The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 22, 2008

Off to the Races (For Real This Time)

Filed under: Entertainment, Family, Redmond — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:00 am

As you probably know if you’ve been reading this Blog for long enough, my family contains its fair share of auto racing enthusiasts, to the point that in our family the sporting world tends to be divided into baseball (as long as we have a team worth watching, which isn’t entirely certain this season,) auto racing, and a bunch of other stuff that happens somewhere in between those two.  Unfortunately, the high speed world of motorsports tends to come with a high pricetag to match, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities out there for the average Joe to go out racing (it has been said that if you want to make a small fortune in auto racing, you need to start with a large one.)  For most people, the closest that they are ever going to be able to get to real racing is a trip to the local Go-kart track.  Although I’m pretty sure this doesn’t exactly match the thrill of screaming down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans or trying to find a way to get your own car around the world-famous Nürburgring in one piece, there’s plenty of adrenaline to be found here, and this place is just a bit closer.

As with just about everything else in auto racing, a trip to the track comes with a fairly steep pricetag, but it seems that my family always finds one excuse or another to make at least one trip to the go-kart track per year.  In this case, it was a somewhat belated birthday celebration for myself, and a less belated one for my brother-in-law Terence.  In addition to these birthdays, Heather and Brooks are in town for a visit this weekend, so we had a field of ten people to go racing.  The track we raced at was K1 Speed, a place that is somewhat hidden in the Overlake area of Redmond.  Until a change of ownership last year, this was known as Champs Karting (link goes to the archived website,) (which also had locations in Bothell and the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle, although those two have since closed) and before that was Crazy Redhead Raceway (link goes to the archived version of their website, which unfortunately has broken links for the track layout,) although I never raced there when that one was around.  Before there was a go-kart track here there was Zones, a small arcade/mini golf amusement center which I believe closed around 1997-1998 or so.  K1 Speed has a number of other locations in California (many with multiple tracks that can be combined into one giant rrack.)

The space in which this K1 Speed is located is fairly small for a kart track, which means that there’s going to be plenty of turning involved.  When Champs Karting was in this space, they actually had a fairly fast layout with straightaways on the outside and tight turns on the inside (you can see the old layout here) which provided for more open-throttle driving but less importance on the turns.  Although the turns on this aren’t quite as narrow as the graphic above indicates, it is still surprisingly easy for the back end of the kart to get loose on you, which will scrub off valuable time, or in some cases spin you around or put you into the wall (which is not an uncommon occurrence here.)  Combine this with the tight steering, the lateral G-forces in the turns and the relative lack of suspension on these karts, and even a short 14-16 lap run can turn out to be quite a workout.  In terms of absolute speed, these karts aren’t really all that fast (I believe they max out somewhere in the range of 20-25 MPH for general use, but can be made to go faster for more experienced drivers,) but speed can be a relative thing, especially when you’re blasting down a narrow straightaway three inches off the ground with some guy trynig to find a way around you. 

Of course, it can’t hurt to look the part while you’re at it.  Decked out in the finest Italian delusions of grandeur, I prepared for the first run.

With a total of ten racers, we ran five people at a time (the track would start to get pretty crowded with many more than that.)  On my first run (a practice run,) I managed to get the second fastest lap out of the group  at 18.14 seconds.  Unfortunately, it was difficult to take photos of the actual racing due to reflections on the glass and the speed of the karts (as you can see above, everything is kind of a blur going by,) so there wasn’t much point in taking a lot of action photos.  The second run (the qualifying run) didn’t go so well for me, as I only managed an 18.91 for my fastest lap, which was well off the pace.  I suspect that I was trying too hard to keep the kart from sliding in the turns and ended up not using enough throttle as a result. 

This put me at the back of the field for the final run, where I stayed for pretty much the whole race.  With all the tight turns and narrow straightaways, there just isn’t a lot of opportunity to pass people in front of you, although I did manage to get in a pretty good run at Jared nonetheless.  In the end, even though I was in fifth place, I significantly lowered my best lap time in the race to a 17.15, which ended up being the third fastest lap time for the whole group of ten racers (for comparison, Terence got the best lap of the day at 16.95, followed by Brooks with a 17.09.  The second race heat (for the other group of racers) was somewhat marred by a couple of scoring glitches and several spinouts which slowed the pace significantly, but the heat I was in managed to get in a nice clean race.

