Friday, February 29, 2008

Movie Blow-Out Sale

My wife showed up at home the other day with a bunch of DVDs from the local OtherBigBoxOfMovies store. I asked why so many rentals all at once and she said she bought them because the store was closing. This was on a Wednesday and the inventory clearance had started on Monday. She asked the manager how quickly the good movies had been snapped up. He told her that corporate had made one pass at the stock for things that could be sent to another store. So the movies that were left were the ones not valuable enough to throw onto a truck. And there were a lot of them.

Knowing a good thing when we saw it, my son and I headed over to make our own selections. It took us nearly an hour to browse the whole place. New releases were going for $11.25 and back catalog was $7.50 each. These prices put things at a very narrow but interesting price point. The movie had to have been something I had never bothered to see in the theater or even buy new but still interesting enough to want to watch multiple times in order to justify paying more than a standard rental. When all was said and done, our family's picks included:
  • The Prince & Me
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Happy Feet
  • Mad Max
  • Hairspray (2007)
  • Empire Records
  • Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  • La Vie En Rose
  • Paris, Je T'Aime
  • Hero
  • Thank You For Smoking
  • How I Met Your Mother - Season 1, Disc 1 and Disc 2
  • Weeds - Season 1, Disc 1 and Disc 2
I’ll let you figure out which each of us had selected. I will confess that I was the one that picked out the discs of television series episodes. My son just shook his head at me and said, “Dad, it’s just easier to get these off the web.” He had a point. Movies look good on the new HDTV, especially with the upconverting home theater DVD player I got to go with it (see this post for my latest contribution to the health of the consumer electronics industry), but there is no special cachet to seeing a regular TV show in high-def full screen quality.

Except for Father/Son Nerd Night, I don’t think my son has seen a regular network show on a real television in years. He downloads literally hundreds of hours of fan-subtitled anime off the internet and he can often be heard at his computer chuckling at muted japanamation shows late into the night. Most of these shows are unavailable in the US until months or years after they’ve originally aired in Japan. And my son despises the American actor dialog redubbings on aesthetic grounds. When they do finally make a cable network schedule, they have often been edited for content and length beyond recognition. On the other hand, the pirated labor-of-love “fan-dubs” hit BitTorrent within a week of the original international airing with astoundingly predictable precision.

I told my boss about the OtherBigBoxOfMovies closing and she said, “That’s a shame. I used to go there all the time before I joined Netflix.” Exactly. This is why the traditional methods of A/V entertainment distribution are withering. In addition to the OtherBigBoxOfMovies that is now closing, the OriginalBigBoxOfMovies nearest me closed over a year ago. I now have to drive over five miles if I want to bother find a new release completely rented out so that I can come home with my second or third choice of movies to watch.

With the HD-DVD format throwing in the towel, my wife is wondering how long until we are forced to get a BluRay player because she thinks the studios will eventually quit releasing standard DVDs. I don’t think this will ever be an issue. The convergence of high speed broadband, cheap DVRs, and terabyte sized hard drives is just screaming direct digital downloads, bypassing any real physical manifestation of the movie. As this Wired article posits, digital downloads are the inevitable next step and movie companies can either ride the train or get run over by it.

Still, the psychological fetish for a tangible totem of ownership is strong. I have dozens of movies I own because I want to say I have them rather than out of any real desire to watch it over and over again. But someday these too will become yard sale remainders. And until some other rising retail chain needs the space, the now defunct OtherBigBoxOfMovies store will stand empty as a silent tombstone on the grave of the ever-changing media marketplace.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are DVDs dead?
BonusBlatantCommentWhoring™: Which disc should I watch first and which should I have avoided?

Blog365 Day Of Rest

Under the rules of Blog365, the latest silly self-aggrandizing scheme I have signed onto, no post is required today since 2008 is a leap year and Leap Day is not necessary to make 365 posts within a year. Some bloggers have interpreted that to mean that participants are forbidden to post on Leap Day, which is ridiculous.

For reasons that may become apparent soon, I prefer to go the President's Day route and celebrate Blog365 Day Of Rest (Observed) on the day of my choosing.

That is all. Carry on.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My TV Boyfriend

When the going gets tough, the tough go to memes. Fortunately, Dave at Blogography did an intriguing one that I can steal (Can you really steal a blog meme? Isn't that what they are meant for?) Anyways, who among us guys hasn't wondered what sort of boyfriend they would have if they were a girl? Oh, come on, back me up here.

