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     Monday July 19, 2004
Rebates
I bought a memory module from Office Depot in June that had a $20 mail-in rebate. I dutifully mailed the rebate form, UPC, receipts, etc. to PNY within a couple of days and had nearly forgotten that I was even due a rebate (although I did still have the scans of the rebate forms, so it's unlikely I would have forgotten completely), when I received this card in the mail (over a month later). The gist of the card's message is that I bought my memory from the wrong retailer so my rebate could not be processed. The rebate form (along with the rebate code) is preprinted on the cash register paper by Office Depot, so I was sure it was a valid rebate. Upon further investigation , I discovered that the rebate code that was being referenced on the rejection card, 76440, was similar to, but not the same as, the code on my pre-printed receipt: 76444. So, the rebate processor either fat-fingered my rebate or...ominous soundtrack cues in...this card is plan B (to futher complicate the rebate process, thus eliminating the insistent minority of consumers who are too obtuse to realize that this rebate was intended as no more than a marketing gimmick and was not seriously intended to cost PNY anything) for companies offering rebates when plan A (depending on the slack-witted consumer's failure to mail the rebate form in) fails. If I receive anoother card in a month saying that I neglected to mail my original UPC from the packaging (which was mailed with the first form), then I guess I'll know that there is, in fact, a plan C (make it impossible for the conusmer, by demadning docments they have already sent, to insure no rebate can be issued). I suspect plan C becasue the "resubmission" form is addressed to a new location, in Florida, while the original went to a location in Texas.

IE Update
Microsoft has released a patch for Internet Explorer (or is in the process of releasing the patch, I can't remember now) with a few modifications that could have a large impact on the usabilty of many web sites, Badbartopia included. If I read the notice correctly, any javascript on a web page that opens a window as a direct result of a click or double click action will continue to work as before, but any new windows being opened by processes behind the scenes will be prevented from functioning unless the URL for this site is added to the list of trusted within Internet Exploder. I know how to do this and most of my friends and co-workers can do this, but as for my relatives...let's just say that it probably won't be happening unless I do it for them myself. It's a shame that so much of the javascript I use (events, methods, etc) is tailored specifically for the Exploder--I would happily rewrite the pages to work with the few remaining competitors out there if the same capabilities existed.

Linux
Speaking of competitors, my brother-in-law, Steve, is an advocate of Linux and made his best effort to make me switch operating systems:
You should try Linux. We could all wear matching jumpsuits in a worker's paradise. Ride our potato-powered tractors to work at the collective. Life would be sweet.
The sad thing is, I have long wanted to go to desktop linux, but have been hesitant for one primary reason: I don't want to give up my video games. Sure, I know that I could partition the disk and setup a dual boot, but the liklihood of completely horking up my system keeps me from proceeding. There is also the fact that all my non-browser based development languages have Windows-based development environments/compilers.

Politics
I happened to be flipping through channels earlier this week and happened upon CSpan when a republican senator from Pennsylvania was speaking about the ammendment to the US Constitution (which failed to pass) banning same sex marriage. He was eloquent, needed no notes to make a very sound case of the threat same-sex marriage poses to the nuclear family and the threat that the dissolution of the family poses to society in general. He was convincing, sincere and obviously meant what he said. When his remarks were concluded, the senator from Vermont was given the opportunity to address the same subject. He read every word that was said from sheets of papaer on the podium that he was glued to (the Pennsylvania senator did not depend on a podium as a prop). His remarks were cold, unconvincing and seemingly self-contradictory. I can't, unfortunately, give specific examples of either senator's remarks--these are just the impressions I was left with.

On a similar topic, there was an article in the newspaper (SD Union) recently about the democratic party's plan to win over the religious middle or right-leaning voters by making new claims of religious piety. The liberal pro-abortion party has chosen Bill Clinton to spearhead this new approach for wooing voters. Bill Clinton? Uh...do the democratic party leaders have the same opinion of voters that PNY has of rebate respondents? Granted, I would be willing to agree that most card carrying members of the democratic party probably fit this bill, but I still find it offensive.

