Thursday, March 30, 2006

Arrested is really dead

According to this article in Variety, Arrested Development is likely dead for real. The show's creator, Michael Hurwitz, has quit.

In the category for most disturbing irony: when I clicked through to the story, I was greeted by this ad (not sure if it's there every time):



It's nice to know that we live in a world where Arrested Development hangs on by a thread for two and a half seasons, while George Lopez surges to 100 episodes.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Go Black Bears!

UMaine is in the Frozen Four.

No thank you, Easter Bunny

Am I the only one who has noticed an undesired change in the nature of Cadbury Creme Eggs? I seem to remember they used to be really runny on the inside, sort of like a chocolate covered cherry or...well, an egg. Now it's all gooey and sticky. Yuck, no thanks.

Not all recent Easter candy developments are bad, however. Starburst Jelly Beans, for example, have rocketed to the top of my list of great treats this time of year. (Yes, I know they're available all year round, but jelly beans of all types are and always will be categorized as Easter candy.)

My favorite Easter candies:

1. Starburst Jelly Beans

2. Whopper's Robin Eggs

3. Regular old jelly beans

4. Solid chocolate bunnies

Easter candies I will never eat under any circumstances:

1. Peeps. If you eat and enjoy these, I want to fight you.

2. White "chocolate" hollow Easter bunnies. I've got plenty of candles around if I want to munch on that sort of thing. I'm indifferent about the hollow milk chocolate ones.

What about you? What are your favorite and most hated Easter candies?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mini-review XVIII: The Weather Man

The Movie: The Weather Man

Recommended: Yes.

Comments: It's been too long since I wrote about a movie I actually enjoyed. This one seemed to get overlooked, and indeed, I didn't figure I'd care for it much. But its central character (played by Nicholas Cage) is a very complex, fascinating character, the kind of character you don't really like very much, but you just can't bring yourself to hate because in some strange way you see yourself in him. He is a truly human person, flawed but not without real redeeming characteristics. Add to that a fine supporting role by Michael Cain, some beautiful photography, and the excellent comic relief provided by the David Sedaris/Bill Bryson-like dry writing and the fact that strangers often throw food at the weatherman when they see him on the street, and you have a commendable movie. Not a sappy drama, not a slappy comedy, but a dramatic comedy. I wish more movies succeeded in bridging those genres the way this one does.

Bonus: There's a great special feature on the DVD that talks about the choices the director and cinematographer made. We found it very interesting.

(For an explanation of the Mini-review series, click here.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reform the DMCA

When a bunch of old dudes (and a few old women) in Washington make laws about technology, they're highly likely to screw it up. Lobbyists they can understand (cha-CHING); fair use of copyrighted digital content is a little more difficult. So you get nonsense like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is offering an easy way to contact your local representative regarding a reform bill known as the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (HR 1201), which would reform some of the stupidity of the DMCA:
"HR 1201 would give citizens the right to circumvent copy-protection measures as long as what they're doing is otherwise legal. For example, it would make sure that when you buy a CD, whether it is copy-protected or not, you can record it onto your computer and move the songs to an MP3 player. It would also protect a computer science professor who needs to bypass copy-protection to evaluate encryption technology. In addition, the bill would codify the Betamax defense, which has been under attack by the entertainment industries in the 'INDUCE Act' and the MGM v. Grokster case. This kind of sanity would be a welcome change to our copyright law."

Click the link and make your voice heard!

Mini-review XVII: Animal House

Movie: National Lampoon's Animal House

Recommended? Sigh...

Comments: We watched about the first half of this movie last night before we fell asleep. My life is too short to take the time to watch the second half, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say I bet Delta house prevails against that stuffy dean. That is what the movie's about, right? The plot seemed to meander past that idea a couple times before I dozed off, anyway.

Stopped in their tracks

On Friday, Tracey and Abel and I trekked to the beleagured Irondequit Mall to meet some friends and their kids for a play date in the new indoor playground they have there. The playground is an enormous carpeted enclosure with lots of fun slides and other kid-type stuff, all made out of some space age rubberized plastic. Abel had the time of his life running around and around.

All the while, there was music playing. It was mostly the normal type of children's music, I guess. You know, the stuff that makes me cringe and that I generally keep as far away from Abel's ears as possible: Disney soundtrack numbers sung by aging celebreties, squeaky-voiced rodents singing about counting their nuts, the song the mascot bumps and grinds to at the baseball park, etc.

When "If You're Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands" came on, it caused a rather remarkable phenomenon. Almost every child in the 200' x 50' room, at least 40 kids in all, stopped in their tracks. The visual effect was stunning. One moment it was an anthill-like level of activity: kids sprinting, climbing, and crashing into each other. The next moment the place was as still as a secluded lake at dusk.

