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May 28, 2003

Darth Vader Made Me Cry

Note: An expanded version of this story is now available here.

Click here to see the handiwork
of The Dark Lord of Sith
When I was seven years old I received the best Christmas present ever: a copy of The Star Wars Storybook. On the inside front cover my parents had written "To Matthew - Merry Christmas in 1978. From Mother and Daddy with lots of love."

I was fairly certain that this was a gift beyond improvement. But a few months later I saw in the paper that Darth Vader -- the Darth Vader! -- would be coming to a nearby department store. I begged my mom to take me. She agreed, and we visited the mall on a Saturday afternoon so I could get Vader's John Hancock.

Upon our arrival we found ourselves at the end of a long line of parents and youngsters eagerly waiting their opportunity to meet Darth Vader. Kids would be allowed to approach Vader singly or in small groups; they would approach and exchange a few words, or ask for autographs, or simply stand there awe-struck. It was like visiting Santa Claus, except the guest of honor was more renowned for breaking necks than for dispensing candy canes. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one sits on Darth Vader's lap.

As I got closer to the front of the line, I could feel my excitement reach fever pitch. Finally it was my turn. The attendant waved me through, and I rushed forward to meet my anti-hero. But once I actually entered Darth Vader's Personal Space, I was abruptly cowed. He was huge! And he had exactly the sort of dominating presence you'd expect of an Imperial Dark Lord. I was struck dumb, and stood there like a field mouse that had just spotted an owl.

At some point I managed to squeak out my request -- or maybe I just held the book and black marker out, I honestly don't recall. In any case, Darth Vader took the Storybook, quickly wrote something inside, and handed it back. I stammered out a thank you as we were ushered off to the side.

As we walked away I was filled with combination of terror, relief, and exhilaration. After snapping out of my daze I urged my mother to stop walking so I could see the autograph, and opened the storybook to find the words "Darth Vader" scrawled on the inside cover. I immediately began to proactively gloat, thinking about how jealous my friends would be when I showed them Darth Vader's autograph. But then, just before I closed the cover, I noticed something else. While signing my book, he had also taken the opportunity to scratch out the word "love" in the inscription "From Mother and Daddy with lots of love."

Stunned that the Lord of Sith could be so mean I immediately burst into tears, and continued to bawl as my mother led me to the escalator. The kids still in line watched me with curiosity, and then glanced at Darth Vader with fear in their eyes.

May 27, 2003

Know Thyself

The other night The Queen and I were watching The Big Forever Last Buffy Episode Ever Forever, and, during the break, there was an ad for Direct TV that I had never seen before. In it, a pair of sexy girls are at a party, sitting on either end of a large couch. Into the frame walk two stereotypical nerds -- glasses, terrible hair, pocket protectors, the whole nine yards -- who wedge themselves between the ladies and begin various fumbling attempts at small talk. The women first look mortified, then annoyed, and then a little panicky. Finally, one of them grabs a remote control sitting on an end table, points it directly at the camera, and presses a few buttons.

Now we get a reverse shot, where we discover that there is a TV directly across from the couch. The television screen flashes through a few menus (presumably in response to the girl with the remote) and then settles on Star Trek.

In the last shot of the ad we again see the nerds, who are staring at the television mesmerized. But unbeknownst to them, the two ladies have disappeared, leaving the duo alone on the couch.

"Hah hah hah!" I said when the commercial reached the punchline. "That was pretty funny!"

There was a pause while The Queen looked at me oddly. Then she said, "I think it's great that you can laugh at yourself."

May 22, 2003

Treasure Hunt 2003: There's No Place Like Home

On April 27, 2003, I held my Seventh Annual Birthday Treasure Hunt on the campus of the University of Washington.

First, some history. While a student at The Evergreen State College, I read this article on the annual MIT Treasure Hunt and decided that I wanted to host a similar (albeit greatly scaled down) event for my friends. So in 1995, the first Birthday Treasure Hunt was held in lovely downtown Olympia, WA.

Two years later I held the second "annual" Hunt in La Paz, Bolivia, for two score Peace Corps Volunteers. Since my return from South America, the Hunt has been run more-or-less-every year, always on the University of Washington campus. The first four Hunts were abstract, with generic puzzles and solutions, but in 2000 I switched to themed Hunts, and have since held "Treasure Hunt 2000: Down the Rabbit Hole" and "Treasure Hunt 2001: A Puzzling Odyssey". The theme for "Treasure Hunt 2003: There's No Place Like Home" was The Wizard of Oz.

April 27 turned out to be a beautiful day for a hunt. After oscillating between "crappy" and "also crappy" for weeks, the whether took and abrupt turn for the lovely that Sunday morning, and remained so for the rest of the day. So when the 30+ Hunt participants gathered on the north side of the UW fountain, they did so on what seemed like the first true day of spring.

As in previous years, the mechanics of the Hunt were straightforward. Players assembled into teams of 3-5, each of which received a sealed envelope. Upon my word all teams opened their envelope to find a map and the first clue. The map (seen here) showed a subset of the campus, with only 30 building names listed. All further clues would be found in one of these 30 buildings, a warning noted. The first clue, as with all clues, was a puzzle which revealed the location of the next clue. The object of the Hunt was to be the first team to solve all six clues and get to end location.

At 2:15 I gave the signal and the Hunt began.

