I've been trying to decide how to tell this story, or even if I was willing to until after things are resolved. But this afternoon I realized that it really deserves to be told, for the complete and utter lunacy if nothing else. So while we were in the mountains the week of Memorial Day, I got a call from my boss. I'd been laid off from the company I've worked for the last seven years. Nice. On the way home from the mountains I managed to burn out the brakes on the XTerra, which is going to require substantial and expensive repairs. Having made it home, brakes grinding away, we walked in to find the temperature upstairs was 83 degrees as the upstairs A/C was broken. While waiting for the A/C repairman to arrive, I decided to cut the grass which was way overdue, only to find that the lawnmower wouldn't start. At least I thought I could relax and stream some "Archer" (we had immediately dropped our cable service to cut costs), but the O/S drive on the home theater PC suffered a fatal heart attack and died a grisly death. But you know what? We're fine. I've got a bunch of incredibly wonderful friends and colleagues joining me in beating the bushes for job opportunities. While the XTerra is idled, we've got the Fit and my motorcycle and my bicycle and my other bicycle and my feet and the awesome Chapel Hill Transit System, which for the time being is still free. And the kayak if it rains like it did last summer. The A/C problem turned out to be a couple of hundred bucks to repair instead of a couple of thousand. The lawnmower was at least 7-8 years old - stuff happens. And I built the damn PC so I can damn well replace the drive and rebuild it and I've always made sure we didn't store anything critical on it, so nothing was lost. Eh. Jeannette has been fabulous as always (we just had the 30th anniversary of our first date!). We're going to be okay. I'm sure I should feel sad and worried and despondent and all that and if nothing shakes out in the next couple of months, that'll probably be my reality. But for now I'm out pounding the pavement for the first time since 1987 and while I might be pissed about the circumstances behind it (okay, I'm definitely pissed about the circumstances behind it!), I'm looking forward to my next gig, whatever it ends up being. I don't plan on posting a lot of stuff about my job search on social media - this is going to take some time so just accept that as I have. I'll damn sure let everyone know once I've found something new. In the meantime, if you know of anyone that needs some IT managed, send 'em my way.
I realized last night that this week marks the 10th anniversary of Half-Life and Times, which might be a bit unfair as it has seen very little activity over the last few years. Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram have mostly replaced actual blogs for lots of people, myself included. But I still find it useful for longer bits of writing and will continue to maintain it - in fact I'm still working (slowly) on some posts on Rhythm Alley that I hope to have up this summer. I think all the archived posts are still out there, included the ones from a period of years where I was coding my own site rather than using Blogger.
This blog was not my first web presence though. While I never got into the old BBSes, I did contribute sporadically to a number of USENET groups in the mid-late 90s - primarily those devoted to local music, college basketball and comic books. And starting around '98 or '99, I was posting static web pages that can only be called a proto-blog, with updates every couple of weeks on what I was up to, what I was reading, what I was listening to, etc. It also included a collection of local restaurant reviews that I wrote - at the time I was working for Nortel and people were still traveling for business so I pointed them to my page for dining suggestions. I've likely still got files around somewhere - maybe I'll throw it back up for a couple of days this weekend.
After spending over 30 years in Corporate America, here are a few things I've learned that might make life in cubeland a little easier. I'll admit that I am not an exemplar of meeting behavior, but at least I try.
Start on time. Meetings that are scheduled for should be at full steam
Don’t interrupt to ask late
joiners to audioconferences to identify themselves – wait until a break
or change of topic (unless you’re in a super-secret meeting where you
need to know exactly who is there)
Don’t recap every time someone
joins – they can read the minutes or you can catch them up later. The folks that did make the
meeting on time don’t want to rehash this stuff again. And again. And again.
Setting up a videoconference
or a Webex and a projector can take time – try to get into the conference
room a few minutes early, otherwise your meeting will automatically start
10 minutes late. If you need to,
schedule the conference room earlier than your meeting so you have set-up
End on time. Better yet, end 5 minutes early so that
folks can get a cup of coffee or heed the call of nature before their next
meeting. And so the next users of
the conference room can get set up.
