Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Watch out, it's gonna get nerdy.

Let's do a little thought experiment.

Imagine writing down every number in the universe that you could find – the height of every building on earth, the weight of every molecule, the size of every object in space, the number of songs in every person's iTunes library – every number you can possibly imagine that represents something in the real world. You write each number down on a strip of paper, and you put all those pieces of paper into a giant bag (Santa size). You shake up the bag, mix all the numbers up really well, and start to pull them out, one by one...

12,756 - diameter of the earth in kilometers
6 - length of a large fire ant in millimeters
496.4 - molar mass of red 40 dye

Assuming you cut all the pieces of paper the same size, what are the chances that the next number you pull out will start with 1?

Well, numbers can't start with zero. That leaves 9 digits, so you'd probably guess that it's a 1 in 9 chance, or about 11%. The same as your chance of drawing a number that starts with 6, or 9, or 4, or any other digit, right?

Nope.

Your chance of drawing a number that starts with 1 is about 30.1%. Your chance of drawing number that starts with 9? 4.6%.

It's true. There are probably about six times as many numbers in your bag that start with 1 as numbers that start with 9 (assuming you wrote down a really huge list of numbers and didn't accidentally pick a bunch of them that are really close together). I'm not making this up. It's called Benford's Law.

So how exactly is this possible? It doesn't seem to make any sense. Well, it has to do with the fact that there is so much stuff in the universe, distributed evenly from the very tiny to the very huge. Let's start small. Say you want to compare the height of my dog (1.5 feet) to the height of a diving board (10 feet). You could look at these numbers on a number line, like the ones you made in elementary school, like the one below.


But what if you wanted to compare the height of my dog, the height of a diving board, and height of the Sears Tower (1450 feet)? If you used a number line like the one above, with 0 on one end and 1450 on the other, it would be impossible to see the difference between the height of my dog and the height of the diving board. They'd both be right next to zero. If you want to compare the sizes of lots of things things that are really, really different (like all the numbers in the universe), you have to look at them on a line with a "logarithmic scale". I know that's a big, scary word, but don't worry about it. Here's what a logarithmic number line looks like:


Instead of the spacing being the same from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, etc, the spacing is the same from 1 to 10, 10 to 100, and 100 to 1000. It's a scale based on multiplication instead of addition. You can clearly see the differences between the height of my dog, the height of a diving board, and height of the Sears Tower all on this one short line. It turns out that the numbers in the universe are pretty evenly distributed on a number line like this one. More so than they are on the number lines you know from elementary school, because all the stuff in the universe is distributed pretty evenly from tiny molecules to huge galaxies.

Now we can see why numbers that start with 1 pop up so much more often than numbers that start with 9. Below, I've highlighted the ranges of numbers on this line that start with 1.


Here are the numbers that start with 9.


A much smaller area, right? So if the numbers in the universe are distributed evenly over this line, you're almost six times more likely to pick numbers starting with 1 than with 9. (All the other digits fall in between, so you're only very slightly more likely to pick numbers starting with 5 than with 6.)

So next time you're tempted to fudge the numbers on your tax return, remember this principle. It's possible to analyze your return, and if there are too many 7s, 8s, and 9s at the beginnings of your numbers, you could be in big trouble. No kidding. Benford's Law has been used in court.

I learned about this crazy Benford principle on Radiolab, a co-production of WNYC and NPR. It's a really, really good podcast that makes science fun again. Go check it out. "Numbers" and "Parasites" are two of my favorite episodes.

More fun with logarithms.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Unbelievable.

This makes me sick. Literally. I really feel like I want to throw up from a mixture of anger, incredulity, and sadness. Please, please read this article from the New York Times about the "bomb detector" that Iraqi security forces have been buying by the hundreds. I can't do the article justice in a summary, but basically, this "bomb detecting device" (the ADE 651) is completely ridiculous. There is no way in hell that it works at all, yet the Iraqi government has bought at least 1,500 of them at prices from $16,500 to $60,000 each (that's tens of millions of dollars total). There are about a thousand warning signs that the device is a complete scam (read the article), yet even Major General Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives, is whole-heartedly convinced that it works.

The ADE 651 doesn't have a power source. It has been independently tested and proven ineffective. The company that sells the device will not talk to any reporters. The company has refused to authorize any independent tests even when offered a $1 million reward if they passed. The device looks like a $2 plastic toy from China. It is primarily used by less-developed countries in the middle east and Africa. The technical explanation of its operation is mumbo-jumbo… I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

When I see cosmetics commercials with pseudo-science in them, I laugh. If people are silly enough to believe that bamboo extracts will make their hair springy like bamboo, then I think they deserve to lose $5 on some overpriced hair product. But in Iraq, on this enormous scale, with the dupes spending millions of dollars and entrusting millions of lives to something that would probably raise skepticism in even the average American consumer, this blatant deceit is infuriating. I cannot believe so many people are being taken in by this scam. It does not leave me with a lot of hope for Iraq; we are trying to let its people go back to governing themselves, but its leaders are still taken in by the crudest of schemes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mum Mum Mum Mah

Christopher Walken performs a poem by the great female poet laureate, Lady GaGa:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Advertising bubble. I'm calling it.

I mentioned this back in June, but I just wanted to get it plainly on the record so that if I turn out to be right, I can say, "I told you so."

I believe we (mostly the internet, mostly Google) are in an advertising bubble. (For anyone not familiar with overused financial metaphors, that means advertising is grossly overvalued, but we don't know it, and sooner or later, the bubble will burst, and revenue for people selling ads is going to come crashing down.)

I am no expert on this matter; I have no hard scientific evidence to back up this claim, nor have I even researched what the economists and financial experts have to say about it (but as we now know, they are terrible, terrible predictors of bubbles anyway). I'm simply going with my gut on this one.

I just cannot see how a company that is as massive and spendy as Google can possibly be sustained by producers trying to get gullible consumers to buy their products. Right now, it may seem to be a sustainable model. There are literally millions, probably billions of companies starting up on the internet, trying everything they can to gain a foothold in their respective markets. I don't know whether the bulk of internet ad revenue comes from these guys (the "long tail", millions of people paying ten bucks each) or large corporations (tens of people paying a million bucks each).

There are a few ways this bubble could burst. Here are the three I can imagine:
  1. The little guys bail. The vast number of internet startups could dwindle as greedy, risky entrepreneurs realize that only a tiny fraction of sites will win big like Facebook and YouTube did (though this already happened in the "dot-com bubble"). Or, the modest entrepreneurs just trying to make a living on their niche hobby could give up when their ads just don't draw enough customers to turn a profit.
  2. The big guys bail. Big corporations are scrambling right now to try to take advantage of the internet in any way they can. They are trying all kinds of new ways to advertise. It's a blitz, and I think they will eventually find one strategy that works and give up on the rest, or give up on all of them in favor of something else entirely.
  3. The consumers get wise. If advertisers actually are making money from consumers who are enticed by their ads – and I'm not at all convinced that this is the case – then consumers are the most gullible group of people that I've ever seen. They could learn to ignore the omnipresent ads and only buy what they really want, not what someone tells them they want. Frankly, though, if they haven't already learned this, they probably never will. (I say "they" because I can't remember the last time I clicked on an internet ad, much less bought something because of one.)
I'm not really trying to convince anyone here. I'm probably completely wrong. I just wanted to publicly place my bet: By 2020, there will be a lot fewer things for free on the internet, because subsidizing them with advertising revenue is not going to work.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I have to learn French...

... so that I can force any kids I have to learn it when they are three, so they can be this freaking cute:



Does that cost me man points? I think I'm already running a man point deficit.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Theremin-Playing Cats

I looked at my Google Analytics reports a few weeks ago, and found (to my great surprise and delight) that several visitors to my blog had arrived by googling "metaphysical cats". Well, I'm craving some more bizarre cat-related traffic, so here's a music video from They Might Be Giants that very earnestly answers the question, "Why does the sun shine?" Where are the cats, you ask? The video stars a stop-motion animated cat who plays the Theremin. Awesome.



