January 31, 2007

Nominee for worst website #2

Websites are meant to convey information. Sure, they can also be pretty and neat and cool and all, but above all else, their major purpose - the conveyance of information - should not be lost.

In the past, I have ranted against Chipotle's website because it's neat but has loads of features that actually make it harder to get information out of their site rather. Don't get me wrong, I dig Chipotle's food and their willingness to give to their community. I just hate their website.

Today's rant is about another tragically craptacular website, that of Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

First there's the annoying requirement that the site launch automatically to fill my entire screen when the actual content only takes up about a quarter of my screen's resolution.

Second, there are a number of pointless animations that go on within the screen - butterflies, spiders, general crap - that draw the eye from whatever content is actually being focused upon.

Next there's the fact that the site uses mystery meat navigation. I have no clue what's going to happen when I click on the hairbrush or the wristwatch, or the cell phone, or the diary, or the business card, or whether any of those things are actually clickable until I roll over them. One thing - the eraser, for example - even shows a question mark upon roll over, confounding me even further.

The glasses point to the links page. The hair brush toward the extras page - whatever the heck that's for.

I know Rowling is a creative person (or at least assume she is - I enjoy her books and would rather think that she's writing great stories out of creativity rather than our of some cold, calculating plan to simply harvest great boatloads of cash), but that does not give her license to hire somebody and encourage them to create a website that does little more than confound.

So, nominee for worst website #2, J.K.Rowling Official Site.

Congrats, JK, your site sucks.

January 30, 2007

Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!

Things that annoy me...pet peeves, as it were...

Signs that are hard to read

Faucets that make you touch the back of the sink when you're washing your hands

Mystery meat webpage navigation

Being late

Anytime someone assumes that they'll get buy-in from their underlings just by saying that they have a good idea

Emoticons

Dogmatiism - something that I also suffer from

Websites that automatically have sounds when you open them

Showing up for a test without a calculator or pencil or whatever it's obvious that you need

The continuing disappearance of the ability to spell and write correctly

My inability to say no to other people who need help - especially if their project intriques me

My predilications to procrasinate to unreasonable extents

Ignorance

Grammatical errors - like using me instead of I

The fact that for some reason I know just about every grammatical rule and notice the errors that other people make

Paying full price for a horrible movie

My laziness

Not playing tennis

Not having the unlimited cash to buy anything I want and the unlimited time that would be required to actually read / listen / watch / see it all once I did

Practical jokes - either by me or especially on me

Store names that don't tell you what's in the store

January 29, 2007

More media

Mixed media today - some comics, some books, some movies, some music - all kinds of stuff that's flopping around my brain...

We start with the outstanding Superman / Batman: Absolute Power from a few years ago. I've reviewed it before, but I'll throw it back out there. This is an excellent volume and a great continuation of the Superman/Batman run. It is, however, only for readers out there who are conversant with the DC universe, because any newbies are going to miss a lot of this storyline. The writers aren't writing for the uninitiated here, but it's excellent.



That excellence contrasts pretty dramatically with the crap that continues to be the Nightwing series. This volume - Renegade - sees Nightwing continue to flit from topic to topic and life to life as the every new writer (I'm hoping they're new writers, because if not, it's so random that it feels new every few months) seems to want to take Nightwing into an entirely different direction. Over the course of his time in Bludhaven, Nightwing has been a good cop, a mob guy, a dirty cop, and now a super bad guy. The total lack of consistent direction for Dickie continues apace.

In this volume we get Dick taking on an apprentice - Deathstroke's daughter - as he tries to prove to Deathstroke (apparently the guy he was working toward the whole time - which makes most of the previous volume seem pointless) that he's really not a good guy anymore. When read as a broken-up monthly, this storyline might have worked, in the full collection, however, the story seems to move much too quickly as Nightwing seemingly gets Deathstroke's trust too quickly, turns Deathstroke's daughter against Deathstroke (sorry, um, spolier just before this note) way too quickly.

And somehow we're supposed to believe that Batman isn't going to step in when his oldest apprentice apparently goes off the reservation.

All crap. Continued crap.

And then we get a seemingly random issue that is somehow in the middle of Infinite Crisis before Batman finally shows up.

Seriously they should have let him die rather than continue to subject the character to this randomly horrible, directionless story telling.



Grizzly Man is an interesting film. It is, on its surface, a pretty simple documentary about a man who spent thirteen summers living the the grizzly bears in an Alaskan national park and was eventually killed by the giants that he claimed to have been guarding / protecting.

The film is, however, a much more nuanced portrait of a man who found himself more comfortable in the world of the bears instead of the world of the people. The view of Timothy Treadwell that we get wanders among the extremes of self-appointed eco-warrior, bi-polar social misfit, filmmaker and artist, pleasant drifter, and mentally challenged, emotionally stunted young man, never quite settling on any one aspect of Treadwell's character.

He was all of those, and in the end, we see him as we choose to see him. Treadwell was a grey enough man following a nebulous enough goal with a debatable purpose that our view of Treadwell is ultimately a reflection on ourselves. He is the ultimate blank slate, capable of accepting anything we cast at him without being able to refute any of our choices. As such, I have my only one gripe about the film: that Werner Herzog's narration doesn't allow for things to be quite as blank as I might like it to be. As narrator, Herzog interjects his opinion in a number of places where I wish he would have left things up to the viewer to interpret.

The film isn't prefect, far from it - it drags a bit toward the middle of the film. It is, however, a revealing portrait of a man attempting to find his way in whatever world he has chosen for himself.

And it doesn't hurt that there's a great soundtrack by Richard Thompson, Jim O'Rourke, and some other people I've not really heard of.



Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens was a bit of a surprise for me after my first foray into his music with Illinoise. Where Illinoise was rambling and gorgeous and all over the place - up-tempo numbers alternating with slower songs, Seven Swans is much calmer, much more focused. According to a number of the reviews that I've read, the album is about Sufjan's christianity, but I'll admit that I didn't get that from my listenings. I just got a very pretty album that's much lower key than the other work that I know from the artist.

It's a gorgeous album, but as it's so much calmer than the other work that I enjoyed so much, I didn't like this one quite as much. Good stuff, just didn't hit me quite the same way.



