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March 28, 2002

Crap2Storage

You a should give me a lot of money, because I have an absolutely fabulous idea for a business. Now, I know the heyday of Venture Capital is pretty much over, but you should nonetheless invest heavily in this scheme. Why? Because unlike the multitude of hare-brained, half-baked, poorly-thought-out ideas that swarmed yesteryear like stray cats on a dumpster full of albacore, this particular idea absolutely cannot fail!

It's called: Crap2Storage.com. See? You love it already.

Ask yourself: what's the typical lifecycle of Crap in the United States? (And you know what I mean by Crap: Yoga videos, bread makers, double matted art prints of cheetahs, musical picture frames ... all that stuff that you see on tv or glimpse on a website or spot in a catalog or find in the checkout lane of a supermarket and, without thinking, buy.) Well, I'll tell you what happens to this stuff. It arrives at your home, and you set it on a kitchen counter, and then a month later you put it in a drawer or closet, and then seventeen years later you haul it off to a storage unit. And why shouldn't you? It's the American way.

But what a hassle -- not to mention a waste of space! Unpacking the UPS boxes from Amazon.com is a chore, and taking carload after carload of Crap to your storage unit can really eat away at your valuable time. That's where Crap2Storage.com comes in. Instead of buying that battery-operated self-cleaning litter box directly from the retailer, you will instead place the order with me. I'll then order the item on your behalf, unpack it when it arrives, and drive it directly to your storage unit! No muss, no fuss! Then I'll send you an email letting you know that your brand new six-pack of passionfruit-scented candles are right where they were eventually going to wind up anyhow: at U-Stor. And I'll do it all for a mere $12 per transaction.

Plus, I'll also set up a sister company called Crap2Charity.com for those bleeding-heart types. It will work exactly the same way, except I will take the Crap to local thrift stores.

Please make million-dollar checks out to "Matthew Baldwin." That's "Matthew" with two-Ts.

March 27, 2002

Opposite Day
Bush Declares March 27 'Opposite Day'

President George W. Bush declared March 27 to be National Opposite Day. "For too long, now, 'No' has meant 'no', " Bush said during the nationally televised address. "But today, at long last, 'no' will mean 'yes' ... and 'yes' will mean 'no'."

Furthermore, Bush explained , until midnight all statements would mean their logical opposite. "For example: Saddam Hussein, we're not coming for you!" he announced with a smirk.

Democrats lashed out at the proclamation, calling it 'absurd' and 'paradoxical'. "Just by saying that today is Opposite Day, Bush is, in effect, saying that's it's not Opposite Day," Senator Maria Cantwell pointed out. "If he'd made the announcement yesterday then, yeah, sure, that works. But by saying today is Opposite day .. that's just dumb."

"Or perhaps I say: that's just not dumb." Cantwell asked, rhetorically.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later dismissed the criticism, saying that it "sure doesn't sound like pseudo-intellectual ivory-tower elite-speak to me!" Senate Republicans also supported the President's decision, saying "This is not a great day for America."

Although right-handed, Bush signed the proclamation with his left-hand, which, while kind of in the spirit of things, didn't really make sense to anyone. Afterwards, Bush said his tax cuts were designed to help the impoverished, agreed to campaign finance reform, said that we would see "Middle-East Peace in our lifetimes," and asked Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle "Do you want me to hit you?"

[ link | News]



Lexically Scoped

Yersterday eveing I stayed late at work to finish up a big 'n' complicate perl script I am working on. Then, last night, I had crazy dreams in perl. In one I wanted to tell someone my name, but everytime I tried I would get an error because I had not declared my $name and it was therefore not yet lexically scoped.


Bonus: Calculate your Geek Quotient! Check all that apply.
I can relate to staying late at work to finish a program
I can relate to dreaming in a programming language
I know what lexically scoped means
Upon reading the above post I felt no urge to find you and beat you up
I checked the source code of this document to see if these checkboxes really serve any function
I have a calculator in hand and I am using it to compute my score as I read this
Scoring: Dude, you're a geek and no test is gonna tell you otherwise.

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March 26, 2002

Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Please make me stop watching this. Please?

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March 25, 2002

Books: Word Freak

It takes Stefan Fatsis 114 pages to acknowledge what readers have already come to suspect. "Right now," he writes, "Scrabble is the most important thing in my life." He's got plenty of company. In "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players" Fatsis documents the lives and travails of those for whom Scrabble-playing is a way of life. That alone would make for an interesting read, but what makes "Word Freak" even more compelling is that, well before the midpoint of the book, Fatsis has already joind the ranks of the Scrabble-obsessed.

Competitive Scrabble, it becomes rapidly apparent, is a wholly different game from that which families play on their dining room tables. For one thing, it's always a two-player, head-to-head affair. For another, the World Famous Crossword Game isn't really about words once you reach the upper echelons of play -- it's more about memorization, visualization and the ability to do absolutely astounding anagramation on the fly. Because players aren't required to know the definitions of the words they play, they often make no effort to do so and instead opt to simply memorize the thousands and thousands of letter combinations which just happen to be in an approved dictionary. Really, the "words" could just be string of numerals -- it would all be the same to these guys.

