2014 Fashion Show by Kavita

Style Trendsetters – a Fashion Blog

Style Trendsetters is a new blog that I started recently to showcase fashion tips and views by Kavita Thulasidas, who enjoys a celebrity status in the fashion circles in Singapore and India. The name “Style Trendsetters” comes from the tag line of Kavita’s extremely popular fashion boutique, Stylemart. They are considered the trendsetters of Indian fashion in Singapore.

Style Trendsetters

Although started only a month ago, Style Trendsetters already has a readership rivaling Unreal Blog, which has been around for ages. I guess what they told me was true — you have to focus on one niche topic to do well in blogging. But I have never been big on conventional wisdom (or why would I keep insisting that reality is unreal?) So Unreal Blog is going to stay defocused to the max, as opposed to Kavita’s blog, which will be fiercely focused on fashion and style. Besides, Kavita has a light tone in her writing, encouraging reader engagement, while my tone in Unreal Blog is anything but. Even my humor is of a serious kind. I wonder if I’m a bit pretentious. Apart from the linguistic qualities, Kavita is an undisputed authority in her field of high fashion, while I tend to dabble in far too many things. Much like my blog, in fact. I guess our blogs reflect our personalities.

Do visit Style Trendsetters, especially if you are interested in fashion, models and catwalk, and leave a note.

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Death and Grief

Some recent events have prompted me to revisit this uncomfortable topic — why do we grieve when someone dies?

Most religions tell us that the departed, if they were good in life, end up in a better place. So grieving doesn’t make sense. If the departed were bad, we wouldn’t grieve any way.

Even if you are not religious, and do not believe in an eternal soul, death cannot be a bad thing for the dead, for they feel nothing, because they do not exist, which is the definition of death.

One reason for grieving may be that you will miss the departed, and that is painful. Let’s examine this possible reason with the help of a thought experiment. (Or rather, Prof Shelly Kagan in his lectures on the Philosophy of Death examined it that way.) Let’s say you have a close friend who is going on a space mission to the nearest star. He will not return in the next hundred years, and there is no chance at all that you will be able to see him again. Let’s also say that because of the nature of the mission, it will be impossible to communicate with your friend after lift off. You will sorely miss your friend. To all intents and purposes, your friend is as good as dead to you. Or is he? Let’s say thirty seconds after lift off, something goes terribly wrong and the spaceship explodes and your friend dies. To you, is it the same as the friend continuing his space mission? If your missing him was the only reason, it should be. I think it is pretty obvious that death is worse than a permanent farewell. Why? What is the extra badness that death adds to the equation?

That brings us to the next common reason for the badness of death. Your friend dying in a spaceship explosion is worse than him leaving forever because he will be missing out on all the great things he could have done if he were alive. If somebody dies at the age of 70, it is bad because he could have lived for another 20 years; he is missing out on 20 years of life. If he dies at the age of 50, it is worse because he is missing out on 40 years. Dying at the age of ten or one would be horrible because they would be missing out on their whole life. Continuing that logic, not being born at all should be really really bad. How about not even being conceived? Shouldn’t that be worse still? But we don’t feel any grief for the trillions of potential lives (from all the unfertilized eggs and lost sperms) that never got started. I think there is a logical inconsistency in this “missing-out-on-life” reason for the badness of death. It cannot be the real reason, or we would be grieving for all the potential lives that never happened.

Another possible reason is that we know that the departed may have gone through a lot of pain and fear. I thought of it and worried about it during my own personal grieving. But I have to say that there was something beyond that concern, way beyond, in my grief. Now I think I know what it is. You see, when someone (anyone) dies, a bit of you dies with him. If that person was a large part of your life (like your parent, or your spouse), it is a large bit of you that dies, for all the memories you created in him, all the projections of your soul in his consciousness, are also gone with him. The space you occupy in this universe becomes that much smaller. Your grief is not for the departed. Your grief is for yourself because what is departed really is a bit of yourself.

