Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baby's First Severance Check

In the past our son has had behavioral issues that we suspected were derived from a very mild form of a common neuro disorder. Although he's been getting much better with age it helped that four years ago Mrs. Sandmich got him a job a the age of ten delivering the local paper once a week.

When he started delivering the paper his poor attitude changed quite rapidly. I'm sure it felt good to be bringing in cash so that he could be somewhat independent of the parents he resented because he felt them too domineering (whatever). Although he has a fair portion saved up, I'm always quick to point out that the Nintendo DS and Wii that he has are his, he bought them with his own money.

Even though she was the one who signed him up, over the years Mrs. Sandmich had a string of part time jobs that tied her down on delivery night and a fair portion of the time it was left to just myself to help him get the papers delivered. Since I'm so easily distracted, and Kid Sandmich isn't in to team efforts that are normally kid-parent time, paper delivery night was the one reliable moment over the years for father-son time. For instance, it makes me teary eyed to remember walking around with my ten year old who couldn't get the right houses to save his life while aching under the weight of a giant paper bag.

Of course now he's fourteen and has most facets of his job down (apart from the financials which were handled by his mother). More than ever I have concentrated on getting the right driving pattern down in order to ensure a speedy end to the task. That might sound selfish until you realize that what started out as a mild 35 minute annoyance turned into a two hour slog as he acquired more routes and thus pay.

But no more. The parent company that owns the chain of local papers (the nefarious Plain Dealer) has decided to scrap the kid carriers in favor of letting the Plain Dealer carriers deliver the papers. In the process the company will save something like two cents a paper. It's sad to see an early employment opportunity for kids go by the wayside and it's even sadder to see how it was handled.


Kid Sandmich delivers the last of his papers.


Before the Plain Dealer broke the news to the kids, the company began gutting the content of the paper leaving the kid carriers, the paper's on-site sales force, left with having to justify a suddenly shoddier product to their irate customers. As a second blow the company brought all billing in house, eliminating the 'carrier collect' model that brought in the tips that actually made the job worthwhile (the per paper pay rate wasn't even worth getting in the car for). Another jab was delivered a couple weeks later when low and behold the 'carrier collect' customers didn't like the office pay model and the Plain Dealer elites forced their already strained sales staff kid carriers to act as collectors for what the customers owed. After duly collecting all the cash, it was only then when the paper let it be known that the kid's services were no longer needed.

I was and am still upset about this. As a sign of their generosity the paper let it be known that carriers who stayed their full term would receive an additional month worth of pay as a severance package. However, given the experience we'd had with the company over the course of the preceding month, I was sure that this was very grudging on their part and probably driven not by some altruistic feeling on their part, but by the fact that a major corporation firing a bunch of kids on the spot wouldn't be the best publicity. It's really a half severance package as it is because as I said, the tips are what really made the job worthwhile.

I must confess though that I, along with everyone else associated with the operation, had a real love-hate feeling for it. There was almost nothing worse than walking around delivering 100 papers in two feet of snow while it's twenty degrees out, especially since no one in the Cleveland area shovels their sidewalks due to the quantity of snow. Although most of Kid Sandmich's carrier collect customers were the generous types, loading the bills up into the papers in the cold or rain could be painful, and getting some customers to pay (during the same conditions) made us wish we could dump customers at will.

As well, one of the worst features of the job was that it was every Wednesday night. Day before Thanksgiving? Better to work off that turkey preemptively. Christmas Eve? Sorry about your luck. Two week vacation? Time to comb for a substitute carrier who doesn't care to deliver his own route, let alone someone else's. All this and more left me walking around on the routes repeatedly asking myself why newspaper companies cannot find a better distribution method.

I guess I should have been careful what I asked for. For all that I hated it, I know I'll miss it as well, especially when the bad points of the job have long since dulled due to reminiscing. I know I'll miss my son joking around trying to push me into snow drifts, only to land in them himself (which I've long suspected was the point of the whole exercise). I'll also miss him suckering me into delivering a few of his papers so that we could get done faster, or stopping for the occasional treat, or spending time talking about video games or other nonsense. No one thing to be sure, but lots of little things that grew to be larger than the sum of their parts.

