Friday, December 28, 2007

Independence Durr

I think you better sleep this off.
Go back inside before you catch a

Slowly David looks up towards Moishe, an idea.

Pops, you're a genius!

What'd I say?

A cold? Of course.

. . . and that's how we saved humanity from the evil aliens. This guy's dad chattering on, and he happened to say something that, when taken in a different context, gave his son the idea for a ridiculous plot device.

But I don't mean to pick on "Independence Day". This little "you're a genius" riff is used in just about any movie where the heroes have to figure something out. Yet "ID4" will always be the prime example of scriptwriting's "dumb luck" because the fly's "give the alien's a computer virus" idea makes so little sense:

1. The super-advanced aliens who have mastered interstellar travel probably got their computer networking down a long time ago. That virus wouldn't get very far, unless one of them was running Outlook Express.

2. The fly wouldn't be able to program a virus for a completely foreign system using a computer language he knows nothing about in just a few hours.

3. On the chance that he was a skilled enough programmer to accomplish #2, he wouldn't be using a Mac.

Do the writers of these movies not understand how insulting this "immaculate solution"* trope is? Even with all the human race has accomplished and all the bright minds working in science and technology fields, our only hope for salvation is that Ian Malcolm will have some inane, drunken chat with his father. That's the extent of our problem-solving ability.

And I understand that "ID4" isn't "Apollo 13." It's not supposed to be a serious, intelligent look at how smart people solve problems in desperate times. "Independence Day" is a movie where Bagger Vance kills the aliens. Period. But if the problem-solving is so unimportant, why not just handle it like this:

Pops, you're a genius!

What'd I say?

A cold? Of course.

A soldier runs into the room excitedly.


Hey, we stopped the alien invasion!


What? How?


Larry figured it out. Did you meet Larry? Really
smart guy, Ph.D. in Physics I think. He studied
the shield on the alien ship we captured, then
through trail-and-error he came up with a missile
payload that would disable it. We took the designs
over to Greg, the military R&D guy, he's been
designing missiles for, like, 40 years or something.
He equipped some ICBMs with Larry's device and
brought down the mother ship a few minutes
ago. Now we're just waiting for Agent J to get in his
little airplane and mop up the rest.


Wow, I guess . . . I guess those guys have it
covered, then.


Yep . . . wait, did you have an idea too?


Oh, uh, yeah, kinda. But don't worry about it,
seems kinda stupid now.

*The only time in recorded history when this has actually happened was when Vance and I were playing "The Curse of Monkey Island" in high school. He solved one of the most obscure puzzles in that game because he had the cursor over a particular inventory item while singing a particular "Barenaked Ladies" song. It was incredible.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Telling Stories

The following is a story I enjoy telling whenever vegetarianism, meatball subs, or the Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant come up in conversation:

"A co-worker told me that she was at dinner with a vegetarian friend, and he ordered a hamburger. She was really startled, and asked why he'd be ordering meat. He confessed that he'd given up his hardcore-vegetarian lifestyle forever.

'What happened?' she asked.

'Man . . . ' he replied, 'it was those meatball subs.'

At the time, this guy was working as a cook at Mellow Mushroom. 'I was making a meatball sub the other day, and when I took it out of the oven it just smelled so good. I don't know, I just had to take a bite out of it. And before I knew it, I'd eaten the whole thing and had to make a new one for the customer. And from that point on, it was over. Meat is GOOD."

I think it's a great story.

The only problem is that, as I found out recently, it's almost a complete lie.

It wasn't a meatball sub*, it was a chicken club. And he wasn't taking the sandwich out of the oven, he was just cutting up some chicken to put into it. And he only decided to eat a small piece of the chicken, just a piece, not the whole thing.

Somehow, in retelling the story, I managed to change almost everything about it. And I guess that's forgivable. People embellish stories all the time without meaning to.

But the terrible part is that I fully intend to continue telling MY version of this story with all the lies in it.

It's just better that way. No one wants to think that a vegetarian got turned to omnivority by a little piece of chicken. No one hears the true version and thinks, "Wow, yeah, small pieces of chicken ARE good. I could go for a small piece of chicken right now!"

But a meatball sub? Now that's the kind of thing that lures you to the culinary dark side. No meat-eater would have a problem with meatball subs acting as a mascot for our dietary choice.

And that's why, in my version, he HAS to eat the entire sandwich. We can't have him eat a little of a meatball sub, herald of all animal consumption, and say, "Eh. Alright. I guess I'm ok with meat." No, he has to be so overwhelmed that he finishes the whole thing.

This gives me an insight into every urban legend, successful politician, or Moist von Lipwig in the world. Each person authors their own little story of the world, and a lot of the time, the story isn't particularly interesting. And if someone else comes along telling a better story, people will believe that instead, even if they know it's full of lies.

*But I was so convinced that it was, I made sure to get one the next time I went there.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Remake how we got to where we are.

By now you've probably seen the "Chocolate Rain" video. Well maybe you have. I'm never really sure, because it's hard to know exactly where the "veil of geek" drops. I spend a lot of time on the internet, and so do many of my friends, and after a while I forget that a lot of people live normal, healthy lives in a world where Chad Vader and the Alabama Leprechaun aren't fixtures.

But just in case you're not familiar with the internet's canonical works, let me enlighten you on one of them since it's important to today's post. I give you Tey Zonday's "Chocolate Rain":

Let's pause here for a moment and think about what you just saw. Was the song really "bad?" Can you even call it that? I wouldn't say it's "good." I'm certainly not burning it to a CD and Sharpie-ing the words "Driving Music" on the top.

Yet I can't bring myself to classify "Chocolate Rain" in such simple terms as "bad" or "good," because that's not what I take away from it. What I really want to say is "I can't believe this thing exists, but it does. Holy Crap." Is there a word for that?

But I'm not here to talk about "Chocolate Rain," I just needed you to know about it before I got into my real subject.

"Cherry Chocolate Rain"

I've already discussed with you the soda industry's desperate pleas for attention, as you might remember. This season Dr. Pepper is up to their usual antics with "Diet Cherry Chocolate Dr. Pepper." And guess how the Dr. Pepper company decided to advertise their new assault on adjectives . . .

Oh yes . . .

Yes they did . . .

When I watched that video the first time, something BROKE inside of me. I felt it about the time "Mista Johnson" came out and started rapping about Tey's "move away from the microphone" note. There was a loud "pop" in my head, and suddenly I felt like I should be doing something outside.

It's hard to explain exactly what happened to me, but I'll do my best:

Imagine if you helped to invent the first automobile. Just you and some machine-loving friends, old railroaders and steamboat workers probably, building it inside an old shed. And then you started a company, with you and your buddies on the forefront of an exciting new field. As the years passed you kept up with every innovation, every major shift in thinking, because cars were your thing, darn it, you were there when it all began! Even when you started getting old and knew it was time to retire, you found it hard to walk out the door because you still loved those machines so much.

Then one day you came into the office and someone had invented a hover-car. Yep, Steve in R&D made anti-gravity, and got it to run off of your light-compact engine.

And for some reason, you knew you were done. It wasn't that you were upset about the hover-car. You were proud, in fact, that someone from your company had accomplished it. But you were done. Buy me a cake, hand me a gold watch, nice working with you fellas, but I'm out.

That's how "Cherry Chocolate Rain" makes me feel. I was around when this whole "internet" thing started. I watched it grow and change and develop into what it is. And even when "Web 2.0" sites like Wikipedia and YouTube came along, I was ok with that. It was a weird thing to think about, the users of the site providing all the content for the site, but I got it.

I understood how someone could perform one of the most bizarre songs ever and get twelve million people to watch it, specifically because it was weird.

But when that someone then got paid to sing a song ABOUT his first song, and used that second song to discuss how weird it is that he's famous for performing a really strange song, well . . . I don't know. I'm not mad about it. Good for him. But I'm done.*

*This does not have any real implication. Also, I still can't spell "chocolate" on the first try.

Friday, December 7, 2007

And don't get me started on folding them.

What do you wash your towels with?

Soap and water.

What gets on your towels when you use them?

Soap and water.

And towels don't get dirty, how could they? You don't use them unless you're already clean. So then why do you have to wash towels? Aren't they getting washed each time you use them?

Maybe the problem is that, eventually, all that soap residue builds up, so when you use the towel you just get all lathered up again. But then that means that, when you wash towels, you're using soap to clean off soap.

Don't think about that idea for too long, it's like an Escher painting for your mind.*

Washing dishes is strange too. Ever had a sink full of dishes that you've been meaning to wash for three or four days? I do right now. But clearly I'm getting along just fine without those dishes, so do I even need them? What the heck have I been drinking out of these past four days? I can't remember.

I guess I don't need towels either, for that matter. I mean I'm going to be dry eventually. Towels are just there for my impatience. I refuse to drip dry for ten minutes, I'd rather towel dry for three minutes and then do a whole extra load of laundry every week.

