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December 26, 2007

Context

Sweeney Todd is a pretty good filmed musical; Johnny Depp is particularly awesome.

I was surprised to find out that I knew two of the songs from the musical, having never seen it before. Both "Pretty Women" and "Not While I'm Around" appear on Barbra Streisand's Broadway Album ... which I listened to approximately 423 times between ages nine and eleven.

Not While I'm Around was something of a lullabye in my memory. As sung by Barbra, it's a maternal promise to protect and love. Somewhat surprising then to find out the original is sung by a young boy to his adoptive, malevolent mother. She later reprises the song in an attempt to lure the boy out of hiding and to his doom.

Life was more innocent with Babs.

December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007

Christmas Flight

I'm hanging about the house this Christmas bitching about having a cold. Meanwhile, Cpt. Exnicios has been deployed to Afghanistan and arrived there early this morning (by way of Maine, Ireland and Kuwait).

Exnicios has an amazing blog where he's shared stories of what it's like to be recalled from civilian life as part of the Individual Ready Reserve program. I highly recommend it.

December 20, 2007

Debate Circuit

Intelligence Squared US is an unfortunately-named program of live, Oxford-style debates.

I heard a piece of the debate on affirmative action on NPR the other night. I was electrified by how good it was as an example of truly solid debate. Great analysis, awesome speakers, real clash.

There have been a ton of presidential debates this year and none of them really worth watching. Rhetoric doesn't work best in 90 second chunks or even 3 minute chunks. Debate works when there is clash and time to evolve that clash over successive rounds of argument.

I highly recommend Tim Wise's opening argument against the resolution. It made me fondly remember college debate god John Oleske who railed as righteously on behalf of affirmative action in the North American Debate Championships of 1997.

December 14, 2007

Argumentum ad Verecundiam

Knol is what will be referred to as Google's Wikipedia-killer. As usual, Anil has already written the really smart, thought-out critique that I was never gonna be able to produce in the first place. So go read that.

The screenshot that accompanied the announcement is a very telling illustration of Anil's central point. Specifically that "An awareness of the fact that Google has never displayed an ability to create the best tools for sharing knowledge would reveal that it is hubris for Google to think they should be a definitive source for hosting that knowledge."

Turns out Google's really good at hubris.

The screenshot shows something kinda like a Wikipedia article except it has ads by Google, peer reviews and prominent author attribution.

On the first point, a big reason this is happening is because of the amount of unmonetizable traffic Google sends to Wikipedia. Guess what the "I'm feeling Lucky" hit is for the title of this post. And Wikipedia won't accept advertising. Let's build Knol.

The further justification for Knol is "Who can trust all that crap on Wikipeda?" Google is fundamentally an academic institution and part of that ethos is that things aren't really "good" unless peer reviewed. The concept of peer review is central to how work is done inside Google and that basically works as far as it goes. Unfortunately, that ethos has extended to the way Google views content on the web. Sergey once asked the Blogger team how Blogger was going to compete with the New York Times. Even though our pageviews exceeded those of the NYT, the point I think he was making was "When are you gonna produce something authoritative that lots of people will accept as good." Blogger's answer was "Huh?" Knol's answer is peer review.

Well, part of the answer is peer review. The other part is "get the smart people to write the articles." The fact that the article in the released screenshot was authored by a Stanford University academic is basically all you need to know about how Google views content on the web. It doesn't count as knowledge until it's given to you by an expert. Preferably an expert who went to Stanford (who misspells 'United States' - zing!).

In conclusion of his post, Anil refers back to a post he made in 2003 titled Google's First Mistake. I didn't understand that older post at the time it was written, but it kinda made me mad. Today, the announcement of Knol reminds me that I'm still a little mad. But for different reasons.

December 06, 2007

Debts

When I was born, some of my relatives gave me a bunch of US savings Bonds. Now that I'm 31, it's time to redeem them.

Actually, it was time last year, but I'm just getting around to now. It turns out redeeming paper saving bonds is an amazingly complicated process. It's fairly simple if you're near a branch of your local bank that will do this for you ... unfortunately, my closest branch is in Berkeley (the only bad thing about the credit union I so dearly love).

So I decided to take them back to the US Treasury Department whence they came. Here are the steps:

  1. go to treasurydirect.gov
  2. provide the following information
    • social security number
    • driver's license number
    • bank routing number and account number
    • email address
  3. create a password that obeys some crazy contraints about capitals, special characters and length such that you will never remember it
  4. create security questions and answers for retrieving said confusing password
  5. get emailed an alpha-numeric account number that is not of your choosing, and that you will need to fish out of your email every time you log in
  6. wait to be mailed a special cipher card that you need to physically obtain before you can proceed
  7. once you've received your cipher card, get the account number out of your email inbox and use the security questions to remember your password
  8. enter your account number and password on the site using a click-to-enter javascript keyboard designed to prevent keystroke sniffing. note that the position of the keys on the keyboard will change every time you login
  9. select the serial number shown on your cipher card, look up and enter the letters that corresponds to the requested grid locations on the card
  10. find out that you need to convert your account to a conversion account in order to redeem paper bonds
  11. search for 2 hours on how to convert your account
  12. find out that to convert your account you need to send an "in-system" email to the treasury to have them enable this feature.


That's as far as I've gotten. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to take a picture of myself with the bonds once my account has been enabled.

It's funny cause we've been talking a lot at work about how to simplify and streamline web-based sign-up. This is so far the opposite that I couldn't even have guessed how bad it could be.

November 28, 2007

Hurt to Help

I received a great comment on my blog. It's on this post I made about poker several months ago. I suggest you go read the comment now (you can skip the long post).

Hard to call out my favorite part but I think the phrase "youre a complete and utter neanderthal who probably couldnt even pass 9th grade if you gave your teacher a blow job" ranks near the top.

For the record, my relationship with Ms. Kolar was entirely platonic.

November 16, 2007

Mazel Tov

Mary and Eugene have a new baby girl! Audrey Olivia Smith was born at 4:06a this morning as documented on Twitter.

I'm very impatient for photos.

November 15, 2007

Of Montreal

November 09, 2007

Contextualized

On an email about finance, Gmail showed me a sponsored link that read "Cornhole Sets, Bags - cornhole4sale.com - Cornhole Sets and Bags Complete Sets Starting at $79.99."

How could I resist that? Ignoring the danger for NSFW content, I found out that cornhole4sale.com sells "Cornhole, baggo, bags, slopes, whatever it is you call it; is the game sweeping the midwest by storm."

Ah yes, I remember well playing games of cornhole or slopes with the boys growing up in Missouri. Glad to see the game is getting the attention it deserves.

October 30, 2007

Awkward

Slate tries to unpack the Wes Anderson / Owen Wilson interview. It's Wilson's first interview since his alleged suicide attempt.

Slate seems confused that Anderson would make a video filled with superficial, mildly absurd banter that masks an emotionally complicated and unresolved situation.

Apparently, they are not Wes Anderson fans.

October 29, 2007

Diplomacy

Chatting with my friend Ozlem (who's Turkish ... we call her Big Turkey)

October 23, 2007

Breaking even

I was looking up the lyrics to Kenny Rogers "The Gambler" as I assumed it was not only the best song written about poker, but really the only half-way decent song written about poker.

Turns out it's terrible. Musically, there's nothing going on. That "know when to hold 'em" part that you can sing? Yeah, that's the tune for the entire song.

Also, it's a really depressing song about poker. The verse that follows the first chorus is:

Now ev'ry gambler knows that / the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away / and knowing what to keep.
cause ev'ry hand's a winner / and ev'ry hands a loser,
And the best that you can hope for / is to die in your sleep.

Guess what happens to the Gambler after he drawls that at us? He dies in his sleep.

Good times.

