Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Here One Minute Gone the Next

When I bought my condo three years ago one of the things the realtor mentioned to me was the fact that there was a potential parking problem in the complex. I already had my parking spot and at the time there were plenty of visitor spots. Over the course of three years, more and more people moved in and bought up those visitor spots converting them to reserved spots. In the first few years it was okay, people drove around the complex and got their spots. But as time has gone on, there are fewer visitor spots and no close havens exist where we can park our cars safely. What do I mean? Let me explain.

About a month ago our property manager sent out flyers and letters to all residents informing them of the plan to repave and repaint all the parking lots in phases. During this time, each phase would be unavailable for parking for a span of 24 hours. We were told that an office parking lot in close proximity was available for us to safely park our cars during this time. I came home the day my area was to be repaved and hoped against hope that perhaps I was early enough to nab one of the visitor spots around the complex. I was rather late in the day so as expected, I couldn't find one. I drove out of the complex and went off in search of the reserved temporary lot. To my chagrin, it was almost a mile away from home. Now I don't mind the walk, I am one of those guys who parks a bit away from the parking lot because the little bit extra walk is good for the heart. Or at least that's what they say.

So I walked home that evening, meeting a new neighbor and passing the time in conversation. The mile walk back home was rather quick seeing as how we were talking. The next morning I got up early since I would not be making the mile walk in my gym or running clothes but rather in my work clothes. So I walked out of the house in the pre-dawn hours and as I walked through the complex I saw that many people who came later on in the night had parked in fire lanes and in front of the dumpsters and everywhere else that could be illegal. I was rather surprised at that since we have signs all over whereby they state that towing is enforced. So off I went and that afternoon I was back in my usual spot.

Those that have been affected by the later phases figured that if one guy could get away with it then why not everyone else. The last two phases saw people parked anywhere and everywhere. Cars were parking in fire lanes, in front of the dumpsters, in front of hydrants. You name it there were cars there. As I came home I realized that there was a tow truck darting here and there. It wasn't until I went to take out the garbage that I realized that all the illegally parked cars within the complex were being towed. It seemed that the property managers had gotten complaints and the tow truck driver was doing his duty. He towed nearly 15 cars out of there within the span of two hours. A very profitable night so it would seem.

It's just a classic example of group think. You see one person doing something wrong or illegal and you think that perhaps it's bold. You see several doing it then you think it's a trend. If it seems that everyone is doing it then it's a norm. Every car that was illegally parked was either towed or ticketed. The towed folks were parked very illegally in clearly marked non-parkable spots. Those who chose to park along the main road (where parking again was illegal) were decorated with parking tickets this morning. As I drove off to go to work I realized, my experience during the paving was perhaps a bit tiring what with the walk home and to the car the next morning, but it was good for the heart, and for the wallet.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Eating is a Competitive Sport

I don’t know quite what to make of this latest trend. Apparently in the coming days there will be a competitive hamburger eating contest to be held by Krystal Co. of fast food restaurants down in the south. The defending champ, Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, set the record last year when he downed 67 burgers in eight minutes. Now I have always believed in enjoying the food you eat. Savor every bite; but apparently, those who chose to eat in the world of competitive eating, it is all about the quantity, not quality.

Competitive eating isn’t just a ‘sport’ held during fairs and carnivals anymore either. Gone are the days when a local champ was heralded for his culinary killing style and speed. These days there are organized circuits with regulations on safety and equity in these contests. This organization is by no means limited to domestic contests either; no, safety and rules are regulated by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFCE). Founded by Richard and George Shea in 1997, the Federation regulates all internationally recognized competitive eating contests.

The unfortunate thing is that by hyping this type of contest to this level is that kids, who are often impressionable, may find this to be a cool thing. If one is to stop and think about it, what is there to prevent a kid from wanting to enter this circuit? Football players put their health on the line every game, other athletes sacrifice so much to remain in top physical shape in order to have the endurance and strength to win. Competitive eaters? Well, I guess they have to sacrifice tailored pants for pants with elastic in the waistband. How else can they eat so many hot dogs, hamburgers, slices of pizza or what have you?

While the trend isn’t something that is ‘sweeping the nation’ as yet, the fact that things are reaching the point where we have international bodies regulating the rules in these contests signals that things will continue to escalate. It may not be much longer before we start seeing contrasting shows on rival networks. On one channel will be shows on who can lose the most weight while on a competing network we’ll see a show where the competition is to see who can gain the most. And anyone who has ever worked out with the goal of losing weight will tell you, it’s far easier to gain than to lose.


Friday, October 27, 2006

A Starbucks for Every Man, Woman and Child

My brother will likely snicker at today's topic since he says that when I don't have a firm topic in mind, I usually go back to blogging about coffee and Starbucks. Well, it's not so much that I don't have anything to blog about as much as this latest bit of news from the world of Starbucks Coffee is just too much to ignore. Virtually every corner of America has at least one Starbucks and very quickly, every country in the world is getting one too. It makes sense. Given the fact that the world is shrinking in size and that people are travelling all over the world, it becomes so much easier to see new places. But when travelling, there is that need to have something that reminds you of home. Apparently Starbucks wasn't content to let McDonald's fill that need so they are also determined to open 40,000 new stores across the globe.

Now there's nothing too extraordinary about that in and of itself, but if you look at certain markets, you would think that they were at their saturation point already. Apparently that's not the case. In places like Washington, DC you can't go more than a block it seems without running into a Starbucks. The immediate question that comes up is why would you build so many in such close proximity. The higher-ups at Starbucks believe it is because they know people are impatient. People are impatient and because of that they hate to wait for coffee which is more of a luxury item (and at current prices... it is definitely a luxury). Making people wait gives them time to rethink their decision and if they realize that they are simply waiting for coffee they may not stick around.

The choice then is to offer up more locations. Why walk across the street when there's a Starbucks in the building already. If you're working on the 50th floor, why ride the elevator to the ground floor when there's one on the 40th floor? Why wait behind three people when the location next door only has one? I went to the Tysons Corner Center mall the other day and I realized that there was a new Starbucks there. It was no more than 200 yards from the older, original mall location but it there it is. It's probably a good thing. During Christmas, everyone needs a jolt of java and waiting in line with your arms laden with Christmas presents can be aggravating. At least this may alleviate some of the waiting.

