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My 2014 Oscar picks.

Oscar Statue

Uh oh, it’s Oscar time again…and this year’s a doozy. For one thing, there’s no clear winner in most major categories (including best picture!). For another, this is one of those terrible years where I’ll be in transit during the actual broadcast, which means I’ll have to watch it off my TiVo when I return (that’s always the worst). And in an added bit of insanity, my father and I have made identical picks. This is the first time in the twenty some-odd years we’ve done our annual bet that we haven’t differed on a single category. Not even one!

Before the picks, my usual disclaimer:

I don’t care who should win, I only care who will win.

I also find that I have better picks when I don’t see the nominated movies. My personal opinion can cloud my judgement when choosing winners.

And yes, I take these things seriously. I don’t watch sports, I watch movies. The Academy Awards are my Super Bowl.

Let’s get to the picks.

Read more …

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Kiss me, I don’t smoke (FOURTEEN years and counting!).


Kiss me I don't smokeIt’s October 2013, and that means it has been FOURTEEN years since my last cigarette. For those unaware, I used to be an extremely heavy smoker and every year on October 21st (today!) I celebrate another year of remaining smoke-free. And while I’m at it, I use this opportunity to check how much money I would have spent had I kept smoking. I used to do this on my blog, but since 2011 I’ve been doing it here at Tumblr. 

And now, math!

As I have now lived in three different states (NY, CA and since 2010, MD), this has gotten a bit more complicated. I used to smoke on average 1.75 packs a day (most days were 1.5, many were 2, and nights when I went drinking – which was often – I’d hit 2.5). All told, had I not quit, I would have sucked down 8,949 packs, or 178,990 individual cigarettes.


When I quit in 1999, I lived in New York City, where I was for eight of these twelve years. Because of all of the moves, I’ve locked off my NYC smoking costs at $35,757.75, using the $7 a pack average in New York during that time. I’ve also locked off the subsequent two years in California at $5,740.88, using what was then a $4.50 a pack average. The lousy economy has meant cigarette prices have skyrocketed, as states need income from wherever they can find it. New York is now a whopping $11.90 on average (wow!) and California is $5.19 (they’re getting there). 

The last three years have been here in Maryland, where the average is $7.93 (up 21% from last year!). That’s three years with no leap days, plus 2012’s leap year, making for 51,135 individual cigarettes/2557 packs for a total of $20,275. 

That means that had I not quit smoking, since 1999, I would have spent…

(Drumroll please)

$61,773.66

That’s almost SIXTY TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS! And that’s assuming the old prices in New York and California. It would be significantly higher using today’s prices. 

If you’re thinking of quitting, bot SmokeFree.gov or QuitNet are good places to start. Also try reading up on the subject: Wikipedia’s Health Effects of Tobacco Smoking is good, as is the extremely unpleasant How Does Your Body Digest a Cigarette? over at HowStuffWorks.

And if you want to check out some scary math of your own, here’s a recent rundown of average price per pack of cigarettes by state

Most importantly though, if you smoke, you should stop. It’s bad for you, it’s bad for those around you, and it costs a TON of money. 

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My 2013 Oscar Picks.

Oscar Statue

Holy crap, it’s Oscar time again. It’s no earlier than last year, but it certainly feels that way.

Before the picks, my usual disclaimer:

I don’t care who should win, I only care who will win.

I also find that I have better picks when I don’t see the nominated movies. My personal opinion can cloud my judgement when choosing winners. Case in point, having seen Les Miserables this year, I don’t think it deserves a damn thing. It’s taking a great deal of willpower to get past that. Fortunately I also think Argo is the best movie of the year (of the ones I’ve seen) so I have no issues there.

And yes, I take these things seriously. I don’t watch sports, I watch movies. The Academy Awards are my Super Bowl.

Let’s get to the picks.

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Filed under Oscars Academy Awards

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Kiss me, I don’t smoke (THIRTEEN years and counting!).


Kiss me I don't smokeGood god, another year has gone by. 2012 makes a whopping THIRTEEN years since my last cigarette. For those of you who are unaware, I used to be an extremely heavy smoker and so every year I celebrate on October 21st another year being smoke-free. And I use this as an opportunity to figure out how much money I would have spent if I had kept smoking all this time. I used to do this on my blog, but since 2011, I’ve been doing it here at Tumblr. 