(I almost forgot, for those not familiar with obscure musical instruments, the Theremin is the thing that makes those ooooooo-weeeeeeee-oooooo UFO noises in old sci-fi movies. You play it without ever touching it. You just move your hands around it. My friend Paul has one. It's awesome.)

If you want to see a real cat playing a real Theremin, you can see that here, but the cat is not a very good player, and it's a pretty crappy-sounding Theremin.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tonight's gonna be a good night, but not as good as these kids'.

I don't really like this song, nor do I think that this is a super original or ambitious film technique. However, this many people having this much fun puts a huge smile on my face. Thank you, students of "l'Université du Québec à Montréal". That looked like a good night, indeed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Array Mbira

The mbira does not get its due. What the heck is an mbira (em-BEER-uh), you ask? Exactly my point.

The mbira is a musical instrument of African origin. You might have made one when you were a kid, out of popsicle sticks. It's known by many other names, including the Likembe, the Kalimba, or (as you may know it) the Thumb Piano.

This is an mbira:



This is also an mbira (the mbira doesn't really take off 'til about 2:10. I know the sound quality on this video sucks, but it was the best I could find for this song, which is awesome):



These things sound beautiful. Why the heck do more people not play them? I have several theories:
  1. People dismiss it as either a child's toy or an ethnic novelty instrument, because…
  2. Most of the mbiras in existence suck. They have a tiny range and/or are poorly made and tuned. As far as I can tell, there is only one company that makes quality mbiras: Array Instruments (both of the above videos are Array Mbiras), and even then…
  3. To play an Array Mbira, you have to learn a totally new key arrangement (which actually kicks ass from a music theory and fingering standpoint, but you still have to learn the new setup).
So, what do you think? Will the Array Mbira eventually become known and respected by serious musicians? Or am I just obsessed with tinkly, bell-type sounds?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TBTL: What the heck is it?

So my last post about TBTL was completely about my experience with the show. I was very emotional when I wrote it, and I now realize that I don't think I did enough to make the show sound interesting to you, my tens of readers, so let's try again.

If you want to read a better encomium of the show than I could ever write, go read this TBTL eulogy by Tom Tangney, award-winning film critic and frequent guest on TBTL. It's beautiful.

TBTL, as far as I can tell, is one of a kind. I know of no other podcast, radio show, or television show that has a heart as big. However, it is incredibly difficult to describe to someone who has never heard the show. It has been likened to Seinfeld: a show about nothing that still manages to resonate strongly with people's personal experiences. True in an abstract sense, but TBTL is nothing at all like a sitcom. It has also been described as "This American Life crossed with Howard Stern", which is accurate only in the sense that the show appeals to NPR intellect, but is free-form, humorous, and irreverent, ala Stern. However, the TAL/Stern comparison is also very misleading, as TBTL contains little to no sex talk, and is not at all set in the storytelling format of TAL.

(For you This American Life fans, Ira Glass is going to be on TBTL this Friday; and for you those of you that enjoy Howard Stern's more gritty, earthy brand of humor, Adam Carolla was on TBTL on Monday. Hmm. Maybe the TAL/Stern comparison is more apt than I thought.)

The biggest draw of TBTL, at least for me, is its friendliness. The people on the show are real friends. As friends, they have many joking, sarcastic conversations along with some meaningful, serious ones (a contrast that Tom Tangney compares to lemon meringue pie). However, it could be argued that this intense friendship dynamic is also the biggest hindrance to new listeners. Just like meeting a group of people who are all friends with each other, listening to TBTL for the first time can be intimidating. There are too many inside jokes in each episode to even count. As a long time listener, this self-referential humor is one of my favorite parts of the show, but I realize that it is super confusing to new listeners. The hosts know this as well, but they're not trying to be exclusive. They want everyone to be in on the jokes. They even created a page on the TBTL website to get new listeners up to speed on the show lingo. Unfortunately, it only covers the most frequently used terms; you're left to decipher the remaining 90% on your own.

I'm telling you, though: it's a high barrier to entry, but a high rate of return, like HBO's The Wire. Sit down, grit your teeth through a few episodes while you get to know the characters, and it might become one of your favorite shows of all time. Please, please give it a shot.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Too Beautiful to Live

...literally.

I have included subtle links to this radio show on this blog before, but tonight is a special night.

I'll start at the beginning:

* * *

January, 2008:
Two long-time friends from Seattle start a radio show. They call it "Too Beautiful to Live" (TBTL for short). It's sort of their dream show – the show that both of them had always wanted to make. It's about nothing. It's a talk show, but decidedly non-political. It's two friends (both in their 30's) talking about whatever they feel is important or entertaining. They don't care if the show gets canceled after one week. If it does, then it was "Too Beautiful to Live" (also see: Arrested Development).

* * *

Summer, 2008:
I become a fan of a radio show called "The Bryant Park Project". It's an NPR show, but with a youthful, goofy sensibility. It's subsequently canceled about three weeks after I start listening.

* * *

September, 2008:
Doing some research on the then-extinct "Bryant Park Project", I find that one of the original hosts, Luke Burbank (whom I had never heard on the BPP), quit the show, moved to Seattle (his hometown), and started a radio show with his childhood friend, Jen Andrews. The show is called "Too Beautiful to Live". I listen to a couple shows and love the real sense of friendship between the hosts of the show. I like the same music and enjoy the same movies and TV shows as the hosts. I subscribe to the podcast.

Over the next few months, I become a true fan of the show (a "Ten" in TBTL lingo, referring to their "tens of listeners"). I record a few intros for the show, they are used on the air occasionally. I make at least two appearances on the TBTL blog, have several e-mail exchanges with the hosts, have several of those e-mails read on the air, and become the first listener ever to pick up the phone on their "call makers" segment, in which listeners are called by the show.

TBTL becomes a huge part of my life. I feel a certain friendship with Luke (the host), Jen (the producer), and Sean (the engineer). TBTL is the most interactive, friendly show I have ever heard. They host several parties for their listeners. Unfortunately, all the parties are in Seattle, so I am unable to attend. I am about ready to schedule a trip to the Northwest to meet Luke, Jen, and Sean at the next event.

* * *

August, 2009:
I have listened to TBTL for 1 year (I listened to a month's worth of old episodes going backwards from September).

* * *

September 10th, 2009:
Luke makes a mysterious post on the TBTL blog, entitled: "Really Really Really Important TBTL Announcement Tonight At 7:20". Much speculation from the Tens ensues in the comments on the blog. Is Luke or Sean getting engaged? Is there a super fantastic event being announced for the Tens? Is the show being canceled?

I tune in live. I have tuned in live maybe once or twice before. 7:20 rolls around (9:20 pm central time).

97.3 FM, KIRO, has canceled TBTL as a radio show. It is indeed "Too Beautiful to Live". Friday, September 11th will be the last broadcast.

HOWEVER, TBTL will live on as a podcast. Monday, September 14th will mark a rebirth of TBTL. Luke, Jen, and Sean say that they have invested too much in this show and cultivated such real friendships with the listeners that the show simply cannot be abandoned. It will be different, but will hopefully retain the spirit of the old show.

I await Monday with excitement and trepidation.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

World Cinema

In 2007, the same year the Coen brothers released No Country for Old Men, they also directed a short film as part of a 60th anniversary celebration of the Cannes Film Festival. It stars Josh Brolin, playing a character very reminiscent of his Llewelyn Moss in No Country. In this short film, Brolin's charater is at a small arts theater, trying to decide which of two movies to see.

