Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm off to Finland

We got back from El Paso last night. I just finished repacking, and I'm off to Pori, Finland to shoot another movie for work. Don't think I'll have Internet access, so I'm not ignoring you, I'm ignoring everyone.

Be back next Sunday night.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Well, we made it through Thanksgiving.

Ben and I flew into El Paso Wednesday morning, and arrived just in time for lunch with the parents and grandparents. Then it was off to the golf course. I’m not a golfer. I play maybe once a year – if that. However, Ben loves the game, and it’s turned into my parents’ only hobby, so I stumbled my way through 9 holes with them while my grandparents followed us around on a cart. I actually didn’t do too bad. I think my mom hit a 50, and I hit a 57 – that’s less than one extra stroke per hole.

We grabbed some tamales for dinner. Being in El Paso is a perk when it comes to Mexican food. Then we watched The World’s Fastest Indian. I have a feeling it’s going to be a PG film festival around here all weekend as my grandparents and parents don’t watch R-rated movies. That’s kind of a shame considering my parents just bought this incredible 46” LCD HDTV. Of course, classy as they are, it’s sitting on top of the old 32” CRT TV – you know, one of those big ones with the wooden cabinet? Tonight’s movie was The Producers. Can’t say it was horrible, but I’ve never been much for musicals and this one was REALLY slow paced.

Today started with cinnamon rolls as every holiday did at our house growing up. My mom always makes them from scratch the night before. They were delicious. I’ve been snacking on them all day. My dad spent the morning doing house repair projects, and we helped out between games of ping pong. The shocker was that my mom served whine with Thanksgiving lunch. My parents never drank when we were growing up. In fact, alcohol was demonized in our household – probably why I like it as much as I love the “devil music” of Led Zeppelin. Anyway, we passed around a big bottle of white zinfandel to go with the turkey. (Yes, I know white zinfandel is redneck, but did you not see the earlier mention that the new flat-screen TV is sitting on top of the old TV?)

However, the highlight of the day was Scrabble. I know, sounds lame, but get this. Ben and I are playing on a team (poor Ben can’t spell, that’s why we’re a team), and we’re leading the entire game. However, it gets down to the last round, and we’re at 115 and my dad’s at 105. Everyone else is down in the 60s and 70s. The last play of the game, my dad uses all 7 of his letters to spell METERING and also completes two other words. He scores 37 points for his words, 50 points for using all 7 letters, and then collects the points from everyone else’s hands because we had leftover letters. His final score was 265. It was the most brilliant Scrabble move I’ve ever seen.

So that’s my blisteringly exciting Thanksgiving report. I hope all of you are having wonderful holidays. I’m off to kill the rest of that white zinfandel.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I'm not wearing a belt.

I forgot my belt. How do you forget your belt? I don’t know, but I did. I feel goofy walking around in slacks and a dress shirt with no belt. I guess at lunch I’ll go find a place to buy a new black belt. I don’t like my current black belt anyway because it has this extra metal loop thing on it that never stays down, and it always sets off the metal detectors at the airport. This is a good opportunity for me to break up with that belt and end our 5-year relationship of mutual disdain. I mean, the fact that I needed something to hold my pants up was really the only reason we were staying together. It’s time to move on.

Speaking of new clothing, I finally spent the $100 gift card to Academy that I’d had sitting around since last Christmas. I ended up getting a pair of low-top Dr. Martens and new Timberland hiking boots. I usually only buy about 1 pair of shoes every 2 years or so, but this year has been quite the shoe year. Oh, I know you’re feeling the same excitement I am. Two weeks ago I had to retire the ratty black dress shoes that I’d bought when I graduated college back in 2000. Then with last night’s purchase I can retire the 2-year-old Converse that fell apart. Looks like I’m set for another 5 years or so.

I’m only in the office two days this week. Then it’s off to El Paso to visit my parents and the dogs for Thanksgiving. Then it looks like Sunday I’ll fly back to Houston, and then turn around and get on another plane for Finland. We’re shooting a video and some interviews there at the company shipyard. I’m really excited because this is definitely the biggest trip I’ll have ever taken, but it’s really stressing me out being gone for two weeks. I’m trying to make sure all the bills are paid before I leave, etc. I’ll have Internet and phone service in El Paso, but I’m not taking a computer to Finland, and I really have no idea if the phone will work. It did work in Canada though, so maybe it will.

I’m trying to decide if I’m going to go to Florida in January to shoot a documentary on this lady who claims to have photographed the Skunk Ape (Bigfoot). I think she fully believes she did, but looking at the photo all I see is a blurry image of a man in a gorilla costume. However, with some jazzy writing and editing it could be a really funny/cute project. Plus, I’ve never been to Florida, and I’d get to camp out in the everglades. On the downside, I have to pay my own travel out there, and I always end up owing taxes, so January isn’t going to be the best month for me. I have to make a decision soon though. Anybody want to go with me?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Guess you know I'm back, eh?

Guess who's back? Back again. Fack is back. Tell a friend. Fack is back. Fack is back. Fack is back. Fack is back. Denananana.

Here's a little story
about Fort McMurray.
It's an oil boom town
with lots of snow flurries.
Flew up Sunday
Froze off two toes
couldn't sew them back on
But that's how it goes.

Ok, I don't know where that came from, but I'm done rapping. Sometimes I just have to flow.

Oh Canada, what can I say about you?

First off, Canada was cold as Hell -- the seventh level, you know, the one Dante envisioned frozen by the frigid winds creating by Satan's flapping wings? That's Canada. The high in Ft. McMurray the entire time we were there was -12 C. (That's 10 degrees fahrenheit for all those of you who aren't down with the metric system. (Freezing is at 32 degrees fahrenheit for those of you who are just plain retarded.)) I was so happy when we made it back to Calgary this afternoon because it was only -2 C there!