I swear, these kids just stopped whatever they were doing and sang along, or clapped their hands softly along with the cues. A few of them did the toddler dance, bending at the knees, arms out for balance and style. When the song ended, chaos resumed. It was truly one of the most bizarre events I've witnessed since Abel was born.

IM, college basketball, and a priceless stunt

From The Stanford Daily Online Edition, a story about Gabe Pruitt, USC's point guard, who spent the week leading up to an important game against UCLA chatting online with a UCLA co-ed named Victoria. He even made plans to party with her after the game. Just one problem:
Unfortunately for Pruitt, "Victoria" turned out to be a member of the Cal RallyCom, who shared the information with the rest of his student section. So when Pruitt came up to shoot his first free throws of the night, the student section erupted in chants of "Victoria" as well as his phone number. Pruitt, a 79-percent free throw shooter, missed both attempts badly, and finished just 3-of-13 from the field. Perhaps Not surprisingly, Cal ended up winning the game 71-60.

A Google search for gabe pruitt victoria turns up some interesting results, including blogs from the heckling UCLA students, and a transcript of the chat after the fact between Pruitt and the student posing as Victoria. (Pruitt was way cooler about it than I would have been.)

Just another important, world-changing use for the Internet.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fascinating: Microsoft created iPod box video parody

The iPod Observer reports: "Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla on Tuesday confirmed with iPod Observer that his company initiated the creation of the iPod packaging parody video."

I mentioned this video last month. If you haven't seen it yet (or if you just want a fresh laugh), you can watch it now on Google Video. (The YouTube version has been removed.)

If this is true, let it never be said that the Micro-softies have no sense of humor.

(Thanks for the tip, Jones.)

"Question for the masses" revisited

Not long ago, Bethany (not my sister, the other one) posted a great question in her blog that got only two responses. I'm re-asking it here in hopes that it might get a new lease on life, because I think it is fun to see how people answer it. So leave your answer in the comments!

If you were only allowed to listen to three songs for the rest of your life, what would they be?

She is a cruel tyrant. Three songs?! I guess that's what makes it "fun."

Bethany's own answer:
I'd go with "A Long December" by Counting Crows, "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap, and "Ave Maria" by Franz Biebl as performed by Chanticleer.

Tyler's response:
"English Girls Approximately" by Ryan Adams,
"Stash" by Phish as performed on A Live One,
and "Mlk" by U2.

My three are:

"You Enjoy Myself" from Phish's Junta. Enough twists and turns to love for a long time.

"Naima" by John Coltrane. "Central Park West" has a better melody as Trane's ballads go, but "Naima" was about his wife, and that would remind me of Tracey.

"Corduroy" from Pearl Jam's Vitalogy. Near-perfect hard rock song.

What about you? Which songs would you choose? And in what ways are the responses so far Pure Crazy Talk?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mini-review XVI: Bubble

Movie: Bubble

Recommended? Yes, but not necessarily for the usual reasons.

Comments (Special Two-Paragraph Edition!):

First things first. This is an important film because it was released on DVD and pay-per-view at the same time it was released in theaters. (Well, as close as can be, given that movies generally open on Fridays and DVDs hit the streets on Tuesdays.) It is the first film by a major name (Steven Soderbergh) to be released in this fashion. I so wholeheartedly support this concept that I would like it if everyone who read this went out and rented or purchased the DVD and/or paid to see it in the theater. The film industry needs to know both that there is demand for this kind of thing and that it won't ruin the theater business. Everyone should win in this scenario. So see this movie one way or another.

Now, onto the movie itself. It was cast entirely of unknown, apparently untrained actors. This gave it a homey, middle American kind of tone, which really fit the plot well. I actually think this story would have been worse off in the hands of, say, Emily Watson and John Turturro; perhaps that is because it isn't very dynamic to begin with. I'll agree with our local critic here in Rochester, who wrote, "Though [Bubble is] modestly engaging, it is far more notable for the circumstances surrounding the film than for its rather bland story." But I still enjoyed getting to know the characters a good deal. Bubble is a gentle, deliberate film about real people, low income factory workers whose seemingly innocent involvement with each other leads to violence.

Okay, a third paragraph to say this: It's not fair to compare this to Traffic, or any other Soderbergh film for that matter. It's a shame that just about every critic in the world wrote reviews that seem to center on this film's relationship to its director's portfolio, rather than on its own merits. See here for an illustration: notice how many of the blurbs include the director's name.

(For an explanation of the Mini-review series, which really is usually much more "mini" than this, click here.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Apple Cares

I like to think, hopefully not too arrogantly, that I'm a pretty smart guy. So why am I so stupid sometimes?

