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 . . .