Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Movie characters: Self-Absorbed Whiny Writer Man

Tortured Writer in an empty pub
The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend ~Robertson Davies
There's a lot of different character archetypes in the movies, but perhaps the one that most singly annoys me is that of the Self-Absorbed Whiny Writer Man, or SAWWM. (I just made that up, isn't it catchy?) These narcissistic fools pour over their manuscripts in vain, moaning and obsessing over their muse and seek redemption through her perfect eyes. She is not a person, but a means to salvation. She is not a human being with her own wants and needs, but merely a metaphor for real life: the life of the SAWWM. Are tortured artists incapable of real empathy and appreciating another human without thinking of her in relation to themselves and placing her on a pedestal?

To be fair, I'm not sure of the intentions of the characters' creators. They very well could be saying "Isn't it sooo annoying when a guy acts this way? Let me depict it for you!" But since it's writers writing about... writers, I have trouble believing that it isn't at least a teensy bit autobiographical. Here are three movies (two adapted from books written by.... writers) that feature a SAWWM as the central character. By central, I mean narrator who tries hard to be a passive observer yet secretly wishes the universe revolved around him.

Sophie's Choice
You'd think this would be a movie all about Sophie, right, given the title. Wrong! This is about how a dopey milquetoast writer named Stingo sees Sophie. He makes great analogies from her horrific experiences in a WWII concentration camp to his own struggle with writer's block. See? It's totally the same thing. Just in case you can't tell from this picture, Sophie's not interested in Stingo. He's the one staring off into space, imagining her perfections rather than actually looking at her. It spoils the illusion, you see.

Sex and Lucia
I was excited to watch this titillatingly-titled film, assuming it was about a woman's journey of coming into her own. Wrong! Instead the central figure is her dopey narcissistic and tortured writer boyfriend, Lorenzo. And they meet a totally implausible way. He is a famous writer, and Lucia is a drop dead gorgeous waitress who's fallen madly in love with him since she read his novel. She's taken to stalking him, and confronts him breathlessly in a cafe. Upon their first meeting she explains that she is in love with him and perfect for him. Instead of calling the cops like a smart guy, Lorenzo merely smiles and smokes cigarettes, then soon after proceeds to nail her. Riiiight, guys. This is exactly how it happens. If you write a novel, you will immediately have hot women throwing themselves at you who are mentally sound. You wish, screenwriter man!

Lucia provides inspiration for his stories, but he gets so wrapped up in writing them he begins to neglect their relationship entirely. There's also some complicating factors like the fact that he's a dad with someone else and then lusts after his kid's babysitter. He somehow winds up in bed with her while trying to be as passive as possible. And what are the chances that Lucia's voyage of self-discovery would include a trip to the island where he had a one night stand with the mother of his child? She and the baby mama have a good deal of commiseration, but they never kick Lorenzo to the curb. They even both love him!

The Great Gatsby
Both in the book and on the silver screen, Nick Carraway is completely infatuated with Daisy. She's his second cousin so there's some potential ickiness there. He lacks direction and meaning in his life. And yet again, we have a menage a trois. Nick totally admires Gatsby in a man-crush kind of way and is willing to overlook his fallibility. Yet another writer with no moral turpitude! The plot is convoluted and sad but as the world falls down around Nick by the end of the book, he leaves and goes off back to the Midwest to muse about his time with Gatsby and Daisy. Without, you know, actually doing anything.

In conclusion, avoid these SAWWMs like the plague. They are wrapped up in their own drama and fail to connect with you on an emotional level. They lack the backbone to make decisions for themselves. They blunder through life, poisoning the lives of those around them for the sake of a good story. And who wants a tag-along with his head in the clouds when you already have a significant other?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finishing an unfinished wooden table

Another installment of Ye Olde Home Improvement Projects! I've had a simple unfinished wooden table from IKEA for a few years now in my kitchen. It's really annoying to do food prep on there because everything seeps into the wood, and it looks, well, unfinished. With the help of the internet, friends, and the local hardware store, I'd say the table is in good shape now!

Here's a quick peek at the surface of the "before" table.
Sink project 4

First I sanded the entire visible surface of the table (including legs!), to remove gunk and to get it ready for staining. I went through a number of sandpaper pieces. I applied a neutral darker woodsy stain along the grain with a paintbrush and let it dry overnight. I didn't realize that stains don't protect the wood; they are merely cosmetic. D'oh. What the heck could I put on top of this?

Answer: polyurethane!

I got a foam brush at the hardware store to put on the coats. You have to wait 48 hours(!!) between coats, so yeah, varnishing wouldn't make a very good action movie subplot. (Maybe in an arthouse indie film where watching paint dry is a metaphor for modern society.) Also make sure that it's a well-ventilated area.

I sanded the stained table and applied the first coat over the entire stained area. For the second coat, I sanded and reapplied only on the surface of the table. Now 48 hours later, here is the result:
INGO Table
INGO table
I got a few scratches on it when I accidentally sanded against the grain, but overall, it looks like a smooth finish and is repelling water and all that good stuff. Now it looks like real furniture and not poor student temporary digs!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Instruments of wonders

Theremin: look but don't touch!
Rocket Science @ Annandale Hotel
Did you know there's an instrument you can play without touching it? And has been making appearances in mainstream pop music since the 1960s? Well I sure didn't until recently.

The theremin was named after its inventor, Leon Theremin, who came up with this crazy electronic contraption in 1919 Russia. Apparently Lenin was quite proud of the technology and showed it off around the world. Usually a theremin has two antennae, one for pitch and one for volume, both of which are determined by the position in space of both hands. There have been many variations on the original design, including the electro-theremin, the instrument heard on the Beach Boys' track "Good Vibrations."

Gnarls Barkley's song Crazy, Theremin-style (very well done!)

