September 5, 2008

Warning: May Cause Whiplash

I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

Why is this kind of fact-checking left up to a "fake" news show? Isn't that, I don't know, the job of professional journalists or something?

And since we're on the subject of gender-appropriate commentary, it's worth revisiting that ever-important subject, sexual harrassment in the workplace (NSFW for language).

August 21, 2008

I should have trained just to watch the Olympics

As I'm sure is true with most people, I've been spending far more time watching the Olympics (and far less time sleeping as a result) than I expected to this year. What's been more surprising, though, is what I have, and have not, been seeing. For example:

- Almost zero coverage of men's basketball and women's soccer in prime time. Not just no games shown, since those clearly take place in the evenings in China (mornings here), but no mention of their progress. When I started writing this post, the US women's soccer team was playing Brazil for the gold medal, but you wouldn't have known from listening to the NBC coverage last night or any night previous. The basketball team has been crushing everyone they've played, but again, no highlights and no discussion in prime-time coverage. Strange, considering how popular the women's team is, and even more so given the attention paid to men's basketball this year.

It's even more conspicuous when you consider that the events shown in the past two days' prime time coverage have mostly been re-runs (track is an evening event in China as well). So while I'm happy to see Usain Bolt smash a couple of world records, I'm puzzled as to why the NBC brass seem to think that the 400m hurdles are more interesting to the American sports audience than the Redeem Team. Or Heather Mitts, for that matter.

- More volleyball coverage than I thought possible for a US audience. I'm not just talking about women's beach, either; there's no secret about why that's popular (15% the fact that the US owns the event, 85% tall, athletic women in barely-there bikinis). But I've seen coverage of men's and women's indoor, which during the other 3 years and 49 weeks of the year I'm pretty sure wouldn't even get broadcast on The Ocho. It helps, certainly, that the US teams are doing well, but still.

And I hope that you stayed up to watch Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh win the gold medal last night. That was a seriously good volleyball match. I hadn't really been a fan of the change to rally scoring in volleyball before last night (although I still think that allowing net-cord serves to count is absurd, but that's a whole different post). Watching Walsh and May afterwards, though, was almost as entertaining as the match itself. Bob Costas, proving once again why he's in on virtually every important sports broadcast, summed it up nicely after Walsh and May's interview, saying the team was going off to find more people to hug*.

I do have to give a nod to the NBC people, though, for the availability of free live streams on, although my employer would probably go with a wag of the finger. I've caught some of the above-mentioned basketball and soccer, and I've even checked out some less-popular events thanks to their streams (tae kwon do, for example, which it turns out is not nearly as interesting as I had expected).

The other thing you get from watching the streams, it turns out, is the value of color commentary in sports broadcasts. The streams on the website are commentary-free, which is fine if you're very familiar with a sport and the people playing it, but it does pose a problem for the casual fan: no context. You get to see what's happening now, but you have no idea (other than the scoreboard) of what happened previously. Or in the event of overtime (again, gold medal match in women's soccer), someone like me isn't entirely familiar with the structure of overtime (two overtime periods, apparently) and there isn't an expert on the screen to catch up the unfamiliar.

There are a couple of things that bug me, though. Two of them are by no means specific to the Olympics, but the beefed-up nature of the attention just makes them more glaring. And more annoying.

1) Hyperbole. Michael Phelps is amazing, no question. I don't even blink an eye when someone says he's the greatest swimmer of all time. That's fine. But greatest Olympian of all time? And to set up Mark Spitz with that softball question (please; Spitz is a swimmer, and it's his record(s) that Phelps just beat, so what do you suppose his answer is going to be?) is kind of like asking the Hershey's people whether they prefer chocolate or vanilla. It's absurd. Eight gold medals is quite an achievement, but I'm not sure how you compare that to other Olympic events, since I'm fairly sure that swimming affords the most opportunities for medals, with less variety in skills required. Compare swimming (four strokes, all in the pool) with decathlon, for example. Which do you suppose takes more comprehensive athletic ability to excel? And yet, the winner of that event, after winning (or staying very close to the top) of ten different events. How do you compare the two?

And that's leaving for a second how we should define greatness in the first place. Do they really mean to say that Michael Phelps is somehow more important to the Olympics, or sports generally, than someone like Jesse Owens? Or overcame injury like Kerri Strugg? There's no way to compare them, and I don't see the point in trying. We should all simply raise our glasses to Phelps, congratulate him, and leave it at that.

And also share in the joy that, if absolutely nothing else, we beat China. Because that's what's it's really about, isn't it?

2) Interviewing the losers. Seriously, this has to stop. Not just in the Olympics (but especially in the Olympics). As if losing isn't bad enough, they then have to come and make nice with the sideline reporter, pretend they aren't disintegrating inside, just to give the producers a few seconds of good tape. It's sick.

