Thursday, June 29, 2006

Best Of 2006 Part 1

In December, I published a post with links to what I thought were my best posts for 2005. As the midpoint of 2006 arrives, I’ve decided that an entire blogging year is a little too long to go without some self-indulgent navel-gazing, so I’ve decided to make my Best Of posts semi-annual. You try to love all your children and its hard to narrow down dozens of posts to a few that are representative, but I’ll try.

Ted Forth, My Hero and Sally’s Hero: Ted Forth, Part Deaux. I really do like Sally Forth the strip and that’s not just because Ces indulges my little tweaking. I probably have one or two more posts on this sly family strip, but I try to pace myself.

Teenage Girl President Casting Call. I’ve also set my sights on Ces’s webcomic with my list of real life actresses that could play Teenage Girl President. Since I’ve posted that tongue-in-cheek list, I’ve been getting LostGoogler® hits for the phrase “casting call” in combination with any of the tweener shows I name checked. Some of the more irony impaired ones leave earnest comments wanting me to help them out get an audition. I think that is WAY more disturbing than any creepy vibe the original post may have had.

National Crappy Comics Competition. While still talking about comics, The NCCC™ is actually 11 posts all strung together over a three-week period. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of cross linking them so that you can start anywhere and follow along, since they aren’t nearly as funny in reverse chronological blog order.

Bradley Cooper On Broadway and Stalking Julia. Both posts are both about my trip to New York to see the poorly reviewed but still profitable Three Days Of Rain. It was a thrill to get Julia Robert’s and the rest of the cast’s autograph. It even got a link from a Dutch blog. While I’m still metaphorically gay for Bradley Cooper, I’m not so sure about some of the LostGooglers®.

Granite Kitchen Countertops. My funny-only-to-me attempt at GoogleBombing® is starting to gain some momentum. Thanks to rashbre, Jane, loudfan, and all you other good sports for indulging me. For the rest of you, a few more incoming links wouldn’t hurt.

Really Desperate Housewife and Brandy’s Back. My two posts about the over-educated Howard County hooker are my favorites. For one thing, there is real content in it. I was the only blog or web source for Dr. Brandy Britton’s alleged new escort service. I would like to think that the more than 200 hits the "Cultured Companion" got from my blog had a part in it eventually going 404. Also, the comments section for that post has taken a life of its own and now serves as a support group and information clearinghouse for Brandy-haters.

Reviewing my archive I realize how celebrity obsessed I appear, having done posts about Melissa Etheridge, Jessica Alba, Johnny Weir, Neil Gaiman, the Clintons and Bushes, and, of course, Angelina Jolie.

I’ve also done a lot of travel related blogging including my three part post about our trip to France in the footsteps of Dan Brown, as well as reminisces about New Orleans and DisneyWorld. As I will make clear soon, there is going to be a more travel blogging later this month. I will continue to post about music, books, bookstores, intellectual property and whatever random thoughts cross my head. And we will try to go for a second annual NaJuReMoNoMo in January. Thanks for reading and giving me an audience.

Blatant Call For BlogWhoring™: What was the favorite post of yours or someone else so far for 2006?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's The Humidity

Yesterday, the air conditioner in my part of the office conked out and spent the day pumping warm moist air into the office. At 4 pm, it was 79 degrees and 83% relative humidity in the building. That equates to a dew point of 73 degrees, which in technical terms is very soggy. To understand how humid this is, there are only about 100 hours a year in Baltimore when it is more humid outside than it was at my desk yesterday.

I only trust weather reports that measure humidity in dew point. Relative humidity is complete bullpucks, because it is, duh, relative. Relative humidity tends to be higher in the evening and early morning, like around the eleven o'clock news, because it is cooler outside. The weatherman gets to say "It is 95% relative humidity right now" when maybe it just rained or just wasn't that hot. Dew point is the real deal. Dew point is the temperature at which your drink will start sweating. A mild day will have dewpoints in the 50's or 60's. Anything in the 70's, I consider muggy.

Some of my coworkers were threatening to strip down to speedos from the intolerable working conditions. Having visited Vietnam last summer, I laughed at the humidity. Nothing is more humid than an un-airconditioned museum in Hanoi during June. Dewpoints in Vietnam regularly climb over 80 and we had plenty of them when we were there.

This is a good place to plug my other blog called Asia Trip 2005. It doesn't get a lot of traffic, but I do put a lot of work into posting pictures with little vignettes from our trip. I have started posting some video clips to YouTube for use on my blog, and the videos get more viewings from YouTube than the blog itself.

This summer we will be putting the heat versus humidity debate to the test when we drive across the Southwest on vacation. I'll report back then which is worse and why.

Blatant CommentWhoring™: What place has the worst weather that you've been in?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Oxford Memories

Whenever I go on vacation, I tend to visit college campuses and bookstores in whatever town I am visiting. These are not the usual tourist attractions, but I like them because they are pretty and relaxing and they give me a warm feeling of tranquility and intellectual challenge. Serendipitously, colleges and good bookstores they are often found near each other.

When we visited the San Francisco Bay area a few years ago, we stopped for the afternoon at the University of California campus in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and walked down to the Cody’s Books on Telegraph Road. It was a delightfully chaotic store full of light with a rough-hewn charm. My son found a book he had been looking for and I bought from a street vendor a tie-dyed tee shirt that screams “Souvenir of Berkeley” much louder than anything with actual words on it.

Sue Trowbridge recently off-handedly mentioned that the Telegraph Road branch of Cody’s was going out of business. I’m sorry to see it go. For a few decades now, independent bookstores have been falling like canaries in a mine disaster.

A bookstore I miss tremendously is Oxford Books in Atlanta and I’m not the only one. When I first discovered it while in college, it was just an oversized strip center store with a very small narrow mezzanine that served coffee, pastries, and Dr Browns sodas. Nowadays every self-respecting bookstore has to have a snack bar, but back then this was a major innovation. Oxford was my favorite late night haunt. On weekends I think it was open very late, until 1 am or something. It was in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center between Midtown and Buckhead which made it very convenient to swing by after dinner or a movie and browse. I spent many a late weekend night with my future wife just browsing and soaking up the atmosphere.

