2007-12-31

Pushing Daises

I watched 3 episodes of Pushing Daisies tonight. This may be the best new show of the short 2007 season.

Ned, the main character, can bring people (and animals) back from the dead by touching them. If he touches them a second time in 60 seconds, they die forever. If he doesn't touch them a second time in 60 seconds, someone else dies in their place. And the next time he touches them, they also die forever. He can, however, touch people who never died and they're fine.

He runs a pie shop (rather different from Mrs. Lovett's shop) and uses his unique talent to partner with Emerson, a private investigator, to solve crimes or collect reward money. He will revive a murder victim to ask them how they died, and then we're off.

Ned's love interest is Chuck his best friend from childhood, who died, and Ned brought back to life. Now, of course, he can never touch her again, so it's not an ideal situation.

Rounding out the main cast is Olive, a waitress from the pie shop, who doesn't really know what's going on, but is secretly in love with Ned.

It's an interesting idea for a show, but what really sets the show apart is the unique look and feel. The whole show is framed in a story book style, rhyming narration. The characters all snap into place on sets brightly and fantastically colored. The cinematography is amazing, with wide, sweeping camera shot that are cinematic in scope.

Unlike Heroes which is about magical people in the real world, Pushing Daisies is about magical people in a fantastical world. It has the sweeping, epic, and fantastical sets and camera swoops of the first Batman movie or even Edward Scissorhands, combined with the bright colors of the Batman TV series. It has a very Tim Burton feel.

Dialog is faster, characters are stiffer, things fit in just the right way. The story is told as though it's a children's book, and the characters move and act as though they are dolls acting out that book.

While the main character actors do a great job, Kristen Chenoweth's Olive provides a great contrast. With her heavily patterned apartment decorations and bright look, loud look and approach to life, she provides a nice balance to the secretive, often dowdy appearance of the other characters. Of course I've also been a fan of Chenoweth since her work on the the West Wing and an appearance on the Conan O'Brien show.

Pushing Daisies is an inventive, original, and beautiful show. If you can handle the talking and walking dead without nightmares, this is a great show to add to your weekly routine.

2007-12-30

You know it's a good landing...

...when you hear it before you feel it.

2007-12-28

Sleep

2007-05-08
Sleep 01: More Time, Less Sleep

2007-07-24
Sleep 02: Sleep is Obsolete

2007-08-19
Sleep 03: Rip Van Winkle Syndrome

2007-08-22
Sleep 04: What is it?

2007-10-03
Sleep 4.5: Cheating Sleep

2007-10-26
Sleep 05: British Sleep Walking

2007-12-28
Sleep 06: Orexin A

2008-10-20
Sleep 07: Broken sleep

2008-12-09
Sleep 08: Partial Sleep

2009-04-13
Sleep 09: Spring Cleaning

2009-06-20
Sleep 10: Genes, sleep, and age-related disorders

2009-08-07
Sleep 11: Naps for better memory

A wall of books

2006-03-10
A Wall of Books Part 01: Elliott Bay Books

2006-04-03
A Wall of Books Part 02: Inventory

2006-04-30
A Wall of Books Part 03: Village Books

2006-11-20
A Wall of Books Part 04: Powell's

2007-11-20
A Wall of Books Part 05: Amazon Kindle

2008-01-31
A Wall of Books Part 06: Organization

2008-03-06
A Wall of Books Part 07: Powell's Partner Program

2008-04-27
A Wall of Books Park 08: The Pilgrimage

Movie Reviews

2007-01-15
Movie Reviews 01: Happy Feet

2007-07-13
Movie Reviews 02: Ratatouille

2007-08-10
Movie Reviews 2.5: Corpse Bride

2007-08-13
Movie Reviews 03: Transformers

2007-09-02
Movie Reviews 04: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

2008-05-16
Movie Reviews 05: Iron Man


2008-07-14
Movie Reviews 06: WALL-E

2008-07-21
Movie Review 07: Hellboy II -- The Golden Army

2008-07-27
Movie Review 08: The Dark Knight

2009-05-09
Movie Review 09: Star Trek

2009-06-15
Movie Review 10: Up

2009-08-03
Movie Review 11: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

2010-01-17
Movie Review 12: Avatar

2010-01-24
Movie Review 13: Up in the Air

2010-09-13
Movie Review 14:  Inception

2010-10-11
Movie Review 15: The Social Network

2010-11-28
Movie Review 16: She

2010-12-02
Movie Review 17: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

2011-01-17
Movie Review 18: Tron Legacy

2011-06-20
Movie Review 19: Norwegian Wood

2011-07-06
Movie Review 20: Mr. Popper's Penguins

2011-09-04
Movie Review 21: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

2011-12-01
Movie Review 22: In Time

2011-12-28
Movie Review 23: The Muppets

Life in the garden

2006-06-07
Life in the Garden Part 01: Thinning

2006-09-08
Life in the Garden Part 02: The Basil Crop

2007-04-17
Life in the Garden Part 03: Tomatoes

2007-06-09
Life in the Garden Part 04: Dracaena Trunk

2007-08-15
Life in the Garden Part 05: Tomatoes

2008-08-15
Life in the Garden Part 06: Discount Trees at Ikea

2008-09-20
Life in the Garden Part 07: Moisture Meter Missing Most Moisture -- Measures Mainly Miniscule

2008-09-27
Life in the Garden Part 07.5: Bamboo

2009-02-07
Life in the Garden Part 08: Self watering containers

2009-02-21
Life in the Garden Part 09: Photography and the Garden Show

2009-02-24
Life in the Garden Part 10: Seedlings

2009-03-04
Life in the Garden Part 11: Seedling Growth

2009-03-09
Life in the Garden Part 12: Gardening to save money?

2009-04-04
Life in the Garden Part 13: Graduation

2009-04-17
Life in the Garden Part 14: Brackets

2009-04-24
Life in the Garden Part 15: Fake Herbs

2009-04-29
LIfe in the Garden Part 16: Friendly visitors

2009-05-01
Life in the Garden Part 17: FlorAbundance WA Arboretum Plant Sale

2009-05-30
Life in the Garden Part 18: Zombie Cilantro

2009-06-01
Life in the Garden Part 19: Bamboo recovers

2009-06-08
Life in the Garden Part 20: Friendly visitor comes back

2009-06-16
Life in the Garden Part 21: Staking tomato problems

2009-06-17
Life in the Garden Part 22: More tomato stake lessons

2009-06-21
Life in the Garden Part 23: Two weeks of progress

2009-06-27
Life in the Garden Part 24: Dinner

2009-07-03
Life in the Garden Part 25: Water, Water, Never There

2009-07-11
Life in the Garden Part 26: The greenhouse effect

2009-07-21
Life in the Garden Part 27: Osteoperosis for plants

2009-07-28
Life in the Garden Part 28: All in one

2009-08-01
Life in the Garden Part 29: Honey

2009-08-12
Life in the Garden Part 30: Lunch

2009-08-16
Life in the Garden Part 31: More than plants

2009-08-25
Life in the Garden Part 32: Onion

2009-09-01
Life in the Garden Part 33: Preserving the harvest

2009-09-13
Life in the Garden Part 34: Some pesto numbers


2009-11-11
Life in the Garden Part 35: Plant Nanny

2010-03-30
Life in the Garden Part 36: Winter Survivors


2010-04-03
Life in the Garden Part 37: Planting the seeds

2010-04-11
Life in the Garden Part 38: Even more seedlings

2010-04-12
Life in the Garden Part 39: Planting Blueberries

2010-06-04
Life in the Garden Part 40: Northwest Flower and Garden Show

2010-07-17
Life in the Garden Part 41: Salad

2010-08-02
Life in the Garden Part 42: Who sells brackets in Seattle?

