They begin by asking the people what they think of Vista -- and they all hate it. They apparently hate Vista without ever having used it.
Then they try Mojave and rave about how much better it is than Vista.
They are, of course, shocked, when the Microsoft rep let's them in on a little secret. The new Mojave operating system? Actually it's just their hated Vista.
It's interesting because it demonstrates that much of the virulence directed towards Vista is actually not related to Vista. Much of the anti-Vista bias is not based in reality, but in bad press (both in traditional and new media) and underscores the need for a company to actually respond to critics and promote accurate information about its products.
I know there are people who have had legitimate issues with Vista (like with XP, 2000, NT, 98, 95, etc). But those numbers are smaller than mass-perception might indicate.
The Mojave Experiment is an interesting approach to marketing and an interesting examination of the power of branding.
It's a sad day in America. Bennigan's just closed half their stores and filed for Bankruptcy.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Restaurant chains Bennigan's and Steak & Ale have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will shut their doors, less than two months after their parent company said it was not preparing to do so.
The companies filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday in the Eastern District of Texas. Their parent company - privately held Metromedia Restaurant Group - is based in Plano, Texas.In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, a company seeks to liquidate its assets and shut down.
Finding a Bennigans on the road was always a rare treat. There I could gorge myself on the cardioligist's accountant's dream -- the awesome Bennigan's Monte Cristo.
Does this mean I'll now have to eat reasonably everywhere now?
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
-- Harvey Dent
Let's get a few things out of the way first.
Yes, The Dark Knight does live up to the hype.
Yes, Heath Ledger puts in a truly amazing performance, well worth an Oscar nod.
Yes, the effects are awesome.
Yes, the story is dark, nightmarish, and important.
Yes, it does make excellent use of its 2.5 hour run time.
Yes, this is one of the 25 best films ever made.
Yes, if you have the opportunity to see it in IMAX, do that. The view is spectacular.
No, Heath Ledger's Joker is not 1000 times better than Jack Nicholson's. They are two different Joker's in two different roles and decades. The stories around the two Jokers are very different, and their role in the story is also different. Nicholson couldn't have portrayed the Joker in The Dark Knight, and there is no way Ledger could have played the Joker in Batman. But don't worry -- I'm not about about to defend Cesar Romero and Adam West.
There are plenty of reviews gushing over Ledger's insanely good, and just plain insane, portrayal of the Joker. So I won't spend much time on that.
In this movie the Joker is not evil. He is definitely the bad guy, but he is more a force of chaos in contrast to Batman's role as a force of order. The Joker is the personification of Entropy -- a fundamental element of the breakdown of not just society, but of everything in the world. Batman is simply trying to hold it all together long enough for the general population of
The Joker is crazy, but we never quite learn why. His origins remain a mystery, and that's okay. He just shows up, causes chaos, and sits back to admire things. The fact that we don't know where he comes from makes him all the more believable as that force.
Within that structure, the Joker wreaks his havoc.
The movie is beautiful. The opening sequence -- which dispenses with the credits all together -- is truly amazing cinematography. It's also one of several scenes shot with an IMAX camera, and they take full advantage of the monster screen in an IMAX theater.
The city scape is amazing. They shot the film on some beautiful sunny Chicago days. I don't know why they still call the city Gotham, though. There not even pretending the film isn't shot in Chicago. There are great shots of the El and glamour shots of the river. The world renowned Chicago bridges play a significant role, as does Lower Wacker Drive. Even the license plates are all Illinois plates. It's clearly Chicago in all its Chicago-ness.
It's a long movie but it never drags. The pace, and suspense hit all the right nerves.
This movie is filled with surprise twists. It kept me in shock throughout the film. There was a new dark surprise around every corner. There were even a couple little bursts of light.
There are several tense moments in the movie, but they aren't of the variety of "Will Batman solve the problem in time?" "Can he catch the Joker?" "What is the Joker going to do next?"
Instead the question is, "Will this person do the right thing?" And that's what makes this movie so compelling. It is filled with little morality plays. The Joker puts major and minor characters in tough situations and it turns out they have a choice. Will they do the right thing, which is likely to hurt them? Or do they take the easy way out and act solely in their own best interest?
The way people answer those questions drives the story forward in fascinating ways.
In that way, the Joker is a catalyst for the plot, in addition to being a plot element himself.
This movie is actually about Harvey Dent. It's not about Batman. It's not about the Joker. It's about how their actions affect Dent, and by extension all the people of
I would like to have seen more of his story, though. It was a bit rushed. But to expand on his story would have meant adding another 30-45 minutes to the film (a bad idea), cutting back on the Joker (a worse idea), or ending the movie earlier and sending Dent's story into the next movie (the worst idea). So I'm satisfied with how it turned out, I guess.
The film has a strong story, heart rending twists, incredible acting, beautiful cinematography, and great fodder for later discussion. It's a winner.
Here's what some other bloggers had to say:
- The Dark Knight (Not in My Book)
- The Dark Knight (Q'ner Industries)
- Most Things Aren’t Worth the Hype… And Then There’s The Dark Knight (My Geek Life)
- The Dark Knight: Review, Does it live up to the hype? (Mr. Pappagiorgio)
***NOTE: Spoiler in later comments***
"It sounds like a good book…"
I recently enjoyed Jonathan Kellerman's "Gone." I don't usually read mystery novels. I don't have anything against the genre; it just never really grabbed me.
I read the book because a colleague gave it to me. He bought it in the airport to read on a flight. After he got a few pages into it, though, he realized he had just read it six months before. I hate when that happens.
"Gone" is the 20th book in the Alex Delaware series of detective novels. That's an astounding track record. The series follows the continuing adventures of Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychologist who consults on cases with the LAPD and often works with Lieutenant Milo Sturgis.
He and Sturgis have a strong professional and personal relationship that allows them to draw on one another's skills to solve crime.
"Listen to him, but don't tell me what I want to hear."
"Do I ever?"
"No," he said. "That's why you're my pal."
