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A Documentary I Actually Watched: The Ambassador.

I don’t watch reality television or documentaries. You might think this is some high moral standard (at least in the case of reality tv), but the truth of the matter is much simpler – my ADD makes watching these sort of shows/films agonizingly painful. I much prefer reading about history / contemporary issues / science / etc. than watching a documentary on the topic…and reality tv, well…I find it generally uninteresting.

But that didn’t keep me from watching The Ambassador, a controversial 97 minute documentary by Mads Brugger. Brugger is a journalist, comedian, filmmaker who goes undercover as a corrupt business diplomat to the Central African Republic in an attempt to start an illegal blood diamonds business. Along the way he risks his life (and, most disconcertingly to me, the lives of numerous individuals of varying levels of innocence) and discloses troubling corruption, conspiracy, and immorality among various governments.

I’d put this film alongside of Slumdog Millionaire and Hotel Rwanda for its potential to have a positive societal impact, while at the same time expressing my qualms about the methods used to make the film, especially those which placed [unaware] innocents at risk.

In the articles I read reviewing the film the greatest concern seemed to be the racism expressed by Brugger in character and the negative portrayal of the Central African Republic and its people. I understand the reviewers concern, but also felt that it was self-evident that Brunner was interacting with the criminal elements of society and that his interactions with these elements should not be taken as reflective upon the larger CAR populace. While we only see ‘regular’ CAR folks briefly, their portrayal is compassionate and inspiring – folks seem eager to work at Brunner’s match factory and are willing to better themselves and their country. One feels heartbreak at the conspiracy of factors that keep these folks in such mortal and economic danger. It seems evident to me that these individuals are just like me – but without the opportunities and privileges which I have.

From a more generic [usual categories] objectionable content perspective, there is no violence, relatively little profanity, and minimal non-sexual nudity. Profanity is almost entirely absent throughout the film (in fact, you will find more profanity in the reviews I have referenced at the end of this article than in the film itself…an interesting commentary on the state of profane language in contemporary culture [most of the publications being respectable, not simply individuals spouting thoughts without a corporation behind them]), but towards the latter end of the film several intense moments lead to some profane dialogue.

There is some very brief, non-sexual nudity, of the nature one might expect in a National Geographic documentary. While boating down the river the camera turns to the shore where groups of people are using the water for various purposes (washing, swimming) and one or two are in various states of undress.

In conclusion – I think the film asks some excellent questions, in spite of its troubling ethics – and I hope that it will spark dialogue, awareness, and activism throughout the world to end these sort of abuses. God forgive us for allowing such travesties to be committed against the unfortunate.

You can watch The Ambassador on Netflix or Amazon Video.

Bibliography

Langhorne Pharmacy is AWESOME!

Indian Pharmacist Mark
The Green plus under the circle is official identification mark for Indian pharmacist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of those responsibilities one undertakes as an adult that seemed so foreign and distant as a child and teenager is going to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions. Over the years I’ve been to a number of different pharmacies and for the last several years I used a pharmacy in one of the big retail chains.
Eventually several issues I had with this big-chain pharmacy grew in annoyance to the point where I searched out a new pharmacy. Specifically:

  • I had trouble getting my medications filled on occasion. The pharmacists would tell me that the medication was “not available” and then when my wife would call or visit it would be “available” and she would pick it up (literally the same day). I was usually told it would be a week or two before the medication was again available. Not sure if they thought I was a drug addict, but for whatever reason I seemed to be discriminated against (come on folks, haven’t you heard that neck-beards and hoodies are the fashion craze amongst tech geeks?).
  • If a medication was not available it usually wouldn’t be available for an extended period of time (e.g. 1-2 weeks), and even then it might run out by the time I got into the pharmacy.