At the recommendation of a coworked, I headed into the oeuvre of The Black Keys. I'd heard one of their songs, dug it, and proceeded to check out five of their discs from the library. So far, I've worked my way through three of the discs and have two more to go.

Their debut was The Big Come Up and must've been one hell of a debut shot for anybody who heard it three years ago when it dropped. It's no surprise, however, that the Keys have become tied to the White Stripes - another guitar/drum duo that had (at first, at least) a similar lo-fi sound - but The Big Come Up isn't of the same core as Jack White's pair. The Big Come Up is electric blues echoing ZZ Top's earliest work - minus the Texas swing element - and tying in much more tightly to the old brokedown blues men of the Mississippi Delta than anything that's been popular with the Rolling Stone crowd in the past couple of decades.

This album is total swamp and fuzz, full and rich all the way through and just dripping with the blues. Toward the end of the album, the occasional classic rock riff begins to fade to the surface, but the growl of the words never moves into the sort of self-parody that classic rock modernists throw down with a wink. Instead, this is the work of two guys who were looking to do nothing more than play the blues on a stratocaster and finish up the third set as a hell of a bar band. It's not a remorseful album or a sad one. It's the blues played with amazing energy. Hell of a start...

The other disc of theirs that I've enjoyed was Chulahoma, a six-song EP of Junior Kimbrough covers. Again the paid rocks the blues in the dirtiest of ways. The covers are not simple, traditional blues covers but rather opportunities for the Keys to take songs that they've clearly loved and heard thousands of times and make them their own. Instead of repeating the exact same riffs, the guitars use them as starting points from which to add new tones and notes. It's a great tribute without ever being fawning, reverent without being imitative.

Magic Potion is the final Black Keys release that I've gotten through, and it's the one I enjoyed the least. It's not a bad album, it just isn't quite as bluesy and muddy as the other two that I enjoyed so much. This one leans a little more modern, a little more classic rock than the others. As we first listened to the album a couple of weeks ago in the car, the girl commented that it sounded like they were trying to be Jimi Hendrix in one song and Pink Floyd in another, and I hear those same echoes.

As their first album on a major label - Nonesuch, home to Wilco, doncha know - this is an album that ran a huge risk for the Keys. So many groups misstep on their attempts to move popularity from devoted following to wider scale - or at least lose the love of their first fans because they've "sold out". Typically, the difficulty comes from the fans as it's hard to let other people into the party, to become one of millions of fans rather than one of the throusands.

Certainly, the Black Keys have suffered some from that, but this forst major label release isn't anything to scoff at. It is the continuing outstanding work of a pair of diehard modern bluesmen. It's not quite the same as what they'd done before (at least not the part of their work that I've heard so far), but anyone who doesn't change might as well shut it down.



Thanks to LaLa, I got an album that I've been wanting for a long while: Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash. I'd first heard the album a few years ago and haven't been willing to drop the dozen bucks it'd've taken to get it back, but at $1.75 from LaLa, it was certainly worth a try. I ended up with the expanded edition adding in a half dozen extra tracks that didn't make the original album - for good reason.

The core of the album is a great, punk growl thrown together with celtic instruments and bit of whiskey soacking the whole thing. The Pogues brought together tales of celtic heroes like Cuchulainn and Turkish wars and played them at tempos ranging from pounding to dragging, giving the impression that the boys were playing an entire night in the pub in one sitting - starting off throwing down quick and rollicking and ending the evening at a drag pace, sending you off into the streets ready for a drunken stumble home.

Great album...certainly worth the $1.75...



Bit of a disappointment with the next one - Live in Austin, TX from Richard Thompson. I've seen Thompson live a half dozen times - coming up next month again - and he's one of the most reliable, impressive live performers I've seen. Each time he brings out a few new or rare songs that he's not played before, often topical songs ("Dad's Gonna Kill Me" about Baghdad's troubles being the latest) that never make their way onto his albums. He's a masterful performer whose skills show most clearly when he's playing in front of an audience. And the recording shown here is a solid performance from Thompson, but it's lacking those rarities that I enjoy so much. Instead, it's a solid show from a great performer. To catch a glimpse, head over to YouTube.



Gotta love college, right? College parties to me sound like Johnny Socko. Ska punk out of Bloomington complete with weird costumes and loads of good times. Sure, there's the minor weirdness that my sister turned out to be friends with the band, but that's neither here nor there. A while back I loaned out my copy of their first album, Bovaquarium, to a friend and it never came back.

That's what I get for not writing things down.

Stupid friends.

Well, thanks to the wonders of LaLa (have I mentioned their website before, eh?), the joys of songs like "This is Your Vasectomy" and "Uvula Mantainenance" are mine again. Sure, the band probably got better and more...um...professional as their career went onward, but they never got more fun than they they were on this first album. And it's good to have it around again.

January 28, 2007

YouTube this week

The fun glory that came to me from YouTube this week...most of which got pointed out via Transbuddha, Technically Overboard, Deadspin, or YesButNoButYes...thanks, guys and gals...

I may be unwell

There are a number of things wrong with our world. Many of those things are nearly entirely out of our control. I don't know, for example, what I can do to stop genocides in Africa, suicide bombers in the Middle East, or even the problems associated with poverty in the US. I do know, however, that there are problems that you and I can very easily begin to make a difference with.

One of the latter problems is the the continuing - and worsening - underbelly of our meat production industry. The more I learn, the more horrified I am at the realities of how the chicken, eggs, beef, and pork gets from the hoof to my local grocery stores.

The image that we all hold of a farm is one of bucolic serenity, a gorgeous white farm house with nice red silo and white rail fences holding in a half dozen cattle free to wander a grassy yard edging up to a mud pit where pigs roll about in the mud, nudging themselves around playfully. All of this, of course, takes place against a backdrop of a field of corn that has kids playing between the rows, popping their heads out from time to time.

The realities of modern farms, however, are much, much different. Most of them are factory farms throughout the United States (and in many other countries of the world) is one of huge covered sheds that would span numerous football-fields, housing thousands and thousands of either chickens or hogs living in such close quarters that the sheer concentration of their wastes lead to chemical burns and an environmental disaster of near biblical scale. Animals are kept in horrible conditions, living lives of constant suffering from the moment of their conception until their eventual journey to the slaughter house.

