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January 31, 2005

Oh no

Lately, I've seen a post or two about the recent upgrade to Apple's iLife package, which includes GarageBand 2. I didn't muck around much with GarageBand 1, because the installer disk I was using didn't seem have all the requisite files on it.

Now, I know that that sweet installer disk was simply looking out for my best interests. The new disk had everything I needed, installed iLife perfectly, and allowed me to take a dangerous trip into the inner workings of GarageBand.


Like I needed something else to distract me. So anyways, here's my first GarageBand track. Keep in mind that

  • I have no real verifiable musical ability
  • some sounds are included purely on the basis of the appeal of their names
  • I'm just fiddling with it
  • I have no real verifiable musical ability

I almost didn't put it up, because I do know of at least one occasional reader who has real verifiable musical ability, of which, if I haven't mentioned it recently enough, I have none. So be forewarned. Oh, and it's like 13 MB, and soooo not worth it to wait for a dialup download. Believe me.

Update: No, I didn't find any verifiable musical ability, but I did finally figure out how to export it into a much more manageable file size. Try this version, which is only about 1.1 MB.

Update 2: By popular demand, I present to you the the second track from my upcoming album. And by "popular demand," I mean my own compulsion to spend an hour playing with GB this morning. It's roughly the same size, I think, but this track goes for more of an ambient feel. It's also a little less percussive.


A few days back, Clancy posted about the mini-seminars (on China Miéville at Crooked Timber and on Gerald Graff at John & Belle, e.g.) that have been popping up around blogspace lately. And she concludes:

I think we should do something like this. People who study communication and, in particular, communication online, are not yet making the most of the affordances provided by weblogs. So let's do this thing! Would you rather do a seminar or a carnival, or do you have other ideas?

She and I have been bouncing it back and forth, and we've chosen a book. In the next month or so, we're going to read Wayne Booth's new book The Rhetoric of Rhetoric. We're going to read it, and we'd like to invite any of you in the neighborhood to join us. The idea is pretty simple: pick up the book, read it in the next month or so, and we'll put together a conversation about it, either distributed among participants or located at one of our blogs.

Any questions?

January 30, 2005

2 weeks down, infinity to go

It's been a much longer break from cgbvb than I'd planned on, certainly. Part of the reason for my absence was work on my graduate course, which has gotten off to a pretty strong start. But a big part of it was the decision I made to hold advising appointments with all of the students in the program at precisely the same time as I've had to read applications from prospective students. Not the wisest of decisions, I suppose.

And for obvious reasons, I can't write much about either activity. The admissions process, though, has been especially frustrating for several reasons:

  • The absence of clear-cut information concerning deadlines for application
  • The institutional decision to centralize the graduate admissions process, channelling all materials through our Graduate Enrollment Management Center
  • The inability of the GEMC to process materials in a timely fashion
  • The depressingly small stretch of time from deadline to decision, necessitating frantic requests for materials, nagging, and frustrated attempts to read files that are incomplete, through no fault of the applicant or our own program.

Starting to get the idea? The initial deadline (for fellowship nominations) in the college is February 2nd, and in some places, our deadline is listed as February 1st. This is inconvenient, to say the least. And while I understand the desire on the part of the University to centralize the process, thereby giving them access to pretty important data, we are in the position sometimes of receiving materials 2 to 3 weeks after they arrive here. Also inconvenient. Finally, all of this is happening according to a very strict schedule, which requires a great deal of committee time at the point in the semester where we are all trying to get into a groove in terms of our classes, schedules, etc.

I'm not looking for pity or anything. Truth be told, this is part of what they pay me for. But I am looking for ways to tweak this system in such a way that we can give the process the attention and energy it deserves. That'll go on my long-term projects list this week.

January 29, 2005


Can we put to rest now all the speculation about whether or not a body's weblog runs the risk of damaging one's job prospects? Okay, so maybe not. But a big congratulations to Jenny, who's been haunting the Stupid Undergrounds for a couple of years now, won an award for doing so, and has just received and accepted an offer from Penn State.

Coincidence? I think not.

But it was by coincidence that I happened across a new add for my blogroll: her colleague-to-be, Stuart Selber, is up and blogging now. Give him some traffic, and you can still catch a whiff of New Blog smell.

