Monthly Archives: August 2009

The 10 Worst Lunch Boxes Ever

Written by Teague Bohlen

?Every kid knew it: lunchboxes meant something. And it wasn’t just that you were a fan of whatever it was that you sported on your lunchtime luggage. It was your proclamation of identity. A window into your third-grade, paste-eating soul.

So the question was this: with what are you aligning yourself? Star Wars? Marvel Comics? Dukes of Hazzard? Care Bears? Muppets? Pele? They all made a statement — especially the bad ones, the thoughtless ones, the downright inappropriate ones. So, here, the 10 Worst Lunchboxes Ever, and what they said about the kids who carried them.

10. Disco


What it says: “You might think this is a lame lunchbox now, but just wait until you’re a gay kitsch-collector in the late 1990s.”

9. Wags and Whiskers


What it says: “”This dog is obviously being abused, and this kitty is silently pleading you to help, help for the love of god. But you can’t, because it’s my lunchbox.”

8. Junior Nurse


What it says: “I’m either very into entering the medical profession someday, or I really like playing doctor. Want to meet me behind the gym after school to find out which?”

7. Laugh-In


What it says: “Hey, here’s a show my parents watch that I don’t understand! Because I’m six.”

6. Pro Sports/Campus Queen


What they say: “My mom has no clue what I actually like, but thinks that this looks like a generic idea of what I might enjoy based on clichéd gender roles and utilizing an early crude form of clip art.”

5. Rambo


What it says: “Nothing is over! Nothing! Well, except maybe that point in my childhood where it’s still appropriate for me to still be carrying a lunchbox.”

4. Bee Gees


What it says: “What I really wanted was a DISCO lunchbox.”

3. Exciting World of Metrics


What it says: “I don’t get nearly enough math in class, so I enjoy looking at the same conversion-facts all through my lunch hour, too. It’s also fun to count the number of punches I get each day, multiply that by the number of Indian burns, titty twisters, and swirlies I receive, and then tabulate just exactly how much my life sucks on the metric scale.”

2. Hi!


What it says: “Hi! I’ll give you an apple if you’ll touch my belt.”

1. Blank


What it says: “My mom hates me.”

25 Awesome Homeless Guy Signs

Collected by holytaco

Now days, being homeless is more competitive than ever. Only the most clever and creative signs are going to get people to let go of their precious spare change. This makes for some pretty awesome homeless dude signage.

13 Things a Burglar Won’t Tell You

Written by Janice Lieberman

1. Of course I look familiar. I was here just last week cleaning your carpets, painting your shutters, or delivering your new refrigerator.

2. Hey, thanks for letting me use the bathroom when I was working in your yard last week. While I was in there, I unlatched the back window to make my return a little easier.

3. Love those flowers. That tells me you have taste … and taste means there are nice things inside. Those yard toys your kids leave out always make me wonder what type of gaming system they have.

© 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

4. Yes, I really do look for newspapers piled up on the driveway. And I might leave a pizza flyer in your front door to see how long it takes you to remove it.

5. If it snows while you’re out of town, get a neighbor to create car and foot tracks into the house. Virgin drifts in the driveway are a dead giveaway.

6. If decorative glass is part of your front entrance, don’t let your alarm company install the control pad where I can see if it’s set. That makes it too easy.

7. A good security company alarms the window over the sink. And the windows on the second floor, which often access the master bedroom—and your jewelry. It’s not a bad idea to put motion detectors up there too.

8. It’s raining, you’re fumbling with your umbrella, and you forget to lock your door—understandable. But understand this: I don’t take a day off because of bad weather.

9. I always knock first. If you answer, I’ll ask for directions somewhere or offer to clean your gutters. (Don’t take me up on it.)

10. Do you really think I won’t look in your sock drawer? I always check dresser drawers, the bedside table, and the medicine cabinet.

11. Here’s a helpful hint: I almost never go into kids’ rooms.

12. You’re right: I won’t have enough time to break into that safe where you keep your valuables. But if it’s not bolted down, I’ll take it with me.