It also becomes clear that the best Scrabble players in the world are not just really good causal players -- like chess grandmasters, these folks are a breed apart. What do you make of a group who, in their free time, hang out in cafes and challenge each other with anagrams. ("What's TRANSMEDIA plus a V?" cries one. "MAIDSERVANTS!" a second replies a few moments latee.) They play and discuss and analyse and ponder Scrabble to the exclusion of just about everything else, using their spare moments to reviews lists of five-letter words and recreate historical Scrabble matches on their computers. Indeed, it's unlikely that Fatsis could have found a more colorful cast of characters in any sport as he found here.

Although I am a board game enthusiast, I do not much care for Scrabble (or word games in general). But, even so, I quite enjoyed this book. Fatsis is a very good writer, and is introspective enough to recognize and report his own strengths, weaknesses and emotional upheavals as he participates in tournaments alongside the masters. At 350 pages the book is perhaps a little overlong given the subject matter, but is generally a fascinating and enjoyable read.

I purchased by copy of Word Freak from Amazon.com.

[ link | Books]



Correction

Correction: In an earlier entry I said that "I bought a house". Actually, I merely convinced a bank to allow me to live in their house. In exchange, I agreed to subsist on Top Ramen, forego movies and never purchase anything more expensive than Pez for a period of thirty years, after which the house will become mine. defective yeti regrets the error.

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March 24, 2002

What tha-?!

Today I bought a house.

Holy shit!

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March 23, 2002

Maxims of Long Distance Running

I ran the Mercer Island Marathon. Here's what I learned.

Ten Maxims of Long Distance Running


  1. People who tell you that the hill you are climbing "ends just around the corner" are filthy liars.
  2. People who stand on the sidelines and yell "Run! Run! should be forced to do so at gunpoint
  3. People who tell you that "it's all downhill from here" are filthy liars.
  4. If you insist on continuing to run while you try and drink your dixie cup of water, you are not only a damned fool but you will shortly be a damp fool.
  5. People who stand at the finish line and yell "Nice try!" to the finishers should be boxed about the head and shoulders.
  6. I'd much rather run a marathon than be the guy who sits at the microphone at the end and reads off the names of the fifty-seven gazillion participants, one by one, as they cross the finish line.
  7. People who stand on the sidelines and yell "All right, stay together!" should be pulled aside and asked what, exactly, they mean by this. They should be asked if they understand that this is a race, and it would be a terribly boring one if everyone "stayed together."
  8. People who stand on the sidelines and yell "You're doin' great! You're lookin' great!" are filthy liars, and doubly so.
  9. This is not what you want to hear from the person behind you:
    Okay, so here's my worst race story. I was in this race in Belgium, and I was totally out of shape so I was stuck at the back of the pack. And running right in front of me was this overweight guy wearing a single-piece flesh-colored Spandex bodysuit. And I couldn't get away from him -- I couldn't run any faster, and if I went any slower I'd be walking. So I just had to look at this guy for mile after mile. And then ... he started to sweat...
  10. People who tell you that they ran the Mercer Island Marathon are filthy liars. (It was actually a half-marathon.)

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March 22, 2002

Marathon Training

Saturday I will be participating in the Mercer Island Marathon. Sunday I will be watching the Academy Awards. One is a true test of endurance, in which only those with exceptional physical and mental stamina will make it to the end. The other involves a lot of running.

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What a Revoltin' Development

Left: Bronze bust of Ronald Reagan, created by Robert Berks and commissioned by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Right: It's Clobberin' Time!!

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Go Read This

My friend Jerry wrote a story, and it was so good that some people gave him money. Go read it.

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March 21, 2002

Academy Awards Quiz

Academy Awards warmup. For each tagline, name the corresponding motion picture which won an Oscar as "Best Picture".
"His Triumph Changed The World Forever."[answer]
"A Nervous Romance."[answer]
"The first casualty of war is innocence."[answer]
"The shadow of this woman darkened their love."[answer]
"... look closer."[answer]
"It's all about women---and their men!"[answer]
"Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."[answer]
"A Thousand Hours of Hell For One Moment of Love!"[answer]
"In memory, love lives forever."[answer]
"His whole life was a million-to-one shot!"[answer]
"All it takes is a little confidence!"[answer]
"The loverliest motion picture of them all!"[answer]

[ link | Movies]



Geeks & Kitties

With the possible exception of grilled cheese sandwiches and barbecue sauce, nuthin' goes together better than geeks and kitties. Link lifted from Cardhouse.

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March 20, 2002

Shareholder Meeting

Let me ask you a question. Say that you were a shareholder in a big corporation -- heck, just to be topical let's call that company "Enron". And let's say that the CEO of this company launched a number of enormous initiatives, projects which would require untold amounts of manpower and money. And I mean "untold" in the literal sense: the CEO will only reveal the names and goals of the initiatives, refusing to tell the shareholders any of the specifics.

Well, that might not be too unusual -- CEOs rarely talk nuts and bolts with each and every person holding stock. But let's further suppose that the CEO won't even tell the corporation's own Board of Directors what the initiatives are all about. He just tells them that he needs lots and lots of money, but refuses to answer any of their questions about how the money will be spent. He insists that they don't need to know.