If this trend continues, and in all likelihood it will, then soon enough there will be Starbucks for every man, woman and child in the country. I don't know what the current ratio of Starbucks to people is, but I am reasonably sure that in places like Vienna, Virginia, it must be around 1 Starbucks for every 5 people. As I've said before, you can go from Vienna to Route 66, a length of 5 miles or so by going from Starbucks to Starbucks. No need to go without your java is there? I can't wait until the open one in my kitchen; but then again, I don't want to stagger that far in the morning. Perhaps I can complain and then they'll open one in the bedroom!


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Political Boxing

It must be getting close to November because the race to win the hearts and minds of voters is getting tense and the political bantering and posturing is reaching epic levels. For those of us lucky (or unlucky based on your perspective) enough to live in Washington, we are exposed to much more polictal action than the average American. As such, nearly every scandal, political faux pas, misinterpreted quote, ill-timed laugh, ill-conceived statement, or anything else that can make or break a political career is brought to the public forefront more than at any other time during the year.

This year is particularly important for the Democrats in that they are currently riding a high due to the fact that they can say honestly that they have not had control of the White House or in Congress for the past few years and so if the public is dissatisfied with what is going on, it is because of the current leadership. They 'humbly' promote themselves as the preferred alternative and choose to make everyone aware of that fact as well. Thus begins the type of arguements that you would think would be left behind after elementary school. But apparently not. Some of these politicians have gone to the best schools in the country. They have millions of dollars at their disposal and they have staffs that rival many corporations. In spite of all of this, the days leading up to elections often degenerate into recess-time brawls with verbal sparring hitting high gear.

Check out any political ad and you'll see just how much dirt the opposition can pull on their opponents. There will be dark and sinister music, accusations backed by pertinent newspaper articles or citations (not necessarily in the APA style). There will be unflattering images or moments that will make the candidate appear to be a bumbling fool or a liar. And in the end, they will leave the viewer with the impression that to vote for this person would be a mistake and a waste. Five minutes later it seems we see the opponent's ad come up to refute everything the previous ad had to say and tosses the accusations back to the other guy. It becomes like a advertising tennis match.

So much attention is paid to exactly what is being said, how it is being said and why it is being said, that I'm sure high school English teachers and political science teachers are having a field day with their students. The latest round of semantics examination is being done on the phrase, "stay the course." I am no student of English though I like to think I have a fairly decent command of the English language. To me, 'stay the course' means to remain steady and confident in the course of action we're taking. To me it means not to stray or change our direction. Apparently that's not what it means at all. To hear the spin doctors and pundits out there, it means to adapt and change as necessary. So then can't we say we should "ride the course" as opposed to "stay the course?"

I'm not here to support one candidate or the other; nor am I hear to bash any particular party and say that one is better than the other. All I can do is express my opinion and in some ways I think it is the opinion of a lot of people out there and that is to hope that whoever is ultimately chosen for whatever position, they take the position and seek to use it honestly and for the betterment of the country. Politicians for centuries have made empty promises regarding their plans for the first days in office. They have said anything and everything in the hopes of convincing the people of their resolve. Over the last few years the world here has changed. Terrorism is not something that happens in other countries, it's affected us here as well and as such we look to leaders who will instill a sense of security and confidence in us. Unfortunately, when we see leaders acting like children and resorting to name calling it makes me wonder just how safe we can be.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Color Coding Your Kids

I was a senior in high school when they began the whole procedure of having students wearing ID badges to differentiate students from unauthorized people in the building. This was prior to the events at Columbine High School when school security was important but not as important as it had become. Having worked numerous summer jobs on controlled access facilities, I was used to wearing an ID badge around. There was some reluctance on the part of many students to wearing one simply because they could help identify you as a freshman, senior or what have you. That was of particular concern when you were looking to avoid another wedgie. Not a problem for all people but for some of us it was.

After Columbine school security took on a decidedly serious tone and student ID badges were not an option, they were a requirement. Although most ID badges have been turned generic to avoid the stigma of being a freshman or whatever, teachers at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland hit on what must have seemed like a brilliant idea at the time but turned out to be a major faux pas. Blair High School is one of the most well reputed schools in Maryland. They have major programs and activities that have made already bright students among the brightest graduating from schools today. So it was with a bit of surprise when I heard that the Principal of the school had decided to color code his students.

Now before you get into a tizzy about what this means, let me give a bit of background. As I said, there are many programs at the school and the idea behind it was to color code each of these programs so that faculty and students could easily identify others in their program. In addition, most grade levels had a specific color code as well. In the military most units have a certain sense of pride being associated with their unit; take this up a notch and you'll see that this extends to their branch of service as well. Take a look at any stadium during a game and you'll see thousands of fans also dressed up in the regalia of their favorite team or player. This sort of color coding is helpful. In the case of the students it is helping exacerbate a pre-existing problem.

Most of us who went to high school here can probably remember being teased for being associated with certain clubs. And even if we didn't get teased ourselves we knew of others who were. I'm sure there are members of the Audio/Visual Club who are still nursing the scars from all those years ago. As it is there are already divisions among high school students, I don't get why the Principal would want to create more. If the purpose was to create pride in the individual programs then that's fine but color coding is far too much like segregation for a lot of people. I'm sure that wasn't the intent when the plan was proposed but I'm curious just how much discussion was held on this before it was put into action. I'm sure the concern would have come up ahead of time if it had been. It's unfortunate that we live in an age where such efforts can be easily misinterpreted but this is the way it is, so we all should take steps to avoid making such situations even worse!


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stagecraft: From Script to Stage - Volume V

This will be a continuing series of blogs that will cover the development of the play I am working on. Inspired by the Production Diaries and Behind-the-Scenes videos on newer DVDs, I have decided to showcase some of the drama behind the dramas that are put up on stage.

For months the cast and crew has been working hard on getting things ready for the performance. It seemed that October was a long way away and that we had plenty of time before our first performance. But October has come and is already standing with one foot out the door. This past weekend was the first performance of the play up in Rockville and it was met with a lot of praise. For me personally it was a great sense of fulfillment having worked for so long on seeing this drama come to life. At one point it seemed that October couldn't get here fast enough, but now that the first performance is over there is a bit of sadness in that the fun that is always associated with a project such as this is partly over.

The weekend started for me on Friday night when the cast and crew gathered for a final rehearsal. Seeing as how it was Diwali that Saturday we had a bit of a celebration for that before heading down and doing the rehearsal. Everyone was relaxed and the rehearsal went off pretty well. Saturday morning started early as my brother and I picked up the cargo van to carry all our supplies to and from the theatre. We went to Virginia to pick up the sets we had constructed some weeks back. We then came back to Maryland and kept everything as ready as we could.