2010-08-17
Life in the Garden Part 43: Romaine Growth

2010-08-23
Life in the Garden Part 44: Zucchini

2010-11-24
Life in the Garden Part 45: Carrots

Favorite Posts of 2006

These are ten of my favorites posts from 2006. They were fun to write. They aren't necessarily my highest traffic posts, or the posts that drew the most comments. If I compiled the list on a different day, the final selection might be different, but for now I'm satisfied.

This list does not include book reviews, movie reviews, or posts that are part of a different series. They are listed separately in the sidebar.

2006-02-18
The Egg Jokes

2006-03-14
Who am I?

2006-06-26
The last parade I marched in...

2006-06-29
Come on, baby don't you want to go, To the same old place, sweet home Chicago

2006-07-07
Adventures in dining

2006-08-27
The Inner Light

2006-10-03
Inertia. Or why I left Helena, MT

2006-11-17
The Flight Home

2006-11-26
The Snow Queen

2006-12-07
A sad story from Oregon

Favorite Posts of 2007

These are ten of my favorites posts from 2007. They were fun to write. They aren't necessarily my highest traffic posts, or the posts that drew the most comments. If I compiled the list on a different day, the final selection might be different, but for now I'm satisfied.

This list does not include book reviews, movie reviews, or posts that are part of a different series. They are listed separately in the sidebar.

2007-01-05
A Correction

2007-03-08
LISTEN TO ME!!!!

2007-04-16
We Are Happy To Serve You

2007-06-15
Hockey vs Football

2007-06-16
Unnecessary Comments

2007-08-15
Holy Cow! I Think He's Gonna Make it...

2007-09-27
Barbeque in NYC

2007-10-10
Musings on Missoula

2007-10-14
Lead: The Latest Threat to Homeland Security

2007-11-17
Roaches and Metropolis

Sleep 06: Orexin A

During the summer I commented on the drug Modafinil (Provigil) and its use in replacing sleep.

Development in other sleep replacement drugs is also going on. Researchers studying narcolepsy discovered that many patients lack Orexin.

The research follows the discovery by Siegel that the absence of orexin A appears to cause narcolepsy. That finding pointed to a major role for the peptide's absence in causing sleepiness. It stood to reason that if the deficit of orexin A makes people sleepy, adding it back into the brain would reduce the effects, said Siegel.

"What we've been doing so far is increasing arousal without dealing with the underlying problem," he said. "If the underlying deficit is a loss of orexin, and it clearly is, then the best treatment would be orexin."


Initial research on monkeys is promising:

The monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.

The study, published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, found orexin A not only restored monkeys' cognitive abilities but made their brains look "awake" in PET scans.

... More

Assuming the product has few side affects and is not addictive, the potential gains in personal productivity are staggering.

The full article appears on Wired.

2007-12-27

Upside to the writers' strike

The TV writers' strike is mildly annoying. It's given us a Heroes season cut short, the return of American Gladiators, and more reruns as the networks run out of new shows.

But my TiVo is tired and bloated. It's filled with shows that I've haven't gotten to yet. I haven't started watching ER yet this season, but the episodes are sitting on TiVo. I have folders filled with assorted Law and Orders and CSIs. I have three episodes of Pushing Up Daisies -- a show I haven't even see yet -- waiting to be watched. Throw in the random episode of Chuck or Life, and I am drowning in programming.

On top of it, the new Battlestar Galactica movie "Razor" showed up on TiVo one day.

This strike is the perfect chance to get caught up on all the programs I still have to watch. I anxiously await the Zen like peace that comes from seeing a TiVo with no new programming on it.

It's a challenge. It's an on going battle. It's not easy consuming mass quantities of pop culture on TV, and sometimes it makes me gag. But I'm up for the task. And the longer the writers' strike goes on, the more the battlefield advantage turns in my favor.

2007-12-25

Christmas Traditions

Families around the world have Christmas traditions. Some light candles. Some sing songs. Some do service projects. Some pass around funny decorations.

We have a special and long standing tradition in my family, too. After we unwrap presents, we all sit around the living room picking up paper. And then....

...we throw it all at the cats.


2007-12-25 Bernie (14)

2007-12-25 Bernie (19)


This is one tradition that has stood the test of time.

Christmas Ornaments

2007-12-23 Ornaments (4)
In the mid to late 70s my mother, brother, and I were regular customers of Plaster Palace. Located on Jamaica AVE in Woodhaven, Plaster Palace sold decorations, crafts, and figurines made out of plaster. You would take them home, paint them, and then spray them with these great smelling, and probably carcinogenic, glosses to finish them off.

Some time in the mid 90s or so, these types of places sprang up all over they country and quickly became cool, hip dating and corporate team building hot spots. By that time, Plaster Palace was long gone. But we still have the Christmas ornaments we "made" from there.

There's something comforting about looking at the tree decades later and seeing those familiar creations hanging on the branches. Some are faded; some are dusty, but they're still there. When I was 8 it never occurred to me that I'd be be looking at those same ornaments 25 and thirty years later.

2007-12-23 Ornaments (5)

On another note:

A man walked into a restaurant for breakfast one winter morning. He sat down in the booth, took off his coat and rubbed his hands to warm up. The waiter handed him a menu, then returned a few minutes later with a cup of coffee. The man layed the menu on the table, and continued to peruse it while he wrapped his fingers around the warm mug. He took a sip of coffee and began to relax. He was hungry, but determined to be disciplined. He looked at the "lite" entrees. The waiter came back and the man asked the waiter about the healthy choices.

"I'm supposed to be on a diet," said the man. "I'm trying to be good. What would should I get that's healthy?"

The waiter looked over his shoulder and then said in a low voice to the man, "The oatmeal is left over from yesterday. The fruit platter is two oranges and a grape. And the granola is, well, granola. You sure you want to eat healthy? People don't come to a place like this to be healthy."

The man grinned sheepishly and said, "Well, I've been on a diet, but it's Christmas week. I guess I can indulge a little. I'll have an omelet."

"Are you sure?" said the waiter. "If you're going to break your diet, go all the way. Get the Eggs Benedict."

"Is it good?"

"It two slightly cooked eggs, one muffin, with bacon -- albeit Canadian -- and a rich creamy hollandaise sauce that we just made smothering everything on the plate -- the eggs, the hash browns, the bacon and English muffins. It's thick, luxurious, and is the perfect reward for those who have 'been good,'" said the waiter with a slightly impish grin. "With all that, how could it not be great?"

"Oh, what the heck, why not?" said the man.

The waiter picked up the menu, put the order in with the kitchen, and then went to the back corner of the restaurant. He climbed up on a table and tool a big, shiny platter down from the wall. He climbed down, buffed the platter and handed it to the kitchen.

In a few minutes, the cook rang the bell on the counter, and the waiter picked up the platter with the man's Eggs Benedict. He said it down before his new favorite customer.

