Nerd to the Wise

This is probably old news to most of you, but just in case I figured a little advice on password strength couldn’t hurt. When I first met Mrs. Ebola, we worked for sister companies and in conversation one day she mentioned that her work password was actually “password1”. I googled a list of the top 10 most common passwords, and that came up as number two. “Password” was actually number one.  My IT department at work is constantly sending out reminders about using strong passwords, so I guess a lot people think it’s too much trouble. But an ounce of prevention and all that…

Keep in mind that anything easily guessed (the name of your pet, your birthday, family member names) should always be avoided.  Technically, any actual words should be avoided if possible. A pretty easy way to come up with a strong password is to think of a sentence that has some meaning to you, and then just take the first letter of every word. For example, you could take Bart Simpson’s trademark “Don’t have a cow man”, then capitalize every other letter (dHaCm).  Now throw in at least one random character and a non-repeating number (i.e. dHaC,m!13). The longer the sentence and the more random characters you insert, the more secure the password. I kept this example fairly simple, as this would be something I could actually remember.

There are sites that will rate the strength of your password for you, like this one. The example above gets a 96% or “Strong” rating 🙂

Winter is Coming

I’m extremely excited about finally catching episode seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  I can’t believe I forgot it was on last night… stupid holiday weekend threw off my calendar. I don’t watch a lot of t.v. anymore, but when I heard that HBO was making a series out of the wonderful “Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin, I figured I’d have to give it a look. And was I ever glad I did! The show is simply amazing.  If you’re a fan of the books, or fantasy in general, you owe it yourself to give the series a whirl. The acting is top-notch, they got the look just right, and being that this in cable they don’t pull any punches in regard to content.

There are some narrative changes that have been made for whatever reasons, but so far the show has for the most part held very closely to the books. Here’s an excerpt on the series from Wikipedia:

 

The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a fictional world, primarily upon a continent called Westeros but also on a large landmass to the east, known as Essos. Most of the characters are human but as the series progresses other races are introduced, such as the cold and menacing Others from the far North and fire-breathing dragons from the East, both races thought to be extinct by the people of the story. There are three principal storylines in the series: the chronicling of a dynastic civil war for control of Westeros among several competing families; the rising threat of the Others, who dwell beyond an immense wall of ice that forms Westeros’ northern border; and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of a king who was murdered in another civil war 15 years previously, to return to Westeros and claim her rightful throne. As the series progresses, all three storylines become increasingly interwoven and dependent on each other.

After watching the first episode, I decided to re-read the series, and finished all four books in about a week and a half.  The new one comes out in July, and can’t wait! Even if you aren’t a fan of fantasy, you could still very well enjoy GoT.  One of the things I liked so much about the books is that the universe Martin has created is much more about the people and their interactions with one another, rather than a focus on magic and monsters (although of course there are some of both). There is enough action, drama, brutal violence, sex, and political intrigue to keep you interested even if the setting isn’t your bag.

Skadoosh!

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kaboom of Doom

Mrs. Ebola and I took the young-ins to see Kung Fu Panda 2 last night, and a good time was had by all.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m actually a pretty big fan of Jack Black.  Not so much for his movies (although I liked Shallow Hal and LOVED School of Rock) but rather for his work as the front man of the two-man tag team of rock and roll awesomeness that is Tenacious D, so I may be a little jaded.

Anyway, if you enjoyed the first installment, the sequel definitely won’t disappoint. IMO, it’s even better than the first. I like Spider-Man 2 more than the the first for the same reason: the origin story is out of the way and we can get right down to business.

KFP2 picks up shortly after the events of first movie, and Po (Black) is dealing with the celebrity that comes with being the Dragon Warrior.  He and the Furious Five comprised of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) are still under the tutelage of the wise Sifu (Dustin Hoffman). When they are called upon to defend a local village from a group of wolf bandits, the main plot of the film gets underway.