And, finally, let's say that this corporation is already well in debt, with no sign of profits in sight.

My question: How confident would you be in the value of your shares?

Got your answer?

Good. Now read this.

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Judge Joe Brown

How to win on daytime tv's Judge Joe Brown.

Judge Joe Brown: [to plaintiff] Okay, now let me talk to you for a moment, because, frankly, I think your story has a lot of holes in it. You say that the defendant, here, came over to your house, unprovoked, and broke your nose, so you're seeking $1000 in medical costs. Is that correct?

Plaintiff: Yes, sir.

JJB: Now, originally you told the police that this had happened at his house, right? In his back yard, during a barbecue?

Plaintiff: I never said that. He come over to my house and punched me in the nose. Unprovoked. And that's exactly what I told the police I called.

JJB: You called the police? They say he called them.

Plaintiff: No, sir. I called them.

JJB: The police say that the defendant called them. Furthermore, their report says that you had got drunk at his barbecue and assaulted him, yelling, quote, "my hot dog did not plump when I cooked it!', unquote. And then you hit him in a jaw. I have the x-ray of the defendant's jaw right here in front of me, and it's clearly fractured. Your nose, on the other hand, looks fine to me, despite the fact that this all happened last week.

Plaintiff: That x-ray is of my nose -- the hospital guys must have gotten confused and wrote the wrong name and face-part on it. And those police, they were drunk.

JJB: [shaking head] Your story is simply unbelievable. I'm afraid I have no choice but to rule in favor --

Plaintiff: Wait! I should also mention that the defendant didn't actually punch me, his kid did.

JJB: His kid?!

Plaintiff: Yes, his six year-old son.

JJB: What the --?! [to defendant] You just let your son run wild like that?

Defendant: Yes... wait, what?

JJB: This is America, you know. And in America you not only have to take responsibility for your own actions, but you also have to take responsibility for the action of your children.

Defendant: My children?

JJB: You cannot just let your kids run around wild, punching people in the nose.

Defendant: I, I don't have any children.

JJB: You're not even aware you have a son? What are you, some kinda deadbeat dad?

Defendant: Deadbeat?

JJB: Well, I've heard enough. My verdict is that Mr.Love-em-and-leave-em here must pay the $1000 to the plaintiff, and pay $500 a month in child-support to the wife he abandoned.

Defendant: I'm not married!

JJB: Somehow that doesn't surprise me.

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March 19, 2002

Book Review Barbs

If you are an author and have recently written a bad book, please send me a review copy so that I may use the following Dorthy Parker-esque zingers.

  • Your novel profoundly moved me: thirty pages into it I gave up and opted for a stroll.
  • This book had me overcome with sensation and put tears in my eyes. But, then, paper cuts are always the most painful of wounds.
  • Your skill in word choice is surpassed only by your inability to put them in a coherent order.
  • I was simply unable to put your book down after the third chapter, owing mostly to the fact that I never again picked it up.
  • Your work is a forceful testament to the often overlooked benefits of illiteracy.

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Pollack

Yesterday evening I attended The Pollack/Hodgman Interviews at the Richard Hugo House. The titular "Pollack/Hodgman" were Neal Pollack and John Hodgman, both of whom are affiliated with The Phenomenon That Is McSweeneys. More to the point, Pollack's book The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature has just been published in paperback by Harper Perennial, which means they are flinging him all over the country to do book signing and readings and performances and other such Funny On-Demand events.

This was the conceit of the show: Neal Pollack would be playing the character of "Neal Pollack, the Greatest Living American Writer", an author with countless National Book Awards and Pulitzers and Emmys and so forth, and Hodgman would be playing his former literary agent, who interviews him. Which is to say that Pollack, who has only written one book and has received no awards more prestigious than a pat on the back, would be playing a fictitious character, while John, who really was Pollack's literary agent at some point in the past, would be playing himself. Hilarity would ensue.

Here's what actually happened. First, Mr. Hodgman got on-stage and rambled along amusingly for a spell, reading the first piece he ever had published in McSweeney's (which I cannot find a link to) and threatening to digress into a long discourse on "Lord of the Rings" at any moment. Then the "opening act" came on, young Tommy Wallach, who was so fresh-out-of-high-school that I was prepared to find him thoroughly Not Funny and was surprised to discover that he was Very Funny Indeed. (However, Tommy, if you are reading this, and I'm almost certain that you are: you need to trim that Cat In The Hat Piece by about a third.) Tommy is associated with McSweeney's -- and, by extension, Neal Pollack -- because of this very fine short story he wrote for their publication. When I was Tommy's age I fancied myself as funny as he, but upon reflection I realize that I was not, and for this I resent him.

Tommy was followed by Ana sAsKiA, a performance artist who either did an uncannily accurate rendition of a Bjork song or sang a non-Bjork song in the style of Bjork. Using the word "Bjork" three times in a sentence makes my spellchecker very unhappy.