In "Gone," Delaware and Sturgis investigate the murder of a young actress and the disappearance of her acting partner. The plot, according to the back of the book, goes like this:
Nevertheless, the case is closed–only to be violently reopened when Michaela is savagely murdered. When the police look for Dylan, they find that he’s gone. Is he the killer or a victim himself? Casting their dragnet into the murkiest corners of L.A., Delaware and Sturgis unearth more questions than answers–including a host of eerily identical killings. What really happened to the couple who cried wolf? And what bizarre and brutal epidemic is infecting the city with terror, madness, and sudden, twisted death?
While the book was thoroughly entertaining, and the plot went to some dark places, it didn't shock me with it's brutality. I guess I've become inured to that sort of thing in fiction after watching hours of Criminal Minds, CSI, Law and Order, and other such programs.
The novel is a fast read. The 456 pages flew by, and I never wanted to put it down. There are three areas where Kellerman's strength really showed: the characters, the plot, and the pacing.
The characters, all seen though Dr. Delaware's eyes are vivid. Kellerman sharply defines them. They may appear as traditional Hollywood archetypes at first glance, but Kellerman gradually brings out the deeper characteristics as the story goes on, and they become vivid individuals who do unexpected things.
As they do these things, Kellerman dribbles out plot elements. It's a measured pace. As Delaware and Sturgis discover each new piece of evidence, the plot moves along. At they same time, they take the opportunity to discuss it and explore the meaning of it. I felt like I was sitting at the table with them, trying to understand what each new piece of data meant. Several times I wanted to scream at them, "Don't you see? This is what it's all about. How can you ignore this possible scenario?!"
Each time, I was wrong.
The twists and turns in the novel kept surprising me. I had no idea what would happen on the next page, but whatever did happen, in fact, made sense.
And there aren't lengthy expository sections where Kellerman has to explain everything. He releases the plot twists at just the right time so I was able to absorb them.
And that is key to the pacing of the novel. It has very few slow spots. The faster paced scenes are also slow enough that I did not get lost in all the activity.
There are somethings I could have done without, but that's because I am just a visitor to the Alex Delaware series, which is now more than 20 years old.
There is a subplot where Delaware consults on another psychologist's malpractice suit. And there are several interludes between Delaware and his exgirlfriends that really did nothing for the plot. They interrupted the flow of the novel and seemed like they were there just to show that Delaware has a life outside his involvement with the LAPD. I was here for a mystery story and not the story of Delaware's life.
I can't criticize Kellerman for that, though. While the novel certainly stands on its own, its not written for the casual interloper who jumps into the series at the twentieth book. It's written for those who have traveled the beleaguered roads of southern California with Alex Delaware for the better part of two decades. For someone reading the series, these interludes extend the thread of Delarware's life through all the novels, making "Gone" simply one chapter in the rich history of Delaware's life.
They are there for someone other than me. But that's okay. They're not major plot elements. If someone wants to know more of those goings on, they should read more Delaware novels.
They don’t harm the book. They probably enhance the overall value of the series. For me, reading just this one novel however, they are superfluous.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I don't think I'll seek out the rest of the Delaware novels. I never wanted to put the book down -- it's just not my thing. If another one falls in my lap, I will greedily devour it. But I just don't feel compelled to follow more of Delaware's career.
The bottom line is the book is fun to read, with a clear plot, and some interesting characters. It kept me reading throughout the book, and handed me surprises in each chapter.
He grinned. "One day in and I've got trial fantasies. Okay. Let's see what we can do within the boundaries of The Law."For more of my book reviews, see this page.
Office cubicle celebrates 40th anniversary
The cubicle celebrates its 40th birthday this month. A party is unlikely.
What’s to celebrate? The cubicle office system is one of the most derided realities of modern work life.
This is an interesting article about the object that has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with white collar work. And yet, it is a significant improvement for workers over the alternative of huge open pens filled with nothing but rows of desks. The analysis in the article touches briefly on a number of these points.Every now and then I think it might be nice to work in an office again. Then I spend a few days in one and come back to my senses.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a well rounded, entertaining, action film.
The execution of this moving is spot on. Guillermo Del Toro directed Hellboy and did an amazing job. The pacing is just right, with very few lulls. He staged the action sequences in creative ways and shot them in a way that is clear. I had not trouble keeping track of who is doing what.
The action sequences really are amazing in this film. The battles and bad guys are unlike others I've seen in the past, and the moves are creative. Hellboy really takes advantage of his prehensile tail. Del Toro mixes some humor in with the action but it's never over the top. The pacing within the action sequences varies as well. Del Toro knows how to build the tension, let it out in bursts, give the audience a chance to catch it breath and then ramp it up even bigger.
The movie isn't all about the action though. The plot is stong, if not earth shatteringly original. While I did anticipate the ending, the rest fo the story was filled with twists and turns that kept me pleasantly surprised. In the end, the story wraps up nicely.
The story in this movie ins't made of world changing material. But it is good fun. It's a great vehicle for Hellboy's antics without seeming contrived.
Del Toro and the writers flesh out other characters that Hellboy works with, and we get to see them in more action than the first movie. But make no mistake. This is a Hellboy movie.
If you are looking for a fun, action filmed, adventure move that harkens back to a fim making ere long passed, go see Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.
And then be sure to take a look at Play Cole's interpretation of Hellboy.
There was an art to living, and sometimes it required the inexorable , relentless resolve to just to keep plowing forward, one step at a time, no matter what the hell it was that you were doing.
The rest usually took care of itself.
For the second time in as many months, I found myself in an airport with nothing to read. With my flight getting ready to board, I stumbled into the newsstand near the food court on the A concourse at the Detroit airport.
Marjorie M Liu's urban fantasy novel, "The Iron Hunt" jumped out at me and kept me thoroughly entertained for the next three flights. Liu's previous work includes "paranormal, romantic thrillers" and even an X-Men novel.
I recommend The Iron Hunt. It's a compelling read, a reasonably quick read, and an entertaining read.
The Iron Hunt continues in the long tradition of female heroines, including the the more recent trend inspired by Buff The Vampire Slayer.
Buffy fans will find the premise familiar. A powerful young woman is chosen by fate, given extraordinary power, enhanced through diligent training under the tutelage of an experienced teacher, and given the task of protecting an ignorant human race from the demonic terrors lurking around the corner.
In Liu's world, the heroines aren't chosen at random from around the world. It's one family of heroine, with the tradition passed down from mother to daughter.