At those slaughter houses, then, the conditions have not much improved since Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Admittedly, some people have attempted to overhaul the processing of animals, but many slaughterhouses are still run at such ridiculous speeds, demanding such levels of production from their workers that it is almost impossible to maintain sanitary conditions and worker safety.

In eating much of the food that we eat, we sacrifice our environment, our moral responsibility to treat animals humanely, and our responsibility to other humans to allow them to work in safe conditions.

And I continue to love steak and burgers and chicken sandwiches.

I have not done nearly enough to do my part in changing the industrial landscape, and every time I go to the grocery store and see the coolers filled with unethically-produced meat, I feel a pange of guilt.

And I need to start to change that.



If you want to know more about my topic today, head to the following websites or read these books:
  • The Meatrix - a cartoon introduction to many of these issues
  • Fast Food Nation - a book by Eric Schlosser that details these issues while also addressing their impact on the ever-growing American waistline
  • Chew on This - Schlosser's follow up written for teenagers covering much of the same landscape with a slightly easier writing style

January 27, 2007

A Duke after my own heart

In bumbling and stumbling around the internet, I've happened upon a couple of music blogs recently. Both post mp3 files for a limited time - so you can evaluate them, of course, not so you can steal them, no - and both are moderately entertaining, but one of them is so much cooler than the other.

The less cool is Some Velvet Blog - posting semi-thematic mp3 collections every few days. All in all, worth bumping through once a week or so.

But then there's The Late Greats (check the blog's address backwards) - into which I stumbled via this Wilco-related post and into which I've fallen into true music-geek love.

The Late Greats gives mp3 collections in absolutely fascinating ways. To whit,It's madness, I tell you, madness.

January 26, 2007

Help google out, would ya?

Looks like Google has a beta tester out there to help improve their image search - Google Image Labeler. Looks like a neat little game that allows you - when paired up with an anonymous partner - to help them identify photos with the first thing you think about when you see the picture.

You and your partner get 100 for each match, and Google keeps track of your score. My high so far is ten right answers in one ninety-second time period, but the cooler thing to me is that Google is letting people play a game that happens to help their business out tremendously. It's an ingenious bit of crowdsourcing.

So, feel free to curse the awesomeness that is google or to help them out a little bit.

January 25, 2007

Everything in moderation...

I've been asked about this in class a bunch of times, and I had some vague notion (from being told in class or reading it somewhere) that it was possible to get drunk from water - something about thinning the blood, getting less oxygen to the brain, but I had no idea that it was possible to straight up die from water intoxication.

Well, it seems to have happened. I'm sure there's going to be some investigating into the recent death of a California woman who lost her life after losing a radio station-sponsored contest in which the contestants had to drink water without relieving themselves in hopes of winning a Nintendo Wii.

I'm thinking that somebody just might be losing their job over this one.

It's like when Johnny Fever ran the contest and nearly cost KRP $10K (or something, I can't find the clip anywhere).

It all comes back to sit-coms, doesn't it?

January 24, 2007

Five by five by three - location-style

Ah, the vagaries of memory. I would happily bet that loads of films have been forgotten on these lists, but that's the way the neurons crumble, eh?

Favorite films I saw at the Vogue:
  1. Shallow Grave
  2. Blade Runner
  3. Charade
  4. Legend of the Overfiend
  5. Indochine
Favorite films I saw at the Rave:
  1. Hero
  2. Sin City
  3. Batman Begins
  4. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkhaban
  5. I see a lot of films at the Rave...I'm sure I've forgotten a dozen better flicks
Favorite films I saw at the Esquire:
  1. Pi
  2. I am Trying to Break Your Heart
  3. Layer Cake
  4. Brokeback Mountain
  5. The Aristocrats
Favorite films I own:
  1. Hoosiers
  2. The Big Lebowski
  3. Hero
  4. Field of Dreams
  5. Chasing Amy
Favorite films I saw overseas - most at the Odeon:
  1. Pulp Fiction
  2. Leon
  3. Interview with a Vampire
  4. Stargate
  5. Stargate
Ok, folks, I'm bored with choosing top five movies by various actors. It's too easy, all I have to do is hop on imdb and check around. Gimme some suggestions for genres / directors / topics for top five lists. I promise that I'll return to regular postings for a while, but I'd like to to one post of five by fives a month, and I'm slightly stumped on what to use for topics.

January 23, 2007

Five by five back in the hizzouse - girl-style

Favorite films with Jodie Foster
  1. Candleshoe - it's been years and years since I've seen it, but the memories are so fond that it gets #1
  2. Inside Man - recent but very strong entry
  3. Silence of the Lambs - I don't like it...I don't enjoy it, but it's one hell of a film
  4. Contact - geek
  5. Maverick - bit of a lark but a fair bit of fun
    Honorable Mention - Bugsy Malone - never seen it, but kids playing gangsters and throwing pies instead of firing guns has to be fun
Favorite films with Nicole Kidman
  1. To Die For - strong performance in her first major leading role
  2. Moulin Rouge! - one of the factors that brought back a thankfully brief resurgance of movie musicals and one of the few I was happy to have seen
  3. Malice - odd little film, not much seen, with great twists and double crosses
  4. Dogville - hard to get into and certainly not for the mass audience, but excellent exploration of modern times without ever stepping out of the distant past
  5. Batman Forever - far from the best Batman flick but way better than the next one - blech
Favorite films with Susan Sarandon
  1. Bull Durham - one of the best sports films ever made
  2. Bob Roberts - another with a small audience - lean left, like Dylan? you'll like this one
  3. Igby Goes Down - her part isn't massive, but it's felt throughout
  4. Thelma & Louise - for a chick flick, it was actually fun
  5. James & the Giant Peach - Sarandon has said in interviews that she does kids movies so her own kids can see her on screen...thanks...
Favorite films with Julianne Moore
  1. The Big Lebowski - possibly my favorite comedy of all time
  2. Short Cuts - lots of characters, all interesting, all interconnected - quintessential Altman
  3. Far from Heaven - powerful film about love and hatred in the sixties
  4. Boogie Nights - excellent certainly-not-family film about a very unconvential family
  5. Magnolia - in the Altman vein but not the equal of the master's great works
Favorite films with Uma Thurman
  1. Kill Bill: Vol 1 - one of my favorite flicks - full of sizzle, but that's what sells the steak
  2. Gattaca - quality sci-fi that's a lot more fun than most would think
  3. Pulp Fiction - one of the best flicks on the 90's
  4. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - I have a serious weak spot for Terry Gilliam movies
  5. Sweet & Lowdown - edging out Batman & Robin because it's actually a good movie as opposed to the one thats only redeeming feature is Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy

January 22, 2007

Five by five in the hizzouse - Real Men Edition

'Cause I haven't done it in a while...

