Tuesday
Nov152011

From Georgia With Love

We've talked about it for a few months now and I've been putting it off since I lost Shadow back in October of 2010, so it was hard for me to get a new dog - or even look for one.

It seems as though when the time is right, the time is right.  This past October we entertained adopting a dog and looked around at various places, we even applied when we saw a few dogs that we liked.  But there was no response and we ended up at a local shelter here in NY.

We weren't sure if it was better to adopt from a kill shelter or a no-kill shelter.  The debate was if we adopted from a kill shelter, we'd be saving a life, but if we adopted from a no-kill shelter we'd be making room for another animal to be saved, at the same time supporting the no-kill philosophy.  

Another application submitted and we decided that if we didn't hear back in a weeks time, we'd go to the local shelter.  A few nights before we looked through the website for dogs that we thought we'd like, we saw a few and emailed the shelter if they were still available.  Some were and some weren't.

On the morning of the 29th, we checked one more time and saw a new face - her name was Kora.  She was described as a young female collie mix.  We called the shelter and they said she was still available for adoption, so we sprung out of bed and quickly got ready to make a mad dash to meet Kora.  

Filled with anticipation we made out way through the shelter and saw her lying down on the ground.  Extremely shy and very scared - but who wouldn't be after all that's gone on in the past month or two of her life and the revolving door of other dogs and people day in and day out.  On her card it says that she arrived just a few days earlier, not even a week at this shelter.  

There was something special about her, and we went to the meeting room to see if we'd all get along.  At first she jumped on the bench and was curious to see what was going on.  Not making any eye contact with us or acknowledging that we were even there.  She explored and jumped on whatever she could to the highest point - I'm assuming to get a birds eye view of where she was, what was going on and to see this shelter life that she'd been a part of for only a few days.

A few hours went by, we sat there wondering if there was a connection, if she liked us and if we liked her.  Little did we know that that connection had already started when we saw her picture earlier that morning.  I remember Yas saying that we weren't leaving this place without taking Kora with us.  We fell in love, even though she didn't give us that attention that puppies give, even though she didn't lick our faces, jump on our laps, or even look at us for more than a second ... we were drawn to her and wanted to take her home.  We felt that removing her from this kind of environment might make her open up to us more, that all that was going on around her was distracting her from being a sweet dog that she is.

Reluctant to give her back to the trainers as they processed our application, we waited and hoped that we'd get approved.  After all we weren't sure how this process worked.  After about an hour of waiting we were approved and we could take her home!  We were happy, excited and just wanted to get her home.  We ended up naming her Yuki (means snow in Japanese) on the ride home, for the first snow that day we adopted her.

There was little information on her background, the only thing we knew about her was that she was rescued from Georgia.  

We wanted to know more about her, know where she came from, what she'd been through and why anyone would let her go.  After a recheck I saw on her medical folder the words "Saving Georgia" and this is where my search started.

After a quick search I found that Saving Georgia had a site, and a forum.  I scoured that forum through all the posts for 2 or 3 pages looking to see if I could see a picture of her or even a description of her.  It took a while but she was found.  There she was before she made it up here to NY, shy, timid and scared.  We found out that she was a picked up as a stray and they didn't have anymore information on her.  She did come into the shelter in Georgia with another dog who was a golden retriever, but it wasn't clear if they were together or if they were just picked up around the same time.  

I had a chance to speak with the person who rescued her in Georgia and was ever so thankful for saving her.  I remember her telling me that when she saw her in the shelter, she just had to save her.  

So that's how we met Yuki (formerly Kora), from being saved in Georgia and being sent to NY to come find us.  We aren't sure what she went through before September 15th, but we hope that she's happy with us now.  She's slowly opened up more and more, but is still a bit scared and shy ... we'll continue to give her all the love and affection that she needs and deserves.

Yuki on the car ride home

 

Tired from all that she's been through

1 week after adoption in the park



Monday
Oct102011

Anatomy of a Scam

This is something that I'm not proud of, nor do I like talking about it.  I guess one of the only reasons I'll post this is so that people know what's going on and they can guard themselves from being a victim like me.

I'll admit that I do get scammed sometimes but it's very seldom that I do.  I'm usually very cautious and like to research everything and anything that comes my way so that I can know more about the situation and/or the person(s) that I'm dealing with ... but that doesn't happen all the time and sometimes I do get scammed big time.  There have only been a few instances that I remember being scammed, more specifically 2.  I'll go into detail about the most recent scam that I fell into ... it happened only a few weeks ago.

This is something that dawned on me after the fact, but when someone approaches you without you soliciting their services, then there is a good chance that it's a scam.  It's similar to when someone calls you saying that you won a prize but you've never entered anything.  

 

THE SETUP
As I'm driving into a local store parking lot a man in a car notices a dent that I have on my front fender from a tree falling on my car last year.  He promptly gets my attention and waves me down, telling me that he can fix it.  

This gets my attention as it's been somthing that I wanted to get fixed, but I know it'll cost a good amount of money to do so.  

He follows me into the parking lot and tells me that he can get that dent out in 15 minutes and it'll cost $150.  I ask him for a card because red flags started going up already since this is not the first time that I've been approached with this.  He says that he doesn't have a card and he's just free lancing that day and he usually works for a body shop during his regular work hours.  Again I ask for him number or a way I can reach him so that I can call him later when I have the cash ... but he was very insistent that we do it right then and there.  I refused a few more times and he pulls me in with "let me show you a sample."

Dropping all logic I follow him to the empty spot of the Home Depot parking lot.  Multiple flags are going off and I even joke about it in the car with Yas.  We talked about his Mercedes being a bit dented up and why hasn't he fixed it ... I even though about taking a picture of his license plate "just in case."  But I didn't take the picture and all comon sense for me went out the window.

 

BUILDING TRUST
As quickly as I park next to him, he comes out with his "equipment" that he had from the shop only for that day.  Standing by the dent he quickly talks about how he does this only as a side thing for his family ... a family of a few kids and a wife in his car waiting.  Some more chit chat about how the dent happened and how it would cost a few hundred to get it fixed in a body shop ... and I took the bait.  