October 19, 2007

Let them eat franks

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal has an article entitled "Loutish Fans Disgrace the NFL." Apparently, people go to football games and get drunk and rowdy.

Having established the harms, the WSJ goes on to dole out the cure: higher ticket prices, more luxury boxes, more season-ticket holders. Or as they conclude "The NFL's stadium-building boom over the past decade has helped ... Personal seat licenses and premium seating tend to price out some of the thugs."

I like that the WSJ is so upfront about what demographic they serve. But they kinda go overboard in the article's latter inches. It basically becomes a support group for rich people who've had terrible things happen to them at sporting events. Here's my favorite:

In Buffalo, the unruly behavior often spills over into the luxury suites, prompting [the Bills' security chief] to post guards outside each one. "Fans would just walk in and use the bathroom," said Bills suite-holder Ed Shill. "In the warm weather, when the windows were open, they'd dive in and grab food and beer. In the winter, when it's 20-below outside and we're in our shirtsleeves drinking hot chocolate, they'd throw things at the window and give us the finger."

"And they called me Ed 'Shilly Willy.' And said sissies drink hot chocolate. And they were just soooo mean!"

October 16, 2007

It's hard to overstate my satisfaction

Portal is one of the most completely great gaming experiences I've had in forever. It's a first-person puzzler that can be beat in one sitting and it has more depth, innovation and wit than games with ten times its scope.

As a test subject of Aperture Science, your goal is to navigate a series of puzzles using a hand-held device that can create two-way portals. The portal mechanic is genius (you can see it in action in this demo reel).

One of the fun things about the portals is that momentum is conserved. So, if you put two portals on the floor and drop something through one, it will yo-yo between the two. You can use this same principle to execute huge jumps, fall forever or set up a perpetual cascade of a single object.

You are instructed in the use of the portals by the disembodied voice of a computer named GlaDOS. As a silent, largely anonymous protagonist, Portal is as much GlaDOS's story as it is your own and to say too much about her arc would spoil the game.

Suffice to say, I found the unfolding and eventual conclusion of this arc to be very satisfying. In reading user reviews of Portal, you'll see a lot of comments about people 'beaming' or 'glowing' once they finished the game. I experienced the same thing.

A big part of this experience is the end credits which is being rightly hailed as the best video game credits sequence in some time. Ocarina of Time is the only game that had as big an impact on me.

While you can check out Portal's ending online, to do so would spoil the game. I highly recommend picking it up so that you can experience it first hand.

Update: Rabbit's review is really good. But also highlights why talking about this game kinda ruins it for those who haven't. A lot of the joy was that it was so unexpected.

October 15, 2007

Michael Knight

Taken at Battista's in Vegas.

October 12, 2007

Joshua Tree

I mentioned to Anna that I'd been listening to Explosions in the Sky (thanks Al3x). She said they made for great Driving in National Parks music. When asked what else I thought would fit in that genre, I said "I'll have to think about that." And now I have.

  • Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children

  • Radiohead: Kid A

  • The Notwist: Neon Golden

  • Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92

  • Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One

NB: This may be a Driving in National Parks while Mildly Stoned music list.

October 11, 2007

Meet the pros

Maggie tipped me off to a This American Life episode that got re-run last month called Meet the Pros. The middle act chronicles Ira Glass's trip to the World Series of Poker in 2001.

As the episode originally aired in 2001, you get a view of poker that is only 6 years old but is from a completely different era. In 2001, amateur Chris Moneymaker hadn't yet won the WSOP which subsequently encouraged the masses to give poker a try (there were 10 times as many entrants in this year's WSOP as in 2001). And the World Poker Tour and its hole card cam hadn't yet debuted on TV.

This is a glimpse back at poker right on the cusp of its big break.

The story chronicles how Ira Glass gets swept up in the action and has to come to terms with his own poker jones. There's a wide-eyedness to his commentary that I find really endearing. In reviewing the rules of hold'em, Glass mentions that the five community cards are there "for everybody to share." The drawn-out way he says "share" makes it seem like he's talking about kindergarteners with a box of crayons.

Glass also has some great interviews with pros Jennifer Harman, Phil Gordon, Paul Phillips, Rafe Hurst and Mike Laing (this is around the time that Mike was flipping quarters for $25,000 with Andy Beal, as mentioned in The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King.)

As this is before pro poker players became quasi-celebrities, you get a less mediated, less polished account of what it's like to be a pro (I also think Glass does a great job of drawing his subjects out). Jennifer Harman talks about how she couldn't sleep for days after she first lost $30,000 in a session. Mike Laing talks about how he hopes his son doesn't become a pro. And, Phil Gordon reveals that he lost his wife because he didn't want to give up his life of gambling adventure.

I'd resisted the pull of This American Life for many years ... really without a good reason for doing so. But I've come around because of stuff like this and the unparalleled Break-Up episode. (Starlee Kine, who is the star of the Break-Up show, has a supporting role in Glass's story about poker).

October 09, 2007

Completist


Control is one of two Joy Division movies The Weinstein Company snapped up during this year's festival season. The other is a documentary called Joy Division.

I guess they wanted to corner the market. Either that or it proves that there's no such thing as a casual Joy Division fan and one of them works for Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

October 08, 2007

Run it twice

I've watched a lot of televised poker and most of it is not very good.

Almost every show either contrives or covers a tournament. The tournament format would seem to be a good choice because it has a built-in conclusion; a single winner. And the escalating blinds make for ever-increasing pot sizes.

But those million dollar pots are made up of tournament chips, not real dollars. So even though there's big prize money at stake, a player only loses his original buy-in if he busts out (and sometimes this is as small as a couple hundred bucks thanks to smaller, qualifying tournaments).

The Game Show Network's High Stakes Poker is now in its fourth season and takes a different approach. They televise a cash game; no-limit hold'em with $300/$600 blinds and $100 antes. The minimum buy-in for the game is $100,000 and the money is real.

Seeing players compete over six figure pots is part of the fun. Because it's a cash game, it also means that the producers can invite the best players. In tournaments, especially large ones, you usually end up with half a table of marginally skilled nobodies. GSN pays the best around to show up for their game. (The appearance fee of $1250/hour is a sweetener but not enough to significantly offset the large stakes).

Also, you get to see a lot of things that would never happen in a tournament. All-in bets are far less common in deep stack cash games. And when they happen, the players will often "run it twice" meaning that they'll deal out the remaining cards two times. The effect is to mitigate the variance on these big bet pots and it's interesting to see stuff like this get worked out.

You also get a sense of how addicted to action these pro players are. They will gamble on everything. They bet on what cards will come out on the flop, they bet on how much weight someone will gain in a lifetime. There was nearly a $500,000 bet about whether someone could work 40 hours a week in a furniture store for a year.

High Stakes also does a great job on the commentary. Most poker shows have amazingly bad voice-over filled with faux-folksy poker nonsense. But Gabe Kaplan is savvy enough to work out the players' thought process and is funny enough to beat-up goomba co-host AJ Benza.

There's really only two things bad about the show. The first is that you have to have GSN to watch it (I don't). You can download it off of Veoh (skip season 1, they didn't quite have it together yet) but it's not a great experience. If only they would sell the episodes online.

The other thing is the High Stakes Poker theme song. It may be the worst poker song ever written and this is not a particularly distinguished genre. A sample of the lyrics:

Man I'm gonna kick it / Pocket nines is the ticket
Ladies ain't ladies / unless they your ladies
Get your hand on a monster / if that's what it takes
And if you got what it takes / You can play High Stakes.
Despite that, I recommend it.

October 07, 2007

Cat photos


Lane has done a great job cultivating a yard cat that hangs around her house down in New Zealand. It's fun to have a kitten around.

I inherited a mistrust of cats from my mom. But all-star felines like this one and Moki have changed my mind.

I no longer believe cats are evil. Some may be duplicitous.