When cats and theremins collide

Tesla coils: they sing

Megavolt Tesla Coil 1
Even older than the theremin technology is the Tesla coil. It was invented in 1891 by Tesla, and consists of resonant electronic circuits. They've had a variety of uses over the years, and ones used specifically for music have recently become known as Zeusaphones. They have to been seen to be believed. Check out the Tesla-fication of familiar theme songs below.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean 3 = Iraq war metaphor

I'm fascinated by how even the most banal of Hollywood movies provide insight into contemporary thought, especially in the political realm. While we're in the midst of the Iraq War, it's difficult to now imagine the myriad of ways it impacts our collective psyches and our art.

When I saw the Sam Peckinpah western The Wild Bunch in college, I was struck by how different the cinematic style was from older westerns. Even in period pieces, present-day morals and stylistic gestures shine through. (This includes bafflingly contemporary hairstyles and fashion for women, but that's another post altogether.) In 1930s-50s westerns a la John Wayne, the heroes and the villains were clearly defined. Even the fighting was orderly, with the different camps maintaining a physical separation. Think of the showdowns on dirt roads and the different colored outfits of the goodies and the baddies. Well, The Wild Bunch was a big, bloody mess. The fight scenes were huge and chaotic, and no character could claim the upper moral hand. It was difficult to keep track of who was who and why they were killing each other. I turned to my friend and said, "I bet you this movie was made during the Vietnam War." Turns out it was, in 1969, when in the real world the goodies and baddies weren't so clear.

Fast forward to 2007 and the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. There are, in my estimation, five camps competing for victory with occasionally overlapping allegiances: the East India Trading Company 'wigged out' officers, the Sparrow brigade, Captain Hector Barbossa aka Geoffrey Rush, the squid-faced dude (Davy Jones) and his alien-looking fish squad, and the Singaporean crew. This level of specificity even glosses over a few other shifting alliances. How the hell are we supposed to know who to root for, when squid guy and the Brits are allied, and Sparrow and Barbossa fight side by side? Seriously it's one of the most confusing and convoluted plots I've ever... attempted to follow and I've seen a few art films in my day. But couldn't these five camps just as easily be the Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Al-Qaeda, and the US forces? Oh excuse me, for that last one, I mean the "Coalition of the Willing."

I'm curious to know how political and cultural historians will look back at this period in time and whether they'd agree with this analogy. Maybe Chow Yun-Fat's crew is a stand-in for Al-Qaeda, and Sparrow and Barbossa are competing fundamentalist imams. Perhaps that also means that Elizabeth's sniveling rejected suitor is General Petraeus, who is willing to make a deal with the devil to keep other (presumably more evil) forces at bay. Or maybe Disney couldn't find any good screenwriters who could make a coherent narrative and it's just another crappy movie.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Random amusement

Some screenshots I've taken recently of things that just had to be preserved. Above I just thought was cute (an 'international' greeting from Flickr). Below, less cute.

When I tried to sign up for an account at Instructables the first time, this was the Java error I got. It's such a wonderful, random and half-profane string of words isn't it? Note to self: hold off on creating Macedonia-Viagra-Wanker username at Instructables.

I'm so flattered that Netflix not only is propositioning me, but there's a time machine involved! Why are they so sure I'll give them 5 out of 5 stars? My DVD rental service is quite cocky.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Legs don't run for office.

The last time I checked, Sarah Palin was a full, complete person. Agreeing with her ideas and trusting her preparation for the vice presidency is another matter altogether. Following the vice presidential debate last night, here are two of the most popular pictures on Yahoo news.

Courtesy of Don Emmert of the Associated Press. And just in case you thought the AP was alone in the objectification game, here comes Reuters from across the way, not to be outdone!

This is disgusting on a number of levels. First of all, who were the pervy photographers who took these pictures? What the hell must've been the inner monologue? "All this talk of a nuclear Iran is so boring. Nothing like a good gams zoom-in to liven things up!" "Americans think they want to know what Palin thinks about same sex marriage, but really they want to look at her red high heels." It's not like the picture contained anything informative, like the Ten Commandments pasted on her shoe or a tattoo of the Alaska state constitution. Where are the accompany shots of Biden's bald spot? Obama's buttocks? McCain's chest hair? C'mon, you know you want to see it!

Second, the media company (in this case, AP and Reuters) signed off at an editorial level on this. I can just imagine the old-boys'-network editor shaking the photographer's hand and clapping him on the back, preferably while chomping a cigar. "Great journalism there, pal! You really nailed the essence of this debate with this shot. You're goin' places. We're sending it out to all the presses!" Then some secretaries threw confetti and popped the cork on the champagne.

And finally, there are the people consuming these pictures en masse. Is it a bunch of teenage boys, staring cross-eyed and drooling out of a corner of their mouths and beating their chests? "Legs!!! Me likey!!" they roar, emailing it to all their friends. "Dude, check out the legs on Sarah Palin. Woowee is she a milf! Bristol's mom has got it going on." Or maybe a bunch of image conscious women, the kinds who get excited about tabloid cover stories like "Best Beach Bodies" and "Whose Cellulite Covered Ass is This?" eagerly clicked on the link, looking to snark on the shape of her legs and the color of heel as it matched her dress. Who knows?

Breaking women down into their respective body parts is demeaning and disrespectful. During the Olympics, one of the most popular photos on Yahoo was a volleyball player's butt with her crossed fingers behind her back. People are greater than the sum of their parts. While I trust the mainstream media not to publish upskirt camera phone pics or gratitutious cleavage shots of Governor Sarah Palin, I wonder how far they're willing to go. Surely they have a greater responsibility than pandering to the lowest common denominator. The cat's out of the bag and there's no way to get AP and Reuters to hit a giant 'undo' button and take these pictures back. So what can we do?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Songs that make me cry


Be forewarned. I don't seem to experience emotions like many of my fellow women. I can't stand sappy movies, most romantic comedies, and there isn't much in the world that makes me cry. A few songs at various points in my life have brought tears into my eyes with their wrenching lyrics and plaintive melodies. Though you might need to get out a hanky whilst listening to these tunes, you also might be amused by the seemingly random assortment of songs that move me deep down inside.