I was coaxed in by him telling me things that I already knew, that it would cost me more money to get it done at a shop, that it would be more than a day or two to get it fixed, that there were more small dings, dents and scratches on my car.  

He was able to make me keep saying "yes" over and over again by stating the very obvious.  From that point on ... I was already deep into the scam.

 

THE JOB
He takes a crow bar and a rubber mallet, starts to try to push out the dent, while telling me to turn the wheel of the car slowly so that it would push on the crow bar to push the dents out.  He uses the suction cup dent remval contraption and tries to pull out the dents while making statements like he's the best in town and no one else can pull out dents like him.  

We watched ... flags are up everywhere that this is a scam, but I did nothing to stop it.  For some reason I was frozen, like a deer in head lights.  Why?  I'm not really sure ... maybe it was because I was hoping that it wasn't a scam.  That I would prove myself wrong and that it was legit and he would really fix the dent.  Maybe it was because I was already so deep in it that I didn't know how to get out ... that I couldn't just tell him "no."  

It might have been a combination of things, but the end result was I let this stranger who approaches me in the parking lot do work on my car with a crow bar ... a rubber mallet ... a screw driver ... and a few suction cups on a handle.

 

THE SELL
He continues on popping out the dent.  I see that he's actually gotten some of the dent out but it would be impossible to get everything out perfectly and for some reason I was alright with that for a price of $150.  More reassurance that he's doing a great job ... he tells me that he's trying to follow the contour of my car, making sure the lines match up.  A few grunts and groans of him trying to pop out the dents made him seem like he was actually working hard to get them out.  

The dent is popped out, but not as I envisioned it to be.  There was dimpling from the crow bar pushing up on the metal fender.  But he wasn't done yet.

Keep in mind that my red flags about this situation just keeps growing and growing, but at the same time they are pacified because I'm seeing some results and he's a very fast talker.  

I'm even given advice since I'm driving a black car.  He tells me that since I have a black car to take my car in for a "hot wax" twice a month and make sure I see them actually applying the hot wax on because some companies try to scam you.  They try to tell you they do something but they don't actually do it, how ironic.

 

THE COVER
He comes back from the trunk of his car with something that looks like wax or a rubbing compound.  It's explained that this is to seal in the job and to finish it.  He puts it all over the area that he just tried to pop out.  Now I have a white area on my front fender that makes it extremely difficult to tell what work was done.  

As I continued to be in the deer in the headlights, I said nothing when he put this compound on my car.  This is a car that I know how to take care of and that I wash by hand vigilantly.  Analysing all this I still can't believe I let a complete stranger even put his hands on my car, let alone put some white compound on my car.

He walks around my car, putting the compound on any scratch or small dent he sees.  Swirling it in with his dirty microfiber towel.  So many red flags, using a dirty microfiber towel to put compound on a dirty car is not a good thing, it'll just scratch things up.

Then he sells me on the compound!  Puts some on the hood and tells me that it'll get rid of the water spots and other dirt.  Uses the towel to wipe it off, tells me to feel how smooth it is ... as a sucker, I agreed that it was smoother than the other parts of the car that were still dirty.  

Still I knew better, but said absolutely nothing.

I asked him to fix a small dent in my door on the other side, he comes back and tells me to go in the car to press on the brake so that it creates pressure and it's easier to pull out - as I walk away to the driver side ... I can't help but wonder "what pressure!?" but I did it anyway!  A few seconds later he's done and shows me that he's put compound all over my car saying that he's done my entire car for me.  

 

THE GETAWAY AND PAYOUT
He now asks for the $150 since he did the entire car, and also asks for a tip since he did such a great job.  I tell him that I told him I had no money and he asks how much I do have.  $40 wasn't enough for him and he wanted the $150 + tip ... he gave me that sad look and said he was just doing it for his family and kids.

Like a sucker, I fell for it.  Psychologically I already fell neck deep in his bs ... even though there were so many flags raised and I questioned things every step of the way (in my head) I was telling myself that it's only right to pay this guy since he did do work on my car.  

Stupidly we drove to an ATM ... still in shock and still caught in the headlights.  There was even a time on the way to the ATM that I wanted to let him get caught at a stop light and speed off without paying a cent but I ended up handing over about $130.

That look on his face of disappointment when I handed him only $130 should have been enough for me to take the money back ... but I didn't and I still can't tell you why.  

He reassured me with closing words of getting a hot wax and letting the compound sit for about 24 hours before getting it done.  

If you read this closely then you'll remember that the reason I followed him and parked was because he was going to show me a demo.  But the demo was in fact the actual job and I didn't even realize that this was a service that I didn't ask for, and that it was a demo he was going to show me and if I liked it he was going to pop out the dents for me ... 

This whole ordeal made me wonder and analyze everything, wondering what made me do nothing and listen to him word for word and trust him 100%.  I've figured out parts of why certain things happened but I still can't figure out why as a whole I fell for this.

It was the quick talking, it was the quick fix, the cheaper price than getting it professionally done, it was being caught off guard, it was being stupid.  The quick sell of having the dents fixed for a lower price and the pressure he put on me to get it done now now now got me thrown off balance from my usual overly cautious ways.  

Everything that happened during and after just supported me falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole and not being able to get out.  It was a mind f*ck and it really got me good.  It was a scam that wasn't well played by him, but rather just me being so receptive to his offer.  There were so many holes in his scam that I picked up on ... but yet I never called him out on it!  Perhaps it was the "wait and see" attitude that he might actually be legit and did fix the dent.

 

THE AFTERMATH
With any scam it's not only skin deep, but it goes beyond.  The scammer might think that the only damage is the exchange fo a few dollars, but it's so much more than that.  

For me it was my damaged ego, me feeling like I was just taken advantage of and to be extreme it felt like I had just been rapped.  I didn't know what to do, I didn't want to talk about it, I had no answers for why I let that happen and I didn't want to tell anyone.  I just wanted it to go away, I just didn't want to deal with it or anything.