This is probably what Hemingway meant when he penned the title, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” going by the epigraph of the book where he quoted John Donne:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

Photo by SIRHENRYB.is ****the dreamer**** cc

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Fields Medal – First Woman

Just read the news that Prof Maryam Mirzakhani won the prestigious Fields medal (the equivalent of Nobel prize in Mathematics). She is the first woman to ever win the prize. First of all, congratulations to her. Coming from an Iranian background, being a woman, I’m sure it must have been hard for her.

Women seem to have difficulties in quantitative fields — we see this everywhere. The general belief is that compared to men, women are more creative and intuitive, but less analytical. They take in the world as a whole. Theirs is a romantic understanding, concentrating on the immediate appearance and values of the objects around them. This mode of understanding is to be contrasted with the analytic, classical understanding of men, who seem to mentally divide things in smaller, manageable chunks and drill down to the underlying forms to come to grip with world around them. In giving this description, I’m trying to paraphrase what Richard Pirsig said in the opening chapters of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The analytic mode of understanding lends itself better to quantitative fields like mathematics, and hence the paucity of brilliance among female mathematicians.

Stating the reason that way doesn’t really explain anything. We have to wonder where this gender difference comes from. Again, the common wisdom is that men and women are wired differently in their brains. Women are considered more right-brained and men, more left-brained. The right hemisphere of the brain is the origin of creative and intuitive thinking while the left side is supposed to handle linear, analytical (and boring) thinking. Here is a simple quiz that can determine whether you are right or left-brained. Hope you get the “right” answer. If the quiz says you are left-brained, you are likely to be in a mathematical field, like programming, finance, accounting, physics, engineering etc. And you are likely to be a man. If you are lucky enough to be right-brained, you are likely to be successful in a creative field. Do leave a note to say how it worked out for you. (In fact, I used the very same quiz to determine whether you believe in God!)

All the statements in the quiz above are meant to be true of a left-brained person. So if you get close to 100% in your score (or as the rate, if you didn’t actually finish the quiz), you are hopelessly left-brained, and probably in a technical field. If you find yourself at the other end of the spectrum, you are creative and intuitive, but a Fields medal is probably out of the question for you.

So, this is the nature part of the nature-nurture equation of our aptitude for mathematics. Of late, I feel that nurture has a lot more do with what we end up doing. Parents exert a scarily large influence on what their kids become and do with their lives. I’m speaking from personal experience. My daughter used to be of an arty-farty kind, spending all her time sketching, photographing and painting, with a career path pretty much set as a fashion designer like her mom. After my retirement last year, I started spending a lot of time with her, and something totally weird started happening. She topped her school in physics, and started seeing art as a chore rather than leisure. Her favorite subject has now become math. I really thought she was right-brained. Did she change into a left-brain being because of me? Is my left brain so strong that it can actually polarize the brains around me? God, I hope not!

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Robin Williams

I was as shocked as everybody else when I heard the news of Robin Williams’s apparent suicide. I wanted to write something about it because I am ardent fan of his work. In fact, I’m a fan of all those talented people who can make others laugh, starting from Ted Danson of Cheers to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, and all the f.r.i.e.n.d.s in between.

It also gets me thinking. Most of us want to be rich and famous. But money and fame don’t seem to be enough to keep anybody happy. Why is that? As usual, I have a theory about it. In fact, I have two. I will share both with you, but keep in mind that these are merely the theories of an unreal blogger, nothing more. The theories notwithstanding, right now, I just feel profoundly sad, almost as though Robin Williams was somebody I knew and cared about. It is silly, of course, but something about his age (and how uncomfortably close it is to mine), the suddenness of his death, and the fact that he made us laugh out loud, makes his parting something of a personal loss.

Why do celebrities have a hard time staying happy? We have seen a long line of celebrities with substance-abuse problems and taking their own lives in despair. The incidence of depression seems to be more prevalent among them than the rest of us. They say it is probably the pressure of being a celebrity, the unrelenting media attention, paparazzi and whatnot. But I wonder… I feel as though if the media suddenly stopped paying attention to them, the celebrities would be even more depressed. I think the depression comes from something more fundamental. Celebrities are geniuses in their own right — otherwise they wouldn’t be celebrities. Geniuses, by definition, are away from the norm, from the rest of us. Their brains are wired differently. Then it seems likely that they would be more prone to psychological extremes; after all, extremes are also defined as being away from the norm. This could be one reason why so many of them end up being depressed. It’s possible that an equal number of them are euphoric, but that doesn’t make headlines, does it? Coming to think of it, I already wrote something like this before.

