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November 22, 2002

The Story of Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in December of 1620 had a hard life ahead of them. Their first winter was devastating, and by the following fall they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. Few expected to see 1622.

But then Governor William Bradford sent four men fowling after wild ducks, and the party stumbled across a remarkable discovery. Just over a mountain that none had yet crossed they found the Emerald Falls Casino, featuring the loosest slots in the greater Massachusetts region. Soon all the colonists were experiencing the thrill and excitement of high action table games, including Let It Ride, Pai Gow Poker, and even Caribbean Stud. The huge payouts enabled the Pilgrims to not only survive but flourish in subsequent years.

To thank the Native Americans who owned the casino, the Pilgrims invited the entire tribe to an all-you-could-eat buffet, complete with $1 shrimp cocktails. Afterwards everyone went to see Air Supply, live and in concert. And that's the true story of Thanksgiving.

[ link | Humor]




The Bad Review Revue
  • [Friday After Next] "Dumb and Dumber 'n The Hood." Rick Groen, THE GLOBE AND MAIL
  • [I-Spy] "Has all the raging excitement of continental drift." -- Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE
  • [Femme Fatal] "De Palma spends an hour setting a fancy table and then serves Macaroni and Cheese." Josh Larsen, SUN PUBLICATIONS
  • [Jackass] "A movie in the same sense that those hideous, velvet depictions of Elvis are paintings." -- Lou Lumenick, NEW YORK POST.
  • [Abandon] "Consider the title your best advice." -- Desson Howe, WASHINGTON POST.

November 21, 2002

Gotcha

Phone conversation with The Queen.

Me: So, I'll see you at four, then.

The Queen: [pause] Huh?

Me: I said I'll see you at four o'clock.

TQ: [pause] Wha-? No.

Me: No? No, we're not meeting at four o'clock like we discussed?

TQ: [pause] Um? Uh, oh, four, yeah. We're meeting.

Me: Are you reading your email while you talk to me on the phone?

TQ: [pause] Huh? No, no.

Me Should I believe you?

TQ: [pause] Wha-? No. I mean yes!


American Paperboy

Apparently UPN is doing some sort of a show where a bunch of people compete to become a Supermodel. It called "The Supermodel Show," presumably because their target audience would get confused if it was called anything more subtle. This follows on the heels of Making The Band (where people competed to be in a rock group), American Idol (where people competed to become a pop star), and The Bachelor (where people competed to look like a moneygrubbing publicity whore on nationwide tv).

In the future this is how all job interviews will work. The Wal*Mart Teller Show. Making The Nike. You and 11 other teens will apply for a position at Hot Dog On A Stick and have to go through twelve weeks of televised elimination rounds. Ultimately the American viewing public will get to decide if you spend your days serving $7.00 cups of lemonade to mall rats.

Holy Smokes! The Flash intro to the Hot Dog On A Stick website is longer than The English Patient! (Although somewhat more engrossing.)

November 20, 2002

Legonomics

Gold is dumb. What can you do with it? Gild stuff -- lilies and Capitol buildings and whatever -- or cram it into your cavities, that's about it. So I'm glad the U.S. dropped the gold standard back in, um, back in whenever they dropped the gold standard. But I can't seem to get fired up about the dollar either. Dollars are all the same boring color, they get wadded up and torn, and, frankly, I think Andrew Jackson was having a serious Bad Hair Day when he snapped his picture for the twenty. Plus the value of the dollar keeps going down. (Apparently it used to go up too, but that was back in the late 90's when people still thought e-potbelliedpigs-online.com was a pretty good idea).

But I was listening to Marketplace the other day, and they said something interesting: no matter what the state of the economy, toy makers generally do pretty well -- after all, kids don't give a rat's ass if Lucent missed their third quarter projections by 7/15 of a cent, all they know is they need a Fashion Polly Sparkle Style House and, by God, they need it NOW!

That's what gave me Great Idea #57709: the US should make the four pronged square Lego the standard unit of US currency. The bigger Legos will be worth more, and the smaller Legos will be like coins, and those huge Lego plates will be, like, $1000 bills. We'll also outlaw those stupid "Mindstorm" Legos because they are new-fangled and I don't understand them.