Clue One: Welcome To Oz: The first clue came in two parts: a sheet of paper with instructions and a small ziplock baggy full of Jelly Bellies. The instructions said that that there were seven different types of Jelly Bellies in the bag, and that each distinct flavor represented a different letter of the alphabet (as shown on a chart at the bottom of the page). Players were told to first determine the seven letters, then "anagram the seven letters to spell out two common, uncapitalized words -- the first with three letters, the second with four. The two-word phrase is a synonym (of sorts) for where you should go next."

Based on color and flavor, teams had little difficulty determining the seven flavors: licorice, coconut, peanut butter, lemon, banana, cinnamon, and pear. (I was skeptical about the last one, but, by jimminey, it really does taste unmistakably like pear.) These seven flavors corresponded to the letters KLOPRSY, which can only be anagrammed into a single three-word / four-word phrase: "sly pork". Teams that didn't automatically assume they had made a mistake when confronted with "sly pork" looked at the list of buildings and quickly found the "synonym (of sorts) for where you should go next": "Cunningham". The second clue was posted in that building's main entrance.

Clue Two: The Scarecrow: Next up was the S.A.T.: the Scarecrow Aptitude Test. The puzzle had ten multiple-choice questions -- from antonyms to reading comprehension to problem solving -- all having to do with brains and each with a numeric answer from 1-4. Players were told to add all their answers together, plug the sum into an equation, and write the resulting six-digit number into a series of blanks: __ __ / __ __ / __ __. Written thusly, the solution gave the combination to a locker, in which the next clue was hidden.

Clue Three: The Tin Man: This was the toughest clue for many teams, because it revolved around a type of puzzle that most people have never heard of: the nonogram. In these ingenious brainteasers, players use logic to determine which squares in a grid to blacken and thereby reveal a picture.

Unlike most nongrams, this one had letters inside the boxes, and the note: "Ignore the letters in the boxes until the puzzle is complete, then use them to determine the building and room number where the next clue is located. Remember: "It's what's inside that counts!" This was a reference to the fact that, when the nonogram was complete, the letters inside the picture (a heart, of course) spelled out: ARTTWOTEN. And that's where the next clue was to be found: on the door of room 210 in the Art Building.

After the hunt, many participants expressed an desire to do more of these kind of puzzle. So here you go: this is my favorite online Nonogram site, here are a bunch more.

Clue Four: The Cowardly Lion: The next clue featured three Quotefall-style puzzles, the kind routinely found those "Penny Press Puzzle Books" available in airports worldwide. This may have been the easiest puzzle in the whole Hunt for a couple reasons. First, crafty teams discovered that they could deduce the full solution to the clue after solving only two of the three Quotedrops. Also, all three of the Quotefalls contained the word "courage," and figuring that out generally "unlocked" the rest of the puzzle.

Clue Five: The Wicked Witch: "I'm mellllllllllllllllllllllting!!!!" That was the theme to this, the fifth puzzle in the hunt. The puzzle consisted of a table containing 27 numbered cells in three columns and nine rows, with shaded boxes between each of the columns. (Oh fer crissakes, just go look at the damned thing.) Below, definitions were given for each cell, along with the following instructions: "Write the five-letter answer to clue 1 in the first space. Then drop one letter to get the answer to clue 2. Put the dropped letter into the shaded box between the two columns. Drop another letter (again putting it in the shaded box) to get the answer to clue 3. Follow this pattern for every row in the puzzle."

When completed, the letters in the shaded boxes were: CAPFOUNDONCARTIRES (e.g., "cap found on car tires"). A glance at the sheets listing the building names should have revealed the answer: the "HUB" (Husky Union Building).

Clue Six: The Wizard Of Oz: This was it, the final clue. The clue was in an envelope, which also contained a set of nine tiles. The clue said "Place the nine tiles into the frame of your map so that there every road leads to Dorothy, a house, or Kansas (i.e., there will be no dead ends). The orientation of pictures and letters on the tiles do not necessarily correspond to the correct orientation of the tile itself, so do not rely on them as guides. Once the path is complete, just follow the yellow brick road!" The "map" indicated was the small map that was included with the first clue.

One of the tiles had a hole cut out of it, and it was fairly simple to place it onto the map in such a way that the final building was indicated: Mary Gates Hall fit in the cut-out hole perfectly. But the clue was fairly well hidden within the building, so teams who dashed off to Mary Gates without solving the entire puzzle generally looked in vain.

Those who managed to place all nine tiles onto the map, however, could trace Dorothy's path all the way to Kansas and jot down all the letters she passed on here journey to spell out: MARYGATESHALLATTHEBOTTOMOFSTAIRONE. ("Mary Gates Hall At The Bottom Of Stair One"). Sure enough, those who went to the stairwell labelled "Stair One' and walked down it all the way to the bottom found a map of Kansas squirreled away down there. This was the final location and solution to the Hunt.

The first team to arrive at the final location (and win the Hunt) was Toto's Teeth: Josh Davis, Gunilla Eriksson, Linda Mitchell and William Pross -- not coincidentally, the exact same team that won last year's hunt under a different guise.

Congratulations to Toto's Teeth, and a big thanks to everyone who participated!


The Lockjaws: Graduation Day

Since first professing my love of The Lockjaws (see: Finally, A Place Where People With Lockjaw Can Meet Online!), people from all the world have been sending me updates to let me know how they've been doing. For example, I recently received word that The Lockjaws were purchasing a home and pursuing the America Dream together.