The second theory is that fame and money, while giving you a lot, might rob you of something very fundamental — your animalistic instinct for a strife. Once you are well off, you don’t face the daily struggle for survival. This may sound like a great thing, and I’m pretty sure it is. But I think we all have this need to fight, and these innate hunter-gatherer instincts are written in the recesses of our genes. Once the expression of this instinct is eliminated from our lives, we do go through some amount of stress, or a feeling of being lost. Perhaps in celebrities, with all their resources, this feeling is stronger than in among the rest of us loafers. Is that what is manifesting itself as depression and substance abuse?

Photo by theglobalpanorama

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Back to Blogging

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing much in the last couple of months. It was because of one of my regularly scheduled writer’s blocks. When I’m blocked, I usually find other things to do, and convince myself that they are really important and urgent. One such thing this time around was a revamping of my blog backend. The original design was dated, and it really needed an upgrade. Or so I told myself and worked on it for a few weeks. If you are reading this post, you can see the fruits of my labor. And I hope you like it.

I was rather proud of my handiwork — until I showed it off to a collaborator. Or rather, a would-have-been collaborator. He was the big boss of one of those Internet startups in the advertising space, trying to reach the user base of my popular WordPress plugins. Our discussion wasn’t going well, and he wanted see my blog, all revamped and modernized. He took one look (about five seconds) and shot it down without even a second look, and told me that it was second-grade. I begged to differ, and I certainly hope you would too. You see, this guy was trying to shoot down my work to get an upper hand in the collaboration negotiations. It didn’t work, and the collaboration never really happened.

This is how the whole thing panned out. An illustrious marketing guy from the said startup contacts me one morning and tells me that I stand to make a ridiculously large amount of money by way of affiliate commissions if I promote their advertising product. I have heard such promises before, but I say to myself, sure, why not? But before doing anything, I decide to try out their product, and find that the returns from their product are, well, ridiculously small. The commission, which is a fraction of the returns, would be even smaller. So I offer them a different deal — a monthly paid banner placement model. They get all upset and try to badger me (and badmouthing my blog was part of that badgering effort), but finally come up with an offer which was about 3% of their original promise. Now, I’m not greedy, so I counter with 6%. I haven’t heard from them yet, and I don’t think I will.

If you make a living on the Internet, you have to be very careful about who you partner with. I don’t actually make a living (I’m retired), so I can afford to turn down such bogus affiliate offers and probe them with potentially smaller returns. I know that there are bloggers out there who make handsome rewards from their popular blogs and websites through such programs. But be careful — your assets may be worth quite a bit more than you think.

Photo by cambodia4kidsorg

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Three Parrots

Once upon a time in India, there were three parrots. They were for sale. A prospective buyer was interested.

“How much is that parrot?” asked he, pointing to the first one.

“3000 rupees.”

“That’s pretty steep. What’s so special about it?”

“Well, it can speak Hindi.”

The prospective buyer was impressed, but wanted a better deal. So he probed, “How much for the second one?”

“5000 rupees.”

“What? Why?”

“It speaks Hindi and English.”

Thoroughly impressed and interested by now, he tried again. “How about the third one?”

“10000 rupees,” was the reply.

“Wow! How many languages does it speak?” asked the buyer.

“None. It doesn’t say a word.”

“Well, then. It must do some wonderful tricks. What can it do?”

“Nothing. It just sits there.”

Outraged, the buyer asked, “Why are you asking for 10000 rupees for it then?”

“Well, the other two parrots call it ‘Boss’,” explained the seller.

Moral of the story: All parrots are birdbrains. Why would they be for sale otherwise?