Last night, they insisted on interviewing Wallace Spearmon roughly 12 seconds after he learned he was losing his silver medal in the 200m sprint due to a disqualification. The interviewer actually asked him how he felt. How he felt? Are you kidding? And they follow it up by dragging the 15-year-old American diver in front of a camera, just after she didn't qualify for the finals, and again, asking her how she felt. Is there some mystery there? Like we don't know? I'm waiting for the day someone responds like this (NSFW for language; skip to 3:00 if you don't want to watch the whole bit):

What they should say (especially to the diver) is this: We understand how you feel, there's no need to tell us. All you need to know is that there are 300 million people on the other side of that camera who are proud of you for being there, for representing your country and giving it everything you have. That's it. Then shut up and toss it back to Costas.

3) The IOC. We've all heard by now about how the IOC not only dropped the ball but kicked it into traffic on this whole how-old-are-those-Chinese-gymnasts-anyway issue. That's fine, I guess; at this point the IOC serves as little more than a punch line. But really, if you're going to dodge something as fundamental as whether countries are following the rules that you've written in the interest of fair play, then maybe you should just stay quiet, period.

But no. I guess they eschewed looking into something as trivial as eligibility of elite athletes for competition because they are preoccupied with matters as weighty and significant as over-celebration. It just warms my soul to know that the IOC has its priorities straight: Catering and pandering to the host nation, ignoring the tenets you're charged to oversee? Check. Sticking your nose into easily the least important development in the entire three weeks of competition, solely so that you get on camera for a few seconds and appear relevant? Check. Looking like a douche in front of roughly 5 billion people in the process? Check, check, and double-check.

Then again, maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'm just cranky from the lack of sleep. I'm sure I'll look back and think about things differently starting Tuesday, once all this is over.

Maybe, but I seriously doubt it.

* This may not make a whole lot of sense if you didn't catch the broadcast, but it was absolutely perfect in context.

July 15, 2008

The importance of word choice

In a story from Reuters today, China voiced its reservations about the recent ICC decision to charge the president of Sudan with genocide.

I'll leave aside for a moment whether China might be better off, considering its own record and behavior in the arena of human rights and treatment of its citizens, just staying very, very quiet on this particular matter; instead I will simply highlight a small piece of the statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry:

They expressed "grave concern" about the charges of genocide.

Just take a second and read that again, it should come to you.

Grave concern. About genocide.

The only response I could think of was to wonder: what if they needed to take a stronger position?

Would they express "mass grave" concerns?

Note to the Chinese Foreign Ministry: in future press releases, avoid referring to the ICC as a regulating "body," and if you have reservations about the fairness of any upcoming prosecution, do not under any circumstances say that you fear that President al-Bashir is going to get "bulldozed."

And get an editor. Like, right now.

July 3, 2008

Thursday = Friday

Based on a couple of conversations last night, I offer the following:

First, "Everyone's a Little bit Racist," from the Broadway show Avenue Q. If you're not familiar with it, it's a great show. I'm not necessarily a huge fan of showtunes in general, but I have the soundtrack for this and love it. With song titles like this one, "The Internet is for Porn," and "It Sucks to be Me," you really just can't go wrong. Plus, it's R-rated puppets. 'Nuff said.

(I couldn't find a decent clip of the actual show, so I picked this one for the irony of putting a song about racism against Star Wars footage, after the flak that George took over Jar-Jar and some of his characters.)

And second, a truly honest R&B song. Just because.

Have a great weekend, kids.

June 23, 2008

RIP George Carlin

After ten days out of town and away from home, I expected to have a fairly calm start to my first day back in the office. And it was going well, too, until I heard a coworker exclaim,

"Oh my god, George Carlin died!"

It's one of those situations where you're sure you didn't hear what you thought you heard, so you look it up. And you're surprised, even then, when you find out it's true. George Carlin, among the greatest comedians of his or any generation, passed away last night in California. It comes, ironically enough, less than a week after it was announced that George would be presented with the Mark Twain prize at the Kennedy Center, and award given for lifetime achievement in humor.

And what a lifetime it was.

I've been a fan of standup for my entire life. It started with old Bill Cosby albums in my parents' living room (actual albums, on vinyl; if you're under 30 just ask your parents and they'll explain it). My family was among the early adopters of cable and, later, HBO, which in the early- to mid-1980s was nothing short of heaven for fans of standup. Early Robin Williams, Howie Mandel, Rodney Dangerfield and, of course, repeated doses of George Carlin. I was introduced to Carlin in his 1984 special Carlin on Campus, and have been addicted ever since. He had a significant influence on my sense of humor growing up, and with new specials appearing every couple of years throughout my adolescence, he was frequently quoted among my friends. He's as much a part of my life's soundtrack as any musical group, really, to the point where in making a compilation cd for a childhood friend several years ago, a well-remembered Carlin clip went between almost every song. I still have the bulk of several specials committed to memory.

All of this, of course, was well after George had already had a significant impact on our culture, coining the Seven Dirty Words and being part of a Supreme Court case on obscenity. I didn't know much about that stuff until much later. I just knew he was funny.

In recent years, I felt that George had shifted from doing poignant observational comedy to mostly doing angry screeds. The social commentary, which had been at least light-hearted in previous iterations had become much darker, more pessimistic. During a brief period when I was doing regular video postings, I put up YouTube clips of a couple of my favorite Carlin routines (a list that would take several postings and a couple of hours of video), in which I said that I missed funny George, that angry George just wasn't the same. But I'd take angry George over silent, never-to-be-heard-from-again George anytime.

