Archive for September, 2004

DVD Hell

Jack Nicholson is the picture of intimidation in his Marine Corps uniform.  He glares from the witness stand at Tom Cruise and thunders, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE…”  He abruptly stops in mid-sentence, his face frozen in rage.  His face remains contorted and silent for a few seconds.  The image flickers and suddenly there is a still shot of Mr. Nicholson, uniform in disarray, attempting to swim through a crowd of people while apparently saying, “Brrrrrpppttttt“.  The screen flickers again, and then turns completely blue.

I push the button on the DVD player and remove the disc.  While examining the disc I notice a small, barely visible scratch hiding on its mirror-like underside.  This scratch means that my plans have changed, and I won’t be watching the pivotal scene of “A Few Good Men” this evening.

The first time I sat down to watch a movie only to have it interrupted by DVD troubles, I nervously laughed it off as “one of those things”.  It has happened enough since then to be considered “one of those things that shouldn’t happen any more if the DVD’s know what is good for them”.  I would estimate that one in every 5 DVD’s that I rent has some sort of problem.

Sure, DVD movies are a great concept.  They provide many improvements over the old VHS tape format, including better digital sound and a better picture.  There is no need to “be kind and rewind” a DVD.  There are no mysterious and marginally functional “tracking” buttons on a DVD player.

Many DVD’s contain bonus materials such as extra scenes, outtakes, and the occasional alternate ending.  Overall, the new fangled digital format would seem superior, but it has one glaring weakness when compared to the trusty VHS tapes.

DVD‘s have a limited lifespan because they are completely defenseless.  These fragile discs are not to be dropped, placed on top of the TV with the wrong side down, or spoken to in a harsh tone.  The reason for this vulnerability is that the actual movie is located, without protection, on the reflective underside of the disc.  This exposed surface is helpless against scratches, nicks, or specs of dust, any of which can be fatal to the movie. 

In direct contrast, a person would have had to go out of their way to break a VHS tape.  The tape was protected by a sturdy plastic cover that could survive most household wear and tear.  In my own experience, that plastic cover could survive being repeatedly juggled and then subsequently dropped.  In many households, it was common for the children to be in charge of putting the videotape into the VCR.  Try THAT with a DVD.

The truth is that if DVD manufacturers had the consumer in mind, they would protect the valuable digital information on the underside of the discs.

Each DVD would come in a plastic case, and the case itself would be inserted into the DVD player.  The DVD player would then slide the disc out of the case to play it, and return the disc to the case before ejecting it.

When they were originally designing DVD’s, this idea was probably rejected because it would cost more money to make.  Now that many people own DVD players, it is probably too late to change the format, no matter how much good it would do.  So, to the DVD companies, I say, “BRRRRPPPPTTTTT!!!”

The Day to Day Grind Tim 24 Sep 2004 No Comments


It seemed like a good idea at the time. My friend BBD mentioned to me that his family was going to run a charity golf tournament, and he wanted to know if I was interested in playing. After I had agreed to play in the tournament, and had recruited a couple of people to play with me, he told me that the course was 70 miles away in York, Maine, and that it started promptly at 8am. Looking back, that is probably the point when I should have realized that this was not going to work out well for me.

But, despite the fact that it would require me to haul my butt out of bed at 5am, I agreed to take the day off from work and play in the tournament with my brother Mike and my roommate Mike. The plan was that since the tournament was a best ball format, and both Mikes are very good golfers, they would take care of any actual golfing that might be required and I would drive the cart and make polite conversation, since I am a horrid golfer. I am such a frustratingly bad golfer, despite my repeatedly fruitless efforts to improve, that I really don’t enjoy the sport. I am probably the only person in the world who prefers watching golf on TV to getting out and swinging the clubs myself.

This leads to the obvious question, “Well then, idiot, why did you sign up to play in a golf tournament?” The answer to that question is that my family has a golf tournament in June every year (The Waggler’s Open), and I thought I could practice for it by spending a fun day in the sunshine with the two Mikes, when there would be no actual pressure for me to do well.

BBD, a character about whom many columns could be written, told me a few weeks before the tournament that his buddy Chris was going to be the 4th golfer for my group. I immediately predicted that Chris wasn’t going to show up, and that I would be powerfully upset. Not to cast aspersions upon Chris’ character and encourage libel lawsuits, but he is not the most reliable person I have ever met (the Vegas odds on him actually showing up on time for this tournament were 3-1 against). He is, however, an excellent golfer, and BBD went to great lengths to assure me that I was being a pessimist and that Chris was definitely going to show up.

Chris didn’t show up. After promising BBD the day before that he was definitely going to be there, he simply didn’t come. He didn’t call. He didn’t write. He also stiffed BBD for the entrance fee to the tournament. The fact that I had predicted it didn’t make me feel any better about the situation.

