Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Never Thought It Could Happen To Me...

I have a confession to make.  Something that I'm not proud of, but I still do it regardless.

I make fun of people with high cell phone bills.

There, I said it.  It's out there.

It's not that I don't think that cell phones are necessary (they aren't) or that cell phone companies are greedy (they are), but the amount of money that people pour into their cell phones is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  Do you REALLY need to be in touch with everyone THAT badly that you're willing to shell out over a thousand bucks a year for it?

I have a theory: nobody is really that popular, but cell phone (and smart phone users especially) overcompensate to justify the amount of cash they shell out on a monthly basis for it.  Kind of like the first people to have a fax machine: nobody else had a fax machine, so you were pretty much just sending faxes to everyone you knew that had one just so you could justify having bought the darn thing.

I used to work in a customer care centre for a cell service.  All day, I would field calls from people calling to complain about their phone, the service, their bills.  Oh the bills.  People with phone bills in the thousands of dollars - and this was at the end of the 90's when thousands of dollars were worth something! - all because they couldn't stop themselves from being as popular as they thought they were.

It's definitely worse these days.  Now that we have text messaging and data plans, the opportunity to go overboard is much, much higher.  If the cost of the phone itself doesn't do you in, your monthly bill sure will.

Now that I've said all that, I should also admit that I have a smart phone.  I've been using cell phones for over a decade now, and I like having one.  Not because I'm so popular that I need to be connected all the time (I am) or because I'm made of money and feel like I can fritter away my future children's college funds (I can't, but I'm going to steer them toward community college or a technical school so they can get a trade and support us in our old age so I'm only looking at two years instead of four plus graduate school for something foolish like a major in Theatre Studies).  I just really like the convenience of not having to find a public phone whenever I want to make a call.  Also, "public" is one letter too close to a word that makes me giggle and feel uncomfortable with when standing in an enclosed space.

Because of my experience in handling irate customers who just can't understand how they could possibly have gone over their included minutes or text messages, when all they ever do is talk and type on the damn things all day, I have always been extra cautious with using the cell.  So much so that we eventually switched to a prepaid service because it was a fraction of the cost of having a contracted monthly plan.  (I've never been comfortable with that saying - a fraction of - because when you think about it, it could be a dollar cheaper and that's still a fraction of the original cost.  Think about that the next time you hear about government savings.)  In our case, the fraction was somewhere around 30% of what we were paying on a monthly plan, so it was a good fraction and I like good fractions.  Fraction.  Just wanted to see if I could use that word one more time.

We had saved so much money by having one prepaid phone that we got another.  Our bill doubled, and we were still ahead from where we would be if we were using a monthly plan on just one.  Go prepay!

And then the penny dropped.  And it took almost 10,000 of his friends with him.

The smartphone that I bought is an incredibly powerful piece of technology.  It blows me away when I look at it and realize that this is the stuff that Star Trek episodes are made of.  It's my favourite kind of technology to buy.  My phone would have been INSANELY powerful and crazy... five or six years ago. It would have blown the socks off of almost everything else on the market, and it probably would have cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars to buy.  It would have made more sense to sign up for the three year contract and get the phone for "free" than to try to purchase it outright.  But technology advances.  What was once huge and expensive becomes smaller and cheaper.  My phone is smaller than most of the phones you'll find out there today, but it also only cost $100.  For that amount, if something horrible happens to it, I can afford to replace it with something else with nothing more than a "aw, man, I can't believe I dropped my phone in the toilet!  Why would I do that?  I sure hope that I don't blog about this later..."

To set the record straight, I did not drop my phone in the toilet.

We have our prepay accounts set up so that when our balance reaches $5, it automatically hits our credit card and tops up the account.  This prevents us from having to track down prepay cards at stores and/or deal with an automated system all the time.  It's worked out well for us.

I did not pay any attention when I got the text message last week that my account had been topped up.  I never pay it much attention.  It's something that happens once a month, and it just means that I can keep using my phone like I've paid to.  Woo woo.

I didn't really pay any attention when I got another text message three days ago saying that my account was automatically topped up.  I sort of remembered getting one before, but I didn't really think about it that hard.