Photo by mybulldog

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High Performance Blogs and Websites

Do you have a website or a blog and feel that it is getting bogged down with heavy traffic? First of all, congratulations — it is one of those problems that webmasters and bloggers would love to have. But how would you solve it? The first thing to do is to enable PHP acceleration, if your site/blog is PHP based. Although it should be straightforward (in theory), it might take a while to get it right. You know what they say — In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not. Acceleration, however, is a low-hanging fruit, and will go a long way in solving your problems.

Once you have extracted all the mileage out of the accelerator solution, it is time to incorporate a Content Delivery Network or CDN. What a CDN does is to serve all your static files (images, style sheets, javascript files, and even cached blog pages) from a network of servers other than your own. These servers are strategically placed around the continent (and around the globe) so that your readers receive the content from a location geographically close to him. In addition to reducing the latency due to distance, CDN also helps you by reducing the load on your server.

If you have the technical know-how and time to spare, you can actually do it the hard way, by defining a distribution, origin source and setting up the DNS records pointing to something like Amazon CloudFront. If it sounds like too daunting a task, go with the right provider who will make it both cheap and easy. The daunting solution will work best for those who consider themselves semi-hackers or developers. The easier option is to take up something like MaxCDN. They provide round the clock expert support as well as faster service in continental US. They can also work out to be cheaper at the right volume. [See the comparison]

MaxCDN Content Delivery Network

Regardless of which route you decide to take, a CDN works by “pulling” the static files from the specified location, caching them across the globe, and serving your readers from the closest location. When you choose a CDN provider, you have to compare features and cost. For instance, if you are a developer, it may become important to you to be able to refresh (“invalidate”) the cache on demand, which is quite a bit easier (and cheaper) on MaxCDN compared to CloudFront. Also of interest is the fact that MaxCDN gives you detailed statistics about your CDN usage.

In short, if you are a professional blogger and webmaster, consider MaxCDN as your content delivery solution. It will significantly improve the performance of your popular sites, and enhance end user experience.

Note that the links to MaxCDN on this post are affiliate links.

Photo by Yordie Sands

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Learn to Play Blackjack

Here is an online Blackjack game that will teach you how to play it. If you don’t know what to do, just ask the program!

Blackjack Game

How The Game is Played

You play agains the dealer with the objective of beating him by having a higher card total without going over 21. The dealer deals initially two cards face up to each player, and two to himself, with one card face up and other down. Based on the open card, you have to decide whether to draw another card (hit) or decline (stand). Once all the players have made their play, the dealer plays according to preset rules: he has to draw until he reaches 17, after which he has to stand.

Card Values

The suits are irrelevant to the card values. All numbered cards (meaning 2 to 10 any suit) have the face value. All picture cards (Jack, Queen, King) have a value of ten. An Ace can be counted as 1 or 11.

Blackjack Lingo

Blackjack: an Ace and a card worth 10 points (21 total)
Hole: the dealer’s card that is face down
Hit: draw another card
Stand: take no more cards
Bust = going over 21

Etiquette

  • Players place bets by putting the desired number of chips in the circle in front of their seat.
  • The dealer deals two cards face up to each player. The dealer receives one card face up and one face down.
  • The dealer asks each player, in turn, whether they want to hit or stand. ­ Base your decision on the assumption that the dealer has a card worth 10 points in the hole.
  • Indicate that you want a hit by tapping the table or making a motion to beckon another card (as if motioning someone to “come on back”). Continue until you desire no more cards.
  • If you don’t want a hit (or are finished hitting), indicate so by waving your hand back and forth face down over your cards.
  • Once all players have made their decisions, the dealer reveals his hole card and hits or stands as appropriate.
  • Payouts are issued based on the outcome.

Winning and Payouts

If your total is higher than the dealer’s (or if the dealer busts), you win.

  • If you get Blackjack, the dealer pays you 3 to 2.
  • If you and the dealer both get Blackjack, it is a push and no chips are given or taken away.
  • If you have a higher total than the dealer (or the dealer busts), the deale matches the amount of your chips.
  • If you have a lower total than the dealer (or you bust), the dealer takes your chips.