Favorite films with Dustin Hoffman
  1. The Graduate - easy choice
  2. Stranger than Fiction - recent and really good
  3. Little Big Man - bad makeup but entertaining
  4. Rain Man - the least comedic of the list
  5. Wag the Dog - hasn't aged well

  6. Honestly, I was surprised at how few of his films I've really enjoyed considering his status as Great Actor
Favorite films with Robert DeNiro
  1. Godfather: Part II - one of the greatest films of modern cinema
  2. Brazil - far from the best, but loads of fun
  3. Raging Bull - tough call over the next one
  4. Goodfellas - near-perfect film
  5. Heat - this'll show up again later in today's post

  6. Phenomenal five films there - Brazil being the weakest - and blows Hoffman's five out of the water
Favorite films with Clint Eastwood - all westerns 'cause his greatest works have all been from right there...
  1. Unforgiven
  2. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  3. For a Few Dollars More
  4. Fistful of Dollars
  5. High Plains Drifter
Favorite films with Al Pacino
  1. The Godfather: Part II - two of the greatest actors of the generation but never in the film together
  2. The Godfather - surpassed just barely by the sequel
  3. Donnie Brasco - it's amazing how type-cast some actors get
  4. Scent of a Woman - one word got Pacino another Oscar
  5. Glengarry Glen Ross - vulgar and full of outstanding actors acting
Favorite films with Morgan Freeman
  1. Unforgiven - easily one of the oustanding films of the decade
  2. Batman Begins - not his biggest part, but one of the best comic book flicks yet made
  3. The Shawshank Redemption - took me a number of run-throughs to actually get through it, but well worth the time
  4. Se7en - not enjoyable but well made
  5. Unleashed - two well made films that don't fit together in the least

January 21, 2007

A children's movie for people who hate themselves

Headed out to the ever-fabulous Rave Theater this weekend to catch a flick and to pay a wonderful $8.75 for the opportunity to yet again prove that my wife generally does a much better job choosing films than I do.

Sheesh did this one stink.

I post this today in an effort to prevent anyone else from spending even one dollar on the dreck of a film, Arthur and the Invisibles. The film is - as most critics have agreed - absolutely awful.

The set up - along with most of the rest of the movie - is one that you've seen before: poor kid lives with grandma because parents are poor. Grandma's house is about to be taken away unless kid can find treasure buried in the back yard by long, lost grandpa. Luckily, the kid's British - in spite of the fact that nobody else in the film is, but that's explained away in a heartbeat as he mentions that he's been at the boarding school in London - in spite of the fact that his very clearly American parents and grandparents can't afford to keep him or their home (painful part of the film #1).

Plus, we're given a two-dimensional, vaguely southern, white-suit-wearing dopey bad guy who's about to forclose on the farm (overused cliche, painful part #2).

So the kid - with the help of a tribe of tall, badly-dubbed tribesmen who nobody notices live in the backyard (painful part #3) - heads into the mythical, largely animated world of the Minimoys - who look suspiciously like troll dolls - where he turns out to be the chosen one, the only one able to pull a sword out of a stone (hackneyed, painful part #4) and proceeds to fall in lust/love with the Minimoy's princess, as voiced by Madonna. Right, a twelve-year-old boy looking lustfully at Madonna (icky, painful part #5).

My wife asks that I point out that the ickyness level was raised by the filmmaker's constant insistance on centering the main character's point of view shots on the unneedfully pneumatic backside of the Madonna-princess character as she swayed herself away, looking bothersomely coquetish. It was very, very icky, indeed.

From there the craptaculr spectacle stays bad as the movie moves forward with nary an intelligent note or engaging chracter. Time passes randomly as the bright sun shines high in the sky while characters ready for bed when in the blink of the eye it's midnight and everybody's asleep. This is while they continue to complain about how little time they have to complete their quest (painful part #6).

There's something about having to travel through seven kingdoms to get the the bad guy - whose name no one except the hero dares to speak (plagairized, painful part #7) - but that's glossed over because the local stereotypical New York Italian minimoy (insulting, painful part #8) just throws them to their destination in a nutshell. You see, these tiny people use the things that the humans drop to make their lives better and easier (stolen, painful part #9) like when Snoop Dog shows up - running a hip-hop club on a record player that seemed terribly anachronistic to me as the film seems to be set well before the days of DJs scratching back and forth but playing that great 1930's hit - "Staying Alive" - and referencing the dance scene from Pulp Fiction (incongruous, painful point #10).

Oh, and one of the humanistic minimoys seems to be the father to a shrew (or at least some sort of vole) who ends up helping save the day. Seriously, human kind of guy gave birth to far-sighted gerbil or shrew or something clearly an animal. (brainless, painful part #11)

Oh, it stunk.

Stunk.

Stunk.

Stunk.

The only redeeming feature that I saw was that the animation was an interesting mix of real sets, built on a miniature scale to accept the animated minimoy characters and fully animated scenes. The skin textures of the characters were surprisingly realistic, seeming to hold a dull plastic sheen very familiar to anyone who has seen a...I think I've pointed it out before...a troll doll.

So, one redeeming feature and at least eleven annoying parts - many of which went on and on and on past the point of minor painfulness. Sounds like the balance falls on the desperately negative side of the ledger.

DO NOT SEE THIS FILM

January 20, 2007

Word wonders from the OED

The OED is the be all and end all when it comes to dictionaries.

I know that's just about the dorkiest statement that can be made without using the terms dungeon or super power, but it's totally true.

The Oxford English Dictionary is the - to quote Wikipedia's article - "the most comprehensive and scholarly dictionary of the English language" and - according to the official OED website - "[t]he definitive record of the English language". If something's a part of the English language, it's in the OED. And the converse is true, too: if it's not in the OED, it's not a part of the English language.

