Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Re-Visiting The Saints

With a long-awaited sequel due out at the end of next month, Abby and I decided it was time to revisit that near-cultish classic, The Boondock Saints. We sang the praises of it back in 1999 (or whenever we actually heard about it) and recommended it's brashness and brogue to all of our compatriots.

What the hell were we thinking?

Um, Spoilers ahead.

Saints has not aged well. It's locked into an almost mid-90's black-trenchcoat-over-black-shirt-and-blue-jeans sensibility. This is forgivable in and of itself, but I can't help thinking that the movie made a whole more sense in the wake of Terminator 2 than it does today--now that Guy Ritchie has redefined and subsequently castrated the organized-crime-drama, making it more trendy than timeless.

That said, there were certain compelling elements to Saints. It offered a unique story structure in which violent showdowns were depicted in flashback. It was pretty mercilessly violent, and it did try to raise some questions about the nature of vigilantism--although it could have started that discussion before the closing credits, if you want my opinion, and it's a topic that has been covered much better by recent films like The Dark Knight.

But to really look at where this film goes awry, let's look at what it got wrong to begin with--a list that starts and ends with Willem Dafoe.

Dafoe's character, a charming and flamboyant FBI officer, shows up and destroys the Boston PD with his crime-scene analysis tactics. He dances through an alley finding bullet holes and doing chemical tests while listening to opera on his portable CD player. Yeah, wish I were making any of that up. His ability to outsmart the cops is governed by the fact that Boston's police force is depicted as being breathtakingly stupid. As Dafoe's psyche cracks--for no discernible reason--he grows ever more disheveled and mindless. He starts stealing evidence, evidence like a dismembered finger. As he figures out who these "Saints" are, he seems ever more distraught over the idea of things like due process, but in spite of that he's not cynical, he's an idealist.

In fact, he's such an idealist that he dresses up as a woman (the ugliest woman I've seen on film, perhaps) and proceeds to seduce mobsters in an attempt to free the Saints, which turns out to be meaningless because the Saints are set free by Billy Connolly, in what has got to be the most egregious deus-ex-machina ending ever, ever. The Saints get away because the man hired to kill them turns out to be their long lost father. Cue the organ music, we're making a soap! For the finale, we get a very public murder, followed by three minutes of spinny-camera, self-important prosthelytizing.

Okay, there were other problems too. Ron Jeremy shows up so one of the heroes can tell a horribly offensive joke, but it's okay because the bad guys made him do it. And maybe I'm just old and cynical, but I'm at a point where badassery cannot automatically make up for shoddy storytelling and weak characterization.

And don't even get me started on Donnie Darko!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Re-Visiting The Sisters

One of those movies I inadvertently saw a lot as a kid was Sister Act, a light-hearted family comedy in which Whoopi Goldberg witnesses a murder and hides from the mob in a convent, where she teaches the nuns to sing classic R&B and, in the process, discovers herself. Or some such. Turns out it was a staple of Abby's late-childhood as well, so she purchased a copy of it and we re-watched it. Such exercises are always... interesting. Even movies that I really enjoyed in my early twenties have soured as I approach thirty (e.g., Boondock Saints, but that's a rant for another post). Sister Act came out when I was eleven. How does it hold up now?

Surprisingly well. The character motivations are at least believable, although I couldn't say how realistically convent life is portrayed. The plot points make sense and work together pretty well, considering the writing situation that gave birth to the film. The script was originally penned with Bette Midler in mind to star and went through seven writers before the Goldberg incarnation came to be--and that sort of thing can be devastating (I mean, have you SEEN Meet the Robinsons?). It worked out, but some of the seems show. "Going out into the community" was obviously supposed to be a major plot element at one point but got reduced to a montage. And a few scenes seem to revolve around the Whoopi-being-funny element a little too heavily.

But the movie never completely falls into the one-joke pit. And for a movie with such a heavy emphasis on music, at least they got the music right. The holy-shit-this-choir-can-rock-a-little moments are still smile-inducing, and despite the fact that they are accompanied by an invisible back-up band, the song sequences work. The conflict with the Mother Superior feels a little less genuine, but Maggie Smith pulls it off by virtue of being, well, Maggie Smith. Still, if Whoopi can hear her girls practicing from her cell, how did the Mother Superior not notice until Sunday morning that Ave Maria was getting the Supremes treatment.