The man said, "It looks great, but what's with the big, shiny platter?"

The waiter paused, and looked at the man. Then he smiled broadly and said, "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise."



It may be an old joke, but it's on of my favorites today. Merry Christmas.

2007-12-23

The fish poses

One of the things I like about Alaska Airlines is the special liveries they have for their planes. Other airlines do this too, but Alaska seems to do it more than most.

Normally when I see one, it's at an odd angle, blocked by other aircraft, or just off in the distance.


2007-12-04 Starliner and Tinkerbell SEA

I got lucky on a recent trip to California, though. The famed Salmon-Thirty-Salmon stopped out side my airport window to pose.

2007-12-06 Salmon-Thirty-Salmon SNA (1)

2007-12-22

Legal Music Downloads Huge


Last month, Wired (15.12) published an article about Doug Morris, the CEO of Universal Music Group. Universal is on the of the largest record companies in the world. They focused on the challenges Universal faced in adapting to the digital world.

The focus was that Morris doesn't get it. While Universal works on new methods of distributing music on line, Morris still approaches the whole business with an Us against Them mentality. This may be the only industry where customer are viewed not only with derision, but as the enemy.

It's an interesting, if disjointed article, that you can read here.

Here's what I found most interesting:

This year, 22 percent of all music sold in the US will move through iTunes. "If iTunes gets up to 40 or 50 percent, they'll have too much power for anyone else to enter the business," says James McQuivey, who analyzes the digital music industry for Forrester Research. If the labels want out, they have two choices: Find a way to unseat the iPod or allow iTunes' competitors to sell unprotected files that can play on Apple's ubiquitous device.


I knew iTunes was big, but I had no clue that more than 1/5 of all music sold this year went through iTunes. More than 1/5 of music sold was electronic -- no CD to burn, no label to print, and no jewel case to crack.

I buy some TV shows though iTunes, but I still prefer to get my music on CDs. I do rip my CDs to MP3, but I like having the original media.

But apparently, there are more people who are willing to forgo physical ownership than I expected.

While this is terribly frightening for the record companies, it does bode well for on demand movies and TVs.

For several years, we've been hearing about the potential of on demand movies that download to your cable box. While most digital cable companies offer the technology, it seems very few people take advantage of it. Meanwhile, people are still buying DVDs in record numbers.

I expected that true on demand entertainment would still be several decades off, because people like owning DVDs. They like to physically put them on the shelf and have the library content right there.

But with more than 22% of music being sold without physical media, I may need to reconsider that position.

2007-12-20

Coffee and Asthma

Anderson Sant has an interesting blog about coffee. In a recent post, he had some fascinating things to say about asthma and coffee.

In particular, drinking caffeinated coffee in the situation of an emergency onset of asthma can allow the patient to breathe easily. Doctors have recommended coffee as an emergency way of treating asthma patients who find themselves with a sudden onset and no medication for many, many years.

More...

TSA Slammed in Times OPED


It's reassuring to know that more people than ever are becoming aware of just what a sham TSA really is. Here's a recent OPED piece in the NYT taking TSA to task for its ludicrous liquids ban.

Screening Dreams

If you are someone who suspects that what is billed as “aviation security” is often more show than substance, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of what Nixon aides used to call the “silent majority.” The security bureaucracy seems to think that as long as it is seen as doing something, and so long as another terror attack does not occur, the public will at least feel secure enough not to insist that it do whatever needs to be done actually to make us secure.

...More


The author is not just a frustrated traveler. He is part of the Homeland Security industry:

Clark Kent Ervin was the first inspector general of the United States Department of Homeland Security, where he served from January, 2003 to December, 2004. He is the Director of the Aspen Institute’s Homeland Security Program and the author of “Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack.” He lives in Washington.


And remember -- the "attack" that started this whole liquids fiasco never would have succeeded, anyway. I ranted about that last year.

If TSA really thought those liquids were dangerous and explosive, then maybe, just maybe, asking all passenger to dispose of their liquids in a trash can in the middle of a crowded security screening area isn't such a good idea.

If they're dangerous, don't pile them all up together in the middle of a crowd. That's stupid. If they're not dangerous, then let me take my Mountain Dew through security. And quit confiscating the gel insoles from my shoes.

2007-12-18

Attack on the S.L.U.T

Last week, the new South Lake Union Trolley Streetcar began serving commuters, shoppers, and tourists along it $52 million, 1.3 mile route.

It was paid for by both business along the route and with tax money. It may not be terribly useful, yet, but it's a start. And Seattle may expand the line someday.

But it has its foes. The anti-tax people think it's a waste of money. The anti-Microsoft/Vulcan people oppose it because it helps Paul Allen. The environmentalists and transit activists oppose it because they want more buses instead. Drivers oppose it because it takes some parking spots and they fear it may make traffic worse. Bicyclists oppose it because someone riding along the track might slip, get their wheel stuck, and fall.

Which brings us to the events of last Thursday.

From the Seattle PI:

Police investigate streetcar sabotage attempt

King County sheriff's deputies were investigating a prank in which a golf-ball sized metal bearing was placed on the track of the city's new South Lake Union streetcar, possibly in an attempt to damage it during its inaugural run.

...More

This is just pathetic. I don't know what's worst.

  • The best Seattle's radicals/protesters/terrorists (choose whichever one you want) could come up with was to lay a ball bearing on the track.
  • The viscous attack could actually have worked.
  • The Sheriff's Department now has to spend time and money investigating this assault.

This is why we can't have nice things, like infrastructure.

Can we now look forward to a nasty spit ball fight once light rail starts running?

2007-12-17

Temporary Art

A few months ago, Seattle hosted a sand sculpture event. You can see my mother's impressions of it here.

2007-08-23 Sandquest Sand Scupture at Westlake Plaza (6)

Seattle is not really known for its beaches so this was an interesting event. Seattle is also not know for its snow and ice, so it only makes sense to host an ice sculpture event as well.

2007-12-14 Pioneer Square Ice Sculpture

On Saturday, my GF and I headed down to Pioneer Square to check out the ice sculptures that are part of the Historic Holidays event. On the morning of day two, most of the sculptures were already melting. I'm not sure if they were supposed to last the whole weekend or not, but the impressive sculptures were gradually losing their details.

The Christmas tree was impressive, but we could see it drip.

2007-12-15 Pioneer Square Ice Sculpture

An elf was having some trouble, too.

2007-12-15 Pioneer Square Ice Sculpture (3)

The rocking horse was rather said to see. At one point it must have had some impressive detail.

2007-12-15 Pioneer Square Ice Sculpture (6)

By time we got there, it was more like a duck.

2007-12-15 Pioneer Square Ice Sculpture (5)

While it may be December, Seattle doesn't really have winter weather. The wind and 40-45 degree temperatures are not ice friendly.

But the artists' skills are truly amazing. Also amazing is the mind set that lets them do this. They put hours into the work, only to have it disappear a few hours later.

And that's the part I can't wrap my head around. To put so many hours into something so ephemeral would be utterly frustrating to me. And yet, not only do they not find it frustrating, I imagine many of the do it because it's temporary.

You can see more pictures of the Ice and Sand here.

