Sunday, December 9, 2007

Well hello, Dalí

First things first. To-do list, continued:

...

Roll down Rodeo
.. With shotgun
.. Without shotgun

And now on with the post.

LACMA has an exhibit on Dalí that I went to with some friends last weekend. Mostly, you know, so I can casually brag to people in conversation that I've seen the original Persistence of Memory and Metamorphosis of Narcissus ('cause, you know, that's just the kind of thing I like to do). (Did you know that PoM actually has a Dalí self-portrait hidden inside it? This was the first I'd realized of it...).

Among the exhibits were a number of short movies he directed, which are of a similar level of weirdness to his paintings. By and large, I love surrealist art, for reasons that I can't really articulate -- 'cause I don't want people to feel like I'm not in on the joke, I guess, For some reason, though, the movies left me entirely cold. Sure, there's weird imagery -- the man holding books that turn into guns, the closeups of a urin-stained pen, the jilted lover pulling a train of priests and pianos with horse carcasses on them up the stairs -- but the gratuitous weirdness just didn't seem all that interesting in movie form.

Which is particularly strange for me since generally, surrealist movies are my bread-and-butter: Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Robot Chicken have been staples of my TV-watching experience for years. Maybe it's just that Dalí seems to want his movies to mean something (read his scripts, sometime -- they're out of this world). ATHF and Robot Chicken are just surreal for the sake of humor, so I don't take them as seriously. Why does it work in painting form, though?

Any thoughts?

In completely unrelated news, parties in LA are very different from what I got used to back in Eugene.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

To do: LA

...

Take a trip down Mullholland Drive

Stroll down Venice Beach

Visit the Getty Center

Bikeride the wrong way up a highway onramp


Productive weekend.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

And what did you accomplish tonight?

My evening in a surrealist movie

LA I hung out with my friends B and I last Friday. We weren't planning on doing much exciting, but I's friend J (that makes four of us now, for those of you keeping track at home) knew of a party way out in Downtown LA that we thought might be fun. After making the half-hour drive out there, we receive news that the party is, in fact "lame", and that our time would be better spent elsewhere.

Not wanting to waste a drive, we decide to hang out, and maybe go exploring. Visit the Hollywood sign, perhaps, or take a swing down Mullholland Drive. Eventually, we decide to visit Silverlake Reservoir, because it's supposed to be pretty and, hey, it's nearby. We look on a map and start driving. On our way, we pass a film crew on Sunset Boulevard. They've taken over a gas station, put two people on a motorcycle, and started filming under amazingly bright floodlights. "Neat!" I think to myself, since I haven't seen one of those before.

It is unclear what happens next, but about ten minutes later, without having turned around, we find ourselves passing the film shoot again. And then, ten minutes later, we pass it again. Weird, but hey -- we're new to the area. After breaking down and getting directions, we make it to Silverlake which is, well, a reservoir. And probably pretty during the day, when the park portion is open. So instead, we decide that perhaps a foray to the nearby Silverlake Lounge would be in order (we hear it's quite cool). At a nearby gas station, we ask for directions from a seedy looking gentleman.

On our way to the lounge, we pass a convent. And then, we pass the same convent again. And again. Hmmm. We find the lounge, though, and pull into the lot. And just as we get out of the car, we see... the exact same seedy looking gentleman from the aforementioned gas station. Bear in mind that we are several miles away from that gas station at this point, yet he's somehow ended up at the same place as us, anyway. "There are bitches dancing on the walls in there!" he tells us as we walk by. There are not, in fact, bitches dancing on the walls. Let down, we move on.

B has a friend in the area, so we park our car near his house and decide to go exploring. Our routing algorithm is: take the most scenic looking road. Which puts us well aways from our car. We spend a delightful hour or so chatting on a street corner, next to a Spanish-style house with terra cotta tiles and a nice garden. Eventually, noting the time, we decide to meander on. At this point, we're not quite sure the direction back.

"Fear not!" I say to my companions. "That is the road we're supposed to follow!" I point down route A. "No," says B, "it's that way!" He points down route B. "Silly people," says J, "it's clearly that way" pointing down route C. At this point, we have picked all possible routes except D. Well, we figure, let's just pick one and start walking. We pick my route, which is downhill (the correct direction), and seems promising. We walk for a good 10 minutes or so, keeping up a lively conversation. "Wait a minute," says B. "Doesn't that house look familiar?" we move closer. It is, indeed, familiar. It is, in fact, the exact same Spanish house we had just left, moments before. Somehow we looped around and came back on route D.

Well, fine. I was wrong. Route B it must be. We walk down route B, which is uphill at first, but we eventually see familiar landmarks, and sure enough, we're on the path back down to the car. Until J says, "Wait a minute..." And yes, somehow, we are back at the Spanish house. Route C serves us no better. A few minutes of walking and we are mysteriously back at the Spanish house. Take a moment to realize how this feels to us. We have gone traveled on all four roads leaving this intersection. Every single road leads us back to where we started.

At this point, I realize what has happened. LA is falling apart at the seams. The center cannot hold, and a vortex has formed around the Spanish house. Everything makes sense, now. The movie shoot, the convent, the seedy guy, the Spanish house, the lack of bitches dancing on walls. Yes, LA has finally collapsed under its own weight, and it's taking us down with it.

Fortunately, Google is not fooled. I plug in our destination on my cell phone and, ignoring the evidence of our own eyes, we follow its directions back to the car. Carefully, carefully, we drive home.

This is the path we were supposed to take back to the car:


As best as I can tell, this is the path we actually took:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Kooks and clubbing

Are you familiar with David Horowitz's Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week? Of course you are: you're an informed global citizen and you keep up on this kind of thing. Oh, how I love you, hypothetical erudite and well-informed reader of my blog. You make it all worthwhile.

There was a speaker for said event at UCLA last Thursday, to which I went. My friend B planned to attend it in hopes it would be "a contentious scream fest": intrigued, I showed up. I don't honestly know who the speaker was, and I can't say as I care. He was from Florida, and apparently spends his life researching Islamic charities on the Internet and trying to find links to terrorist organizations. Most of his speech was about said charities, and was frankly kind of boring. I wouldn't be surprised if everything he said was factually accurate, although it was really kind of hard to tell how significant it was: they were interesting anecdotes, I guess, but hardly proof of any sort of systemic failure of law enforcement. And frequently (surprise, surprise) misleading.

He had an anecdote about a speaker hosted by UCLA's Muslim Student Association, for example, who wrote an opinion piece a while back that called Osama bin Laden a freedom fighter and philanthropist. Which is nasty, of course, but it turns out that the paper was written in 1999. Mind you, you would have to be naive to think that OBL was a good person even back then, but he hadn't reached nearly the level of universal social condemnation and blame that he's achieved now. A fair number of people (again, naively) felt that he wasn't involved in a lot of the activities he was accused of. So to blithely misrepresent a pre-9/11 opinion as current and use that as a brush with which to tar the entire Muslim Student Association strikes me as somewhat disingenuous.

In any event, I was expecting to disagree with this guy, but I was (foolishly, I suppose) expecting to at least listen to a rational speaker, just one that I disagreed with. And at first, despite his boring presentation and questionable associations, I got more or less what I expected. And then it turned out that he was bat-shit insane. He told us how he would have conducted the war on terror:

1) Don't try terrorists in civilian courts, because civilians have forgotten 9/11 and are unlikely to convict terrorists (apparently this is a failing of the civilians, rather than a sign of weakness in the case against accused terrorists). When questioned on this point, he went on to say that if he were president, he would mandate military trials by executive order and "ignore" congress.