This plan has so many good points that I can't even begin to list them and yet now I will:

  • When Bush announces that we're abruptly switching from the dollar to the Lego, your new wealth will depend on how many Legos you own at that moment. In other words, your affluence will become proportional to your nerdliness (which will pretty much make it a wash for Bill Gates, I guess).
  • People will have a much greater incentive to save. What can you do with a bunch of saved dollars, except hide them in the Minute Maid Premium Original Low-Pulp Orange Juice container you have in your fridge (not that I do this!!). With saved Legos, you can make castles and life-size blocky replicas of Halle Berry -- hooray!
  • Money would suddenly become color-coded, thereby making the US exactly like Canada.
  • Legos are, like, impossible to counterfeit. Believe me, I've tried.
  • When you tip a pretty waitress you could make a cat or a rose or something cheesy like that. Conversely, when you pay your taxes you could build and send in a pair of $7,860 multi-colored buttocks.
I could go on and on, but I think it's pretty clear that this scheme has no down side. In fact, I think this is my best idea yet, except for the Combination Bagpipes / Breathalyzer, but I'm not going to tell you about that one because it's so great you'd steal it.

November 19, 2002

Sam Loyd's Trick Mules

Sam Loyd's "Trick Donkeys" is one of the most elegant puzzles ever invented, and if you've never seen it before, I urge you to give it a shot. Click on the image to the left, print out the page, and cut the figure into three parts along the solid lines. Now, position the strip onto the other two pieces so that it looks like each jockey is riding a donkey. Folding is not allowed.

This puzzle was created by one of America's greatest puzzlists, Sam Lloyd (1844 -1911). Loyd sold his puzzle to P. T. Barnum, who marketed it as "P. T. Barnum's Trick Mules." It was printed on a card to be cut into the three pieces. Millions of the cards were sold, and supposedly Loyd earned a fortune -- $10.000 -- in just a few weeks.

Don't give up -- the solution is really quite simple! If you must, you can see the answer here.

November 18, 2002

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Okay, I finally gave in and scoured my referrer logs for strange Google requests. Some of my favorites:

This old page gets a ton of hits from people trying to Lose Weight Fast! I'd feel guilty if I could stop laughing.

[ link | dy]



Mm

Old Men ... At The Hardware Store!:

Old Man At The Hardware Store: [receiving receipt] All right. Thank you so much.

Young Lady at Register: No problem.
OMATHS: But not too much!
YLAR: Mm.
OMATHS: Did you catch that? What I said?
YLAR: Mm.
OMATHS: First I said "Thank you so much." But then I said "But not too much!"
YLAR: Mm.
OMATHS: Hah hah! Okay, well I'd better go before I get myself in trouble!
November 15, 2002

Coming Soon To A Future Near You

From: anthony 5684-880-4b (tony5684-880-4b@candersystems.com)
Subject: Microsoft OS 47 Sucks!!
Newsgroups: cybernetics.os.47
Date: 2048-11-15 11:57:50 PST

Hey everyone. I'm pretty new to the cyborg scene, having only got my first implant in `45. At first I thought it was totally awesome, what with the flying around and the super strength, and I don't know how i got along without laser eyes!

But last week I installed MicroSoft Cybernetic OS 47 and what a msitake that was!! First, like all my memories got deleted somehow, and I hadn't made a backup for a few months so I have a 114 day gap in my memory now which totally sucks (people keep telling me about this great party I went to in July that I wish I remembered). Plus, some of my old skills aren't compatiable with this new version, so I can't play hyperball at all anymore.

Okay, so no big whoop, I expected some of this. But NOW I KEEP CRASHING!!!! I've been crashing two or three times a week, and a few times no one has been able to reset me for hours. I was in a meeting today at work and I totally froze up five minutes in and no one even noticed until after they were done adn everyone was leaving. My boss rebooted me but he was pretty pissed that I didn't remember anything that had been discussed after my lock-up.

Plus my immune system is shot -- I've been getting viruses left and right.

Has anyone else had these problems? What should i do? Microsoft has an upgrade but costs $74,500 -- not a whole lot, but not cheap either. Or i could go with the You-nix Cybernetic OS, that's another option. Any suggestions?

tony5684


Movies: Punch-Drunk Love

When I first heard that P.T. Anderson was making a movie starring Adam Sandler, I thought I was faced with a dilemma of "unstoppable force hits immovable object" dimensions. What's a guy to do when he's vowed to see every movie a certain director makes, and then discovers that the director has casts an unwatchable actor in the lead role? Fortunately, P. T. Anderson also put Phillip Seymour Hoffman in there, which settled the matter: two "must sees" beats a single "can't bear".

So let's cut to the chase: yes, Sander is fantastic in Punch-Drunk Love, the newest film by the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. But even so, Sandler-loathers need not worry: with the exception of this aberration, you can go right back to disliking him, because he'll never again have a role so perfectly suited to his marbles-in-the-mouth, rageaholic, soft-in-the-head schtick.