2007-12-15

Vacation Time

At 11:59 PM tonight, I wrapped up my last major work project for the year. I slept only 4 of the last 36 hours to get things wrapped up. And it feels good.

I'm now done until 2008-01-03. It's a nice break. I tend to push most of my vacation to the end of the year and then just grab some rest. I like what I do, but it's always nice to not have to do anything for a few weeks.

Of course, I'll still log in to the work email from time to time to make sure there's nothing major to deal with. But that will be only a small part of my day for the next couple of weeks. And those quick checks, which almost always prove to me that everything is fine, do help me relax.

So what does the frequent business traveler do on vacation? Apparently, I'm about to get on a plane...

2007-12-13

The best thing about jounalism in NYC...

...is headlines like this from the New York Post:


And people wonder why the Post isn't taken as seriously as the other mainstream newspaper in NYC.

Was he pledging a frat?

BERLIN -- A man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing a liter (two pints) of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new carry-on rules, police said Wednesday.
...More

While I am convinced the whole liquid ban for air travel is all for show, liquids have now shown themselves to be dangerous at airports.

I'm not sure who to be more annoyed with in this story -- the German authorities for adopting the ridiculous liquid rule, or the idiot who decided to chug a liter of vodka rather than check it.

Though I do feel bad for the people who were stuck in line behind him. I just hope they made their flights.

2007-12-11

Blogrush Vs Entrecard

Regular readers may have noticed a new widget on my blog. Last night I signed up with Entrecard.


I've been looking for small things I can do to bring more readers to Cromely's World, and there is a whole industry for blog referral tools. Entrecard is the newest one for me.

Basically, you sign up with Entrecard, and put the widget on your site. You also create your own virtual business card. When you visit another Entrecard users blog, you drop your card there. When another user visits your blog they can drop their card on your site. You earn credits for all these drops.

You can use your credits to "buy" advertising space on another blog. You choose the blog to advertise on, and they accept or reject your ad at their leisure. If you they accept your ad, they earn credits.

You can also sell space on your blog. That's the link in the Entrecard widget. So I get credits for including someone else's link in my Entrecard widget.

There are more detail available at http://entrecard.com/

Last month I wrote about
the Blogrush widget in my tool bar. It's another tool for generating traffic.

Blogrush has not brought me any significant traffic, though. In the past month, I have had 6 visitors through Blogrush. I guess I don't write catchy enough headlines.

With Entrecard, however, in the first 22 hours of use, 24 new users visited Cromely's World. I haven't even launched my campaign yet.

For me, 6 visits in a month versus 24 visits in a day means things are not looking for Blogrush.

Flowers from AMEX

2007-12-07 AMEX Roses (3)


While I was in California last week, my girlfriend called me. She wanted to know who was sending me flowers. That's no a call you want to get while away on a business trip.

American Express sent me a dozen roses. I didn't think I spent that much money with them. It came with two cards. The first one, with the shipping label read:

THANK YOU FOR BEING A VALUED AMERICAN EXPRESS (R) CARDMEMBER. MAY YOU ENJOY A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY AND A HAPPY AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR. WARMLY, AMERICAN EXPRESS


The card in the box said:

You truly are one of our most loyal American Express (r) cardmembers, and we wanted to take this opportunity to show you how much we value your Cardmembership. We hope you enjoy the accompanying bouquet of flowers -- a token of our appreciation.

May you have a wonderful holiday and a happy an healthy New Year. Here's to 2008, a time of new beginnings and endless possibilities.


It was a mix of yellow, pink, and red roses. They came in a distinctive 1 800 Flowers box, that needed to be opened quickly.

I am grateful for the gesture. It was a pleasant, if odd surprise. Fortunately, I did make it back to town before they died.

And more importantly, I grateful that my GF doesn't jump to conclusion.

2007-12-09

Star Trek Remix Week 08: Bonus Muppet Content

Now we come full circle to wrap up Star Trek Remix Week.

While Play Cole put Star Trek into the Muppet Word, another fan brought the Muppet World to Star Trek.

Star Trek Voyager: The Muppet Show


2007-12-08

Star Trek Remix Week 07: Memorial

Fans who put music to the show aren't just mocking it, despite the silliness of I Will Survive, Time Warp, or Monty Python. The fans are honoring and paying tribute to a show and characters they love.

They demonstrate that love in these two clips.

James Doohan played Scotty, the heavy drinking miracle work from the Enterprises' engine rooms. Scotty was the only red shirt who would beam down to a planet and return to the ship on a regular basis. His death in 2005 touched fans around the world.

Star Trek: Tribute to Scotty



Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005, ending an 18 year streak of new Star Trek episodes. And in 2006, as viewers celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek, one fan put together this tribute to forty years of Star Trek using the music from the best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: 40th Anniversary Tribute

2007-12-07

Star Trek Remix Week 06: White Rabbit

There's no getting around it. Star Trek was a show of the late 60s. And they did their share of "stoned" episodes, like The Naked Time (repeated badly by Star Trek: The Next Generation) and This Side of Paradise.

It's only fitting that a fan give them a great psychedelic tribute by pairing up Star Trek and Jefferson Airplane.

Star Trek: White Rabbit

2007-12-06

Star Trek Remix Week 05: Blitzkrieg

Earlier this year, Jon demonstrated the power of adding a simple laugh track to a video.

The music in a show is just as critical and is often overlooked . A good sound track transports the viewer and makes them forget they are watching the show unfold in a rectangle in their living room. The music also sets the mood.

Here are two clips of Star Trek battles. The first is a compilation of combat scenes; the second is the final major battle from Deep Space 9. The music in Blitzkrieg is Requiem for a Dream from the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers trailer. The must in What You Leave Behind is also from the Lord of the Rings.

The battles have several scenes in common, but the slight change in music changes the effect significantly.


Star Trek: Blitzkrieg




Star Trek Deep Space 9: What You Leave Behind


Star Trek Remix Week 04: I Will Survive

There are some great moments in this Gloria Gaynor tribute. The bits toward the end with Wesley are awesome.


Star Trek: I Will Survive

2007-12-04

Star Trek Remix Week 03: Frasier

Not all Star Trek remixes are made by random fans. Did you ever wonder why the cast of Frasier never joined Star Fleet? Now you know.

Star Trek: Frasier


Star Trek Remix Week 02: You Had a Bad Day

It's nice how Spock and McCoy were always there for one another.


You Had A Bad Day -Spock/McCoy *Slash*

2007-12-03

Star Trek Remix Week 01: Rocky Horror

The Play Cole classic "The Muppet Show starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy" is closing in on 90,000 views. If you haven't already seen this stop motion animation, you can do so here.

But Star Trek is a cultural touchstone for more than just member of Play Cole. And fans have mixed it with a wide assortment of cultural flotsam and jetsam.

This week, I'll highlight just a few of these gems from the You Tube search engine.

If you're a fan of the Rocky Horror Picture show, your eyes probably light up and you have trouble staying in your seat when someone calls out, "It's just a jump to your left..."

The crew of the USS Enterprise feels the same way.


Star Trek: Time Warp

2007-12-01

You can be arrested for bad thoughts

An Oak Creek High School teacher has been arrested after authorities said he posted comments online in a debate about teacher salaries, saying the Columbine High School shooters were heroes.