So thanks, George, for making me laugh, and think, for more than half my life. I'll miss you, as will laugh-prone people everywhere. Say hi to Richard, Lenny, and the others for us; I'm sure they're glad to see you.

Postscript: the original version of the Post story above used a word that George would have howled at. At the end of the story, in the line about his family, it said that his first wife, Brenda, "predeceased him." They have since edited it, unfortunately, because I think he would have appreciated the choice of words immensely. It reminded me of this bit, in which George talks about the softening of language, and even about how they might describe his own passing. Ever since this first aired, I've never listened to the pre-boarding call at an airport the same way.

May 19, 2008

I don't think it means what they think it means

I'll get to why in a second, but I was thinking the other night about corporate sponsorship in sports. A variety of companies spend millions of dollars per year so that they can be considered The Official [product] of the [major sports team or league]. In theory, what this is supposed to say to the average consumer is that the team or league in question has a relationship with that product in such a way that the people who work or play for that organization would choose that particular product over its competition generally.

Most of the time, I don't think too much of this. I think that Popeye's, for example, is the Official Fried Chicken of the Redskins (or maybe it's the Wizards). And if they want to pay a bunch of money for that title, fine. And honestly, I suppose that I can imagine a guy like Clinton Portis, were he possessed of a craving for fried chicken, might very well decide that Popeye's is the place to go to get it. It's entirely possible that Popeye's is better than KFC, and if home cooking isn't available, maybe you make do with fast food. Fine, I can buy that. At that level, it makes sense to me.

What doesn't make sense is when they trot out a product sponsor that you know perfectly well the people being sponsored would never in a million years be caught dead using, let alone endorse. Sometimes the absurdity of it is so glaring, so jarring, that you can't help but notice it, and laugh out loud a little at the notion. This is what happened to me.

I was watching a bit of the NBA playoff coverage, not even really paying attention to the screen at the time, when I heard this: "NBA Shootaround is sponsored by Kia, the Official Automotive Partner of the NBA." Not surprisingly, my ears perked up at that.

Really? The Official Car of the NBA is a Kia?

Quick question: What kind of car does LeBron drive, do you think? Anybody offering odds that it's a Kia? How about Dwayne Wade? Kobe? KG? Shaq? Bueller? Bueller?

Okay, so none of those players are technically employed by the NBA organization; they're players for teams. So let's consider an NBA employee.

David Stern, proud Kia owner. Does that sound likely to you?

Me neither. I'm thinking we'd have to go pretty far down the org chart (or the bench, for that matter) before we're going to find someone whose primary vehicle is a Kia. Or secondary vehicle. Or who would even admit to test-driving one while car shopping. And I'm not suggesting they're bad cars; I'm just saying I've seen a few episodes of Cribs in my time, and let's just say there aren't a whole lot of Spectras parked next to the Escalades and Bentleys.

But that's what they would have you believe. Which is basically the people at Kia (and in the NBA, for that matter) calling me stupid. And I'm not about to put up with that.

Unless they'd like to sponsor me, of course.

May 2, 2008

Cake or death? Cake, please

Tonight, 8pm, DAR Constitution Hall. Someone - and I'm not saying who - will be in attendance. And this person (who will remain anonymous) is pretty sure it's going to be kickass.

April 28, 2008

I guess it had to happen eventually

I started this blog in the fall of 2005, and for two and a half years, I've managed to avoid it. I've seen it happen to other people, but it never happened to me. I will admit, I started to feel invincible. If I haven't run into it by now, surely I was safe, I thought. I thought so, but I was wrong.

I got tagged.

Part of me looks at tagging like the passing of a chain letter, like I have to do it or else something bad will happen, or Bill Gates won't send me a check, or some little girl will succumb to a brain tumor before seeing her email circle the globe (the check isn't coming, and the girl doesn't exist, by the way). But at the same time, it's a sign that someone wants to know you a little better, and it's hard to be annoyed when people find you interesting (yes, I know that there are people out there who find tapeworms interesting, but work with me here, okay?). So thanks to Ms. Lemmonex, here are seven things about me that you might not already know. I hope you won't regret choosing me over tapeworms.

1. In over 17 years of driving, I have received exactly one ticket, for speeding, in 2000. Now that I've said it out loud, I'm sure Murphy will be planning to correct that little statistic forthwith.

2. I don't keep a balanced checkbook, and it's entirely possible I've never actually balanced one at all (I may have done it early on, when I got my first account; the memory is a little hazy). I do most of my banking online, through direct deposit, and I hit the ATM roughly weekly. I monitor my credit card online, and I check the statement against the things I know I've done. I look for obvious anomalies but there's no fine-toothed comb involved. The only checks I write at this point are my rent and the occasional check to a friend for money I owe them, or for donations or entry fees for things (Race for the Cure, for example).