13. A loud TV or radio can be a better deterrent than the best alarm system. If you’re reluctant to leave your TV on while you’re out of town, you can buy a $35 device that works on a timer and simulates the flickering glow of a real television. (Find it at

Sources: Convicted burglars in North Carolina, Oregon, California, and Kentucky; security consultant Chris McGoey, who runs; and Richard T. Wright, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, who interviewed 105 burglars for his book Burglars on the Job.

Reader’s Digest Contributing Editor Janice Lieberman shared these and more tips on the Today Show and in her blog.

9 Things That Parents Should Know About District 9

Written by Doug Cornelius

district_9_movie_posterDistrict 9 asks us to imagine that a massive interstellar spaceship might show up and park itself over not the usual New York or Washington, D.C., location, but over Johannesburg. The aliens are a cross between humans, insects and crustaceans. Wary earthlings quickly dub them “prawns” and isolate them in the festering shantytown of District 9. Twenty years pass, during which crime and squalor soar in District 9 while humans practice a sort of alien apartheid.

The movie is directed and co-written by the South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and shot in Johannesburg and the New Zealand studios of producer Peter Jackson. (You may remember him as the director of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.) Jackson had originally picked Blomkamp to direct the movie version of Halo.

Will I like it?

District 9 has a great story, action and special effects. The movie also draws a picture of race, military contractors and humanity colliding in a bad way. Using the big test for parents, was it worth getting a babysitter to see the movie? Yes.

Will my kids like it?

It’s Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language. Keep the little geeklets far away. If you let your teenagers see violent action movies, then they would be Ok with this.

Are there any big name actors in the movie?

None. This was a small budget movie. (I heard it cost $30 million to make.) It looks like all of that was put into special effects and action sequences. It seems like little of the budget was spent on camera mounts.

Will I get motion sickness?

Most of movie was shot using handheld cameras. That means lots of jerky movements. I appreciated the visual impact of the camera movements during some sequences. It got stomach wrenching after a while, leaving that giant Slushee uncomfortable in my belly. They really should have spent some of that budget on a few more camera mounts.

But what about Halo?

Blomkamp was originally supposed to direct the big-screen version of the hit game Halo. Jackson was going to produce the movie. That fell apart. District 9 is Blomkamp’s consolation prize for losing the movie. If you want to get an idea of what that might have looked like you can see a short video of a Halo combat sequence that he put together. It’s really good.

Do I need to sit through the credits for some sort of bonus at the end?

As you might expect there is a long list of special effects people in the end credits. It seems like they must have employed half of the population of New Zealand. The ending of the movie leaves you wondering if there might be a little extra coming. But there isn’t anything.

Are there any good trailers?

The trailers were mediocre. The Final Destination – been there, done that. Legion – looks promising with a combination of Tremors and The Seventh Sign. Jennifer’s Body – Megan Fox as an evil demon. Law Abiding Citizen – vigilante torture porn. 9 – promising animated apocalypse movie from Tim Burton, sort of Wall-E meets The Terminator.

What’s the best time for a bathroom break?

There is a short lull after an hour. It comes shortly after a big reveal by an alien and his son. has a recommendation to go after 49 minutes.

Will I want to see it again?

There was a lot going on, with vivid imagery. You will want to see District 9 again. After your stomach settles back down.

Free Tools to Back Up Your Online Accounts

Written by Gina Trapani

Cloud computing means you can store your data in web applications and access it from any browser, anywhere—but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a backup plan. Safeguard your data when a storm’s a-brewing in the cloud with these tools.

Next time your favorite web site is down or you’re locked out of an account, make sure you’ve got the crucial info you need where you can get to it: on your computer.

