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May 31, 2005

Why Was I Not Notified?

Hey, are we no longer calling them "Freedom Fries?" Because recently, when I order them that way at the Burger Barn, all I get is a blank stare.

Oh Those Women Drivers!

In case you missed it:

Robby Gordon accused Danica Patrick of having an unfair advantage in the Indianapolis 500 and said Saturday he will not compete in the race again unless the field is equalized.

Gordon ... contends that Patrick is at an advantage over the rest of the competitors because she only weighs 100 pounds. Because all the cars weigh the same, Patrick's is lighter on the race track.

"The lighter the car, the faster it goes," Gordon said. "Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier. I won't race against her until the IRL does something to take that advantage away."

Wow, Mr. Gordon must feel very strongly about the importance of weight to a racecar (palindrome!) driver, since he's willing to stake his entire career on it. I guess that's why he's 5'10" and 200 lbs. Of course, I'm sure his extra cargo is all muscle. Or, at least, one muscle. The one you use to turn a steering wheel slightly counterclockwise.

Actually, I'm not sure his complaint has any merit. I mean, okay, she weights 100 lbs. But she must be wearing at least 45 lbs. of advertising.

And besides, it's not as if males don't have physical advantages over females in some sports. When the Amazons decided to compete against men in archery they lopped off a breast; it seems like the least Gordon could do is forego a Kristy Kreme once in a blue moon.

Yes, I realize that the I5K is already over. But I feel it's our duty, as an Internet, to heap as much ridicule on this guy as possible, even after the fact.
May 27, 2005

Fish Story

The Squirrelly's daycare was closed today, so I took the day off work and we went to the Seattle Aquarium. It was fun. The great thing about going to any sort of educational facility in the company of a small child is that you are free to just skip all the boring stuff. No standing around, pretending to appreciate the majestic majesty of some slow-moving critter that looks like a hunk of coral; bring a toddler and it's nothing but sharks and seals.

And here's a fun exercise: next time you go to the aquarium bring a flask of watermelon schnapps, and take a drink every time you hear a child shout "Nemo!" You'll be dead of alcohol poisoning before you reach the otters.

I lifted The Squirrelly up at the hands-on exhibit and he immediately plunged his paw into the water to grab at an anemone. Next to us was a boy of about 10 who was holding his hand apprehensively over the surface of the brine. His father said, "Whattaya scared of? Look at that little baby! That little baby's reachin' right on in there!" I should have said, "Yeah, well, this little baby will also reach into his diaper and grab his own feces if we don't keep him distracted while changing him, so maybe he's not the best role model, eh?"

They should totally have a day where everyone can bring their cats to the Aquarium to look at the fish and sandpipers. It's the worst idea I've ever had, but the thought of the mayhem makes me smile.

P.S. We just got The Squirrelly's one-year glamour shots back from the lab.


The yeti Book Club

As I mentioned in my House of Leaves review, the Booklist 2005 Project is going swimmingly. So in case anyone wants to play along at home, here's what's next:

  • Gringos by Charles Portis, to be reviewed on June 13;
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, to be reviewed in late June.

[ link | Books]

The Bad Review Revue

Monster-In-Law: "Jane Fonda coming back to the screen after a decade-and-a-half absence in Monster-in-Law is like Brando returning from the dead to star in a Police Academy movie." -- Michael Sragow, BALTIMORE SUN

Hostage: "A steaming pile of clichés and screaming unlikelihoods." -- Jessica Winters, VILLAGE VOICE

House Of Wax: "Purists, be warned: This scare-flick quickie has as much relation to the 1953 Vincent Price classic with the same title as Paris Hilton does to acting." -- Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

Mindhunters: "Will do for psycho-thrillers what Showgirls did for stripper movies." -- Allison Benedikt, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Revenge Of The Sith: "The general opinion of Revenge of the Sith seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes" True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion." -- Anthony Lane, THE NEW YORKER

May 26, 2005

Games: Jambo

In 1996 a German company called Kosmos launched a line of games exclusively for two-players. Since that time Kosmos has produced more that a score of games in the series, including such highly regarded titles as Lost Cities, The Settlers of Catan Card Games, and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (a personal favorite of mine). Recently, though, the line has seen few mediocre games and one downright bad one, and some began to wonder if the series had run its course.