Then it expanded into the space next door, nearly doubling in size. Up at the top of the parking lot, right off of fabled Peachtree Street, there was a large old house that became Oxford Too. This became my favorite haunt. The front of the store had aisles of remaindered and discount books. Then there was an enormous used books section. Oxford Too also had comic books and sheet music, but the draw for me was the separately walled off collectible book section. This portion kept irregular hours at the whim of the manager that maintained it, but it had rows of vintage science fiction and contemporary literature. As a college student, this stuff was well out of my price range, but it gave me ambition.

After I graduated and moved out of town, the entire Oxford establishment moved into an old car dealership on Pharr Road. This location was simply enormous and became the literary center of Atlanta. There would be multiple books signings by famous authors daily. The little coffeshop had grown into a full-size restaurant. Individual departments had rooms as big as the original store. The owner of Oxford was trying to go toe-to-toe with the BigBoxOfBooks™ chains that had cornered him in that area.

Then Oxford became a business school case study in how not to manage growth in an economic downswing. I wasn’t around to watch the fall, but I was shocked and dismayed to hear that such an institution could be brought down so suddenly and thoroughly. Now at the original Peachtree Battle location there is a branch of an independent mini-chain ironically called Chapter 11 Books. I have no idea whether there is any association karmic-ly or otherwise with Oxford, but the name alone stands as an Ozymandias -like warning.

Nowadays, my whole family will spend several hours on a weekend night at the local BigBoxOfBooks™ thumbing through magazines, reading manga (Well, at least my son. A bookstore manga aisle is a hotter teen-dweeb spot than Xanga.), and drinking over-priced highly-caffeinated milkshakes. The experience is pleasant and relaxing. And sterile. Nothing will ever replace the charm and haphazard joy of the legendary Oxford Books.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is or was your favorite bookstore?

Update: I've added this picture of the tower at Berkeley because I ran across it going through old photos. Unfortunately, I don't have picture of Cody's or Oxford.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I AM Medium Large Guy

I have been stalking a fan of Francesco Marciuliano for quite awhile, having milked his comic strip Sally Forth for a couple of posts as well as my take on Teenage Girl President. He’s a good sport about it, particularly since he has his webcomic Medium Large as an outlet for his darker jokes, like ones involving robots eating humans (wait until HUAR hears about this).

Medium Large features a nameless observer with the vocabulary of Harpo Marx, less the horn. Medium Large Guy, as he is known, spends a lot of time planted on the couch watching the Medium Large Network. In addition to its tentpole series, TGP, MLN is host to such sub-CW fare as Victorian Era Superhero and T.O.D.D. and Son.

In a fit of quickly forgotten whimsy, Ces decided to hold a Medium Large Guy Look Alike Contest. Since I had no hope in the Finger Quotin’ Margo Contest over at Comics Curmudgeon, I broke out the camera, found a suitably generic shirt and took a couple of stabs at it. I e-mailed them to Ces well ahead of the deadline and that reminded him that he was actually running a contest. In his words:

The Medium Large Guy Summer Look-Alike Contest is in full-swing. Alas, it has not been fully promoted for quite some time, resulting in a rather infrequent entry rate.
I take that to mean that so far I have been the only entrant. Ces did admire my attention to detail.

Note the dead-eyed stare. The glass of indeterminate liquid. The rabbit ears on the TV. The pallor! Clearly M. Yellojkt is determined to win this contest. Either that or his wife just snapped a photo of him in his usual habitat and demeanor.
I’m not much of a thespian, but I did my best to capture that eye-glazed ennui. I object to the description of my complexion. I’m part Irish, what am I supposed to do? Inspired by my enthusiasm, the contest has been extended to July 30. So if you can manage a slack-jawed look of bored bemusement and own a black shirt, you can try to top me.

I actually sent in a few other pictures that captured the same scene with different lighting and expressions. Here I went for that metaphorically soul-sucking Poltergeist television glow by closing the blinds and turning off the flash.

As part of my method acting, I also tried to figure out what Medium Large Guy watches. Since MLG is at least partially a sub-conscious manifestation of Ces’s obsession with cheesy pop-culture, I figure the Mr T animated series would be on MLG’s daily viewing.

Or QVC could be a cause of that drowsy-lidded look of quiet desperation.

Of course, it could be just insomnia-induced fatigue from waiting for Cheryl Haskwell to make an appearance like this Cheryl look-alike.

Of course, trying to art direct the foreshortened perspective of the comic is not without hazards. Here, the TV nearly tips off the ottoman as I try to replicate the preternatural gravity-defying tilt of the original.

Have I crossed a line in my obsession with a surreal slightly off-kilter webcomic? I think not, but then again I have been wrong about these things before. After all, I did go to the trouble of recreating the tableaux from MLG during the week of Christmas 2005.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Which of these photos is the best?

Bonus Blatant Comment Whoring™: What comic strip character do you most resemble?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Missing Suck

Hit And Run, RIP
This week, both Slate and are celebrating their 10th anniversaries of being online. Slate is being deliberately contrarian as is their almost stereotypical modus operandi. The folks are looking back nostalgically at the dawn of the internet era. Even Joel Achenbach is crowing about his contribution to cyberspace and moaning about the challenges of bringing new humorous content to the web every day. Both of these websites deserve some respect for their vision and determination. But one website predated even them.

I would instead like to mark a different sort of anniversary. A little over five years ago on June 8, 2001, went fishing and never came back. It didn’t even make it’s sixth year anniversary, let alone the tenth, which would have been last August. Matt Sharkey has written the definitive history of its short chaotic life. Amazingly the full site is still available, frozen in amber complete with archives.

Suck was one of my first “must read” sites on the internet. It’s motto was “A Fish. A Barrel. A Smoking Gun.” It took an iconoclastic look at the internet, technology, pop culture, publishing, or any other topic deserving ridicule. In many ways it was an online soulmate of Spy Magazine, fitting in well with my cynical world view.

