Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ingenious Cleaning Inventions

This week has been a busy one for news hounds and journalists around the country.  For starters, dozens of citizens have been waiting anxiously for this week's Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.  Most don't really care which way the ruling goes, because most don't really understand what the law says or does.  They're just placing bets on which ancient Supreme Court Justice is going to teeter over with a massive coronary from actually trying to lift the 1,400-page document.
But of all the news stories crossing my computer screen this week, none compares to the earth-shaking news coming out of Spain.
According to a report in NewsLite, a Spanish company is offering one of the greatest inventions since the Ginsu knife:
A self-making bed.
The company has published a video which shows their new bed, which uses a couple of robotic arms to straighten the covers, and a pair of spatulas coming out of the headboard that reset the pillows.
The story doesn't mention the bed's cost, but then, how can you put a price on genius?  This invention could have saved me hundreds of punishments and restrictions in my youth, and saved my mother's vocal chords from the 16 years of abuse required to yell at me about cleaning my room and making my bed.  (In my opinion, one of the best things about being 18 months old is that you don't have to make your own bed yet).
This has inspired me to suggest a few other time-saving and yell-saving devices our geniuses should be working on:
Automatic Desk Cleaner - I envision a device similar to the one you see at arcades where you drop a quarter in a slot and it lands on a pile of other quarters, while metal rakes constantly scrape back and forth trying to push the messy quarters over the edge and into the payoff tray.  The desk cleaner would have a servo mechanism that would push open the top drawers, with the metal rakes pushing papers, pens, empty cereal bowls, and half-filled pretzel bags off the desktop and into those drawers, which would automatically close when finished.
Table Clearer - Similar to the desk cleaner, the little metal rakes would push the dinner dishes off the dining room table and onto a small conveyor belt that would dump the dirty plates and cutlery into a dishwasher.  If you happened to accidentally leave the remote control on the table, well, let's just say you needed the exercise of a brisk six-step walk every 30 minutes anyway.
Bric a Brac Duster - To be fair, comedian and tool man Tim Allen actually suggested the prototype for this device, which is basically a miniature leaf blower that would regularly pop out of end tables and shelving units to blow the dust off whatever is nearby.  As Allen pointed out, you'd first have to duct tape the small stuff down.
Dirt Sensing Vacuum - Once the dust (or any other foreign object) hit the floor, it would trigger a sensor which would then dispatch a robotic vacuum cleaner to give the carpet a good once-over.  The best rendition of this device appeared on the 1960's cartoon "The Jetsons."  The iRobot corporation offers something called a Roomba, but it doesn't work.  For starters, it's more of a sweeper than an actual vacuum cleaner.  Second, you have to manually set it up, place the barrier sensors, start it, and empty it.  Third, it moves really slow, which leads to Fourth, it regularly gets it's disc-shaped butt whipped by small terriers defending their territory and large tabby cats sensing plastic prey.
Automatic Window Washer - To be honest, we've had these on cars for decades, so I'm not sure why the Anderson people haven't already come up with a device that squirts a shot of Windex out of a tube onto the inside and outside of the windows, followed by a strip of rubber on robotic arms that squeegee the glass clean, then holds out a metal hand with fingerless gloves awaiting a tip sufficient to purchase a bottle of Ripple.
And finally...
Clothes Harvester - This tracked vehicle would be shaped like a dump truck, with a claw in the front from one of those arcade machines that drops small stuffed animals through a chute for 50 cents.  It would wander around the house in search of itinerant togs, grab them with the claw and drop them into the dump body, then head to the laundry area to drop a load.  On the top, it would have a speaker programmed to repeatedly tell house dwellers what it isn't.  "I'm not the maid!"  "I'm not your mother!"  "I'm not the maid!"  "I'm not your mother!"...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rock of Ages A Miscast Masterpiece

I recently watched "Rock of Ages" with my wife and friends, a film tribute to the music of the 1980's.
The writing sucked, the story sucked, the acting sucked...and the movie was fantastic!  The story was a tired, worn out tale.  If you saw the movie "Burlesque" with Christina Aguilera and Cher, you've already seen this fable: guy working at a bar gets the hot new girl in town from podunk a job at the nightclub, which is about to go under because it continues to promote a music genre that's in decline.  They fall in love, then have a falling out over a misunderstanding, then get back together.  The difference is, if "Burlesque" had scored a soundtrack like "Rock of Ages," it would have been a record breaker.  (Forgive the pun). 
