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May 31, 2006

Just Entertainment Weekly For Me, Thanks

Two young ladies at the bookstore:

Young Lady One: Have you ever read anything by Greg Bear?

Young lady Two: Nuh-uh, who's he?

YL1: He writes hard science-fiction.

YL2: I don't read anything hard.

May 30, 2006

Hooked Up

After years of living as veritable savages, The Queen and I finally got high-speed Internet access. Yes, this is a stark break from my usual neoluddist tendencies, such as preferring board to computer games, my steadfast refusal to acquire a cell phone, and my frequent visits to ASCII porn sites. (Warning: Last link is NSFW if your monitor's resolution is set to 1680x12550 and your manager is standing exactly seven feet behind you.)

Frankly, I was quite happy with dial-up (except when I was actually using it, when I was typically ENRAGED). But if video killed the radio star, Web 2.0 killed the 56K modem. When Gmail launched I quickly adopted it as my primary email account, but since then they have larded the joint up with so much AJAX that I was urging friends to print hard copies of messages they had written me and send them via the postal service, as that would often reach me quicker. Ditto for Flickr. Nothing like having a repository of 100 photos that you can view at a rate of four per hour.

Anyhow, long story short, we got ourselves cable. We asked around and finally settled on Comcast as our Internet provider, which was akin to asking around about which gas we should use to respirate and then settling upon oxygen. Comcast, you see, holds a local monopoly on the Seattle high-speed Internet market. Oh sure, we could have opted for DSL, but, as near as I can tell, DSL compares to cable in being just as obscenely expensive and half as good. Perhaps is recognition of this, Qwest (the biggest local DSL provider) is trying to entice new customers by offering bundle deals. They have, for instance, teamed up with America Online to offer substandard broadband and AOL in one package. Maybe the two companies realized that they were both essentially targeting the same set of victims and decided to join forces, Legion Of Doom style.

Not that I'm Comcast's biggest fan either. I just cannot trust the business acumen of a company that uses a flash-intensive website to sell a service to folks on dial-up. Dude, I wouldn't need cable if it took less than a fortnight for your home page to load. It's like a billboard campaign for the blind.

May 25, 2006

The Most Loneliest Jack of My Life

You know who the most boring people in the world are? People who describe television commercials to those who haven't seen them.

And yet ...

So there’s this television commercial running here in Seattle for a radio station called "Jack FM." (Note: I only saw the ads once, so everything that follows is a Dramatic Recreation, and could be 100% misremembered / wrong.) It features a guy throwing his Nirvana and Pearl Jam CDs into a dustbin, while a voiceover says: "Tired of hearing to the same old music, Seattle? Jack FM is liberating listeners from the same-old same-old." And, to illustrate the point, Joan Jett’s "I Love Rock And Roll" kicks in at that moment.

Omigod, "I Love Rock And Roll" by Joan Jett! Boy, that sure takes me back. All the way back to the last time I heard that song, which, at any given point in my adult life, has never been longer than 72 hours.

I actually listened to Jack 96.5 once. I was tooling around the FM dial one afternoon and stumbled across this bizarro station that featured "the best of the 80’s, 90’s and today" and no DJs whatsoever. They played a series of hits so familiar that you could belt out any one of them at karaoke even after imbibing several gallons of sake, and occasionally, between songs, a prerecorded voice would come on and bellow some nonsensical phrase, usually a cliché with one random word replaced with "Jack" (e.g., "A fool and his Jack are soon parted!" or "A Jack and his money are soon parted!" or "A fool and his money Jack soon parted!")

In other words, Jack FM is just about the farthest thing from The Same-Old Same-Old Liberation Front imaginable. I’d speculate that the music was programmed in a nondescript building somewhere in the Midwest if I thought it was programmed at all; instead I’m guessing there’s an 500-song iPod somewhere hooked up to a radio antenna and set on perpetual shuffle-play. And yet here's this ad, promoting Jack FM as the Really Real For-Real Alternative Radio Station, bold enough to play those songs that have been heard at every single wedding reception since 1979. You could pretty much hear the same playlist (with none of the commercials) by locking yourself in the bathroom of your local grocery store.

