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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies on my TiVo

It may not be clear from this blog that I am a big movie buff. I prefer movies from the 60's and 70's, and Sci-Fi in particular, but otherwise, a good film is a good film. Here are a few that are sitting on my TiVo recorder awaiting my attention. They are mostly off of the Turner Classic Movie channel, which presents them uncut and in letterbox mode:

The Commitments

Good music, funny accents. What's not to like? Having survived several self-destructive bands myself, I can tell you this one is right-on.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Arguably the best of the Abbott and Costello movies, also featuring Bela (yes he's still alive) Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. I like A&C, but to me all their movies are pretty much the same: Abbott spends about 90 minutes yelling at Costello, who reciprocates by trying to be as annoying as possible.

Wait, that's my house.

The Tao of Steve

I searched for and recorded this show on the recommendation of Mirty and Doctor Bean. I think it has an interesting central idea (the whole "Tao" thingie), but otherwise it is a cliche-ridden predictable movie with characters that I don't identify with and find pathetic and despicable. Sorry, but when I was 30 years old I had been married for 10 years with 5 kids and mortgage and medical school loans out the wazoo. Multiple sexual partners? Please.

American Graffiti

George Lucas' first hit movie, a few years before Star Wars turned him to the Dark Side. An amazing cast (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, etc), great dialog and music, and bold, wide-angle camera shots prove that once upon a time George was actually a good film-maker. Before he surrounded himself with Ewoks. I think this film was the direct inspiration for Happy Days, so you can love him or hate him for it.

Corvette Summer

How come some movies don't seem to age but others look incredibly dated? This one looks like it should have been destroyed by 1980. I think mostly it has to do with the horrid disco/synth soundtrack that makes it sound like a lost episode of CHiPs!

I recorded it because I remember hearing about it in 1978 and thinking, "Wow, Luke Skywalker made another movie, I have to see this!" and never getting around to it. For some reason, I thought this was the last movie Mark Hamill made before his face was rearranged in a car accident. It turns out, it is the first movie he made after the surgery, and his features seem to be shifting over the course of the film. This is one of the few non-Scifi/non-Cartoon roles he's had since Star Wars, and he's not a bad actor, so for that alone it's worth a few minutes of your time, but not more.

The Odessa File

I don't remember much about this other than the fact that it was cool and had Jon Voight back when he was a good actor. I haven't watched it yet.

Soylent Green

How is it that Charleton Heston is so incredibly cool even though he delivers all his lines like he has bad case of gas? This is an atmospheric, moody movie, and typical of the type of near-future apocalyptic stuff he was making shortly after Planet of the Apes. As such, it involves a lot of swearing, neck-grabbing, and death scenes with an outstretched arm. The conservation/global warming theme is a little heavy-handed, but it really does inspire some thinking. The death scene with Edward G. ("where's your Messiah nooooooooow") Robinson is touching, both for the contrast of the beautiful images and classical music with the bleakness of the rest of the film, and because he actually did die a few days later.

Ed Wood

Genius. Pure genius. Not Ed Wood, he was a terrible film-maker. Tim Burton. This is an incredibly well-crafted yet hysterical tribute that even the late Ed Wood, world's worst director, would have appreciated. Featuring great performances by Johnny Depp and Martin Landau as a morphine-addicted formaldehyde-drinking Bela Lugosi (which won him an Oscar). Too many great lines to mention, but one of my favorites is when Orson Wells counsels a drag-wearing Ed Wood about being true to his vision:

"Why spend your life making someone else's dream?"

Good advice for anyone.

Mystery Men

This underrated film is a perfect spoof of Tim Burtonesque Superhero movies. The cast is incredible. Hank Azaria, as The Blue Raja (who wears green) seems to be channelling Major Minor. My favorite dialogue:

The Shoveler: Well, maybe if we had a benefactor like billionaire Lance Hunt it wouldn't be an issue...
Mr. Furious: Lance Hunt IS Captain Amazing!
The Shoveler: Don't start that AGAIN. Lance Hunt wears glasses. Captain Amazing DOESN'T wear glasses!
Mr. Furious: He takes them off when he transforms.
The Shoveler: That doesn't make any sense, he wouldn't be able to see.

Murder By Death

Another great 70's film with an amazing cast. This is an adaption of the Neil Simon play spoofing "great detectives." The best performance is given by Peter Sellers as a politically-incorrect Chinese detective Sydney Wang. Ever spouting Fortune-cookie parables, he gets upset when his son drives off in the middle of one:

Sidney Wang: Ah, yes, well, dog barking at night like mushroom. I- (drives away)
Sidney Wang: Idiot! Not finish mushroom story! You... idiot!