The damage of being scammed is that you feel like a fool, and it's a chain reaction after that.  You feel that you can't do x y and z, you're self confidence takes a nose dive and it's quite hard to get back.  When someone takes advantage of you it just breaks you down mentally and emotionally.  

Often times you find yourself sitting there wondering how you can be so stupid to fall for something like that.  You ask yourself time and time again why you didn't speak up, and it effects those around you and those close to you.  

Nevermind the small dent in the bank account, but it's the larger dent on the individual that's long lasting.  Not having any medical background or anything, but I would compare it to having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

I was extremely bummed after wards and just wanted to go home and sleep.  I didn't even want to do anything.  I just wanted it all to be behind me and I never wanted to talk about it again.  This served as a good thing for me because instead of waiting the next day to get the compound off, I just wanted this story to end so I took it to the car wash to get it all off. 

After gathering myself a few days later I found out that this is a very common scam, they are called gypsies and it's been happening for years and years.  There are so many more horror stories where people listened and left the compound on for the 24 hours ... and washed it off the following day to find that the paint under the compound had been stripped to the metal.  Now what was a $150 mistake cost them a few thousand dollars to repaint the entire car.  

This is just an example of a scam that happened to me and the steps that I now see build it's way up from start to finish.  So it's a lesson learned and the only good thing to come out of this is that I've become more aware and hopefully have learned how to say no or to just look away when I'm solicited for services that I didn't even ask for.  

These are the key things that I've learned and hopefully it'll help someone reading this from getting scammed:

 

  • If a service or product is being pushed to you without your direct want of it, then it's most likely a scam
  • If someone points out that you need help with [fill in the blank] and they offer to help you for cheap, then it's most likely a scam
  • If someone tells you that they have to do whatever service right here and right now, then it's most likely a scam
  • If they don't offer you a business card, a working contact number and someone that can vouch for them then it's most likely a scam
  • If you're propositioned in a parking lot, it's most likely a scam
  • If there's not agreement or anything in writing is refused, then it's most likely a scam
  • If the service is rushed and they throw on some crap to cover up the job without you having adequate time to inspect it, then it's most likely a scam
  • If you have red flags going up everywhere and you choose to ignore them, then it's most likely a scam

 

I hope this serves as some help and people learn how to avoid falling into the deer in headlights mode.

+mon

Wednesday
Aug312011

Employees Must Wash Hands

This is something that I've experienced a few years ago, I don't think I wrote about this so I'm writing about it now.

It was a weekend where my sister was in town, she needed something from Walgreens so we drove over to the Elmhurst location.  This is the newer Walgreens along Broadway and not the older one that's closer to Broadway park. 

Just the typical trip to Walgreens, or so we thought.  As I pulled into the parking lot in the back of the building we were just chatting about a random subject.  From out of the corner of my eye I see something on the passenger side window.  There was a man there by in between the dumpsters, it didn't look like he was trying to hide, but he was just there ... squatting.  His pants were down and there was a small pile of ... well let's just say it looked like a chocolate soft server ice cream that you get from those Chinese buffet places. 

We made eye contact, I was shocked, he looked like he was in a rush but kept dispensing that chocolate soft serve. 

My sister and I were shocked but we went on our way and found a spot and went into the Walgreens.  Things were back to normal and this sight that we had just seen started to disappear from our brains.  I walk down one of the aisle, it was most likely the aisle with the potato chips, and I see this man standing at the very end.  Our eyes connected and it was the same man that I saw outside.  Both of us had that deer in headlights moment and we stood there for a few seconds before quickly turning around and running out of our respective ends of that aisle. 

I swiftly walked over to my sister to tell her that the "homeless man" that was outside pooping was now inside Walgreens!  We thought he was looking for us, for some strange reason.  We couldn't figure it out ... until we ran into him again in another aisle. 

There he was, and there we were standing as if we were about to duel off like the old westerns.  Shocked, confused, not sure what to do ... all three of us standing there waiting for the next move to be made.

Then I saw something ... no it wasn't another chocolate soft serve - that would just be disgusting!  I saw a nametag.  That nametag was attached to a Walgreens apron. 

This man wasn't homeless, infact he worked there at Walgreens. 

We fled to another aisle to gather our thoughts.  We asked why this man was in the back of Walgreens making a deposit!?  Was he outside smoking and he just really had to go!?  Was the bathroom broken!?  We couldn't figure it out ... and years later just thinking about it, it still doesn't make sense to me. 

This is something that will be engrained into our brains for the rest of our lives, I believe.  I can't describe his face to you though, the only description that I do remember was his eyes.  He had eyes that were sort of popping out of his head, or maybe it was just because of the way we were looking at each other in shock and embarassment??!

Perhaps I'll make a return trip to this Walgreens to see if this guy is around and if he is ... I'll take a picture of him, preferably with his apron on and stocking the shelves.

If you've got theories as to why as person would be doing this ... please do share because I'm still stumped and have not had chocolate soft serve since then.

+ mon

Wednesday
Aug242011

Eat Healthy! But Not When You Go Here

Admist this health food boom, with all these restaurants who cater to those who eat light, or those who with to eat light but end up ordering twice as much, comes a restaurant that knows no boundaries!

Salt and Fat
41-16 Queens Blvd
(718) 433-3702
www.satlandfatny.com

I'm talking about Salt & Fat.  Yes, that's the actual name of the restaurant in Sunnyside Queens.  We were introduced to this place by a friend and we all came here with uncertain tastebuds, as we've never been there before.  It isn't the decor that makes you do a double take as you walk by, it's the name. 

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet"

But the name is important!  It tells us what we have to look forward to upon entering those doors.

It's been a while since I actually ate here, but I do remember some items from the menu that we ordered and they are very tasty. 

Bacon Flavored Popcorn - you'll be greeted with this when you order your food.  It's a surprise as you wonder why they are serving popcorn, until you smell and taste it.  It's been tossed in bacon grease and has good flavor, this was a pleasant surprise.

Crack and Cheese - this is their version of mac n cheese, and I have to admit that it was damn good!  You know the bacon bits that you'll get on your salad or mac n cheese?  This isn't the same bacon, this is the bacon that we actually buy from the supermarkets and chop it up into pieces that you can actually see and eat.  This is extremely good.  