2) Go to war in Iraq, but as soon as we kicked out Saddam, tell the world we'd found the WMDs and leave. One of the questioners thanked him for his ideas and said that it was heartening to hear that we had reporters who recommended "blowing up the imaginary WMDs to win the war."

Somebody asked him why he thought that civilian courts wouldn't work against Al'Qaida, since the UK had used civilian methods fairly effectively against the IRA, whose conflict involved similar religious arguments. You could almost hear the gears screaming in the man's head as he tried to avoid saying that it was because Islam makes people violent and irrational, but the sentiment came through in his response anyway. It was horrifying.

As horrifying, I suppose, was the number of people who agreed with him. I would guess that half the audience was there for the same reasons as me: attending for the gruesome spectacle. The other half, though, seemed to genuinely agree with him and clapped along merrily.

In other, less depressing news, I went out bowling Friday night. Bowling alleys are dinghy, dirty places where people wear trucker caps, listen to country music and drink Budweiser from novelty, bowling-pin shaped bottles. Unless you are in Hollywood, in which case there is a man out front with a clipboard and earpiece enforcing the dress code (no "MC colors", construction boots, or white shirts), 7-dollar mixed drinks, and a live DJ.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bits and sundries

I found a major improvement on my bike ride in to class, which is nice. I found a dedicated bike lane parallel to Sepulveda which allows me to avoid the I405 onramps, which makes my life much happier. This is not, however, blog-worthy news. As I rode my bike in this morning, though, I was annoyed to find that the path had been blocked with yellow tape, forcing me to follow my old, less-safe route. I quickly realized, though, that the yellow tape was in fact police tape, and not much further up the road two police officers were talking over a dead body in the middle of the bike lane. I was less annoyed after that.

I saw a double billing of Ingmar Bergman movies at a nifty little art theater last week. This was my first time seeing any of his movies, and his reputation is definitely well-deserved. It's strange how juvenile a lot of the subject matter was, though: the first movie, Autumn Sonata, is about a mother and daughter hashing out the problems in their relationship, and features the daughter complaining at her mother because she was forced to go to gymnastics lessons and her mom made her cut her hair (among other such relatively banal complaints). The second movie, Cries and Whispers, features the emotastic line "It's true, I have considered suicide." It sounds like a bunch of angsty teenagers yelling at each other. But the movies are still really good! I mean, saying Ingmar Bergman is a good director is kind of like saying Shakespeare was a pretty decent writer, I guess, but still. It was impressive to see how good direction could make a banal subject (in Autumn Sonata anyway) really gripping (and depressing!).

And finally, for those of you who actually care about progress in my life and not just random anecdotes, things are going really well for me. My classes are interesting and engaging (even if I did intentionally give myself a light workload for the first term). I've talked to my advisor, who has given me office-space (hooray!) and ideas for research (hooray!). Overall, I definitely feel like I've made the right choice in coming back to school. Even if I learned this morning that I was the oldest person in my Spanish class. Including the teacher.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Indie movie stores

I just dropped by a small indie movie rental store in LA. Similar in feel to Movie Madness in Portland, if you're familiar with that. There are two especially cool things about the store. One, they sell t-shirts with the names of famous directors done up like famous rock band logos (Fassbinder as Metallica, for example, and Ingmar Bergman as Iron Maiden). Two, they have an awesome categorization scheme. All indie movie rental stores seem to have atypical categorization schemes (sorted by director, or time period, or actor, or whatever), but this one was particularly clever. In particular, they have a section in comedy called Shade Flippin', which is dedicated to movies whose front cover depicts the slickly-dressed main actor looking out at the viewer over the top of his stylish sunglasses. Good examples would be Doc Hollywood and Risky Business.

I think this is awesome.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

There and back again

My easy bike ride to work in Eugene: mostly along the riverfront bike path (no cars, no stoplights, dedicated bike lane), a few residential streets, cross two major roads. About two miles.

My "easy" bike ride to class in LA: all streets (many of which are as big as the two major roads I had only to cross in Eugene), frequently no bike lanes, ride on Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards (5 lane highways), cross two freeways. About five miles.

Riding my bike here is great. I feel like I'm in a high-stakes game of frogger, but with more sex appeal. In all fairness, the part of town I live in (Santa Monica) is very bike friendly -- dedicated bike lanes everywhere, lots of low-traffic (it's a relative thing, of course) side streets you can take. It's when you get closer to the UCLA campus that things get hairier. On a positive note, though, I timed my ride home today: 22 minutes, which -- considering it's a 4 1/2 mile ride with stop lights and the like -- is not too bad.

Exciting times. In other news, I have a few pictures of my apartment. The outside's not all that exciting, but here's the living room and kitchen.



And here's my bedroom, before and during the unpacking process.





Also, I've been taking a little time to explore the greater LA area. I haven't done too much yet, but I've taken in a few things. By far the most notable are the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Pier. The former is a park built around a series of old oil wells -- bear in mind, when you look at this picture, that this park is really right in the middle of LA (you can just barely see the ocean on the horizon). The Santa Monica Pier is basically a mini amusement-park -- it jets out into the pacific for a thousand feet or so, and has shops and a roller-coaster and other touristy attractions. Coincidentally, it's only about a mile from my house.

Anyone out there have suggestions for other interesting things to see/do in LA? Other than the Getty Center. I already know about that one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LA update

First things first -- I got a place lined up. Hooray! It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Upper end of my price range, five miles from campus, but decent. Theoretically bikeable to UCLA (previous tennants have done it), so let's see how my ambitions hold up.

Which, of course, means I have successfully made it to LA. Hooray! I drove down to LA a few days ago, packing all (well, much of) my worldly belongings in a truck. Fortunately, my friends K & T had been planning a road trip to the LA area as well, so they joined up with me and I had some company on the way down. Pleasant enough trip for the most part; K & T are awesome folk, and it was great to not be alone the whole way (even if -- since we had to take two cars -- there were periods of solitude). We had only one real hitch, although it nearly proved disastrous.

This is T, fooling around before the true nature of our looming crisis was made evident.


We had just recently made a brief stop in Tracy, CA (note, if you will, the remaining distance of our route -- 352 miles! -- which is relevant) to pick up some gas. I filled up the truck and looked over at T, who had been driving my car and (what with its much smaller gas tank) should have been done with filling the tank well before me. For some reason, though, he was still at the pump. And, while T (witness picture above) clearly has issues figuring out how to use self-service gas pumps, it's not that hard. I walked over to see what was the matter and learned that the key wouldn't turn in the ignition and that the steering wheel was locked. I didn't trust him, of course, and tried to start the car myself. No dice. So, to be polite, we pushed the car out of the way (into a handicapped space -- the steering wheel was locked!) and proceeded to continue jiggling the key in the lock. For another 20 minutes.

Well, crap. We finally realize that, delay be damned, we were going to have to call a mechanic. Who told us to call a locksmith. I tried a couple locksmiths before finding one who did cars. Who told me that this was an occasional problem with my particular model of car, and that I would have to take it into the Toyota dealer. Yerk. I called the dealer who said, sure! they'd be happy to look at it, if I got it towed in to them and waited 'till Monday. This was on Saturday. Remember the 352 miles remaining in our trip? This would have meant having us all crowd into the truck (seats only two!) for the remainder of the trip, and then I would have had to somehow get all the way back up to Tracy to pick up my car and then drive back down. Adding an extra 700 miles to my trip (and taking at least a day out of my apartment hunt). Yuck!

