I had some 9 hours with the SkyMall catalog yesterday and the Computerless E-mail Printer from the crapmeisters at Hammacher Schlemmer was a standout.
It's for folks who are scared of computers but who still would like to receive email. So instead of getting an email account, why not get a printer that connects via a phone-line to an email service. Then the email you receive will simply be spewed out into your house throughout the day.
Basically, it's the technological equivalent of a service that would take phonecalls and transcode them into telegrams for people afraid of Alexander Graham Bell's infernal machine. I'm guessing that existed at some point.
The promo material makes it pretty clear that it's for old folks whose kids don't wanna mess with getting them online. I like the fact that this product is targeted at a dying off demographic was not a concern to the people at HS. And I guess having stupid products condescendingly foisted upon you by your adult children is just another indignity of growing old.
Of course, there are two great kickers. First, in addition to the $150 price tag, you need to pay a $10 month subscription fee. And why not! Email is free so crappy, one-way print-o-mail should cost $120 a year.
Second, consider the case where little Jimmy has gone away to college, has a new email address and once a semester may take a break from his quest to build the perfect gravity bong to drop a kindly note to his loving Nana. Assuming he didn't accidently forward a Nigerian email scam to his grandma, Nana would first need to add Jimmy's new address to her account. And how do you do that? Through the website of course. Time to break out the needlepoint-to-HTTP converter, granny!
December 28, 2006
I had some 9 hours with the SkyMall catalog yesterday and the Computerless E-mail Printer from the crapmeisters at Hammacher Schlemmer was a standout.
December 27, 2006
To clean a bathtub full of rotting shit you will need:
- a mop you will never use again
- enough bleach to dissolve the enamel off porcelain
- the ability to suppress the feeling that you're being moistened with human waste the next time you shower
December 21, 2006
Pete announces on Buzz that the new version of Blogger is out of beta! I'm psyched that everyone (me included) will shortly be getting access to all the new stuff.
I'm not able to move over just yet and I'm guessing that's partly because my account is in some hyper-edge case of super cornerdom. But that's cool - with all this rush to get the new hotness, folks forget that there's a special honor in being one of the last to move off the old version.
And it's kinda sad to see the old version ride off into the sunset. As Pete notes, it's not dead but "it would like to retire for a little while... maybe go to Hawaii or play World of Warcraft all day?" Sounds kinda nice.
December 17, 2006
iChat captured the precise moment when the Flacks' cats disconnected the ethernet while fighting under the desk. The last thing I heard Mary say was "Stop! You fucking ca -"
Fortunately, the connection was restored and Eugene and I worked out our outfits for next year's comic convention. We're going as the Wonder Twins and if Mary wants to come she's gonna have to be the bucket that holds my 'form of water.'
December 15, 2006
The last couple weeks, Twitter's been getting the lion's share of my web-based observations of life and status updates of same. So, what have I been doing in the month of December?
Let's just say I'm wondering whether Blizzard Entertainment may be liable for the twinge of RSI I've developed in my right thumb. Hey Blue! I will accept settlement in the form of a complete tier 3 set for my druid.
Good thing I'm headed out of town for the remainder of the year starting on Monday: Palm Springs, Aruba then Vegas for New Year's. Time for a change.
December 05, 2006
The Coen brothers next full-length movie is No Country for Old Men, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. The only McCarthy book I've read is his most recent novel, The Road, and I highly recommend it. It's an amazingly sparse tale of post-apocalyptic survival; the phrase "gray twilight" pops up so much that my memory of reading the book is like floating through some cloud of whirling ash. But in a very enjoyable way.
That being said, I strongly believe that the Coens next-next movie should be an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem's book, Gun, with Occassional Music. First off, it's a Raymond Chandler detective story and the Coens have done great stuff with the noir genre. Even better, it's set in a dystopic future where self-medicating with addictive memory-removal drugs is not just legal, it's considered civic minded. It's the Long Goodbye by Philip Dick - how can this not be a Coen brothers movie?
But the better reason is that under the structural and stylistic parts of the book there's some really great stuff going on with the power of language and the control it affords. In Gun's reality, only licensed "inquisitors" are able to ask questions, to the point where all but the most dissident members of society have lost the ability to have the kind of rapid-fire, question-answer dialogue that is the hallmark of hard-boiled noir. This post-modern slant seems very much in line with some of the stuff that makes The Big Lebowski more interesting beyond just being hilarious ... and I guess that's a reason why they maybe wouldn't wanna revisit the same territory. But there's nothing wrong with going back to the well sometimes. Especially when, you know, your most recent stuff wasn't so good.
As a vision of the future it's also timely in its comment on our reality (see above re: the role of authority in asking questions). But it does so within the context of a fully-realized and completely compelling world of its own; one filled with rapidly-evolved, intelligent animals and a centralized system of karmic accounting. In other words, it's science fiction at its best. And I'd like very much to see it in theaters in late 2007. If at all possible. Thanks.
November 26, 2006
The actress Alice Krige was born in South Africa which is why she has the kind of diamond dust commonwealth accent that drives me crazy. This made her a great Jessica Atreides in the kickass Children of Dune mini-series. Other iceblood matriarchs include the madam Maddie in Deadwood and the fricking Borg Queen in Star Trek, for god sakes.
But her finest role is as Alma in the second season of Six Feet Under. She plays the instructor of the Landmark Forum-style self-help group, The Plan. The complete ridiculousness of The Plan's idea of personal transformation by architectural metaphor (which I also take to be a dig on Ayn Rand) is played off some really genuine moments of Ruth becoming a stronger person. That ambiguity is one of my favorite parts of the show.
And Alice Krige totally sells this. She's so strong as the instructor that even the weird "rebuild your life plank by plank" jargon comes off as momentarily believable to me.
She and Tilda Swinton should do some kinda of two-woman show together.
November 25, 2006
I was in Kauai for 10 days on my first ever trip to Hawaii and I already want to go back. From California, Hawaii is only a 5 hour plane ride away and it truly is as beautiful and amazing as folks say. Some things I particularly enjoyed:
- Kauai was a great fit for me. I was looking to do some hiking and swimming in the ocean and the Garden Island has both in abundance. As the 'back country' of the Hawaiian islands it also had much less of what I'd always feared about Hawaii; gross American tourism. Don't get me wrong, that stuff is there, but it's pretty well contained. The entire west side is rugged and sparsely populated. And the north, with the exception of the planned resort community of Princeville (see below), also feels very downbeat and relaxed.
- In terms of hiking, I can definitely recommend the Canyon Trail in Waimea Canyon which offers breathtaking views of the northern edge. In Poipu, the hike from Shipwreck Beach to Mahaulepu Beach was a great recommendation by Lonely Planet. The big stunner is the 11-mile Kalalau Trail on the North Shore. We had neither the permits nor the equipment for a multi-day hike but doing the full stretch is the main reason I want to return to Kauai. We did hike the first couple miles and took a 4 mile detour to Hanakapiai Falls. This was one of the most rewarding and difficult hikes I've done. The path to the falls is continually washed out and thus extremely slippery (I fell a bunch) but the 100+ foot waterfall that you can swim beneath is definitely worth the effort.
- Surf conditions change all the time and the perfect beach depends on what you want to do. But I particularly liked Kekaha and Kalihiwai for body surfing and Queen's Bath for snorkling. Queen's Bath was a recommendation from Sara and is a tidepool surrounded by lava rocks; very cool.