January 24, 2005

Creepy is the new Cool

The Starburst commercial begins in the hallway of a high school, with a slightly geeky guy standing there, as several girls get out of class and walk into the hallway. The boy calls out to Cheryl, who turns, and he tells her that he's got to show her something. They walk into what's clearly an art studio, and he walks her over to something that's covered with a cloth.

He takes off the cloth, and it's the bust of a female head, built entirely out of Starburst. "Cheryl, it's you," the guy explains. "I used lemon for your hair, because your hair's fresh and yellow. And I used cherry for your lips, because your lips are so juicy."

And as Cheryl stares at him in what I can only imagine is an emotion roughly parallel to my own as I watch this, he starts making out with this weird Starburst Chia Head. And as this happens, we hear Lionel Richie's "Hello" playing in the background. Umm. I was young enough when this song came out that I completed missed its psychotic, stalker overtones. Yeah. No longer. This particular combination of commercial and song may very well haunt my dreams tonight.

"Is it me you're looking for?"

Not so much.

January 23, 2005

Must G33k TV

I've gushed in this space before about Monk, where I described it as the best television show not appearing on HBO. And while I think Lost may be giving it a run for that title, I'm not ready to do the soul-searching necessary to offer up such a decree. The new season began on Friday, and again, if you're not watching the show, you should start. While it's not quite as dramatic as Alias's remake, Bitty Schram left the show (over a contract dispute, I think), and they recruited Traylor Howard, whose career has mostly been being the "Girl" in Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. Her role there was largely cute and perky, I think. Much less so on Monk, I suspect.

And the result was basically a transition episode, introducing us to her, and giving us backstory to explain Sharona's absence. Not bad, but not brilliant.

And only part of my point in posting. By the end of the Patriots-Steelers game tonight, I was anxiously waiting for the new CBS show Numb3rs, which features, among others, a pretty solid geek ensemble:

  • Rob Morrow, formerly of Northern Exposure
  • Sabrina Lloyd, formerly of Sports Night
  • Judd Hirsch, formerly of everything and then some
  • Peter MacNicol, formerly of Ally McBeal
  • David Krumholtz, formerly of...umm...er...The Santa Clause

Morrow's an FBI agent, while Krumholtz is his brother and a math professor who apparently harnesses serious mathematics to assist him in his cases. I say apparently bc I don't really have the math to know. The show seems pretty interesting, although I'm hard pressed to say how they'll manage to come up with solid plots over the long term. But Ridley Scott is one of the execs, and it was pretty stylish. They did a lot of flashy math interludes, modeled (I suspect) after the CSI stuff, where formulae get superimposed on phenomena, with lots of arrows and notations.

While I don't really know the math well enough to comment, I can mention that tonight's episode featured some insights that I've come to associate with network studies--the human tendency to seek underlying patterns, even when resisting them on the surface, for instance. I got the impression from the trailers that Krumholtz would be a lot less socially adept than he proved to be in this episode, which was something of a relief, bc they didn't go for cheap stereotypes in that regard. He is a little bit of a Beautiful Mind type, and I'm sure that this was another influence on the visual style of the show.

All in all, I'd call it intriguing, and worth another look. Except, of course, that CBS has scheduled it for 10 pm on Fridays, which is the same &*#$@!ing time as Monk. Of course. All of the props scheduled for CBS, for airing a show with smart people as the protagonists, have been cancelled for airing it at a time designed to remind smart people in the audience that their social lives are such that they're actually home to watch it. Not nice.

Oh, and every single reference to the show I've seen (including the URL for the show's page at CBS) keeps the 3. Woot.

That is all.

January 22, 2005

The wrong kind of adventure

is when you have to spend 45 minutes moving your car less than a block, from one unplowed side of the street to the other unplowed side of the street, because if you don't, you'll get a $35 ticket. And you have to do so when:

Temperature: 3
Wind speed 20-30 mph
Wind Chill: -19
Current Snowfall: 4-6 inches
Depth of drift holding door open: 18-20 inches
Signs of snow stopping: 0

The only silver lining I can imagine here is the fact that my apartment building is about a block away from a Rite-Aid. Granted, it's uphill, but then the return trip is downhill. Granted, I have to cross a major thoroughfare to get there, but when it's this bad out, I can move about as fast as the cars.