Suck had a lot of bloggish features that marked it as being way ahead of its time. When many websites were (and many still are) garish splashes of every possible color with little boxes all over the page gasping for attention, Suck had centered text double-spaced down the center of the page. Links to recent articles were in the left column and other stuff filled the right column. It was a masterpiece of legible web design and a style that deserves to be emulated. The Google home page takes distinct clues from the uncluttered simplicity of Suck.

It also had fresh new original content daily, which was rare in the online world back then. Most other sites had a home page with links to infrequently updated new content. Suck put the new stuff right on the front page every day, making it very sticky and addictive. My day wasn’t over until I saw the new article (blogpost wasn't even a word yet).

The most brilliant part of the site were the inline hypertext links. Sometimes they were an important part of the article, other times they led to some side issue, but often they were just a bit of whimsy that added an entire new layer to the humor. Unfortunately banner ads and pop-ups have conditioned us not to click on links, but the links were the icing of the rich moist cake that was Suck.

Without Suck, there would not have been Defamer or Gawker or Wonkette. Especially Wonkette. Ana Marie Cox wrote under the nom de joke Ann O’Tate at Suck and took that “we’re barely sober here” style to Washington with her. Another great writer was Heather Havrilesky and her alter ego, the drunk, bitter, lonely Polly Esther, who teamed with the inimitable Terry Colon. Their cartoons mocked corporate life in the technology world in a way that makes Dilbert look like Family Circus. I still get a nostalgic tear every time I see Colon's artwork in Time or Esquire or some other bastion of the MainStreamMedia™.

Suck's alumni are now strewn across cyberspace, where they continue to write funny good stuff, but that once in a lifetime lightning in a bottle has escaped. I still surf my favorite sites daily for a chuckle or a snarky observation and there are plenty of sites that provide them.
But, sometimes I just miss Suck.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Who Owns My Words?

Who owns the words you put on your blog? The answer may surprise you. In internet parlance, the abbreviation IANAL means “I am not a lawyer” and usually prefaces the phrase “, but…” as the beginning of a pseudo-legal diatribe. Well, I never could grow the dorsal fin, so IANAL, but…

There is a subtle land grab going on in the intellectual property cyberspace wild west. Read over this excerpt from the Myspace Terms of Service:

By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content, messages, text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, profiles, works of authorship, or any other materials (collectively, "Content") on or through the Services, you hereby grant to, a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense through unlimited levels of sublicensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, and distribute such Content on and through the Services. This license will terminate at the time you remove such Content from the Services.

I take this to mean that anything you put on MySpace can be used by them for anything they want for free. The last sentence is about the only protection that keeps News Corp (the owners of MySpace and Fox Television) from putting out a “Best Of” album featuring all those indie-bands that are using the viral social network to bypass that atherosclerotic albatross that commercial radio has become. It also lets you use your own stuff anywhere else because the click-license is non-exclusive.

Compare this to the phrases used by on their blogs:

6. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

I don’t know whether the WaPo lawyers are dumber or smarter than the ones for MySpace but the key difference is that the Post estracts an exclusive license. Once you post a comment on the Achenblog, they own it forever and if you want to produce a book with your collected wit and wisdom, you need to cut in Katherine Graham’s estate or at the very least negotiate a sub-license from Tom Jim Brady or Cifford Sloan.

My Fathers Day post was based on a Boodle comment I made awhile back that I thought would make a nice expanded post of my own. The Post can claim to own my words, but they can’t take my memories away. I defy them to come after me.

Under these poorly written Discussion Guidelines (that have been re-written at least once to correct an obvious contradiction), you cannot “promote commercial entities.” I guess it’s a violation if I say I had a good meal at a particular restaurant or I really liked George Will’s latest Newseek column. Joel Achenbach had better be careful about further plugs for Chateau Nehicola.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Why My Dad Flies

Career military life is no picnic. I am an eyewitness to that. We lived at six different places between when I was born and when I graduated high school because my dad’s career as a pilot demanded it. Despite all the moving, I don’t think our life was any better or worse than any of the other suburban middle class families we always lived around. I know a lot of children of civilians that moved much more often than I did. And I can't say I ever truly wanted for anything I genuinely needed.

Why did my dad do it? Simple, he loves to fly. He was an F-4 Phantom II fighter jock through and through. In junior high, my friends and I would drop in at the squadron building and mooch sodas. The only price was having to watch grainy gun camera footage from his latest exercise.

My dad served a year in Vietnam and had friends shot down and taken POW. Before the Shah fell, he delivered an F-4 to the Imperial Iranian Air Force and brought home an impressive samovar. I like to call him has an Iranian gun-runner, which is only true when taken entirely out of context. He also had a one year unaccompanied tour in Korea while I was in tenth grade. All my friends thought my mom was a single parent, which in a way she was.

When he was assigned to fly a GSD (Gray Steel Desk), he used his GI Bill benefits to get a commercial pilot's license. On his last tour of duty in Hawaii, he moonlighted as a pilot for an island hopper service. As soon as he was retired, he drove cross country and interviewed at every airline and eventually got hired by TWA, where he flew 747's and 727's for another ten years.

When he was laid off from TWA for six months, I hooked him up with a pilot buddy of his I had met who ran a small courier flying service. Now that he is truly retired, he owns a vintage Stinson Flying Station Wagon (flying VW Beetle would be a more accurate size comparison), which he takes to flying shows. He has shown it at Oshkosh, and he volunteers at Sun-N-Fun in Lakeland every year. On the weekends, he flies the tow-plane for a soaring glider club.

He has spent his life doing what he loves and raised three children at the same time. What more can a man ask for? And what better dad could a son have?

For stories about dads and roadtrips, read Joel Achenbach’s Father’s Day post. Be sure to read the follow-up stories and anecdotes along with the usual foolishness and fooforaw in the Boodle (comment section for you non-Achenoscenti). I even contributed one tale.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Internet Is For Viral Videos

Warning: Links on this page may my unsuitable for work or in the presence of someone without a sense of humor.

When going to Broadway shows, one of our dilemmas is always whether or not to bring our son to a show. At first, the issue was content. We would only see mature shows like Cabaret when he was at camp or visiting his grandparents. The turning point was when he was fourteen and I wanted to see Avenue Q, which I knew was a little risqué. Avenue Q is an R-rated parody of Sesame Street where young adult puppets deal with the problems of real life including unrequited love, casual sex, latent racism, closeted homosexuality and the soul-sucking horror of starting a career.