Meetings running over time are
one of the main reasons for other meetings starting late, which makes
that meeting likely to run over, making the next meeting start late, ad
A meeting without an agenda is
not a meeting – at best it’s a party, at worst it’s a riot.
Publish an agenda before the
meeting and stick to it. Even a
staff call should have an agenda.
Make it clear whether it is an
update meeting or a working session and conduct them accordingly – they
are NOT the same thing!
A meeting without a leader is
not a meeting – at best it’s a mob, at worst it’s an angry mob. With torches and pitchforks.
Stick to the agenda – cut off
tangential discussions and table them for another time. It’s better to schedule a second,
targeted meeting than to tie up everyone for longer than scheduled for a
different topic that they might not all have any interest in
Cut off non-productive
discussions – if a discussion reaches a back-and-forth stage with no
progress, table it for later. Put
things in the parking lot to be addressed in a separate forum.
Most meeting result in
actions. Those actions are too
often misremembered, vaguely worded and not assigned.
Make sure you leave time at
the end of the meeting to review actions
Actions are not really actions
unless they have an assigned owner and a due date.
The leader should schedule a
follow-up on the actions, either a subsequent meeting or an email
exchange or some other way of notifying the interested parties of the
status and completion of actions.
If possible, have someone take
notes and actions that is NOT running the meeting as it can be difficult
to do both effectively.
Unless you’re specifically
scheduling a working session, most meetings are for updates and getting
everyone on the same page. That
means attendees need to prepare ahead of time, rather than derailing the
meeting by trying to do the work they were supposed to have done since the
If attendees are spending more
time IMing and catching up on e-mail, they either need a swift smack on
the head or they probably didn’t need to be in the meeting
Trying to listen to multiple
meetings at once is annoying as heck to everyone else. You are probably not really that
important and you are not nearly as good at multi-tasking as you think you
are. If you really ARE that
important, then people should be happy to reschedule a meeting so that you
can give it your full attention.
Don’t hesitate to cancel a
meeting if there’s no longer any reason for it but try to do it far enough
ahead of time that invitees can make good use of the time you’re giving
back to them. Last second meeting
cancelations are almost as annoying as meetings that are no longer
Just because your calendar
defaults to an hour for a meeting invitation, that doesn’t mean that
meetings can’t be shorter. Meetings
tend to fill in all the time allocated for them.
Schedule meetings for only as
long as you need. Half hour and
forty-five minute meeting invitations are most welcome – just be
Most meetings should be focused
– if they’re too wide-ranging, too many people that only have interest in
a small piece of the meeting are invited
If it is necessary to schedule
a wide-ranging meeting, have people join at scheduled times rather than
sit through the whole thing. That
also forces you to stick to the schedule.
Invite only the people that
need to participate. Avoid the tendency
to over-invite “just in case” someone might be needed.
If possible, have someone
available via phone or IM if needed rather than subjecting them to the
It’s okay to not know all the
answers to unanticipated questions – take an action to get the
information after the meeting.
On the other hand, go into
meetings as prepared as possible – if you’re supposed to know it, make
sure you know it.