While Buffy was surrounded by her Scoobies, Maxine "Hunter" Kiss, Liu's demon hunter, has a different collection of allies. Five demons live on her skin as tattoos and make her invulnerable during the day. Once the sun goes down, they slither off her skin, and work with her in her battle.
They are powerful, otherworldly, hungry, helpful, and a bit wacky.
Liu takes this premise and builds a compelling narrative out if it, creating a novel that can easily grow into a series. The novel features a wealth of interesting characters, and plenty of twists and turns. Early on Maxine Kiss tells us there are not coincidences. Liu does a nice job of tying seemingly loose threads together as she weaves the narrative.
Kiss goes through the novel with lots of questions, but gets very few answers until late in the novel. Most characters refuse to tell her anything, expecting her to figure things out for herself. While that can be an important education tool, I would like to have seen more stuff come out as we went along.
Liu writes Kiss as a strong, angry, somewhat impetuous character who has seen more than anyone's share of the dark. She is aware of her fate. I got caught up with her and wanted to follow her every step of the way.
There are some instances, though, where Kiss cries that don't ring quite true. It's not that the character didn’t have reason to, it's just that the way it was written took me out of the character. But those moments are few and far between.
Kiss, who by necessity must be familiar with folk lore and legends also enjoys books.
Compared to the bright sunlit interior of the gallery, Jack's office felt like the cave of some mountain hermit, and intellectual scavenger hoarding words and paper and books as though preparing for the long starvation of an endless dreary winter. I loved it. Felt comfy, like having my mind and spirit cushioned by good strong things. I would have made an excellent recluse.I can relate to that.
The book takes place in Seattle, where Liu grew up, and she uses the city as a background for the story.
Seattle was not so bad. But the bookstores downtown cared more about literary fiction than commercial reads, and that was indicative, I thought, of the social atmosphere. Yuppie, a little too preoccupied with what other people thought, and only superficially friendly.Pike Place Market serves as key location in the normal-world/demon-world cosmology, and there are frequent references to the docks. A prominent art gallery appears to be in Pioneer Square. She even brings the U-District and International District into the novel.
If I had been thinking clearly, it might have occurred to me that a gala event at the Seattle Art Museum would be a black-tie affair.
The locations are Seattle, but lack a sense of "Seattle" if that makes any sense. The locations are just that -- locations. They could have been anyplace in the country without having a significant impact on the novel. When an author writes about the city a reader lives in, does the reader ever really get the "vibe" of the city from the text?
But I am glad to see familiar Seattle places in the novel, even if they don’t resonate with me beyond the text.
There are other great moments in the text. I found it amusing that the demon queen is a red head. There are plenty of other small, funny moments throughout the novel, too.
Liu wraps up her story nicely while creating the opportunity for a second book. At the end, everything does make sense. The threads she leaves dangling are by design, and other plot threads do all weave together.
I'll be keeping eyes open in airport newsstands for the continuing adventures of Hunter Kiss.
Confidence was always the key to looking like you belonged, no matter how elite and froufrou the circumstances -- or how run down.
I had a great dorm refrigerator when I was in college (1990). It was bigger than most -- 28" tall and about 17" across.
After college I hung onto it, because that's the kind of thing I do. It's moved with me through several states and apartments. For years, I used it as a night stand because it was the perfect height, and that meant I didn't need to buy a night stand.
But now it's time to part with it. I have don't really have room in my apartment for it. It has done Yeoman's service for me, but I'd rather have the floor space in my living room back.
It still works; I made ice cubes with it recently to check it out.
If you would like this fridge, I'm giving it away. The only cost is that you have to pick it up in First Hill (which is near downtown Seattle). Contact me through email at my name (Cromely) at gmail or through the comments here.
You can find more pictures of it here.
Most people don't think of me as a Harley kind of guy. And that's okay, because, well, I'm not. But there the essence of the company and the motorcycle does touch that cord in me that sings out for the open road.
I did have a motorcycle license for a couple years. I was bored and unemployed in Helena, MT for a while, when i stumbled across a flyer advertising a two day motor cycle training class. At the end of the class, you took a road test. Then all you needed to do was take the written test from the state and you had your license. So a quick trip down to the local pawn shop to buy a helmet and I was in business. I had to give up my motorcycle license when I moved to Washington because the only way I could keep it was to take a road test.
The museum, though, is very cool. They have a huge collection fo bikes from throughout the company's history.
They have the oldest known Harley still in existence in a special display. In the main part of the museum, they highlgiht bikes throughout the ages, stating with these early models from the early 20th century.
The depth of information in the audio tour it helpful, and the placards are rather technical. If you are not already well-versed in the Harley lore much of it may go over your head. It certainly did with mine.
But as I walked through the exhibits, I could see the modern motorcycle evolve. Beginning in the 30s the bikes began to look more like what I see on the road today.
These were some of my favorites from the old bikes section.
This one does remind me of a Cylon, however (not unlike that train in St. Louis).
The museum has section dedicated to the early marketing material (which was surprisingly cool) engine technology, racing and hill climbing (which looks insane), and WWII.
The second half of the museum get even more interesting. Once they start highlighting the 50s thru the 80s the focus on customization and on the biker culture.
The have a separate room painted black to focus on the dark part of Harley's history -- the 1970s where the were owned by the AMF (the bowling company). During that time, sales fell, foreign competition increased, and quality fell apart.
In this part of the museum they also highlighted some of the odder Harley-Davidson products like boats, snow mobiles, and golf carts.
Can you imagine pulling up to a bar in Sturgis, SD, driving a Harley-Davidson golf cart? I might have to try that someday.
The last room in the museum is where you can finally mount up and pretend to ride. They have an assortment of motorcycles bolted to the floor so visitors can climb on top of them and feel what it's like to actually sit on at a real Harley.
The staff at the museum was exceedingly nice. I did not expect that. I don't know what I expected, though. Either they just hired an amazing collection of friendly, chatty, and super nice people, or the museum simply hasn't been open long enough for them to hve become jaded and angry by dealing with the public.
The layout is also a little unclear. While I like that they give people the freedom to meander through the rooms and displays, I would have preferred a clearer, more obvious suggested sequence. It's tough to keep track of what I'm learning when I keep getting confused by the chronology and path of discovery. But, as I've mentioned before, I tend to be a rather linear thinker who's not big on meandering. I'm actually that guy who reads most of the placards in a museum.