Each year the OED announces the new words that have made the new edition, and there is news coverage announcing the furor over bling-bling and e-mail being added into the official record. Nobody cares, on the other hand, when something comes into and out of Webster's. The OED is to Webster's as a professional basketball player is to my grandma - the dead one.

And it's freakin' cool that they OED folks offer Ask Oxford, a website that let's you ask all those weird word-related questions that you've ever wondered:
  • Which words rhyme with orange? ask Oxford
  • Is there an eight letter word with five vowels in a row? ask Oxford
  • What's the feminine equivilent of fraternal? ask Oxford
I could spend hours and hours on that website.

I am such a dork.

Transbuddha's awesome!

Today's bonus post (so as not to break my rule about reposting from other blogs) is to again point you to the goodness that is Transbuddha. Check out the best of this week:

January 19, 2007

Lego madness

Too much Legoodness for today, so let's get right down to it, shall we?

We open with some proof that the Lego minifig is the coolest action figure of all time because it is imminently cutomizable from my personal favorite, the classic space minifig, to just about any combination of parts that you'd like to put together. As a good Princeton guy, I'm glad to see that Lego has finally even come through with a Viking set - something I'm clearly going to have to drop a few quid for before it drifts off into the land of unpopular Lego sets.

Plus, the all of the options and choices of minifig parts let you make Lego abominations or freakish Halloween creations and castle creations.

None of this even begins to touch on the idea of customizable digital minifigs that you can buy or the numerous minifigs - like Gregor Mendel - that have been set into tiny tales called vignettes (more vignettes) - a recent addition to the Lego canon and many of which use some rather impressive building techniques.

Ah, the humble minifig...desired by many, available in bulk.

January 18, 2007

Faster! Now, in German!

Today's pointless time-waster finds me as the 80th best Klettrix player in the world with a high score of 12590.

See if you can top that, folks.

Update - new high score from me - 15560 - placing me at #46.

January 17, 2007

Big Red and the court of public opinion

Excerpt from Mark McGwire's opening statement to the Government Reform Committee
"What I will not do, however, is participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates. I retired from baseball four years ago. I live a quiet life with my wife and children. I have always been a team player. I have never been a person who spread rumors or said things about teammates that could hurt them. I do not sit in judgment of other players, whether it deals with their sexual preference, their marital problems, or other personal habits, including whether or not they use chemical substances. That has never been my style, and I do not intend to change this just because the cameras are turned on.

Nor do I intend to dignify Mr. Canseco's book. It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements in the book, and that many inconsistencies and contradictions have already been raised.

I've been advised that my testimony here could be used to harm friends and respected teammates, or that some ambitious prosecutor can use convicted criminals who would do and say anything to solve their own problems and create jeopardy for my friends.

Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers no, he simply will not be believed. If he answers yes, he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself. I intend to follow their advice.”
The above quote - originally spoken very carfeully by Mark McGwire in front of a Congressional committee self-charged with rooting out the evils of steroid use in baseball - came to me from an article on The Hardball Times exploring the results of the recent election for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The article points out a number of inconsistencies among the results. For example, the author questions the disparate vote totals of Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly; Jim Rice and Dale Murphy; Albert Belle and Jim Rice; Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Lance Parrish. The major thrust of the article, though, is the voting results for Mark McGwire. In an earlier article, the author wrote his belief:
If I had a vote in 2006, I’d vote no. Not because I don’t feel he belongs, but because I think we need a bit of perspective before we come to a firm decision. He has 15 years to be on the ballot. During that time, hopefully more information will come to light. How long did McGwire use? Generally, how much did the “juice” skewer offensive stats? Was he a borderline player who got pushed over the top by it, or was a Hall of Fame talent who simply goosed his totals a bit? How are the non-player enablers of the steroid era treated by history?

Right now it’s too early to tell. A mistake Hall of Fame induction "stands forever in the guide." A player mistakenly left out can always be put in.

If a mistake is to be made, let it be a reversible one.
His argument is that we don't yet know what we should do about Mark McGwire, not enough time has passed. We should take time, evaluate what did or didn't happen, and how that should color our view of McGwire's legacy. Until we do that, we should err on the side of keeping him out - a "reversible [mistake]".

I disagree, because of another statement that the author makes in his article:
Never forget this: as to the statutes of major league baseball as they existed from 1986-2001, Mark McGwire broke no rules.
I can even ignore the next few statements:
He played in an environment where players were encouraged to use steroids. Management lavished huge contracts on players who could crush the ball regardless of how they managed to do—no questions asked. Jason Giambi’s agent, Arn Tellem, asked the Yankees to remove a clause that could cause the contract to be voided if Giambi was caught using steroids. If Tony LaRussa knew of Jose Canseco's steroid use then he probably knew about McGwire too—however he never notified his bosses so they could invoke the "probable cause" rule and have him tested.
To me, that isn't nearly as relevant. Yes, McGwire was playing in a time where the administration of the game was in a very permissive mode. The kernel of the argument to me is very simple - Mark McGwire broke no rules.

Every baseball fan during the summer of 1998 watched the epic home run chase between McGwire and Sammy Sosa with eager anticipation. There have been entire books written about that summer's baseball drama, and I would argue that only the most naive of baseball fans truly believed that the transformations of both sluggers - from their lithe, agile rookie seasons to the mammoth, muscle-bound sluggers of the 1998 season - came about without the assistance of some non-prescription aide.

We watched. We drooled. We turned a blind eye and didn't give a diddly darn what those two were eating, drinking, shooting up, or freebasing behind closed doors. We didn't care. Baseball had done us wrong five years before, and we were just happy to be able to turn back to the sport that so many of us had turned out back on.

(Let me be clear on that: baseball did not turn its back on us. It changed. That was inevitable. It is we who put the expectations of what we want baseball to be who turned our back on the sport. Baseball owes us nothing. We are stupid enough to invest our hearts and souls in groups of men who are doing nothing more than a job. Sure, it's a job they enjoy, but it's their job. If we're stupid enough to continue to throw money at them - buying tickets and stadia - without any express, written contract of what they have to do fur us in return, then we deserve to get exactly nothing in return. I love baseball, but it owes me nothing whatsoever.)

And then that summer's two heroes turned out to be less than the perfect Adonises (sp?) that we had wanted them to be. Our heroes fell from Olympus and turned out to be imminently human. Sosa corked his bat and shrank before our very eyes. McGwire, however, went out an untarnished hero - forgoeing a contract extension and retiring when we wanted him to retire - while he still was able to amaze us with his titanic home runs.