Well the great news continues to roll in. Today Mike Wolfe wrote to tell me the latest event in the life of The Lockjaws: their children are graduating from college!

America is truly the land of opportunity. Kids, never let anyone tell you that an infection of the bacillus Clostridium tetani can stand between you and your dreams.

May 21, 2003

Purported Hart Tape Urges Al-Qaeda To 'Never Surrender'

An new audiotape encouraging Al-Qaeda resistance is said to have been recorded by fugitive Corey Hart.

The 4 minute, 52 second communication, broadcast today on Al Jazeera, told listeners that "no one can take away your right to fight," further urging that they "never surrender." The US terror alert level was raised from yellow to orange after the release of the tape because of what some believed to be veiled threats encoded in the missive, including one portion that ominously warns Western forces that "just a little uncertainty can bring you down."

Although Al Jazeera broadcasters credited the tape to Hart, intelligence experts have been unable to authenticate this claim, as most have found it difficult to listen to the message in its entirety.

Corey Hart has been in hiding and at the top of America's "Most Wanted" list since last year, when the United States bombed and invaded his home country of Canada. Democrats have criticized the White House for failing to capture Hart even after boasting that his arrest was all but inevitable. At one point, when US forces had the outlaw surrounded, Bush went so far as to call Hart "The Boy In The Box."

[ link | ]



Books: Look At Me

(No, it's not another weblog handbook ...)

Looks are everything. That may not be the take-home message of Jennifer Egan's Look At Me, but it's the philosophy guiding the novel's myriad of characters.

We first meet Charlotte, a model whose trade is her face -- at least until said face is crushed in a car crash and has to be reassembled with the help of 80 titanium screws. Now a woman who was recognizable to complete strangers has to identify herself by name to those she's known her entire life.

We later meet Moose, a professor hovering over the line of insanity, whose dissertation examined the invention of clear glass. When glass allowed the populace of the middle ages to see into the dirty corners of their homes and view their own visage in mirrors, and Moose argues that the result was a radical cultural transformation as society became abruptly obsessed with appearances.

Nearly everyone else who traipses through the pages of Look At Me illustrates some aspect of image consciousness. A high school student seems to be a normal teen but is actually living a dangerous double life. The identity of a teacher is a complete fraud -- in truth he is a cipher with a mysterious past. A husband works as a marketer, inventing stupid products that Americans will impulse-purchase at first sight.

By the midpoint of this book, I was ready to declare it "The best book I've read since The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay!" But my enthusiasm waned somewhat from that point on. Egan's writing is engaging, and she skillfully creates a host characters that come across as both illustrations of her central thesis and as human beings, but after spending the first half of the novel establishing them she doesn't do a whole lot with them thereafter, with the plot aimlessly zigging and zagging its way to a finale that could have come 100 pages sooner.

But despite these flaws, Look At Me is an excellent book about an fascinating topic, and is, yes, the best book I've read since The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Egan has somehow managed to write a remarkable deep book about the perils of superficiality.

This is a brief and mostly spoiler-free interview with Jennifer Egan.

This Slate article reveals some of major plot points, but does discuss a rather astounding aspect of this book's timing that I, ever the spoiler-phobe, opted not to mention here.

May 20, 2003

My Cred Is Intact

A coworker walked by my office and overheard the mp3 I was listening to. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "Are you listing to The Backstreet Boys?!!"

"No, of course not!" I replied guiltily. "Like I'd listen to The Backstreet Boys! Yeah, right! Hah hah! Hah! No, this is a parody of The Backstreet Boys called 'E-Bay'." By Weird Al Yankovic."

Whew -- that was close! Thank goodness I was able to explain to her that I was listening to Weird Al -- otherwise she might have thought I was a dork.


Slogans and Subjectlines

  • Lean Cuisine's new slogan is "It's not just lean, it's cuisine". Apparently consumers were unable to deduce this from the name. In other news, Coke's new slogan is: "Coca-Cola: it's a beverage for drinking."
  • Free joke for your stand-up routine! "Election season is starting to heat up: Bush has filed for reelection and the Democrats have held two debates. And both parties announced that they will be running on Clinton's 1994 slogan, although each will emphasize the half that they feel is their strong point -- the Democrats will highlight the 'It's the economy!' part and Bush will focus on the 'Stupid'."

  • Today I was rummaging around in my spam-filter folder, and came across an email entitled "HERE ARE YOUR GANGBANG PICTURES!!!". But when I opened the email it turned out to be some complete stranger's gangbang pictures instead (!!). Oh boy, what an embarrassing mix up. Anyway, if you recently got my gangbang pictures by mistake, drop me a line so can get this all sorted out. Thanks.
  • May 19, 2003

    Mother Of The Year

    I was on my morning commute, sitting in the seat across from the bus's back door. In the last row sat a mother and her two-year old daughter. The young girl was loudly wailing in that half-assed manner that indicated that she was neither in pain nor upset about anything in particular, but just wanted some attention: "whuuuuUUUAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!! {pause} whuuuuUUUAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!! " The mother was chatting on her cell phone and looking out the window, the only person on the entire bus able to ignore the child's screams.