“But I don’t need backup if my data’s in the cloud,” you say. “Big companies with lots of servers are better at backup than little old me could ever be.” That’s true, but cloud computing does come with risks. Depending on an external service to host, update, and maintain the software you love and the data you need is both the cloud’s advantage and disadvantage: you’re putting your stuff on computers you don’t control at a single point of access (or failure). Companies get shut down or bought, accounts get locked up, servers (and you) go offline. If you store your email, photos, documents, contacts, bookmarks, and journal entries in the cloud, there are easy ways to back up all that information from popular online services to your computer. You know, just in case.

Back Up Your Gmail

Your web-based email account at Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live Mail or elsewhere is probably the place you create, store, and exchange your most important data in the cloud. If your webmail supports POP (and Gmail does out of the box, Yahoo and Windows Live if you pay for their premium service), then “backup” to your computer is simply a matter of downloading new messages on a regular basis. Update: Apparently Windows Live Mail does offer POP for non-premium accounts. Thanks PatriciaBrinston!

Command line geeks who want to automate the process, see how to back up Gmail with fetchmail. Otherwise, you can fire up a desktop email client (like Thunderbird, which stores your mail in standard mbox files) and simply download your messages every month or so. Alternately, check out the previously-mentioned Gmail Backup utility. If you’re willing to fork over a few bucks a month, BackupMyMail supports Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail accounts and also offers a free trial.

Back Up Your Flickr Account

Lots of people who use popular photo-sharing service Flickr simply upload photos already on their hard drive to the web site, so they’ve already got their images on their computer. However, if you post photos from your cellphone to Flickr, or have a local hard drive crash and want to restore your photos from the service, a few utilities will help you do so. Folks comfortable on the command line should check out Dan Benjamin’s FlickrTouchr script. It downloads the original size of all the photos in your Flickr account and saves them to folders based on your set names. FlickrTouchr does not save videos or other photo meta information. Here’s more on how FlickrTouchr works.

For a graphical Flickr backup solution, check out the free and Java-based FlickrEdit app. Browse your photos in FlickrEdit’s interface, check the ones you want to back up, and save them to a folder on your computer using the “Backup selected” button on the bottom right hand side of the window. Unlike FlickrTouchr, FlickrEdit can back up your contacts’ photos, your favorite photos, or any subset of your photos depending on which you choose. It also embeds meta information into the photo’s IPTC header. Unlike FlickrTouchr, you’ve got to manually page through the photos you want backed up from FlickrEdit which can be time-consuming if you have more than a few hundred in your account.

Back Up Your Google Docs

If it’s the documents, spreadsheets, and presentations that are piling up in your Google Docs account that you want backed up, check out the free, Windows-only GDoc Backup (original post). The utility exports all the documents you have to your desktop in one fell swoop, and it does it smartly: it only downloads the document if it doesn’t exist on your computer or has an older date.

Mac and Linux users should check out the geekier Python script, GDataCopier (original post). It requires futzing at the command line, but since it’s a script, you can set it to update your backup copy with new or updated documents on a regular basis with cron and forget it.

Back Up Your Twitter Account

If your tweets are more than just ephemeral toots of the moment, you want a backup copy of them on your computer. Twitter only makes up to 3,200 tweets available for download on a given account, so if you’re approaching that number there’s even more reason to start saving your stuff—because it won’t be available from the Twitter web site proper.

Command line lovers can use this clever method to download their tweet XML via cURL. Alternately, web application Backup My Tweets does just that and lets you download your tweets in HTML, PDF, or JSON format, with a gotcha: you have to tweet about Backup My Tweets in order to use the free trial. We posted about tweet backup solution Tweetake, which outputs your tweets in a CSV file, but be warned: Tweetake requires you enter your Twitter username and password on their site, which isn’t the most secure option the Twitter API offers. (Don’t enter your Twitter password anywhere other than itself; if you do to use a Twitter-related service, change it immediately afterward.) For more Twitter archiving options, check out the social media experts’ picks over at ReadWriteWeb.