And speaking of cleaning, how come so many "earthy" people who "love nature" also keep really clean houses. It seems like they'd never have to clean, dirt and bacteria are some of the most natural things in the world. "Why do you have a vacuum, don't you love all this nature on your floor? Take my shoes off? Why? I'm just tracking in nature! Oooh, look what nature is growing with the little bit of milk left in this glass!"

People forget that most of Nature is trying to kill you.

*If it weren't for my horse . . .

Friday, November 30, 2007

Just Past New York

Of all the goods and services in a free economy, there's none quite as bizarre as parking.

Say you put twenty-five cents into a meter: now what have you purchased? It's not like renting a gym locker, where you'd be paying for the secured nature of that empty space. Parking spots aren't protected by anything except some white lines on the ground. That's right, your three-dimensional space is secured by a two-dimensional boundary.

Oh, and by the way, that space you rented? You don't get to just do whatever you want with it. You couldn't, for instance, put a quarter in the meter and then lay down to take a nap. You can't bring a table along with you, set it up in the parking space, and eat dinner. That space is for cars, and nothing else. You are renting completely unsecured empty space that can only be used for one purpose.

Alright, fine. So you park your car in the space, and you get to use it for an hour. But only if you don't leave! If you move your car from that space for even a second, anyone else can park there. Where else does this happen in life? It would be like mailing your rent check, going to work, and when you get home some other guy is there with all his stuff*. And he doesn't have to leave. And you don't get your rent money back.

So if you're not getting any sort of security for your space, and you can only do one thing with it, and no one holds it for you if you leave, then what does the quarter buy you? What does your rental mean? It means that for one hour, they WON'T ticket you.

You are paying someone money so that they won't charge you more money. What a service.

*Some of that guy's stuff is probably hanging a little over into your neighbor's house.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Yeah, twelve.

So here I am, writing about air travel.

It's one of the oldest gags in the book. Pick any working comedian and I guarantee he'll have an airplane bit. That and a donut bit. Planes and donuts, the litmus test of humor.

And why those two things? I guess when you spend more than an hour in a small seat with a bunch of people you don't know, trying to read a book over the sound of enormous jet engines and waiting for a light to go off so you can get up and use the bathroom, your mind tends to wander. Engineers sit there and analyze the design of the airplane, accountants guess how much the people around them make, and comedians exaggerate the absurdities of this shared daily experience.

But donuts? That I don't have an answer for.

First of all, I need to admit that flying seriously creeps me out. Airports are the only place in the world where George Orwell's dark vision of the future has come absolutely true. Everything is white and sanitary, there are security check points and all the food comes in little rationed packs. And the whole thing is exactly like a "1984" government, just a big system to sort people and control what they do. When you arrive you check in so they can assign you a number on a piece of paper, and you've got to carry that paper around, get the guard to look at it and mark it with his pen, and you'd better not lose that piece of paper with your number on it or you're screwed. You, and only you, can carry that paper from the place where the guard is to the gate you've been assigned. Now sit down and don't let anyone else handle your bag. The icing on the paranoid socialist cake is the "HAL 9000" voice constantly reminding you of the current threat level, and how you'd better not have more than the allowed ounces of fluid in your bag.*

On my flight out, I was seated next to a child. There was also a child on the other side of me, across the aisle. There was also a child in the seat behind me.

I'm not joking. Sweet Lord I wish I were joking. I was annoyed, angry, and trapped in a cliché.

"Oh please, please just take off so I can turn my mp3 player on." And at that moment I looked down at the device, and understood why the fine people at Creative called their product line "Zen."

But this brings up an interesting point. Parents are allowed to hold a child on their laps during airplane flights. So, conceivably, an adult's arms are strong enough to hold a small child securely in place if there's turbulence or a fiery crash. And if that's the case, shouldn't we be able to do away with seat belts in favor of the "hold on real tight" method?

No? Well then I guess the seat belts aren't really about safety, they exist just to make people sit down and stay out of the way. Like the little piece of paper, it's just another form of control.

"Your stewardesses will be by shortly with your soda and pretzel rations. The in-flight movie today will be the 'two-minutes hate."

*Is this a legit security concern, airline? Or are you just trying to sell more sodas at the gates? Come on, fess up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lumber for Wool*

Ever since I heard Tycho desperately explain to Gabe (23:00) why "Settlers of Catan", a game in which excitement is derived mostly from raw good exchange rates, is "awesome," I've been wondering why I like playing it so much. In a lot of ways I find it totally frustrating:

-You can lose because, even though you're on the best statistical numbers, "4" gets rolled fifteen times in a row and you never get any resources.

-You can lose because the person in last place isn't paying attention to the score and makes a big trade with the guy who's one point from victory.

-You can lose because you ate all the M&M's. That part isn't in the rule book, either. It's not a formal game mechanism. But if there's a bowl of M&Ms on the table and you eat them all, someone could get mad and place the robber on you, and you'd be screwed. Full of delicious candy coating, but screwed.

Yet I keep coming back to Catan, convinced that this time I've figured out the unstoppable strategy. So I own the computer version. I'm jealous of Xbox 360 owners and their online edition. I'm crossing my fingers that the PS3 or DS will get the game eventually. And then one day it occurred to me:

Isn't this what gambling addiction is like?

I mean most casino games are just as ridiculous. A guy spins a ball around a wheel to see where it lands. Someone rolls some dice to see if certain numbers come up. You pull a lever to see if the right combination of fruit appears. It gets dumber the more you think about it. You might as well be losing because you ate too many M&Ms.

Yet people keep coming back, convinced that this time they've figured out the unstoppable strategy, ready to put down more money just for the chance to try it again. Gambling is so much like "Settlers of Catan" that it's scary.

And then one day it occurred to me:

Isn't that what baseball is like?

I mean baseball is just as ridiculous. A guy throws a ball and another guy tries to hit it with a stick. If he doesn't, he's out. And even if he does, he's probably out. But he MIGHT hit a home run! Just like the little ball MIGHT land on 32, and just like I MIGHT roll an 8 and get 4 ore that I can trade to my 2:1 port for some clay, that guy MIGHT hit the ball a certain distance and score a point. It gets dumber the more you think about it. The "team" might as well lose because a machine came up cherry-cherry-lemon.

Yet people keep coming back to the TV, chips in hand (see what I did there?), convinced that this time their team has an unstoppable strategy.

When I hear a baseball announcer talk about how a certain player has a .300 batting average against left-handed pitchers named Larry on days of the week that start with "T," it makes me think of craps tables, and of development cards.

*This is the proper way to offer that trade. At least once in every game someone says "I have wood for sheep!" and the table breaks into laughter.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sam versus the nice, well-intentioned people: Part 2

-Hi Sam, how are you?

-I'm good.

-Just good?

-What's wrong with "good?"

-Nothing, I guess. But that's all? You're just "good," you're not "great?" Is something wrong?

-So you're saying that if I'm not "great," then something is wrong with me?

-Well, no, but I just thought . . .

-It used to be "fine."


-"Fine." That's what I would say when people would ask me how I was. But I had to stop using that word, because every time I said it someone would respond "Just fine?!!" It was like "fine" suddenly meant "I got mauled by a bear today." That's how people reacted.

-Well yeah, fine isn't very good.

-Actually it is. In fact that's exactly what it means. As in "fine wine" or "the finest things in life","refined," it does mean "very good," that's the definition. But somehow that wasn't enough, and I had to step up my response to "Okay."

-Just "Ok?"

-Yeah, that's exactly what everyone said, "JUST OK???" I should have known better. I mean if "fine" meant "I got mauled by a bear today" then "Ok" must mean that the bear was riding a shark. And that's why I started saying "good." But now even that's not enough.

-Why does this bother you? Aren't you glad that people are concerned about you?

-But they're not. Saying "how are you?" doesn't count as genuine interest. It's a greeting. It's a way to acknowledge someone, that's all.

-That may be how some people use it, but when I say it I'm really interested. I seriously want to know how you are.

-Well, then, you are a crazy person. You are ignoring the way the rest of humanity uses that phrase and expecting everyone to divine your own interpretation. You are going around asking your acquaintances a deeply personal question, the answer to which is as nebulous as the depth of the human soul, a complex state woven of mixed emotions, spiritual conflict, and physical comfort. You are expecting to have real, intimate connections with nearly everyone you meet and you're willing to sit and wait while each person details all the aspects of his life for you.

-Yes. That's right. That's what I'm doing.

-And you don't think that's weird?


-Even though some people are naturally quiet and reserved, and aren't be comfortable with your level of interest.

-I think those people would be better off if they opened up a little.

-Well then let me ask you a question, on behalf of all of us: What do you want? What's the thing we can say to indicate that we're mostly the way we always are, generally happy and dealing with life's little troubles as they come, experiencing our ups and downs but still enjoying the ride. Content to not ever be completely content, and a little glad that the sun always rises, that all things pass, and that the universe does not depend on us being in the best mood ever?

-There isn't anything you can say. I won't accept some vague response. I want to know how you are, I want a real answer.

-Ok, then.