But we had no choice, so I called up a towing service and told them our predicament. I told the driver what the problem was, and what does he do? He sits down in the driver's seat and starts trying to jiggle the key. T & I roll our eyes (K, smartly enough, is in the truck taking a nap at this point). Then he takes a Leatherman and starts beating on the key, which makes me ever-so-slightly nervous. Finally, he sprays some WD-40 in the lock, swabs out a bunch of grease with the key, and starts the car up with no problem. Apparently, one of the tumblers in the lock had gotten stuck and just needed to be cleaned out. Grateful, and now running three hours late (but, in a positive light, only three hours late), K, T, and I resumed our trip. And we never took the key out of the ignition for the rest of the trip.

Below: the three of us and K's friend (the rightmost), with whom we stayed the first evening, mere hours before the incident. Also, a picture of a wind farm that we passed on the way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pictures!

Alright, I've finally uploaded the pictures I took on my trip. I've broken them down into four sections, to peruse at your leisure. They're hosted on my home gallery, which also has many other exciting pictures that you may or may not be interested in.

Without further ado:


Tokyo Part 1, Akihabura, Ueno, Asakusa, and Kamakura


Tokyo Part 2, Karaoke, Shibuya


Kyoto


Hiroshima and Miyajima

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

And this is it!

Alright, guys. I'm hanging out with SonicLlama, watching Frisky Dingo (it's a cartoon, and no, it's not that type of cartoon), and this is my last evening in Japan. Tomorrow I take the Shinkansen up to Tokyo, hop on my airplane, and head home. It's been a great trip! SonicLlama and The Tomorrow Lady have been awesome, wonderful hosts.

So today, my second day of exploring by myself, I decided to go visit Hiroshima. Hiroshima is depressing. I suspect every tourist who visits leaves with some sort of insightful, heartfelt introspection that they share with those who're interested. But not me. I'm not that kind of guy. I have, however, attached a picture of the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is a sort of starkly effective testimonial to the power of the atom.

Less stereotypically, I scooted on down to Miyajima, which has a nifty Buddhist shrine right up next to the waterfront. Famously, there is a torii in the water, which I have taken a picture of, for your edification. I have also learned that, even if you can get strangers to take a picture of you in front of a famous object (pantomiming is your friend!), that is no guarantee of picture quality. So, few pictures of me. Sorry.

Alright, time to pack and go home. Toodles!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On my own...

Alright, I'm in Okayama now, crashing at SonicLlama's pad. This is my last full day in Japan, and I take the Shinkansen up to Tokyo tomorrow and hop on a plane back to Good ol' Eugene. I am happy, though, that I have accomplished my one true goal for this trip. That's right, I got my picture taken with Astroboy. My life is complete. Behold His glory!



Since we're in Okayama, this means that SonicLlama has to get back to work. Which is sad for him and for me. Since this means I have to walk around Japan without a native guide. Fortunately, this is really easy. The train system in Japan is amazing, and the signs all have English, so getting around is easy enough. After that, stumbling around with a couple sumi masens and arigato gozeimashs, and I was able to spend a day yesterday stumbling around Kyoto looking at the tourist sites. Mind you, Kyoto's apparently the most tourist-friendly city in Japan, so it may not be the most impressive accomplishment. I'm still proud, though. We'll see how today goes, as I try for a repeat performance, this time in Hiroshima.

So in Kyoto, I managed to see Nijojo Castle, an impressive little edifice constructed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. This was my first time getting to see a non-European style castle, and yes, it was large and intimidating. Also it had moats, so that was cool. No alligators in the moats, though. Also managed to see Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple complex that dates back to the 8th century. It's one of the defining sites of Kyoto, and it's pretty easy to tell why. At right: the front entrance overlooking the rest of the city.

And that's that. No time for interesting annecdotes/stories. I'll try to have more interesting posts that are more than just "here's what I did today". Or maybe I won't be that ambitious. We'll see.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

My time in Tokyo

My trip to Japan thus far has really just been a trip to Tokyo. Which is not insignificant, since the population of Greater Tokyo (35 million) is greater than the population of most of the world's countries (average country population: 30 million by my rough estimate). We've spent every day since I got hear exploring a different part of the city, and we haven't come close to looking at everything there is to see. That being said (and being brief, sadly, since SonicLlama and The Tomorrow Lady should be waking up soon), here's a little bit of what I've done.

Firstly and most importantly, karaoke. Karaoke is the most awesome thing ever invented on the face of the planet. Two nights ago, we took a brief sojourn to a karaoke bar, where we got our own room (karaoke's a private affair, unlike in the US where you have to belt out ABBA to the entire rest of the bar). SonicLlama gamely went first, singing a deliciously pitch-imperfect version of Give it Away by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (a graciously executed performance, which made me feel much better about my own contributions). I performed many no doubt cliched songs, culminating in the high points: belting out Smells Like Teen Spirit and performing a duet of Sweet Child of Mine with SonicLlama (Prisoner's Dilemma fans: think of it as a mini reunion tour, with one fan/groupie).

Next up. Many shrines. There appear to be a fair number of these liberally scattered throughout the Tokyo region (either that, or my hosts have made a point to take me to each one). I don't have too much of interest to say about them, since I honestly didn't do too much reading on them: mostly I just looked at the buildings, said "Hey, that's pretty!" and took a picture. It is kind of neat to see Shintoism still being actively practiced. It's not a religion I hear much about outside the context of history lessons, so it was cool to see a few active adherents and not just tourists wandering around the temple complex. At left: a building (I make no claims to its religious significance) at Hase-Dera temple. Below: a prayer left by some smart-ass tourist.



High-tech life. You may not have known this, but Tokyo is well-known for being a bit of a tech-heavy kind of place. Which I've been fortunate enough to experience tastes of here and there. Between, you know, exposures to the rustic foreignness. Why, just yesterday, I encountered one of those snazzy high-tech toilets that I'd read all about. Was that ever exciting! (Mind you, this was a fairly pedestrian model, but it was nonetheless exciting). Other bits of interest: playing Soul Calibur in a four-story-tall arcade (Club Sega) (also, getting my ass-handed to me in a Guitar-Hero-esque Taiko drumming game), walking down an open-air market loaded with electronics (I'm kind of used to carpets at those kinds of things), and buying beer from a vending machine. Maybe that's not so high-tech, but I still thought it was awesome. So there.

My companions have awoken. I shall provide you with more anecdotes and pictures as time allows. Godspeed to you all.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Brief update

I'm still in Japan. Things are awesome and I'm having a great time. I'm not, however, having much time on the Internet. There is Internet all around, of course, but I've been out and about doing stuff in the town and not spending much time in my hotel room, so I haven't really been able to use it. I promise to make more posts soon (probably tomorrow) with pictures of my exploits.

Brief summary of things I have done: karaoke (awesome!), seeing many shrines, getting drunk on a train, eating a crepe filled with cheesecake and ice cream, much hiking and conversation with my friends, playing a taiko drums arcade game, buying kitschy touristy stuff (pokemon condoms!), and many, many other things. I can't tell you everything, though, since then what would I write about tomorrow? 'Till next time, space ranger.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Hello from Japan!

I hope you appreciate the difficulty I have gone through to provide you with this blog post. Specifically, since I am writing this from my hotel room in Tokyo, Google has thoughtfully decided that I must be a native Japanese speaker, and has translated all of the navigational controls on this website in to Japanese. Which I don't speak. I have managed to get by on muscle memory, so far. If you're actually reading this post, that menas it has carried me through all the way to the end. On that note, on to the meat of the post.

Look, at right. See the diminutive, coffin-like enclosure (also, my feet)? That was my hotel room last night. I am in Japan for a week or so, visiting my good friends SonicLlama and Kori the Tomorrow Lady. Kori, in charge of accommodations for SL and I, decided it would be good fun to book us in a capsule hotel. I am genuinely grateful for the unique cultural experience this provides me; I am also grateful that I get to spend tonight in somewhat roomier accommodations, with my own bathroom. Luxury!