We were prepared for a little inappropriate material, but the depth of depravity exhibited by these carpet remnants stunned even us. My wife said that if she knew the puppets had such graphic sex, she might have thought twice about bringing our son. I mean these puppets do things I have never done. My son laughed through the whole show and I was not about to ask what he did or did not get.

After that we never worried about content, just interest. As he gets older we feel safer leaving him at the hotel for a few hours while we see a show that would just bore him to tears. It’s cruel to inflict Little Women or The Woman in White on a male teenager. It’s bad enough he nearly got bitch slapped by one of the more flamboyant drama students at his school when my son let slip he had seen Wicked with the original cast.

A while back, fellow Achenblog Boodler, bc, had on his blog a link to a video where somebody had synched characters from World of Warcraft to a song from Avenue Q called “The Internet is for Porn”. In this ditty, Trekkie Monster educates poor naïve Kate Monster on what people really do with their computers. I showed the video to my son since he is a big Warcraft player and he thought it was a hoot.

Then last week, Sarcasmo had on her blog a link to the same song, but sung by X-Men characters, particularly Wolverine and Storm. This was just amazing.

I got curious about what other versions were out there. There’s a journalism joke that it takes three examples to declare a trend. After a little GoogleSearching®, its clear that mashing up videos to Avenue Q songs, and “The internet Is For Porn” in particular, is clearly a trend. YouTube has three pages of different versions. Some are just people in their house lip-syncing to the song, some others are home-made animation, but anime mash-ups are most popular. The Naruto version (a show my son watches) is particularly good. If you want to see the original, this video is a bootleg taping of an actual performance. And I have to warn you not to watch all the links at one sitting. The tune cootie could be fatal.

There is something deliciously geeky and wicked in taking clips to dorkfest musicals and editing them to a song as delightfully twisted as “The Internet Is For Porn.” Afterall, that is what the internet is for.

BlatantComment Whoring™: What is your favorite viral video?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Broadway Triage

As I mentioned before, we’re planning a trip at Thanksgiving to see the revival of A Chorus Line, and I’m not sure if or what else to see while in New York. Broadway shows are expensive and for me require lodging in New York which is rebounding price-wise from it's post 9/11 slump.

We got a fantastic bargain at the Waldorf Astoria in October of 2001. We had tickets to a matinee and were just going to daytrip it, but we answered Mayor Guilianni's call to spend money in New York as our patriotic duty. Lately because my wife teaches, we are stuck visiting during peak tourist season around the holidays where hotel bargains are few and far between.

I like to fit in several things when we're in New York like museums or unique dining or just sightseeing. Often times I will build a trip around a theme. Once we saw all the locations used in the movie Serendipity, including the titular dessert shop. If we are going up to see a show, I will check for bargains or overlooked events to piggyback onto the main event. Part of my entertainment triage is trying to prioritize what to see when. Here’s a rough breakdown of the categories I would place shows I’ve seen in.

Gotta See: Things that just based on advance word I had to see – Hairspray, Mamma Mia (in Toronto before the New York debut), Spamalot, The Odd Couple, Three Days Of Rain, and The Producers (with Lane and Broderick).

Good Buzz: Heard great things, let’s see it while we can still get tickets – Avenue Q, Wicked, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Assassins, and The Boy From Oz.

While We’re In The Neighborhood: We’re in New York anyways; lets see a show – Phantom Of The Opera, The Lion King (actually the Toronto production), Saturday Night Fever, Cabaret, and The Full Monty.

What A Bargain: Impulse purchase at TKTS or great deals on off-Broadway shows – Thoroughly Modern Millie, By Jeeves, Altar Boyz (not to be confused with Jersey Boys), Blue Man Group, The Musical of Musicals, and Forbidden Broadway.

Not Worth It:
Wish I had saved my money – The Woman in White, Little Women, and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.

Take A Pass: I waited for the touring company or the regional production – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Whistle Down The Wind (which never actually made it to Broadway), The Producers (without Lane and Broderick), and Urinetown.

Actually if I had to see only one regional production last year, and I did see only one, the Signature Theater staging of Urinetown was the one to see. It swept the local theater awards and was said to be as good or better than the original Broadway run.

I have seen a rumor that High Fidelity is being adapted for the stage. Since I’m a huge Nick Hornby fan, if that rumor pans out I’m calling in my chits and putting that at the top of the list.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Do you see live theater, and if so, what shows have you liked?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tone Deaf Tonys

I believe I am the only straight man in North America that every year watches the Tony awards instead of the NBA playoffs. For the first time since I have become a Raging Broadway Queen™, I haven’t had a dog in the fight come Tony time. The shows I saw this year, which included The Odd Couple, The Woman in White, and Three Days Of Rain, were pretty much snubbed in extreme prejudice. So this year, the point was to watch the production numbers and decide if there was anything worth catching up on when we go to New York on our fall pilgrimage.

We once saw a touring company of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and nearly half of the audience left at intermission. I asked a theater buff friend (also the World’s Biggest Cher Fan) how a Tony-winning show could be so bad. He just said that some years are better than others and they have to give the award to something. By all accounts, this was that type of lackluster year on Broadway. The big showdown was between Jersey Boys, a jukebox musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and The Drowsy Chaperone, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to bad musicals from the 1920s. Drowsy Chaperone won more awards, but Jersey Boys took home the big prizes including Best Musical, which sort of surprised me. When was the last time, if ever, a show without an original score won best musical?

I like my comedy on the dark side and my wife runs from anything described as a black comedy. I called my son in during the Sweeney Todd clip to see if he was interested in a show about a cannibalistic barber. He was game. My wife said, “Go ahead, just get me tickets to Jersey Boys instead.” I’m taking that as a “no” to Sweeney. Jersey Boys has gotten good reviews and since they won two acting awards I would prefer to see it with the original cast, but I’m still not sold on seeing a show of sappy doo-wop songs from my dad’s era.

