|<< July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 >>|
August 31, 2006
A Walk In The Park
I wrote a tribute to Seattle's park system and it's available today at The Morning News.
August 30, 2006
What's In A Name?
An aquaintance of mine recently sired a child.
"What did you name it?" I inquired when he told me the news.
"August," said he.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" I asked.
There was a pause. "A boy," he said. "August is a boy's name."
I shrugged. "I've never heard of anyone being named August, so how would I know?" I said. "Besides, almost all calendar names belong to girls. April. June. Summer. Arbor Day."
"August is a boy's name," he reiterated.
A few days later I was at my gym, walking down the hallway to the locker room. The walls of the hall are covered with pictures of the staff, and you have no choice but to ogle them because everyone is attractive and fit. Each photo has the name of the employee at the bottom; one, of a lovely young lady, said "AUGUST."
I've noticed that picture on every visit to the gym since, and each time I resolve to write my buddy and taunt him about his son's androgynous name. But as my attention span is three minutes and the drive back my office is five, it always slipped my mind before I again had access to Gmail .
Oh, well ... it's probably best that I never did. Today, glancing at the photo, I noticed for the first time that there were tiny words both above and below "AUGUST," reading, respectively, "Employee Of The Month For" and "Nicole."
August 29, 2006
I've finally discovered my superpower. It wasn't readily apparent, since it alters the entire space/time continuum every time it is activated and essentially erases all traces of its own existence. But I think I have its number.
Here's how it works:
I should have realized all this back when I came up with My Big Fat Geek Wedding, an idea so ingenious that it was inconceivable anyone could have thunk it up first. But I just dismissed that as a fluke. Recently, though, the evidence has been mounting. Last week, for instance, I witnessed a friend open a bottle of beer with his wedding ring. "That's pretty cool," I said. "But you know what would even cooler? If someone invented a ring with a bottleopener built into it. The cool part would be if the inventor was me, and I made a million dollars for doing it."
And then, a few days later, I was at a stoplight in the middle of a bike ride, and happened to look down:
Okay, see: that's exactly what I'm talking about. Every great idea of mine is retroactively invented.
Oh well. Even though I won't personally profit, I guess I can still use my powers for good. For instance, here's a great idea I just now thought up: three Star Wars prequel films that don't totally suck.
Woohoo, I'm going to go rent them again now! This time they're going to be awesome!!
Update: It appears that my powers do, in fact, have limits.
August 28, 2006
Things about which I have become unexpectedly enthusiastic:
Typing of the Dead: Though a lifelong and perhaps intractable hunt-and-peck typist, I occasionally resolve to teach myself touch-typing once and for all; it was during one of these misguided bouts of self-improvement that I picked up The Typing of the Dead. I don't know what idiot at Take2 Interactive thought that combining an ultra-violent zombie-killing bloodfest with an "edutainment" typing tutorial was a good idea, but I hope he was well-compensated because this is pretty much the best stupid game ever. It's exactly the same as the popular House of the Dead shoot-em-up, but you enter the infested residence armed with a keyboard instead of a pistol and blow the monsters into gibblets by typing the words and phrases flashed on the screen. So dumb, but I can't stop playing.
Bitter:Sweet: I can't listen to The Mating Game, the first single from Bitter:Sweet's debut album, and not wish I were wearing a tuxedo, sipping a martini, and carrying a Walther PPK in a shoulder holster. And that song is no abberation, the whole album is steeped in that frosty, lounge sound (listen to "Dirty Laundry" if you need further proof). Something incredible will have to come out in the next four months to prevent this from being my favorite album of the year. And hey, Seattlites: they're coming to Bumbershoot.
Pandora Internet Radio: Here's how Pandora works. You tell it an artist or song you like; it pulls tracks with similar styles from its database, adds them to your playlist, and streams the feed to you as a customized radio station. I'd dabbled with Pandora a few times in the past but never really saw the point: why not just listen to a radio station you enjoy instead of building one from scratch? But then I plugged the aforementioned Bitter:Sweet in there and discovered a host of similar bands. It's more of a super-sophisticated recommendation engine than a radio station, but I've found an astounding amount of great music using it. If you decide to register, you check out my dy Mix.
Chow Mein: Did I somehow never eat chow mein my first 34 years of life? It was like a revelation when I had it a few months ago, and I've been shoveling it into my maw non-stop ever since.