Finally, the Pollack/Hodgman Interview began (although I am not here using the word "finally" to imply that I did not enjoy the material that proceeded it, because I did). Pollack and Hodgman sat in armchairs and sipped scotch as they spoke, all to further the illusion that Pollack was a highly respectable member of the literati and Hodgman was stolid and rather pretentious literary correspondent. Hodgman had a list of questions (on the subject "How to Write A Novel") and Pollack had nothing, the idea being, apparently, that Hodgman would play straightman and Pollack, in character, would ad-lib hilarious, impromptu replies. I am not sad to report that the two gentlemen failed miserably in adhering to the premise. Try as he might, Pollock could not stick to his "Neal Pollock, Greatest Living American Writer" role, and kept reverting to "Neal Pollock, Amicable Goofball, Who is Frankly Astounded That He Gets Paid to Sit on Stage and Drink Bourbon and, Let's Be Honest, While a Funny Writer, Really Isn't That Great at Improvisional Comedy." Hodgman, on the other hand, who is skilled at ad-libbing and mostly stayed in character, kept trying to keep Pollack on track, all while delivering many of the funniest lines of the night in the dry, monotone voice of a literary snob.

Hodgman [quizzing Neal Pollack, Greatest Living American Writer, on the first lines of famous novels]: Okay, here is your next one. "My name is Hubert Humbert, and I want to have sex with a little girl."

Pollock Uhhh ... Lolita! Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov!

Hodgman No, I'm afraid the correct answer is "Reviving Ophelia" by Mary Pipher, Ph.D

All this made for a show that was certainly funnier than it would have been if things had gone as scripted (or if, indeed, they'd had a script at all). Conducting an interview with The Greatest Living American Writer would have been amusing for a while, but conducting an interview with a guy who had somehow written a book, despite the fact that he couldn't go more than 30 minutes without making a reference to Snoop Dog or attempting (and failing) to make a joke about "Nuclear Viagra," was good for non-stop guffaws. It is no exaggeration to say that I laughed more during this show than I have at anything else in recent memory.

About two-thirds of the way through the performance and well into his fourth scotch, Pollack pointed menacingly at the crowd. "You better not blog about this!" he bellowed. "I don't want to show up on no Google search!"

March 18, 2002

Ted Rall

I used to really enjoy the cartoonist Ted Rall. But these days he seems to be having an increasingly difficult time figuring out where humor ends and where asshollery begins.

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Pictures of the Year

How good are the photographs on the Pictures of the Year International website? So good that I'm going to link to them, despite the fact that Kottke featured them on his homepage and, therefore, I know that you've already seen 'em. That's how good they are.

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Teenage Girls ... On The Bus!

TGOTB1: Hey, I'm goin' to that Sonics Game wit you guys.

TGOTB2 [alarmed]: What?!

TGOTB1 [alarmed that TGOTB2 is alarmed]: What? Uh, I said I'm, uh, going to that Sonics game with you.

TGOTB2: Oh. Oh. Hah, I thought you said you were going to a "Science Thing" with me.

[Both girls laugh with relief now that the misunderstanding has been cleared up.]

TGOTB1: "Science Thing!" Yeah, like I'm going to a "Science Thing". Now yer trippin'!

March 17, 2002

I Am Funny

Dear Editor, Big Seattle Newspaper

Hello, my name is Matthew Baldwin and boy, am I funny. I mention this because Friday I was reading the top half of the front page of your paper through the newspaper machine glass (normally I would buy your fine paper, but right now I am unemployed, see below) and I couldn't help notice that you reported the outcome of one of the NCAA games under the headline "Gone-zaga!" Well, needless to say I had a big laugh over that, and then it occurred to me that this kind of humor reminded me of someone else's. Several hours later I realized whose humor that "Gone-zaga" joke was most like: mine!

Let me give you an example. Last week my boss came into my office to ask me where the completed Benson-Shepard report was, and when I told him that I had forgot all about it and hadn't even started he started to choke on the latte he was drinking. So I said (this is the joke): "Gee boss, you sure sound coughy today!" (Coughy = coffee = latte).

Anyway, my boss (who doesn't have a funny bone in his body .. except his "funny bone"!) "let me go" last Friday, which is why I am now looking for work. And seeing that "Gone-zaga" headline made me realize what job I would be perfect for: Head Pun Headline Writer. Obviously you can't expect some schmoe of a reporter to come up with comedy gold like "Gone-zaga," which is why you need someone to sit around, full-time, and think up puns. That person should be me.

By way of example, here's some headlines I came up with over the weekend:

  • Bush Nominated Appeals Court Judge Not Ripe For The "Pickering"

  • Senate May Get %15 From "Tipper"

  • Military Eb-boa-lient Over Operation Anaconda's Success

  • "Vice" President Putting the "Squeeze" on Iraq

  • New Color-Coded Terrorism Warning System Causes "Hue" and Cry
Well, anyway -- I could go on and on like this (and when you bring me in for an interview I will!) Please let me know when you would like to meet regarding this incredible opportunity to hire me -- I'm just the "Pun-dit" you've been looking for!

Humorously yours,
Matthew Baldwin

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March 15, 2002

Lawsuit at the Bottom

I just ate some vanilla yogurt which boasted "Fruit At The Bottom." Given the recent Wonder Bread verdict I think I have a pretty good case for a class-action false-advertising lawsuit. Drop me a line if you'd like to join.

By the way, I'll soon be launching a second blog devoted entirely to my humorous observations about yogurt. I'll announce it here when it's ready.