I decided to try this little pharmacy in Langhorne – aptly named the Langhorne Pharmacy – and I am extremely pleased with my experience thus far (I’ve been using them for a few months now).
Whereas I was frequently discriminated against at the larger retail chain, at this small pharmacy they know me by name and are always friendly and helpful.
Whereas medications would oftentimes be unavailable for long periods of time, the head pharmacist told me during my first visit to, “Just call in a day ahead of time when you need a refill and I will order the medication for you to ensure it is here.” Wow! Now that is some impressive service – and sure enough, every time I go in (and I don’t usually have to call) the medication is waiting for me (this isn’t just any medication, it is a medication which all pharmacies, including the big chains, have difficulty keeping in-stock).
But there are a few additional reasons I really like this pharmacy. For me, it is closer geographically than the big chain; the lines are never long; and while it isn’t a big issue – I usually wait 5-15 minutes for my medications at Langhorne Pharmacy (when I bring the scripts directly in, rather than having them filed electronically) instead of 30 mins. to 1 hr. at larger retail chains.
Did I mention they make free local deliveries? Okay, so I’m a little excited about these folks – but they deserve it.
If you live in the Langhorne, Levittown, Middletown, Penndel, Hulmeville area – check them out! Their address is 172 North Pine Street, Langhorne, PA 19047. You can call them at 215-752-1100. They are in the same shopping plaza as St. Mary’s Thrift Store. Let me know your thoughts!

Sponsored Post: Win $10,000 in Apple Gift Cards from Crucial.

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Crucial.com for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

[Note: This post is a sponsored post. That means that I am compensated for writing this post, usually by the company the post is about. I attempt to be fair and equitable even when writing sponsored posts, but want to make the reader aware that this post has been subsidized.]

When it comes to computers there are two components I recommend upgrading first. Oftentimes when you buy computers from a store they will try and sell you on high speed CPU’s and big hard drives – but these aren’t the most important aspects of your computer. Sure, a solid CPU is important and a big hard drive is nice – but I recommend getting a mid-range CPU (not a cheap one, but not the most expensive) and spending the money you save on getting a faster hard drive and more RAM.

The hard drive is the slowest component on your computer. RAM exists in large part b/c the hard drive is so slow. It takes way too long to write data from and to the hard drive, so to expedite things data is written into RAM (which is much faster, but also more expensive) and then whatever needs to be written to the actual hard drive is written to the hard drive later (by later I mean very shortly, usually imperceptibly later).

If you are doing very simple tasks on your computer you may not need a ton of RAM – e.g., if you watch one video and don’t do anything else at the same time, browse one or two websites simultaneously using browser tabs, run a small game like solitaire, etc. But if you use your computer for heavier tasks – as I do – like massive multitasking of browser windows, development of applications, and perhaps the occasional game of significant complexity and artistic quality – you’ll find RAM an essential upgrade.

I generally recommend at least 2 GB in a computer and highly prefer 4 GB…When it comes to hard drives I won’t buy anything with a drive slower than 7200 RPMs, and my next computer will probably have a solid-state drive (SSD) – which is similar to RAM in design and thus must faster than traditional hard drives.

Crucial is a well-known company offering both high quality RAM and SSD drives. If you have a computer you want to extend the life of, you can upgrade with these components and renew the speed and responsiveness of an aging machine.

There are lots of alternative sources for buying RAM and SSD drives other than Crucial – some of them quite fine. I’m not going to pretend that I buy all of my equipment from Crucial or ever will…but they are a solid option in the field. I always recommend comparing prices across vendors. See what Crucial charges and then maybe look at MemoryX, and if you know what you are doing check out Amazon and eBay (though one can oftentimes get jipped, I have on occasion received products that claimed to be “official” oem parts, but where in fact imitations, while both provide great resolution methods for these sort of issues, it is an unwanted hassle).

Crucial is a respected company, with a handy software tool that discovers what memory is in your device, making it easy to purchase more, quick turn-around on orders, and giving away $10,000 in Apple gift cards doesn’t hurt either.

So, what are you waiting for? No purchase is necessary, and $10k in Apple gift cards is a lot of money…even if I’m not a huge fan of Apple products. 😛 But then again don’t go submit an entry…then I’ll be more likely to win, and who really needs $10k in Apple gift cards? Not you. =) (I’m joking! Go enter now at: Crucial Memory Sweepstakes !)
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Introduction to Web .NET Programming.

(This article is currently a work-in-progress)

Overview:

I’ve developed my competencies in Information Technologies over years of hands-on experience. I don’t have a degree in Computer Science nor even a Certification. My knowledge has been compiled from a wide variety of arenas and continues to compile on an almost hourly basis. It is not uncommon for someone to ask me, “How did you learn xxxxx?” or “How can I learn xxxxx?” My answer is, “With a lot of pain and tears.” Or at least that has been my answer. In this article (which I hope will be an ongoing work in progress) I intend to categorize a informal learning course for individuals desiring to learn web .NET programming. I’m not going to write the materials myself – but I will point you to a wide variety of materials available across the web that cover a variety of technologies and will attempt to offer some small tidbits of commentary along the way. Please feel free to comment with your questions, suggestions, additions, etc.