The Best of Youth: Netflix was insistent in suggesting The Best of Youth, putting a shooting star aside the title and giving it permanent slot atop my recommendation page. I was skeptical: you see my five star ratings for "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Barton Fink" and think I'm going to enjoy a six-hour Italian soap opera? I eventually ordered the film just to get Netflix to shut up about it, and, oh my, it's sublime. Covering over 40 years in the life of a single family, this is one of the most robust and rewarding DVDs I've watched in a spell.
August 25, 2006
My local ATM has become aggressively informal. At first it was just small things, like saying "Sure" and "No, thanks" instead of "yes" and "no" when asking if I want a receipt. But now it's completely out of control. Now it's all, "Howdie-ho, neighbor! Hot enough for ya? Well golly gee willikers, what can I do you for?"
Obviously some bank honcho thinks that patrons will respond favorably to this folksy, conversational style, but I find it repellant. I don't even like it when actual-human colleagues call me "Matt," so I don't really need a freakin' machine chumming up to me like we've just spent the evening polishing off a half-rack of Coors.
And it seems to be worse every time I go there. At this point, pretty much every question and menu option has been meticulously phrased to be as laid-back as possible, and they've even revised some of the older, breezy responses to make them more casual. God knows where it will end.
August 24, 2006
August 23, 2006
Mold In The White House
Speaking of Phillip K. Dick ...
When it was released in 2002, Minority Report was interpreted by some as an indictment of George Bush's doctrine of preemption, which allowed the US to detain persons and attack nations on mere suspicions.
The Mold of Yancy, despite the title, has nothing to do with fungi. Terran agent Taverner is dispatched to Callisto to investigate the political situation when computer analysis shows the Callistian society inching toward totalitarianism. Upon arrival, Taverner initially believes that the political assessment is incorrect, as he can find no overt signs of repression. Then he learns of John Edward Yancy.
Every evening Yancy takes to the airwaves, treating the Callistotes to charming little homilies and sage advice in his short, televised spots. "A kind of home-spun philosopher," one person describes him. "Totally ordinary man ... A sort of talking almanac. Pithy sayings on every topic. Wise old saws: how to cure a chest cold. What the trouble is back on Terra." Though supposedly unaffiliated with the government or the church, Yancy is admired by most inhabitants of the moon with an ardor that borders on reverence.
Taverner does a little poking around, and, upon reviewing the tapes of Yancy's broadcasts, discovers something interesting: despite all his talking, Yancy almost never says anything:
Yancy had definite opinions on everything ... or mere they so definite? A strange suspicion was growing in [Taverner]. On some topics, yes. On minor issues, Yancy had exact rules, specific maxims drawn from mankind's rich storehouse of folklore. But major philosophical and political issues were something else again.Taverner suspects that Yancy is more than just a freelance philosopher. "Nobody [is] as harmless and vapid as John Edward Yancy," he think, and delves deeper into the mystery. Sure enough, an inside source named Sipling soon gives him the straight dope: Yancy is completely computer generated, a fictitious figurehead created by the authorities.
"By authorities, you mean the governing council?"Why would the big corporations go through the trouble to foisting a charismatic but shallow leader on the people? Well, it seems that they want to start to war with a distant land, in the hopes of acquiring the other's resources. "To start a war they have to get the public lined up," Sipling continues. "Actually, the people here have nothing to gain. A war would wipe out all the small operators - it would concentrate power in fewer hands - and they're few enough already. To get the eighty million people here behind the war, they need an indifferent, sheep-like public. And they're getting that."
Here's a quotation from another Yancy speech:
"I realize how lucky we are to be alive, and to have ... the fine cities and houses, all the things God has given us to enjoy. But we've got to be careful. We've got to make sure we don't lose these things. There are forces that could weaken us. Everything we've built up for our loved ones, for our children, could be taken away from us overnight. We must learn to be vigilant. We must protect our liberties, our possessions, our way of life. If we become divided, and fall to bickering among each other, we will be easy prey for our enemies."Psyche! That text was actually taken from Bush's speech on Monday.
Well, no, that quotation really did come from The Mold of Yancy. But come on: you thought that was Bush for a second, there, didn't you?
"I've come to see the essential key to the Yancy character," says Sipling near the end of the story.