Let me take a second to give you my perspective on the Coen brothers:

I am endlessly fascinated with the work of Joel and Ethan Coen. I absolutely adore O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Ladykillers. The Big Lebowski was bizarre, but very entertaining. Fargo was profoundly depressing, but is one of those movies that I'm glad I watched once, if only once (also see: Requiem for a Dream). No Country for Old Men was brilliant, if equally grim. By no means do I love everything the Coen brothers do (Burn After Reading was one of the biggest cinematic disappointments of my life), but I'm always excited to see what they're up to next.

This short film, World Cinema, is a beautiful three minute showcase of the things I love about Coen brothers movies: brilliantly written (and often hilarious) dialogue, an intense sense of place, and characters that are very stylized but still have real depth. The Coens are able to make movies on both ends of a spectrum: completely devoid of or completely built on subtlety. This one is definitely the latter. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

ABC

Has anyone else noticed that ABC is the worst major television network out there? Everyone always gives NBC crap for getting bad ratings. Why does no one ever taunt ABC for having a lineup of terrible, terrible television shows?

Just so you can see with your own eyes how catastrophic it is, here is ABC's current lineup, in its entirety:


Shows I might enjoy watching:
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live!
  • Lost
  • Scrubs
Shows I will actively avoid watching:
  • The View
  • All My Children
  • General Hospital
  • Crash Course
  • Dating in the Dark
  • Desperate Housewives
  • Grey's Anatomy
  • I Survived a Japanese Game Show
  • Wipeout
  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
  • Wife Swap
  • The Bachelor
  • Dancing With The Stars
Shows I've never heard of:
  • One Life to Live
  • Better Off Ted
  • Brothers & Sisters
  • Cougar Town (it is the ladies, not the animals. I had to check.)
  • Defying Gravity
  • Eastwick
  • FlashForward
  • The Forgotten
  • Hank
  • Happy Town
  • The Middle
  • Modern Family
  • Shaq vs
  • Shark Tank
  • SuperNanny
  • The Superstars
  • V
Shows I've heard of, but couldn't care less about:
  • Good Morning America
  • 20/20
  • America's Funniest Home Videos
  • Castle
  • Nightline
  • Primetime
  • Private Practice
  • Ugly Betty
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
  • World News
I believe that's just the shows that are still on the air. Let's not forget the smash-hit 2007 sitcoms "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers."

I know what I'll do. I'll try out a new metric for ranking TV networks:

Watchability ratio =

# of shows I might enjoy watching
------------------------------------------
# of shows I will actively avoid watching
(excluding soaps)


NBC: 2.25 (9/4)
FOX: 1.00 (7/7)
CBS: 0.50 (2/4)
ABC: 0.27 (3/11) (probably much lower if I knew what all the shows were)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Find this man, win $5,000.


Wired is the coolest magazine ever. That's all there is to it. Almost every single issue has something that makes me think, something that gets me excited, and something that makes me say, "I totally have to try that." Sometimes a single story contains all three of those things.

Here's the latest such story: Wired author Evan Ratliff is hiding. He is offering $5,000 to anyone who can find him between August 15th and September 15th. Seriously. And he hasn't just dug a Saddam-style hole to sit in for a month. He's out and about, going to book stores, and perhaps flying to Hawaii.

How the heck can you even know where to start? Well, start by reading the contest info. Next, and more importantly: check out wired.com/vanish, which is periodically updated with information about Evan that a private investigator would have access to (including activity on frequent flier, credit card, and ATM accounts).

I desperately want to try to find Evan, but I think there are about a thousand people who would be better at this than I would. "Wired" readers are an incredibly clever bunch, and many of them seem to have too much time on their hands. Also, from my initial perusal of Evan's tracks, he appears to be spending most of his time on the west coast. It would be hard for me to get close enough to whisper the code word to him.

I really want someone to find him, so that he can write the story of how it happened. (Which is actually what he will do if he is found.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More stuff that I like

First: Netflix is flipping amazing.

Second: Sometimes I treat television shows and movies as homework. I think, "I have no idea what this movie is, but it got good reviews and people have talked about it, so I guess I should watch it, just so I can see what the fuss is all about." Much like my real scholarly pursuits, sometimes it takes me a while (a year or three) to get around to doing my homework.

Third: "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is flipping amazing.

Like most white people, I'm a culturalist – not a racist, mind you – a culturalist. I have no problem with black people. However, the hip-hop culture that many of them live in is totally unfamiliar to me, and therefore is a little frightening. I don't really understand hip-hop culture. I observe it at a distance and I think, "Hm. That's interesting. I don't get it."

In addition to my general culturalism, I am almost entirely unfamiliar with Dave Chappelle's TV show and comedy routines, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be all that entertained by them.

Those are the two reasons why it took me three years to get around to watching "Dave Chappelle's Block Party".

Here's what everyone failed to tell me: This movie is 3% about Dave Chappelle's comedy, 15% about hip-hop culture, and 80% about generosity, humanity, community, and Brooklyn. (and 2% other.) Also, it's directed by freaking Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, dozens of music videos), another badass Frenchman whom I failed to mention in my last post.

The movie is basically a documentary about Dave Chappelle organizing a block party in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; the main event being a concert with performances from the likes of Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Common, The Fugees, Lauryn Hill, and many more hip-hop and rap artists. Chappelle gives free rides and accommodations to people from his hometown near Dayton, Ohio. He meets everyone in the neighborhood in Bed-Stuy where he's hosting the party (which is announced almost exclusively by word of mouth, yet still manages to draw a crowd of thousands). Everyone appears to have the time of their lives. Dave Chappelle is apparently the nicest, friendliest human being on the planet. The way he interacts with everyone is so endearing. He is so kind and sincere to every single person he encounters, from Kanye West to the middle aged white ladies in a convenience store in Ohio.

No doubt a little bit of this joy is exaggerated by the magic of film editing, but I would guess that the spirit of the movie is very much in line with Dave Chappelle's vision of the party.

If you want to vicariously experience the most delightful summer block party of 2009 (though it actually occurred in September 2004), go rent it now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

C'était un Rendez-Vous

We Americans like to make fun of Frenchmen, accusing them of being overly romantic or effeminate, but it must be said: Some Frenchmen are total badasses. Quirky and stylish badassses, but badasses nonetheless. Philippe Petit, for example. Actually, maybe he was the only one I knew of until today, when the Very Short List brought another to my attention: film director Claude Lelouch. In 1976, he stuck a camera on the hood of his sports car (Can someone tell me what car it is, by the way? It sounds awesome.) and made this nine minute short film, driving at unthinkable speeds through the open streets of Paris in the early morning.

Idiotic? Yes. Illegal? Absolutely. (He was arrested after the first screening of the film.) Romantic? Of course. (Make sure to watch all the way to the end.) Badass? You betcha.

Please, fullscreen this sucker. Tiny windows don't do it justice.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Le Suerg Digest: July

Here's where I've been for the last month or so:
  • 4th of July weekend: In Derby with my delightful girlfriend Dani and her delightful family.
  • Next weekend (11th–12th): Camping, hiking, and swimming in 1,000% humidity at Perry Lake with Dani and my siblings.
  • Week after that (13th–17th): Mostly spent battling an ear infection from swimming in the lake.
  • On Saturday the 18th: Bought supplies (with Dani) at the Moon Marble Company for making torchworked marbles. Playing with molten glass is awesome.
  • The 19th through the 24th: In the Black Hills in South Dakota with my family and Dani. We all hiked up to the top of Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees. We went to Bear Country USA and saw the most hyperactive bear cubs ever. Dani and I became astronomers.
  • Week after that (27th–31st): Back to work. Blah. Made some delicious ice cream at home, saw the Bravery at Power and Light (and ate at the worst restaurant in the world. Never go there. High prices, bad food.)
  • Friday (31st): Went with Dani to see "500 Days of Summer". (2.7 of 5 stars) We ran into Rachel (5 stars) in the parking lot. Dani and I drove around KC for three hours, failing numerous missions. (0.5 stars) Stopped at Town Topic. (4 stars) Watched some 30 Rock. (5 stars)
  • Saturday (1st): 7 stars. Spent the whole [gorgeous] day with [gorgeous] Dani. Donated blood, ate Bob Evans, went to Brookside Toy and Science, bought some fun toys, played in Loose Park, made margaritas, went swimming, made chili dogs, watched Pushing Daisies. More like eight stars, actually.