- In terms of where to stay, I feel that unless you are on your honeymoon the big resorts are probably not a good value. By staying in a condo or house, you can get a bigger place right on the beach. Unfortuantely, vrbo.com is the default resource for finding a place and they haven't even gotten around to offering search let alone stuff like "show me places like this in that area" so it's a bit of pain. Geographically, I'd like to stay in Hanalei on the North Shore when I go back. You're far from Waimea Canyon, which sucks, but it's a great surf town with a lot of good food and friendly folks. It's easier to find a place in Princeville but then you're staying in this giant planned community which feels a little gross to me. If you end up resorting it, I think the Grand Hyatt on the South Shore is much nicer than the over-lauded Princeville Hotel.
- If you don't like fish, and particularly ahi tuna, then the food may be a bit disappointing. For a fish lover, it's great to be somewhere where you can eat fresh, sashimi grade tuna every day. I also loved the smoked marlin which I'd love to find here in SF. In terms of fancy, Tidepools at the Grand Hyatt is worth the price and a visit because of its amazing koi pond setting. The Polynesian Cafe in Hanalei was my favorite restaurant overall; the underground-cooked pork sandwich was the perfect thing at the end of day of hiking.
- We took a helicopter trip which is recommended for seeing the otherwise inaccessible crater of Mt. Waialeale. It's pretty cool to fly right up to a 2000-foot high sheer wall with waterfalls pouring out of it. And by cool I mean mildly terrifying. Were I to go again, I'd try to book on Inter-island Helicopter which lets you fly without doors and offers a package where you land at a waterfall. We also did a 5 hour sailing trip but I can't recommend our charter. Nothing bad happened, but it would be better to find a trip where it was 8 people or fewer and less geared to families.
Kauai is the first place I've been to in a while where, at the end of my trip, I felt it would be pretty easy to just stay and keep hanging out. I feel Hawaii is the sort of place I'll go back to a number of times and I'm looking forward to the next visit.
November 23, 2006
November 10, 2006
I just heard a passing reference to a 'puppy party' as a theme for a young kid's birthday. For about 20 minutes, I imagined a room full of dogs and kids running around pell-mell in a giant puppy-toddler herd.
And, I must admit, I was pretty upset at my mom for never having such a party for me. Not that Star Wars wasn't a perfectly good birthday theme, but still.
So I went online to see what options there are for renting out a puppy party. Not for myself, mind you. Just, you know, out of curiosity.
Turns out a puppy party is just a birthday party where you get the kids to pretend that they're puppies. Which is totally weak. You're off the hook, Mom.
November 08, 2006
November 04, 2006
You know when you're having an arguement and you find yourself saying something that is logically correct but rhetorically brain dead? I just saw a great example of this on CNN about the Pastor Ted scandal.
Ted Haggard's accuser, Mike Jones, has said he came forth about his affair with the evangelical minister because of Pastor Ted's campaign for Colorado's same-sex marriage ban. When an associate pastor at Haggard's New Life Church asked if Ted's support of the amendment constituted hyprocrisy he replied "To my knowledge, Mike Jones has not alleged that Ted asked him to marry him."
Good point, preacher. Unless Pastor Ted actually proposed marriage during his meth-fueled gay romps with Mike Jones it would be unfair to state that he's contradicted his position on gay marriage. You win this round.
October 30, 2006
The single most enjoyable day of my vacation came right at the end. After a day of visiting the Normandy beaches, we spent the night in the walled town of St. Malo.
St. Malo has one of the weirdest geographies I've encountered. The town itself is a small, walled hamlet right on the coast. The walled portion, the intra-muros as it's known, sits on the northwest side of a set of two, concentric harbors.
If you're thinking about a vacation to Brittany or Normandy, I strongly encourage you to stay in St. Malo. Short day trips to the D-day sites, Mont St. Michel and other sites are all well within reach. I can even recommend a hotel, the Hotel Ajoncs d'Or. The proprietors speak excellent english and couldn't be friendlier. Plus you get to stay inside the walls of St. Malo which is a lot of fun.
That morning, our primary destination was Mont St. Michel. I'd been wanting to visit Mont St. Michel for many years; everyone I'd known who'd gone had raved about it and what could be better than an ancient abbey on top of a rock in the middle of otherwise inaccessible quicksand.
To get up to the abbey you wind your way up to the top through the town below. One of the cool things about Mont St. Michel is that while there is one main route up, you can actually wander a fair bit on your way there. Nelson and I took a less direct path through a graveyard.
As you make your way up, you're continually resetting your eyeline. The rooftops that were above you just a few yards ago are now at your feet. This experience of exploring the space three-dimensionally is what made Mont St. Michel so interesting to me.
This becomes clearer when you make it to the abbey. The abbey itself was built first atop the pyramid-shaped rock of the mount. And, over time, rooms were added below and to the sides based on a complicated system of counterbalancing. I really enjoyed trying to piece together the rooms I was walking through with the mental image I had of the place from the outside (I wasn't terribly successful; that place is complicated).
We spent a good long while exploring the space; stopping for lunch, a friendly chat with some Aussies and a narrow squeeze through an alley. When it was time to leave, I felt that I could easily recommend Mont St. Michel as worth taking a special trip to visit; along with Chartres and Exmoor it was one of the top three things I saw on my trip.
On our drive back to St. Malo, we stopped at Pointe du Grouin to take in the very Californian (to my eyes) coastline. It looked like there'd be a number of interesting beaches to explore should one be spending more time in the region.
We got back inside the walls with a couple hours before sunset and we spent the time walking the ramparts. Another cool feature of St. Malo is that there's a causeway you can take to an outlying island, but this walkway gets washed out at high tide. The combination of old seaside forts, a disappearing road and the putative tomb of Chateaubriand pretty much convinced me that we were going to be attacked by vampires. Instead we saw a great sunset at the beach over an infinite pool.
Sunset over, we headed to dinner at the Duchesse Anne; a recommendation from our friendly hoteliers. Thanks to Nelson, I'd been eating better over the past couple days than I had in quite some time. However, this meal (which featured lobsters with bibs) goes down as my favorite of the bunch.
Nelson deserves special thanks also for planning the entire Normandy/Brittany part of the trip. It was a great relief having planned the first 2+ weeks to let someone else take the wheel (literally as well since he also drove). And we had a jolly good time throughout.
This concludes my European vacation blogging. I took some 1220 photos and uploaded 330 to Flickr. That's a bunch, so there's a smaller highlight set should anyone want to take a quicker fly-by.
October 28, 2006
My earliest baseball memory is watching Bruce Sutter strike out Gorman Thomas to win the 1982 World Series. I remember watching it on the big cabinet TV set in my childhood living room and sitting way too close the screen. When the Cards won in '82 they played Celebration by Kool & the Gang, a song so rad I thought it had been written especially for the Cardinals victory.
Now, I'm not the most faithful Cardnials fan. In fact, I was an adamant non-sports fan of any sort all during high school. But I don't think you can grow up in St. Louis without developing some appreciation of baseball. Just like you're expected to like toasted ravioli, you're expected to develop a passing understanding of the game.
I didn't follow baseball closely this year and missed most of the post-season when I was traveling. But I loved watching every out of the World Series and the last two innings of tonight's game was the most stressed I've been in the past couple months. I was IMing with Sutter in New Zealand for most of the game, relaying (mostly unneeded) updates to his dark corner of the Internet. And 24 years after Bruce Sutter's strikeout, Adam Wainwright fanned Brandon Inge to make the Cardinals the Champions of the World once again.
October 26, 2006
At the end of my trip, Nelson and I spent a few days exploring Normandy and a bit of Brittany as well. On the first day, we trained to Caen, picked up a car and drove to Bayeux.
Bayeux is the home to the 1000 year-old Bayeux tapestry which tells the tale of the Norman conquest of England. This was fun as David and I had encountered a lot of William the Conqueror history in London (the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, most notably).
Seeing an embroidered representation of Edward the Confessor, whose tomb we had seen a couple weeks earlier, made me appreciate my 10th grade world history lessons all the more. It turns out Mr. Sheppard was correct when he stressed that 1066 was one of only two dates you needed to know for a proper understanding of European history (the other being November 11, 1918).