Ani DiFranco - You Had Time
Lamenting the impending end of a relationship, Ani uses some lovely metaphors to describe her feelings and anticipation of coming home and ending things.
You are a china shop
and I am a bull
You are really good food
and I am full
In other words, "it's not you, it's me." But really, she's so great at portraying a mix of complicated emotions. (full lyrics)

The Clash - Bankrobber
File this one under "random." Joe Strummer sings his heart out about inequality, morality, and the death of his (fictional) bank robbin' daddy. I didn't really understand all the lyrics at the time, and they're really quite good, but like, existential-crisis pondering-social-justice good. I wonder how many other people have cried at this song? (full lyrics)

Coldplay - The Scientist
Nobody said it was easy... but no one ever said it would be so hard, either. Who hasn't wanted to go back to the start at some point, especially when heartache is involved? The video is a work of art itself, comprising one long shot of Chris Martin (the lead singer) in reverse. And he's even singing the lyrics. (full lyrics)

David Bowie - Life on Mars?
OK, I have to confess. I have no idea what this song is about. It's kind of an abstract collection of images that vaguely suggest of despair. Or maybe not.
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she's hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a saddening bore
For she's lived it ten times or more
All I know is something in it deeply resonated with me. Am I just a sucker for pianos and men in blue eyeshadow? Perhaps. (full lyrics)

Dixie Chicks - You Were Mine
There's nothing funny about this song. It's an utterly heartwrenching tale told by a jilted wife who is abandoned by her husband for another woman. While I can't relate to the song's premise, I nevertheless always wince at the lines
I Can Give You Two Good Reasons
To Show You Love's Not Blind
He's Two And She's Four, And You Know They Adore You
So How Can I Tell Them You've Changed Your Mind
Ouch!! Abandoning the kiddies too for some little hussy? "Sometimes I wake up crying at night, and sometimes I scream out your name"... man, talk about simple and evocative lyrics. Now excuse me while I grab a tissue. (full lyrics)

Tracy Chapman - The Promise
In general, I'm not a huge Tracy Chapman fan, but there's something so simple and beautiful in the way she sings this song. It's utterly unpretentious and she sings each word as if it really matters. She's pining for an old lover, but she's not chewing up the scenery in the process. Bravo! (full lyrics)

Bonus: A dance that made me cry
From So You Think You Can Dance. I watched a lot of it last summer. The choreographer dedicated this dance to her father who had just passed away. Very moving, if a bit blurry in this version.

So there you have it, folks. Breakups, heartache, death of loved ones, rage at social injustices... tearful trails to you!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gender and the internet

Table of Gender Internet Use

"Excuse me, your gender's showing."

Although online surfing and communities would seem to offer some degree of anonymity, we may be giving away clues about ourselves due to our writing styles. This website analyzes writing samples and offers probabilities of the writer's gender as either male or female. Man, how gendernormative! Note that likelihood is counted differently based on formal or informal writing styles. Apparently my writing style is male and European. Close, but no cigar! (link)

Also, we may be leaving a trail of gender breadcrumbs behind us as we surf the web. Based on the most recent sites you've visited, are you more likely to be a male or female? News sites are more male, and retail sites appear to be more female. I had no idea my femininity was determining my browsing history, as often it puts me at about 90% likely to be a woman. If only they could see my writing! (link)

Finally, there have been scientific studies which track gender differences in eye movement while surfing the web. If you're a guy, chances are you fixate on crotches in photos, regardless of gender or species. (Raise your hand if you're surprised.) Women focus more on faces. (link - via Boing Boing)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Heartwarming things

Originally uploaded by amber_b.
Things that make you go "awwww!"

<3>Sometimes I find myself losing faith in humanity. Seriously, what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding? Especially the middle and high school years can be peppered with all kinds of social aggression. That's why it's so heartwarming to read this story about a group of teenagers who stood up to a group of bullies in a creative way. Here's hoping they inspire others to do the same. Go Canada!

This video is an oldie but goodie, but the Free Hugs campaign video is quite moving. Definitely makes me want to go out and give someone a hug!

What can be more endearing than Cute Things Falling Asleep? As a cat person, my favorite ones are the wee little kittens who just can't keep their eyes open. I love that they rate each video on cuteness and sleepiness levels.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

80s music videos based on movies

The 80's often get criticized for lauding style over substance. Well, can you blame them, when music videos and MTV took over the world? They could make so many cool special effects and swirly neon thingies! Artists could rely on image and fashion over substantive lyrics to get their message across. And of course the disaster of Milli Vanilli wouldn't have been possible in a pre-television, pre-music video era.
Some 80s videos were just spectacular. Some were more like giant car crashes you couldn't look away from. Here are three music videos that hold both plot AND hairspray as equally valid forms of musical expression, paying homage to a diversion selection of films.

Human League - Love Action (The Graduate)
This is one of my favorite Human League songs of all time. The beat is fabulous! I have it on repeat these days. The male lead singer Phil Oakley plays Dustin Hoffman's character, but with way more sex appeal and eyeliner. Two of the bandmates are the would-be bride and groom.

Berlin - No More Words (Bonnie and Clyde)
Before Berlin, like, totally sold out for "Take My Breath Away" on the Top Gun soundtrack, they were a pretty edgy new wave group. Though lead singer Teri Nunn was sometimes dismissed as a Debbie Harry wannabe, her strong set of pipes distinguish her pretty well. She makes a pretty hot Bonnie, and I dig her two-toned dye job. It's nice that they've deviated from the movie's plot slightly; instead of ending in a bloody massacre, they have a Robin Hood-ish change of heart.