My trip so far has consisted of wandering around Tokyo, gazing upon the vastness and shininess of its splendor. In coming days, I intend to have more detailed and interesting posts about this. For now, though, you should look at this picture of Joe and I, who have decided to get drunk (and also, apparently, blurry) in public, just because we can. Gaze upon the glory of our crappy canned beer! Revel!


Also, because I think they are hilarious, you should look at the following picture of King Kong climbing the American Club (what a glorious image we project upon the foreign masses, fellow countrymen!), and Darth Vader, reenvisioned as a samurai. Oh, yes. Awesome beyond measure.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Skydiving

I fell out of an airplane yesterday. I was pushed by the 250-pound man who was strapped to my back. I should have known better; I'd just seen the same thing happen to my friend E not moments before, and as I looked out of the side of the airplane, I could see his body tumbling below me towards the basin of the Willamette valley.

Actually, E didn't tumble, since he got his form right -- he fell gracefully and belly-first towards the ground. I was the only one who tumbled, since I forgot to arch my back.. My friends E, K, and I got it into our heads to go skydiving yesterday, having decided that our company whitewater-rafting trip hadn't provided us with enough of an adrenaline rush. So we drove down to the Creswell airport yesterday, got a brief run-through of the jump technique (although I clearly didn't pay enough attention), and hopped in an airplane going up to 10,000 feet.

Of the three of us, my jump was by far the most rocky. K did everything essentially right, and E just couldn't pull the ripcord (which sounds like a bigger problem than it is -- there's a guy on your back who pulls it for you if you can't do it yourself). I, on the other hand, was so enthralled (synonym: terrified) by the prospect of sticking my feet on the wheels of the aircraft and hurling myself out that I forgot essentially all of the lesson we'd been given pre-jump. Critically, I forgot that as you're in free fall, you're supposed to extend your body and trail your arms and legs behind you, doing your best shuttlecock impersonation, so that you fall face-downward. I promptly went stiff as a board, and corkscrewed and flipped my way through several hundred (thousand?) feet of altitude. Fortunately, the instructor knew what he was doing, and was able to manhandle my arms and legs into the appropriate position.

I assume that at this point it was clear to the instructor that I was a lost cause, and he didn't even bother to give me the hand-signal to pull the ripcord, preferring to do it himself. This led to a rather pleasant 5 minutes or so of controlled falling as we steered ourselves towards the landing field. I even got to see E's chute drifting below me the entire way down. I am assured by the instructor that the next event was not my fault. As you come in to land, you're supposed to land into the wind, so that your parachute is pulled behind you and you slide into a landing. I had just witnessed E land without incident, so I wasn't worried. Of course, the wind died, the chute ended up flying ahead of us, and we stumbled on to the ground, with aforementioned 250-pound instructor splayed out across my back. Not comfortable.

Problems aside, it was an exhilarating experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to blow a chunk of money on an adrenaline rush. Fortunately, since K had to go up by herself in a separate flight, E and I managed to take pictures of her entire jump. Unfortunately, we both forgot to bring our nice cameras, so you have to make do with these crappy cell-phone pictures. Sorry!

Me after the jump, about to remove my harness:


K at altitude:


K coming in for her landing:

Friday, August 10, 2007

I hate flying

I am in the Rochester airport right now. Which, all things considered, is a decent airport. I am not, however, supposed to be in Rochester right now. I was never supposed to be in Rochester. Right now, I'm supposed to be in Chicago. Actually, I'm supposed to be about an hour away from LA now, where I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon researching apartments for next year.

To summarize my week thus far for those who have not been updated. I'm in New York on a work trip right now. I was at Rome, NY earlier this week (site of the Air Force Research Laboratories) to do a demo and attend some meetings. After that, I was going to (actually, am) travel to LA to try and find an apartment for the upcoming school year. Then, Monday evening, I'm going home.

Problems started Sunday night. The middle leg of our outgoing flight (from San Francisco to Philadelphia) was canceled without notice -- we were lucky to find out about it and rebook before we got to the airport. Then, due to weather in SF, our flight out of Eugene was delayed by two hours (and a further half-hour of orbiting over the SF airport). Which of course made us miss our connection and resulted in us spending the night in DC, rather than Rome. All of which would be OK, except that since I'm on the road for a week and a half, I checked my luggage. And, of course, my luggage was not there to greet me in Syracuse. Nor did it choose to arrive for several days. And when it did finally arrive, United sent it to my hotel. Which I'd already told them I'd checked out of, since I was driving back to Syracuse that evening. Fortunately, I found out about this before we'd actually left town, so we stuck around for a couple extra hours to pick the damn thing up (yay for clean clothes!).

Yesterday evening, we decided to print out our boarding passes online, rather than doing it at the airport. The fact that none of the three of us had assigned seats should have been a hint. Our flight was overbooked (by five people!), and they were looking for volunteers. Since I don't need to be in LA until tomorrow morning, I volunteered, but there was no way they could get me out that evening. But I'd stuck my neck out, and they knew I was weak. They struck, and I was bumped (my two coworkers, though, made it onto the flight without issue). The very nice lady at the ticket counter tried hard, but was unable to find anything before tomorrow. However, we figured out that if I could get to Rochester, there was a flight out that afternoon that I could take.

So, bidding my bags adieu (I hope to Christ they're waiting for me in LA), I hopped on the Greyhound down to Rochester. So far, I have had a conversation with a 71-year-old man in the Greyhound station (who's going back to his father's first church to find his roots, and then wants travel somewhere. Also, he told me he was the mayor of Fairfax, CA, used to program mainframes, and that he was featured in a recent album by the Psychedelic Cowboys (who are, in fact, a real band, so maybe he really is the mayor), and an evangelist taxi driver who very politely argued religion with me for a 20-minute car ride. I'm now exhausted, going to do more apartment research, and hope that nothing goes wrong with the rest of my trip.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Footnote humor

Despite what a crazed man at the party I went to last Saturday would have you believe, Terry Pratchett is a hilarious writer. For those uninformed, benighted among you who are unfamiliar with him, Pratchett writes comedic fantasy novels set in a world of his own invention: Discworld. I know that the phrase "comedic fantasy novels" has already lost half of my readership, which is a little sad because those departing are letting their literary snobbiness get in the way of enjoying some genuinely funny books, but more importantly because I'm only using Mr. Pratchett as a lead in to my broader discussion point.

Which is, footnotes are awesome. In particular, footnotes have an almost mystical ability to bestow humor upon whatever work they inhabit. Mr. Pratchett's oeuvre was my first introduction to this technique, which is fortuitous, since he is quite the master at it. There's something about taking a sudden, tangential departure from a text to focus on a minor digression that brings a smile to my face every time. Even bigger, "more literary" books use this technique: the most dramatic example I can think of is Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Said book has an entire section (20+ pages) written as a footnote, and features a lengthy comedic digression about the Mean Value Theorem (although he entirely botches the theorem).

I'm heartened to see that footnotes appear to have made the technological transition to the Internet. And so cleverly, too! I refer, of course, to Alt Text, which you may more readily refer to as "those little yellow boxes that pop up when I hover my mouse over the picture." And if you were to refer to them that way, I would not begrudge you, for I am no hyper-critical, pedantic overseer of tech terms.