We spent the night just outside of Bayeux in a classy château (not sure if there are unclassy ones). And in the morning we set off to see the Normandy Invasion sites.
There are a number of places you can stop along the way. At Arromanches you can see the remnants of the concrete blocks used to create the so-called Mulberry Harbors that allowed the transport of men and equipment into France. At Longues-sur-mer you can see a number of German emplacements that were bombarded during the invasion.
Most impressive to me was Pointe du Hoc, the site of a famous Army Ranger assault that took place before the beach landings. The entire site is pock-marked with craters. When you look at the cliffs the Rangers had to scale to assault the German artillery it's easy to understand why so many men died. There's a similar feeling standing on Omaha beach and looking up at the bluffs that would have hidden entrenched machine gun nests.
Visiting Normandy was a great experience. As a California liberal pants-wetter I not only believe that all wars are regrettable but that war-making is something we should be able to transcend as a people. So being at the site of justly-celebrated use of American might made me feel a strange mix of emotions.
On the one hand, I believe that the unquestioning reverence given to the Greatest Generation has mythologized their significance to the point where it is no longer accessible. That being said, I can honestly say that in standing there I felt proud of being American for the first time in as long as I can remember. You're looking at a largely intact piece of German artillery and you know that this was the German Army and not the Nazis who were (you try not to over-dramatize) killing your people and you can't help think to yourself "Yes, this is good. It's good that this was destroyed. The people who destroyed this were right and I'm proud of them for having done so."
There's something both undeniably inspiring and simultaneously tragic in visiting the place that marks the last best military accomplishment of your nation.
October 25, 2006
Nelson showed me his MOO MiniCards when I was in Paris and I thought they looked pretty sweet. I got my bundle today and I'm completely impressed.
The idea of making tangible artifacts of the web is an interesting one. In many ways, it's an idea that's easy to screw up. For example, I've not been very impressed by the various services for printing blogs (nor do I really see that type of physical web artifact as desirable).
But the smallness and quality of the MiniCards totally sells the artifact concept. I just wish there was a better societal norm for exchanging small cards that wasn't based on being introduced to people. For instance, I could see myself getting into a game where you were encouraged to collect cards from others.
So, that whole bit where I said it was nice to have the time in Paris to just lounge around ... that was actually a revelation I was forced into after a particularly busy day of sight-seeing.
The weather was fantastic for most of my trip, but one morning it was particularly clear. I decided I wanted to get in as much of the outdoor sights as possible, and this included the gardens at Versailles (a short train ride outside of Paris). I was also keen in taking in the view from the top of Sacre Coeur because of the hazefree skies.
I started the morning, a Sunday, by making it to the top of Sacre Coeur just as Mass was beginning. The place was understandably packed and the line for the sweet-looking funicular was way too long so I ended up hoofing it up the steps to the cathedral and then up the winding staircase to the top.
As I was ascending the steps to the top of the dome, the choir and organ were in full throat beneath me. It made the climb more visceral and more dizzying. I reached the top out of breath and blown away by how much of Paris I could see.
After descending, I fought my way back the Metro (by this time folks were streaming up the streets toward the cathedral) and went to the nearest station where I could hop a suburban rail train to Versailles.
Sunday is one of the busiest days to visit the palace and the line for tickets can be close to 2 hours long. Fortunately, I had a museum pass which allows you to skip the line and gets you into all the major tourist sites in Paris. I cannot recommend this highly enough if you're going to visit Versailles.
I decided to first check out the gardens. Honestly, I had no idea how big they were. I'd heard several first-hand reports that they were amazingly huge, but stories and photos don't really capture the scale. Also, I feel the precise symmetry compounds the effect of all the space. I spent some quality time gaping at the fountains and listening to New Order on my iPod.
Speaking of which, I think you probably get as good an idea of the palace interior from watching Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (I dug it) as you do from going there in person. I agree with Nelson; the overwhelming opulence and over-the-topness of the palace is so ridiculous that it seems pretty grotesque after a while. It is very clear that you are looking at the residence of someone who believed himself to be a god. In other words, a crazy person. Houses of crazy people always feel weird.
So I went back to the gardens and took a long stroll down to the canal. The garishness of the palace notwithstanding, it's worth a trip to Versailles to spend an afternoon watching the boats and exploring the grounds.
Since it was only 3p, I decided not to return to Paris but instead take a train to Chartres to see the cathedral. After some surprisingly difficult linguistic negotiation at the train station (I think used the wrong word for 'return' and ended up saying 'I want to turn around in Paris.') and an hour on the train I was in front of the single-best cathedral I've ever seen.
I saw a bunch of churches on this trip - more than a dozen - but Chartres is special. First off, it's amazingly large. Inside it feels as though whole medieval villages have been swallowed up in its vastness. But it's the outside that really got me. I walked around the cathedral several times and the whole time I found myself on the verge of tears. It sounds silly, but it's one of the most tangible experiences of awe that I've had.
As I was walking away the church bells began to ring and it was the end of very busy but completely rewarding day. (Well, except for the part where I still had to get back to Paris and the trains were late so I ended up watching 24 on my iPod).
October 23, 2006
I spent more time in Paris than anywhere else on my trip; some 6 six days in total. I'd been there once before on my first ever trip out of the country but I only had 24 hours and ended up running around like a madman. It was great to have the option to see a bunch of stuff one day and spend the next mostly reading a book in café.
Paris is also the first city I've visited in some time where I could see myself staying. Not that I'm looking to move to France, but they have a very pleasant pace of life over there. And Paris is both stunningly beautiful and easily accessible at the same time.
- Most of the time I was staying on the Left Bank near Place St. Michel. I can definitely recommend the Hotel Royal St. Michel which was ideally located and quite a comfortable stay. Staying near St. Michel means you're walking distance from the big destinations like Notre Dame and the Louvre but stuff like Panthéon and Jardin du Luxembourg is also quite close.
- Being able to make multiple visits to the Louvre is a real benefit of a longer stay. I particularly enjoyed a more leisurely stroll through the indoor sculpture gardens, Cour Puget and Cour Marly.
- Ste. Chappelle is worth seeing during the day so you can check out the amazing stained glass and worth a second trip at night when they perform classical music concerts. Hearing Bach in a room that once held a piece of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns is pretty great.
- I was really underwhelmed by the Centre Pompidou, but the free entertainment that goes on outside is highly recommended. Seeing Tuvan throat singing live is like watching an amazing magic trick.
- Get some altitude. Both the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur are among the most touristy destinations in Paris. But whatever, the views from the top are worth the hassle.
- See the catacombs. But be warned, endless subterranean rooms filled with artistically-arranged skulls and femurs turns out be really frickin' creepy.
October 20, 2006
We spent two nights in Exford inside the Exmoor National Forest so that we could spend a full day hiking.
There's a lot of hiking to be had in Exmoor and every local news shop sells an assortment of both glossy, bound and local, raggedy guides. After an extensive perusal I went with the second option as one detailed an 11 mile hike that would start from where we were staying and take us to the highest point in the park, Dunkery Beacon.
I ran into trouble with the guide, not because of poor directions, but because of nouns. An example sentence: "Cross over the stile and strike out across the open moor keeping the combe on your left." Say what now, limey?
Another interesting aspect of hiking in England is that even though this is a national park, you're still crossing through people's sheep pastures. It's quite a different feeling from hiking in California State Parks where its very clear you're on public land (and when cross over onto private land - as I did yesterday - it generally means you've screwed up).
The view from the top of the beacon was well worth the effort, giving us our first ever glimpses of Wales. Also it provided a remarkable and well-documented encounter with the park's famed residents, the wild Exmoor ponies.