Back Up Your Facebook Account

Facebook backup utilities are scant compared to the glut of Twitter apps out there, but Social Safe is an Adobe AIR application that gets the job done. Social Safe costs $3 right now—so not technically free, but also not much more than a fancy cup of coffee—and it backs up your Facebook profile, friends list, photos, and photos that others have tagged with your name. (That last part is especially useful when your high school friends have gotten on the service and added class pictures with you in them.) Social Safe does not, however, back up your Facebook status stream, comments on your updates, or your wall posts, which was pretty disappointing what with it not being free.

Back Up Your Blog (Tumblr, WordPress, and Others)

You put a whole lot of time and effort into keeping up your blog, and you don’t want server downage, a database blow-up, or a host lockout to wipe out your posts. While the best method of backup for your blog depends on what service you use, here are a few options for the biggies.

Tumblr users should check out this handy tumble-log backup utility, which sucked in and spit out 272 of my tumblelog’s posts in a flash. Folks hosting their own WordPress installation should check out the WP-DB-Backup plug-in, which emails you or saves regular backups of your blog’s database. I personally have restored my blog using output from this plug-in, but my fellow editor The How-To Geek had a bad experience with the plug-in. He recommends backing up your web server with rsync and a regular mysqldump command.

If your blog is hosted at Blogger or another service, you can use a web site copying utility to spider its pages and save them as HTML to your computer. For more on how to do that on the Mac or PC, see the previously posted Ask Lifehacker: How Do I Back Up My Blog?.

You can also mirror an entire web site to your hard drive using the hackable command line tool wget. Similarly, a well-formed cURL command can back up your Delicious bookmarks.

Did we miss any of your favorite cloud data backup services? How do you keep control of your important files while still enjoying the benefits of the cloud? Tell us in the comments.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Nine Best Movies

Written by Alex Vo

Hayao Miyazaki‘s last three films (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle) platformed in America to mild success. For his 10th and latest movie, Ponyo (the story of an ocean goldfish and her quest to become human), Disney will be granting it a more confident, nationwide release this Friday. Frankly, the more opportunity America gets to see a Miyazaki movie, the better: they expertly breach multiple genres and fulfill the visual promise of hand-drawn animation. But they also feel deeply personal. Always directing from his own scripts, Miyazaki can take any story and mold it to his likeness, creating across 10 films a thematically consistent, rich and rewarding universe. This week’s Total Recall explores the career of Hayao Miyazaki, animation’s grand auteur.

9. Howl’s Moving Castle

The film begins with a meek hat girl falling in love with a charming wizard and then being transformed into an old woman by a jealous witch. This is Miyazaki’s lowest-rated movie (still insanely high at 86 percent), but let’s not think for a second he’s slipping in his late period. Howl’s Moving Castle is his most challenging work, a patient movie with a purposefully diffused narrative. Even if you’re confused by the plot (and it gets pretty weird in spots), it can be enjoyed for its stunningly baroque artwork and playful sense of mystery and wonder. Richard Nilsen of the Arizona Republic was bewitched: “The world it gives us to live in, for a couple of hours, is pure magic. It is one of those places we might wish never to leave.”

8. The Castle of Cagliostro

The first film in Miyazaki’s three-decade career, The Castle of Cagliostro is essentially a genre movie, an action/noir set in the canon of the long-running manga and anime series, Lupin the III. Miyazaki recreates the hero as a more humane, sympathetic thief than previous incarnations, while retrofitting the film with his more tactile interests: European architecture and creative flying vehicles. And like most genre flicks, production time was extremely limited (only four months!); it uses rough-edged animation that makes the action feel raw and kinetic, with a plot that breathlessly bounds forward. As Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central puts it, Cagliostro is “a light, irreverent slapstick exercise with a healthy share of nifty gadgets and derring-do.”

