Saturday, January 28, 2012

Yo Ho! How the Entertainment Industry Forced Me into a Life of Piracy

I don’t watch a great deal of television, but I am devoted to the shows I do watch. I read articles on them, watch promos and behind-the-scenes footage, trade trivia with my friends, and generally mine them for every scrap of entertainment value I can get out of them. The problem is that I very rarely get to watch them as they are broadcast due to wrangling Cub and Kitten into bed, a process that eats up damn near all of Prime Time. “Well,” I think, looking at the clock, “they’re finally asleep, but The Mentalist is half-over already. Oh well, I’ll catch it online later.”

A day or three later, I open the laptop and browse over to CBS’s site. Oh look…they have full episodes for almost every show available for viewing online. Notice that I said “almost” every show? Yeah…they only have short clips of The Mentalist. So off I go to the torrent sites or link farms, where dozens of hosts provide the content I want to watch.

Even if the networks are posting episodes, some of them are adding hoops and hurdles to get to them. TNT has this bizarre partnership thing going on where you have to log in with your cable provider information. The problem is that they don’t list my provider, which is the second-largest cable provider in the country. I sent them an e-mail explaining that I am perfectly willing to sit through commercials in an online episode, therefore contributing to their advertising revenue, but no one ever responded. Oh well. Guess I’ll use one of the streaming sites I have bookmarked to watch Leverage without the commercials.

Contrast all of this with ABC, which posts the last five episodes of Grimm on their site. That gives me a month or more to catch up, which I happily do.

Then there are the shows from other countries. Apparently, no one at any cable company, network, or studio has caught on to the fact that the first two Ws in “www” stand for “World-Wide.” For example, a friend just turned me on to the show Lost Girl. The show is about a girl who discovers she is a succubus, and is introduced to the world of the Light and Dark Fae. Very much up my alley. It’s an original series from Canadian cable channel Showcase, but SyFy just started airing it in the US. Here’s the thing, though…why would I wait for SyFy to air the episodes when I know there are almost two complete seasons of the show already out there? I went to Showcase’s site, where they have most of the episodes posted, but I get a notice that I can’t access them since I’m in the US. Hellooooo, torrents. Once SyFy got distribution rights, they could have posted all of the episodes and added in their own commercials, but they aren’t even posting the episodes they’ve already aired.

And then the industry has the balls to complain about lost revenue? Hey, pals, you’re the ones with the outdated distribution method. If given the opportunity, I have no problems watching a show on your site, even with commercials. It allows you to keep your ad revenue (funding the shows I like), and gives you a more accurate count of viewers – rather than relying solely on the steam-powered Nielsen Rating system – which keeps my favorite shows on the air. I’d even pay to access an archive of past episodes if I’m a latecomer to a show that’s been on for multiple seasons, or you can keep licensing those to Netflix and I’ll catch them there. Just please, please realize that once a show has aired, it’s going to be available somewhere online within a couple of hours. You’re not going to be able to get that particular episode of I Dream of Jeannie back into the bottle, so you may as well put it on your site and retain some control. I think most folks are like me, and would watch it there as a way of supporting it. Stop relying on false data to support overreaching bills like SOPA and PIPA and change your business model. Of course, that would also mean you’d have to revamp your accounting system to reflect reality, and…wait…I think we may have found the problem.

As a consumer, here’s what I would go for: keep the current season of your shows available on your site. Either retain the commercials throughout each episode, or have one long one at the beginning as a special sponsorship. Archive past seasons, and ask viewers to pay a small fee to access them by season. It might be a good idea to widely distribute the pilot episode to try and draw in new viewers. Post it on YouTube or allow Netflix to stream it. And of course, keep it available on your site. Requiring a sign-up is pretty much expected anymore, but stop the weird third-party partnerships. If you want global distribution, make deals with channels in other countries to simultaneously host your content on their site with local commercials inserted. Enough with the “The US will get it first, Canada three months later, Europe nine weeks after that, etc.” Is there any rational reason for staggering distribution anymore? By the time BBC America or PBS get the new Sherlock episodes, I’ve already watched them online and have no incentive to tune into those channels (or their advertisers).

Yes, I’m selfish. Yes, I demand instant gratification. But I’m also willing to allow you to advertise to me, because I know that’s how these shows are funded. If I really like the show, I’ll even buy the DVD boxed set when the show wraps for all of the extras I mentioned in the first paragraph. Honestly, just make it easy to watch the show on my schedule.

Or I can buckle on my swash, don my parrot, and plunder it.

Your call.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ad Nauseum

The following is a summation of the types of Help Wanted ads I've been seeing. It's hard out here for a cat.