    We arrived at a stop in downtown Seattle. The mother hastily wrapped up her phone call, yelled "C'mon this is our stop we gotta go MOVE IT!" in the general direction of the youngster, and bolted from the bus. As her child tottled down the aisle and warily stepped down the first of the three large steps that led from the bus to the curb, the mother began walking briskly away.

    Then a whole bunch of things happened at once. The bus driver, unable to see the small child in the stairwell, closed the doors right in her face. I leapt to my feet and yelled "back door!" The girl, meanwhile, stood stunned for approximately 7/10 of a second, then shrieked, then burst into tears, then turned around, then climbed back up the step, and then latched onto the first thing she came in contact with, which was me. By now the rest of the bus had taken up the chorus of "Back door! Hey, there's a kid back there! Back door!" The bus lurched forward before the driver realized what was going on, then abruptly came to a stop. I frantically patted the kid on the shoulder and mumbled "there there" and "see? we're stopping" while the girl continued to bawl and remain affixed to me like static cling incarnate.

    Finally the back door reopened. The mother -- who, at some point, had apparently realized that the total number of offspring in her company had recently dropped by 100% -- charged up the two steps, grabbed the girl, and yelled, to me, "Get your hands off my baby!"

    What I should have said, at this point, was: "Yes, you've got me! I am a skilled kidnapper whose modus operandi is ride around on public transportation until some abandoned child attaches itself to me like a tick, whereupon I take it to my secret lair, which, fortunately, just happens to be on a bus line."

    But of course I was too surprised by the whole chain of events to say anything so clever. Instead, in my very best "I can't believe I won a million dollars!" Lotto-jackpot-recipient voice, I said "Take my, wha-?! Fuck you, lady!"

    As the bus pulled away, I could see Mother Of The Year on the curb hollering at her kid, while the girl sucked in several cubic yards of oxygen and prepared to resume her wail.

    May 16, 2003

    Movies: X2: X-Men United

    (For real this time.)

    To any of the many kids I argued with in eight grade that are reading this blog: I guess you were right after all.

    You know those lunkheads who get all worked up about the whole Ford / Chevy thing? When I was in middle school, the crowd I ran around with was kind of like that. But instead of arguing about auto makers, our big schism centered around a debate that rages in schoolyards around the nation to this very day: which is better, DC Comics or Marvel?

    Me, I was a DC man myself. If the "Calvin Peeing On The Marvel Logo" sticker had been around in 1984, I probably would have owned one. The Flash was my favorite superhero, followed by Batman, Superman, Green Lantern -- pretty much the entire Justice League was on my reading list. (Red Tornado four-part mini-series? Bought it!) Sure, I read a few Marvel titles, but they were just filler, something to tide me over until the next issue of "Blue Devil" arrived.

    What I wanted in my comic books was simple: wisecracking guys in costumes beating the crap out ridiculous supervillians. And that's pretty much all the DC Universe provided (at least until Alan Moore and Frank Miller and Neil Gaimen showed up and, like, made everything sophisticated and stuff). A typical Flash comic book would go like this: Captain Boomerang (no, seriously) would escape from the Central City Penitentiary in a giant flying boomerang and then he would rob a boomerang factory and throw boomerangs at a bunch of people and then The Flash would show up and they would fight and Captain Boomerang would unveil his new Super-Speed Homing Boomerang that he carved out of soap or something while in the pokey but then The Flash would vibrate his molecules at a special boomerang frequency or some shit and win, the end, woo!

    Marvelites regarded these kind of comics the way Roman Polanski regards "Becker". They were forever going on and on about how much better the Marvel Universe was, because it grappled with "real issues". Peter Parker was a introverted dweeb. The Hulk had rage issues. Iron Man was an alcoholic. Daredevil had a disability (the kind that allows you to jump off buildings and make-out with Black Widow, apparently).

    And the X-men -- oh brother. Why not just call them "The Angst-vengers" or something? Every time I accidentally read an X-Men comic book it was all like:

    Wolverine: Magneto is going to blow up Switzerland, bub! Let's go!
    Kitty Pryde: I can't! Because I'm an outcast! With menstrual cramps!
    Storm: Wolverine, let's slow down and talk about this for a really long time. I mean, saving the world is important, sure. But it's equally important that I spend the next 47 panels pontificating about diversity.
    Wolverine: *Snikt!!*
    Holy crap, who would want to read this stuff?! Why not just wear a sign that says "I'm a girl who likes to read soap operas written for girls??!!!!"

    Anyway. Seventeen years went by...

    I finally got around to seeing X2: X-Men United last night. Catching this particular flick wasn't exactly my top priority for a couple of reasons, even in addition to those mentioned above. First, while I enjoyed the original X-Men movie just fine, it didn't leave me burning up for a sequel. Second, have you seen the X2 poster? It has, like, 49 faces on it. It looks like one of those wedding-photos-gone-awry, where the photograph says "okay, now let's just have the bride and the groom and their cousins" and then someone asks "what about the spouses and children of the cousins?" and the photographer says, okay, cousins and their spouses and children, and then someone else says "what about the spouses of the children of the cousins?," and then, 18 months later, you're looking at that picture and wondering why the caterers are in it. That's what the X2 poster looks like. And the reason the whole Batman movie series imploded, aside from the fact that Batman Forever was apparently "written" by sea cucumbers, was because they were introducing four new characters per film, complete with back stories and alter egos and side romances and blah blah blah. And it looked to me like that's all X2 was going to be: 120 minutes of new character exposition and back story, with maybe a seven minute fist-fight wedged in the middle somewhere.