7. My Neighbor Totoro

Two young girls are transported to the countryside to be closer to their sick, hospitalized mother, and while there they meet several fantastical woodland spirits. And that’s about it. In My Neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki frees himself from the heavy plotting presumed necessary to hold children’s attention. Instead, he enthralls viewers young and old animating the smaller moments of everyday life, hoping the audience shares his (and his two protagonists’) curiosity in exploring their world. Most movies don’t treat adults with this much respect; seeing it in a movie designed for kids is simply remarkable. Kevin Carr of 7M Pictures calls it “a warm and friendly story that just made me feel good after watching it.”

6. Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky is set on an alternative version of Earth where all of mankind’s cities once were skybound and have long since crashed to Earth. Save for one: Laputa. Its existence has entered into legend but a young boy continues to believe and his encounters a girl with a mysterious crystal sends them both onto an adventure towards its location. Light in theme and symbolism compared to Miyazaki’s other movies, Castle in the Sky is his most accessible effort: a nimble, entertaining piece of work pieced together with the manic energy of a Saturday morning serial. Channel 4 agrees: “Miyazaki’s flying contraptions are a sight to behold, rivaled only by the film’s epic sweep and nonstop parade of action set-pieces.”

5. Princess Mononoke

A cursed warrior-prince falls in love with a girl raised by wolves who has vowed to protect her forest (and the spirits within) from a local mining colony. After a long string of lighter fare in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, Miyazaki comes roaring back with Princess Mononoke: a startlingly violent, angry treatise on Miyazaki’s strongest obsession (man’s effect on natural ecology), with a finale that borders on pessimistic. If Terrence Malick and John Woo combined forces to make a cartoon, you’d get something like this. “It’s big and breathtaking, and it knows how to use music and silence in enthralling ways that make the characters in our animated films seem like empty-headed chatterboxes,” states Peter Brunette of

4. Spirited Away

Having explored virtually every timeless aspect of youth across his long career, for Oscar-winning Spirited Away, Miyazaki tackles a contemporary dilemma: early disillusionment and cynicism. A spoiled ten-year old girl is transported out of modern Japan, into a bathhouse that hosts a revolving number of spirits and monsters where she must pass several tests in order to return home. Every moment in the bathhouse teems with detail and characters, representing stunning visual maturation for Miyazaki that he would carry over into Howl’s Moving Castle. Spirited Away “is a trip, in the literal, metaphorical and indeed lysergic senses of that word” states Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir.

3. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Upon release, Miyazaki’s second film was infamously chopped up, dubbed, and renamed Warriors of the Wind. It’s become widely available within the past few years and now we can see it for what it was meant to be: a big, imaginative epic, and an early catch-all for Miyazaki’s primary concerns (pacifism, nature, sweeping action, and deeply-characterized female heroes). It’s remarkable that he was able to pin down his general M.O. by the time of his sophomore effort, with the 1980s aesthetic (parts look like Yes album covers) giving the film a stark, ominous presence. Nausicaa “is in some ways a grim and serious film, but it mixes a sweet optimism into its horror-filled lessons,” wrote Tasha Robinson of the A.V. Club.

2. Porco Rosso

Miyazaki’s most romantic movie stars his most decidedly unromantic hero: an Italian Air Force pilot transformed into a cynical anthropomorphic pig. Porco Rosso hangs out inside a remote island in the Adriatic Sea, scuffles with local pirates, and discusses life and love with his would-be romantic interest, a lounge singer named Gina. Set during the years after World War I, Porco Rosso is Miyazaki’s soaring tribute to that period’s adventurous spirit: aerial battles, submarine shootouts, honor-saving duels and fistfights. And it’s his funniest movie to boot. “Animator/fabulist Hayao Miyazaki pays homage to Hollywood’s wartime adventure films in this masterwork built around the adventures of a high-flying pig,” writes Robert Pardi over at TV Guide.