And now, math!

As I have now lived in three different states (NY, CA and since 2010, MD), this has gotten a bit more complicated. I used to smoke on average 1.75 packs a day (most days were 1.5, many were 2, and nights when I went drinking – which was often – I’d hit 2.5). All told, had I not quit, I would have sucked down 8,311 packs, or 166,215 individual cigarettes.


When I quit in 1999, I lived in New York City, where I was for eight of these twelve years. Because of all of the moves, I’ve locked off my NYC smoking costs at $35,757.75, using the $7 a pack average in New York during that time. I’ve also locked off the subsequent two years in California at $5,740.88, using what was then a $4.50 a pack average. The lousy economy has meant cigarette prices have skyrocketed, as states need income from wherever they can find it. New York is now a whopping $11.90 on average (wow!) and California is $5.19 (they’re getting there). 

The last three years have been here in Maryland, where the average is $6.70. That’s two years with no leap days, plus 2012’s leap year, making for 38,360 individual cigarettes/1,918 packs for a total of $12,850.60. 

That means that had I not quit smoking, since 1999, I would have spent…

(Drumroll please)

$54,349.23

That’s FIFTY FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS! And that’s assuming the old prices in New York and California. It would be significantly higher using today’s prices. 

If you’re thinking of quitting, bot SmokeFree.gov or QuitNet are good places to start. Also try reading up on the subject: Wikipedia’s Health Effects of Tobacco Smoking is good, as is the extremely unpleasant How Does Your Body Digest a Cigarette? over at HowStuffWorks.

And if you want to check out some scary math of your own, here’s a recent rundown of average price per pack of cigarettes by state

The bottom line of course, is that if I can do it, anyone can. It’s bad for you, it’s bad for those around you, and it’s a ton of money. 

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My 2012 Oscar picks.

The Oscar statueGood lord are the Oscars early this year. They keep moving it up, and it always seems to creep up on me.

Anyway…hi there! If you’ve never read my annual Oscar picks (previously posted on my now retired blog, and long before that on Blue’s News), I take the annual Academy Awards very seriously. No really. I don’t watch sports, I watch movies. Therefore to me (and I fully understand that this is just me), the Oscars are my Super Bowl.

When it comes to choosing the winners, my motivation is based on my traditional Oscar bet with my father, which we’ve been doing every year for over two decades. I used to win handily, but in the last ten years he’s really ramped up his research, which has made it both more difficult and more exciting.

We bet on more categories than most, but not all of them. So if you’re looking for the shorts or sound categories, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But we do cover everything else. Doing just the top six is much too easy. All the real fun happens when you get down into the crazy ones everyone forgets about, like Costume Design. 

In any event, my choices are based on who I believe will win, not who I believe should win. I don’t really care about who should win. I am only concerned with who will take home the statue. If the people who actually deserved Oscars regularly won, we would live in a world where Stanley Kubrick left behind a mantle full of golden statues (he never won for anything other than Visual Effects, for 2001).

And to be clear, I really do love the Oscars. They’re absurd. They’re crazy. They’re fun!

So let’s get to the picks.

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Filed under oscars academy awards the artist hugo kubrick awards

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I love my iPad so much I got an Android phone.

Galaxy S II SkyrocketA funny thing happened recently. Last year, I got an iPad. And it’s great. I read comics on it, I use it for e-mail and general browsing, I do all kinds of stuff on it. I used to use my iPhone for that stuff when I’m at home. But why would I bother doing that now? Even gaming, which I never did a whole lot of on my iPhone, I do even less of after getting an iPad (same games, bigger screen). 

In short, I found myself using my iPhone mostly as…a phone. As in talking, checking e-mail and sending texts. Also as a general device for checking Twitter or reading Kindle books (when not in reach of my physical Kindle device). And you know what? The iPhone isn’t any better or worse at that kind of basic stuff than any other phone. 

