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September 30, 2005

2002-Do

I stopped using my Palm Pilot about three years ago. It ran out of batteries, I was to lazy to replace them, that was the end of that.

While cleaning up my PC today, I noticed that I still had "Palm Desktop" installed. Out of curiosity I looked to see what I had on my to-do list in 2002, and was aghast to discover how many "Priority One" items I had listed that remain uncompleted to this very day.


The Bad Review Revue

Venom: "All hopes for suspense and plot twists are snuffed out about as quickly as the film's black characters. " -- Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

The Man: "Plays like a sequel to some terrible movie that was mercifully destroyed before it was ever released. " -- Kevin Crust, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The Great Raid: "A steadily mounting series of pesky nonevents paced with all the frenetic, action-packed verve of a wounded lawn sprinkler." -- Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Must Love Dogs: "It's somehow fitting that this purported romantic comedy about dating is, like most dates, clumsy, endless, and absolutely excruciating." -- Sara Brady, PREMIERE

Dark Water: "Wildly overproduced and filled with fussy flourishes that make even a derelict hallway look like a million bucks." -- Manohla Dargis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

September 29, 2005

defective yeti CareLess Bands

It seems like you can't rip a yuppie's arm out of its socket these days without acquiring a few "care bands" in the process.

For those of you who have been too busy scouring thrift stories for Rubik's Cubes and parachute pants to keep abreast of current trends, "care bands" are these rubber rings that people wear around their wrist, each of which costs about a ha' penny to manufacture and sells for, like, five bucks. People are willing to pay the markup because some amount of the money is contributed to charity, and then the band itself serves as an homage for their largess.

Other weblog might pontificate about the ethical dilemmas posed by this conflation of philanthropy and fashion. But not us, oh my goodness no. We would never presume to judge you, not when there's a buck to be made.

In fact, we're willing to take things to a while new level, asking: if your sole purpose in giving to charity is to advertise the fact, why not just skip the whole "giving to charity" step?

That's why defective yeti is proud to announce CareLess Bands. At only $1 a piece, CareLess Bands cost just a fraction of the cost of traditional care bands. Plus, you can have the message of your choice emblazoned thereon, allowing you to affiliate yourself with the demographic, social movement, or worldview of your choice.

How can we afford to offer a better product for less money? Because we contribute absolutely nothing to worthy causes -- and pass the saving on to you!!

But don't take my word for it -- just look at these satisfied customers, all of whom are me:

Note: wearers are not required to have slender, girlish wrists that will snap like twigs in a strong gale, although defective yeti Careless Bands will constrict blood flow to normal-sized hands, resulting in loss of sensation, gangrene, and eventual amputation. Just, you know, FYI.

defective yeti Careless Bands are made from only the finest materials available at Walgreens, and most will include illegible writing and misspellings -- proof that each has been lovingly handcrafted. Don't delay! Paypal $1 to defective yeti today, and get ready to show the world that you care ... less!

September 28, 2005

Hang In There

The Squirrelly has always loved being held upside-down, but has recently started doing something new. After I flip him over and dangle him over the livingroom floor, he reaches up, grabs my hands, and tries to pry my fingers away from his waist, as if to say, "Jeeze Dad, I'm a year and a half old -- I can remain suspended in midair by myself now, you know."


Feel Good Hit Of The Summer

This is X awesome, where X = "totally" * 1000. Backstory here.

[ link | Links]


September 27, 2005

Berried Alive

One of my vices is a predilection for shitty cereal. Most mornings I start the day with a bowl Cheerios or whatnot, but every other month I splurge on a box of some sugary abomination and then proceed to demolish it over the next three days or so. I feel like I owe it to my ten year-old self, who promised he would do exactly this when he became an adult.

I am not a connoisseur, however, so I always buy the store-brand knockoff cereal instead of the original. Froot Hoops. Honey Snacks. Earl Chocola. Fortunate Tchotchkes.

This week I picked up a Cap'n Crunch clone called "Berry Crackles," complete with the obligatory cartoon animal mascot.