I am wonderful. I am amazing. The very experience of being Sam, in this moment, is more enriching than you could possibly imagine and to try and conceive of it would shatter your grip on reality. What I once called my hopes and dreams are now fulfilled, yet completely insignificant when compared to the magnitude of each day of my life. I am so healthy that I'm developing superpowers. I'm so at peace that I can see the foundations of space and time swirling around me. My emotions are passionate like fire, but I control them the way a fencer wields a blade. I am the immovable object AND the irresistible force, reconciled in a single entity. I am joy incarnate. I AM faster than a speeding bullet. I AM more powerful than a locomotive. Here I am, rock you like a hurricane.

- . . .

- . . .

-Whatever, Sam.


-Yes, whatever. Live in your quiet, antisocial world. Be a grumpy old grouch who never talks to anyone. Whatever. It's fine with me.*

- . . . "Just fine?" :)

-Oh, shut up.


-And one more thing, Sam.


-Carebear stare . . .



Friday, November 2, 2007

Have you ever wasted time watching old commercials on YouTube?

In the early 90's, AT&T released a famous series of "You Will" TV ads which described how emerging technologies, especially the internet, would provide us with all kinds of everyday conveniences.

Some of these predictions, like RFID toll badges and GPS navigation systems, are eerily spot-on with modern day, and others are pretty close to reality, like distance learning with video-over-IP.

So keep in mind that I gave AT&T some credit before I openly mocked their few big misses.

1. Have you ever borrowed a book, from thousands of miles away?

Ooooooo, swing and a miss. I mean we have all kinds of books on the internet, but the interface never looks like an actual book. That would be like inventing the first car, and instead of a steering wheel you give it horse reins.

2. Have you ever unlocked your door with the sound of your voice?

Well, no. See that would require me to buy an expensive electronic system, and I can just buy a standard key lock for minimal fee. Also I'd be locked out anytime the power goes off.

3. Have you ever tucked your baby in from a phone booth?

What is this "phone booth" you speak of? I could use my cell phone in a restaurant booth, does that count?

But more importantly, what kind of world are you imagining, AT&T, where parents aren't regularly at home to take care of their infant children?

4. Have you ever watched the movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted to?*

And there it is again! A bunch of kids, completely unsupervised, watching whatever movie they want to! Man, AT&T has got a thing about absent parents. I think maybe the company has some personal issues it needs to work out before going forward with these internet plans.

If only we could go back, make a new commercial, and ask the early 90's some questions they really weren't ready for:

-Have you ever lost an entire afternoon, just by looking at your friend's photos?

-Have you ever looked up someone's phone number, and immediately heard an obnoxious song playing?

-Have you ever had a crappy, unknown band ask to be your friend?

You will, and the company that will bring it to you . . .

*Well yeah, it's called Bittorrent.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Up, Up, Down, Down

Movies on DVD almost always have "Easter Eggs," hidden content that you can only get to by doing something obscure, like clicking on an object that doesn't appear to be a button.

Similarly, almost every video game has some sort of cheat code, unlocked by fulfilling some incredibly esoteric requirement, like hitting any button thirteen times while rotating the d-pad clockwise.*

And then there are the multitude of websites, like J.K. Rowling's, that contain all sorts of secret content.

Based on these things, it's clear that we cannot craft an interactive experience without adding some special "thing." The temptation is simply too great.

So when God was creating Reality, the most robust interactive experience of all, doesn't it seem like he MUST have done stuff like that?

I imagine that someday we'll develop tools for looking deep into the Earth, and somewhere a few thousand miles in we'll find a big smiley face across the whole eastern hemisphere. It'll be a major controversy, with scientists rushing to explain how it's merely a natural formation that happens to look kinda like a face. Then the next day they'll check out the western hemisphere and find :oP***.

And there's no telling what he did with outer space. I feel bad for the future astronaut who will someday have to submit an official report that says: "Planet XJ-299 is mostly gaseous with a loosely compacted core of dust. Planet XJ-300 has no atmosphere but could be terraformed into a habitable world. Planet XJ-301, well I don't know quite how to say this . . . it seems to be made entirely out of candy cane. Red stripes and everything."

And if God HAS put Easter Eggs into reality, doesn't that do a lot to explain the platypus? He knew we'd try to document all the animal species we found, so he created one just to mess with us. "Ok, ok, the giraffe, that's pretty funny, Gabriel, but check this one out. It's got fur, but it also has a duck's bill, plus an electroreception sense and ten sex chromosomes. Yeah, TEN. Just for no reason. This is going to be hilarious."

For all we know, some of these could be psychological. Maybe the term "Easter egg" is, itself, an Easter egg. Maybe God influenced us to name "hidden stuff in DVD's and games" after a relic of HIS big holiday.

Or maybe there are little codes in daily life that we don't know about. Obscure, esoteric things that, if you do them just right, unlock God's own "Behind the Scenes" documentary, or 30 extra lives!

*Props if you know the reference.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Though we didn't light it

I refuse to believe that the Dr. Pepper company created "Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper" on purpose.

What really happened is this: a guy in their lab made some stuff, and it kinda tasted like Dr. Pepper, but not really, and once they determined that the lab rats who drank it were just sleeping, they sent their new product off to marketing. And those poor people, they had to sit around drinking can after can of mildly fruity soda-like substance and trying to figure out what it tasted like.

But the soda industry has a history of these desperate cries for attention: Coca-cola with Lime, Coca-cola with Lemon*, Mountain Dew-Pitch Black, Crystal Pepsi, Pepsi Blue, Pepsi Holiday Spice, and if you were in Japan this summer, Pepsi Ice Cucumber, these are the dark, crayon scrawled drawings of companies that really need someone to care about them.

I think it goes back to the cola wars in the 1980's. For this brief period, people took their soda drinking seriously. Well, I guess they did. I remember all those "only old people drink Coke' ads, but I was too young to judge if there was a major societal rift at work. Also a few years of my childhood memory take place on the Lego space monorail I got one Christmas, so maybe something happened then and I don't remember. But Billy Joel's famous rant "We Didn't Start the Fire", where he references things like AIDS, suicide, and crack, ends with the line "Rock and Roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore," and I guess if that's the thing that finally pushed him over the edge, maybe it was a pretty big deal after all.

So when the cola war passed, all these companies were left with deflated egos. They'd constructed this Orwellian pseudo-war to keep people interested, then one day everyone woke up and said "Wait, many industries comfortably operate with two ore more major competitors, and in fact that arrangement is better for the consumer than having one clear winner," and it was all gone. (And in which book did George Orwell use the idea of a pseudo-war to distract the masses? "1984"! Just before the cola wars began! That's some Twilight Zone action right there.)

So now the soda companies shamble on, working in their labs each day to come up with something that will spark the public interest again. I feel sorry for them, but every time my sanity, my loyalties, and my intelligence are called into question because of the operating system, the internet chat client, or the video game console I choose, I know they might have their war back someday.

*Why wasn't there a Coke with Lymon? I mean it's their word, they made it up. Seems like kind of an oversight, doesn't it?

Friday, October 12, 2007

If it folds up to fit under your bed, it's a revolution.

Do you know what scientists have discovered about the human body?


They have no idea, and it's time we accepted that. I mean sure, they've got some general things figured out:

You should probably eat something other than candy bars.
You should get up and go outside once in a while.
That water stuff? It seems kinda important.
And if you have time, maybe sleep once in a while.

But beyond those things I have trouble believing that the vast spectrum of human diversity can be summed up by a "recent medical study." How many people were in the study? One-hundred? That's 1/60,000,000th of the humanity, not what you'd call a good sample.

I used to enjoy debating vocal pro-Earth advocates (read: "Playing devil's-advocate to people I found obnoxious.") because I got to lay out this argument:

"I'm not saying that global warming isn't real, just that the people who tell us about it also depend on it for their grant money. If it weren't for global warming, who would care about climatology? No one. So then how can we trust a climatologist's opinion on the subject? It's like if a man who owned a chocolate factory told you that eating chocolate made you live longer, would you believe him? No."

But I had to stop using that bit when medical studies found that dark chocolate* contains antioxidants, which prevent cancer and thus MAKE YOU LIVE LONGER. That's right, even my candy bar rule is coming into question now.

But medical studies aren't nearly as good as the home fitness industry. I'm convinced that all those late-night workout machine commercials are created by executives trying to see who can make people do the stupidest thing:

"I'll bet I can sell a machine with a bow on it, like from a bow and arrow. I'll say it has 'Thrust-bar resistance' or something."
"Oh that's nothing, I bet I can make people pretend to ski in their living rooms."
"Ok, fine. You know push-ups? Did you know you've been doing them wrong all this time? No? Well that's because I just decided it."

Meanwhile, in homes across the country . . .

"Of course, skiing! That's it! All this time I've been so unhealthy, and it was so simple! Now I can be fit and never leave my house!"

That's right, even my "go outside" rule is coming into question now.

So here it is, the entirety of what we know about the human body: Drink water. Sleep.

That's it. Good luck folks.

*You notice they didn't try to say this about chocolate in general, because no one would buy that. But DARK chocolate? Well that's different! It's magic!