3. By virtue of having done some temp work a few years ago, I know that I can type somewhere between 55 and 60 words per minute. This is significant to me because when I graduated college, I couldn't type at all without staring at my hands, and now I can look away from the computer entirely while typing and not worry too much about making mistakes. On a related note, people find it quite disconcerting if you look them in the eye while continuing to type whatever it is you were typing when they first approached your desk.

4. I'm 33 years old, and I have probably drunk a total of less than three glasses of orange juice since kindergarten. I got sick on the way home from school one day (I can still remember it surprisingly clearly) and at that point my relationship with orange juice more or less ended. The thought of it doesn't make me ill or anything; I just don't want it.

5. I have never been what others might describe as properly drunk. Never fallen down, thrown up or passed out. The drunkest I've ever been is probably slightly off-balance, and that was on my 21st birthday. I rarely drink, and when I do it's almost never more than one drink or beer. I don't have a problem with drinking per se, or with people who do it; it's just never been something I've been interested in. I am regularly surprised at how hard it is for people to wrap their heads around this concept; like they'd be less uncomfortable processing the notion that I'm a raging alcoholic or something.

6. I can sing. Actually, I think it's reasonable to say that I have a well-above-average singing voice. But I could probably count on one hand the number of people I talk to regularly who have ever heard it. At some point, either during or shortly after college, I developed something of a mental block about singing around other people. I don't karaoke, I don't sing with the radio with other people, I pretty much clam up if i think someone else is within earshot. Oddly, I have less of a problem with the notion of strangers hearing me than friends. The only exception I seem to have is if someone has is playing an actual instrument. I'll sing along with someone playing guitar at a party with little hesitation, but karaoke is a non-starter. It makes no sense, and I don't get it myself, but it's there. I'll sort it out at some point. Maybe.

7. Between college and grad school, I have written a total of two applications and one essay. I applied early to Virginia Tech, planning to write the application for the in-state university as a backup plan, which was never necessary; no essay for the Tech application (all the more reason to love that place). I had a friend or two who wrote as many as 11 applications for college, something that I couldn't even fathom at the time. For grad school, I knew where I wanted to go and applied there; it wasn't a top-10 school and my GMAT score by itself could have gotten me in, so I was pretty well set there. Had to write an essay, but I couldn't really complain about it, could I? As higher-education experiences go, I'm pretty comfortable with how mine went.

So there you go, a small window into the man behind the blog. Hope you enjoyed it. Much like with chain letters, I will pass on tagging anyone else. If this wasn't really your thing, perhaps I can interest you in this.

April 17, 2008

I have my handbasket all picked out and everything

The founder of chaos theory has died at age 90.

Reports differ, but it is widely believed that his death was caused by beating, specifically the beating of the wings of a butterfly, somewhere over central Mongolia. Mathematicians continue to investigate. A statement from Jeff Goldblum is expected sometime this afternoon.

What does it say about me that, at 8:00 this morning, this is what first occurred to me upon reading the headline of the story? It's good that the Pope is here this week. He can just give me my Downstairs Pass today and save all the waiting.

April 13, 2008

Things I learned in San Francisco

In Part II of my west-coast journey.

- Golden Gate Park is beautiful. You could probably kill half a day or more there, if the weather's nice (California, duh), and there do seem to be plenty of things to look at. I had little time to spend on my visit, but did stop through the Japanese Tea Garden, which in addition to providing some excellent photographic scenes, allowed me to get the cherry blossom fix I was missing back home, minus the throng of underfoot tourists that clog the pedestrian arteries of our fair city this time of year. Points for that. There is also a rose garden, although apparently early April is not precisely the height of bloom season, as there was exactly one rose among the approximately seventy gajillion rose bushes in that part of the park. All of that said, it is a lovely place, and there are many more picture-worthy spots there than I had time to see, but would like to at some point. The DeYoung museum, for example, looked fascinating. There is also a flower conservatory which includes a butterfly house, if you're into that sort of thing.

- Maps are helpful. There are, to my mind, two major flaws in San Francisco's design, based on my short time there. First, and this is minor once you know your way around, is the signage. I'm very grateful for the Powers That Be for telling me the name of every cross street I pass; I think that's a wonderful idea. What would be brilliant, though, would be to occasionally tell me the name of the street I am currently on. This is important to know when you've just taken a poorly labeled turn that you think is the one you're looking for, and you travel a half-mile or so wondering about it but can't be completely sure because every signpost is blank. Big signs for cross-streets, roughly zero for your current street. Last time I checked, signposts could accommodate at least two signs, one for each direction of street; it seems reasonable to suggest that they be used in that manner, much like every major city on the planet. Except, of course, San Francisco. So knowing how the streets are laid out puts you at least in a moderately advantageous position.

Except for the one-way streets (Issue #2). I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that sorting out the one-way streets in San Fran feels somewhat akin to trying to decipher sanskrit using an Ovaltine decoder ring (and yes, finding out that the secret message is, in fact, "Drink more Ovaltine" is less than satisfying). I've never been so grateful for DC's user-friendly, intuitive urban design. At least here, you are fairly assured that if the street you're crossing won't let you turn left, the odds are at least 50/50 that the next one will. Over there, if you miss one left turn you might be in Sacramento by the time you get another chance.