Dave Mackey,

Friday, May 21, 2010 – Midnight.

The Prerequisites:

I’m going to be blunt – so neither you nor I waste our time. You must be a native to technology if you want to be an application developer. In other words, if you don’t feel the same level of comfort sitting down behind the steering wheel of your car when you sit at your computer – you aren’t ready to begin writing applications.

Secondly, you must go beyond knowledge acquisition to analytical skills. Anyone can memorize facts – the knowledge of facts is of some use to the application developer (or technologist generally) but is not the end-all. You must learn to abstract from specifics and derive general principles. The most basic example of this is utilizing a search engine. As much as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo would like their engines to understand what we want the first time we say it – they oftentimes don’t. Type, “Microsoft” into a search engine and you’ll like get the results you want – but try something more complex like, “relationship of javascript to c#” and you might get only tangentially related results. Your analytical skills come into use as you try different related phrases to press the search engine on to better results. For example, “correlations of javascript to c#”, “origins of c#”, “history of c# and javascript”, “javascript and c# comparison”. If you aren’t able to perform this sort of abstraction, work on developing those skills first – then return to application development.

The Basics:

Assuming one has a general understanding of technology – specifically of computers, software, and the internet – one has several technologies which will form the basis of future endeavors. You don’t need an in-depth understanding of these technologies at this juncture – but you should be at least familiar with each of them: HTML, CSS, and SQL.

If you want to go above and beyond take some time with W3School‘s other tutorials – such as XML and JavaScript.

Coding Articles in Rough Order of Importance/Ease of Learning:

Conceptual/Philosophical Articles in Rough Order of Importance/Ease of Learning:

Security Articles in Rough Order of Importance/Ease of Learning:

Miscellaneous Non-Core But Useful Articles:

Caveats:

  • Articles with an * by them denote articles for which I am eager to find a replacement or for which I am hopeful the author will release an update. In case authors are interested I’ve delineated below the main reasons an article receives an *:
    • The article is too brief and lacks enough information for a beginner or enough useful information. This is not to say that an article should explain everything – but that it should provide links to other sites/articles where further explanations of topics can be found.
    • The article is too long and detailed, needing to be broken out to smaller units to make it more consumable.
    • The article is written with poor spelling or grammar which inhibits the understandability and professional of the article.
    • The article has not been updated in some time and does not reflect or may not reflect all the latest technological info.

Target and Market Pantry.

Grocery Store Green Bell Peppers
Image via Wikipedia

When we think of shopping for groceries Target isn’t usually the first place to come to mind – but maybe it should be. Over the last year or two I’ve really fallen in love with Target. They don’t have everything you need – no fresh fruits or vegetables…but when it comes to cereals, juices, snack foods, and frozen goods – Target is great!

Target carries name brands but they also carry their generic brand products called Market Pantry. In general, my experience with generics has been disappointing. In the cereal department, while the generics may taste okay, they certainly don’t taste anything like the brand name equivalent. Similarly, have you ever tried those generic oreo’s? Yuck! But this isn’t the case with Market Pantry. You won’t notice a sub-par taste in their Apple Juice, and if you swap out boxes on cereals your kids would never guess they weren’t eating the real Lucky Charms.

What really is the kicker for Target’s Market Pantry line of products is the pricing. I always gawked at paying nearly $4 for a box of cereal, but oftentimes couldn’t stand some of the generics. Now I get Market Pantry for less than $2.50 a box and don’t notice any taste difference!

So, what am I saying? Next time your out, if the Target isn’t too far from your normal grocery store, consider stopping by there first to get the non-perishables and then going to the grocery store – I think you’ll be happy with the difference.

LitterMaid Elite Mega LME 9250.

This is another reprint of an earlier review I made on a older blog. I’ve posted it here for records sake – and also in case anyone has not read it previously. It is a review of the LitterMaid automatic cat litter box. It has been edited slightly from its original content.

Introduction:

I was searching one day for litter. I was looking for some solution, I was just tired of the cats tracking the litter onto the floor, the smell, and the constant cleaning. In the sponsored results came up an ad for an automatic litterbox. I was fascinated. Using a small robotic arm the cleaner would trigger itself automatically using sensors once the cat exited the box. The litter was pushed into a small air-tight container and left you without having to do maintenance for nearly a month. Wow, quite the upgrade.