Except the longer I looked at Crackles the Squirrel, the more I became convinced that he was actually a Surgeon General mandated warning, illustrating what will happen to your children if they eat this stuff.

The only thing missing was some accompanying text.

Warning: Berry Crackles contains more sugar than the island of Cuba, and should not be taken internal by persons under 14 or above 10 years of age. Consumption may result in clenched teeth, asymmetrically bulging eyes, dialted pupils, double vision, accelerated fur- and tail-growth, and sucrose-fueled hyperactivity. In case of accidental ingestion, induce vomiting and place child in front of "Antiques Roadshow" until sedated.

September 22, 2005

Vokarlbulary

Email from my aunt:

To: Matthew Baldwin
From: Val
Subject: I invented a new word

Rovenge (rO-'venj), n: Politically motivated retribution. The White House sought rovenge against Joseph Wilson.

Can you get this into the lexicon?

Start using it, people. And as long as nominations are open, I'd like to propose a term that popped into my head this morning while coloring with The Squirrelly:

White crayon ('hwIt 'krA-"šn), n: A useless person or thing you are nonetheless required to have for the sake of completeness or tradition. With his approval ratings in the 30s and members of his own party turning against him, the Bush presidency is rapidly becoming a white crayon.
I can see that one coming in useful in the office environment.

Comments are open, add your own.


Games: Shadows Over Camelot

Under the general rubric of "boardgame" exists a distinct subgenre termed "cooperative" -- games in which all the players form a single team and compete against the game itself. Some people dislike cooperative games, wondering what's the point is of a game in which everyone wins or everyone loses. Me, I like 'em -- and the newest of the breed, Shadows Over Camelot, has become my new favorite.

Each person plays as one of the knights of the round table, and they all work together to stave off the sinister forces that threaten the kingdom. Over the course of the game the knights will strive -- sometimes in groups, sometimes alone -- to complete various quests. When players succeed in quests they earn white swords, amongst assorted other boons; when they fail, they receive black swords. The game ends when the players have amassed a dozen swords, and win if the majority are white.

But while there is only one way to win, there are several routes to crushing defeat: if half or more of the swords are black at game's end, if a twelfth siege engine is placed onto the game board, or if all of the knights are killed in action, Camelot falls.

The fuel in the game's engine are two decks of cards: White cards, which the knights use to advance on the various quests, and Black cards, which make the quests progressively more difficult. As the Black cards only serve to hinder the knights, players are loathe to reveal or resolve them but, alas, they have no choice. A player must begin his turn by turning over a Black card, or selecting from two other equally unappetizing choices: increasing the number of a siege engines on the board or decreasing his knight's life points. As mentioned above, too many siege engines or too few life points can cause the game to come to an abrupt, bitter end.

Having taken his lumps, a player can then take a good action: move from one quest to another, work on his current quest, draw more White cards, attempt to destroy a siege engine, and a number of other choices. Deciding which player will take which actions is the heart of the game, as the knights much necessarily coordinate their efforts if they want to have any hope of victory. As there can be as many as seven different quests at a time, and the relentless revelation of Black cards ensures that they will all be inching toward failure, the team must literally pick their battles, deciding which quests to undertake and which are lost causes.

All this would be challenge enough, but Shadows Over Camelot includes a big, Machiavellian twist. One knight may be secretly designated as a "Traitor" before play begins. If there is one, the Traitor only wins if the other knights lose.

Early in the game the Traitor will typically undermine the group through guile, constantly making "mistakes" and quick to dispense wrongheaded advise. Later the traitor might resort to naked aggression, gleefully plunking siege engines onto a board that is already lousy with them. The knights are rewarded if they successfully unmask the Traitor, but it's not always easy to tell the difference between a player who is actively betraying the group and another who has just had a run of bad luck. Even if the Traitor never becomes openly hostile -- or if there's no Traitor at all -- the paranoia engendered by the possibility of a traitor is often enough to sow enough distrust and suspicion to sabotage cooperative play.