Another Chuck Heston film with a huge cast and a lot of stock footage from the War in the Pacific. I recorded this mainly to see it in wide-screen, as it's usually only available in Pan and Scan. Chuck really needs some Rolaids.

Friday, July 29, 2005

I need my space

Despite the fact that I am the one doing all the driving practice with Fudge, she still has managed to pick up at least one bad habit from my wife. She moves the seat all the way up to the steering wheel, and then forgets to move it back when she gets out of the car. So I have to wedge myself in there somehow before I can reach the seat release lever and move it back.

I think I have discovered the female equivalent of the left-up-toilet-seat.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

My Indian Name

I love reading Wickwire. She has a whimsical randomness that really hits the spot at times. And she provides a glimpse into a culture that is at once foreign and yet familiar to me.

Here she writes about Indian naming traditions in preparation for her son's naming.

I wonder what my Indian name would be?

I'm willing to entertain suggestions in the comments:

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ender's Game

OK, better late than never.

As you can see from my last post, I need to catch up on my book blogging. Well, I was planning to write about this anyway. Waaaaaaay back in May, I read Doctor Bean's impressions of Ender's Game, which freaked me out because I had just read the original short story myself, and it seemed to be more evidence that Beanie and I are connected in some weird metaphysical ectoplasmic way. (OK I just like to type "ectoplasmic" now after reading it on Wickwire's Blog).

Anyway, it took me this long to get through the book, because, as I've said before, I have a lot of distractions. And when I'm not being distracted, I'm usually snoring. Where was I? Oh yes, Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

I'm a big science fiction fan, so it's surprising that I have never had the urge to read this before. Possibly because I associated Ender's Game with a stupid Japanese video game, Zone of Enders, or assumed that it was some moronic play on "End Game", or "End Zone" or whatever, and usually that sort of thing just makes me go "Next." But after my daughter, the consummate judge of quirky fiction, handed me the short story to read, I knew I had to read the full version.

So, no spoilers here, don't worry. The book is basically about a futuristic war against that ever-popular scifi nemesis, the Bugger (See Starship Troopers). The war is the least interesting aspect of the book. The book is really about gifted children, and what we are willing to do to ourselves and our kids to ensure our own survival. In the book he also explores the concepts of leadership and loyalty and blah blah blah it's worth a read.

Bean commented (in his comments) about the uncanny way in which Card predicted the future of information technology. The original short story was published in 1977, and the full version in 1985. In those days, we were all trying to figure out how to record the messages on our answering machines, some of us had call-waiting, and there was no internet. A few geeks at universities had access to networks and bulletin boards (raise your hands, I know you're reading this), but most of us didn't have computers (certainly not in 77) and the ones that we had were very primitive.

There are two other predictions that I found very on-target. The first is his description of video games. The games in the book are not simple escapist mind diversions. They are being used as psychological training tools. (You could argue that the same is true for modern video games.) Yes, we had video games in 85. They were either arcade games like Pac Man or simple two-demensional side-scrollers. His description of a 3rd person 3D avatar which interacts with an ever-changing environment is probably 10 years ahead of its time. He also describes the game's ability to customize itself based on characteristics of the player. Both in terms of the choices the player makes in the game, and by downloading personal demographic information about the player. We do see some of the former in video games now, but not so much of the latter. But I predict we will see more of this in the future as technology evolves, so someday you may be exploring a virtual world that looks like your neighborhood and that is populated by people you recognize. Interesting but scary.

The other prediction, and the one that has more relevance here, is related to blogs. Yes, Orson Scott Card not only predicted the existence of blogs twenty years ago, but describes them so accurately that it makes you wonder if he had access to some kind of time machine. He describes accurately the manner in which people interact today on the internet, through the use of on-screen personas which give little clue as to the true identity of the writer. He describes how the most inflammatory writing gets the most attention. He describes the interaction of bloggers in the comments sections, and how ongoing flame wars draw in more readers and boost popularity of the various sites. He describes the hypocrisy of writers espousing extreme points of view which they personally don't hold in order to capture readers and put themselves in the limelight.

I suppose none of this is necessarily new in the media. But you would think that the open nature of the internet would allow all points of view to be expressed, and yet we find that only the extremes really catch our attention. Card was on to that.

The book itself is a very well-written page turner and worth a look even if you don't care for science fiction.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Happy Blah-giversary to me!