The museum is definitely worth a visit if you are a fan of the Road, of Harley-Davidson, of motorcycles, or simply of American icons.
The Zombie Survival Test
says that I would be A Zombie Killa
What does it mean?
You might have lost a member of your party, but you come out unharmed. You held out long enough for the military to come and rescue you. Even though the government will take credit for it, you and your party did most of the work.
I found this quiz over at the Modern Witchcraft School.
As I read a book, I keep 20-30 book darts on the back page (TSA sometimes thinks they look like a saw on the X-Ray). When I find a passage that is interesting, funny, well written, or potentially useful, I flag it with a book dart.
When I finish the book, I go back through and type all of those paragraphs out into OneNote. This is the part I hate.
Rather than type them out, I'd like to find a good pen scanner that I can use to digitize those passages and save the hour or more I spend typing.
To use a pen scanner, a user holds it like a highlighter and drags it along the text.
Unfortunately, while there are a bunch of them listed on Amazon, the reviews are incredibly mediocre. Most of them seem to earn about 3-4 stars. On top of that, it looks like they were mostly released between 2001 and 2005. Some of them even connect through a serial port.
I find it amazing that tech products that seem to barely work haven't been updated in 3+ years.
So can anyone recommend a pen scanner that works well, with decent OCR? Ideally, I would not need to have it connected to the PC while scanning, though I could give up on that feature.
Does anyone make a good one? Do they even try? Or have I just stumbled across my million dollar idea?
- Toy Story 1
- Toy Story 2
- A Bug's Life
- Monsters, Inc.
- Finding Nemo
- The Incredibles
... and now WALL-E
In that list, Cars is probably the weakest movie, and it is still very good.
WALL-E continues the long track record of Pixar hits.
The basic story is that humans fouled the Earth with trash and pollution. Then they set tot he skies for a few years to enjoy a space cruise while robots were left to clean up the mess. When the mess was clean, the humans would come back and live in paradise again.
WALL-E is the last of the cleaning robots still functioning on Earth. When the movie opens, he is building skyscrapers of the compacted garbage, and saving a few precious knick knacks for himself. He goes about his routine, with the cutest cock roach in cinema to keep him company.
Eventually his routine is disrupted when a shiny new probe robot (who looks awfully iPod-ish) named EVE comes to Earth to check things out.
Seriously, though, you have got to see the cock roach. The ugly, creepy, crawly thing is just adorable.
Some might say the message about environmentalism, corporate consolidation, and human sloth-iness is heavy handed. It's definitely right out in front. I don't fault the movie for pounding the message home though, because it's not like they tacked the environmental story onto something else in an effort to be PC or clever. It's the core plot of the movie.
The story is tightly constructed. There are a couple of sub-plots that don't really go anywhere (the couple on the cruise ship and the crazy robots). Those story lines look like they might have been more prominent in an earlier draft of the script and got cut down in the editing process.
The script does take some risks that really pay off though. Like Highlander, there is almost no dialog the first 20-30 minutes. They tell the entire story visually and successfully in a way that can only be done in a movie.
There are some great gags as well. Among the trash that WALL-E discovers is an iPod and a Rubik's cube. And when WALL-E reboots, he makes the Mac boot up sound. That got a good laugh in the theater.
The opening short film before the movie is also a real kick. It's a slapstick comedy about a magician, his magic hat, and a hungry bunny.
WALL-E is another hit for the Pixar crew. I'm sure they'll make a bad movie someday, but until then, go see WALL-E.
I was a bit disappointed in the room, though. It was definitely nice. It was big. The automatic curtains were very cool, but there were a lot of little things that put me off. If I had this room in a normal hotel, I would be thrilled with it. But the Venetian is a luxury resort and the room did not live up to that. It's not major issues -- it's in the details.
The room was a lot like Ikea furniture -- it's almost something I like. It's almost really cool.
But it missed it by that much.
The little room in the bathroom with the toilet spelled like mildew. The fabric on the colossal L-shaped couch was worn. The night stand lights could only be turned on or off from one side of the bed. The air conditioner could only get the room down to about 75 degrees. The DVD player was set up for only the living room TV. There were lots of little things like that. It sounds like I'm nitpicking, and maybe I am. I just expected more. If it was one or two of these things I wouldn't care. But it the dozens of little issues just annoyed me.
The worst was the alarm clock. It was unlike any other alarm clock I've seen in a hotel. It was complicated to set and even more complicated to turn off. It also had a nap function.
Now the nap function might seem like a good idea. It's so you can have it go off in a 20 minutes or an hour, or some other time frame, rather than assigning a clock time. I'm not sure how you turn it on, but apparently I turned it on quite a bit.
I went to bed at 2:00 AM and (I think) set the alarm clock for the following day. I drift off to sleep until the nap function went off 20 minutes later. Some random button mashing in a darkened room and eventually turned it off. 20 minutes later, it woke me up again. This time I yanked the plug out of the wall and threw it to floor. Twenty minutes later I discovered it had a battery back up. I had to turn on the lights to deal with that.
The next day, housekeeping had set they damn thing up again.
It was like Phoebe trying to get rid of whining smoke detector or Batman trying to get rid of a bomb.
There were some nice things about the hotel. Room service was great and almost on time. It was also reasonably priced for a Vegas strip hotel . This whole meal for 2 cost about $87, and was a ridiculous amount of food.
The bath tub was huge.
The first day that I left the do not disturb tag hanging, housekeeping left a note saying they didn't service the room due to that sign, but if I wanted the room serviced all I had to do was call and they'd take care of it. They did.
Of course the next day they forgot to leave that note. I left the room at 1:00 and since there was no note I figured they'd be back to take care of it. But they weren't . That evening, I called housekeeping and they took care of it with no problem. Again, the problem with the hotel was little things.
I liked the hotel and like the room. It just didn't live up to its billing or potential.
I looked around the building and I saw all my old friends from high school, only now they had breasts and were named Phoebe. And that's when I realized that teenage girls are the new teenage boys, which is why the Dixie Chicks are the new Van Halen, which is why country music is awesome.