James Buss, 46, of Cudahy, was arrested Thursday by West Bend police and released after posting $300 bail. He has been suspended from his job. He could face criminal charges.

...More

Could face criminal charges for posting offensive comments? Do we arrest people now just because they might at some point have to face criminal charges?

And those criminal charges would be related to offensive comments?

Outrages like this are becoming more common. While Buss's comments may have been inappropriate, arresting someone for praising criminals is fundamentally wrong and is more offensive than his praise of the Columbine killers.

We have to protect offensive speech. That's why we have the first amendment. Those protections were added to our most important national document to protect the unpopular and offensive. Popular and politically correct speech doesn't need protection. The unpopular statements need to be protected.

Buss deserves a large settlement from the department that had him arrested. Elected officials who approve the arrest of people who simply post their thoughts on line need to be recalled or voted out of office.

I'm afraid it won't be long before something like this would be considered subversive and arrestable:


That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Shatner-Palooza: "Hey, Shatner! How do I hurl bolts of lightening?"

I first saw this a couple of weeks ago. Shatner apparently plays World of Warcraft.

It's almost enough reason to go pick up my own copy.


2007-11-30

BSG vs Star Wars vs ST vs Babylon 5

This is very cool. The comments on youtube are a little geeky for my taste, though.

2007-11-29

Marriage Vs Civil Unions

This article popped up on Fark today:


The church had long welcomed members of all sexual orientations—they had even bucked local Lutheran leadership and ordained a lesbian pastor. But McGowan, a straight man, nonetheless saw a subtle form of discrimination. If the church couldn't legally marry gay couples, he argued, it shouldn't marry straight ones either.

...More

Basically, some churches are refusing to perform civil marriage ceremonies for heterosexual couples because they aren't allowed to perform civil marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples. They will still hold the wedding ceremony for either type of couple, but if a couple wants their marriage recognized by the state, then they have to go to the judge or whomever, and get married there, too.

This is a good idea. And it makes sense to reinforce the separation of church and state in this manner.

I support civil unions. Some may argue this is still discriminatory against homosexual couples because it's not the same as an actual marriage -- it's marriage lite.

But the state shouldn't be marrying heterosexuals either. A civil union is a more appropriate realm for state involvement regardless of the genders involved.

A state issued civil union should have all the legal trappings of traditional state recognized marriage:

  • Tax consequences
  • Hospital visitation rights
  • Insurance access
  • Inheritance privileges
  • etc.

A civil union allows two people to choose their own relative for important decisions like this. And people should be allowed to choose their designated partner for these legal issues.

Marriage, however, should be different. If marriage is about two souls coming together as one, or about the embodiment of a loving commitment, or about the sanctification of a relationship, that's great. But it's none of the state's business.

The sanctification and blessing of the relationship has spiritual and religious significance. The elevation or salvation of the soul is the proper role for the church. It is not the proper role for the state.

Religious organizations should have the freedom to define for themselves who they will allow to marry, just as they have the freedom to define their other creeds.

It's time to recognize that civil unions and marriage are two separate things with different meanings.

Civil unions are the proper province of the state. And the state should not restrict who can partner with whom. Many couples who form civil unions will also have an actual church sanctioned wedding and marriage. But many will not.

Marriage is the province of the church. And a chruch marriage should be a different process from a civil union. While the vast majority of people who get married by their church will also form a civil union, it's important to keep the process distinct.

In short, the state shouldn't ban or allow gay marriage. It shouldn't ban or allow heterosexual marriage. The state should allow any two people to form a civil union, and should stay out of the sanctification and blessing business altogether.

2007-11-27

Don't tell PETA

Who would have though that bugs getting hit with pies would be so awesome? I found the link at fazed.net.

2007-11-25

How old are you?

According to the Real Age website (I found the link on digg.com) my real age is 29.2 (versus my actual age of 36) and my life expectancy is 80.8. The test considers a variety of factors like biology, heredity, and life style choices.

I think the 80.8 is a bit pessimistic for my tastes. Given advances in technology over the coming decades, I'm targeting 150 as a minimum. As for the 29.2 estimate for my real age -- I'm still holding on kicking and screaming to 27.

So, how old are you? Take the test here.

2007-11-23

Black Friday Thoughts


From the Seattle PI

The local frenzy began at Alderwood Mall at 12:01 a.m. Friday with an unexpected rush of consumers. Within minutes, the mall was heavily congested and shoppers were bottlenecked, with some customers pushing and shoving.

"I think this is the dumbest idea they have ever had," said a frustrated Matt Carter of Snohomish. "This is not an environment for young kids. All it takes is for one person to fall down and you would get trampled."

Shannon Schwartz of Stanwood, a friend of Carter's, said the mall was so packed they couldn't even shop. Other shoppers complained that anchor tenants weren't open until hours after the mall began its sale, and that some stores didn't have enough clerks.

...More

Black Friday got off to an insane start in Seattle. But it wasn't always like this.

The Who-Concert-like crowds choking the malls today weren't there 10-12 years ago.

I spent three Christmas seasons as a retail salesperson in the mid-nineties, and while working retail taught me to loathe the Christmas season (I'm pretty much recovered now), I always enjoyed Black Friday.

There were a few stores that opened at 5:00 AM or 6:00 AM, but most stayed closed until 9:00. There were doorbuster sales, but not quite the stampede inducing levels we've come to expect now.

What we had was busy day. Customers at my stores were generally excited, and not universally rotten. There was an incredible energy in the air, and I prided my self on helping as many customers, and racking up as much in sales, as I could during that day.

The whole day became a challenge to have the biggest sales day in the store's history. At one consumer electronics store I worked at, the store normally did $30,000 to $60,000 a day in sales. On Black Friday, we would do $100,000 to $125,000. Breaking into that 6-figure area was a challenge I was happy to be a part of.

The 8 hour shift flew by. Non-stop business and multitasking sapped my entire adrenalin supply for the week. At the end of my shift, I was tired, but knew I helped more customers than I would on most any other day. I knew I was part of the record-setting performance the store set. And I knew I helped some people have a better Christmas season by providing the best, most efficient customer service I could.

The rest of the season would erode the positive feeling of the day, and by early January, I would be anxiously waiting the end of the season and a return to normal.

But for that one day of the season, retail was the place to be.

Thanksgiving and Wine

2007-11-22 Thanksgiving Dinner

My GF cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner this year. I helped out, of course, by
  1. Growing the herbs
  2. Lifting the turkey when instructed
  3. Staying out of the way

The wine on the table is a Maryhill Viognier from Washington's Columbia River Valley. It was pleasant, somewhat fruity, and a good fit for dinner.

This is not the first year I had wine with dinner.

Many years ago, when I was probably about 11, I finished my apple cider and asked for another glass. Since the table was already filled with dishes, food, candles, and what not, we kept all the beverages on the floor next to my father's chair. He refilled my glass, handed it back to me, and I took a nice big swig. I had no idea what had happened to my cider, but the look on my face told everyone else at the table that my father had apparently grabbed the wrong bottle and accidentally fill my glass with wine.

Lacking a sophisticated palette back then, I opted not to polish off that glass of white wine.

Now, had it been a nice Pinot...

2007-11-21

Who should I vote for?

According to this internet quiz, my thoughts on the issues most closely align with Mike Gravel.


