Thursday, January 20, 2022

Gas Prices

During the recent holiday season, I watched Die Hard, as I usually do.  There's on scene in the movie I found very disturbing. It's pictured at left. It's the gas prices shown that is disturbing. 

Now you can't get "Regular" anymore, because all gasolines have gone to unleaded. Today's "regular" is just lower octane unleaded. So I was curious, how much is 77 cents in today's inflation adjusted dollars. I used this inflation calculator and found out that it's $1.81. (Die Hard was made in 1988).

However, gas prices now are a lot more than $1.81. So I decided to see how gas prices have changed since 1988. I went to the Department of Energy website and it lists average gasoline prices historically, but only starting in April of 1993. So I started then. And then I adjusted them for inflation using data from this website. And I made a pretty graph of the data:

If you adjust the price of gasoline since April 1993 for inflation, that's the lower line. And the last number on that line (November of 2021) is exactly $1.81, which surprised me. But California has always had expensive gas. I'm not sure why except these days it has the highest gas taxes.

But gas goes up and down with the worldwide price of oil. And the price of oil went down during the first part of the pandemic because demand dropped so much. Then after the lock downs slowed, it shot up partly due to increased demand, partly due to the world oil market.

Also, I think gas is more expensive than in April of 1993 because of ethanol mandates and gas taxes.

So this was an interesting experiment. 

What do you think of this data? What do you think makes the price of gas change so much? let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

TikTok... Sort Of

Due to the popularity (I suppose) of TikTok, Facebook/Instagram has started doing "Reels" which are basically TikTok-like short videos (some even say "TikTok" on them). YouTube has also gotten into the game with "Shorts." 

So I discovered Reels on my Facebook on my phone (it doesn't show up on my browser-based Facebook). And I started watching out of curiosity. And now I'm hooked.

I've learned a few things watching these "Reels." One: people say the f-word a lot. Two: about every third video has The No Song as a soundtrack. Which was cute the first 500 times. And three: Some people are idiots, driving very fast on crowded public roads. Like 150 mph fast (they show their speedometer). Some run from cops which, in my state, at least, is a felony.

Some people try to scam viewers. One told of a method to speed up your internet connection. I tried it. It kicked me off the internet. So I reversed what I did and everything was fine.

There's two annoying text-to-voice voices. One is a enthusiastic female, the other a baritone male.  Another annoying thing is you can't fast forward to the end or rewind to see something again. If it's a long video, that can be very frustrating.

It must be against the rules to have swear words in captions because people will say the swear word but the caption will have asterisks or another similar sounding word. Considering how much people swear on it, this surprises me.

And sometimes people make the same joke or claims as other people. The exact same joke. That's boring.

The algorithm has learned that I like cat videos and car videos, so I get a lot of those. And a lot of Tesla videos. Some people have too much money, it seems. One guy traded in his brand new Model S for the Tesla truck because he was bored with the Model S.

There are people you see over and over. Like the married couple I call "The adorable couple." They are so obviously in love with each other and so sweet to each other. And they are planning on having a baby this year. Yes, some people share too much.

But what I've also learned is... it's addictive. Sometimes you learn something useful. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you're like "WTF?"

Maybe someday I can beat my addiction to Reels. But for now, I just plan to enjoy it.

Do you watch TikTok or Reels or Shorts? What do you think about them? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Things I Invented

Happy 2022! 

I hope.

Now on with the blog.

Robert Heinlein is often credited with inventing the water bed in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land. He also invented the remote manipulator in 1942 (he called it a "waldo" after his fictional inventor).

Arthur C. Clark invented the geosynchronous satellite. Or at least first did the math on what it took to make one.

But me, well, I "invented" some things too. I just had no idea how they would work.

For example, for a story I was working on in the early 1980s, I "invented" the autonomous car and the cell phone. I never wrote that story down because I never came up with a plot.

I "invented" rain-sensing windshield wipers. I thought they could use a camera to see if they view out the windshield was blurry. But that was just a few years before I bought a car with rain-sensing windshield wipers. And boy, did I invent a great thing. I love rain-sensing windshield wipers. I guess they work on the reflection of LEDs, or something like that.

For a college assignment, I "invented" a temporary shelter for astronauts on the moon. It's never been used.

But when I was a kid, I invented the internet. I thought "wouldn't it be cool if computers were linked together so you could access the information on them." This was around 1970. Arpanet was just one year old then. I was 10. 

In my novel Rock Killer, published in 2012 (but written long before that) I invented the Zoom call. The characters didn't call it a Zoom call, but that's essentially what it was. 

Have you had any ideas that came to fruition? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Movie Ratings

The other day I watched a movie (Paint Your Wagon) that was rated "GP." No, that's not a typo, it was rated GP. And that got me thinking about how movie ratings have changed over the years.

It used to be that movies weren't rated. All movies released in the US has to meet the Motion Picture Production Code (the "Hays Code") that was put into place in 1930. This lasted until 1968!

Jack Valenti became the president of the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) in 1966. He thought the Hays Code reeked of censorship and didn't serve modern movies. So the MPAA came up with its ratings system. It started out as:

G: General Audiences

M: Suggested for mature audiences - Parental discretion advised

R: Restricted – Persons under 16 not admitted, unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian. (That was later raised to 17)

X: Persons under 16 not admitted (that was later raised to 18).