If George Orwell were like George Lucas (and less dead), constantly going back and inserting new material into his masterpiece, he'd probably add "CONFORMITY IS REBELLION" to the list of Oceania's Party slogans. YES IM SO INCENSED I HAVE NO RECOURSE BUT TO MAKE A 1984 REFERENCE!!

(After writing the above I checked out the Wikiepedia entry on Jack FM, which reads "The stations are officially classified as the Variety Hits or Adult Hits format ... but listeners sometimes refer to the stations as random radio or an 'iPod shuffle.'" WTF -- I though I came up with that "iPod shuffle" line. Apparently you can't even talk about Jack FM without becoming banal. And here's an article from Business Week on the Jack FM business model, in case you're interested.)

As long as I'm in Cranky Old Man mode, here, have you heard "Lonely Day," this new song by System Of A Down? I'm not one of those people who reflexively badmouths Top 40 music -- I own both a Blink 182 and a Third Eye Blind CD, for crissakes, and have even defended Creed in my day -- but Great Grandmother of Cher is this song ever bad.

The music itself is forgettable, but the lyrics would probably sweep the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Here's how it starts:

Such a lonely day
And its mine
The most loneliest day of my life

Such a lonely day
Should be banned
This day that I can't stand

The most loneliest day of my life
The most loneliest day of my life ...

You heard the man, kids: "most loneliest." I have no objection to a songwriter sticking an extra word in here and there to make a line fit the meter, but we're talking about the motherloving chorus. And each line of the chorus contains eight beats, while the phrase "the most loneliest day of my life" contains nine. That's right, the signer shoehorns a superfluous "most" into a line that would otherwise have been both grammatically and metrically correct, and then rushes through the word "loneliest" to compensate. (You sort of have to listen to the song to appreciate this, but -- let me state this plainly -- I am not recommending you do.)

I'm willing to overlook the fact that he begins by rhyming "mine" with "life" since it's well nigh impossible to find any words that rhymes with either. And I assume that the misuse of the word "its" in the second line above is the fault of whomever transcribed the song's lyrics onto the website I stole them from. But, honestly, this song is so awful I can almost hear the apostrophes's absence when it comes on the radio.

It's no "Brass Monkey" by the Beastie Boys, but it's a bad one for the ages, that's for certain. If you haven't heard it yet, don't you worry. I'm sure it will be in heavy rotation on Jack FM by 2015 or so.

May 23, 2006

Blue Moon Rising

I hate it when people talk about mundane, everyday matters on their blogs. What's why I long ago decided that defective yeti would only be used to record the truly extraordinary events of my life.

Today, for instance, I voluntarily ate a salad for lunch.

May 22, 2006

In Which Predictions Are Made And Fulfilled

Me: Look, gmail now has built-in chat functionality. After years of avoiding the siren song of Instant Messaging it has now been unwillingly foisted upon me, and I therefore have no choice but to use my newly acquired powers to pester you at work. I shall do so every half an hour from this day forward.

L: You're bluffing.

M: Is that a challenge? OH IT'S ON!

M: I'm going to invent a light switch that shouts "OH, IT'S ON!" whenever you flip it up.

M: You know, for the blind.

M: Then I'll create a knockoff for kids that says "OH, IT'S ON ... BIATCH!"

L: I don't think kids have been saying "biatch" since 1998.

M: No way. If I'm still saying a catchphrase it is hip by definition.

L: And I'm pretty sure it's spelled "biotch." It's so played that it's probably in the MS Word spellchecker by now. I'll verify.

M: You'll start typing it and clippy will pop up and say: "It looks like you are trying to 'give mad props' to your 'peeps' ..."

L: Word actually says that it's "biotech."

L: (Feel free to make something funny out of that for your blog)

M: Um, thanks

L: It could be funny!

M: Yeah, but if I have to work to make it funny, it's not much of a gift. That's all I'm saying.

L: It's the seed of inspiration.