Hard to believe it's been 1 year since Psychotoddler opened shop. Seems like much more. Anyway, during this time I have written 376 posts, enough to fill a medium-sized book. Well, it would be enough, if they were coherent. Here's a rundown on the number of posts on each topic I've written about over the past year. New readers may find it somewhat surprising.

My kids39
My Band36
The Holocaust25
Jewish Music16
Family Vacations14
Shul Issues14
Being a doctor13
Being Orthodox in a Non-Jewish world13
Me and things attached to me13
Frummies Vs Modern Orthodox12
My Wife9
Jewish education8
Judaism Not Otherwise Specified8
Homestar Runner7
Non-Jewish Music7
Weird Stuff6
Home Repair6
Star Wars6
Drug Companies5
Jewish Holidays4
Media bias3
My Car3
TV or TiVo3
Jewish Behavior2
Health Care2
Talk radio1

If you've been reading along from the beginning, I apologize. There's no way I can give you back all of those wasted hours.

Here are a few more statistics:

Songs: 20
Movies: 6
Homestar Runner bits: 9

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Driver's Ed with Mark and Fudge

OK, start the ignition.

Good. Now put your foot on the brake.

Your right foot.

Your other right foot.

Just move your left foot away. You don't need it for this kind of car.

Are you sure that's the brake?


I think that's the gas.

No, it really looks like the gas.

OK, that's better. Now signal a left turn and turn the wheel to the left.

Your other left.

Good. Now look in the mirror, and in front, and the side mirror and behind.

Nobody there? Good. Pull out.


Um, you need to get back onto the right side of the street. This is a two-way street.

Here let me help you turn the wheel.

No, no...don't get nervous. Those cars will stop before they hit us.

All right, now we're on the right side of the street.

You can stop turning now.

I think you're getting a little close to those parked cars.

A LITTLE close.


Here let me help you straighten the wheel.

OK, there's a stop sign on the corner ahead. Stop right before it.

I think you should stop a little closer to the sign. We're still a good 30 feet away.

OK here comes the sign...this would be a good time to stop...before you go through it...see, you would get points off for this sort of thing.

Good. Now look left, right, and left and if no cars are coming you can go through the intersection.

OK you can go.

Um, go.


No, you didn't do anything wrong, don't panic. It's just that if, um, you look, and then you don't go for a while, maybe it would be a good idea to look again before you finally move, because maybe a carOH MY GD STOP MOVING!!!!

Look, keep your foot on the brake and don't move forward when you're looking at me.

No, it's OK, I'm cool.

My hand? Clutching my chest? Why, I hadn't even noticed. Must be heartburn. You're doing fine.

You just need a little practice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Does this make my butt look big?

In order to accomodate my new Pocket PC, I've had to move my wallet from my left front pocket to my left rear pocket. And now my tuchas is absolutely killing me. So today I decided to thin it out (the wallet). It's amazing how much crap I've kept in there. In no particular order, I found:

8 business cards from various musicians I've played with over the
1 frayed mincha/maariv booklet that's so faded that I don't think it
qualifies as shamos anymore
3 receipts from the Brass Bell Music store, again too faded to read
1 business card from an insurance agent (how did that get in
2 Best Buy receipts from 1999
3 cardboard "Dictation Guidelines" cards, each from a different hospital,
but otherwise exactly identical, including the mysteriously
hand-written number 02135, and I have no idea what that means
2 expired mini-sized "State of Wisconsin" Medical licences (and one valid
3 expired auto-insurance cards
4 single dollar-bills
4 AAA membership/discount cards, one valid
1 business card for "Heads Up," the African-American-owned shop where I
secretly bought my kids' black fedoras for a fraction of the price they pay in
frum stores (shhhh...don't tell Chicago)
1 business card for "Milwaukee Sound Service", the deaf 85 year-old guy who ran sound at a local music show (boy is that a funny story...)
1 receipt from Burleigh Pharmacy for $2.79. Possibly for a gallon of
1 of my own business cards, on which I scribbled another
number. No idea who or what
My soon to be expired driver's license and my new driver's license
4 membership cards to the Milwaukee Public Museum, 1 valid
3 Zoo-passes, none valid
2 Health insurance cards. No expiration date. I have no idea
which is valid
1 additional single dollar-bill, folded 8 times into a little square
3 Supercuts cards: saying I have either 1, 5, or 3 haircuts to go until I
get a free one
2 Sherman Perk Coffeehouse cards, also seeming to indicate I am
past-due for a free coffee

That's just the crap I took out of my wallet!
I still have a bunch of credit cards, licenses, bank cards, dental card, library cards, Blockbuster cards and 7 purple guitar picks.