(And before you say it: GPS is for wimps. Either that or I couldn't expense it. Pick the rationale that you like best. Wimp.)

- Thanks to the BART, I now have an appreciation for just how phenomenal the coverage of our local metro system is, in terms of access to different parts of the city. The BART has four lines, which all pass through the exact same dozen stops downtown, in a straight line across the city.

- The cable car is worth a ride. Because you're there, and that's what you do. Plus, it's a relatively cheap and easy way to get over to Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, etc. It is a fun, scenic ride, and you can hang off the side all the way across town if you want to (which I did). Humming the Rice-a-Roni theme song optional but encouraged (or not). And if you're riding across town in the evening, it's entirely possible that your driver will stop the car in the middle of an intersection, hop off and run into a corner pizza shop to place an order.

The truth is, San Francisco is a very manageable size, and is generally walkable (or at least, don't-have-to-drive-able); you can get most places of interest other than Golden Gate Park or the Bridge without riding a municipal bus or getting into a cab. But given that,

- I am in lousy shape. Not that this is a surprise, but it was brought into uncomfortably stark focus on this trip. I was out and about in San Francisco for about eight hours or so on my one free day, with the total time spent sitting still (driving or riding the cable car) accounting for between an hour and a half and two hours of that time. The rest? Walking. Sure, a lot of stopping to take photos and that sort of thing, but mostly walking. And of the walking, there was a significant amount of climing. Not like rock-climbing or anything, but climbing hills and stairs. Because San Francisco? Not flat. Not even a little. It has hills. (Correction: make that hills).

I walked up Hyde St from the end of the cable car line to the top of Lombard St, the world's windiest street. On the map, this journey is about four blocks, which seems perfectly reasonable. In fact, it may seem reasonable enough that when the cable car stops at the top of Lombard St on Hyde, on the way to the Wharf, you might actually decide against getting off right then, instead figuring that you'll ride the car to the end and then walk over to the bottom of Lombard where the pics will be better anyway. This is a bad idea. Because when you fail to find Leavanworth St, which meets the bottom of Lombard, you will just end up walking up Hyde St anyway, retracing the path your cable car just took, without the benefit of mechanized transportation. And it will suck. The street is obscenely steep. Lombard St itself is listed as having a 27-degree incline; Hyde isn't quite that steep, but it's close. Or at least, it sure as hell feels like it. According to Google maps Terrain view, the trip from Bay St to Lombard St will take you up around 200 feet. In four blocks. With no stairs. It's steep enough that the middle of the sidewalk is cross-hatched, presumably to help people with traction as they climb. So yeah, get off the cable car, take pictures, then walk down the massive nasty hill to the Wharf. Down is easier. Or wait 15 minutes and catch another cable car to the bottom. I did none of these things, because I'm an idiot. But we've long since established that, now haven't we?

And all of that was after I had spent a couple of hours at the Golden Gate, where I climbed every bit of the 220 feet from the bridge deck to sea level, but at least there were stairs involved. See, you can park right next to the toll booths at the bridge, almost, take your pictures, then head on out to do whatever's next. You can, but I can't. I'm the one who notices the path off to the side, and follows it, ever looking for better angles for the photos. Then you realize that you can make your way all the way down to the water, where there's this cool concrete pier that gives you an excellent view of the bridge, as well as the city itself and Alcatraz; all it requires is that you descend, oh, say, 33885744 stairs to get there. At which point you're probably a little less than a half-mile from the bridge, and you notice that you can get almost right next to the bridge itself, also at the water line. So you go. It is at that point when you recognize that, while you may be standing next to the bridge, there is no direct path from there to the top of the bridge where you started. Instead, you ahve to go all the way back around and all the way back up the stairs. And did I mention 220 feet? Yeah. Awesome. And no escalators.

But the good news is, the pictures came out pretty well. They would be much better, if not for the final, most colossally aggravating thing I learned out there:

- My (brand new) camera has a defect in it. There is this small collection of circles, between two and four, in the top-center of just about every frame I took on this trip. They aren't always obvious, but they are always there, and always in the same place. So the clear blue sky surrounding the architectural wonder that is the Golden Gate Bridge has what appears to be a series of bubbles in it. Not that that's distracting or anything. I had purchased this camera about a week before I left for California, from a website that shall remain nameless (although one might suspect from its name that they also sell crackers, or that they're Putting On something*), but whose return/exchange policy, I found out later, is ten days. Ten days. That's it. Even for exchanges for defects. Ten days. So instead of making it easy to get this rectified, I'm going to have to send my camera to the manufacturer to get serviced, which will take something on the order of two weeks. Because the piece of crap website can't seem to figure out how to write a reasonable customer service policy. Fuckers. I have a $50 gift coupon that came with my camera, after whose use they will receive exactly $0 of my money ever again, and roughly that same amount from anyone who I ever talk to about camera stuff.

But that said, I did find some very good pictures in San Francisco, and will get some posted here one of these days. And I had an excellent trip out west, all things considered. This is a pretty busy travel month, so there may be more stories coming, you never know. Hopefully good ones, but since Murphy and I have the sort of relationship we do, you can never really tell...