The Drowsy Chaperone looked too much like Thoroughly Modern Millie (which has been called the worst Best Musical ever) for my wife. The Wedding Singer looked cute, especially since it’s set in the 80s and I was married in 1986. I’m just not sure that it will be still playing by the time I get around to seeing it and it's starting a tour next year, so I may just wait for it to come to me. And if Sweeney Todd looked dark, Threepenny Opera was pitch black. The Color Purple got a surprise win in the Best Actress category, but that isn’t going to make we want to see it anymore than I have already, which is not at all.

All-in-all, nothing I saw at the Tonys made me grab the laptop to order tickets. I think I’ll wait for the next round of shows to open and take my chances with them. Because that sure beats getting stuck watching this year’s version of Edwin Drood.

Update (6/14/06): For a way cattier and more comprehensive review of the Tonys, check out the hilarity at the Bloody Red Carpet. They have a picture of Julia Roberts much better than my poor paparazzi shot. In an act of humility, Julia called the huddled starving masses that don't make 20 million a movie "insanely talented". And just so I get a few GeekGoogle®Hits, I had forgotten that in addition to turning Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side, Emperor Palpatine won a Tony for Best Featured Actor In A Play.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dance 10, Looks D-Cup

In a titillating Washington Post article today titled Body Suit by Sarah Kaufman that seemed to be timed to coincide with Tony award coverage, a dancer is suing the producers of Moving Out for firing her after she came back from an injury-related leave one bra cup size bigger than when she left. At age 29, Alice Alysa claims her hooters just moved up and the show moved her out. She is suing for ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS (as Dr. Evil would say) over the loss of her $130k a year chorus line job.

She claims she’s just an entertainer that wanted to be a dancer for the longest time. This need for physical perfection is part of the pressure to become a big shot uptown girl and achieve a New York state of mind. I’m sure dancers in Allentown don’t go to extremes like that when they say goodbye to Hollywood. She now lives in Miami, but doesn’t want to be stuck there until 2017. Judging by her publicity photos, she’s always a woman to me and can start the fire anytime she wants.

The paper quotes Billy Joel as saying:

Under no circumstances would I ever have anyone fired for having breasts that were too large.

And I think most of us would agree with that mildly lecherous assessment. From a guys point of view, the bigger the better when it comes to funbags. She says that this is the way nature made her and she’s not going to have surgery just to fit in with the chorus line. The article spends a lot of time talking about how strict physical appearance requirements are for theater and dance. I understand that for something like the Rockettes, but Moving Out is a modern dance show set to Billy Joel tunes and nobody is forming up in a kick step line where her boobies would be blocking the view of the other dancers. It seems like a petty dispute about trying to make molehills out of mountains.

I’ve known that bodacious tatas were a detriment to a dancer’s career since I was about ten because I read that in A Gift Of Magic by Lois Duncan. In it, the heroine’s sister says she will never become a great dancer because of her big chest. To a fifth-grader, this is a bigger eye-opening revelation than the money shot in Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.

My college roommate’s favorite show tune was “Looks 10, Dance 3”. The song, which despite Gene Weingarten’s ignorance (search for "dance") is not called “Tits and Ass”, actually suggests that dancers get their ladybumps enlarged in order to get more parts. Obviously, real life on the Great Flat-Chested White Way works differently.

And I namedrop A Chorus Line, because that is my wife’s favorite musical. We’ve seen the movie starring Michael Douglas, and we saw a very good high school production of it at Atlanta’s School For Performing Arts. I swear we have even seen a very bad touring company of it, but my wife doesn’t remember it. Her dream has always been to see it on Broadway with the full “One Singular Sensation” razzmatazz.

The show is being revived on Broadway this fall in a futile misguided attempt to chase Phantom Of The Opera for most Broadway performances ever. Super Secret Advance Internet Tickets went on sale last week and we scarfed up fourth row aisle seats for Thanksgiving weekend. I think we got them just in the nick of time since the show was being heavily advertised on the Tony Awards.

Since this post is long enough already and I’ve run out of Billy Joel allusions and breast euphemisms, I’ll stop here and give my take on the Tonys a little later in the week. Let’s just say The Drowsy Chaperone can go back to sleep and I won’t be taking the exit for the Jersey Boys.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Michele Sent Me

If you run into a blog with comments that keep referring to Michele, you know you have stumbled onto a blogfriend of Michele Agnew. In the sociological lore that led to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, Stanley Milgram determined that we are all connected, but some of us are more connected than others. These people are known as, duh, “connectors”.

In the blogosphere, Michele is a super-connector. She has over 450 names and growing on her blogroll and all she asks for is a linkback and occasional commenting on her site. And it’s a popular site: #571 on TTLB, #4428 on Technorati, and most impressively, 147,748 on Alexa.

The site itself is bare bones elegant, simple, and uncluttered. The sidebar has a 4k jpg, site info links, her massive blogroll, and the archive. There are no weather pixies or webpets or silly things. And no ads. Let me repeat that: no ads. Any site I know of with a fraction of the traffic of hers has ads somewhere. This blog is a true labor of love.

There are several posts a day, all inviting comments from the readers. It’s not unusual to have several posts get dozens of comments in a single day. These are usually breezy, light and occasionally thought provoking. The real draw is The Comment Game. Here she picks a blog and random and directs everyone to make a comment on that blog and the blog of the last person to make a comment. Being Site Of The Day is a big deal. I was SOTD way back on September 14 of last year and I got about 35 comments from MicheleManiacs over two posts, which was stunning for my little blog and it took my game up a whole level.

And on weekends, it's the The Three Day Meet N' Greet and everyone just throws their keys into the middle of the living room and Michele's becomes a floating cyber swap party with everyone just running around visiting everyone else. It’s very addictive and not unusual for the weekend post to get several hundred comments.

A GoogleSearch for her trademark phrase “Michele sent me” gets nearly 40,000 hits. Variations such as “here from Michele’s” and “here via Michele” add about 20,000 more. That is a lot of commenting going on.