Friday, October 5, 2007

I wrote this wearing a tinfoil sombrero*

Island of Doomslaying, Pacific Ocean (AP) - The attack on
Dr. Dementorz' island fortress ended today after a mere thirteen-minute assault. Allied forces brought down the home of what some are calling the world's first "supervillian" and described the experience as "pretty much a cake-walk."

"There was really no resistance to speak of," said one of the ground soldiers, "Our planes canvassed the island with ordinance and the grunts swept up the pieces, it was easy. There were a few anti-aircraft guns, but those weren't a problem. It actually takes a long time to train someone to fire one of those things even in the best conditions, and Dr. Dementorz . . . you know what? I'm not calling him that anymore, guy's name was Larry, it was in the debriefing. Larry thought he could hire thugs off the street to operate serious military equipment. Based on what I saw, those guys had almost no idea what they were doing."

The name "Dr. Dementorz" was revealed to be the pseudonym of Larry Pinkington after thousands of online tipsters Googled his true identity and sent their findings to government officials. Pinkington gave himself the alias during a video broadcast earlier today in which he took responsibility for this morning's attack on the United Nations. Sources say Pinkington was planning to force-broadcast the tape using a hacked satellite but discovered that he didn't need to because most news organizations called him and asked for it. "Chaos is upon us!," Pinkington screamed in the video,"With all your leaders gone in one fell swoop, the world will descend into anarchy and confusion, forcing everyone to turn to me as their new leader!"

Pinkington's statements fell flat, however, as by the time his footage was released, the United Nations was reconvening with new delegates. "The whole transition took maybe two hours" said one representative, "I mean every major nation in the world has some sort of contingency plan if their leader gets killed. It's not like countries have one guy who magically holds everything together, and if he's dead it all goes nuts. What kind of sense would that make? There's such a think as bureaucracy. I got an email, they swore me in, and I was on a plane to the emergency meeting a few minutes later."

The military response to Dr. Dementorz' actions was the only item on the emergency meeting agenda, but the decision took so little time that the delegates voted to continue and "get some busywork out of the way". "It was an open-and-shut case" said the newly elected Secretary-General, "we had a full confession, on tape, that included a very convincing argument for why he wasn't insane but instead an evil, evil man who wanted to destroy the world. Our researchers found the coordinates of his island fortress on his Wikipedia page, confirmed it with satellite photos and verified that the island had no civilians to worry about. No moral or ethical dilemma, vote was unanimous."

Pinkerton has not been located, but he is presumed dead after a rocket-propelled escape capsule shot from the top of the fortress and exploded almost immediately. A U.S. military analyst was on-hand to survey the wreckage, "We'll confirm the identity of the body with a DNA test, but we're pretty sure that's him." he said,"It looks like the capsule was designed to reach low orbit, but a malfunction caused one of the fuel tanks to explode. That's why NASA has so many people behind every shuttle launch, you can't handle a delicate, precise operation like this with just one red button."

As nations mourn in the wake of Pinkerton's attack, they can take comfort that his actions have been avenged quickly and with no loss of innocent life. The whole encounter took so little time, however, that many U.S. civilians aren't even aware of it yet. "I wasn't even aware of that yet.", said one civilian at an Atlanta Steak n' Shake restaurant.

*This title has nothing to do with today's post. I started writing something about conspiracy theories, then changed my mind and wrote this instead. But the title was so funny, I decided to keep it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Brief List of Things People Need to Stop Saying at Work

1. "I'm a Choco-holic"

So you like chocolate. So what. We all do. Big deal.

Humanity has spoken on the chocolate issue. The chocolate die has been cast, and it came up "Delicious", and then someone ate the chocolate die, because it was made of that delicious, delicious chocolate.*

And you know what else? No you aren't. You are not a "Choco-holic". You are not addicted to chocolate the way an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol.

Has the Godiva rep in the mall ever "cut you off"? Did a group of your family and friends hold an intervention where they talked about how your Kit-Kat eating has affected them? Have you ever had a panic attack when you realized there was no more Hershey's Special Dark?

Well then that's not really the same thing, is it?

2. "Jim? Oh, hey, you're not Jim!"

I'm using "Jim" as an example, you understand. The name could be any name. My point is that people need to stop telling other people who they are not.

If you aren't familiar with this phenomenon, just go sit in Jim's office. Within twenty minutes someone will come in looking for Jim and say "Hey, you're not Jim", grinning stupidly like they just made the funniest joke in the world.

And then you'll have a choice. You could grin stupidly back and say, "No, I'm not Jim, least-not-the-last-time-I-checked!"

But in that moment of validating the unfunny comment, part of you will be gone forever. Within a week you'll be a "War at Home" viewer, an "American Idol" voter, and you will be lost.

Or you could do what I do, and pick from one of the three following responses:

b. "Jim was mauled by a cougar, you insensitive jerk! I'm here cleaning out his desk."
c. "Turns out that no one is Jim. There is no Jim and there never was. It was all a lie . . . " (Then refuse to elaborate.)

3. "It sure is cold/hot/rainy/foggy outside, huh?"

Yeah I know that. I know because I had to walk though it to get here too, and thank you for reminding me what a miserable day it is.

Why did you even say that? You aren't informing me. You aren't providing me with valuable information. You are stating as a question something that everyone here knows. What satisfaction do you get from saying obvious things and having other people nod their heads, huh? Explain it to me.

There are books you know. Lots of them. You could just read one and talk about that.

*Even though I know better, I almost always spell this word as "choclate". I think my brain sounds it out the way Sloth says it in "The Goonies", "Choc-LATE".

Friday, September 21, 2007

Go L-Block!

I wonder who you are.

Do you play video games? Do you have a friend that does? Have you read Joystiq or Penny Arcade? Maybe you just bought an Xbox one day at Target.

I have only this one thing, this single tiny view into your life, and it gives me these questions with no answers.

So who are you really, guy that only has 3 points in the Gamefaqs Character Battle Contest?

I want you to know, first of all, that I'm not making fun of you. Being able to guess who the readers will vote for each day . . . it's not something to brag about. My score this year will never appear on my resume, or even my facebook profile. The Character Battle Contest just a fun little game that some of us geeks like to play once a year and your score says nothing about you as a person. But I'm just curious, how did you find yourself at a website about video games, enter a contest about video game characters, and wind up with a score that would lose to a blindfolded dart toss?

You've had 18 rounds, friend. Eight-teen. Each worth up to four points.

And you have 3.

Who are you, and what are you doing?

I mean even if you'd picked Mario and Link to win their battles, and we're talking about Mario and Link, two of the most well known characters ever, the hall-of-famers that get called out of retirement every season to show the rookies how it's done, even then you'd have FOUR points.

But you have 3.

Are you doing this on purpose? Is this a joke to you? Were you sitting at your computer eighteen days ago, chuckling as you picked Princess Peach over Sephiroth, as though the might of a character who walked through fire with a six foot katana, the terror of a man who called down the destruction of a planet, the numbness of the evil bastard who killed Aeris and gave an entire generation of gamers their first experience with death and loss*, as though that character could be overruled somehow by an obscure veto clause in the bylaws of the Mushroom KINGDOM!

Are you someone's cat?

Did you crawl up there on the keyboard, look from your owner to the bracket form, the bracket form to your owner, back and forth until he understood? Did the two of you work out a system of meows for each of your choices? Did he try to talk you out of picking Toad to beat Ryu? Did you meow back defiantly?

Who are you Mr. 3-point guy? And what else do you vote in?

*Especially loss of materia, I had her equipped with some good stuff when that happened!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Kinda like Nerf I guess.

I want there to be stuff.

It's not that I want stuff for myself, or that I want more stuff to exist. I want there to be a substance that is . . . stuff, because right now the word has almost no meaning.

A quick rundown of ways the word "stuff" is used.

"Are you ready to move?' 'I'm working on it now, I've got way too much stuff!"
"The waiter brought that stuff you ordered"
"Hey, everybody has their stuff, in a relationship you've just got to work through it."
"Yeah, well, stuff happens."
"Your stuff's in a box by the door, goodbye."*

I guess the meanings break down into three basic categories.

1. The Substantial - "Stuff" can mean physical substances or conglomerates of the things you own. This is my favorite meaning of the word, because every time someone says "I'm packing up my stuff" or "I've got to go get some stuff", I immediately get a mental image of this orange, foam material that can't be described any other way. When you go to a housewarming party and see those last few boxes marked "kitchen stuff" and "bathroom stuff", that's what's in them. In a few days the new home owners are going to open those boxes, pull out hundreds of little orange pieces and say "Where are we going to put all this STUFF?"

2. The Eventful - "Stuff" can also mean events that happen ("I can't believe all that stuff went down over the weekend") and tasks that you've got to perform ("Tuesday? No I can't, I need to do some stuff for work.") This meaning is a little weird. Calling your possessions "stuff" makes sense, because the word comes from "stuffing", like the physical stuffing in a pillow. Of course, I guess even that meaning is strange since you'd think that "my stuff" implies "that which gets crammed into me".

But calling events "stuff" isn't nearly as odd as . . .

3. The Emotional - Yes, even a person's crippling emotional baggage can be quickly and easily referred to as "stuff"!

"That dude has a lot of stuff to work out with his parents."