Today as I plugged in my laptop, I noticed something that made my heart sink: the rubber casing on the power adapter cable had split apart at the end that plugs into the computer. I could see bare wire, and I knew it would not be long before the whole thing snapped off, leaving me with a couple hours of battery life before my computer would be rendered inoperable.

Annoyed but realistic about wear and tear over three years of very heavy use, I went to apple.com to see what it would set me back to replace it.

SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS.

And not no phony Canadian dollars, neither.

I couldn't believe it, but what could I do? I called the local Apple retail store to see if they had it in stock (they did), and then got in the car and drove out to Victor to pick it up. I actually had the box in my hand and was heading toward the checkout counter before I stopped short, as if I'd walked into an invisible wall.

My laptop is still under the extended warranty! (For exactly another 49 days, as it turns out.) What was I thinking? I drove home, got the laptop and cable, got back in the car, and drove out to the Apple Store again. They replaced it, free of charge.

That was a close one. What a doofus!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cookin'

I love cooking with my wife. For some reason we don't cook together as often as we probably could, even though we both love it. But we have been cooking supper together a lot over the last month or so, in part because of a book I bought her for Valentine's Day.

Her favorite celebrity chef is Rachael Ray from the Food Network, so I bought her 30 Minute Meals 2 as a gift. Although she was thrilled to receive it, as I knew she would be, I must admit that this was also a gift to myself, because I knew it would mean a lot of fun new meals. Over the last couple weeks, we've been trying out the ones that look the best. Tonight's meal was possibly the best so far.

Soup: garlic, onions, thin-sliced potatoes, canned tomatoes, spinach, chicken stock, and topped with copious amounts of grated parmesan cheese. Mmmm.

Dessert: Yellow cake prepared from a mix as directed, but topped with a diced apple and a liberal dusting of cinnamon and sugar before baking. Oh, it was so good.

What was even better was preparing it together. I love talking and chopping and bumping into each other in our small little kitchen. I love the smell of garlic and onions dancing in hot olive oil. I love the cooperative creativity of adapting recipes to fit our shared tastes. Mostly I just love my wife and would be happy doing anything, anywhere with her.

The delicious food is just a very enjoyable byproduct.

Monday, March 06, 2006

J-Mac on CNN

If this video of a Rochester high school student doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you have no soul. He's diagnosed as highly functioning autistic, and he helps out on his school's basketball team. In the last game of the season, the coach put him in for his first-ever game action.

Watch what happens.

A longer, better produced version of the story was on ESPN. You can watch that one here.

Update (7/2/06): Yeah, this pretty much got blown way out of proportion when the dude got to meet the President. It got very old watching every news outlet in the country patronize the kid, and I grew tired of the story quickly. When it happened, it was a great moment in high school sports. And I think it pretty much went downhill from there.

Kirby Puckett, 1960-2006

R.I.P. Kirby Puckett. I was barely in high school when Kirby Puckett was leaping over walls and hitting dramatic home runs in the World Series—just old enough to be a serious fan. He was a joyful, exuberant, infectious player who also happened to be good enough for the Hall of Fame. MLB could use a few more like him. He was too young to die.

Artisan Church meta-blog project

I recently posted a request for all the bloggers who attend Artisan Church to participate in a multi-blog project by posting their thoughts about the church. The results are below. I think if I had done a better job of chasing people down, I would have a few more blogs to quote from, but it got busy last week, and I didn't really want people to be pressured, anyway. And I was very pleased with the response as it was. Big thanks to everyone who participated!

Here are some passages from what the Artisan bloggers wrote. They appear alphabetically by first name. Each blogger gets two links: the first one (on their names) is to their main blog page, and the second one (in the introduction to the citation) is for the specific post from which I'm quoting.

Bethany is the newest Artisan to participate in this project. She is a good writer and thinker, and has posted a couple times about what Artisan means to her. This passage is from a February 7 post. I shortened it a little, not because it wasn't all good, but only so it would fit here better (note the ellipses):

I am coming back to my faith more strongly now, because of the encouragement and authenticity of the people who are a part of this community. It occurred to me the other day that I actually want to spend time with Christians, something that hasn't happened since middle school.

I am learning things now. That, in fact, the saints are people to look up to and emulate, rather than random hacks that some Pope decided he liked. That there is more to Mary the mother of Jesus than just being the mother of Jesus. That the church is what happens outside of a worship service. That it is important to serve both those inside and outside the Christian community. That laughing in church is sometimes appropriate. That following Christ is a struggle and not a walk in the park or a stroll on the beach. That hymns can be beautiful and songs written by friends can be worship. That icons are windows and not idols. That listening to Dave Matthews (Styx, Ryan Adams, the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Coltrane...) is not a mortal sin. That confession is a good and necessary thing. That communion can be taken with wine and still be holy. That those I love can be vessels for the sacred even if they are unwilling. That it's okay to cry in church out of relief rather than anger. That children are awesome reminders of how faith should be, and not just noisy distractions. That an essay, a drum lick, a photograph, a finger painting, a haunting voice, a sculpture, a soundboard, a story, a guitar solo, a smile, a graphic design, a meditation can be gifts both to and from God. That just because every good and perfect thing comes from God, it doesn't mean he doesn't use the bad and broken ones too....And many, many, many other things.