- Copywriter needed for large ad agency. Must have agency experience. (Repeat for every agency ad.)

- Technical writer wanted for local CMS provider. We’re not actually going to hire anyone; our CTO just wants to display a stack of résumés on his desk when our current writer comes in to ask for a raise.

- Marketing position available. Prospective candidates must complete an assignment for evaluation. This assignment is an actual order from one of our customers, and we will use your work without compensation or acknowledgement. In fact, our entire output is supplied by potential candidates, as we’ve been running this same ad since we opened and still haven’t hired anyone.

- IMMEDIATE OPENING! Ideal candidate will have 17 years’ experience in Marketing/Sales, a Masters degree in Graphic Design and/or Global Macroeconomics, know the function of every button in the entire Adobe product line, and be fluent in Spanish, Chinese, and Basque. Programming experience must include COBOL, C++, CSS, FORTRAN, UNIX, and SQL. Position entails meeting with clients, developing global campaigns utilizing Print, Radio, Television, and Social Media platforms, copywriting, layouts and coding for each, stuffing envelopes for Direct Mail campaigns, server maintenance (“Zero Downtime” is our motto!), as well as providing efficient and friendly 24/7 technical support on our phone bank and internet Help Desk.

This is an entry-level position. Minimum salary, with benefits to be awarded after one year of employment.

- We’re hiring! International Telecommunications company has immediate positions! We provide connectivity services and products to a world-wide client base, leveraging Cloud technology and telecom infrastructure to allow our clients to remotely connect all over the world! Our software enables Web conferencing, FTP data transfers, remote desktops/whiteboards allowing multiple inputs, easy file sharing, redundant backup, and onboard scheduling. Our customers can work from anywhere in the world without missing deadlines, meetings, or crucial project updates. Apply today! NO TELECOMMUTING.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Defense of Starship

Rolling Stone recently released a list of the ten worst hits of the 80s, and, once again, “We Built this City” took the top spot.

This annoys me.

Not because it’s the best song ever – it’s a fluffy little Pop tune, c’mon – but because it’s just another rehash of a 2004 list that defunct Blender Magazine threw together with no real criteria. It basically amounted to an editor asking folks “What songs annoy you?”, and then sorting the list based on how much he agreed with the answers.

A fun thing to do is to go through someone’s iPod and try and figure out what songs are on there ironically (unless it’s a Hipster’s mix tape, then they all are). I have “We Built this City” on my player, and it’s not ironic at all. I like the thing. It’s the typical lament of teenagers about being misunderstood and marginalized by the older generations, set to a catchy rhythm. To me, the whole thing is a complaint that the creative energy that fuels the younger generations is also the source of the innovation and advancement which “built this city”, but that it has been co-opted and exploited by the more conservative, faceless corporate community. And I think that no line – in this or any other song – better illustrates that than:

“Marconi plays the mambo”

I remember when I first heard the song; I was absolutely stunned by that implications of that line. That this 21-year-old Italian kid created a revolutionary, world-changing technology – just so he could dance.

I was fifteen, smack in the middle of my formative years, and that idea sparked a lifelong fascination with the intersection of Pop Culture and technology. I chased down bands that were integrating electronics into their styles (very easy to find in the 80s), sought out cutting edge fiction (leading to Cyberpunk, naturally), and read magazines like MONDO 2000 (when I could find them). Now, sites like Acceler8or, ThinkGeek, BoingBoing, and Wired are the windows through which we can watch the integration of technology and humanity. The question is: Are we, as people, becoming more machinelike? Or is the tech becoming more organic?


Scientists are even now experimenting with a fungus that changes colors as the basis of a memory-storage system, and thousands upon thousands of people are walking around with pacemakers or artificial limbs. I refer to my smart phone as my external brain – and I’m only half-kidding. You can get your pets (or your kids!) chipped so you can GPS them if they get lost, and Japan has built robots that acquire knowledge like children, learning from mistakes. Then there's this bit from today:

Conventional wisdom holds that porn is the driving force behind all technological leaps. As a species, we really like it, and are constantly looking for ways to deliver it faster and more realistically. The first fully-functional neural net/Waldo suit will be a sex toy, delivering perfect partners in perfect environments with perfect results every time.

The second one will be for dancing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Prep School

Well hello, world; long time no blog. I wish I could say I’ve been ignoring you because I’ve been doing all kinds of fantastically cool stuff, but that’d be a lie. If I had been doing all kinds of fantastically cool stuff, the blog wouldn’t have lay (laid? lain? fuck it) fallow lo these many months.

I am, however, doing some moderately neat stuff, so may as well share.