This quiz picks your perfect boyfriend from the current crop of dreamboats on the tube. I answered the rather in depth questions as I would if I were a girl and ended up with:

In the Gossip Girl-iverse of smokin' hot too-old-to-be-in-high-school rich bitches, Dan is the token broke (he lives in Brooklyn, for godsake) sensitive doormat. The quiz lets you take it again, so I did and this time let my inner geek fly a little and got:

And what guy wouldn't rather be Jim instead of Dwight? Pam is a mousy receptionists but you know she is secretly a total freak in the boudoir. Hey, at least I don't end up with Chuck Bartowski. Because he has to lust after this. Poor blue-balled Chuck. At least Jim gets some action. So I can't even really pick a pretend boyfriend without being a complete pig about it. I guess I'm stuck being a guy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pandas On Parade

I was in Atlanta recently and made my first ever trip to their zoo. I’m not much of a zoo person, but I never miss the opportunity to see some pandas. There are only three zoos in the United States that have these rare gentle giants.

Pandas are about the cutest animals alive. They just aren’t too bright or particularly frisky. Like their very distant cousins, the three-toed tree sloth, they have found a narrow ecological niche that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting and have sunk into a relaxed torpor that is the envy of many.


They spend most of their day eating bamboo and sleeping, not necessarily in that order. As a guy, the only downside to this lifestyle is that the mating season is only three days long annually. The docent at Zoo Atlanta expresses head shaking bewilderment at how many women visitors find that the most envy-worthy part of being a panda.


Because of their indifferent approach to breeding, animal lovers have gone to very extreme measures to mate pandas whenever possible. Zoo Atlanta has bred a pair and the baby, if you can call anything over two hundred pounds a baby, is close to being weaned. We were lucky enough to catch one of his last visits to the teat before he gets put on the all bamboo diet.

IMG_7838 IMG_7844

When I was in China last summer, we had a free afternoon and I voted for going to the zoo to kill time. The Beijing Zoo is very large and fairly modern. And since they are very close to the source, they have five pandas in captivity. Since it was a very hot afternoon in July, they were doing the only sensible thing: sleeping. Nonetheless, I managed to get a few pictures.


Living near Washington, DC, it’s easy to get jaded with all the opportunities. The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian and is free to the public, except that parking is a bitch, and a little expensive. I have gotten by there a few times in the late afternoon, but the pandas get rounded up at five so the zookeepers can head home.

IMG_0750 IMG_0733

The National Zoo also has its own baby, one that was called Butterstick by the blogging world because that it is how big a panda is at birth, which makes baby pandas just that more adorable. This picture of him in a tree was taken nearly two years ago and he is nearly full grown now.


The zoo most famous for pandas is the San Diego Zoo which truly is one of the nicest zoos anywhere. Unfortunately, their panda viewing area tends to be more crowded and less photogenic than other newer zoos. Still, the allure of pandas is irresistible.


I do have to admit without sounding too speciest, that all pandas seem to look alike. The zoo docents will go into detail about which panda has which earmarkings, but all I see are big furry cuddly blobs of black and white.

The only zoo with pandas in the U.S. that I haven’t been to is in Memphis. I was there two summers ago paying a pilgrimage to Graceland, but don’t see getting back there anytime soon. I hope they save the pandas for me.

For more panda pictures, I have tagged a whole bunch of my pictures on Flickr as well as a set of pictures of other animals from Zoo Atlanta, and like everything else, there is a Flickr groups just for pandas.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Do we love pandas just because they are cute, or is there something deeper?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Whatever Happened To Fey Ray?

Saturday Night Live returned from the writer's strike with a vengeance, especially since the host was former headwriter and Weekend Update hottie Tina Fey. If Hillary immediately doesn't change her official campaign slogan to "Bitch Is The New Black" she has no hope.

You will notice that that clip is from the official NBC site and not YouTube. The YouTube version of the clip disappeared within 24 hours. They must have Jack Bauer manning the copyright violation desk at Universal.

But when it was on YouTube, the next video linked was an appearance Tina Fey made on Rachel Ray's talk show. RayRay admits to having a girl crush on Tina which made me wish I was the meat in that ragu. Yummo.

And if you need a soundtrack for that fantasy, Tina Fey and current Weekend Update host Amy Poehler play sexy tennis as part of a writer's strike improv performance.

Finally, just because we are on inappropriate metaphors, after watching this trailer featuring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, I want to be the baloney in a Boleyn sandwich. Eric Bana is one lucky actor.

Time for a long cold shower.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Comment on any of the clips or explain why you are geeky enough to "get" the post title.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Colbert Portrait

Stephen Colbert is one of our national treasures. If you don’t believe it, just ask him. In his short time on the national stage, he has accomplished a great deal. His book (reviewed here) is a bestseller. He nearly ran for President. He cowrote one of the most e-mailed Maureen Dowd columns ever. And he has captured the imagination of our nation’s youth. My son made me buy the book and he read it in practically one sitting chuckling the entire time.