But I digress. Point being, several web comics I read (Dinosaur Comics and XKCD being the most notable) use said alt-text in fulfillment of a similar role as footnotes; that being, tangential thoughts that contribute -- but don't directly relate -- to the humor of the piece in question. Viz, the alt text in this XKCD strip, which is hilarious if you happen to be a programmer and know what a goto statement is, and have read Cryptonomicon, and know who Goto Dengo is (which ties in to my second theory of humor, which is that every joke has the same humor value, which is distributed more-or-less evenly between all people who get the joke -- therefore, the less people who get a joke, the funnier it is to them).

And that's all I have to say about that. Trivial? Sure. Earth-shatteringly novel? Not a chance. All mine? Hell yes.

Friday, July 13, 2007

An eight-year-old's weekend

I spent a fair chunk of last Sunday hanging out with my friend K. Initially, we had really only intended on doing fairly boring, adult things. You know, hanging out at a coffeeshop and stuff like that. Which was fun, and all. Through some fluke, though, we somehow managed to turn into 8-year-olds for the rest of the afternoon. We spent the day baking cookies, and then decided to go down to the river and feed ducks. Also, we spent some time filling in a coloring book. It was a gloriously idyllic afternoon.

Mind you, I made cookies for some of my coworkers who had to work the weekend, and the coloring book was the Cthulhu Rainy Day activity book. But I refuse to allow that to detract from the experience.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bollywood extravaganza!

Television in Pakistan was (and still is, I assume) an odd beast. By default, you were provided with a constant stream of public access TV, which is much like its American equivalent but with more religion and without the budget. (A prototypical example of said programming would be a background image of pleasant nature scenes -- flowers and oceans and whatnot -- and images of religious texts, constantly cycling as an audio track of an imam reciting Quranic verses played. For five hours straight.)

If you wanted something a little less spiritually nourishing, you had to result to a satellite dish. A satellite dish, of course, gave you access to Indian television program. And sure, that included such worthy channels as BBC and CNN. But the real joy was in the entertainment channels: MTV and StarTV and Channel V. MTV (and Channel V, the homegrown equivalent) of course adapted to their target market: while they carried their fair share of Britney and Backstreet Boys (and Take That, catering to the more British sensibilities), there was an enormous quantity of Hindi dance music as well. If you have never seen a Bollywood musical (or dance number), you really owe it to yourself to check out this movie so that you have a better idea of what I'm talking about.

At the time, these music videos were endlessly annoying: they were in a language I couldn't understand, catering to musical sensibilities I did not share, and followed a very small number of thematic variations (beachfront dance number, snowy mountain-top dance number, urban dance number, and village dance number, all featuring the male and female dance leads accompanied by location-appropriate backing dancers). If you didn't follow my earlier link, imagine watching (say) a Nirvana video, immediately followed by a Gilbert & Sullivan musical number. In Swahili.

Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised to find myself setting at a friend's house Saturday night, watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a classic Bollywood romantic comedy. And, as much as I would have liked otherwise, I actually enjoyed it. Quite a bit. Sure, the plot was obvious (and ridiculous). Sure, the acting was ludicrously over the top. And, despite my somewhat tenuous expectations to the contrary, the dance routines didn't really fit into the plot at all (a conversation about love at an Indian prep college somehow morphed into a frolicking dance number at a Scottish castle. No, I'm dead serious.) But somehow, the over-the-top kitsch, when hammered into my head over a three hour period, was enormously fun to watch. It didn't hurt that the particular movie I watched happens to star Shahrukh Khan, the quite attractive and enormously charismatic individual featured at right.

I'm not sure if my taste for kitsch has just been augmented with my growing age, or if it was the pure overwhelming sense of spectacle I was assaulted with. Either way, I loved the hell out of it. The fact that there were subtitles and I could actually understand what the hell was going out was presumably entirely irrelevant to this development...

Also, check out this awesome, Little-Richardesque dance video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=qLDacJ7rvi4

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Kilts and personal boundaries

Do you ever feel like there aren't enough people in your life asking about your undergarments? Would you like more perfect strangers to approach you with questions about your nether-regions? Have I got a solution for you! Some of you have seen me in my Utilikilt, a birthday present from some of my friends (thanks, friends!). For those of you who have not seen it, witness at right a picture of me in my kilt, beating the everliving crap out of a piñata.

I love my kilt. It's extraordinarily comfortable and has large pockets (the two most important features in a garment, in my studied opinion). There is a somewhat famous style with which kilts are worn -- you may perhaps have heard of this -- frequently referred to as "going regimental". It's somewhat surprising to me the number of people (complete strangers, for the most part) who think nothing of coming up to me and asking, out of the blue, "Are you wearing underwear?" In most cases, I can envision myself asking my interlocutor the exact same question and receiving, at the least, quizzical looks, if not annoyance and social ostracization. Instead, what would otherwise be a crude sexual come-on is now just a casual question from an interested bystander.

Not that I mind, you understand. It's a reasonably effective icebreaker, if nothing else. It also seems to be a much more common question from women then men (the last woman who mentioned it also told me that I had nice legs for it, which was an odd, if flattering, comment). Not sure if this is because women care more, for some reason, or if men are just concerned about the implications to their sexuality if they run about asking questions about other men's underdrawers. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My families are different

My mom's and my dad's families, that is. My dad's family mostly lives in Oregon, so I see them on a fairly regular basis and keep in pretty good contact with them. My mom's family is from Florida, so I see them somewhat less frequently -- in fact, many of them I hadn't seen in a good decade ago until last weekend.

Last weekend, of course, being my cousin's wedding, I had ample time to do the traditional matrimonial catching up thing. My cousin is pretty cool, so it was a bit of an oddball wedding. Nothing too dramatic -- the groom and the groomsmen all wore Converse shoes, for example, and the wedding cake was adorned by the fellows on the right, there. Also, the reception tables were laden with cards entreating us to give them marriage advice, fill out madlibs, and draw them pictures. I drew a picture of a cowboy riding a dinosaur.

The weirdest thing for me, though, was getting a comparison of the Kelly (mom) vs the Barker (dad) side of my lineage. My dad's family are very reserved, quiet types. Our family reunions tend to be sit around the dinner table kinds -- we sing Jubilate Deo before meals, followed by nature walks and family performances (generally piano recitals). Alcohol is never present. My relatives are doctors and middle-school music teachers and renaissance studies students -- we go out to plays and classical concerts for recreation and spend time fretting about politics and social issues. My paternal cousin's wedding was a much more traditional affair, in a church with a much more conventional reception (no sparklers!).

I didn't realize 'till last weekend that my mom's family is somewhat different. This was perhaps most dramatically driven home during the reception, during which my 67-year-old uncle could be seen on the dance floor, enthusiastically dancing away to "Hey Ya!", by OutKast. I also chanced to learn that my aunt is planning on attending a Nascar race for her upcoming birthday and recently attended a Larry the Cable Guy show. And apparently my great aunt worked as a Target greeter right before she retired.

I don't know that there's anything really significant to read into that. I just thought it was funny that I was completely oblivious to it until just last week. And that's all I have to say. I probably have other interesting anecdotes from the wedding that I am not currently remembering, but you'll just have to imagine them for yourself.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hello from Florida!

My cousin Jessica is getting married on Sunday, so I'm in Florida for the weekend. This is my first time in Florida for several years and my first chance to see many of my relatives for at least as long (for those of you who don't know, my mom's family is from Florida). I just met my step-cousin for the first time in my life, not two hours ago. I think that means that I've now met all of my relatives first cousin and closer (perhaps I should make trading cards?). I've not seen much of the state so far -- just the Tampa and Tallahassee airports and my hotel room -- but it'll be fun exploring and seeing more of the Eastern half of my heritage. I'm going to see the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow for the first time in my life. So exciting!