I can't remember what else we ate there but the food there definitely touches the more active tastes that we know and love ... saltiness.

Don't go here if you're expecting something healthy because you won't get it, I don't even think the salads are healthy.  But do go here if you're looking for something good to eat.

The only complaint that I have is that their portions are small, I could have eaten 2 or 3 orders of the Crack and Cheese on my own, but we shared one order amongst 4 people - afterall we were just getting a taste of what this place had to offer.

It's been a while since I've eaten here, hmmmm perhaps it's about time to go back! 

Salt and Fat ... how great a name, especially when there is bacon on mostly everything.  This is a joy for me since I am a bacon lover and it's only 1 block from my place!

There is so much for me to try on this menu, but I wouldn't recommend this place more than once a month.  You might find yourself with some blood pressure issues and might not be able to eat here for a while thereafter.  So eat here in moderation, you have been warned!

Taste : 9.9
Price : $$ out of $$$ 
Restaurant : 7 (larger portions please!)

+ mon

Wednesday
Aug242011

(Mexican) Ecuadorian Volleyball

For years I've walked by or driven by parks where I've seen these nets stretched as far as possible and about 15 feet off the ground.  There were always spanish people playing some sort of variation of volleyball, but it was volleyball but you were allowed to catch and carry the ball and then throw it!

This sport baffled me and I thought it was just something that was made up by those who played it.  I actually thought it was just a New York thing since I've never seen it anywhere else that my limited travel experience has taken me to.

I had the fortunate and unfortunate experience of playing against some Ecuadorian's a few years ago.

Before I forget, please excuse my ignorance for calling it Mexican volleyball!  I can't tell the difference between Ecuadorians and Mexicans, just the same as I can't tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese and Korean just by looking at someone. 

We used to setup a volleyball net (regular volleyball) in Prospect Park a few years back.  We were just relaxing on the grass and these Ecuadorians came by and started to play on our net ... it was one of those moments where you don't know exactly how to respond.  Do you (A) tell them to stop playing on <b>our</b> net, (B) let it go and let them play on your net or (C) challenge them to a game to get them off your court?!

We opted for option C.  First we let them know that it was our net and that it wasn't a public net, then we asked them if they wanted to play a friendly game of volleyball.  This is where it got interesting as it was their guys against my friends and I.  Keep in mind that my friends and I aren't great at volleyball, but we can play and hold our own.

From the first 20 seconds we knew this was going to be a long game, as the ball went over the net to their side, they took the ball, carried it and threw it to their other player.  I immediately called a carry on that player, but they looked at me as if I were a giant talking hot dog (which I'm not too far from).  This happened for the next few plays or so where I would call a carry when they would catch and throw the ball around.  Extremely frustrated at this point where the game was just not working, we decided to just "let it go" and not call anymore carries.  Their "captain" talked to his team and I'm assuming told them to ease up on the carries as this wasn't the volleyball they are used to! 

This was one of the hardest games I've played in my life, and I've played a lot of volleyball.

After we just let them carry the ball and throw it as they pleased, we found it extremely difficult as we played the regular rules of volleyball.  These guys were taking the ball, catching it and then throwing it to wherever they wanted.   It wasn't a bump, it wasn't a set and it wasn't a spike ... this was Ecuardorian volleyball.  Guys were running into the net, and doing all sorts of things that we weren't used to but we came out victorious in the end ... after a few games of this.

I even found myself playing with their rules because of pure frustration.  Instead of a spike, I would jump and grab the ball then throw it onto their side of the court - and it wasn't a short catch and throw, it was a catch, aim wind up and then throw!

This game is an actual sport that's big and has leagues!  Yas had found out that this was called Ecuavolley.  The reason I never found out what this was is because I searched for "Mexican volleyball." 

We were reminded of this game on the way to a pitch and putt outing where we saw a couple of those 15 feet high nets strung up in the underpass of the Van Wyck Expressway.  These guys are hardcore, they stayed there for hours, even after the sun went down.  I guess they have a good spot with lights at night and shade during the day. 

So props to those who play this type of volleyball as it takes a different kind of athlete to try and play on a 15 foot net. 

Here's some video of some Ecuadorian Volleyball league in Canada. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddaaptn0yaY

+ mon

Thursday
May052011

Letting Off Some Steam

This is a continuation of my last post, but I think I should change this to me just venting and complaining about the things going on around us and the entire world. 

SECURITY THEATER
This is something that has bothered me for a while now and has only in the recent months been something that has hit the mainstream media, but hasn't been on it for more than a day or two.

What I'm talking about is the TSA in the airports.  Have you flown anywhere lately?  Have you had to go through a larger machine where you put your hands up and spin around?  Most of the people have no idea what that is ... they do not tell you what it is when you get to the "security" checkpoint.  You have to read the signs and ask if you really want to know what they are.  Or you can simply read this blog, many news and other blog sites around the interwebs that tells you what they are.

They are what have been dubbed as the "naked body scanners."  It's basically an xray of your entire body.  You're picturing an xray that you've seen when your bones are checked ... but it doesn't go that deep.  It will xray your body up to your skin level, meaning that it pretty much strips your clothes off and leaves you standing there in just your twigs and berries for all to see - correction, for only one TSA agent to see who is locked up in a room.  According to the TSA that's the only person that ever sees these naked images of you, and they are not stored or saved anywhere.  I call bullshit on that ... it's already been proven that these machines save the images and the images have been leaked online.  Anything that has a hard drive and that means any computer, saves and stores things.  This has a hard drive and stores the images, in the manual from the manufacturing company it even says that the images are stored.  So why is the TSA saying different?  So that you and I won't make a fuss and just walk through without incident. 

You say "but they are doing it to protect us!"  So is it alright to give up your liberties, your rights, your privacy for the feeling of being safe?  It's alright to have a negative image of you in your birthday suit being viewed and with the potential for anyone and everyone to see done just because they say it's keeping us safe?  The reason these body scanners are around is a reaction to the Christmas underwear bomber. 