Then came Jambo. Released last year, the game is being heralded as amongst the very best in the Kosmo two-player series, and was recently nominated for the prestigious "German Game of the Year" award.

Players are merchants, buying and selling wares in a Swahili marketplace. The game is played almost exclusively with cards, although there are also some counters representing the assorted goods players will trade. On a turn, a player receives five actions, which he can use to do a number of things. The first thing a player typically does on a turn is use one or more actions to draw cards from the deck until he finds one that he wishes to keep; the remainder of his actions may then be used to play or use cards.

Central to the game are the Ware Cards, which allow players to buy and sell the six available commodities (cloth, fruit, herbs, hides, salt, and jewelry). Ware Cards (usually) depict three goods -- maybe three of the same kind, maybe all different, maybe two of one ware and one of another -- and two prices. The first price is the amount the player pays to the bank if he wishes to purchase the shown wares; the second is the amount he receives from the bank when he sells the shown wares. In general, the selling price is about twice that of the purchase price. But as with most cards in Jambo, Ware Cards can only be used once before being discarded. So after using a Ware Card to buy two salt and one fruit, a player cannot then use the card again to immediately sell those commodities for a profit. Instead, a player will typically play a few Ware Cards to purchase goods, and then use subsequent Ware Cards to sell different combinations of the goods he now owns.

Other "play and discard" cards allow a player to take special actions or hinder his opponent in some way. Utility Cards, however, are played face-up in front of a player, and can be invoked once per turn, at the cost of one action per use. Most of the Utility Cards allow a player to exchange two of the game's three resources (cards, money, and wares) -- the "Well" card, for instance, allows a player to buy a card from the deck for 1 gold, while "Boat" let a player discard a card and take the ware of his choice. The more Utility Cards a player has in play the more options he'll have on a turn, but he's still limited to five actions, and choosing how to spend them makes for some difficult decisions.

Jambo shouldn't be good: it's too random, it doesn't allow for much strategic play, and the theme is largely superfluous. Trumping all these negative point, though, is the fact that the game is unaccountably fun, way out of proportion to what it oughtta be. There's plenty of player interaction, as you sic crocodiles, elephants, and all manner of beasts on one another, and the game becomes quite tense when someone nears the winning score of 60 gold. Best of all, the whole thing plays in about half an hour.

It's a bit more involved than the aforementioned Lost Cities (which continues to be the best "gateway games" of the Kosmo two-player series), but Jambo works pretty well for introducing new players to modern games. And although there are many different cards to learn, the basic framework of the game is fairly simple: draw cards, play cards, buy wares, sell wares. The artwork is very nice too, and somewhat makes up for the deficiencies of theme.

All in all a neat little offering, and one that again has me looking forward to what the Kosmo two-player series has in store.

Darth Vader Made Me Cry

One of defective yeti's most popular posts has always been Darth Vader Made Me Cry, my true tale of meeting the dark lord of the Sith in a local department store when I was eight.

In the years since I wrote it I've been telling an expanded version of the yarn in various venues, including A Guide To Visitors, and as my opening for Kevin Guilfoile at the Elliot Bay Bookstore. I've been meaning to revise the original article for a while now, and the release of Revenge of the Sith seemed like a good time to do it.

So head on over to The Morning News today and get the whole sob story: Darth Vader Made Me Cry.

May 25, 2005

Books: House Of Leaves

Note: This review is part of the Booklist 2005 Project.

Wow, the Booklist 2005 Project is working out great for me. It's led me to three of the best books I've read in years: Cloud Atlas, Oracle Night, and, most recently, House Of Leaves. In fact, House of Leaves has hit the "favorite books of all time" list, right up there with A Prayer For Owen Meany and The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

House Of leaves is a bit hard to describe -- not only because if defies description, but because it's one of those "revealing anything about it reveals a lot about it" books, and you want readers to go into it cold if at all possible. It is often compared to The Blair Witch Project, as both are about fictitious documentary movies that start out mundane and then abruptly veer into the weird and supernatural.