Shadows Over Camelot is a mediocre game: the mechanics aren't terribly original, the game seems largely dominated by luck, the theme is weak, and there aren't a huge number of decisions to be made during play. That's my review when I think about the game, at any rate. When I actually play the game, though, I always have a blast. Even while recognizing that all the aforementioned faults are present, I simply have too much fun to care. And while I keep expecting my opinion of Shadows Over Camelot to take a turn for the negative, it hasn't happened yet.

At forty bucks the game ain't cheap, and it's a bit complex for those unused to modern boardgames. But everyone ought to give cooperative games a whirl, and Shadows Over Camelot is one of the best.


And You Can Still Innertube From Memphis To Minneapolis

Two co-workers, as they walk past my office:

One: There was once an earthquake so big that it caused the Mississippi River to run backwards.

Two: Wow. For how long?

One: Just temporarily, I think.

September 21, 2005

Books: The Time-Traveler's Wife

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

The Time-Traveler's Wife is full of surprises, but three of them are exceptional.

The first comes a few pages into the novel, when you discover that the titular time-traveler isn't some aging jock reminiscing about the glory days or a widower who often gets lost in memories of happier times, but a man who can literally travel through time.

"Oh," you say upon this realization, "Judging from the cover and the blurb on the back, I thought this was contemporary fiction or romantic drama, and that the phrase 'time-traveler' was metaphorical. But apparently not." So you shift gears and adjust yourself to the fact that you are reading a sci-fi book.

The second surprise comes 100 pages later, when you realize that The Time-Traveler's Wife is an contemporary fiction / romantic drama, in addition to being a sci-fi novel as well. "That's certainly ambitious," you think. "But there's no way the author will be able to pull it off successfully."

The third surprise is that, somehow, she does.

Henry De Tamble is the time-traveler, albeit an unwilling one. At seemingly random moments in his life he is abruptly flung to some other date -- usually in the past, occasionally in the future -- where he arrives, naked, onto or close to some scene relevant to his own life. Sometimes he winds up in his own house, and whiles away a few hours hanging out with a younger version of himself. Sometimes he goes far enough back to visit his own mother, who died when he was a boy. Usually he goes back and meets up with one Clare Abshire, the woman he will eventually marry.

He rendezvous with Clare so often that her entire childhood comes to revolve around his visits. Then, iat the age of 20, she bumps into the real-time Henry and, recognizing him as the man who will some day become her husband, invites him out for drinks. One thing leads to another, and the two are eventually hitched.

I'm a sucker for time-travel stories, but only those that get it right. By that I mean that the story needs to have an internally consistent set of rules that the universe adheres to, even when folks are popping into the past and theoretically influencing their own present. Sadly, very very few time-travel stories have met my high standards -- Twelve Monkeys is honestly the only one that leaps to mind. In most, the sort of causal loop described above (Henry and Clare get married because Clare knows that she will eventually marry Henry) would pretty much torpedo the entire premise.

But author Audrey Niffenegger has done the near-impossible with The Time-Traveler's Wife, writing a near-flawless time travel novel that sets ground rules and then scrupulously sticks to them. I would have liked it for this alone, and the fact that the literary romantic fiction half is pretty damned good too is icing on the cake.

Best of all, this is the kind of book that can be safely enjoyed by pretty much anyone: those who typically steer clear of sci-fi will appreciate it as contemporary literature; those who favor Greg Bear over Don DeLillo will groove on Niffenegger's intriguing and well-executed ideas. In fact, I can see The Time-traveler's Wife becoming my default suggestion when asked for a recommendation, and one that I foresee loaned out more often than it sits upon my shelf.

Counterpoint! The Queen's succinct review: "The frickin annoying love story ruined the book for me." Such a romantic, that gal o' mine.

September 20, 2005

Movies: Grizzly Man

This review contains mild spoilers.