(Minor spoilers ahead!) It turns out the wolves are stealing all the metal they can find on the orders of KFP2’s main villain, a peacock named Shen (Gary Oldman), who needs the metal to forge weapons (cannons) which will make kung fu obsolete. So not only are the heroes trying to stop Shen from taking over all of China with his new weapons, they are defending their very reason for existing.

I thought the first kung fu battle with the wolves was actually a little disappointing as it was animated similarly to the fight scenes such as those in the first Bourne movie; all shaky camera and tight angles that made the action a little difficult to follow. This was the only fight that felt disjointed however; from that point on the visuals were a treat.  All the other action sequences were beautifully “choreographed”, and the settings and landscape were breathtaking vistas full of vibrant colors. This is really great looking film, on par with Dreamworks other animation triumph How to Train Your Dragon.

Upon Po’s first confrontation with Shen, the secondary plot raises the question of where the titular panda came from and how he ended up with a goose for a father. There are several flashbacks and dream sequences rendered in 2D animation (similar to the opening credits of the first movie) that are just as stunning visually and move the narrative along with a nice stylistic flourish.

Jack Black pretty much plays himself as always, but in the confines of the cuddly panda I think even his detractors will find his manic energy infectious. A few of the lesser characters are given a bit more screen time this time out (especially Jolie’s Tigress) which was nice, and Oldman absolutely rocked as the evil Shen. No surprise there, the man’s a genius. I read on Pajiba that there will actually be 5 KFP movies in total, and the ending of this one made it abundantly clear that Po’s story is far from finished.

Great visuals, an engaging story, and quite a few laughs that don’t rely on throwaway pop culture references make Kung Fu Panda 2 a movie I would definitely recommend. Even if you don’t have kids, give it a shot. And if you do have kids, be grateful for an animated movie that won’t make you want to drive your thumbs into your eyeballs in an attempt to stab your own brain.

Hurry Up and Wait

Those of us who live in Southern California know better than most the trials and tribulations of rush hour traffic.  California is the third largest state in the union, and its population centers are spread out over vast distances, connected by massive black snakes of asphalt.  By the five o’clock rush hour, the freeways become congested with traffic like the clogged arteries of a cardiac patient.

Although many of the freeways contain carpool lanes, the vast majority of traffic is comprised of the single driver vehicle, even if said vehicle has seating for six.  The cars themselves run the gamut; from the sleek and sexy sports cars prowling the interstate like a jungle cat, to the rusted, twenty-year-old beaters held together by little more than their owner’s fervent wishes.  The brand new Mercedes will slip in front of the massive Tonka toy pickup truck with over-sized tires like mismatched dance partners attempting a dysfunctional tango.   The giant status symbol SUV will come to a shuddering stop mere moments from turning the late model Volkswagen beetle in front of it into a sparkly pancake.  Horns will blare, obscene gestures will be traded, and the dance will continue unabated.

In a perverse ironic twist, it seems as if the faster, more aggressive drivers spend their time in the slow lanes, tailgating their fellow motorists so closely that they can nearly tell what the driver in front of them had for lunch.  They try to fill any available space with their vehicle, and one might expect to see a bumper sticker proclaiming that nature abhors a vacuum.  Conversely, those who have depth perception issues and feel the need to leave ten car-lengths between them and the car in front of them seem to stick to the fast lane as if it were their birthright.

Depending on the time of year, a driver on the freeway can expect to be regularly blinded by either natural or man made light.  In the summer, the sun reflects off hatchback windshields, chrome and shiny paint with a precision that would be envied by the most exacting of perfectionists.  The sunlight seems to conspire with the cars, finding a way to bounce directly into your eyes regardless of sunglasses or screens.  During winter when the sun has set by the time the masses embark upon their evening commute, the large truck behind you will breathe its dragon breath into your rear view mirrors in the form of high-intensity halogen headlamps.  The blacktop is bedecked like a horizontal Christmas tree with the angry red of brake lights and the yellow-white glare of headlights.  There is even the occasional sprinkling of orange turn indicators, although these are rare as Californians seem to not believe in them.