Not everything needs to be a
formal meeting. Some things are
better dealt with via a three-way conference call, an office drop-in, an
email exchange or some other method that requires less time to plan and
Carrying on with
my analysis of Top Album polls for 2013, if I assign a value of 50 to a
1st place finish, 49 for a 2nd, etc, here are the Top 54 albums of 2013
(all were mentioned in at least 3 of the polls):
Modern Vampires of the City
Random Access Memories
My Bloody Valentine
Days Are Gone
Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Trouble Will Find Me
The Bones of What You Believe
Shaking the Habitual
Chance the Rapper
Queens of the Stone Age
The Electric Lady
Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away
The Next Day
Once I Was An Eagle
Tegan & Sara
Same Trailer Different Park
Nothing Was The Same
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight
Night Time, My Time
Oneohtrix Point Never
R Plus Seven
Light Up Gold
Nine Inch Nails
The Silver Gymnasium
Autre Ne Veut
The Haxan Cloak
Like A Rose
Loud City Song
My Name is My Name
Looking at individual polls, I suppose it's no surprise that the Rolling Stone poll was the only one to include Beck, Sir Elton, Franz Ferdinand, John Fogerty (!), Keith Urban, Miley Cyrus (!!) and Pearl Jam. And while 2 polls included The Cute Beatle's latest, Rolling Stone had it as the number 4 album of the year. They really are all in their 70s, aren't they? (Not that there's anything wrong with that, Mom.) All polls had a number of entries that were unique to their poll, with Mojo leading the way at 20 performers that showed up only in their poll. However, there were only 4 acts that showed up only in the two major British polls and nowhere else (Cate le Bon, Factory Floor, Primal Scream and These New Puritans). There were two acts that managed to get a Top 5 mention in one poll but were totally left out of all the others - The Foals' Holy Fire was 4 in NME's poll and John Grant's Pale Green Ghost was number 5 in Mojo's but neither showed at all anywhere else. Fun exercise! While I'd have gotten around to buying the Bowie and Neko Case albums eventually, there are a lot of people here I've never heard of. And certainly there's a hell of a lot of terrific music that didn't show up on any of these lists, because of lack of promotion or distribution or whatever, but it's a good place to start - time to get sampling!
As I said in a Facebook post today, I realized as the end of year best-of lists started coming out that I somehow missed most new music from 2013. Yeah, I knew Justin Timberlake had an album that people said didn't suck and Miley Cyrus had an album out that apparently passed an extremely low bar of not completely horribleness and David Bowie actually put out something new that was worth listening to (and yes I know it's quaint to talk about "albums" but that still the way I think), but beyond that I have no idea what is new and interesting. So in order to narrow the sampling down, I decided to compile a bunch of those year-end lists. I stuck to the usual suspects, including the old farts at Rolling Stones and the hipsters at Pitchfork and a few others (see list below). I rejected user polls like Slicing Up Eyeballs (their readers would have just invented new Cure releases to vote for) and I rejected polls with fewer than 50 albums (for ease of math) and I didn't pull in polls from general news sources, preferring to stick with music/entertainment-oriented media. In the end, I chose the following:
Consequence of Sound
All had Top 50 lists except for Popmatters which had something like 70+ in theirs (including local band Mount Moriah's release at number 51, meaning it didn't count for my purposes). In the end, there were 181 releases mentioned from 180 performers/bands (DJ Rashad getting a double entry for his Double Cup album in one poll and his I Don't Give a Fuck EP in another one). There were only 6 albums that showed up in all nine polls (and oddly enough Neko Case's wasn't one of them):
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Haim - Days Are Gone
Kanye West - Yeezus
My Bloody Valentine - mbv
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (I guess they ARE still around!) Two more were in 8 out of the 9 polls:
Disclosure - Settle (ignored by Paste)
Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt (left off by Mojo) And 9 releases made it into 7 of 9 (see what I did there, Star Trek fans?):
Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Pusha T - My Name is My Name
Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Savages - Silence Yourself
The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
In all there were 54 albums that were mentioned in at least 3 polls, making them a good place to start listening. The obvious critical darlings were Vampire Weekend and Kanye (does every middle-aged white music critic HAVE to say he likes Kanye? Is it some kind of rule?). Vampire Weekend finished number 1 in 3 of the polls and only finished outside of the top 10 once. Kanye also had 3 number 1s but was considerably lower in a couple of the polls. No one else was number 1 in more than one poll. I'll do a further breakdown in a follow-up post along with some interesting (well, I think they're interesting) anomalies and oddities.