Sandler plays Barry Egan, a mess of a man who is unlucky in love and nearly everything else. Barry seems nice enough, but it's pretty obvious that he's a few croutons short of a salad. For one thing, he was raised with seven sisters, and they have left him a nervous wreck. For another, he seems rather obsessive: he's currently buying thousands of cups of pudding in an elaborate scheme to get a bunch of Frequent Flier Miles that he has no intention of using. (This aspect of the plot, by the way, is based on a true story). All this makes for a guy that you wouldn't really want to hang out with, much less date. But then lovely, charming Lena shows up and somehow falls in love with him. It's hard to tell what Lena sees in Barry; but it's also hard to tell if she isn't just as loopy as he. While Barry oscillates between introvertion and aggression, Lena emits a perpetual, low-key, vaguely insane vibe.

And there you go: two charismatic screwballs = one romantic comedy. There's a whole lot of other stuff going on -- miniature pianos and phone-sex chat lines and decorative toilet plungers are all featured prominently -- but it's essentially the Barry & Lena show. Furthermore, Anderson has a habit of tossing completely random and inexplicable stuff into his films, and this one is no exception. The first 20 minutes of Punch-Drunk, in fact, play out like an extended dream sequence. Now, I'm a complete sucker for nonlinear storylines, but I could understand why some might find Punch-Drunk Love pretentious. Hell, it is pretentious, make no mistake, but, like I said, I groove on non sequiturs. What's interesting, though, is that The Queen, who has a much lower tolerance for pretension than I (she hated Mulholland Drive, I loved it) also quite enjoyed Punch-Drunk, and that's saying something.

I spent the first nine months of 2002 bitching about how few good movies I'd seen; now, in the last month, it's been bang bang bang: Das Experiment, How's Your News and now Punch Drunk, the top three films I've seen all year. My only regret is that I can no longer use the name "Adam Sandler" as a synonym for "talentless hack". Oh well, I still have Eminem. I'll just have to make a point of not seeing 8 Mile.

November 14, 2002

Ed

Boy, something has been driving me crazy! It's been nagging me for weeks, and although I have tried to get over it, I just can't stop obsessing. I need to do something. I guess the best thing to do is to just get it off my chest by describing it in horrific detail, here on my weblog for the whole world to see.

Psyche! I'm just joshin' ya. I got nothing worth saying today.

Here's a photo of my new cat, Edgar.


Control-C-Ven King

Discussion over lunch:

Me: Is C. still on vacation?

R: Yeah, he's gone all month. He's home writing a book or something.
Me: Is he doing that Nanowrimo thing?
R: I don't think so. What's that?
Me: Nanowrimo is "National Novel Writing Month". It's this ridiculous thing where people try and write an entire book in 30 days.
R: No, he's been working on his book for a while. That Nanowrimo thing sounds crazy!
Me: Yeah. I thought about doing it, but then I checked out their webpage, and it said you had to write, like, 2,000 words every day, and in the end you have a 175-page book. A crappy 175-page book. I figured, hell, if I wanted a crappy 175-book, I'd just go buy the newest Star Trek novelization or something. Or I'd just write one really good sentence and cut-n-paste it every day until I had 175-pages.
R: That's what Jack Nicholson should have done in The Shining. When they remake it, they'll show him highlighting that sentence, and then just cut-n-pasting a bunch.
Me: Hah hah! Yeah, and then the wife will be all like "My husband's gone psycho!" And they cops will say "What? All he did was hit control-v a couple dozen times...?"
R: Now they can never remake that movie, thanks to technology.
Me: Oh I dunno, they could use it to their advantage. What if they showed him writing "All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy" on his Palm Pilot 68,000 times? Psycho!
November 13, 2002

How Does It Feel When You Got No 401(k)?

Hello Peter. Please sit down. You know Margaret, from Human Resources? No? Well, she's the HR liaison for our group. I've asked her to sit in on this meeting.

Listen, I'll get right to the point. You're been with us for -- what? -- four years now, isn't it? Seven years?! Well, then, really Peter, you should know how we do things around here better than anyone. You of all people should know that this company rules the nation with version.

And an employee of your tenure should be well acquainted with this, our Standard Operating Procedures manual. You have a copy of the SOP in your office, don't you Peter? Okay, well, do you know the Work Practice Regulations concerning the passing of the dutchie? You're nodding, but I'm not sure that you do, Peter. Look here on page 433. The dutchie, you'll note, is to be passed on the left-hand side. Left-hand, Peter.