The yellojkt family was in DC on recently having brunch near the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. We had a few minutes to kill before our show when I told my son that a portrait of Stephen Colbert was on display at the nearby Portrait Gallery for a limited time only. We let my wife go pick up our will-call tickets while we dashed over. The docent manning the information desk knew exactly what we wanted to see. It was on the second floor in the toilet room alcove. Next to the painting was this scholarly plaque:

Stephen Colbert born 1964
Born Washington, D.C.

Stephen Colbert, the mock pundit for the Comedy Central show The Colbert Report recently contacted the National Portrait Gallery hoping to donate this portrait of himself from his show. While this triple portrait is not one that would typically be accessioned into the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection, NPG agreed to go along with the joke and hang the portrait for a limited time.

In episodes of The Colbert Report that aired on January 10, 14, and 15, 2008, Colbert tries to convince the Smithsonian that he should be considered a national treasure. He attempts to donate his portrait to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, but the museum’s director suggests that perhaps Colbert should speak to the National Portrait Gallery. Finally, after much “discussion,” the director of the National Portrait Gallery finds an appropriate place to hang Colbert’s portrait, in between the bathrooms and above the water fountain.

This portrait will only be here for a limited time, so refresh yourself at the drinking fountain while contemplating this portrait while you can.

Digital image on canvas, 2005
On loan from The Colbert Report
While we were there, a steady stream of admirers and gawkers wandered by. One dad commented how ironic it was that the family was so fascinated by this painting when a historical portrait of George Washington was just steps away.

Thanks to popular demand, the display has been extended until the astoundingly appropriate date of April 1st. Be sure to see it while you can.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is the magic of Colbert's schtick?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Drunken Astronomy

Yesterday was my birthday but I didn’t make a big deal out of it. We had an evening full of the detritus of suburban living lined up but they all got canceled when a few snow flakes showed up and sent school officials scurrying for cover. Instead we ordered pizza, bought an ice cream cake and invited another family over.

After two glasses of wine and five shots of amaretto (it would have been rude not to drink my birthday presents), we were reminded that there was a lunar eclipse. Just after the peak, I went out with my camera and decided to take a few shots with my new camera. Here was the first attempt:

Eschewing any tripod, I decided to instead use a handy lamppost to steady myself. This picture which has a star or planet or something on either side of the moon is much better:

And this one, brightened a little with photoshop magic, is the best of the bunch:

Edwin Hubble is spinning in his grave at my ineptness and the fine folks at NASA have no fear of me working their turf. The only constellation I can identify is Orion’s Belt and other than the three stars that make it up, I have no idea where the rest of Orion is.

Over the years I have been suckered into either getting up very early or staying up too late to see some vague phenomenon that is usually underwhelming. That includes comets, meteor showers, lunar eclipses, and various planetary syzygies.

When I had a dog to walk late at night and in the pre-dawn morning, the planetary alignments were the most interesting because they usually lasted for days or weeks and I could see the minor shifts over time. And the planets are about the only astronomical objects that can be reliably seen through the eastern seaboard light pollution.

The only time I have been genuinely impressed was in the mid-80s when a true solar eclipse hit Atlanta. I was working a co-op job and all my fellow students had built little science fair viewing boxes or borrowed welding helmets from the shop. The sky briefly got late twilight dark and all the birds stopped chirping.

The ancient people were much more in tune with the rhythms of the night. Predicting astronomical events was a ticket to power. But in our modern world star gazing is just another eccentric geeky hobby along the lines of trainspotting or Civil War re-enacting. Anyone that takes it seriously is viewed as just a little out of kilter. Much like my drunken astronomical snapshots.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What have you been impressed by in the sky?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Presidents on Parade

President's Day, actually George Washington's Birthday (observed), was yesterday so I'm a little late with this, but I just happened to stumble on it independently, so I'm going ahead with posting it now:

Jonathan Coulton is the nerd poet laureate best known for his ode to unrequited geek love "Code Monkey". He releases all his songs under a non-commercial Creative Commons license which makes all the fan videos for him on YouTube completely kosher as long as they also use public domain or open licensed images. This distinction seems to be lost on a lot of his fans who tend to rely on World of Warcraft animation for source material. This video, for example, uses clips of the Niki Sanders character from Heroes to illustrate Coulton's "Someone Is Crazy" song to hilarious effect.