October 01, 2007

Index

  • Percentage of Americans who believe the Constitution establishes a Christian nation: 55%

  • Number of times "God" "Jesus" "Christ" or "Christian" are mentioned in the Constitution: 0

  • Number of times "religion" or "religious" are mentioned in the Constitution: 2

  • Percentage of those references constituting limits on Congressional power: 100%
The first statistic comes from a survey from the First Amendment Center. The 55% is the sum of "Strongly agree" (38%) and "Mildly agree" (17%) for the question "The US Constitution establishes a Christian nation." While the 1000 person phone survey is conducted every year, there's unfortunately not historical data for this question.

The other three statistics come from doing a control-F on the text of the US Constitution ... which apparently 55% of Americans should read.

September 28, 2007

Returned


I'm back from New Zealand and have many pictures and tales I would like to share. But I'm not ready. They're still brewing inside.

Lane Collins, photographrix extraordinaire, posted some of hers. Her Milford Sound photos are approximately 218.3% better than mine.

You can also see me strolling away after having successfully dipped an entire glacier into my cup of tea.

In doing so, I fared a damn site better in my geologic ambitions than Sutter did when he tried to skip a rock up to the top of a mountain. Silly boy.

August 31, 2007

Only for now

I saw the Vegas production of Avenue Q with Eric Case this week. As Case attests, I enjoyed myself very much.

A raunchy, puppet musical may be the ideal form of entertainment for San Francisco. And compared to when I saw Avenue Q in Vegas, the show was definitely raunched up a bit for the SF crowd.

In Vegas, there were a number of walkouts during the intermission. But for San Francisco they both increased the athleticism of the muppet sex scene and played up the gay jokes. The crowd loved it.

At its heart, the musical works as yet another recontextualization of childhood nostalgia. While this is well-trod territory, it's also very funny. But there are also a couple of genuine, unironic moments in the musical that make Avenue Q much more interesting than something like Robot Chicken.

The final number, with its dharma of "Only for now" is about as good a way to end a coming-of-age musical as you're likely to find. Also, I think the song "I wish I could go back to college" is a great number. For one thing, it hass one of my favorite jokes of the show: "I wish I could just drop a class / or get into a play / or change my major / or fuck my TA."

But it's also got a line from the main character Princeton who sings, almost as an aside, "I wish I had taken more pictures." When I saw the show on Wednesday, laughed at this line; they'd been laughing at everything. But as it sunk in, it seemed like everyone realized a little too late that it wasn't really a joke. Not a bad trick for a puppet show.

Fantasy

e^(-π * √-number of horns on a unicorn) + the answer to life the universe and everything = 41

August 30, 2007

War debts

Anna sent me Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942, a handbook with advice for GIs on how to get along with the British.

I love the matter-of-fact way it's written. And they did a great job reprinting it to match the style of the time.

Plus, it's got tons of great material to read in a 40s-era newscaster voice.


powered by ODEO

Update: If the above doesn't play, try this.

August 28, 2007

The market has not solved

On Saturday, I went to a birthday party where we played a little PS2 Karaoke. I wowed the crowd with my rendition of Friday I'm in Love. And that song has been stuck in my head since Sunday morning.

At first, it was pleasant enough. But it's starting to get annoying. For me, the solution is usually just to listen to the song obsessively until my brain releases it from bondage. But, to my shame, I don't own Friday I'm in Love. In fact I don't own a single album by The Cure.

Now this requires some explanation. I like The Cure. Singing along to Just Like Heaven was as essential to high school as hanging out at Denny's. And I had a great time seeing them live at Radio City Music Hall in 1996.

But at some point I decided that I shouldn't own any of their albums. There's no good reason behind my stubbornness. I may have decided that this privation was necessary to show my loyalty to New Order. My adolescence had a number of overwrought pop culture-induced anxieties.

Anyway, I'm ready to make up for lost time. Crystal has the Best of album shared over iTunes here at Twitter HQ (and Blaine is sitting on the completely discography). But I'd really like to pick up my own DRM-free, high quality version of Kiss Me.

Yet, Internet fails me. I can't just go download that legally. The best I can do is pick up the lullaby version of The Cure from Audio Lunchbox.

Which I have now done.

I'm trying to give you my money, big media. But all I get for my efforts is the Fisher-Price Friday I'm in Love.

August 27, 2007

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. Kubrick

August 19, 2007

Jug Band

August 16, 2007

War

Eugene snapped this during our visit to Wizard World. The dude on the left (a shill at the LionsGate booth) was taking his role very seriously; leaning in a trying to intimidate grandma into making the wrong Connect Four move.

Grandma was so completely unfazed and into it herself that we assumed she was a prop. We saw her walking around the convention later and figured she was legit. Good marketing ... it was the most memorable thing we saw at Wizard World.

Resolved

Debate cinema is a surprisingly small genre. You've got 1989's Listen to Me, the Dirty Dancing 2 of the genre (starring Kirk Cameron with a southern drawl). And you've got the little known Thumbsucker, a true gem of a movie that you should rush out and watch tonight.

Comes now Rocket Science, the first feature film by writer/director Jeffrey Blitz who previously made the documentary Spellbound.

When I saw Spellbound, I thought it easily could have been a documentary on high school debate instead of spelling bees. Both competitions feature the same assortment of quirky, intense kids obsessively perfecting some arcane academic skill in a ritualized format. Turns out Blitz was saving his knowledge of high school forensics for Rocket Science.

As a portrayal of high school policy debate, Rocket Science is an amazing work of verisimilitude. The movie opens with a recitation of stock issues, the evidence tubs are back-breakingly familiar and, at one point, the 2AC fails to point out that the NEG's counterplan is not mutually exclusive. (I kinda squealed here.)

As a movie, Rocket Science is a bit of miss. There's not a terribly convincing character arc for the protagonist, a stutterer who gets gets pulled into debate and adolescent love by a fast-talking debate gal. (Said debate gal also made me squeal). And the plot is really just a framework for wackiness.

While said wackiness is admirably executed with superb use of the Violent Femmes, ultimately Rocket Science is, as summarized by the Village Voice reviewer, "another Eagle vs. Little Miss Napoleon Dynamite quirk fest."

What debate cinema really needs is a movie that eschews some of the reality in favor of campy grandiosity. Preferably from the creative team behind Hackers.

August 14, 2007

Self-improvement as self-deception

On the plane ride to Chicago I read Neil Strauss' The Game, the bestselling account of life inside the pick-up artist (or seduction) community.

There's a lot written about the specific pick-up techniques detailed in the book, usually in the context of "How misogynistic is this?" A lot of the methods involve subtly insulting or rejecting the pick-up target (that's a lady), performing prepared routines specifically designed to build rapport (a lot of these are like Cosmo quizzes), or even forms of hypnotic suggestion.

I'm going to stipulate that these techniques work and that they are prima facie deceptive. The fact that both of these things are true raises some interesting questions about how men and women attract one another. But there's a more interesting seduction going on in the book.

It's not about sex

In many ways, The Game, and even pick-up itself, is not really about sex. Yes, that is an objective. But sex is just one way the pick-up artist measures success. Other objectives include: getting a woman to give you her phone number (known as number close) or kissing a woman (kiss close).

Referring to these acts as different types of closes is telling as this is also the language of salesmen. Extending the metaphor, one paradigm of pick-up is known as FMAC, an acronym for Find, Meet, Attract, Close. This recalls Baldwin's speech in Glengarry Glen Ross when he berates the salesmen with another 4-letter code, AIDA (Attention, Interest, Decision, Action).

The point is that power and manipulation are the fuel for this obsession. As with salesmen and their marks, there is an antagonistic relationship in which one person's will is pitted against the other.