On another note, WTF is up with the sex-appeal nun?

You know which one I'm talking about. The shy red-head who had the lion's share of the solos. The only one whose hair showed at all, and who wore the habit that was not-completely-figure-concealing. They set her apart for a reason. Not 100% sure what else it may have been.

Oh well. At least the sequel still sucks.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Play That Funky Music, White Space

Stay out of my personal (white) space.

No, this is not a race thing.

I got a message from a friend via Facebook, asking for grammar advice. She was torn between "that" or "who" and had left a blank space in the sentence, which rendered as such in the e-mail transcription but not when I read the message on Facebook to reply to it. Which leads me to question: why are we still swallowing white space?

I program, and white space is about the only thing in the world that keeps code readable sometimes. It doesn't interfere--it's there purely to keep things visually organized. But most browsers just ignore it. If you're doing HTML (which is how most websites are ultimately displayed), then you have to use special tags for paragraph breaks, because the rendering engine ignores carriage returns.

Or does it? I don't know the mechanics, and it could possibly vary by browser--I simply don't know enough about how HTML works under-the-hood. But as an experiment I've indented one paragraph. My preview screen doesn't indicate which it was. How does it look on the page? Can you tell which one it was?

The point of all this is that eliminating white space used to make sense, but in a Web 2.0 world, I think it would be useful to get back indentations and such. Just food for thought.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where Are The Ugly Chick Sites?

So, do you like your pictures of semi-clad or ostentatiously attractive women with a little side dollop of weird? You're in luck, thanks to The Internetz!

The Tubez are teeming with hotts in bizarre circumstances, all graciously grouped by bizarreness.

There's the perennial favorite Hot Chicks with Douchebags. But it doesn't stop there. You can also check out Hot Chicks with Hot Dogs In Their Mouths. Not enough? We can also take a peek at Hot Chicks With Dogs With Boners or, if you like the idea of dogs and filth, but are not so interested in vaguely unsettling animal eroticism, you can check out Hot Chicks Picking Up Dog Shit.


If you prefer a more generalized "weird", you can take a look at The Hawtness, and last but certainly not least, my personal favorite, Hot Chicks With Stormtroopers.

Hot chicks. Weird stuff. It's like everything a nerd could want in a single URL. Thank you Internetz.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

Man, but we've got a busy weekend. Tonight, going with a group to see a midnight showing of Serenity. Saturday we're going to Columbia for my mother-in-law's birthday. Then Monday is a Ben Folds concert.

I was going to consider going to a St. Vincent concert on the following Thursday, but we're going to be in Houston all of that weekend and then we have a They Might Be Giants show.

So, I might miss a post or two. 'Sall I'm sayin'.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Signal Broken, Watch For Finger

I know I give St. Louis drivers a bunch of shit for driving without their turn signals, but I saw someone today use theirs today, and I couldn't help thinking that perhaps I should tone down the rhetoric a bit.

I mean this guy was zealous--kept his turn signal on through three or four intersections.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie Cliches

Things that don't happen in real life that do happen on television and in movies:

  1. Digital clocks click when they change.
  2. Anyone shaving will cut himself.
  3. All microphones feedback when spoken into.
  4. All couples have sex in their underwear (and don't even get me started of L-shaped sheets).
  5. Dogs know who the bad guy is.
  6. Anyone watching a video of any kind will rewind it and watch some shortened part again. Often several times.
  7. It is possible to go into a bar and order "beer".
  8. Lightning is always accompanied by thunder.
  9. It is possible to drive across New York or LA in less than five hours.

Don't let these happen to you.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And Open Letter (Ahem) To My Letter Carrier

Dear Mr(s) Post(wo)man:

I realize that my mailbox does not have a flag on it, and if it did, I would surely employ its use. But since it does not, perhaps we can reach an agreement. If there is a piece of mail in the mailbox that you, yourself, did not just place there, odds are it's out-going.



Monday, September 21, 2009

Jon And Paul And Also Storm

Saturday night Abby and I went downtown to see Jonathan Coulton play at Off Broadway. He is the indie-DIY-er of the geek-rock scene with a catalog of pop/folk songs about math, zombies, vampires, and mad scientists. Etc.