"The key to the new type of person we're growing, here. It's simple. It's the element that makes that person malleable enough to be led around. All Yancy's beliefs are insipid. The key is thinness. Every part of his ideology is diluted: nothing excessive. We've come as close as possible to no beliefs . . . you've noticed that. Wherever possible we've cancelled attitudes out, left the person apolitical. Without a viewpoint."When Taverner and Sipling set out to undermine the Yancy project, and they do so by injecting some complexity into his speeches. "What if Yancy sat down in the evening with his wife and grandson, and played a nice lively six-hour game of Kriegspiel?" Sipling says, as they plan their sabotage. "Suppose his favorite books - instead of being western gun-toting anachronisms - were Greek tragedy? Suppose his favorite piece of music was Bach's Art of the Fugue, not My Old Kentucky Home?"
In related news, Bush was seen reading Albert Camus' The Stranger a few weeks ago, and recently spoke of the Iraq war as "straining the psyche of our country." Maybe we've got a Sipling in the White House, at long last.
You can read The Mold of Yancy here.
August 21, 2006
The Queen rubs the top of her head and makes the ow-that-hurts air-through-the-teeth noise.
Me: What's wrong?
August 18, 2006
I Forgot My PIN Number, Can I Have Yours?
Pick-up line used by the guy two spots ahead of me in the ATM line on the woman directly in front of me: "So, do you need cash too?"
August 17, 2006
Threat Level Bershon
According to an article in today's New York Times "behavior detection officers" at airports are now keeping an eye out for persons wearing the following expressions:
In other words, in addition to having to forgo your iPod and hair gel you will now be required to check in your teen prior to boarding.
I understand they've carved out a little space for the youngsters down in the cargo hold, where they will be serving Hi-C and showing The Apple Dumpling Gang. Oh, that sounds delightful!
August 16, 2006
Pluto Vows To Run As An Independant
Rocky, barren mass, having lost "major planet" status by a narrow vote in the International Astronomical Union, fends off charges that its orbit is "erratic" and slams rival UB313 for being "on the fringe of the solar system."
We're trying to toilet train The Squirrelly, but it's tough going. He knows how to pee (does he ever) and he knows how to sit on the potty, but the idea of doing both simultaneously hasn't quite clicked. On the rare occasions that it happens accidentally we praise him to the heavens and generally act as though his pissing in a pot is as momentous as the fall of the Berlin Wall, but our positive reinforcements have yet to forge the link in his mind. Usually he just sits on his little throne, happy as a unmicturating clam and blissfully unmoved by our exhortations. "PEE! " we cry. "VOID THAT BLADDER FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY!!" Honestly, I think the phrase "getting urine from a toddler" ought to supercede "getting blood from a stone" as the cliché for describing difficulty.
Yesterday I had The Squirrelly all stripped down and ready for his bath and noticed his potty was nearby, so I got him to sit down. Then I waited. And waited. And eventually thought to myself, "if only there was some way of tricking him into peeing ..."
Anyway, long story short: the whole "put the victim's hand in a bowl of warm water" thing turns out to be an urban legend.
August 15, 2006
The Bad Review Revue: Special Emergency Edition
The Bad Review Revue is typically a Friday event, but some things simply cannot wait.
August 14, 2006
Every Time A Friend Succeeds
In war movies it is a common practice for the members of a squad to pool their money, buy an expensive bottle of booze, and agree that the last man alive gets to drink it. If I had made a similar deal with my friends last year, substituting "last guy to hit the big time" for "die," I'd be well on my way to insobriety. To wit:
My buddy Josh bought a bar! And not just any bar, lovely Lottie's Lounge in the heart of Columbia City. If I were to rave about what a nice joint it is you'd correctly suspect me bias, so go read this laudatory Seattle PI article instead. It's a great place, you should check it out. And if you do, tell 'em Matthew sent you -- they won't give you a discount or nuthin', but I might get a free drink for the referral, and isn't that all that matters?
My Internet crush Mighty Girl Wrote a Book!: Mighty Mighty Maggie M. is now the author of No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blogthen boast about it on your weblog.") And if you pre-order it here, Maggie will send you an autographed copy. Other projects Maggie has been working on: The Mighty Mite and getting namechecked by Time Magazine.
My friend John Moe watched Red Dawn!: And then ... wrote a book about it! And though it's not even for sale yet, it has already taken the literati by storm!
John talked about the writing process quite a bit on his weblog (search for "book going"), in case you were ever wondering how one of these things gets made. The premise of his book is that he immersed himself in conservative culture for 30 days in an attempt to become a righty. I don't want to give away the ending, but the last time we hung out he alluded to William Kristol's "chisled abs," like, four times.