Everybody has their thing; that certain something that just trips their trigger. For me, it’s camping gadgets. If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I like thinking about survival situations. Psychologists would say that it’s a reaction to the somewhat adverse situation I am now in, but they’d be wrong. I’ve been fascinated by tiny useful things ever since I saw my first combination salt & pepper shaker in the Boy Scout section of my local Sears.

Oh yeah…I was a Scout. I took the “Be Prepared” motto to heart. I carry a Swiss Army knife, and have used it for something every day since I got it, no exaggeration. I like reading blogs, sites, and Instructables concerning gear and prep supplies, and I’m constantly tinkering with my kits. Hence, today’s blog.

September is National Preparedness Month, and I’m in the process of putting together the Winter supplies to supplement the usual kit I keep in the car. I’m also going camping in October, so I had to start gathering stuff for that. I found that I was duplicating items with each group I created, making them all bulkier than they needed to be. Redundancy is all well and good, but you don’t really need five knives. At least, that’s what I have to keep telling myself.

So I sat down and really gave some thought as to what survival-type situations we were likely to encounter, and to what severity. Our main threat is a power outage brought on by severe weather. Secondly, a stuck car – whether by weather or accident. A distant third is my getting lost on a day hike, and fourth is being in a public or business setting and need some quick repair.

Once I had these identified, I listed the supplies I would want for each situation, then categorized them as essential or as nice-to-have-if-it-fits. I leaned heavily on the Rule of Threes and the Ten Essentials, plus guides such as FEMA’s Emergency Kit Checklist. Once those lists were complete, I removed duplicate items, keeping them on the lowest tier I could (more on the tiers below).

With my lists in hand, I began assembling kits. I conceptualized them as part of a tier system, where the smallest kit fit into the next larger, which fit into the next larger, etc. The somewhat crappy photos below illustrate this concept.

So, first tier, the Urban Survival Kit. Small enough to fit into a suit coat pocket, with those odds and ends useful for temporary repairs to prevent permanent embarrassment.


In this kit, I have (left to right): rubber bands and two sizes of cord, matches, post-its and pencil, sewing kit, a pouch with single doses of common OTC medications, safety pins and buttons, sticks for collar stays or splints, toothpicks, nail clippers, several sizes of band-aids, and alcohol wipes. In the unlikely event this was the only kit available to me in an emergency, I could use the safety pins and cord as a fishing rig, light a fire using the alcohol wipes and toothpicks as tinder, and cook in the Altoids tin. Ridiculous? Sure. But I wouldn’t just give up, either.

The next kit I consider a bare-minimum “crap-I’m-going-to-have-to-spend-the-night-out-here” kit.

Here’s the case:


Here’s everything in it:


That may be a little hard to make out, so here’s the breakdown:


Leatherman multi-tool with bit-driver and precision screwdrivers.


Light carabiner, snaplock ring, 12” airplane cable keyring, small measuring tape.


Thermal blanket.


My favorite ring o’ gear: 6” airplane cable ring, mini LED light, tweezers, P-51 can opener, mini pry bar, magnesium fire striker, pocket scalpel, pocket saw, pea-less rescue whistle.


Flexible key ring, magnifying glass, knife sharpener, signal mirror, OTC meds & sucrose tablets, compass.

The Altoids tin from above fits in the front pocket with the compass and mirror.

And that case can, in turn, be tossed into:


which contains:


No individual pics on this one, so, from left to right:

Tarp, work gloves, towel, poncho, LED flashlight, change of clothes, tent stakes, rope, food pouch with tuna, breakfast mix, hot chocolate, oatmeal and a few other odds and ends, emergency candles, canteen, cook kit with spork, various plastic bags, Velcro strips, crank-powered flashlight, Boy Scout handbook for reference, bag of dryer lint for tinder, pack of cards, pencils and notecards (one pencil has several yards of duct tape wrapped around it). Not shown is the first aid kit and cleanup supplies that stay in the car full-time, which will also fit in the bag if they need to be carried out.

The tier beyond this one includes all of the standard camping gear – tents, gas cookers, sleeping bags, etc – which we could either use inside if we lost power, or throw in the car if we had to evacuate. I’m in the process of making personal backpack kits for each of the pride, so everyone has what they need for a few days, and we won’t have to worry about forgetting anything if we have to boogie out fast.

So there we are. I like being prepared and having cool gadgets. Obviously, I hope I’m carrying all this stuff around for no reason, but it’s one less thing we have to worry about in case something does happen. At the very least, it keeps me in the garage and out of Mrs. Cat’s hair, and that’s good, too.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Well, looks like we're both still here. Guess we're meant to be together or something.