The sunshine didn’t show up, either. It was rainy and cold when my threesome arrived, and it stayed rainy and became colder as the day progressed. I had listened to Dick Albert’s prediction of scattered showers and wore a light jacket, a long sleeve shirt, khaki pants, and an old pair of sneakers (My golf shoes no longer fit due to the fact that I left them in the back of my roofless Jeep for the entire summer of 2001. Exposure to the rain and other elements apparently caused the shoes to shrink about three sizes).

I want to thank Mr. Albert (Thanks, Dick!) for the fact that the showers were in no way scattered. A constant, driving rain and temperatures falling to the very low 40’s made everyone on the course wish to be somewhere else (maybe Chris is not so dumb). My light jacket, long sleeve shirt, khaki pants and old pair of sneakers were completely soaked through by the third hole. Basically, I was in hell.

My golf game, never good to begin with, began to decline as the early stages of pneumonia set in and I began shivering uncontrollably. Despite a supreme effort on my part, my swings consistently began to miss the ball entirely, instead digging up large chunks of turf and sending them aloft for distances of up to 10 feet. To compound my failure, the two Mikes found my ineptitude entirely hilarious, and began to laugh out loud and point at me every time a chunk of earth took flight. Have I mentioned how much I love to golf?

I wasn’t the only person having problems with my swing. On our first hole, BBD’s group teed off in front of us, each of them wearing shorts (they must have been watching Dick Albert, too), and BBD actually turned his head and looked at the people standing behind him during his back swing. Just watching each of them tee off was enough to send my brother Mike, who is used to playing with people with actual golfing skill, into a hysterical fit of laughter, covering his face with a towel and bending over. The last time I’ve seen anyone laugh harder than that, I was in 4th grade and the kid had soup coming out of his nose. BBD’s team had, to quote Mike, “Absolutely the 4 worst swings I have ever seen.” Their shots were predictably awful, but in their defense, at least each of them hit the ball.

I need to take a moment here and tell you about one of the members of BBD’s foursome. His name is Billy, and when I first met him he was introduced to me as “Fat Billy”. This friendly nickname was apparently meant to distinguish him from BBD’s other friends named Billy, one of whom is nicknamed “Pan Face”. Anyway, my roommate Mike golfed with Fat Billy once, and during the round noticed that one of Fat Billy’s clubs was upside-down in his golf bag. My roommate Mike pointed it out to Fat Billy, who replied, “Oh, it’s ok, that club is on punishment”.

Anyway, on one of the later holes, Fat Billy decided to liven things up. We were all standing in the rain, watching BBD tee off, when Fat Billy wedged a 5-wood between the seat and the gas pedal of BBD’s golf cart. BBD topped his drive and as it dribbled down the fairway, his golf cart lumbered by and slowly headed for the edge of a ravine. BBD put his hands on his hips and began to say things like, “Come on, guys…Somebody get that…I’m not getting it…(cart reaches the edge of the ravine and hesitates, almost as if it’s peeking over the edge)…COME ON!!…Oh @#%#$%@$#!!” BBD dropped his driver and sprinted over to the cart, catching it just before it tumbled down the hill. I’m not sure, but I think that if my brother had been eating soup, it would have begun pouring out of his nose at that moment.

Mercifully, the tournament people halted the tournament after 12 holes. We were about to quit, anyway, but we finished 12 holes and ended up at a respectable two strokes under par (I should say that the two Mikes shot 2 under par. I was not involved). BBD’s scorecard claimed that his group had shot even par, but there is simply no possibility of that being true. My suspicions of their lies were confirmed when Fat Billy saw my team’s card and asked me, “What did you guys really shoot?”

After the tournament, everyone went into the locker room and changed into their dry clothes before eating the lunch that was provided. Everyone, that is, except for my roommate Mike and myself, who had neglected to bring dry clothes (thanks, Dick!). So, we did what any fat guys in danger of missing a free meal would do: We drove to Old Navy and bought dry clothes (you should have seen the looks on the Old Navy employee’s faces when we squished into their store and told them that we wanted to change into the clothes before buying them). The meal wasn’t quite worth what we spent on the clothes, I’ll admit, especially since the only criteria I used to pick out the clothes was, “Are they dry?”

We left the course at around 2:30pm and began the commute back to Boston. It was still raining, but the trip went very well until we came to the lower deck of Route 93 in Boston at 3:50pm. We jumped in the commuter lane and avoided about 3 miles of snarling traffic before having to merge into the mess. I’m not sure what it is about the rain that creates unreasonable amounts of traffic, but to travel a distance of about 2 miles, we sat in traffic for OVER 45 MINUTES!! It was the perfect end to a perfect day. I blame Dick.

