Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why You Should Never, Never, Never Buy a Cal Flame BBQ, Cal Spas Spa, or Any Other Cal Spas Product

Located in Pomona, California, a few years ago Cal Spas decided to move beyond just making crappy above-ground spas, and into the lucrative world of manufacturing crappy barbecues and barbecue islands. Thus was birthed the excrement known as Cal Flame and Cal Flame BBQs. I was unfortunate enough to receive one of their little crap-mobiles with the purchase of our house, and it's been nothing but headaches ever since.

Somehow these idiots managed to put the gas shutoff valve behind a concrete wall. Nice job, fools—now if I need to make any repairs, I can choose either to shut off the gas main (a major pain in the ass) or I can daisy chain gas pressure regulators on top of each other (easy but stupid).

Beyond that, though, the gas valve system on a Cal Flame BBQ is so poorly designed that it constantly suffers from seal breaks that lead to gas leaks and excessive heating of the knobs. I know this because I once touched one of said knobs when the BBQ was supposedly off. It was, but the gas was still coming from the valve, and continued to burn. Ever try touching 900 °F stainless steel? I have—trust me, it leads to second-degree burns, at best.

But does Cal Flame care? Nope. They sent me to some dealer in Spokane who supposedly bought the BBQ from them. Funny thing is, that dealer hasn't sold Cal Flame for 14 years, and the BBQ was manufactured 10 years ago. Liars. Oh, the main reason the dealer in Spokane no longer sells Cal Flame products? Terrible customer service, and also trying to pass the buck onto dealers, even for manufacturing defects.

And finally, my BBQ was one of the first defective POS's off the assembly line, so to get people hot and bothered, Cal Flame offered a lifetime warranty. A lifetime warranty that, by the way, is completely worthless if ownership is transferred.

Even today, Cal Spas touts on its website that it offers an " Industry Leading 10 Year Warranty" on its spas:

Funny thing is, even for its top-of-the-line Genesis
model, the lifetime warranty is nullified if ownership is transferred:

Come to think of it, that's not actually very funny at all. At least we know that people never sell their houses, right? Either that, or Cal Spas
is being a little crafty with what it touts and what it actually delivers on. Cal Spas, apparently, likes to hide behind smoke and mirrors.

So, in summary, don't ever buy a product from Cal Spas, Cal Flame, or any of their other terrible little companies. They are grifters and charlatans.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Equal Time for All Candidates

Just because I frequently shred Apple for its paternalistic and frequently mind-bogglingly idiotic design decisions, doesn't mean I think Microsoft, Lenovo, etc., are any better (in this realm, only Alienware, Google, and Amazon are even worth mentioning). It's just that when one charges a premium for something, you expect a bit more, and Apple rarely delivers on that promise, while also dropping support for any Apple product that reaches the ripe old age of, oh, one-year plus.

Anyway, to be fair, let's take a look at this nice fail by Microsoft. At about 0:12, Mac guy questions whether the Microsoft guy can plug anything into his computer (isn't it odd that neither of these companies seems to have had a female spokesperson for their computers, ever?). Microsoft boy replies that his little piece of plastic has "a USB, Mini DisplayPort, plug away."

Beyond being terrible grammar, this is 2014, not 2004, time traveler boy. Bragging about having a two whole ports on a computer (granted, a tablet) is laughable at best. It's the whole multivalve engine thing all over again (a few years ago, a car company touted its newest model's multivalve engine in several commercials. Which is super impressive until you realize that a car engine with a single cylinder is, de facto, a multivalve engine (a combustion-engine cylinder needs two valves in order to operate).

Hey, guess what? My $200 Kindle Fire has a USB port and . . . wait for it . . . a freaking HDMI port. Oh, wait, so does my phone. And the phone owned by that woman over there. And pretty much every smartphone in existence. Which would you rather have, a Mini DisplayPort or an HDMI port? Yeah, I thought so. Try again, Microsoft.


So—the New Um? Nonwords, Misused Words, and Actual Words You Should Never Use, Part 7 in a Recurring but Randomly Timed Series

So is almost never a word with which to properly begin a sentence, this sentence being one of the few exceptional examples. If for no other reason than to prevent the incredible teeth gnashing it causes me every time I listen to humans speak, I would love to see it stop. Worse yet, from time to time I have started to see it creeping into actual writing. Bizarre.

The end.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Nonwords (and Misused Words) and Words You Should Never Use, Part 6 in a Recurring but Randomly Timed Series

Semi: half of something; e.g., a semicircle is half a circle.

Bi: two of something; e.g., a bicycle has two wheels.

Semimonthly means twice a month; bimonthly means once every two month. The same applies to semi- and biweekly, and most similar constructions, except annual.

Which leads us to one of those super-annoying exceptions of English usage—biannual means twice a year just like semiannual does, rather than once every two years. Why? Probably because the established word for once every two years, biennial, came on the scene about 266 years before biannual did. It also doesn't help that the two words sound very much alike. My advice: don't use either—instead say or write "once every two years" or "twice a year" to avoid confusion.

People always seem to get "semi" and "bi" wrong in the other cases as well. How do you remember which is correct? Semicircle and bicycle—think of those two things and you should be golden.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

A little background from the BBC, for those who are interested. The government-sponsored conspiracy theory is likely bogus, but this article gives a good overview nonetheless.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Go, Go, Godzilla

Mastodon / Gojira

The Fox Theater, Pomona, California
October 17, 2014

by Brent D. Tharp

Gojira at the Fox Theater in Pomona, California, October 17, 2014

This review was originally to be of Mastodon’s show at the Fox Theater in Pomona. But you know how it goes—sometimes you’re pumped up like a peacock on prom night, only to discover that your date has strep throat, is suffering from a bad case of the clap, and is simultaneously dating the entire lacrosse team. Or, in Mastodon’s case, that you have a seriously bad sound guy.