Happy 19, Mrs. Cat.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I’ve been reading a lot of How-To and DIY sites lately, like Lifehacker and Instructables. I’ve always had a natural tendency toward being organized – approaching OCD levels in some circumstances – and I like finding new tips and tricks and gadgets to help streamline daily life.

The economy being the way it is, a lot of these articles involve repurposing things to solve specific problems without having to lay out a lot of cash. The folks at Lifehacker have a real fetish for binder clips, for example, using them for everything from cable management and cell phone holders to cuff links and tripod mounts. Occasionally, they even use them to hold sheets of paper together.

Generally, Instructables articles have titles like “How to turn an antique pipe organ into a Beowulf Cluster for $7” On reading that, I’ll think “Hey! I’d really like a Beowulf Cluster, and I can afford $7. I’ll check it out.” Then I find that the instructions run something like this:

Materials Required
Antique Pipe Organ
17 identical CPUs
Touch-Screen Monitor
3 spools, 12-gague wire (600’ ea)
6 large cooling fans
Uninterruptible Power Supply
2 power strips

My uncle is a preacher, and when he renovated his church, he gave me the old pipe organ. I took it to my father’s custom carpentry shop and used his tools to gut it. Some of the burled walnut panels were damaged, but I stumbled across an exact match in my dad’s scrap pile and was able to replace them. Since I work at a Dell assembly plant, I had access to a bunch of CPUs that were going to be trashed. While my brother the professional electrician wired everything together, I asked a friend to write a custom UNIX program to cluster the CPUs. I mounted a small touch-screen monitor I found at the bus stop onto the sheet music shelf and it fit perfectly! My brother made a bunch of switches out of some parts he already had, and wired these into the existing keys and foot pedals so I don’t even need a keyboard! One of the keys was sticking and needed to be replaced. Luckily, my grandfather was a big game hunter and had a ton of trophies in his basement. I used a Dremel to cut down an African elephant tusk into a replacement key. Once everything was wired up, we built a custom bench out of the backseat of a ’57 Plymouth Fury, which I found behind my refrigerator when we moved into our new house. We didn’t have quite enough outlets, so I ran down to my local hardware store and bought 2 new power strips.

Total cost: $7!!!!!!!omg!!!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Suddenly, bedtime!

I recently had a block of free time all to myself.

Finish the laundry
Fix the latch on the attic window
Wash the dishes
Pick up the toys
Go out for a good lunch and read
Change the water in the fishbowl
Get a haircut
See a movie
Catch up on writing projects

Ate an entire bag of Doritos while surfing YouTube

I could rationalize it and say that everyone deserves some “brain-in-neutral” downtime, but I really feel like an unproductive slug. I also have to add CLEAN DORITO SLUDGE OFF OF KEYBOARD/MOUSE to my list now.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Two-oh-double hockey sticks

There’s something cathartic about taking down the old calendar – overflowing with schedules, appointments, grocery lists, reminders and other scribbles – and putting up a new, blank one. The months stretch away, unfilled. There are no demands on our time yet, no urgent appointments circled in red, no bill due dates highlighted in yellow. The days are empty of everything but promise.

I’m looking forward to this year. To filling up that calendar not only with the minutia of daily life, but new opportunities and interesting projects. Because the Cats don’t make resolutions…we make schemes, plots, and machinations.

Happy New Year, y’all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Techno (Hallo)Weenie

Carved the punkins for the litter today. Despite my complete lack of dexterity with the knife (no opposable thumbs, remember), they turned out okay:


And here is our forward-thinking, environmentally-concious, high-tech, high-output, 21st-century, multi-hyphenated lighting system:


And the result:


Boo, y'all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Give them a Hand

"You never take me dancing," Mrs. Cat says.

"Who would you like to permanently alienate by asking them to watch the litter for a few hours?"

"Good point. Hmmm...we could dance here."

We look around at the swath of assorted kitty gear lurking on the floor, and envision crushed toys, twisted ankles, and broken furniture. "No," we say in unison.

"I have an idea," I offer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Write This Down

Well here it is, as promised: the collected wisdom of a marginally grouchy cat. I hope that you find it useful, and appreciate the hard-won nature of some of this advice.

NOTE: The following list has been edited for content, censored to protect the children, politically corrected to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, redacted for security purposes, trimmed to remove pirated copies, and formatted to fit your screen.

72. Sometimes it rains.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Feline Looks at Forty

Tomorrow, gentle readers, I will hit the four decade milestone. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been wondering what of my accumulated wisdom I would share.

Stop scoffing, Julie.

