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May 31, 2002

Beutiful Chicks Naked

I got a spam email today with the subject line "You like to see beautiful chicks naked!" and while I usually delete such messages unread I couldn't believe how uncannily accurate the sender had been in his prediction. How on earth could someone I have never met possibly know such a thing? He must be using some sort of complex targeted marketing software or something. Anyhow, I was so surprised that I went ahead and read the email and then replied with my credit card number. Boy, if that guy could guess the other two things I like (raspberry sherbet and NASCAR) I would be absolutely astounded.

[ link | Spam]



The Bad Review Revue

The Bad Review Revue

[Undercover Brother] "The most excruciating 86 minutes one might sit through this summer that do not involve a dentist drill." -- Renee Graham, BOSTON GLOBE

"Lopez, say the word, girl, the next time you're offered one of these barrel scrapers: Enough!" -- Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

"Spirit's narration comes to us courtesy of Matt Damon, who, having played a horse's ass in some of his earlier movies, perhaps thought it wise to inhabit the entire nag this time around." -- Peter Ranier, NEW YORK MAGAZINE

"Best watched through squinted eyes and slotted fingers ... The New Guy is an ugly-duckling tale so hideously and clumsily told it feels accidental. Surely, no one planned something this disastrously unfunny." -- Robert Wilonsky, LA New TIMES

[Life or Something Like It] "Oh, please. Stop and smell the manure. " -- Stephen Hunter, WASHINGTON POST

May 30, 2002

Dailing the Phone

The other day I dialing the phone to call a friend and I began to think about the phrase "dialing the phone" and how this used to refer to the specific action you would have do to call someone -- namely sticking your finger into the hole in a dial and turning it -- but now all the phones are touch tone which renders the phrase "dial the phone" a total anacronism despite the fact that everyone still says it including kids who may not even realize that phones used to have actual dials on them but they are so used to saying "dial the phone" that they don't even stop to wonder why the word "dial" means "push the buttons on the phone" and this realization made me feel kinda old all of the sudden even though I am only 31 and then my friend answered his phone and said "hello" and I couldn't for the life of me remember who I was calling so I panicked and hung up and then I felt dumb.

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Google Sets

Speaking of Google, have you seen this crazy, experimental thingiemabob they have called Google Sets? You enter a few items from a set and the program extrapolates other things that belong to that set. What an odd application. Works like a charm, though. When I entered "Sleepy," "Sneezy,", "Dopey," "Bashful," and "Doc," it returned a list that included the names of the remaining seven drarves ("Grumpy" and "Happy"). And I learned about a few more dwarves, some surly cousins that the seven don't like to talk about: "Lefty" and "Maleficent".

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May 29, 2002

Google / Dilbert

I presume you saw the Google / Dilbert logos, designed by Scott Adams. It's wierd: Adams manages to crank out a hilarious Dilbert strip each and every day, but whenever he strays one inch from his "Workplace Politics" theme he somehow manages to become remarkably unfunny. Don't believe me? Check out his "experimental comic" Plop, The Hairless Elbonian.

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Who Wants a Jelly Donut?

I'm feeling a little under the weather, so I'm drinking echinacea tea this morning in lieu of coffee. Echinacea tastes awful but apparently has some astounding curative properties. As near as I can tell, here's how those curative properties work: if you deny yourself coffee and instead ingest this disgustingly foul substance each time you get sick, eventually you body will learn to never, ever get sick -- not unlike a housecat who gets squirted with water whenever he pees on your slippers.

As further incentive I've decided that, from here on out, I'm going to reward my body with a jelly donut every morning that it is not sick.

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May 28, 2002

The Jury Got the Drift
The jury got the drift [of the porn movie] after about 30 minutes and asked that it be stopped. "Kind of the same thing over and over," bailiff Lori Meyers muttered after the jurors left for another break. As they went out, Chatham marched in with a pile of exhibits: copies of several newspapers, including the Dallas Observer; recent issues of two girlie magazines, Penthouse and Hustler; two porno tapes in their box covers and the R-rated Hollywood hit Basic Instinct.

"Oh, boy," the court reporter chirped. "More movies!"

This Dallas Observer article -- about a Texas county which keeps arresting the clerks at porno shops and the young legal eagle who keeps thwarting the procecution -- is more interesting and well-written than a wheelbarrow of airport "Legal Thrillers." Via Jerry Kindall.

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Movies: Attack of the Clones

Hey Lucas, here's the one-line summary of my review that you can use in your Attack of the Clones newspaper ads: "Holy crap, this movie didn't suck!" raves Matthew Baldwin of defective yeti!