* I should point out, however, that the brick and mortar stores bearing this name are not affiliated with the website, and as such I have no issues with them. The people there have been very helpful, in distinct contrast to their virtual cousins. Did I mention fuckers? Just checking.

April 9, 2008

They can't take it back now....

While it took so long as to suggest less Pony Express than Limping Tortoise Express, this did finally arrive today.

Not that it was ever in doubt or anything, but actually being able to hold it in your hands is pretty darn cool.

But seriously, it took 'em long enough....

April 2, 2008

Doing a little West Coast swing

Some observations from my first-ever trip to Los Angeles, the first stop on my two-city tour for work this week. Spent the weekend with a good friend from college, who was kind enough to play tour guide, and I've managed to see far more of the LA area than I had expected to. All in all, an excellent time.

- Why being nice to people matters: my seat assignment for my flight on Friday was waaaay in the back of the plane, on the window. Being somewhat taller than average, I tend to prefer the aisle because window seats usually have less foot-room on account of the curvature of the plane's fuselage. And exit row seats are always a good thing; but the seat-selection for exit rows, the computer said, would have to be handled at the departure gate. Not a promising sign, but I remained optimistic. At the gate, I inquired about a seat change, and was told that the flight was completely full, and there were no available seats, but the lady said she'd put in a request and we'd see what came up. Which sounded a lot to me like, "Don't hold your breath." But again, I remained optimistic.

Fast forward about twenty minutes, when the rest of that gate's staff arrived. The lady I had spoken to asked the arriving folks whether any of them had an extra pen, since she seemed to have left hers at her previous post. As it turned out, only one of them had a pen at all, so there was one pen available for three gate agents. Not an ideal situation, to be sure. I have my backpack with me, since that's what I use to carry my laptop, which has all of the supplies I used to take to class, including a plethora of pens. So grabbed one I hardly use, wandered over to the desk and handed it to her, saying,"And the best part is, I don't even want it back." She chuckled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat.

Another twenty minutes or so, and we're beginning the boarding process. They've already announced that first class is completely full, so there will be no upgrades, and we have a full flight, so the standby folks are SOL. But in the midst of all those announcements, the gate lady makes her way in my direction, holding a long slip of paper. A new boarding pass. Exit row. Aisle. Score. I'm not saying it was because I gave her the pen, but I'm not saying it wasn't, either.

- For some reason, United has decided that, rather than dividing the under-seat space evenly across the three seats in a row, the best approach would be to give the middle seat enough space to house a small third-world family, and the aisle and window each enough space for a business-sized envelope (standing on its edge), a thimble and a ball-point pen.

- Celebrity Sighting #1: Friday night in a small, relatively loud bar in Studio City whose name escapes me (I remember low, red lighting and a lot of noise, which narrows the list to roughly 4,556,533 bars in Los Angeles). Among the patrons, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who I recognize more as "that guy who looks like Robert Downey Jr's older brother" than for any of his acting work.

- Complain all you want about the drivers in the DC area, but compared to the drivers out here we are all extraordinarily thoughtful and considerate on the road. No wonder they shoot at each other. But then, if I had to deal with the 405 every day, I might be a little unhinged myself.

- Run, Fat Boy, Run is a very good movie, and the Cinemadome at the Arclight theater is an exceptional place to take in a film. It reminded me of the Uptown, in terms of the screen space, but it is a very modern, updated theater. As interested as I was/am in Grummann's Chinese Theater, I wasn't willing to suffer through Drillbit Taylor just to have the experience. I think I came out ahead here. Quick trivia on Fat Boy: co-written by Michael Ian Black, formerly of MTV's The State, and directed by David Schwimmer, of all people. And he does an excellent job. And let's be honest, you simply cannot go wrong with Simon Pegg. Hank Azaria doesn't hurt, either.

- I've seen more Italian sportscars here than I have anywhere else outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (yes, Milwaukee of all places. There was this little euro bar near where I stayed while I was there in 1998, and every night there were no fewer than seven high-end sportscars parked on that corner. Lamborghini, Ferrari, even Lotus were well-represented on that hundred-foot stretch of curb. We never understood it, but it was something to behold). Also, more than a few Bentley's and Rolls' out in normal traffic, driving to the mall.

- Celebrity(ish) Sighting #2: Santa Monica is a lovely place to walk around, between the Promenade, which has some exceptional street performers, and the Pier, which has some exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding beaches. In the Apple store on the Promenade I saw Amanda from that Tila Tequila reality show, A Shot at Love. Neither my friend nor her boyfriend knew who she was, but thanks to the internet-connected computers in the store I was able to enlighten(?) them. The site has switched to Season 2, so her bio is no longer up there. But I will say this: the makeup artists on that show were busy. Either that or she aged a helluva lot since that show ended. Possibly both.

- If you find yourself in Studio City, make your way to Sushi Dan. Trust me. Order the baked langostino roll. You will not be disappointed.

- Ditto for Duke's in Malibu, which offers the added extra bonus of a drive on the PCH. Sitting at lunch, looking at the ocean, watching dolphins go by. Yeah, that'll do. Plus, the food? Delicious.