Paula Abdul - Rush Rush (Rebel Without a Cause)
I'm not a huge fan of Paula Abdul, but isn't it shocking to remember that she was a recording artist before she was an American Idol judge? She enlists the help of Keanu Reeves in this unabashed slice of 50s nostalgia. And yes it's technically a 90s video because it came out in 1991, but close enough for government work.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Personality Test II: The Wrath of OCEAN

Giant waves on the seafront at Seaham, County Durham
The Myers-Briggs (as blogged earlier) is hardly on the only personality test out there. In my academic neck of the woods, the five factor theory of personality holds a good deal of clout over the MBTI. In Myers-Briggs, I was an ENTP. Each of the four scales is a strict dichotomy, which are:
So with some combinatorics, we get that there are 16 distinct personality types, at least in this Jung-inspired methodology. You can't be a strong ENTP or a weak ENTP, you're just ENTP. (or ISTJ, or INFP, or what have you.)

The "Big 5" approach is quite different. Instead of distinct categories, each trait falls on a continuous scale that takes degree into account. And they measure slightly different traits, which are summarized by the acronym OCEAN:
Openness to experience (Opposite end of the scale = Closedmindedness)
Conscientiousness (Opposite end of the scale = Disorganized)
Extraversion (Opposite end of the scale = Introversion. This is familiar!)
Agreeableness (Opposite end of the scale = Disagreeableness, how creative)
Neuroticism/anxiety (Opposite end of the scale = Calm/relaxed)

I'm a O95-C17-E96-A74-N55 Big Five!!

I scored as very open to new experiences, very disorganized, very extroverted, somewhat agreeable, and neither calm or anxious. My Big 5 score interpretation said:

*"You probably have a messy desk!" - historically, this is very true. Me and paper don't get along too good.

*"You enjoy having novel experiences and seeing things in new ways." - well since I said that on my Facebook profile, it MUST be true.

*"You tend to consider the feelings of others." - except for when I have a strong opinion... then my diplomacy can suffer just a tad.

I'm not quite sure which approach I prefer, though I know there's a lot of studies that support the Big 5 model, including cross cultural ones. (Don't even get me started on the SIXTEEN factor model!) I like that the Big 5 includes a scale instead of forcing people into boxes. And also, the Myers-Briggs contrasting of thinking versus feeling seems a bit strange to me. Surely one doesn't preclude the other? But I guess we can all agree that introversion and extroversion are useful to measure. A bigger question to me (and the crux of the debate between personality and social psychologists) is whether "personality" and "traits" even exist. If they do, how much of a role they determine our behavior, as opposed to situational constraints such as cultural norms, specific circumstances, temporary moods, and so on.

So what's your MBTI type? (find out) What's your Big 5 type? (find out)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Square One TV: the music videos!

Square One TV played a large role in my childhood, or should I say, constituted a large fraction of the television I was allowed to watch growing up. This show was brilliant! And not just for nostalgia's sake. I was surfing YouTube videos for PBS music videos and I saw some that I didn't remember but still cracked me up. Here are some of my favorites that stand the test of time. My 8 year old and twentysomething year old selves approve!

Put a square, put an octagon there... parody of Good Vibrations.

8% of My Love
This is the most hilarious "love song" ever. He breaks down a pie chart of all his loves to his girlfriend (including his parents, car, and guitar), leaving 8% for her.

The Mathematics of Love
Combination song/skit where they're recording a song in ancient Rome. OK not the most realistic of premises, but Roman numerals were never so catchy and amusing. I I I words...

Angle Dance
A fabulous new wave take off.

Nine nine nine
A country ditty 'bout how every multiple of 9 you can find, it all comes back to 9.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Three Youtube treats

Youtube, it's like candy. Tasty little treats that don't offer much nutritional value, but every now and then you find a few nuggets that are truly worth it. Here are three videos I've seen recently that I've LOLed too.

Mr W.

This is a fiendishly clever ad that you have to watch all the way to the very end to understand. Seriously, this is brilliant! (And, hilarious.)

Bulbous Bouffant

A totally random animated video where they have fun saying words over and over again that just inherently sound funny. Includes galoshes, plethora, gazebo, blubber...

The Website is Down: Sales Guy vs. Web Dude

Nice little vignette about the trials and tribulations of being on tech support. From the point of view of the tech support guy's computer screen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Caulking the sink, plus a bonus

Yet another home improvement project. I decided the giant gaps inbetween the sink and the counter were not ok. Especially since ants use it like the Holland tunnel. Look at these gaping chasms.

A quick trip to the hardware store, and I had all the equipment I needed: an all-purpose tube of caulky goodness.

Thumbs up indeed!

I made sure the sink was completely dry, and stripped off the old and no longer functioning caulky stuff. To open the tube, I cut it open at an angle.

Really, I used a karate chop.

It's kind of like using a tube of toothpaste. I squeezed out the caulk directly into the gap, making a neat line.

Minty fresh

I then ran my finger under water and pressed it firmly into the caulk and evened out the texture. How's that for power tools?

So fresh, so clean clean

You have to let it dry for at least 24 hours. And then, voila! The sink was as new. And the ants were nowhere in sight.


Bonus project

I'd always been wondering about this little ledge sticking out over the drawers on one side of the sink. I had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't just for decoration.

Hmmm... suspicious ledge

After inspecting the area around it, I took an old knife and began working the blade around the edges. Turns out that it had been painted over and this whole (3 year) time I've been living here, I've had a built-in cutting board!

With a little soap, you'll be ready to go!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Paranoia in the 80s

Shock Shock Horror Horror
Wait, WHAT did you just say about my post about paranoia?? Why are you extracting my thoughts from my brain. I know the FBI is watching each of my keystrokes as I type this out.