I continued to not pay attention when I received the top up text message two days ago.  "That's funny," I thought, "There must be something glitchy with my phone saying that this is a new text message."

Later that day, my feeling that there was something glitchy with the text messages was confirmed when I received yet another text thanking me for allowing them to remove money from my credit card.  "Ha ha," I thought "I shall think no more of this while I continue to sit here and knit and watch tv, for I know that I have not used my phone and therefore this is not something that needs my attention."

I did, however, pay attention when My Lovely Wife asked me "Weh, why has the credit card been charged four times for your phone?"  Then I was all action.  Checking my account, checking my phone, being all angry with customer care.

It turns out that something on my phone was using an active connection to the data network, beyond what my data plan gives me.  And boy oh boy, is it ever not cost efficient to go over your data plan on a prepay service.

I should clarify that when I said I was all angry with customer care, what I really meant was that I was angry and I was on the phone with customer care.  I like to think that I was that customer that the rep talks about with her co-workers later.
"So I ask how can I help you, and he said 'Oh, man, I really screwed up and I've gone over my data plan and I must have set something up on my phone to auto-connect or something and I wasn't paying attention and I know I went over my data plan so it sucks to be me, but can you help me turn off my data for now so I can figure this out?' And I say, sure, and I turn off his data so it won't charge him anymore, and I suggest he go in to one of our stores so they can show him how to use his phone, and he says 'I know where the store is and I'll head over there tomorrow.' And I ask if there's anything else he needs, and I'm totally sure he's going to complain about wanting credit or something so I have my speech all ready and he says 'nope, that's it, thank you.'  Seriously, he just got charged more in a week than he's paid in four months and he's thanking me!  And he had a really sexy voice and I bet his Lovely Wife is super happy that she married him and I wish I could meet a man like that someday.  Sigh."
It may not go exactly like that, but I'm pretty sure it did.

In conclusion, what I'm trying to say is that while I used to make fun of people with (what I would consider to be) outrageous phone bills because I thought I was better than they are, I am now going to make fun of those same people because I know I'm better than they are because I am one of them.  Not really one of them, because you know, those people will just never get it with their crazy iPhones and whackadoo bills every month. But still, it will be from a place of love and understanding.

Anyway, I'm off to run some errands which include getting a lesson in how to keep my cell phone from being a jerk to me and having lunch with My Lovely Wife.  Despite being really bad and racking up huge charges, she's still letting me take her to A&W for lunch today.  She's the best.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dear TLC

To Whom It May Concern:

Do you know who Philo Farnsworth is? Philo Farnsworth invented the television.  He is, therefore, indirectly responsible for everything that you watch (the medium is the message, and so on and so forth).  

If, through some incredible science fiction technological meddling, Philo Farnsworth was to be brought into the present day and given a tour of all that his miraculous invention has produced - news reports from around the world, Sesame Street, computers, medical advancements - he would probably call the whole thing off if some poor intern accidentally let him tune into TLC.

"What's this?"  He would ask in his old-timey voice.

"Oh, that's TLC."  The hapless intern would reply.

"TLC?"

"Yeah, it's The Learning Channel."

There would be a long pause while Honey Boo Boo happened on the screen that he invented.

"Tell me," Philo would say at last, breaking the silence.  "Tell me: what exactly would someone learn from this?"

I'm not suggesting that all programming on every other network is better.  Remember when A&E was just World War II and Law & Order re-runs?  Or when MTV decided that what its viewers needed was less music?  You are not the first to lose your way, and you won't be the last.

But. and this is a pretty big but, so it's going to get its own paragraph before I continue with my thought in the next paragraph.

But you have LEARNING right in the name of your network.  It's right there.  In the middle.  A&E got around it by saying "well, we're about arts AND entertainment.  Technically, acting is an art, and Law & Order is entertaining, so..."  Even MTV can say "well, okay, no, we don't necessarily focus on the music itself anymore, but EVERY show we have has a theme song and then there's music playing in the background, and some of the commercials have jingles, so..."