Coulton makes his money off donations and live performances and frequently gets mentioned as the new paradigm for musicians in a post-Napster world. It doesn't hurt that he is funny and clever and more than a little geeky himself.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Can you name all 43 presidents without listening to the song?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Peachtree Run

It's hard to believe that it has been twenty years since I grabbed the sheepskin, pulled up stakes, loaded up the wagon and moved my mixed metaphors out of Atlanta. I only lived there five years while in college, but I still consider it home. Every year or so I find an excuse to come through and stay a day or two. When I do, I frequently find myself doing something I call the Peachtree Run. Not to be confused with the famous Peachtree Road Race (which I understand is having some drought related site issues).

No, the Peachtree Run is a drive up or down THE Peachtree Street (my son counted 42 variations of Peachtree in the GPS database) between downtown and Lenox. I look out the window and try to notice all the things that have changed as well as remember the things that are still there. The population sign at the Darlington is still there but not lit.

On this trip, the prominent trend was vacant lots ready for new highrises. A big one was in Buckhead across from the Cheesecake Factory where the last of the storefront Buckhead bars used to be. It's about to become a luxury shopping development called ironically enough The Streets of Buckhead. In my college days, and for much longer, Buckhead was the cheap drinking district where one-price drink and drown specials were prevalent. On a Friday night, I was much more likely to be found further south at Oxford Books, but plenty of people I knew knew which bar had the best specials which night. My brother's bachelor party was spent bar hopping through every faux dive within stumbling distance of Rio Bravo Cantina.

One of the landmarks was a building with a bump-out that used to hold a ferris wheel. At one time it was called Buckhead Beach and used to change names and themes annually. It settled down for a long time as Tex-Mex place called Three Dollar Cafe. Now it's an abandoned husk waiting for the wrecking ball.

In midtown right near 14th street a strip of gay bars is similarly shuttered with construction activity imminent. My favorite place around 14th Street was Steve's Ice Cream which got renamed Gorin's after a trademark dispute with the Steve's in Boston. It began as a walk-up ice cream stand featuring Ben and Jerry's style ultra-rich ice cream with odd flavors. My favorite was amaretto almond. You could nearly get drunk off the amaretto in it. When the developers bought the block, Gorin's became a diner featuring gourmet sandwiches. There's now a high-rise on the original site, but we found a Gorin's franchise in CNN Center. Alas, ice cream has been completely eradicated from the menu and it serves only sandwiches.

The Peachtree Run is metaphorical and applies to all the parts of Atlanta I used to haunt. We had Sunday brunch in Little Five Points, which has maintained it's hippie counter culture vibe, at a place called Front Page News. While the waitstaff had all the mandatory levels of ink and piercings, the clientele was buppies and families with multiple strollers in tow. While walking back to the car, I noticed that famed feminist bookstore Charis Books had moved off of Moreland Avenue itself into a house just off the main road. Even the landmarks start to shift subtly.

In the name of progress and renewal, big chains come in and start to make everyplace look like White Marsh or Tysons Corner or some other ersatz small town center. Ponce de Leon Boulevard which had tons of quirky restaurants is now littered with chains like Chipotle and Moes. Even along gritty Moreland Avenue, someone put in a giant big box center with a Best Buy and Target and Barnes and Noble. It's an improvement to the area, but the parking lot looked just like the strip malls in Alpharetta. The Ma(u)lling of America rolls on in fits and starts erasing the old and paving over anything independent and unique. That is the way time just chips away at your memories.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What favorite place have you seen change with time?

Friday, February 15, 2008

The BBQ Trail

When we made our One Lap of America two years ago, my wife and I were determined to eat as much regional cuisine as possible. And by "regional cuisine" we mean "barbecue". I'm a pulled pork man but my wife is constantly in search of the perfect ribs: short ribs, not baby backs, dry rub, not wet sauce, and most importantly never, never, boiled. It's harder than you think. Here's a run down of some of the places we hit:


Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue Kansas City

Kansas City is beef and Jack Stack Barbecue is ribs. This suspiciously elegant restaurant is down by the railyards and serves all varieties of barbecue and ribs. We had some sampler plates and were wowed by both the pork and beef. Still, a barbecue place shouldn't take reservations. I have a saying that it isn't authentic barbecue unless you endanger your life getting there.


Stubb's Barbecue Austin, Texas

Right off the highway, Stubb's is part barbecue joint, part honkey tonk. They have a huge double high stage area and a concert amphitheater out back. We just stopped in while passing through but still found some great sauces and delicious side dishes.


Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse Dallas, Texas

The original Sonny Bryan's is just a shack which closes up when they run out for the day, but fortunately they have stand alone locations at various spots around Dallas. We found this one in a grocery store strip mall and were still satisfied with the large portions and good variety.