1 week down, infinity to go

Yeah, yeah, I know.

But this is actually a brief post of semi-serious reflection. This is not the first time I've been called upon to do a little administration--in Virginia, I was the coordinator for the Professional Writing part of our MA program. This involved a little bit of curriculum design/revision, a little bit of scheduling, a little bit of advising, and, in my recollection at least, was largely informal.

But this is the first time where I've occupied a more formal position, one that carries its own office, and one where I actually rate assistance. M is not an "assistant" or "secretary" per se--her official title is Graduate Program Coordinator. I'm tempted to observe that M in fact does the "real work" while I strut around singing the praises of J. J. Abrams, Tony Shalhoub, and Junior Mints. It's not quite that bad, though--take a look at my schedule for next week if you don't believe me. Programs of all sizes and inclinations need both direction and coordination.

But see, one of the things that she coordinates is my calendar, which is both odd and tremendously liberating. It's odd, because I'm pretty self-sufficient as far as my professional life goes. I generally prefer to make my own copies, run my own errands--I don't like to make work for other people. And yet, there's a real luxury in allowing someone else to manage my calendar. In my first week, it's the biggest felt change in my life. I don't have to worry about setting up appointments, juggling demands, etc. They just talk to M, and I show up when I'm supposed to.

I could get used to that. I know that pretty much everyone from middle management on up in pretty much every industry already takes this for granted, and maybe someday I will too. But not for a while yet. Right now, I'm deeply appreciative, for something as silly as a printout of my weekly calendar that someone else has generated for me.

That is all.

January 20, 2005


Oh. My. God. It's been years and years since I read Mark Trail. Heck, it's been years since I carried on a conversation involving deeply sardonic praise of the faux profundity of Family Circus. And yet, just when I thought the web couldn't give me any more of what I didn't even realize I needed, I found a link (hat tip to Johndan) to joshreads.com. Josh reads these comics so I don't have to.

Or rather, he reads the comics so that I myself want to. It's early, but I'm thinking that Josh will join Merlin's 5ives, the Onion, and Homestar in my personal Hall of Funny. Good stuff.

And yes, I almost titled this post "A Post about Collin Brooke, the author of Collin vs. Blog"

An Entry Conferring "Most Favored Televisual Entertainment" Status on the ABC Wednesday Night Lineup

Well, not quite all of it. Needless to say, given my hostility to "reality" programming, I can't get behind WifeSwap or SpouseSwitch or FamilyFlip or whatever the hell that crap is called.

But in the interest of continuing my series of Directorial Decrees, and in response to a reader request (!!), I present to you the first recipient of "Most Favored Entertainment" status, the 120 or so minutes on Wednesday night where we are treated to the work of J. J. Abrams. I'm speaking, of course, of the shows Lost and Alias, the back-to-back anchors of my weekly entertainment cycle.

I'm coming quickly to the conclusion that it's largely pointless for me to conceal my own "aging fanboy" status, so I will warn you right now that this post reflects this status without apology. Years and years of fantasy and science fiction leaves a body with particular tastes when it comes to entertainment, and I recognize that those tastes aren't universal, that not everyone will share my preferences. So this is not a post about "why Lost & Alias are great" but rather "why I like them." Caveat lector, and all that.

Damn if I'm not a dork.

So anyhow, one of the core elements that draws me to both shows is a particular style of storytelling that Abrams has been honing to good effect for the last few years, and it's a style that these shows have in common with a lot of epic book series and tv series (and if you have trouble thinking of X-Files or Star Trek as epic, well, umm, don't read further?). For ease of analog, think the original Star Wars, and how provincial and nerdy Luke Skywalker is. Or think the character of Dr. Watson, whose understanding unfolds on our behalf in Sherlock Holmes stories. A good epic series begins with characters with whom the audience can identify. But there's always a disjunct between the character's horizon and the place she or he will ultimately occupy. Luke starts out on Tatooine and ends up defeating the Empire. The process of unfolding that character's horizon until it begins to reach an epic scale is the way that epics work best for me (and for most people, I suspect). When I reviewed the movie treatment of LeGuin's Earthsea a while back, for example, one of the biggest failings of that version was that it basically ignored the unfolding that LeGuin allows for in the books themselves.