    Not so! X2 hits the ground running and never lets up. For example, a brand new character, Nightcrawler, is introduced in the very first scene of the film -- except that he's not really "introduced" at all, he just shows up and, without further ado, starts kicking every ass in his path. Who is he? What is his power? Why is he blue? They don't tell you -- not for a while, anyhow. Instead they just hand you a spectacular opening sequence and move on. Now we're with Wolverine, out in the middle of nowhere, looking for some military compound. Hey wait, military compound -- didn't they talk about this in last movie? Who knows? They never bother with a recap. If you remember X-Men, great; if you don't, well, so what? Rent the DVD next weekend, we don't care.

    Some of the reviews I've read since seeing the film lament this very aspect of X2. "Literally, for the first hour of this movie, you have no idea what it's about or what's at stake," writes Stephen Hunter from the Washington Post. "This is what happens: First they run over there, then they run over here." Memo to Mr. Hunter: duh! It's a superhero movie, dude -- what we're you expecting X2: My Dinner With Andre? Two of the things that make comic books so appealing is that (a) they generally have, at any given moment, 913 subplots for diehard fans to keep track of, and (b) if you're not a diehard fan and don't give a rat's ass about the subplots, that's perfectly okay because there will also be lots of punching.

    Instead of squandering our time with recaps and backstory, X2 plunges right into a sinister and eerily contemporary conspiracy story. As in the first movie, a number of Inter- and Intra-governmental forces want all mutants registered or incarcerated. (Hello John Ashcroft!) Professor X, as usual, seeks a peaceful solution to the crisis, while Magneto instead advocates his pet solution to every social ill (i.e., "kill everyone!").

    What makes the X-men so interesting is that there is no sharp division between Good Guys and Bad Guys -- although Magneto plays Malcolm X to Dr. Xavier's Martin Luther King, the two are pretty much on the same team when it comes to "The Mutant Problem." This paradox -- the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy -- is a hell of a lot more interesting than your standard "Flash vs. Captain Boomerang" comic book balderdash.

    Which is a long way of saying, okay, you win. I finally get it. The Marvel Universe and its whole talking-about-contemporary-social-problems-through-allegory methodology really does make for a better story. And working with this model, X2 provides the best of both worlds: non-stop action and something to think about afterwards. The film isn't afraid to ask some hard question, and doesn't cop-out by coughing up a bunch of facile answers. In fact, it respects the audience enough to suggest that there simple remedies may not exist for fear and intolerance. And in that, X2 pull off a pretty neat trick: it creates a four-color, comic book universe that doesn't paint the world as black and white.

    Also: Mystique is hot and Wolverine turns a bunch of people into deviled ham. Recommended!

    May 15, 2003

    Edict

    The refrigerator at work is covered with those tiny, rectangular "Magnetic Poetry" words. While in the kitchen a moment ago I accidentally bumped into it. Two of the words fell to the floor and landed face-up at my feet. They said "Love People".


    Blogs

    Hello sailor! If you're here because of the KUOW's Weekday program on blogs and are eager to learn more about weblogs or online journals or baby possums, here's a bevy of links that you may find useful. And I'm sure that the defective yeti readership will be happy to provide additional resources in the comments below.


    Blog Readin'
    My favorite blogs are listed over on my homepage's sidebar, but here are a few worthy of emphasis:

    Seattle Blogs: There are too many excellent Seattle blogs to even start listing here. Thankfully, someone else has already gone through the trouble -- check out The Seattle Weblog Portal.
    Honest-to-Godness Weblogs: First up, Robot Wisdom. When the term 'weblog' was coined, this is what it meant (and Robot Wisdom's founder, Jorn Barger, ought to know -- he's the one who coined it). Here's another Cardhouse.
    Pioneers: These guys have been blogging from the get-go, and have built up a dedicated following.
    Weblog Directories and Listings: where to find just about anyone's blog.
    Community Blogs: weblogs written by a community rather than by a single person.
    Political Blogs:
    A few that will crack you up:
    And here it is: The Soup Blog

    Blog Writin'
    Wanna try your hand? Here's some sites with history, tips, and software relating to blogs.
    First! Read Meg Hourihan article What We're Doing When We Blog, which says everything that I would have said on the air if I had the ability to say things well.

    The History Of Blogs:
    Weblog News:
    • Blogdex - a kind of "what's Hot" for the blogging community.
    • DayPop - weblog search engine.
    • BlogRoots - weblog news
    Tips For A Starting Blog:Blogging Software And Sites:

    Baby Possums
        Photos of baby possums!
    Thanks to Anita Rowland for her help in compiling these links (except for the baby possum resource -- that was all me).

    May 14, 2003

    Weekday

    I'm slated to appear on KUOW's Weekday tomorrow at 10:00 to blather on about blogs. You can listen to it live (either at 94.9 FM if you live in the Seattle area, or via webcast if you live elsewhere). Or you can find it in the Weekday Archives after the fact and listen to it then. Or you can not listen to it at all -- see if I care, you jerk.

    If there's some particular aspect of blogging you think should be discussed, feel free to mention it in the comments. (Note: "VISIT MY SITE IT R0X0R!!!!" does not constitute an "aspect of blogging.")