1. Kiki’s Delivery Service

In the world of Miyazaki’s fifth film, witches are real and, at age 13, they ceremoniously leave home to find a town unoccupied by another witch. Teenage witch Kiki, cheery if insecure, settles seaside in a city called Koriko and begins an air courier service. The film is beloved for its warm characters and metaphors on growing up (adolescence drains Kiki of her powers, and it’s a test of courage and faith to get them back), but extra praise should be lavished on its design. Koriko is a lively, bustling amalgamation of several European locations, effectively creating a city as a secondary character. James O’ Ehley, one of the Movie Gurus, muses, “With so much nasty and unpleasant stuff floating around in contemporary culture, something as good-natured as this comes as a surprise.”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Ponyo.

Finally, we leave you this video for the song “On Your Mark” by Chage & Aska, directed by Miyazaki:

5 Things You Don’t Know About IKEA (But Should!)

Written by Mac Carey

ikea2.jpgSo, just how popular is IKEA? It’s estimated that 10% of living Europeans were conceived on an IKEA-produced bed. It’s time you learned a little more about the company, its reclusive owner Ingvar Kamprad (who may or may not be worth more than Bill Gates), and his continuing quest to install flat pack, streamlined fixtures across the seven continents.

1. It All Started With a Car

The inspiration for IKEA’s design philosophy came when taking the legs off of a chair to fit it into a car. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad was so irritated by the experience that he developed the concept of flat pack design. The novel packing method had a twofold appeal: it allowed easier shopping for urban Europeans who depended on public transportation, and it also lowered the company’s shipping costs dramatically. But the store wasn’t an immediate success. IKEA floundered in Sweden for thirty years (THIRTY YEARS!) before finding an international audience.

2. The Company Had Some Dark Secrets

IngvarKamprad.jpgWhile we’ve written about IKEA cloaking itself as a charitable institution, that isn’t the blue and yellow über-store’s only dirty secret. While Kamprad today is known as a frugal billionaire who drives a ‘93 Volvo, eats at middle-class restaurants, and outfits his home entirely in affordable IKEA products, his legacy is tainted by his past involvement with pro-Nazi organizations. Between 1942 and 1945, Kamprad joined, fund-raised, and recruited members for a fascist, Nazi-sympathizing group in Sweden. The news only came out in 1994, when his personal correspondence with fascist Per Engdahl was released to the public. Kamprad immediately apologized for his involvement and claimed it was the biggest regret of his young life. He also wrote to every Jewish employee on his staff to issue a personal apology.

Of course, none of this stopped the information from being a point of controversy when the store first arrived in Israel, but the world seems to have forgiven him. Today IKEA is one of the only international companies to spread to both Israel and Arab countries. In fact, the store is so popular in the Middle East that three people were trampled to death at the store’s 2004 grand opening in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

3. The Dining Tables Were Too Small for a Turkey

The beginnings of IKEA in America were inauspicious, with European compact efficiency conflicting with America’s “bigger is better” creed. In the 1980s, for example, many customers bought vases, mistaking them for water glasses. They were also wary of a dining room table that couldn’t hold the girth of a full size Thanksgiving turkey. IKEA’s designers only changed their mindset in how they approached American design after the head of US operations made a stunt of it: He handed out t-shirts to Swedish designers that declared “size matters.” They apparently got the message.

4. The IKEA Catalogue Is Bigger Than the Bible


The IKEA catalogue was and is the company’s greatest weapon in its arsenal. A 300-page missionary text, it goes out to over 180 million people in 27 different languages. Each year, there are more copies of the IKEA catalogue printed than the Bible. A bit of a cult following has also developed around the catalogues, with earnest readers on the lookout for hidden messages in the pictures, such as running references to Mickey Mouse and weird, obscure books on the bookshelves.

5. It’s a Hipster Hangout

Despite early stumbles in America, twenty years later, the store has so ingrained itself into our society that a trend amongst urban hipsters is to host dinner parties at the stores. A meal of lingonberry jam and meatballs at the cafeteria for the host and guests, and the living room displays make perfect venues for a round of Taboo and Pictionary. A blog posting chronicling the first party in Sacramento led to a string of copycats across the country. So far, IKEA management doesn’t seem to be complaining.