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Yates and the Death Penalty

Andrea Yates got Life in prison. While reporting this on CNN, the Headline News anchor had this exchange with the reporter:

Host I understand the sentencing phase of the trial was a bit unusual, in that the prosecution didn't call any witnesses.

Reporter: Yes. The prosecution got the guilty verdict they wanted, and decided not to aggressively pursue the death penalty because they didn't want to appear bloodthirsty.


That last comment seems to be missing a pretty important prepositional phrase: the prosecution didn't want to seem bloodthirsty to whom? The jury?" Having been found guilty, life in prison was the least Yates could get, so why not try and pursuaded them to go for the maximum punishment? And I can't imagine they wouldn't want to look bloodythirsty to the crowd in and around the courtroom, most of whom were not overly sympathetic to Yates' case.

In truth, I suspect the prosecution didn't want to seem bloodthirsty to the American people, and that a lot of folks who are ardently in favor of capital punishment are glad to see Yates get life in prison. Many in Texas and our nation would find the idea of executing a white, mentally unstable woman to be profoundly unsettling. And the less people that think about unfairly the death penalty to applied to different categories of people, the better its chances for continued popularity. Do you think the prosecution would be agonizing over their image if the defendant in the trial had been a black man? I don't. Nor do I think he would have received life in jail.

I'm against the death penalty on principle, but just barely. In high school I was rabidly in favor of it, although I am unable to recall why. Oddly, my conversion to my current position on the issue wasn't a result of my becoming more idealistic, but rather my becoming more cynical: I now have so little confidence on our judicial system ability to prevent the innocent from getting railroaded -- either through error or abuse -- that, to be on the safe side, I think we should avoid any irrevocable acts like execution. I suspect that many folks who were against the death penalty changed their minds when McVeigh's number got called. And I think that's great: what's important isn't so much a person's opinion on an issue like this, but that they care enough to think about it and make a conscience decision. Indeed, perhaps the only good thing to come out of cases like McVeigh's and Yates' is that it give us all an opportunity to reconsider our opinions on crime and punishment. And I think that's exactly what the prosecution in this case is trying to prevent.

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Hebetudinous

How to call someone an idiot without pissing them off.

  • "You speak your mind, and I'm in awe of your nugacity."
  • "Wow, that's an absolutely ingenuous idea!"
  • "I could have given this assignment to any of your coworkers, but your hebetudinous intellect make you a perfect fit for this project."
  • "I can tell by your critical thinking skills that you must come from a fine Sottish heritage."
  • "Come on, you're made of tougher stuff. Grit your teeth and take it like ament!"

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March 14, 2002

Simpsons vs. Dilbert

I recently saw a new episode of The Simpsons for the first time in about a year, and, <low whistle>, it was not funny with a capital Not.

Meanwhile Dilbert, which started in April of 1989, still manages to crack me up at least once a week.

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Games: Don

Don is tricky, and no less so for being extraordinarily simple. The deck contains 30 cards, which are divided in two ways. First, they are divided by number: three cards in each of the denominations 0-9. Secondly, they are divided into six different colors, with five cards in each hue. There's no correlation between these two division (e.g. all the 3's aren't green). Every players starts with 12 chips.

On each turn one or more cards are dealt into the center of the table, and all the players bid, auction-style. After all but one has passed, whomever bid the highest amount takes the cards. This continues until all the cards have been claimed. At the end of the game, players receive points for each color they have cards in: 1 point if they have one card in a color, 3 points if they have two cards in that color, 6 points if they have three cards, 10 points for four and 15 points if they nabbed all five cards of that color. Also, whomever has the most chips at game's end gets a bonus two points.

That's the entire game, and it would be a dull one were it not for two clever and insidious rules. The cards, you'll recall, all have a number from 0-9, and all of the cards that a player owns are displayed face-up in front of him. When a player purchases cards, his bid money goes to the person who owns the most cards showing that amount. So if I win the auction with a bid of 9, the person who has the most 9 cards will get my 9 chips. (In the case of a two-digit bid, only the last digit counts, e.g. a bid of 13 goes to the person with the 3s). If no one has the target number, then the monies are distributed equally amongst the other players. Don, in other words, is a zero-sum, closed-system game: the starting funds (twelve chips per player) is a constant, with chips just being circulated rather than being paid to or taken from a bank.

The second sneaky rule -- and this one is really maddening -- is that, when bidding, you cannot bid an amount equal to any of the cards you own. (Here again it's only the final digit that counts -- if I have a 1 I cannot bid 1, 11, 21, etc.) This restriction, combined with the first rule mentioned above, makes collecting cards a precarious proposition. If you have lots off different numbers you stand to collect on an assortment of different bids, but your own participating in the auction will be hampered. And your opponents will exploit this: if you own a 4, 5 and a 6, you can be certain that the player before you will bid "13," knowing that you'll have to jump all the way to 17 if you want to stay in.

And entire game of Don takes about 20 minutes, and it's simple enough to teach in about four breaths. It has a nominal "Mafia" theme (each color in the deck is said to represent a different district in Chicago), but, really, this is just an abstract but elegant auction and set-collection game. I'll be playing a lot of this one in the coming months. I purchased my copy of Don from Funagain Games.