    Update: If you are a Seattle Blogger but your site is not yet listed at seablogs.hellbent.org you can use this online form to add yourself. This is where I will be pointing those listeners looking for local weblogs.


    Bomb The World

    If you ask me, most of the hastily issued "anti-war" songs (REM's "Final Straw," Beastie Boy "In A World Gone Mad," Lenny Kravitz's "We Want Peace," etc.) that came out last month were what we in the music business refer to as "pretty lame".

    But "Bomb The World (Armageddon Version)" by Spearhead, which I just heard for the first time on the sublime KEXP, is actually kinda catchy. [mp3] [lyrics]

    Update: In the interest of fairness, here's Dan Worley's pro-war song "Have You Forgotten," which is also catchy, albeit it in a Frankly-Every-Country-Song-Sounds-Pretty-Much-The-Same-To-Me kind of way. But he manages to rhyme "bin Laden" with "forgotten", so, you know, mad props for that. [mp3] [lyrics]

    Watch for Worley's next song "Baby, Give It Back!," a paean to Bush's "economic stimulus" package rapped to the tune of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back":

    I like tax cuts and I cannot lie
    You other brothers can't deny
    That you feel elation when they pass legislation
    Givin' ends to some rich white guy
    In retrospect, that wasn't very fair at all.

    [ link | Links]


    May 13, 2003

    Opposites Distract

    I'm in the grocery store looking for condoms. I've checked all the usual hideouts -- the pharmacy aisle, the "feminine hygiene" aisle, the Most Visible Section Of The Store Specially Designed To Discourage Teens From Buying Contraception, etc. Ė and Iím getting nowhere. So I ask one of the stockers for directions.

    "The condoms?" he says. "Oh yeah, they are over on aisle 14, right next to the diapers."

    Let me get this straight: the birth control is lumped in with the baby supplies? What the hell, are we sorting by antonym, now?

    [ link | Humor]


    May 12, 2003

    Only A Test

    As you may have heard, Seattle will be engaging in a huge, simulated bioterrorism attack this morning. I'll be doing my part to help make this drill as authentic as possible by first looting the corner store when I hear of the "attack," and then bringing all the beef jerky, Chick-O-Sticks and Mountain Dew Code Red I can carry back to my office, where I will spend the remainder of the day curled up in the fetal position under my desk and mewling. So, anyway, postings might be light today.

    Update: Whoa -- I just heard on the radio that this whole TopOff2 simulated terrorist thingamaroo is costing 16 million! Dollars! That's a heck of a lot to pay for what is essentially one big role-playing game scenario. I mean jeeze, couldn't they just hire, you know, a really kickass Dungeons and Dragons DM -- maybe someone who used to run Top Secret campaigns or something -- and do the whole thing in the basement of the Wizards Of The Coast building?

    DM: Okay Greg, you are in your office mayoring when a terrorist sets off a dirty bomb. What do you do?

    Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels: Um, okay, I, um, I call Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske and tell him to go down there and, like, investigate.

    DM: Don't just say it, roleplay it.

    Nickles: Oh right. Um, okay, "ring ring!"

    Kerlikowske: I pick up the phone. "Hello."

    Nickles: "Someone set off a dirty bomb!"

    Kerlikowske: I say "Who is this?!"

    [Laughter]

    Nickles: Hah hah! I say "This is Mayor Greg Nickels and I order you to go investigate the dirty bomb!"

    DM: Okay, roll against Charisma and see if he's convinced. Meanwhile, what do you do, Gary?

    Seattle Fire Chief Gary Morris: I grab my Fire Axe of Tor +2 and slide down the pole to my truck...

    If you paid for soda and pizza you could probably do the whole thing for under a hundred bucks.

    May 09, 2003

    Movies: The Pianist

    I figured I was done with Holocaust movies. Actually, I figured I was done with Holocaust movies after Schindler's List, but I had to concede that "Life Is Beautiful" was astounding. After that, though -- after seeing a freakiní comedy about the Holocaust -- I was certain that I was totally, completely, 100% done with the whole genre. And then came The Pianist by Roman Polanski.

    The story begins by recounting the travails of one Polish family; later, when they become separated, the film focuses on just one member of the family, musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, on whose memoirs the screenplay is based. Although The Pianist covers some well-trod ground, it does so in a way unlike any other Holocaust movie I've seen.

    First, The Pianist does not take the "bird-eye" view of the war that so many WWII films adopt. There is no omniscient voice-over giving the audience month by month updates on what was transpiring elsewhere in Europe. Instead, we see things through the eyes of the Szpilman family, who only know a tiny fragment of the whole, whose knowledge of whatís occurring is confined to what they hear on the radio. This gives the entire first half of the film a very claustrophobic feel, and is more dread-inducing that having the entire story told. When someone insists that the Nazis would never try to exterminate the Jews and waste such a huge labor pool, Polanski trusts that the viewers are sufficiently educated to know that this will not prove to be the case.

    Secondly, everyone in The Pianist behaves like a real human being rather than Symbolism On Legs. When I was in 11th grade Lit, we were taught that symbolism is when a writer uses a small, fictitious thing to represent a large, real thing. The turtle in Grapes of Wrath, for example, stood for the Oakies: slow, earthy, and almost impossible to kill. The two pigs in Animal Farm are analogous to Stalin and Trotsky. The flowers outside Hester Prynn's jail cell represent freedom. Get it? Here's, James Cameron to the contrary, what's not symbolic: the Titanic hitting a iceberg and sinking. Rather than being an enormous symbol for man's hubris, the Titanic was an actual ship that hit an actual hunk of ice and took an 1520 actual people to their grave.