Several weeks ago Some Random Guy From The Internet sent me email to recommend the film Grizzly Man. Well, you know me: I'll do anything I'm told to do over email, which is why I am forever purchasing penny stocks, verifying my Wells Fargo bank account, and watching you and your sister on your new webcam. So I saw it.

And hey, S.R.G.F.T.I: thanks! It was great.

Of course I was predisposed to like it, because Grizzly Man is a documentary and I loves me some documentaries. (I suspect I may have mentioned this here before, which is what earned me the aforementioned email in the first place.) That said, enough sets this film apart from most documentaries to prevent my liking it a sure thing. For one, the filmmaker, Werner Herzog, inserts himself into the narrative, doing the voiceover and occasionally even offering his own opinions on the events depicted. For another, most of the movie was not filmed by Herzog, but is, instead, literally found footage. How this footage came to be taken, and why it ultimately required a finding, is the story told.

Timothy Treadwell spent over a dozen summers living in the Katmai National Park & Preserve, frolicking with the grizzlies therein. You may think I am being glib but, no, the man actually frolicked -- talking to the bears in sing-songy voices, invading their personal space, and occasionally even touching them (invariably to their annoyance). One of many people interviewed in the film says that Treadwell "wanted to be a bear," and, at times, this seems like the literal truth.

For the last five of his annual visits Treadwell brought along a video camera. Because he didn't really do that much beyond hanging out with the bears, much of the footage is of Treadwell giving monologues about his life in the Preserve, with particular emphasis on the danger he faces.

Treadwell often referred to himself as the bears' protector, though it's unclear what protection he envisioned himself as offering. At any rate, Treadwell is the one who could have eventually used some protection: at the end of his thirteenth summer amongst the grizzlies, he and his his female companion were killed and eaten by one of his ursine "friends."

Now, I know is seems like I just ruined the end of the film for you, but they reveal this fact within the first five minutes, honest. And foreknowledge of Treadwell's fate is essential to fully appreciate the bizarre quality of his on-air soliloquies. Even while he reminds the hypothetical viewer about the dangers of grizzly fraternization, he seems naively unaware of it himself. Treadwell's ultimate goal -- both in living with the bears, and in filming his exploits -- seems to be the casting of himself as the protagonist in a Jack London short story or a novel serialized in Boy's Life. At times he seems less like a man living amongst bears as a man in the middle of a "Living Amongst Bears: The Roleplaying Game" campaign.

Herzog editorializes quite a bit in this film -- something I had been warned about in advanced and thought I'd hate, but actually didn't mind. A few times he even goes so far as to say "Here I disagree with Treadwell" and offers his own opinion in the voiceover, and I did feel that these rare instances did cross the line. But as one of my companions remarked, "all documentarians have bias -- better that they state them openly than pretend they are objective," and I agree with her sentiment.

One thing that Herzog does exceptionally well in Grizzly Man is keep the character of Treadwell (and he does seem to be a character, albeit one of Treadwell's own making) from becoming stagnant. Several times in the film I thought, "well, I think I've seen all there is to see of this guy" moments before Herzog unveiled some new fact, included an interview, or spliced in a piece of footage that gave Treadwell a whole new dimension. Even as you're walking out of the theater, you're still not quite sure what to make of the guy.

Grizzly Man is one of the best documentaries I've seen; and, as I stated before, I like documentaries a lot, so that's saying something. And just a quick postscript for people who are hesitant to see this film because of the killing. There is no video footage of Treadwell's death, so you won't see it. There is an audiotape (Treadwell turned his camera on just before the attack but didn't have time to remove the lens cap), but Herzog declines to play that, either. At one point a coroner describes the audiotape, but he does so in a fairly clinical manner. There is one emotional scene in regards to the audiotape, but Treadwell's death is treated mostly as an ironic twist to his life, and is not, in itself, the focus of the film.

September 19, 2005

Dogged

The Squirrelly attends an at-home daycare, a few doors down from someone who owns several hounds.