[ link | Games]


March 13, 2002

Red Cross and 9/11

It's been six months since September 11th, which means that we are seeing a spate of memorials and tributes. It also means that those of us who gave to the Red Cross in the days following the attacks are receiving our first wave of junk mail. I received a solicitation letter two days ago, and a "Red Cross Newsletter" (i.e. another solicitation letter) yesterday.

I usually throw away solicitation letters unopened, but despite recent controversies I still consider the Red Cross to be one of the Good Guys, so I opened the letter I received Monday. Inside was the standard "We need your help!!" plea and SASE, along with an article clipped from a newspaper. The article basically talked about how heroic the Red Cross was, and how lamentable it was that they were perpetually strapped for cash.

About a third of the way through the article I began to wonder where this story had first appeared, and then noticed that it was lacking a byline. In fact, the more I examined the "clipping," the more it became clear that this was not a clipping at all, but just another piece of propaganda printed onto newsprint. They even went so far as to print a portion of a bogus furniture sale ad on the reverse side to further the illusion that it had but cut from an actual paper.

I may give to Red Cross in the future, but it's hard to get enthusiastic about a charity that feels the need to deceive it's contributors.

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Husbandly Blunder

I washed a white towel with a bunch of brightly colored clothing and, to no one's surprise, it came out pink.

Upon discovering this, my wife sighed and said "It's no big deal, but in the future could you at least try and make your husbandly blunders a little less stereotypical?"

March 12, 2002

Fox House Buying Tips

My wife and are are in the process of buying a house. So today, while at the gym, I watched a segment on the FOX News Network in which the host interviewed one of the leading home sellers to get his opinions on home-buying in the current economy. Here's what I learned:

FOX Host Well, let's start from the beginning: is this a good time to be buying a house?

Some House Guy Given the current economic climate in the country, as well as the interest rates and unemployment levels, right now is --

Host -- I'm glad you brought up interest rates. Prospective buyers want to know: are they going to go up? Are they going to go down? What do you think?

Guy If you look at what Alan Greenspan said yesterday and analyse the statistical data from the last six months, it seems clear to me that, in the near future, interest rates are certainly going to go --

Host -- yes, but should people be getting fixed-rate loans or ARMs?

Guy Well, ARMs, or "adjustable-rate mortgages", and Fixed-rate loans are usually comparable, but right now it's clear that the loan you should be getting is a --

Host -- okay, okay, we're running out of time here, so tell any prospective home-buyers out there the single most important thing they should keep in mind as they go out on the market.

Guy Without a doubt the most important --

Host -- of course. Our guest has been Some House Guy. Thank you Mr. Guy.

Guy Thank --

Host This is FOX News.

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Fightin' Whities

Unable to persuade the University of Northern Colorado to abandon an indian mascot that many find offensive, a group of American Indians, Hispanics and Anglos started their own basketball team and adopted, as their mascot, The Fightin' Whities.

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March 11, 2002

Movies: Startup.com and Moulin Rouge

Saw both Startup.com and Moulin Rouge this weekend, and much preferred the former to the latter. Start.com is a documentary about two ambitious young entrepreneurs who decide to start a Internet-based business during the heyday of the "Dotcom revolution". Now, having gone through the dotcom wringer myself (I spent three years at Amazon, starting in 1999), I expected to find little of interested here, but focus of the film isn't on the operation of the business but of the hopes, dreams and schemes of the founders. In fact, the first half of the film takes place even before the company gets off the ground, showing the two guys hustling for VC (Venture Capital) and fantasizing about being billionaires. By the time they finally scrape together the necessary funds and launch their site (the now defunct govworks.com -- uh, I kinda gave away the ending, there), they are already getting trounced by a competitor and at each other's throats.

I don't know what the arrangement was between the founders and the documentarians, but the filmmakers are present at some very personal meetings and critical junctures. But the portrait painted of the two men, while sympathetic, doesn't pull many punches: we not only see them at the top of their game, but also at their most arrogant, irrational and stubborn. It's the focus on the people. and the well-rounded approach at presenting them, that make this one of the best documentary's I've seen in a spell.

Moulin Rouge, on the other hand, I could have done without. Now, I should begin by saying that had I seen it in a crowded theater I would undoubtedly have a much more favorable opinion. But watching it, alone with my wife on a tiny TV screen, the whole thing seems a bit gaudy (which I guess was the point, but still). Despite the fact that the film is set in 1900, the entire story is told via contemporary songs: Madonna, Nirvana, The Beatles, etc. I had known this in advance and the whole thing sounded a little silly to me, but while watching it I found myself ultimately disappointed at how few songs they actually used. Really, if you're going to build a movie around a gimmick like that, better to go whole hog, I say. The remainder of the plot -- which was so dog-eyed that they essentially parody themselves within the film -- was too campy to take seriously and too maudlin to laugh at. And I have long known that I had a violent aversion to any live-action film which employs cartoon sound effects.

I though Moulin Rouge was moderately entertaining, but I'd stop shy of recommending it. But how it got nominated for Best Motion Picture, while Startup.com was overlooked in the category of "Best Documentary" is beyond me.

[ link | Movies]


March 10, 2002

Birthday?