M: You people. You're always, like, "Hey, I ate a tuna sandwich yesterday. Feel free to couch that in the context of a some wacky and completely fictitious events, invent a bunch of humorous dialog to accompany it, and use it on your blog!!"

L: Whatever. Someday you'll be hard up for material and just cut and paste this conversation into a post, I'm sure.

M: Is that a challenge? OH IT'S ON ... BIOTECH!

L: And curtain.

May 19, 2006

The Bad Review Revue

American Dreamz: "The jokes don't just fizzle into insignificance; they flop about with gaudy ineffectualness, gasping for air like newly landed trout." Manohla Dargis, NEW YORK TIMES

Date Movie: "Rated PG-13 because 13 is the maximum age of those who might find it funny." -- Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

Failure To Launch: "Apocalyptically awful romantic comedy." -- Stephen Rea, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

RV: "The downwardly spiraling career trajectories of Robin Williams and director Barry Sonnenfeld intertwine like the ropes of a tangled parachute, and all the helpless viewer can do is look on aghast as the whole abortive fiasco plummets toward Earth." -- John Patterson, LA WEEKLY

Scary Movie 4: "Worse than Scary Movies 1 through 3. And they were terrible." -- Kim Newman, EMPIRE

The Da Vinci Code: "Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence ... is one of the few screen versions of a book that may take longer to watch than to read." -- A.O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES Anil is right -- you should read the whole thing.

May 18, 2006

Research Day: Portable Signs and Dem Bones, Dem Bones

What's the deal with all the people standing on street corners holding "24 Fitness" signs? I don't know how things are in your hometown but, in the not-to-distant past, the corners of every major intersection of Seattle were populated by people holding cardboard signs signs readings "STUCK IN SEATTLE AND AS IMPROBABLE AS IT SOUNDS I ONLY NEED $1.47 MORE TO BUY A BUS TICKET!!" Apparently all those folks managed to get back to Gerbil Junction, Iowa, though, because many of them are now gone, replace by crowds of people dancing around and waving at cars while wearing both a Walkman and a Sandwich Board reading "CIRCUIT CITY NEXT RIGHT ->" Where did all these people come from? Did someone figure out a loophole in signage laws or something, and now everyone is rushing to exploit it?

Actually, "portable signs" are legal not because of a loophole in the law, but because of the law itself -- it's just that the law wasn't settled until a a few years ago. Dennis Ballen, the owner of a store called Blazing Bagels in Redmond (a Seattle suburb and home to Microsoft) had been using these "portable signs" for years, while the city had long been trying to ban them. But Redmond was selective in its sign laws, allowing for political and real estate signs while trying to 86 the rest. So Ballen joined forces with the The Institute for Justice and took the city to court.

In January of 2004, the Seattle federal court ruled in favor of Ballen, stating that Redmond's law "creates content-based exceptions for certain commercial speech that has no material relationship to the safety and aesthetic goals" and declaring it unconstitutional [pdf of ruling]. The finding was upheld later that same year.

With their legality established, guys wearing "Mattress Depot" signs and waving madly at passing cars have begun to appear all over our state. And maybe your state, too. If so, you have us to thank.

What's the origin of the phrase "no bones about it?" Is it related to the phrase "to pick a bone?": A couple of Internet sites take a stab at deducing the history of the phrase "make no bones about it," and they all seem to be in agreement on two points: (a) the term is so ancient that determining its etymology is well nigh impossible, but (b) the best guess is that it comes from Ye Olde Olden Dayes, when soups would occasionally contain tiny bones and the more casual connoisseur would either swallow them down or set them aside without making a fuss. The other hypothesis often mentioned is that the phrase might allude to gambling, where some players make a big deal out of "throwing the bones" while others just quietly go about their business of losing money. (Curiously, every site I encountered while researching his phrase [this one, this one, and this one] all list the same theories in the same order, which means that they are probably all copying one another -- just as I am doing now.)

As for "pick a bone" (and the related phrase, "bone of contention"), the consensus is that this too comes from meal bones, and the quarrel that breaks out amongst dogs when one is thrown to them.