    Likewise, the Holocaust is not a giant symbol for Man's Inhumanity To Man -- it was a real event involving real people. But Holocaust filmmakers tend to make every Nazi The Incarnation Of Evil, and every Jew an Example Of The Indomitable Will Survive, and every event A Dark Hint Of Things To Come. While I'm sure it's easier to make a film filled with symbolism and caricatures, a movie like The Pianist -- where the Jews are portrayed as human and the Polish are portrayed as human and, yes, even the Nazi are portrayed as human -- is infinitely more interesting, and much more enlightening than one that simply chants "Nazis bad!" for 120 minutes. Polaski recognizes that the story is powerful enough without romanticizing the victims or demonizing the, well, demons.

    Adrian Brody, as Wladyslaw Szpilman, is simply marvelous, and more than earned his "Best Actor" Oscar (and his Halle Barry French kiss). And the academy chose well when opting to give Polaski "Best Director" -- he takes a simple approach to The Pianist, but it's this very unassuming style that transforms the unthinkable enormity of the Holocaust into something so intimate that every person in the audience can relate to it.

    I swore I was done with Holocaust movies, but The Pianist proved me wrong. And if anything this good comes out in the future, I'll be happy to be wrong again and again.


    defective yeti Momalizer

    The problem with journalism today is that it's all so damned depressing: North Korea has nukes, the US has deficits, Harrison Ford is dating Calista Flockhart, and so on. Just skimming the Yahoo! News page is enough to induce an anxiety attack. If only there was some way to soften the blow ...

    Well now there is! Just enter your email address below*, select the news story you wish to read, and the defective yeti Momalizer will put it into the most comforting format possible: a friendly email from your dear old mom.

    Enter your email address:
    * You email address will not be used for evil ** . If fact, it's not even stored anywhere. ** For real.
    May 08, 2003

    1999

    I was getting my hair cut by a young lady at the local barber shop.

    Her: What day is it today?
    Me: Um, Thursday.
    Her: Wow, it's almost the end of the week -- it's almost the end of the month, even! And next month I turn 21! I can't believe it!
    Me: Sneaks up on you, huh?
    Her: It's crazy! I mean, how can I be 21?! How can it already be 2003?!
    Me: Uh-huh.
    Her: I mean, do you remember when that song came out, that "1999" song by that guy?
    Me: Prince?
    Her: Yeah. Do you remember when that song first came out, how they played it, like, all the time? And then New Year's came and it was the year 2000 and they totally stopped playing it? I mean, that seems like yesterday.
    Me: When 1999 first came out?
    Her: Yeah. Do you remember that? A few years ago?

    The haircut cost 20 bucks, but the feeling old was free.

    May 07, 2003

    Op/Ed

    UNWILLING TO BELIEVE
    By Paul Krugman, guest columnist

    With his grudge match against Saddam resolved, an presidential election looming, and the "War or Terror" largely forgotten, George Bush is again straining our credulity to the limit.

    How many times must we go down this path? We were promised Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," yet the criminal mastermind remains at large. We were told horrific tales of Iraqi WMDs, yet these stories still remain unsubstantiated. We were assured that our once robust economy would be mended, yet this administrations remains committed to tax cuts in the face of mounting deficits.

    With the White House's credibility at an all-time low, it's unfathomable that they would choose this moment to unleash a yet another taradiddle on the American citizenry. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration yesterday introduced a new food product -- full of the rich, creamy taste we love, and great for baking, cooking, or spreading on our favorite foods -- that they audaciously vow is not butter.

    Again we are asked to ignore the evidence of our eyes. Even the most dogmatic of Republicans must concede that this appears, in all respects, to be butter, from its just-whipped texture to its light-golden hue. And perhaps the political orchestrators behind this latest canard presumed that we would take their statements on faith, without once sampling the substance in question. But one taste -- a taste I, personally, have taken and enjoyed -- is enough to put Bush's assertions to the lie. That this is butter is an ineludible fact.

    As with all compulsive prevaricators, the White House is not satisfied to simply insist that the most paradoxical of statements are true ("War Is Peace," "Ignorance Is Strength," "This Is Not Butter," etc.) but feels compelled to embellish even these outlandish claims. This product, we're told, contains only 90 calories per serving, and is available as a spray, as a squeeze -- even as a calcium-enriched spread. Spurning the age-old adage that the biggest of lies must contain a grain of truth, Bush seems content to pile falsehood upon falsehood until the target audience is gulled by the overwhelming quantity of untruth.

    Many in these uncertain times will rush to give the President the benefit of the doubt; others will insist that it is our patriotic duty not to publicly question the Commander-In-Chief's veracity. And perhaps it's possible for the majority of American to willingly suspend their collective disbelief one more time. But not I. My capacity for credence has been exceeded; I can't believe it's not butter.

    [ link | News]


    May 06, 2003

    Update: The Lockjaws

    Hey, remember The Lockjaws? (If not: "Finally, a place where people with lockjaw can meet online!")

    Well I just heard some fantastic news! According to an email that's currently circulating, they are now purchasing a home together!!!

    What a great country, where a couple of people afflicted with tetanus can meet online, fall in love, and pursue the American Dream.