Sunday, the day of the performance, was busier still. We began early again by packing up whatever remained at the house and getting to the theatre around 11:00. Unloading everything we began assembly on the stage panels and arranging the furniture. Having never had a technical rehearsal we gave the technical crew some extra time to get their cues and their levels set. The cast and other production members began arriving and slowly all the preparation came together. There are so many details that need to be covered and with this being a volunteer group, we all do as much as we can to cover everyone else.

Props set, sounds ready, lights on, actors standing-by, video camera rolling and make-up finally touched up, we were all set to go. The performance went off well. I was on pins and needles the entire time. Although the audience may not notice little glitches here and there, having worked on this thing for months now, I could pick up the little things. I watched the audience though and I could hear the laughter and their involvement in the events on stage and I was proud to hear that they were applauding. It was a testament to the hardwork that the entire team had put in to helping me make this project come together.

I was quite proud to have my parents and my brother there with me. My brother made the trip all the way from California for this weekend. I was happy he could be there. There is still one more show to go. That means there's one more day to have that nervous anticipation of seeing the project come together on the day of the performance; a handful of more rehearsals to coordinate and attend and few more times to get together with a group of people who have become very close friends over the course of these past months during rehearsal. It's been a very memorable experience and I know I have learned a lot from it.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Beware the Worm in Your Apple

Apple announced a two days ago that they had discovered a virus within their latest batch of iPods. Apparently during the testing phase, the virus was downloaded onto the iPods and will remain dormant until an unsuspecting user attempts to download music to the player. In that case, the user will just as unsuspectingly upload the virus to his home system. Apple immediately took actions to remedy the situation and informed customers via their website and the iTunes website. Of course, they also threw in a bit of jibe at Microsoft and Windows as well. According to the statement, "As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it."

As you might imagine, this has stirred up some ill will between the two companies. It's no secret of the long-standing rivalry between the two competing companies. For years, Microsoft has retained the edge simply because their Window platform has been at the forefront of PC operating systems. Although Apple probably has a much more stable platform, it's unusual designs and very closed architecture have made for a safe product but not a very accessible one. I have had limited experience with Apple having used Macs in high school during shop and such to work on architectural designs. My brother uses one quite extensively for his film editting work. They have made inroads as far as such specializations go, but outside the industry, Macs aren't all that common.

The iPod line of products was a major breakthrough for Apple. They finally came up with a product that appealed to a lot of people and was simple enough to use. Granted, there have been other MP3 players before and after the iPod hit the scene but none of them has come close to rivaling the iPod in terms of sales. Apple had a choice when they rolled out the iPod. They could have chosen to make the iPod compatible only with Apple products or they could have made it work with both Apple and Windows. Seeing as how Windows is the dominant operating system on the market, they decided to go the dual route. This has likely boosted sales higher than ever before.

Sure they could have made the iPod an Apple exclusive product but what would the logic of that have been? If you choose to focus on a close market that way, you have to make sure that the market exists in numbers that justify the exclusion of other operating systems. In this case, Apple has not saturated the market as much as Windows has so it only makes sense for them to try and make strange bedfellows. Like it or not, the majority of people out there are not tech savvy. In the early days of CD-ROM drives we had people think they were built in cup holders. We have people who open virus files intentionally because they, "wanted to see what a worm looks like." Needless to say, by the time you explain it to them it's too late to do anything to prevent the worm from spreading.

Apple made it easy for users of both Macs and Windows to use the iPod. The operation of it could not be simpler and as a result, Apple has managed to turn itself around big time. They continue to saturate the market with the iPod. The next time you go into any gym, check out the number of iPods that you see, you'll be surprised. They definitely have an edge on the market but they can't risk alienating the Windows market. It still is the dominant operating system and if Apple continues to have problems, they will be out on a limb when Microsoft rolls out their own rival MP3 player. Undoubtedly it will have the same functionality as an iPod but probably even more. In spite of being such a non-tech-savy crowd, the majority of us out there are always on the lookout for the latest gadget. Windows worm or not, don't bite the hand that is helping feed you, even if you are an Apple.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tag! You're Not It

I remember that recess was one of my favorite times of day in elementary school. For six years there was that half hour respite from the daily grind of sitting and learning. For half an hour we could be kids and we could go out and do what we wanted. Within reason of course. Some of my favorite activities were dodgeball and kickball. I used to play these two games all the time. Despite not being the biggest kid or the strongest, I always used to take part in the game. I was never singled out for my lack of skills or my size but I tried to be as competitive as I could. And believe me, being one of the small kids in school, I was often the target of bullies or others who thought my smaller stature was a ticket to torment. Not so. I was quite the aggressive guy and I would go after those who thought that they could get away with bothering me.

Some of these lessons were learned on the dodgeball courts but the main lesson learned was to have fun. After I went to middle school and high school, recess became a thing of the past and the only activity that we had was if we took gym class. Gym wasn't quite the same as recess as it was for a grade. It was still fun but there was that little voice in the back of your head that told you that this was for a grade, so goofing off wasn't an option. But it was all in fun. These days it seems that there is no happy median for kids. I've seen the schedules for some of my cousins and their kids, basically schools are so full or so intent on getting as much into the day in terms of academics and there are so many kids in the school that first lunch is often held as early at 10:30 or 11:00. Recess has therefore been cut down to only 15 minute or not even that much. In some schools it's been eliminated completely.

As it is we're complaining about kids becoming obese at a young age; this whole reduction of recess thing is not helping matters any. Neither are some of the latest moves being made in places like Attleboro, Massachusetts. It seems that the principle at one school has decided to eliminate the game of tag from the school on the grounds that it forces confrontation and can cause rivalries and division. In this same school district a couple of years ago, dodgeball was eliminated due to similar concerns. Now this seems a bit silly to me. Sure we dont' want to foster feelings of defeat in young kids, it's not good for them. But this whole system of trying to shield kids from physical contact, physical sports or anything remotely physical seems to be helping create a generation of wusses.