Central BBQ Memphis, Tennessee

There are plenty of place to eat on Tacky Tourist District Beale Street, but we went further afield and found Central BBQ which had a funky hippie-fied feel. The open patio was the only place to even come close to avoiding the thick heavy cigarette smoke indoors. The patio was also where the country folk band was playing and I am always in favor of live music while dining. The food was only so-so, but it sure touched the spirit of what is real barbecue.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where's your favorite barbecue? Extra credit if you can recommend someplace in Atlanta.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

FiOS Follies Part 2

A few weeks back I ranted about my hassles getting all the equipment right for my switch-over to Verizon FiOS service. At one point I had in my house three HD-DVR units even though I only needed one. I sent two back and now regret it.

Thanks to an unexpected financial windfall, my wife and I decided to take the plunge and get a nice big screen HDTV for the living room (and 46” is plenty big enough for our living room). And to take advantage of that great new TV you need an HD set-top box. So I call Verizon and after being hung up on once after 30 minutes on hold, I reach a friendly customer service representative. She very politely told me that Verizon is all out of HD set-tops of any variety and that I had the proverbial snowball’s chance of getting one any time before April.

It seems their promotion where they raised their rates ten dollars a month and threw in a “free” nineteen inch television was so successful that there is now a nationwide shortage of high-def set-top boxes and until the manufacturer builds some more it’s tough luck for existing customers like me that want to upgrade. I added my name to a waiting list and fully expect to get a call sometime in April or May. Of 2012.

In confirming that I’m not getting smoke blown up my ass, I find out a few gotchas about the HomeDVR feature that Verizon touts and I just signed up for. I like the feature because I can use it to record shows on the upstairs HD-DVR and watch them from the family room while I surf and blog. Last night I got caught up on the new season of Doctor Who and on Sundays I skip around among the political talk shows.

Well, it seems that anything I record in high definition can’t be streamed to another TV and two HD set-top boxes can’t stream to each other. Meaning that if and when I do get an HD set-top box for the living room, I better pay extra for the DVR feature, because the utility of the one upstairs will be drastically decreased. Funny how all this fine print and technical mumbo-jumbo never makes it to the omnipresent ads.

In the meantime, my DVD box sets look great on the upconverting home theater system I bought to go with the television and the Grammys never sounded so good in surround sound. The other night we had some other couples over and we plugged my wife’s laptop into the video port so we could browse vacation rentals as a group. What a great convenience.

So I am ecstatic about my new television and someday Verizon will make me even happier. I’m just not holding my breath until then.

Yet another chance to vent about your cable provider or lack therof. Also, name the show, the actor, and two other series he has starred in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Magic Man

It’s not often that your teenage kid asks you to join in on one of his hobbies or activities, so when my son asked me to join his Magic League, I suppressed my first reaction and said “Sure, why not?” Except that I am hardly a master Magic player since I have never played anybody except my son.

For those of you that don’t speak Geek fluently, Magic: The Gathering® is a collectible card game (CCG) for guys (and they are mostly male) that have outgrown Pokemon and it’s brain damaged cousin Yu-Gi-Oh. Magic is some sort of cross between Dungeons and Dragons and gin rummy.

You do battles against each other with decks of special cards. Each card has its own special arcane rule on it. The general idea of the game seems to be to combine decks of cards in such a way that it bends and breaks the rules of the game in the most obnoxiously creative way possible. People take great pride in discovering certain combinations of cards that make it impossible for anyone else to ever win.

Now these are serious Magic players with bylaws and tournament fees and everything. Last fall I would just drop him off and swing by hours later to pry him away from his gaming induced catatonia. Now I was going to be an accomplice. My son had to “build” me a deck since I’m too incompetent to be trusted to the task by myself. I told him to keep it simple so I wouldn't embarass myself. For the past week or so, I’ve been scrimmaging against my son so that I would at least know my cards and how they worked.

At the kick-off round of games, I was asked how long I had been playing Magic. I said “nearly a week now.” I made a lot of rookie mistakes like trying use a Swords To Plowshares against Black Knights (they have protection from white, duh) and not keeping up with the counters on my Æther Vial card. I did impress some people with how well I was able to milk the Welkin Hawk/Soulcatcher's Aerie combo.

Many of my first games were exercises in frustration. One guy had a deck that used a Trinisphere/Metalworker/Staff of Domination combo that created unlimited mana, lives, and attacks and kept me from destroying it. At that point, the game just quits being fun.

The tournament format involves playing the other contestants in best of three matches. I took a couple of matches to the third game but I did manage to win one match before having to call it a night.

The other players seemed to run the gamut of nerd archetypes, friendly, but just a little too full of the inside jokes for the outsider to make much headway. It's tough to get to know people well when the main topic of conversation is which cards are on the banned list.