Unfortunate side effects of my crazy July:
  • My blog was a ghost town.
  • My house is a disaster.
  • My bicycles are lonely.
  • Summer is going by way too fast.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ping. I'm still here.

In case you haven't noticed, this blog runs in cycles, each consisting of a week or so of frenzied posting followed by several weeks of silence. I have observed this phenomenon since I started blogging, but have yet to find a cause or cure.

Obviously I'm in a particularly long silent phase at the moment, but I desperately want to pull myself out of it, so here's a charming video that I hope will somehow strike a creative spark deep inside my soul: a young boy (so I'm told) singing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues". Enjoy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I challenge you...

... to propose a pair of guests that I would enjoy more on a talk show than Jeff Goldblum and Mike Birbiglia. I don't know that it can be done. I enjoyed this episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon more than any episode of any late night talk show I've seen in a long time.

Go here if you want to watch in a non-tiny window.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why? Why, Regina?

Why must you be so damn cute? Why must you come up with these clever lyrics and amazing melodies year after year? I already have more than enough girly music in my iTunes library for people to question my sexual orientation, and you are not helping at all.







Listen to Regina's new album in it's entirety on NPR Music.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How do they do it?

Google, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook.

How much do you think it costs to keep those websites running and growing every day? A lot. When was the last time you paid your Google, Hulu, YouTube, or Facebook bill? Never? Hm. That's odd. How do they stay in business?

Advertising, of course. Google gets paid a few pennies by the advertiser whenever an ad gets clicked. You knew that already. You scoffed at my pathetic, pretentious rehetorical questions. But think about it for a minute. How often do you click on internet ads? Even if you have clicked some, how much stuff have you actually bought as a result of clicking on them?

For me, the answers to these questions are: "almost never", and "nothing I'm aware of", but apparently someone must be clicking. Google continues to make money, so advertisers must be paying them. My question is: Who is clicking? Are there really that many people in the world that are dumb enough to click on ads for sketchy internet companies? That's crazy.

Maybe the sketchy companies aren't the main money makers. Maybe, like with television ads, it's the Coca-Colas and the FedExes of the world that really drop the big bucks. In that case, I ask: How the heck do those ads bring in any business for the massive corporations that place them? Who on earth thinks, "Oh, Coca-Cola. I've never tried that before. Looks pretty neat, maybe I should buy some." How can the millions of dollars that these companies spend on ads every year be paying off when they already own their markets?

I am not a marketing or business major. I do not know how this stuff works. Apparently people that study this stuff think that it works, but my gut feeling is that it doesn't. I think we're in an advertising bubble. In a few years, companies will realize that their internet ads are not worth nearly what they've been paying for them and they'll pull the plug, and Google, Hulu, YouTube, NewYorkTimes.com, and Facebook will all fold or become subscription or fee-based sites. That's my crazy, uninformed, wildly speculative prediction: Ten years from now, far fewer things will be free on the internet.

Either that, or people are just really, really stupid and can be talked into buying anything. I hope this is the case, because that would mean that all the stupid people in the world are paying for the vast majority of my favorite websites, and will continue to do so. If this is what is happening, then I say: Thank you, gullible American consumers. I owe you one.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

East Meets West

I'm nervous about the future of the Tonight Show.

I've watched most of the first week of the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, and it's been great. Conan is still funny, his guests have been good, and Andy Richter is a lot of fun as an announcer slash sidekick. The production value has been kicked up a notch from Late Night, and the show looks and feels a little different, but Conan has preserved most of his screwball humor.

But I see a problem. Actually I don't see it. I only hear it: the audience. Many of the jokes that would have worked well on Late Night are bombing with the Tonight Show audiences. The goofy ones. The funny ones. Friday night, when Conan himself was laughing at Andy's plan to make a movie based on the board game Backgammon, the audience was not amused. However, any time he makes a joke about the Clippers – who I had to look up on Wikipedia, because I am only tangentially aware of the NBA's existence – the audience explodes with laughter. Essentially, whenever I would laugh out loud, the audience would offer a polite chuckle, and whenever they would erupt into applause, I was bored.

This does not bode well. If there's one thing that late night talk show producers crave, it's big laughs from the audience. While they will try to preserve the overall feel of the show, they will also try to tune the jokes to the audience. Unfortunately I don't think there's a way to tune the audience to the jokes, apart from moving the show back to New York.

I always liked Letterman and Conan, and hated Leno and Daly. But now I wonder: Do L.A. based talk show hosts become victims of their environment? Would I have liked Leno better if he broadcasted from 30 Rock instead of Burbank? Would his jokes have been funnier? I don't know, but I desperately hope Conan and his staff figure out how to keep Los Angeles laughing without dumbing the humor down to the lowest common denominator.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bing

Despite its aggressive (and clever) advertising campaign, I think Microsoft's new search engine, "Bing", is never going to amount to much.

Way back in the early '90s, as soon as the internet started to grow beyond AOL, people discovered that search engines were the best way to find what you wanted on the world wide web. Yahoo got in the game early, but soon Google's algorithms advanced the field of internet search by leaps and bounds. As a result, it catapulted to the top of the search engine pile, and consequently became the most visited website in the world. Despite everyone's attempts to copy or surpass it, it's held on to that top spot. Google is still the undisputed king of search, and it works perfectly for simple and obvious searches (Apple, Obama, lolcats). But once you start to search for something obscure or difficult to describe, the results start to get pretty dicey. There's definite room for improvement, and if someone can figure out how to better point people to what they're trying to find, there are millions and millions of dollars of ad revenue to be claimed.

Microsoft wants a piece of that. They claim (or at least suggest in their ads) that "Bing" will return more relevant search results than other engines. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think that until someone figures out how to make machines truly understand language like people do, search engines will always be stupid. That's just the way it is. Computers are very good at matching and very bad at making educated guesses. Whoever ends up teaching computers to truly understand the English language is going to make a billion dollars. Forget keywords and phrases. You write a short (or long) paragraph explaining exactly what you want, and the computer finds just that. I think that's the only thing that would endanger Google at this point. Actually, there are two other possibilities, but that's another topic. Check back tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TwitBook: Proof of Concept

Here's an excerpt from a New York Times article from last Friday. Section: Automobiles. It's a review of the new Nissan Cube.
It is an antihero of a car — a cartoon car perhaps. Mr. Nakamura says it is appropriate for these belt-tightening times when expensive, macho and very fast cars seem out of place. The Cube’s engine has fewer horses (122) than a Tweet can have characters (140).
Totally superfluous twitter reference. Take a drink.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Game: TwitBook

Nerdy drinking games are the best. This one involves the New York Times, the internet, and tech buzzwords. Perfect.

I have little experience in designing games, so I'm open to suggestions about how to actually make the this work, but here's the basic concept:

To play the game, players go to the New York Times website and see how many articles they can find from that day that contain the words "facebook", "twitter", "texting", or other media-darling tech buzzwords. Each article containing one of those counts for one drink or something like that (or more if multiple different buzzwords are involved). An article specifically about one of the buzzwords would be some bonus number of drinks. Search function is cheating. You have to browse and skim.