Competitive sports are important to kids. I have seen so many kids lately who think that winning is the only way. They have been groomed to think that no matter what happens, they will come in first or nothing else will matter. Forget schools, even kids who play sports as extracurricular activities are being pigeonholed into thinking that winning is the only answer. As a result, so many of them don't know what to do or how to feel if they don't come in first place. It's frustrating for them, it's an alien concept and it's not good. I know that there are probably some people out there who think that I never got any higher than second place, that I never won anything or that I wasn't a sportsman. That would be a logical assumption given my previous statements but it's not true. I have won competitions, and I have won in sports. I have lost just as often. But each experience has taught me how to deal with that adversity and I feel it's made me a better person.

If we constantly seek to shield our kids from even the spectre of defeat, we are going to have tougher times ahead. These kids are going to be the leaders of our nation someday. If all they know is 'win win win' then what will happen when they don't? And believe me, it could happen. Encourage competition, keep it friendly and help kids deal with trying their best. I've been to many martial arts tournaments over the years and it's frustrating to see parents exhort their kids to win at all costs; and when they don't, grudgingly attempt to console their kids. By eliminating tag and dodgeball we help keep kids from hurting one another, creating bullying situations or making some feel left out. But we also ensure that any form of physical contact becomes something bad too.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Careful What You Say

I can peg myself as an old man now. I often find myself saying things like, "I remember when..." or "back in my day..." and prior to finishing the thought, I realize that time is moving on and I am moving right along with it. I see my little cousins going to school and all of them have so many activities that never seemed to be around when I was in school. I remember back when I was in the first grade, my elementary school got their first computer. It was one of those IBM machines that are probably sitting in some museum now. A mouse was still just an animal and not used to control anything. A keyboard was there of course but there was no Windows function key. Heck, there was no Windows. I was living in the age of DOS at the time. I was so excited about the computer and how it seemed to be a window into helping with homework or at least having something to play games on.

Thinking back on it it's rather funny. One computer for an entire school. As time went on we got more and more. We got to have classes in using the computer and such. I had an advantage in that my dad was always into computers despite being a civil engineer. He taught himself programming and wrote programs and games and all manner of activities. As a result, my brother and I were exposed to using the computer from an early age. I remember I was the envy of the class when I submitted one of my reports with printed pages as opposed to hand written pages. These days it's like light years ahead of where I was back then. You have classrooms where students use their laptops to take notes and do instantaneous research.

Students use the internet on a regular basis to conduct research and gather information. They also use it to keep in touch with friends. The veritable explosion of sites such as MySpace, Orkut and so many others has made it possible to claim your own space on the internet and declare it your own. What this tends to do though is make people forget just how widespread the internet is and how easy it is to find something or someone. There are a lot of people out there, myself included at one point in time, that think that whatever we write or feel may be posted on the internet, but not all that many people, other than those who care, will even know it's out there. While in a sense that it true, but it's strange how people can find you. I did a blog on Volkswagen's "Low Ego Emission" ads and I got a ton of visitors. Some read the one blog and moved on but others stayed. Still others keep coming back.

You never know what might lead someone to where you are so we have to be careful what we say. Fourteen year-old Julia Wilson of Sacramento found out the hard way. Frustrated at the situation in Iraq, the 14-year-old high school freshman posted a picture of President Bush with the caption "Kill Bush" on it. Unfortunately her Civics class had not discussed Federal crimes until the day after she posted the picture. She pulled it offline almost immediately but within 24 hours, the Secret Service was at her school interrogating her regarding her 'threat' to the President. The whole situation was eventually resolved but it points to the fact that no matter what we say in our own little corner, it's all in one big room and if you look hard enough, you'll find whatever it is you're looking for.

Now what Julia Wilson did is against the law and the Secret Service were within their authority to come and question her, however to think that a 14-year-old girl is going to get anywhere near the President is perposterous. In this 'age of terrorism' it is necessary to take precautions but to not allow her parents to be present at the time was a bad move on their part. No one can accuse the Secret Service of dragging their heels on this investigation. I have a friend whose job it is to look for fraud cases on the internet. These include online pharmacies that charge an arm and a leg for sugar pills made to look like the actual medications. Some of the stories that she tells of what she runs across are boggling to the mind. I'm content to remain in my spot on the internet and quietly mind my own business. Of course, now that the words, "Kill Bush," "secret service" and "federal" are found on my blog within close proximity, I'm sure I'll get some governmental visitors too... hopefully no interrogations though!


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stagecraft: From Script to Stage - Volume IV

This will be a continuing series of blogs that will cover the development of the play I am working on. Inspired by the Production Diaries and Behind-the-Scenes videos on newer DVDs, I have decided to showcase some of the drama behind the dramas that are put up on stage.

So after another long delay I post another of the volumes of this series on directing a play. I last posted in August when the cast and I began the actual blocking of the movements on our temporary stage in the basement of my parent's house. Unlike many professional groups, we don't have a dedicated theatre for rehearsals and we often are left to the basement of some kind volunteer's home. My parents have hosted rehearsals several times in the past and as always they were most accomodating to having their home invaded by all of us several times a week.

Now we are in the last week of rehearsals before we finally go on stage for an audience. Normally we have one day of dress rehearsal in which we work out the last kinks in the process. This includes any problems we have from the technical side. Not having rehearsals in the actual theatre means that the technical crew, namely the light and sound personnel, cannot get an idea of what they will have to work with at the theatre. Due to the number of activities going on these days, especially around this time of year, theatres simply aren't available. As a result, we were unable to secure a date for the dress rehearsal. So we did the next best thing and had everyone dressed up in their various costumes this past weekend.

We had made small nooks in the basement where the cast could change costumes in relative privacy. And despite having only one 'dressing room' the cast did well and were able to make their changes relatively quickly. Likewise, the sound and light team ran through their cues verbally and have gotten comfortable with their parts. Watching it all from a distance, you tend to get an appreciation of what a fine balance there is in any such production. The key factor is having a team that you can rely on.

I have been lucky in that I have a team that has worked very hard with me and for me. Being a first time director I was worried about how the whole thing would come together; but my fears have been put aside. Slowly but surely the production is coming together. The commercial has been airing every weekend; the flyers have long since been mailed; and the ticket sales are underway. We have a handful of rehearsals this week and then we shall hit the stage bright and early on Sunday. There is a sense of excitement building as we get closer. Seeing something I have been working on for more than a year will be quite fulfilling.