Doubling Down: You are allowed to double your bet after receiving your first two cards. Yo do this by placing the additional chips next to your original bet. If you decide to do this, you receive only one additional card.
Splitting: If you receive two cards of the same number, you can split them into two separate hands. Do this by placing another equal bet alongside your first bet. The dealer will separate your cards and give you an additional card to make each one a complete hand by itself. You will then play each hand separately as you normally would.
Insurance: If the dealer’s face up card is an ace, he will offer players the option of buying insurance. If you choose to do so you can then wager half your original bet (in addition to it) that the dealer does have Blackjack. If he does, your insurance is paid 2 to 1 but your original bet is lost (meaning you break even for the hand). If he does not have Blackjack, you lose you insurance.
Even Money: If you have Blackjack and the dealer has an ace showing, the dealer will offer you even money for your Blackjack (instead of 3 to 2). If you do not take it and the dealer also has Blackjack, you will have a push just like normal.


More Info
 
OK, got it
BLACKJACK PAYS 3 TO 1
DEALER STANDS ON ON ALL 17
What should I do?
Hit
Stand
Your Bet
0
+
-
Available Funds
500
How to Play Blackjack

This post hopefully teaches you sound strategies in playing Blackjack. But you should know that even with the soundest of strategies, Blackjack is a losing game. The house always holds a small edge. The best any strategy can do for you is to increase your staying power — the time it takes you to lose your shirt. So don’t play it to make a living. But, if you do have a couple of hundred dollars to lose, and want to have a grand time, Blackjack is the way to go. Having said that, I do believe that there is a strategy based on discipline and betting patterns that may make you some money. I tried it twice (once on a cruise and once in Monte Carlo) and walked away with some cash. I’m trying to recreate it as a computer simulation (a Monte Carlo, if you will). If I succeed, I will definitely post the strategy or sell it here on my blog.

Photo by Images_of_Money

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Instant Water Heater

My primary degree is in engineering of the electric/electronics variety, which is why I can fix LED lights, for instance. I suspect an engineering degree gives you more of a theoretical understanding rather than practical knowledge. I mean, I’m no electrician. At times, I take on projects where I may have been better advised to call an electrician.

Recently, our maid’s instant water heater died, and some action on my part was indicated. Though an engineer, I have been in the corporate scene long enough to know that the right response to any action item during a meeting is, “May be by next Tuesday.” So I asked the maid to use my mother-in-law’s bathroom, thinking that I could postpone this issue to one of the future Tuesdays. But the maid, probably bound by some sacred ethical covenants of her profession, refused to do that. At that point, I should have called the electrician. But I foolishly decided to take a look at the prima facie evidence. The switch looked fine, with its indicator light coming on as expected, but the water heater remained intransigent.

Knowing, theoretically, that the most likely point of failure was in the heater, I decided to focus my formidable intellect on it. It turned out that the darned thing was so neatly installed by the electrician (with insufficient theory, I bet) that it was impossible to even open it. A closer inspection revealed a tiny screw near the bottom, which looked promising. But I didn’t have a screwdriver handy right then (when I was on the ladder, I mean). Then again, what was there to see? What else could be wrong?

Once I diagnosed the problem using the sheer power of pure intellect, I used the second lesson I learned during my corporate years — transference. I called my wife and informed her that she needed to get a water heater; her commute route ran close enough to a bunch of appliance stores, and by arguments of proximity and convenience, she was much better placed to get it. Furthermore, I would do the installation myself, and that gave me the edge in the argument of division of labor as well. But my wife, much better schooled in the corporate games, promptly skipped the country thereby nullifying my proximity and convenience advantages. I should have called the electrician then, I can see clearly now in hindsight.

An engineer is nothing if not resourceful. If we can save a trip to the local mall or the appliance shop using eBay and the Internet, why wouldn’t we? I know this statement also nullifies proximity and convenience arguments, but know this — no action is always better than even convenient action, and the proximity argument still applies, as long as it can save an action item. I ordered the heater online, and they delivered it in about five minutes. These guys need to take a chill pill. Seriously.