The metaphor that Strauss uses more than once is that of a comedian. Comedians go out looking to 'kill' and, like salesman, use prepared routines to manipulate and seduce. As with comedians, the pick-up artist starts out being fearful of rejection and eventually becomes contemptuous of his targets (once he learns how easily manipulated they can be.)

The important point is that seduction is about the exercise of power and the manipulation of perception. So what are we, as readers of The Game, being led to perceive.

I want you to hit on me as hard as you can

One way to understand what's going on in the The Game is to look at the parallels between it and Fight Club. That there should be a connection between the two makes sense; superficially, both are perspectives on contemporary masculinity.

There are a number of explicit connections as well. One of the pick-up artists goes by the handle Tyler Durden. The pickup artist commune in LA is branded Project Hollywood; a conscious echo of Fight Club's Project Mayhem. Project Hollywood becomes home to an ever-increasing number of apprentice pick-up artists who live in barracks-like conditions. And the whole situation takes on a destructive momentum of its own that confounds the expectation of the narrator.

Parallels also exist at the thematic level. Fight Club is a work of seduction. The reader is seduced by Tyler Durden who declares "I look like you want to look. I fuck like you want to fuck. I am smart, capable, and more importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not."

In Fight Club we are seduced by nihilism. But those who mistakenly portray Fight Club as a valentine to ultra-violence miss the crucial point: the reader has been deceived. Tyler is not an external antagonist at all. We are told from the outset "I realize all of this — the gun, the bombs, the revolution — is really about Marla Singer." As Palahniuk has stated, "the whole story is about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman."

In a way, so is The Game. After spending two years climbing his way to the top of the pick-up scene, Strauss finds a woman who is resistant to his seduction techniques. So, of course, he must have her.

The important difference is that the collapse of Project Hollywood (and Strauss' pick-up lifestyle) seems to happen to Strauss rather than because of him. The pick-up artist known as Tyler Durden turns out to be a borderline personality who ends up deriving more satisfaction from manipulating the apprentice corps than in actually picking-up women. Mystery, Strauss' closest ally in the community, falls apart from a combination of heartbreak and what seems like manic depression.

As things unwind, Strauss carefully portrays himself as being adjacent to the downfall. Mystery is suicidal, Tyler is manipulating the other guys, Courtney Love is a mess (she's a house guest at one point).

In Fight Club, the antagonist-narrator is responsible for the inevitable collapse of the male fantasy world he created. In the Game, Neil Strauss portrays himself as almost a victim of the community he helped nurture.

It's all in the game

This, ultimately, is the real manipulation in The Game. The author gets to be both a vehicle of hetero-male wish fulfillment and the guy who leaves with the girl when others wreck the party.

That Strauss is able to pull off this maneuver is illuminating if somewhat unsurprising.

At one point, the dysfunctional Tyler coins the term "stylemog" (after Strauss' pick-up handle Style) and defines it as "a subtle set of tactics, mannerisms, backhanded compliments and responses used to keep a pickup artist dominant in a group." So, too, does Strauss put himself in a position of power over the reader while feigning vulnerability.

On one hand he confesses that "a sequence of maneuvers and a system of behaviors would never fix what was broken inside. Nothing would fix what was broken inside. All we could do was embrace the damage." However, whatever Strauss considers broken inside himself is never really explored.

The more important part of this quote is at the end. By ending up with the perfect girl, Strauss has embraced his unnamed damage and treats his journey through pick-up culture as a path that had to be followed. He never would have had the courage to approach his girl without the lessons learned from pick-up.

This sort of weak-sauce Nietzschism, in which the past is justified as it led to the present, feeds into the idea of pick-up as self-improvement. Rather than seduction or manipulation, learning pick-up is a way to overcome one's limitations.

But passing off pick-up as self-improvement is highly disingenuous and purposefully manipulative. It's a way of disguising power obsession in the same way that greed can be disguised as "Jesus wants you to be rich" Christianity.

In the course of The Game, Strauss impressively manipulates women, his fellow pick-up artists and the reader of his book.

Wouldn't you be disappointed with less?

August 11, 2007

I kinda want this

August 10, 2007

For the love of God

August 06, 2007

Wrecked

Anil does an amazing job unpacking the reasons why it's significant that Dan Lyons is the author of Fake Steve Jobs. Go read it.

August 03, 2007

Help, please advise

Biz is wicked jealous of my exemplary dental hygiene.

Cleaned

Got the chompers checked out today. No cavities!

My teeth feel super-clean and ready for biting. It feels like I could tear a chunk out of a steel sandwich.

July 30, 2007

Dudes looking good

Maggie took this picture of Biz, Ev, me and Bryan as we got ready for Ev & Sara's wedding.

It shows Ev looking relaxed & confident, me and Bryan looking prepared and Biz looking like he's got his pants down.

I'd like to call special attention to the full windsor knots we're sporting. It took me about 45 minutes to learn how to tie that knot from this instructional video. I think we can all agree this was time well spent and that the wedding would not have gone off successfully if we'd been wearing four-in-hand knots, also known as "The Wuss."

Having gotten a sneak peak at the preparations, I knew Ev & Sara we're going to throw one very classy shindig. I didn't quite anticipate how fun it was going to be. Sara's really to be commended for bringing out the rager in marriage.

July 28, 2007

Seat

July 25, 2007

Legend

Last night I made the sweetest $15 I've ever earned.

I was sitting at the most competitive $1-$1-$2 table I've been at in Colma. Every hand was being raised and raised large. In the first orbit, I saw two pots that had topped $100 before the flop was dealt.

More impressive than the dollars being flung around were the players doing the slinging. This was a serious bunch of folks who seemed to be playing way below their level.

I was looking forward to seeing how I'd do against this tough group (mistake #1) but I was folding every hand. I picked up 7-2 four separate times during the first 30 hands. The other 26 hands were not much more remarkable. As a result, my table image was squeaky tight.

At the beginning of the 4th orbit, I'm in the small blind when an aggressive player with $600 in chips raises to $15 from middle position.

It's folded around to me and I look down to see J3. Now this hand is a stinker. In fact, according to one dataset the expected value of this hand is in the bottom 10% of all possible starting hands.

But here's the thing. The small blind is an excellent place from which to make a huge pre-flop bluff. Since you are first to act in all subsequent rounds, your terrible position lends credence to you having a real hand.

I read about this move in Sklansky & Miller's "No Limit Hold'Em: Theory & Practice." And the specific hand they mention as being a good hand for this maneuver is J-3. You make the big bluff with your worst hand so as not to "waste" a hand you actually stand a chance to improve with on the flop.

Of course, they also recommend doing it against an unraised pot with several limpers, not against one player who bet 7.5x the big blind (mistake #2). I kinda forgot that part.

But this is, in general, a good move for me to pull off once in awhile. I'm a tight player so a pre-flop bluff is highly unexpected. Also, my opponent was playing a lot of hands aggressively and I didn't give his $15 raise that much credit.

I announce raise and throw in two black chips for a total bet of $40 making it $25 more to the raiser. And he starts thinking. And thinking.

He asks me how much I have left and I tell him $120. Then, he starts counting out chips.

At this point, I'm hoping he's gonna put me all-in so at least I can fold. What the hell am I gonna do if he just calls and I've got to play an $80 pot with Jack-poopy-three.

It's also become evident that the guy has a real hand. A-Q or a high pocket pair. The only hands I can rule out are AK, KK or AA figuring that he certainly would have called with those.

Finally, after a lifetime, he says "Forget it" and folds his hand. Before he does, he flips his cards to show QQ. I was over an 8-to-1 dog against him.

The table is amazed that he'd fold his queens, the 3rd best possible starting hand. He figured there's no way I'd make that raise with anything but AA or KK.

And I'm dying to show my hand. If I'd known that I was gonna switch tables an hour later to find an easier game, I probably would have. But there's no value in giving away information like this.

But I stack my $15 profit and briefly consider myself a legend of small stakes poker.