Sports Tim 17 Sep 2004 No Comments

Ugly Tuna Trivia

If it’s a Tuesday night, I can usually be found playing Tuesday Night Trivia at the Old Timer in Clinton.  Trivia Master Joel plays cool music while asking the questions, and teams of up to five people have the length of a song to come up with an answer.  Each of the 20 questions is assigned a point value, and the goal is to garner the most points.

The following is a diary of my trivia experience this past Tuesday night.

6:25pm:  Trivia doesn’t start until 7pm, but I show up early to grab a booth for our team.  The only factor in table selection is a clear view of the television sets for monitoring of the Red Sox game.  Nick the Bartender pours me a cold Smithwicks Ale and I order some pre-game nachos.  Nachos and beer are crucial to a successful trivia experience.

6:45pm:  My sister Lauri and her husband Dave show up.  Dave happens to be wearing a t-shirt that advertises the Ugly Tuna Saloona (located in Fort Lauderdale).  Our team is immediately dubbed Ugly Tuna.

Our best team name was probably “Chicago has a New Achilles Heel”, which we used when Nomar Garciaparra and his troublesome leg were traded to the Cubs.

7:04pm:  The last member of our team, The Megger (my wife), shows up just as Trivia Master Joel is reading the rules.  Joel tells us that for the next 11 weeks, each winning team will qualify for a special trivia tournament.  He tells us that a team named the Polish Intelligence Agency (PIA) qualified by winning last week.

Ugly Tuna is ready.  We want to qualify for that tournament.  The pressure is on.

Ok, honestly, there is no pressure.  This is Tuesday night bar trivia, for crying out loud.

7:10pm:  The first question:  What state is the geographic center of the 48 contiguous United States?

We toss around a few guesses until The Megger recognizes that the song being played is by the Jayhawks.  Trivia Master Joel gives hints like that sometimes.  We go with Kansas, which proves to be correct.  The confidence level is high.

7:15pm:  The next question brings us back to earth:  What is the first name of the Keebler Elf?

We take a shot in the dark and say Arthur, but it’s Ernie.  Who knows this stuff?

7:30pm:  The first round was pretty good, 2 for 4, but then we get the bonus question:  Which band gets its name from a 1925 Sinclair Lewis novel?   The Megger says, “I think it’s Aerosmith,” but she is outvoted and we guess Alice in Chains.  In retrospect, Alice in Chains sounds a little risqué for a 1925 novel.

The answer, of course, is Aerosmith (the novel was Arrowsmith).  The Megger is only slightly grumpy.

After the first round, Ugly Tuna has 18 points, and is in 4th place out of 6 teams.

8:00pm:  In the second round, the questions were still very difficult.  Bruce Springsteen was playing when Trivia Master Joel asked us to name the wind that blows down the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.  Unfortunately, it was not the E-Street wind, but rather the Chinook wind.  Hmph.

Despite our whiff on the wind question, we manage to gain ground, and after round two, we are in second place behind a team called “To Win Just Once”.  Oh, and the Red Sox are losing to the Devil Rays.

8:30pm:  In round three, we get Geena Davis’ film debut (Tootsie), the country that has Abu Dhabi as its capital (United Arab Emirates), and the teams in the first Super Bowl (Packers and Chiefs), but we miss the fact that Paul David Huson later changed his name to Bono.

After three rounds, Ugly Tuna is 5 points down to the To Win Just Once team.  Our traditional rivals, the Black and Tans, are missing one of their key members and are not a threat this week.

8:45pm:  What was the capital of France before the French Revolution?  Our team boils it down to either Marseilles or Versailles.  Lauri mentions that the national anthem of France is The Song of Marseilles.

We guess Marseilles (because of the anthem) and it is Versailles.  Crucial miss.

The next question:  Which TV character had a dog named Spunky?

Does ANYONE know this?  We have no idea and guess Eddie from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  The answer is Fonzie from Happy Days.  No one in the Old Timer knows it, so we all toast each other to celebrate.

The game continues and we miss another question.  The fourth round is not going well for Ugly Tuna, but somehow we were only down by 5 points when the final bonus question was posed.

Based on land area, what is the largest country in Central America?

We bid 20 points and guess Nicaragua.

And we are right.  Trivia Master Joel reads the final standings:

4.  The Pats Fans

3.  The Quahog of Champions

2.  The Dirty Old Men and a Maiden

And the Champion for September 14th at the Old Timer in Clinton is…drum roll please…Ugly Tuna!  We win!  We qualify for the tournament!  Woo Hoo…I mean, ahem, no big deal.  It’s only bar trivia.  What’s important is that the Red Sox lost.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 17 Sep 2004 No Comments

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