Hey, it's just my opinion, so all you liberals out there need to remain calm...

Opus
Berkeley Breathed's Opus (it's funny that I go on an anti-liberal tirade and then give a plug to a comic strip that has a definite libral bent) sort of lost my interest for a little while, but the past 3 weeks' Sunday strips have made me laugh. Pickles the Viking Princess rules! I had planned to scan all 3 weeks and share them with the world, but my youngest daughter, and then my wife, got to the July 11 strip before I could scan it. So I have July 4 and July 18, but there is a gaping hole where July 11 belongs. On my quest to locate the July 11 strip om the internet, I discovered that the "man" is coming down hard on anyone with the audaciousness to scan and share this strip, so we'll see if anyone notices Opus in my little corner of the web and alerts the authorities.

Site stuff
I have added a new link to the top navigation bar of the site, BIM. This is the Badbartopia Instant Messenger and is still under development, so if either of you (my loyal readers) wants access, you'll have to wait. I have also fixed the link to download Spybot Search and Destroy in the Downloads area and have probably uploaded a few new sketches.

 DVDs

Julie and I have seen several movies since the last news update (most on DVD). I'm not going to bore you with in-depth analysis of all of the movies, but I will quickly offer an opinion on the DVDs.
Timeline
A movie filled with not-especially convincing acting and based on a loose interpretation of real history (the one interesitng thing about the movie), but very badly neglected to give much thought to the possible dangers of time travel (if it was actually possible).
Master and Commander
I don't like Russel Crowe much, but I did like this movie. It seemed, to me, to be an acurate depiction of life on the high seas and the many hardships involved with sea travel in days of yore. And Billy Boyd (Pippin in Lord if the RIngs) has a small role. Gotta support those hobbits!
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton
I like Topher Grace quite a lot and he was good in this movie, but the movie was pretty corny. It was a typical chick-flick. I have to admit that Kate Bosworth is a cutie, though. She helped make the movie more bearable. She kinda has an Erika Eleniak thing going on.
Stuck on You
This movie gave me a few good chuckles and was entertaining enough, but it wasn't the funniest movie I've seen.
Cold Mountain
I enjoyed the more-or-less historically acurate glimpses of Civil War/American history and felt the approriate horror of the atrocities inflicted by the predators that inevitably show up where ever victims are to be found. It wasn't a great movie, but it was okay. And Natalie Portman had a moving but brief role.
50 First Dates
I have liked most of Adam Sandler's movies, and this one was okay, but lacked the charm of the Wedding Singer or even Happy Gilmore.
It was slightly offensive (as are many of his movies) in parts, but had an interesting soundtrack full of covers of songs from the 80s by current artists. 311 did a nice island-sounding cover of a Cure song, nd Ziggy Marley did a memorable cover of The Police. Unfortunately, some of the covers weren't quite as memorable (namely, a rap version of Spandau Ballet's True).
The funniest part of the movie, in my opinion, occurs very near the beginning as Adam Sandler's character is making excuses to avoid any kind of commitment with his latest conquest, telling her he's a spy and calling her by the wrong name (for her protection, he informs her when she corrects him) while talking to his watch and then escaping on the back of a passing jet ski (for which he offers to pay the guy $20). After that, the movie went pretty steadily downhill. Oh, and a hobbit was in this one, too. Sean Astin adds quite a bit of humor to the film in his role of a lispin, failed body builder.

