Friday, September 27, 2013

Random Ideas

Rage Against The Machine Alarm Clock - For the low, low price of $19.99 you can be gently coaxed from your slumber by Zach de la Rocha reminding you that oversleeping (as well as political apathy) is to be avoided at all costs. Pressing the snooze button more than three times in a one hour period will trigger rare live performance of “Sleep Now in the Fire”. The first 100 orders will come with Che Guevara duvet covers. Audio Clip.

Medical Entitlement Liaisons – Do you find yourself yearning for the plethora of “no cost to you” medical supplies advertised on television only to find yourself sidetracked by more pressing matters? Now you can hire a consultant to represent you and insure you get the mail-order medical apparatuses you deserve. Why spend hours on the phone answering invasive questions like “are you actually disabled” or “why does your German Shepard need a glucometer“  when you can pay a one-time retainer fee and within a few weeks find your front porch inundated by power-chairs and discreet catheters?

The Junk-Filter– This handy smartphone app will automatically screen for attempts to send illicit photos of male reproductive organs via text message. If such a situation arises, the program will quietly substitute a photo of a kitten snuggling a bunny and overwrite sexually-suggestive dialogue with motivational quotes. It is a must have for the Congressman or professional athlete on your Christmas list!

I have something I need to share with you….in my pants.... becomes: Success is often a side effect of a positive attitude!

Car Shopping Surrogates – If you are like me and dread the prospect of spending an entire Saturday listening to Smarmy Chett preface all his statements with “We don’t normally do this…” then I have a service for you. It connects automobile shoppers with recent parolees. You simply connect locate the vehicle you desire, identify a price you are willing to pay, and let “Icepick Willie” negotiate on your behalf. You would be amazed at how accommodating the sales manager becomes once your surrogate announces that he uses his spare time to help “snitches find ditches”. You have everything to gain by choosing someone with nothing to lose!

Medical Alert Locater - For years, medic alert bracelets and necklaces have given solitary senior citizens with limited mobility the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they can summon assistance with the push of a button. But what happens when you misplace your medical alert necklace and cannot find it? Crawling around and looking for it could lead to a debilitating injury and, ironically, create the very situation you purchased the medical alert system for in the first place.

For a nominal fee, you could purchase a medical alert necklace locater necklace. This necklace would audibly beep to guide you toward your misplaced medical alert necklace, the closer you got, the more rapidly it would beep. If, in the unlikely event you misplaced both your medical alert necklace and your medical alert necklace locater necklace, we also offer a medical alert necklace locater necklace locater bracelet giving you the peace of mind you deserve.    

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Baby Story Part 14 (Thoughts at 6 Months)

Appearance – I believe my son to be the most adorable child I have ever seen, but to be completely honest there are still moments where he radiates a Joe Lieberman / Alfred Hitchcock vibe. This doesn’t particularly concern me since children tend to change so much as they grow and I am more concerned with his health and happiness than with his esthetics.

Also, as a general rule I never engage in the hereditary attribute mad-libs so popular when friends and relatives see a baby for the first time. I do not possess the ability to discern whether or not a newborn inherited Uncle Ernie’s chin or cousin Sara’s “lack of shame”.

Eating – The only thing my child will not voluntarily place in his mouth is food. Toys, remotes, sunglasses, books, clothing, and extremities all find their way into mouth one way of the other. The only way to prevent this behavior is to place specifically-formulated, exorbitantly-priced infant food within his grasp. If I were to misplace say, a drill bit, I can guarantee you he would try and swallow it; but I can rest assured knowing that he is in no immediate danger of him choking on blueberry-flavored Gerber Graduates hand-cereal.

Clothing – I tend to look at clothing from a rather utilitarian standpoint. At its most basic, my clothing provides on-hand storage while allowing me to comply with state and local decency laws. If it was not for my wife, my son would wear onsies until he was old enough to verbally object. Onesies are the “jeans and a t-shirt” for the recently birthed; inexpensive, practical, and can be as classy or offensive as screen printing allows.    