July 24, 2007

The End is Nigh


Sutter and I discussed today's San Francisco power outage which temporarily affected 365 Main's datacenter. This caused downtime for the sites hosted there like Craigslist, Technorati, LiveJournal and Vox.

July 21, 2007

Finding Leo


This is a DVD bonus feature from the first season of Extras. The show is pretty funny, but this video of a slightly drunk Ricky Gervais trying to get Leonardo DiCaprio's number absolutely killed me. The point when he realizes that his efforts are essentially equal to those of a deranged fan is top notch.

July 20, 2007

Exposed

The house next door to me is being torn down and rebuilt. Today, they took down the wall that formed part of the lightwell outside my bathroom window.

As a result, the construction crew has a pretty good view right into my bathroom and the shower in particular.

Hot.

Poker Night

July 14, 2007

Pigeons don't care

July 13, 2007

Ostrich

Had my first sad moment with the iPhone this morning. Music playback kept randomly crashing.

Britt and I diagnosed the problem over granola. The voices that came out of our asses determined it was likely a memory leak caused by the iPhone trying to keep all the apps running in an effort to convey a seamless experience. So a restart was the recommended cure.

In any case, the iPhone is awesome. Even if the battery explodes on its 300th charge it will be a phenomenal success. An annoying success, but phenomenal nonetheless.

It's my favorite gadget in as long as I can remember. I feel as confident that it's the only phone I'll ever need as I did that Super Mario Bros. would be the only game I'd ever need to play. I have named my iPhone as my primary beneficiary; I want it to be well taken care of should something happen to me.

There's a thousand blog posts like this all over right now. Which it makes it all the more funny that Verizon is trying to justify why (thankfully for me) that they decided to pass on being the iPhone's carrier.

Mom reports from vacation in Clearwater, FL that Scientologists have abducted her a local Verizon store has a sign out front that reads "Cancel iPhone service here." I'm guessing they don't have a lot of business.

And Verizon General Counsel Steve Zipperstein's comments that "The jury is still out and we will have to see how the market reacts."

As Jack said "Yeah, the jury's still out ... playing with their iPhones."

July 11, 2007

Two Hands

I've never written much about my adventures at the poker table mostly because of the lack of adventure involved. But the other night I played two successive all-in hands against the same player that resulted in the biggest pot I'd ever won.

As the pot was pushed my way, I received congratulations from the other players at the table as well a guy on the rail. I thought "Word. I must be doing something right." It was only later that I realized the number of mistakes I made. I've reconstructed the hands here because thinking about them has helped me see the game a bit more clearly. This is unlikely to be interesting or even decipherable to most.

I sat down at table 34 at the Lucky Chances about 20 minutes before the hands detailed below. The game is $1-$1-$2 spread-limit Hold'Em where the spread means you can make any bet between $4 and $200. When I sat down I immediately noticed the thin Asian guy on the dealer's right. For one thing, he had more money than anyone else; close to $600 in a game where the max buy-in is $200. For another, he was on an amazing run of cards.

In my first 20 minutes at the table, I saw this guy (I'll call him Wispy for the thin mustache he sported) win a number of big hands. In fact, I quickly lost $60 of my initial $200 in a series of hands where he'd strongly re-raised me before the flop or put me in bad position with no hand after the cards came out. In each of these cases, the eventual showdown revealed that he had me well beat when I folded. Wispy wasn't bluffing; he was getting hit by the deck.

So, with $140 in front of me, I get dealt 10J on the button. It's called for $4 by Wispy and one other player before it gets to me and I just call as does the big blind. The flop is 10J7. It's checked to the player on my right who makes it $10. I don't like the hearts and would fastplay this two pair here regardless so I raise to $20 to go. The big blind folds, and Wispy calls the $20 as does the original raiser. There's $80 in the pot.

The turn is the K. It's checked to me and I make it $40. Wispy thinks for a second and calls and the player to my right folds. $160 in the pot. The River is the 10 making a board of 10J7K10 and me a full house. I've got $80 left in front of me and I push it in. Wispy thinks for a good while and mutters aloud during his deliberations. When he finally he calls, I show my boat and another player asks to see his cards. But while the dealer is pushing me the pot, Wispy slides them in the muck. He mutters that the 10 was very lucky for me; implying that he had AQ or Q9 for a straight before the river. I kinda think he's lying.

In any case, Wispy is a little steamed. In the next hand, I'm one off the button. It's called for $4 in a couple places, including Wispy, before it gets back to me. I've got KK and I make it $15 to go. It's folded back to Wispy who raises to $50. The action gets back to me without any callers.

A little bit of a think here. I'm not folding, but the limp-raise suggests either strength or craziness. I figure there's an 80% chance he has a big ace, a 15% chance he's got a lower pair and a 5% chance he's got AA. So should I get all the money in right now? Maybe I should, but I can't pull the trigger. This is probably my first mistake.

I call the $50 and the flop is 872. Wispy leads out with a quick $100 bet. And I now I really need to think. To begin with, I didn't even know how much money I had in front of me when the hand started; I was still stacking chips when the cards were dealt. Second, I just doubled up off of Wispy. Do I really want to play for all my chips here? If I call the $100 bet, there will be $300 in the pot. After I finish stacking my chips, I realize I'll be down to $170 and be almost certainly compelled to call on the turn if Wispy, who still has me covered, puts me all-in. Third, I figure there's a 15% chance that Wispy had pocket 8s, 9s or As and a decent chance he's got a suited Ace. If that suit is clubs, he's got nine outs to the nut flush.

But I figure I'm ahead. So I know I can't fold even though I'm really not happy about playing for all the money here. So should I re-raise all-in? I probably should. The money's going in anyway and there's a small chance an all-in induces a fold here. But I can't do it. This is my biggest mistake and the reason why I'm not yet a good poker player. I'm too risk averse to push all the money in even when I figure I have the best of it. I'm too busy thinking about what it will feel like to lose back all that money to Wispy. I'm thinking about going from being up $120 to down $200.

So I just call the $100. The dealer turns a 3. Wispy goes all-in as I figured and I've got another $170 in front of me. I don't think long before putting the money in and Wispy looks crushed when I announce "Call."

The river is a J. Wispy won't show his cards so I say "I called you, what do you have." He says "Ace high," but still doesn't show. I flip over my Kings and Wispy mucks his hand. The dealer pushes me a pot of $640 and I've netted $500 in just under 10 minutes.

I barely played the rest of that session and left with my win in tact. Wispy busted out a few hands later but I wasn't even there to see it; I'd gotten up to take a walk and figure out what happened. Thinking about it now I realize that I got lucky my mistakes didn't cost me. And that it will probably be a long time, if ever, before I have the temperament needed to be a good poker player.

We are Industrial

July 08, 2007

Ev sings


Ev sings
Originally uploaded by goldtoe

July 06, 2007

Perceived Bigotry Coefficient

I was looking at the latest Newsweek poll (what's up 26% Bush approval rating!), and noticed a number of questions about how people feel about voting for minority candidates.

For example, 85% say they would vote for a woman if she were nominated by their party to be president. This, compared to 92% for a black candidate, 65% for a Mormon, 80% for a Hispanic.

When asked if they thought "America was ready for a woman president" 58% of respondents said "Yes." This, compared to 59% for a black candidate, 35% for a Mormon, 40% for a Hispanic.

The difference between the two number is interesting to compare. In some sense, you could divide the latter number by the former to come up with a "perceived bigotry" coefficient for each minority. It works out to .68 for women, .64 for blacks, .53 for Mormons and .50 for Hispanics.

What the perceived bigotry coefficient basically means is "however willing people say they are to accept you, you should multiply that value by the PBC to come up with what people believe other people are actually willing to accept."

One result is that even though Mormons have the lowest percentage of people who say America is ready for a Mormon president (35%), it's Hispanics who have the smallest PBC.