The other, less happy news is that Jen and I have broken up. It's something that's obviously been pretty hard on the both of us, but I'm not going to say much about it here, since it's not really the kind of thing I want to talk about on my blog. Some of you probably didn't know, though, so I thought it best to at least acknowledge it here. I'll return to my regular schedule of lightly amusing posts in due course.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fire dancing


Not much into blog posting now, for various reasons that I shan't delve into at this point. However, you should look at this cool picture I took of a fire dancer at my aunt's house last weekend.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Miscellaneous updates

I've been a bad blogger. Not that there's a quota or anything (and I'm certainly not as bad as Rip), but I keep on thinking of things to post but never getting around to it (I was going to ruminate at length about how much I appreciated the Ninja Turtles' 20-something angst and ennui in the latest movie, and how eerily well it parodied a lot of the confusion my friends are going through. But I didn't). This is basically because I've been traveling a lot. Jen'n'I went out to DC last week, mostly for vacational purposes (witness lovely, ironic cross cake baked by Katie the Lovely 50s Housewife for our Easter Brunch). I'm now in Boston, where I will be attending various and sundry work meetings and then visiting up with Eric and other people that have not revealed their blogs to me to which I could link. As a result of all of this flying, I am now intimately familiar with United's in-flight programming, and will burst a blood vessel if I ever again hear the natterings of "my boy Priestley", the DJ for the top-20 radio station (it was a fucking wasteland, man, it's all I had -- besides, they played Fidelity, by Regina Spektor, which is a damn catchy song).

Oh, and there's some other big news that a surprising number of people seem to have learned about despite my not yet actually having gotten around to telling them. But for those few of you who read this and don't know, I'm going to be entering the CIS Ph.D. program at UCLA next year. There's all sorts of things wrapped up in that, of course (leaving Oregon soonish being the big one), but I'll get around to writing a more interesting and informational post about that at some other point. But now it's late, I'm in a hotel room, and I have a meeting tomorrow morning, so that's all you get.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Geek rock

Mastodon is a metal band that I have been recently introduced to and fallen in love with. I am not, by any real measure, a metal fan, but Mastodon has really grabbed me. They're the kind of metal band that Pitchfork would rave about, even as they make fun of you, indie poseur, for wandering away from your precious Bright Eyes and Decemberists LPs (no, not CDs). How can you not love a band that writes hard-rock songs about Moby Dick?

So, of course, when I heard that they were playing in Portland, I had to go out immediately and buy tickets to the concert. (Don't let me lie to you like that -- it's not nice. My friend Eric (no, not Eric) heard about them, bought the tickets, and invited me along). Of course, four hours of driving on a worknight to see them at the Hawthorne in Portland was but a small price to pay in sacrifice to the rock gods (who hopefully shall soon be opening the Secret Underground Vault). Of course, the concert was amazing and well worth the trip.

I'd never been in a mosh pit before, which was more fun than I thought it would be. I was near the front of the audience (small venue for a Grammy-nominated band), and try as I might to stay on the outskirts, I was repeatedly pulled from my comfortable, horns-throwing position near the stage and shoved, thrown, and bruised until I was able to force my way out again (I'm still sore, three days later). There's a weird sense of etiquette, though -- people were getting punched and shoved and thrown around, but the moment somebody fell over or lost their shoe, everything ground to a halt as people helped them to their feet or they reclothed themselves. Also, a 250-pound, muscular, bald guy grabbed me by the shirt during the last song and proceeded to scream along with the song in my face. Good times, good times.

I also don't think I can imagine another concert whose audience consists of equal parts the lady at the left and the gentleman at the right. There was a continuous spectrum ranging from hipster to metalhead, with all possible variations in between represented. (For most of the concert, there was a tiny woman wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt immediately in front of me, and aforementioned bald, tattooed guy to my left). It was neat. Music uniting disjoint social subgroups. Kumbaya and shit. I also saw the cutest little metalhead ever, an eight year old boy who was apparently there on some sort of bonding expedition with his dad.

Should be an interesting contrast with the Decemberists concert I intend to attend in May.

Monday, March 19, 2007

300

[I would put a spoiler alert up here, but I'm not sure that this movie is actually spoilable, since it's all about a war that happened ~2500 years ago. That being said, if you don't know about the Battle of Thermopylae and have any intention of watching 300, you might not want to read this post.]

So, not to ape Eric or anything, but I too watched 300 last weekend. Overall, I wasn't too bothered by the historical inaccuracies. There were some definite omissions, of course, like the battle of Salamis. I guess I would have been happy to have a more complete and accurate picture of the surrounding history, but it was intended to be a recording of the battle of Thermopylae, and not of the entirety of the Greco-Persian War itself. By and large, from what I've read, the order of battle of Thermopylae itself was more or less true to the actual events, modulo the addition of fantastical animals and crazy mutant Persians.

The only real historical deviation that bothered me was the misrepresentation of the Greek army itself. The film gives the impression that the Greek contingent was basically 300 Spartans plus a bunch of mooks from the countryside. While it's true that there was a contingent of 300 Spartans present and that their contribution is the most remembered, the Greeks had a total of about 7,000 soldiers fending off the Persians. Which is, in and of itself, an amazing feat, and it would have been no less interesting a movie to show that battle instead.

A friend I saw it with made the point that the movie was effective at portraying the "emotional truth" of the battle, rather than the historical fact behind it, and I think there's some legitimacy to that argument. In reality, the Greeks of course fought in a phalanx formation and didn't charge willy-nilly into single-handed comment -- while I appreciated the brief representation of phalanx combat, it would have been boring as hell to watch what really would have amounted to a three-day-long shoving match. And of course the Persians didn't have 10-foot tall unarmored soldiers and the Immortals weren't hideously disfigured (and would Xerxes's army even have had elephants?). But those seemed to me like reasonable shorthand representations of the overwhelming sense of fear and intimidation that the Greeks would have felt when confronted by the overwhelming Persian army. Plus, they just looked cool.

Nah, I had only two real gripes. The first was that the movie was just plain boring. It was gorgeous, and the choreography was quite impressive, but there's only so many gruesome dismemberments and wave upon wave of endless combatants that I can see before the effect gets completely deadened. It was compounded by the nigh-invulnerability of the Spartan troops: it's hard to get emotionally involved in combat when none of the characters can die (which is sort of ironic, given that they do all die at the end, of course. Just not in the middle). The Spartans were quite impressive soldiers, of course, but they were hardly immortal, and were beaten in battle plenty of times (just ask Epaminondas about that...). I had the same problem with the big, gory fight scene at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1 -- its over-the-top gore and violence was fun for a minute or so, and then it just got monotonous.

My second complaint had to do with the racial politics of the movie. I hold no truck with the comparison of the movie to current-day political issues; that just seems like knee-jerk criticisms (has anyone actually said this?). And certainly, told from the perspective of the Spartans, it makes some sense that the Persians are portrayed as uncultured brutes. But, given that Persians are essentially white and ethnically indistinguishable from Greeks, I'm a little confused by all the dark-skinned people serving in the Persian army. I mean, the Persian empire did extend into Egypt at this point, and I can imagine that they would have mercenaries from Africa, but I would think that the vast majority of the army would consist of troops from Asia Minor, who would be ethnically indistinguishable from the Greeks they were fighting. Am I seeing issues that weren't there?

And Eric, what was the ET reference? I appear to have missed it.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

LA

So, LA is everything I expected it to be. Take that as you will. As my airplane flew in, I was struck by how bizarre and (literally) alien the surrounding environs felt. There was a grid system of lights as far as the eye could see, and as I looked out the window, I could see another small plane descending from the sky about a mile or so away. It was really eerie, and looked like a scene from Star Wars. (You know, in Episode 2, where the ship is descending towards Coruscant and there's city as far as the eye can see and...).