The comment games are a great way to sample new blogs and find ones you like. Ten of the blogs on my Blogroll are also on Michele’s. If anything, that’s the one weakness. You tend to keep coming across the same heavy players time and time again. And they skew to the mommyblog-ish. Heck, 23 of the blogs in her blogroll have some variation of “mom” right in the title. But they all tend to be good people and active bloggers.

Her regular comment features can be silly, but often require some pretty confessional thought. But what do we know about Michele Agnew? Not much. Her “About Me” page is newspaper horoscope vague. I do know she is Canadian, works somehow in the advertising or publishing industry and has a Mr. Wonderful in her life. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention, but I have no idea how old she is, what color her hair is, or if those are her real legs.

She does love reading. Her booklist is longer and more highbrow than mine can ever hope to be. She is also a real person that left a comment on my blog when I did a book review.

If you already know about Michele, you know how much fun her site is. If you have never heard of her, go check it out. And say “yellojkt sent me.”

Blatant Comment Whoring™: How did you hear about Michele?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Kitchen Countertop Confidential

My last post about some script hijacking a blog post of mine has two ironies I find amusing. The first is the obvious one that the bot creating the phony blog used a post about a television show called Kitchen Confidential in an attempt to get links for people looking for Granite Kitchen Countertops. The second irony is that I had long been considering a post of my own about Granite Kitchen Countertops.

We’ve lived in our townhome for about seven years and really haven’t done a lot of improvement projects. One my wife had always wanted was to replace the crappy contractor grade laminate countertops with something a little more sturdy, like Granite Kitchen Countertops. The old countertops had a lot of marks from when I was too lazy to use the cutting board and where also fairly easily stained and hard to keep clean.

When my new neighbors moved in next door, the embarked on a series of renovations that had us rolling our eyes at their zeal, but also slightly envying their determination. When a Granite Kitchen Countertop vendor showed up, my wife grabbed his card and dragged me to his Granite Kitchen Countertop shop deep in an industrial warehouse district.

The owner was a Turkish stone mason that spoke with a heavy accent. His cohort at the shop spoke no English at all. He had huge panels of granite ready for cutting. We thumbed through the 8 foot by 12 foot sheets of granite to find a color that would go with the Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne border I had put in our kitchen. We settled on an inch thick slab that had streaks of blue, black and tan. Since our kitchen isn’t very big, the cost was affordable and competitive with what Sillstone or Corian would have cost at a BigBoxOfLumber™. While the pictures don’t do it justice, the final installation really added a lot of zip to the kitchen. The most impressive feature is that the ell-shaped piece at the sink is a single piece of Granite Kitchen Countertop with no seam whatsoever.

Old Laminate Countertops

New Granite Kitchen Countertops

I am not particularly handy and I keep my home improvement projects to the easily correctible. I do try to fix plumbing problems where I can. I’m able to field strip a toilet in no time from years of practice. A while ago I had a coworker teach me enough soldering to be dangerous. When my kid was at camp, I replaced the shower valves in both bathrooms in less than a week of evenings. So once we had our new Granite Kitchen Countertops, I insisted on installing the new sink faucet and garbage disposal myself. I’m proud to say it came out fine with a minimum of foul language.

Cheap Pantry and Cupboard

New Pantry and Cabinets

We made the mistake of mentioning to the Granite Kitchen Countertop guy that we had always wanted to add a few cabinets and a pantry since our kitchen didn’t have a pantry and we had been using an old toy chest of mine for overflow storage. He said that we ought to do the cabinets as soon as possible since there would no way to match the granite color later if we delayed. That spurred a week of searching for cabinets customizable enough to fit into the space we had and still match the rather inferior grade of cabinet we already had. For a minute there I feared becoming a scene out of Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream Home. It all turned out ok as you can see. My wife finally got the broom closet she always wanted and we were able to eliminate a lot of clutter.

Old Sink

New Sink

With the new cabinets in, we thought we might like a granite ledge at the foyer pass-thru to match the one at the sink pass-thru. The Granite Kitchen Countertop guy said he might have one piece matching our granite left and he would come by to measure it up. He did and warned us it might be a few days before he could get back to install it. Then weeks passed by. I was beginning to get annoyed. I resolved to give the guy a call and force the issue.

One Friday I needed to sign a receipt and set it down on our new granite ledge that I hadn’t realized was there. I had no idea when it had been installed. I yelled up to my wife, who told me it had been there since Wednesday afternoon. She had sworn my son to secrecy and they had been snickering behind my back for two days. I’m never going to live down that testament to my absence of powers of observation.

Two more small ironies. My neighbor ended up not replacing his countertops and my wife now complains that the granite pattern hides dirt too well and it’s hard to keep the counter clean. No winning for losing.

Blatant Link Whoring™: I’ve managed to use the phrase “Granite Kitchen Countertop” nine times (now ten) in this post. Give me a little linky-love to this post and I’ll see if I can become the new center of the universe for Granite Kitchen Countertops. Just drop the following phrase inconspicuously into your blog and I’ll post an update if it results in anything amusing.

<a href="">Granite Kitchen Countertops</a>

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I’ve blogged a few times about intellectual property, most recently about the Kaavya Viswanathan book controversy, which seems to have resolved itself with shame and disgrace for everybody involved. I recently accidentally discovered that wholesale appropriation of intellectual property is of more than philosophical interest to me. If you were to do a blogsearch for “Kitchen Confidential” you may end up on this post dated April 21 which starts:

This may end up sounding like I’m gay for Bradley Cooper, especially since I’m already on the record lamenting the canceling of his show Kitchen Confidential, but the family made a special trip this weekend to see him in his Broadway…

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s from my blogpost from three days earlier also titled Bradley Cooper on Broadway, which is about an up and coming actor starring in a play with Julia Roberts, and has NOTHING to do with custom glassware or flexible bakeware or any of the other ads linked to the post. My reaction is somewhere between befuddled flattery and bemused annoyance. It does link back to my original post, which is how I found out about it, but it also hijacks my content in a completely unintentional way. Since then I have found blogjacked dopplegangers of this post for Texas divorce attorneys and this post for breast enlargement pills.