"He's still dealing with his breakup stuff."

Somehow it seems a little cold to call serious personal issues by the same term that means "the assorted items in my hallway closet" and "the hour I'm going to spend making a presentation for my boss", but then I suppose this meaning is more subtle. Emotional "stuff" is "don't ask stuff". It's a euphemism, really. That guy? He's got some stuff. Leave that stuff alone, that is HIS stuff.

And I guess that's the running theme of these definitions, they're all possessive. I don't know what "stuff" is, but I know there's your stuff and there's my stuff, and it's completely different stuff.

*I meant these examples to be random, but when you read them in order like that . . . well, it's quite a little narrative!

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Sound of Your Own Wheels

Do you know what a sabot is? It's ok if you don't, I wouldn't know except that Jamie used one in the episode of the Mythbusters where he built a tortilla-shooting machine.

What is a sabot?

Let's say that I have a small object, like a golf ball, and I try to shoot it out of something large, like a cannon . . . which would probably be pretty cool. But it wouldn't work very well. A canon is built to fire balls that fill the barrel, using gunpowder as a sort of ultimate Draino to clear the blockage. Since my golf ball wouldn't come close to filling the cannon, it would miss out on most of the blast and drop pitifully short. To make the golf ball go further I'd need a sabot.

A sabot is a carrier, it would go around my golf ball but also fill the barrel. When the cannon fired, my sabot would take the full force of the blast, zipping down the cannon while taking the golf ball along for the ride. Then, and this is the most important part, the sabot would fall away. A sabot comes in multiple pieces, so once mine was free of the barrel, it would break apart to let the golf ball keep going.

And that, in a nutshell, is what a sabot does . . . although if you cracked it first, I guess a nutshell could BE a sabot.


I realized today that "The Eagles" are a sabot.

If you're not familiar with The Eagles, tune your radio to a classic rock station, then wait twenty minutes. If there aren't any classic rock stations in your area, why not start your own? It's easy. You can run a successful classic rock station with only five songs!

Hotel California by The Eagles
Simple Kind of Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits
American Woman by Guess Who
Hotel California by The Eagles (you need a second copy for when you wear the first one out)

See, a lot of people I know went through a period in their lives where they liked "The Eagles", even thought they were the "greatest band of all time." But then somewhere along the way, all these people stopped listening to their Eagles albums as they experienced more diverse, interesting, an unique music. And that's fine. But then somewhere else along the way, these people also collectively turned back and said "**** The Eagles!". Suddenly they thought "The Eagles" were terrible, and wondered why they ever loved the live version of "Take It Easy" where they changed the lyrics to say "southern California" so everyone would cheer.*

I think this is wrong, and it's unfair. It's not that "The Eagles" are bad, and in fact you should be grateful for them. Your sixteen-year-old self wasn't ready to hear the artists that you listen to now. At that time, you didn't have the aural or life experience to appreciate diverse, interesting, and unique music. You were a golf ball in a cannon, with the force of musical appreciation going right over you. Something had to get you through that period, let you enjoy music and become interested in it without demanding much from you.

"The Eagles" were your sabot. And when you moved past that place, "The Eagles" fell away.

*And you are a liar if you say you didn't.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Seattle As Best I Remember It

The Space Needle is a living, latter day zen riddle. How do you make an overpriced and uninspired restaurant successful? By making it really difficult to get to.

Your mind is now blank, you may seek after enlightenment.

But when I say "difficult to get to", I don't mean "out in the middle of nowhere" or "down some odd back alley." That would be making the restaurant difficult to find. The secret of the overpriced eatery, apparently, is to be completely visible, just a huge pain to physically get into, and here the Space Needle excels. It rests a startling 60 stories up, far above the Seattle streets. Well, I say that, but the restaurant is the first stop on the Space Needle's elevator, so it's technically only the second story with a 500 foot crawlspace between floors.

And that's another remarkable thing, the Space Needle restaurant isn't just on the top floor of some office building, where professionals would frequent it for business lunches and late dinners. Instead, it sits atop a structure that serves no other purpose but to keep it away from everyone. Yet the place is packed year round, because something about that inconvenience makes it irresistible. You're looking at it all the way up there, and those elevators are taking a long time to reach it, and suddenly you really want to pay twenty dollars for a chicken sandwich.

And that's why the Space Needle is the symbol of Seattle, because like the city, it's a place that thrives for no good reason . The weather in Seattle is livable for only two months out of the year, and even during those months the sky is clear for about one of every three days. The local government is of the sort that's convinced a monorail will solve everything. (Bonus points to those of you who are now quoting lines from the "monorail" episode of the Simpsons. Did you know Conan O'brein wrote that?) And the city's feature attractions, aside from the bad restaurant on a stick, include a place where you can see guys throw fish around*, and Bruce Lee's grave.

And yet the area is a haven for major technology companies. It's home to the biggest coffee chain in the country (not surprising when you consider the weather). And best of all, it gave us Jimi Hendrix.

I just don't see how it's possible.

Oh, and they have Slurpee's there, too.

*I have to admit that the guys throwing fish around are entirely awesome.

Friday, August 24, 2007

And it calculates the tip amount, too!

We have devices for displaying big things, like movies and television shows, and we have devices for displaying small things, like mp3's and photos. However, to many experts in consumer electronics, it seems like there should be a single device that does all these things, a "Device of Everything". When you pick up the electronics insert from your Sunday paper and see a PDA with wireless networking or a cell phone that plays music, know that these aren't silly toys or expensive affectations. Each one is an attempt to solve a great mystery, it is the newest hypothesis of the "Unified Device Theory."

Some will say that this Device of Everything can't be created or that it requires a knowledge of multimedia that we simply don't have yet. But everyone agrees that a true Unified Device Theory would have to incorporate the four major forces of handheld electronics.

1. Strong multimedial force - The device must be able to play movies and TV shows that you've already seen.

2. Weak multimedial force - The device must provide you with mp3's that you've already heard, plus show funny web videos and give you constant access to Facebook.

3. Electric force - After the first commercial airplane passengers got over the miracle of defying gravity and the thrill of flying like a bird, they immediately started looking around for something to do for several hours in such a tight, enclosed space. This problem still exists today and it's the driving force behind device research, which is why a true Unified Device has to run on battery power for five hours or more.

4. Gravitational Force - The Device of Everything must be pocketable, or at least fit comfortably in a ridiculous belt clip.

Because those forces are a lot to balance, a number of approaches have been tried to find the Unified Device. Some say that only a computer can govern both the strong and weak multimedial forces, so the answer must involve taking computer and making it smaller and more power efficient. Other experts think that PDA's like the Palm and the PocketPC are best for managing gravitational force, so we need to infuse those devices with video playback and wireless networking. Still others, the newly founded "cell phone revisionists", think that no device will survive unless it's in widespread use, so the only solution is to keep piling new functions into every cell phone.

There's no way to know which approach will prove the most successful, but with enough time we may one day see the creation of the "Device of Everything", a single device that's pocketable, power-efficient, and provides hours of entertainment.*

*Wait a minute.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Zen Vision

"If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself." -Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478 BCE)

Two-thousand five-hundred years ago, Confucius already understood why Mystery Science Theater 3000 was an important show. It's not enough for us to see the best of what film has to offer, to be cultured in the medium we have to see the worst of it too. I like to imagine Confucius sitting on a couch, his robes arranged around a bowl of popcorn and a Mr.Pibb, meditating on Joel and the 'bots as they mock a terrible B movie.*

"To see what is right, and not to do it . . . that is what happened with "Santa Clause Conquers the Martians."

Bad entertainment is an important part of creativity. It demonstrates how wrong a work can go, teaches us to avoid common mistakes and, best of all, it fuels us to make something better. Stephen King talked about this inspiration in his memoir "On Writing":

" . . . most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?"

Steve's right too, I remember not only the book, but the line:

"I'm forty-two, Harry. I've commanded two shuttle missions and participated in five. Ever heard of pressing your luck? I've had my fill of empty space. The Enterprise did that to me. The only space I want to explore anymore is the one inside of me" - from "The Dig" by Alan Dean Foster.

I think the book fell out of my hand when I read that passage, but I learned two important lessons in the process:

1.You should probably consider all the different meanings of a phrase before you go writing about "exploring the space inside of me". Especially if the title of your book is "The Dig."

2. WHAT?!? Does anyone, anywhere, talk this way? It's melodramtastic!

But the inspiration of bad work comes with a price. Since "bad" can do a lot of good, what's really bad is mediocrity. Not only are mediocre works not good, they're not even bad enough to be instructive. Somehow, it's ok if you make "Manos, the Hands of Fate" or "The Beast of Yucca Flats", just don't make "Alone in the Dark" or "BloodRayne".

*Confucius: That is why there are three silhouettes, for Joel, too, is 'walking with two men'
Sam: Whoa!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ok, so Movies. Issue 1

Ok, so "The Bourne Ultimatum".

Find a cardboard box. Cut a rectangular hole in one side of it. Put it over your head so you can see through the hole you cut. Go ride something at Six Flags.