From the comments: "I'd like to know what the origin of using '86' as a verb is." According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used by restaurant workers as a code phrase meaning "we're out of something," and was chosen because it rhymed with the word "nix." A full account of the phrase is available here.

May 16, 2006

There's A Hole In Your Business Plan

Every day during my morning commute I pass a store called "Westernco Donut" and marvel that it is still open.


You'd think they'd have sold that donut by now.

May 15, 2006

Because It's Easier To Write Short, Pithy Truisms Than Actual Blog Posts

Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep and the world laughs at you.

May 12, 2006

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Tap Dance

This Domestic Surveillance story is the gift that keeps on giving. First they assured us that they weren't tapping any phones without a warrant; then we discover that, well, okay, they were recording some conversations without a warrant, but only a few; now come to find out that the phone records of millions of Americans were requisitioned.

It's like of those horror stories that just gets progressively more ludicrous as it goes along. I can only imagine what's going to come next.


<diaper>poop</diaper>

As both a geek and father to a toddler, I've noticed that I tend to use the phrase "well-formed" a lot at work in reference to XML and lot at home in reference to poop.


Dishturbed

Last night I dreamed that I was putting dirty bowls and glasses into a half-full dishwasher, only to suddenly realize that the dishes that had been in there before I started were already clean!!.

Seriously, my subconscious: Is that the best anxiety dream you could come up with? It's like you're not even trying anymore.


Eye Where

Yesterday I saw a young women in the library wearing a pushup bra under a t-shirt that was at least a size too small. The shirt had an arrow pointing up and the text "MY EYES ARE UP HERE!"

Come on. That's practically entrapment.

May 11, 2006

Games: No Thanks!

I used to have a website devoted to boardgames, where I often reviewed games of such length and complexity that they would likely only be of interested to fellow gamers. Now I write this blog, which is read by a lot of people who don't have the slightest interest in boardgames. I still like to write about games from time to time, but now I tend to showcase titles that I think will appeal to even the non-games in the crowd. That means games that are fun, short, and easy to play and learn.

Perhaps no game has ever fit that description better than No Thanks!. It's tense and exciting, an entire game only takes 10 minutes, and it's so simple that I often introduce it to people as "The One Rule Game."

The game is played with a deck of 33 cards (ranked 3 through 35) and each player is given 11 poker chips. Before play the cards are shuffled, nine are removed and set aside unseen, and the deck is placed facedown in the center of the table. A start player is named, and the fun begins.

A round begins with a player flipping over the top card from the draw deck. Then (here's the One Rule, pay attention) each player in turn has the option to do one of two things: pass (by placing one of their chips onto the card) or take the card (and all the chips on it). Play may go around the table several times (the pile of chips on the card accumulating all the while) before someone finally bites the bullet, takes the card, and starts the next round by flipping over the next card from the deck. The game ends after the last card has been claimed.

Why the reluctance to take cards? Because at the end of a round you receive points equal to the value of all the cards you took -- and points are bad. Chips, meanwhile, are worth negative points. So Joe ends the game with the 5 card, the 25 card, the 27 card, and seven chips, his final score would be (5 + 25 + 27) - 7 = 50 points. The player with the fewest points wins.

Games this simple usually need a twist to make them interesting; No Thanks! has one and, man, it's a doozy. If you have two or more cards with consecutive values, you only score for the lowest valued card in the run. If Joe had also managed to acquire the 26 card, his final score would be (5 + 25) - 7 = 37 -- the 25-26-27 run would score 25 points total. So while you are generally trying to avoid taking cards in No Thanks! (hence the name), taking a specific card can occasionally save your hide. Of course, there's no guarantee the card you need is even in the deck, or that the player before you won't snap it up just to spite you. If you take the 31 card and the 33 card early in the game, you'll be a nervous wreck until the 32 makes its appearance (and dead in the water if it never does).