So, unfolding. In Lost, a bunch of people get on a plane and crash on an island. There's an immediate goal--how we will get home?--but Abrams's island is far more than it seems at first, which provides the outer horizon of understanding, and a goal that's becoming more and more pressing as Said gets captured by a mystery Frenchwoman (in next week's repeat), as Clare gets kidnapped, and as various suggestions of the supernatural (Walt's strangeness, Locke's miracle recovery, Jack's hallucinations) manifest. One of the ways that Abrams draws that outer horizon out, though, is by giving us flashbacks for various characters each week, helping us to identify with them as individual characters. To my mind, one of the really genius moves of Lost is this strategy for dealing with a 40+ person ensemble cast. The series starts at an intermediate point, and moves both backwards and forwards to create that inner/outer horizon dynamic.

Alias worked a little more traditionally in the sense that Sydney Bristow is our "in," as the opening sequence now goes to great length to remind us. She begins as a part-time grad student, full-time spy for a covert branch of the CIA. Except that she finds out it's not the CIA, but a terrorist organization instead, and so she goes double agent. There's way too much more to capture here, but I'll note that the first three seasons of Alias uses plot tricks galore, pushing that outer horizon outwards, just as we think we understand it all, discovering new family members, Renaissance prophecies, genetically manipulated dopplegangers, competing organizations, etc.

I think that the Abrams crew recognized a couple of dangers in the show. First, it was awfully tough, I think, for the series to attract new viewers. It's not as complex as some people make it out to be, but then, I've been watching since the get-go, and for someone hopping in during Seasons 2 or 3, it was bound to be a little difficult. And the second problem was that the show was in danger of becoming a self-parody. They'd slowly killed and doubled one of Syd's best friends, put another in witness protection, married off her love interest (in the "2 years later..." cliffhanger of Season 2). In the terms I used above, they'd slowly removed Sydney's inner horizon, the life with which the audience actually could identify, and so when Syd flirts with the idea of leaving the spy game for good, it ends up sounding disingenuous--during Season 3, it was pretty tough to imagine exactly what life she'd be leaving for.

So, Season 4. Alias has undergone something of a plot reset. Some of last season's cliffhangers are dumped, almost apologetically. Syd's recently discovered half-sister Nadia is tortured by her father (Arvin Sloane), and yet chooses to join him at the end of the 3rd season. The darkness of that choice has pretty much been abandoned in favor of a much less developed character, one that seems a little at odds with the character as it was conceived last season. They've kept the main characters together, dumped some of the marginal ones, and taken them out of the institutional context of the CIA (they're now a black ops team).

For me, the problem of the new season is that outer horizon. The only ongoing tension is the fact that Nadia remains unaware of Jack Bristow's role in the death of her (and Sydney's) mother. But "I've got a secret" is an inner horizon issue. And after 3 episodes, there's no outer horizon, no real reason for what they're doing, no ongoing villains, no context to place the characters in.

To be fair, I thought tonight's episode was the best of the new season. It felt like they finally committed to treating Vaughn as a character, and they did it in an interesting way, allowing his attempt to turn a former IRA agent turn into self-therapy. And the closing scene, where he falls asleep while Sydney tries to connect with him, led me to think that Vaughn may actually (finally!) grow into a character that's more than just "Sydney's boyfriend." That's a good thing.

And I hope that, after a few freestanders to bring in new viewers, we'll start to develop the kinds of ongoing stories that reward loyal viewing, and make a series more than an interchangeable set of shiny objects. Right now, the potential tension between Nadia and Jack just doesn't do it for me. I simply can't reconcile Nadia crying over a picture of her mother with the potentially dark, kick-ass, wild card character she was at the end of last season. It's certainly not beyond the Abrams crew to simply have her be part of the gang for a couple of months, and then turn out to be someone completely different and unpredictable later on--in fact, that'd be par for this course. But she's got to acquire some inner horizon and characterization of her own or be part of an outer horizon. The character hasn't earned a pass, as far as I'm concerned.