Anyway, I ignored the box for as long as possible. Finally, I located the elusive screwdriver and dismantled the broken heater. It turned out to be remarkably easy to install the new one. The only issue was in lining up the front panel knobs with the internals of the heater. It took me a while, but I finally managed it, The installation wasn’t as sturdy as the electrician’s, but its theory was clearly superior. Then came the cutover process and user acceptance tests. The switch clicked on, with the bright red pilot light indicating that all was well with the world. The faucet opened, and water ran nicely and in copious quantities. But it ran cold.

An engineer is seldom flummoxed by a hundred dollar (plus shipping and handling) water heater. Not for long anyways. No, he focusses his sheer and pure intellect on the next possible solution, and like hot knife through butter — nay, like high-power laser though butter –it invariably takes him to the bottom of the problem at hand. Sure enough, my laser-guided problem solving methodology led me to the culprit – the switch. It was the only other moving element in the system, the only other point of failure, the villain. It got power because its light came on. It didn’t send power because the water heater didn’t work. What could be more obvious? The only question was, really, where to get the replacement switch from. Local mall or eBay? As I was formulating a general plan of action to procure the afore-mentioned switch, it occurred to me — what if this point of failure didn’t fail either? We engineers, we learn from our experience, you see. We are logical. We are trained in abstract lateral thinking. If the most likely point of failure didn’t fail, the second most likely point is even less likely to fail — ergo, the third most likely point is in fact the most likely one. Doesn’t make sense to you? Don’t feel bad; it takes years of rigorous training to follow such intricate logic. To be fair, this lateral logic came to me after I tested the switch and found it to be working fine.

Although it meant I had to take off the carefully aligned front panel of the water heater, I did some improvised continuity tests and found the power cable, the least likely point of failure, had in fact failed. Another hour of blood, sweat and tears, and the battle — nay, the great war — against the water heater was finally won. True, an electrician may have checked the incoming power before dismantling the old heater. True, there was no need to spend $100 (plus S & H) on a new heater. But the greatness of a struggle is not often counted in dollars and cents. No, its glory transcends mere profit and loss — mundane, prosaic, vulgar even, profit and loss, how dare you? It is all about the journey, not the destination. It is about living in the present, it is about experiences, life’s lessons. (If you can think of any other vaguely applicable platitudes, please leave a comment. It will really help me out.)

As all great stories, this one also has a moral. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” as our fellow logician, Mr. Holmes put it. In other words, eliminate the theory and call the electrician.

Photo by VeloBusDriver

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Sad Movies

I found something weird. People seem to like sad movies — tear-jerkers. But nobody likes to be sad. I mean, you watch great tragedies with genuine sadness, and then go around saying, “What a great movie!” If whatever happened in the movie really happened to you or somebody you knew, you wouldn’t say, “Wow, great!” Why is that?

I think a good answer is that such depictions in movies let you experience the emotional intensity with no immediate physical (or even emotional) danger. If you were actually on the Titanic, you would at least have taken a cold dip even if you survived. But watching Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio battle for their lives probably lets you experience their fear and pain from the comfort of your armchair, with popcorn and soda to intensify the feeling.

I have a similar morbid fascination with natural disasters. I don’t mean to trivialize the human trauma caused by events like tsunamis and earthquakes, but I cannot help watching the movies and documentaries over and over. Volcanos are my favorite though. Visiting a live one is one of the things on my list of things to do before I die. If it is a very active volcano, I guess it will have to be the last thing on the list. I think in my case, the fascination goes beyond the safety associated with movies; I suspect I actually want to see the real thing, and don’t mind a bit of physical harm. The only downside I can see is that the real experience may not be as good as the movies. I mean, say I am in a tsunami. I say to myself, cool, I get to see a real one. But then, I may get hit by a pole or a plank or some other debris in the first five seconds and get knocked out cold. What’s the point in kicking the bucket in a natural disaster if you don’t even get to see the show?

I wonder whether this kind of fascination extends to people who like horror movies. Would they really want to be in a haunted house with Freddie Crugers and other slashers running amuck? Or see creepy girls crawling out of their television sets? Luckily, I’m not a horror movie buff, and I don’t have to find out.