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July 24, 2006

Week Off

Devoting my spare time to another project this week; will return July 31st.

[ link | dy]

July 21, 2006

The Bad Review Revue

Little Man: "One joke short of being a one-joke film." -- Randy Cordova, ARIZONA REPUBLIC

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: ""The fool thing just keeps going and going ... and going. Does a Pirates sequel really need to be five minutes longer than GoodFellas? The flick should've felt like a sugary snack, not a hot-dog eating contest." -- Sean Burns, PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY

Goal!: "Suffers from a script so outrageously generic you could buy it at Costco." -- Ty Burr, BOSTON GLOBE

Guernsey: "Of all the modes of modern alienation, there is none so persistent and arbitrary as finding oneself trapped in a glacially paced European art film." -- Nathan Lee, NEW YORK TIMES

Lady In The Water: "It's as if on some semiconscious level, Shyamalan is calling his own success into question and daring his audience to gulp down larger and spikier clusters of manure, just to see if they will. Or he's lost his mind." -- Michael Atkinson, VILLIAGE VOICE

You, Me and Dupree: "Artistically, You, Me and Dupree is a mess. Technically, it's an abomination. Spiritually, it's a void. Commercially, it'll probably be a big hit." -- Ann Hornaday, WASHINGTON POST

July 20, 2006

Nor Do I Pee Maple Syrup

I've never considered myself to be good at improv, and an incident this morning did nothing to change that opinion.

I was preparing The Squirrelly's breakfast this morning, and I decided to give him a choice of entree. "Do you want oatmeal or a waffle with jam?" I asked.

"Waffle with jam!" he said enthusiastically.

"Coming right up," I replied. I retrieved a frozen waffle from the freezer and popped it into the toaster.

Three seconds passed before The Squirrelly got impatient. "Waaaafle!" he whined insistently.

"I'm cooking your waffle!" I said. "Just hold your horses. Waffles don't --"

I was going to say "waffles don't grow on trees," but that seemed inappropriate. After all, my point weren't that waffles were hard to come by, but that they require a minute or two of preparation. So I abruptly switched metaphors in midstream. "Waffles don't, um, come out of my butt, you know."

Sigmund Freud wrote on the subject extensively in the early 20th century and the same holds true today: it is a sobering moment in every boy's life when he learns that waffles do not come from his father's butt.

Latch Hooked

Sorry updates have been so sporadic lately. But I started playing World of Needlecraft, and you know how that goes. I keep promising myself that I'll quit, but then I'll get a Apocalypse Thimble or find some Pinking Shears of the Gathering Storm, and then it's back on another Appliqué adventure. I'm a level 47 Couturier now, but when I hit level 50 I swear to god I'm going to retire my Bobin Of The Zodiac for good.

[ link | dy]

July 19, 2006

Pilot: The Six Hundred Dollar Man


EUGENE STICKLER, 42, slightly out-of-shape with a receding hairline, is slumped unconscious in an office CHAIR. Perched on the corner of a DESK opposite him sits OSCAR GOLDMAN. GOLDMAN is dressed in a three-piece SUIT and is wearing SUNGLASSES. He sits nonchalantly smoking a CIGARETTE and occasionally sipping from a TUMBLER OF SCOTCH he holds in his right hand.

Several moments pass. Eventually GOLDMAN plucks an ICE CUBE from the GLASS and flicks it at STICKLER. It strikes STICKLER on the LEFT TEMPLE and ricochets out of the frame. STICKLER grunts, startled, and jerks his head up.

STICKLER (groggily): Wha-?

GOLDMAN: Up and at'em, agent. Daylight's a-burnin'.

STICKLER slowly rouses. He looks around in bewilderment.

STICKLER: Where am I? Who are you?

STICKLER gingerly touches his cheek.

STICKLER (CONT.): Why is my mouth all numb?

GOLDMAN takes a long drag on his cigarette before stubbing it out on a nearby ashtray.

GOLDMAN: All right. I gotta lot of work to get through today, so I'm gonna make this quick.