If you have ever been bored enough to scroll all the way to the footer of my blog template, you will find my disclaimer which reads:

All the ideas on this blog are mine unless I have told you otherwise. Get some ideas of your own. If you use one of mine, give me credit for it.
This has not been cleared by a lawyer, but if your are unfamilar with the concept of common law copyright, you shouldn't use that as an excuse.

I've gone ahead and added an explicit copyright notice. I don't go for these trendy Creative Commons licenses that are all the rage. If somebody wants to use my stuff, all they have to do is ask. I'm not giving my thoughts away to anyone who thinks they want them. And that includes the Washington Post.

According to Random Bytes, the one remedy which is available is to protest under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Ironically, the law designed to prevent you from ever taping a television show again is the strongest protection for the little blogger that is being robbed blind by faceless organizations.

Someone once said:

Who steals my purse, steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

I forget who said it, so just attribute it to me from now on.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Have you ever caught someone stealing content off your blog or website?

P.S. Thanks to Keb for the snazzy new logo. It looks great and is well beyond my lam3 skilz. I like to give credit where credit is due.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Bush-Clinton Tag Team Dynasty

In his Sunday Washington Post Magazine Rough Draft column She's No Lady, Joel Achenbach predicts that “the head of state will be a Bush or a Clinton until the end of time, or the year 2056, whichever comes first.” That’s a pretty bold prediction from the man that in June of 1992, called Al Gore, based on his environmental crusading, a potential candidate for 1996. A guess that was either 4 years off or 12 years off depending how you want to look at it. I wonder if a joint Clinton/Bush dynasty is even possible. The talent pool just isn’t that strong.

The presidency has two major procedural restrictions: You must be at least 35 years old (and native-born, sorry, Ah-nald) and you can only be elected twice.* Using those criteria, here is a potential timeline for the next 50 years of presidential elections.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-2017)

Should the Junior Carpetbagger from New York wrest the nomination from Al “Save The Trees, They’re Like Family To Me” Gore, she would be the first spouse of a president ever elected to the White House, which I think would give her a much larger role in selecting interns. The ceremonial role of First Gentleman has yet to delineated. In Bill’s case, I think it would seriously impact his free-ticket cadging under the regulations governing gifts to elected officials.

John Ellis "Jeb" Bush (2017-2025)

I would really love to be the fly on the wall during the sibling rivalry argument that let Dubya run for prez before Jeb, particularly since Jeb is universally acknowledged as the “smart Bush”, which is like being known as the “sober Kennedy”. It's just not that high a bar. After the shenanigans in Florida during the 2000 vote counting fiasco, Jeb will be calling in all his chads to make sure he gets his turn.

Chelsea Clinton (2025-2033)

If you assume that Neil Bush and Roger Clinton are essentially unelectable, the torch has to be passed to the next generation. The two leading contenders would have to be Barbara Bush and Chelsea Clinton. Both have fancy-schmancy degrees (Yale and Stanford, respectively) and trouble occasionally holding their liquor. For the sake of argument, let’s give Chelsea first shot since she has seniority. Chelsea at the age of 44, would be the third youngest President and the third child (as well as first daughter) of a former President. As a bonus, with both Bill and Hillary as ex-Presidents, there would be some economy of scale for Secret Service protection.

Barbara Bush (2033-2041)

Barbara is the heir apparent to the Bush political dynasty since twin sister Jenna went to a party school and is following the educator track of her mother. Not that Barbara doesn’t know how to party. Barbara would be only the second grandkid of a former President (you have to go all the way back to Benjamin Harrison for the first). I predict Barb II having to slug it out with another potential legacy candidate, Karenna Gore Schiff. Perhaps Karenna would be a little savvier about electoral college vote counting than her dad, but since we are positing a Clinton/Bush tag team, Barbara gets the nod.

George Prescott Bush (2041-2049)

By this time, even the second generation is getting a little long in the tooth. By 2040, George P would be 64 which is still a youngster by presidential standards. Particularly valuable would be his Hispanic background. By all demographic predictions, thirty years from now a good deal of the electorate will habla Espanol, or at least have parents or grandparents that do. That would make this handsome nephew of Dubya a shoo-in. Of course, he too has those “youthful indiscretions” to contend with.

Jeb Bush, Jr. (2049-2057)

In order to make Joel’s prediction ring true, for the 2048 election, either the Clinton clan has to get fertile or the Bush’s have to dig a little deeper for tenable candidates. Based on their legal problems to date, I can’t possibly imagine either of Jeb’s other two kids getting elected dogcatcher, let alone President. Of the two, Jeb Jr has the best shot for overcoming his tarnished youth as an underage canoodler and boozer. After all, in the words of Hank Williams, Jr., he’s just carrying on a family tradition. Whether the substance abuse history of big sister Noelle is enough to weigh down his campaign remains to be seen.

In summary, I don’t hold a lot of faith in the dynasty theory of American politics. Just look at the Kennedys. It’s a maxim of fortunes, financial and political, that the third generation wastes away what the first generation earns. Consider that George W. Bush is the grandson of Senator Prescott Bush, and you can draw your own conclusions there as well.

*The 22nd Amendment is actually more complicated than that, but it doesn’t affect my dystopic future history.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Search For The DaVinci Code Grail - Part 3: London and Back

In Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, Robert Langdon tracks the Holy Grail from Paris to London. On our trip in 2003, we followed the same route. Read Part 1 and Part 2 before continuing. All links are to my Flickr pictures from the trip.

Day 5

DSC00976We did not have any connections to take us to London from Paris in a private jet, so we did the next best thing, we booked seats on the Eurostar Chunnel train that connects Paris’s Gar De Nord station to London’s Waterloo terminal. Boarding the train is more like an airport than a train station. The Eurostars had their own section complete with baggage screening and customs. The first class seats were very comfortable and included meal service. If we had known that we wouldn’t have bought the awful pastries at the train station.

Once in London, we found the weather completely dreadful. It was only a few degrees above freezing and drizzling miserably. So we did the only logical thing to do and booked an open air tourbus ride. The tour did include flimsy ponchos which helped slightly. The tourbus hit all the highlights of the area including Parliament, the Tower (not London) Bridge, the London Tower (which is really more of a fort or prison), Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and St James Square.