Occasionally one of the toddlers will throw a tantrum with all of the attendant crying and shrieking. If it continues for more than a few seconds the dogs will pick up on it, and soon the hounds will be baying at the top of their lungs. Once this happens, all of the toddlers -- including the one who, moments ago, was raising holy hell -- quiet down, stand stock still, and listen, their ears pricked up like rabbits in a field.

Eventually the dogs wind down and the babies go calmly about their business, the cause of the tantrum forgotten.

It's a pretty great system, actually.

September 14, 2005

Signs

In front a field near my house there is a sign reading "Strawberries / Blackberries / Blueberries: U-Pick."

Oh man, that's the greatest racket in the world. "My dirt made this -- pay me." I'm going to buy a wooded tract of land and post a sign reading "Chairs / canoes / homes: U-Bild."

Also near our house is a handwritten sign reading "Will wash windows, $1*" and then, at the bottom, in a tiny scrawl, "* per side" Ha! The Queen thought it was a waste of money to get those fancy MŲbius windows installed, but I knew they would eventually pay for themselves.

September 13, 2005

Roberts Continues To Stonewall On Logan v. Wayne

Judge John Roberts weathered another round of questioning today as his confirmation hearing entered its second day, but the controversal pick for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court left many senators frustrated and angry as he repeatedly declined to explicate his position on Logan v. Wayne.

Though he remained calm and composed while addressing members of the Senate judiciary committee, Mr Roberts refused to provide unambiguous answers when asked about the one of the most controversial questions even pondered by Congress.

Proceedings quickly became acrimonious Tuesday morning, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) openly challenged Robert's claim that he "had not made up his mind" on Logan v. Wayne. "With all due respect, I find it frankly unbelievable that, in 30 years of public service, you could not have formed an opinion on this matter," Kennedy said. "So I would again ask that you simply answer the question: who would win in a fight, Wolverine or Batman?"

Seemingly nonplussed, Roberts demurred, saying, "while Iím happy to talk about the individual strengths and weaknesses of each, I donít think I should get into the application of their powers in a mano a mano confrontation."

"Powers?" interjected committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter. "Batman doesn't even have any powers. So my colleague's implication that Batman is even in the same league as Wolverine is nothing short of wishful thinking, wouldn't you agree, Mr Roberts?"

Refusing to take the bait, Robert again declined to answer.

Questioning continued in this vein for most of the afternoon, with senators on both sides of the aisle pressing Roberts to clarify his stance. "One of the most important responsibilities of a Chief Justice is adherence to existing precedence," Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) reminded the nominee. "I therefore call your attention to The Dark Knight Returns -- a four-part, 1986 mini-series in which Batman defeats Superman in hand-to-hand combat -- and ask you: if Bruce Wayne can beat Superman in a fight, is it not self-evident that he could defeat a mere mutant with ease?"

Brownback remarks were later stricken from the record, however, after ranking Democratic member Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) pointed out that The Dark Knight Returns is now considered to be an non-canonical "Elseworlds" story.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Ut.) pressed Robert to rectify his current neutrality with remarks he made in a 1967 letter to Detective Comics, in which he described Batman as "the best superhero ever!!" Roberts again insisted that the scope of his ruling was confined to DC titles only, and should in no way be construed as an endorsement of Wayne over any character residing in the Marvel Universe.

Though questions regarding Logan v. Wayne dominated today's session, Roberts was also asked about about his views on civil rights, affirmative action, the limits of presidential power, and which Modest Mouse album kicked the most ass.

[ link | News]



On Deaf Ears

The Queen and I make chit-chat over breakfast.

Me: Have you read Mighty Girl recently?

The Queen: Nuh-uh, why?

M: It sounds like she has the same problem with her spouse that I have with mine.

Q: Bryan doesn't listen to her when she he talks?

M: No, he -- wait, what?

Q: I uhhh ... I mean, what does she say?