Nah nah nah-nah nah nah.

You say it's your birthday?

Nah nah nah-nah nah nah.

Well, it's my birthday too. Yeah.

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March 09, 2002

Urban Legends Are True

Could there be any surer sign of the impending apocolypse than the fact that many of the "urban legends" listed on Snopes Recent Additons page are true?

Including verification that this series of photos showing a tugboat hitting a closed drawbridge, submerging underwater and popping up on the otherside (relatively unscathed) is on the up-and-up.

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March 08, 2002

Disclaimer

How odd is it that, when something extraordinary happens in the US, all Americans can do is talk about what movie the event was most like? Folks were so prone to describing September 11th in cinematic terms that the The Onion even parodied the trend. Now, today, I see talk show where audience members get into a heated discussion over whether this horrific hit-and-run accident were more like I Know What You Did Last Summer or Misery. Is this a result of the line between reality and fiction being constantly blurred by reality tv and Blair Witch-style mockumentaries? Or have we, as a nation, simply lost the ability to describe things verbally, and must therefore resort to someone else's visuals?

Soon all actual events will disclaim "This is a work of reality. Any similarity to fictional persons or events is entirely coincidental."

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The Bad Review Revue

The Bad Review Revue.

[Dragonfly] "As the movie dragged on, I thought I heard a mysterious voice, and felt myself powerfully drawn toward the light -- the light of the exit sign. I have returned from the beyond to warn you: this movie is 90 minutes long, and life is too short." A. O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES

"40 Days and 40 Nights is so eyeball-gougingly awful that you're tempted to give up movies for Lent. Lou Lumenick, NY POST

"John Q is the kind of movie Mad magazine prays for." Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN TIMES


"The only good thing to come out of Rollerball is the boon it gives the porn industry in terms of another ready-made title to spoof." Marc SAvlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

[Crossroads]

MaryAnn Johanson, THE FILM PHILOSOPHER

March 07, 2002

Funny, Somehow

The funnier something is, the harder it is to explain why, exactly, it's funny at all. This is very funny and I have no idea why.

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Supermarket Sweep

It's interesting how sometimes people set out to accomplish a goal in a very specific way, but end up accomplishing the goal in an entirely unexpected manner. A great example of this happened recently on the tv show Supermarket Sweep. One of the contestants was trying to bulk up the overall total of merchandise he grabbed during his "Sweep" by putting as many garden hoses into his ... what? It's called "Supermarket Sweep." Yeah, it's a show, a game show. I dunno what station, some cable channel like the Game Show Station or something.

Anyhow, the guy was grabbing the garden hoses and trying to put them in his cart, but he bumped his cart and it started rolling down the aisle. Since he had his arms full with the hoses he couldn't stop the cart, so he ... yeah I watched this show. There was nothing else on. It was, like, this or COPS. Sure I have cable, but they just show crap on all the stations, it doesn't matter how many channels you have. No, this wasn't "crap," it was interesting. It was!

So the cart starts rolling down the aisle, and the guy drops .. listen dude, it was a good show. It was. It was interesting. The people, like, run all over this Supermarket, and the host stands in the produce section and asks them -- stop laughing you jerk! It's a good show!

Screw you, never mind. Asshole.

March 06, 2002

Index of Evil
Bush Releases 2002 "Index of Evil"

After weeks of intense lobbying by congressional Democrats, President Bush today released the 2002 Index of Evil, a comprehensive list of everything that the President has declared Evil in the last 12-months. Bush has publicly mentioned some of the Evildoers since the War On Evil began some six months ago, but members of Congress have insisted that they be given access to the entire list. Many of the names and items on the 3-page handwritten document were expected, such as "Osama bin Laden", "Tom Daschle" and "Losing Your Car Keys", but entries such as "Lilac Scented Soap" came as a surprise. Bush noted that the items are not necessary listed "in order of Evilness," but that "Rhubarb Pie" was "not in the #1 spot by accident."

Other instances of Evil (and their accompanying notes) included:

  • "Taliban"
  • "New Linkin Park video -- Linkin Park sux!!!!!"
  • "Anthrax"
  • "Recession"
  • "That French ice skating judge"
  • "Terrorism"
  • "Terrorists"

  • "Bette Midler"
  • "Cheating At Yahtzee -- you know who I mean Dick!!"
  • "40 Days and 40 Nights -- they showd all the funny scenes in the commercials"
  • "Iraq"
  • "Ham Sandwich I got Larry's Market, last Wensday -- Lettuce was totally wilty!!"
When asked by reporters why "Enron" had not made the list, Mr. Bush hastily jotted the failed company's name on the bottom of page three and said "Evil."

[ link | News]



Northern Lights

Some dazzling photos of the Northern Lights.

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March 05, 2002

Sense of Security

I feel very safe in my work building, because we have a vigilant security officer in our lobby. I'll often see him scrutinize people as they enter the premises. He doesn't give everyone the twice-over, just a few select individuals who he must adjudge to be more of a security threat than others. I'm not sure exactly what kind of profiling technique he's using, but I have noticed that the vast majority of those he examines are blond, attractive females in their twenties.

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Highway 99 is Racist

I've been driving on highway 99 for all my adult life, and only yesterday did I discover it's racist.