But anyway...

On to a lovely trio of awesome 80s songs that deal with those little fears we like to call full-blown paranoia. Seriously, how much blow did people do in the 80s to get this freaked out about everything? I'd tell you how I came up with this list, but then I'd have to kill you.

Men at Work - Who Can It Be Now?
Before Colin Hay was the darling of Garden State followers everywhere, he was the lead singer of this band who comes from a land down under. You can practically hear the beads of sweat rolling off his forehead as his lyrics plead for the stranger outside to stay away. I hate to be a buzzkill, but if you really want to know "Is it the man come to take me away? Why do they follow me?", just open the damn door!

Corey Hart - Sunglasses at Night
Instead of accepting the lead role in Back to the Future, Mr. Hart slunk back to his dark and dank apartment with a renewed dedication to encouraging improper use of sun-protective gear around the world. He wears his sunglasses at night, for what better way is there to stalk your girlfriend whom you're sure is up to no good? Side note: Corey Hart is really, really surprisingly hot. I realized that I was picturing Corey Feldman singing the song this whole time!

Rockwell - Somebody's Watching Me
Is the neighbor watching?? The mailman? The IRS? Rockwell's pretty much afraid of everyone, despite being the son of Berry Gordy and getting Thriller-era Michael Jackson himself to lay down the vocals for the chorus. Instead of taking some good ol' neuroleptics to ease his troubled mind, Rockwell prefers to indulge his fantasies and neglect his personal hygiene. "When I'm in the shower, I'm afraid to wash my hair. Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there." No, it's just the fashion police reminding you that the Jheri curl is epic fail.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why I stopped reading celebrity gossip

tabloid time
I grew up in complete and total ignorance of the celebrity world, with PBS and the occasional (gasp) Nickelodeon as my sole television comforts. Around 4th grade I was taunted with "You don't know who JOEY LAWRENCE IS??!!" (Whoah!) and other various references to my pop culture ignorance. In college, I started reading celebrity gossip on IMDb and soon other websites followed. Suddenly I knew more about actors' and actresses' romantic histories than many of my friends. I stuck with it for the next 5 or so years, cycling through phases of The Superficial, I Don't Like You In That Way, Pink Is the New Blog, and most recently, Ohnotheydidnt. I always saw it as a pleasant time diversion, harmless to humanity and like munching on candy. For free! God bless the internet. Whenever I'd be loading up the .RSS feed I'd think to myself, "gimme the goss!" a la Busta Rhymes' "Gimme Some More."

I got flak from a lot of my friends about it. Friend: "Why do you care about their lives?" Me: "I don't really, it just makes a fun read." Friend: "But it's stupid and pointless!" Me: "How is watching sports any different? It's just entertainment." Friend: "What a waste." Me: "I don't spend any money on it!" I like indulging my 'pleb' side, and I don't take kindly when people look down their noses at other people's hobbies. And then of course, there were my friends who were in on it too who shared in my dirty little secret. "Can you believe he left her for HER?", "Who's the baby daddy?" and so on, and so on.

So why the change of heart, you ask? First, paparazzi photos have become more indiscriminate and frankly, boring. Most shots are of celebs crossing the street while wearing sunglasses and holding a coffee from Starbucks. Where's the drama? "Will J Lo finish her frappucino before it melts? Tonight on Access Hollywood!"

Then, there's the unhealthy obsession with women's bodies. Time and time again, they are reduced to their parts, and the most minor flaws are critiqued. Again, obsession with weight and appearance seems decidedly drama-free. What's juicy about a celeb's 'juicy' thighs? Not much.

Finally, there is now a super invasive tone to some of these pictures that really distresses me. Are pictures of innocent children of celebs who didn't ask to be thrust in the spotlight necessary? I realize that there is also a huge industry around celebs selling pictures of their own spawn, but that's a separate issue altogether. Celebs are followed everywhere, 24/7. Going shopping, driving their cars, walking their dogs. Paps are notorious for their Machiavellian attitude towards getting pictures. They'll hang in trees, trespass, engage in high speed car chases, you name it. Tabloids and the celebrity-hungry consumers make it worth their $$$$- er, while.

Eventually, my little extracurricular activity seemed to take on undesirable and even sinister connotations. Three recent (perhaps arbitrary) items were what finally got me to take my gossip blogs off my feeds.

1. Britney Spears in her own backyard, looking up at the paps taking her photo, from what is presumably a helicopter. It is so poetic on a number of levels, and I had trouble believing she wasn't staring directly through my computer screen at me.

2. A story about Colin Farrell and his girlfriend buying a pregnancy test at a pharmacy, complete with an image of the receipt. Again, the invasion of privacy left me agape.

3. The story behind a tabloid article on Cynthia Nixon (aka Miranda from Sex and the City), in which the tabloid knowingly took false information as confirmed by her publicist and ran with the story anyway. They said she had gotten implants on a recent hospital visit, when in actuality she was there for a checkup to make sure her breast cancer was still in remission. I know, I know, whoda thunk a tabloid would in engage in shoddy and irresponsible journalism? But this is hardly one of those young women cavorting around Hollywood, coveting tabloid attention. Is there any fact checking behind these stories?

There were gems amid the crap that I will surely miss. I loved being among the first to hear about new and upcoming movies and albums, and seeing some of the first photos from movie sets. I also discovered many fun YouTube videos and helpful top 100 movie lists. There were really cool meta-celebrity articles, analyzing the importance of PR reps in today's world, or discussing celebrity news' impact on the economy (including of foreign countries) and awareness of important societal issues. Sometimes celebs would come forward with inspiring stories of prevailing over personal hardships. And of course, there's a certain personal satisfaction with having a salacious celebrity story to share. But alas, not enough wheat to justify all that darn chaff.