No Thanks! is such a great game for non-gamers (and gamers alike) that I usually pick up a few decks every time I place a game order and give them out as gifts. You could argue that $8 is a bit much to pay for 33 cards and a handful of chips, but I have plenty of games on my shelf that cost three times that and aren't half as fun. If you consider yourself the sort of person who "doesn't really like games," pick up a copy of No Thanks! -- after a few rounds you are likely to reconsider.


Announcement

I think the secret to happiness is to care a lot about people who care about you, and to not care too much about anything else.

May 10, 2006

Time In A Bottle

Parents! Is your son or daughter between 12 and 17 years of age and exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms?

  • Listlessness
  • Apathy
  • Mood Swings
  • Idealism
  • Hyperactivity
  • Malaise
  • Irritability
  • Egomania

If so, your child may be suffering from the debilitating effects of Youth.

More than 1 billion people worldwide are burdened with the ravages of Youth, and approximately one out of every one person will suffer the symptoms of Youth at some point in their life. But the crushing effects of Youth extend well beyond just the afflicted: teachers are driven to the brink of insanity, old people endure the indignity of having their lawn used as a short cut, and bands such as System of a Down continue to thrive.

But now there's hope.

If you suspect your child might be stricken with Youth, talk to your physician about Time. Time is the all-natural remedy for Youth, guaranteed to lessen your child's exuberance, curiosity, and spontaneity in as little as 10-40 years.

Ask your doctor about Time. Time: It Heals All Wounds*

* This statement has not be evaluated by the FDA. Side effects of Time include: aches, pains, balding, hearing loss, sight loss, memory loss, impotents, bitterness, disillusionment, the nagging feeling that every new person you meet looks like someone from your past, inability to sleep past 5:00 am, inability to stay awake beyond 8:00 PM, inability to drive faster than 35 miles per hour, technological incompetence, fondness for game shows, Republicanism, and death.
[ link | Humor]


May 08, 2006

Shafted
BEACONSFIELD, Australia (CNN) -- Rescuers have freed two Australian gold miners who had been trapped underground in a steel cage since April 25, when a small earthquake triggered a rock fall in the Tasmanian gold mine where they worked. They have been getting oxygen, food, water and items such as magazines and iPods through a plastic pipe since they were found April 30 ...
Oh, man. You know whichever brainiac in Apple's marketing department engineered that product placement was rewarded with pay raises and blowjobs today. I think every report on the story for the last two weeks has mentioned the thing at least twice. They're all, like:

TRAPPED MINERS CLING TO HOPE, IPODS

"We're Running Out Of Time!" Says Rescue Foreman Jon Sarno. "Those iPod Batteries Only Last Three Or Four Days, Total!"

Of course now that Apple has pioneered the disaster-related product placement (or "iProd," I as I like to call it), I'm sure all the other major companies will follow suit. Lucky for them there's a mine-related catastrophy every fortnight or so.

PEPSICO FILLS MINE SHAFT WITH COOL, REFRESHING MUG ROOT BEER

"We Serve To Miners," Jokes PepsiCo President Indra Nooyi, Giving The Thumbs Up.

17 trapped workers presumed drowned.

In other news, Bush nominated Mike Hayden as the new CIA chief, describing him as "supremely qualified" and "a consumer of intelligence." Huh. Maybe that's what happened to Bush's intelligence.

Update: Piers Morgan spectulates as to the iPod playlist in the comments:

  • Deeper Underground - Jamiroquai
  • Final Shakedown - Groove Armada
  • Bring The Boys Back Home - Pink Floyd
  • Avalanche Rock - The Avalanches
  • Lucky - Radiohead
  • Cause A Rockslide - Badly Drawn Boy
  • Waiting For The Worms - Pink Floyd
  • Survival - Nightmares On Wax
  • Alive And Kicking - Simple Minds
  • From The Ritz To The Rubble - Arctic Monkeys
  • Down In It - Tiga
  • Rock Box - Run DMC
  • Very, Very Hungry - Brian Eno & David Byrne
  • Trapped - Colonel Abrams
  • Disasters Are OK - Letting Up Despite Great Faults