They covered this issue last night on NPR's All Things Considered. It turns out that Highway 99's true name is the "Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway." Don't know who Jefferson Davis is? Neither did Washington State Representive Hans Dunshee until he noticed a historical marker by the side of the road and learned that the route was named after the one-and-only President of the Confederacy during the civil war. Outraged, Dunshee proposed renaming the Highway after a black Union soldier named William P. Stewart, and this proposal was unanimously approved by the state House of Representatives.

While no fan of the Confederate cause, I must say that the drive in the last few decades to purge American history of all references to events, people and ideas which are currently viewed as unacceptable bothers me to no end. What ever happened to learning from your mistakes? If I was somehow able to forget all the bad and foolish things I have ever done in my life I would then almost certainly embark on a career of repeating each and every forgotten blunder.

Representative Dunshee insisted that "in this state, we cannot have a monument to a guy who led the insurgency to perpetuate slavery and killed half a million Americans" And yet the state itself in named after a man who owned slaves, George Washington. When this was pointed out to Dunshee, he simply replied that George Washington was remembered for uniting the nation, while Jefferson Davis is remembered for dividing it. How quick we are to "remember" the laudable qualities of our those we deem heroes while conveniently forgetting they faults, while doing the exact opposite for those we judge to be historical villains.

You can here the NPR story here [Real audio required]. The renaming bill died in the state Senate yesterday.

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Umbrella License

If people were required to pass a competency test and get a license before being allowed to walk down crowded city sidewalks carrying an open umbrella, I strongly believe that we would see a dramatic decrease in the annual rates of eye-poked-outedness.

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March 04, 2002

Books: the His Dark Materials

The surest way to find out if someone has read the His Dark Materials series (short of asking them outright) is to start raving about Harry Potter; If the person has read this trilogy by Philip Pullman, sooner or later they will give an exasperated sigh and announce that while Harry Potter is a fine (if light-weight) diversion, The Golden Compass is so much better.

The Golden Compass is set in a world which could be mistaken for Earth until about page seven, after which a host of subtle and not-so-subtle differences start showing up. In the latter category is the fact that the souls of people do not reside inside their bodies, but rather manifest themselves as external and distinct entities in the forms of animals. Also curious is that the theologians of this world are preoccupied with something called Dust: a kind of physical, magical, or religious particle which seems somehow tied to conscienceness. Much of the story revolves around the quest to discover the true nature of Dust and the journey of the young Lyra as she travels across her world and into others -- including our own.

It took a while for The Golden Compass to hook me -- two-thirds of the way through and I still could have put it down forever. But once the hook took hold, I devourer the rest of the novel and tore through the next (The Subtle Knife). Unfortunately I found the third book, The Amber Spyglass, to be something of a disappointment. While the first two books seemed meticulously plotted, many of the major plot points in Spyglass did not strike me as being thoroughly thought through. (A friend and fellow enthusiast of the series hit the nail on the head when he describe the final book as feeling "rushed"). But even so, the His Dark Material series is an involving and though-provoking read, and one I highly recommend.

[ link | Books]


March 03, 2002

Porn Viewer

The word "loathsome" can be used to describe someone whole fills you with loathing. And the word "awesome" describes someone who fills you with awe. And the word "fearsome" describes something that fills you with fear. So what, exactly, does the word "handsome" mean?

Oh, if only there was some way for me to find out the etymology of the word "handsome". If only I had, at my fingertips, some sort of enormous reference machine, some kind of crazy 21st century device that would allow me to instantly research any question by pressing keys and clicking buttons. But, alas, all I have is this expensive, useless, weblog-reader / porn-viewer.

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March 02, 2002

Weekend Sex

An exchange from Rewind, a weekly NPR comedy show from KUOW in Seattle. The show's guests are discussing a recent study that purportedly found the funniest joke in the world, and observing that none of them really enjoyed jokes that much. One person explained why:

Cash Peters: Standard jokes are a bit like really bad weekend sex. The kind of sex where, you know, you were tired all week so you plan to have sex on the weekend, but it's never as fun as random, spontanous, exciting sex. Jokes are like that. People say "I have this joke for you," and you know that now you just have to sit back and wait for the funny line, and you know you're not going to find it funny or amusing. I hate jokes for that reason. They're just basically bad sex with your clothes on.

Kermet Apio: That is one of the most beautiful analogies I've ever heard.

All the recent Rewind episodes can be heard through their website. The clip above comes from the January 11th show.

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March 01, 2002

Focused and Executed

Man, corporate culture is tough. Today I saw a bit of a speach given by Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, to shareholders. At one point she put up a slide of HP's upper management team and said

Hewlett-Packard got to where it is today because these people were focused and executed.
Cripes, I wonder what would have happened to them if they hadn't been focused.

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This Can Only Get Funnier

A friend of mine was telling us a story last night, and in the middle I interrupted and said "Skip to the part where you threw up." Everyone just cracked up ... it was great. I'm going to start interrupting everyone while they are speaking and use that line -- "Skip to the part where you threw up!" -- maybe even interrupt people two or three times per story. I'm confident that the more times I interrupt people and use the joke, the funnier it's going to get.

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