David deserves the praise for bringing along sugar cubes with which to tempt the beasts. They, the ponies, proved to be friendly if slightly skiddish.
Following lunch, the weather improved slightly. We had a long stroll through the park, allowing good views of moors, combes and two kindly old folks who provided us with a peak at their map. We weren't exactly lost, but there was a mile or so when it wasn't particularly clear if we were on the path or just wandering quasi-aimlessly in the heather.
In addition to his equine charming skills I must also commend my brother for his good spirits during our hike. This was the most sizable walk he'd taken and, as you can see, he proved himself to be an able bipedal humanoid.
I went on a hike in Samuel Taylor State Park today, up near Lagunitas. The hike up to Barnabe peak is a little steep (some 1500 feet up) but the views from the top are quite stunning.
Today was an especially clear day and you could see quite the distance. Having been out of the brilliant California sun for a little while (it really is brighter here) it seemed all the more vibrant.
It also gave me a chance to check out my new camera, a Sony DSC T50. It's a nice improvement over my old point n' shoot (a T1 in the same line). The auto-focus and light metering is much quicker and more accurate, it's the first camera I've had with image stabilization and the touch screen controls are really quick.
Sadly my guidebook performed less well. I ended up on a private road coming down from the peak and was taken some 3 miles out of my way.
But the Cards are in the World Series and I had my best showing ever at my weekly poker game. So how bad can things be.
And with that, we now return to our regularly scheduled European vacation slideshow.
October 18, 2006
Having enjoyed London for a couple days, my brother and I rented a car and set out to explore the West Country (as an aside, good on ya' Enterprise Car Rental for stocking Priuses).
I nearly killed us a couple times by turning into oncoming traffic (turns out it comes from the right over there). And I got an automated speeding ticket for going 36 in a 30 mph zone. I plan to throw my ticket into Boston Harbor at the earliest opportunity.
Nonetheless, it was a rockin' good time during which we saw:
- Stonehenge. Unfortunately, dirty hippies ruined it with some sorta Solstice LoveFest that went awry and now you can't get too close. Also they give you an audioguide with goofy sound effects of druids clanging on stones. But it's mad old and you can totally work on your Nigel Tufnel impression.
- Salisbury Cathedral. A lovely town and a cathedral you shouldn't miss seeing. I saw something like 8 cathedrals during my trip and only Chartres is more impressive. We also stayed for Evensong services and got to hear their choir which was a treat. All this and they have one of four copies of the Magna Carta and the oldest working mechanical clock in the world. All in all, one of the best places I went on the whole trip.
- Corfe Castle. On the southern coast, this is a total wreck of a castle that was already in ruins before I convinced David to storm it. It's also close to Lulworth Cove which is quite the pretty spot. Incidentally, not everything in England labelled "castle" actually is one. Maiden Castle, for example, is what remains of pre-roman hillfort. What remains are attractive sheep, it turns out.
- Bath. This place has english quaintness baked into every georgian stone. It's quite the designed little town. In one night we went to places named The Pig & Fiddle and The Moon & Sixpense. So as a real-life set from Oblivion, it's pretty cool. Also it's got them Roman bathing deals where you can still take the waters. They don't taste too good however.
October 17, 2006
I'm skipping over Paris for the time being because most of the photos are from there. Instead, I give you a fun bulleted list about London:
- I heartily recommend Covent Garden and the West End as a base of operations and place to stay. You can walk to a large number of tourist destinations and it's incredibly lively on the weekends. The Covent Garden Hotel is a phenomenal establishment but is expensive even for London ... which means lodging is only vaguely purchasable with money. I think they'd prefer precious jewels.
- Seeing Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre was a total hoot. We saw Titus Andronicus which the Globe has staged like a slasher flick; blood, gore, amputations and so on. During the rape of Lavinia, someone actually puked and keeled over. Good times.
- Take the guided tour of the Tower of London. Part of the fun of being a Yank tourist is that everything seems very old in London. The Tower and Westminster Abbey are the epicenters of the mad oldness. But only the Tower comes with a tour by the Yeoman Warders. Our guide, Alan, absolutely knocked 'em dead.
- We saw Children of Men in Leicester Square's 2000 seat Odeon Theatre which has both premium and ticketed seating, both of which I love. The downside is that the good seats are like $30 each. Did I mention London is preposterously expensive?
- The Tate Modern is the only art musuem we stopped in and it didn't disappoint. The way they group the art thematically is a lot of fun and, while massive, it's a very comfortable museum to explore. Also, the Tate has the single best piece of video art I've seen, Video Quartet by Christian Marclay.
- Street names basically change at every intersection and there's no organizational scheme to speak of. This can make navigation ... challenging. But it's a fun place to explore in a wandery fashion so this may as well be seen as a virtue.
October 16, 2006
I made my
triumphant completely exhausted return to San Francisco last night after a full 24 hours in transit from Paris. I'd been gone exactly 3 weeks, the longest trip I've taken in over 6 years.
I had an amazingly good time and I very much want to do more traveling ... but I'm also looking forward to chilling at home and enjoying the last gasp of summer. For example, today I rode my bicycle to pick up my mail and also bought new underwear. Fun stuff like that.
I took over 1200 pictures during the trip and saw all kinds of noteworthy stuff. Processing the photos is gonna be a fun chore but I'm doing it in parts. Today: the St. Louis chapter. I flew home to the Lou on the day after my birthday. During my couple days there we had some really good dinners and enjoyed the best weather I can ever remember in the Mid-West.
The Moms and I also went out to the Missouri Botanical Gardens to check out the exhibit Glass in the Garden (blown glass by Chihuly tucked in with the flowers). MoBat is one of those things that I never really appreciated when I was growing up in St. Louis. And most of the time the weather is so freaking horrible that a leisurely garden stroll isn't really appealing. But on a mild weekday, it's both uncrowded (except for retirees) and quite beautiful. The japanese garden in particular is a lot of fun as there's a pond filled with overfed fish who will happily pose for you.
We also took a quick peak at the new Busch Stadium which is an unbelievably ginormous pile of bricks. The "neighborhood ballpark" style doesn't really work if you don't have a neighborhood to build the park into or build a quadruple deck monstrosity. Still: go Cards!
In another flyby, we dropped by the Harrah's casino that's all of about 7 miles from my house. It's also quite large (many things are in the Mid-West). The poker room was surprisingly packed for a Monday afternoon, but I didn't play. Additionally, they've got some fun signage there.
October 11, 2006
In case it's unclear, I'm not dead, just traveling.
Normally, I try to post quite a bit when I'm on vacation but 1) the keyboards are totally hard to use over here (no period without shift key!) and 2) I've been twittering it up instead (some 45 updates in the past 3 weeks).
I've also taken some 700 photos thus far. That's gonna be a bit of a job.
September 19, 2006
Last week, I had a fantastic trip to Chicago where I visited ex-San Franciscans, Mary and Eugene. While growing up in Old Saint Lou, I'd visited our much bigger brother to the north many times. And I'd even popped in to see the Flacks, but I wasn't there long and Mangina had that whole tubestick problem. This trip, however, was a resounding success.
First, off I had no idea how good the food was in Chicago. It's always a treat for me to be in a town that does bagels well (i.e. anywhere not SF) and Chicago has extended their dough science to improve the whole bread field as a whole. The big winner in this category was the loaf of bread pudding we had for dessert at Rose Angelis. Also, I had the best BBQ veggie cheeseburger ever made at the Chicago Diner. Finally, we had an amazing waiter at Venus who guided us to all the tastiest Cypriot specialties.
Sights were also seen, including the view from the Signature Lounge of the Hancock Building (I actually went twice ... it's a good time.) Flack and I kicked back there after picking up some new duds on Michigan Avenue for my upcoming trip to the Old World.