While at potential socially awkward settings like this, I like to pretend I am some sort of Jane Goodall among the nerds and I have to cleverly disguise myself to fit in. The host's DVD collection included the full series box set of Space:1999, so that was a good conversation opener about how cheesy that show was. Sometimes I fit in just a little too well.

But I can't pretend to be anymore that what I am, a former high school dungeonmaster now watching his kid carry on a family tradition of geekiness. I'm so proud to watch him grow up.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Admit it, I'm the dorkiest person you know, right?

Friday, February 08, 2008

BooksFirst Audio Addendum - Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster Edition

Books Heard

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams and read by Stephen Fry


When I did my BooksFirst post for this month I neglected to include the audiobook I listened to. I count unabridged audiobooks as being the same as a standard print book. And suitably appropriate for the aural format is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. More so than even Neverwhere, Hitchhikers Guide is a cross-media beserker that has been (in chronological order I think) a radio show, a television series, a five-volume inappropriately named trilogy, and a movie.

It is to my discredit as a geek that I have never read the entire book all the way through. In my defense, I tried to read it on the cheap while I was in college. Every time I found myself in the bookstore I would read a chapter or two. Unfortunately I kept losing my place and had to abandon the effort.

Many years ago my high school English teacher asked me if there was anything to this Douglas Adams character since many of her students and my fellow nerds were insisting it was a classic on par with the works of Kurt Vonnegut. That is near blasphemy to me. Hitchhikers Guide is many things but a great piece of literature it is not. It’s amusing, cynical, clever, but not particularly transcendent. Ironically, because of its role as a touchstone of geek culture up there with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, it will probably outlast all the Booker Award Winners of the last half century.

The audiobook is read by the ubiquitous Stephen Fry who is an actor, writer, and director among other things. He is also the voice of the award-winning Harry Potter audiobooks (which I have never heard). I also think that he has done several Terry Pratchett novels, although my Googlin’ skilz are 2 l@m3 2 confirm this.

In many ways the contrast of outsized exaggeration and British understatement serve the written and spoken versions of the series better than the more visual adaptations, although again, I am speaking out of ignorance having never seen any.

I will get around to the rest of the series, either out loud or in print, so in the meantime, Don’t Panic.

What is your favorite version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Campaign Songs

Campaign songs are often pretty wussy. "Call Me Al", anyone? And the lyrics of songs don't always jibe with feel-good politics. A while back, the Washington Post had a good article on campaign songs where the politicians just missed the point when picking them out. Often they were using patriotic sounding songs that really has lyrics that said the opposite of a candidate's message. What we really need are campaign songs that called out what the candidates actually stand for. In honor of Super Tuesday I present some candidates (and former candidates) and the songs they really should be playing:

Hillary Clinton

In a famous incident, Clinton was using Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” as a campaign song but some now probably dead flunky accidentally cued up “Captain Jack”, a song about drug abuse and masturbation instead. The Billy Joel song she should really be using is the left-handed compliment of a ballad, “Always A Woman”:
She can kill with a smile
She can wound with her eyes
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child
But she’s always a woman to me

She is frequently kind
And she’s suddenly cruel
She can do as she pleases
She’s nobody’s fool
But she cant be convicted
She’s earned her degree
And the most she will do
Is throw shadows at you
But she’s always a woman to me

Barack Obama

The junior senator from Illinois is definitely the flavor of the month with all the momentum. It's good to be the "New Kid In Town" until your novelty wears off.
Theres talk on the street, it sounds so familiar.
Great expectations, everybody's watching you.
People you meet they all seem to know you,
Even your old friends treat you like you're something new.

Johnny-come-lately, the new kid in town,
Everybody loves you, so don't let them down.

Theres talk on the street, its there to remind you
That it doesn't really matter which side you're on.
You're walking away and they're talking behind you.
They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.

Where you been lately? theres a new kid in town.
Everybody loves him, don't they? now hes holding her
And you're still around, oh my my.
Theres a new kid in town,
Just another new kid in town.