I was tasked with dressing him for church one Sunday only to have my wife shake her head in frustration because I had not selected one of his “good outfits”. When I pointed out that I had even gone to the trouble of adding a pair of faux shorts to the ensemble, she insisted on walking me to the closet and going through orientation again. Unforgivably, I had also neglected to place shoes on his feet; an apparent necessity for anyone unable to stand upright.

Competitiveness – As is the case later in life, we parents have the powerful desire to compare our offspring’s achievements with those of others. In infancy, this requires a more creative approach to immodesty. One parent might mention that their daughter is in the 75th percentile for cranial growth which leads another parent to announce that their daughter is in the 98th percentile for fecal output.

Sometimes we get so insecure that we perceive slights where they don’t exist. “Did you hear the condescending way Darlene asked if our son was able to sit up yet? Like her kid is some kind of genius. He still has the babinski reflex of a third-world preemie!” This mindset often leads to another pitfall of parenting: judgment.

Judgment – Everyone enjoys judging parents, but no group does so with greater relish or impunity than other parents. Having successfully procreated, we can now disparage other parent’s choices without fear of being discredited by our own inexperience. Clearly this doesn’t necessarily make our points any more valid or constructive, but it does make us feel better about our own shortcomings.

For instance, I recently made the acquaintance of a woman after my son and her 9-month old daughter began “talking” to one another. The adorable little girl was sporting a onesie that said “Sexy And I Know It” in large font. While I would not place such an item on my daughter (toddler or otherwise) and thought less of the woman for choosing to do so, it is possible that this mother was simply using the outfit as ironic commentary on the degree to which society correlates a woman’s value with her physical attractiveness. Either way, it did make me feel better about laughing at the “Made in VaChina” onesie I had seen earlier….  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Enemy of the State

A few weeks ago, my wife and I sat down to watch the 1998 Gene Hackman / Will Smith thriller Enemy of the State because she had never seen it. What was downright chilling was the prophetic nature of the story line. For those who haven’t seen it, the plot runs as follows:

The NSA is requesting broad latitude in applying domestic surveillance to United States citizens without their knowledge. This is being done under the guise of “preventing terrorism” and is being championed by a United States senator named Sam Albert. Murder and political intrigue ensue peppered by opposing arguments concerning the dangers and merits of warrantless investigation of American citizens. Gene Hackman’s character, a former NSA employee, reveals that the telecommunications industry is “in bed with the government” and that there are large-scale datacenters scouring and storing private phone conversations and e-mails for keywords like “bomb” or “Allah”.

All of this is being masterminded by Jon Voight’s character who, we told in the film, was born on September 11th. The supporters of domestic surveillance in the film cite the countless lives that have been spared by removing the red tape associated with domestic surveillance, while those opposed decry the removal of our civil rights in the name of safety. Just for a splash of extra authenticity the Congressman is cheating on his wife, the government is spending a lot of money with minimal oversight and an El Camino catches fire following a minor impact.

While it is much easier to find modern parallels with the benefit of hindsight, what was dismissed as creative fiction by most has turned out to be rather prophetic. We now know that exactly 10 years after this movie was produced the NSA began its PRISM surveillance program. This program, with the cooperation of large telecommunications providers, enables the NSA to gather citizen data under the banner of public safety. Even the real life legislation (2007’s Protect America Act) that gave birth to the PRISM program sounds like the one in the film. We know all of this because one day after it was revealed that telecommunications giant Verizon Communications was turning over customer data to the NSA, contractor Edward Snowden went public with PRISM’s existence.