Monday, October 16, 2006

'Tis the Season

Ah the holiday shopping season is upon us. I know it's only the second week of October and we still have to get through high calorie holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving but still, go to many stores and you'll already see Christmas lights and big red bows beginning to adorn things. There was a radio station in DC that began playing Christmas carols 24 hours a day beginning on October 1st a few years ago. Needless to say, by the time the holiday season rolled around, people had had enough carols. You can also be assured that the person behind that brilliant decision quickly saw the error in that choice and didn't repeat it after that. But you can also tell that it is getting close to the holiday shopping season because many companies are starting to roll out their 'hot-ticket' gift items for the year already. I remember around this time last year was when the hype for the eagerly awaited XBox 360 was beginning to build. There had been long competition between the XBox and the Playstation 2 (PS2) which helped fuel the rivalry between the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3 (PS3). However, as the release dates neared, some interesting events took place.

Right around the time that retailers were beginning to take pre-orders from consumers, Sony announced that the PS3 would be delayed for some time. That time ended up being nearly a year. In the meantime, Microsoft readied to release the 360 on an eager consumer base. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to estimate the demand all that well. You see, even though many consumers put down deposits on the game system which guaranteed consumers a game system; it didn't guarantee them that they would receive it on the actual release date. As a result, on the actual release day, many stores had dozens of pre-orders and only a handful to actually sell.

I can remember watching on the news as irate customers cursed and cussed out store employees for this chicanery. I felt rather sorry for the employees simply because they didn't control the production of the system. Had it been in their hands after the verbal abuse many of them endured, there probably would have been enough 360's for every man, woman and child in America. Sadly, that was not the case. For months after the launch date, stores received their shipments a dozen or so at a time. It took months for the pre-orders to be filled and as a result, it took even longer for the system to actually hit the shelves for the average Joe consumer. Why did that happen?

According to Microsoft, they did admit that they didn't anticipate such high demand for the system and was ill prepared to answer the onslaught of irate customers. However, they were in the unique situation that they were in a monopoly as far as new gaming systems were concerned. Although the features on the 360 were a notch below what was anticipated with the PS3, the 360 ended up coming out on top since it was released on time. Knowing that there was demand out there and knowing that many more people wanted to get their hands on the system and seeing as how we were getting close to Christmas 2005, Microsoft did the only logical thing. They continued limited production.

A result of this was that customers still couldn't get their hands on the system. Those who were lucky or slick enough to get their hands on one found they could make twice the amount on eBay by selling it. With a bit of patience, they could eventually get their 360 for about the same amount and still earn a profit. People were shelling out top dollar to get one and a few short weeks later, you could literally walk into any store and get your hands on one. Now here we are almost a year later and Sony is finally on the ball. They still haven't learned lessons from Microsoft though. Word leaking out from retailers is that they will only accept limited numbers of pre-orders and even then it doesn't guarantee you a PS3. It does guarantee you a slip of paper and a promise that you will eventually get your system. Hmmm... anyone want to give me a hundred bucks? I'll give you a slip of paper too!

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Tower Falls

"The fat lady has sung.... and she was off key," or so Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, said in an e-mail to his employees across the nation earlier this week. It came on the heels of the announcement that the record store chain was closing its doors for good after declaring bankruptcy again back in August and a continued slowdown in sales. As of the end of the year, all 89 locations across the nation will be closing their doors for good and the record store landscape will no longer have bright red and yellow bags being toted here and there.

I feel sad since Tower Records was one of the spots my brother and I would make at least once a summer. We lived far enough away from the one in Rockville to make it an occasional trip. We would load up every time we did go thanks to the wealth of CDs and genres available at the store. As a classical music and soundtrack fiend, I was overjoyed at the abundance of selections that they had at the store. After moving out, I moved to Tysons where I was within walking distance and my parents moved to within a ten minute drive of the Rockville location.

Although my brother and I didn't go on those occasional splurging trips, we made numerous shorter trips during which we would pick up a few things here and there. For fans of musical soundtracks and the like, Tower was a great place because it carried such a wide variety of selections, you could almost be assured that whatever title you might be looking for could be there; and if it wasn't they'd be able to get it for you in short order. They had tons of foreign releases too. On occasion I do listen to non-soundtracks and it was great to find some rare albums by artists I am somewhat fanatical about. In all, there were very few times when I walked out of Tower Records disappointed.

Then the iPod came around. The iPod really changed the face of music and although Apple hasn't had any major successes within the realm of general personal computing, the iPod is probably the one thing that has generated more money for the company than anything else. Almost overnight, the MP3 industry went from being the realm of nerds to the realm of anyone who liked music. There had been long-standing debates over the legality of 'ripping' music and putting it on the internet but it had never really completely died away. Suddenly everyone was looking to get in on the fun and record labels, artists and online retailers were struggling to catch up.

Why shell out $15 for a new album when you can download the songs you want for less than that? Why carry around tons of CDs when you can carry around just as much music, if not more, on something no larger than a Zippo lighter? Within a short time, it was as if no one needed to buy CDs anymore. For a company that specialized in selling CDs, that was a bit hard to deal with. Tower Records tried valiantly. They offered similar services, and promoted internet sales too. But with the sudden surge in sales at bulk retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, it became more difficult to keep up with the industry and sales began to falter. This latest bankruptcy filing was a delaying tactic.

There was hope that someone would purchase the company before and keep it afloat through the upcoming holiday shopping season; typically the store's best time of year. Unfortunately that's not the case. It seems that by the end of the year, we will no longer see Tower Records anywhere and their large stores will stand empty. It makes me sad in a way because I begin to wonder, how much longer it will be before we stop seeing CDs all together. I plan on making a few last runs to the store, for old times sake.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Know Thy Enemy

Clint Eastwood is quietly preparing to release his latest film, "Flags of Our Fathers" onto movie screens on October 20th. The film tells the story of the brave men who fought the battle of Iwo Jima and went on create one of the most enduring images of the war. I say quietly because so far the media campaign surrounding this film has been rather quiet considering the fact that it is a Clint Eastwood movie and the fact that several of Clint Eastwood's last movies have gone on to win Oscars. The early buzz on this film is much the same, that there is definitely a chance for this film to do well at the Oscars again. Thus, it's rather surprising that the media campaign for this film is so... subdued. It's even more surprising that there is no mention of the fact that this film is only part of the story. Concurrently there is another film being made which will tell the story from the Japanese perspective.