September 12, 2005

9/11 Recollections

A few years ago The Queen frequented a hairdresser named Caroline. Caroline was a real girlie girl, forever bemoaning the state of the Seattle dating scene, showing off photos of her overly-pampered dog, and providing exhaustive recaps of recent Sex and the City episodes. She couldn't have been more unlike The Queen, but she was very nice, gave good haircuts, and her salon was two blocks from our house. Plus she was a neverending fount of funny stories, which The Queen would relate to me when she got home.

In February of 2002 -- five months after the September 11 attack -- The Queen arrived for her regular appointment and found herself alone in the salon with Caroline. After she was seated and the two had engaged in some small talk, Caroline picked up the current issue of People Magazine off the counter.

"Have you seen this?" she asked, showing it to The Queen. On the cover was a group shot of 32 women holding infants. "All of those babies had fathers who died in the World Trade Center collapse," Caroline said somberly. "Can you even imagine? It's so sad. The whole thing is just so, so sad."

The Queen and Caroline stared at the photo without speaking for a while. Then The Queen noticed that Caroline was watching her out of the corner of her eye, as if she waiting for an appropriate amount time to pass.

Finally she could wait no longer. "Look at this one," Caroline said, breaking the mournful silence and excitedly calling The Queen's attention to a woman in the picture. "Can you believe that lip-liner she's wearing? And her hair -- my God, it's horrible!"

September 09, 2005

Aging Is Dumb

Saw this sign in the liquor store today. (Well, the top half of this sign, anyhow.) Kids who were born in 1984 are legally drinking Yam Daiquiri these days? That's just ridiculous.

This whole "21 years" law is a crock. Drinking should be illegal for anyone who (a) has never worn a Member's Only Jacket, (b) has never used the word "rad" in a non-ironic manner, or (3) was unaware that David Hasselhoff starred in a TV series prior to Baywatch.

September 08, 2005

Playing The Game Part III

The third and final installment in my account of playing the Game has been posted: The Morning News: Endgame. If you missed the first two chapters, they are available here.

A big thanks to Gordon Dow, who invited me to join the adventures of the 'B' Ark -- he's the only reason I was able to participate in the Game at all.

September 07, 2005

Coming Soon
[ link | Humor]


September 02, 2005

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?

BUSH BRINGS MUCH NEEDED HUGS, FROWNY FACES TO NEW ORLEANS

BELEAGUERED CITY'S DEPLETED SUPPLY OF PLATITUDES ALSO REPLENISHED

President reassures horrified nation: "Trent Lott's home will be rebuilt."

* * * * *

Regular readers of this website know that I am no fan of the Bush Administration, but the situation in New Orleans beggars belief. I'm so outraged I can barely think straight. Bad enough that the White House (again!) ignored repeated warnings of impending disaster and (again!) diverted necessary resources to its wealthy patrons and ideological hobby horses, but the federal response to the catastrophe is like a goddamned cabaret show.

Conservatives often justify the slashing social programs to fund corporate tax cuts by saying, "A rising tide raises all boats." Well, the tide rose folks, and this is the result.


The Bad Review Revue

Stealth: "A great time at the movies for anyone who has recently undergone a frontal lobotomy." -- James Berardinelli, REELVIEWS

Underclassman: "Once in a great while -- usually late August -- a movie comes along that's so lame, it doesn't deserve a bad review. It deserves a war-crimes tribunal. Ladies and gentlemen, Underclassman is that special film." --M. E. Russell, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

Supercross: "The most amazing fact about Supercross is that it took three people to write it. Two chimpanzees with a typewriter could have done just as good a job." -- Chris kaltenbach, BALTIMORE SUN

Undiscovered: "One of the stupidest visions of the entertainment industry since American Idol opened the celebrity gateway to the dregs of the karaoke generation." -- Bill White, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

Sound Of Thunder: "Midway through this train wreck of a film, one of the characters ... says, 'This can't be good.' The entire audience -- what was left of it -- broke out in laughter." -- Paul Clinton, CNN, in a review entitled "Sound of Thunder, smell of garbage" (Thanks, Tim)

September 01, 2005

Playing The Game Part II

Part II of my adventures playing the Game appears today: The Morning News: A Game Is Afoot