 Movies

The Terminal
I enjoyed this movie, but it's not one that I feel an overwhelming need to see agin or to purchase on DVD for future viewings. Tom Hanks was quite good as an east European traveler trapped in a U.S. airport who cleverly finds ways to survive month after month as customs continues to deny him access to US soil. One very memorable thing about the movie (in my humblew opinion): this is the only movie I have ever seen Catherine Zeta Jones in that was not abhorrent to me. She actually played a likeable character in a likeable movie.
Spiderman 2
I went into this movie with low expectations, assuming the writers and director would depend so heavily on committed viewers (from the first movie) that they would put out a substandard product in order to feed the franchise machine. I couldn't have been more wrong. The story was awesome (there were several scenes that actually made me feel...hold on for this one...emotionally involved with the story. The ending was unexpected. I figured they would milk the Peter Parker-Mary Jane thing for a few more movies. The special effects were good, the story was great, the acting was well done. If they can avoid the Batman trap and continue to put out quality movies (Toby has only committed himself to one more sequel...it won't be the same without him) the same quality, this could be a cash cow for Marvel for years to come.
A few striking similarities to Spiderman I:
In both movies, the villan gives spiderman a choice: save the inncocent lives at stake or go after him (the tram in the first, a subway car in the second). In both, spidey choses the greater good (although in the first, he had to choose the greater good over Mary-Jane, so it's not a direct parallel).
In both movies, Mary Jane has the gratuitous wet t-shirt scene (not that I'm complaining).
And Bruce Campbell appears in both. Gotta love that.
There were other parallels, but I put off writing this too long after re-watching Spiderman I, so they're gone now.

King Arthur
I was very excited about this movie (look back a couple of months through the news archives and you will see) and did not, surprisingly, go see it during opening week (due to a lack of a baby-sitter). I'm a big fan of Medieval stories, and the King Arthur legend in particular, so there was no doubt that I would love this movie. Unfortunately, the movie didn't live up to my expectations. The history and cultures of the characters in the film were so poorly handles, it was often painful to watch. But I can understand the diffciulties involved with selling a more acurate vision of the period to mass-audiences. There was a moment, when Arthur takes out the Saxon leader, that was so overdone in historical action (see The Patriot or Braveheart and probably The Last Samurai for similar moves) movies that I cringed. But how can you go wrong with Keira Knightly in your movie? The other actors were also well casted. I was bummed when they killed of Tristan--he was darkly charismatic. Here are some images from the movie's web site.

 Books

A Hat Full of Sky
As with all (in recent memory, anyway) Terry Pratchett's books, I was unable to put this one down until I had read the whole thing (a meager 278 pages), but as the ending came closer and closer, I began to regret my over-exuberance in reaching the end. I just didn't want the story to end. And it probably hasn't. There will most likely be another continuation of The Adventures of Tiffany Aching and her hearty co-horts, the Nac Mac Feegle, but it is unlikely that it will appear any sooner than a year or two from now, so for now, I'm sad. I was thinking about what made this book, and the numerous other Terry Pratchett novels, so great. . . The primary characters in the book are an 11 year old girl, Tiffany Aching, her deceased grandmother, Granny Aching, the most powerful witch in the wes. . .er, hub, Granny Weatherwax, the toughest picksies around, the Nac Mac Feegle, and other witches and teen/pre-teen girls vying to be witches. None of the book's characters (young girls, old women or Scottish smurfs with attitude) are particularly relevant to me or my life (with the possible exception of Brian, the fraud of a wizard).

Here's a comical passage from the story (the setting: Tiffany, possessed by the hiver, has gone to Zakzak the dwarf's witch supply shop to pick up some "real" witching clothes and accessories with Annagramma, another young witch in training)...

Tiffany stared at him, then picked up one of the most expensive wand from the display. It glittered.
"That's a Number Six," whispered Annagramma. "Mrs. Earwig has one of those!"
"I see it's got runes on it," saif Tiffany, and something about the way she said it made Zakzak go pale.
"Well, of course," said Annagramma. "You've got to have runes."
"These are in Oggham," said Tiffany, smiling nastily at Zakzak. "It's a very ancient language of the dwarfs. Shall I tell you what they say? They say, 'Oh what a Wally is Waving This.'"