Some may ask what is so unique about this? Many movies have filmed two parts concurrently in the past. The most recent, and probably most well known being the "Lord of the Rings" movies. What makes this film stand out for me is what Clint Eastwood and company are attempting to do. I have long been a World War II buff as are most males (or so it seems) and as such I have tried to absorb as much material as I can on the subject. I've read countless books, seen countless documentaries and seen a whole slew of movies in an effort to gain a better understanding of the conflict that helped shape the world for the remainder of the twentieth century and beyond.

Watch any of the movies from the 1950's onward on the subject and it classically portrayed the Allies in the most heroic light possible. And why shouldn't they? They were heroes, one and all and they served their cause bravely and valiantly. But what about the other side? Were they all totally evil? In a manner of speaking, they were. They were opposed to our point of view so they had to be evil right? But was this really the case? For years, there was never any attempt to show the perspective of the losing side with any degree of realism. Often times, the enemies in these and more modern conflicts were shown in the stereotypical light. It made it easier to hate them and root for the bad guys.

But the latest trend in movies appears to be softening that image. Eastwood's companion film to "Flags of Our Fathers" attempts to show the Japanese perspective on things. And from the sound of it, it is attempting to bring truth to the image of the Japanese in the war. Both sides had their fanatics to be sure. Neither side could claim to be completely right in their cause. Whatever it was they fought for, it was something they believed in. Does that make it evil? In the American Civil War, the south was always portrayed as being for slavery and oppression. While this is true, it wasn't the only motivation for the war and their eventual sessesion from the Union. The movie "Gods and Generals" attempted to show the perspective of the Confederate cause and it was met with a great deal of resistance. People complained that it portrayed the Southerners in a sympathetic light.

It stunned me to think that people, American people, did not want to see the perspective of those with a slightly opposing point of view. Did it mean that people would suddenly rise up in rebellion again at seeing the film? Perhaps or perhaps not, but why not show it? Similarly, the German film "Downfall" portrays Hitler's last days in his bunker. The film is brilliantly acted and attempts to show a purely German perspective on the end of the war. Again there was an outcry from those who felt this would bring increased sympathy to the Nazi cause.

These types of arguements leave me puzzled. I agree that what these sides did was not for the best and that it is good that these points of view were defeated. But I also think it's important to understand what motivated it. There's an old saying which says that, 'those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.' That is never more true than today. No matter what part of the world we are in conflict in, it is important to understand our enemy and understand what motivates them. By doing so, it may help us find a solution to the problem that will cost us less than the continued loss of our brave men and women in uniform. You may not agree with the point of view, but at least you will understand why it was there in the first place and you will solidify what it is you object to in the first place.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Ultimate Answer for Road Rage

Stephen Ellison of England found a unique solution to containing his road rage and dissuading other drivers from slinging it in his direction as well. He bought a used 1974 Sabre Light Reconnaisance Tank as his vehicle of choice for those trips to the shopping mall. The tank which originally cost £500,000 was sold to Ellison by a surplus dealer for approximately £14,000. The tank, once used in Kosovo, was in storage from 1974 to 1995 as a reserve piece of equipment, then in 1995 it was briefly used in Kosovo before being returned to England and refurbished for road usage.

Now some may wonder about the sanity of a man who would purchase a tank as a daily commuter but I ask you to take a look at some of the vehicles out on the roads today. I mean, sure my car is a sports car that is low to the ground an all, but I feel downright miniscule whenever I'm passed by a hulking Hummer or Escalade. Next to that, a Sabre tank probably isn't all that bad a vehicle to have anyways. It runs on regular unleaded fuel and although it costs about £300 to fill it's tank, as a short distance commuter it's not bad.

Thinking about it I could see it being of use in my neighborhood. My neighbor who parks next to me has a huge SUV. One of those seven passenger deals which seems more apt to drive around a Presidential security group rather than just one person. Next to it I often feel like I'm lying on the ground. Still and all, it would be a kick to drive up in an actual tank and see the reaction from the neighbors. In the winter it would be quite useful since the roads around here can be quite bad. The top speed clocks in around 40 MPH so the chances of accidents are a bit lower but hey, when you've got a turret with a 30mm cannon on it (deactivated or not), who's going to honk or flash their lights at you?

In this day and age where even the smallest incident seems to tick off drivers, it would be a nice detterent. The benefit to the military would be good too. Rather than shelling out loads of taxpayer money on either maintaining these older vehicles or paying to have them scrapped, they could now be used to earn money for a change and help to fund the armed forces for years to come. But think of the escalation. People get intimidated by someone driving a Sabre so they purchase Valentines and then Challengers and then it just goes on and on until we become some sort of mixed version of a bad Mad Max movie! Without the nuclear holocaust thing, that might be rather interesting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Oops... It Happened Again

Well now. This sounds familiar doesn't it? The Department of Transportation is reporting that apparently, since 2001, nearly 400 laptops have been stolen from the agency. That means that the information of roughly 133,000 people is out there and has likely been compromised. This comes on the heels of the debacle with the Department of Veteran's Affairs and the Department of Commerce. Now I don't think that these incidents are all the work of terrorists. Some of it might be but on the whole, I think they are the work of someone with too much time on their hands and the bright idea that selling stolen laptops is the key to riches. Whatever their motivation is, one thing is for certain. We need to make sure that this information remains secure rather than having it available to anyone who may manage to get their hands on a particular laptop.

I have worked in companies that have had contracts where the work was considered to be sensitive. The work was either done in a secured room or in a secured facility where access into and out of the building was limited to only those who needed to be there. By secured I mean that access to the room was limited to those with the need to be in the room. The rest of us remained outside, oblivious to what was going on inside. If not by access card, admission into these secured areas was often maintained by a security guard who took his or her job very seriously and didn't let anyone unauthorized in. Now I can't believe that our agencies in the federal government don't have similar setups.

So how is it then that these laptops are being stolen? Well some like those at the Department of Veteran's Affairs were stolen from the individual's home. Others are lifted off of a desk at the office. How can that be? Ever lifted a pencil or eraser or the stapler from the office copy room? Ever walked by a co-worker's desk and seen their purse or wallet just sitting there out in the open? You know the person so you wouldn't take it right? Or maybe you would. But this is exactly what thieves are looking for. The opportunity to take something when your attention is diverted. This past weekend at the mall, I witnessed a theft. As I was exiting the mall a woman dressed in the uniform of a Foot Locker employee was briskly walking after an individual who exited the mall ahead of us. As soon as the pair hit the street they were off and running.