Now, I've received a number of reports from both employees and customers that you routinely pass the dutchie on the right-hand side, and sometimes will even pass it to the person sitting across from you. That is simply unacceptable. These Standard Operating Procedures are not, you know, are not negotiable, Peter. The dutchie is to be passed on the left-hand side, end of story.

This is your verbal warning; Margaret is here to note it in your record. And you are now on a 30-day performance plan. If your dutchie passing doesn't improve by the end of the month, I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to explore other options, up to and possibly including termination. Obviously I'm not happy about this. This doesn't make me jump and prance, Peter. But I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to the dutchie.

Okay, well, that's all I had to say. I'm sure you'll be passing the dutchie with greater care from here on out. Now, if you could do me a favor, Peter: on your way back to your desk could you ask Carl to step in here? I understand he recently shot the sheriff and the deputy, so I'll need to speak to him about that.


Basted in Blood

I look forward to Thanksgiving every year just so I have an excuse to listen to this song (MP3 link).

It was performed on Saturday Night Live by Sarah McLachlan and Anna Gasteyer (a.k.a. Cinder Calhoun). This was the set-up:

Cinder: Thanks Norm, um as Sarah knows, I'm still not really comfortable with the term "standup comic", I really consider myself more of a weaver of satiric truths in the tradition of the great Appalachain humorists.
Norm: Sarah, how did you discover Cinder, here?
Sarah: Actually, it's a pretty funny story.
Cinder: Yeah, we were hanging out one night backstage with Alanis Morisette at the Follow your Bliss Tibetan freedom concert and everyone was in a real, like giddy slaphappy mood cause I was on a roll telling some pretty righteously funny Guatamalan animal riddles that I heard from a Latina friend. And Alanis was like totally stumped by the one about the trickster owl and the hungry bird and she goes "I don't get it" and I looked at Sarah and I just go "Alanis...you you you oughta know!"
Sarah: ...And I laughed so hard the baba ganoush I was eating came out of my nose!
Cinder: It was unbelieveable, it was unreal.
Norm: So you guys going to do some of your comedy for us tonight?
Cinder: Actually, Norm, Sarah and I feel that we'd be really remissed if we didn't use this platform to address an issue tonight. We were at a Maya Angelou poetry reading last night with Fiona Apple. She is so wise. Yeah.
Sarah: We were discussing the ritual torture and senseless slaughters of turkeys in the name of the gluttonous, nationalistic, patriarchal holiday that we call Thanksgiving.
Cinder: Right, and the sickest thing that Fiona told us is apparently that one company has a 1-800 number that gives out cooking tips and recipes encouraging the mutilation and consumption of these beautiful birds!
Sarah: (puts hand on Cinder's arm) Are you gonna be okay?
Cinder: Yeah... So, um, we wrote a song about it for all the turkeys out there who celebrate Thanksgiving. It's called "Basted In Blood".
Stolen from here.
[ link | Links]


November 12, 2002

O, Canada

The Queen and I went to Canada for Veteran's Day weekend. I love Canada. What? Because you can't legal wed a sovereign nation, that's why. Besides, I love Canada as, you know, a friend. Remember Duckie from Pretty in Pink? Duckie was the nice, responsible, smart guy, who was madly in love with his best friend, Andie? And Andie only had eyes for Blaine -- the big, dumb, sexy guy -- even though he infuriated her? Well, Canada, you see, is Duckie. And the US is Blaine. And the rest of the world is Andie. And Quebec is crazy, crazy Allison Reynolds. No wait: Allison Reynolds was in The Breakfast Club. Well, whatever. That was kind of a dumb metaphor anyhow.

Fun Facts That Are Simultaneously Fun And Facts!
  • Canada is the world's fourth largest country!
  • Canadian Prime Minister Jerry Glark won a bronze metal for the javalin in the 1972 Goodwill games!
  • Canada has more Maxim subscribers than any other nation!
  • Canadians have over 60 words for 'snow' and another 18 for 'camel'!
  • I am just making these Fun Facts up!
Crossing the US / Canada is always a chore, because Canada is terrified of guns and the US is terrified of drugs. You could take a .22 south over the border, rob a junkie at gunpoint, and return to B.C. with his heroin, but not vice versa. (Tip: if you are a passenger in a car that gets stopped and searched at the Canadian border, do not shout "shotgun!" when they allow you to reenter the vehicle.) For some bizarre reason it was relatively calm this weekend, though. When the Canadian customs lady asked me "purpose of trip" I managed to not say "Republican take-over of Congress," and so we got through with minimal fuss.

