Tis the Season to Give

Posted in family on December 22, 2010 by Budd Black

This is a repost of two Christmas posts I did in the past.  These were originally posted on my Vox Blog so they were likely missed by people here.

The Gift of Compassion

When I was in 4th grade, my family was poor.  My mom was on Maternity leave and the family’s sole income was from my step-dad.  He was a tree surgeon and work isn’t great in the winter time especially the messy Tennessee winters.  As a child, I didn’t realize just how poor we were.  I mean, I knew we didn’t have the things that other people had, but I was used to our standard of living.  I am sure that I had no idea about my family’s economic situation, but now I know and I know that it was way more screwed up than being out of work. 

My mother, knowing that she was not going to be able to buy us much of anything for Christmas, gave our names to the Salvation Army for the Angel Tree.  The only toy I had asked for was a Transformer named Slingshot.  I wanted it so bad.

On Christmas morning I woke up and under the tree was the only present I remember getting that year or for some of the years around it.  I had Slingshot.  I opened him, transformed him a few times, and then put him on my dresser.  I don’t think I ever played with him again.  I didn’t want him to get broken, and I didn’t want my then 6 year old brother getting a hold of it. 

I believe my mom told me that it was an Angel Tree gift when I got it.  I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time.  I recognized it as nice and was happy to get what I wanted.  As the years passed and I was faced with other small Christmases, I grew to realize just how nice the gesture was.  I have since bought items for Angel Trees, Toys for Tots, Book Trees, and for poorer children that I knew personally.  That one Christmas twenty-one years ago has inspired a need in me to want to help people at this time in year.  The person that picked my Angel gave the gift of compassion as well as a simple transformer.  It is something I will never forget and something that I will never be able to repay. 

The Gift of Compassion II

Last year, I talked about the gift of compassion, so I though I would share another story this year.

I was in 7th grade.  My mom had been split from my sisters dad for about 6 months.  We lived in a trailer park about 5 trailers down from my sister’s dad.  My mom had been having some problems and lost her state job and was now solely waiting tables at a bar at night.  One night while she was out, my brother and I got into her closet looking for gifts.  We found some invisible markers and a plastic Batman motorcycle helmet.  We didn’t think much about it and didn’t realize that we had found all of our Christmas presents for the year.  We may have gotten something else, but if we did I don’t remember it.  It was a very bad Christmas for us. 

At about noon we all walked my sister down to her dad’s trailer so that she could open her presents there.  My sister’s dad had on okay job making okay money and a roommate to help split the cost on the already dirt cheap trailer.  Needless to say that my three year old sister was going to make out like a champ. When we got there, the tree was loaded with gifts, but there was a gift apiece for my brother and me.  My nine year old brother, who loved Legos, go the Lego pirate ship.  It was totally awesome and he could put it together without instructions by the end of the day.  I got a Nintendo Entertainment Center.  It was the one that came with Mario and duck hunt and I was in heaven.

All these years later, I am sure that my brother and I thanked him for the gifts, but I don’t think we ever thanked him for not just saving Christmas, but making it one of our best Christmases ever.  I mean, there have been years since when I got way more gifts, or way more expensive gifts, but these gifts were well thought out, unexpected, and at a very dark time in our lives.  Although I know you won’t be reading this, Thank you Bobby.

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Not if I see you first!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 by Budd Black

I was talking to someone the other day and when I left they said they would see me later.  I almost commented with “Not if I see you first.”  For the first time in my life, I stopped and really considered what that phrase implies. 

This is not a phrase that you would return to a friend.  Not if I see you first implies that the person will not see you if you see them first.  At best, you are hiding from them, at worst, you plan on offing them.  So maybe reserve this one for your enemies and do the little hand motion gun firing thing when you say it.  Then you can laugh and say that you WILL see them first. 

Amazon, You Could Do Better

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 by Budd Black
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I have an amazon wish list, actually I have four.  One for each member of my family.  Living away from extended family it is a great way to showcase interests to people far away.  The only problem is that the Amazon wish list system sucks. 

