If you have a new HDTV set and are looking to hook up some glorious Blu-ray or PS3 goodness you know that you will have to run to the store and purchase one special component not bundled with any device shipping in quantity: an HDMI cable.

Unlike the days of old when you could run into your local Radio Shack and pickup whatever cheap cables they had on hand and make the new device work, in today’s digital era you are treated the one of the greatest fleecings in modern retail sales history.  You see, Monster, the cable provider of over-priced and over-hyped speaker cables from days past has moved in and pushed just about every other provider of HDMI cables off the shelves, leaving only their own brand at the most outrageous prices.  And the problem is that retailers gladly let them do this because the margins (that’s the money retailers actually make on each good sold) can be 50%, 100%, even 200% on these cables.  Typical devices like TV’s and cameras sometimes net the retailer less than 10% margin.

I don’t begrudge Monster on pushing their cables on the unsuspecting and clueless at the store, that is their business after all.  My problem is that their retail strategy has pushed every other provider of similar products to do similarly stupid things, like raise the price for the same product.  Don’t believe me about nearly all of the cables being the same regardless of price?  Go look at this article on Gizmodo and tell me that you don’t cringe after reading how badly we’re getting ripped off.

The point to this whole story is this:  I had to have a new HDMI cable for some new hardware at home, I can’t go get the cheap cables because they simply don’t exist locally any more, and I got ripped off to the tune of $22.99 for a $5 cable.  Next time no matter how badly I need one of these things, I’m headed to Monoprice where saner heads (and prices) reign.

HDMI cable

I took one of the last flights home last night from Austin. As is AA’s custom, they placed two rows of children around me on this journey. Normally I just put in the headphones and deal with the problem, however on this flight some of the children decided they needed to be rowdy and play up and down the aisles during most of the flight. This left me and most of the passengers near the front of the plane (no business class for me) to be forever vigilant about our arms, elbows, and any items we had on our trays.

What really made this flight tough (at 3 1/2 hours long) was not just the playing kids (and by playing I mean obnoxious running around, tearing papers and pulling things off trays) but the screaming kids that simply wouldn’t pipe down no matter what their mothers offered them. If ever there was a advertisement for why birth control is needed, this flight was it.

I must restate my request that some airline flights should really be reserved for business people, or at least give us the option to pay a bit more to keep the kids off some routes. By the end of the flight I wanted to see how much it would cost to fly myself home as I really didn’t like the torture that I received from this flight.

AA MD-82 Jet

This evening I had dinner at a local Austin, TX restaurant: Threadgill’s

Their menu claims that the house specialty is chicken fried steak with gravy. Seeing this and being in a home style cooked meal kind of mood, I jumped at the chance to find a worthy competitor to the reigning run-of-the-mill challenger, found today at Chili’s. The walls were lined with pictures of various singers and bands that had played at the establishment and some of the online reviews for the place looked good, so why not try the “world famous” chicken fried steak? It was, in a word, bad. It was plain, soggy, tasteless and completely inedible. This is what I had been waiting for having sat on a plane for nearly four hours and waiting for my stomach to catch up with the local time?

Thinking that somehow I might be expecting too much, I turned to the small mound of mashed potatoes slathered in white gravy sitting next to the steak. Again, it was a vanilla mass of chewy goo. I looked around and saw that everyone else was ordering burgers or salads, so that should have been my first clue as to the “famous” part of this food order.When the waiter came around again (he seemed too busy to notice a solitary guest in his area and actually topped off my Sprite with water) I told him that I couldn’t eat the dinner and that I’d like to order something else. Puzzled, he scurried off and appeared again with a menu. The moment it dropped onto the table he evaporated and he was not to be seen again for about 15 minutes. Taking a chance, I ordered the second mistake of the evening: the hickory burger. I made it clear to the waiter when he finally arrived that I wanted something that could be done relatively quickly since it was now within one hour of their closing time. He said this would be no problem, then disappeared again into the wind.

Nearly 20 minutes would pass before I would see him again, and when he did arrive he looked at me and seemed puzzled. Oh, he said, you don’t have your dinner do you? I didn’t answer, but instead chose to stare back at him with a look that indicated my displeasure for sitting nearly an hour in a restaurant with next to nothing to show for it. Eventually he did materialize with the so-called burger, but again I was met with a mass of utterly un-taste-worthy food. And by this statement I mean literally it had no taste. I could be chewing on chicken, pork, bark, leaves; it really had no taste or texture beyond the hickory sauce. The final insult was delivered by the fries which were so soggy and unappetizing as to be all but skipped over.

My point in all of this ranting is this: when faced with the option of choosing hotel food, a predictable but lame chain restaurant, or a quirky local establishment pick anything but the local establishment if they have the words “world famous” anywhere in their menu. Because frankly, I’ve been to some pretty distant parts of the world and I can’t tell how this food offering was anything close to famous.