Whoever cast this flick should be strung up and beaten with one of Alec Baldwin's Emmys.  The acting in ROA was sub-par.  Julianne Hough is unquestionably the most beautiful beard in Hollywood -- talented, gorgeous, vivacious.  And was completely wrong for the role of the "new girl from Tulsa."  The guy playing her boyfriend was similarly miscast -- pretty boy Diego Boneta doesn't have a rock and roll bone in his body.  Catherine Zeta-Jones singing a Pat Benatar tune?  Looked ridiculous. 
The big surprise?  The guy I expected to stink up the joint turned out to be one of the best on the screen.  Believe it or not, Tom Cruise pulled it off as the burned out Jim Morrison/Axl Rose rock star, both on the rock stage and in the glammed out dressing room.  A brilliant performance!  Hats off also to Paul Giamatti, who was once again perfect in a supporting role as the sleazy agent.  Alec Baldwin was passable as the aging club owner, but should have never been allowed to try a rock song.  The voice (whoever it actually belonged to) wasn't bad, but the image of a scruffy Jack Donaghy knocking out a heavy metal tune just didn't work.
The other superb acting job?  Russell Brand was spectacularly funny and fitting.
Also, if there is any justice in Hollywood (and trust me, there isn't), an Academy Award nomination would go out to Mickey, the baboon who played Cruise's furry Scotch-serving sidekick "Hey Man."
Sadly, the writing captured one of the big knocks against the 1980's era that the movie presented: the script was vacuous and unfulfilling.  Throughout the movie, the same phrase kept going through my head -- "empty calories." 
You could tell that the songs were chosen and blended first, then the story shoe-horned around them.  It was clumsy.  Also, be forewarned that this is a musical, created in a kitschy Rodgers and Hammerstein way.  Don't show up at the ticket counter with any expectation of reality.  People inexplicably break out in song and dance at the drop of a suitcase.  Unless you're prepared for it, or grew up thinking "Grease" was the best movie ever, the thing can feel like a Flash Mob that just won't shut up. 
After the show, one of my friends schooled me as to why parts of the film felt so smarmy -- it's because the director, Adam Shankman, has done some episodes of Glee.  If you like that TV show, you'll love this.  If you're like me, and believe Glee to be a televised infection that can't be cured with an oil tanker worth of penicillin, it will be a distraction to be endured.
Based on these pie-throwing observations, you might think that I hated the movie.
The opposite is true.
I loved it!  It was like the Susan Boyle of cinema.  The acting and story were ugly to look at, but the music was heavenly! 
The producers were smart enough not to mess with the original instrumentals, and required the actors (or whoever was paid to do the actual singing for their lip synching) to step up and perform the vocals the way we all remembered them from that era, without stylizing or screwing it up.  Oddly, that combination gave such a refreshing spin on what are often tired, worn out stock on "classic rock" radio stations that it was like rediscovering this amazing music for the first time all over again. 
Make no mistake, this film is completely about the music...and because of that fact, the result is a fun movie that anyone who has a nodding acquaintance with the 1980's should not miss.  It is a terrific, five-star flick, despite its glaring faults.  I give it about eight thumbs up (out of the classic Siskel and Ebert max of two). 
In fact, my wife made a brilliant observation -- this could easily become the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" of the 21st century, with fans showing up in outrageous costumes for weekly midnight showings, reciting the predictable dialogue throughout the film, and singing along with the well-loved music at the top of their lungs.
In other words, this one is destined to become a classic.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'll Bet Snoop Dogg Doesn't Know About This Weed

It's official.  I finally used marijuana for the first time this week.
Among my generation, I'm an oddity, having never tried pot. Being a teenager in the 1970's, this makes me the chemical-using equivalent of the Elephant Man.  When you factor in my 20-year history as a performing barroom singer and musician, the odds of me being a weed virgin are equivalent to the likelihood that the Hubble telescope is going to find signs of intelligent life on Lindsay Lohan. 