An important point is that the PBC is based on what other people perceive ... people don't think they're racist, but suspect others are.

July 03, 2007

Liberty

Tony Snow's press briefing included a number of gems today.

Q: There are more than 3,000 current petitions for commutation ... Will all 3,000 of those be held to the same standard that the President applied to Scooter Libby?

MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Yeah, that's a 'no.' It's crazy that they won't even admit to special handling here.

On that point, and in honor of America's birthday, I would like to confess to my own special treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system.

It was twelve years ago, Independence Day 1995. I was sweating out my last few weeks in St. Louis before heading off to college. Aaron F., Andrew A. and I decided to celebrate America with Chinese black powder. So with TLC's Waterfalls on the radio, we headed out to Eureka, MO to buy a bunch of fireworks.

Fireworks are illegal in St. Louis County, so you need to go out to the boonies to buy them. As soon as you cross the county line you can stop at any number of air-conditioned Costco-sized fireworks megastores and load up on some serious artillery.

Well-equipped, we rode back in style to West County in Andrew's LeBaron convertible. And in the massive housing development of Seven Pines, we settled in with our explosives.

Our three lady companions (not girlfriends) were just barely willing to go along with this nonsense. But we had a grand old time setting off roman candles and the like in Andrew's cul-de-sac.

About an hour later, St. Louis County cops came blazing down the street right as we were setting off some bottle rockets. Andrew's crappy neighbors had ratted us out.

I took the lead in talking to the cops ... not that I had a particular negotiating ploy in mind. They informed me that we were busted for fireworks. I said "Ok."

I did manage to get our lady friends off the hook by pleading with him just to ticket us dudes. This blatantly sexist ploy went over well with the municipal employees of St. Louis County.

It looked like this was gonna be a big pain. Andrew, Aaron and I were all headed off to college out of state and we were being summoned to appear before Superior Court in the middle of fall semester.

But it turns out Andrew's uncle is a successful lawyer in St. Louis and he took our case on pro bono.

Over the course of the next couple months, I'd occasionally get type-written letters from his law firm informing me about progress on the case. One stated that he'd negotiated a plea whereby we could plead guilty to either jay-walking or littering (our choice) and get off the hook with a small fine. I wrote back to say that jay-walking was preferred as it seemed less evil.

A few more months passed, a few more notices from the County saying that a continuance had been granted in the case. And then in the spring of my freshman year, a note from the assistant district attorney. All charges had been dropped.

I think Andrew's uncle finally made the DA realize that the People's interests would be better served by prosecuting a different crime. Maybe one that wouldn't involve swapping paper for 9 months with a fancy attorney in private practice.

And so I was effectively Libbied - given special treatment because of my connections despite the transparency of the crime committed. But at least I can admit it.

So, Happy Birthday, America and congrats to you, Scooter! As we sang back in that hot summer in St. Louis, "I know that you're gonna have it your way / or nothing at all. / But I think you're moving too fast."

June 22, 2007

Cuties

Awhile back Ev gave me Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur as a gift. And by "gift" I mean it was part of the TED schwag and he gave it to me to try to drive me crazy.

Since then, I've tried a number of times to write about the book. But I always thought it was kinda dubious to write a blog post about a book which claims that blogs have caused a "flattening" of culture.

I mean, it's pretty much a surefire way to get attention for your book by antagonizing bloggers. The guy might not actually have that strong an opinion at all, but realized he could sell a lot of books by picking a fight with the Internet. So why feed the trolls?

Anyway, turns out this is all a moot point because Andrew Keen decided to do an interview with Rabbit Bites. A man who's written an entire book about how "the democratization of the digital world is assaulting our economy, our culture, and our values" did an webcast interview with two squeaky-voiced rabbits.

Dude. Just because you speak with an accent and sit in front of giant bookshelf, doesn't mean that we can't all see what a big whore you are.

June 21, 2007

Yee haw

Found out from the Daily Show that Operation: Centaur Rodeo was actually a thing back in Spring 2004 of the Iraq War.

Centaur Rodeo is a righteous name. I can only hope that somewhere a deserving band is considering it as their handle.

Unfortunately, Operation: Centaur Rodeo's track record doesn't look that good on paper: "As of March 30, 2004, coalition forces had seized 3 people and numerous weapons."

I'm no cowboy, but three ponies makes for a pretty sad rodeo.

June 15, 2007

One of the worst things ever

In this otherwise not particularly funny clip from the Daily Show, Samantha Bee describes Missouri as "an ingrown hair on America's taint."

That stings.

June 13, 2007

Shock!

Congrats to the Blogger folks for launching draft.blogger.com. It's supercool that they've got their own place for trying out experimental features. And I love the blueprint-y look to it.

The first big feature is video upload. We'd been talking about doing this for so long I thought I had to capture my reaction at finally seeing it live.
video

June 12, 2007

Small Amounts

Aaron told me about Colma: The Musical and it looks to be a great time. I have a fondness for Colma, the cemetery-laden town of 1200 just south of SF, as it's home to the Lucky Chances Casino.

I'm not entirely sure why the trailer only plays in IE or Safari, but it's worth the effort.

June 07, 2007

Painter People


I'm totally digging on this illustration by Eugene.

Mary, his preggers lady wife, has a blog where she's posting paintings for sale on eBay.

I believe their child is going to pop out with a little placard that reads:


Baby (2007)
Eugene and Mary Flacksmith
20"
baby flesh on muscular-skeletal frame

June 06, 2007

Viva Tito!

More good stuff from Anna who's made it to Sarajevo. She and her family got a walking tour of the city from a pair of friendly college students who've got mad love for Tito:

They both said that Bosnia was living proof that socialism works, because the average standard of living was apparently way better in the former Yugoslavia. If econ students who dress in trendy ripoffs of luxury brands thought that, I'm guessing nostalgia for communism runs pretty deep in the Balkans.

Lawnmower

The NYT has a story about how the good people of Chattanooga are using goats to control their kudzu. In addition to finding out that kudzu grows at a rate of a foot per day, the article has this bit of perspective:

Chattanooga is not the only city to seek a four-legged alternative to herbicides. For several years, Tallahassee, Fla., fought kudzu with sheep. Spartanburg, S.C., tried using goats, but stopped after they were stolen.
Yeah, that would probably put a stop to things.

June 04, 2007

Other plans

I, too, am excited about the new iPhone ads.

May 31, 2007

Lazy

My friend Anna is traveling abroad this summer and I highly recommend her travel blog. A recent sample:

If you miss breakfast the next morning and try to order some french fries from the hotel kitchen, they'll shout 'Lazy girl! Lazy girl!' over and over at you, even if there are a lot of other people around. And you still won't get any fries.

May 22, 2007

Caliente!

Google Hot Trends! Google can play with those other kids with their cool data visualizations and neat infoporn.

Except Google's definition of 'play' is to use pretty much the same application template they use for almost everything from Sitemaps to AdSense. Do people want to browse this type of casual information in the same way that they want to track their portfolios? Seems unlikely.

At least Google's conflation of 'simple' and 'staid' results in some unintended humor. The one element that breaks with the standard design is the 'Hotness' meter for each term. Somehow, the Trends folks got away with naming their Hotness levels: Mild, Medium, Spicy, On Fire and Volcanic. Which is pretty out there by Google standards.

Unfortunately, it also results in visuals like the following:



The fact that this is the only playful element on the entire page, makes the labeling seem that much more absurd.

May 20, 2007

Gah!

28 Weeks Later is a fine sequel to Danny Boyle's first zombie movie. In this one, the Americans have taken over Britain following the crisis of the undead depicted in 28 Days Later.

The mission of the US military is to establish a new society from within the safety of a Green Zone set up in London. And, as you would expect from such an allegorical premise, everything goes swimmingly and liberal democracy prevails.