"If that guy can sneak liquids in his underwear and try to blow up the plane, we need to have machines that can see through everyone's underwear to make sure this doesn't happen again!"

That logic is just horrible and that's pretty much what is being said and done. 

Alright, so you're one of the sheeple that think this is alright.  What about the radiation, do we have any information on that?  Absolutely not ... but know this.  The technology that is being used in some of these body scanners are the same technology the military is using in wars to see through walls and buildings - the operators of these xrays have lead plates between them and the xrays.  Think of when you get an xray of your bones, or even your teeth.  What is the big heavy vest or blanket they put on you?  It's a lead blanket or vest ... to protect you from these xrays.  But now it's alright to have these same kinds of xrays just free flowing through our bodies at least two times during a trip somewhere? 

So now you've heard my pov on these ... "what else can you do, you have to go through it."  No you can opt out.  There are no laws or rules that you have to go through those cancer inducing naked body scanners.  If you opt out you will be subject to a patdown. 

Ahhh yes these patdowns you've seen before, no problems there right?  They actually changed that whole thing and the "enhanced patdowns" are more invasive.  They touch you in areas that only a doctor or someone you're having relations with is allowed to touch.  Keep in mind that these are not doctors touching you, not even close.  These are low paid employees who are running their hands through your hair, over your arms, legs, chest, boobies, bootay, wang and sometimes the credit card slot down your bootay.

Ooh you didn't know that!?  Well again this is dependent on whom the TSA agent is and how much of a power trip they get from something like this.  But this is definitely a violation of your constitutional rights. 

I've opted out and was put through a patdown.  Luckily for me the TSA agent I had at LAX saw my laptop and we started chit chatting about playing video games.  This broke the ice and he seemed to be a little less invasive with me.  Very polite and told me everything that he was going to do, but even though someone is telling you what they are going to be doing, doesn't make it right.  One thing that I was very uncomfortable with was him putting his hands down the waistband of my pants and going around the entire thing.  He did ease up with he was running his hand down my legs and skipped touching the junk which I appreciated but the lady next to me who was getting patted down didn't seem to have the same experience that I had.  She was getting upset that the lady was touching her, running her fingers through her hair and whatever else happened that I did not see. 

The bottom line is what is more important to you.  Do you value your liberties and freedom more, or is the feeling of being safe something you treasure? 

Keep this in mind if you choose the latter ... this installation of body scanners and enhanced patdowns was a reaction to the underwear bomber.  So now ask yourself what would the TSA and government do if there was a bomber who was found to have explosives hidden in a place where the sun don't shine?  Judging from the reactive nature of the TSA and our government we'd all be reaching forward and touching our toes while a cavity search is done on many innocent passengers, women, men and (yes!) children alike. 

Where is the line draw?  When is it too much?  Do we wait for the rubber glove to be snapped into place while we're bending over?  Or is it now when we still have somewhat of a voice, is it now when we still have our freedoms and liberty? 

Opt out

+mon

Thursday
May052011

Multitude of Thoughts

Well hello there blog, I forgot about you for a while.  It's been a long time between posts and a lot has happened since so there are many ramblings and thoughts which I can put down onto this digital paper, so where to begin?

Instead of going back in time I'll just fill this page with thoughts of things that are currently happening in the world around us and in my world.  Hopefully I'll be able to come up with some interesting titles.

SHADY
So we've been told that the #1 most wanted terrorist has been shot and killed, that isn't too far fetched considering it took 10 years for that to happen.  DNA testing within a 24 hour time period confirmed the identity to be 99% ... ok I'm not sure how long DNA testing takes but 24 hour time period, feasible.  Let's see some pictures, the response was that they are too horrible to show and they still might show it anyway - we're all waiting on the edge of our seats.  Now comes the kicker - where' the body?  "Oh yeah we threw it into the ocean." 

It goes from the sensation of "yay they got him!" going down incremently to "wth?? why would you do that!?"

I've read and watched video clips from way back as late 2001 and early 2002 where Dan Rather and "journalists" of his caliber said that this guy was dead or dying from kidney disease.  There were even reports and evidence of him going into a hospital for dialysis treatment. 

10 years later we hear that they finally got him, then they threw the body into the ocean. There are just so many inconsistencies, so many different versions that you don't know what or whom to believe anymore.  My tendancy is to not listen to the mainstream media because everything is filtered, everythign is controlled.  Where do I get my news from you ask?  The internet ... it's free, it's open to anyone and there isn't one person that can say this story doesn't belong, or that you need to edit this.  That's a double edged sword in that you can read news from everywhere and anyone, but how do you know it's reliable?  The quick answer for me is to judge based on the track record of that person/website reporting and if they have been truthful before or have withheld anything, or if they were just flat out wrong about a topic.

The more you hear about the story that he died recently and the events surrounding it, the worst it sounds.  Don't even get me started on 9/11 ... but just hearing how they threw the body into the ocean reminds me so much of what happened on that date.  Evidence, key evidence was destroyed ... they just threw it away and got rid of it. 

Also the fact that people were in the streets celebrating that he was dead??  What's the celebration for?  Some people said that this was closure for a lot of 9/11 families ... but why?  There was never any evidence that he was behind what happened.  Sure you can read what the not so independent 9/11 commission put into that book but he never even claimed to have any part in the attacks. 

Anyhow, this whole story of him being killed and announced on May 1st (May Day, look up the roots and what it means) is nothing more than just shady.  The presidents ratings were down, horrible ratings.  With news this big it was like jumping off a moonbounce that was situated on the moon. 

It just boggles my mind to see how many people just blindly believe and listen to the mainstream media without doing any sort of research themselves.  But that's besides the point and throwing away the evidence for the second time in 10 years for a major event in our history is just idiotic.

DEPRESSED YET?
This economy is horrible, the dollar is tanking and it's just going down the drain, but yet the news reports are saying that things are getting better!  Things are looking up!  The unemployment rates have dropped! 

Of course the unemployment rates have dropped ... there are so many people who can no longer claim their benefits because that period of 1 year has run out for them!  They are still unemployed, they just no longer count in the percentages because they can't file and get money from the government. 