Another reason why House of Leaves is hard to describe because it contains an almost sadistic number of levels. Let's start at the innermost one. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Will Navidson decides to make a documentary about his family's move into a new home, and, to that end, wires the whole house up with cameras and audio equipment. Later, after the house's bizarre qualities have been revealed and documented, Navidson splices together his footage into a full-length motion picture called The Navidson Record. Several years after the movie's release, a man by the name of Zampano writes a scholarly examination of the film, drawing on the documentary itself as well has hundreds of secondary sources to completely analyze the events depicted. Zampano never publishes his work, but it is found posthumously by a young punk named Johnny Truant, who then heavily annotates the manuscript, supplementing the tex not only with additional information about Navidson and Zampano, but about his own life as well. Truant eventually gets this version of the book published -- complete with all of Zampano's and his own footnotes intact -- and this is the book that we, the readers, are supposedly holding: a book about a book about a movie about a house. And then, having built all that up, the foundation is removed: one of the things that Truant reveals in his footnotes is that Will Navidson and The Navidson Record don't actually exist.

I'm one of those people who loved The Blair Witch Project, because I totally bought into it. One of my superpowers is the ability to completely suspend my disbelief when the circumstances warrant it, and I managed to convince myself that I was watching an actual, terrifying, found documentary film. A know a lot of people who hated Blair Witch, and I sympathize with them. I can't imagine enjoying the film if I hadn't swallowed it hook, line, and sinker -- it would have seemed pretentious, gimmicky, and obnoxious.

I've heard a lot of people use those same three words to describe House Of Leaves. And it seems like half the people who start the book give up on it before the end. Again, I understand completely. I would have done the same thing, if I hadn't been utterly ensorceled by the premise. Despite the fact that author Mark Z Danielewski put four layers between me and the house at the heart of the book and went on to emphasize that the house was fictional even within the context of the story itself, I was still riveted. I read House of Leaves every chance I got: before going to bed, on lunch breaks, even at stop lights when I had the book with me in the car. In the first case, when I'd read House of Leaves at night, I would often lay awake and think about the book for a while before drifting off to uneasy sleep. I mean, I'm not kidding: I loved this book. And I'll probably read it a second time before the year is through.

As with movies, there's an order of magnitude between books I'd rate a 9 and those I'd give a 10, some magic line that separates the "great" from the "holy smokes amazing!" It's not for everybody, but, for me, House of Leaves fell squarely in the latter category.

May 24, 2005

Movies: Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Don't panic, it's pretty good. Or, more to the point, it's not too bad.

"Bad" is certainly what I was anticipating from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy movie. My low expectations were the result of two things: (a) a scathing pre-release review written by MJ Simpson, Douglas Adams' biographer, who blasted the makers of the film for, in his word, "leaving out all the jokes"; and (2) my personal opinion that Hitchhiker's is fundamentally unsuited for the big screen. Yes, I know it's already been made into a radio play and few television shows and a text adventure game and, for all I know, a breakfast cereal. But of all the forms of media, film is the least kind toward absurdity, and Hitchhiker's is a profoundly absurd work.

Both of my concerns proved to be true: The silliness in Hitchhiker's didn't translate well, and they took out most of the jokes. Fortunately, the second ameliorates the first, and the whole thing turns out about as good as this particular adaptation could possibly be.

Here's an example that Simpson, in his review, cites as proof that the material was given a joke-ectomy:


"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That's the Display Department."

"With a torch."

"The lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But you found the plans, didn't you?"

"Oh yes, they were 'on display' in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard.'"


"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"But you found the plans, didn't you?"

I remembered reading this when the line "I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them" cropped up in the film. But instead of thinking "They've ruined a classic!' I found myself musing, "well, yeah -- the other way probably would have been too long." Blasphemy I know*.

Which isn't to say that Hitchhiker's trademark silliness is completely missing -- it's there, but watered down and spread out. The movie intersperses bits from the book -- scenes lifted directly from the novel, guide entries, etc. -- with traditional motion picture fare like action sequences and muted bits of exposition. It's as if they decided to just split the difference between Hitchhiker's outlandishness and Hollywood's reluctance to think outside the proverbial box. Granted, Hollywood gets the upper hand in the end, but up until that point it works pretty well.

Martin Freeman makes for a pretty good Authur Dent; Dent isn't the complete loser he was in the books, but he's still pretty useless. Mos Def does an okay Ford Prefect (though his performance is so sedated that he makes Ford seems like a secondary character) and I liked Sam Rockwell's Zaphod quite a bit. And Zooey Deschanel is very pleasant to look at, though the character of Trillian was considerably altered in the adaptation (she's a lot nicer in the film).