Your Top Match:
Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (D)
72.37% match

Your other Top Matches:
Texas Representative Ron Paul (R) - 65.79%
Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich (D) - 57.89%
Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D) - 53.95%


So apparently, the three candidates that match my views closest have no chance of getting a nomination. And most people have either never heard of them, or consider them crackpots.

This is the problem with being a radical moderate. My views (what I consider the "sensible" approach to the issues) really don't get reflected in a candidate.

Growing up, I was New York Republican, which put me slightly to the left of most mainstream Democrats.

Over the years, though, I came to realize that while my political philosophy put me in the middle of the spectrum on average, it wasn't because I came down in the middle on most issues. It was because I embraced different ends of the political spectrum, depending on the issues. And with widely diverging views in what I hope is a coherent political philosophy, I can't wholly embrace either party's platform.

I'll have to see how Mike Gravel does it.

You can take the quiz here.

FWIW the blog hosting the quiz is a military focused blog called VAJoe.com

I learned about the quiz through Dara's blah blah blog.

"Celebrities" to appear on The Apprentice

After last season, Donald Trump announced the new season of the Apprentice will feature celebrities, instead of unknown entrepreneurs.

"This will be the most exciting season of 'The Apprentice' yet - maybe even better than Season One. Our fourteen celebrity contestants are incredible individually, and as a group they will make 'The Celebrity Apprentice' one of the hottest shows on television. I promise you a fantastic new season!" Said Donald J. Trump, executive producer of ' The Celebrity Apprentice.'

... More


Who are they? Well, it looks like a bunch of people who need the work:

The full contestant lineup:
Trace Adkins (country music singer)
• Carol Alt (model/actress)
• Stephen Baldwin (actor, The Usual Suspects)
• Nadia Comaneci (Olympic gold-medal gymnast)
• Tiffany Fallon (2005 Playboy Playmate of the Year)
• Jennie Finch (Olympic gold-medal softball player)
• Nely Galan (producer, Telemundo)
• Marilu Henner (actress, Taxi)
• Lennox Lewis (former heavyweight champion)
• Piers Morgan (judge, America's Got Talent)
• Omarosa (Apprentice Season 1 contestant)
• Tito Ortiz (UFC champion)
• Vincent Pastore (actor, The Sopranos)
• Gene Simmons (KISS frontman)




The list appears in an article on StarPulse.com

Marilu Henner must not have done well with her Taxi residuals.

2007-11-20

A Wall of Books Part 05: Amazon Kindle

Three years ago, we set out to design and build an entirely new class of device—a convenient, portable reading device with the ability to wirelessly download books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers. The result is Amazon Kindle.

...More


Amazon.com just announced their new e-Book reader, the Kindle.

It's an intriguing product, that has me torn. The "War on Paper" side of me thinks it's about time we saw a compelling e-Book solution. The "Book Whore" side of me can't imagine giving up my precious tomes.

The Kindle website had plenty of detail and comments from authors extolling the virtues of the Kindle. It's and impressive site.

The prouduct does some interesting thing. It uses digital paper which has a completely different look than a laptop or PDA screen. I've seen these displays on the Sony e-Book reader and it is impressive technology. It's designed to be as clear as paper even in full sun.

The Kindle also includes built-in Sprint EVDO that you don't pay for. It's used to buy e-Books from Amazon, or to download subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, or blogs. There is not monthly or one time charge for the online service. Presumably, Sprint get a piece of the sale when you buy something from Amazon, or subscribe to a magazine or blog through the Kindle. The benefit here, though, is that you can get a new book in a couple minutes anytime you happen to be on the Sprint network.

You can also annotate content on your Kindle, and apparently access those annotations on your PC. I like the idea of this feature a lot. When I read books and review them for this blog, I mark passages while I read, then I have to transcribe them into a word processor, then trim them down, and finally incorporate them into my content. The Kindle could make this easier.

But I like holding my books. And I like seeing them on the shelf. And I like the look of the covers and the feel in my hands. At the same time, if I could have a simple, light weight, and small device in my bag, that would simplify things, too.

So I'm torn on the question of using it for books.

Magazines, however, have a much stronger appeal. When I finish reading a magazine, I throw it out. I already read several magazines on my Tablet PC, so switching to the Kindle would be easy.

The problem with magazines, though, is that the Kindle doesn't do color. The smaller screen is great for text, but graphics intensive magazines like Wired wouldn't translate well onto the Kindle screen. For more text focused magazines, like the Atlantic Monthly, it would be a great choice.

It also supports newspaper subscriptions. If I regularly read a news paper front to back, this would be a great option. It will also automatically download subscriptions as soon as the issues come out. If I had a subway or train commute, this would be a great feature.

The biggest problem, though, may be the price point. It's $400. That's a bit much for my taste right now, especially since I would have to buy content for it, too, and it still wouldn't stop me from buying books.

I would be interested if Amazon combined this with a book purchase. For example, if when you purchased the paper based book you had the option of buy the electronic version as well, for just a dollar or two more. Then it's more compelling.

For now, though, I would find it most useful for my transitory reading. And I don't do enough of that to justify the cost.

Beyond my use, though, I do see tremendous potential for success.

The college text book market has struggled with electronic content for years. They don't want to offer all their books in electronic format because students could put it on multiple PCs. So they continue to charge outlandish prices for text books student might only need for a few months.

A product like the Kindle makes electronic text books simpler to implement. Instead of selling a CD student might copy onto multiple PCs, or offering a file on line that might be copied several times, students can purchase the book through Amazon and it will be available only to their Kindle. It would still be backed up on Amazon's servers, but this might be the way to address text book companies' concerns about piracy. If you can't get the book out of that Kindle, it's easier to make sure each student buys their own.

School text books will ultimately drive the adoption of e-Book technology. The launch of the Kindle may not be the event that does it, though. I've been predicting a lawsuit for a while though, that may boost the e-Book industry.

Kids in grade school and high school are carrying heavy loads. It's not uncommon for kids to have 20-40 pound of books on their backs. That may not be a big deal to an adult, but some of these kids may only weigh 50-100 pounds. Those text books represent a significant percentage of a kid's body weight. Someone will get injured and sue the schools and text book makers. Similar suits will pop up, possibly reaching class action status.

And the e-Book, in whatever flavor it's in at that point, will be the solution.

I applaud Amazon for the Kindle. It's a great step forward. I'm just not sure it's the step I want to take yet.

2007-11-19

This is very cool.

Someone just turned their home theater into the bridge of NCC 1701D:

Link found on Fark.com

For more pictures, click here.

2007-11-18

Super Mario Galaxy ...

... has been getting universally, gushingly, positive reviews.

And, yeah. It's that good.

Now I'm just waiting for them to release the soundtrack.


2007-11-17

Roaches and Metropolis

On Thursday, KUOW aired an NPR story about robotic roaches. Scientists built a fake roaches and introduced them to actual roach communities, to see if they could alter the roaches natural behavior.

"I think it's a really fascinating idea to integrate robots within animal groups. In actual fact, I really feel that this is the future of doing this kind of research," said Iain Couzin, a researcher at Princeton University who studies how large-scale biological patterns can emerge from individuals' actions.

...More
They were able to influence the behavior of the entire roach community by altering the behaviour of the robots.

The story reminded me of the 1927 Fritz Lang movie, Metropolis.