If we were to discover the "mirror universe" in Star Trek episode #33, I would basically be Snoop Dogg's chronic-avoiding counterpart.
But that's all over now.
This week, my wife and I tried some cannabis sativa together. 
For starters, the smell wasn't as bad as I expected.  In fact, it was almost a flowery aroma.
As for the post-use case of the munchies reported by most potheads I've met, it's hard to tell.  I can polish off a bag of nacho cheese Combos on any given afternoon, so I don't know if the voracious consumption of this salty pretzel snack after our first experimentation was a result of the chemical, or just a Tuesday.  And at my weight, who can really know the difference?
I must admit that I'm concerned about addiction, and I already see some worrisome signs. 
The first time my wife and I used, it was in the bedroom.  I figured that initial experience would hold me for a while.  But by the time "Judge Judy" was on TV the next evening, I was jonesing so bad that my wife had to hook me up again right there on the living room sofa.  Now I find that I'm having trouble going a whole day without it.
This is going to be problematic, because it ain't cheap.  We got these first few ounces from a supplier in Utah that our daughter turned us onto, and it was about $20.  I'm hoping that, if we check around and ask a few people, we'll be able to find a dealer who won't be so pricey.  After all, we live near Las Vegas, a place where there are lots of celebrities, movie stars, and other people who use this stuff.  Hopefully, if we save up some cash and buy larger quantities, we can get it cheaper.
But enough of my personal paranoia.  Let's talk effects.
On that front, this substance was everything it's cracked up to be.  Within a few minutes of using it, my whole body felt like it was floating.  I could almost sense my skin buzzing.  I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I kept looking at my hands, studying them for signs that the cells themselves were migrating up and down my arms.  Years ago, there used to be a concession in some malls where you could pay to dip your hands in a vat of melted wax.  That's probably the closest I can get to describing how my fingers looked and felt.
A few minutes after that, I imagined the cells on my toes doing the same thing.  (To be honest, because of the Combos and a few other unhealthy lifestyle choices, it's been a while since I've actually seen my feet so I couldn't really look for signs of physical metamorphosis.)
When my wife and I were finished, I simply felt like I was glowing for hours afterwards.
Now I'm going to do something I never thought I'd do: I'm going to recommend you go out and get some of this cannabis product for yourself.
I'd hate for you to get the wrong stuff, because there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who would tell you that you're buying the real deal, only to sell you some cheap imitation made from ingredients out of somebody's kitchen.  Therefore, I'm going to describe it so you don't get ripped off.
If you're like us and don't really know how to go about getting it, I would recommend you start by visiting a hair dresser.  Everybody knows that hair salons always have the highest quality products.  Our daughter is studying to be a stylist, which is how she learned about it.
The first way to tell you've bought the real McCoy is that there will be a big green marijuana leaf right on the front of the package.  Below that, it will have the brand name.  I'll spell it to be sure you're looking for the correct thing:
H - E - M - P - Z.
Below that, it will say "Pure Herbal Extracts," followed by "Age Defying Herbal Body Moisturizer."
If you're suspicious like us and still not sure you laid your money down for the correct lotion, check the ingredients on the back of the bottle.  After things like "palmitate" and "glycerin" and "butyrospermum," you'll find the line that says "cannibas sativa seed oil." 
Only then will you know that you've purchased your first few ounces of legal marijuana product.
Best of all, you don't need one of those cards from a California doctor.
So I would recommend you run right out and get some of this stuff so you can join the rest of us new potheads.
However, because I still have a conscience and don't want to see anybody get hurt, I will ask one thing:
For at least an hour after using some product, please don't try to drive.
Your hands might still be slippery and you could lose control of the wheel and crash your car, becoming just another marijuana-related accident statistic.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Zombies Portend The Mayan End

As if the world didn't have enough horrors, including war, famine, and the Kardashians.
Now it's zombies.
Perhaps "zombies" is too strong a word.  There is no empirical proof that the guy in Florida, who was shot and killed for eating the face off a homeless man by the side of the highway, was a zombie.  But on the other hand, I'm not sure that the Metro-Dade medical examiner has a blood test in his kit for zombie trace.