I was a bad reader when I went to North Dakota. I went on the trip without enough reading material. This became a problem when I barreled my way through the awesomeness that is Infected and then had nothing to read on the return trip.
I wandered into the bookstore on the F concourse of Minneapolis airport and a familiar name jumped off the shelf at me. Chuck Klosterman. I picked up a copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.
Jon recommended this book to me, saying it was funny and spoke to our generation. He was right.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is a collection of essays, interspersed with short, experimental entries called interludes, which are kind of like blog entries in a book. They are musings on pop culture.
Chuck Klosterman is a Gen X writer, discussing music, relationships, John Cusack movies, The Sims, Billy Joel, The Real World, and soccer. He grew up in a small town in ND and went on to live the life a of a Rock journalist. He doesn't shy away from his drug use. He's also deeply intellectual. And he is a Geek.
At first glance, the pieces look to be humorous observations on life, similar to the way Dave Barry writes. But then they suddenly turn deep and philosophical. Klosterman swims along the surface of his topic and then suddenly dives straight down to the bottom of the sea, where true, unexpected beauty is on display in its full grandeur. The sea has a way of drawing the reader in after Klosterman, as though his dive left a whirl pool to ensnare others.
His prose ranges from profoundly simple observations, like when he discusses the challenges faced by the musician who portrays Slash in a Guns N Roses tribute band:
Unfortunately, Young can't learn to look like a mulatto ex-heroine addict, and this is the only occupation in America for which that is a job requirement.… to more complex constructions -- stories within the story -- like this passage describing the trip to one of those concerts.
At departure time, only 40% of the band is not under the influence of some kind of chemical. Twenty minutes into the trip, that percentage will fall to zero. Even before we get on the road, this Punky character looks drunk enough to die; amazingly, he's just getting started. They're all just getting started. Everyone is smoking pot, and it's the second-strongest dope I've ever inhaled: I keep looking through the windshield, and the vehicle seems to be moving much faster than it should be. It feels like we're driving down an extremely steep incline, but the earth remains flat. I'm not the type who normally gets paranoid, but this is a bit disturbing. I'm trying very hard to act cool, but I start thinking too much; in order to relax, I smoke another half joint, which (of course) never works. I start imagining we're going to crash and my death is going to be reported as some sort of predictable irony -- I will forever be remembered as the guy who wrote a book about heavy metal bands who were mostly fake and then dies while touring with a heavy metal band that was completely fake.He also litters the text with awesome one liner such as:
Klosterman does a great job of questioning the prevailing views about what's cool. As Marilyn Monroe's popularity has grown in recent years, Klosterman observes it has gone too far:
This is like trying to combat teen pregnancy by lowering the drinking age.
So many people have retrospectivly declared her acting to be "underrated" that she's become overrated, simply because she didn’t make enough important films to vindicate her advocates' claims.In that piece he explains why Pamela Anderson is actually the incarnation of the sexual archetype in modern America, and why people hate for it:
What I've come to realize is that a remarkably high percentage of everyday citizen -- and this applies to both men and women -- actively despise Pam Anderson. Moreover, their dislike for this woman is a complete conscious decision: They've decided to hate Anderson on principle. But what they really hate is the modern world; what they hate is that Pamela Anderson is the incarnation of the perfect, idealized icon we all sort of concede is supposed to be impossible. We've established this unrealistic image of what we want from the human race, but it angers people to see that image in real life. It sort of shows you why most Americans hate themselves.He goes into detail about why Anderson is the true heir to Marilyn Monroe's legacy. He skewers those who would give that position to Madonna:
But Madonna's not even close to representing contemporary sexuality in any important fashion. She tries way too hard and it never seems honest. It's very telling that the two best songs in Madonna's catalog -- "Like a Virgin" and "Like a Prayer" -- are titled after similes.What I like most about passage is his geeky use of writing terms to make the broader point.
Many reviewers cite Klosterman's first essay as their favorite. He explains how John Cusak ruined his life and made it impossible for any man to measure up to the standards of romance expected by a Gen X woman. And it is brilliant
My favorite, though, is his take on modern country music. Perhaps those years I spent in Montana are showing through.
The essay takes a deep look at America's relationship with it and the tension that exists between the wanna-be hipsters and blue collar, Midwest America.
He expands on this and cites some fascinating examples. One of the most interesting things about country music is that it does tell stories in a way that most pop or rock music doesn’t. In this essay he explores the topic in depth.
The most wretched people in the world are those who tell you they like every kind of music "except country." People who say that are boorish and pretentious at the same time. All it means is they've managed to figure out the most rudimentary rule of pop sociology; they know hipsters gauge the coolness of others by their espoused taste in music, and they know that hipsters hate modern country music. And they hate it because it speaks to normal people in a tangible, rational manner. Hipsters hate it because they hate Midwesterners, and they hate Southerners, and they hate people with real jobs.
There is a theme underlying his essays, and it plays out strongly in this one. Klosterman learns that most people want to live a good life and are happy to have things just go well. There is smaller group of people, like himself, who want to go beyond that.
They are willing to leave their known life behind and head out into the wilderness to look for something better. They are pushing themselves for something more. And they are rarely satisfied. Most people do not want to "suck out all the marrow of life" as suggested in Dead Poet's Society by a Throreau-quoting Robin Williams.
But Klosterman does. That drive may be why he left North Dakota.
But whenever I go back to my hometown and see the people I grew up with -- many of whom are still living the same life we all had twelve years ago as high school seniors -- I realize that I was very much the exception. Lots of people (in fact, most people) do not dream about morphing their current life into something dramatic and cool and metaphoric. Most people see their life as a job they have to finish; if anything, they want their life to be less complicated than it already is. They want their life to have only one meaning. So when they imagine a better existence, it's either complete imaginary (i.e., Toby [Keith's] nineteenth-century Lone Ranger Fantasy) or staunchly practical (i.e. Yearwood's description of the girl who just wants to get married without catching static from her old man).
This idea plays itself out less explicitly in other essays and passages, too.
It's also the essence behind his take on why soccer is awful, why he has trouble relating to the cover band groupies, or his disappointment with himself for sending copies of the same mix CD to two different women.