Plus (and this is really the heart of the problem), I genuinely dislike the iPhone 4 design. It’s boxy, it has glass on all sides (which goes against my extremely clumsy lifestyle) and even if the screen has a gorgeous resolution, it’s physically tiny for someone with hands my size. I just don’t like the damn thing. I had hoped Apple would address these issues with a complete redesign, but the 4s is more of the same. No doubt the 5 will be the second coming, but I had the opportunity to get a new phone now, and decided to take it. 

So, much to my surprise, I started looking around at Android phones. And I ended up getting one, the unfortunately named Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket (no really, that’s the name).

Having used an iPhone for several years, getting adjusted to Android has been a bit of a shock. This thing is total chaos. It’s fairly simple to get started with an iPhone, but Android? That has a learning curve. I would never, ever, ever give this phone to someone not extremely comfortable with computers. This is not the phone you give to your parents, and I have no idea why anyone would think it would serve that purpose. There are preferences hidden within preferences. There’s a task manager (a task manager!). 

The great thing about Android (and what attracted me to it) is that it can do everything you want it to. You want a live weather report on your home screen? BAM, it’s done. You want one-touch access to your contacts? Done. A single wallpaper image across multiple screens? Done. Everything and more can be done. It just takes a while to figure out how to do it. And even then, chances are you’ll find a better way than your first attempt.

Which isn’t to say this phone is perfect. It’s definitely not. Battery life is abysmal. That’s not usually a problem for me, but no doubt it’s going to annoy me at some point. I guess I could carry around multiple batteries (a user-removable battery? Crazy) but that’s hardly a solution.

And after years of iPhone ownership, I had completely forgotten about the horror that is carrier bloatware. There’s all kinds of crap on this phone that AT&T installed that I can’t remove. Granted, I can bury it in a place I’ll never see it, but as an iPhone user, I had forgotten that such things existed. Apparently they still do.

But it’s cool. I like it. The Kindle app for Android is awesome - far, far superior to its iOS equivalent. And Twitter and Facebook are pretty great too. And I’ve been able to set it up so that I automatically upload my phone’s photos to my server when connected to my home WiFi network (neat!). Also phone quality is uniformly great. And that’s really all I want to do with this phone anyway. 

Now if only I could find an email client that works with both exchange and gmail that I really like…

Filed under phone skyrocket galaxy android iphone apple google ipad

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Kiss me, I don’t smoke (TWELVE years and counting!).

Kiss me I don't smokeHappy 2011! This marks TWELVE years since I quit smoking. For those of you who are unaware, I used to be an extremely heavy smoker and so every year I celebrate on October 21st another year being smoke-free. Aside from the general awesomeness of another 365 (or possibly 366) days going by without a cigarette, I use this as an opportunity to figure out how much money I would have spent if I had kept smoking all this time. I did this for years on my old blog, but this marks my first post here at Tumblr. 

Anyway, on to the math. 

I moved across the country a couple of times in the past few years, so things have gotten significantly more complex. So much so that I now use a spreadsheet to calculate it all. I used to smoke on average 1.75 packs a day (most days were 1.5, many were 2, and nights when I went drinking – which was often – I’d hit 2.5). All told, had I not quit, I would have sucked down 7,665 packs, or 153,300 individual cigarettes.


When I quit in 1999, I lived in New York City, where I was for eight of these twelve years. Because of all of the moves, I’ve locked off my NYC smoking costs at $35,757.75, using the $7 a pack average in New York during that time. I’ve also locked off the subsequent two years in California at $5,740.88, using what was then a $4.50 a pack average. The lousy economy has meant cigarette prices have skyrocketed, as states need income from wherever they can find it. New York is now a whopping $11.90 on average (wow!) and California is $5.19 (they’re getting there). 

The last two years have been here in Maryland, where the average is $6.70. That’s two years with no leap days (yet - 2012 is coming!), or 25,550 individual cigarettes/1,277.5 packs for a total of $8559.25. 

That means that had I not quit smoking, since 1999, I would have spent…

(Drumroll please)

$50,057.88

FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS, people! FIFTY THOUSAND! And that’s assuming the old prices in New York and California. It would be much higher had I started smoking today. 

If you’re thinking of quitting, bot SmokeFree.gov or QuitNet are good places to start. Also try reading up on the subject: Wikipedia’s Health Effects of Tobacco Smoking is good, as is the extremely unpleasant How Does Your Body Digest a Cigarette? over at HowStuffWorks.