It turns out the most unrealistic aspect of the film was how efficiently the government could utilize the data in a meaningful way. It never ceases to amaze when a spy movie shows a bunch of MIT graduates surrounded by monitors while an emboldened supervisor barks things like “get me all the June security footage from the Starbucks on Poplar!” or “find out where that tunnel leads!” and it actually happens. I can tell you from experience that Starbucks does not keep security footage that long and even if they did it would take you two hours to find the proprietary codec to view it. As far as the tunnel goes, in all likelihood the only plans of the tunnel are hardcopies rotting away in an unfinished municipal basement. My favorite is when someone brings up a digital image comprised of a finite number of pixels and by yelling “ENHANCE!” suddenly we are presenting with a picture so clear we can remotely compare dental records.

There is a chance that I have dramatically underestimated our government’s ability to quickly integrate disparate data systems in a meaningful way, but if that is the case then someone owes this country’s veterans an apology. Since 2008, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs Department have spent over $1 Billion dollars trying to create a single records system that would contain all vital health records for soldiers and streamline the process of claims. Earlier this year, it was announced that they couldn’t create a separate system after all and would simply have to try integrating the two existing systems. If it takes us 5 years and one billion dollars to clarify what we can’t do, I would hate to see the budget and timeline for projects we can do.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I first wrote about Pastor Terry Jones in 2010 when he made news by planning to burn several copies of The Koran outside his Dove World Outreach Center in Florida. After fervent public opposition by then US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, Terry called off the event. Aside from a pro-George Zimmerman rally and a 2012 run for president, he has remained somewhat low key until a few days ago.

Jones was arrested on September 11, 2013 in Polk County Florida for unlawfully transporting fuel, openly carrying a firearm, and cited for improper lighting on his trailer. His pickup truck was towing a smoker and a trailer filled with 2,998 kerosene-soaked copies of the Koran that he planned to burn at a rally in Loyce E. Harpe Park (despite being denied the necessary permits by county officials). According to Pastor Terry, the number of Korans was significant as each copy represented “one of the victims, every person murdered by Islam” during the September 11th attacks. 

The number of Korans carried a poignant, but unintended, significance since it also included the 19 hijackers who perpetrated the attacks. While it is possible that Pastor Jones was subtly reminding us that everyone who lost their lives that day was a victim of barbarically-misguided religious interpretation, it is more likely that his kerosene budget dramatically eclipsed his research budget. His lack of attention to detail (or statistics) undermined the statement he thought he was making. Sixty of the victims of 9/11 were Muslims, ranging from a bank vice president with an office in the south tower to a man and his pregnant wife on board the flight that crashed into the north tower.
Essentially this means that, for a small percentage of the victims, Terry Jones wishes to honor their death by burning copies of the very religious text they adhered to while alive. It is this adversarial “us or them” tone that attempts to satisfy our desire to transform complex moral or political issues into Facebook memes. Our willingness and ability to engage in informed discourse concerning the threats and challenges facing our nation has and should continue to define us. I find it ironic that, in a period of history where anyone with an Internet connection can access unprecedented amounts of data, statistics, and information, most of us still form our opinions on current events by reading the included caption on a shared status update.   

When I visited the website for Pastor Terry’s organization I read through his cryptically-titled article “12 Reasons to Burn 2,998 Korans on September 11, 2013” where he presents his reasoning for the planned sacred-text flambe’. Among subtle entries like “Islam is the Devil” his list includes more nuanced critiques of the world’s second largest religion such as “Islam is political. Islam does not recognize the separation of religion and state”. This was an interesting justification to be championed by a minister funding a “political organization using the United States Constitution’s First Amendment right to stand against radical Islam and protest the moral decline of America.”

The “moral decline” he refers to apparently manifests itself in 6 specific ways:

  • Islam
  • The Gay-Lesbian Agenda
  • Abortion
  • Government Overspending
  • America’s slavery to the welfare state
  • Racism

The elimination of these scourges, along with the immediate legalization of industrial hemp, formed the basis of his shockingly-unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign platform.