So long, Angelina Jolie. Farewell, Tom Cruise's adorable daughter. It's been a fun ride, but I'm getting off the train.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Most girl power songs

Lest the last list left you feeling low (how's that for alliteration?), let's set sail for greener feminist pastures. It warms my heart to know that I had a ton of songs to choose from for this entry of pop songs that are decidedly girl power, and not in the "GIRL POWAH" Spice Girls kind of way. (Disclaimer: I love them.) Check out the sizeable Wikipedia category of songs with feminist themes, which seems to be arbitrarily populated. Hear us roar, we're too big to ignore, etc.

Lesley Gore - You Don't Own Me
The 60s wasn't all girl groups fawning over dudes. Lesley told them how it is! She lets her boyfriend know that she is an independent woman, a human being with a mind of her own, and well, free to say and do whatever she pleases. Ahead of its time for sure, especially based on her hair. This was early 60s, not late 60s.

Janet Jackson - Control
This autobiographical song is about, well, control. It's not about love so much as her taking control of her life and career. Janet started way young in showbiz and put out sugary generic teen pop music under the thumb of her dad-manager, and was married and divorced before she was out of her teens. She then wanted a new look and sound to jumpstart her music career and reflect her new life outlook, and salvation came in the form of brilliant producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Late 80s Janet Jackson is one of my biggest pop weaknesses. She's in control, and she likes it.

Madison Avenue - Don't Call Me Baby
When ladies hit the town for the evening, they know they getting objectified and hit on is par for the course. But the lead singer of Madison Avenue must send guys home with their tail between their legs. She delivers a catchy put-down to the all the shallow guys trying to get with her. I wonder how many unsuspecting would-be pickup artists have boogied down to this track on the dance floor? "Don't underestimate me boy, I'll make you sorry you were born." Boo-yah.

I have a personality (test result)

No Obligation
Through school I took the Myers-Briggs personality test, and just got my results today. This is a free service they provide for students, who knew? Turns out I'm an ENTP. Apparently this shocked my dad, who was sure that I was FP.
I'm not so sure about the scientific validity of personality tests (hello, Barnum effect!) I subscribe to the theory that traits are simply social cognitive constructs. But it's nevertheless an interesting self-knowledge exercise. Some highlights of the ENTP type:

*ENTPs are frequently described as clever, cerebrally and verbally quick, enthusiastic, outgoing, innovative, and resourceful.
GO ON...

*They tend to have a perverse sense of humor as well, and enjoy playing devil's advocate.
Hahaha! I'm perverse y'all.

*They tend to become extremely petulant about small setbacks and inconveniences.
Cue the innocent whistling

What type are you? (You know you want to...) Apparently T's are largely male, and F's are largely female. So I'm bucking the gender trend. I checked on my opposite to see if it resonated with me, the ISFJ. Apparently they are quiet, conscientious, and prioritize family traditions and harmony. Maybe they're onto something. Jung is apparently alive and well. Or so my shadow self tells me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to fix a drawstring waistband

Shorts project 1
Here's a simple little clothing hack I devised for fixing when your drawstring elastic waistband (or hoodie sweatshirt cord things) come out of the loop they're supposed to stay in. When this first happened to my beloved old sweatshirt, first I spent a good deal of time grumbling at myself for not tying the ends properly in bigger knots to keep them from escaping into the fabric. This act alone will make the rest of this advice a moot point! But if you're like me and made this mistake...twice...with a pair of gym shorts is on the way! From yourself.

Materials needed:
Clothing plus lost band
Ballpoint pen
Scotch tape

The trick was to find a needle-like object that is pointy, skinny, and flexible. After ransacking my apartment, I stumbled upon the center ink thing from my ballpoint pen. I fastened it to the elastic with tightly wound scotch tape.
Shorts project 2

It's important to move the pen/elastic combo slowly, and to know when to push against the fabric and when to ease up. Once you begin to trace the path around the waistband, beware of snags where the fabric leaves only a small space between the stitching for the drawstring, and also of poking through the fabric instead of following the elastic band path.
Shorts project 3

I found that a bunching technique works pretty well. With one hand I pushed the fabric over the ballpoint, and used the other hand to pull it through.
Shorts project 4

Eventually you should come out the other end again. Hooray!
Shorts project 6
Shorts project 7

Be sure to tie those big knots in the end that you were too lazy to do in the first place. And enjoy your old clothes all over again.
Shorts project 8

Monday, July 21, 2008

Least girl power songs

Classic 50's Sign
Here's a good two parter. Let's start with the negative and then go positive! I've noticed that some pop songs make me feel all like the emancipated post-modern feminist that I am, and other songs... don't. OK, there's a lot of songs that would fall into both categories. By the way, if you listen to pop song lyrics about love really carefully (a practice which I don't recommend), you'll basically never hear the extolling of happy and healthy relationships. It's either clinginess and infatuation, or being free and single. Can you think of a healthy relationship/love song?
Here's just a few where the underlying sentiment reminds me of nails on a chalkboard. The following are decidedly not girl power anthems.

The Ronettes - Be My Baby
OK, this song is damn catchy. It's emblematic of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound style that dominated the early 60s. It was featured on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Brian Wilson worships it. But if you listen to the lyrics, they are sosososo bad. Basically the girl is singing that she's willing to give up her life for this dude and follow him around like a little puppy (but they'll look really good while they're doing it). And if I'm correct, this fantasy of subservience (he gets three kisses for every one she gets, do the math) is not even based on a real relationship. She's only just seen him! Enjoy this ode to codependency.