Problem 1:  Order.  The default listing for items are the most recently wished for item is at the top.  By default, I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking you can permanently change the setting.  You can only change it for that specific visit.  How many people have computer confused family members that pick the thing on the top of the list because it must be the item they want the most.   This is confusing and leads to a person getting something they wanted but not necessarily what they have prioritized. 

Problem 2:  No drill downs.  Say I have an xbox 360 listed on my list.  I also want some games so I put a few on the list as well.  Because of problem one someone just popping in might not scroll all the way down to where the xbox is and may stop on Dead Rising 2 because it is a great game and is on sell.  When you get your gifts you get a great game for a system you don’t own.  Awkward.  Drill downs from the xbox for xbox games would prevent this.

Problem 3:  Not GUI enough.  The wish list looks like the rest of the site and has unnecessary information.  Full title descriptions, authors, or studios don’t really matter because the person that needs that information has already picked these items.  There is also a lot of wasted space on the page.  I am tempted to say just post pictures of the the items.  You could do department categories and show the top 3 prioritized items from each department. 

Problem 4:  No expirations dates.  Yeah, I want that copy of the movie of the year, so I put it on my wish list.  I don’t get it for Christmas and end up renting it or buying it yourself. Chances are you forgot you put it on your wish list once the holidays passed.   Most people only update the wish list at Christmas, but maybe someone saved the link to your wish list and wants to surprise you with a birthday present.  Now you got something you were wanted for Christmas for your birthday, and it no longer is that important to you or you own it.  Expiration dates that would automatically deprioritize an item or delete it would be easy and useful. 

Amazon has made improvements to the wish list over the years, but it still looks the same as it did when I first created one years ago.  It doesn’t seem to be a priority for them, though. 

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Knucklehead (2010) Movie Review

Posted in family, kids, movies, parenting, wrestling on December 12, 2010 by Budd Black
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Movie reviewers tend to look at movies from the point of view of someone looking at art.  They want movies that mean something and that take chances both with the shots and with the story.  For these reasons, reviewers hated this movie. 

I can usually separate myself from this need for high art from movies.  Sometimes I just need a fun family movie, where I can sit with my girls and share a laugh.  This is entirely that kind of movie.  It stars Big Show from WWE.  Big show is a huge favorite for not just my kids, but most kids.  He is a gentle giant and gets to play up to that in this movie. 

The plot is silly.  Big Show plays Walter, a grown up (way up) orphan that never left the orphanage.  Trouble seems to follow him around and he ends up burning down the orphanage kitchen.  The orphanage will have to close if they don’t fix it, but they don’t have money.  Then enters a down on his luck fight promoter that sees Walter as a way to win a MMA match in New Orleans. 

The movie is full of slapstick and fart jokes.  The mixed martial arts are not really showcased here.  The movie has heart though.  It is fun and Big Show does a pretty good acting job.  The rest of the cast does equally well.  It was very family friendly with some references to two of the characters being former strippers and one episode of drunkenness. 

Overall, it was a fun, family movie.  The appeal may be limited to to WWE fans or the 7-14 demographic, but it wasn’t painful for adults and was kind of fun for me as well.  You can tell that the actors had a good time making this movie.  If you have kids in the 7-14 range, I would say give this one a chance. 

Stop Child Abuse-Log Off

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2010 by Budd Black

Facebook or people on facebook, more likely, are in the midst of a campaign to change your facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood in order to raise awareness about child abuse. 

I am not a fan of awareness campaigns in general.  Mostly they are a waste of donated money.  I think they are mostly cop outs for people who feel guilty about them, but don’t really want to do anything about it.  I mean, look at the infamous pink ribbon campaign.  I am officially aware of breast cancer.  I don’t know if I am any more aware of it than before I ever saw a pink ribbon, but how can I not be aware of it.  I know the pink ribbon branded stuff donates money to breast cancer research, but a lot of that money gets thrown back into promoting the pink ribbon. 