The following day, we hit the road in the Flacks' new sportsmobile and trekked through the affluent sprawl that is the North Shore. A couple miles from the border to Wisconsin, we arrived at Zion, Illinois - home of the Illinois Beach State Park. The beach here has a number of warnings not seen at your average sandy joint. These include alerts about asbestos sightings as well as some sort of river-geyser that occasionally bursts forth and kills all in its path. Also, Flack made a new friend.
Coming home one night, Flack had the great idea that you could totally sell Ferris Bueller Tours of Chicago. You get picked up in the morning in a sporty car, get lunch somewhere fancy under the reservation of Abe Froman, hit up the Board of Trade, Art Institute, Sears Tower and finish the day either signing "Danke Schoen" on Dearborn or wrecking a really pricey roadster. While Eugene and I didn't accomplish much of this (we did stop to pee in the Art Institute) we did hit up Wrigley in style.
I bought tickets the night before on stubhub.com and was completely shocked when our tickets turned out to: 1) actually exist 2) not be conterfeit and 3) be excellent seats. We were eleven rows from the third base line. In a small park like Wrigely that makes you feel so close to the action that you may be called upon to perform some service in the event of an emergency. And it was a great game featuring a dramatic come from behind victory for the maligned (by everyone) Cubbies over the hated (by me) Dodgers.
But most importantly, they ran a deal before the game such that you could text a message to a shortcode and said message would then be displayed on scoreboard during the 8th inning. I didn't have a lot of time to think, so I just spoke from my heart.
In summary, then: Chicago - a town where a man can eat like a pig for days, visit an asbestos beach and confess his love via scoreboard to a crazy old coot. Recommended.
September 12, 2006
While walking in downtown Chicago today, I saw a billboard that read "Come out and play!" (It was for the parks department.)
The native midwesterner in me must have finally succumbed to the San Francisco transplant gene because I naturally assumed it was an ad for gay.com.
Posted at 00:00
September 10, 2006
My plane to Chicago is a half hour delayed so I'm cooling my heels in the departure lounge and sucking down the for-pay wireless:
- Every time I use the wireless at SFO I'm amazed at how poorly T-Mobile implemented it. You need an account to use the WiFi and naturally I don't remember my credentials as I use them once every 6 months (at least give me a clue if it's email address or username, people). Creating an account is stunningly painful and doesn't even log you in after you finish. All of this for $6 and hour.
- I was up until 4:30a finishing the booking for my trip to England with my brother, David. The trip is going to kick ass. I'm particularly looking forward to Exmoor National Park - (there are wild ponies) and our stay at the Covent Garden Hotel. And I get to drive on the left side of the road again which pleases me in places I like to be pleased (my left-hand side).
- Ok, I wasn't up until 4:30a just because of the trip. I've also been on a Battlestar Gallactica bender and have rewatched the mini-series, season 1 and the first 12 episodes of season 2 in about 72 hours. This is actually why I have my laptop with me - to finish the rest of the second season on the 4 hour flight. Battlestar has a similar multi-narrative, season-long arc style that makes Lost compelling. But unlike Lost, the show actually goes somewhere and you have the belief that there's a real idea of how things should evolve (I'm pretty sure Lost is making it up as it goes along). Plus, it does deliberately paced montage like nobody's business.
- I saw "The Protector" - Tony Jaa's new martial arts movie. The story is porno-quality and allegedly about some elephants that get stolen and need protecting ... or something. I was pretty sure that the main villian was actually an transvestite (woulda been if the movie was Japanese and not Thai) but I think she was just the victim of some husky overdubbing. In any case, there's some decent fighting and you get to hear a character earnestly say, "You killed my father. Now where are my elephants!!"
September 06, 2006
Things got pretty serious in Vegas last week. When you're playing low limit poker and drinking domestic bottled water, it's important to play the part of the high roller.
At this point, I feel I've gotten Vegas down to a science. Eat well, see a show, sleep late, go to the spa and spend the rest of the time playing poker. I highly recommend the Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand. Kà is the best thing I've ever seen on stage, and I'd be suprised if there's a more impressive live show anywhere.
The centerpiece of the show is the so-called Sand Cliff Deck - a stage that rests on a gimbal that is itself mounted on a rotating, vertically-movable control arm. This article gives a great technical explanation of what's going on with the main Kà stage as well as a diagram showing the magic. The important thing to know is that at one point, the characters are walking across the sand filled stage and to conclude the beach scene, the stage starts tilting upward. In the end, the sand and one of the characters simply slides off into the abyss; the audience gasps and applauds. The stage later reappears as a vertical face on pegs extend and retract and acrobatic amazingness ensues.
And with all of this technical achievement, I think my favorite part may have been the short shadow puppet interlude. It's a stunner, that Kà.
Vegas done, I was camping in Big Sur over Labor Day Weekend with Lane, Sutter, Melzo and a host of fornicators. Big Sur is also a stunner.
Not to over-superlativate but Pfieffer Beach is probably the most beautiful California beach I've been to. It's strange in that I can't say exactly why it's such a knock-out. In terms of layout it's like a lot of beaches out here. But for some reason the light is a little more intense and everything seems more vibrant.
Over the course of the weekend we pretty much ate and lazed around like pigs. Taking a lesson from Ev and Sara, this was also my first camping trip with a Coleman stove. And when it wasn't spurting gas and catching my foot on fire it turned out to be a very convenient piece of gear.
September's turning out to be a busy travel month; it's on to Chicago this Sunday to visit Mary and Eugene. Last time I went, Eugene's manstick got broken (not by me) and there was some discomfort for everyone (but mostly Eugene). I've been assured that various upgrades have been made that should prevent a repeat incident. Here's hoping!
August 30, 2006
Vegas is as beautiful as I remembered it in my fevered dreams. It's pretty dead here which isn't great for poker. But the lack of players is made up for by their wealth of inexperience. Honestly, I think games of strip poker played by high school students high on E have been played more competently than the $3/$6 at the Venetian.
August 28, 2006
Here you can see me and Ev carrying a box of momentos all over the Tenderloin on Friday night (photo credit: Sutter). We were incredibly full and not a little drunk; me both from the wine as well as from the nice things that people had been saying. It felt good to take those Blogger emotions out for a post-prandial midnight stroll as they'd gotten a bit cramped in my Mountain View cube and had refused to take the shuttle home.
On Saturday, Steve and Stacy got hitched and, as depicted in this photo (credit: Lane), it was my job to keep an eye on Biz Stone. Weddings make Stone a little frisky; he was about to goose the gentleman in the floral shirt had I not intervened.
At this point in weekend, we were drinking yet again. Which may not seem unusual, but I'm a bit of a light-weight and Jason Sutter is actually filled with helium. We had hoped that a relaxing trip to the beach would settle Sutter down. Unfortunately, we were wrong (credit: Lane):
All in all, a great start. Tomorrow: Vegas.
August 17, 2006
I'd been meaning to write about the recent release of the new version of Blogger. But fortunately Ev captured pretty much everything I wanted to point out, but didn't mention on Buzz. And then he ripped the face offa evhead.com ... which I'm gonna assume is unrelated.
This release of Blogger will also be the last I work on as I am leaving Google at the end of next week. I'd been planning on leaving for a while but really wanted to see this version in the wild before I went.
There are two questions you get asked when you leave a job: 1) why and 2) what next. I'll take the second part first.
What's next is nothing much. I'm going to travel some ... Vegas, London (yes, that London) and France are due up for the Fall. I'm going to play a bunch of poker (hopefully better than I have been) and a bunch of video games as well. The reading of books (comic or otherwise) will likely be involved, potentially in a beach-like setting. I'm definitely not going to look for or accept another job for several months altho' I anticipate working on the web again.