Truth be told, I agree with almost everything MJ Simpson says in his review -- the film isn't terribly funny, the plot is now full of "convenience and unexplained happenings," Marvin is all but superfluous -- but I don't agree with his conclusion that the film is "vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad" and "the script is amazingly, mindbogglingly awful." More to the point, I think that the movie would have been worse if they had been more faithful to the book, and I'm a bit surprised they managed to make it even halfway decent. Not exactly a rave review, but better than the one I'd expected to write.

* That said, the omission of "Mostly Harmless" is unforgivable.
May 23, 2005

Not Ignoring This Blog ...

... just been kinda busy working on this thing, and this other thing.

Reviewsapalooza starts tomorrow, though.

[ link | dy]

May 18, 2005

Sale Of The Century

Is anyone in the market for some mucous? The Squirrelly is currently producing about three pints a day, and I'd be willing to let it go for a song.

The World According To Lucus

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice ... well hell, I've already endured two of the miserable fuckers, I guess I better go see Revenge of the Sith.

May 17, 2005

The Works: Celebrity Blogs

I'll be on The Works tonight talking about "The Huffington Post" and other celebrity blogs.

Here are the sites we discuss:

May 16, 2005

Just Wait Until Your Chaotic Evil Father Comes Home

The Squirrelly is entering The Age Of The Tantrum, so The Queen and I went to a seminar on "positive discipline" at our local community college. When we entered the auditorium we passed a table in the back where some people were selling puppets. Apparently puppets all are the rage in child discipline these days. See, what you do is put one of these thick, soft puppets on your hand before spanking your child, and that way you won't hurt your hand.

Hah hah! No, I'm just kidding: I would never spank my child with one of those puppets. They cost, like, twenty-five bucks.

Anyway, I'll admit to being pretty skeptical about the whole enterprise when I saw the puppets, since I reflexively associate puppets with hippies and Fraggle Rock, neither of which I much care for. But the lecture was really pretty good. It was given by Jody McVittie, and based on the principles outlined in this book. A reoccurring theme was to give your child actual praise, instead of a bunch of meaningless rah-rah hyperbolic 'you're the bestest best kid EVAR!!!!1!!' bullshit (I'm paraphrasing), which I appreciated because that's how I've always intended to do it. So, in a sense, Dr. McVittie was telling me "you're the bestest best parent EVAR!!!!1!!," and I have no objection to meaningless rah-rah hyperbolic bullshit when it's directed at me.

My favorite part of the lecture was when she talked about the four different types of discipline styles, as determined by the parameters "order" and "kindness":

This really resonated with me. I like the idea that picking a parenting style is essentially the same as picking your character's alignment in Dungeon's and Dragon.

Man, it's too bad they didn't have class selection, too. I'd love to be known as "Paladin Dad."

May 12, 2005

A Run Around Lake Union

My friend Kate Bicket and I collaborated on a Seattle-centric photo essay called A Run Around Lake Union, appearing today in The Morning News.

May 09, 2005

Week Off

No posts this week -- I am devoting every spare moment to reading House of Leaves.

That said, I will have a piece running in The Morning News on Thursday, and will probably post a review of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy sometime tomorrow. Both are exempt from my "don't do anything until you finish House of Leaves" program because they are already written, and only require formatting.

[ link | dy]

May 05, 2005

Crisis On US's Earth To Address GOP Continuity Errors

At a press conference earlier today, Ken Mehlman, chairman of the The Republican National Committee, announced "Crisis on US's Earth," an ambitious, year-long initiative to address the multitude of continuity errors George Bush and the Republicans in Congress have introduced into the GOP Universe.

"We're very excited", Mehlman said, speaking with reporters. "It's going to be a major crossover event, involving all the branches of government we control: legislative, executive and judicial. No checks and balances here -- we're pulling out all the stops."

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who was also at the conference, spoke of the need for the program. "We have way too many divergent storylines right now: we're 'fiscal conservatives' spending like drunken sailors, we're against their activist judges but for our activist judges, we're for smaller government while presiding over its expansion ... We need to eliminate all the old plot threads, like the notion that Republicans stand for state's rights and whatnot."

Mehlman agreed, especially in regards to the President. "You got your Compassionate Conservative of the 2000 campaign -- the 'Golden Age Bush,' we like to call him; then there's Bush II, the wartime president; and now the modern-age Bush, obsessed with social security and beholden to the Religious Right. We need to hammer down his character and completely relaunch this guy."