I'm Oscar Goldman, Senior Deputy Director here at OSI, a top-secret intelligence agency within by the US government.

STICKLER: I've never heard of it.

GOLDMAN: Yes, well, apparently you missed the part where it was top-secret.

You were recently involved in a horrific accident ...


STICKLER: I remember! I was riding my bicycle down the street when I a hit a pothole and crashed. I don't remember anything after that.

GOLDMAN: Look, this is going to go a lot quicker if you leave the exposition to me.

Lucky for you one of our field operatives happened to be driving by at the time of the incident. He rushed you back here, where our top medic, Dr. Rudy Wells, went to work immediately. Rebuilding you. Improving you. You've been unconscious ever since the operation.

STICKLER: My god. How long was I out? What year is it?!

GOLDMAN: I don't quite know how to tell you this, but ... it's 1977.

STICKLER: Oh. That's the same year I went for the walk.

GOLDMAN: Yes, all this took place about 40 minutes ago.

Fortunately your injuries were relatively minor: the first bicuspid on your left side was knocked out when you hit the pavement, and you skinned your elbow. Rudy was able to replace the tooth with bionic implant, and cover your wound with some state-of-the-art synthetic flesh.

STICKLER: "Bionic?"

GOLDMAN quaffs his scotch and sets the tumbler on the desk.

GOLDMAN: You're more machine than man now, agent. That tooth gives you chewing abilities far beyond those of ordinary citizens.

That's why we want you to come work for us.

STICKLER: Uhm. Well, thanks, I guess. But I already have a pretty good job at the Betamax factory. And I'd have to discuss it with my wife before I accepted any offer, you understand.

Speaking of which, I should probably call Debra and let her know I'm okay. Can I use that phone?

GOLDMAN: I'm afraid not. You see, to your wife and the rest of the world, you're a dead man.

STICKLER: Come again?

GOLDMAN fishes a cigarette out of his breast pocket and lights it before responding.

GOLDMAN: I don't think you fully appreciate the enormity of the situation, agent. OSI is a shadowy organization that often has to work outside the law. Now that you work for us, it's crucial that we eradicate all traces of your former life. Already our disinformation specialists are spreading your cover story, that you were killed by a pack of civets.

STICKLER: Actually, I read in Nation Geographic that civets are solitary animals.

GOLDMAN: See? Disinformation. Those guys are real pros.

The point is, contacting with your wife would leave her open to reprisals from our many enemies.

STICKLER: What kind of enemies?

GOLDMAN shrugs.

GOLDMAN: Mostly other secret robot-making societies. And bigfoot.

STICKLER: Look, this is ridiculous. I don't want to work for OSI, I've never heard of bionics, and the "state-of-the-art prosthetic flesh" you put on my elbow is a Band-aid with pictures of the Fonz on it. I'd like to go home to my wife and kids now, if you don't mind.

GOLDMAN stands, revealing a MANILLA FOLDER that he has been sitting on. He picks it up.

GOLDMAN: Nobody wants to work for OSI, agent -- we're here because duty demands it. Your extraordinary bionic powers are a gift, but with them come great responsibility, a responsibility to serve this great nation and defend it from the malevolent forces that want to do us harm.

No one knows about the great work we do here. But that's okay. We don't do it for recognition, or fame, or money. We do it because no one else can.


GOLDMAN (CONT.): This is your first assignment, agent, should you choose to accept it. The United States needs your help. Will you answer the call? Or slink back to your ordinary, uneventful life?

There is a long pause while STICKLER deliberates. Slowly, his expression of indecision is replaced by one of steely determination. At last he reaches out and takes the FOLDER.

GOLDMAN: I knew we could count on you, agent.

STICKLER: So I'm actually an agent now?

GOLDMAN snorts.

GOLDMAN: No, of course not. I'm just calling you that because I haven't bothered to learn your name.

GOLDMAN gestures at the FOLDER.

