Gaming The Presidential Election Into Space

Are you sick and tired of the 2012 presidential election yet? Wouldn’t you like to pull either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney aside and beat the living crap out of them without the Secret Service paying you a surprise visit? If so, download “Vote!!!“, a free video game for the iPad and iPhone, to start whacking away at your favorite presidential candidate.

If you’re not a registered voter, a button on the main menu will take you to Register to Vote to sign up. Do your civic duty, study the issues and vote for your candidates!

If politics isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always “Angry Bird Space: The Red Planet” to play with later this fall. As @IdioticInuit tweeted over the weekend after the death of Neil Armstrong was announced: “Smartphones today have more computing power than NASA in the 1960’s. They went to the Moon. We launch birds at pigs. “

Leaving My Father’s Ashes In A Used Box

Damaged Cardboard BoxAfter my father passed away from lung cancer and the mortuary in Carmichael sent his ashes by mail in May, I drove over to the Willow Glen post office to pick up the package. The office manager had to unlock the package from a special cage as handling human remains was serious business. Everything else could be trampled, mutilated and/or lost in the mail. I waited a half-hour before I got the package, brought it home and put it in the back of my filing cabinet. I had no immediate plans for my father’s ashes as I was still grieving.

Summer came and went, life went on as usual.

One of my aunts in Idaho wrote me a letter requesting my father’s ashes to be sent to her for proper burial in the family plot. Another aunt wanted to get this business with my late father squared away before she too passed away from cancer. I wrote a hand-written letter—something that I haven’t done in 30 years—back to my aunt to inform her that I would be mailing my father’s ashes the following Saturday. I notified my immediate family by email as to what was going on. A nephew requested that I keep some ashes for the family in California.

I’ve always thought that cremated human remains would be like a finely-grained powder. Not my father’s ashes. The gritty composition of his ashes reminded me of concrete crushed into a coarsely grained powder. Of course, my father worked in masonry construction for 50 years. I wouldn’t be  surprised the concrete had seeped into his bones. After my father gave me his old car as a birthday present in 2007, I ripped out the old sheepskin seat covers that he had and the concrete dust kept them standing stiff on the ground. I saved a quarter-cup of ashes for my immediate family.

I went back to the Willow Glen post office with my father’s ashes.

The first problem was not finding a medium Priority Mail cardboard box. The sturdy plastic box that my father’s ashes came in fits that box with little space to spare. When I told the clerk, he disappeared for ten minutes and came back with a used cardboard box. I wasn’t pleased but went with it.

The second problem was the price. After I filled out all the various forms and the clerk rang up the postage, it came to $20.85 USD. The mortuary charged me $75 USD to mail my father’s ashes. Either I’m mailing this wrong or the mortuary markup was huge.

The third problem was no obvious lock and key treatment this time. The clerk reassured me that he was following all appropriate regulations for sending human remains through the mail. A bag of cement would have gotten better treatment.

Like my father who left my mother’s ashes in a pencil box at the cemetery in Idaho in 2004, I had a strong emotional reaction for leaving his ashes in a used box at the post office.

MAD Magazine Exhibit At Cartoon Art Musuem

MAD Magazine - March 1984 - Pissing 1984 Into The Snow
MAD Magazine

The 60th anniversary MAD Magazine exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco will be coming to a close on September 16, 2012. Put your SPY VS. SPY gear on and see what the fuss is all about before it’s too late.

MAD Magazine was notable for defying the Comics Code Authority that restricted the content that could appear in comic books by switching over to the larger magazine format. Although that was a risky move in itself, MAD survived and paved the way for the underground comics to flourish in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The only censor for controversial comic material today is your own taste—or, lack thereof.

My favorite MAD cover was the March 1984 cover, where Alfred E. Newman pissed “1984” into the snow. My friends and I had a running First Amendment battle with the vice principal at John Steinbeck Middle School in San Jose over this magazine cover. We made sure that he caught us reading the magazine in the school library before classes, he would come over to confiscate the magazine without explaining why it was inappropriate (of course, we all knew why but wanted him to tell us), and the librarian would put the magazine back out the following week. The magazine got worn out from this constant tug of war.

Help Save The Hacker Dojo In Mountain View

Hacker Dojo, a communal space for entrepreneurial techies to start their next company away from the crowded coffee shops and technology incubators around Silicon Valley, is  facing closure by the city of Mountain View if their stained-glass factory warehouse wasn’t brought up to code to accommodate more people for conferences, classes and work areas. The price tag for the retrofit is $250,000 USD.

Even in the land of venture capitalism and million-dollar homes, a quarter-million isn’t exactly spare change. Although Hacker Dojo have already raised $185,000 USD through various fundraisers, a Kickstarter project that’s ending today is still looking for more backers. Steve Wozniak chipped in $666.66 USD, which was the original price for the Apple I computer.