Mitt Romney

On the Republican side, we have the former governor of arguably the most liberal state in the union running as the last great conservative hope. How did he change his spots so well? A certain cross-dressing 80s icon says it so much better than I could. We will see today if Lady Karma gets revenge on this chameleon.
Desert loving in your eyes all the way
If I listen to your lies would you say
I’m a man without conviction
I’m a man who doesn’t know
How to sell a contradiction
You come and go
You come and go

Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon
You come and go
You come and go

Rudy Giuliani

Another New Yorker, but unlike Hillary, his campaign crashed and burned. Part of the problem was that the more he pressed the flesh, the lower his approval ratings went. The former Time Man Of The Year became the man that polled behind Undecided. And it was all because, in the words of another Billy Joel song, he had to be a “Big Shot.”
Yes, yes, you had to be a big shot, didn't cha
You had to prove it to the crowd
You had to be a big shot, didn't cha
All your friends were so knocked out
You had to have the last word, last night
You're so much fun to be around
You had to have the front page, bold type
You had to be a big shot last night, Oh oh

Oh Oh whoa whoa oh, Oh Oh whoa who-oo-oo-oo-ah,
Oh Oh Oh whoa whoa oh, Oh Oh whoa.

Well, it's no big sin to stick your two cents in
If you know when to leave it alone
But you went over the line
You couldn't see it was time to go home
No, no, no, no, no, no

Dennis Kucinich

UFO-spotter Kucinich was another candidate that never quite gained any traction. His biggest asset was his preternaturally hot wife. He would have gotten more votes if he had spent time pushing the two-fer deal that the Clintons were always promising/threatening. Bruce Springsteen songs always get mis-appropriated by candidates but “Red-Headed Woman” could have energized the crowds.

Tight skirt, strawberry hair
Tell me what you've got, baby, waiting under there.
Big green eyes that look like, son,
They can see every cheap thing that you ever done.

Well, I don't know how many girls you dated, man
You ain't lived 'til you've had your tires rotated
By a red-headed woman, a red-headed woman.
It takes a red-headed woman to get a dirty job done.

There you have it. Truth in campaign jingles. But truth and politics rarely go well together. And the music always gets lost in translation.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: I just couldn’t think of a good song for John McCain, so feel free to pick one for me.

Monday, February 04, 2008

NaJuReMoNoMo 2008 Wrap-Up

NaJuReMoNoMoThis has been a fantastic National Just Read More Novels Month and I want to thank everyone for participating. In celebration, I am putting together an admittedly incomplete list of winners since millions of people must have read a novel in January and just didn't realize it was part of a higher purpose. Pass the word onto your friends and let them know they are winners too.

Below is a list of people in no particular order that I am aware of as winners. If I missed you or if there is a more appropriate link for your blog, leave a message in the comments and I'll get you updated. And if you are a latecomer but feel like a winner, badges are still available.

gautami tripathy My Own Little Reading Room
Michelle - 1morechapter
raidergirl3 - an adventure in reading
Marg - ReadingAdventures
mostlylurking - Sue's Thoughts
Elizabeth - Charlottesville Words
Lab Cat - Lab Cat
dshep - ~shep nachas~
Charli -
YummY - YummY! Down On This
Happily Coupled - Observed In Books
Clifford Garstang - Perpetual Folly
Leah - 888
Booklogged - A Reader's Journal
Becky - Becky's Book Reviews
Liss - Epiphanies & Random Thoughts
Jim Bashkin - Jim's Words Music & Science
Paula - The Magic Bookcase...
Amy - The Sleepy Reader
Stephanie - Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic
April - Cafe of Dreams
TBG - The Boodler
Nyssaneala - Book Haven
Nithin - When A Book Tells A Story
Sue - The Conical Glass
Margaret - Silken Tent

Remember, I hold this challenge every January and everyone is welcome to come back next year. It's great to know the love of reading is still alive.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

BooksFirst - January 2008

NaJuReMoNoMoBooks Bought


Books Read

by Nick Hornby
A Slipping Down Life by Anne Tyler
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


I’m a winner! By reading three novels in January I am entitled to the Green Badge to proudly display my accomplishment. I’m still taking winner announcements in comments on any post with the NaJuReMoNoMo tag (which includes this one). I will collect a list of winners in the next post or two.

I talked a bit about Slam, Nick Nornby’s foray into youth fiction when I became aware of the hot new babies-having-babies trend in the media. I first discovered Nick Hornby when I picked up a copy of High Fidelity in the now defunct Bibelot chain. Since then I have read most of his other novels, several of which have been made into movies. One of Hornby’s trademarks is the hero who is stuck in an extended adolescent. For Slam he reverses the arc and an actual kid has to learn how to act like an adult while remaining a teenager.

Sam is a skater that talks to his Tony Hawk poster when he needs advice. Tony “talks” back entirely in quotes from his autobiography that ore often oddly relevant. He meets Alicia at a party and they begin fooling around with the inevitable tragic results. Unlike most stories about teen pregnancy, this one takes the point of view of the hapless father to be. The novel is told in the first person which is a stunning stylistic feat.