After that it was two days of relaxation. Even the drive to our destination was pleasant, what with all the polite drivers and such. It's nice knowing that, if someone cuts you off in traffic, you don't have to go through the bother of tailgating them and running them off the road and pulling them from their vehicle and beating them senseless with a tireiron, because even if you do nothing you'll soon receive get a lovely, handwritten note in the mail apologizing for the infraction.

Also, the metric system rules. It's too bad Americans are too egocentric to even consider adopting it. Maybe if we gave all the units pro-US names we could sneak it in. We'd call a meter a "patriot" and a gram a "eagle" and a liter a "constitution," and then people would be all psyched to use them, and would routinely boast about jogging in the 10 kilopatriot "These Colors Run!" roadrace.

Update: Many of you, like myself, have been wondering why I suddenly had the urge to visit Canada. Now I know. A "Krackel" wrapper has been sitting on my desk since Halloween. Yesterday I picked it up, tilted it just so, and discovered a Canadian conspiracy of X-fileian proportions.

Now, if I could only stop liking hockey ...


This Will Only Hurt a Moment

Paul and I were in my car, stopped behind a red light, and I was reading the political signs that adorned nearby yards. "Check that out," I said, pointing to one that read 'Retain Rick Drumheller As City Attorney'. "What a weird word to use, 'retain'. I guess that's what you do with lawyers, retain them, but they make him sound like a kidney stone."

"Maybe that's intentional," Paul speculated. "I mean, I'd rather retain him than pass him."

November 11, 2002

Requiem for Boddy

Everyone who reads my essay "Requiem for Boddy" over at The Morning News will receive a cupcake. Some restrictions apply.

November 08, 2002

Movies: How's Your News?

How's Your News is the best movie you'll probably never see.

I'd been wanting to see it for months (ever since reading this MetaFilter thread), but never expected to do so. The film had received critical acclaim at the few festivals that showed it (and won the audience award at the Comedia festival in Montreal), but there were no plans for widespread (or even limited) release. Luckily, I happened to skim a local weekly's movie listings just in time to discover that it was playing in Seattle's aptly-named Little Theater for four days only. I had the great fortune to catch the premier last night, and am pleased to report that my eager anticipation was entirely justified.

The documentary follows five adults with mental and physical disabilities as they travel across America in a RV and interview everyday folks for a show called How's Your News? Ronnie Simonsen and Susan Harrington are the two most active reporters, conversing with everyone from homeless men to women at grocery stores. Both conduct their interviews in idiosyncatic ways: Ronnie steers almost every conversation to the celebrities he is obsessed with; Susan is prone to bursting into song and ends every segment with a well-rehearsed sign-off. Sean Costello, who has downs syndrome, also speaks to a variety of people.

The other two members of the How's Your News cast are unable to speak intelligibly, but conduct interviews all the same. A speech impediment renders everything Robert Bird says as gibberish, but he can communicate quite effectively through written notes and by accompanying his "words" with gesticulation. Larry Perry has severe spastic cerebral palsy and can neither walk nor speak, but is able to hold a microphone and interview subjects by allowing them to talk freeform.

The interactions between the How's Your News team and the general public are always interesting, sometime awkward and frequently hilarious. The reactions to Bird's gibberish-talk are especially varied and telling: some vainly ask him to repeat himself in an effort to understand, others respond with generic uh-huhs and okays, and some "play along" by guessing at the questions he might be asking and gamely providing complete replies ("I'm doing great. How are you?").

It's hard to read about this movie and not think the whole thing smacks of exploitation. The director, Arthur Bradford, addresses this concern right on the film's home page:

All of the people associated with How's Your News?, including the reporters and their families, are extremely proud of the work which has been put into this movie. The How's Your News? reporters may not look, act, or speak like traditional news reporters, and the news which they gather may not be traditional news, but we stand by it all the same. In fact, we feel that to deny these reporters the chance to express themselves freely, travel the country, and communicate with the people they meet would be a real shame.
What's even more shameful, in my opinion, is that there are a plethora of well-promoted fictional movies about developmentally disabled people (Forrest Gump, i am sam, The Other Sister, etc.), but a movie showing actual developmentally disabled people winds up with no distribution whatsoever.