A friend suggested donating to a child abuse prevention organization instead of changing your profile picture.  While donating money to stop breast cancer makes sense because medical breakthroughs cost money, donating money to stop child abuse is like donating money to stop drug use; it will mostly be PSAs.  I can see an abusive mom with an extension chord in her hands, arm drawn back to strike, when a PSA comes on with a sad looking child saying “stop the abuse.”  I then see this mom hitting the cowering child harder to prove that they can’t tell her what to do. 

Abusive parents, like other people that do morally deplorable things, generally don’t see themselves as bad or doing wrong.  They actually think they are doing the right thing or that the child deserves it.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but my mind isn’t warped.  Child abuse is cyclic, but is also more common in homes where there is drug and alcohol abuse.  So, where do you spend money to prevent this?

The only solution I have is to promote self awareness.  Don’t beat your own kids, and watch out for other kids you know.  I hated being grilled about my daughter’s broken thumb in the emergency room (she had wrecked her bike), but understood why they were doing it. Pay attention to the kids next door and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  There is verbal abuse that is just as harmful and you can hear that.  Neglect is also a form of abuse, so turn off farmville, log off of facebook and pay attention to your kid(s). 

Parenting styles may vary and people that are little more harsh on their children than you are may not constitute child abuse.  Be careful and have your facts straight before you call social services on someone.  I know someone falsely accused and his life was hell for a couple of years (they made him rearrange his furniture even). 

In closing, don’t beat your child, don’t verbally beat your child, and don’t neglect YOUR child.  Pay attention if you see something fishy, but don’t go out on a witch hunt for anyone that spanks their kids.  I think if you can stop spousal abuse, you will stop/find most cases of child abuse as well. I do donate $5 to Not-Me every time I do a martial arts meetup in order to help people that have been abused and teach them to prevent further abuse.  Donate all you want, but know what your money is actually paying for.  

Mad Chick Magnet

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2010 by Budd Black

The girls on the train are always hitting on me. 

Today, when the train stopped suddenly, one fell into me. 

Sometimes a girl will sit beside me or stand in front of me. 

One girl sat across from me and pretended to read her book.  Can’t fool me. 

Another one was pretending to sleep.  Uh huh. 

One silly girl never looked at me.  Yeah, the lady dost protest too much. 

Hello ladies, can’t you see this ring? I am taken. 

Hollywood, Stop It!

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 by Budd Black

I have come to the point in my life where I no longer want to see my favorite comic books or movies made into major Hollywood pictures.  I have been burnt too many times.  I think the problem is two fold. 

First, screenwriters are often given the daunting task of turning a 300 page plus novel into a 2 hour movie.  I am sorry, but there is no way that you can do that.  Maybe you should ask the original writer for a novella treatment on their work, instead of thinking you can rewrite it better.  You can’t, that is why the novel sold millions of copies and you are writing screenplays and no one has ever heard of you.  Maybe if they approached the project with a little humility or reverence.  I think for some adaptations they don’t even read said book but just ask someone who did what it was about and who the characters were.  I am serious. 

Secondly, directors feel the need to make everything bigger and brighter.  This causes movies to go over the top.  Big name actors are attached and their contracts say that certain things can’t or have to happen to their characters.  They also want to leave the ending open so that they can have a sequel, should the original adaptation become successful.  What you end up with is a larger than life depiction of everyday scenes that have been changed so that Tom Cruise doesn’t die and gets the girl, and then changed again so that there is a possibility of a sequel.  Oh crap we cast Johnny Depp as a secondary character and his contract requires this amount of screen time, so lets rewrite these scenes and put him in. 

These are two of the reasons why movies from film generally suck.  The occasional exception approaches the film from a place of great respect and humbleness, not to mention excitement.  Please, someone in Hollywood read this before another beloved book or character is forever marred by a crappy adaptation.