I even proferred him a helpful note after the first song, informing said sound guru that the levels were so high that Mastodon sounded like incoherent white noise. Even at the top of the house, it was impossible to make out anything the band played. The volume came down shortly after the start of the set, but the incompetence did not. During one number, guitarist Brent Hinds used a slide, but when put to the strings, the feedback compared unfavorably to a screeching hyena in heat. After getting a thumbs-up from the sound guy, Hinds put the slide back on the strings, only to be assaulted by further earsplitting feedback. He finally turned his palms up, the universal symbol for “WTF?” and opted to play without the slide. So much for solid sound engineering for a national touring act.

This debacle was somewhat reminiscent of the Rob Zombie show in San Bernardino last year, wherein the guy running the board failed to inform the band that the house sound was dead and that only the monitors were live. So incompetent was he that the band rolled right through to another song before they were finally informed that the sound was out. Hope that was some killer ganja, dude.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, I was going to review Mastodon, so here goes. Mastodon played. They were loud. They may have been good, or bad, but I don’t know, because their sound guy totally blew. The end.

But is it my adoring fans’ fault that Mastodon’s sound guy committed a fail of epic proportions? I say no, my friends, it is not. Therefore, I bring you ... Gojira. For the uninitiated, Gojira is Japanese for Godzilla, which is what the band were originally called. Apparently, some other band already had the name Godzilla, so this creative foursome took the next logical step and found a foreign-language equivalent.

One quick note: this review is a bit atypical of my music writing, as I won’t be reviewing songs individually but only the show overall. As a result, I'll be covering this in less detail and more for overall "feel," and the piece is much shorter than most (probably to the relief of many). Hey, don't blame the player, blame the soundboard.

Gojira at the Fox Theater in Pomona, California, October 17, 2014

On this particular night, opening for Mastodon, Gojira were less like Godzilla and more like a four-headed Cerberus ascending to earth from the fiery, mucky marsh of the Styx, bringing hell and damnation to the delight of all in attendance.

Following this ascension from the gates of hell (to clarify, Gojira do not actually hail from Hades; they are from Ondres, France), Gojira thrashed, strutted, gutted, assaulted, and controlled their audience from start to finish, never letting up as they pounded relentlessly through their set. Lead singer Joe Duplantier easily traversed the transom from melodious pitch-perfect phrases to primally guttural throat-wrenching growls and spats. Guitarists Christian Andreu and Jean-Michel Labadie were in sync throughout, and showed versatility in playing both loose and tight as the set list and audience required.

As the tension of the set increased, Gojira played on like a musical Tesla (the inventor, not the band), pushing the audience to an emotional crescendo, comprising a vast human venturi of sweat and emotion. Technical musical prowess was tempered by restraint, and the audience stayed in step with the changes throughout the set, a sign that fans were completely and emotionally connected with the band.

Not to give short shrift to drummer Mario Duplantier, but there’s little to say, really—he is one of the most technically proficient drummers in the world, and equally gifted creatively. He pounded and tiptoed through the lens separating timing and creativity, excelling at both.

All in all, Gojira were impressive, and more than made up for the musical debacle that would follow. Not that Gojira need a defining baseline to their music, but to call their music “intelligent metal,” or the band “the French Black Sabbath,” would not be in error.

A visual display of Gojira fans' rabidity

Gojira, the Fox Theater, Pomona, CA, October 17, 2014

1. Explosia
2. The Axe
3. The Heaviest Matter of the Universe
4. Backbone
5. Love
6. L'Enfant Sauvage
7. Toxic Garbage Island
8. Vacuity

Additional photos:
Gojira at the Fox Theater in Pomona, California, October 17, 2014 (photo by Andrew Stuart)
Gojira at the Fox Theater in Pomona, California, October 17, 2014 (photo by Andrew Stuart)

Gojira, the Fox Theater, Pomona, CA, October 17, 2014 (photo by Andrew Stuart)


My Completely Biased 10-Second TV Show Reviews

1950 - 60 Television and lamp (5980295871)

Forever (ABC)—A blatant rip-off of the existing TV show Bones and of one of the main premises in the book Forever, this piece of mediocrity also suffers from completely transparent plots, hack writing, and science and human behavior that are barely believable at times. By the way, the novel Forever is one of the best ever written, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Manhattan (WGN America)—A show about the Manhattan Project, it's a cross between nighttime soap opera and science drama, but manages to work in some odd way. The science, even if it's completely made up, is believable, as are the actions of the main characters, who are well drawn.

Mind Games (ABC)—Though a solid entry, this show about geniuses who help to persuade and dissuade people by use of mental–emotional techniques never developed an audience and was canceled by ABC due to its abject stupidity (and low ratings), though it continues in Japan. With Christian Slater and Steve Zahn, this one has a solid cast, great acting, and quirky, unique plot ideas. Sometimes its supposedly smart characters say things that no smart person would ever say, or make grammatical or pronunciation errors that are egregiously wrong, but those times are rare.

Scorpion (CBS)—Though the show has been panned by quite a few critics based on thin plots and too much science talk (i.e., the characters are accurately smart, and most critics are [accurately] stupid, thus making a mismatch of epic cerebral proportions), I find the whole thing enjoyable, and if anything, the characters are actually believable despite the critical reception. The plots are a little weak, but since 99% of plots in all TV shows and movies are, who really cares? I know I don't; I like the people, and the acting is solid.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Thomas Edison—Loser

Current Wars

Particularly enlightening is the section on "Edison's publicity campaign," for those who may not have believed me in the past that Edison electrocuted dogs, cats, and other animals to somehow demonstrate that DC power was safer, rather than that he was merely an abysmal failure as a human being.