As to the Why, well, I've been working on Blogger for almost four years and I've been at Google for 3 1/2. I could have taken time off or switched to a different project, but I feel that after I'm finished doing the nothing I've got planned, I'm going to want to do something somewhere small. And, to be honest, I can't really imagine being at Google but not being involved in Blogger.
As Bryan Mason likes to recount, when I interviewed for the job at Pyra he asked me what I wanted to do next and I said "Anything but want I've been doing." Not the best interview answer, but fortuntely Bryan thought that would make me a good fit. Turns out, I couldn't have been luckier.
Early on when I was working on Blogger I realized that there were those who saw blogging as a Great Leap Forward in personal expression and those who saw it as largely self-indulgent nonsense. The thing that surprised me was that I was in the former group.
I struggle with excessive skepticism and in many ways would be a natural blog-hater were it not for the fact that, to me, it's undeniably awesome that people can so easily put their profound, profane, revolutionary and ridiculous thoughts online. To me, this is so obviously the fullest expression of why the web is the most important invention of our lives. To what better use could it be put?
To put it another way, I love facts. Love 'em! Especially about movies. So, when I first saw IMDB I thought I was looking into the mind of God. But I never actually wanted to work on the web until I learned about Blogger.
I feel amazingly privileged to have been able to work on a product that's used by millions of passionate users and to help that product grow to enable more voices to exist. In doing so, I've been able to work with some phenomenal people. I'd like to thank Jason Sutter who successfully campaigned for me to get interviewed at Pyra despite the fact that the requirements for the job were allegedly "Not a dude, and especially not a dude named Jason." I'm incredibly grateful to Evan Williams who hired me, brought me to Google, enabled me to become Blogger's product manager and entrusted me with his creation when he left.
And I thank all of the folks who've worked on Blogger - the folks who worked on it before I was around, the Pyra crew with whom I spent many a day cramped into offices in both San Francisco and Mountain View and the people who built Blogger into what it is today and what it will become.
August 14, 2006
Apparently, East St. Louis is in such bad shape that even its Wikipedia page is fucked up.
In East St. Louis, the median household income is $21,324 and 35.1% of the population live below the poverty line.
While I techinically grew up in unincorporated St. Louis County, Creve Coeur is the municipality that bordered my subdivision and housed my high school. Only 20 miles from East St. Louis, Creve Coeur boasts a median household income of $75,032 and less than 3% of the population live beneath the poverty line.
It's interesting to me because I think most people I grew up with would consider themselves middle class. But statistically, the median household income places Creve Coeur close to the top 20% (lower limit for the top quintile in 2005 was $88,030).
Basically, everyone in America wants to believe that they are middle class.
August 12, 2006
August 05, 2006
Apparently, the NYT has decided to change its reporting style to match The Onion. Today on the online homepage is a picture of a lonely dude sitting on a couch strumming a guitar under the headline "Facing Middle Age With No Degree, and No Wife."
The photo caption reads "Tom Ryan used to share a home outside Denver with a girlfriend but now lives alone, enjoying the ability to keep the house as he pleases. That includes a hat rack covered with dozens of commemorative baseball caps."
The NYT has decided that Tom Ryan should never get laid again.
While also mentioning that marriage rates have declined generally, the main gist of the article is that middle age dudes without higher education are unmarriable douchebags. Much more so than their female counterparts about whom the article states:
"Even marriage rates among women professionals over 40 — who, it was once said, had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than of finding a husband — have stabilized in recent years."Real classy, NYT. At least they leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out by how much the chances have improved of a middle aged woman being killed by terrorists.
Update: As pointed out in the comments, the reference to the terrorist "stat" has been removed from the article without comment. It appeared, as quoted above, in the third paragraph of the piece. I wonder if it made it into the print version?
August 03, 2006
August 02, 2006
Bit of a tough day today. Sort of a work-related coitus interruptus. Which is even less pleasant than it sounds.
So I'm talking at lunch about how I think I'll go to Vegas for the weekend. The WSOP is going on, it's not that expensive because it's hot as blazes and it's Vegas for crisskaes. But Pete goes me one better and suggests that the only way to cure my existential blue-balls is to truly hit bottom.
His recommendation: Go to Vegas with the intention of losing everything so that "you have to take a bus back but only have enough fare to make it as far as Gilroy. And then you need to call Sutter and ask him to come pick up your broke, garlic-reeking ass."
Sutter - please reserve the ZipCar now.
July 31, 2006
July 19, 2006
July 11, 2006
The cable package I had back in college included the NASA channel - a big favorite among my peers. What's not to like about around-the-clock, mostly silent footage of the Earth as seen from space.
It turns out that NASA has brought their ambient broadcast to the Internet. You can watch live coverage of the current space shuttle mission. Which is pretty amazing. Right now I'm listening to the evening briefing of the ISS crew. "Spanky says there are no sardines aboard ISS" ... I think that's code about aliens.
The point is, there's people talking to me live from space! Amazing.
June 27, 2006
The 9/11 conspiracy theories are going mainstream ... or at least they've made the front page of Salon and there's talk of theatrical distribution for the leading alternative history documentary.
I had a number of friends in high school who were really into JFK conspiracies and it kinda fascinated me how a single event, observed by so many, could be interpretted in so many divergent ways. Surely, I thought, if only we had better documentary evidence of the assassination, we could settle the issue once and for all.
The 9/11 conspiracies are a strong rebuttal to that point. Not only do you have arguments about whether the Pentagon was hit by a plane or a cruise missile, but there are even folks who don't believe planes hit the Twin Towers.
We're talking about an event that was witnessed live by millions of people and video taped from numerous angles. And yet, apparently, those arguing on the side of heretofore unknown holographic technology have achieved enough of a foothold that someone needs to write 20-odd pages explaining precisely how preposterous this sounds.
Holograms, for crissakes! Makes the grassy knoll seem pretty pedestrian.
June 22, 2006
June 19, 2006
(Henceforth, I will only blog about the following three things: Ze Frank, Vegas/Poker and why the New York Times sucks. With the previous two posts, this one completes the combo trifecta.)
Ze Frank made the NYT yesterday with a piece by Warren St. John in the Sunday Styles (?) section. The article is about the Fabuloso Friday episode of Ze Frank's The Show in which viewers of the video blog collaborated using a wiki to write the script for June 9th's episode.
Ze Frank then faithfully executed the script (mostly gags making him do/say stupid things) about which he observed in the NYT, "The meta joke here is, 'See how hard you can shake the marionette.'"
While St. John's article contains background on both The Show and Ze Frank himself, the central question is "How well does audience generated content work?" The borscht-y headline reads "And You're So Funny? Write My Script" and the conclusion about the quality of the episode is "Mr. Frank's performance was true to the script, and if that is any guide, it is doubtful that any 'Saturday Night Live' writers will soon lose their jobs to the vast networks of volunteer comedy writers on the Web."
The last sentence truly irks. First off, while it's natural to ask "Was it funny?" (my answer: not as funny as a regular show) St. John's conclusion illustrates the flaw at the heart of so much of the NYT's reporting about online media. The NYT cannot help but see online content as a possible wholesale replacement of traditional media. Around every corner is a group of young cannibals agitating to eat the collective lunch and staff of the Fourth Estate.
This leads to reporting where folks who are doing stuff online have to be patronized in order to be discussed. For example, Warren St. John's piece has this line in the 3rd paragraph "Like a lot of young adults, Mr. Frank, 34, has a Web site." Doesn't 'young adult' usually refer to a literature targeted at teens? Perhaps this sentence just got recycled from one of the MySpace articles but isn't 34 solidly adult adult?
(The original sin in this category is Rebecca Mead's New Yorker piece from November 2000 which is frequently cited as the first big article on blogs but is really just a story about the relationship between Meg Hourihan and Jason Kottke. She's recently written a followup on how blogs have evolved ... the thesis: after some time apart, Jason and Meg got married!!)