Things are not getting better and the dollar is only getting weaker.  I've advised many people in the past two years where to put their money, but I don't think they are listening.  It's hard to stop believing in something (the dollar) and think that it's going to collapse totally.  I forget the term but it's the thinking that the United States is such a powerful country that it will never fail, that we are the strongest nation in the world and we'll always continue to be.  But that's the kind of thinking that Rome had ... and what happened to them?  We're on the same path if things don't change drastically. 

There was one republican candidate running for the presidency back in 2008, Ron Paul.  One of his first orders of business if he were to become the president was to get rid of the IRS, to get rid of the income tax.  The other politicians laughed and asked where the government would get those millions, billions of dollars that come from income back.  The answer was simple, very very simple ... bring our troops home.  All the spending of millions, billions and even trillions per day would be gone if we brought them home instead of fighting wars all over the world and becoming the self proclaiming world police. 

I think I might have gone off on a tangent, but the point is we're all in a depression.  The recession has come and gone.  If you don't believe me, take a walk down any of your family streets for shopping or eating in Manhattan, even in Queens and you'll see that businesses that you knew were there just 2 or 3 years ago are no longer there, that they were replaced by new businesses, or more often you'll see the storefront that they once occupied with some signs saying it's for rent, for lease, they went out of business or any of the sort. 

Harder days are coming when we're going to be trying to scrounge for any money we can, so it's a good idea now to start saving, to invest in something that can be backed worldwide.  Put your US dollars into something more feasible and something that is not losing value but rather gaining value.  For those whom I've already spoke to and told where to put your money, the time to listen was when I actually told you because you would have made at least 300% already.

 

Tuesday
Aug312010

Movie Review: The Last Exorcism

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

When I first saw this trailer it looked to be quite disturbing and looked to be one of those good scary movies that'll have people jumping out of their seats in the theater.  I didn't know much about the movie going in except for the trailer and some reviews that I read saying that the ending was disappointing. 

This is a documentary type of movie and for a little while I got the sense that it might have been a mockumentary with the comedy that was involved in the earlier part of the movie.

It starts off with a preacher named Cotton who agreed to be part of this documentary to show that exorcisms aren't real and that demons aren't real.  He had grown up as a preachers son and one of the things he says is that every preacher needs a pitch, something to draw in the congregation, to draw in the money because love doesn't keep the church open.

He starts to doubt his faith and question God and everything else, but he keeps preaching to put food on the table for him and his family.  So the preaching isn't because he believes in God or his faith anymore, it's just a job and a paycheck coming in. 

The open half of this movie is important, even though it's filled with small jokes - like how he incorporated his mothers banana bread recipe into his sermon and everyone still threw praises.  It reveals a lot about the storyline.  One important thing that was said is that if you believe in God, then you have to believe in the devil and the demons.  There's a great shot of his son saying that his dad fights demons, vampires and ghosts ... and when asked if his dad believes in those things he shakes his head with his finger to his lips to keep quiet.

He decides to take the film crew on a trip to document an "exorcism" that's he's going to perform and give them behind the scenes footage of how fake it all is. 

When he arrives in the town he says that it's easy for the people around the area to make things up based on things passed down and superstition.  One lady interviewed at a gas station said that the gates of hell was in the location they were going.  They arrive at the farm and a boy they meet tell them to turn around and starts to throw rocks at their car ... he ends up being the farmers son.  They meet the father and he seems to still be distraught over losing his wife to cancer and now facing the issue that his daughter might be possessed by a demon. 

We meet the daughter, Nell, and she's a 16 year old girl who has the innocence of a 10 or 11 year old.  When Cotton talks to her for the first time she really shines through and that warm innocent smile makes you feel for her and the pain of losing her mother ... she was her best friend.  He does some preliminary "tests" to her and then makes her dip her feet in a pan of water.  The water starts to bubble from something Cotton slipped into the water.  After setting up the girls bedroom he brings her in and performs an exorcism which by all accounts is fake.  You can see daughters fear and hope that whatever is in her leaves ... you can see it in the father too.  The son on the other hand is looking for all the smoke and mirrors since he saw Cotton drop something in the water to make it bubble.

After it was done he says that she's good to go ... she's happy and was now resting.  Quick and easy and the show was done, we even get a thumbs up from the son as they were leaving for a good performance.  A lot of humor thoughout this part of the movie as we see the behind the scenes footage of how things were done.

What seemed to be a done deal and Cotton getting paid for the exorcism and showing the film crew that it was all fake, we find Nell in his hotel room seemingly possessed.  This mid part of the movie goes back and forth with her possession or lack thereof.  The audience is left to decide at this point if she really does have a demon or doesn't. 

We find out that the dad pulled her out of the local church because he felt that they weren't teaching her good things.  This point in the movie seemed like a dad who was intouch with the old church and wanted his daughter to be taught the old beliefs and traditions without having the modern day view of things.  The father was definitely over protective of Nell. 

The father takes his son to the hospital after Nell cut his face and the son writes a note to Cotton saying not to leave her alone with him ... not to leave Nell alone with the father.  This was a key point in Cotton and his team to start to make presumptions about what was going on in the family and fed the story of them insisting Nell was just mentally disturbed.  We come to find out from the doctor leaving a message that Nell is pregnant and this continued to work on the minds of the crew that the father was abusing Nell ... especially after finding her chained to the bed.

Cotton still believes that she needs some mental help and that there isn't a demon here but just the daughter acting out and being scared because she got pregnant from a boy from the cafe down the road. 

This all is leading up to a finale which is questionable and you think comes out of right field.  There's a "wtf" moment when the final 8 minutes of the movie starts.  They find out the boy in the cafe is gay and that he wasn't with Nell ... then some more inconsistencies with the local preachers story who was now in the house with Nell and the family. 

They come back to find that house with satan drawings and the family gone.  As they are about to leave they hear Nell screaming and run to find a huge fire with some of the town people there, in robes, chanting.  Nell is on an altar with then trying to get the "baby" out of her ... we see the local preacher leading the whole thing.  The baby gets thrown into the fire and we see the fire erupt into something with the likes of a demon and not just a fire burning. 

