Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ghost Finder Camera

Fellow Halloween geeks may appreciate:

Ghost Finder Camera
Just point and shoot. Tell them you saw something spooky as you take the shots. Camera automatically adds an eerie ghostly image to every scene. 35mm single use indoor/outdoor flash camera with 27 exposures.
Available here and here.

Listening to: Nu:Tone - System

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Latest gadgetry I'm geeked for

Ford partnered with Microsoft to develop Sync, a system that lets you control your MP3 player and cell phone in your car with voice commands. Vehicles outfitted with Sync have an integrated dock and charger for your MP3 player and allow you to play your MP3s by speaking the name of the song or artist or even the genre of music. It will also play music from a thumb drive. The system works with your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, giving you the hands-free speakerphone capability of OnStar without the overpriced airtime. It even reads your text messages for you, if you're into that. You can see it in action here and here.

Sync is available on select 2008 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. With any luck this technology will be offered by other vehicle makers by the time my car lease is up.

Now playing: Tiki Tiki Bamboooos - Exotica

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prince gets sue-happy again

Hollywood Rag reports:
Prince Wants To Sue YouTube, Google, eBay, etc…...

Prince is to sue YouTube - in a bid "to reclaim his art on the internet".
The 'Purple Rain' singer is launching legal action against Google Inc. - who own the video-sharing website - for copyright infringement, in an effort to end the unauthorized use of clips of his performances and music videos.
A statement released on the star's behalf, said: "Prince believes that as an artist, the music rights must remain with the artist and copyrights should be protected across the board."
The pop superstar added that he could not accept YouTube had no control over what clips were posted on the site.
The statement continued: "YouTube are clearly able to filter porn and pedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success."
YouTube insists it will work with the artist to monitor what music content appears on the site.
The website's chief lawyer, Zahavah Levine, said: "Most content owners understand that we respect copyrights, we work every day to help them manage their content, and we are developing state-of-the-art tools to let them do that even better."
Prince also plans to sue online auctioneers eBay and Pirate Bay, who are accused of encouraging music piracy.
The 'Controversy' singer has instructed Web Sheriff, a British-based company specializing in policing the internet for pirated content, to act on his behalf.
John Giacobbi, managing director of Web Sheriff, said: "Prince's actions are a brave and pioneering step to challenge the status quo and hand control over internet rights back to the artists."
Just as long as he doesn't go after my favorite file-sharing service, which is mercifully still below the radar and shall remain nameless. Anyway, that's week-old news. I just needed an excuse to post this pic.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now playing:
Chaka Khan - Sign 'O' The Times

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Religious dentistry

Being a chronic procrastinator, I hadn't been to the dentist in way too long. First my dentist moved out of town and I dragged my feet about finding another one. Then I got laid off and was uninsured for a while. I should have gone as soon as I was hired at HappyTech, but here it is a year and a half later. With the possibility of another job change looming I finally decided I better go while I still have dental coverage. So I went to my HMO's website last week, plugged in my zip code and picked out a provider.

When I got to the office this morning ten minutes before they were officially open, I walked in to find the entire staff standing in a circle holding hands in the lobby. The dentist led them in a lengthy, wordy prayer in an oratory style that suggested many years of public prayer if not pulpit experience. He prayed for God to guide his hands as he performed his job. He asked for a special blessing on the dental assistant, the receptionist, the office manager, a specific request for each of his six staff members. He prayed for the patients who patronize their practice, those with appointments today and those he would see in the future. It went on forever. I stood there feeling awkward, not knowing if I should bow my head in respect or walk out. Finally just as I was about to leave they said their amens and greeted me as though this were the most normal thing on earth.

And I'm sorry, but it isn't. I mean no disrespect to anyone's religious beliefs, but a workplace is not the appropriate venue for such professions of faith. Pray to whatever deity it pleases you to worship in your home all day long if you want. Do it at your church. Do it among friends who share your beliefs. Do it privately in your car or your break room. Pray silently to yourself. (I understand most God believers think He can hear that too, right?) But don't make an ostentatious public display of it at your place of business, because that's just bullshit.

Afterwards, I was filling out the requisite intake form and of course it asked for my spouse/partner's contact info. Oddly, it also asked for the length of our relationship. Like, how could that possibly be relevant to my dental care? I had to take a minute to deliberate whether I should reveal any of this information in an office that is likely full of homophobes. Finally I decided what the hell, let them judge me. I had already judged them to be showy religious freaks.

He turned out to be a nice enough guy with a gentle touch. God did not intervene on behalf of my enamel though; he found four lucrative cavities to fill. I guess I'll keep going back to him so long as nobody preaches at me. I did show up before business hours and maybe their little ritual was not intended for my eyes. But what a surreal way to start my day.

Listening to: Combustible Edison - Utopia

Friday, September 07, 2007

Subscribe to my blog. Again.

If you are among the scores of dedicated readers who subscribe to Dr. Benway's Office by email so as never to miss a word of my scintillating wit and wisdom, you'll need to submit your address again to the form on your right. The old subscription service was broken so I changed to a better one.