The opening act was a duo called Paul and Storm who were extremely fun, performing a set that ranged from meta (Opening Band) to crude (Captain's Wife's Lament, in which the captain's wife complains about finding seamen all over the house) to absurd (Nun Fight, in which an announcer introduces two boxing nuns in the style of Benedictine chant). Other highlights included Frogger! The Frogger Musical and If James Taylor Were On Fire.

I felt ruthlessly entertained.

Then came JoCo. I had no idea what an excellent guitarist he is--the complexity of chord structures and arrangements doesn't come through when you simply listen to his recordings. He played the requisite favorites (Code Monkey, Re: Your Brains, Skullcrusher Mountain) and some requests (Presidents, The Mandlebrot Set, Dance Soterios Johnson Dance) and brought Paul and Storm up for a few songs, including a rendition of Soft Rocked By Me that devolved into an impromptu medley of sappy love songs, which then devolved into the audience singing the chorus of Hey Jude while Paul (of Paul and Storm) sang C is for Cookie over it.

And since Saturday was also International Talk Like a Pirate Day, there were no shortage of pirate jokes to be had. And because keeping things timely is good, one song was interrupted by Kanye West (the song in question, Mr. Fancy Pants, was played on what Coulton described as a $1300 purse). All in all, I think the most compelling thing about the show was the the performers were clearly having a great time up on stage. There was a lot of back-and-forth and interaction with the audience (Paul and Storm gave out prizes periodically and explained the ridiculous inside-jokes on their T-shirts). But my favorite joke might have been when Jonathan Coulton announced is "last song" in air quotes, only to leave the stage to thunderous applause afterward and then run back on 10 seconds later talking about what a shocking and surprising turn of events it was to be called back up for an encore.

He sold out the venue and the crowd was really responsive to him, so it's reasonable to think that he'll be back through again some time, probably playing someplace larger, and if you get a chance, it's a show I highly recommend--not just because it was a great show, but because of what it means for independent, and I mean truly independent, music. Neither Paul and Storm nor JoCo are on labels. They don't have professional recording studios or radio play. They are do-it-yourself-ers, and they are part of a growing trend towards middle-class-musicianship. And it's nice to think that part of the aftermath of Napster and P2P is that it's becoming easier to make a living as a musician without having to satisfy all of the superstar formula.

Also, I tried a Colt 45, and it did work every time. So that's good to know.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Away, Do You Fly?

Was listening to Lenny Kravitz's Fly Away for the first time in forever, and I realize, it kind of sucks. It's not awful, and it passes the gut-test: it's enjoyable to listen to more than once. But when you start looking at the nuts and bolts of the tune, there's not much there.

The song has exactly one chord progression: A, C, G, D, all major chords. Pretty standard alternative rock fare, the typical box-pattern riff that made riff-rock so laughable as the 90's drew to a close. During the verses, it's driven by bass, but it's the same chords. And while the choruses are guitar-driven. And what's with that intro? The guitar riff starts out in one channel, which is fine, and then there's a cymbal crash and the rest of the band comes in. 2 measures later, the guitar comes in on the right channel. What?

The lyrics are... "trite" is a polite word for it. Let's take a look at the first verse, shall we?

I wish that I could fly, into the sky, so very high
Just like a dragonfly.
I'd fly above the trees, over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please

Ignoring the fact that dragonflies aren't known for attaining mad altitude, what is this supposed to mean, exactly? I get a little bit about "freedom" from the end there, but more than that I get the feeling that Kravitz phoned this one in. If "degrees" isn't a cheap rhyme, I don't know what is. Let's see how the second chorus measures up.

Let's go and see the stars, the Milky Way, or even Mars
Where it can just be ours
Let's fade into the sun, let your spirit fly, where we are one
Just for a little fun

So, I'd say we're firmly out of dragonfly territory. Why "Mars" is a bigger draw than "The Milky Way" eludes me, but whatever. Now we're starting to see a little bit of narrative. This isn't about getting away, it's about getting away with someone else. The second half of the verse gets a little abstract, but that's fine, although the line "just for a little fun" seems to undermine the spiritual context that came out just a few syllables earlier.

So now we've figured out what the song is about. Sneaking off to go get laid. In the spirit of I Think We're Alone Now, which is fine for pop music. But how does this register in the chorus? The chorus just repeats "I want to get away, I want to fly away, yeah, yeah, yeah" over and over. Or does it?

There's something else there, something that I'd never noticed until a few days ago. Under the cacophony of "yeah, yeah, yeah", there's a smaller "with you" also being sung. So it sort of makes sense, and there's a hell of a hook at the root of this song, it's just kind of a sloppy execution of concept.