I have a theory though.  A theory that helps me to understand why it has come to this.  It's amazing that nobody else has figured this out, but that's because you hid it right in plain site.  Your network is called The Learning Channel.  Up until now, we've all assumed that this is because we will all learn something when we watch it.  That's not the case though, is it?  It's not The Teaching Channel.  It's The Learning Channel. 

All this time that Discovery and PBS have been doing shows on advances in technology and the search for intelligent life and the creation of artificial intelligence... and it's right there in HD.  You've got some kind of Artificial Intelligence that has been learning over the years.  You started off high brow, with programs about home improvement and science and animals and nature.  Then gradually, it became about fashion and flipping houses.  Now it's about something that I don't know what it is, but I know that I get a headache watching it.  And yet, it keeps going, so I assume that people are watching it and advertisers are paying you to do it.

Shut it down.  Please.  For the love all that's right in the world, turn off the experiment!  It's not worth losing an entire generation for!

Either that, or may I suggest changing your call sign to TLCD (The Lowest Common Denominator)?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Live Reaction to Watching "Abduction"

Warning, this is going to include spoilers, but only if you think that there is a way that this movie could be ruined further.

9:40 AM

I'm home alone right now, so I'm doing what most guys do in that situation: I'm watching stuff on Netflix while knitting.  Cliche, I know, but what can I say?  I'm a manly man.

But my fingers need a bit of a rest and it turns out that at some point I picked up an extra stitch so I think maybe my mind wondered a little too far.  Which leaves me just watching Netflix.

The movie that I am watching right now is "Abduction" starring the werewolf guy from that movie and Snow White from that other movie.  I guess watching may have been too strong a word.  I'm about 20 minutes into it and I only sort of have an idea of what's going on.  I don't think I've missed anything too important.  It's still playing while I write this and so far the dialogue has been incredibly engaging.

For some reason that I don't understand and don't really care about, the guy and the girl have a love/hate relationship because they live across the street from each other and are in love but don't want to talk about it?  I don't know.  Could I care less?  Possibly, but only by not watching the rest of the movie.  And what does it say about you that you're reading about a bad movie?  It's like you're reading the novelization of it, and really, this is not a movie that needs a novelization.

9:47
I had to pause for a moment because both the laptop and the mouse battery were dying.  Laptop was easy to remedy, but why can I never find a working AA battery?  We have like 10 rechargeable batteries at any time, and none of them are ever charged.  You'd think that we'd have figured out the cause/effect relationship a long time ago, but nope.

Anyway, he just found a picture of himself as a kid on a missing children's website.  I think this is the plot, but I can't be sure.

I should probably mention that his friends are pretty stupid.  And poorly written.

9:52
They are doing a live chat or something on the website for the missing kids.  Surprisingly, people on the internet may not be who they say they are.  Thankfully, Internet searches are easily done with graphical interfaces.

Oh hey, it's the guy from the Girl Who Played with Fire movies I think.  He's a good actor.

His parents are the guy who has a hilarious interview about working with Jackie Chan on "The Tuxedo", and his mom is the hot mom from "A History of Violence".  Have you seen that movie?  It was really good.

9:58

His friends are still super stupid.  I wish I could live in this place, wherever it is.  Everyone has a iPads and Macs, designer clothes, and crazy huge houses.

And yet I'm supposed to believe that in this neighbourhood of multi-million dollar homes, his father fixes his own lawn mower.  Although, to be fair, "fix" means having it turned upside down and hitting it with a hammer.  How crazy is that?  Rich people fix their stuff the same way I do!

10:02

OH SNAP!  He just confronted Hot Mom with what he's found!

And I feel nothing.  Should this be a rather emotional sequence?  I'm pretty sure that she's acting with a cardboard cut out.

10:07

Action sequence!

Hot Mom kicks butt.

Girlfriend coincidentally gets involved.

Dad can fight too!  Not as well as Hot Mom, maybe, but he does kill a guy.  Go team family.

Oh, darn, his fake parents just got killed.

That may have been a spoiler.  Watch out.

10:08

I think he's supposed to be angry or sad about his parents getting killed.  I think I'll call this emotion sangry.