As the battle weary commuter approaches their exit, they must contend with the belligerent conga line that is the exit lane.  If the exit lane were a person, his permanent record might contain the footnote “does not play well with others”.  In a perfect world, the on and off ramps would resemble a closing zipper if viewed from above; every other vehicle would be allowed entry into the lane.  Instead, our theoretical bird’s eye view looks more like a Three Stooges skit where all three stooges are attempting to fit through a doorway at the same time.  To make the analogy complete however, the Stooges would have to be simultaneously talking on their cell phones and applying makeup.

If you will allow me a moment’s vulgarity, George Carlin once observed that “anyone driving faster than you is a maniac, and anyone driving slower than you is an asshole”.  This truism is nowhere more evident than on a California freeway during rush hour.  Drivers ensconced in two thousand-plus pounds of steel and glass are daily thrown together onto our blacktop dance floor with absolutely no idea what song is playing, let alone who is supposed to lead.   With the beats of so many disparate drummers, it rapidly devolves into “every man for himself”.  Perhaps most ironic of all is the fact that even if one escapes relatively unscathed, with both vehicle and sanity intact, they are left with the knowledge that come morning the rhythm will start up again, and they will be hurled once more into this wild, wicked, woeful, wonky waltz.

She Wants a Thesaurus

This link of the 32 Worst Lyrics of All Time has been making the rounds of the intarwebs for the last couple of weeks. It’s a pretty good list, and pretty entertaining. The songs they lampoon were all submitted by their users; I wish I’d known about the list beforehand, as I have a doozy.

There’s this band I loathe called She Wants Revenge. They’re one of those new bands that seems to think that 80’s New Wave was the be all end all of musical expression. They sound like an even more boring version of Depressed Mode. For some reason the rock station here adores these guys, and plays them at least 5 times a day (which is why I’ve gone back to only listening to CDs during my commute home). Putting aside the fact that I’m not sure if they actually have a drummer or just use the presets on a circa- 1980 Casio keyboard, and that the “singer’s” 3 note range (yes note, not octave) makes him sound sort of like Paul Lynde trying to rap, it’s their asinine lyrics that really got me.

(For those of you too young to remember Paul Lynde from Bewitched or Hollywood Squares, he was the voice of Templeton the rat in the animated classic Charlotte’s Web.)

Their first single “Tear You Apart” had juvenile, sophomoric lyrics, but since the song is about a high school love affair I thought it might have just been done on purpose. I thought the song sucked, but it wasn’t until their second single that I really started to hate this band.

So, for your viewing displeasure, I present “These Things”:

There is nothing to see here people keep moving on
Slowly their necks turn and then they’re gone
No one cares when the show is done
(The actual cliché is “nothing to see here, just move along” and it still rhymes you asshats. Also, does your neck actually turn, or would that be your head? I’m just askin’… I don’t remember the doctor ever saying “Turn your neck and cough”, do you?)

Standing in line and its cold and you want to go
Remember a joke so you turn around
There is no one to listen so you laugh by yourself
(Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you’re standing in line, aren’t you surrounded by people? How can there be no one to listen? Yes, you could be last in line, but then you wouldn’t turn around to tell a joke, now would you?)

[Chorus:]
I heard it’s cold out, but her popsicle melts
She’s in the bathroom, she pleasures herself
Says I’m a bad man, she’s locking me out
It’s cause of these things, it’s cause of these things
(This chorus is what really got me. Is she outside in the cold with a mysteriously melting popsicle, or is she inside in the bathroom pleasuring herself? Which is it? Maybe she’s in a port-a-potty pleasuring herself WITH the popsicle! While that might be someones idea of a hot fetish, it does not good song lyrics make.)

Let make a fast plan, watch it burn to the ground
I try to whisper, so no one figures it out
I’m not a bad man, I’m just overwhelmed
It’s cause of these things, it’s cause of these things
(It’s ’cause of WHAT things? WHAT’S because of these things?? You’re overwhelmed because she’s locking you out of the bathroom? She thinks youre a bad man because you whisper arson plots? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?)