Without team sports or some other external activity the paper route was the sole family activity that has consistently delivered through the years. I know that I'll be hard pressed to come with something homegrown that delivers the same overall results; in fact it's probably pointless to try. Shame on the Plain Dealer for closing down the kid carriers, but at the same time thanks for the opportunity. It was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Ugliest 'Pretty'



Wait wait wait, you mean to tell me that Sarah Jessica Parker isn't a dude?!?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bad Music

This keeps slipping my mind, but the band Cake has to be the crapiest music act that has some level of notoriety. With other crappy music acts like The Beatles, Radiohead or Jimmy Buffet I can at least picture why someone might like them and figure that it's just not my thing. However Cake completely eludes me; I don't even see how the producer had so little shame as to let that stuff out of the studio. Click below if life has lost all meaning:

Bad Law

Congrats to organizations like NumbersUSA and CIS for their work in getting the corporate welfare cum massive immigration influx stripped out of the war funding bill.

On a related note I don't have cable but I have caught Lou Dobbs on TV every now and again. I get the impression that he's the last sane person on TV as far as the news media is concerned, which isn't saying much. He's like a slightly less eloquent Pat Buchannan. Still, I can’t get enough of him.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Congress Cuts It's Own Bribe

If you haven't heard about the farm bill winding its way through to the President's desk then good, you'll be able to sleep. Otherwise if you've caught any of the extensive coverage by the drive-by media (HA!) then you've noticed doozies like this:
This continues the long-running restrictions on sugar imports, which make our sugar more expensive. In 2007, raw sugar cost $11.60 per pound in the rest of the world, but $20.99 per pound here. Of course this makes our food more expensive.
The farm bill also ramps up the special loans taxpayers give sugar growers. Sugar growers currently receive an 18-cent loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for each pound of raw cane sugar (and a higher rate for beet sugar) they grow. The collateral is the sugar, meaning that if a sugar company can’t sell its stuff for more than 18 cents, the government buys it. That rate would go up to 18.75 cents under the farm bill.
Finally (actually, there are other sugar subsidies in the farm bill, but too many to list), there is the seemingly Cunningham-inspired sugar-to-ethanol program: The USDA buys “excess sugar” and sells it to ethanol makers — and only ethanol makers. The first problem here is that “excess sugar” means any sugar that sugar growers want to keep off the market to further drive up prices. Second, when the USDA can sell the sugar only to ethanol makers, there’s no way the USDA will get a good price.
Buy high, sell low. That’s what Uncle Sam is doing to benefit sugar growers and ethanol makers, who in turn contribute to congressional re-elections.
Some people give Bush a pass on this one since it is almost certain to be vetoed, but the only reason so many Republicans voted for it to begin with is that Bush explicitly said that he wasn't going to be kicking them in the groin on national TV while he vetoed it. It’s yet another complete failure of leadership on his part. The Democrats get even less of a pass since the “party of the people” voted lock, stock, and barrel for more ‘millionaire welfare’.

If that weren't enough, Congress is continuing in their attempts to elect a new electorate by attaching a heaping serving of illegal immigration to a bill that funds the military. I don't know which is worse, that they know what they're doing, or that they don't:
But, instead of helping [the low wage American], his government helps the employer avoid having to offer higher wages to him. By giving the employer the right to import a cheaper human from abroad, the government helps ensure that the prevailing wage will never rise. Together, the employer and the government collaborate in cutting the struggling guy off at the knees.
There's a definite disconnect in the system when people who put this crap forward have no issues getting re-elected.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Three Strikes

Bad news down the road from where I live:
Torok, a crack addict [who had been arrested 36 times], smashed a 15-pound rock over Chevonne Ecclestone's head repeatedly May 10 and stole her wallet and car.

The attack came 10 days after Torok was released from a two-year prison sentence for robbery, his eighth conviction for the crime.
The first question everyone around here asked was "why was this guy out!?!?"

It turns out that Ohio does not have a three strikes law, something that I would have been sure the somewhat lazy Republicans in the state capital would have passed years ago. Fortunately someone is looking to correct this oversight:
"He would have been off the streets if this bill was a law," said Grendell, a Chester Township Republican. "He wouldn't have been able to prey on innocent women walking in a park in Parma.

"He is the best example that I have ever seen to have a three-strikes law in Ohio. This guy is beyond being a poster boy. The system simply broke down."
I love how he isn't even a legislator from where the crime occurred since that representative is no doubt a lefty who represents this strain of thought:
But opponents fear the law would stretch crowded prisons beyond their breaking point, forcing construction of new prisons and higher taxes to pay for them. They also don't want prisons to become geriatric units for elderly inmates filling cells needed for younger, more violent offenders.
You can fire up the gallows if you have such a lack of desire to put more people in jail, but I've yet to talk to anyone who wouldn't pay to keep people like Torok behind bars. Granted I don't travel in academic and other hard lefty circles where they practically take baths in tenderizer for those who seek to consume them, but it's not exactly 'conservative country' up here in Northeast Ohio either.