In this film, commonly described as the first robot science fiction movie, society is divided between the working class and the upper class. The workers operate the machines below ground that drive the entire society. They pray with a priestess.

A mad scientist who has a vendetta against the person who owns the machines, extracts his revenge. He creates an android that looks exactly like the priestess. He kidnaps the priestess and replaces her with his own creation.

Instead of promoting peace and love, the android advocates the violent overthrow of the society, and calls on the working class to rise up, throw off their chains, and smash the equipment.

The workers, like the roaches in the study, do just that, even though it destroys their society. Their homes are flooded; their children are nearly killed.

The film is a fascinating story about coopting the influencers of public opinion for nefarious purposes.

2007-11-15

Ents in Indonesia

In recent months, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine. Many medical organizations and states/local governments recommend that young girls (I believe 12 and up) get the vaccine to protect against this STD regardless of whether they are sexually active or not.

Don't click the link yet.

Here is a good reason for the vaccine. An Indonesian fisherman injured himself as a teenager and picked up an HPV infection. Sure, this is apparently a different strain that was transited when the victim cut his knee, but it is still HPV. The HPV infection interacted with his unique genetic flaws and is turning him into a tree.

Bizarre warts that look like roots and branches are growing from his skin.

The video and pictures at the site may be disturbing if you are sensitive to that sort of thing. Consider your self warned.

The good news is this may be treatable.

I originally found the link on fazed.net, and I really hope it's a fake. Unfortunately, it seems all too real.

Regardless of how HPV is transmitted, if the vaccine will stop this sort of thing from happening, it's probably worth it

2007-11-14

Shater-Palooza: Age-Me

Don't watch this too late at night. It may give you weird dreams.






Shatner is endorsing a site called age-me.com. I don't know why.

Congratulations, Bill. You've taken creepy to a new level. It's awesome.

2007-11-13

Private space stations today

Did you know there were already private space station prototypes in orbit? I had no idea.

What has long be the province of governments is now in the hands of private enterprise. In this article, Wired Magazine tells the story of Robert Bigelow, founder of the Budget Suites hotel chain.

He's a billionaire and, he's nuts. He's obsessive about privacy and security. He's funding his own quests to identify UFOs and potentially real extraterrestrials.

And he is building a space station. The prototypes are currently orbiting the planet.

It's easy to snicker at the James Bond theatrics at the headquarters of Bigelow's eight-year-old company, Bigelow Aerospace. It's even easier when you find out he's trying to build his very own space station. An inflatable space station, to be precise — a massive bouncy castle meant to expand when it gets into orbit. It will be the first privately owned destination in space, and Bigelow proposes to rent it out as an orbital research lab, a training facility, or even a tourist hotel. Sure, have a chuckle. But here's the thing: He's actually doing it.

In the past 16 months, BA has successfully shot two Hummer-sized prototypes of the station into orbit. Dubbed Genesis I and II, they're circling the globe as you read this. The last one went up in June, blasting out of Earth's atmosphere on the back of a modified Soviet-era SS-18 missile. It was launched from a space complex in central Russia, ISC Kosmotras, the rocket-for-hire venture run by Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

...More
It's a fascinating story. I wondered how someone get to the point where they start with little money, become a billionaire, decide to build a space station, and then actually build it.

As it turns out, he's from Vegas.

2007-11-11

Copyrighting a skyline?

The Marina Towers are those two iconic round building on Chicago's riverfront. The Marina Towers Condominium Association apparently thinks copyright law means no one can sell a picture of its building without the association's consent.

This author, a photographer, explains how it is very wrong.

There are also links on the page to updates and legal responses concerning the issue.

While these initiatives are unlikely to be held up in court, they are frightening. The ability to take pictures in public, of things and people in public, is vital to the protection of our civil liberties.

While pictures of these two buildings may not matter much, the principle does.

2007-11-09

NASA Picture of the Day




Every day, NASA posts a different astronomy picture. You can find each day's picture here.

They even offer an RSS Feed.

2007-11-07

Hotel Bedding

Hotels have been replacing much of their bedding in recent years. In addition to getting rid of those nasty comforters that have never been washed (don't think about it too hard), they are bringing in new sheets, pillows, and blankets.

I don't know a lot about fancy bedding. I never heard of pillow shams until about 5 years ago.

So can someone tell me what this pillow is for?

The cover isn't easily washable, and it's too hard to sleep on. And it's too rigid to be useful in a pillow fight. All I've come up with is that maybe it supposed to protect a small area of the carpet where I toss it each night.

Bedtime shouldn't be so confusing.


2007-11-07 Tube Pillow (1)

2007-11-07 Tube Pillow

2007-11-06

20 Things You Didn't Know About Living In Space

Discovery Magazine on line has a regular feature called 20 Things You Didn't Know About...

Here is the 20 Things You Didn't Know About Living In Space. Well, LDK probably know them...

This is my favorite:

But some long-duration cosmonauts report that the hardest thing to readjust to about life on Earth is that when you let go of objects, they fall.

2007-11-05

Suicide Bombers in Video Games

Clive Thompson wrote an interesting piece for Wired.

He discusses how he gained some understanding of real world suicide bombers by resorting to similar tactics in video games.

Obviously the stakes are quite different, but his point is that when options are limited, people will make desperate choices.

The person who is most dangerous is often the person who had nothing to lose.


So after a few weeks of this ritual humiliation, I got sick of it. And I devised a simple technique for revenge.

Whenever I find myself under attack by a wildly superior player, I stop trying to duck and avoid their fire. Instead, I turn around and run straight at them. I know that by doing so, I'm only making it easier for them to shoot me -- and thus I'm marching straight into the jaws of death. Indeed, I can usually see my health meter rapidly shrinking to zero.

But at the last second, before I die, I'll whip out a sticky plasma grenade -- and throw it at them. Because I've run up so close, I almost always hit my opponent successfully. I'll die -- but he'll die too, a few seconds later when the grenade goes off. (When you pull off the trick, the game pops up a little dialog box noting that you killed someone "from beyond the grave.")

It was after pulling this maneuver a couple of dozen times that it suddenly hit me: I had, quite unconsciously, adopted the tactics of a suicide bomber -- or a kamikaze pilot.

It's not just that I'm willing to sacrifice my life to kill someone else. It's that I'm exploiting the psychology of asymmetrical warfare.

...More

Book Review 14: A Great Character Study


In my experience when a person doesn't know what to do with himself, he will check his email. So with a blank and troubled mind I strolled into the office of the pension, and stood in line waiting for the one super-slow email connection.
Page 192

Benjamin Kunkel is a skilled writer. "Indecision" is filled with funny and brilliant observations. The book is fast paced and engaging. While it has a nice plot that Kunkel fleshes out well, the plot is not the main point of the book. It's really a study of the main character and his family.

Helping out with the character study is the fact that the characters are interesting. I enjoyed learning about them, and I enjoyed reading "Indecision."

And 80% of the book is great. Unfortunately, the end of the book doesn't live up to the long journey it takes to get there. Kind of like the shaggy dog story.

Dwight is an aimless 20-something who gets fired from a low level tech support position. His friends' lives are moving on as they grow up; his quasi-girlfriend is a currency trader, and his sister is a college professor and practicing socialist. His mother is an acetic Episcopalian and his father is recovering from a bankruptcy.