A Bloody Summer In San Jose

San Jose August 2012 Homicide Map
San Jose Mercury News

I’m not sure if San Jose is turning into the Old West or the next Oakland with seven people murdered—some in broad daylight—in the past week. The 31st homicide took place last night with a stabbing inside a Safeway on Story Road. Even when I lived in downtown San Jose during my college years in the 1990’s, where the most violet incident was a blotched robbery that ended with the getaway driver accidentally shot himself in the foot with a shotgun and crashed the car into a telephone pole, this violent trend has been unprecedented.

Most of the homicides took place on the East Side of San Jose, which my late mother called “the wrong side of the railroad tracks” (the North-South lines that runs parallel to Monterey Road) and journalist Geraldo Rivera once called “the ghetto side of town” on national TV. This is where the gang bangers, poor and immigrant families can be found. Ten of the homicides are suspected to be gang-related and the gang prevention task force has been mobilized.

My neighborhood in the San Jose City College area was peaceful with no homicides. (The 2012 homicide map shows an empty space below the 280 and between the 17 and the 87 in the lower left corner.) When I moved into my apartment complex seven years ago, I reported every incident of gang graffiti, suspicious teenagers hanging out in the carports and the theft of my car antenna. Gang bangers have never established a foothold here. A killing under the golden arches last year was literally around the corner and the closest murder to my home.

Why the sudden up tick in shootings? Gang members could be earning their street creds by killing each other (not necessarily a bad thing). The understaffing of police officers due to recent budget cuts have left patrols stretched thin throughout the city. Prisoners being moved from the state prisons to the county jails to relieve overcrowding under court order, which in turn forces the early release of criminals back into the community. Or it could be a statistical fluke where everything happens at once for no particular reason.

Anyway, whatever the reason, the 2011 record for 39 homicides will soon be broken if this violent trend continues unabated.

Shredding The Papers Of My Late Father’s Life

Shredded DocumentsAfter my father died from lung cancer three months ago, I went up to Sacramento County to clean out his trailer home before putting it into storage. Seven boxes of nick-knacks, dishes and paperwork was brought back to Silicon Valley. I very much wanted to put the boxes into my storage unit to avoid dealing with the papers of my father’s life. But something important might lie somewhere in this mess. I finally went through all the boxes and found some surprises.

When my father retired at the age of 59-1/2-years-old in 1995, he expected to die soon thereafter as his older brothers keeled over after turning sixty. Death didn’t claim him for another 17 years, outliving my mother by eight years after she died from breast cancer in 2004. Needless to say, he kept every piece of paper that Kaiser Permanente ever sent him. Some of this paperwork was downright scary: bills, test results and whatever “disease of the month” you’re likely to get as a senior citizen.

My father kept his adult children in the dark about all the medical treatments he was getting for his various forms of cancer. We might have done something if we had known what was going on. Some of his routine procedures weren’t that routine or minor as he claimed. I came across a picture that showed an oval-shaped piece of skin flap removed from the side of his face to scrape out the skin cancer. The surgeon did such a great job at putting the skin flap back in that there was no scarring to make it visible. That picture went straight into the shredder.

A thick folder documented a neighbor lady stealing a box of checks out of his mailbox in 2006. Despite informing Wells Fargo Bank that his checks were stolen, the bank paid out a half-dozen checks written to various local businesses. A pizza parlor even made a photocopy of the forged check and the woman’s driver license, which the bill collector sent as proof that my father owed the money. No clue as to whatever happened to the woman. My father spent six months fighting off bill collectors.

I wasn’t surprised that Wells Fargo let this nonsense happen. After I got the death certificate in late May, I closed out my father’s accounts before the end of the month. The pension fund claimed that I had an unauthorized payment and wanted the money paid back. I sent a copy of the bank statement that proved that no transactions took place after the accounts were closed. The pension fund insisted that I have the money since the bank told them that the deposit went through. I think the bank kept the money. This issue is still unresolved.

The most surprising item was a state identification card for my mother. She had never learned how to drive after plowing her father’s Caddie into a telephone pole on her first driving lesson. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, even my mother had to be street legal.

DeLorean Hovercraft Spotted In McCovey Cove

You can never tell what you can find floating around in McCovey Cove outside of AT&T Park during a San Francisco Giants game. Last week it was a DeLorean hovercraft that looked like the famous car from “The Back to The Future” movies, amusing the sports announcers during a lull in the game.