I hated Phantom Menace. Hated it. Hated it. Hated. And I swore I was not going to go see Attack of the Clones in the theater. The way I saw it, Lucas owed me a movie after tricking me into squandering my eight bucks on that first heapin' pile of Jar-Jar infested crud, so there was no way I was going to spend another dime on this saga until I got a free pass and an apology from Georgie.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I of course went to see Attack of the Clones last week. Resistance is futile. But here's the thing: I liked it! Which isn't to say that Clones is a good movie. It could be good. It could be great, even. Or it could be awful. I haven't the foggiest idea. By the time I actually got into the theater my expectations were so low that had Attack of the Clones been a shot-by-shot remake of Beaches it still would have exceeded my wildest hopes.

Most of the Clones criticism is dead on. The dialog is usually stilted and sometimes atrocious. The first half of the movie is mostly exposition and drags. The plot is much more convoluted that it needs to be. But what most reviewers seem to be willfully ignoring is that this stuff -- dialog, exposition, plot -- is just the packing peanuts around the real movie: starship combat, lightsaber fights and 87 gazillion alien races running around like termites on a log. Plus, the romance between the protagonists is much more palatable than you'd expect based on the trailers and the reviews. Yes, it's maudlin and over-wrought, but these are teenagers fercrissakes -- who amongst us, at the age of 17, wasn't prone to uttering syrupy garbage in an effort to bed a galactic senator?

When the movie works it works surprisingly well. Ewan McGregor's impression of Alec Guiness is downright eerie, a scene blatantly ripped out of Gladiator is exciting, and Yoda kicks cosmic ass. Best of all, I think Lucas has finally got most of the backstory out of the way, which means that the next installment should be nothing but fun. Attack of the Clones may not be the best movie I've seen, but it did manage to do the impossible: it got me excited about "Star Wars" again.

[ link | Movies]


May 17, 2002

US to Devalue 'Extreme'

US to Devalue 'Extreme'

The US Department of Phrases and Superlatives today announced its intention to devalue of the adjective "Extreme." "Because the market has become dangerously oversaturated with 'Extreme' products, we have decided to devalue the term by reducing its meaning from 'exciting, exotic, exceptional or adventurous' to merely 'mundane'" said DPS Spokesman Alfred Kent. "After this adjustment, 'Extreme' will have roughly the same level of superlativeness as 'radical,' 'awesome' and 'hilarious'." Kent added "This correction will also apply to 'Xtreme,' 'X-treme' and any other stupid mispellings." Panicked consumers flooded 7-11s around the nation in the hopes of exchanging their Extreme Doritos, Right Guard Xtreme deodorant, Kraft Extreme Cheese Easy Mac and Cheese, Capri Sun Extreme Juice boxes, Ritz Xtreme Cheese Bits Cracker Sandwiches, Schick Xtreme III razors and Xtreme Big Gulps before the devaluation takes place at midnight tonight. Members of the rock group "Extreme" will also be deported.

[ link | News]



True Fact

At the teriyaki joint near my house, you can pay an additional $1.25 to "Sumo Size" your meal.

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May 16, 2002

What Just Happened?

One thing that sets baseball apart from many other sports is the complexity of the rules. Because there are so many special cases and exceptions, you may sometimes see a play you have never seen before. I saw one such play a few weeks ago.

Mark McLemore was up to bat with three balls and two outs, while Luis Ugueto was on first. As soon as the ball was pitched, Ugueto started hauling ass to second. The pitch was a ball -- the fourth -- but the catcher nonetheless threw the ball to the second baseman, who applied the tag to Ugueto after he overslid second base. But as McLemore was walked, Ugueto just went back to second base and the game was set to resume.

But then Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter pointed something out to the second base umpire. If there's a runner on first and the batter is walked, the person on first gets to advance to second base. But Ugueto had accidentally gone past second base by over sliding. Once he touched second base -- and received all that he was entitled to -- he was fair game, and the tag (Jeter said) was fair; ergo, Ugueto should be out. The umpire mulled this over for a moment and then agreed, calling Ugueto out and ending the inning.

"They say the guys in the middle infield are supposed to be the smartest," said Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The important thing is [Jeter] explained it. He didn't throw up his arms or argue. What I like is the umpire thought about it and made the right call."

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Dave Neihaus

The lead color commentator for the Seattle Mariners in the excitable but loveable Dave Neihaus. This guy has been calling games since, like, the Civil War, and he has a near inexhaustible supply of stock "baseball phrases." After a while you may think you've heard them all, but sooner or later he'll spring a new one on you.