So, I'm guardedly optimistic about Alias. And I'm pretty high on Lost, which strikes me as a show that demonstrates Abrams's ability to learn the lessons provided by three seasons of Alias. Lost has an awful lot of polish for a new show, and it does things that no one else on the networks is even trying. For a while, I'll be watching Lost and staying tuned, but hopefully by mid-season, they'll both be can't-miss.

January 19, 2005

Like I didn't see that coming...

I promise that these kinds of posts will decrease in frequency as the novelty does, but for the moment, you're stuck with me.

Anywho, one of the big tasks I have to manage over the next 2 months or so is graduate admissions. That is, we have a small number of slots available for incoming graduate students, and the Graduate Committee, annually, reads the applications, comes to a consensus on ranking them, and we settle on our incoming class for next year. As with any application process, we get to say "yes" to a few people, and "no" to many more, and those decisions are pretty important--we affect the lives of our applicants on both sides in significant ways. Grad school, for better or worse, plays a huge role in shaping the lives of its students--in our field, at least, you're talking a 4-5 year investment of time, an association that will follow you and inform others' perception of you for years after that, and decisions about your areas of interest and specialization that potentially affect your position in the field for your entire career. It can be a pretty big decision.

So, our deadline is this week, and yesterday, we sent out emails to all of the applicants, letting them know either (a) that their applications were complete, or (b) what we had yet to receive. My attitude here was that it's better to have information than not. There was also a disclaimer at the bottom explaining that, since they send materials to a separate office on campus, we may not have received materials already sent.

I won't quite say that this was a mistake, but apparently, we got just about as many panicked replies today as we sent out emails yesterday. Now there's a big surprise. I can't blame them, because it is a big decision and all, as discussed above. Our admissions process at SU is centralized, which makes it really hard for individual departments to set deadlines and stick by them, because a student may meet the deadline without our realizing it until a week later. But our deadline gives us less than three weeks to make some initial decisions about funding, in terms of fellowships and the like. It's a really messy system, with different people responsible for different steps, and no awareness of how the requirements of their step affects the rest of the process. And ultimately, we in individual departments are responsible for negotiating a mess not of our own creation. Ugh.

Lesson #1: What looks at the time like a blessing for your clients/constituents may quickly turn into a curse for you.

When I'm teaching, I think of this as the Transparency Principle: it rarely pays to be entirely transparent as an instructor. For instance, it was vogue for a while to engage one's students in discussions of how potentially arbitrary grading can be. I've done it plenty of times. And yet, all they remember, later on, is grades = unfair, which is an entirely different argument, but one they're willing to deploy if their 4.0 is in danger from the A- you've given them on a paper. All too willing.

And I think that each of us wants the bureaucracies we encounter to be transparent. Or rather, transparent for us, because we (and I'm no different in this regard) don't usually stop to think what a nightmare a truly transparent bureaucracy would be. Like "accountability," transparency is more a "preaching virtue" than a practice one.

Wow. I'm going on and on. Done now.

January 18, 2005

Day 1 of ...

Here's a little advice for all you job marketeers: on your first day in a new position, it's often best if you wield your newfound power and influence with reckless abandon. No one likes a shrinking violet, after all. Strut around your department, make declarations, and, as D&G might say, effect incorporeal transformations.

With school and the program officially in session, I decided that it was a good time to pass some resolutions, which may or may not make their way into policy at some point down the road:

House Resolution 1302A: A Resolution Declaring Canteloupe the Official Fruit of the Graduate Program

House Resolution 2914: A Resolution Declaring Junior Mints the Official Movie Snack Food of the Graduate Program

and my last example I'll include in its entirety as a sign of my pride in its wisdom:

House Resolution 632C: A Resolution for the Designation of an Official Tool for the Graduate Program

1. Whereas, in close consultation with Webster's 5th International Unabridged Dictionary, it has been determined that the word "circular" both contains all 3 initials of the CCR program, and contains them in order, and

2. Whereas, through painstaking empirical study, it has been determined that "circular saw" is the single best, tool-related phrase for the purposes of demonstrating an exaggerated East Coast accent not unlike that used by comedian Mike Myers on Saturday Night Live in his recurring "Coffee Talk" skits,


3. From this moment forth, the circular saw shall be known as the official tool of the graduate program, and accorded all the rights and privileges associated herewith.

Brilliant stuff, I'm telling you.