My butt feels soooooo much better.

Drug Toys Part 3

Today I received a pen with a vibrating tip, courtesy of Zithromax.

Let the speculation commence!

Previous Drug Tchotchkes

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Air Show

We had a free airshow at the lakefront today. Being fans of things that are cool, and things that are free, and especially things that are cool and free, we had to go down for it. Here are a couple of pictures:

As you can see, the PT likes to use binoculars in her own inimitable way.

The Jewish Nursing home and retirement home happen to overlook Veteran's Park, making for a great place from which to view the show.

And a the same time hang out with old people.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

psycho standup: the greatest hits

featuring some of your classic favorites!...

pt: hey shua, what do you get when you cross a stroller with a box?

shua: eh--er--i--eh--

pt: A STANDUP STROLLER! HA HA HA HA HA HA! that's not funny.

and who could forget?...

pt: hey elana, what do you get when you cross a boy with a picture?

elana: a picture boy?

pt: Ooooh, you got me!

elana: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

round these parts, you get the theme from the twilight zone playing in your head ALL the time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A Post for Mirty

My kids are home for the summer, and that can mean only one thing:

I've become tech support for the home network.

Yes, I have to work all day and also field frantic calls from home:

"The network is down!"

"The internet doesn't work!"

"Man overboard!"

"Someone stole my underwear!" (as D2 would say: "You people have some serious problems!")

Yesterday, the internet did indeed go down, so no one could check email, visit Homestarrunner.com, or, most importantly, frag random strangers online with Call of Duty.

I eventually received a call from Perel telling me that we had the little icon that said "Limited or no connectivity" in the tray on all the XP computers, and none of them would load up the internet. Although, apparently, the computers could interface with each other (so Son3 could have his village obliterated by D2).

I ran her through the steps I usually take when this happens, which to be honest, is just unplugging the rooter/rowter from the wall and then plugging it in again and watching all the lights freak out. I've learned the professionals call this "power cycling the router." I call it "shock therapy." Anyway it usually works.

It didn't.

So then I had her do a whole bunch of other things including checking the phone lines and "power cycling" the DSL modem. To no avail. I was beginning to understand the frustration that real tech support people must have trying to help people over the phone. We never got to the point of, "Mam, do you still have the original box the computer came in? Pack it up and ship it back and never buy another one again," but I really felt that if I had been able to man-handle the beast myself I could have fixed it.

So I came home and everyone was getting internet withdrawal so I went downstairs to work my magic on the router before dinner. No dice. I disconnected one computer from the network and plugged it into the DSL modem. Still no dice. "Aha!" I said. Everybody turned around. "Never mind, I'm talking to myself." "Aha!" I thought. "The DSL is out."

I called SBC and eventually got on the phone with "Nancy" who was in "The United States" and we went through her script. She complimented me on allowing her to skip half of the script by doing all that troubleshooting on my own. Then she had me create a new profile on my computer and promptly connected me to the internet.

"I hope this has resolved your problem, please remember to fill out your satisfaction survey--"

"Hey hey woah wait!!" I yelled (everybody turned around). What did you do?

"You cannot connect directly to the modem. You need a protocol with your user name and password. That is why it didn't let you on. I hope this has resolved--"

"Ohhhh, I see, but it doesn't explain why it didn't work from the network. It was working fine last night, and all of the sudden it stopped."

At this point, she attempted to sell me a $49.99 yearly network service package that she assured me would fix up my home network woes. I told her that I didn't need that, I had had the network up and running for 3 years now. I just needed to know what had changed.

She must have taken some pity on me at this point, because she let me in on a little inside information.

"The computers and the routers are all electrical devices."

Deep, I thought.

"So sometimes they accumulate a static charge, that needs to be released by depowering them and then repowering them."

"You mean 'power cycling'?" I quickly asked.


Feeling a bit like Kirk talking to Spock (look, Spock had all the answers. He was just spoon-feeding Kirk. I don't know why he needed Kirk in the first place...) I said, "But I just did that."

"Yes, but sometimes the internal settings on the router get reset to their defaults."

"So...my password is gone?"

"I'm not permitted to respond in this area."

At this point the light bulb went on over my head and I tried very hard to thank her and hang up, but she needed desperately to finish the script (which included repeated inquiries of "And did this resolve the matter for you adequately?" and "Is there anything else I can help you with?").

Eventually I got her off the phone and called up my router's setting page and sure enough, everything was set to factory defaults. A little reentering of passwords and WEP encryption and we were back to killing strangers on the internet.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A chance to help

Those of you who are interested in helping the family of the woman who died last week (see here and here for details) can contribute online via Paypal here:


It is secure and only takes a minute.