Co-announcer Rick Rizz: We just got word that White Sox are leading the Royals 14-0 in the eighth inning.

Dave Neihaus: I've been following that game. The White Sox need only three more runs to tie the record for the most lopsided shutout in the history of baseball.

RR: Man, I wonder what the scorecard looks like for that one.

DN: I've seen it, and it's a mess. The turning point in that game was the National Anthem.


I Like Baseball
[Games: Baseball] I've been saving up my baseball-related posts, so brace yourself for a full day of them. (Or just skip a day of yeti if you don't give a rat's ass about The Great American Pastime.)

I love baseball, not so much because I find it fascinating but because I can find it fascinating at will. If I'm at a game or in a bar watching the match on the tube, I can suddenly make myself really really care about who's winning and what's going on. But if I need to, say, leave the bar before the game is over, I can just as easily stop caring and head out the door. I could watch every game in a week, or miss an entire month without any regrets. The minute the Mariners blow a big match I can opt to throw a fit or shrug my shoulders.

Not so for many Seattle fans. We recently had a brouhaha of major league proportions. It all started with this letter, in which ex-Yankees fan Matt Villano labeled Mariner game attendees as a bunch of passive wussies.

People who call themselves "fans" know something about the game they watch. They encourage root, root, rooting for the home team, they stand and clap at two-strike counts, they're not afraid to boo an opponent or a hometown goat, and they always cheer more for a stolen base than for a stuffed Moose (or that idiotic hydroplane race on the Jumbotron). What sedentary Seattleites have proven is that the term "Mariners fan" is an oxymoron. These are the same people who sway like prom dates at a Built to Spill show and drive 50 mph in the left lane on I-5 ... With such somnolent Seattle game sitters -- fans who'd rather read four- sentence out-of-town game summaries on the scoreboard than scrutinize Lou's strategy behind an intentional walk or a safety squeeze -- it's no wonder the Mariners can't beat the Yankees when it counts.
Mariners management then deftly proved his point by banning "Yankees Suck" t-shirts at the next game in the name of "avoiding confrontation." Villano, who atteneded that game and wrote a second article in the following week's paper, said "The pathetic M's fans meekly accepted this suspension of their First Amendment rights in the name of a 'good time'."

If Villano's goal was to get Seattle fans worked up, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. According to a blurb at the top of The Seattle Weekly's letter page the following Wednesday "Villano's recent articles have got the Weekly inundated with more mail than ANYONE here can EVER remember getting -- more than WTO, more than the Palestinian conflict, more than the 100 Favorite Restaurants special in which we said that Ristorante Machiavelli is closed on Monday when really it's only closed on Sunday." And there followed half a dozen pages of missives sent by Seattleites who either thought Villano was a breath of fresh air or a complete ass. Typical line: "Who are you? The Mariner Moose? No. You're a Yankees fan. God, I can't think of a worse insult to put on you, Matt. Let's just leave it at that."

Incidently, at the next game the Mariners' management dropped their ban on the "Yankees Suck" T-shirt. Why did they cave in? "We didn't want to appear confrontational," they explained.

[ link | Games]


May 15, 2002

I Coulda Burned Him

You know what I should have said? I should have said "Oh yeah?! Well your Jello salad is so bad that even Bill Cosby wouldn't eat it!!" That would have totally burned him. Man, why do I always think of these great comebacks when it's too late to use them?

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RapidFire!

Hey CNN, here's some news for you: your Crossfire show is duller than televised chess! You got a couple of right-wingers and a couple of left-wingers "discussing" the most polarizing topics imaginable, so that no one, over the course of the hour, says anything other than what you'd expect. James Carville thinks we're not doing enough to combat greenhouse gasses?! And Robert Novak thinks that the evidence for global warming is inconclusive?! Oh my stars and garters, who could have guessed?!!

Fortunately, I got your fix right here. Three simple steps:

  • Rename the show "Rapid-Fire!" That exclaimation point is important, so don't leave it out.
  • Reduce the length of the show from 60 minutes to one.
  • Allow each pundit only one second and one word to address each issue.

Moderator: Hello, and welcome to Rapid-Fire! Gentlemen, if you're ready we'll start the clock and begin. Drilling in Alaska!
Conservative: Yes!
Liberal: No!
Moderator: Guns!
Conservative: Good!
Liberal: Bad!
Moderator: Taxes!
Liberal: Increase!
Conservative: Abolish!
Moderator: Iraq!
Liberal: Restraint!
Conservative: Attack!
Moderator: Middle-East Conflict!
Conservative: Israel!
Liberal: Palestine!
Moderator: Worst president ever!
Liberal: Bush!
Conservative: Clinton!
Moderator: Finest president in history!
Conservative: Bush!
Liberal: Clinton!
Moderator: Each other!
Liberal: Jackass!
Conservative: Cretin!
Moderator: Time! This has been Rapid-Fire!