And if you want to check out some scary math of your own, here’s a recent rundown of average price per pack of cigarettes by state

The bottom line of course, is that if I can do it, anyone can. It’s bad for you, it’s bad for those around you, and it’s a ton of money. 

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I’m killing my local comics shop (with DC’s help).

Happy New 52 day, everyone. Today begins the new DC Universe, and I’m not particularly thrilled about that. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten used to the idea, but the fact that they’re rebooting things so that Lois and Clark are no longer married still stings. Particularly since they’re leaving the core Batman books pretty much untouched. Also I’ve never been a fan of Jim Lee (he’s great with dynamic poses, but I find his style off-putting). 

But I’m over that, really (I swear). The more interesting thing for me, is that DC’s reboot has basically completely changed my comics buying habits. Before they announced the reboot, I read on a monthly basis, about four comics from DC. Once it became clear that the books and characters I was reading were no longer going to matter, I dropped them. And for the past two months, I haven’t picked up a DC comic.

More importantly, during this time I haven’t been to my local comic shop on Wednesdays. That makes me sad, and it ends a long-standing tradition that has survived repeated moves across the country, during which time I had to scramble to find a local comic shop. 

In any event, with today’s reboot, I’m left wondering what I’m going to pick up again. I find myself largely unmotivated to read the major books. Oh sure, I’ll pick up the first issues of Action Comics, Superman and Supergirl (and probably today’s Justice League, since it kicks everything off) but I don’t feel any loyalty to these books. And since I’m buying them digitally, I won’t feel any guilt at dropping them from my pull list, since there is no pull list. No retailers will be left with unsold inventory, no owner will try to smile, as he knows I am one book closer to leaving forever. Sad, but true. 

I’m actually looking at DC’s checklist of new titles and thinking I’ll try something entirely different. Like Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man. Or All-Star Western. Or I, Vampire. Or Demon Knight, a book I hadn’t even heard of until Comics Alliance reviewed it. And if they suck? I’ll drop them. No commitment, no guilt. 

Lately I find myself enjoying non-DC books more anyway. I’ve been reading through all of Ultimate Spider-Man (still not caught up yet), am completely in love all over again with John Byrne’s Next-Men (which is sadly ending yet again), and absolutely adore the Rocketeer Adventures anthology. Digital has made it very easy to pick and choose books, and I’m absolutely loving that.

The loser in all of this, of course, is my local comic shop. As much as I love supporting local comic retailers, ultimately I have to be selfish. Buying comics locally costs significantly more money - on average, 30% more per issue compared to digital, 50-75% more per physical collection compared to Amazon.com. Physical comics take up space, and frankly, I’m at a point in my life where I no longer enjoy having comics pile up. Ultimately comics buying isn’t a charity, and I’m going to go where I get the best results as a consumer. Not to mention the fact that the selection in any local comic shop is going to be spotty (through no fault of their own, of course…they simply can’t overstock on every book). 

In ten years my guess is that it will be rare to see local comics shops outside of major cities. And I’ll know in my heart that I was the one to kill them. With DC’s help, of course.

Filed under local comics shops, action comics, dc comics superman new 52 jim lee comicmarket

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How I successfully eliminated spam (and why that no longer matters).

SpamFor seven years I received no spam. Well, maybe not zero spam, but it was so little as to be utterly insignificant, and as soon as I received one I quickly eliminated the threat entirely. 

Allow me to explain.

Back in 2004 when I decided to do this, I was utterly inundated by spam. For years my e-mail address had been posted on websites as a way of contacting me, and as a result, every webcrawling bot in the known universe had collected my address and sold it in the dingy back alley black markets where one trades in such things. After a few attempts that met with only minor success, I determined the only way to truly, 100% deal with this problem was going to be the complete and total eradication of spam from my life once and for all. So I thought it through, and came up with my Ultimate Spam Fighting Solution.

Step 1 was to register a brand new domain name that had no direct connection to any dictionary term. This domain would never appear in any search engines, would never host any web pages, and would be completely registered by proxy so that nobody would ever connect it to me. I wanted a domain that would be snappy and easy to remember, so I chose the charmingly eccentric domain “Atomicsupermonkey.com.” I still love that name.