But then we called him back. We asked a very private man to stand before us and humble himself. We had all but convicted him in the court of public opinion, and now we wanted his contrition. We wanted him to either come to us head bowed, asking for our forgiveness or to betray his teammates and competitors by naming names, taking down so many of our other heroes on his own so that we didn't have to.

And he would do neither.

So, we convicted and hanged him anyway.



If you have any interest in the Baseball Hall of Fame, please take a little time to read Bill James's outstanding - if now a bit dated - book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, originally titled The Politics of Glory.

January 16, 2007

One singluar sensation

A typical Friday night 'round these parts as the end of the week brought on a bit of indecision as to whether Friday should be spent cocooning in the basement working through three more episodes of Deadwood or to wander into the rainy night to find a new restaurant. Comfort or risk.

Freakishly, we chose risk and headed up to Lebanon to try a new restaurant - which turned out to be closed. Then across the street, the Golden Lamb didn't sound right, so we headed down into Mason to try out a restaurant that we'd been saying we needed to check into for a while now: One. Turns out that we should've been going there for a darn long time now.

It might be the new Bacall's, our old favorite restaurant in College Hill where we could go at the drop of a hat and get an outstanding dinner.

We dropped in without any reservations - seemingly a safe thing to do as long as you don't want to eat after about 9pm on a Friday (limited experience prediction, admittedly) and headed into the lounge, forgoing the gorgeously decorated twin dining rooms - both redesigned from the old Mason official building's office spaces.

In the lounge we were greeted by wonderfully rich red chairs, tables, and a wall-spanning padded bench where I spent the remainder of the evening. The corner of the not-too-large lounge had been cleared for what would turn out to be a fairly enjoyable trio of twenty-something local jazz artists who played through our stay ('til about 9:30). From the bar menu, I had a great burger with creative condiments (onion and tomato jams), and the girl went with what she reported to be a great crab cake sandwich.

After a bit of listening to the band, we sampled the dessert menu - which apparently changes somewhat frequently as they offered none of the things listed on the website last night - apple-cranberry buckle with vanilla ice cream. The girl finished off her meal with a dessert wine, and we departed poorer by about twenty bucks each (with generous tip for the attentive and friendly bartender/waiter for the room.)

Clearly, we've been missing out by not eating at One regularly as they've been getting good press for a couple of years now, but we won't be missing out anymore as we'll be coming back again and again.

Anybody wanna join in?

January 15, 2007

Darn you, Strudel!

The neighbor guy brought in a new candy find this past week: Wonka's SweeTart Squeez - a toothpaste-like version of the ever-classic, ever-chalky SweeTarts which are, in turn, basically different formats for Fun Dip and Pixy Stix.

After some initial reluctance, both my department chair and I agreed with my neighbor's assessment that the candy was surprisingly tasty. We tried the wild cherry flavor - and the candy does come out as a thick, paste - thicker than most toothpaste but still pretty easy to squeeze directly into your mouth or onto a finger tip. Plus, for the dieters there, the package says there's only 130 calories in the whole tube - the Wonka and Nestle websites are less forthcoming with such information, though.

I will say that the SweeTart Squeez was a very positive experience and one I'll likely be taking again when the opportunity presents itself.

January 14, 2007

The CDC has declared Tac Bell safe...

I'm sorry, but when you have to post a video saying that the CDC has declared your restaurant safe, you're not in a good place.

January 13, 2007

Comics, comics, and more comics

I'd heard pretty good things about Fables: Legends in Exile and thought I'd give 'em a chance. It's an interesting first volume in an on-going series. Sets things up pretty easily (the characters all come from fables and fairy tales but are now exiled to NYC) without dropping all the info at the get go. There's a decent enough storyline (mayor's sis has disappeared, maybe killed) that gets a good wrap-up in the end (a fine parlor scene for the detective). I thought it was okay but nothing spectacular.

I've heard that the series might be the best currently being run in comics, so I'm guessing that things get better from here. This volume doesn't seem to live up to that sort of a reputation.



Wow, very dark collection of the last of Green Arrow before the DC One-Year Later jump. In this one, Dr. Light has returned and seems to be focusing the majority of his anger and vengance for Identity Crisis on Green Arrow - in spite of the fact that Ollie seems to have voted against mindwiping Light. The main plotline of this volume involves Light and a few other villians running GA through a series of distractions while Light takes his revenge on Ollie's "family".

By the end of the volume, we see GA stabbed and dying as Light burns down much of Star City around the battle. It's a rough storyline and one that continues the reprecussions (sp, sorry) of Infinite Crisis, an event horrific enough that it should be felt for a while.

The Green Arrow series has been consistently well-written since its relaunch a few years ago, and this is a fitting mini-culmination to some of its lead-up events. GA has a strong family tie to the people he works with, and in this volume he finds out how dangerous it can be. Well done, folks...

Here are a couple of reviews of the individual issues collected here.



Man, Alex Ross's Justice must be an absolute bear to produce. It's nothing but painted pages from Ross himself, and his stuff isn't exactly filled with throw-aways.

The story's a lot of fun, however, and has a strong feeling similar to some of the old Super Friends episodes - but done with a whole lot more intelligence this time around. We get the un-named Legion of Doom throwing down with the Justice Leaguers who are pretty much all useless and nearly wiped out by the end of this first collected volume. The rest of the story should be a blast if Ross's two-part interview about the series is any indication (part 1 & part 2).



I dug Marvel Zombies. It was a whole lot of fun and nothing nearly weighty enough to cause me to think in the least. Good times.

The artwork's sick and dark - which totally fits the tone. The homages to prior Marvel history are a load of fun, and the dealings with Galactus are nicely done.

All in all, an hilarious and grim lark.



The first of the post-One-Year-Later trades are being released, and I took a few moments to read through Batman: Face the Face a decent but far from original little run from the new Batman creative team. The storyline's pretty standard - Batman's been away, somebody took his place but is reluctant to give it up, Harvey Dent is reformed (maybe), Jim Gordon's police commissioner, and Batman's remembering that he needs to deal with people instead of forcing them all away.

The story and trade work well enough, but it feels like this is ground that has been mined nearly to death before. It's a trade worth flipping through but not for buying.