Taoists constantly tell me to embrace the present, but I only live in that past and in the future; my existence is solely devoted to (a) thinking about what will happen next and (b) thinking back to what's happened before. The present seems useless because it has no extension beyond my senses.
He wraps up his discussion of Billy Joel like this:
Perhaps this is why I can't see Billy Joel as cool. Perhaps it's because all he makes me see is me.The 18 main chapters and 17 "interludes" cover a wide range of topics. And they sneak up on me each time. For the first page or so it feels like it will be a light, amusing piece, and then it turns deep and philosophical. Yet, Klosterman keeps the humor in the text throughout the depth.
There is so much more in this book than I can touch on here; you'll need to read the book itself to appreciate the true depth and variety here.
Klosterman's observations will resonate with anyone who came of age in the pop culture whirlwind of the 80s and 90s, and is well worth the time.
Life is rarely about what happened; it's about what we think happened.
I pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot the other night and looked around. The town now has a Best Buy AND an Olive Garden. They got their Starbucks last year, and supposedly there's even a Red Robin someplace. I even glimpsed a Chilis.
Or was it an Applebees? I always get those two mixed up. I think they're actually the same thing and they just keep swapping signs in a plot to drive me crazy.
Watch your back, Atlanta -- Christiansburg is coming for you.
I saw Mystere in Vegas a couple weeks ago. It was a great show.
Mystere is Cirque Du Soleil's oldest show in Vegas. It's been running at the TI, often playing to sold out crowds, for more than 10 years. Like all Cirque shows, it is a mix of music, song, acrobatics, gymnastics, dance, and artsy stories.
This show is more primitive than other Cirque shows. The theme is not as tightly woven into all the performances as it is in other shows. The theme is more of a broad framework into which they drop different acts. It seems that any act could easily be replaced by another on a moment's notice.
The performers also where less clothing than in other shows (except, I imagine Zumanity). It's nothing that would violate most local ordinances, but it is different. There's simply a lot more skin.
At the end of the show, there performers remove their masks and wigs for the curtain call. They are allowed to be seen as individuals and "normal" people on stage. Normally in a Cirque show it seems individuality is discouraged to maintain the effect of the otherworldly story they are telling on stage.
The performers acting as spotters in the acrobatic maneuvers are more obviously acting as spotters. And the acrobats themselves did make a few mistakes.
Overall the performances was fantastic, however.
There is more crowd work and audience participation in this show. The clown wanders about to entertain the audience. If you don't want to take a chance on being part of the show, avoid the first and last rows of the lower section of seats. Also avoid the aisle seats. You may want to avoid the lower section altogether.
The crowd work itself was a bit risky. They put some folks in embarrassing situations. They sprayed one woman in the face with water (soaked her pretty well, too). At one point the clown reached down the back of one girl's dress, fiddled with his hands, and pulled out a bra, which he then twirled around. Of course he had palmed it so he was not actually involved in disrobing her, and it got quite a laugh. But it was a bit risky, especially since she looked to be only 14-17 years old (though I am pretty bad at that guessing game).
When it was introduced in 1993, the show was edgy and completely different from anything anyone had seen in Vegas. It ushered in an new era in Vegas entertainment, and spawned other hit shows in the Cirque family (O, Zumanity, Ka, and Love).
It still has that feel. It's more raw and not as refined as the more recent shows. This must be a choice they've made because it could have adjusted in the past ten years. But it looks today much like it probably looked when it opened.
If you are attending your first Cirque show, go to Ka or O first. You will be amazed and the skill and technique on display. If you are a Cirque fan already, and haven't seen Mystere yet, go see it. It is valuable not only as a great show itself but in understanding the creative evolution of Cirque Du Soleil over through the year.
In other words, it was a great evening.
Apparently The Obama campaign thought it sounded like fun, too.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Guyanese authorities say a first-class airline passenger was so angry at seeing economy passengers leave a jetliner before him that he yanked open an emergency hatch and slid down the chute.
The plane, an MD-80 Midwest charter, struggled to keep the nose at the necessary angle, as it left for Charlotte, N.C., the pilot said. Later, Midwest Airlines said the problem developed because an emergency slide located in the tail cone of the plane deployed in flight and never threatened the safety of the flight. The National Transportation Safety Board said it planned to investigate the incident.
I am proud of Richard Nixon.
Many people consider Nixon the worst President we've ever had, evil incarnate, and corrupt to his very soul. Of course I've heard that about every President. They beauty of this country is that people can make those accusations.
I'm not here to defend Nixon's cover up of Watergate or the other misdeeds of his administration. Nor am I here to excuse him.
I'm proud of Nixon because he obeyed the Supreme Court.
As Americans all learn in schools, our government is made up of three branches: Executive (President), Legislative (Congress), and Judicial (Courts). They are independent and each serves a limitation on the others.
The Judicial branch can hand down any decisions it wants, and that is the law of the land. But the judiciary has no enforcement ability. They Executive branch is the one that has to enforce the law. And if President doesn't want to enforce it, there is now physical way for the courts to compel him too.
In 1973, Independent Prosecutor Archibald Cox demanded that Nixon turn over White House audio recordings as part of the Watergate investigation. Nixon refused, and had him fired in the now infamous Saturday Night Massacre.
In 1974, the new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, also demanded the tapes. Again, Nixon refused. Jaworski went to court to compel Nixon to surrender the tapes. Nixon fought it citing executive privilege among other things. The fight went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled against Nixon.
Now, Nixon has a decision to make. He can comply with the law of the land and surrender those tapes, or he can ignore they law and constitution and refuse to turn them over. There is no one who can force them from his hand, because all enforcement power rests with him. If he refuses to surrender them, what can anyone do?
Well, Congress could impeach him, try him, and remove him from office. That would make the Vice President the new President.
But what if this happened and Nixon chose to ignore the impeachment? What if he claimed it was invalid and refused to surrender the reigns of power? The President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces and could order all sorts of things to stop the impeachment before Congress removed him. He could stop them from meeting. He could arrest them. He could do any number of illegal thing, and, since there President controls all the federal law enforcement agencies and the military, there's no one to stop him.