Terry Pratchett is a masterful storyteller. He gets inside the heads of his characters and you do relate. You canít help it. And Terry Pratchettís good guys are unequivocally good guys. His characters have consciences and strive to be good to their fellow man, but they feel real and make hard choices.

Here's another passage from the story (the setting: the hiver has been beaten, for now, and Granny Weatherwax is talking with Tiffany about killing half of her current witching mentor, Miss Level, when possessed by the Hiver)...

"Are you all right, girl?" she said.
"It was me!" wailed Tiffany. "The hiver was me! It wasn't thinking with my brain, it was using my thoughts! It was using what it found in my head! All those insults, all that. . ." She gulped. "That . . .nastiness. All it was was me with--"
"--without the bit of you that was locked away," said Mistress Weatherwax sharply. "Remember that."
"Yes, but supposing--" Tiffany began, strugling to get all the woe out.
"The locked-up bit was the mst important bit," said Mistress Weatherwax. "Learnin' how not to do things is as hard as learning how to do them. Harder, maybe. There'd be a sight more frogs in the world if I didn't know how not to turn people into them. And big pink balloons, too."
"Don't," said Tiffany, shuddering.
"That's why we do all the tramping around and doctorin' and stuff," said Mistress Weatherwax. "Well, and because it makes people a bit better, of course. But doing it moves you into your center, so's you don't wobble. It anchors you. Keeps you human, stops you cackling. Just like your granny with her sheep, which are to my mind as stupid and wayward and ungrateful as humans. You think you've had a sight of yourself and found out you're bad? Hah! I've seen bad, and you don't get near it. Now, are you going to stop grizzling?"

And lastly, here's a funny exchange between a few of the Nac Mac Feegle: Rob Anybody, Daft Wullie and Awf'ly Wee Billy (the setting: The boys are getting a bath in the cottage of Miss Level after she learned of their plan to slip into Tiffany's mind)...

"This is no' as bad as I thought!"
"Aye, very pleasin'."
"Hey, there's a big yellow duck here. Who're ye pointin' that beak at, yer scunner--"
There was a wet quack and some bubbling noises as the rubber duck sank.
"Rob, we oughta get one o' these put in the back in the mound. Verra warmin' in the wintertime."
"Aye, it's no good for the ship, having' tae drink oout o' that pond after we've been bathin'. It's terrible, hearin' a ship try tae spit."
"Ach, it'll make us softies! It's nae a guid wash if ye dinna ha' the ice fromin' on yer heid!"
"Who're you callin' a softie?"

A final word of explanation...ship = sheep

The Thousand Orcs (The Hunter's Blade Trilogy, book I)
This was another surprising page turner. I had read an R.A. Salvatore Star Wars novel, so I decided to venture into his fantasy realm. I think the initial appeal was driven by the cover of this novel. It looked so interesting (and appearing during the Lord of the Rings movie releases didnít help quell my interest any, either) that I decided to pick up a copy (though it sat unread for at least a couple of months). My first thoughts about this book: the names of most of the characters, weapons (yes, even the weapons often have names) and locations within the book are so far from the ordinary that I was having a difficult time following along. Granted, most fantasy novels follow this same formula, but I was struggling for a while.

The primary character is Drizzt Do' Urden, an adventuring drow. A drow is a sort of mean underground elf that has more in common with Michael Morcock's Melnibonians than Tolkien's larger-than-life elves They are nearly the opposite of Tolkien's elves--black skined, mean, selfish and contentious. Drizzt appears to be the lone exception to the rule. He is a caring, loving, good guy adrift in a world that knows the nature of drow, thus he must continuously prove himself to all but his closest friends, the few who know his true nature. His companion is a black panther that can be summoned at need named Guenhwyvar.