GOLDMAN (CONT.): Those are Steve Austin's receipts from his last mission. I need you to go through and fill out the appropriate reimbursement forms. We'll need those in triplicate -- one copy to submit to the Senate and two for our files -- and we're plumb out of carbon paper, so you'll just have to fill each form out three times.

Also, you'll have to redact anything that looks classified -- which is pretty much everything, so just go nuts. And make absolutely certain you black-out the names of any massage parlors or escort services. Jesus Christ, that guy's so randy you'd think we'd given him a bionic johnson. I don't blame that Sommers broad for faking amnesia when she had the chance.

The crapper's down the hall on the left. That's the breakroom over there. If you drink any coffee, put a quarter in the can -- we ain't running a charity, here.

I think my work here is done.

GOLDMAN stands abruptly and exits. STICKLER glumly rifles through the RECEIPTS in the FOLDER. After a few minutes he rises and trudges into the BREAKROOM.


CANDICE HINES sits at a table, doing the DAILY JUMBLE. She looks up as STICKLER enters.



STICKLER walks over to a VENDING MACHINE. After some deliberation he purchases a ZAGNUT BAR. He sits opposite HINES and begins unwrapping the candy.

STICKLER: So what's your story.

HINES: I went to the doctor with appendicitis. After the operation I woke up here. Oscar said they had quote-unquote rescued me from the hospital and replaced my removed appendix with a bionic one.

Now I'm the receptionist. It's a pretty boring job, seeing as no one knows our agency exists.


STICKLER bites into his ZAGNUT.

SOUND EFFECT: ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch!

July 17, 2006

I Guess We'll Need A Sitter After All


July 12, 2006

i don't IM

W: what's up?

Me: Nothing. What's up with you?

W: oh i thought you were IMing me. I don't IM.

Me: Well, aren't you Mr. 19th Century?

Me: I shall contact you via telegram forthwith!

W: but as long as we're chatting

W: do you wanna cheap tv stand?

Me: No.

W: the tv stand is free! I put it on craigslist. no takers.

Me: Try offering some free oral sex on craiglist. I bet that will get a response.

Me: Stipulate that they have to take the tv stand too, though

W: post: insatiable cocksucker offers multimedia furniture.

W: you know i have thought about becoming a gigolo. but I'm concerned about the health risks

Me: You mean the mental health risks of having people sing that David Lee Roth song EVERY FUCKING TIME you mention your profession?

W: tell me about it. that's why i had to quit my job as a tambourine man

July 11, 2006

The Works: Movie Blogs

I'm on The Works this evening talking about movie blogs. Here are the websites we discuss:

  • Ain't It Cool News: To movie blogs what The Drudge Report is to political blogs.
  • GreenCine Daily: A great, general purpose film blog.
  • Metacritic: A site that compiles movie rating from all over the Internet. (Actually, my spiel about Metacritic on the show was something of a rambling digression and John may well cut it, so it may not be mentioned on the show at all.) Also check out Rotten Tomatoes.

  • The Movie Blog: The guy who got got his site shut down by paramount for enthusiastically hyping up their upcoming Transformers movie. The post about the controversy is here.

  • Thank You For Smoking blog, King Kong production diary, and Garden State blog: Three blogs set up by the directors of films to keep fans abreast of the picture's progress. Zach Braff, director of Garden State, now maintains zachbraff.com.

  • Poster Wire: One of my favorite movie blogs is not about movies, but about movie posters. And any friend of Fipi Lele is a friend of mine. Here's the post where I learned that the MPAA had approval over movie posters.

Other good movie blogs include The IFC Blog, Movie City Indie, and The Filmmaker Magazine blog. Milo Vermeulen listed his favorite movie blogs here, and I'd encourage readers to do likewise in the comments.

July 10, 2006

Crude and Oil

Best Ann Coulter interview ever.

I've recently started listening to the Adam Corolla show in the morning. I couldn't stand The Man Show or Loveline, but Corolla is well suited to freeform, topic-less rambling and raving. He seems like he might be jerk, but he's a highly-intelligent jerk with a trigger-quick wit and a wizard with the ad-lib analogy. He is flanked by Affable Goofball Dave Damesheck and Remarkably Good Sport Teresa Strasser. Here is a snippet of typical banter .