The results ended up being about the same as those of just about any competitive event that happens in our family (Terence and Brooks beating everyone, me ending up somewhere well behind them)  but even so, the whole thing is more about having fun and limiting maniacal driving habits to a socially acceptable context anyway, even if I did find myself worried that I’d break the back end of my car loose on the 520 onramp while I was heading home…  That might turn out to be slightly less entertaining if it happened.

 

June 14, 2008

SHOCKER! Superman’s SECRET Secret Identity Revealed!

Filed under: Culture, Entertainment — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:03 am

(Note:  This is a crosspost from buzz.mn, although those of you unfamiliar with that particular site probably won’t have a clue what’s going on here.  For a word of explanation, Lance Lawson was a (very) obscure comic that ran in a few papers back in the late Forties featuring a quick “solve it yourself” mystery that always seemed to result in someone murdering someone, lying transparently about it, and getting busted for their crimes all within four panels of the funny pages.  There was also some clue inside the comic that’s supposed to tell you why the perp is lying that you’re supposed to find, some of them easier than others.  A more thorough explanation and some examples can be found here, and “new” Lance Lawson strips extracted from the old microfiche can be found every Thursday over at the Buzz (a recent example can be found here.)  For those of you who still don’t get it, you can skip to the end for a bit of real-world context.)

In this day and age, Superman is one of the world’s iconic comic book superheroes, and in most modern societies not being familiar with Superman and his backstory would probably be the type of thing that might be indicative of subeterranean living accommodations. As a result, I’m sure that almost everyone (at least those of us who reside on Earth Prime anyway) are well aware of Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent… Right? Not so fast.

As the shocking photo you are about to see below reveals, Superman had a SECRET secret identity that he has successfully kept hidden for over 70 years… Until now. This photo, taken from a recent GSN rerun of a 1966 episide of I’ve Got a Secret inadvertently reveals the shocking truth behind Superman’s TRUE secret identity:

That’s right, it turns out that even the whole “Make everyone think he’s Clark Kent” spiel was a ruse. The one day Superman appeared on national TV just happened to be the one day he forgot to “fix” the unmistakable hair comma, revealing once and for all that Superman’s TRUE secret identity was none other than that of everyone’s favorite bringer of suspiciously swift justice, Lance Lawson!

When he’s not crashing through walls and banging crooks’ heads together or pretending to pretend to write for the Daily Planet, it turns out the Man of Steel keeps himself busy smashing through flimsy alibis and collaring crooks with astounding speed. Do you think that Mr. Lawson could really manage to solve any crime that he happens to come across in four panels or less if he DIDN’T have X-ray vision? Besides, what would make you think an invincible Kryptonian Man of Steel wouldn’t be bored out of his skull covering sewer board meetings and cat-in-the-tree stories all day when Lex Luthor is off on vacation? Has anyone here ever seen Superman and Lance Lawson in the same room? Didn’t think so.

Nice try, but the gig is up Mr. Lawson (or should we say… SUPERMAN!?) Sure would explain a lot though, wouldn’t it?


The Real Story behind the picture: As stated above, the picture comes from a 1966 episode of I’ve Got a Secret where Bob Holiday was the special guest. Bob portrayed Superman in a short-lived Broadway musical entitled It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman!that lasted for roughly four months in 1966, but later got turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1975. As for Bob Holiday, it doesn’t appear that he had any further involvement with showbiz after this role, and he later became a homebuilder in Pennsylvania, which he continues to do to this day. He even has a website with some stories of his short-lived Broadway career and video of his I’ve Got a Secret appearance, where he “taught” Steve Allen to fly, although you can pretty clearly see the wires at times on camera while he’s doing so, at least when you watch on television.

January 28, 2008

The Perpetual March of Technology and Buyer’s Remorse

Filed under: Entertainment, Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:52 am

About two years ago,  I purchased the HDTV which I currently have in my living room.  It is a Viewsonic N3250w 32″ LCD with 720p resolution, and aside from the fact that doesn’t have a digital tuner and that it doesn’t seem to be compatible with any remote I have but its own, it has worked reasonably well for me.  At the time I purchased it, there was a coupon book deal at Costco Home* for $200 off the standard $1,000 price (which, if I recall correctly, was itself about $200 less than most places in town were selling a similar model for,) and the final price ended up being $800 plus tax.  This was a significant bargain for a TV of this size, and when I went to pick it up, it turned out that a few other people had the same idea, to the point that the initial shipment of 90 units was gone in less than an hour, and by the time I got there I ended up at position #250 on the waiting list they had created for future shipments of this model. 