There's a show worth watchin'.


Powder Blue Bath Mats

The house my wife and I just bought was built in the 60s. While some parts of the home have been remodeled, other areas, such as the bathroom, have the original fixtures in the original color scheme.

Friday my wife came home and showed me the powder blue bath mats she had purchased.

"I think they're the right size," she said. "If not, Eddie Bauer said I could return them."

"You spoke with Eddie Bauer?" I exclaimed in mock excitement. "The Eddie Bauer?!"

"Well, it wasn't really Eddie Bauer," She deadpanned. "It was actually a gay man who openly winced when I asked him if these would go well with our mint green bathtub."

May 14, 2002

Dictionaraoke
Okay Matt I know how much you LUV karaoke so I had to forward this site to you ... it is hysterical! I highly recommend Iron Man and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Polly

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary Sings The Hits of the 80s, 90s and Today. "I Want to Be Sedated" is also quite good.

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High Praise Indeed

Check out this E! news story about the almost universal (ha!) drubbing that "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" is receiving. I especially like this paragraph:

To be fair, not all of the early-bird Clones reviews are bad ... [Peter] Travers [of Rolling Stone] rates it as the third-best Star Wars flick, which is pretty high praise considering his first two picks are the near-impossible-to-top The Empire Strikes Back and the original film.
What, getting ranked lower than good movies qualifies as "high praise" now? How about "Roger Ebert said that he would rank Jason X lower than either Citizen Kane or Casablanca, which is pretty high praise considering how well regarded those two films are." And just for future reference, "better than Return of the Jedi" is not exactly a ringing endorsement either.

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May 13, 2002

Here's How It Works, Folks

It's sad that it has fallen to me, the writer of an unread weblog, to sort this out once and for all. But it's becoming increasingly evident that nobody else is going to seize the reins on this one. I've been hoping that Bush or the Supreme Court or Oprha or N`Sync or somebody in a position of power and authority would step up to the mike and give us some clarity on the issue, but apparently everyone is waiting for someone else to do the dirty work. So okay, fine. Here we go. I'll do it.

The correct order for a group of people to vacate an elevator is LIFO: Last In, First Out.

Please, for the love of God, make a note of it

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Authentication

Last week I posted a letter, allegedly from a Record Label Guy, which excoriated a band for an astoundingly lame performance at their own record release party. Many folks, myself included, had their doubts as to the authenticity of the letter, but found the whole thing hilarious nonetheless. Well, yesterday Willy P. dropped me a line to point out an article in The Chicago Reader which confirms the letter is real. So there ya go. Kudos -> Will.

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We, Robots

I usually enjoy William Saletan's Frame Game column in Slate, but his most recent article, discussing the news that scientists have managed to turn rats into remote-control robots, is certainly one of his most muddled and least thought-out arguments.

The hijacking of rodent brains, Saletan argues, amounts to nothing less than mousey Big Brotherism. In particular, he gets THE SHIVERS when he thinks about the fact that the scientists "programmed" the rats by activating their pleasure centers when they behaved as desired. Saletan writes:

What's creepy about the robotized rats isn't that they're unhappy. It's that they're happy doing things no autonomous rat would do. Chapin's paper boasts that his team steered the rats "through environments that they would normally avoid, such as brightly lit, open areas." ... The rat wasn't whipped or pushed. It was "motivated."
In the next paragraph Saletan ominously speculates that soon we will be using this technique -- activating the pleasure centers of organisms as rewards for desired behavior -- on dogs, and then monkeys, and eventually on one another.

All this would sound like alarmist paranoia, if not for the fact that Saletan is fretting about something that is already routine: humans (and rats, and dogs, monkeys) are already slaves to the rewards programmed by the vagarities of evolution and meted out by our own bodies. Take, for example, our cravings for fat and sugar. At some point in our evolutionary history, fat and sugar were both scarce and essential to life, so we evolved the ability to feel pleasure whenever we consumed such foods. Now over half of all Americans are considered overweight or obese because we can't stop pursuing these intangible rewards. Likewise, a man cheats on his wife because his body will "reward" him (if ever so briefly) for his indiscretion. Folks like me set up blogs for the utterly ephemeral "reward" of status and notoriety.