Furthermore, I have long felt that Hollywood's practice of lionizing the developmentally disabled does more harm than good. While some films (notably Rain Man and Who's Eating Gilbert Grape) portray those with disabilities as everyday people with everyday lives, many others reflexively elevate their protagonists to the status of "hero" for having been born with a handicap. The problem with such aggrandizement is that it prevents us from relating to the characters as fellow human beings; we are instead urged to look upon them as role models and metaphors. Worse still, we are admonished for laughing at (or even with) anything they do, because to do so would be "insensitive". In short, filmmakers try to have it both ways: they want to present the disabled as human (or, in some cases, the very essence of humanity), but they also insist that we not treat them as such.

But humans are funny creatures. The right to laugh, and the risk of being laughed at, comes with the territory regardless of who you are. To disallow this very fundamental interaction is tantamount to dividing us into camps. How's Your News does an excellent job of avoiding this "us" and "them" demarcation, and you feel like you're watching a home movie made by friends.

It's exhilarating to see how much fun the cast is having throughtout the film. Perhaps it's all the shows and movies that insist on depicting life as a disabled person as a deadly serious enterprise, or perhaps reality television has conditioned us to expect people on camera to be humiliated and degraded, but How's Your News?, just by showing folks enjoying themselves, comes across as remarkably upbeat and refreshing. At one point during an interview, Sean Costello tells his subject "This [trip] is my dream. What's your dream?" and everyone -- the interviewee and the audience -- finds themselves stumped by the question and envious of the asker.

Halfway through the travelogue the crew is seen playing Scrabble in the RV. The tiles have been placed onto the board any-old-way -- upside down and sideways -- and it's unclear if they are even making real words. But who cares? They're determined to have a good time, and they don't seem to mind if they have to break the rules to do so.

If you live in Seattle, you still have three days to see "How's Your News" at the Little Theater; if you live anywhere else, keep checking their webpage -- maybe you'll luck out. There are a few video clips from the movie available over yonder (scroll to the bottom of the page), but you will need Quicktime to view them. The "How's Your News" crew was also featured on "This American Life" earlier this year; you can hear that segment here

November 07, 2002

I.H.O.P. Passes Resolution On Belgium

After months of negotiations, the International House of Pancakes has passed a resolution demanding that Belgium reveal and destroy its stockpiles of waffles or face the possibility of invasion. Although the nation was stripped of its waffle-making capacity in the 1989 Bisquik Offensive, experts believe that Belgium has managed to smuggle in sufficient flour, eggs, and milk to virtually rebuild its supply, and now lacks only the baking soda necessary to active these so-called 'alternate breakfast entrees' (ABEs). "This resolution sends a strong message to Brussels," announced I.H.O.P. Secretary-General Mabel Buttersworth following the vote. "The International pancake community will not stand idly by while rogue nations continue to produce ABEs." The resolution was passed 214-1, with only France dissenting. Paris has expressed concern that, if the action in Belgium succeeds, their reserves of French Toast may come under scrutiny.

[ link | News]



Sid Sackson, 1920-2002

Remember when Dale Earnhardt was killed, and NASCAR fans were mopy for months thereafter? That's what board game enthusiasts are like today.

In the world of ludology, Sid Sackson was a pioneer, with scores of card and board game to his credit. One of his first (and most highly regarded) games was Acquire, a stock market simulation that is to Monopoly what Citizen Kane is to an episode of Becker. I distinctly remember playing Acquire in my youth and realizing that this particular game was on a completely different level than the Paydays and Operations I had played in the past.

In the years to follow, Sackson would design a series of fantastic games, including many of my personal favorites: Can't Stop, Kohle, Kies, & Knete, and Focus, one of the first games I ever owned. His book A Gamut of Games is a treasure trove of enjoyable pastimes and brilliant ideas. And by all accounts he was also a really nice guy.

Sid Sackson passed away yesterday at the age of 82. His collection of over 10,000 board games will be auctioned off next week.

November 06, 2002

Books: American Gods

Have you ever finished a book and immediately thought "Man, I want to read that again!" That's not how I felt after reading American Gods, the Hugo award winning book from Neil Gaimen. Instead, I though "I should read that book again -- because I wasn't really paying that much attention the first time".

Although this is the first Gaiman novel I've read, I owned and enjoyed the entire run of Sandman back in the day. Based on that, I kind of knew what I was getting into: something mystical, something humorous, something with great ideas to spare. And American Gods is all of these things, no doubt about it. But it still failed to really grip me like I wanted it to.

Our protagonist is Shadow, a man released from prison only to discover that he has nothing to return to. Now direction-less, he is immediately enlisted up by a couple of guys who may be grifters or ancient gods or both. One of them, Mr. Wednesday, claims a huge, metaphysical shitstorm is coming, and needs help with some logistical details; seeking funds and a purpose, Shadow swears allegiance to Wednesday and soon finds himself enmeshed in a theological scrimmage.