Industries insiders say that the overhaul was precipitated by Bush's increasingly reliance on "parallel universes" (such as the one where voters gave him a mandate in 2004) and "imaginary stories" (such as Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction). The Iraq war has been particularly vexing for Republicans, with no less that three "origin stories" (WMDs, liberation, democracy promotion), each of which is considered canonical. In addressing this issue, Crisis On US's Earth will introduce the "Anti-monitors" -- a second set of UN weapons inspectors who actually found stockpiles of chemical weapons in early 2003 and urged the president to attack immediately. When asked how these new characters will be integrated into the existing timeline, Mehlman shrugged and said, "we'll just casually mention them of FOX News. Americans have always been very accepting of our retcons."

Though not slated to begin until June, Mehlman's announcement that the initiative will "involve all the superstars of the GOP Universe, but not all will survive" has set off a flurry of speculation as to who will be written out of the post-Crisis world. The most prominent rumor states that Majority Leader Tom Delay will perish of a heart attack after running wildly around the floor of the senate, heroically disrupting a democratic filibuster.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

On this day in 1862, the fine people of Puebla invented mayo -- or, as we call it in English, "mayonnaise."

Thanks Mexico! Without you our turkey sandwiches would be a lot drier.

[ link | Misc]

May 04, 2005

Tragedy Of The Commons

In the lunchroom at my work there's a quarter-full bottle of Diet 7-Up that's been sitting on the counter for two days. On it is a post-it note reading "Free Soda! Help yourself!"

Why communism doesn't work, in a nutshell.


Just for the record, I, Matthew Baldwin, as of 7:30 AM, May 04, 2005, still do not own a cell phone.

I want to document this fact in case, at some future point, there's a dispute about who exactly was the last person on Earth to acquire one.

[ link | Misc]

May 03, 2005

Don't Look Down

I took the Squirrelly to the pediatric dentist yesterday. The receptionist was a girl in her mid 20's wearing a push-up bra and an unconscionably low-cut top. She remained seated as she reviewed the papers I had to fill out so I had to look down at her, except when she would briefly stand, lean way over the counter, and point out some clause on the medical waiver form.

Dear Women on Earth: please knock this off. Maybe you think you're doing us men a favor, that anything that increases the net sum of cleavage in the world is A-OK in our book. And I'm sure that's true for some. But for those of us who were raised to believe that openly gawping at the breasts of a woman two feet in front of you is rude, your heaving bosoms -- while no doubt a real treat under other circumstances -- are an undue burden upon us. You have no idea how exhausting it is to concentrate on whatever you're saying about my son's dental coverage while 85% of my mental resources have been diverted to my eyeballs to prevent them from drifting southward; you have no idea what a drag it is that, in order to go from looking from your face to looking at the paper in front of me, I have to detour all the way around your chest -- feigning a glance at a wall clock en route -- or move my head so quickly that I risk whiplash.

Don't get me wrong: I loves me some cleavage. In a bar, at a party, on the beach. But at the pediatric dentist? Come on. That's practically entrapment. I mean, who's your target audience here? Rule of thumb: if you're in a profession where you routinely interact with married men toting one year-olds, we'll take your mammalian credentials as an article of faith -- no need to flash 'em.

May 02, 2005

I Find Your Lack Of Banjo Disturbing

Word on the street is that Revenge of the Sith is dark -- like really, really dark, darker even than The Empire Strikes Back. That's too bad. I'm sure I speak for all Star Wars fans everywhere when I say that the comic hijinks of C3PO, Jar-Jar, and those loveable Ewoks have been our favorite parts of the series.

Fortunately the film doesn't come out for another week, so it's not too late for George Lucus to turn that frown upside-down. And I have a great idea as to how he could do it. I think he should reveal that the grill on the front of Darth Vader's mask is, in fact, a built-in harmonica, and during those lonely moments when Darth is by himself -- eating a microwave dinner at home or waiting for a bus or whatever -- he will sometimes breath out a few verses of "Oh, Susanna" to keep his spirits up.

Maybe the helmet's technology could even allow him to sing along while playing:

Oh I come from planet Tatooine,
The weather, it was dry.
Was a Jedi knight, but now I'm bad
Oh Padmé don't you cry.

Oh don't you cry for me,
Cuz I'm happy on the dark side with
My master Palpatine ...