The owner, Matthew Riese, raised $5,600 from a Kickstarter project in 2010 to modify an existing hovercraft kit. Although it can travel on land, it’s not street legal and registered with the DMV as a boat. From the way it fishtailed through the water, the hovercraft probably doesn’t have powered steering. Something that the original DeLorean DMC-12 lacked among other modern car features.

Too Many Boring White Guys In This Election

Anonymous Man At WorkUntil Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his vice president for the 2012 Republican nomination, I wasn’t aware that he had a monopoly on being a boring white guy. I guess that’s better than being an angry old white guy trying to buy the elections. But I don’t think that he’s the ultimate boring white guy, although he might be the last one that Republicans will nominate for a while.

I like being a boring white guy to keep my writing identity a secret in Silicon Vally. People take one look at me, they look away and think about something else. I’m an anonymous computer technician by day. An aspiring writer, blogger and entrepreneur by night. The two are separate and different from each other, like Bruce Wayne and the Batman. (I’m not a Clark Kent fan, so Superman can suck it!) Being boring has its advantages if you want to live an anonymous life in public while promoting a brand name on the Internet.

As for Romney, I think he made a serious mistake in picking a Sarah Palin/Mini-Me clone.

We saw this fiasco before in 2008 with John McCain. He wanted to pick Joe Lieberman as his vice president pick but the Republican establishment didn’t want a Independent Democrat on the ticket. If he was as much as a maverick as everyone claimed he was, he should have told the establishment to eff themselves and fight for his choice on the convention floor. That didn’t happen. His revenge for not getting his vice president pick was Sarah Palin, who had the sex appeal that he sorely lacked, energized the Republican base like nothing else, and revived the realty TV show industry.

I don’t think Ryan can do any better than Palin, if his first solo outing is any indication. Plus his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns is a serious strike against him in my book. Republicans need to be more transparent and less manipulative with the public about the taxes they paid and the taxes they want everyone else to pay. Like Palin before him, he has the sex appeal that Romney sorely lacks, energizes the Republican base like nothing else, and may be a serious contender for the 2016 presidential election.

But Ryan won’t save Romney from himself—or the Tea Party. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post explains what Romney should have done for his vice president pick: “If you are the Republican nominee and The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard and The National Review are all urging you to do the same thing, run the other way.”

The only non-boring white guy in this election will be Vice President Joe Biden, who can be counted on to put a foot or two into his mouth. At least, when he’s not washing his car on the White House driveway.

Getting Older With Sweet Young Things

Having A David Hasselholf Moment (Piranha DD)

My birthday came and went without notice. Always a good thing. After I turned 42 a while back, it became increasingly difficult to remember exactly how old I am. (A friend told me I was 43-years-old this year.) We went to Hooters in Campbell for my birthday dinner, watched the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s play baseball on different screens, and talked about the sweet young things who waited on the tables.

Hooters has always been a difficult place for me to enjoy eating food there. Besides being too loud when a major game blared from all the  screens and the bar brimmed with louder drunks, I don’t have a favorite menu item. If I go to Pasta Pomodoro on The Alameda or at Santana Row, I always ordered the tortellini. But at Hooters? Meh. (My favorite new word for this year.)

I keep trying something new. The western BBQ burger was a top contender for several visits, but that’s something I normally get at Carl’s Jr. The boneless chicken wings fell flat with the Parmesan garlic sauce. This time I tried the buffalo chicken sandwich with Parmesan garlic sauce and liked it well enough to try it again on my next visit. This might become my new favorite—or maybe not.

As for the Giants and the A’s, I don’t think anyone cared. This was a regular game, not the playoffs. Everyone wanted to watch the London Olympics. I was shocked to discover that the Munich Olympics massacre took place 40 years ago around the same time as my birthday. I had vague memories of seeing that on TV at the time. The resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974 made a stronger impression as I was destined to be a political news junkie.

No one at Hooters knew it was my birthday. I didn’t want a bunch of sweet young things singing the Hooters birthday song and giving me a heart attack at the same time.

I find it difficult to be enthusiastic for sweet young things that are more than half my age and whose ultra-thin waists are smaller than my hand. I’m a big guy with big hands who like mature—but still younger—women with “hips made for babies” (my favorite description of Aviendha in Robort Jordan’s The Wheel of Time fantasy series). These sweet young things had neither maturity nor hips for they are still babies themselves.

The sweet young thing who waited on our table made the evening more melancholy for me. She reminded me that if my life had went differently when I joined a Christian campus ministry group 20 years ago, I might have been married and she would’ve been my daughter. I’m old enough now to have regrets.

My friend, however, had no qualms about dating a sweet young thing half his age. Until I pointed out that these sweet young things were probably living at home with a father who owned a shotgun. He frowned at me, I smiled back. Nothing curbs the enthusiasm for a sweet young thing than a shotgun.