Indeed, regular citizens of all stripes see the government's primary calling not to be building stadiums or funding gay art shows, but to be protecting their citizens from people like Torok. Cook up a ballot initiative, it'll pass.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Internet Free Asia

Network World has a nice write-up on the 'Great Firewall' of China. The content filtering performed by the government (with Cisco equipment) appears to be inconsistent by design in order to make Chinese citizens unsure about whether or not they are being watched.

One point of interest is that the vast majority of the Chinese are in favor of such monitoring. James Fallows, who was interviewed for the piece, says that this is probably related to the fact that even the comparative trickle of information that the Chinese are able to gleam off the net is a torrent compared to what's normally accessible. Although that might be part of it, I'm sure regular citizens also figure that if the government pre-filters the information it will dramatically lower the chances of an unmarked sedan pulling up in the middle of the night to take you away because you accidentally clicked on the wrong link.

The commies do leave an 'out' though: VPN type traffic is permissible. They really don't have much of a choice on this one as Western firms would find it practically impossible to do business in the country without that functionality. Even the small concern for which I work has an employee in China that hooks up to our network in such a fashion. I've been tempted to e-mail him something divisive every now and then but A) I don't want to get him in trouble and B) His family has been running that business for while, and he himself is a graduate of a local university, so I doubt that he harbors any ill will toward the current leadership; if you get my drift...

But that does bring me around to an idea whose time has come. We have Radio Free Asia which broadcasts a wide variety of programming, but whose broadcasts are routinely jammed by the countries being targeted by the productions. There's also anonymous web usage technologies like Tor and Freenet, but these are slow, complicated, unstable, bandwidth intensive and susceptible to even half hearted denial-of-service attacks. However with the technology available today it should be possible form a priv-pub venture along the lines of Radio Free Asia, an "Internet Free Asia" if you would. I would envision that such a setup would use technology like VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure which would allow users to use existing remote desktop VPN technologies that come with just about any system (including Linux) to hook into a 'fake computer' that is on the other side of the 'Great Firewall'.

Would this system be prone to a type of denial-of-service attack where the Chinese/Vietnamese/Burmese government just hooks into all the 'fake computers' in order to clog all the ports? Maybe, but I think that it would be something that could be tuned out of the system, particularly by being choosey about which IP blocks to allow. At least it would have the novelty of making despots the world over anxiously trying to grow extra fingers in order to plug yet another hole in their information dike.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Bento Watch #38

On the bottom left I have curry tofu chunks and a big shrimper. On the bottom right I have the previously mentioned citrus daikon along with some edemame. On the top middle I have my rice with a new furikake I had purchased. It turns out the old one I'd had was made in, ugh, China. The Asian market had a bunch of varieties of the Chinese furikake, all of which were the same apart from the label, but they only had two different Japanese ones. The one I bought is an egg/tamago flavor.


This one is spicy tofu, smoked salmon and a carrot-cucumber quick pickle that was sold as a deli item at the Asian market.


One the left is more spicy tofu along with some teriyaki chicken thigh. On the left is a pretty respectable lemon infused crab-cucumber salad. I had made it with the rather detestable fake lobster, so it probably would have been even better with fake crab (or heavenly with real crab).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Xenosaga II, A Comparison

Xenosaga II

Hopefully they'll find a way to cram some numbers and gauges into the boring bottom left corner of the screen on the next episode.



Pluses: The deepest RPG combat system I've played to date. Improvements to the story and artwork over Xenosaga I.

Minuses: A deep combat system means that even routine battles turn into drawn out affairs. The skill upgrades (casting magic, etc.) is largely a waste of time.

After assuring that I would play no more of the series, Kid Sandmich picked this one up for me for Christmas. I thought the story from the first one was OK and I loved the set designs as well so I had something to look forward to going in.

First off I was a little disappointed to see the chintzy items given to me by this game as a reward for completing the first game; I was kind of hoping for some additional levels or skill points. However, this iteration has been so completely revamped that it feels like a completely different game so any expected bonuses may not have matched up. Much like the original, this game again is delightfully paced with the play time slipping in at under 40 hours. Some grinding is expected, but probably less so than the typical RPG. This is fortunate since the battles can be rather involved at times.