Okay, so maybe my day wasn't quite that exciting. Advising appointments, a missed meeting (oops), a little bit of chimney sweeping, and my failure to remember to leave campus earlier than 6:30 when there's a basketball game scheduled for 7:00 (double oops). SU beat Georgetown, but the Hoyas took us to overtime.

That is all. Maybe tomorrow I'll follow up on my campaign promise of forming an ad-hoc committee to study the fiscal viability of designating an official graduate program candle scent. Stay tuned.

January 17, 2005

The House of Graduate Direction

Which, I suppose, could also involve flying daggers. But not at the moment. I've been pretty mum about this, even though it's not so much of a secret anymore. As of tomorrow, I'll be taking over the position of Director of Graduate Studies in our department, a move which I can only describe using words that begin with the letter A: anxiety, anticipation, administration, et alia.

So, anyway, that means a new office, which I've partly moved into (the outstanding order for shelving units having not been completed yet, which means my boxes are yet to come). And I present to you, for your viewing pleasure, my new digs:

the CCR grad office

Ahh, you say, this doesn't look so bad, even if the lighting is a bit yellow. Well, wait, there's more. This is merely the reception area. I need to remember to bring in old copies of Highlights magazine for those who have to wait for me to see them...

That door at the back? That's my office door, which leads to a room that is neater right now than it will be at any point over the next 3 or 4 years:

my actual office

And yes, that is a G4 Cube on my desk, designed to provide a contrast with my (fairly) new flat-panel monitor. When the new Mac Mini grows a little older, and pages through the old, yellowed black-and-white photos in the Mac photo album, it'll see a picture of the Cube on the deck of a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, full of hope as it leaves its family behind to make a new life for itself at the turn of the century. Umm. Yeah. I may keep my Cube forever.

So it's not such a bad office, or at least it won't be once my shelves arrive and I can let my eyes wander over my Big Wall of Books. And I can hear you thinking, well, at least he has a window...


Umm....guess again.


Yes, my window opens onto the scenic vista of a meeting space in the main office, set off from the fray by temporary walls. And while I can see how you might think that the window is tinted, you'd be wrong again. Part of it is the distortion of a double-window; most of it is hardened tape-gunk from past generations of occupants who used the window instead as a bulletin board.

Not such a bad idea, that. Although I must admit that I'm thinking seriously about rasterbating an image or two, and only occasionally lifting the blinds. When I was in college, I actually rasterbated the picture of Foucault off of the Foucault Reader, although I did it the old fashioned way (the enlarge function on a copier), and put up a 4 by 6 foot image of his head on my dorm wall.

Have I babbled enough about my new office? Oh. Oh yes.

The House of Flying Daggers

Braved a light snow tonight (or last night, technically) to catch a late showing of House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou's followup to Hero, or at least American audiences' followup. I'm still absorbing and reflecting, so this will probably be short.

Critics who whined about the "complicated, obscure plot" of Hero will be happy to know that there is certainly a simpler plot at work in HFD. The movie's no less visually sumptuous, but struck me as a little less caught up with the iconography of color, season, etc. than Hero. But (again) that may just be me as an American, and that's also not to say that this isn't visually stunning.

I found myself, towards the end, hearing echoes of Romeo and Juliet in the plot, although there are some crucial differences. Nevertheless, characterization comes with small, incidental details, in a way that leaves the characters feeling almost archetypal in the same way that Shakespeare's work functions for us. The movie's set as a period piece, but it's not really "historical." It's focused on the love story, but it does so with broad, sweeping gestures that don't really bring the characters close.

If I had one qualm here, it's that, as I thought about it, it seemed like there were parts of the movie (early ones) that, upon reflection, were designed for the viewer rather than for narrative consistency. Coming out here as quickly as it has on the tail of Hero (I haven't even watched the DVD of it that I got for Christmas yet), it's hard to avoid comparison. For me, HFD was a notch below Hero, even as it maintained the high standards for visual production that Hero displayed. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi are very charismatic, but their characters were a little less so for me than those in Hero.

All of which is to say that I'd still rate HFD very highly. I didn't regret paying full price for it for a second. If I have more to share about it, I'll return to this post, but for the moment, that's all.