    Bush To Water Ski Over Shark Tank

    Following the media's breathless coverage of his landing on the USS Lincoln, President George Bush today announced his intention to don water skis and jump a tank of man-eating sharks. The event, to take place on February 3, 2004, will be carried live on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, UPN, HBO, The Food Channel, The Weather Channel, Comedy Central, The Home Shopping Network and Spice, with publicity photos to follow in every American newspaper and weekly. When asked why the stunt was scheduled for the same day as the South Carolina Democratic Primary, Bush urged reporters to "sit on it"

    And while I'm media-bashing: check out the "Reuters Photo" that accompanies this story. We know we've found Saddam's WMDs this time because the State Department has secured some clip art of a truck.

    Update: Laurie Boris writes "Send that truck clip art to North Korea. That'll give 'em something to think about!!"

    Update: Apparently disgruntled with the poor quality of the "Reuters Photos," Yahoo! has now switched to the vastly superior AFP Photos.

    [ link | News]


    May 05, 2003

    Hah Hah Hmm

    I can't decide if this joke I made up is funny or not:

    Did you hear about the San Andreas philanthropist who spent 3 million dollars funding local geological research? He was generous to a fault.
    Okay, I just decided.

    [ link | Humor]



    ... And I Ain't Shut My Piehole Since
    Yes that's me: back row, far right, mouth agape.
    [ link | dy]


    May 02, 2003

    Re: How Do I Get Rid Of A Door?

    Someone at my company just sent this to the internal mailing list:

    Does anyone know what to do with an old, but otherwise perfectly functional wooden door with built-in glass window on the upper half? I'm planning to take it to a Recycling Event this Saturday, but I'm afraid that they will just dump it in the trash. I'd hate for it to go to waste if someone out there could use it. Does anyone know where I could take it to help it find a new home?

    Thanks,
    Barry

    Using a forged "From line" (I'm friends with this guy), I replied:
    Hi Barry. You might consider sending this to "Doors For Moors," (http://www.doorsformoors.org) a charitable organization that accepts used doors and donates them to the nomadic people of northern Africa. It sounds like a really worthwhile organization -- according to their website they've sent over two dozen doors to the former inhabitants of Mauretania since 1998!

    Karen

    If I can make even one person's day in the office a little more surreal, I feel I have done my job.


    The Bad Review Revue

    A Man Apart: "This film raises a few questions -- like just what were they thinking?!" -- Rene Rodriguez, MIAMI HERALD

    View From The Top: "If this new I-wanna-be-a-stewardess picture were an airplane, it would blow up on takeoff. If it were an airline meal, it would infect you with E. coli. If it were a parachute, it would be riddled with holes. " -- Shawn Levy, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

    Bulletproof Monk: "Relentlessly stupid." -- Lou Lumenick, NEW YORK POST

    Malibu's Most Wanted: "The film feels like a truly awful Saturday Night Live sketch padded out to such unholy lengths as to make It's Pat seems like a comic masterstroke." -- Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

    The Real Cancun: "Two of MTV's stupidest programs, The Real World and Spring Break, have been rolled into one staggeringly dumb feature film. I'm like, 'Dude, this totally blows.'" -- J. R. Jones, CHICAGO READER

    May 01, 2003

    X2: X-Men United

    I caught the midnight sneak preview of "X2: X-Men United" last night at Seattle's Cinerama theater. Overall I thought it was pretty good. I like the director (Bryan Singer), the special effects have vastly improved since the first film, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was fantastic. I don't want to talk too much about the plot, but the story was believable (in a comic-book-universe kind of way), and although I saw the ending coming a mile away it still made for a satisfying finale.

    My only real beef with the film was the egregious product placements. I know there were a few in the first X-Men movie and that product placements are becoming more common and acceptable in major motion picture, but I thought X2 really went overboard. I didn't mind the smaller stuff -- the fight scene in the Wal*Mart, Storm using Visa to buy training equipment, Cyclops wearing Addias, etc. -- but the addition of Dr. Pepper (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to the X-Man team was just too much.

    Don't get me wrong, I liked the fact that X2 introduced new heroes such as Nightcrawler and Shadowcat. But those two were taken from the original comic books, and were well integrated into the story. Dr. Pepper, on the other hand, is a brand new character, and (according to Entertainment Weekly) was added to the X2 screenplay after filming had already started. The worst thing was how they restructured the whole plot around him, with lots of flashback sequences that showed his previous life as mild-mannered Jonathan Pibb M.D. and the "freak carbonation accident" that gave him his powers.

    And what's up with his powers, anyhow? Does Dr. Pepper's mutant ability to "quench" really add anything to the X-Men team? I mean, I guess it came in handy in X2, since Magneto's master plan was to team up with Drought (another new character) to attack New York with a "Thirst Ray," but I still thought the whole character was pretty gratuitous. Plus, Hoffman looked ridiculous in that dark-purple leather costume.

    So, in summary: I liked X2 overall, but found Dr. Pepper hard to swallow (ha!). In fact, the only thing cool about Dr. Pepper was his catchphrase: he would twist the heads off enemies and shout "You're not a winner! Please try again!" That was pretty badass.


    [And This Is My Platinum Crapper]
    Close Captioning for MTV's "Cribs" is provided by the US Department of Education
    As the nation's deficit continues to swell, I'm guessing that there's at least one Federal position America could survive without.