- Celebrity Sighting #3: Vivian's Millenium Cafe, brunchtime. Order the banana pancakes. But get the regular order, because the large is just absurd (he said, having learned the hard way). But they're very, very good. Sitting about six feet away, just off the patio and doing a crossword puzzle, is Zach Levi. At one point, he disappears into the restaurant, grabs the coffee pot to refill his cup, then heads back to his table with it, offering refills to other patrons along the way.

- Petco Park in San Diego is a beautiful stadium, and an ideal place to take in a game. Our client decided to make an impromptu trip down for the Padres-Astros game Tuesday night, and I went along. We got there early, and wandered through the grounds and every level of the stadium. Great sight lines everywhere. Our client said that it's a very similar environment to the new Nationals stadium, actually. With the small exception of it being very chilly in San Diego that night, it was an excellent side trip to take, and we made very good time both getting there and getting back. And on top of it all, it was a pretty good game; we root-root-rooted for the home team, and they won. Like an idiot, however, I left my camera in my hotel, so we'll have to see how the cell-phone pictures come out.

- There is an endless supply of amazing views out here, to the point where you get oddly used to it. And it's hard to take pictures, since the panoramas far exceed the width of the camera lens. It's difficult to pick which part of the sweeping view you want to capture. I got a few good ones, though.

Next up is San Francisico, for the second (and much shorter) leg of the tour; I head home Friday. I won't have nearly the tourist-time I had in LA, but I do plan on seeing as much as I can fit in. I'll post some of the pictures once I get back home.

March 7, 2008

In which I support a good cause, but recognize I am closer to breaking a hip than being hip

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual dinner for the Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE). If you're not aware (and let's face it, you're probably not), SSE is an organization dedicated to the fight against breast cancer. It's a small organization, nothing even approaching the Komens of the world, but naturally there's room for everyone in this area, and SSE is taking a different, and rather novel, approach to the effort and to outreach.

SSE was started by Mark Beemer, who had made his living as a rock photographer. Without getting into too much detail, events conspired to put the issue of breast cancer into stark focus for him, and in 2002 he made a slight change to his life's mission. Making use of his background in the punk-rock scene, and the network of people he knew there, Mark put punk-rock at the center of his outreach strategy. He knows bands, bands know him, and he gets them involved in his cause. SSE goes to shows to hand out materials, and the bands regularly mention SSE on stage, and direct people to their booth and the website.

The support of the punk-rock scene is even more evident in the centerpiece of SSE's fund-raising efforts, called Shirts for a Cure. Bands donate T-Shirt designs to SSE, and all proceeds from the sales of those shirts go to the endowment. And we're not talking about small bands you've never heard of, either. Bad Religion, Blink-182, My Chemical Romance (MCR), Fall Out Boy, and The Plain White T's are only a few of the myriad bands who have contributed designs to SSE's cause. They do some original stuff, too, including the punk-appropriately-titled "Fuck Cancer" line. They have some additional things in the works that haven't been announced yet, but will be very exciting and will expand their mechandise catalog in cooperation with a couple of big names*. They tour, they organize an increasing number of groups for the Race for the Cure, all the while helping to support breast cancer treatment for women who lack the means to obtain it on their own. These are good people.

SSE put on a show at the South By Southwest festival whose band list (including MCR) rivaled anything the festival's organizers could put together (in fact, the SXSW people are a little steamed at SSE for getting bands they can't, but that's a whole different story). They have gone on tour with MCR and other bands, getting out and talking with the fans, increasing awareness and promoting early detection/prevention of breast, testicular, and skin cancer. SSE has developed a number of materials that they hand out, including laminated shower cards promoting self-testing for boys and girls, complete with cartoon people sporting tatoos. By all accounts, it's been very successful and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

This year, I attended SSE's annual charity dinner, which was held at Maggianos in DC. So right away, you know you're going to eat well. This is a good thing. In addition to copious volumes of Italian food, we were also treated to an update on SSE's previous year, and some of their plans for next year and the future (see asterisk, above/below, for example). It really was a wonderful event, and I may or may not have eaten way more than I should have. But that is neither here nor there. Good times.

One of the most interesting things for me was being seated at a table with three-fourths of the band Senses Fail. They were in town for the week, working on a new album, and came out to show their support for SSE. And to eat. Now, I should point out (which will surprise no one, really) that I know virtually nothing about punk/indie rock (is there a difference? That's how little I know about it), beyond being passingly familiar with a few of the bands named above, and having been to a Guided By Voices show at the 9:30 Club a few years back. So it's not all that suprising that I'd never heard of my tablemates before that very evening. But to me, that meant that they were obviously some up-and-coming band just getting started or something.

I was close. Turns out they share a record label with Dashboard Confessional, Paul Westerburg, and the Lemonheads, and are in fact working on their third album, not their first. So yeah, a little pop-culture hubris to go with the gnocchi in vodka sauce. And the gargantuan tiramisu (family-style dining rocks, especially at dessert time). I then went from feeling ignorant to old when one of the other people at the table explained that Senses Fail is 'very popular with the kids.' A group to which I clearly no longer belong.