Step 2 was to create my login name, a separate log-in that would only exist for me. Nobody in public or private would ever have this, and it was my real e-mail address, the only actual account at that domain. I specifically turned off all of the default addresses to the domain (webmaster, postmaster, etc.) as they are simply spam bait. 

Step 3 was to create a billion e-mail aliases, one for every use. For Amazon.com,  I created amazon@atomicsupermonkey.com. For eBay, I used ebay@atomicsupermonkey.com. For Twitter I used twitter@atomicsupermonkey.com and so on. 

The final step was to make a way for people who actually wanted to reach me to get in touch with me (this was before Facebook and Twitter…it seems awfully quaint now). I created a php form that I could post publically. You can find an archived version of it here. Filling out that form sent an e-mail tagged MAILER that included a text file with the user’s IP address and every other bit of information I could scrape off of their computer (nothing too bad, just browser, OS and so on…it was useful for identifying bots). I only really reported a couple of people for abuse, and that was before I added a CAPTCHA to weed out automated bots. Once the CAPTCHA went in I had no problems (just a few misguided, but at least human, people looking to take out ads on my worthless web sites). I generally found that when people have to manually input information, they won’t bother. And that’s sort of the thing about phishing and spam in general…it’s all about bulk. Take yourself out of the pile and you won’t exist to them. 

After that I just sat back and watched. And you know what? It worked. Perfectly. I mean really, perfectly. 

Because I created so many aliases (over 250 when I shut down the domain) I can point to what retailers are nice and respect their privacy policies, and which ones are absolutely evil and will never receive my business again. Don’t worry, the overwhelming majority were great. But Busted Tees? They suck. I don’t know if they accidentally had their e-mail list compromised and never informed users, or they intentionally sold their list or what, but I will never, ever give them personal information again, and neither should you. Also evil: MacMall. MacMall was cheap back then, so even knowing that they were evil spam-selling bastards I created a second alias which I intentionally deleted shortly after the order arrived. But guess what arrived first? Spam sent to macmall2@atomicsupermonkey.com. Yep, those guys suck. Fortunately thanks to better retailers, I’ll never have to deal with them again either.

So that was it. And for seven years I lived with virtually no spam, no phishing attacks, nothing except the e-mail I actually wanted to receive. And it was good. 

But a couple of funny things have happened in the last few years. When I started this, I did a lot of freelance work, and my personal e-mail was my e-mail. But that’s not the case anymore, and I barely use personal e-mail at all these days. I still use it for e-commerce and communicating with a couple of people, but for the most part, my personal communication has all moved to Facebook and Twitter. And the other thing is that Gmail has gotten really good at eliminating spam, largely because its userbase has gotten pretty large and with each user, their algorithms become more accurate (that’s the Google way, after all). 

So I slowly transitioned myself over to Gmail a couple of months ago, turning off aliases here and there and moving everything over to the single, unified Gmail account. And you know what? Aside from one or two exceptions, Gmail’s been a pretty much spam-free experience. And hey, it’s free to boot. Go fig. 

Spam is still a problem, let’s not kid ourselves. If you go around posting your e-mail address on a website, you’re just asking for trouble. But it’s nice to see that the last decade has seen a pretty dramatic improvement in spam detection. At the very least, it’s good enough for me. 

Filed under email spam atomicsupermonkey evil

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Why I hate comics.

Blackest NightI love comics. I really do. However this is why I hate them sometimes…

A coworker just excitedly came over to show me the giant haul of Green Lantern books he bought. He picked up three volumes: Blackest Night: Green Lantern, Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps and Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps. Awesome, right??

Sadly, while he did buy those sweet collections, he forgot to get the one called “Blackest Night.” I showed him the insane Blackest Night checklist to prove it to him. 

This is what’s wrong with comics in a nutshell. The whole story wasn’t even good enough to justify its own series (it’s best summed up by, “I’M A DEAD ANGRY SUPERHERO RAAAAWR”), but they stretched it out into enough tie-ins to fill six volumes. Rediculous.

If DC wants to do anything different post-relaunch, they’ll cut back on the unnecessary event books. But they probably won’t. 

Filed under comics dc comics green lantern dumb