American Idle

It's kinda like American Idol, but only if you sing my posts out loud.

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Location: Hamilton Square, New Jersey, United States

Tax guy, host & producer of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, former co-host of the Wall Street Journal E-Report

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwa...awww hell, Happy Holidays!

There may be a war on Christmas, but I'm too lazy to fight it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ghosts & UFOs

Ghosts & UFOs. Never having experienced either, I’ve always casual opinions on the subjects.

Sure there are a lot of nut jobs and/or intoxicated people whose claims have been sketchy, but they can’t ALL be dismissed, can they? Besides, I’ve always chosen to believe in them simply for the “that’s cooool” factor.

I never really fell too deep in thought about before, although once I started watching Ghost Hunters, it all changed. For those who have never seen it, it’s a team of people led by two people who work as plumbers by day and use high tech equipment to hunt paranormal activity at night. Their goal is to try to prove or disprove supposed hauntings with a slew of surveillance cameras, tape recorders, thermometers and EMF scanners. Unlike other groups that are out there, they are more inclined to disprove hauntings (so they say) than they are to support them…basically taking an “it-ain’t-haunted-until-we-have-proof” stance. The show is very entertaining with some episodes coming up empty and others hitting a jackpot (although THOSE episodes are usually saved for the season finale). Naturally, you have to take these kinds of shows with a bit of suspicion as you don’t know if you’re being taken in the end by a bunch of actors or if it’s all legit. Plus, you know the network is probably putting pressure on them to put out a good show, so you know entertainment might possibly win out over reality in the end. Either way, it’s still cooooooool.

The oddest things that are regularly picked up are the EVPs (electronic voice phenomena). Basically, it’s asking questions to an empty room and then hearing unexplained sounds or voices when the tape is played back. One episode featured a guy living in his grandparents’ house and then having his grandfather’s voice played back to him on tape when they did their investigation.

All these things have made me further question the existence of ghosts and, most importantly, why and how? I’m a pretty grounded guy, I need some sort of feasible explanation. Since I have no expertise on this subject, I can only postulate with a “what if”. Here goes.

What if ghosts exist, but our brain does not have the capacity to fully comprehend them? Think of our brains as a radio that’s tuned in to the world around us. Anything existing on another frequency, we can’t see or hear. Dog’s can hear thing that humans can’t, so why can’t there be “frequencies” that we’re not aware of. We don’t know what we don’t know. Periodically, someone sees a ghost, but it’s often late at night or early morning when the mind is tired. Elderly people claim to see and hear loved ones while on their deathbeds. In each case, the brain is drifting and unfocused. Much like a radio, these would be times that a stray frequency might be heard.

Besides, it’s well known that we only have a slight grasp of what they human brain is capable of…maybe this is something we just haven’t developed yet. Maybe as babies we can see this other frequency but the world we’ve come to know had the stronger signal and we learned to tune into this one at a certain stage of development.

As for the EVPs, why would unheard voices suddenly appear on tape? I’m no audiophile like some guys, but what if tape recordings compress these unknown frequencies into one channel…much how like stereo becomes mono on basic equipment?

And this also applies to UFOs. I’m convinced there’s other life out there simply because I can’t believe with a universe this big that we’re the only ones. I’m sure any intelligent life out there has figured out that we have a blind spot in our minds and use that to their advantage to “cloak” themselves. Again, UFO sightings frequently occur at times when the mind is prone to resting.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had this opinion, so if anyone’s familiar with this standpoint and can point me to any similar writings, let me know.

Also, any cool ghost or UFO stories are also welcome. :)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Brush With Perfection

Noted sports blog Deadspin has been running athlete run-in stories for the last few weeks and I...oblivious that I am...just remembered yesterday that I had my own athlete run-in story to note when Jim Kiick of the famed 1972 Miami Dolphins showed up looking for his cards at my garage sale.

Deadspin accepted it and ran the story.

All I have to say is, being a Raider fan, I can't help but think the football gods screwed up that day and sent Kenny Stabler wandering around a flea market outside of Miami.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Kids and TiVo's (and former "Talkin' Tech" co-host) Jason Fry touched on an interesting topic in his Real Time column children growing up with TiVo might change the future of TV. Since it was a topic of interest and because I hate wasting long emails, here's how I replied to Jace, slightly edited to remove personal content.


The wife and I started out with a 35 hour TiVo on our den TV and then with regular DirecTV receivers in our bedroom and in my office in the basement. In just over a year's time, we've upgraded everything so that we now have 70 hour TiVos in our den and in my office and the old 35 hour one has moved to our bedroom. Ignoring my grumbling, the wife insisted that we NOT get the more expensive, networkable Series 2 models and settled for the Series 1 models instead. Hey, I still have 70 hours of my own TiVo space, so I can't complain TOO much.

I've often wondered the same thing about Matt too, and exactly how it's going to affect his TV watching. But on a more elementary level. First, both you and I had an easy learning experience with TV when we were growing up. We knew how to turn the TV on and only had a limited number of channels to flip through (2 through 13, plus the UHF subset). There wasn't much of a learning curve to overcome...we just flipped through the channels (manually, at that) until we found something we liked.

But with TiVo, whoever is flipping through channels needs to have a basic knowledge of the language. Since it has a little green dot on the remote, the "power" button shouldn't be a problem. But if you're pre-schooler, how do you successfully navigate through hundreds of channels? You can go to the guide, but that requires reading. You can always go to the "Now Playing" list, but even that requires reading. But, hey, that might be a good thing. It would force them to read and, since there's only a limited amount of choices, they wouldn't be easily overwhelmed. I assume picking out "Sesame Street" and "Jack's Big Music Show" would be easily recognizable.