Big bomb explosion.  Like, way huge.  Bigger than you'd expect from the size of the bomb itself.

Yeah, the house is completely gone.  Thankfully, they made it into the pool before they could be killed.

10:11

Okay, so I think the guy from Girl Who Played with Fire is supposed to be the bad guy.

They are now on their way to the hospital cause girlfriend got ingjured.

And they just passed the slowest fire truck in the world.  Seriously, I don't think the guy driving the fire truck knows that when the lane is completely open in front of them and they have their sirens on that they're allowed to step on the gas.

10:13

Oh hey it's Doc Oc!  He's a CIA agent now apparently.

Ooooh man, the kid is trying to be a badass.  "Trust has to be earned."  Ooooh, he's badass.

And Sigourney Weaver- I forgot she was in this.  She's a doctor or something.  It was while I was knitting.  I guess she's here to help.

10:16

Car chase.  Oh, and Ripley is a CIA agent too.  And she's in trouble.

Oh, so many twists and turns.

10:18

Okay, this line doesn't make any sense.  Cardboard says "I need answers!"  And Ripley says "You've been looking for answers your whole life." or something like that.  I'm not rewinding it.  No he hasn't, he only just found out that he was abducted as a kid.  Maybe they're referring some way to him acting up in the past.  It has to be in the past, because he sure isn't acting now.

And yes, I may have paused the movie just so I could make that joke.

10:21

They are now going to get into the river and float away on a convenient bundle of branches.

Cardboard doesn't seem to care very much that she has fresh stitches from the hospital.

And now he's stealing stuff off clotheslines from campers.  Someone is going to be very sad that the quilt their grandmother made has been stolen.

Oh, I get it.  This was just so we could get the two of them cold and wet and under blankets.

Oh, nope, no nakedness. They just wake up spooning.  I guess this isn't a teenage sex comedy.  Though now that I think about it, there really isn't that much that would have to be changed to make it one.  His friends are stupid, the girl next door is really hot, they live in a really nice place where everyone is simultaneously on a sports team and good with computers...

10:26

Cripes this is bad.  Cardboard is pretending to cry now.  WAAAIT, that's it!  He's not a bad actor!  He's a not very good PRETENDER!

"Okay, Cardboard, in this scene, I want you to pretend that you're just waking up next to Hot Girl and instead of being a real boy and being all 'I just woke up next to this hotness! I need to take a pic on my phone!', you're going to pretend to cry.  And ACTION!"

10:28

He wants to send her home.  And it turns out that her parents are in Italy.  Further proof that this is Movieville.

And she's convinced Cardboard that he has to trust her, because they can only trust each other.

10:31

It turns out that his father is a Black Ops agent. I think.  Maybe.

Somebody mysterious just told Doc Oc CIA guy to get things under control.

10:33

Cardboard and Hot Girl just got picked up hitch-hiking... on the wrong side of the road.  In the middle of town.  By a truck driver.

Hot Girl:  Can you take us to Virginia?
Driver: Get in.

Seems legit.

10:34

CIA is going to go after all his friends now.  Good thing they're losers. Terribly acted, poorly characterized losers.

10:35
They arrive at the safe house.  Stopped to pick up groceries after getting dropped off by the truck driver who didn't kill them on the way.  He's really the unsung hero of this movie.

10:38
He found a picture of his mother.

He just figured out the safe house is his real father's place.

Hot Girl just called her uncle from the landline.  Cripes.  Nobody can be that stupid, can they? Way to compromise the safety of the place.  And completely disregard the "don't talk to anyone" message that Ripley gave them.

10:39
They found a nice car.

10:40
They're practically in the middle of a cemetery before Hot Girl realizes that the address is odd.

10:41
Cardboard is trying to be emotional about his dead mothers. Sorry, I mean he's pretending to be emotional about it.

10:42
Good thing that Hot Girl can use the power of Hotness on nerdy looking cemetery guy.

Hotness, the kryptonite of nerds everywhere.

10:43
They are CARRYING CELL PHONES. And NOW Cardboard is concerned about driving the car for too long?