Like I said, I don't know how the rules would work, i.e. who would hunt for buzzwords, who would drink, how many drinks, etc., but if the logistics could be worked out, I think this would make for some fantastic Friday night entertainment for snarky bloggers like myself. Also, the game could easily be expanded into as many rounds as desired by going to different news websites, newspapers, magazines, whatever. (Wired may have to be off-limits. That could result in alcohol poisoning. Plus, at Wired they actually know this stuff backwards and forwards. That defeats the purpose. What makes this game fun is reading middle-aged non-tech reporters desperately trying to be hip, but trying way too hard way too late.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Say What? – Specimen 4

  • Location of Discovery: online car forum
  • Context: conversation about high school kids' parents buying them new cars
  • Required Background: how to compose a sentence

"and here we go im 21 now didnt get my first real car until i was 19 bought paid for it cover gas food rent car payments etc im a senior in college."

  • My Immediate Reaction: double take
  • Analysis: Yes, that's correct. That last phrase says "im a senior in college". Yikes. On a positive note, I do appreciate the "and here we go". It at least alerts you to the amazing run-on "sentence" that follows. In case you need to read it aloud, you know to take a deep breath before diving in.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Case for Working With Your Hands

In America, awash with bachelor's degrees, manual labor is often written off as lower-class – work for people who weren't able to do better. Rarely do people realize that some choose manual labor over a higher-paying desk job. I read an article published last week in the New York Times Magazine that extols the virtues of manual labor in a beautiful and compelling way. Here's the conclusion of the article, which provides a great summary, but please read the entire thing. In it, Matthew Crawford writes of his experiences working in both the blue-collar and white-collar worlds. Coming soon: my take on the American educational system, and what's wrong with it.

A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.

Nor can big business or big government — those idols of the right and the left — reliably secure such work for us. Everyone is rightly concerned about economic growth on the one hand or unemployment and wages on the other, but the character of work doesn’t figure much in political debate. Labor unions address important concerns like workplace safety and family leave, and management looks for greater efficiency, but on the nature of the job itself, the dominant political and economic paradigms are mute. Yet work forms us, and deforms us, with broad public consequences.

The visceral experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the career trajectories of gifted students. It stands to reason, then, that those who end up making big decisions that affect all of us don’t seem to have much sense of their own fallibility, and of how badly things can go wrong even with the best of intentions (like when I dropped that feeler gauge down into the Ninja). In the boardrooms of Wall Street and the corridors of Pennsylvania Avenue, I don’t think you’ll see a yellow sign that says “Think Safety!” as you do on job sites and in many repair shops, no doubt because those who sit on the swivel chairs tend to live remote from the consequences of the decisions they make. Why not encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country?

There is good reason to suppose that responsibility has to be installed in the foundation of your mental equipment — at the level of perception and habit. There is an ethic of paying attention that develops in the trades through hard experience. It inflects your perception of the world and your habitual responses to it. This is due to the immediate feedback you get from material objects and to the fact that the work is typically situated in face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer.

An economy that is more entrepreneurial, less managerial, would be less subject to the kind of distortions that occur when corporate managers’ compensation is tied to the short-term profit of distant shareholders. For most entrepreneurs, profit is at once a more capacious and a more concrete thing than this. It is a calculation in which the intrinsic satisfactions of work count — not least, the exercise of your own powers of reason.

Ultimately it is enlightened self-interest, then, not a harangue about humility or public-spiritedness, that will compel us to take a fresh look at the trades. The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Movin' on up

I'm now one step closer to feeling like an adult. I'm still about twenty-seven steps away from feeling totally like an adult rather than a college student, but I'm one closer.

I have an apartment. No more living with my parents. Signed the lease yesterday for a townhouse in Overland Park (I can be more specific, but not on the double-you-dot-interwebz). I think it's a pretty cool situation: two bedrooms (one for me, one for this guy), two floors plus a basement, front patio/stoop/micro-yard area, walking distance from grocery store, biking distance from tons of stuff. Also it's walking distance from the laundromat, which is important until we can find a cheap washer and dryer. Don't know when I'm moving in exactly. I should get my key today, but this weekend is gonna be pretty damn busy for me – birthdays, belated Mothers' day, wedding in Wichita – so I might be moving bit by bit over the next week or so.

It will be sort of strange living in the same city as my family but not at their house. I am really excited though. I'm tired of living out at a hundred and eleventy-billionth street. Maybe I'll decide that I miss it, but I'm ready for a change, and ready to be on my own.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Update: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Today I picked up It's Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, their latest release. I'm currently finishing up a joyous first listen, but even before I pressed play, I learned a lot about the band while deciding which of their albums to buy. It's Blitz! is their third full-length record, preceded by their 2003 debut, Fever to Tell (containing Maps and Y Control), and 2006's Show Your Bones (containing Gold Lion). As I listened to the infinitely helpful and just as frustrating 30-second samples on iTunes, what I discovered was that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sound is constantly and dramatically changing as the years go by. Maps and Y Control are by far the most melodic and subdued songs on Fever to Tell, which is largely populated with screaming aggressive punk-influenced tracks. Fever to Tell debuted to critical acclaim. Their next record, Show Your Bones, was still very guitar-driven, but in it the band pulled the throttle way back on the screechiness and distortion. I liked the change, but many critics felt the band was sacrificing energy. I don't think they were, especially after listening to It's Blitz!.

In It's Blitz!, the guitar takes a back seat to the synth and the atmosphere moves out of garages and basements into the dance clubs – as indicated by Karen O in the single, Zero: "Put your leather on!" It's now obvious that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are not losing momentum; they're just moving sideways rather than forward, and the critics seem to recognize that. Some still complain that the band is unfashionably late to the '80s retro party. The Killers have indeed occupied that territory since 2004, but I don't mind. I think It's Blitz! sounds perfectly fresh, even if it is obviously dated.

I'd be interested to see what the critics would now say about Show Your Bones in light of It's Blitz!. Would they still maintain it's not exciting, not abrasive enough, or would they recognize it as a transition from crashing cymbals to sweeping synth pads?

Whatever the critics say, I'm super excited to see Karen O sing in person, and especially to see how the band treats their old hits, since they appear to be going in such a different direction than they were in 2003.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, anyone?

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are playing at the Beaumont Club in Kansas City on Wednesday, June 3rd. I want to go.

Oddly, I don't own any Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums. I don't really know why. About every time I hear them, I think, "Oh yeah. I need to buy an album of theirs." Maybe I'll go out today and finally get one, or maybe two.

Despite my lack of familiarity with their music, I think it will be a great show. I listened to a concert of theirs on NPR a couple years ago, and it was pretty great. They sound good live, and Karen O is kind of crazy – really entertaining to watch (or listen to). I've also seen them on SNL recently, and I had a similar reaction. So, while they are by no means on my "must-see" list, I think I'd really enjoy their show.

Who wants to go with me?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I think I've stumped Netflix.

I guess the common thread linking my movie preferences frayed and broke somewhere between The Wire, Stranger Than Fiction, 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, The Royal Tenenbaums, Die Hard, and This American Life.

After I had rated 20 movies, there were thousands of terrible suggestions. Totally genre-based. After 100 ratings, there were maybe forty suggestions, and they were spot on. After that, the number of suggestions slowly dwindled with every rating I assigned, until there was one.

And I'm "Not Interested".

Zero.

I've stumped Netflix.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I wish I was this good.

So my new car needed a new stereo. The USPS kindly (or begrudgingly) delivered it to my house today. As soon as I got home, I excitedly cut through the packaging tape, pulled out the shiny retail box, and popped open the cardboard flap.

"WOW!" I exclaimed, "Look at this unbelievable feat of engineering! This is stunning! It's the most intricate piece of cut and folded corrugated cardboard I've ever seen!"

Sure, the Alpine stereo inside was quite nice as well, but for a moment I tossed it aside to marvel at the pieces of processed wood pulp that protected it on its journey from the factory to my home. I'm not even kidding when I say that I wish I was smart enough to design it.

This is what I pulled out of the box. Looks ordinary enough.


But as I looked closer...


Holy crap!