The fourth volume of Ex Machina: March to War continues the very interesting turn of events in which the main character - New York's first superhero mayor - continues to walk an interesting path through politics, being neither left or right whole-salely. (sp?)

The series continues to be excellent, deserving of the praise heaped upon it regularly. The majority of this story sees Mitchell Hundred dealing with a terrorist attack on a peace march in his city, a march that saw one of his trusted aides put into a coma. The storyline - Hundred exploring how to walk the line between civil liberties and governmental need, freedom and security. At times the whole thing can get a little preachy as the author takes time to explore the position verbally, but all in all, it's an excellent story arc.

The second arc is less satisfying as a frameing device (radio interview) is used to have Hundred explore his first arch-enemy who has powers oddly similar to Hundred, himself. It's not a bad arc, but it pales in comparison with the afore mentioned first arc.



I dig Marvel's Ultimate universe. I think I might have mentioned that at some point in the past, eh?

Here we've got the next collected volume of the Ultimate X-Men: Phoenix. It's a thread that's been bouncing around teasingly here and there in the first few years of the Ultimate X-Men storylines, and here it comes to the fore as a new organization (some sort of Shi-Ar churh) wants to fund the X-Men if they can just be allowed to examine Jean Grey - who might contain their god, the phoenix force. The minor drama - teasingly unfinished as we see at the end of the book - is played out against a backdrop of increasingly passionate and involved teammates (Grey and Cyclops, Rogue and Iceman, Collosus and ??, Kitty and Spidey) as the book continues to be aimed at a teenage audience - which did have a couple of notes that I wondered if they were a little on the adult side of that audience, but nothing horrible.

This volume isn't a key, a can't live without it volume, but it's a good quality middle run in the continuing series.



The recreation of the Green Lantern Corp has been an interesting little development of late in the DC Universe. Heck, even the undeath of Hal Jordan has been moderately interesting - mostly because the other characters have all been forced to yell and admit how they all feel about him.

In this volume: Revenge of the Green Lanterns Hal heads off into the forbidden sector - (cue forboding music) - where he finds a bunch of GL's trapped by the newly recreated (by the weird Cyborg) bunch of Manhunters.

Jordan, of course, saves the day by his strength of will but finds himself still in the doghouse with the Guardians. I guess it was something about him pretty much destroying all the universe and everything.

Sorry, tangent...

So, the storyline's passable...the artwork's decent...it's not bad...

January 12, 2007

Not just evil...Evil AND Mad...what a combo

We all need a little Evil Mad Scientist in our lives from time to time.

Theses people are sick enough to tell you how to turn champagne into a weapon, a dining table into a light show, gingerbread men into billboards, a battery into a a propulsion device, and a whole lot more.

I'm a little too electronics-challenged to pull off most of the stuff you can find on their blog, but that doesn't mean you are...

ahem, JGed...

January 11, 2007

My musical radar reappears

Loose Fur's first, eponymous disc shows the side project of Wilco in a much more, well, loose form than their second disc (which I reviewed a while back). It's also a lot less fun, more meandering. Where the second Loose Fur project had some decently tight songs that just sounded tossed off, this one sort of wanders all over the place, drifting back and forth through some of the songs. Even the one great song - "Laminated Cat: aka Not for the Season" - has sounded better on other recordings as it's become more focused.

The album isn't a total wash, but it's probably one that'll only be interesting to Tweedy or O'Rourke completeists - kind of like the recent Tweedy live DVD that I'm kind of surprised I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet. I number myself in the former, so I'm all good with it.



Oh, wow...

I've been ditzing around and not listing to Sufjan Stevens for a year or so since I first heard about him and his wacky 50 states in 50 albums project. It was just weird enough to pique my interests but not enough to get me to ride along with him. And then the reviews came...excellent...outstanding...great...best of the year...wonderful...

Nary a negative review in the bunch, and all glowingly positive...

Plus Kyle liked it, so along I went to grab it from the library. Thankfully, the album didn't disappoint in the least.

It's full of weird instrumentation and quirky hooks that should sound over the top and bombastic but that work perfectly when put together. It's easily one of the best things I've had a chance to listen to in the past few years, and it's probably going to drag me down the Sufjan slope. Hopefully I'll land safely...



I screwed up and read a couple of the reviews of Tonight, Not Again, Jason Mraz's live album from a year or two ago. Either I agreed with them totally because they were right, or my opinion was poisoned enough that I went in already colored.

The reviews mostly said that Mraz's stuff is pleasant enough but that it's too polished, too smirky to work as being casual. Mraz's attitude throughout the whole concert is a bit of a wink and a nod while thinking about how cool he finds himself, and it turned me off from the whole album. I joke that I'm the funniest guy I know - only that funny to myself, though - but Mraz seems to really feel that way about himself. He seems to find himself so cool, so neat that his stuff just ends up a little off-putting to me.



Watching watery tarts prance about on PBS probably isn't any way to choose music for listening pleasures, and my attempt at a listen to Celtic Woman should be all the reminder I need of that for a while.

The music is too clean, too pretty, too sterile to have any of the heart or interest to me. It's kind of entertaining to see the bombast and pagentry on the little screen as long as you've got somebody to chickle with, but when all the visuals are gone, so is the goodness.



Listening to The Ultimate Collection from Michael Jackson is like watching a really gorgeous afternoon over a hillside and then having the whole thing ruined by a trainwreck.

Discs one and two are knockouts - full of the best of early and mid-career Michael...stuff from the Jackson 5 and Thriller and even Bad. We're talking about some of the highest heights of pop music in the past few decades, real knock outs.

And the weirdness dials get turned up to eleven, and the perfect pop train goes right off the rails. We end up in the land of HIStory and Dangerous - both interesting with moments but clearly nothing but shells of the previous greatness that was Michael, the perfect pop candies taken too far and ruined by the extra schmaltz and sugar and just general fillings of shinola.

As a document of Jacko's career, the five-disc box set (including concert DVD which I, admittedly, didn't watch) is a solid retrospective. It's missing some of the best music from the early/mid period, but that's the nature of the beast. In order to leave room for the later crap, some of the actual quality music had to be left on the cutting room floor.