Some of the other characters: Wulfgar, a Conan-like barbarian with a war-hammer (or maybe a battleaxe, I'm not sure) named Aegis-fang; Cattie-brie, a human ranger-type who is a sharpshooter with her bow and has a magically enhanced sword named Khazid'hea; Bruennor Battlehammer, a dawrf warrior who is now king of the dwarves in Mithral Hall, Regis of Lonelywood, a halfling thief (at least, I assume that's what his characer class would be) with a magical gem that will sway another to the possessor's will. There are a great many other characters (Thibbledorf Pwent , a dwarf; Ivan and Pikel BouldershouldersObold, two more dwarves; Urglen,and Obould, both orcs; Innovindil and Tarathiel, both elves; and Withegroo, a human wizard to name a few) but these are the primary players.

Tolkienís fantasy realms clearly played a major role in the shaping of this (and nearly all others as well. Terry Pratchett is a singular exception) universe of magic, monsters and mystical beings. The elves are clearly Tolkien's, as are the worgs, the orcs, and halflings. "Mithral" is taken directly from Tolkien. This is the first book in a new trilogy of Forgotten Realms novels and it incorporate a lot of Dungeons and Dragons gaming weapons, rules, etc. But, this series is also quite far along in the tales of the primary characters in the book. So there are numerous events, places, or even characters mentioned that are not familiar to the uninitiated reader (such as me).

That being said, I really enjoyed the book. It is definitely not the same mode of story-telling used by Terry Pratchett, but was enjoyable, nevertheless. The good characters are, as with Terry Pratchettís, clearly good and the bad guys (the orcs, frost giants, drow other than Drizzt) are clearly identifialr as bad. The action (I love an action filled piece of fiction--a textual Braveheart) scenes were well laid out and suspenseful.

Here is a short sample of the action (that sounds like a scene from Lord of the Rings)...

The orcs poured through the breached gate like water, filling every opening, one after the other, in their lust to dive into a pitched battle.
Or at least, they started to.
From on high came the first and most devestating response, a blinding stroke of lightning slashing down past the startled Cattie-brie, cutting before the startled Mithral Hall dwarves to explode against the metal gates in a multitude of bluish arcs.
Many orcs fell to Withegroo's stroke. Many were killed, others stunned and others blinded, and when Dagnabbit and Tred led the charge to secure the gate, the off balanced and confused orcs proved easy prey.
Hammers thumped and axes chopped. Orcs squealed and bones shattered.
But the orcs still had the gate opened, and more poured in, pushing aside their smoking commrades, scrambling madly to get at the dwarves.
From the tower, Cattie-brie sent a line of arrows at the blasted gates and the incoming orcs, but only for a moment. The wall top remained primary to her, where Wulfgar, Bruenor and a handful of Shallows's townsfolk were fighting back a swarm of hungry attackers.

I am anxious to get the second novel and pick up the story where it left off (in LOTR fashion with open threads galore)

Meditations on Middle Earth
I was tearing through books (just like the good ol' days) for a while...and then I started reading Meditations on Middle Earth.

This is a book that was published, no doubt, to feed the frenzy of Tolkien fans when the movies came out. It consists of quite a few authors' and at least one (pair of) artist's impressions (the Hildebrandt brothers) of the works of Tolkien, the history of the books, the effects of the LOTR on literature in general, etc.

This book, as with A Tolkien Miscellany, is not an especially quick read. Many of the contributors delve deeply into the Middle Earth languages and cultures or Tolkien's background and the influences that may have assisted him in creating middle earth and the LOTR trilogy. I won't say that I haven't found the shared ideas of many of the contributors to be enlightening--I have, but some droned on and on in a tenured college professor's monotone. Some of my favorite authors (sunch as Terry Pratchett, Raymond E Feist, Gerogr RR Martin and Orson Scott Card) are contributors and have interesting insights. Another appealing feature: the book has many sketches by John Howe of scenes from the LOTR and the Hobbit. It's probably a worthy addition to a true LOTR fan's library.



© Brett Wilkes. All Rights Reserved.
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