January 16, 2005

Stacy's mom

So it's been another football weekend, with a little bit of SU basketball folded in. And so I'm watching today, and while I don't pay a whole lot of attention to the commercials (or rather, I try not to), I hear the Fountains of Wayne song "Stacy's Mom" come on, in an ad for Dr. Pepper.

Apparently, Stacy's mom "has got it going on" because she's got a cooler full of Dr. Pepper in the back of her minivan. Ahh. So that's why "I've waited for so long."

I can't even begin to unpack the layers of "ick" that this commercial inspires in me. Rest assured, though, that I won't be drinking Dr. Pepper anytime soon. That is all.

January 14, 2005

La Vie Aquatique

Before I left for the frozen tundra, I had occasion to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It's gotten mixed reviews, not the least reason for which, I think, is that it's a pretty subtle movie, far more subtle than Wes Anderson's rep. And so, alot of people are going to go see it, and just not get it. And that was the case in the audience with whom I saw it--no one really knew when they were supposed to laugh, and there's nothing quite so painful as watching a movie as dryly funny as LASZ with people expecting something different. I thought it was hilarious, but then, that kind of humor is right up my alley.

So here's the deal on the Life Aquatic. If, like me, you grew up watching shows like Wild Kingdom, then the flat, affect-less, documentary style of Zissou will seem familiar. The movie makes a big deal out of being eleven years old at several points, and that's really Zissou's target audience. He doesn't know a lot about science, he's not much of a leader, and he's been performing for so long that he doesn't have a lot of personality outside of the role that he adopts in his films. For adults, Zissou is a pain in the ass, but for eleven year olds, wow. Eleven year olds don't need the packaging that adults do.

So the movie begins as kind of a pomo critique of that documentary style, a style far more suited to the pre-Internet days and suited for kids old enough to be curious but young enough to suspend cynicism. And eventually, we come to see Zissou as someone who's trapped by the niche that he's created for himself, a niche that doesn't really allow him genuine relationships with his peers, his wife, his crew. When his best friend dies, he embarks on an Ahab-like quest, but even then, it's documented ceaselessly and pretty flat. The humor in the movie is incredibly deadpan, and once you realize this, it's equally ceaseless. From the exercises they do, to their uniforms, to the layout of the ship, to the dolphins, it's hilarious.

I won't spoil, bc I do recommend seeing it. I will say this, though. At one point, towards the end, Cate Blanchett's character says, seemingly out of nowhere, that "In twelve years, he'll be 11 1/2" in reference to her unborn child. This happens at a weird moment, but as I thought about it, I think the message there is that there needs to be space in the world for 11-year olds, and that Zissou's career, which caters to this audience, is thus worthwhile and worth continuing.

I'll also note that there's one tight focus on Bill Murray's face that's perfect. It's the scene that the entire movie leads up to, and I'm sorry to say that I think most of the audience around me missed it. You'll know it when you see it. That one shot, though, is the soul of the movie.

I'll note finally that Willem Dafoe is high-larious in this movie. High larious.

That's all.

January 13, 2005

La Vie Nomadique

Yes, I am back. Have been for a couple of days.

I woke up this morning to the sounds of people in my apartment. Yike. Fortunately, I suppose, it was the super and the building inspector, come to see that I was sleeping okay. Well, that, or to check on whatever it is that inspectors check.

The downside of unannounced home invasion is that it doesn't give you time to clean the apartment first, though. And, since I spent so much time away from here in the fall, umm...well...not the tidiest apartment in the building. If the mess in my apartment were a matter of homeland security, my door would be registering an alert level of orange. Actually, after an hour or so, it's probably down to yellow, and I'm hoping to settle down to green today before I take a break for lunch. Yeah. My problem is that I tend to go bananas when I'm getting ready for a trip, and so I always come home to an apartment that's messier than normal, but I rarely have the energy post-trip to do anything about it very quickly. Heck, if I've done laundry recently enough, I'll sometimes live out of my suitcase until it's unpacked.

Okay. Back to work. That is all.

January 7, 2005

Flavor is the new taste

If, like me, you watched more than your fair share of football over the holiday season, perhaps (again like me) you encountered the sports fan's version of the old Chinese "man-butterfly" dilemma. To wit, am I watching football with beer commercials, or beer with football commercials? No matter how much you cling to the worldly illusion of the former, those beer commercials sink in a little.