As for commercials, I think kids would watch them. Think about it...we didn't really get annoyed by commercials until we were older (well, at least I didn't). We just took them in as part of the entertainment. Hell, I actually found myself singing the "Merlin" toy commercial this weekend ("Now where's Merlin, where did he go, he's in the corner playing tic tac toe"). Besides, with our short attention spans, odds are we were probably distracted by something else and weren't glued to the TV absorbing every word being said. Besides, without commercials, how the hell would we know what toys to pester our parents for?

Where will we be two, five or ten years from now? It wouldn't surprise me to see networks pre-airing their shows on their website. (is anyone doing this already?) Create a buzz, tell people that an episode will be aired early via their website for a fee (complete with unsurpassable commercials), and then see who bites. This way the "cool" kids will know the story a day or two before the rest of the slackers who didn't download it. And then, of course, TVs/TiVos/DVRs will be geared to perform this download function as well so that you can watch the episode on your TV instead of your PC, which might further close the gap between TV and PC altogether. But that's probably reaching too far ahead.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


So on top of coming home from AC at 4:30 this morning $100 in the hole, I go to use my computer to find out I have no internet connection. I go to bounce my wireless router to find out that there were no lights on it whatsoever. Tried jiggling the cord, plugging it into a different outlet...nothing. She's dead, Jim. Maybe now I can go buy me one of those new-fangled pre-N routers. In the meantime, at least I can blog from my Blackberry. But that router'll have to come later. Right now, sleep.

Insert humorous tagline here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Weather Channel 1, AccuWeather 0

As I figured, since most of the weather forecasters got blindsided by the snow that hit us late Saturday-early Sunday, the next round of prognostications were drastically overstated. Just like any other news, bad news sells more than good news and, dammit, they weren't about to be surprised again.

Anyway, they openly stated that snowfall amounts last night would be sketchy since the path of the storm wasn't well defined. AccuWeather predicted 4"-6" for the Trenton area and one publication in South Jersey said as much as 8" could fall down there. However, I was a bit shocked when the Weather Channel (specifically said only 1"-3" of snow was expected. The contest was on!

And the results were.....

A dusting in the Trenton area. Maybe an inch, if that. Possibly a little more, but it was still about half of what we got over the weekend. Hell, I don't think it's even worth hauling my ass out there to shovel. Even down south, they only received a few inches. So score one for the Weather Channel for calling it correctly. Hell, even they might have overstated it, but not to the tune of several inches more.

"Serving Size" meets "Reality"

You've heard the complaints before. Companies often sell jumbo sized products in vending machines and the general public usually prefers blissful ignorance about the nutritional facts on the back. Sure it may say 110 calories for that soda, but closer inspection reveals that bottle holds, say, 1.5 servings, meaning that you're drinking 165 calories...not 110.

Here's an odd example I came across today...we purchased one of those Christmas "countdown" calendars with chocolates inside each little door. And Deb found a good one...not crappy, tiny chocolate coins like we got last year, these puppies are 1" by 2" solid bricks of chocolate. Anyway, as I scarfed down the candy for December 6th, I wondered exactly what damage I was doing. I checked the back of the calendar (you gotta love the oddity of a calendar having nutritional information) and it said 220 calories, 13 grams of fat. I had to do a double take on that since, although the chocolate was pretty good, it wasn't THAT good. I mean, was there a secret coating of lard and butter around it that I didn't detect? I looked closer at the label and it indicated "Serving Size: 4 pieces". Now that made more sense...but at the same time it made LESS sense. It's a daily countdown calendar...who throws back four pieces at a time? Do they expect you to wait in four day intervals and then binge? The only realistic time I can see this happening is if someone bought the calendar cheap on 12/20 and then went to town trying to catch up.

Whoa, that's a great idea. I see some discount shopping in my near future!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Snow Sucks

There was a time I used to enjoy snow, but now I just deem it an inconvenience. I think that once I grew out of building snowmen and sledding and became responsible for shoveling my driveway and sidewalk, the honeymoon ended. Strike two was when I started driving, which is when snow impeded my ability to go places. And strike three was when I lived in the 'Burg and had to park on the street. Snow meant you had to shovel out your car and then put out the chairs to "reserve" your spot (ala the city "code of honor", which still remains a point of dispute).

But things may be looking a bit brighter. Today I got to pull Matt in his sled around the yard and it reminded me how fun snow can be.

That, and in about 12 years, I can make HIM shovel the damn snow.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Why do @#$%&! smoke detector batteries only die in the middle of the night!? Seriously, who here has ever had the infamous low-battery chirp begin at, say, noon? It doesn't happen. I swear, these things are programmed to only start chirping at 2:15 AM.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Resurrecting the Dead in Trenton

Trenton's rung up it's record 29th murder victim in 2005 with another full month to go. Ahhh, how I pine for my old Chambersburg life, with neighbors walking pit bulls and the undeterminable stench eminating from somewhere near Hamilton Ave. I miss peering out my window at 3 AM to make sure no one's broken into my car...again.

The best part of that article though, is this line: "Since 1971 and 1979 the record stood at 27 deaths."

What exactly does that mean? Usually records are stationary...they stand until they are broken by a larger number. Did someone come back to life in 1972, forcing them to readjust the 1971 number...which then was rebroken by another 27 murders in 1979? And they didn't mean "between" since the new record of #28 was just established on Monday (and subsequently broken on Tuesday). If they meant the record number of 27 just repeated itself in 1979, just say so. Don't use the word "since"...that doesn't make any sense. That's like saying "I've been sober since January and June".

I say there's some undead walking out there in the streets of Trenton. No way all those staggering dead-eyed people were just drunks. Although I didn't hear many of them calling for brraaaaaaaains.

Maybe they had just eaten.

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