In short, Mr. Kravitz has committed a "Jack White" crime of songwriting--he's taken an awesome idea and not bothered to develop it enough. Which is why Fly Away was a hit. Hell, it was 1998--we rockers needed something to pull us out of the sea of boy bands. But ten years on, it's proven to be a pretty forgettable tune.

Which goes for most of Lenny's catalog, in my opinion.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Catch a Wave

So I finally got around to watching Google's hour-and-a-half developer's preview of their new product Wave, which is due out this year. And I'm excited. First off, this thing is incredibly geeky--the name "Wave" came from Firefly (and this is no mere creative interpretation on my part--the crash notice is "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal"). But I also admire the chutzpah of this project.

The team that brought you Google Maps thinks they can do e-mail better than e-mail does it.

And they may be right, when you think about it. E-mail is forty years old--that's older than the internet. There are some limitations built into the model--you create a document and send it to someone, which is all well and fine in principle. But people have conversations more than they have correspondence, and e-mail soon begins to emulate that, which it isn't really meant to do. In a typical instance, it means that generally one person alone has the most recent part of that conversation. When you get into having multi-threaded conversations over e-mail (and anyone who has office e-mail knows that this happens all the damned time), that's when the model starts to noticeably break-down. People are replying to different threads, people joining the conversation miss out on the beginning, conversations fork.

Wave treats a Wave as a conversation. Rather than create a message to send to people, with Wave, you create a message/document/photo-album and invite others to participate in it. Anyone can see new information, replay the entire conversation, reply to isolated bits of it, fork and rejoin without disrupting the whole thing. It's a wholly different approach.

Coming back down to Earth for a second, nobody honestly thinks Wave is going to replace e-mail--e-mail is absolutely perfect for sending a message to another person quickly and cheaply without needing them to see it and respond in real time. But there are a few things that we use e-mail to do that Wave will be able to do better, particularly things that involve coordinating the efforts of a group of people that is larger than, say, two. This can be anything as complex as document editing to things as simple as a planning where to go for lunch. I anticipate us keeping it open at work at all times (a "standing Wave", if you will).

And the feature I find the most intriguing is the context-smart spellchecker. During the demo, someone typed the phrase "Icland is an icland" and the checker auto-corrected it to "Iceland is an island". I was impressed, and I'm excited. I hope it takes off. I worry that it might actually be overly ambitious--it does try to be several technologies at once, and things like that can collapse under their own weight. But the folks over at Google are pretty clever--if anyone can make this work, they can.

We'll find out this year.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Dawn of the Retread

I rented Dawn of the Dead, the 2007 remake. During the movie it occurred to me that I had little ground to compare it, because I've never seen a plain-old ordinary zombie apocalypse film before. I've seen a few send-ups: Shawn of the Dead, and Dance of the Dead, and I've seen some of the genre peripherals, such 28 Days Later and some of the (gawd-awful) Resident Evil films. But I've never seen any of the George A. Romero "classics" like Night of the Living Dead.

So, in that vacuum, here are my reactions of Dawn of the Dead.

1. My impressions of Zak Snyder have not improved. I've now seen every movie he's made, and they all give me roughly the same impression: not unwatchable, but not stellar. Highly stylized mediocrity with the occasional "wow" moment thrown in. I didn't hate it. But I don't have any desire to see it again.

2. It's awfully timid. All the shock-worthy elements are there, but nothing seems to come of them. Zombie baby? Check. Zombie baby attacking people? Nah... Surprise oh-fuck ending? Check. Do we get to actually see any of that? Nah... Zombies in a mall? Check. Pointed satirical statement about American consumerism? Nah...

3. When did "pastel" become an appropriate color palette for a horror film? Just sayin'.

4. It seems blissfully unaware of itself. And this is perhaps the most bothersome. As suspension of disbelief goes, I'm fine with the un-dead walking around mauling people, but the idea that no one in the movie has heard of a zombie before? That's too much of a stretch. The characters aren't in shocked disbelief that a zombie apocalypse has begun, they literally have no idea what's happening. This could have been wrangled. The main character is a nurse and she starts off the film complaining about a particularly long shift. If she had said something like "I feel like a freaking zombie", it would have given us a framework for her disbelief. She's aware of the idea, but her concept of what a "zombie" should be like is challenged by the zombies she runs across.