Much of the show is sexist, racist, mean-spirited, and just plain boorish, and I occasionally have to switch to NPR reassure myself that I am still an liberal elitist. But my commute is only 10 minutes long, and that's usually the perfect dose of these guys. (Though I will then sometimes listen to them on my walkman again later in the morning, as I use the ecliptic trainer at the gym. It was there that I heard the above Coulter interview, and could not stop guffawing.)

Speaking of Corolla, this morning he spoke with Chris Paine, writer and director of the film Who Killed The Electric Car?. They talked a bit about the various conspiracy theories surrounding the auto industry, pointing out that GM introduced an electric car in 1990, only to later recall and destroy nearly all of the vehicles the moment the law requiring 10% of California cars to be electric was repealed.

That's a pretty good conspiracy theory, as these things go. But I think mine is better. I don't think cars run on gasoline at all. I think that, after the crisis of the 70's, car manufactures figured out how to make their products run on air, but when the oil companies objected they agreed to hornswoggle consumers into believing that gas was still necessary: A fuel hole that goes nowhere, a device in the useless tailpipe that produces smoke, and a mechanism that shuts down the car if the gas needle ever reaches "E."

Think about it: you never actually see any of the purported "fuel" you put into your Chevy: you put a nozzle into your gas tank hole, you wait a few minutes, you take it out, and then you gotta pay thirty bucks. (60's era comedian, with a scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other: "Sounds a lot like my love life.")

July 05, 2006


Three musical instruments are sitting in a bar and, after a few drinks, they begin boasting.

"I don't want to brag," says the first, "but I'm a drum. And drums, as I'm sure you know, were the first instruments in the history of the world, used not only for music but also for long range communication and even to motivate soldiers in a time of war. Just about every style of music uses drums of some sort -- hell, there probably wouldn't even be music it if wasn't for us."

"Drums are great, if you only want to play one note," the second instrument cuts in. "But as piano, I have 88 keys to choose from. Most of the great classical music was written with me in mind, and even today my cousin, the keyboard, is central to the creation of modern music."

"Don't talk to me about modern music," scoffs the third instrument. "I'm a guitar, and while you old-timers may have been big in your day, it's the 21st century now. And it's guitars like me that have made rock & roll the most popular music in the world today."

The second instrument sizes up the third skeptically, and then says "What are you talking about? You're not a guitar, you're nothing but a small harp."

And the third instrument leaps off of his stool and shouts, "Are you calling me a lyre?!"

[ link | Humor]

July 04, 2006

Transamerica And Others US Games

Transamerica was one of my top picks of the 2002 Good Gift Games Guide, and has occupied a spot on the Canonical G4 List ever since. The fourth of July seems a fine day to explain why.

I pick titles for the Good Gift Games Guide based on three criteria: they have to be easy to learn, playable in under an hour, and fun on the first try. By these standards, Transamerica is practically the G4 posterchild.

The game board shows a map on the United States, covered a web of triangles. Many of the junctions where the lines cross contain cities, such as Seattle, Sante Fe, Dallas, and Miami. The cities are also color-coded, to indicate the region in which they reside: The West Coast, the Northern US, the Midwest, the Southern US, and the East Coast. And every city also has a corresponding card. Each player is given five of these cards -- one of each color -- before play begins. He is also given a marker, which he may place onto any junction on the board.

A player's goal is to connect his five assigned cities by railroad. Railroad in the game is represented by dozens of small black "sticks," which the players use their turns to place upon the board. A player may place a rail on any empty line, thereby connecting two junctions, so long as he can trace a route back from it to his start marker using previously build rail. The trick is that no one "owns" the rail they build -- they are all in the common domain. So when a player connects his line to that of another player's, he may then build off any junction connected to the extended network. After one player succeeds in connecting all five of his cities, the other players earn points based on how many more rails they would have needed to finish. Points are bad, and low score wins.