It was layer upon layer of folded cardboard riddled with cuts, holes, and interlocking tabs...


All from a single sheet of dead tree, designed by some pesky engineer, probably from China. I fear for my job in twenty years. I better hurry up and figure out how to be this clever.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why must songwriters be so depressing?

There are two songs right now that I am in love with. They are both love songs, in a sense. They are also both about highly dysfunctional relationships. They're both quite sad and disturbing when you listen to the lyrics.

I get much more involved in the melodies and rhythms and harmonies of songs than I do in the lyrics, so for a long time I didn't even realize how messed up these songs were.

It's just sad to me that these two stunningly beautiful songs are actually so depressing. In fact, I bet the majority of my favorite songs have bad or sad or false messages, as opposed to truthful or hopeful or uplifting ones. Like I said, I don't pay that much attention to lyrics, so I don't really have a problem with that. I'd be just as happy with most of my favorite songs if the lyrics were in another language, or in gibberish (see: Sigur Rós). It's just sad to me that these great artists seem to be so often tormented inside.

I wish these two love songs were sweet and uplifitng:

Ryan Adams – Come Pick Me Up

Antony and the Johnsons – Fistful of Love

Saturday, May 2, 2009

TV 225 – Week No. 12

Some TV shows I know I'm going to love within the first episode, or even the first five minutes. I love it when that happens. Last week, I discovered one of those: "Freaks and Geeks".



"Freaks and Geeks" (1999) was one of Judd Apatow's first big, critically acclamed projects. He was the executive producer, and several of the cast members (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel) have appeared in many of Apatow's recent hit movies (Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express). The show is about, well, freaks and geeks in a suburban Detroit high school in the early 1980's.

Here's the very beginning of the pilot episode. The first 45 seconds is terrible. I almost turned it off right then, but everything after that is great. Check it out. Skip to 0:45 if you want.

The man won't let me embed the video. Click here to watch it.

By the opening credits, I was completely hooked. In fact, the credits themselves are pretty much perfect in my opinion. The music is great, the sequence reflects the feeling of the show very well, and you get a surprisingly powerful snapshot (pun intended) of who each character is in their tiny two-second credits.

I'll admit, the show is not perfect. The writing sometimes contains a nauseating density of clichés. Other times it's brilliant. Same story with the acting. Mostly, the cast is absolutely stellar. John Francis Daley plays the cutest 103-pound nerd you've ever seen, and Segel and Cardellini are fantastic at playing kids torn between the freak world and the geek world. Rogen and Franco are also quite comfortable and believable as apathetic bad boys. One thing that irritates me a little is that Lindsay's (Cardellini's) constant rebelliousness and discontent are a little extreme and mostly inexplicable. Maybe that's the point, though. I don't know. It's frustrating.

All in all, though, it's another great show that no one watched, and was consequently canned after one season. There are far too many of these.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I forgot to wash my hands before dinner last night. I probably have swine flu.

I am so tired of media pandemic hype. How many times in the last ten years have national news sources warned of an "imminent pandemic"? Five or ten, maybe? How many times in the last ten years have we had a pandemic, or even an epidemic? Has even one person that you know been infected with swine flu, bird flu, SARS, west nile, mad cow, or anthrax?

Most of the time, the only reason these diseases are scary at all is that they are new (or new to humans) and no one really knows anything about them. No one knows how contagious they are. No one knows what the mortality rate is for those infected, so everyone assumes the worst: "Oh my god, I bet swine flu is all around me. Oh my god, if I catch it, I'm dead." Often, neither of these statements proves to be true. Most of the time, the only people who need to worry about these diseases are people with already weakened immune systems, and they should be just as worried about catching a cold.

I'm not trying to be insensitive. No, I'm not a doctor. No, I don't know much about these diseases. Yes, I know they are real. Yes, I know people have died from them. That's terrible, and I'm sorry for them and their friends and families. All I'm saying is that every year or two, a new virus or bacteria strain is discovered and the media grabs onto it and paints it as the next bubonic plague, and I think that's ridiculous. Of course, no one can really say for certain whether or not any new illness will become a pandemic, and I suppose it's best to get the news out sooner rather than later; but the media blows it all out of proportion way too early.

The New York Times reported 114 confirmed cases of Swine Flu in the US yesterday. How many confirmed cases of potentially life-threatening pneumonia were there yesterday? Hm? In Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, there are currently 12 confirmed swine flu related fatalities. Twelve. How many people died of lung cancer yesterday? Heart attacks? Car accidents? Are we as paranoid about smoking cigarettes, eating fatty foods, and driving as we are about traveling to Mexico?

Keep things in perspective. That's all I'm asking.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My New Roo!

I'd been waiting to talk about my new car until I had some pictures. Well, I finally finished the roll, took it to the lab, and got my prints today. Yes, that's correct. These pictures were shot on film, on a Canon F-1 35 mm SLR circa 1971, to be specific. I'll post some other pictures from my first roll soon. For now, let's get down to business.

2006 Subaru Impreza 2.5i


  • 4 doors
  • 4 wheel drive
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • 4 cylinder boxer engine
  • 173 hp
  • 3016 lbs
I fell in love with it last Tuesday, and drove it off the lot last Thursday. It's the first car I've taken out a loan on, but I had to have it. It's pretty much exactly what I wanted: a perfect blend of a grown-up car and a ridiculous high school boy racer. It's a frickin' blast to drive. Finally I'm back in a car with a real gearbox. I've wanted one of those back nearly every day for the last two years.

Subarus have quite a rally racing pedigree (that's racing road cars on loose dirt and gravel roads in the mountains and stuff), hence the 4WD. I really want to get it out in some snow, but unfortunately I think it's all behind us this year, so I might have to settle for a big flat field of mud if I can find one.

Despite what the "Outback" commercials and this post's title may have led you to believe, Subarus are Japanese, not Australian, and have proven to be quite reliable, so I hope to enjoy this car for many years to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Say What? – Specimen 3

  • Location of Discovery: online car forum
  • Context: story about being pulled over for no apparent reason
  • Required Background: basic spelling and grammar

"After 5 minutes of bickering back and forth the officer after my refusal to search my car just out of shear president."

  • My Immediate Reaction: laughter
  • Analysis: "Shear President" must be a hair salon in Washington, D.C.. Salons love puns. Also, while a capital letter and a period earn bonus English points on the internet, it helps if there is some sort of decipherable sentence structure in between.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.

Look, I'm so sorry. I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up with Crappy Poem of the Day. It will return, I promise. I've just been super busy with car hunting since I smashed my last one. Luckily the hunt is over now. I've paid my down payment, and I'm going to pick up my new car after work today. It's awesome. I'll tell you more about it soon, and hopefully resume blogging as usual soon after that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Life Experiences

Sometimes I wonder whether I'm a little too obsessed with collecting major life experiences, whether good or bad. When something interesting happens to me, I often say, "Well, now I can say I've done that," even if the experience was sort of terrible.

Well, now I can say I've spun my car through several consecutive 360's down the highway and smashed into the barrier wall. I've had an airbag deploy in my face. I've sat in a state trooper's car.

I have NOT ridden in an ambulance in serious or critical condition. I'm completely fine. I didn't hit the wall very hard, probably just barely enough to total the car.

~ ~ ~

So, here's how it went down: It all started last week. I was at lunch with my coworker Jake, and he said, "Glad we only have a four day week next week."

"What?"

"Yeah, we get Good Friday off."

"Sweet."

This was fantastic news. I was planning to drive to K-State this Friday night to see my beautiful girlfriend Dani – who I haven't been able to see for almost three weeks now – but now I had the perfect opportunity to surprise her by showing up a day early. Every day since then, I couldn't wait for Thursday, when I would show up at her house and she would freak out. It was gonna be great.