The crowd on the street walks slowly, don’t mind the rain
Lovers hold hands to numb the pain,
Gripping tightly to something that they will never own
(Okay, no complaints here, I actually think these three lines are pretty good.)

And those by themselves by choice or by some reward
No mistakes only now you’re bored
This is the time of your life but you just can’t tell
(What about those by themselves? FINISH ONE GODDAM THOUGHT YOU GODDAM WINDOW LICKERS! You can’t start the sentence with “And” and then not go anywhere with it. And you’re only entertained when you make mistakes? Does anyone have ANY idea what the hell this song is actually supposed to be about?)

I hate it when bands are so lazy with their lyrics that they throw two lines together for no other reason than that they rhyme. I’m looking at you, Blink 182! (I wrote a note, then tore it up / remember the time that I spilled the cup / of apple juice, in the hall / please tell mom this is not her fault). The song is about suicide, and yet it was important for the narrator to mention that traumatic apple juice spillage.

Now I’ll be honest, I find their music so lame and derivative that I wouldn’t like She Wants Revenge even if they were poet laureates, but give me a break here folks. I know people who like this band. They’re gaining popularity every day. I have friends who sing along with these songs without a trace of irony! If this kind of barely coherent nonsense is really the kind of lyrical content that gets your motor running, I say you should just stop pretending to any vestige of hipness, and just start listening to country.

Dancing is Teh Suck

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI was at a party semi-recently, and I ran into an ex-girlfriend whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. She stopped by my table to say hello, and asked me to save a dance for her later. I have never been good at keeping my face from reflecting my feelings, and the look I gave her must have been extremely telling. She got a little huffy, as I think she took it as a personal offense; it was as if she thought I was rebuking her instead of the act of dancing. “What, you won’t dance with me?” she asked. My natural response was “What, did you just meet me??”

You see, I don’t dance.

I honestly just don’t see the point. I don’t begrudge people who enjoy it. For a lot of people dancing is just about the best time that they can conceive. It just holds absolutely no interest for me, and never has. I think the main reason has to be dance music itself.

Although I was a late bloomer in regards to getting into music, once I discovered it for myself it was more than just a passing fad or an enjoyable distraction. Music is important to me. But it wasnt always that way. I remember being on the playground in 3rd grade or so when another kid busted out AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”. I looked at the album cover with mild interest, then went off to play kickball. Music was something that didn’t appeal to me yet. According to my ex-stepbrother, I knew all the words to Beth by Kiss when I was three years old. I don’t remember it, but see no reason to doubt it. But he played them all the time; it’s not like I was seeking out Kiss as a toddler. However when my parents divorced, the only music I ever got exposed to was what my mom listened to, and even as a young kid I knew I didn’t care for Barbra Streisand or Julio Iglecias. I owned a couple of cassettes (remember cassettes??), but they were generally given to me by relatives and considered innocuous and safe for children: Billy Joel, Abba, the Beach Boys… I think the “rockiest” album I owned at the time was Styx’s “Kilroy Was Here”.

And then the summer I turned 13 it all changed for me. As much as it shames me to admit it now, the band that changed everything I felt about music was… Motley Crue. My friend Tony came over one afternoon after school, and busted out their second LP (remember LPs???) “Shout at the Devil”. I had never seen anything like it. These guys all had long shaggy hair, and crazy superhero like outfits, and there was a pentagram on the cover. I had been a fan of horror since I was about eight or so, and as such I was ripe for something that seemed so, well, dark. So he puts on the record, and the first track is an effects-laden spoken word intro talking about evil and the perils of mankind and whatnot. (Its been over 20 years, cut me some slack.) Then the first song started there was this nasty, almost tribal beat, and heavily distorted guitars, and screaming vocals. I was instantly smitten. It was like a horror movie expressed in music!