I've never read McLuhan ... or rather I tried reading McLuhan but couldn't follow the meter of his prose-poetry. But I'm pretty sure he makes a point about how new media doesn't replace old. In any case, I wish the professionals in traditional one-to-many media would just understand this single idea: No one is coming for your lunch. The reason your business models are failing is not because there's no role for traditional journalism in contemporary life ... it's because, as of late, your product has sucked beyond the telling of it. And I'm looking at you broadcast TV/White House correspondents.
Getting back to Ze Frank, it's worth noting that Fabuloso Friday is only one of a number of things that Ze Frank has done to get his audience involved in the act of content creation. In fact, one of the central premises of the show is that folks can try to gain admission to the League of Awesomeness by submitting video of themselves performing a Power Move.
The fact that this is absurd is less interesting than the fact that it is generative. Online content allows a creator to directly inspire content creation from others. By comparison, despite the fact that the Daily Show is the most important social commentary of our time, it's ability to inspire new content creation is limited. Television doesn't do dialog well. Ze Frank, on the other hand, is doing more interesting, new stuff to get his audience participating than pretty much anyone else online today.
And that, I feel, should have been the thesis of St. John's piece about Fabuloso Friday, not how high it scored on the laugh-o-meter.
June 14, 2006
Ze Frank is in Vegas and had the following smart thing to say about the old place:
Here, what you see is what you get and there's no reason to feel like you're missing anything. This New York [the casino] means the same to me as it does to everyone else. Everything is out of context and that means context allows for everything.I completely agree.
June 12, 2006
The NYT (magazine) has found more things online that are destroying our children. We already knew about the fatal charms of blogs and webcams, now it's online poker. I'm guessing I missed the cautionary tale about Warcraft.
Anyway, of all of these, online poker is the most legitimate one to cause concern. College kids do all manner of stupid things; losing all of their money online seems a reasonable addition to the repertoire. But I just can't get over the sensationalistic way in which the NYT tells these stories.
It's always the same; find the most extreme example of compulsive-destructive behavior for a given online activity and show how the factors at play in said example could easily lead to your own Little Johnny blowing the entire SigEp house in order to pay off his gambling debts.
The protagonist in this week's story is Greg Hogan Jr. who, after a 16 month losing streak at online poker, asks his friends to stop at a bank so he can cash a check on the way to the movies. He walks in, robs the place for a couple grand, and is arrested a couple hours after enjoying Tilda Swinton's turn as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia.
It's a juicy tale as Mattathias Schwartz reveals when he writes in the piece "Hogan's lawyer has been fielding calls from bookers at 'Oprah,' 'Montel' and 'Good Morning America,' all drawn in by the irresistible 'good kid robs bank' story."
The fact that I foolishly keep thinking that the NYT is somehow better than Montel is the only reason these pieces continue to irk.
June 06, 2006
June 01, 2006
May 22, 2006
Whenever I try to put together a playlist for a get together I realize that the majority of my music collection is best listened to on the couch at 2am under low lighting conditions and with an ample supply of snacks. There are historical reasons for this ... college, I believe it's called.
The point is I have a lot less backyard-on-a-sunny-day music. That being said, here are ten tracks that I always think would be best listened to while driving down Highway One in a convertible. Unsurprisingly, this list favors the perfect pop song and is further colored by my own nostalgia of previous sunny day drives:
- The Boy With the Arab Strap (Belle & Sebastian): Guaranteed to awaken the steering wheel drummer in anyone.
- Love Athena (Olivia Tremor Control): The closing credits soundtrack of the best movie never made.
- Pure (Lightning Seeds): Aaron had this song on a tape we listened to on the drive back from UIUC in 1996. And if that weren't enough for you it has an amazing New Order bassline thrown in at the end.
- Birdhouse in Your Soul (They Might be Giants): Aaron's sister had this song on a mixtape labeled REM. Both the actual artists responsible and the nitelight conceit of this song eluded me for many, many years.
- Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones): Such a good highway song that it actually makes you sing "Hey ho, let's go!"
- Don't Worry About the Government (Talking Heads): Makes you wish you could.
- Surf Wax America (Weezer): Listening to this at the bus stop the other day (while not taking my board to work) was the inspiration for this list.
- Fortunately Gone (The Breeders): Delightful nonsense.
- Flat Lay the Water (The Sea & Cake): Road-tested - probably the song I've most listened to while driving along the coast.
- It's the End of the World as We Know It (REM): Sort of the Infinite Jest of sing-a-longs. Plus there's the alleged debate tournament connection which debaters pass along to one another like a comfort blanket of acceptance.
While I figured this list was probably highly idiosyncratic, when I asked CW for his list, he was adamant that Boy with the Arab Strap had to be #1. And Mai called out Pure. So this must mean something.
May 20, 2006
May 18, 2006
Risky Business, Say Anything and Clockwork Orange. All three contain canonical examples of characters interacting with practical music playback ("Old Time Rock and Roll," "In Your Eyes" and Beethoven's 9th, respectively). It's an awesome device for pulling the audience into the character's headspace.
But what, you ask, are good examples of this effect on television?
- Six Feet Under Series Finale: "Breathe Me" by Sia
It's a good thing this isn't actually a good song because I can't hear it without getting all weepy in remembrance of the best last episode ever.
- Lost Season S2E1: "Make Your Own Kinda Music" by Mama Cass
I'd basically given up on Lost midway through the first season. The introduction of the Hatch in this tantalizing obtuse way brought me back around.
- Star Trek: TNG S2E2: Gymnopedie #1 by Eric Satie
The Enterprise is going to be blowed up so an alien force can learn what death is like. Picard's response is to mope while waiting for a firey death with this as the soundtrack. How emo is that?
- Battlestar Galactica S2E2: Metamorphosis #1 by Philip Glass
Starbuck returns to Caprica and drops by her old pad. What will she pop in the hifi to unwind from being hunted by Cylons? Serialist piano music, of course.
- Buffy S2E1: "Sugar Water" by Cibo Matto
This one's kind of a cheat because rather than having the track played back, Cibo Matto performs it. And there's a dozen better examples from West Wing of the use of live musical performance. But none of those episodes have Sarah Michelle Gellar performing some sort of upright lap dance in a slinky dress.
Posted at 16:22
May 15, 2006
I pick up the shuttle to work at 24th St. & Mission, right at the entrance to BART. This morning a dude on a crate was belting out Mexican-reggae tracks for the assembled commuters. Self-accompanied by electric organ, all of his songs were based on the same dub riff that he'd occassionally punch up by interspersing a skanky version of Für Elise.
Unfortunately, his vocal stylings were not as creative. The dude sang like a Mexican Tom Waits on subjects as varied as "Love," "Peace" and "San Francisco General Hospital" but all of those in exactly that much depth. His love song started out with pleadings to an erstwhile lover, but degenerated into a chorus of "George Bush! George, George, George, Bush, Bush, Bush! I wanna fight you."
His performance was not much appreciated by the professional drunks who hang out on that corner. And I eventually retreated into my headphones and Weezer's eponymous album as I waited for the tardy bus.
Posted at 13:08
April 25, 2006
I just upgraded to the new MacBook Pro 15" from my old G4 PowerBook. My old laptop was only 2 years old but had all the bad behaviors of infant crossed with an octogenarian. It couldn't wake up from sleep and wouldn't go to sleep when it was supposed to. I also treated it like you would any misbehaving (grand)child in that I dropped it repeatedly.
There's many nice things about the new MacBook but I've not had it long enough to know what they all are. The biggest thing so far is that I can't believe how well Backup works. A couple hours of disk thrashing later and I've basically got the exact same setup I had before but on much better hardware and with a new operating system (I was still on 10.3.9 - the shame is gone!)