If Saletan is so worried about people being controlled by a system of fictitious rewards, he needn't wait for some Orwellian science-fiction scenario to come to pass before lodging his complaint. Instead he should be railing against advertising and casinos. When a beer brewer puts a scantily clad supermodel on their billboard, what are they doing if not associating desired behavior (purchasing their brand of beer) with illusionary rewards (sex with a supermodel)? When state lotteries promise fantastic wealth for only a dollar, what are they doing if not preying upon irrational desires (and an ignorance of statistics) to make a quick buck? Like the researchers in the aforementioned study, marketers "motivate" us to do things no autonomous person would do, all for their own benefit.

Of course it's exactly these impulses and quirks which make us human. Without them -- if we were always behaving rationally, instead of lurching about in response to a million years of evolution -- then we would truly be the robots Saletan fears.

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May 10, 2002

Bikes to Trains

Say, do you remember those commercials for "Toys R Us" from about a decade ago? The ones with the giraffe? And the jingle that went something like:

I don't wanna grow up
I'm a Toys R Us kid
They've got a million toys at Toys R Us
That I can play with
From bikes to trains to video games
It's the biggest toy store there is
I don't wanna grow up, because if I did
I wouldn't be a Toys R Us kid.
I'm not really going anywhere with this story. I just thought it would be fun to jam that song into your head for the entire weekend.

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Google Answers

Google, in its tireless quest to become The Best Thing Ever (the title currently held by coffee), is trying out a new feature entitled Google Answers. Users submit a question and a dollar amount; then one of the crack Google Answer Superstars (such as all-around superstar Jessamyn West) will do the research and provide an answer. If the asker feels the answer was up to snuff, he coughs up the specified dough.

Take a gander at some of the submitted questions. They range from the specific (What is the statute of limitations on civil suits in Pennsylvania?) to the general (What's the best cell phone?) to the downright philosophical (What is the answer to this question?). And some of the questions posted are clearly jokes. One guy, for instance, wrote "I like girls. Do you like girls?" But did this facetiousness prevent Dr. David from providing an exhaustively detailed answer? No. It did not.

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Did You Know?

Did You Know? String cheese is neither string nor cheese. It is actually a legume.

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May 09, 2002

Games: Streetcar

Streetcar: The New Orleans Trolley Game is not the best game I own, but it is the game I have had the greatest change of heart about. The first time I played it, years and year ago, everyone hated it. Hated it. I could sense that there was a good game in there, but I couldn't convince any of my original opponents to play it again. So Streetcar hit the shelf, and there it sat for well over a year.

Lord knows why I every tried it again, but the next time I gave it a whirl it was well received by everyone involved. Since then my enjoyment of the game has increased with every playing, to the point where it has clawed its way up into the echelons of favorites.

The Streetcar board shows a greatly abstracted map of New Orleans, divided into a 12x12 grid with a dozen or so "Landmarks" scattered around the board. On the perimeter are Trolley terminals numbered 1-6, with two terminals for each number. A set of like-numbered terminals are always on opposite sides of the board, so if one of the "3" terminals is on the East side the other will be on the West. Each player then gets two cards at random, one of which assigns them a number (from 1-6) and the other which assigns them two landmarks. Each player also starts with five tiles, each of which shows trolley track connecting two or more edges of the tile. The simplest tiles show a single length of track connecting opposite sides of the tile or curving to connect one side to an adjacent side. Other tiles show more complicated arrangements, with tracks bi- or even trifurcating.

Each player gets to put two tiles on the board each turn, with the goal of creating a route that starts at one of their terminals, travels past their two assigned landmarks and ends at the opposite terminal. A tile may be put into any vacant space on the board, but must be placed so that no track leads off the board, no track leads into a landmark, and all track "syncs up" with the tiles that have already been played. All tiles played are "public domain,' which means that any player can use them in their course. The problem -- and by "problem" I mean "aggravatingly fun part" -- is that everyone is trying to build their own routes through the middle of the board, which means that they will be trying to steer the tracks one way while you try and guide them back the way you want.

What makes Streetcar an excellent family game is that while there is plenty of opportunity to screw with your opponents (by placing tiles that divert them from their intended destination), it is also relatively easy to recover from such treachery (by simply re-plotting your course). In other words, you get all the fun of a "mean" game without any of the hard feelings. There is something of a bluffing element as well. At the start of the game you don't know the number or landmarks belonging to other players, and you must therefore deduce them based on where they lay their tiles. If they choose to put a tile or two in a completely bogus location, you may later come along and try to "screw with their course," only to discover that they never had any intention of visiting that part of the city. Sneaky!

It takes a play or two get "get" Streetcar, and some people never enjoy the spatial reasoning aspect of the game (which, while slight, is present). But most folks grow to like it, and may even, as in my case, grow to like it quite a bit.