At this point I assumed that I had roughly zero chance of ever getting one of these things, so I started looking for a Plan B.  I figured that I had managed to live for six months without having a TV in my apartment, so I could probably last a little while longer.  It was somewhat of a surprise when I got a call several weeks later that my turn had come up on the waiting list, and a TV was waiting for me at the store.  Not wanting to have them sell off my TV to the next guy to show up, I dropped everything and rushed over to the store, and  must admit that I may have exceeded the posted speed limit along the way a time or two.  After all,  a deal like that didn’t come up just every day.  Thanks to a somewhat inaccurate estimate of the size of the TV in relation to the size of the backseat of my car (if you recall, this was back when I was still driving my beater Camry with a non-openable trunk) they were somehow able to cram the TV into the backseat of the car, but there was no way the box was ever going to come back out in one piece.  Ultimately it was necessary to rip the box to shreds and extract the contents that way, but not before adding a number of additional rips to the upholstery in my car’s backseat, and breaking off one of the grab handles.  I can’t recall the last time anyone rode in the backseat of that car anyway, so this was no big deal.  After all, the TV was worth more than the car it was being transported in at the time.

Fast forward a couple of years, and suddenly that screaming deal doesn’t look quite so hot anymore. The 32″ LCD TVs that cost roughly $1,200 two years ago have come down in price by at least a third, and there are even 32″ models that can be found for $500 or less if you know where to look.  The $800 I paid for my TV will easily buy a 37″ model, and 42″ and 47″ 1080P models don’t cost a whole lot more than that.  Even Sony TVs are starting to get to the point of being almost affordable, although they continue to command a price premium of several hundred dollars over the competition.  Far be it from me to sound ungrateful, but at times it can be just a little hard to walk into a store and look at the ever shrinking pricetags on ever growing expanses of glowing pixels and wonder how I could have paid a whole eight freakni’ hundred bucks two years ago for what I could have gotten for $600 or less now, or noting that for not too much more than that $800 I could be the proud owner of a shiny new 47″ 1080P LCD. 

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January 21, 2008

Radio Ad Nauseam

Filed under: Advertising, Entertainment — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 3:22 am

 Over at buzz.mn today, James Lileks asked a question about what type of advertisements really get on your nerves.  This is something that I’ve been meaning to write a post about for a while now, so I figured this might be a good time to go ahead and do so.  I don’t actually watch a lot of TV these days (and what little TV I do watch I generally use a DVR for in order to be able to skip the commercials,) so most of the advertising I encounter comes from listening to the radio in the car while driving.  I usually alternate between the two local classic rock stations (102.5 KZOK FM and 95.7 KJR FM,) mostly trying to avoid the ads on one or the other.  The “hard break” at the top of the hour means that both stations will frequently be playing ads at the same time.  Unfortunately, this happens more often than I’d like, which doesn’t do me much good, but it does mean that I could probably quote Shane Co. ads from memory (Yeah, I have a friend in the diamond business.  Who knew?)

 On the other hand, even when the stations aren’t playing ads it doesn’t take much to get me to change the station, or if neither station is playing anything worth listening to at the moment I’ll just mute the volume.  One of the tiny little features I enjoy in my car is the fact that the stereo makes a satisfying little beep whenever the volume is turned down to zero, which really emphasizes the whole thing (although shouting “DELETED!“while you do it is probably not a good idea, especially with other passengers in the car.)  Needless to say, it doesn’t take much for an ad to get muted.  In a lot of cases, there isn’t anything particularly annoying about the ad itself, but the ad gets so overplayed that it completely loses whatever initial impact it might have had, and just annoys you.  On the other hand, there are some ads that are just annoying right away. A few examples of these are noted below, after the jump.