My friend Becca reposted the following frightening note on her Facebook page and asked me to respond. Becca is a really good project manager, which means her job is to get other people to do work, so here goes. :) The horror story is this:
From a friend, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION...posted on the Obamacare website today "I actually made it through this morning at 8:00 A.M. I have a preexisting condition(Type 1 Diabetes) and my income base was 45K-55K annually I chose tier 2 "Silver Plan" and my monthly premiums came out to $597.00 with $13,988 yearly deductible!!! There is NO POSSIBLE way that I can afford this so I "opt-out" and chose to continue along with no insurance. I received an email tonight at 5:00 P.M. informing me that my fine would be $4,037 and could be attached to my yearly income tax return. Then you make it to the "REPERCUSSIONS PORTION" for "non-payment" of yearly fine. First, your drivers license will be suspended until paid, and if you go 24 consecutive months with "Non-Payment" and you happen to be a home owner, you will have a federal tax lien placed on your home. You can agree to give your bank information so that they can easy "Automatically withdraw" your "penalties" weekly, bi-weekly or monthly! This by no means is "Free" or even "Affordable.
Wow, that would be horrible... if it were remotely true. But without even resorting to Snopes.com, let's take a look at this. Let's start with the IRS-will-do-horrible-things-to-you email. The reality is that fines for not purchasing insurance max at $95 per person or 1% of family income (whichever is greater) in 2014. Income is defined as the amount OVER the filing threshold ($10K) so the max fine for this mythical person would be $400 (assuming the middle of the income range they stated), not $4000. And the fact is that the IRS has very little leverage to collect those fines. Your driver's license will not be suspended (that doesn't even make sense as they're issued by states, not the Fed), your wages will not be garnished, your home will not be taken away - NONE of that can happen. The only things the IRS can do is withhold the fine from your tax refund IF you get a refund and the note is correct that they can put a lien on your home (doesn't mean they can take your house, just means you have to pay the fines if/when you sell). So, part bullshit and part scary-sounding stuff. More details here. So what about the cost of the insurance itself? Certainly sounds like a damn high monthly premium for crap insurance (Silver is the next lowest of the four tiers of ACA-approved coverage). But the best I can tell, the highest monthly premium for a single person is $342 (happens to be in Wyoming) so roughly half what this mythical person states. See here. And the worst deductible I could find for the Silver plan was $3000, not $14,000. See here. $3000 is still pretty high but the idea of the lower-cost plans is to keep a major injury or illness from bankrupting you or your family. And they still cover doctor visits with $40-$60 copays - high compared to my company-provided coverage but better than paying the full cost of an office visit. Again, assuming this mythical person has no kids or dependents, they're likely just about at the threshold for receiving any subsidies, but I'm not positive about that as some of their income may be exempt from those calculations - it's possible they'd receive some help in paying their premiums. The oddest thing about this though is the note about a pre-existing condition. Without the ACA, this mythical person would likely be unable to purchase insurance at any price or at best case they might find something that cost them more than the $600 month/$14K deductible they're complaining about. So a real person in this situation would likely be quite happy with the opportunity to purchase health insurance that the ACA affords. I'm not an expert in the ACA since I do have company-provided coverage, so you guys feel free to correct anything I've gotten wrong here. Or check Snopes for me - I'm too lazy. :-D
Back in the dark ages (i.e. before the ubiquity of the Interwebs), there was no easy way to electronically share cat photos with funny captions, grumpy cat photos with funny captions, videos of cats doing funny things. And, shockingly, there was no Dilbert (although there were pointy-haired bosses in abundance). So office drones shared bits of teh funny via photocopied bits of cartoons, jokes, etc. No, I'm not kidding you, actual used-to-be-trees paper was used to lighten the oppressive gloom of a 6'x8' cube. (Now that I think about it, maybe the fact that we don't have all that paper pinned to cube walls is what makes corporate facilities convinced that office workers now need much less space than that.) My favorite of these bits of humor can be found below - it started circulated the IT departments of large corporations during my last year at IBM and I still resonate with the total inside-jokiness of it. It's one of those you-had-to-be-there things, back with we system programmers were maybe not respected but we were damn well feared. The advent of the PC in offices that same year totally destroyed the mystique, so this bit of prose marks the end of an era, one that some of us lament daily.
Real Programmers Don't Eat Quiche
Real Programmers don't eat quiche. They like twinkies, coke and palate-scorching Szechwan food.
Real Programmers don't write applications programs. They program right down on the bare metal. Applications programming is for the dullards who can't do systems programming.