All in all, this is worth grabbing from the library if you don't want to go out and buy the entirety of Bad and Thriller and some Jackson 5 greatest hits album, but you'd probably be better off dropping the bucks for the three separate purchases rather than the one massive incomplete document.



I don't know that I'd ever taken the time to listen to much more than a song or two from Sammy Davis, Jr. A take of "Mr. Bojangles" here and a "Candyman" there, but never a full disc. Turns out that four discs was too much for me. For me, I enjoy Sammy more as an entertainer - on screen, joking, singing, maybe a little dancing - that I do as a straight out singer.

If you're a Sammy fan, then Yes I Can is probably for you. Me, I think I dig him as a member of the Rat Pack more.

January 10, 2007

Kitchen gadgets galore

Stay away from the red milk.

The red milk is bad.

But it would be so cool if labels on food could change color to indicate the state of their freshness. It's an idea that appears to be heading toward us - at least according to the article titled Top 10 Strangest Kitchen Gadgets.

They bring us combo toaster/kettles, refrigerators with space for a mini keg, combo refrigerator/oven/dishwashers, tetris timers, and - my favorite - #2, the interactive LED table. I think I know what I want for Christmas next year, folks. It's the table. I'm all about the table...

January 9, 2007

Watch out! A collecting Rhino!

Rhino records has a reasonably new division: Rhino Handmade. It's a division that produces small-batch product, targeted at pretty select collectors. The albums aren't particularly pricey (barely more than a normal cd at the store), but they're definitely limited edition stuff.

I'm talking about reprints of jazz classics, collections of unreleased gems from the vaults, gatherings of psychodelic pop, loads and loads of stuff.

January 8, 2007

A never-ending battle

Interesting article in the Cincy Enquirer over the weekend. The article reports on an incident that came down a few weeks before Christmas break at the old high school. Our school newspaper (avoid their website's opening page like the plague - or at least turn your sound down before you check it) printed an article that raised a few hackles and was pulled from the issue (the page with the article was physically ripped out of two thousand or so copies) before the issue was distributed to our students.

The article was an opinion article written by the young man shown on the right of this blog post - a student of mine - and was critical of our football team - particularly of some of the coaching decisions made in this year's fall campaign. The article - which I will admit to having read (according to the Enquirer article, it's available on Facebook and MySpace) - began factually enough, citing the far-from-spectacular record of the football team in the past few years, and continued to question some of the offensive choices made by the coaching staff this year.

According to the Enquirer article, the article was pulled at the decision of our principal (likely after consultation with central office staffers) because - and I'm being careful to quote the Enquirer article here...
The article included some highly critical passages, such as, "It's hard to watch them play. It looks like a flag football game except that they still can't score .... The once mighty powerhouse of the city is now the doormat."

Mackey said the article would have damaged morale, because it is one student or group of students criticizing another group.

We "felt the kid was putting himself out there for some serious ridicule potentially," Mackey said.

"You're dealing with a very large football squad, not in stature but in numbers. You've got one kid putting his neck out there. It may not be in his best interest to have that article. This is not a threat, but it creates an attitude and a situation between kids. You'd have a lot of staff noses out of joint as well."
While I can certainly agree with the final statement - that many staff noses were out of joint regarding the pulling of the article - I find the rest of the statement interesting. While our principal declined to comment for the Enquirer article, the superintendent's clearly carefully chosen words suggest that the article would have damaged morale and put one student in line for "some serious ridicule potentially".

I do see the possibility that the article could have been divisive - and I know that at least one staff member suggested in private that the article might have been stronger if a corresponding article had been printed in which the opposing viewpoint - that the football team is improving and is helping a number of our students to become better young men. But I certainly hadn't considerd the option that the withdrawl (it's tough to keep trying to find different ways to say that the article was pulled without saying it was censored - because of the pejorative connotation that word brings) could have been to protect the writer of the article.

---

My closing thoughts about the issue...
  • I was impressed with how even-handed and obviously (to me, at least) well thought out all of the statements in the Enquirer article were. Clearly, Ruth and Achilles, Mr. Mackey and the Paynes, took time before offering their statements to the Enquirer reporter - likely a very wise choice.
  • Odin's Word has become a much more impressive, challenging publication under its current advisor. It is not a publication without room for improvement ,but I have been rather impressed with the totality of what is being put out each month.
  • I have, personally, been very leery of commenting in this forum in regards to this issue and am, in fact, still being very careful to choose my words. This blog is a piece of my personal work, but I have chosen, also, to link it from my school webpages. This is a choice that I have made for numerous reasons - foremost among them that I enjoy being able to provide a more personal side of myself to my students who choose to look for it. I am not foolish enough, however, to believe that what I write here can be written fully and totally without consequences. I make sure to post only things that I feel will not endanger my employement at Princeton High Shcool (if you haven't gotten the impression that I enjoy working at Princeton a whole heck of a lot, you haven't been paying attention), and I attempt to offer my opinions on controversial issues only while providing some semblance of balance. These choices are, admittedly, made knowing that making other choices could have consequences related to that employement.

    As I close this post, I wonder if all of that doesn't sum up the entire issue related to the censorship of this student article. You and I and the Odin's Word staffers are free to say or write anything that we want. Our country is founded on such an ideal. It is one of our freedoms that is most near and dear to my heart and to our continued survival at a free people. That freedom, however, does not mean that our speech is without consequences. Just as I choose my words carefully because I know that offering my fully unvarnished opinion on some issues could result in the loss of my job, the Odin's Word staffers are learning that their exercise of freedom of speech (and, in their case, of the press) is not without consequences. That our actions have consequences is one of the hardest lessons for people (I almost wrote young people but thought better because I know of adults who have not entirely learned such a lesson) to learn as well as one of the most important.
  • If the publication and subsequent deletion of the article does nothing else, it opens the debate over our freedoms and their consequences for our students, staff, and community members. There is certainly value in that, because we must constantly evaluate and defend our freedoms if we are to value and keep them.
PS - Because of the delicacy of this issue as well as the closeness to it of some of my regular blog readers, I have chosen to not allow comments - something that perhaps deserves to be debated just as I just previously suggested that censorship (which the blocking of comments certainly is, I know) must be constantly debated. I both apologize for this and hope that you understand and respect my choice in doing so. If you would like to discuss this further with me, I would be more than willing to do so. But I will chose to not do so in this forum.