This is where the audice gets lost, this is when the audience is left scratching their head and wondering what is happening, or what just happened.  But when you take that step back and look at the movie as a whole and the actual story, then you understand what and why that all takes place. 

The audience is drawn to watch the movie with the title of it being an exorcism, with expectations of it being like the original movie.  Joint breaking, blood, vomiting and all of the things that come along with demons.  But the exorcism that's referenced in the title really isn't about Nell and the demon that's inside her (yes she was actually possessed), it's about Cotton's last exorcism on himself, to rid himself of the demons that's caused him to doubt his faith and to not believe in God - to the point of even mocking it and making fun of it. 

At the start we find a preacher/minister who is fake, who's entire show is just to bring in the money to support his family.  This movie is a journey about how his faith is constantly tested and he constantly fails, until the very end where you see him hold his cross and run towards the demon in the fire to save Nell.  His faith is restored ... his belief is back but it took a physical demon in front of him to believe in God again. 

Ironic how he starts by saying that if you believe in God, you must believe in the devil and demons.  But for him it was the other way around ... he ended up believing in the demons to find his belief in God again.

I think this movie was extremely deep, and had a lot of it's focus on faith.  It's easy to draw parallels with this movie and the youth/church group I work with.  The kids are fired up and gung ho about things at first ... they preach, they go to everything, the are on fire.  They hit a point in their live where there's doubt in their belief or faith in one form or another ... then they disappear.  Some continue on their own spiritual journey while others just lose it all and forget all of that.  It'll take something to snap, or some kind of event in their life to make them realize that what they first experienced was all real, and to have that faith restored.  I see it as something that we all go through, even those who aren't religious, we ride that rollercoaster and hopefully we can be like Cotton and through all the jokes, the money, the scams he's pulling ... he was able to find the truth and find what was real.

This is quite a smart "horror" movie, people get lost in the ending but looking back at everything that was said and done, that's what the movie was building up for.  The tagline for this movie is "Believe in Him" which could be taken in a few different ways ...

Conclusion : Good if you're not expecting a fright fest and are looking for a movie where you have to think.  Don't watch this movie if you're just looking for a jump out of your seat horror movie. 

+ mon

Tuesday
Jan122010

Google's [and Simon's] New Toy - Nexus One Review

It's been a while ... well I guess the blog restarts with the review of HTC's Google Nexus One "Super Phone!"

Please keep in mind while reading this review or evaluation, that I haven't used the Android platform before, I've played with the iPhone a little, but am coming from a Symbian system that was on my Nokia N95 and Nokia N97.  I never went with the iPhone because of the battery not being replaceable without having to void the warranty or send it back to Apple - that was a dealbreaker for me, even though I know how good the OS is and all the available apps.

For those that don't know, Symbian is the most used operating system for cell phones, back in mid 2009 it had about 50% of the market.  

I've been using Symbian on my past two phones and they have worked really well, there are a lot of free apps which were very useful.  Compared to the iPhone and Android OS, Symbian lacks the polished look and gui.  Aside from that the only other issue that I found with Symbian was memory management, I would have apps crash on me because there wasn't enough resources, I blame this on the OS, but I could be wrong and this might be something with the phones firmware.

Enough of the backstory, onto the Nexus One (I'll post pictures and video later, the BBerry's camera is horrible).  

Unboxing - when you first receive the box you'll notice Google's hand was involved in it all the way and HTC seems like it just created the physical hardware that Google had told them how to and what to do.  It's very sleek and sexy, the screen is big and the body of the phone feels great in your hand.  The plastic/rubbery part which makes up the back of the phone is interesting and gives it just enough grip that you feel it won't slip out of your grip.  There is also a part on the back where you can have engravings done.  

It comes with the charger, headphones/microphone, 4GB microSD card, data cable and pouch.  Standard things that come with mostly all cell phones.

First Impressions - the time it takes to turn the phone on from pressing the button to being able to open apps and use the phone takes about 30 seconds, this was with nothing extra installed and fresh out of the box and charged.  With all the apps and utilities that I installed over the past day, the start up time is now 1 minute and 15 seconds.  

One of the first things you'll notice is the crispness of the screen.  My past phones have had really nice colors and contrast, but seeing the screen of the Nexus One pales in comparison.  It's extremely clean and the resolution quite good - to put it mildly.

Android OS - this is the first time that I've used the Android OS for more than a day and I like it ... I really really like it!  When I first used the Android OS on the G1, I wasn't impressed, it wasn't something that blew me away or even something that made me "oooooooo" and "ahhhhh" it was just "eh" when I first got my hands on it way back when.  Having the Android OS running on the Nexus One was a different experience, the quick response time from when you first touch the screen to when the app(s) open or whatever you're selecting comes up is quick - I'm guessing this is a combination of the OS and the Snapdragon processor.  

It's very responsive and customizable, which is something I like to do.  There's just something about changing as many options as you can on the phone to make it your own that's quite satisfying, this was a huge reason why I stayed with Symbian for so long, but I never had the time with the iPhone to be able to try it out extensively, so I can't compare.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but on the iPhone you can't multitask, on this ... you can.  I've had a lot of different applications running all the same time without much slowdown or stuttering.  You will get the occasional hiccup here and there, but there hasn't been anything significant.  You will also get the error messages from time to time, but I think those are from the apps themselves and not from the OS or the phone.  

Speed - the Nexus One is extremely fast, the processor and the OS work very well together.  For those who were into computers back in the day ... you'll remember this well.  Sitting there at your desk or wherever you were staring at that CRT monitor, pressing that big power button on that gray or off white box, probably running Windows 95 or even Windows 3.1 ... I remember when the question was asked, "what kind of pc do you have?" my answer was a very confident "I have a 386" or even a 486 for those who had faster pc's.  Do you remember how fast that was back then?  Then do you remember when the pc's came out with the 1GHz processors and that blew the 386's and the 486's of the world away?  This is how it is for me ... again coming from how Symbian ran on my N97, where I would sometimes sit there and wait for things to load, or cancel out the error messages; to having a phone that instantaneously opens the applications, that runs smoothly and seems like you can open about 10 more apps without any problems.  