So imagine if you will standing outside in the -12 C snow wishing there was some sort of feeling in your feet for about 6 hours supervising a camera crew and listening to interviews to make sure the interviewee is spitting out the right lines, so that nothing violates corporate policies or confidentiality agreements. Meanwhile there's these Canadians standing around watching me watching the crew saying, "Lucked out with the warm weather today, eh?" Apparently it gets down to -40 C at times. I was just standing and shivering. I wasn't even running a camera or doing anything to keep me occupied. Then again, that was kind of a blessing because at least I got to keep my gloves on, so my hands weren't as cold as my feet. Although it was overcast Monday, it didn't snow hard on us, so there's something about the bitter cold that motivates you to get your scenes finished, so you don't have to stand out in the bitter cold for a second day.

So this whole Ft. McMurray region has what they call oil sands. It's oil suspended in sand, so instead of drilling for oil, you strip mine the sand, run it through some sort of process to distill the oil out of it, then put the sand back and refine the oil. Kind of weird because in the oil business up there they refer to mines instead of wells. We were staying in Ft. McMurray, which is a boom town bursting at the seems from all the oil companies importing workers for the mines and refineries. We actually shot our film up in Ft. McKay an hour north of there, but that place doesn't even have a hotel.

Ft. McMurray is small and can't really handle the capacity of people that have immigrated there. The airport is about the size of my house, and there's only two terminals (one waiting room with a door out of each side labeled "Terminal 1" and "Terminal 2". There's no extendable walkways to the jets. They just roll a stairway out onto the tarmack. You're first taste of Ft. McMurray is the bitter cold walk from the plane to the Terminal. There's constantly a line of cars ringing the drive-thru at Wendy's and every restaurant we ate at was out of certain menu items because the suppliers just couldn't keep them in stock. Unfortunately at one place that item was Bud Light, but our waitress sweet-talked me into drinking Molson's Canadian -- which they all had plenty of.

Apparently minimum wage in that town has become around $14/hour because labor is in such demand. However, rent has skyrocketed, so unless your company is paying for your housing, it's almost impossible to find a house or apartment. One thing I did notice is that since all the men are working out at the mines and refineries, the entire labor force of town is teenage to 20-something women. This, I did not mind. Young, beautiful women at the rental car place. Young, beautiful women at the hotel and restaurants. Young, beautiful at the airport. Young, beautiful women at the gas station. It was amazing. I noticed most of them were married though.

Something else I noticed about a lot of these Canadians were big freaking cold sores. That was kind of gross.

Oh, and Canadians aren't extra nice like they're portrayed in the movies. I had to cut one off in traffic, and he made an extra-special effort to catch up to me to honk and fly the bird.

From what I could tell in Ft. McMurray they just refined oil, listened to country music, rodeoed and watched Hockey. Switch the Hockey for football, and they'd be Texans with goofy accents.

Finally, we're building robots of the future

Check out this amazing article about how researchers have created a robot that is actually aware of damage, and can evaluate the damage, reinternalize it's new image and limitations, and then adapt to work around the damage. They said that they shortened one of its legs, and it was able to readjust its gait to keep walking. Pretty incredible stuff -- the very first step towards self-awareness.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15752276/

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is really crazy

A couple in Brazil are claiming their cat has given birth to puppies after mating with the neighbor's dog.

http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/events/sc/111606catbirthdogs

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The robots will devour us all

So the Japanese developed a cute little food-testing robot. It can identify foods and wines. Unfortunately it thinks humans taste like bacon.

http://blog.wired.com/tableofmalcontents/2006/11/robot_identifie.html?rss

Friday, November 03, 2006

What a day

Today has not gone so smoothly. I had to be at work way too early to hit the deadlines on a newsletter I was writing/designing, so I rolled into the office about 6:30 a.m. I got all that taken care of, and then went into video production mode. We start shooting on the movie on Monday at the Houston offices, but I'm coordinating between management and the camera crew, and they have completely different ideas of how this will work. I suggested that we select a group of people to stage some board meetings, video conferences, etc. to be filmed, but that idea got vetoed. Management seems to think that all the employees will be totally cool with us just walking into meetings and offices and flipping the camera on in their faces. Riiiiiiiiiiiight. So then I met with the production crew, and they tell me that they need at least two hours to set up wherever we shoot. I have no idea how we're going to pull this off on Monday. I think it's going to turn into a big disaster fiasco -- a disasco.

Anyway, I did what I could this afternoon and then went to Barbara Bush Library for early voting because there's no way I'm going to have time on Tuesday. There was a line down the entire side of the library and back. It was a 45-minute wait. That kind of sucked, but I really wanted to make sure I got my vote in for Kinky, so stood in line and took advantage of my rights as an American.

I got home about 6:30 to find a nice big wet spot on my carpet. I was like, oh great, the dog picked my room as the urinal. Then I walked into the bathroom to find the matching landmines. I was hoping I'd get a present tonight. What a thoughtful dog.

So now the question is, what the hell do I do with the rest of my night?

Life imitates Robocop

Remember what I said about the robots taking over?

Well Samsung just released this bad boy -- a $200,000 sentry robot with intruder recognition software, infra-red imaging, and a big-ass machine gun.

Check out the video on the Tech Blog website. I love the music. It's so Airwolf.

http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/samsungs-200000-machine-gun-sentry-robot

Supposedly these are being installed on the border between North and South Korea. I'm sure that's going to ease tensions. Could you imagine if we installed them along the border with Mexico?!!!