Thus started my downward spiral. I spent the next couple of years picking up everything by Motley Crue, Ratt, Twisted Sister… anything that looked like it would scare my mother. A year or so later I finally discovered Iron Maiden, and that’s when I realized that not only could rock music be more intricate, but that some bands wrote about more than just sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll. This was the first time that lyrics started becoming almost as import to me as the music itself.

And then in 1985 there was a bomb threat at my high school, and while everyone was standing around in the parking lot a friend and I decided to ditch. We walked over to the mall, and I went into Sweets and Sounds, the only music store around for miles. My friend pointed to an album that he’d heard a lot of good things about by a band I had never heard of. I took a chance and picked up the album, little knowing that once again my world was about to be rocked (no pun intended). The album was “Master of Puppets” by Metallica.

I can’t adequately describe my reaction to hearing this for the first time. It was the loudest, heaviest, dirtiest, angriest music I had ever heard. At the same time, it was beautifully arranged, and as intricate as any orchestra. And the songs were about drug abuse, and religious hypocrisy, and the folly of war… it was as if I finally found real music about real life. Suddenly no other music was worthy of my attention. Thrash metal was the be all end all as far as I was concerned. It didn’t hurt any that I was now in my mid- to late teens, so this angry aggressive music held massive appeal for me while I was going through my standard teen angst bullshit (thanks Veronica Sawyer).

For a long time I would listen to nothing but speed metal and a little punk. If it wasn’t pissed off and loud, it bored me. I joined a metal band my junior year and was convinced I had found my calling. As soon as I graduated high school I moved out to California (at the time L.A. was THE place for bands to be discovered) and got a job at Tower Records. Obviously the band thing never took off, as I’m not currently a rock star fighting off Hollywood starlets with a pointy stick. Eventually I grew up a little and expanded my musical horizons, and actually took the time to seek out other kinds of music that I enjoyed. I was finally able to appreciate jazz, blues and early soul (before it became cookie cutter R&B pop) and was able to admit that sometimes I enjoyed a song just because it was fun, regardless of lyrics or anger level.

But for the most part I still sought out talented musicianship. It didn’t always have to be the fastest or the loudest anymore, but it had to at least be skilled.

And gentle reader, that at long last brings me back on topic: dance music. The reason I see dancing as so pointless and something I will never enjoy is mainly the music. I think the best reason to dance is that the music itself makes you want to move your body. It actually affects you physically. Dance music just doesn’t do that for me. And the music that does affect me physically, you can’t really dance to. I’ve moshed. I’ve skanked. But I’ve never danced. (Okay, I think I’ve slow danced exactly twice in my life, and I’m 34 years old). I think the music is boring, repetitive and vapid. It seems like the songs that have lyrics are all about love, sex, or dancing itself, and little else. And to me there’s very little musicianship in it. Instead we have samples, and computers, and songs generally not even written by the person performing them. It’s not music, it’s product. It in no way makes me want to move my body, unless it would be to run screaming in the other direction. And don’t even get me started on electronica.

One of the main arguments I get is that if I went dancing, it would be a great way to meet women. The problem there is that even if it were true, it would mean I would meet women who wanted to go dancing. Talk about a vicious circle. Okay, maybe I can see the attraction of basically being allowed to dry hump a total stranger in public, but do it at the supermarket like I do, and do your jail time like a man 😉

Now Ill be the first to admit that I’m a music snob. My friends are all probably sick of how often I bitch that almost every band that has come out in the last two years sounds like someone who came out 20 years ago. There’s so little originality in music today it is depressing. But what can I say? I like what I like. I like people who write their own songs and can actually play their instruments well. I like socially conscious lyrics. And although I really do listen to a wide variety of music now, I still primarily enjoy loud, aggressive stuff the most. I think dance music is boring, and the music I find interesting you can’t dance to. Could you imagine if I went to some hot nightclub and snuck some Tool or Pennywise into the DJ booth? There’d be a riot. Never the twain shall meet, I suppose. Besides, I’m about as white as they come. We’re not supposed to be able to dance anyway, right?