I just saved you $8.

Maybe that's a little harsh, but "Ultimatum" does make heavy use of director Paul Greengrass' "shaky cam" technique. Also, apparently picking up a camera, hitting "record" and shaking it around is a "technique"!

It's fun to play with words!

I wonder why more entertainers haven't thought of employing this idea. Just as Greengrass shakes the camera around to simulate the adrenaline-fueled movie sequences, rock stations should add the sound of some drunk guy yelling "Freebird" over the top of their songs to simulate the experience of a live concert. If only Robert Ludlum, who wrote the "Bourne" novels, was alive to witness this revolution in storytelling! He'd probably go back and rewrite the series using his new "shaky fiction" technique:

"In here! He's in here!" screamed Carlos.
It was insane! The assassin was directing the invaders directly toward him, to him! Reason was madness, nothing on the earth made sense snowstormacciotrombonefiretrucklalalalalala!
The door was crashed open by a tall man in a black overcoat; someone was with him, but Jason magicitefloundersepulchertomorrow could not see. The mists were filling his eyes, shapes and sounds becoming obscured, blurred. He was buggeritmelinniumtaco79334jjjjjkdkfff rolling in space. Away . . 3432monkeydog! . away.

See? By making the text obscured and annoying to read, I put you right in the moment!

No, wait, then again, that doesn't make sense.

Dear Mr. Greengrass,

A man named Alexander Moviecamera worked hard to create the tools you work with, and he would be very disappointed at how you abuse them. Please stop. If I wanted to not see what was going on in your movies, I could do it for free at home.

Your pal, Sam

But don't get the impression that "Ultimatum" is all "shaky-cam" fight sequences, because there's also a lot of Matt Damon walking while talking on a cell phone.* I think Matt must have some amazing clause in his contract, where any Hollywood movie must contain at least one sequence of him walking while talking on a cell phone. How many hundreds of hours of video tape have been used, in his brief career, to shoot that one scene? It's a waste, really. Each studio should take time out to shoot one really good "Matt Damon/cell phone" scene so they can re-dub it with whatever line they need him to say in the future.

The only other thing of note about "Ultimatum" is that Julia Stiles is in it, playing a character that is just as disposable as it was in "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy". She's gotta have a contract to rival Damon's.

*Matt Hannum with the assist on this joke.

Friday, August 3, 2007

What's Next?

Once upon a time, humans lived outside.

No, wait, no they didn't.

They couldn't live "outside" because there was no "outside." It didn't exist. There was no inside for anywhere to be outside of.

Humans had to create "inside": the physical spaces, a word that means "inside", and the vague notion that one bit of air is different from all the rest just because you lash together a couple of branches in a clearing.

And once humans did all that stuff: tricky lashing and wordsmithing and conceptualizing, they sat back and they relaxed.

"This is INside" they said. "We're not out in the cold anymore, we're in the slightly-less-cold, which is better. We're not like those . . . animals . . . OUTside. We're people, and we live here in the comfort, security, and slightly-less-cold that can only be provided by branches. See? We've got 'em lashed, and everything."

But then a curious thing happened. In the very act of saying those words, every human suddenly wanted to be outside again. What was going on out there? What was the weather like? It was a problem, and it ate at them.

For a long time, the only solution was to go back into the harsh outside world. But in time humans developed better insides, ones with solid walls, and fresh off the invention of the first door, they had an idea.

"We'll just cut a hole in the side!"

And so the first window stole the thunder of the first door, and that's why doors hate windows to this very day.*

Now people had the indoors with some of the outdoors, and that nearly did the trick. But . . . you know, it was a little too much of the outdoors. What was the point of all those walls if the cold was still coming in? So they took the wall piece they'd cut out and put it on a hinge next to the window, and that was the first shutter. Now people could be inside, see what was going on outside, and still be slightly-less-cold when they wanted. But it wasn't over yet. People missed the plants too!

The people took a container, filled it with dirt from outside, put one of the plants in it, and created the first "potted plant." But there was no rain inside and the plant started to die. So the people went out and got water. The container held all that water, and the plant started to die again. So the people put holes in the container to keep it from containing so much! Then they put a dish under the container to catch all the things it couldn't contain anymore because they put holes in it!

It was a lot of trouble.

And that's why people learned to manufacture plastic, so they could form it into something that LOOKED like a plant, but didn't get dirt and water all over the place. We have fake plants, people, and we make believe that they're real so it will seem like we're outside, even though we're inside.

With all that in mind, I'd like you to watch this.

*I have no idea what this means.

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's fun to play with words!

The enemies in Resident Evil 4 are NOT zombies. The game is very clear on this point.

Instead, the enemies in Resident Evil 4 are humans that have been infected with something, causing them to shamble around and attack anyone who isn't infected.

. . .

Wait a minute.

Last time I checked, the English language had a word for "humans that have been infected with something, causing them to shamble around and attack anyone who isn't infected", and that word was "zombies". And even if the RE4 enemies aren't zombies "proper" (infected with a parasite instead of a virus, able to speak and use simple tools) they're at least close enough that we can lump them in with the traditional definition. But don't you DARE call them "zombies" on the message boards, because they're NOT zombies. The game said so. And you will get called on it.

I'm always fascinated when creative people, like the ones who made RE4, wield this kind of linguistic power. They are arguing with an entire language, and somehow they're winning. It's amazing, and I want in on it. Here are some of my suggestions for Resident Evil 5:

No more guns. The main character will instead fight with metal devices that fire small projectiles by using gunpowder, and these weapons will be called . . . sherbets. I can't wait to see the first walkthrough that discusses, in minute detail, why the Blacktail sherbet is superior to the Punisher sherbet even though the Punisher sherbet can shoot through more than one enemy at a time.

And speaking of enemies, RE5 should have the things-that-aren't-zombies-even-though-they-totally-are from RE4, but then we'll add these new guys who wear all black, carry katanas, and hide in the shadows. But they won't be ninjas*, they'll be . . . tulips. And when you find yourself swarmed by a horde of tulips, you'll pull out your trusty Semi-automatic Sniper Sherbet and show them who's boss! If you get overwhelmed, you can always bring out a . . . flounder . . . pull the pin, toss it into the crowd and watch it explode.

I'll bet this technique can be applied to all sorts of things. For instance, if I wanted my field of expertise to sound more legitimate, I could just add "science" to the end of it, even if the field has nothing to do with scientific method! Or I could take a clearance sale and call it a "price drop"! The possibilities are endless!

*The Zombie-Ninja crossover is a nearly untapped goldmine. "Versus" was pretty cool, though.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Robert's Rules of Shutup

Human civilization is really about ***holes. All of the systems that we use to create stability are born out of a need to cope with the existence of ***holes, and their craft, which I assume is called ***holery.

Laws - The idea here is that you can only be so much of an a**hole, then you get in trouble. That helps the problem, although some ***holes are crafty enough to work around the laws.

Governments - These are systems created to deal with those crafty ***holes. Since most real ***holes want power, you can use it as bait to funnel them into a single place. That doesn't exactly deal with the ***holes, but at least you can see what you're dealing with.

Once you've done that, you need some way to minimize the effect of the ***holes.

Monarchy - There's only one ***hole. He's a really big a**hole and he's got all the power, but he keeps a lot of other ***holes from getting very far.

Democracy - There are lots of ***holes, but they're constantly tied up fighting with one another. And since they depend on votes to gain control, they at least have to be careful about how and when they act like ***holes.

Oligarchy - Let's just all be ***holes, but collectively, and toward some other people. People who aren't us.

What's interesting about all our solutions to the "***hole Conundrum" is that they are passive. They are designed for people who are not willing to lead revolutions, lobby for change, or tell other people that they shouldn't be acting like ***holes in the first place. The good, by grace of being good, are not motivated to seek power, not even enough to keep ***holes out of power.

And this creates a perception that ***holes are indestructible, that they are everywhere and everyone, that they are always after you.

Wikipedia - There aren't as many ***holes as you think.

The people behind Wikipedia have put forth a really interesting idea. Give everyone real, direct control over something. Give each person power over every other person. Let each one create and destroy.* And most importantly, keep everyone on exactly the same level.

And in doing this, they have made an assumption: that good and useful information will rule, that lies and vandalism will be held back, that eventually ***holes get bored and go home.

Like the other solutions, it's not perfect, but it's something to think about.

*Except on the Harry Potter article, which is locked until further notice.

Friday, July 13, 2007


fua n (2001): a woman seen in the social company of a male friend, when the nature of their relationship is not clear

Have you ever seen some guy you know, and he's out somewhere with a girl, maybe you know her or maybe you don't, and they're clearly "together" but you don't have any indication if it's a date or not? Is she his girlfriend? Is she someone he's dating? Is she a friend? In that situation, she is a "fua", a "Female of Unknown Association".

I've coined a few words and phrases over the years, and I'd really like to see them added into the general lexicon. I'm sure most of these will never take off, but "fua" is one that I think we need, there simply isn't another word for a person in that particular situation. In fact, we also need a term for when a guy is hanging out with a former girlfriend, but you don't know why. Are they back together? Are they trying to reconcile? Are they just friends? She's a . . .