Kylie Minogue - Better the Devil You Know
If you are American, you've never heard this song. If you aren't American, there's no way you haven't heard it 8000 times. See, everywhere in the world except for the USA, Kylie's a pop superstar on the level of Madonna. In Amurrica, she's along the lines of a 2-hit wonder. This is one of her biggest dance songs from the early 90s that never made it stateside.
Kylie sees the Ronettes' masochism and raises them to infinity. While Ronnie Spector is wrapped up in a fantasy about a man she doesn't even know, Kylie already knows she has a craptastic dude on her hands. She's basically like "well yeah, you strayed, and are a sucky boyfriend, but I'll take you back because better the devil you know!" She sings with such innocence and verve, you'd never know how dark these lyrics are. "I'll be here every day, waiting for your love to show"? The clock's a-tickin', girl! On the plus side: Nick Cave was so impressed with this song he asked her to record a duet with him, and thus a cool collaborative partnership (presumably of equals?) was born.

Tammy Wynette - Stand By Your Man
I can't come down on the whole of country music for lack of girl power, since I know quite a few rousing anthems from some other country lasses. But then there's this little ditty. Tammy's had to defend the song basically since its release, derided by the likes of 60s-70s era feminists and Hillary Clinton. Again, I think the lyrics speak for themselves. Her role in the relationship is basically that of the Giving Tree. She provides him with two arms to cling to, something warm to come home to, yadda yadda yadda. In looking for positives here... wow, I never knew hair could be teased so high! Ooo shiny sparkly red dress!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rusty and leaky no more!

There's a wee bit of a drought going on California right now. For some time my toilet has been making a constant 'drip drip drip' noise throughout the night. Putting on my Sherlock Holmes cap, I deduced that this sound was most likely water. Finally I decided it was time to do something about this. I have to admit, I'd never tried any home repairs of the... aquatic variety. Luckily the internet is my friend and showed me the diagrams of toilets' inner workings. Did you know how many symptoms faulty toilets can have? They can leak from the tank to the floor, the bowl to the floor, the tank to the bowl, groan, whistle, hiss, gurgle, crack, sing Celine Dion songs... you name it. Luckily, there are very few parts, and a lot of different problems involve the same parts.

Based on a few tests that would make a Bayesian proud, I determined that my flapper was the problem and water was leaking from the tank into the bowl. No no, not my 1920's fringey dress. The flapper is the main mechanism that makes the water go-no go into the bowl. It's connected by a chain to the toilet handle. An old flapper often gets 'wavy' on the sides and doesn't sit fully onto the round thing. (I'm sorry, I can only use so many technical terms before I descend back into my stock descriptors.) You know those toilets where you have to hold down the handle for a long time? It's totally the flapper's fault. Constant dripping sound? Flapper. Too much OR too little water for the flush? Flapper flapper flapper.

Anyway, all toilet replacement parts are super cheap at the hardware store. I bought a replacement flapper w/base combo that installs on top of the old one. I turned off the water supply via turning the valve thing and disconnected the supply tube. I drained the tank of water, and scraped out the considerable amount of rust that had accumulated. I then used a hairdryer to fully dry the round thingy area. The replacement thing mounted right on top of the old thing. I also put in a few bottles of water to try to minimize the water in the tank for the environment and all that. Now it works like a charm. Toilets are really one of the easiest things in the world to repair. So if yours is at all annoying, don't be afraid to use the internetz for diagnosis and cheaply replace the faulty parts. Score one for DIY!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sarah Haskins = awesome

I'm not the only one with a serious girl crush on Sarah Haskins. She's getting noticed all over the blogsphere (and even NPR!) for her hilarious videos for Current TV's show InfoMania. She lampoons advertising and marketing in a segment called Target: Women. She's covered everything from yogurt to wedding dresses to botox to suffrage. She's a Harvard grad and Second City alum (hard to decide which is more impressive!) whose background in improv and impeccable comic timing mean that she's going to have a bright career ahead of her. I'd say she's also an accomplished tri-athlete, but I'm pretty sure that's a different Sarah Haskins.
While some blogs are clamoring for her to join Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show, I think she should make it on her own terms. We need more women comics out there, and funny ones at that. Why should she have to come up through the ranks of male-dominated mainstream media? As much as I love Jon Stewart and old-school SNL, she deserves a show in her own right. And if this earnest and upbeat essay about choosing a career in show business doesn't win you over to her camp, nothing will!
Here's her latest video, "Feeding Your F---ing Family."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Just a happy kid

I'm having so much fun with the blogging thing! I've got a lot of ideas in the pipeline (especially for 80s music, bwahaha), so I hope I can keep this up pretty regularly. Still a few kinks to work out, such as the html for flickr pictures and such. But it's great how it's changing what I do, from paying more attention to documenting my days, getting to share ideas with my friends, and even taking more pictures and joining flickr. I feel so Web 2.0, and like a kid in a candy store!

"When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." I Cor. xiii. 11. Let me just say what utter crap I find this sentiment. Maybe it's because I was a goofy camp counselor, or that I study children for my career, but there is always a time and a place for "childish things." A sense of wonder and excitement about life and little things, doing a silly dance, singing at the top of your lungs, being totally unselfconscious, being brutally honest, openness and positivity, having a crazy imagination... I mean, stuff like throwing temper tantrums is better left to the days of yore, but overall us old and jaded adults can stand to learn a lot from children. Now excuse me while I go turn cartwheels in the grass and bask in the sunlight!

Now playing: Nada Surf - Happy Kid
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Scary obsessive love songs

I just love making music lists! Today's list is a theme that doesn't even restrict itself to the 80s. Nay, we have the 80s, 90s, and 00s representin' below. Instead of good old fashioned love songs, how about we skip right to the creepy ones embracing sentiments that send most of us running for the hills.

The Police - Every Breath You Take
It's hard to believe that this has been a popular song at weddings, clearly by couples who haven't listened to the lyrics. When I fantasize about a romantic partner, I don't usually think of a man who watches every move I make, every word I say, every single day. That makes me think 'taser'. Nor does it make me think "hmmm I should record this for my dead friend the Notorious B.I.G.," but apparently Puff Daddy thought differently.
Unlike a lot of neon-colored crazy-haired videos from the 80s, this is a moody black & white video that stands the test of time. While it might not be an endearing song, Sting's brilliant lyrics do a good job of capturing the mindset of a stalker. I just hope he didn't do too much research into his role.