Assuming Congress voted to remove Nixon, but Nixon refused to go, now we would have two people claiming the presidency -- Nixon and Ford (who had been Vice president). Would the members of the federal law enforcement agencies support the impeached President or the new one? Would they choose to protect the constitution or support the person they still believed to be their boss? And how many would side one way or the other? At this point we go down a dangerous path. The two presidents vie for loyalty from the military and law enforcement agencies. The Governors of various states would need to weigh in with their state police and national guard.
The constitution is just a piece of paper. It can't force compliance. The reason our constitution survives today isn't because Thomas Jefferson and company cast a spell on it 200+ years ago. It's because each day men and women in power choose to honor it. They choose to obey its restrictions. They choose to work with other branches of government and do their jobs responsibly and with honor.
When the Supreme Court decision came down, Nixon chose to honor it. He did his duty and upheld his Oath of Office. Rather than force a constitutional crisis or provoke a fight that could easily get out of control and endanger our entire country and democracy, he put the country first. He accepted the ruling against him.
Nixon's decision allowed a smooth transfer of power to the next President. It reinforced the notion that no one, not even the President, is above the law.
The most powerful man in the world did the right thing at great cost to himself.
That's why I'm proud of President Nixon. And it's one of the many reasons I'm proud to be an American.
1) Fark Caturday Threads
This post is simply a list of links to Fark.Com Caturday threads. For those unfamiliar with Caturday, it's when a discussion thread is filled mainly with pictures of cats with funny captions. This is, apparently, what the Internet most wants from Cromely's World.
2) Hot Pockets versus Lean Pockets
Here I discussed the merits of Hot Vs Lean pockets.
3) Movie Review 04: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
This one is a little odd. It seems people aren't searching for my cinematic criticism. They are looking for pictures of Evanna Lynch who plays young, weird student Luna Lovegood. I'm not sure how I feel about that.
4) ASTD Conference
This is some brief commentary on the conference I attended in the beginning of June.
5) Frayed Wires
My Panasonic headphones got a little dangerous. Readers got to this post by searching for those headphones specifically and by generally searching for frayed wires.
6) Credit Card Arbitrage
The more the Fed lowers interest rates, the more people search for my 5-post guide to making money from 0% balance transfer offers.
7) The Inner Light
Star Trek related posts made it into this list twice. In this post, I talked about why The Inner Light is the best episode ever of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
8) Book Review 18: Star Trek Movie Memories
This is the other Star Trek post that made it in. Most people who looked at this post came here from the Wikipedia article on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And, no, I didn't put the link in there myself. But I'm happy I could be a source for the article.
9) Carrie Underwood on SNL
I had a spike in search traffic once SNL reran this episode.
10) Corteo in Marymoor Park
I wrote this after seeing the Cirque Du Soleil show Corteo near Seattle. It was a great show.
I may not be very focused here, but I do enjoy a wide variety of topics, apparently. At least I'll never be bored.
Not television, not radio, not phones, not newspapers -- if you wanted to keep something quiet but let people know you were out there, there was only one answer, the only true global medium: the Internet.
Scott Sigler's Infected is an awesome book. And I'm not just saying that because he stopped by this blog a couple months back.
Infected is important not only because it's a great book, but because of the way it came to market. If you don't want to buy the book, you can go to Sigler's website and download it as a pod cast. As the weeks go by, Sigler releases more chapters. Or you can go to Meveo and download previous chapters.
The entire book was even available as a free download from the publisher before it hit the shelves.
This is a new approach to media. Like Radiohead, Sigler just put his work our there for anyone to access for free. If they chose to pay for it, they could order the book.
And buy the book they did. Readers bought thousands of copies of the hard cover, even though they could get all the content without paying a penny.
While the book still ended up being published in a traditional format, it remains an example of the things that are possible in the interconnected, digital world.
Infected isn’t a gimmick. It’s a great book. It’s a complex, tightly written sci-fi thriller.
In the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck used interchapters to break up the narrative. Every other chapter was a short one, not directly related to the Joad family's story, but further exploring the world they were part of. Chuck Klosterman also does this in his essays (my next book review).
In Infected, Sigler does something similar. For much of the book, each chapter changes the focus character. Some of the characters interact; others do not
We follow the story of the naïve young epidemiologist on her first big case as she battles the infection, as well as the bureaucracy and her own inexperience.
"Margaret, he put you in charge of this. What will happen if you insist on talking to the Cheng guy? Do you think Murray is going to bring in someone else to replace you?"
She started to speak, then stopped. No. Murray wouldn't do that. Not because she was the end-all be-all, but because he wanted to keep this tight as a drum. Murray needed her.
"So," Otto said as he gave one strong push. He started spinning, speaking one syllable on each revolution, almost as if he'd read her mind, "Use…what…you…have…."
Her anger faded. Agent Clarence Otto was right.
We follow the story of the battle hardened clandestine CIA operative who is the muscle for the epidemiologist.
Dew hung up. He took one deep breath, and then the emotions faded away, pushed back to their normal hiding place. That was what he'd needed, to reconnect with the why of what he did. It was for her. It was for a country in which his daughter could live as she pleased, even if it meant living with another woman, even if her father hated it, and hated her mate, with all his heart. There are many places in the world where Sharon would have been killed -- or worse -- for doing what came naturally to her.
Was that cliché? To keep on fighting, and killing when need be, because America was the greatest nation on earth? Probably, but Dew didn't care if the reasons were good, logical, or even cliché. They were his reasons.
And that was enough.
We follow the story of the ex-college football player turned network technician as he battles an infection and fights for his life, drawing on every ounce of mental strength he has.
The Ragu wasn't thick enough to make the rice clump, so it was more like a heavy soup than a Spanish rice. But it was still tasty, and it quelled his stomach's grumbling. He shoveled it in as if he'd never seen food before in his life. Man, wouldn't a Quarter Pounder and some supersize fries hit the spot right now? Or Hostess cupcakes. Or a Baby Ruth bar. Or a big old steak and some broccoli with a nice white-cheese sauce. No, scratch all of the above, a bajillion soft tacos from Taco Hell would be the most satisfying thing on the planet. Cram 'em down with Fire Sauce and a bottomless cup of Mountain Dew. It wasn't that his rice was bad, but the texture just didn't ring of solid food, and his stomach longed to be filled like a water balloon on a steamy-hot summer day.