Actually, not so much. One of my favorite shots occurs shortly after everything goes pear-shaped; it's close-up of Horatio Nelson's face and he looks unbelievably sad atop his lonesome pillar.

Speaking of Brits, the kids in the movie are played by actors Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots. I mean, honestly. How can you resist Muggleton & Poots.

It should be noted, this movie is scary. I screamed out loud at one point.

Hardest working elf in show business

Bjork performed at the Shoreline Amphitheatre last night and, man, does she put on a show.

She comes out with a brass band of Icelandic ladies who are carrying samurai flags and is further accompanied by percussion, keyboards and some dude playing the latest in esoteric electronics.

And also there were lasers. The lasers were key. They didn't switch on until she played Army of Me. Once they did, I felt that maybe she was trying to warn off would-be alien invaders.

Set-wise, she played a sampling from the new album (I don't have a strong opinion on the new material). And a decent selection from the older stuff. The highlight for me was Hyper-ballad which goes on the list on Songs I Always Wanted to Hear Live and Finally Did (also on the list: New Order's Temptation, Pixies' Where is My Mind, Belle & Sebastian's Arab Strap).

Hyper-ballad was played super up-tempo and the electronics dude busted out the Reactable. The on-stage screens showed the various manipulations he was doing with the table-top synth. And while I can't really say what it added to the song acoustically, it certainly made the song seem more intense.

But really, Bjork sells that herself. She only played an hour-long set with a two-song encore. And while this is short, the lady leaves it all on stage. She went through multiple costume changes (I think she came out wearing felt intestines and ended up dressed in gold flake) and just belts out every song. Plus, she dances like a fiend and is so very cute and OMG! I WANT TO TAKE HER HOME SO MUCH!

Ahem. In conclusion, Bjork gives a great concert.

May 18, 2007

Knocked Up and Out


Mary is two months pregnant and very sleepy.

May 17, 2007

Activate


As the photographic record will show, I am a Transformers dork from way back in the day. (I think that's Crudtronicus I'm holding up.)

Despite this, I'd really not been following the hype about the upcoming Transformers movie. But the new trailer came out today and I have been converted. The flying robot doing the flip over the bridge is particularly hot.

Michael Bay's not my favorite director, but I think Armageddon is a misunderstood work of genius. So as of today I am filing my Statement of Excitement with the Federal Commission on Fanboys. May God bless America and here's hoping "The Touch" doesn't end up in the soundtrack.

May 15, 2007

I'm just saying

We're now at the point when John Ashcroft has to be propped up in a hospital bed to serve as the last line of defense against illegal wiretaps. How far off are we from finding out that Donald Rumsfeld was all that stood between us and war with Iran?

May 09, 2007

Web 0.2

This video from the first Internet Marketing Conference in 1994 is a pretty good time. The highlight is Marc Andreesen's talk about Mosaic and the recently-formed Netscape. Some things I like:

  • He talks about applications rather than sites. Mosaic allows users to use applications. The idea that now we're creating web applications rather than sites is meant to be one of the centerpieces of Web 2.0. But it's been in mind since the beginning.

  • Mosaic was successful, according to Marc because they skipped all the hard problems of traditional hypertext systems. Most notably this includes search. "How do you search across the information? I dunno."

  • Mosaic grew to several hundred thousand users in its first year and 3M users in 18 months.

  • The key to Mosaic is communication between people. "The applications that will be succesfull in the next 5, 10 years are the ones that really tie together people."

Word.

May 07, 2007

Have you heard about microformats?


Me with birthday gal Laura Riley (photo credit: Emily Young).

May 06, 2007

Death be not proud

John Donne is so emo his quills cut themselves.

May 05, 2007

You talk funny

The Speech Accent Archive is a real good time. It has hundreds of speech samples from all over the world. And with a fancy search you can find out what a native Afrikaans speaker sounds like.

Also fun: comparing an Edinburgh accent to a Glasgow accent. Or a Texas accent to an Virginia accent.

Maybe I'll be able to properly distinguish an Australian accent from a British one now. Man, do they hate it when you mess that up.

May 04, 2007

Goodnight B1

Today the fine folks at Google switched off the old version of Blogger - the version that had been running in the same cage we were in when acquired by the Googs (altho' the code and the machines it ran on had been updated many, many times).

Pete reports the triumph on Buzz and notes that the old version of Blogger will finally be able to "totter off to realize its dream of getting to level 70 in the Burning Crusade."

Sweet! I think Blogger will do really well in Warcraft. Maybe we can group together.

April 24, 2007

Humor!

Jon: Did you have a chance to interview Frank for the job?
Tom: Yeah.
Jon: What - you didn't like him?
Tom: Meh. In his cover letter, he spelled résumé without the accents.
Jon: Dude. Don't be so diacritical.

April 18, 2007

Still moody

About 4 years ago I wrote a post saying that I thought "Nights in White Satin" kinda sucked.

At the time I caught flack from both friends and my moms for my sacrilege. I guess I didn't fully appreciate how prominently this song features in the personal sexual histories (I'm just guessing) of people I knew.

But then today, I get this anonymous comment on that post: "You don't understand it because you are an idiot. Fucking Clones."

So are there Moody Blues fanboys just trolling the web, looking to set the record straight about "Nights in White Satin"? Jumping into long-stale threads from years ago to defend the use of the gong that celebrates the end of the 8 minute version of the song?

And what to make of the clones comment. Is the commenter a clone-hunter? Part of a legion of Moody Blues-inspired blade runners who use "Nights in White Satin" as their empathy test.

The internet perplexes me.

April 09, 2007

Baseball's Back


Go Cardinals!

April 03, 2007

Sell it

Jason Sutter had some good advice for me inspired by this clip of Michael Jackson and Prince getting called up to the stage during a James Brown show.

While the getting's good

Slate on the recent spate of former Bush insiders who are going public with their dissatisfaction:

The only downside to deserting Bush at this late hour is that sooner or later all the best media outlets will be used up. Please note, however, that Slate's dance card is still free. If you are a reasonably visible Bush loyalist who would like to declare the current administration a complete disaster, please e-mail chatterbox@slate.com. You'd better make it good, though. This story's starting to get old.

March 29, 2007

Nookie

You're a single dude. The NYT wants to do an interview with you about dating. They've brought a photographer.

You may think, "Cool! I'm gonna be in the paper. I'm finally gonna make good time with the ladies."

Sadly, however, the correct response is to resign yourself to a life of celibacy. The Old Gray Lady has decided that your humiliation is needed to sell papers, so you may as well use yesterday's Style section to wrap up your penis and ship it off to midtown Manhattan.

Better yet, use the Circuits section you wonky, unfuckable geek.

Exhibit A
: Tom Ryan of Denver interviews with the NYT for an article about modern-day marriage. The article appears under the headline "Facing Middle Age With No Degree, and No Wife." It features a picture of him strumming away on his lonesome guitar followed by the caption:

"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.
Can I get you a box of tissues and some hand lotion, Mr. Ryan?

Exhibit B: Bob Strauss writes dating advice for match.com. He agrees to appear in a story about how women respond to the apartments of potential mates. His picture appears in today's Home & Garden section with a red REJECTED stamp emblazoned across his belly.

What's more he's holding a stuffed baby seal that's sporting a studded leather collar. The caption explains: "Bob Strauss refuses to 'blandify' his apartment by getting rid of his stuffed baby seal, even though it puts some women off." D'you think, Bob? Do you have to be a professional advice columnist to know that some women aren't into "baby animal taxidermy"/"fetish gear" mashups?

As if the photo weren't enough, the article goes on to state that the baby seal "is displayed along with Mr. Strauss’s South Park and Sonic the Hedgehog figurines and Lego collection."