American Gods reads a lot like Stephen King's early stuff, and I mean that as a compliment. (Snobs like to dismiss King's work as pedestrian, but there's no doubt that the guy is eminently readable). But like King (and Tolkien, for that matter), Gaimen tends to be a bit prolix -- at 600 pages, this book should have been two-thirds as long, perhaps halved. It starts out slow, then picks up steam, then goes into a 150-page holding pattern about halfway through. Although intermittently riveting, it took me weeks to get from one end of the book to the other. Part of the problem was my schedule (my stint on jury duty was going on at the time, leaving me intellectually exhausted every evening), but some of the blame must be attributed to American Gods' sheer verbosity.

This would have been a perfect vacation book, something to devour over a few airplane rides when you have no alternative (except SkyMall) to soldiering on through the dry patches. And although I found myself vaguely disappointed at not being fully engaged, I could see myself reading it again at some future date when I have the mental resources to give it my full attention. As it stands, I recommend American Gods to those who have the time and wherewithal to read 600 pages of book to enjoy and darned good 400-page story.


The Democrats' Fatal Flaw

In case you hadn't gleaned it from this site, I'm a progressive Independent that almost always votes Democrat. So no one is unhappier than I to see the Republicans snag control of all three branches of government. But who can blame the voters, when the Democrats are so fractured that they can't rally behind a single person to articulate what little message they have? The most recognizable and respected figures in the party were so busy competing against one another for the 2004 nomination that they couldn't speak with one voice even long enough to stave of this major setback.

George Bush demonstrated in the 2002 election that you don't need a cohesive plan ("If affirmative action means what ... I'm for, then I'm for it.") so long as you have a personality to present it. But who has really gotten the Democrats fired up in the last two years? A loser (Gore, on the rare occasions when he pokes his head out of hiding and says something worth hearing), a Republican (McCain, during the flurry of reports that he might run on their ticket in 2004), and a dead guy.

Many have pooh-poohed the negative ramifications of the Wellstone Memorial-turned-rally, but its implications were more profound than just ghoulish opportunism. It showed that, while they wouldn't stand behind Wellstone and his progressive politics while he was alive, they would enthusiastically point to him and shout "that's what we stand for!" when he inadvertently procured three hours of prime time television. This desperation for a spokesman spoke volumes about the Democrats' paucity of vision.

Also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't very good last night, so it was kind of a double blow.

Update: Okay, I got kinda worked up about the elections there, but it's all better now. I just went to the gym and watched CNN Headline News where they didn't mention the election once. It was, like, wall-to-wall Winona Ryder verdict coverage for the entire hour I was on the treadmill. Oh wait, they did break away at one point to talk about -- this is true -- the sniper case.

Now I'm all distracted and apathetic again -- thanks CNN! Estimated Date Of Giving a Rat's Ass About Poilitics Again: April 28, 2004. See you then!

November 04, 2002

Pray For Matthew

I hate football, but tonight I am going to an "Official Packer Backers" sports bar to watch Green Bay play the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.

So if the year is 2007, and you are reading my site, and this is the last entry I ever made ... well, that's what happened to me.

[ link | Misc]



My Kitty Is The Mother Of Invention

Remember how Larry would always burst into Jack's apartment unannounced on "Three's Company"? That's what great, pet-related ideas have been doing to my head in the last week or so. Check out these two sure-fire winners:

Cat-A-Tonic 4000: My wife and I used to live in a noisy, urban apartment. We had so much trouble sleeping that we eventually bought one of those sound machines -- not the Miami kind, with Gloria Estafan, but the type that have, you know, a bunch of "soothing tones" to help lull you into slumber: White Noise, Ocean Waves, Babbling Brook, Crickets, etc.

But we recently bought a house, thereby trading one insomnia-inducing problem for another. Now we no longer have the noise, but we have since acquired a handful of squirrelly, nocturnal cats. They like to show up at 2:00 the morning, leap onto the bed, and tromp around like a marching band, or give our faces unexpected groomings. So while we no longer require the white noise, we now need something to keep the kitties at bay.

That's why I'm going to invent the Cat-A-Tonic 4000. It will work just like the traditional noise machine, except that, instead of quietly playing soothing noises, it will loudly play sounds designed to deter feline visitations. The five settings will be:

  • Vacuum Cleaner

  • Garbage Truck

  • Coke Can Full of Pennies

  • Firecrackers

  • Water Spritzer
Also, every fifteen minutes it will bark. Land of Nod, here I come!