I should also point out that the guys from the band were hilarious, and great fun to share a meal with. I was able to talk music with people who do it for a living, and it was fascinating for me to get some insight into the process of putting an album together. There may also have been some discussion of Steven Seagal and Steven Seagal movies. Highly entertaining all around.

It was a great night, supporting a great and growing organization. And at the end of the evening I finished my prune juice, hiked up my pants, and hopped on the Rascal for the trip home.

These kids today...

* As soon as I find out what I'm allowed to say, or when it does get announced, I'll tell you. I promise. But it's very cool.

January 31, 2008


Like most people, I occasionally make up words. We all do it, don't we? We're trying to express or describe something, and can't quite nail it down with the words we know; so we come up with our own solution. Most of the time, these new words have a lifespan of that conversation, and are never heard again after that one use and chuckle. Some of them, however, bear repeating. They stick around. They go into a regular rotation, and our friends might even start to use them. Heck, some of them make their way into the national consciousness*. The average person might simply refer to these terms as made-up words, and they would certainly not be wrong to do so. But those of us of a certain age, who grew up in a certain pop-cultural period, recognize them as more than that. We know that some the best of these words fall into their own category, their own special place in the American lexicon.

We call them by their rightful name. We call them Sniglets.

Mention sniglets to someone, and if they remember them at all you will almost invariably get the same reaction, sort of like they just ran into a close friend from middle school that they haven't seen in years. But what they may not remember, however, is just where sniglets came from. Sure, there were books and even a sniglet calendar, but before all of that, there was a show. Much like Beavis and Bart (and Fergie, for that matter), sniglets started out as a small part of a larger show, which grew to far exceed (and outlive) the program that got them noticed.

Back in the early days of cable, when Nickelodeon was dumping green slime on people, and MTV was, well, something people actually wanted, HBO was coming up, still filling out its movie selections; but even then HBO was producing original shows. One of the first of these was a spoof-news program called Not Necessarily the News.

The show was decent, occasionally very good; kind of a distant progenitor of The Daily Show. NNTN introduced the world to Rich Hall, who in turn introduced the world to sniglets. And the rest, as they say, is history. But not nearly as many people remember the show itself so much as the new words the show provided. (For example, just look at the difference between NNTN's wiki entry and the one for sniglets. It's not even close**).

And if they do remember, then rest assured that not only do you get the holy-crap-i-remember-that reaction, complete with wide eyes and a chuckle or two, the person you are talking to will without fail proceed to tell you their favorite, the one that cemented sniglets in their memory. Promise. Everybody has one, and no matter how long it's been, they'll remember it pretty much on the spot. Mine? That's easy:
  • cinemuck [n]: the sticky substance that covers the floor of most movie theaters.
So this long string of nostalgia was sparked for me over the holidays, while I was down visiting my family for Christmas. Unfortunately, I can't remember the exact circumstances, but I know I was sitting in the living room, talking with my brother and sister-in-law. I am blessed with a very funny family, and we spend at least as much time together laughing as doing anything else. It's a good group. Somewhere in the midst of all of the funny conversations, it occurred to me.
  • mirthquake [n]: an extreme state of amusement, in which one is laughing so hard, or has been laughing for so long, that the person ceases to make any sound; all that remains is a near-involuntary shuddering of the body, and frequently unsuccessful attempts to catch one's breath.
I have never had a short way of describing this condition, but I have always greatly enjoyed it. See, my friend Katie from junior high school was the queen of this sort of thing. She was an easy laugh, and once she got going she had a lot of trouble stopping. She would often end up in exactly this condition, a huge smile (that bordered on a pained expression, honestly), occasional tears, and shaking, punctuated by loud intakes of breath. I remember once in a math class, she got caught by something funny at her desk, laughed for a couple of minutes, but then had a question for the teacher. She got up to ask, but by the time she got up to the teacher's desk, she was in full mirthquake mode. She tried for the better part of a minute to work through it and ask her question, standing next to the teacher, but eventually waved it off, went back to her desk, sat back down, and dropped her face into her hands until she could re-compose herself. As much as we laughed, none of us were more amused than the teacher, who got quite a kick out of it. He was good like that. And I don't think she ever asked her question, either.

In many cases, the onset of the mirthquake is signaled by the
  • snortle [n]: laughter punctuated by an intake of breath through the nose, resulting in a sound reminiscent of a pig; this usually embarrasses the person making the sound, causing them to laugh further, often creating a snowball effect leading to general loss of control.
I have several friends who do this, and it's always hugely entertaining. First they're laughing at something else, then the snortle, then they're also laughing at themselves, and it just spirals. Personally, I love it.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to cause something to come out of your friend's nose; that's the grail, right there. But the mirthquake and the snortle are perfectly acceptable in the meantime.

So yeah. I made a sniglet (or two). If you remember them, please share your favorite(s), or one you made yourself.

* Only while writing this did I learn that the term I and all my friends always used to refer to a car with one headlight out (pediddel) is, in fact, one of these.
**Let's be clear: I am in no way suggesting wiki is some kind of journalistic standard, but I still think it says something.
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