Real Programmers don't write specs. Users should be grateful for whatever they get: They are lucky to get any programs at all.
Real Programmers don't comment their code. If it was hard to write, it should be hard to understand and harder to modify.
Real Programmers don't document. Documentation is for simpletons who can't read listings or the object code from the dump.
Real Programmers don't draw flowcharts. Flowcharts are the illiterate's form of documentation. Cavemen drew flowcharts; look at how much good it did for them.
Real Programmers don't read manuals. Reliance on a reference manual is the hallmark of the novice and the coward.
Real Programmers don't write in RPG. RPG is for gum-chewing dimwits who maintain ancient payroll programs.
Real Programmers don't write in COBOL. COBOL is for COmmon Business-Oriented Laymen who can't run a business, much less write a real program.
Real Programmers don't write in FORTRAN. FORTRAN is for wimp engineers who wear white socks. They get excited over finite state analysis and nuclear reactor simulation.
Real Programmers don't write in PL/1. PL/1 is for insecure anal-retentives who can't choose between COBOL and FORTRAN.
Real Programmers don't write in BASIC. Actually, no programmer writes in BASIC after reaching puberty.
Real Programmers don't write in APL, unless the whole program can be written on one line.
Real Programmers don't write in LISP. Only idiots' programs contain more parenthesis than actual code.
Real Programmers don't write in PASCAL, BLISS, ADA, or any of those other sissy computer science languages. Strong typing is the crutch for people with weak minds.
Real Programmers' programs never work right the first time. But if you throw them on the machine they can be patched into working order in only a few 30-hour debugging sessions.
Real Programmers never work 9 to 5. If any Real Programmers are around at 9:00 am, its because they were up all night.
Real Programmers don't play tennis, or any other sport which requires a change of clothes. Mountain Climbing is acceptable. Real Programmers wear climbing boots to work in case a mountain should suddenly spring up in the middle of the machine room.
Real Programmers disdain structured programming. Structured programming is for compulsive neurotics who were permanently toilet trained. They wear neckties and carefully line up sharp pencils on an otherwise clear desk.
Real Programmers don't like the team programming concept. Unless, of course they are the chief programmer.
Real Programmers never write memos on paper. They send memos via computer mail networks.
Real Programmers have no use for managers. Managers are a necessary evil. They exist only to deal with personnel bozos, bean counters, senior planners, and other mental defectives.
Real Programmers scorn floating point arithmetic. The decimal point was invented for pansy bedwetters who are unable to "think big."
Real Programmers don't drive clapped-out Mavericks. They prefer BMW's, Lincolns, or pick up trucks with floor shifts. Fast motorcycles are highly regarded.
Real Programmers don't believe in schedules. Planners make up schedules. Managers "firm up" schedules. Frightened coders strive to meet schedules. Real Programmers ignore schedules.
Real programmers don't bring brown-bag lunches. If the vending machine sells it, they eat it. If the vending machine doesn't sell it, they don't eat it. Vending machines don't sell quiche.
I couldn't put off cutting the grass any longer, despite knowing that the plume of pollen rising above the lawnmower would be visible all the way to Pittsboro. So rather than focus on the horrific events of Boston today, I decided to contemplate the wonders of our springtime Pollen Bowl. In fact, if you yellow-washed a Dorothea Lange photo, it's pretty much what it looks like around here.
You can always tell when someone has moved to North Carolina or one of the surrounding states if you see them out rinsing off their car or washing their porch within the first couple of days of Pollenocalypse. They obviously don't know that they'll be doing that every day for at least 10 days, maybe longer. As soon as it gets warm enough to crank up the grill and start using the deck, your spring gets delayed by a couple of weeks until you're sure that it's really over and you can spend a couple of days scrubbing pollen out of all the things you forgot to bring in off the screen porch.
Long before our state became known for tobacco, textiles, college basketball and nutball conservative senators, North Carolina was the leading provider of naval stores in the colonies. The state was covered from coast to mountains with long-leaf pines, making a huge source of tar, pitch and masts - and making the long-leaf pine nearly extinct. Most of what we have now are loblolly pines, I think. I'm guessing if long-leaf pines dumped pollen the way the loblollys do, they'd have cut them down faster.
