe this is the start of the apocalypse that lunatics (and my Guests) have been waiting for all these years.  It starts with exploding phones and appliances, and the next thing we know folks have to wield shotguns just to cross the zombie infested streets safely.

But hold on for a moment, what does an exploding Samsung phone actually look like?  Well, here’s an example:

fail phone.jpg

Eh, sorry folks, that’s not an explosion.  If the phone had actually exploded it’d be in a million pieces.  In fact, I do believe the phone rather “caught fire”.  Hey, words matter, kids, except on this degenerate blog, and the presidential campaign.

I know the media prefers to use the word explosion because it’s more dramatic and they get a bunch of clickbait.  I too was guilty of this.  When I was a young lad I broke my arm playing sports and I told people that my bone was “shattered” instead of “broken” because I thought it was more dramatic.  Nobody was impressed.  In fact, they were always quite confused.  I’m an idiot.

If you want to know what an actual explosion is, here’s a video of the recent Falcon 9 explosion on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.  Video here.


Now we’re talking!

and so you shall stay where?

In Season 5 of Mad Men there’s a drawn out sequence where Don and Megan fight horribly over a variety of issues (mainly that they probably should have never married, idiots) while in a Howard Johnson’s restaurant during the height of its iconic days. If you haven’t seen it I won’t bust the plot, but suffice to say this entire episode is a horrific depressing mess that makes you want to cut yourself. It’s wrong even by Mad Men standards which says an awful lot. When this episode is over you need a shot and a shower.



In any case, what you didn’t know when you were watching this episode years ago is that same feeling should have been also applied to Howard Johnson’s itself. When you watched the episode, you were like, “Oh, I remember Howard Johnson’s. That place was alright.” It may have evoked images of a happy family road trip when you were a kid. The place wasn’t a palace, but it had clean rooms and decent food. It was the consistent oasis that made it successful. But I bet when you had that nostalgic moment you didn’t realize that Howard Johnson’s was already on life support? Did you? I didn’t.


For you see, even though you or I hadn’t stayed in a Howard Johnson’s in decades you probably just assumed somewhere in the back of your brain that they were still around. That they were this eternal thing that was out there still, somewhere. They were not. A few weeks ago the one in Bangor, Maine closed. Now Lake George, New York hosts the only remaining restaurant. Essentially Howard Johnson’s is dead. What the hell happened?

howard johnson's.jpg


Well when I was a kid plane flights were very expensive. So the family would at times drive say 11 hours to get to our destination. Most of the time we’d do the drive all in one shot with my Ma and Dad rotating the driving duties, but not always. Sometimes we stopped along the way, thus the motel. What’s changed this reality today is that airline flights are just that much cheaper. Southwest can bargain basement you most places within half the country for a hundred bucks a ticket or less. Somebody from AAA will tell me this statement is garbage, but I suspect the percentage of families who drive north of ten hours to go somewhere has mostly tanked in the last two decades. So if you were Howard Johnson’s and you built your business model on long road trips, you were screwed.


Also the brief corporate history of Howard Johnson’s is that after Daddy died, the son appears to have made some horrible decisions on brand diversity. He opened a bunch of unrelated restaurant chains (all of which are now gone) and basically lost focus on the core business that made Howard Johnson’s successful. Then as people started to drive less Howard Johnson’s didn’t take the hint. They didn’t diversify or try new things or innovate. They stuck with the same Howard Johnson’s brand, even if they did eventually discard the neon orange roofs. In a culture that today values relatively fresh food, uses airlines when it can, and isn’t so tied to nostalgia? Maybe these guys were always doomed. Fast food joints and extreme discount motels are at the bottom end. Or you can get creepy rich food and burn $156 a night on the high end. What ground was there in the middle for Howard Johnson’s to continue to exist in?


Has something been lost though? I mean other than the basic nostalgia? In terms of the restaurant piece, I don’t think so. It’s not 1960 anymore where stop points might have been rarer. Regardless of what highway you’re on at any given time you likely have dozens of different restaurants to choose from in terms of cost and quality. If you don’t, you’re likely driving in an area where Howard Johnson’s never existed anyways. But in terms of the hotel loss, I think there might be.


Towards the end, Howard Johnson’s hotel side of the business was bought out by Wyndham. Wyndham also owns 14 other major hotel brands of varying size, style, and price. Marriott recently bought Starwood and thus created a hotel / motel colossus that owns over 30 major hotel brands. Howard Johnson’s might have been all over the place, but never in their wildest dreams were they ever this dominant. It’s part of a growing trend in American business where there are many brands, but only two or three actual owners to choose from. This of course cranks up the price because in a near virtual monopoly environment the customer loses, always. If you don’t think hotel chains collude on price just like the airlines do, you’re kidding yourself.  It makes one yearn for the quaint, family owned reliability of Howard Johnson’s.


And so you shall stay where? Without getting gouged? Well I guess first off, thank god for things like Airbnb. I hope the global commons takes the big hotel chains by the balls, I really do. Because there isn’t a global commons for large airliners, so at least we can have competition for hotel rooms. I bet if you look at all the local and state government efforts that are trying to crush Airbnb on missing taxes, that they’re all mostly funded by lobbyists hired by the big hotel chains. Also, no matter what, always consider different means to travel. If you’re like me and you’re almost always traveling on a limited budget, don’t get caught into the same routine every time. Always investigate new websites for new deals. Try different chains. Don’t always be ultra-loyal to a loyalty program without re-verifying it’s still your best deal. Because you never know when a chain’s going to get bought out without you hearing about it. Or that one of their rivals went bust and they jacked up the price on you. Do your research. Stay flexible. In a manner which Howard Johnson’s was not.

don draper again.png

Don explaining to Megan about the paddling Howard Johnson’s is predestined to take.