We didnt' realize it at the time but had we known what was happening, we would have run after the thief too. But it just reminded me of how these laptops are being stolen. And it leads me to believe that the majority of these are not being stolen for any purpose other than to be sold off or used else where. I mean take a look at James Bond. When he breaks into a computer system, he leaves the system but uses some device or the other to gather the data he needs or leaves something behind that will monitor the information for him. By taking one laptop, you won't draw much attention. By stealing 400 over a period of time, someone's going to notice.

The key is that valuable personal information is getting loose out there. It may not be your personal information but it is someone's and there's no need for it to get leaked out this way. When you read the news you're constantly bombarded with news items about who leaked what information about what scandal. What did the FBI know? What did the senator know? What did anybody know? All I know is that we need to do a better job of safeguarding the personal information of all our citizens. If we can't secure our personal information, how can we expect to protect our borders?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Tysons Corner - Where the Gridlock Is

I have been living in Tysons Corner, Virginia for about three years now. Technically I can say that I'm in McLean since that's what my address says but I'm so close to the mall that it's easier to tell people that I live in Tysons Corner. For those of you who aren't from Washington or aren't familiar with the area, Tysons Corner is the largest retail shopping mall in the Washington, D.C. area. With all the major stores, the original Tysons Corner is the place to go shopping. About a year ago, they expanded the mall tearing down the old JC Penny and adding dozens of new stores and restaurants. It's quite convenient for those of us who live close by. But it's the rumors that this is just the beginning that is worrying me.

Like I said, I have lived in the area for three years so I have come to accept some of the quirks that come with living in the area. What do I mean by quirks? Well, for example; I attend a martial arts class in Vienna, a mere 5 mile drive away. On a normal day, it won't take more than ten minutes to make the drive. That's typically how long my commute is on a Saturday morning for class. On a weeknight? Better multiply that time by almost five. That's right; it can take up to 45 to 50 minutes to make the same 5 mile drive. The reason? There are dozens of high-rise offices in the area in addition to the shopping and residences so around rush hour there is a mad exodus to get out of the area. The traffic on the roads is so bad at times that you can sit there and see little kids learning to walk faster than you may be driving. This is on a normal day, during Christmas and holiday shopping time it can get even worse!

I am all for improving the area and bringing in new business and revenue provided the infrastructure is improved as well. I pay a sizeable sum in property taxes and I'm sure I'll pay more as the area goes up in cost but I don't see why I should be paying more if nothing is being done to improve the roads. The proposed Metro stops in the area are still years away. Heck, they haven't even broken ground on the project yet. We're still debating on who will be paying for what! In the meantime, roads such as Route 7 and Route 123 remain in the same form they have been for decades which is two or three lanes wide with traffic lights one after another.

The plans that have been drawn up seem to only add to the problems if this infrastructure isn't fixed at the same time. In the drawings you see a utopian landscape of wide avenues and happy families walking with a handful of cars along the roads. This is either because the shoppers and residents alike are using the Metro or that gas prices have gone so high that no one but the uber-rich are willing to drive! Meanwhile, every bit of currently-unoccupied space will then give way to high-rise office buildings, multi-story condos and apartments and a brand spanking new 300-room hotel right in the area that's indicated.

In math you use ratios to determine the order of magnitude to which a number is increased. For example, let's say you take the fact that traffic is currently bad enough to multiply travel time by five; if we increase the number of homes and offices in the area by a factor of ten then you can just imagine, even without any knowledge of math, what that will mean to the traffic in the area. We have bottlenecks galore and with no end in site. A little over a year ago the county extended the length of the merge lanes from the Dulles Toll Road onto the Beltway. This was meant to eliminate bottlenecks. All it did was move it a little father along. By about 100 feet or so. The problem has decreased, but only by an inconsequential amount. Not enough to get excited about and nowhere near enough to think that things will improve with the addition of more retail and residential space.

Perhaps the thinking is that with more residential space, those regular shoppers at the mall will no longer need to commute but will walk to and from their place of work and leisure. I can just hear the cries of horror from so many spouses! I am hopeful that this plan will be delayed a bit before being executed. Currently the housing market in the Washington area is slowing after record highs and homes are taking longer to sell. The condo market is the first one being affected. Those in existance aren't selling all that well so the new ones are taking even longer to go off the market. If this trend continues perhaps the planners of the future of Tysons Corner will see the wisdom in not expanding for the sake of putting money in their pocket. And then perhaps this once-quiet corner of Northern Virginia will remain somewhat civilized as opposed to turning into George Lucas' vision of what a city should be like.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Won't Someone Please Think About the Children?

Harry Potter is evil! He and his fellow students at Hogwarts are seeking to turn innocent children to study witchcraft and to join the Wiccan religion. At least that's what Laura Mallory of Gwinnett County in Georgia is contending. According to her, the books are subversive and pro-Wiccan which is bad and she is therefore asking the county and the school board to remove this books from the library system. Now I have read all of the Harry Potter books and I must say that not a single one of them has promoted the Wiccan religion. In fact religion is not even a part of the books. You see, if you wish to be a wizard or a witch in the Harry Potter world, you will be born with that ability. If we had those abilities, we'd already be attending school there. In this case, we aren't. We're muggles (it's a Harry Potter thing).

The arguement against this banning these books comes from the County Council which was that if the county moves to ban Harry Potter books on the basis that they contain references to witchcraft, then books such as "Cinderella" and classics such as "MacBeth" need to be banned as well. I for one think that this whole thing is rather ridiculous. Growing up, I used to read a little bit when I found something interesting. The problem was, I didn't often make an effort to find something interesting. I didn't read a novel until I happened upon a novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back." Now granted this was the novelization of a movie, but it was a 200 page novel nonetheless. I read through it in a matter of days. It sparked an interest in reading and I began picking up more and more novels. These days, I don't go anywhere without a book in my hand. Reading a series related to "Star Wars" sparked my greater interest in reading and I am thankful for George Lucas' universe for at least doing that much for me.

For years parents have complained that kids don't like to read. Finally, along comes a bunch of books (many of them larger than your typical Tom Clancy or Stephen King novel) and kids are reading again. Kids are lining up to get the book on the day it first hits stores. Kids are clamoring to read more and more and are looking for other books to read on similar storylines. Could this lead to interest in witchcraft? Possibly; though I am doubtful that it would do anything of the sort since it never mentions Wicca or anything like that. Can it happen though? Well, in the latest census over in England, enough numbers of people responded that their religion is Jedi that it is now a recognized stated religion over there.