And so, one of the things I've noticed lately is how beer companies are no longer content to exaggerate the "taste" of their product. Now, they are skirting the issue of bad taste by speaking instead of the amount of flavor, as if there's a certain amount of flavor that's significant. First time I saw this was from Miller Lite during their really stooopid "Election 2004" campaign. In one of the ads, reporting on the results of a national taste test, they beam with pride over the fact that a majority of tasters found that Miller "had more flavor" than Budweiser. Not that the majority of tasters preferred the flavor (as you learn in the small print to the ad), but that Miller has more. At least one more company has followed suit in their ads, and recently, I saw that KFC has taken up the "more flavor" banner.

Umm, ok. I'm just going to say this once: motor oil has more flavor than water (I think), but that doesn't mean that I'm going to go out and start ordering pints of it at my favorite bar.

Somewhere out there, there's an ad executive who's feeling all smug and self-important, believing that this strategy is cleverness incarnate. Don't. It's dumb, and more than a little pathetic.

That is all.

January 4, 2005



Growing up on the east coast of Iowa, my sports loyalty was always to the teams from Chicago. And while most of my early years are now a blur, I still have memories of going to games at Wrigley to watch the Cubs. Heck, I still remember watching Rick Reuschel and Dave Kingman on WGN after school.

My all-time favorite Cub? Ryne Sandberg. The only qualification I can add to my joy over his election today into the Baseball Hall of Fame is that it took the voters three years to elect him. The recent explosion of power shortstops has left us jaded, I think; how else to explain the fact that the voters failed to recognize a guy who worked his tail off to become the best fielder and hitter at his position for years. Yes, yes, Robbie Alomar, but Alomar took that slot over from Sandberg, who was easily the best player at his position for several years, and who helped change the way that middle infielders were perceived. He didn't have a great deal of fielding range, especially there at the end, but he was amazingly consistent, and his bat anchored the Cubs lineup for at least a decade.

Congratulations, Ryno. Now if the voters will just trouble themselves to remember how Bruce Sutter dominated the game and introduced an entire generation to the split-finger...

January 3, 2005

Ice storm

Ice storm

I would guess that this happens on the edges of weather fronts, when it's warm enough above to rain (instead of snow) and cold enough below to freeze (instead of drain). The result? A thin, brittle coating that just about dropped me on my butt when I half-skated down the driveway to retrieve the garbage cans today. But when the wind blows hard enough to move the lighter tree branches, you also get a crackle all around you that's one of the signature sounds of winter.

Very cool if all you're doing is peeking your head outdoors to listen (or moving your car into the garage temporarily).

January 2, 2005

Bowled over

Just for the record, and this is a post mainly for my fellow college football fans, the main thing wrong with the BCS isn't the stupid, interminable, year-end, "mythical national title" debates. It's not even the fact that the voters in the polls are unduly influenced by those debates, over-ranking the conference champions of down conferences so that the BCS bowls end up looking better than they actually are.

No, the biggest problem is that the BCS bowls make all the other ones look like small potatoes. Case in point was today's Capital One Citrus Bowl, which pitted Iowa against LSU. I'm a total Iowa homer, I know, but this was one of the most exciting bowl games (and finishes) I've seen in a long time. Both teams are somewhere around the tail of the top 10 (depending on the poll), neither had a real chance at a "big" bowl, but both teams came to play, both have great coaches, and the result was a back-and-forth game that was decided on a last-second 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway, who scored the first and last touchdown of his career at Iowa. Wow.

And it wasn't just this one. Michigan-Texas? Great game. Boise State-Louisville? Great game. Unfortunately, the BCS guaranteed that Utah would not have a worthy opponent in the Fiesta. Ditto for tomorrow's matchup of Auburn and ACC champ (?!) Virginia Tech. Hopefully, Oklahoma-USC will be decent.

March Madness is still my favorite time of year, but the 2-3 days of Bowl intensity are pretty good in themselves, as long as I get to spend them watching good football (as opposed to bubbleheaded announcers droning about the BCS). Oh, and didn't Keith Jackson retire once already? Isn't it about that time again?