More to the point, is it even possible to make an un-ironic zombie movie these days? You wouldn't make a vampire movie without anyone knowing what a vampire was, would you? Dawn of the Dead adheres to the zombie apocalypse checklist: the living become un-dead when bitten and the only way to kill them is to shoot them in the head. These zombies run, but all zombies run nowadays. That's because someone in the last twenty years figured out that a running horde is, in fact, scarier than a trudging one. So that's hardly an innovation.

The closest point of comparison for me is 28 Days Later, which brought enough variation to make the idea feel fresh, so much so that it really can't be called a zombie apocalypse film. Still, there are parallels, and I can't help but not the wide divergence between how they handle the subject matter. Days, for example, actually bothered to discuss themes that are broader than "zombies are scary".

In that film, the "infection", as they called it, had not only stripped away the humanity from civilization, on both metaphoric and literal levels. Sometimes your loved ones disappeared, but sometimes they would turn against you. But towards the end of the film our heroes interact with others who've been hiding out, and find out that non-infected people will betray you just as quickly and with far more subtlety.

And honestly, that's what zombie movies are all about: not being afraid of monsters, but being afraid of people.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

WTF, Sansa?

So my wife bought a Sansa player. It's not that she's anti-iPod, she used to use a Shuffle, but the price was right and she's not Apple-loyal. We put some music on it for her, but she wanted me to rip a few more albums, which I did. When we plugged it in to the ol' iMac to add those... nothing happened.

It wouldn't mount. The player should show up as a removable drive. I dug into the disk utilities and found that the computer could see the player as a USB utility, but it wouldn't mount it, even though it had in the past.

So I hopped onto Sandisk's website to try and track down the cause of the problem, and the first two fixes that popped up were most disconcerting. First, they told me that Mac OS is not, technically, a supported operating system. Next, they told me to update my Windows Media Player to 10 or 11.

Hold the fucking phone.

Isn't half the appeal of a Sansa that it's brand-agnostic? My brother-in-law swears by Sansa and will actively avoid anything with "iPod" written on it because he hates the fact that it's tied to iTunes. iPod's can only be used in conjunction with a proprietary bit of software, and when you try to install it, it also tries to install Quicktime on your machine, and he objects to that on principle. I get that. Sansa boasts a drag-and-drop interface that will work with any OS, and I absolutely see the merit in that. But when they really mean "use us in conjunction with Windows Media Player and why the hell weren't you using Windows already?"... I gotta call bullshit on that.

Because it's not like iPods only work on Mac. Now, I haven't used it in years, but I recall iTunes for Windows being a bloated piece of shit. But I have always despised Windows Media Player. On Windows machines I preferred to use Winamp, but I did have to install WMP once and it totally overrode my Winamp install. Even re-installing Winamp didn't help. Anytime I tried to open something in Winamp, bit opened WMP instead.

And Sansa has tied themselves to this in the name of brand-agnosticism? And then just randomly chose to not support Mac OS?

And here's what I find really bothersome. At the end of the day, it's a media player. It's a flash drive with a play button. How the hell is a USB peripheral not Mac compatible? Did they miss the bit where the U in USB stands for Universal? I refuse to believe that making it visible is harder than hiding it, unless you're trying to do fancy sync's tied to a specific media player.

But clearly no one is interested in that.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh, Bugger!

The moral of the story is: don't watch videos on Facebook.

So I was eating lunch at my desk and I see a post from a Facebook friend saying that they have a new video up. I decide to give it a look and it tells me I need to update my Flash Player. Oh yeah, there was a thing recently about updating Adobe Flash Player, had I done it on this machine yet? I click the link and run the executable.

Nothing happens.

About that time I notice the url in Facebook page hosting the video and guess what: it gives an IP address. It does not say Facebook.

Well shit.

About that time a window pops up from Windows Defender informing me that a bit of malware is trying to run on my machine and asking me if I want to remove it. I say that I do. Whew, that was close, but thank god for windows defender.

I resume my normal surfing and see a new installment of Penny-Arcade has posted, so I click the link and I get sent to a page that has nothing to do with Penny-Arcade.

Shit, shit, shit. I know what's happened before the pop-ups start hitting. I instinctively type in a search for MBAM, the anti-malware software that was recommended to me by our IT person (who was conveniently not in the office today). If came back with an unloadable page. I open the downloads page of my browser, but it's empty. I was infected.