Purchase:

So I decided not to purchase one for the time being, but at my last day at work it was mentioned that some of the guys had an automatic litter box and they loved it. I had to pick up cat litter on the way back so I swung by PetSmart and decided just to peek and see if they had any automatic litterboxes. They did. The particular one I chose is called the LitterMaid Elite Mega and cost around $150. I made sure before I purchased it that PetSmart had a generous return policy and was assured that as long as I returned it within 30 days with the receipt they would accept it – whether I didn’t like it or my cat didn’t like it or for whatever reason. I felt confident now. If I decided it wasn’t worth $150 (something I don’t like to spend lightly) I could return it.

Installation and Acclimation:

I took it home and began setting it up. The instructions where okay and it took about 30 minutes to assemble. Before I had even completed assembling it Hermione had jumped in and utilized it. This made me feel good about the acclimation factor. In fact, I had no problems with acclimation. Within an hour of setting it up both Hermione and Barclay had shifted to it as the new restroom and were even fascinated (if a bit scared) by the robotic arm.

Positive Features:

One of my favorite features was the Kabana covering. This comes only with the Mega model, though you can purchase it for their base model (and by the time you are done adding this onto the price you might as well buy the Mega model). This covering is reminiscent of a covered wagon canvas. It ensures that the cats enter and exit only through one way, and also prevents them from kicking litter onto the floor when they are covering up their business.

I also really liked the walk-in/out mat. There is a small ramp that is attached to the litter box. It has grooves in it and carpet padding to help the cats discard any loose litter before they reach your floor.

The robotic arm is of course “cool” as are the motion sensors. It feels high-tech, and relatively speaking $150 isn’t a bad price for all this technology. It also includes timing capabilities which allow you to tell it when you usually sleep and prevent it from running during those hours (except for a silent air freshener).

I also liked the fat that ideally you would never have to touch waste. The robotic arm would scoop it into the disposal container – which is disposable and after thirty days you would throw this container into the trash, insert a new one, and refill the litter.

Negatives:

Sadly, the positives on this machine are thus far far outweighed by the negatives, which are mainly two (very large) ones:

First and most concerning is the fact that the robotic arm does not appear to be have been designed correctly. It scoops the poop and pee fine for the first 90% but when it reaches the ramp that leads into the waste receptacle it lets a lot of the poop slide back into the main container and only succeeds in moving a very small portion into the actual waste container. Now I do have kittens (perhaps four months now) so there poop may be smaller than a full grown cats, but still, the robotic arm should move at an angle and always remain in contact with the bottom of the tray – which it does not.

Second is the fact that the waste receptacle does not close as I would like it. The robotic arm lifts the top off the waste receptacle to drop the waste in but when the receptacle lid closes it is simply because of gravity. This does not cause the lid to cut closely – and sometimes at all. This results in smells which would not be present if the lid was either mechanically or spring loaded.

A third and smaller issue is the litter. I found it to smell somewhat funky. Not bad, just funky. Almost like some sort of wheat. It also was not particularly non-dusty and while the unit does a good job of keeping the materials in the litter box I still would have preferred a less dusty substance.

Conclusion:

LitterMaid while excellent in theory is flawed in execution. It has some really nice features and in a future revision is sure to be an excellent product, but as of this time I have to say that I plan on returning the unit after a little more testing. I will let you all know if any of my observations change.

Invitation:

If you believe I am somehow misusing the LitterMaid or have a different product recommendation, please let me know. Also, I would like to invite producers of automatic litterboxes to  write me with their feedback or in order to arrange a product test. I would like to write a series of articles on these automatic litterboxes and even if I find a satisfactory solution I am still willing to use myself and my cats as guinea pigs with these pieces of equipment.

Further Information:

If you are considering purchasing any model of automatic litterbox you may want to visit Automatic Litterbox Central, its a generally active community of individuals who own these units with reviews and discussion of the various units.

Followup Information:

Today I disassembled the LitterMaid Elite Mega. I’d known I was going to disassemble it since the day I wrote this review, but finally got around to it. The device started working a little better, but it still was missing anything smaller (not tiny, just smaller than large). It also filled up within a few days rather than the month I expected (or at least 15 days seeing I have two kittens).

Tomorrow I will probably stop by PetSmart and drop it off, then begin my search again for the perfect automatic litterbox. In the meantime its back to the old manual box.

I returned this device and haven’t looked back. I think it may work slightly better for full-grown cats with larger solid waste.