I have to reinstall some applications, but I'll be more than good to go for work tomorrow. It's just a shame they finally finished upgrading all the conference rooms with PowerBook AC adapters and now I'm rocking the the MagSafe lifestyle.
Posted at 22:50
April 17, 2006
Saw Brick this weekend - the hard-boiled noir flick set in a high school. It's not as narratively tight as one might hope from a detective story. But if you dig on the movie's core conceit and stylized dialog, there are high points that make it worth while.
(A favorite - the main character explaining to his assistant vice principal why he'd previously rolled over on another student: "I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.")
Being a modern noir, the movie is inherently referential. Since I'm not that well-versed in my classic noir allusions, I'm sure I missed most. But Brick is also a movie with funny-talking teenagers; if this were a genre, it would be my favorite.
While Heathers may be the genre's Great Old Man, I think it's clear that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is its apotheosis. And I've got a theory that the film's writer-director, Rian Johnson, is also a Joss Whedon fan.
Well, for one thing, he pretty much restates the Buffy mission statement in the Brick press kit:
A lot of high school shows and movies seem to me to have a very adult perspective on high school, the perspective of someone who is out of that world and is now seeing it in a slightly condescending manner. Once you get beyond it, it's easy to forget how you once were completely encased in its logic. Whereas when you're actually in it, and your head is completely encased in this microcosm, it's your world and it's a world you have to survive. And things seem, if not life-or-death, very important and mythical.
But I also think there's a nifty Buffy reference when Brick's femme fatale is introduced. We first see Laura Dannon seated at a piano, entertaining a party of upper crust high schoolers with a little night music/poetry reading. The poem she reads features a dominant rhyme on the word effulgent. Which, of course, is exactly the rhyme that William the Not-Yet-Bloody includes in an ode to his unrequited love (a line he later redelivers in the Angel series finale). It's such a bad rhyme that the mockery of it drives him into the dark embrace of vampirism. For real.
I can't find either the text of the poem Laura reads or any supporting evidence/theories that this is an intentional (which seems odd given the number of Buffy/Brick comparisons out there). But here's the relevant verse from Buffy (S5E7):
My heart expands,
’tis grown a bulge in it,
inspired by your beauty ...
Posted at 12:21
April 12, 2006
April 06, 2006
April 04, 2006
This week the Xbox 360 becomes more widely available for the first time since its launch last November. I got lucky on Sunday and picked up the last Premium system in stock at my local EBGames. (I found out they had one because I overheard a phone conversation the sales rep was having. Sorry anonymous dude on the other end of the line ... I ganked ya.)
There's a lot to note about the new system, but my short review is "Wow!" I feel this less because of the games I've seen (I picked up Oblivion and Ghost Recon) and more because of the potential of the 360 as a truly revolutionary gaming platform. The long review is like the short review but with bullets.
- HDTV: This is the first console to fully support HD everywhere and it's quite a thing to have a system-wide choice between 1080i and 720p. The Premium version ships with component video cables which (after having had to order component video cables online for the past 3 years) I really appreciate.
- Controller: While not revolutionary in the way that Nintendo's offering promises, the wireless controller (included in the Premium version) does represent a nice amalgam of lessons learned from controllers past. Beyond the good ergonomics, the feature I'm most fond of is that you can turn the console off and on from the controller. With multiple controllers the console is also appropriately intelligent to figure out how to assign players to ports automatically. These small things contribute to the overall impression that the 360 "just works."
- User Panel: The biggest addition to the controller is the Xbox button which, in addition to being the power switch, also pulls up the User Panel from anywhere. The User Panel allows you to sign in and access Xbox Live (see below) as well as pop out of your game to the full Xbox Dashboard. The fact that this is a persistant layer across whatever game you're playing is huge. It means that accessing Xbox Live functionality is no longer something that has to be supported in the game itself or only accessible if you restart the console with the drive empty or open.
- Dashboard: The source of all the new hotness. Most importantly, this is where you can manage and review your Xbox Live account including friends, text and voice messages, and game achievements. Achievements are game-specific goals that once accomplished are viewable as part of your Gamer Card. Because achievements are viewable by other Xbox Live players, you can find out whether your friend playing Oblivion has been accepted in the Mages Guild.
The Dashboard also allows you access to the Xbox Marketplace and the Live Arcade. The Marketplace is based on a cash-for-points economy and allows you to purchase downloadable content - this is genius from a business perspective and at its worst puts Microsoft in the ringtone market and at its best allows game developers to offer additional content over time.
The Live Arcade allows you to download and play classic games like Gauntlet as well as new games Geometry Wars Evolved (the game I've played the most thus far). Because the Live Arcade is, well, live you can also play two-player games against your friends and see how your best scores stack up against your peers. The latter is a great driver for competition because whereas I may never become the world's best Geometry Wars player, I can at least be better than my friends.
Finally, the entire UI of the Dashboard (based on system of tabs expressed in the margins) is both extremely quick to navigate and easy to pick up. I feel it's the best system UI Microsoft has shipped.
- Media: One of the functions accessible from both the User Panel and the Dashboard is a media player. You can also drop the 360 into full-on Windows Media Center mode for TV, DVD and photos features. The Xbox hard drive is a puny 11Gb so they've built in the ability to have the 360 talk to any Windows media PCs on your home network.
The trouble is that this means you need to configure things on your Windows media PC which means using Windows ... which is where things fall apart. I've spent a couple hours trying to get Windows Media Connect running on my XP Media Center PC and it couldn't be more painful. It seems all the more so because the 360 experience is so easy.
- Privacy: I love the Xbox Live system and the way its been presented in the 360, espeically the Gamer Card and achievements innovations. There are privacy controls to determine how much gets exposed and to whom, but even with those contols I still couldn't figure out how to hide my "Last Online" state without also hiding my online status. It's creepy to be able to figure how and when your friends were last online. To me, it's like exposing historical location data.
- Loud: The fan isn't quiet but it's downright silent compared to the disk drive. In a game like Oblivion where things are being constantly read from the disk, the din is pretty remarkable and probably a big factor that will keep Microsoft from reaching its goals in Japan (they want to not be laughed at there anymore). Since Microsoft loses money on every console they sell, I'm not surprised the cut corners on the drive, but it kinda sucks that they went with the diesel-powered one.
More than the improved graphics, I'm very impressed by the execution behind the Xbox Live components of the 360. By making it such a well integrated and central experience for the console, it will force the competition to see the weaknesses in more distributed models where the work was pushed off to the individual game developers. To me that's the sort of paradigm-shifting development that a new console should bring rather than just introduce new textures and a controller with more buttons.
Posted at 13:39
April 03, 2006
Last night at dinner, I actually thought to myself, "In this day and age, why do you need to worry about Daylight Savings Time, when your cell phone and your computer take care of everything for you?"
The answer, it turns out, is "I do" in that my alarm clock doesn't give a good goddamn about my fancy automated lifestyle.
Posted at 12:54
March 30, 2006
I'm not a big lifehacks person, but I did recently optimize my pockets by reducing the number of keys I carry to four (house x2, mailbox and bike) and the number of things in my wallet to five (BART card, check, ID, debit card, credit card).
The latter reduction in force coincided with getting a new wallet, one of those Tumi jobbers recommend by Nelson. I recommend them as well and I now feel much better about my whole pants situation. And I discovered a new way to even further optimize the money clip. Instead of folding your money in half ... fold it in thirds!
I know - it's crazy. Who can fold things in thirds? You can! Like polyphasic sleep, it takes a little getting used to but is worth the effort. In no time, your money clip will be a sleek thing of beauty with no excess dollarage dangling over the sides like so much currency cameltoe.
Posted at 10:54