One gay marriage I'll never approve of

My first tech support job was at a typical nineties dot com. Those were heady times. We had free beer on Fridays, a lounge with arcade games and pool tables, all the usual excesses. Headquartered in the Bay Area, the ultra-progressive company had a female CEO and the highest concentration of gay men I had ever seen outside a bar. It was a working environment unlike any other I had experienced.

My friendliest (and gayest) coworker was Aaron, an aspiring artist. Aaron was tall, model-handsome, charismatic and universally loved. He even won employee of the year, for which he was presented a tiara. He and I were often the only people working the late shift and he'd regale me with tales of his wild party weekends in Saugatuck doing ecstasy and getting gangbanged at the infamous Farm Party. Like several gay men I've known, he was obsessed with Madonna. He wallpapered his cubicle with his drawings of her and passed the slow hours making remixes in Acid Music, including one memorable Madonna/Lynard Skynard mashup.

Then came the dot com bust and 9/11. Most of us were laid off and I lost touch with him. I hadn't thought of him in years, so imagine my shock when I was scanning the news sites and discovered Aaron just gay-married a bonafide celebrity: Andrew Sullivan. For the uninitiated, Sullivan is the conservative gay author and political blogger who notoriously blamed gay men for causing the AIDS pandemic through promiscuity. He was later exposed for trolling gay hookup sites for bareback sex- extra scandalous since he is HIV positive. He is so reviled in some quarters there are even blogs devoted to criticizing him.

The Aaron I knew was a liberal guy so there was more than a little cognitive dissonance when I learned he is paired up with that hypocritical sellout twat. I always thought he stood a fair chance of making a name for himself with his art or remixing. But now it seems more likely he'll go down in history as the guy who immortalized Sullivan's ass in acrylics.

Now playing: The Moog Cookbook - More Than a Feeling

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Free steak dinner at HappyTech

At HappyTech I do tech support for a software product used by the auto industry. The product is such shite that we lost half the customers who signed up in the first year. Our boss called a meeting some time ago and told us in order to survive we had to become an outward facing, sales-oriented call center. Of course we bristled as we're all, to varying degrees, experienced in software support and did not sign on for a sales gig. But it was that or look for another job.

The software is far from an easy sell. It's buggy and user-unfriendly and the word spread quickly on industry message boards. The customer base is limited and most are already in long-term contracts with our vastly superior competitors. These are the minor deterrents, but the real barrier to sales is the über-slack environment in our office. As with any assignment we have been given, I was the only employee who took any initiative. Even with me making the lion's share of sales calls, pretty soon every potential customer in the country had been contacted and we were back to having nothing to do. Layoffs seem imminent despite periodic assurances to the contrary.

Various schemes for revitalizing our business have been proposed by our office manager, who is bipolar and kind of unstable but very ambitious when she's in her manic phase. The usual cycle is this: she proposes a grandiose plan to incentify sales and convinces everyone this will save our jobs, then corporate either shoots it down or defangs it to whatever level that keeps them from having to spend a cent. The latest scheme was to offer cash bonuses to the the regional Big Three reps who kept our product in a certain percentage of their dealerships and cash bonuses to the people in our office who sold the most subscriptions. This had the potential to secure the product a decent market share, but once corporate had effectively neutered the proposal we were left with a scheme that rewarded us with some measly gift certificates and a celebratory barbecue where the losing sales team would have to grill steaks for the winners.

My "team" won all three months of the sales challenge. Essentially I won singlehandedly as the guy they partnered me with joined in the middle of the project and I did all the heavy lifting. He and I scored Blockbuster Video gift cards for June and Outback Steakhouse cards for July. Today was the big barbecue so the mood here is light and jovial. The running gag has been that we got to eat a meal prepared by two people who never, ever cook. It wasn't bad at all though, and even though I had to sit at my desk and eat it looking at the same losers I see for eight hours every day, who can complain about a free steak dinner?

The boss said just to shut off the phones for a couple of hours so we can enjoy our steaks. At a help desk, people. Now that's customer service! Trained apes could do a better job of running a business. I'm outta here as soon as I can find another job. This place is truly circling the drain.

Now playing: Shelby Lynne - Leavin'

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Love in the champagne room?

I have rarely sat in front of my PC and watched a full-length feature film, but I recently came across a link to The Great Happiness Space and was riveted to the screen by a world I never knew existed. The movie explores the phenomenon of Japan's host bars, where young women with money to burn go to party and flirt with suave male hosts skilled at separating them from their cash. There is really no analogue to this bar scene in the west but some aspects recall American strip clubs: the hosts' uncanny ability to wring currency out of customers, deluded patrons who keep going back in hopes of real romance, and the unspoken promises contained in a bottle of grossly overpriced champagne. The hosts are charismatic seducers who live and die by their charm. The most successful are undeterred by the moral dilemmas of the job and can earn the equivalent of $50,000 a month. The women who pay for their company are even more fascinating and surprising.

The 2006 documentary can be viewed it in its entirety here. It is also out on DVD and available from Netflix.

Listening to: M.I.A. - Boyz