Well played, New York Times. I think you've succeeded in making sure that even internet porn will turn down sex with Bob Strauss.

March 27, 2007

Music Supervision

Spoilers: this post talks about the Season 3 finale of BSG and Jason Sutter's wrinkly bits.

So, yeah. They need to finish this whole series up. Not that it's completely unenjoyable - in fact, there were a number of solid moments last night. But at this point it wouldn't be surprising to find out the whole thing is some Matrix-like simulated reality.

And, increasingly, they're making some questionable artistic choices.

Regarding the finale, I actually started shouting 'No' at the screen when Tigh muttered "Said the joker to the thief." The idea that the Final Five Cylons are picking up on transmissions from modern-day Earth is a perfectly serviceable sci-fi concept. I just can't believe they went with such a hokey, overused song.

Heather Havrilesky's reaction in Salon is pretty accurate:

"Oh my God! My stoner boyfriend from high school wrote the season finale of 'Battlestar Galactica'! Why did Ronald D. Moore take a break and hand over responsibility for the finale to a guy who spent most of his time doing shots of Bacardi 151 Rum and noodling Hendrix on his guitar? Was that wise, really?"
No, it wasn't wise. By using this hackneyed tune, it makes the underlying concept seem weak ... which is a shame. Just as a for instance, what if that scene had been written like this:
Chief: I can’t seem to face up to the facts.
Tigh: I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax.
Anders: I can’t sleep because my bed’s on fire.
Tory: Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire.
It works better on basically every level.

Obviously, I'm picking on one detail. But this was the sort of thing that used to just work in BSG. Starbuck returns to her apartment, turns on the radio and Philip Glass pours out. Or, you know, the first time Apollo defied his father and renounced his military obligations.

At this point, I think we're either revisiting old territory (cancer!) or paying off new story arcs in a hacky way (Starbuck lives!). Time to wrap it up.

(Regarding Sutter's balls: Like BSG this season, I hinted at a compelling story arc but failed to deliver. Unsatisfying, isn't it.)

March 24, 2007

Making it Up

Salon has an interview with BSG creator, Ron Moore. There are a couple questions they ask him that I find interesting.

First, they ask about the difficulty in keeping an audience for a serialized drama. How can you pick up new viewers when it's essentially impossible for someone to start watching from the middle.

When asked how they deal with this challenge on BSG, Moore says "I don't. It's a genuine problem I have no solution for ... It's certainly not something [the network is] in love with." And he goes on to say "We've done a few stand-alone episodes here and there, and they're almost never very successful."

True that.

Second, they ask about how planned out the season arcs are and how much is changed on the fly. While the major story arcs are planned "as you do it you find that there's this other more interesting path." When asked for an example of something that resulted from this organic approach, he says "In this season's finale, I decided on the fly to give Laura her cancer back."

Boo! Just slapping someone with the cancer stick at the last minute is some weak-ass soap opera bullshit.

But more importantly, HBO's The Wire has shown there's a better way to deal with serialized drama. You treat the whole season as a single piece and tell one, 12-hour story. No one gets cancer at the last minute and you don't have stand alone episodes.

Yes, this is probably only sustainable for the shorter seasons that premium TV allows. But I'd be so much more happy with BSG if they'd kept to the momentum they had back at the end of season 1/beginning of season 2.

In short, the way in which to make serialized drama work is to not treat it as a serial. Consider the whole thing long-form fiction and make a complete (if slightly shorter) story out of a single season.

March 22, 2007

Dumb spam

Top story on Digg states "75 per cent of Google's blogspot blogs are spam."

The dugg story is a post from infoniac.com reporting on a post on WebMasterWorld reporting on a wire story on Yahoo! News reporting on joint project from Microsoft Research/UC-Davis to study web spam.

Unsurprisingly, some details got lost in translation ... literally, I think, as I'm gonna give the infoniac poster the benefit of the doubt and assume that no native English speaker would write "what would happen if certain World Wide Web structures, among which Google, Yahoo and other search engines, didn't fight spam?"

In any case, it turns out that the study didn't look at all URLs and count the spam. They took a bunch of commercial keywords like "prescription drugs" or "cheap tickets" and looked at the percentage of sites that were spam for specific domains. It's not terribly surprising that a high percentage of spammy sites would be found.

But that's far different than saying 75% of all sites are spam.

Update: As Kevin points out in a comment, what the study actually found was that 75% of blogs likely to be spam actually were spam.

March 21, 2007

Outrage

In which I finally disgust Jason Sutter so much that he refuses to talk to me (took 12 years):

March 19, 2007

Principle

I worked with Lorna and Michael at the Googs and thought they were a swell bunch of kids.

This past weekend they were all ready to purchase a new car but had to put the kabosh on the whole plan at the very last minute. The dealership has a policy of collecting and keeping buyer thumbprints for a period of 7 years and Lorna and Michael weren't willing to go along with that.

I'm sitting here wearing my EFF t-shirt and even though I know that this policy is totally ridiculous, I'm 75% sure I would have gone along with it. I've got a lot of respect for Mike and Lorna's willingness to walkaway when it didn't feel right.

Chow time

Except for the allegation that the US Attorney firings were somehow connected to voter fraud investigations, that whole controversy strikes me as one of the least sensational Bush administration scandals.

(Anyone remember when our man in Iraq, Ahmed "You may remember me from such films as: The State of Union 2004" Chalabi got arrested under suspicion of working with the Iranians? Good times.)

But is it really surprising that they'd fire political appointees who didn't agree with administration policy mandates? For crissakes, these are the people that outed a covert agent because they were pissed at her dude.

But given that Congress can't seem to keep us from working on Operation: Tehran, I'm cool with whatever trophies they're able to bring home these days. So the other side gets the perpetual war, amendments I, IV thru VIII, the tax cuts and the personal blessing of God's only begotten son ... we (probably) get the resignation of Alberto Gonzales. Seems fair.

There are other consolation prizes. Like this gem from the White House press briefing last week:


Mr. Snow:Loyalty to the President means doing your job and faithfully carrying out the priorities of the administration. I think I laid it out, when you're talking about U.S. attorneys, that means following the priorities within the Department of Justice; it means doing your job -- doing it faithfully, all.

Q: How about the oath to office?

Mr. Snow: We believe in that, too. Chow time. (Laughter.)
Man's gotta eat.

March 14, 2007

Bigger in Texas

Tony Pierce did a video interview with some of us Twitter folk down at SxSW. Here's a taste of the sloppy, late night life in Austin:

March 09, 2007

Soul Stoned

Eddie Van Halen is using dark magicks to unnaturally prolong his life.

March 07, 2007

Move the chains

The folks behind Battlestar Galactica have long been trying out some smart stuff in terms of engaging their audience via the web. For example, the director's commentary podcast for each episode (I listened to a bunch of them, but gave up at some point). Also, the pre-season three webisodes (great idea, turned out they weren't that compelling).

I'm pretty excited about their latest venture, the Videomaker Toolkit. They've released a whole bunch of digital assets (video clips, audio, graphics) and have encouraged folks to make 4 minute battlestar videos of their very own.

I love this. Television and movies have long been these monolithic forms of media that are only meant for the masses to receive, not participate in. Battlestar know which side its dorky bread is buttered on and is putting some of its IP in the hands of the fans. Hot.

My quick read of the TOS suggests they've got the right idea in that they stress that the fan-creators retain ownership over the videos they create ... altho' you grant SciFi the right to make money off of what you produce.

The only truly bonehead move is that they don't want you posting your video on YouTube. Given that you're obliged to include a promo clip at the end of your video (which seems reasonable to me) why wouldn't SciFi want these videos distributed as widely as possible. What benefit do they get by keeping them all on scifi.com where, I'm guessing, approximately 95% of visitors are already fans of their flagship show.

But still, progress. It's only a matter of time until Baltar starts blogging.