And Dwight has no idea what he wants to do. So he reads German philosophy, contemplates the nature of life around him, and considers moving to Vermont.

I was looking again at the words, with one eye open and the other shut since I'd taken out my contacts and otherwise couldn't focus on the lines. "Procrastination is our substitute for immorality," went the first half of the sentence I was rereading; "we behave as if we have no shortage of time." I read that book at maybe two pages an hour.

Page 18

Everything changes when his roommate offers him an experimental pill designed to cure abulia – a chronic inability to make decisions.

Dwight takes the pill and before it has a chance to take effect, he decides by the flip of a coin, to visit and old friend from High School. In Ecuador. Dwight met Natasha in high school where she was a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands. They became fast friends.

Al interrupted me: "What honestly is the deal, Dwight, between you and foreign women?"…"Um, when they're foreign…"

"Yes, Dwight?"

"…then it makes more sense that they're foreign."

Page 5

The rest of the book follows Dwight through the Ecuadorian jungle as he gets used to the idea of the drug kicking in soon. The book switches back and forth between Dwight's travels with his Ecuador companions and flashbacks to his life in New York.

Kunckel throws a lot of stuff at the reader, yet it is still easy to follow. The flashback technique is one that becomes annoying in many books, but not with "Indecision." The flashbacks appear at relevant portions of the Ecuador story, and build on what we are learning about Dwight and his family.

As the book draws to a close, Dwight comes to his big epiphany and tries to build his life around it.

But I don't buy it.

This is my main problem with the book. Dwight's big personal growth spurt and change in the last 40 pages or so of the book seems artificial. There's nothing organic about it. And, while big personal revelations may sometimes represent a quantum shift in a person's thinking, those changes should still have some strong connection to the character. Here, they don't. They're shallow, which is in stark contrast to the depth we've already seen in Dwight's character.

Dwight's change of thought, and the way he decides to approach life just aren't the natural outgrowth of the narrative. The new Dwight seems forced.

While the ending of the book is disappointing, I still recommend it. The writing and storytelling make for a fantastic journey. The character sketch is deep and (mostly) genuine. If you like good writing, witty observations, paragraphs that pop, and a great character study, you'll enjoy "Indecision."

Here are some of my favorite lines:

When Dwight arrives in Ecuardor:

The woman and I were still laughing when Natasha arrived. "Look! Already fast friends!" She sounded more Dutch than I'd expected, or remembered. She was still Natasha, but it's true, a little different. She looked weird, anxious – kind of like how I felt. Then she flashed the famous smile. "You see, Brigit, Dwight is like I told you. Right away he belongs to everybody."

Page 11

On dating:

In any case it often seemed at night that I would make a better dog owner than boyfriend. It wasn't apparent to me how best to treat Vaneetha, each woman being so different. Whereas every dog, in spite of the really incredible variety of the species, required more or less the same regimen of food and water, walks and affectionate pats on the head. However in the city it actually exacted a lot less responsibility to have a girlfriend than a dog. And I really wanted one or the other, since like any person, or dog, I too craved affection. Hmn.

Page 16

On phone calls:

At least at night the phone didn't ring. My feeling was, the soul is startled by the telephone and never at ease in its presence. Often on a midtown street someone's cell would ring and half a dozen people would check their pockets to see if it was them being called, and I'd glimpse a flash of panic in one or another guy's eyes. Myself, I kind of felt like I needed my news delivered by hand – to look out the window as some courier appeared in the field, coming from a distance so my feelings had time to discover themselves.

Page 18

On first meeting Vaneetha:

Walking back down Forty-second I felt extremely pleased to have invested my life with a certain short-term narrative interest.

Page 25

On his roommate Dan:

He pulled his knees to his chest. The lecture was over. At one time Dan had been a chem major and played bass in a bright droney band called Haiku d'├ętat. But what had he decided to live for, for now? His heavy-lidded and darkly bright eyes struck me as not dissimilar from sunglasses. He was wearing the green pajamas, same color as hospital scrubs, that he usually wore at night. He was the most catlike person of my acquaintance – efficient, aloof, compact.

Page 35

On happiness:

The regular alliance of happiness with idiocy has always been for me as a happy person one of the world's more painful features.

Page 37

On favoring the underdog:

Relations were less warm with dad, who mom and Al blamed in the divorce. My own sympathies were more with him, if only because in deserving them less, he obviously needed them more.

Page 48

On losing his job:

"Um, yes. I was just now fired. From Pfizer. Wow. Pfired! So I'm phucked!" But the p was silent so no one laughed but me.

Page 68

On the nature of pharmaceuticals:

"Ten years," dad was saying," and people won't be so suspicious of drugs. Sure, the Arabs might be. But we're chemistry. That's what we are. We just have to wait for this realization to trickle all the way down. Food, exercise, sexual intercourse, warmth – all these thing function like drugs. They modify your mood and perspective. That's how it's always been. Mark my words, this distinction between natural and artificial, when this is your brain but when this is your brain but then it's your brain on drugs – that will frankly come to be seen as so much twentieth century superstition. It's a last hangover from the – don't tell Charlie I said this – but from the old religious concept of the 'soul.'"

Page 79

This particular one is a battle I often fight. On Indecision itself:

I experienced a flashback to a childhood Thanksgiving. Probably dad did too. I'd love cranberry sauce, the savory stuffing, and turkey itself with such equality of love that after a gabbled grace I'd been unable to begin eating, and the more ludicrous the spell of indecision became, the harder break. I'd been salivating and paralyzed in front of my plate, plunged in what later came to be known as the Zone, unitl finally dad raised his fork at me saying "Eat! Eat! Dammit, eat!" So I'd shut my eyes, loaded my fork with mystery, and raised it toward the cave of my mouth. The tart surprise of the cranberries I could remember still.

Page 83

On Belgium and Germany:

At the same moment that in spite of her somewhat dusky appearance I asked Brigid whether she might be German, she said, "So are you are a philosopher?"

I laughed and said no, and she frowned and said, "How could you think so? Mostly I am from Belgium."

"Belgium!" When you have the good fortune of meeting a nice Belgian girl it really becomes necessary to confront her as a complex and unique being unlike any other in the world, because at least in my case you have no national stereotypes to understand her by. Or was Belgium sort of like Canada to America's France, so that an indefinable air of comedy clung to its existence and its residents were noted mainly as bland and amendable drinkers of veer? "Sorry. I'm not an ace with accents."

"But do you like Germans?"

"Well, you know, their philosophers more than for example…the Nazis."

Page 105

On athletics:

It had been a late summer Saturday, and we'd rented these sea kayaks like we'd been saying we would do all summer. "I like preserving our self-image as athletic people," Alice has said as she fitted the nylon skirt around the sill and took her plastic paddle in hand. "How infrequently do you think we can do sports before we have to admit that we never do?"

Page 132

On exotic food:

We ate our lunch in silence, and for me at least the fun of eating beetle larvae had gone out along with the novelty. In fact I felt earlier I'd mistaken novelty for fun.

Page 175

On goals:

I'm trying to complete the book by tomorrow, dawn of the summer solstice – up in the North the year's shortest day – since without arbitrary goals, fervently chosen, I don't know what I'd do with myself.

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