Even if the soldiers could find him, what could they do for him? How far gone was this monotone cancer that shouted in his head like Sam Kinison on a bad acid trip?
And, we follow the story of the infection itself as it goes through its development cycle and grows in sentience.
Most of the seeds survived the feathery fall, but the real test was yet to come. Billions died at the touch of water or the kiss of cold temperatures. Others survived the landing, but found conditions unsuitable for growth. A scant few landed in the right place, but wind, or the brush of a hand, or perhaps even fate, swept them away.
A miniscule percentage, however, found conditions perfect for germination.
There are times when these different stories converge. There is a fight scene about 2/3 of the way in that is particularly impressive. Sigler doesn’t tell the story from a third person perspective. Instead, he rapidly cycles through the limited perspective of each participant in a way that is shockingly clean and frightening.
The plot, the characters, and the writing are all amazing. The climax leading into the final chapters is impressive.
The book is about more than just the infection. The major theme in the story is about the will to live. The infected network technician fights for his life every step of the way. The infection fights for its own life. Sigler takes us back to Vietnam and we learn of the great battles the CIA agent fought to survive. Infected is ultimately about the battle of the human spirit to find a way to live despite all the odds. And the key to that is choosing to live – making a conscious decision to not give up, despite how easy it may seem.
The subconscious mind is a powerful device. Repeating things over and over to yourself, visualizing a success again and again, virtually programs your brain to go out and make those images a reality. The opposite also holds true -- if you're convinced you're a loser, that you always seem to lose your job, that you can't save money, that you can't lose weight, you tell yourself these things over and over, and guess what? They come true as well. The subconscious mind takes the things it hears over and over and makes them reality. The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between success and failure. The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between what helps you and what hurts you.
The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between good and evil.
The biggest crime in Infected is to give up.
The book does feature some graphic violence and home surgery. In an early scene a character chops off his own legs with an axe and then sets himself on fire. It gets more intense from there. The violence isn't gratuitous, though. It's tightly and appropriately woven into the context of the narrative. If you have trouble reading such descriptions, you might want to pass on Infected.
The ending is a little rough. The book really becomes a different type of book at that point; it's much less personal. Those sequences aren't quite as tight and compelling as the rest of the book.
Regardless, this is a fantastic book. If you enjoy good writing, a great story, rich characters that actually grow, and gripping suspense -- and you don't mind a bit of blood -- pick up a copy of Infected today. And read it.
Just don't blame me if you start to feel a little itchy afterwards.
It turns out my connection in ORD was delayed by about two hours. If I stuck with my original routing, I would have made it into San Antonio just about two hours later than I planned. My luggage did that original routing and got to the San Antonio airport that night.
But I couldn't know that at the time.
So with my new routing, I call the hotel in San Antonio to tell them I wouldn't be there until 9:00 AM the following day. I asked them to not cancel my reservation and to not give away my room. They said that would be no problem.
So I putter about the airport and wait for my 11:40 PM red eye to DFW. At about 8:00 or 9:00 I get a call from American Airlines telling my that flight is delayed by an hour and twenty minutes. At this point I no longer care.
I finally get on the plane and we take off at about 1:15. I think. I pretty much fell asleep as soon as I sat down. I dreamed I was grinding my teeth, so I probably was. I can't sleep deeply on a plane. Often when I sleep I just sort of shut down parts of my consciousness and end up in a light doze with lucid dreams.
The common one is that I'm in the airplane and we are trying to land or take off in difficult areas. The pilot often has to dive or climb quickly to avoid power lines. Even in the dream I can't understand why there are all these powerlines over JFK or why we are trying to land the plane on I5. It's not exactly restful, but it does make the flight go more quickly.
I get to Dallas and have 20 minutes to make my connection, which is no problem. I even have time to grab a quick breakfast of Twix Bars and Orange Juice at the newsstand.
Eventually I make it to San Antonio and am reunited with my luggage. I grab a cab.
While I'm settling into the back seat the cabbie tells me to put my back pack on the floor three times. Each time I say yes, but I'm busying sitting down. I finally do. She says they don't want any bags on the seats because it makes them lose their cushiness for other riders. I'm not sure how much damage to old minivan bench seats my laptop bag can do, but I'm pretty sure it weighs less than the full size human that normally sits there.
Now the cabbie thinks I'm sick because I'm breathing a little hard. I think that has something to do with the hassle of managing luggage, dealing with her, and having been on the road for 22+ hours.
I could have gone from Seattle to Tokyo in less time than it took me to go from Seattle to San Antonio.
For about half the trip, the cabbie is on her cell phone trying to understand why her ATM card doesn't work and dealing with the bank. Most of the time she has at least one hand on the wheel.
I get to the hotel, and go to pay my fare with a credit card. Afterall, the sign on the cab window listing passenger rights says passengers have the right to pay by credit card. She doesn’t want me to charge it though. She would rather have cash. The fare about just over $21. On the card I would have tipped another $5. For cash, I would only tip a dollar or so. But I must have looked really annoyed. I start to fumble through my wallet and she says that for $20 she'll call it good. So I saved a couple bucks that way. And that was the highlight of the trip so far.
I walk in the hotel to check in. Remember that phone call I mentioned earlier? Well, apparently they didn't. So here I am -- scruffy, tired, unshaven, wrinkled, and not exactly smelling mountain fresh, when the desk agent looks at my reservation and decides she needs her manager. That's never good. He explains they gave away my room and don't have one for me tonight because they canceled my reservation when I didn't show up.
The fact that I called didn't seem to matter. "The person must have misunderstood."
The fact that I guaranteed the room with a credit card didn't seem to matter. "After all we didn't charge your card."
I maintained as much composure as I could and was just persistent. The manager started calling around and promised to "work with me" and even honor the conference rate I was staying at. I made some phone calls, expressed my dismay to the person who booked all the rooms for my company. Eventually, he "found" a room their sister property. Funny how that happened.
So I went over to the sister property and they were very nice, they took care of a complex reservation, and now I'm just waiting for a room in another hour and a half or so. Those folks were great.
I ran over to the convention center and picked up my badge. I decided not to go to my booth, because I'm not exactly "show fresh." I'll give that a couple hours.
So where am I know? Starbucks of course. Where else would I go after a morning like this?
And this is just day 1 of the show.