Garbage - #1 Crush
This is the ultimate Fatal Attraction love song (she even says she won't be ignored!) from the mid-90s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. "I would lie for you, beg and steal for you" makes me think she might not make the healthiest girlfriend, but now I know who to hire if I ever want to shoplift or off someone.

Weird Al - Do I Creep You Out?
So this is an intentionally hilarious video, a parody of Taylor Hicks' American Idol song "Do I Make You Proud." Animated by the folks over at JibJab (creators of the "This Land is Your Land" video), it is incredibly funny, so perhaps not so "scary" after all!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy birthday to you

2) Making a wish!
Originally uploaded by pyza*
It's birthday season among many of my friends and family. There's a lot of American customs that are built around birthdays: the cake, the ice cream, the presents, the song "Happy Birthday", having a group of people hoist you in the air the number of years you've been alive and hitting your butt on an oar in front of a room full of people... oh wait, that last one was just at my summer camp.
So, back to the normal American birthday customs. In a recent discussion with a friend of mine from Bulgaria, she mentioned that her homeland does things a little bit differently. I don't know if this extends to other countries in the area. When it's your birthday, you share the happiness of your day by giving other people birthday cake and yummy treats. (In the event of a birthday dinner at a restaurant, the birthday boy/girl picks up the tab.) She had brought in homebaked goodies for her potentially befuddled American officemates on her last birthday. She also said giving Americans birthday presents was "really annoying", but apparently the gift giving custom is the same in both countries, and that's her personal grumblings.
If I'm doing my birthday math correctly, the amount of food given and received in both the American and Bulgarian traditions should be about equal for a full year, presuming everyone is nice to everyone else, and eats about the same. But slightly different implications lurk beneath the seeming mathematical egalitarianism. When you pick up the tab on your birthday, you're essentially saying that happiness is best shared with other people. It's a bunch of giving at the same time from one giver. When your friends foot the bill on your birthday, you're saying, "today is MY day and by golly you're all going to be happy for me!" It's a bunch of getting at the same time for one recipient. And doesn't that seem fitting in our land of individualistic thinking? (Please forgive me for the overgeneralization, cultural psychologists.)
I'll have to decide what I want to do for my own birthday dinner in a couple weeks time. Who knows? Maybe I'll go all Bulgarian! (Just don't sing me "Happy Birthday", which is actually a copyrighted song. How much in royalties do you owe now?)
EDIT: Thanks to yet another Bulgarian for clarifying that the giving custom is about foooood, not presents. I should fact check before I post these bad boys!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I don't know whether to laugh... or to dance!

80s Dance
Originally uploaded by TheBeej
I adore new wave music from the 80s. Alas, you see, there is no new 1980s music coming out. So when I want to hear new stuff, I have to dig deeper and deeper into 80s obscurity. Thanks to various music blogs and great 80s dance clubs, I have expanded my music collection til it's almost bulging. Allow me to walk you through some of the most hilarious, danceable music videos on You Tube.

Silent Circle - Touch in the Night
I learned a new genre of music with this Italo Disco band from Germany. Yes, it seems like they should be Italian, but they're not. Not to be confused with A Perfect Circle. Wonderful English-as-a-second-language lyrics. What the heck is a 'touch' in the night? Like things that go bump in the night? The lead singer's hilarious hairdo and two-step, expressionless dance move (starkly contrasted with an overactive quite happy keyboard player). The tune is relentlessly catchy though, you have been warned!

Trans-X - Living on Video
Again, a ridiculously catchy hook with ridiculous lyrics. Stop... living on video? What does that have to do with "travelling through the lightbeam" and going into hyperspace?? Again, far-from-inspired dance moves, poor human imitation of robots, and terrible hair should not stop you from getting down to this gem from these Quebecois laser-firing sound effect addicts.

Danielle Dax - Cathouse
She's like a combination of 60s go-go girl and 80s goth. Her stuff is decidedly artsy-weird, but interesting. She's also British. Who wouldn't want to get down in the Cathouse? Rawrrrr.

Chipmunk or squirrel?

I make no secret of the fact that I loathe squirrels with every fiber of my being. While other people find them utterly adorable, I sneer at their gray faces, fattened with campus scraps to the size of small dogs, ambling around devoid of evolutionary agility. I used to try to scare goody two shoes girls in college by talking in great detail how I wanted to kill and grill the campus squirrels (and this from a vegetarian!).
In Lake Tahoe last weekend, I saw what I thought was the cutest little chipmunk. He was a fast little guy so the picture is a little obscured, as seen above. I consulted a friend with animal behavior expertise and he informed me that it was, in fact, a golden mantled ground squirrel. The ears were a giveaway. So I guess I have to qualify my squirrel theory. They aren't all evil giant campus gray squirrels after all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

To nowhere...

Door to nowhere
Originally uploaded by dizzy-miss-lizzy
I took this picture at a vineyard in Sonoma Valley, California a couple years ago. Maybe it's just the Camus-loving existentialist in me, but I just adore absurdist things.
At times in my life, I've felt like I might as well be going through that door. Perhaps one of those times is now-ish. Argh, is anyone in their 20s not going through some type of quarterlife crisis?
Though the world is an uncertain place, at least we can all celebrate the yet-to-be-determined journey we're on together, courtesy of the always-absurd David Byrne:

I don't know where I'm going, I don't know where this blog is going, but I'll be damned if I can't bop along to the Talking Heads with the best of 'em!
Now playing: Talking Heads - Road to Nowhere
via FoxyTunes