August 11, 2006
Movies: A Scanner Darkly
I don't get out to the cinema often these days. But there are certain classes of film that I will always make an effort to see in the theater, among them:
On the debits side of the ledger, we have this: the film stars Keanu Reeves. I don't really mind Reeves, but as the Matrix trilogy has a very heavy Phillip K. Dick influence, I was a little worried that this would just become the fourth in the series. Fortunately, Reeves spends much of the film looking and acting befuddled (the one type of dramatic role he invariably excels at), a far cry from the demigod of Neo. And the performances of his colleagues -- Woody Harlson, Mitch Baker, and Robert Downey Jr. in particular -- more than compensate for Reeves' limited range.
The film is set in a near future where a drug called Substance-D is destroying America. Reeves' character Bob Arctor, for instance, is hooked on the stuff, and it's slowly eroding his ability to tell reality from fantasy. He spends half of his time lollygagging around his pad with other addicts, and the other half working for law enforcement, where he has been assigned to spy on ... himself. One of the perks of working as a uncover narc in the future, it seems, is that you get to wear a "scramble suit," which conceals your identity from everyone -- even your superiors, who may inadvertently charge you with monitoring your drug-addled alter ego.
Scanner uses a technique called "rotoscoping, in which live-action footage is traced over and converted to animation. It is particularly well-suited to this tale, as it falls in animation's uncanny valley: it looks artificial enough to be perceived as animation, but realistic enough to put the audience on edge. In short, it makes the viewer feel like he, like the protagonists, has recently ingested a sizable quantity of illicit substances. It's hard to even criticize the technique, as even its deficiencies work in the context of Scanner. One thing that bothered me was how components of large objects would sometimes appear to move independent of the thing they were attached to -- the headlights of cars, for instance. And yet, these irksome details just served to heighten my feeling of hazyheadedness, the exact effect I assume Linklater was shooting for when he choose rotoscoping in the first place.
Unlike most films inspired by the work of Dick, A Scanner Darkly is based on a full length novel and is a faithful adaptation of the source material. Or so I'm told. I read A Scanner Darkly a number of years ago, but couldn't really remember anything about it. Seeing the film didn't so much remind me of how the novel went as remind me why I found it so difficult to recall.
Both the book and the film fall under the rubric of "complete mindfuck." That is, most of the time you're not sure what's going on, and, even when you do, you're not sure whether the events are real. As a result, you tend to sequester everything you see into a a little mental cubbyhole marked "Conditional," ready to purge it if a subsequent revelation reveals this particular scene to be false, or take it out and stamp it "authentic" if it is later verified as real. Unfortunately, you never really get any confirmation one way or the other in Scanner, so you walk out of the film with a head full of loose puzzle pieces instead of a complete picture. And we all know what happens to loose pieces over time: you lose them, one by one. I saw the film last week and already can only remember half of it.
I met up with some friends after seeing the film, and they asked me what I thought. "I don't know," I told them, "I need to think it over for a day." That was last Saturday, and I still haven't made up my mind. I liked it, I guess, but film and the animation style were so self-referential that I kind of felt like they all added up to nothing, like a snake that swallows its own tail and vanishes from sight. Admittedly, that analogy doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, then again, the same may be true of the film. I have no idea.
August 10, 2006
Where There's Smoke There's Ire
If you drive around downtown Seattle long enough, eventually you'll see the billboard of a little girl eating a dead, bloodied rat. (Warning: the hypertext immediately preceding this sentence reading "a little girl eating a dead, bloodied rat" links to a picture of a little girl eating a dead, bloodied rat.) It's a wonderful thing to see as I'm commuting to work. One moment I'm humming along, fantasizing about the two Top Pot donuts I'm going to buy from the corner bakery when I arrive at the office, and the next I'm looking at a 20 ft. high portrayal of rodentaphagy.
The aim of the billboard is not to ensure that I maintain my girlish figure. It is, in fact, an anti-smoking ad. Below the picture is the text "Kissing A Smoker Is Just As Gross," along with the slogan "Tobacco Smokes You." You can find our more that their website, ashtraymouth.com, which has the following in the "keywords" section of its HTML header:
Ashtraymouth, ashtray mouth, Kissing a smoker, Tobacco smokes you, Kissing a smoker is just as gross, Don't kiss a smoker, Yuck Chuck Challenge, Spin the Bottle and smoking, Gross Factor and smoking, Gross things and smoking, Eating a dead rat, Eating a cockroach, Eating roadkill, Eating a hairball, Eating cat throw-up, Eating a dirty sock...All of this courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health.