I don't recall where I originally got my copy of Streetcar, but it's available for purchase at Funagain Games.

[ link | Games]



Deal of a Canadian Lifetime

While moving out of my old apartment I discovered a treasure trove of Canadian coins squirreled away in a drawer I never used. Handfuls and handfuls of glorious Canadian currency of all sizes and denominations. Now, as you know, Canada switched over the the Euro two years ago, and these coins have really become hot collectors' items. And although I know I could put these things on Ebay and make a fortune, I want to give a little something back to my faithful weblog readers. That's why, for every $1 you send me, I will send you your choice of an authentic Canadian "Loonie" coin, four (4) Canadian "quarter" coins, or ten (10!) "dimes" (as they called them in Canada). Yes, I'm probably a fool for selling these things, but I just want to get rid of them. Checks and money orders only, please.

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May 08, 2002

My Lifelong Dream can Now Be Realized

Woohoo! Now those bastards at the Sumo Wrestling Federation will hafta let me compete!

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Val-U

I went to the movies.

Concession counter teen: Hello and thanks for coming to Cineplex Odeon theaters can I get you a Family Val-U Pack Combo?

Me: What? A what?

CCT: With the Family Val-U Pack Combo you get two large soft drinks and a family-sized tub of popcorn for only three day's worth of wages.

Me: Well, that sounds pretty good. I guess I'll -- wait, did you say "tub?" A "tub" of popcorn? How much does popcorn does a "tub" contain?

CCT: [Points to cardboard garbage can affixed to wall.]

Me: Holy squirrels! When you said "family-sized" I didn't think you meant it was the size of an actual family. That's more food than I eat in a fortnight.

CCT: And then you get the two 54-ounce drinks ...

Me: Two 54-ounce ... ?! That's 108 ounces of soda! We came here to see a movie, not play water polo!

CCT: ... and you get free refills on everything.

Me: The frigate of popcorn comes with a free refill? Maybe I'll just buy one and pass it around the theater for everyone -- that should be enough to keep all 200 of us fed. Gluttony is one of the deadly sins, you know! What the hell, does Cineplex Odeon stock go up in direct propostion to the ass size of it's patrons?!

CCT: [Blank stare]

Guy behind me in line: C'mon, dude.

Me: Yeah yeah, alright! Christ. Okay, gimmie the family whateveryacallit.

CCT: Okay, but did you know that for only thirty cents more you could upgrade to the Super Family Val-U Pack Combo?

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NetFlix Recomendations

NetFlix ("The Only Internet Company With A Workable Business Model!") has a recommendation engine. It may need some fine tuning. My top five recommendations:

  • Lies and Whispers: Dr. Lauren Graham meets Jiri, the man of her dreams. Their chance meeting and whirlwind romance develop into a passionate love with no bounds.
  • A Price Above Rubies: A woman finds herself torn between her husband and baby, and a jewelry designer who seems to promise all the romance that's missing in her arranged marriage.
  • Carla's Song: George is a Glasgow bus driver who risks his job by giving a free ride to a Nicaraguan woman with no money. Attracted to her, George accompanies her to Nicaragua where he helps her come to terms with her past.
  • The Aviator's Wife: A delightful story of a young man's obsession with an older woman. Follow this hilarious comedy of romantic hopes, disappointments and the complications of love.
  • Night of the Living Dead: A group of survivors seeks refuge in a farmhouse, hoping to protect themselves from hordes of flesh-eating zombies.

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May 07, 2002

Technosphere

At TechnoSphere you can make yourself a critter (either a herbivore or a carnivore) and let it loose in a virtual world. The system will then let you know how your creation is doing: how far it has traveled, if it has any offspring, or if it got eaten by someone else's grue. Who knows, your beastie might even shack up with my precious Bandersnatch.

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Knock Knock!

Here's a knock knock joke I am working on.

Knock knock!

Who's there?

Condoleeza Rice.

Condoleeza Rice who?

That's as far as I've gotten, but it's pretty good, huh?

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Math Cop: Moneylie?

Math Cop: On Lou Dobb's Moneyline yesterday they featured a segment called "Reality Check" which asserted that, by and large, the perception that prices have gone up in recent years is chimerical. The argument:

[Have prices gone up?] Well, how about [a] hamburger? Food prices have actually gone down in the last decade. Fifteen percent of disposable income was spent on food in 1990, now down to 13 percent.

