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".


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.