I don't have an answer for that one. I've tried. "Dua" is the only thing that jumps out at me, since she's a "fua" for a second time, but then that loses the whole acronym idea. "Ex-girlfriend of Unknown Association" would make "Egua", which doesn't quite roll off the tongue. Maybe I should just consider the whole thing an extension of pancake amnesia.

pancake amnesia n (2003): a psychological phenomenon where a person will do something they swore they'd never do again, simply because they forgot what was bad about it

Call anyone you know right now. Suggest that you both go get some pancakes. That person will probably say yes.

Pancakes always sound like the best idea in the world. "Of course, pancakes!" you say, "Pancakes are great! Why don't we eat pancakes all the time?" But then, about halfway through your three-stack, you remember: it's fried batter covered in syrup. That's only good for the first few bites, when your body realizes that you're asking it to mix some sort of confectionery concrete in your stomach. At that point you look down and say "Man, I'm not going to be eating pancakes for a while after this."

But even one week later, someone could casually mention IHOP and "OF COURSE, PANCAKES!"

And I know what you're saying. You think I'm wrong. "No, Sam, you just haven't had pancakes the way ______ makes them. If you had those you wouldn't get tired of them." And the sad part is that I know you're wrong, but I'd go have some pancakes the way ______ makes them, because now that I'm talking about it I really want some pancakes.

"Pancake amnesia" might require a lot of explanation to understand, but it's applicable in lots of situations. People have a strange tendency to make certain mistakes over and over again. Fortunately every mistake has a "dune buggy point".

dune buggy point n (2007): the point at which a person knows that he or she has gone too far

This one is a direct reference. There's an episode of "The Simpsons" that deals with a trillion-dollar bill, and at one point Lisa says "We're trillionaires! Let's buy dune buggies!". I love that line because I can imagine it happening. A person has so much money that he runs out of things to spend it on, so he decides to buy a dune buggy, then realizes that neither he nor anyone else has any practical reason to own one. The "dune buggy point" is the place where you say to yourself, "I should probably find something else to do."*

*Dune buggies are cool though. So are snipers. If you had a sniper in a dune buggy, it'd be the most awesome thing ever.

Friday, July 6, 2007


Death was not what I expected.

It was just so impersonal. It's like the first time you fly on an airplane. You've made all these plans, bought your tickets, packed your luggage, picked out snacks for the flight. Then you get to the airport and realize "Oh, I guess all these people . . . they want to go somewhere too." Somehow you forgot that, yes, THOUSANDS of people fly out of every major airport on a given day. You'd focused on the flight itself and how excited you'd be: "I'm off to my vacation!" you'd said, your ticket clutched in your hand.

Then you got out of the cab and realized that it's not that simple, you can't go anywhere in an airport until you solve an elaborate logic puzzle with gates and kiosks and lines on the floor like some kind of "Wizard of Oz" theme park. And you can't ever stop to think because there are about a thousand people behind you who need to go in every direction you're considering.

And that's what death is like. One minute you're freaked out about "oh no the reserve chute didn't open" and "what's going to happen to my car" and "guess I'm not going to eat the other half of that sandwich", then the next minute you're standing in line trying to figure out where gate 352B is. It was quite a shock to me. Yet, at the same time it all made sense. When humanity was young I guess all you needed was one guy on a horse with a scythe. It was Death built for a small, agrarian society. But with six billion people in the world, eventually we required something that could handle huge numbers on a daily basis. So Death became an airport.

But not exactly. It's different. There are all these signs in really big capital letters, and you have to read them before you can go anywhere. The first one just says "YOU ARE DEAD" a hundred feet high. I laughed at that one. I mean, come on, I KNOW. Reserve chute didn't open, ground rushing up, hey there's a deer "hi buddy!", dark, I'm dead, I gotcha. But as I passed by that sign I saw all these people arguing with it. Yes, arguing with the sign. "I am not!" "You'd better send me back right now!" "I pay my taxes and those pay your salary!" And it was like that at all the other signs too:


And then there was all this paperwork. There are huge rooms of people, like God's blood drive, reading laminated booklets of their lives. Some of the booklet really makes sense: people you helped, people you hurt, people you neglected, all things that I think a person should review before moving on to the afterlife. But then some of it is really weird. "Bugs that crawled on you when you were asleep." "How close you came to finding stuff that you lost." "Things you didn't know you ate." I'm not sure if that's information you really need, or if someone there just thinks it's funny to tell you.

There are statistics too, statistics on everything:

"Games of Scrabble won:"
"Pounds of spit produced:"
"Number of monkeys seen:"

And there's a whole section of numerical ratings on things like "Accuracy", "Number of Secret Items Found" , and "Overall Score", none of which are given any kind of explanation or scale. And you know it's rude to look at someone else's form, I mean this is as personal as it gets, but you still have that wandering eye you developed when teachers handed your essays back.

The last page of the booklet is called "How else it could have gone." It's a list of all these bad things that happened to you, like when you got sick or pulled out into traffic at the wrong time or just tripped over your own feet. And next to each one there's a red stamp.

And no matter who you are, when you finish that page you flip the book closed, look at your name on the cover, let out a deep breath, and walk up to the counter with your coat.

But you know, no matter how much of a hassle the airport was, you make it to that plane eventually. You relax, open one of your candy bars, and wonder what the beach will be like.*

*Hell is arguing with a sign.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sam versus the nice, well-intentioned people



"Hello Sir, I'm calling from the American Red Cross. First of all, thank you for your donations with us in the past. I'm calling you today to let you know that the Athens area blood supply is currently in a state of Ultra-Turbo Crisis. And at the current rate, . . . "

"No it isn't"

" . . . um, I'm sorry?"

"Nothing, go on"

"Oh, well, at the current rate, the Athens area will be out of blood in abouuuuut . . . tweeenty minutes."

"No it won't"


"The blood supply won't run out in twenty minutes, or in two days or a week. You guys say that every time you call me, and do I see any "Nation Out of Blood" stories on the news? No, never happens"

"But at the rate that hospitals are using blood, our current supply . . . "

"Your current supply' doesn't take into account the blood drives you run every day of the week. The daily intake has to fluctuate, so there's no way you could be accounting for that. I don't think you even try to factor it in. You stick your head in the ol' blood freezer, ballpark it, and divide by the "current rate" of use, which itself is a load of crap since the usage rate has to fluctuate also, and based on that you call me up and make it sound like we're running on fumes. Your logic is specious, and I will not stand for it."


"Are you an English major?"


*indiscernible mutter*

"Well . . .regardless of the time it will take to run out, I assure you that the supply IS in a state of crisis"


"YES, Ultra-Turbo-"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. I'm telling you, I get these calls every year. It's always 'a critically low condition' or 'mega-terminal shortage' or 'like, seriously dood, we're so low on blood that this morning we had to pump a guy full of ranch dressing! You need to get in here quick cause Doc's eyeing the thousand island!'. Sorry, I'm not buying it."

"But, Sir, that just goes to show how bad the crisis is."

"No, because see, if you're always in a crisis, then that's not really a crisis is it? 'Crisis' implies that there's a normal state of being, and that the current state is a negative deviation from it. You can't be in a 'crisis' constantly because at some point the 'crisis' BECOMES the 'normal'. So how come don't I get any calls like that, huh? Where's my "things are just fine, donate if you've got a minute" call?"

"Well . . .so you're not going to help us save lives just because you think . . ."

"No, that's not it at all. I believe in the blood donation system. I donate a least a couple of times a year at your drives, and I think it's an important part of our society that every capable person should take part in. Anyone tries to preach to me about voting as a 'civic duty' had better be coming straight from the juice table."

"Then, what's the problem?"

"The problem is" *deeper voice* "the problem is that you are lying to me, sir. You have been trying to frighten me into believing something that isn't true and like any other person I eventually stopped taking you seriously. You want people to donate? Then stop making things up. Just call and say "Hey, everything is ok, but it's ok only because people like you are making it ok. So get off your couch, turn off the 'Friends' rerun*, and come down here. We got Nutter Butters tomorrow, it's all good'. That's all I want, Mr. Red Cross-caller-guy, I want just-one-honest-call."


"So, would you like to make an appointment?"

"No, your appointments are worthless. I make one, then when I go up there they've never heard of me. You just pretend to make appointments so people will feel obliga . . ."


"Until next time then, Red Cross . . . until next time."

*Unless you are Superman, in which case our needles can't penetrate your skin. Plus you've probably got weird alien blood anyway.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Athens as Best I Remember It

The town of Athens is divided in to five basic geographic regions, according to the "Houses for Rent" ads in any local newspaper. These regions are: the Five Points area, the Five Points/Campus area, the Five Points/East Side area, the Five Points/Downtown area, and of course the Five Points/Highway 316 area. That may sound complicated, but navigating your way around town is quite easy, once you understand the layout of a few basic roads. First, there's Atlanta Highway, which becomes Broad street, which then turns into Oconee street for about nine feet before turning into Oak st, which then turns BACK into Oconee street before becoming Lexington, which then becomes Legion, for it is many.