I'd also appreciate if some of you bloggers could post links on your own sites as well.

Auf Simchas.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Auf Simchas

It certainly has been a week for lows and highs. After the events of last weekend, what we all needed was a good wedding. And we had a really wonderful one yesterday.

Let me preface this by saying that I really hate weddings. I have my reasons. But besides those, I don’t enjoy sitting through speeches, watching the slow and endless parade of 2nd cousins and college roommates as they march down the aisle, and I’m not a big fan of separate seating. And running around in a circle with a bunch of sweaty men is not my idea of fun. Maybe if I was a better dancer… I feel much more comfortable on the bandstand than on the dance floor. I find weddings to be boring, stuffy, over-scripted affairs.

But the one last night was different on many levels. First, I absolutely love this family. The father of the bride was one of the first people I met in Milwaukee. I used to stand next to him in Shul, and we’d walk home together and discuss computers (“What do you think of the new 486s?”). This is a guy who doesn’t have 2 nickels to rub together, but you’d never know it by talking to him. He is involved in so many facets of the community and yet never calls attention to himself and never seeks honor. He’s the first guy in the shul in the morning. He’s at the Kollel until late at night. He’s in the Chevra Kadisha (burial society). He’s the guy who cleans up the Shabbos Kiddush after everyone else has gone home.

His son, the brother of the bride, was the ring bearer at my wedding when he was 3. I recall him (and his sister) being quite the psycho toddler. I remember that before marching down the aisle, his father had him run around a big room in circles over and over to tire him out so he wouldn’t walk down too fast. I mentioned this to him at the Chupa, and he smiled.

This wedding wasn’t a multi-million dollar extravaganza. Much like my own wedding, it was put together by the community. Everyone did something. My contribution was to play guitar at the ceremony. It was outside and it was hot and the sun was in my eyes and there were a lot of bugs and the singers were off key and I didn’t care. I had a great time. And no speeches!

Towards the end, one guy was handing out benchers. “Here’s one for you, Mordechai,” he said as he handed me one. The Rabbi was sitting next to me.

“Your name isn’t Mordechai.”

“No,” I said. “It’s Steve.”

Just what we all needed.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

PT Logic

Perel posted a great story as a comment on the last post in which she documents a typical argument with the PT.

It has nothing to do with the post itself, so I'm calling attention to it here for those of you who missed it. I have found that arguing with the PT is in many ways reminiscent of the many debates Kirk has had with various supercomputers in which he eventually gets them to self destruct. (He's done this no less than 4 times).

As to which one of us is Kirk and which is the supercomputer, that depends on who ends up exploding. As my wife would say, "Your logic was impeccable, Mark. We're in grave danger."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Powers of Observation

Mark: (finishing up dinner) Hey, we got the kitchen chairs back!

Mrs B: What's the official time on that?

Perel: 1 hour.

Son2: Not bad, took us about 3 hours to notice.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Too Close to Home

My wife wrote a post about the horrific events of this past weekend. I had considered writing something about it myself, but this blog has been a little too light-hearted for such things. Still, I'd like to direct some of you over to her site for this.

For my part, I still don't know how to deal with this. We read about tragedy in the community, about parents dying and leaving 10 orphans, and think, "that's terrible, too bad," and then turn to the sports page. There's a mean-spririted tendency to try to distance ourselves from this sadness by casting blame, like it's the parents' fault that there was an accident, or that they left the stove on, or whatever.

But I can't marginalize this case. For one, I know these people. I've known the woman for 18 years. My wife carpooled with them. And also because I see so many parallels here. I just returned from this same trip. I was driving a van stuffed with small kids. I wasn't always paying attention to the road or observing the speed limit. I'm not saying that any of this had anything to do with the tragedy, chas veshalom. I'm saying that but for a split second where divine protection might have been lifted, that could have been me, and those could by my children crying at a midnight funeral on Saturday night.

And so I think about the husband with 10 children, the youngest 4 months. What will he do? How will he take care of them? How can he return to work, resume a normal life? And the children, especially the toddler and the infant, who will grow up not knowing their mother.

And I wonder about what I would do if G-d-forbid something should happen to my wife. I don't know how I would go on. I would be totally lost.

And then I think, "what if I never got to say another word to my children? What if the last conversation I had with them was the last conversation I would ever have with them? What did I say? How will they remember my last words? Was I too critical? Was I in a bad mood? Mean?" What legacy will I leave?

It's still too hard to fathom.