As we passed Westminster Cathedral, I remembered why were there, to hunt for the grail. But the weather was too miserable to stop and search the inside of the grand looking church, so we returned to Picadilly Square. We wandered around lost a little, and found ourselves in a small Chinatown area. There was even the legendary Lee Ho Fook's, but we didn’t see any werewolves with or without Chinese menus in their hands. And from the rain our hair was less than perfect.

We did get some fish and chips and buy some British editions of the Harry Potter books, but we went back to Paris late that afternoon no closer to the grail than we started.

Day 6

DSC00987Back in Paris, we knew we were just spinning our wheels without some assistance from somebody more familiar with the area. We knew that Audrey Tautou, code name Amelie, knew something about the grail. To find her we went searching for her in Montmartre. Since she was often seen leaving clues around the Sacre Couer, we started there. This shiny white church on the top of the hill is the second most photogenic monument in Paris.

DSC00993From the top of the hill we wandered our way down the narrow streets to the bottom, stopping to look at one of the few remaining windmills from the hedonistic days of the Moulin Rouge. This being a family trip we did not stop to take in the naughty show within, but instead moved on to our last hope.

Montmarte also has some of the few remaining great wrought iron Metropolitan subway entrances. Since then I have been running into replicas everywhere, and someday I'll post a collection of pictures of those.

If anyplace would reveal any phantoms, it would be the Paris Opera House. Alas, while we saw Chagall’s wonderfully out of place ceiling, we knew our search for the grail was just getting colder.

Day 7

DSC01019Our time in Paris was over and we didn't get dragged into any ancient conspiracies that would overturn the fundamental tenents of a major world religion. It did whet our appetitite for the more of Paris and the rest of France. The next time we go, we will go in a more temperate time of year. And we won't bring any surly teenagers with us. We did trek down to the front of the Eiffel Tower for one more picture in front of this icon.

Paris is a beautiful city full of great sights and wonderful people. You don't need a tacky badly written conspiracy thriller to inspire a visit. Just go and enjoy.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What place have you read about that you would like to visit?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where The Geeks Are

In my last post, I made the case that a science fiction convention isn’t really all that different from any other gathering involving people in a close-knit hobby or shared interest. Now I will cover some things that are fairly unique to the sf convention community.


Balticon 01This is the stuff that makes the evening news and newspaper articles. In actuality, probably less than 10% of the attendees ever wear a costume. The real uniform is a tee shirt with a clever geeky inside joke on it. My favorite was “Han Shot First” in a Star Wars-ish font. Costuming, or cosplay, is much more prevalent at j-pop conventions like Otakon, which I got dragged to by my son back in September. The costumes at Balticon were usually very good and, for females at least, tending towards things with wings. I did not get a picture, but one guy had a dead-on Jack Sparrow outfit.

Star Trek is unfairly associated with science fiction in the general public’s mind. William Shatner’s great Saturday Night Live skit pretty much sums up the general perception of pimply virgins dressed in Vulcan drag. However, Star Trek as a cultural force is on the wane. A poster for a more media-related convention, Shore Leave 28, features mostly actors from the Stargate franchise. The whole time I was at Balticon, I only saw one Starfleet uniform, although Klingons were out in force.

Balticon 12I will go out on a limb and say that Firefly/Serenity is the current milieu of choice for costumers. Something about a sharp dressed Browncoat reeks of cool, at least by science fiction convention standards. The local fanclub chapter had a booth and there was both a stage play and a radio drama centered around the Firefly universe.


Balticon 38The pinnacle of the costuming track is the Masquerade, which is a standing room only event where costumers are judged fashion-show style. The judging is divided into experience classes and is a whole geek sub-culture all of its own. This year’s Balticon had a much stronger Masquerade than I expected. The showstopper was the seven foot tall Minotaur.

I was lucky enough to upgrade to an aisle seat for shooting pictures, but even with a zoom lens, the judges’ heads and the fast pace of some of the skits played havoc with my autofocus. I’ve put the less fuzzy pictures on my Flickr site if you want to see more.


Balticon 60Card and board gaming is a big feature at science fiction conventions. Some of the games have only a passing connection to science fiction. Popular ones include Settlers of Cataan, Munchkin, and anything that can be described as “Risk, but way more realistic.”

The gaming room also tends to be the most fragrant room at the convention. Some of the players get so involved in their games, they tend to neglect basic hygiene. Some cons post the 6-2-1 rule, which loosely paraphrased says:

  • Get six hours of sleep a night. Most events don’t start until 10 am, so that’s plenty of shuteye even if you party or game most of the night.
  • Eat at least two meals a day. The snacks in the con suite don’t count. It has to be something that you have to sit down for.
  • Take at least one shower a day. That’s per DAY, not Convention. If you wear a costume, even more often is better.

Unfortunately the shower rule is often more honored in the breach.


We didn’t have a room and just daytripped in, but after-hours is when the real socializing begins. Room parties are very common and a great way to relax and cadge free snacks. I think they are technically supposed to be dry, but a lot of hosts have a bottle or two of Romulan Ale tucked away if you ask. I feel sorry for any innocent bystanders staying at the hotel, but I’m sure the staff tries to book the larger groups together.

Groups vying for a Worldcon bid will throw parties to drum up support. A lot of parties have a theme around a show or book. These parties, as lame as they sound, are where the real interaction takes place and you can meet very interesting people. At one con, I found myself talking to a teenager with bright blue hair about the meth problem in rural Maryland.

There are a lot of other things that I haven’t talked about such as filking and LARPing that are too dorky for me to even describe adequately. Not that I should judge. Afterall, I’m on the same side of the zoo fence as they are.

In summary, science fiction conventions are not for everyone. I have been to five, which gives me a laminated lifetime membership in the Geek Club to the rest of the world, but in the SF con world, I barely qualify as a dilettante. A lot of things about convention attendees skew the standard deviation curve the same direction. SF fans do tend to me smarter and more engaged than the general public, but there are plenty of things to roll your eyes at as well. If you get a chance, give one a try. It at least gives something to talk about for years to come.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
What's the dorkiest event or activity you have been involved with and would you do it again?