So last night after work, I went home, packed, ate some dinner, and headed west at about seven. It was kind of rainy, which made me happy because it looked like a thunderstorm was brewing, and I've been waiting for a good spring Kansas thunderstorm. I usually hurtle around the ramp from 435 North to 70 West, but took it nice and slow, because it was wet and slippery. I didn't want to end up in a ditch. So then I was cruising happily along, headed west on 70, past the "Last Free Exit" to K-7, listening to NPR, enjoying the rain, going about 65, when I hit a little puddle.

[Shift to present tense!]

My car starts to slide sideways. Oh Shit. Hydroplaning. I've recovered from these before. Gently correct it.

Still spinning. Oh Shit. Not getting out of this one.

Still spinning, going backwards. This is really bad. Oh shit, I could die.

Still spinning. Wait a second, I'm still spinning straight down the highway. I might not even hit anything. Please stop. Please don't hit anything.

Still spinning. Damn it, that's the median barrier wall. I'm gonna hit it. Okay. Brace for impact. Back against the seat, head on the headrest.

BAM! Oh, that wasn't that bad. I didn't hit very hard. I think I'm fine. I'm still spinning, though. My car's full of smoke. Why is that? It it from the tires? No, how would it get inside the car? The brakes? No.

Still spinning. Oh, there's an airbag in my lap. That's what the smoke is.

The car finally stops. Thank God. Okay. I think I'm okay. Oh geez, I'm sitting sideways in the left lane of the highway. I don't think my car can drive. Do I get out? Traffic is coming from the passenger side. I'm probably safest sitting in the seat, not standing where the car could plow over me if it gets hit. I'll stay here till there's a break in the traffic.

Cars whiz by, then both lanes stop. I put the car in neutral, jump out, push it across the highway, then let go and watch it roll off and land in the ditch, its nose coming to rest softly in the dirt. Traffic resumes. No one stops or rolls down their window to ask if I'm okay. Wow, people are assholes.

I jump back in the car; it's still cold and rainy outside. Airbag smoke smells terrible.

I roll down the windows. Rain is blowing into my car. Well, so much for seeing the look of sheer joy and excitement on Dani's face when I surprise her. Now the surprise will elicit only a tone of shock and concern on the phone. That sucks.

I probably won't make it to Manhattan tonight, either. That sucks a lot.


I wait a minute for the smoke to clear out, then roll the windows back up. I start calling my family. They're all in a Maundy Thursday church service, not answering their phones. Great. I start calling them one after the other: Mom, Susanna, Dad. Wait a minute for one of them to call back. Call again: Mom, Susanna, Dad. Finally after about the fifth round of calls, my Dad picks up. I tell him I'm fine, but my car's probably totaled. He asks if I've called the number on the roadside assistance sticker that Mom gave me last week. I laugh, and tell him it's still on my desk at home. He finds the number for me to call. I call, and get stuck in one of those terrible phone menus at the insurance company, giving me a bunch of useless options about servicing claims. I don't want to file a claim right now. I want to go home.

Finally I get someone on the phone, and as soon as I start to talk to them, the state trooper pulls up. "Can I see your license and proof of insurance, please?" Really? That's still the first thing they ask when your car is smashed up and in a ditch?

I tell the insurance guy to hang on a second. Officer Petigna tells me he'll call the tow truck. Insurance companies take too long, and want too much information first. Okay. Thanks. I was fed up with the insurance company already.

I get my papers, put on my coat, walk up out of the ditch, and hop into the trooper's car on the shoulder of the highway. Officer Petigna is really nice, it turns out. We talk for an hour about K-State while we wait for the tow truck. His daughter is thinking about going there, but he's never had a chance to visit, so he asks me all about it.

The tow truck arrives. I thank Officer Petigna, and get out of his car and into the tow truck. The driver, Michael, is really nice. His wife is going to school to become a trauma nurse. Michael used to work as a volunteer fireman. He's seen a lot of people die, including his dad. His dad was a fireman too, but died at home of a heart attack. "After seeing my dad die, nothing can really upset me anymore." Interesting take.

DAMN IT! I've had my portable recorder and microphone this whole time. I should have been documenting this entire experience.

We get to the tow lot, I get my bags out of my car, thank Michael, and get in my mom's minivan. My dad and my sister are there, too. They're glad I'm okay. They brought me a bottle of chocolate milk. Thanks guys.

~ ~ ~

An excerpt from my Life Experience Checklist:
  • Hear my voice on the radio – Check.
  • Jump out of an airplane – Check.
  • Rush the field at a football game – Check.
  • Rush the court at a basketball game – Check.
  • Hang out in a police car (front seat) – Check.
  • Be in a high-speed crash – Check.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food Smell: Mmm, Mmm, Gross.

The smell of food before I have eaten: delicious.
The smell of the same food after I'm done eating: nauseating.
It's a strange phenomenon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #012


Looking for a flat
First must pick a neighborhood
No clue what I want

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Greed

There was an article in The New York Times on Sunday that left me steaming. It was about how big investors are frowning on Pixar's upcoming movie, "Up". They're worried that it doesn't have enough commercial appeal. They anxiously note the sparse dialogue, pudgy male lead, lack of a female lead, basically anything that distinguishes it from the rest of today's lowest-common-denominator, mass-market, animated kids' movies. Further, these critics moan that Pixar's last two releases, "Wall-E" and "Ratatouille", have been Pixar's worst performers because their premises have been too obtuse. Those films made a piddly $224 MILLION and $216 MILLION dollars, respectively. Aww, how pathetic.

Now, I have no doubt that Pixar could make more money by making "The Incredibles" over and over and over again. Americans are stupid. They forget that they've seen the same movie a hundred times. They want to see it again. They want to watch cars with huge cartoon eyeballs, then their kids want shoes shaped like said cartoon cars. And there's nothing wrong with that. I understand that cars with cartoon eyeballs are more fascinating to kids than a grumpy old man in a house with some balloons on it.

My problem is that the people who run big business in this country have no respect for art, craft, beauty, progress, integrity, or anything else if there's a penny more to be made by tossing those values aside. How the hell are we supposed to develop as human beings if we just do the same thing over and over, merely because new things are scary and people are more hesitant to buy them?

I decided a long time ago that as an engineer, I wanted to design the coolest, most innovative gadgets and gizmos. The second that I realize I'm designing cheap knockoffs or products that will just barely work until they're out of warranty, because that's how the company can make the most money, I'm looking for a new job.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Do The Right Thing

This movie has been on my "need to watch" list for a long time, but always lurking near the bottom; probably because it's an '80s movie, I'd never heard about it from any of my friends, and it's about race relations, which is just not something I'm super interested in. Please don't take that the wrong way; I'm just saying I'd usually pick "action" or "comedy" or "sci-fi" over "race relations" as a genre.

Well, I just finished watching it, and it's the best movie I've seen in a long time. Probably the best race relations movie I've ever seen. As far as cultural relevance goes, I'm sure it's lost a lot in the twenty years [yikes!] since its release – I don't think black people listen to Public Enemy* as much anymore – but whether or not this movie does anything to help black people and white people get along today, it's still a cinematic masterpiece. It's funny and poignant, the writing and directing are brilliant and gorgeous respectively, and the movie is bursting at the seams with all kinds of energy: joy, love, anger, and hate.

Please, please, if you are twenty years behind the times like me and haven't seen this movie yet, go rent it. Grit your teeth through the painfully long, painfully 1989 opening credits, then enjoy a two-hour snapshot of humanity in its simultaneous beauty and horror.

* My most relevant 30 Rock link ever! If you don't understand the reference, click here.

Sappy Poem of the Day #011


My dear Dani Lou,
Fifteen days I've missed you, Love.
Just four more to go.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Inertia

At the beginning of the year, I decided to start a project. This year, I am going to record four stories for radio and submit them to This American Life.