Transamerica is simplicity itself. On a turn, a player only has one decision to make: where to place their rail. Some have complained that the whole thing barely amounts to a game at all, and that a round is essentially a protracted method of revealing who got dealt the best set of city cards. That may be true, but like solitaire (which is also deterministic), Transamerica is unaccountably fun and addictive. Plus, an entire game can be played in 20 minutes, so it doesn't wear out its welcome, simple though it may be.

* * *

While we're on the subject, here's a boardgame tour of the United States.

  • Manhattan: This was the second "German game" I ever bought (after Settlers), and was a mainstay of my game group until we'd all played it so much we couldn't stomach another game. Players strive to build skyscrapers in New York, and have the ability to steal each other's buildings. Only a smidge more complicated than Transamerica but with a lot more room for strategic play, it's no surprise that Manhattan won the "Game of the Year" award in 1994.
  • Streetcar: The New Orleans Trolley Game: Another of my earliest acquisitions, and one I still enjoy playing today. Players collaborate and compete to build trolley track in downtown New Orleans, connecting such landmarks as Longue Vue, The French Quarter, and Napoleon Library. Though the rules are simple, this game has a special reasoning element that some find a bit daunting -- and others, like me, find fun and rewarding. Read my full review here.
  • Mississippi Queen: Another "Game of the Year" winner, this one has players racing riverboats down Old Man Mississippi, stopping occasionally to take on a southern belle as a passenger. A race game at its heart, players must carefully monitor their speed lest they go crashing into a sandbar, and must keep an eye on their opponents who may attempt to bump them out of their way.
  • Detroit / Cleveland Grand Prix: Wolfgang Kramer is known for his clever game designs, and this is one of his most inventive. Six cars race around a track; you own one of them. You move the cars by playing cards from your hand. Yes, I said "cars," plural: the game is rigged so that it's almost impossible to move your own vehicle without also advancing those of your opponents. Figuring out how to get your car in the lead -- and keep your rivals at bay -- makes for a fun little puzzle, and affords plenty of opportunity for sneaky tactical maneuvering.
  • New England: Named "Best Game" by GAMES Magazine in 2004, new England finds the players building barns and planting fields, just after settling the New World. It's a little more strategic than the others on this list, but is easy enough to learn to serve as a good bridge from the Transamericas to the more complicated fare -- and is a fine game in its own right as well.
  • Vegas Showdown: The newest game on this list, and one that I avoided for a while thinking it would be some variant on craps or poker. In fact it's not a gambling game at all, but one of building casinos and trying to maximize profits. Players vie for slot machines, restaurants, and theaters, each trying to make their own establishments the most attractive to customers. I finally tried it, and now it's one of my favs.
  • Puerto Rico: Hailed as the greatest modern board game, an assessment with which I largely agree. You can read my my reviews of both Puerto Rico, and its sequel, San Juan.
Also, Transamerica is only one of many games that are set on map of the continental US. Ticket To Ride (full review here) is arguably the best family game in the last decade; Power Grid has players building power plants and supplying electricity to the cities of the nation; and giant creatures run amuck, battling the military and one another, in Monsters Menace America.

July 03, 2006

Turn On, Tune In, Clip 'n' Save

Aw, jeeze. I went to the local co-op today and, at checkout, wound up behind a Coupon Hippie. You know the type: they pin all the worl'd ills on the preoccupation with money, but will stand there and argue over a 35 cent discount on Dr. Bronner's hemp-scented soap until the dusk of the Age of Aquarius.

July 01, 2006

On England V. Portugal

Penalty kicks are such a stupid way of deciding a soccer game. Over 120 minutes of a team sport with final score determined by a series of mano a mano face-offs.

Penalty kicks are so dissimilar to regular soccer that it's almost a different game entirely, like the outcome of a tied Cavaliers v. Timberwolves basketball game settled by LeBron James and Kevin Garnett playing Twister at mid-court. Come to think of it though, that, unlike penalty kicks, might be interesting to watch.