Anne Tyler has been one of my favorite authors since the mid 80’s when The Acccidental Tourist and Dinner At The Homesick Café were ubiquitous on the reading lists of people I knew. I reviewed Digging To America back in June 2006. A Slipping Down Life is one of her older novels, predating her adoption of Baltimore as her primary story setting location. A teenage girl gets a crush on a local struggling musician and carves his name into her forehead. From this rather disturbing start, a typically unsettling Tyler un-love story emerges.

I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what makes an Anne Tyler novel so Tyleresque. These eccentric slices of life are often bittersweet and melancholic and all those elements are here. Evie is chubby insecure student that fall for a self-involved aspiring rock star long on hope but short on drive. Written in the late 60s, some of the dialog sounds dated, but the timeless Tyler themes of dreams deferred and opportunities lost and regained remain as poignant as ever.

Since I first discovered Neil Gaiman as a writer when he was Guest of Honor at Balticon a few years ago, I have been dipping into his works more and more. At first I thought Neverwhere would be a little too dark and macabre for me, but instead it was wonderfully inventive and clever. In the Neverwhereverse, there exists a parallel universe of lost souls in the London Underground. Richard Mayhew, a mildly milquetoasty Londoner, helps an orphan girl and his life changes as he crosses over to the down below. There he gets drawn into a web of intrigue and adventure.

The world Gaiman creates is full of myth and legend, both literary and urban. The world follows its own twisted logic and involves a plot to destroy a noted family with odd navigational powers. The real breakout characters in the novel are Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, a pair of assassins who speak in an odd formality. The novel is an adaptation of a six part BBC series that I am wholly unfamiliar with. Gaiman’s cross-media experiments continue to amaze me with how versatile he is. I hope he returns to London Below someday.

Friday, February 01, 2008

My Chinese Drinking Buddy

When we went to China we spent a lot of time in social situations with the administration and staff of the host school. Most were polite and quiet and respectful. One was not. The assistant principal was a loud gregarious man that knew maybe ten words of English, but he used them with gusto. At the final dinner, he was pushing shots of rice wine on his guests.

Chinese rice wine is neither. It is an 80 proof whiskey-like spirit distilled from wheat and sorghum. Most people took a sip, grimaced, and politely declined. I impressed the assistant principal by taking several shots and we spent the evening toasting each other.

I promised that if he ever came to the United States I would take him drinking. A week ago the next group of teachers and students from Beijing Middle School 22 showed up and Chen, my drinking buddy was with them. I told him that we were going to go out drinking, but he had added a new phrase in English to his repertoire, "I like to drink water!" And he said it with enthusiasm. In the past six months some medical crisis had put an end to his shot glass lifting ways.

Still, a promise is a promise. We made arrangements to meet all three of the teachers last night at the most authentically Baltimorean place I could think of that would give the Chinese a good impression and a taste of our seafaring heritage. While crabs are THE regional dish, Bertha's in Fells Point is a landmark unto itself, thanks in no part to the ubiquitous bumper stickers.

Twin sisters of different mothers.
My wife (right) and two teachers from China.

As luck would have it, Bertha's was participating in Restaurant Week with a three course dinner menu for $30.08. The rest of the table ordered Stella Artois, which was on special, but Chen stuck to hot water with lemon. We went over the winelist with him and tried to explain the difference between American wine and Chinese wine.

Chen said he wanted "noodles and tomatos", so we ordered the vegetarian ravioli with marinara sauce. For the other two teachers we chose the pine nut encrusted salmon. And, of course, mussels as appetizers all around. The mussels themselves were nearly enough for a meal and the dinner special included a sampler of all the dipping sauces. By the end of the soup and salad course, the Chinese guests were nearly stuffed.

This made for a good conversation about how in China all the dishes are served at once and that soup, no matter what the weather, is for the end, not the beginning, of the meal. When the ravioli came, we explained that it was like dumplings but Italian style. He was a little disappointed that it wasn't American food, but we explained that Italian food was practically American. Since the ladies were full, he sniggled from their salmon and took the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

After dinner we wandered around the rather cold and deserted waterfront of Fells Point while I tried to explain the significance of the port and the slave trade and Frederick Douglass. We bid the teachers good night and my drinking buddy said that the food was "dee-lish-us" and that he really liked Bertha's cooking. So if some blogger ever posts pictures from Beijing of a car with an "Eat Bertha's Mussels" bumper sticker on it, I'll know that I had done my part for international understanding.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where would you take a foreign guest with little English to get a taste of your region?

Side note: My neglected stepchild blog, China Sights, has seen an enormous uptick in Google driven traffic recently, so I have uploaded a new batch of pictures to Flickr and I hope to do some more photoblogging soon before I have forgotten all the cute anecdotes about the sights.