Unsuccessfully navigating the bus system after dark added a bit of excitement to my initial experience. And by "excitement", of course, I mean "duration". The bus ride was an hour-long as it was, which stretched into about two-and-a-half hours upon having to retrace my steps and wait a long time at the south station terminal. Given that the entire duration of just the plane portion of my trip was ~3 hours, I felt ever so slightly silly. My mood was not helped by the presence of an extraordinarily smelly fellow in the row ahead of me. Seriously. The guy could have stunned an ox at twenty paces. Needless to say, I'm taking a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. There are some sacrifices I'm not willing to make in the name of public transport.

Ooh, and I got to see a celebrity! That's right! We were taken out to dinner, and the street immediately out front had been blocked off (with a red carpet laid out and everything) for the premier of Shooter, a movie I'd not heard of before. It stars Mark Wahlberg, though, and I got to see him walk by and primp for the cameras and everything. Mind you, I was inside a building and ~50 feet away, but it was definitely him. It was weird caring about it: I'm not a particularly celebrity-oriented person, but the draw of the flashing cameras and people's stares elicited this strange, herd-like compulsion in me to track the center of attention. I'm sheep.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Gone native

So Max's is this local dive bar type place near campus. It's loud and small, and not really my favorite place to go hang out. Surprisingly, though, they host a trivia night every Tuesday, which I only recently learned about; being a huge fan of trivia and trivia games, I've been attending religiously ever since I heard about it. Now, I'm pretty good at Trivial Pursuit and usually do quite respectably as I follow along with Jeopardy, but I utterly suck at Max's event. Part of that's 'cause I don't watch Seinfeld, South Park, or sports, which are topics that come up with greater-than-expected regularity. And part of that is 'cause there's people there who take it much more seriously than I do, and more power to them. If I can win just once, though, and maybe take home a My Little Pony lunchbox as a prize, I'll be happy.

At last week's event, my friend E (who has been a frequent companion in suckiness at these events) made the offhand comment that I "didn't seem like someone who'd spent their life overseas." He couldn't really explain much more than that, so I'm not quite sure what he meant by it. I mean, what exactly is a person who grew up in Africa supposed to look like? Perhaps I should walk around in Khaki clothing, wearing a pith helmet and carrying an elephant rifle, and call all my friends "bwana" or something.

I mean, it's not like I hide it or anything. Hell, half my anecdotes start with "I was living in Ethiopia at the time" (which, by the way, is the ultimate excuse for lack of pop-culture knowledge. Try it sometime! Alright, maybe it won't work so well for you.). I guess I've just been here long enough (or I'm quiet and introverted enough) that that's just not enough anymore. Or perhaps I'm extrapolating way too much from a single data point.

On a completely unrelated note, I just read over a sketch of Cook's proof that Boolean satisfiability is NP-Complete. I can hardly claim to completely understand it entirely, but damn is that an awesome proof. It seems unlikely that any of you out there care, but the basic idea is to use a set of rules to encode a Turing Machine that solve an arbitrary problem in NP as a satisfiability problem (basically, a long conjunction of variables to which true or false values have to be assigned to make the whole expression resolve to a true value). I've known of the existence of the proof for quite some time, but only recently decided to do some research and figure out how exactly it worked. Nifty!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sell-out?

Another week of Heroes, another random pop-culture observation. I was zoning out, checkin' out Facebook and reading about Bayesian networks (yeehaw!), when I heard a familiar sounding riff emanating from my TV. It was "I Think I Need a New Heart", by the Magnetic Fields, a thoroughly awesome song off an amazing album (69 Love Songs, if'n you didn't know). I looked up to figure out what august product was deserving of so stellar a song. After a few moments of random text blurbs and shots of dogs, it became clear that this was a commercial for a dog-food commercial. That's right, a song all about the waning of love and the death of passion in a relationship has been appropriated to promote the diffusion of tasty doggy snacks.

I mean, I'm not bothered by music I like being used in commercials -- I'm happy that people at a soulless advertising agency have decent taste in music, and I'm not going to begrudge Stephin Merritt and friends the chance to make some money spreading decent music to the world. I was just confused, though. The lyrics of the song aren't at all relevant to dogs, or even food (if they'd used "Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long", I might understand). Not even that, but the ad doesn't even use the lyrics -- the only thing it really makes use of is the (admittedly catchy) riff that opens up the song.

I would think it'd be significantly cheaper to just hire some random composer dude to write something for the ad than to pay for an existing, reasonably-well-known pop song. But, as I write these sentences, I realize that the song has to be much less well-known than I think (quick poll -- have you heard of it?), and it's probably more expensive to hire a commissioned musician than I think. Plus, there's the same effect that you have with obscure jokes -- most people don't enjoy it, but there's the one person who gets the joke (or knows the song) and really, really loves it. Something like this, perhaps. So maybe they're banking on the few 20-something hipster types who own little yappy dogs watching the ad and totally changing their product loyalties, just like that. It's bound to have happened at least once, right?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Movie Trailers

Jen and I have been avid watchers of Heroes for the past several weeks. It's a fun show, and has a coherent and (apparently) well thought out multi-episode story arc. We started out watching it online on a coworker's recommendation, and for the past two weeks we've actually caught in on broadcast TV, which is the first time I've done that in a while (I think most recently was the West Wing, and that's been a while).

Which is all quite irrelevant; what I really wanted to talk about was the fact that I saw a trailer for a new movie adaptation of Bridge To Terabithia today. I don't know if you've read this book (of course I don't: I have no idea who exactly you are), but it was a children's book about a pair of middle-schoolers who construct an elaborate fantasy universe. There's some tragedy, some learning, some make-believe, and the like. I remember liking it a lot (and thinking it was really sad, too). What I don't remember, though, is anything that would merit the choral score and Lord-of-the-Ringsesque atmosphere that the trailer bestowed upon the movie. I mean, there was no explicit combat in the trailer or anything of the sort, but it had your traditional fantasy epic soundtrack, with a rousing string section and chorus of stirring vocalists, while sweeping camera shots of fantastical beasts looming above the camera added this very martial sense to everything.

Which, as I recall, is very out of place for the story. I guess it's all a byproduct of the popularity of the Lord of the Rings, just like the (to all appearances) godawful Ghost Rider is an unfortunate side-effect of X-Men and Spiderman. I guess I don't see the point of so willfully misrepresenting a movie like this. Are they just hoping to snare a couple of unaware teenage guys who'll go see the movie without doing the research first, or what? I suppose I would naively assume that the point of a trailer would be to make a movie as attractive as possible to its most likely audience, rather than to target a (presumably) completely uninterested demographic. But I guess that's why I'm not a marketer, huh?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hazards of contrarianism

Anyone who has had the pleasure of my company for any extended period of time knows that I am at heart a contrarian. Whenever I hear a statement of opinion (especially something that seems to represent conventional wisdom or accepted taste) my automatic reaction is to take the opposing side and try to poke a hole in the argument through whatever methods possible. Which means that I tend to get into pointlessly detailed and niggling arguments over points of questionable importance. Some people indulge me in this, and we have loads of fun. Most other (sane?) people just get annoyed by it.

This habit drives me towards sometimes controversial opinions on pop culture (Kill Bill is a boring movie, dammit), and makes me prone to reviews phrased in the form of "It's a good movie, despite all the people who say it's a good movie" (specific phrasing courtesy of The Hired Tongue, but I've had the approach for eons).