Can we just talk about the cell phones for a moment? UGH.

10:44
Oh, great, stupid friend is here to save the day.

10:45
They got fake ID's and went to the train station.  Who takes trains in a getaway in the US?

10:46
They sprang for a private compartment.  And just made an allusion to "good thing it's only one night".  Teenagers on the train, on their own, in a private compartment.  There's probably going to be boobies coming up soon.

And she just asked if they were going to die.

Boobs are definitely coming up.

10:48
This is the part of the movie that my Mom will start reading the review at.  Great.

10:49
Phew, they're going to take a break to get something to eat.  She's going to go get some food and give a secret knock when she comes back.

Such a good plan to split up like that.

10:50
Wait, how is she paying for this?  What kid carries cash these days?  I haven't carried cash in forever, and I don't live in Movieville where money just comes out of the taps.

Who would have thought that her going to get food by herself could end poorly?

10:51
And now he gets concerned about her missing.

10:52
"Now pretend that you're walking down the hall to the room."

Ugh.

Cue fight sequence.

10:53
Hot Girl is all tied up, but is trying to escape I think.  She's somehow managed to break a glass by knocking to onto the carpeted floor of the train.

Meanwhile, Cardboard is beating the experienced bad guy by having flashbacks to his adopted father.

And he just kicked a train window.  I'm pretty sure that train windows don't break like that.  I've never done it, but I think they are probably made of plexiglass and aren't supposed to shatter into shards like that.

10:55
Hot Girl: Hold on, I need to take a breath!  (Pause for three seconds)  Okay, let's go.

10:57
Cardboard's trust can be earned with a burger and a milkshake apparently.

10:58
Here comes the exposition about what's going on.

I just realized that Cardboard is the male equivalent of Twilight girl.  He has one facial expression.

10:59
Bad guys are here.

11:01
Oh, dear, the bad guys may already be here and these are just different bad guys.

11:02
Oh, the cell phone is his father's phone.

But he stole the phone from the guy that attacked them on the train.  How can they be so stupid about their phones?  Doesn't everyone know that cell phones are pretty much designed to be tracked and used as bugs?

Yeesh.

11:05
They just called him by another name that I don't remember them using before.

11:06
His really stupid friend is apparently incredibly loyal.  Whatever, they were just the tickets to the opening game that he was incredibly excited about earlier.  Just give em away.

11:07
His father just called.  Cardboard is apparently the son of Wood.

11:08
Bad Guy is looking for Cardboard in the stadium, is incredibly anxious to get the information he has, but stopped to buy popcorn along the way.  I'm sure the concession lines were very short ON OPENING DAY IN A PACKED STADIUM.

11:10
Wait, how'd he get a gun in here?

11:11
Oh thank goodness a phone call.  I have to walk away.

11:18
Since I've got the movie paused I thought I'd take a moment to thank everyone that's made this experience possible.

Thanks everyone.

There's only 16 minutes left, so here goes.

11:19
The Bad Guy just admitted to killing his birth mother.  That's pretty sad.

Again, how'd he get a gun in here?  They had to go through metal detectors.

11:20
Is Cardboard Canadian?  He keeps apologizing to people he bumps into as he runs away.

Why is he still carrying a cell phone?

His birth father just called him to give him the plan and now everything is going to be good.

I'm pretty sure that what he just did would result in security being called.  All over the place.

11:22
Another call!

11:25
Only 13 minutes left in the movie.  I'll take this moment to say that I think it would be a great twist if it turns out that the truck driver from back at 10:35 actually did kill them and this is just him imagining what things could have been like if they hadn't gotten in the truck.

I doubt it will be anything that cool though.

Okay, back into it.

11:26
Wait, there were hundreds of people around, then there were none, now there are hundreds again.

11:28
The Bad Guy is being arrested, but they still just let him walk around without handcuffs or anything.

11:29
His birth father is a better actor than this.  Sad.

11:30
"Now pretend that you just saw your father in the distance and he disappeared."

And Ripley came back!  She wasn't actually dead.  That's exciting news.