To be fair, the billboard doesn't show an actual photograph of a girl. It's more like an adorable Nightmare Before Christmas-style doll eating a dead, bloody rat. The whole thing looks like something a emo girl would have tattooed on her lower back and then publish a picture of on her MySpace page. But, still.
This is not the first time that the WSDOH has used gross-out tactics to discourage people from smoking. I remember back in the 90's I used to watch reruns of The Simpsons at 6:30 and, during the first commercial break, the screen would invariably get filled with a shot of diseased lung tissue. Just what you wanna see during the dinner hour.
I don't smoke, and never have. So why am I subjected to this stuff? The fact that I'm paying for it as well just twists the knife. There's much ado about the perils of secondhand smoke, but who's raging against the scourge of secondhand smoker education? I mean, let's face it: at this point I would pretty much have to voluntarily put myself in the position of inhaling secondhand smoke (especially since the passage of Initiative 901, Washington's recent paean to the Nanny State), while these unappetizing ads are erected in the middle of our public square.
For that matter, why should smokers be subjected to these? These billboards don't even offer education, only condemnation. At least when they cut from Ralph Wiggum to lip cancer, they were showing you something connected to the hazards of smoking. What the hell does a billboard of Gothy McMopper eating rat-on-the-cob have to do with anything? They aren't supplying smokers with the facts so they can make informed decision anymore -- now their goal, as near as I can tell, is simply to make smoking Not Enjoyable. I dislike your habit, so I'm going to make you dislike it too. It's aversion therapy without the high electrical bill.
When you think about it, though, this ad isn't even for smokers. It says "Kissing A Smoker Is Just as Gross," implying that this billboard is aimed at friends of smokers. That's right: we're paying the state to run ads to train us to shun people for smoking. Jeeze, I can't imagine why the folks in this city are perpetually pissed off about taxes.
August 08, 2006
Don't Roll Off!
I had $1.5 million burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought one of them floating beds.
It's pretty cool. Magnets embedded into the bottom of the bed and the floor keep the contraption hovering a few feet above the ground.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until I got home and set the whole thing up and climbed in that I discovered the drawback: the girlie magazines I keep hidden under the mattress were now just laying uncovered on the floor, where anyone could see them. And, worse, I couldn't reach them.
Rob Cockerham is a veritable fount of zany schemes, which is why is he often called "The Lucy Ricardo of the Web." (Actually, no one has ever called him that, but y'all should do so from this day forward.) You should read about his newest hairbrained / divinely-inspired project here, especially if you live anywhere near Sacramento. It sounds so fun that it actually made me wish I lived in California for a yoctosecond or two.
August 07, 2006
It took Michelangelo eleven months to cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a series of dizzyingly elaborate patters and illustrations, and he required a team of five painters to do it. The Squirrelly must be some kind of prodigy, because he managed to do essentially the same thing to the hard wood floor in our kitchen in about three minutes, and we only needed a single purloined ball-point pen.
I guess we should be mad, but we prefer to focus on the positive. Like, how much money this genius kid is going to rake in for us. The Queen and I agree that a career in bio-engineering would be best suited for the kid, as it's the most likely to result in him having copious amounts of cash to lavish upon us. So, to steer him in that direction, we have decided to only teach him the letters A, C, G, and T.
Awwww, isn't that adorable?! He's making a chinchilla!
Or perhaps he could go into IT, as he seems to have an intuitive grasp of how wireless networks work. He often likes to play Elmo's Keyboard-A-Rama on the laptop out in the (newly redecorated) kitchen. When he wants to play he doesn't go to the computer, though: he sort of wanders around the house, staring at a point about three feet above his head and saying "want play Elmo?" as if he can sense the pixilated muppet being sent over the wireless link. Or maybe he thinks that, when Elmo isn't on the screen jovially screeching about the letter "J," he is trapped in some nether dimension between the router in the back of the house to the laptop in the front. You know, like those guys in Superman II:
President: [on T.V] This is your President. On behalf of my country and in the name of the other leaders of the world with whom I have today consulted, I hereby abdicate all authority and control over this planet to Elmo. Only by following all his directives will the lives of millions be spared -- Mr. Hooper! Can you hear me? Mr. Hooper! Where are you?!