It is my understanding that pine pollen is not an allergen (particles are too big) but it's damn sure an irritant. After spending the weekend in the mountains, I got home Sunday evening and between the driveway and the door, my mouth felt like I'd barely survived a Saharan sandstorm. It gets in the corner of your eyes, between your teeth and underneath the waistband of your underwear. It has caused me to almost wreck the motorcycle on more than one occasion - never ride with an open-face helmet this time of year.
I know it will all be over in a couple of weeks, but until then I'm staying inside, running on the track at the Wellness Center and not opening any windows.
If I seem a bit... let's say "focused" on gun issues in America the last few days, it's because I feel guilty.
I feel guilty for not speaking up about the subject for many years, despite having been a strong proponent of gun control all of my adult life. I guess I'd succumbed to the idea that there was nothing practical that could be done about it - another success of the NRA.
I feel guilty because I've not always acted or advised others consistent with my core belief that we've got too damn many guns around. I've become way too casual about it, which in the end is really the biggest problem with the proliferation of guns in America - we're ALL way to casual about having killing machines lying around and in every handbag and every nightstand.
Mostly I feel guilty because it takes the killing of 20 little kids and their teachers in a Connecticut suburb to spur me to action, when hundreds of equally innocent, equally beautiful, equally deserving of a future little kids are killed every year in individual incidents, but because they happen one at a time, we don't react the same way. And when thousands upon thousands of equally deserving of a future teenagers and adults are killed every year in accidents, in murders, in suicides we seem to accept it, or at least ignore it (and isn't that the same thing)?
Fuck it. No more.
There is no one in America that needs an assault rifle for non-official use. And if you start arguing with me over the minutiae over whether an AR-15 is by definition an assault weapon or not, you might find yourself arguing with my fist. There is no one in America that needs 30+ round magazines or canisters for non-official use. Your 47 guns are not going to help you stand off a government you find oppressive - reference Ruby Ridge and Waco if you're not sure. It should not be harder to adopt a dog than it is to buy a gun. There should not be more regulations around automobiles than there are around firearms. We've made tobacco companies liable (at least to some extent) for the damage and death that their products cause - why can't we do the same thing with firearms?
30,000+ gun deaths in America every year, year in, year out. That is not acceptable.
A number of times when talking about gun violence and gun control, I get a response that "cars kill people but we don't try to outlaw cars".
So let's think about that for a minute because I'm HAPPY to have that conversation.
1) Cars must be registered AND car drivers must be licensed. We should extend that to guns and gun owners. You can't just give someone your car for their use on the road without transferring registration - should be the same with guns. Today something like 40% of gun sales take place without any background check - that should end.
2) Car owners must carry liability insurance in case their vehicle injures someone else - I think that's a GREAT idea for gun owners. I'm sure the insurance industry would be happy to look at this as a new form of revenue and then would be lobbying counter to the gun lobby since they'll want to do everything they can to ensure that they don't have to pay anything out.
3) Vehicular fatalities peaked in the late '70s at around 20 per 100,000 people per year. Over the last 30 years, that has been reduced by half, despite more miles traveled per person. This was accomplished via government regulation (despite massive lobbying by the auto industry) and consumer demand for safety. So yes, let's use that as an example and legislate better safety with it comes to firearms.
4) There are certain vehicles that are deemed too dangerous to operate on US streets - no reason we can't apply that same logic to assault weapons, large magazines and the like.
5) If I get drunk and get behind the wheel of my car and kill someone, I'll be charged with at least manslaughter and likely something harsher in the current climate. If I get drunk and go hunting and accidentally shoot a fellow hunter, it's much less clear what will happen - there have been some prosecutions but many others are written off as accidents and not prosecuted at all. How about we be a little more consistent and admit that shooting someone while mistaking them for a deer or a turkey is negligent regardless of any extenuating circumstances and that they should be prosecuted.