Heroin Chew toys: Some friends of mine recently got a puppy that immediately ran away. It's kind of a long story, involving loose collars, thunder, and a Nick At Night "Joanni Loves Chachi" Marathon; suffice to say, the dog ran away and my friends were worried sick for days. They kept putting his food bowl out in the back yard but he didn't return until, like, six days later, when he finally hungry enought to come home.

So in the interest of preventing this kind of tragedy from befalling others, I immediately applied by parsnip-like intellect to this vexing problem. What would prevent a dog from running away for a full week, asked I. And the answer was so obvious that I'm amazed that you, personally, hadn't already thought of it: a heroin addiction. That's where heroin chew toys come in. If your puppy runs away, he's guaranteed to be back on your doorstep, strung-out and whining for a fix by the end of the day. And this works a lot better than food as a Canine Retention Tool, because while a hungry dog can scavenge or eat (o)possums or whatever, a heroin addicted dog has no choice but to go home, unless you live in downtown Seattle, in which case your dog can get hooked up pretty much anywhere.

Wow, these ideas are so great that I am already rich!!

November 01, 2002

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Do The Math

Estimated Number of Fun-Size Candybars My Wife And I Had In Our Trick-Or-Treat Bowl At 5:00 Yesterday Evening: 25

Number of Trick-or-Treat'er We Received all Night: 2

Average Number of Fun-Sized Candybars Given to Each Trick-or-Treat'er: 2

Estimated Number of Fun-Size Candybars My Wife And I Had In Our Trick-Or-Treat Bowl At 11:00 Yesterday Evening: 0

Estimated Time My Sugar High Wore Off: 7:25 this morning.

Links

"There is a hole out there, they believe, a hole that not only appears to be bottomless but has, on at least one occasion, brought an animal back to life. The hole, the story goes, exists outside of town on land once owned by a man who calls himself Mel Waters. For years, he said, it was used as the neighborhood dump for trash, old appliances, dead cattle. When the hole never filled up, Waters measured its depth by lowering weighted fishing line into it. After 80,000 feet, he gave up ..." News story here, website there.

Promising new photo blog: Science Meets Art.

I HATE MAYONNAISE AND MUSTARD!!!!!. Yes. Yes you certainly do.

A Full House Beats a Your Fired

I was drinking hot chocolate out of one of those "Wildcard Poker" paper cups the other day, and I noticed it had a disclaimer on it reading "For Consumer Entertainment Only". Maybe the Wildcard Poker Paper Cup Co. had to fire some employees who were entertaining themselves on the clock.

Speaking of unemployment, here's a joke I just made up: Question: How do you fire a lingerie model? Answer: Give her a pink slip. Holy crap, that's even worse in hypertext than it was in my head! Let us never speak of it again.

Nerd Scam

My wife is a professional Botanist. Yes, I know that's awesome. She used to work for a University, and she occasionally still gets mail at that old address. Last week she received a forwarded missive from the International Biographical Centre. (Motto: So Prestigious We Misspell 'Center'!) The envelope was covered in phony official stamps and seals; the letter within read "We are delighted to confirm your nomination as an International Scientist of the Year for 2002."

It's unclear what duties my wife will have to fulfill in her role of International Scientist of the Year -- ribbon-cuttings at Science 'N' Stuff stores throughout the nation, presumably -- but with such power comes great financial responsibility. If she wants THE OFFICIAL SASH OF OFFICE, for example, she has to cough up $300. It is described as a "silken sash, with golden tassels, woven in a luxurious scarlet red and has the Legend of the IBC along with the words INTERNATIONAL SCIENTISTS OF THE YEAR embroidered in a golden thread." (Apparently they were gunning for the INTERNATIONAL RUN-ON SENTENCE OF THE YEAR award for that one.) The OFFICIAL GOLD GILT MEDAL OF EXCELLENCE also runs for three hundred smackers, as does the PICTORIAL TESTIMONIAL. I dunno, the PICTORIAL TESTIMONIAL sure looks like something I could whip up on my coffee break, but it must be for real because the letter clearly states that, if you buy the testimonial, it "will say something unique about the recipient." On the other hand, how "unique" is it to have something that says you're a dumbass? Look at SUVs.

I find it hard to believe that anyone in the "international scientific community" would be vain and stupid enough to to fall for this codswallop. Psyche, no I don't!.

Three Things I Firmly Believe

  1. Chapstick is more detrimental than beneficial.
  2. People in America do not go to see enough magic shows.
  3. There exists no woman who isn't more attractive in glasses.