I am a "Star Wars" fan too, but I still consider myself a Hindu. I have read "Star Wars" books for years; I have been impressionable and still am to an extent, yet I didn't consider ever declaring my religion as anything but Hindu. Similarly I never voted for Donald Duck during student council elections. The reason was that I had a good foundation in understanding what I was reading which was helped along by my parents and teachers. By banning books with non-mainstream topics, you tend to alienate the one thing that could spark an interest in kids. All of the Harry Potter books I have read have good adventures and teach the values of friendship and family. They are getting more and more adult as the character grows up; but that's not to say that they are inappropriate for kids.

If they choose to ban the books down in Georgia they will have a lot more to ban. Ban Shakespeare because "MacBeth" has witches, "Julius Caesar" contains murder, and "Romeo and Juliet" promotes suicide if your parents don't like you dating someone. Ban "Tom Sawyer" because it promotes child labor. Ban "Moby Dick" because it promotes the hunting of whales. Ah heck with it; just close down the entire library, that will take care of everything. Or if you don't want to, just keep it open but instead of keeping books there, allow students and kids to checkout blinders that keep them looking straight ahead so that they will miss out on the whole wide world and keep them sheltered from all the bad things out there. That's the better solution isn't it?


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Say It Again Sam

Here in Northern Virginia, students at McLean High School are complaining about the fact that their school is using the services of Turnitin.com. This site is a site which contains literally thousands of documents and essays and reports which are used to create a database against which student papers are compared. The purpose of this is to ensure that the work done by the students is original and has not been copied or plagiarised from another source. Plagiarism has become quite a problem of late and with the proliferation of services and reports on the internet, it's not difficult to imagine how this could happen. Take for example the incidents earlier this year in which reputed authors were accused of plagiarising passages and text from other books. If authors are getting into hot water about it, what about students?

The students argue that their work is being taken and used in the databases of Turnitin.com without their permission or their being compensated. Once an essay is reviewed by the site, it is added to the database so that the database will have the most up to date copies of papers and will remain current. I can see the point that the students are attempting to make. Their work is being added to the database at the site; the site is a pay site that the school or county must pay for, so by taking the student papers, they are making the site that much more marketable. One could argue that there's no way for the site to remain profitable if they begin to compensate every student for their submission. In fact, how are you to set a standard for compensation in the first place? Is a two page paper worth as much as a ten page paper? Is a high school research project more valuable than a master's thesis project?

The students further contend that the use of the site and the fact that their papers are being submitted there is like saying that the students are guilty of plagiarism. I have had experiences with the site during my masters program. In one of my previous classes, the professor had told us that he would be submitting our papers to the site to check for plagiarism. Not because he thought we were all lifting articles, but more to determine if we were citing articles correctly. Whenever we write a research paper, some of the thoughts we are relating are not our own. As such, we cannot help but either quote or paraphrase what is being said. In either case, it is our responsibility to indicate where the thought came from. Especially if the thought is not our own or our original one.

The fact that the students feel wronged in that they aren't being compensated for their works is a valid one. The site boasts that it checks papers against 22 million articles in their database; I'm sure I have several submissions on their floating around. If so, I take some measure of comfort in the fact that no one will be stealing my thoughts without being called on it. And compensation? Well, the fact that my paper has been graded, and that the thoughts in the paper have proven to be my own indicate that if my logic is sound, that should be good compensation as it is. Back in May there was a big stink over Kaavya Viswanathan having plagiarised sections of her book. This threw egg on lots of faces. Firstly, Ms. Viswanathan, intentionally or unintentionally, quoted sections from the book which should have raised flags someplace. If the editors or publishers had used a service like Turnitin.com then they could have stopped things prior to the book even being published.

The students may feel that they are being cheated out of income; but to me, the greater return on their allowing their papers to be used in this way is that they will become better writers and better thinkers. Why use someone else's thoughts when yours are just as important? If you agree with someone's viewpoint then explain why you do rather than quoting it word for word. People have told me that it's easier for me to write than it is for others. That may be true but I always believed that we have to power to express ourselves. Some people write books, others just write papers, and still others can say it in a paragraph. But whatever you choose to use to spread your word, say it the way you would and not the way others have.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Kids These Days

Kids these days are a lot smarter than I was back then. Most of them, before they're even old enough to go to school, can figure out how to work a computer and do all sorts of crazy things. That fact sometimes leads me to believe that as children, we have much larger brains in relation to our relative size, and as a result we have a far greater capacity to understand and figure things out. As we get older, the brain to body size ratio changes and we are no longer as smart. This is why a three-year old managed to purchase a $17,000 car on eBay despite the fact that he can't read.

That in and of itself is something that amazes me. But I can't give full credit to the kid. Part of the credit must go to eBay itself for making such an intuitive interface and simplifying things so much so that you can purchase a car without any problem. Apparently what happened in the case of Jack Neal of London, England is that his mother left the room while browsing eBay. Clicking here and there as kids are wont to do, little Jack apparently clicked on the picture of the pretty pink car and then managed to scroll down and click on all the appropriate buttons to make the purchase. All before his mother returned to the room.

Now I have taken a look on eBay and I can tell you, it isn't just a simple matter of point, click and go. Although some shortcuts and cookies within the system will allow you to streamline the process, you still have to take certain steps before you can complete the purchase. That's why I'm convinced kids are smarter than we give them credit for. It's like that episode of Bugs Bunny where Bugs is babysitting a kid who he thinks is a baby but in actuality is a pint-sized gangster. Now I'm not accusing little Jack of being a gangster but a point-and-click bandit might be more appropriate.

I can't imagine ever having done anything of that sort as a kid. Of course the internet was in its infancy at the time simply because Al Gore hadn't invented it yet. But still, there wasn't a time when I did anything of that sort. Maybe it was because I wasn't as curious as some of these other kids or perhaps it's because I was scared of what sort of wrath I could possibly incur from my parents. Whatever the case, I always left such things well enough alone and tried to stay on the straight and narrow.

I applaud little Jack for having the fortitude to test out his internet skills at such a young age and I further applaud him for choosing to buy a car. As a new driver, it is important to choose a good used car prior to making that all important new car purchase. However, as a fellow car enthusiast I would be a bit concerned over his choice of the Nissan Figaro. And the fact that it's pink? Well... let's not start in on that just now.