So, no, we don't try to outlaw cars but we do an awful lot to try to make owning and operating them safer and penalize those who use them irresponsibly. Why wouldn't we do the same for a class of devices whose sole function is to create damage?
I promise no spoilers for The Hobbit until it's been out for a couple of weeks at least but a couple of non-spoiler-y comments. We were able to catch a sneak preview last night before the line party started for the midnight showings. 2D, not 3D and I honestly don't know if it was screened at 24fps or 48 - I assume it was 24.
Oh my god it's good! I'd read LoTR three times before graduating high school (and probably 30 times since), did my long paper for AP English on The Silmarillion and have probably read The Hobbit a couple dozen times in the last 35 years, so you could say I'm a fan. And while there are certainly liberties taken (some of which were avoidable but worked anyway), I found it to be almost note-perfect both in scope, in feel and in casting. As much as I enjoyed the LoTR movies, I had some pretty serious issues with some of the choices made - without over-analyzing it, I didn't have a single real bone to pick with The Hobbit.
Casting of the new roles was quite good. While some of the dwarves don't get much screentime, Richard Armitage is pretty terrific as Thorin Oakenshield, carrying off the imperiousness of a born leader while occasionally letting the fact that he carries the weight of his people on his shoulders show through. Ken Stott's Balin is probably the dwarf among the rest that gets the most screentime and he works well in what is essentially an elder stateman role. As for Martin Freeman, he's perfect. Neither I nor apparently Peter Jackson can imagine anyone else playing Bilbo Baggins. There's certainly a bit of his Dr. Watson and a bit of his Dent Arthur Dent in there, along with enough of Ian Holm's older Bilbo that it is really seamless going from old BB to young BB.
As for the carry-over cast, Ian McKellan correctly plays Gandalf a little lighter for the most part and Cate Blanchett is even more gorgeously Galadriel then ever. (I do wish that if PJ was going to play around a bit, he'd find some way to work in the fact that Galadriel is Elrond's mother-in-law! Lots of comic potential there! Plus the fact that she looks pretty damn smashing for being roughly 7,000 years old.)
One of the things that as a fan of the whole Tolkien mythosphere I really enjoy is the hints that JRRT dropped in "The Hobbit" of this larger, much older world than is obvious on first reading. PJ thankfully included much of that, with references to off-stage places and history. It probably wasn't strictly necessary to do so, so I'll take them as little love notes and thank yous to the superfans.
The story breaks at the end of the movie about where I thought it would have to - it'll be a long wait for Desolation of Smaug! But we'll need to see The Hobbit on the big screen at least a couple more times before then.
We have an older HD digital set-top box from TWC that does not have an HDMI out interface. This wasn't a problem with our old TV, as it only had two HDMI interfaces available and I was using them for the Blu-ray player and the home theater computer. With the new TV, I've got 4 HDMI ports, so I'd like to swap out the set-top box for a new one with an HDMI interface. Given the limited hours the local TWC office is open, I thought I'd call first to make sure they have one available. Um, yeah, about that...
No phone number is listed on the TWC website for the local office. There's only a toll-free number. So I called it and stumbled through a voice menu that didn't have any options that really matched what I needed. Tech support? Not really, I know what I need and can swap out the box myself. Service upgrade? Not really - same service, just need a box with a different interface.
So I tried service upgrade anyway and got a nice young woman on the phone. I explained what it was that I wanted. "So you want digital service?" No, I have digital service - I just want to swap my cable box out for one that has an HDMI interface. "Ok, you can do that at the local storefront." Yes, but I'd like to talk to them and make sure that they have one available before I disconnect my box and carry it over there during their limited hours of operation. But they don't seem to have a freaking phone! "I'm sorry, sir, they operate as a walk-in service. I can pull up your account and go over your service with you." Jeez, lady, I'm perfectly capable of pulling up my account online - I can read you the goddamn MAC address of the box that I have at home off of your website that I managed to log into all by myself but you can't tell me the freaking telephone number of the local office?
Un-fucking-believable. If it weren't for Carolina basketball I'd drop that shit in a heartbeat.