OK, so what about gas? Certainly that has gone up. Just look at the hearings on Capitol Hill. The one issue drawing bipartisan outrage these days is the price of gas. Tell this to the Hill: Gas prices have actually gone down, from 3.7 to 3.4 percent of income since 1990.

What the- !? Who's doing this math, sea anemones?

They start by postulating that prices have not, in fact, gone up in recent years. Taken literally, this hypothesis is obviously false: in absolute terms of dollars and cents a gallon of gas costs more now than it did in 1990. This is to be expected due to inflation, and that's why, when comparing prices historically, analysts rely on "adjusted for inflation" numbers (as in "when adjusted for inflation, a gallon of gas actually costs less now than it did in 1990"). But these jokers aren't even doing that. Instead, they "prove" that the price of gasoline has gone down by showing that a smaller percentage of disposable income is being spent on gasoline now than 1990.

Is it apparent how specious this line of reasoning is? If not, consider this. What happens if we all wake up tomorrow to find that gas now costs $10 a gallon? I'll tell you what: a lot of people who used to drive would start taking the bus. And since all those people would now be eliminating 10 car trips a week from their budget, the percentage of disposable income spent on gas would probably decrease despite the jump in cost. But could you then, with a straight face, claim that prices had gone down as a result of the prices going up?

Well, you could if you worked for CNN, I guess.

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May 06, 2002

Books: The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

It has probably not escaped your attention that, in recent days, defective yeti has been yammering on and on about comic books. It may surprise you to hear, then, that I don't actually read comics books -- not any more, at any rate. But as noted before, I love the idea of comic books, and love the four-color champions documented therein. And this superherophilia was recently brought to the fore by the excellent novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the newest book by Michael Chebon and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Having narrowly escaped Prague in 1939, Josef Kavalier teams up with his cousin Sam Clay in New York to fight Hitler in the only way he can: through the use of comic books. The two young men, capitalizing on the popularity of the then-novel "Superman," convince a local publisher to sponsor a monthly comic book entitled "The Escapist" which chronicles the adventures of a Harry Houdini-like hero who has sworn to "free those who languish in tyranny's chains!" Kavalier and Clay are content to fight (and defeat) the Axis each and every month for a while, but soon both the war and the comic book business take a turn for the worst. At the dissolution of their comic book partnertship the men strike out in their own directions, but they never forget the two-fisted tales that brought them together as a team.

Chebon (pronounced "SHAY-bon," I've discovered) writes exactly the kind of novel I like: a lyrical history of a few memorable characters on their voyage from youth to adulthood. (Not unlike another of my favorite authors, John Irving's, as exemplified by World According to Garp and Ciderhouse Rules). This style, combined with a subject matter I already adore, made this one of the best fiction books I've read in years. A very satisfying story, and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys comic books, the idea of comic books, or just a damned fine yarn.

[ link | Books]



Flight vs. Invisibility

Here's a fun This American Life episode all about superpowers, which dares to ask the eternal question "Given a choice, which would you take: flight or invisibility?" Also contains a chat with the creator of Gone and Forgotten, a fantastic website dedicated to the dumbest superhereos ever to grace the funny pages. Hail to the first Teen President!

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Movies: Spider-Man

Well, after, like, 15 years of anticipation I finally saw Spider-Man. And I give it a resounding "ehhhhh ...." (Note: I'm gonna drop a few minor spoilers in this review.)

It was pretty good, let me be clear about that. But I didn't really think that Spidey successfully made the transition from comic books to the big screen, and I think this is due to the nature of the character rather than any lack of skill on the part of director Sam Raimi. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Raimi has made the best possible movie about Spider-Man. It's just that it's now apparent (to me, at least) that the web-slinger is particularly ill-suited for the silver screen.

The characters that seem to do the best in live actions movies fall on the extremes of the superhero spectrum: exceptional humans with no superpowers (Batman, Zorro) and full-on demi-gods (Superman). To portray the former on screen, you just need to round up a bunch of accomplished stunt men; to do that latter, you can rely on digital special effects since you don't need to make the character look realistic. But Spider-Man's abilities fall right in the middle: he isn't just really agile, he's really really agile; he's not just fast, he's amazingly fast. This is doubtlessly the toughest kind of superhuman to put on film, because you have to make him look both "super" and "human". Unfortunately, to my eyes the Spider-man in the flick either looked like one or the other, but rarely both: when brawling he looked human but not especially super; when swinging through downtown Manhattan he looked super but not even remotely human. Only the scenes where he was scaling walls managed to successful combine the two halves of the character.