I then remembered that I had previously installed MBAM and started running it. Eight minutes later, it had found 14 malicious files. I left a message for my Facebook friend that she was, like me, mostly infected with Koobface and that she needed to scan her machine and notify Facebook. All in all, it took three scans and about three hours for me to finally get every last trace of it off. So much for Windows Defender.

And I know better than to run strange executables. But I let my guard down for a second and it cost me an afternoon. The worst part was that I had everything open when the infection struck. I had Gtalk running, my DropBox was active, my e-mail and Twitter and Facebook clients were open. Koobface is geared towards social network sites, so I had to change those passwords. If anything in my DropBox got infected it could infect other computers I use. And if anyone ever got my e-mail password, they could get into everything: my online banking, my auto insurance, everything.

So I had to come up with new passwords for everything, which means my clients are all going to need to be reconfigured, and I'm a programmer: passwords have upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and if I'm feeling really ambitious at least one non-alpha-numeric character the latter of which, incidentally, aren't supported by Bank of America's website. And God, did BOA piss me off, nothing like a minor security crisis to make you remember how cruddy your bank's web interface is.

All I wanted to do was change my password. But I couldn't find it. Account settings only applied to Bank Accounts. I could change my address or order checks, but I couldn't change my password. In one FAQ menu I found a Live Help Chat, so I opened that up giving it my full name. Twice. The conversation went something like this:

Pablo: Hello, my name is Pablo, and thank you for using Bank of America's automated support. How can I help you make better use of our products and services?

Me: I need to change my password but I can't seem to find it.

Me: Oh, nevermind, I just found it. Thanks anyway.

Pablo: I understand that you need help changing your password. I'm sorry that you're having difficulty.

Me: Thanks for your time, you might let your tech department know that it's a bit hard to find the password change page on your site.

Pablo: I can walk you through the steps to do that.

Part of the reason it was so hard to find was that BOA's website refers to your "password" as a "passcode". I suppose this is meant to be hip and trendy. In reality, all it does is foil the site-search.

So I got to experience BOA's web-non-savvy once more. And I got to fight with a virus all afternoon. And I got to endure the jeers of being "Malware Man" for a day. And I have a whole new set of passwords to re-memorize. And then I get home and manage to lock myself out of my own Twitter account.

So that's my Monday. How was yours?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Get While The Gettin's Good

Made my way up to the G's in my playlist, and the first big stretch is "Get". Here's what we... um... get... damn, the puns are just too easy with this group. Anyway.

  • The Beatles - Get Back (3 versions, Let It Be, Let It Be... Naked, and Love)
  • Alice in Chains - Get Born Again
  • Fiona Apple - Get Gone
  • Fiona Apple - Get Him Back
  • Barenaked Ladies - Get In Line
  • Billy Joel - Get It Right The First Time
  • Cracker - Get Off This
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers - Get On Top
  • Sublime - Get Ready
  • 2 Unlimited - Get Ready For This
  • Beck - Get Real Paid
  • The Youngbloods - Get Together
  • Bob Marley & The Wailers - Get Up Stand Up
  • Marilyn Manson - Get Your Gunn
  • Ben Folds - Get Your Hands Off My Woman
  • Five Iron Frenzy - Get Your Riot Gear
  • Audioslave - Getaway Car
  • Limp Bizkit - Getcha Groove On
  • Weezer - Getchoo
  • Prince - Gett Off
  • The Beatles - Getting Better
  • Nine Inch Nails - Getting Smaller

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thanks, Comrade

Russia just announced a new national holiday, and it is today, September 13th. Except on Leap Year, when it will be September 12th.

In Russia, the 256th day of every year is to be commemorated as... drumroll...

Programmer's Day.


Friday, September 4, 2009

What's With You, Quizno's? You've Changed, Man

Something light for Friday, I think, is in order.

What the hell happened to Quizno's? They used to be like an upscale Subway, now they're like a pale imitation. They have disrupted the natural order. They spent so much time singing the praises of "oven toasted" that now Subway's doing it. Subway has raised the bar, bringing in new toppings, fancier dressings, more breads, and oven-toasting to boot.

Quizno's, on the other hand, have let things slide. Still only two breads. No more signs on the wall about having the best ingredients. The ever-changing menu (making it difficult to have a standby) is now a glorified build-your own. The pepper bar is creeping back behind the counter.