Ditto for the guy in Maryland (my state of origin, naturally) who killed and ate his roommate's heart and brain.  It's quite possible that he was simply a budding foodie, and somehow got the directions wrong on the latest Guy Fieri recipe.
Then you have the porn star in Canada who killed a Chinese student and chopped him up, ate his favorite body parts, then mailed the remaining pieces to a variety of political offices.  He was caught in a Berlin cyber-cafe while looking up stories about himself on the internet.  The confusing part is that, if the vain cannibal was to repeatedly utter "brains...brains..." like the silver screen zombies, it would be unclear whether he hungered for cerebellums from strangers, or was looking for his own.
This outbreak of humans eating humans has certainly garnered attention, not to mention triggering the sound of a Barbra Streisand song in my head: "People...people who eat people...are the hungriest people, in the world..."
To have this many stories of cannibalism in one week has caused some concern, and even given flight to worries about the storied "zombie apocalypse" that George Romero posited would end the world.
What makes that scenario even spookier is the fact that all these "apocalyptic" instances are occurring when the Mayans claim the meter will run out on humanity.
I'm surprised that there hasn't been more buzz about the end of the world, which the Mayans have inconveniently scheduled for Dec. 21, 2012.  I mean, couldn't they have delayed it until after Christmas? 
I remember the run-up to the world's predicted end on Dec. 31, 1999, when prophets profited from claims that planes would fall from the sky, banks would implode, and VCR's all over the globe would fizzle and spark because their computer programming wouldn't know how to handle a date that ended in "00." 
This time, there has been very little in the mainstream media about our impending doom.  Even Geraldo Rivera has shied away from the topic, and this is right in his wheelhouse. 
Oh, we had that eponymous movie starring John Cusack, but that waste of celluloid was released all the way back in 2009.  You can't possibly expect attention-deficient Americans to keep up a fervor that long.
There has certainly been evidence that 2012 will be the final year of human existence.  Just two months ago, Dick Clark died.  By law, we are not allowed to close out 2012 and ring in 2013 without the American Bandstand master at the helm.
So is this it?  Are the Mayans right?  Is the world coming to an end, with the arrival of flesh-eating North Americans as a portent to the inescapable zombie apocalypse?
You know how I know?
Because my government told me so.
The United States federal government.  You know, the folks that insisted for decades that Area 51 didn't exist; the ones who managed to have the U.S. Naval Observatory removed from Google Earth satellite maps as if it isn't there; the bunch who pretended for years that the only "Seal Team Six" they knew of performed five shows a day at Sea World.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta officially released a statement last week confirming that, no, these attacks are not the starting whistle for the zombie apocalypse.
They aren't saying that there is no such thing as zombies, or that their arrival will not be an ELE (extinction-level event).  In fact, the CDC actually has a section on their official website devoted to preparing for the impending zombie apocalypse, whenever it DOES come around.  (What will you need when the undead arrive?  According to the website: duct tape.)
So while the federal government has tacitly legitimized the notion of zombies, they are convinced that this is not the end.
In the spirit of objectivity, I have to point out this is the same federal government that told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, so I can't blame you if you're a bit skeptical.
Basically, it all comes down to two questions:
1)  Is the U.S. federal government smart enough to recognize the arrival of the true zombie apocalypse? 
Hint: this is the same government that said the unemployment rate would never get above 8 percent in this recession.  (The rate hasn't been below 8 percent since 2009, and currently stands at 8.2 percent.)
2)  If they really knew such a terrifying reality, would they tell us? 
Remember, it's been 50 years since Kennedy was killed, and a lot of people believe we STILL haven't been told the truth.
The good news is that we don't have to worry, because the government has a secret weapon: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In the unlikely event that zombies actually showed up in Central Park or on the Staten Island ferry, Bloomberg would take care of it.
As soon as he finishes outlawing the consumption of sugar-bearing drinks over 16 ounces, he'll start working on banning the consumption of sugar-bearing drink drinkers.  Remember, this is the guy who sent the Occupy Wall Street teenagers to their room without their supper.
As for the end of the world on Dec. 21?  I just don't see Bloomberg allowing it to happen.  There's just too much money involved.  And since he's the guy who rules times (square)...