The MPAA didn't copyright the "X" rating and the porn industry took it over. And what's better than one X but three, so "XXX" became synonymous with porn. And putting out an X-rated film was box office death.

I watched another movie (Hellfighters) recently that was made in 1968. It was rated "G" but had enough violence these days it would have been rated "PG" at least. But that was early in the rating system and likely they didn't want to rate it "M."

In 1970, "M" was change to GP (General Audiences/parental guidance suggested).

In 1972, GP was change to PG (Parental Guidance suggested)

This system lasted until 1984. Then came Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was rated PG. But the violence was, to many audiences, shocking. So the MPAA came up with PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned – Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13). 

And in 1990, X was replaced with the completely unsexy NC-17 (No children under 17, which was later changed to no children 17 and under). NC-17 is still box office death. But at least it isn't synonymous with porn. 

(The only NC-17 film I've seen is Ang Lee's Lust, Caution)

When I was a kid (in the 70s), kids' movies were all rated G. Adult films were either PG or R. 

But now, I've noticed, kids' movies are all PG, adult movies are PG-13 or R. And you can have one (and only one) instance of the F-word in a PG-13 film. Two, and you have an R-rating. And R-rated films do not make as much money as PG-13 films.  About the only movies that are G rated are nature documentaries.

I don't make movie decisions based on rating. I enjoy all sorts of movies but I have noticed a large majority of movies are PG-13. 

Do you used movie ratings as a guide to what to watch, or what to let the kids watch? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

I Tried Cutting the Cable

I have been using Dish for my television programming for years. Don't ask me how many. I chose Dish over DirecTV because, at the time I got it, Dish had the better deal.

But it's expensive unless you go with the absolute bare minimum of programming. I'm paying about $120 a month for it. Because you have to rent your Hopper and pay for insurance on your equipment (but, when my kids broke a remote, they sent me a new one gratis). 

So I looked into "cutting the cable," which seems to be the trend these days, and go with a streaming service. I tried FuboTV because they have a one-week free trial. If I had stuck with them, I would have been paying about $80 a month (I had to pay extra to get the Pac-12 Network)(and getting the Pac-12 Network was another reason why I went with FuboTV). 

I canceled my free trial after three days. I have a very fast internet connection so I wasn't worried about streaming. I stream 4K UHD movies on Disney+ all the time with no problem, not even buffering. But I'd be watching something on FuboTV and suddenly the picture and sound would go away and be replaced by an error message. And I thought, if that happened while watching Jeopardy or a crucial part of a football game, I'd be livid. 

Also, FuboTV's interface was kludgy. It was hard to find shows you want to watch and harder still to record them. 

So, for now, I'm sticking with Dish. 

Have you "cut the cable"? What were your experiences. Or am I being too picky? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

8 1/2

I recently watched the movie 8 1/2. It was made in 1963 in Italy. It was directed by famed Italian director Federico Fellini. It was long, boring, and often bizarre.  Luckily it was only two hours and 18 minutes long. It was better than La Dolce Vita (another Italian film of that era) which was three hours long with zero plot.

I was looking through the Internet Movie Database entry for 8 1/2 and found out that this movie is one of Roger Ebert's favorites. And is director Martin Scorsese's favorite film. And I wonder what do they see in this movie that I don't? People also praise La Dolce Vita and I couldn't stand it.

It made me worry that maybe I'm too shallow to appreciate these movies.

So I Googled Steven Spielberg's favorite movies and I found a list of his top twenty movies. And his favorite movie: It's a Wonderful Life. He does have some I haven't seen by director Fran├žois Truffaut (who Spielberg cast in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) that I haven't seen.  But most of his are approachable movies. One of his favorites is Guardians of the Galaxy! He also lists Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. It's a little over-long, but it's a good movie.

So I felt better after looking at Spielberg's list. At least I didn't feel so shallow.

Have you seen 8 1/2 or any other Fellini films? Or any other 1960s Italian films? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Twitter Gets Results

When I went to get my booster shot for COVID, I made an appointment through my county health district's website. And when I got to the store (Walgreens), I found out that having an appointment meant nothing. I detailed that here how there were people in line before me that I had to wait for. What should have taken 15-20 minutes took 45 minutes.

I complained about it on Twitter, saying something like "Appointments for COVID shots mean nothing at Walgreens." Walgreens' Twitter account DM'd me and asked where this was. I told them the store.

Monday of this week, I went back in that store to get a passport picture taken. (It was there or Walmart.) And I noticed a sign on the door saying "Vaccinations by Appointment Only." Which means when you do have an appointment, no one can just jump in line ahead of you. "That's progress," I thought.

It reminds me of the time right after I bought my car. I tweeted I was in Spokane and my son replied on Twitter: "Why are you in Spokane?" I said "Issue with the Audi." A few days later I got a call from Audi USA asking if everything is okay with the car. And, I don't tweet, blog, or sell books under the name I bought the car under. But they made the connection.

Have you had any experiences of social media helping you with a situation? Let me know in the comments below.