Next, there's Milledge Avenue, a long road that arcs through several diverse areas of Athens. If you get lost on Milledge, there are some simple ways to figure out where you are. If you smell poop, you're on the East Side. If you smell sewage, you're closer to south campus. If there's a pickup truck in front of you that's full of guys who still think it's cool to wear a baseball cap backwards, you're on the road's "Greek" section. If you see a Baskin Robins/Dunkin' Donuts, you're at the end of Milledge, and you should pick me up a Mint Chocolate Chip shake. Note that the entire time you're on Milledge, you're still, somehow, in Five Points.

Then there's Lumpkin street. You'll find that Lumpkin is easy to recognize because it is completely undrivable. This street was once in terrible shape, but the city has fortunately decided to fix the traffic problems it created by keeping it constantly under construction, thus routing all traffic around it. This brings me to an important point about the roads I've mentioned, you should never drive on any of them. "Legion" road's identity crisis is complicated by a large amount of mall traffic, most of which stems from cars trying to turn left out of the Best Buy parking lot. Milledge is either clogged with sorority girls who can't bother to go an extra twenty feet to a crosswalk, cyclists who ride in twenty-bike groups because that makes it harder for anyone to pass them, or cars trying to turn around because they accidentally passed the Botanical Gardens entrance. In fact, the key to getting around Athens is knowing which roads will let you avoid all these major roads and any intersection between them.

The heart of Athens is, of course, the University. The leadership structure of this institution is modeled after the United States itself, using a system of checks and balances between three governing bodies: Parking Services, the Athletics Department, and the Coca-cola company. Parking Services has veto power over the Athletic Department, because at any time they could ticket the starting quarterback's car for no reason, deny his appeal to that ticket for no reason, and have his grades withheld until he paid it. The Athletic Department, in turn, has authority over Coca-cola because their football games are largely an excuse to sell Coca-cola products. To complete the circle, Coca-cola has power over Parking Services because their "attendants" would never be able to drive around in the southern heat, ticketing people for no reason, without something to drink. Coca-cola, then, maintains power by having exclusive rights to sell their beverages on campus.

The last thing you need to know about Athens are the town's highlights. The Botanical Gardens facility, full of native flora, is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon, which is unfortunate since it will be night by the time you stop passing the entrance and getting stuck behind groups of Milledge cyclists. The famous "Tree that Owns Itself" actually doesn't, so don't bother. You can pick up some local culture by visiting the Five Points/Downtown area and seeing one of Athens' 17,000 bands play. It doesn't matter which one you see, since they all play "sort of like alternative-reggae with kind of a blues vibe plus some folk and ska mixed in."

If you require any help getting to Athens, simply save up enough MyCokeRewards points to pay for tuition to the University.* Then you'll be on your way.

*MyCokeRewards points cannot be used to pay for parking tickets.

Friday, June 15, 2007

With a Nod to Hari Seldon

Do a little thought experiment with me. Imagine that far into the future, say a few hundred years, mankind finally develops time travel. The technology to do it isn't advanced enough to send a whole person back, but sufficiently powerful to transmit messages, information, that sort of thing. There would be, of course, a great deal of hesitation about using it. If "Back to the Future" taught us anything, it's that time travel is dangerous. Even if you opened a portal to Ford's Theater and shouted "Excuse me Mr. Lincoln, is that your penny on the floor?" so that Abe bent down at just the right moment, as good as your intentions might be, you could still cause some horrible chain reaction that would prevent the creation of anti-gravity skateboards.

But what if there was a crisis? What if time travel was going to be the last great achievement of the human race before complete destruction? Then those future-people would HAVE to use it in hopes of saving the world. The cost of NOT using it would simply be too great.

This situation would pose a difficult question: how does one use the past to save the present?

For the sake of this thought experiment, let's say that the crisis is something unavoidable, so you couldn't just send back a note that says "Hey, Steve, that thing you were gonna do in the lab today? Yeah, not such a good idea after all. Here are some stock tips, take them in payment for NOT creating Super-Jaundice."

And yet, this crisis would be solvable if only there were more time to work on it. Then, the real debate would be: How do we give ourselves more time?

"Wait a minute!" someone would say, "What would the world be like if we'd discovered the smallpox vaccine ten years earlier? Or if we'd had the atomic bomb at the start of World War II? Couldn't we take plans for our greatest inventions of today and send them a few hundred years into the past? That would let the great thinkers of those times move on to other problems. By the time history wound it's way to this place again, we'd have already solved this crisis!"

And the debate would begin again. What to send? Who to send it to? And after much discussion, another voice would speak up.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is getting us nowhere. The last few hundred years have brought us many great inventions, particle beams that can shoot down nuclear attacks, the green foam we used to repair the moon hole, the hybrid horse-aroos most of you rode to this meeting, but the fact remains that no single invention would have enough of an impact. Even if we had time to send all the data needed to create those things, it still wouldn't benefit EVERY great mind of the time. We need a simpler design."

"Learning, my friends, is about information. And not just the information itself, but the way we organize and access information. The people who design communication satellites, build computer databases, and train monkey messenger-bots have as much to do with scientific discovery as anyone in this room. Information. That is where our focus should be. The way to help ourselves is to help the past help itself. The best thing we can teach our ancestors is how to organize the world's information, make it accessible and useful to everyone. Only by doing that will the past arrive here with the answer."

And so the great project would be founded, the great plans laid out. The message would instruct it's recipients to form a company, use their futuristic technical knowledge to amass a fortune, use that fortune to implement their knowledge. It would tell them to begin by simply organizing data, but then spread into managing and archiving the communication between people, then create powerful tools and make them free to anyone who wants them.*

And in the last paragraph of this message, this call of desperate hope, the authors would write "We have given you all you need. Undoubtedly you will achieve great wealth and success, and don't feel bad for enjoying any of it. Just keep in mind that your first job is to further humanity and help us overcome our great challenge. We hope that you will do well, as we hope that we are right in contacting you. Please use what we have given you wisely, and don't be evil. Your friends, the future-people."

So see, I'm not crazy. Google COULD have come from the future.

*This post was written in Google Documents.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Yes, I know, like Seinfeld

Ants love Corn Pops.

I have seen a line of ants walk across a yard, up a tree, down one of the tree's branches, into a house, and then around other open boxes of cereal just to reach Corn Pops. It's like crack for ants.

I love Corn Pops too, which is why this time two years ago I spent an afternoon putting new caulk around all my kitchen windows. Stupid ants.

So recently, I was telling a friend about those ants and what they enjoyed as "part of a complete breakfast", and he joked about how I must have learned that ants love Corn Pops "the same night you learned why you shouldn't sleep in a bathtub full of cereal."

And that made me think.

If you had to sleep in a bathtub of dry cereal.

I mean if you HAD to.

What kind of cereal would you chose?

My first answer was Rice Krispies, it seems like they'd be soft, like sitting in a bean bag chair. But then I realized that they'd never hold up, even a little pressure is enough to crush Rice Krispies to powder, which is why you can't eat the last little bit in the box or you'll just wind up making brown paste in a bowl. I can't sleep in that. They'd have to vacuum the dust out of my lungs the next morning.

Honey Comb seems like it would be good and stable, and since it's basically made of Styrofoam anyway, you'd think it would cushion well. (that capital "S" is intentional, apparently Styrofoam is a registered trademark) But Honey Comb doesn't work either:
Too sticky.

It was a conundrum.

It made almost no sense.

I had to talk about it with everyone I knew.

I wrote the problem up in a Facbook post, and asked my friends for responses. The responses came, and they were amazing.

First of all, a significant portion of the respondents assumed I was talking about giant pieces of cereal. I have no idea why.

Second, the reasonings my friends came up with were fascinating, many of them aspects of the problem I hadn't even considered. No cereal would be comfortable if it's surface is too scratchy, period. It doesn't matter how many Frosted Mini-Wheats you put in there, it would still feel like sandpaper.

And what about smell? You're going to be smelling that cereal all night. You'll be smelling like that cereal the next day, too. You can't wash it off because you can't take a shower, your bathtub is full of cereal! Wouldn't you want it to be a good smell? That's a big selling point for Froot Loops camp. (Did you know it was spelled "Froot"? All these years I never noticed. What if it's secretly a subliminal thing where your subconscious gets stuck on the misspelling so some part of your brain is always thinking about Froot Loops. Wouldn't that be weird?)

There were a lot of good responses, but this is a case where the simplest answer is the best. Cheerios. Not sugary or sticky, strong enough to hold up under pressure, and each one with a fairly smooth surface. Like thousands of tiny beads.

Discussing a topic like this, one that's completely ridiculous, is an oddly intimate experience. With strangers, you talk about the mundane, the simple, the literal. You can only talk about meaningless things with good friends. So I never miss an opportunity to talk about nothing. It's a reminder that these are the people I let my guard down with, these are the people I trust.*

*Some of them made reference to the idea of eating the cereal they were sleeping in. That's gross. I'm not sure if I trust those people anymore.