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November 6, 2007

An Open Letter to Any Bigshot Hollywood Execs Who Happen to Read this Blog

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 11:25 am

November 6, 2007

 To whom it may concern,

According to the latest news, it sounds like Writers Guild of America has gone on strike again.  Aside from the fact that labor disputes such as this one tend to require all sorts of messy negotiations to work out, the reports coming out of Hollywood indicate that you have more immediate problems to deal with.  You may be coming to the realization that those comedians you’re paying big bucks to host your late night talkshows have forgotten how to be funny without someone feeding their jokes to them.  If this strike lasts too long, you might find it necessary to tap into your strategic rerun reserves far earlier in the season than you had originally anticipated.  Above all this is the looming threat that it may be necessary to fill even more of your primetime lineups with reality shows.  Should the day ever come when it becomes necessary to give the banker from Deal or No Dealhis own spinoff in order to fill up a timeslot, it will be a dark day indeed.

I do have to admit that I have not been a particularly diligent consumer of your product over the course of the past decade or so, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  As such, I wish to offer my services to any studio who needs material written in a hurry, with none of that pesky Union stuff to deal with.  There is, however, one catch:  I don’t make any guarantees of the quality of my work.  In fact, it is quite likely that if any Hollywood studio were to use any scripts that I write, the results would be nothing short of a train wreck.  In fact, I’d probably add a few gratuitous train wrecks just for fun (your special effects people are still on the job, right?)  If you want, you could send over a few DVDs, and I’d at least watch then, although I’d probably end up fast-forwarding the boring parts. I’d also make an effort to reuse some of the existing characters.  I might even make an attempt to follow some of the existing plotlines wherever it might be convenient, but I don’t make any guarantees on that one.

I am fully aware that with even these precautionary measures, there is still a good chance that I’d manage to make a big mess out of the canon and continuity of any series I ended up working on, but once you get your real writers back on the job, they should be able to clean it all up with one plot hole or another (you might refer them to the eighth season of Dallasfor some ideas on how to deal with this.)  I also realize that even in a difficult situation such as this one you might be somewhat hesitant to entrust the writing of a primetime television series or big-budget blockbuster to some random blogger, so I understand completely if you do not take this offer seriously.  I just ask that you keep this in mind in a few months when you find yourself re-rerunning reruns and trying to hype up Survivor: Rent Controlled Brooklyn Apartment.  I’d say you can have your people call my people, but last time I checked I don’t currently have any people, so just send an e-mail or something.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t be any worse than the alternatives…

 Sincerely,

-Brian

October 21, 2007

Who’s Price is it Anyway?

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

As a general rule, I tend not to watch a whole lot of television, and what little television I do watch consists mainly of Discovery Channel and Food Network.  In fact, for the most part, I pretty much ignore network television altogether.  As I stated in a previous post a few months ago, one of the very few exceptions I’ll make to this is The Price is Right.  When Bob Barker retired from his 35 years of hosting the show earlier this year, no successor had been  chosen at the time, which resulted in a fair bit of uncertanity about the future of the show, and just as much speculation over who would take over Bob’s skinny microphone.  Over on the Price is Right board that I read, the speculation seemed to lean toward Todd Newton, who had the most game show experience of the four leading candidates for the job, and also had been hosting the Price is Right live show in Las Vegas.  It was something of a surprise when Drew Carey’s name came up, since he hadn’t even been speculated on before he managed to impress the CBS executives with his hosting of Power of 10, which ultimately resulted in his getting the Price is Right gig without an audition. 

At the same time, the set for the show has received its first major overhaul in the history of the show, a move which sent a number of purists on the moderately obsessive TPIR board I read  into a rather predictable tizzy.  In spite of this, the set really has not changed all that much.  All three doors and the turntable are pretty much in the same places as before, but the doors are completely new, and the turntable has changed drastically (there are pictures at the CBS Price is Right site if you haven’t seen it yet.)  Another less drastic change for this season is the ability to watch a week’s worth of full episodes of the show online (with limited commercials, but it works for users in the USA only) through CBS’s website, which might help make the show more accessible to the highly sought after  “people with jobs” demographic, which doesn’t take enough sick days to be a big target market for daytime television.  Even for the diehard TPIR fans, this provides an opportunity to watch the show without needing to record it, and without having to wade through twenty minutes of commercials for diabetes testing supplies and powered wheelchairs every day.  After the jump, some of my impressions of the show after the first week of the new season.

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