Furthermore (and now I really am going to give away some plot points, so stop reading now if you haven't seen it), the tone of the movie was darker than I would have preferred. The Spider-Man of the comic books was aware of the responsibility he shouldered -- both because of his power and because of his negligence that resulted in his Uncle's death -- but this never stopped him from wisecracking his way through every fight and dating any girl who would give Peter a second glance. But the Peter Parker of this film approximates Bruce Wayne -- a psychologically tortured soul who's a loner by choice rather than because of social ineptness. And the movie is remarkably violent. Early in the film a crook falls out of a window while Peter makes no move to save him, something that would have never happened in the comic book; Instead, Peter would have saved the thug even while secretly wishing for his demise. You may see this as a fanboy nitpick, but it's actually a considerable shift in tone from the source material.

I did like the movie (although if there was no sequel I wouldn't be disappointed), and overall I give Spider-Man a hesitant recommendation. That said, if you're a fan of the comic books you must see the film, if for no other reason that to witness J.K. Simmons's absolutely uncanny portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson. Truly the high point of the film, for me.

[ link | Movies]


May 03, 2002

Movies: Overlooked Superhero Movies

All jazzed up for "Spider-Man" but don't want to brave opening weekend crowds? Fire up the DVD and enjoy one of these fine superhero movies that you've probably overlooked.

  • Mask of Zorro According to legend, Martha and Thomas Wayne were walking home after a seeing Zorro with their young son when they took an ill-fated detour through an alley; years later it was the memory of his parents' death -- and the movie that proceeded it -- that inspired Bruce Wayne to adopt the identity of The Batman. The 1998 retelling of The Mask of Zorro demonstrates why the tale of the swashbuckling hero is one of the crucial building blocks on which the modern superhero is built. A thoroughly entertaining flick which will unearth latent "gee! wow!" feelings in even the most jaded of moviegoer.
  • The Rocketeer When I went to see The Rocketeer in high school, I was soundly mocked by my fellow comic book afficionado who said that the film would be little more than a tame and cheesy piece of Disney fluff. But this derision (which turned out to be spot on) didn't stop me from having a blast. The Rocketeer did an admirable job at capturing the spirit of the old Saturday afternoon serials, and managed to tell a charming story almost completely free of cynacism (no small feat coming, as it did, in the era of The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen). Have popcorn on hand.
  • Blade So the niave innocence of Zorro and The Rocketeer doesn't float your boat. Then have you seen Blade? Lord knows I'd understand if you hadn't -- if fact, I can't for the life of me remember why I rented this one. But to my surprise both my wife and I quite enjoyed it. Your willingness to suspension your disblief may be a little overtaxed by the end, but the director does such a good job of setting the "comic book" tone that you'll happily overlook a lot of logistical flimflam. Blade succeeds where The Crow fell short. (P.s. If you've seen "Blade II," drop me a line and talk me into or out of seeing it, would'ja?)
  • Unbreakable Just by listing Unbreakable under the heading of "superhero film" I've already told you too much about it, so here endth the discussion of plot. But I will say that this film, the second by writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, was (in my opinion) unfairly dismissed by many as "not as good as The Sixth Sense". This insistance on comparing Unbreakable to its older brother ignored the fact that it was a very fine film in its own right. That said, I offer no guarentees that you'll like this one: it's one of those flicks that you either love or hate. I am firmly in the former camp.
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Fans of the animated Batman series should check out Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the first full-length feature film by the creators of the show. Even those Batman fans who have not seen the show should give this one a try -- despite the G rating it's a sophisticated story, and better by half than any the live actions Batman movies. Perfect for watching on a Sunday morning over waffles and coffee.

[ link | Movies]


May 02, 2002

Heartless Bastard?
Take The Online "Am I A Heartless Bastard" Quiz!

A few years ago my wife and I were sitting on the couch watching a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Yankees, and just as designated hitter Chili Davis stepped up to bat, my wife (who was really my girlfriend at the time) got up and went into the bedroom and returned with one of the comforters from our bed draped around her shoulders and when she sat back down I said "were you chilly?" and she said "I was so chilly I was Chili Davis!" and then we both laughed and snuggled, and even to this day we will still say "I am Chili Davis" when one of us is cold.

1. I thought this story was

Threes

Overheard in elevator.

First guy: [boastfully] I know I'm gonna get it. I know it.
Second guy: How do you know it?
First guy: Because good stuff always happens to me in threes.
Second guy: Huh. So what were the other two things?
First guy: Nuthin' yet. This'll be the first.

May 01, 2002

I Am Extreme

Yesterday at work I drank an Extreme Gulp while doing some Extreme Programming, and then I went home and ate Extreme Duritos while watching Extreme Sports on cable.

Today every muscle in my body aches.

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