That's the easiest way for me to describe the speed differential I'm experiencing with the Nexus One ... from the 486 to the 1GHz processor.  I'm not 100% but I think the processing speed of the Nexus One is almost double that of most of the popular phones out there.  The RAM is also another + where it has 512MB's.  It's only a matter of time where we'll be laughing at that number and cell phones will have 2GB's of RAM.

Marketplace - there is a lot of debate from the iPhone lovers and the Android lovers at which is better based on the apps available.  I think the iPhone App Store has about 100,000 apps, while the Android Marketplace has about 20,000 apps.  Alright ... having the kind of thinking I have and thinking logically, I see it as the iPhone having a headstart of a year or maybe more, hence the larger set of apps on their store.  I'm not a developer (yet) but from what I hear, a huge difference with Android and the iPhone is that Android is open, so people can make their apps with little or no interaction with Google.  But the iPhone on the other hand has to get approved and all sorts of hoops that you need to jump through to get your app on there.  

20,000 apps seems more than enough for me.  I've downloaded about 20-30 apps already and they are all free ... I haven't paid for them yet, but I'm sure I'll come across some that I'll just have to buy.  

Most of the apps on the Marketplace have been without issue, there were about 2 or 3 of them that didn't work with the Nexus One and the 2.1 Android OS, but those were rare.  The apps that I got were again smooth and ran well on the phone, I probably encountered 1 or 2 error messages from an app (not sure which one).  

Live Wallpapers - one of the features that Google pointed out was the live wallpapers which you can interact with and are touch sensitive.  These are fun and visually stimulating, but they don't offer much in terms of functionality.  They are pure eye candy and should be treated as such.

Sync - another key feature of Google is how the Nexus One syncs with most (if not all) of the Google products that you already use.  Gmail, Google Voice, Google Talk etc etc.  So far they have worked seamlessly with the Nexus One ... as soon as you sign into your Gmail account, it syncs all of your contacts automatically and does it on the fly - so if you edit your contacts online, it will refresh on your phone.  It will fetch and match the facebook profiles with your contacts, so you don't have 2 or 3 of ever person on your contact list.  Again I'm not sure if other phones do this, but I know my N97 didn't, so this was new to me.  

If you have a Google Voice number, you can use it on your Nexus One.  So when you're calling someone you can either call with the phone number tied into your SIM card, or whichever Google Voice number that you have (in my case 347-878-SRAY).  You get access to all the Google Voice functionality as well, including the voicemail which is transcribed and you can read, or you can listen to it on the phone without having to dial into your voicemail.

Connectivity - I have it running on TMobile and the 3G has been a steady connection throughout my office, and also my house.  My past phone had issues when I was at home and I would lose signal when I'm in certain parts of the house, the Nexus One had signal in those trouble areas which was surprising - given that I live in the basement and part of the ceiling is enforced with metal, part of it is like living in a bomb shelter with no radio signals coming in or out.  

It was announced that TMobile had upped their 3G network to 7.2Mbs/sec ... here are the results of my speedtests on the phone:

wifi - 581.2KBs/sec DOWN / 89.7KBs/sec UP
Edge - 11.7KBs/sec DOWN / 2.5KBs/sec UP
3G (at home) - 187KBs/sec DOWN / 126.8KBs/sec UP
3G (in Manhattan) - 356.8/sec DOWN / 164.2KBs/sec UP

 

The wifi connection is correct and it goes with my speeds at home.  The Edge is slower, almost like those boxes that make all the noise with the beeps and chirps running at 56K.  Seems like the 3G in my house was slower than in Manhattan where it's blanketed with 3G.  The 3G in Manhattan seemed to be running at 3Mbs/sec.

Bluetooth and wifi were not a problem to setup, I don't think I need to go into detail more.

AT&T CUSTOMERS READ THIS - If you're on AT&T and plan on getting the Nexus One "unlocked" you will not have 3G speeds.  The current Nexus One will not connect to the 3G network for AT&T because TMobile runs their 3G at a different frequency than the other carriers, and does not support AT&T's frequency for 3G.  

ISSUES & PROBLEMS - Every phone has their share of problems, I didn't find many on the Nexus One, but there are a few that exists.  There are four hard buttons on the front of the phone that are for "back," "options," "home" and "search."  Pressing directly on the icons of these buttons will not work, you need to press a little bit above the actual icons to activate each option.  I'm not sure if this can be corrected with a software update, but it seems that the mapping of the areas to touch for these are a little off.  After using it for about an hour you learn how to "press" these buttons and the problem is goes unnoticed.

The camera on the phone is a good one, 5MP with an LED flash.  It takes 720x480 video as well ... but there is an issue.  There isn't a hard button for the camera, so if you are like me and like to take pictures of your face from time to time, having the back of the camera facing your face and trying to press the "shutter" button on the screen is something hard to accomplish.  It took me a little bit of practice to get this right but after a while I was able to get it done.  

Speaker quality is not that great on the Nexus One.  There is one mono speaker on the back of the phone and when using the speaker phone it comes out a bit pitchy (I sound like an American Idol judge now).  The speaker isn't that loud either, I'm used to the great speakers that are on the Nokia N97.  

While using the corded headset I did notice that there were little noises that I heard which might have been the "noise canceling" mic cancelling the noise for the party on the other end of the line, but not me.  I'm not sure if this was the issue or if I had low signal when I was making the call from inside my house.  I'll revisit this issue and see if this was an isolated incident.  

Other Thoughts - well I've had this phone for about 24 hours now and have been playing with it when given the opportunity, and I like it, it's a solid smart phone ... or as Google calls it a "super phone."  It's quick, it's responsive, it's really good to look at the screen, the apps are there, the speed is there, space is up to the user but you do get the 4GBs to start with.  People always label phones as the "iPhone Killer" but I don't think any phone is a "killer" or any other phone, it comes down to personal preference, what features the end