It's April. That means a quarter of the year is over. And that's fine. I didn't expect to complete one story per quarter. I've never done this before; it's going to take me a while to get started. Here's the problem: I haven't started. At all. In January I was scribbling down ideas for possible subjects but none of them are any good, at least for the type of story used on TAL. Most of my ideas are more like news stories, not narratives.

I have some serious writer's block, or recorder's block, or documentarian's block; I don't know what you call it in radio. After reading advice from Ira Glass and many other brilliant radio personalities on Transom.org, it seems that there are many ways that radio stories can be born. Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time making any of these strategies work. I know it will get easier after my first time, but at the moment I feel like it's impossible. Here are my strategies for getting started, and why I haven't been able to move forward with any of them:

1.
Brainstorm for a topic.
I can't think of any good story ideas, at least not narrative ones. This American Life is all about narrative. The only ideas I can seem to come up with are more like news stories or essay topics. I don't know how this method even works for narrative. Do you invent a story and then somehow find someone who has had that experience? How the heck do you find them?

2.
Interview someone with a good story to tell.
I can't think of anyone who has a story that lots of people would want to hear. Now I know that this is a fault of my own. I know that I know lots of people with really compelling stories to tell, I just can't think of who they are, or what the stories are. If anyone can help me out with this, I'm open to suggestions.

3.
Just roll tape on anything that talks.
I think that this might be the easiest way for me to get started. I think if I'm just in the mindset of recording audio, I could get inspired pretty quickly and record at least enough material for a very short story. I love editing audio, so I'd have no problem cutting four good minutes from several hours of audio.

Unfortunately, this is still going to prove extremely difficult for me. I think a lot of people are freaked out by the sight of a microphone, and since I'm a shy and non-confrontational person, the last thing I want to do is force someone else to be uncomfortable by shoving a microphone in their face – especially if I don't really have a good reason for doing it. That feels really creepy. I'm not always the best at making conversation, so things could get awkward really fast if I don't have any prepared questions.

I have the same problem with photography. I generally hate posed pictures of people. Candid shots are way more fascinating to me, but I feel like a creep just taking pictures of people for no reason, even if I know them. I really want to, but I just get so uncomfortable doing it, so I never do. None of my good photos are of people, because I can't shoot them.

~ ~ ~

The problem with these road blocks is that I don't know whether I'm supposed to go over or around them. Are there other, better ways to find stories, or do I just need to conquer my fears and start rolling tape, and make thousands of mistakes? I don't know. I wish I had a radio mentor, someone who could guide me through my first steps. I know that once I get started, I can do it. I just have to figure out how to stand up before I can take those first steps, and I can't seem to muster the strength to do that.

Crappy Poem of the Day #010


The mailbox is somewhat outdated,
Yet also it's quite underrated.
Each day I check it,
Always expectant
For parcels, and often I'm sated.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #009


Oh crap, it's the fourth.
Missed the poetry deadline.
Two poems today.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Dreams, Metaphysics, Cats, Tanzania

It's shocking how real dreams feel. I mean really shocking. I had a dream last night that felt like it took place over several hours, and the whole time I thought it was real life. It felt exactly like real life. Every sight, touch, and emotion felt completely authentic, even if the surrounding circumstances were completely dream-like and ridiculous. But suddenly, I woke up and was genuinely startled to realize I was only dreaming.

The fact that our brains can create realities that are so vivid but completely imagined is a little scary. Even before the movie existed, I've pondered more than once whether we really do live in The Matrix – not that we're all human batteries being cultivated by a race of robots, but whether I'm just a brain (maybe not even a brain) in a jar somewhere, with an artificial reality being pumped into me. Maybe the people I think are all around me don't even exist. Maybe it's just me and the mad scientist controlling my reality, and that's all there is in the universe. Maybe nothing in my world exists outside of my direct experience – like a messed up metaphysical Schrödinger's Cat experiment. When my officemate walks out the door, and the sounds of his footsteps fade away, how do I know he doesn't just disappear to save processing power in the computer that's feeding my brain? How do I know that the evening news is even real, and that Tanzania even exists? I've never seen Tanzania, have you? Oh, you have? How do I know that's not just a pre-programmed memory? How do I know you are a real person, and not a character written into my world to convince me that my world is real because you've been to Tanzania?

I know I'm opening up like seventeen different cans of worms here: conspiracy theories, metaphysics, physics, religion, philosophy, etc., but I don't really believe all that stuff. It's just bizarre to imagine. It squeezes the juice out of my mind grapes.

While I'm on the subject of mind-bending metaphysics, have you ever imagined what it would be like to completely cease to exist? I mean not just think about it in an abstract sense – really try to imagine it. It's not just poof, the world is gone, and you're floating in blackness. It's poof, you're gone. You don't remember your life, you don't have anymore thoughts. The End. Stop reading this for fifteen seconds, and try to imagine it. Scary, huh? I don't know how atheists can stomach the thought of death. If I didn't believe in eternal life, I'd have to believe in reincarnation. Living then dying and ceasing to exist is far too pointless for me to embrace.

Well, that was way deeper than what I originally intended. Oops. Here, this should help.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #008


My room is a mess.
I think I'll have a cigar.
Clean it tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #007


Joss Whedon's hilariously witty.
His shows almost never are shitty.
With nerds they're replete,
But his nerds are so sweet,
And his actresses so often pretty.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #006


A sleepy Nick today the gym had made.
To bed he went. "Goodnight to all," he bade.

Say What? – Specimens 1 & 2

Welcome to the first edition of Say What?! In this series, I will take on the role of a linguistic treasure hunter, digging through the vast untamed wilderness of the internet to discover gems of unspeakable value. What sort of gems, you ask? The most glaring abuses of the English language. Actually, the rare gem analogy isn't very good. These gems would be lying all over the ground. They're so common that you don't notice them anymore, but when you pick one up and examine it, you just have to marvel at its simplistic beauty.

I'm not talking about mere misspellings, punctuation errors, or text message abbrevs. The specimens in this series are sentences that make me laugh out loud when I read them. Often, the people who wrote them are trying to be taken seriously, and then suddenly all their credibility goes out the window because of one foolish mistake. I know I'll probably come off as a little bit of an asshole in this series, or perhaps you'll even peg me as troglodytic. I hope you don't. I understand that the English language evolves. Maybe these writers are just the most avant-garde of the English revolutionaries.

Please don't read these entries as criticisms. Instead, think of them as exhibits – specimens to examine and interpret as you see fit. I interpret them as hilarious.

~ ~ ~

Specimen 1
  • Location of Discovery: online gun forum
  • Context: discussion of firing large-caliber guns at the range, which some shooters find obnoxiously loud
  • Required Background: definition of "nomenclature": a system or set of terms or symbols especially in a particular science, discipline, or art

"You got to keep in mind that we're all there to have fun and hone our skills, no matter what gun you use. I agree, you get some morons there that don't understand the nomenclature of the range and just shoot for the sake of shooting, whether they disturb anyone or not."

  • My Immediate Reaction: befuddlement
  • Analysis: Perhaps he thought "nomenclature" was a fancy word for "culture", "protocol", or "etiquette"?

~ ~ ~

Specimen 2

YouTuber1: "JUST AWESOM! I bet in 2 month we have some stupid raper doing a shitie remix!"

YouTuber2: "Rapper is spelled like that you (lol) spelled Raper lol"

  • My Immediate Reaction: snickering, head shaking
  • Analysis: The comment by YouTuber1 is typical: use of incorrect homophones, typos, and otherwise bizarre spelling. YouTuber2, despite overuse of "lol", nobly scoffs at YouTuber1's post. Unfortunately, any efforts at behavior correction on YouTube will prove futile.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #005


My stomach rumbles.
What's on the menu today?
Sandwich: Turkey, Swiss.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crappy Poem of the Day #004


Blue tube of ChapStick, I miss you so.
I cannot find you, where did you go?
My lips crack and bleed,
Petroleum I need,
Come back ere I start to go loco.