All of which is by way of mentioning that I recently read "A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius" by David Eggers, which is a book that is intentionally designed to drive people like me crazy. I mean, it's a good book, but as I read it I can't help but think "Well, that was sad, sure, but hardly heartbreaking," or "Genius is such a strong word...". It was compounded by the fact that Mr. Eggers goes out of his way to discuss this very point in his acknowledgments section (which is by far the most awesome part of the book). So now I can't figure out how far to recurse -- do I take the title at its word and form my opinion around how the book isn't as great as it says it is? Or do I take the self-mocking introduction at its word and think that it's actually a really decent book? Or do I take the fact that he says he's only pretending to be self-mocking and actually sort of feels that way and...

OK, so it's not really a big deal, and I feel maybe a little bit silly about it, but it was on my mind. I didn't get to the end of Infinite Jest and say "Hey, this book had an ending! What a ripoff!" I know people who seem to totally lack the irony gene, though; people who can drink a bottle of Arrogant Bastard beer and say that they don't like it, even though the back of the bottle says that they probably won't like it! What's up with that? How can people do that? I just don't get it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Back!

Well, we made it home, all in one piece. Actually, we made it home a few days ago, but I haven't felt up to posting until right about now. I'm lazy.

We've recovered one of our bags, and hopefully the second one will be showing up Tuesday. Everything seems to be intact, even! Although the contents were damp, mandating a fresh cleaning of all the clothes and some drying out of books. Grr.

And, to top it all off, I appear to be sick. I'd give good odds it's not malaria (I've been pretty good with the Doxycicline), but it still doesn't make me happy. Might make finishing my last grad-school app a little more unpleasant, but I can handle that. Grr! Me tough!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fuck Heathrow

Argh! So, on our way to Sudan, our bags get stuck at Heathrow airport for a week and a half. On our way back, we land in Heathrow a half-hour late due to congestion. Then we sit on the ground for a half-hour because they don't have the buses to take us to the gate. Then they don't have the stairs. Then they don't have the buses again. By the time we get off the airplane, the next leg of our trip had already flown off.

So then we have to wait at the reticketing desk for a half-hour as we're rerouted through Vancouver (where I am right now) to arrive 12 hours later then originally planned. We get on the plane in Heathrow, which promptly leaves an hour-and-a-half late due to congestion problems (we spent ~45 minutes taxiing).

And then we show up in Vancouver, and our bags aren't here. Yes, that's right, our bags got lost again. Happy happy joy joy!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Rambling thoughts

So this may be my last post before we leave, I'm not sure. Tomorrow's our last full day here, and we leave early the next morning. It's been a good trip.

Bill Richardson is in town right now to work on resolving the Darfur situation, and the US Embassy hosted a dinner tonight with him that my dad just got back from. Which is cool, I guess, but it made me realize how little attention I've paid to the conflict while I've been here. It's something I've thought about, of course, but it's really surprising how remote it feels, even here. There are a few token propaganda posters around town, proclaiming that "We are all supporting the peace", but if you were dropped in this city without any outside knowledge, you would probably not realize that anything was amiss.

That's one of the most prominent violations of human rights happening today, only a few hundred miles from where I am right now, and I barely realize it's happening. Maybe I would know more if I could understand the Arabic radio news, and maybe people around me are talking about it and I just don't realize. Or maybe the government does a good job of managing the flow of information in Khartoum, I don't know. It's situations like these that make me wonder about myself, and how much I really know about what's going on in my own country. I think I have a pretty good, accurate handle on US foreign policy, but every so often I realize that I've forgotten what exactly it was that Jose Padilla was accused of doing, or what we know about the CIA's black prisons, or whatever happened to John Walker Lindh (remember him?), or who the Canadian guy was that we mistakenly sent overseas to be tortured, since he happened to have a similar name to someone on our terrorist watchlist. And it bothers me to think that I form fairly strong opinions on the state of the world with such frequently spotty knowledge.

Talking to people in the US about Darfur has brought to light some rather distressing latent racism, which bothers me. More than a number of people I've talked to have framed it as a conflict between Muslims and Christians, with the Muslim government slaughtering the Christian villagers. I don't know where this perception comes from; both sides in the conflict are predominantly Muslim. You could frame it as a conflict between Arabs and Blacks, if you wanted to fit it into some sort of pre-existing racist mold, but I think that even that model doesn't fit very well. Maybe people are confusing it with the earlier civil war, which was fought between a predominantly Muslim north and Christian (and animast) south. But I really don't think that's it; I think that a lot of people just assume that if killing is happening in an Arab country, it must be Muslims killing infidels.

Which makes me sad. The people I've talked to who've said things like that are genuinely well-meaning people, who certainly try to avoid stereotyping and wouldn't intentionally misconstrue the issues. Maybe it's just a scary example of the creeping influence that the Ann Coulters and the Rush Limbaughs and the Bill O'Reillys have on our discourse. Sure, we pay lipservice to the idea that not all Muslims are evil terrorists, but you hear enough people -- even people that you virulently disagree with -- say it and it starts to color your thoughts, whether you want it to or not. Or maybe I'm just scapegoating the popular liberal bogeymen because I can't think of a more reasonable explanation.

How egotistical. I wanted to spend this post talking about Darfur and what I think about it, but I ended up using it as an excuse to discuss Americans and their political and racial foibles. I don't think that I've really learned anything here to discuss, though, as sad as that is, and maybe that's all I really have to contribute.

One final note. A lot of Americans I know, including my parents and kori the tomorrow lady have a tendency to lie about their country of origin, either out of embarrassment or to avoid social reproach. I urge people not to do this. Ideologically, I think you shouldn't concern yourself with the opinions of those who would look down upon you solely for being an American, no more than you should with someone who would expect you to be stupid if you said you were Polish. And pragmatically, the tactic results in people perceiving all Americans they meet as boorish and unpleasant, because those of us who are more culturally sensitive and politically sane run around calling ourselves Canadian. And I think that's a bad thing.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Random stuff

[EDIT: Fixed Rip's name, and the word is "transcribed", not "transliterated"]

So, first things first. I had a dumb AIM conversation with Rip Tatermen this morning. Nothing else to say about that, really. He was just dreading that that was going to be the high point of my day today and that I would post about it on my blog. Ensuring, of course, that I would in fact do so. Also, he suggested that everyone should call him a "fuckwad". That seems crude and not like something that I (or any of my friends) would do, but it was his idea.

So, this is a silly thing to get worked up about, but I just thought it was so cool. I assume y'all are familiar with the Seven Up logo. So, in Arabic, Seven Up is transcribed "سغن اب", and can't be spelled "7Up", as is in the logo (the actual translation would be "٧ متابعة"). To get around this, and keep the same design, they reworked the logo as at right, making the standard 7Up shape with the transcribed letters (look at the larger picture if it's not clear). It's brilliant! Keeping the seven shape (although that's obviously not what a 7 looks like in Arabic) and everything. As an aside, Pepsi products seem to be the only products that get past the US embargo on Sudan (did you know we had one? I didn't), since they're "food or drink" products. No McDonalds, although there is a restaurant called "Lucky Meal" that uses the golden arches.

Other minor note. We walked around bookstores earlier today, and I came across a book written by "غبرييل غرسيه مركز" (or something like that -- I don't remember exactly). I started reading it out in my head (I often find myself sounding out Arabic aloud when I read it, which makes me feel somewhat unjustifiably silly), and realized that it was "Gabriel Garcia Marquez", and the book was "100 Years of Solitude" (OK, so my sister translated the second part for me). I thought it was nifty; it was not a book I would have expected to see there. And that's that.