For a while I thought that Subway and Quizno's would be indistinguishable. But now it's like Quizno's isn't even trying. And they're not like Jimmie-John's who are so niche that they can go around never changing a thing and still keep a rabid following.

And now I want a sandwich. Seriously, all this talk of Quizno's is making me really hungry.

For Jimmie-John's.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The New Symbols of Satan

You may not realize how much of our modern conception of a "devil" is derived from pagan symbols. Horns are symbols of fertility, the trident was the tool of Poseidon. Sometimes Satan is depicted as a faun, and fauns were associated with mischief and orgies. Even the pentagram started out life as a Wiccan symbol of faith. But the church deemed these symbols as threats and "demonized" them in perhaps the most literal sense of the word. The most Satan-like compilation of these components is Baphomet, who was invented by Christians--not as a Christian devil but as a pagan or Islamic deity and then became a devil.

Even today the church makes potential threats into demons, often as not targeting symbols of fertility as being the most threatening. This makes sense, of course: sex is a powerful narcotic. Why do you think the church is so hell-bent (ahem) on controlling and rationing the sexuality of its patrons? Why do you think we have such widespread fear of our own genitalia? Hell, I've even heard Christians describe peace symbols as "Satanic" because they are upside-down broken crosses, when in reality the threat comes from the association of the 60's peace movement with "free love".

This is all well and good, and fairly forward-thinking, but the church needs to step up its game and look to modern threats. So if there's anyone out there that has influence over Christian iconography, I submit the following symbols. They represent threats to Christianity and need to be rebranded as demonic.

Understanding medicine takes away the need to pray for healing, so this one has got to go. See, it's already got the snakes, so we're halfway there. And with the wings, I can see "serpent angel" as a symbol of Satan working pretty well.

Ah, Science. Who needs religion to tell you how the world works when you can have actual facts? So, how to make this one evil... maybe by relating it to the pentagram... or by thinking of electron orbits as circles of Hell.

Genetics, just as potent. How can you deny evolution with all this evidence of it laying about? Better demonize this symbol as well, and thankfully it's easier--call it a twisted ladder to the underworld. Am I right?

This one is a bit trickier, but ultimately necessary. The Erlenmeyer Flask is perhaps the most prescient representation of experimentation. It symbolizes the epistemology that separates science from religion, for science is based on gathering knowledge and perfecting it through revision and observation--whereas religion is the resistance of new knowledge and learning in lieu of the unwavering fortification of superstitions and myth. So the flask has got to go. Satan-ifying this one is not nearly as straight-forward, but I think the downward-taper of the flask could be a statement that Earth is larger than Heaven. Will have to give this one more thought... erm... prayer, I mean.


Just pure evil, obviously. Maybe you could argue that the brain stem and cerebellum sort of look like a penis and scrotum if you turn your head just right, but that doesn't quite work for me. On the other hand, maybe it doesn't need to be a symbol for anything. Maybe it's enough that the brain not only represents but physically manifests the gathering of knowledge, the housing of the mind, thought, will, desire, action, and--therefore--sin. Maybe its enough that spiritual events--feeling god's presence, near-death glimpses of heaven--can be shown as reproducible products of the brain. Maybe it's enough the brain is by nature antithetical to faith, making it unholy by definition.

Or we can always make up something scary later.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There's An App For That, Too

Some friends of ours have iPhones and have been raving about one app in particular: Trapster. Trapster allows you to report speed traps and get texts when speed traps are set up on your route.

So, when we were coming back from the City Museum Saturday night, we got stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, a minor inconvenience that added a whopping four minutes or so to our evening drive. As we were leaving, someone in the backseat cheerfully shared that she had never reported a sobriety checkpoint before, and began entering the location into her phone.

I honestly didn't think too much of it at the time, but in retrospect, I have a real problem with that. Reporting speed traps is one thing--it's on roughly the same moral plain as radar detectors: not particularly hazardous if not particularly ethical. Most people can speed relatively safely and without endangering others on the road, but the main reason someone would avoid a sobriety checkpoint is because they shouldn't be on the road in the first place.

I foresee some sort of legal action against Trapster, if it continues to catch on. Reporting speed traps is one thing, but it's quite another to make the road a more dangerous place by reporting the location of one of these checkpoints.