Early on in the game I was upset to see that copious level grinding wasn't making the battles any shorter or easier. It was then I learned that the game all but requires a semi-complicated use of chains, combos, and vulnerability exploits in order to easily get through any battle as well as to have any prayer at all of making it through a boss battle. This differed from the previous edition, and all other RPGs I've played, as the individual battles here are much more geared toward strategy and peppered with puzzles. I was used to applying differing skills and techniques to difficult boss battles in other roll playing games, but Xenosaga II takes it a step further and is closer to a tactics game than a roll playing game. This setup made individual 'grind' battles much more entertaining as a whole and it was fun figuring out how to quickly discharge opponents. This changed into a problem later on in the game though when intricate, yet repetitive five to ten minute minor league battles seemed to exist solely to pad out the playing time. The game does take some mercy on the player though by eliminating around two thirds of the defeated opponents instead of respawning all of them when leaving an area and coming back.


Additionally, one irritating aspect from the first game got ported over to this version is the cheating AI that gets to break your combo at will. As is typical, a combo consists of consecutive hits to a single opponent; the higher the combo, the more damage subsequent hits cause. Combos are much more critical to this game than the first episode since it's well expected that the only way to defeat most enemies in a prompt fashion is to rack up a large combo by using various forms of chicanery. I can understand bosses getting a little leeway but every peon in the game gets the option of interrupting a strategic execution. It's as if the developers determined that the easiest way to increase the game's difficulty was to allow for the field goal posts to get moved when the computer opponent was about to get knocked onto the ropes.


This episode focuses much more on Junior and Momo, two of the genetically engineered, lab grown replicants realians.


Being a Xenosaga game there are a generous number of cut scenes. I should mention that the previous edition piled on hours of disjointed cut scenes that featured spotty voice acting in an effort to cram as many plot points and characters into the story. Don't get me wrong it was still entertaining, but the story in this second episode corrects many of those missteps and focuses on a handful of well voiced characters and brings some sanity to the first episode's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to storytelling. This cuts back on the game time somewhat, and the wheels do eventually get a little wobbly toward the end in what seems to be an afterthought effort to open up questions for the final installment; but overall it's an improvement on the first episode.


What wasn't an improvement was the moderately changed system for acquiring and using "skills". The game had maybe a half dozen worthwhile "skills": 'heal', 'super heal', 'revive'...and...um...I'm sure some others. The remaining hundred or so abilities had very limited applicability and were difficult to acquire. This whole portion of the game seemed like it got halfway changed from the original, but then was abandoned due to the release schedule. That's a shame since if it was tightened up (like if you were able to freeze an opponent and actually have it work) that would have turned an already decent strategy sim into an excellent one.

Friday, May 02, 2008

All You Can Eat Sushi

What a great find by Mrs. Sandmich, an all you can eat sushi place in Parma, Ohio; believe it or not!
http://www.watamibuffet.com/index.html
I'd love to report that it was unmemorable, retro-grade sushi (as I had expected it to be), but unfortunately it was some of the best sushi I've had. This marks the only location at which I've had editable mackerel sushi* and the salmon was like eating (a delicious, fleshy) butter. They also had stuff I hadn't seen before, like a deep fried maki roll (OMG!).

If I was in any way important I'd think that this was a fancy assassination attempt against yours truly. I should enjoy it while it lasts since there's no way they can maintain that price-to-quality ratio, even at $15 a head.

*Yes, I even mean the sushi mother country, where they don't care if the recipe calls for something to taste like pickled fish butts. For example:
[N]ext, not for the timid: aji, or horse mackerel, marinated in vinegar, and fresh oyster. [I]t taste like the sea, which sometimes isn't a good thing...
No, "low tide" is not 'sometimes' a bad flavor, it's always foul.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Asia

Japan is so fascinating because once you think you've learned every sick and twisted fact about the place, something like this comes along:
When AOR supergroup Asia came to Japan in March last year, all seven dates of their tour sold out. The excitement was, perhaps, forgivable: It had taken the band's original lineup more than 25 years to get here.
No, it's not forgivable. This was a band whose music was barely tolerable when it was new (circa 1982).


And no, seventy five bucks is too much cash for someone to be able to use 'gaijin humiliation' as an excuse.