While Terry has the right to publicly espouse his views (burn permits notwithstanding), perhaps he will realize that many of the “victims” he wishes to memorialize would be vehemently opposed to his tactics. Of course, kerosene is infinitely easier to acquire than perspective.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Online Game Ads

If you list yourself as “male” on Facebook you have probably been subjected to carnally-suggestive banner ads for online strategy games. While the games themselves differ a great deal, the marketing techniques do not. The basic framework for these banner ads is as follows:

1.      Must contain at least one illustration of an actual (or animated) woman displaying actual (or animated) cleavage
2.      Must allude to salacious content by referencing a minimum age or using terms like “Adults Only”.
3.      Must contain the words “play” and “now”
4.      Must link to an online recreational pursuit that is unlikely to bring the participant into contact with the actual (or animated) woman in the ad.

The first example is for a game called Pirates: Tides of Fortune, developed and marketed by a social gaming company called Plarium. Along with pirate strategy they also offer war strategy, new war strategy, economy strategy, nuclear strategy, farm strategy, and an obligatory online slot machine. The following ad popped up on my Facebook feed a few weeks ago:
As you can see, it features a comely animated lass who may have suffered a traumatic corneal injury. In bold letters we are told you must be a man over 18 to play. I assume that this is because women are psychologically unable to handle buccaneer-themed sexual innuendos as well as their male counterparts.  We are also reassured that they are peddling “The Most Addictive Pirate Strategy Game of 2013!” and while I have no doubt that must have been a tough category to dominate this year, I suspect the accolade may have been created for the product. This technique is not restricted to online swashbuckling strategy. I always enjoy when I see ad copy such as “Voted San Antonio’s Most Efficient Libertarian Vacuum Repair!” or “The Largest Selection of Discontinued Shoehorns in the Tri-State Area!”    

While “Pirates” may be the current favorite, it owes a sizable debt to Evony LLC who came under fire after launching the 2009 online campaign for their medieval civilization strategy game of the same name. Their ads featured increasingly lurid images of busty women who referred to male players as “My Lord” and invited would-be gamers to “play discreetly” in case they were concerned that someone might stumble into their mother’s basement unannounced. The company began by utilizing animated temptresses but eventually just started swiping pornography cover art. Not only were many of the ads denounces as blatantly sexist, many players were chagrined to discover that women pictured had nothing to do with the actual gameplay.

Their earliest ads featured an animated queen in period costume whose bosom appears to be under direct attack from a sword. The ad’s use of the “queen” designation implies some level of emotional and perhaps marital attachment:

In the next ad, your queen (although she is no longer designated as such) appears to have been liberated from both her captors and her inhibitions. Her expression is one of intense passion or carbon monoxide inhalation.

In the next ad, your endangered “queen” has been replaced by your endangered “lover” who is joined by her morally-pliable twin sister. Incidentally, it appears that the source of the carbon monoxide fumes has not yet been discovered.

In the next ad, they have abandoned any semblance of animation or period-accuracy. We are presented with a sultry blond whose role in your life is apparently so superficial she does not even qualify for the title of “lover”. The only thing that appears to be in danger now is the king’s pre-nup.

The Evony advertisements continue to digress until you are presented with a URL link disguised as a an actual pair of breasts. These ads are not limited to obscure PC gaming sites either. The following ad appeared under an article concerning 9/11 memorials on the Washington Times website:
As you can see, this ad features a well-endowed blonde woman whose outfit serves as a severally-overtaxed nipple retention system. In addition to that, the viewer is left to speculate on the suggestive positioning of her right hand (I choose to believe she is hiding her psoriasis). Clicking on the link brings one to the animated RPG game called Tynon where the object is to save the king from a Dark Wizard named Wyrm.Of course it is.

Marketing is a cut-throat business, but if it is a game market it as a game. I realize that targeted advertising is what allows companies like Google and Facebook to offer their services without charge, but is it too much to ask for a filter for online strategy game ads? Can I look at a news site without being subjected to an animated temptress with cleavage so disproportionate to her stature that it likely led to a slipped pixel in her lower back?