11:36
Oh, man, this is... boring.

Wait, they just missed the entire game?  It was still going on when they were outside... But the stadium people just let them hang out in the TOTALLY deserted grandstand?  What?

That movie was not very good.

I'm glad that you could be here with me for it.  Sort of.  If you actually read through this, I feel for you.

I'm not going to sit through the credits to see if they set this up for Abducted 2: Abducted Back To the Streets.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

...And That's How I Knew I Was Dreaming

The other night, I had one of those moments where you realize that you're dreaming while you're dreaming.

I was back in high school.  No, that's not what tipped me off.  I was back in high school, only it wasn't the high school that I went to, it was some sort of strange conglomeration of different schools that I'd been to, up to and including university.

Then there was this gang of bullies.  I knew they were bullies, you could tell just looking at them that these were a group of teenagers that were bent on just making things difficult for those around them.  Some of them had leather jackets, some of them had golf shirts with popped collars, some of them were jocks, some of them were those guys that hung out in the smoking area that you had to be 19 to get into but were still in grade 9.  Basically, a cross section of stereotypical people that have made me wish I had stuck with those karate lessons I started in my imagination when I was six.  A group of people that separately would make sense, but couldn't exist together.  This, too, did not tip me off that I was dreaming.

Then something bad started happening.  Someone, or something, was picking off the gang of bullies one by one.  Every time they'd come by, there'd be one fewer of them and the remaining ones were beginning to look more and more stressed out.  They started acting out more, trying to seem tougher than they really were, while at the same time they were scared out of their minds that one of the people that they were picking on was actually the person that was...well, I can't say for sure that they were being killed, but they were definitely being removed.  Still, made perfect dream logic to me, so this was okay as well.

It got pretty cool after it came to light that the bullies were disappearing because that's when Willow showed up.  You know, Willow.  The character from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.  She was there to investigate what was happening and, I imagine, report back to Buffy as to what kind of evil it was that was plaguing us.  She was pretty cool, but distracted, which was understandable because she was rather busy trying to pick up clues and detect who the culprit (or culprits! Dah dah DAAAAAH) was.  Were.  Was/were.  And that didn't do the trick either.  It made total sense for Willow to be here.  I mean, Buffy would be off fighting, I don't know, the main bad guy or something.  I think I was happy that we got Willow and not the slightly more goofy if not much less effective Xander to help us out.

It was around this point that one of the popped collar golf shirt bullies had had enough.  He jumped up on the pool table (did I mention there was a pool table in the hallway/classroom that I was standing in?) and challenged the mysterious entity that was hunting them down to come out and face him.  He was pretty ripped, he had these huge muscles and stuff, so I was pretty sure that there was no way that he was going to survive this.  The fact that I was seeing him do this from his perspective?  No dream clues there.  I always inhabit other people's bodies during times of intense anger and/or frustration.  Or at least I did here.  Apparently.

Suddenly, he was knocked to the floor by a mysterious rush of shadows and air.  He got up and there was a flurry of arms and legs and dodging and bobbing and weaving with this shadowy creature thing.  The creature thing - yes, just your every day run of the mill creature thing that happens so often that you don't even think twice about it not possibly being real - kept coming at him, but you had to give it to that douchebag bully, he was fighting back.  For some reason, maybe it sensed defeat or maybe it was just playing with its food, it disappeared.  One moment it was there, the next it was gone.  Disappearing monsters?  Nope, still happily ignorant of my dream state.

The bully was out of breath, but pretty stoked about having beaten the monster.  He was flexing his muscles and bragging about how awesome a fight it was, and that we didn't need Willow here because he'd beaten the monster.  Then he leaned over to me and whispered "Do you know why I could beat the monster?"  And then he stood up straight and started flexing his overly-muscled arms and shouted "Because I used Aikido-lasers!  That's right!  I had my arms shot with Aikido-lasers, so that's why I'm so great at it!  Go Aikido-lasers!"

Aikido.  Lasers.

AAaaaaannd that's when I realised I was in a dream.

Aikido lasers.  Come on.  That's just ridiculous.  Who's would believe that?