It seems to me that I should take the opportunity to offer the readers of my blog some sort of advice, as quite a few are younger, and may benefit from my experience.

Hush up, Linda.

It’s the least I can do, really. Rather than serve up whatever happens to be on my mind at the time, I should present a well-thought-out post towards a specific end.

Et tu, Mrs. Cat?

Here’s the deal:

In my 1,040 fortnights on this rock, I have lived in eleven cities (including an Indian Reservation) across four states. I’ve traveled through most of the US and visited six other countries, besides. I’ve been reading for 37 years – science fiction and fantasy, history and architecture, scholarly journals and entertainment rags, art and mythology, poetry and military strategy, classics and pulps. I have a huge music library and a Doctorate in pop culture. I’m educated – both formally and on my own. I’ve interviewed WW2 veterans and hung out with neo-hippies. I’ve worked for bootstrappy entrepreneurs and self-described Corporate animals. I am friends with people of opposite persuasions from me, and ask for their input. I’ve broken bones and come through without a scratch. I’ve gotten lucky and fallen on my face. I’ve won and lost, lost and found. I’ve blown the curve and blown the game. I’ve made people laugh, cry, pissed off, and horrified, and they have done it to me. I’ve lost fights. I’ve won fights. I’ve been tongue-tied and glib, reticent and prolix, brilliant and oh-so-stupid. I’ve broken laws. I’ve been published. I love technology and am afraid of spiders. I like to travel and stay at home. I’ve been a Boy Scout and a misanthrope. I write limericks, advertising copy, short stories, and collaborative fiction, but I can’t touch-type. I’m a father, husband, step-brother, brother-in-law, and an only child.

In short…I’ve been places, done things, and know stuff. Some of it I think is worth passing on. Stay tuned tomorrow for the accumulated wisdom of Sophistacat.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Our Kitchen is more Goth than Your Kitchen

When we moved back to North Carolina, we moved into my grandmother’s house since it was sitting empty – a target for Vandals and other Germanic tribes.

The house was built in 1947 – the first one on this street – and my family has been the only owner since it was built. Besides the architectural quirks you find in older houses, it was also decorated in Early Elderly. Not bad if you were born in 1913, as my grandmother was, but it’s a little staid for our wacky clowder o’ cats. With every room painted in shades of sage, butter, and white, we were craving some visual stimulation.

Hence our weekend project.

We started with our butter-colored metal pantry.

Mrs. Cat picked Cheerwine Red for the cabinet because hey…Cheerwine rocks. We also decided to do the doors in chalkboard paint so we could keep a running grocery list right there on the pantry. So…red cabinet and black doors.

We were originally going to leave the interior alone, but that was quickly abandoned when we saw what it looked like. So another paint run later and:

The handles really set the whole piece off. Great call, Mrs. Cat.

Here it is lurking in the kitchen.

We’re going to repaint the kitchen as soon as we can find a color scheme that works with the cabinet and won’t horrify potential buyers. I do know I want to do all the hardware in that same red. Maybe a 50s black and white scheme with the red as the accent color.

In the meantime, I’m off to get a case of TruBlood.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Read It or Beat It

I was driving home from work today when I was passed by one of our state’s mobile breathalyzer vehicles. I’d heard about them, but this was the first time I’d actually laid eyes on one. There are several that cruise around the state, assisting in checkpoints and high-profile operations around the holidays.

Of course, it was festooned with all manner of vinyl wraps and decals exhorting various highway safety campaign mottos: “Click It or Ticket”, “Booze It and Lose It”, “Cuff ‘Em and Stuff ‘Em”… uh… sorry, that last one was actually from “Dukes of Hazzard”.

As the bus passed me, I noted that the vehicle was officially known as the “Breath Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit." Of course I knew right away that everyone called them BATmobiles.

Here’s the logo:


Now, they’re obviously tapping into the whole Batman motif here, but I immediately thought of this logo:


Don’t recognize it? Here’s another version:


I chortled.

Just for fun, here’s a promotional piece/news story on the BATmobiles.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I turned on my MP3 player the other day and asked it to Shuffle the playlist. The first nine songs it returned were:

Hell - Squirrel Nut Zippers
Devils & Angels - Toby Lightman
Christian Woman - Type O Negative
Devil Woman - Cliff Richard
Kyrie - Mr. Mister
Son of a Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield
If You Wanna get to Heaven - Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones
Rock and Roll Heaven - Alan O'Day

That can't be random.

Now I'm frightened of the AI that controls my player, and I can't decide if it believes in Free Will or Predestination.

I'm just relieved that Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" didn't show up on the list, because I don't have a copy of that.

Maybe I shouldn't have bought the stupid thing at a crossroads.