Gary has been coming to Artisan since it was born about a year ago. He came by way of Capax Dei Church, one of the two churches that merged to form Artisan. Gary may seem unassuming, but there's more to him than meets the eye. Just when you think you have him figured out, he tells something crazy, for example that he trains honeybees or can knit you a leather boot with one hand. His contribution included this nice passage about the merge of the two churches and a bit about community at Artisan:

At one point we merged with another church. I think some people worried that there might be political problems, but that doesn't seem to have been the case. My first impression of the other church was a couple Sundays after we started meeting together. The most striking thing to me was how friendly they all were. That has continued to be the case, and I'm glad I've gotten to know them. Most of them are veteran adults (i.e. older than me), and a couple have come to be like extra sets of parents.

On that note, the emphasis on community is rather significant. Someone had the brilliant idea of having dinner at the church after the service every week, and I've since come to view that as part of "going to church." We meet all together- children are almost always included somehow. They make a concerted effort to include children, which doesn't effect me so much, but the attitude extends to everyone in general- I appreciate that we aren't partitioned off by age.

Lisa is an old friend whose identity goes far beyond any connection she may have to one of the other pastors at Artisan. She homeschools her two children and spends her nights writing Harry Potter fanfiction. Lisa has written about Artisan several times, and she told me to pick something from among her old posts. I chose this one, where she wrote about our Pastors and Pints night at the Old Toad (an authentic British pub in Rochester):

About 15 people came through during the 1 1/2 hours I was there, and we just snacked and drank and talked about whatever people wanted to talk about. I was the only one who actually ordered a meal since I hadn't had dinner, so I ended up eating a delicious Vegetable Wellington and Greek Salad perched on my knees while I sat on the couch. Kind of like being in someone's living room.

The conversation was very Bohemian. We started off talking about the Communist Manifesto, moved onto the role of poets througout history, touched briefly on why contemporary Christian music sucks, and had a lively discussion about the definition of postmodernism. I felt like I was in a Parisian coffee house in the 60s. It was very heady. I'm not sure I've experienced anything like it before.

I'm not sure if I'd go back again [The next one is March 8, this Wednesday. —Ed.], but this is what I love so much about Artisan, that the people there just want to do life together. Whether it's at a worship service or over a community meal or hanging out in a pub. There's no "strategy" or "bait and switch." There's just "hey, that sounds cool, let's do that!"

Tracey is the most beautiful and charming member of Artisan Church. I'd like say that's the reason I married her, but our marriage predates Artisan's existence by a few years. I find myself continually amazed and impressed by what Tracey thinks and does, and by who she is. This makes being married to her a unique and profound joy. Anyway, I'm digressing. In her post, my favorite part was this:

I see Artisan as a community for people like me: striving to be real, genuine, compassionate and truth-seeking artists. Artists in the sense that we are all creating our journey together, utilizing our abilities and minds to work through faith, not just letting someone else translate it for us.

I don't see people painting on a good face for church like I have in the past. I see friends who have valleys just like everyone else and who have hearts as big as bass drums. Also, I have never heard the Bible preached in a more effective and relevant way....And, never before have I felt the awe for God as I have in the atmosphere our church creates in music, confessional time and art.

Before Abel was born, that is all I treasured about my church. Now, I see him growing up and being a part of church. Not secluded, but loved. Last night as the sermon was finishing Abel kept asking me if we could "go sing?" I think that although he is still very young he realizes the beauty of God through music. He knows that pictures of a man on a cross means "Jesus" and that his friends at church care about him and his soul.

Tyler is a poet and musician, and he's the only one who picked up my tongue-in-cheek use of the prefix "meta-" and ran with it. He is also known to some as Tylash, a trend I intend to propagate to the greatest possible extent. Here's part of what Tylash wrote:

What I found when I went to Artisan was a community of people who cared that I had been hurt and cared that I found healing, but who didn't presume to administer carelessly some cookie-cut remedy. Actually, I'm not sure most were aware they were administering any remedy anyway, which is to say that by expressing the church's mission by embracing me the folks at Artisan brought me healing I'm not even sure I expected.

I'm also one of those intellectual artsy-fartsy type people who drink coffee and alcohol and talk about Marx. Not surprisingly, evangelical Christendom has not been terribly open to folk like me, yet Artisan welcomed me as a whole person and values both my creative and intellectual capacities. It's been extremely rare throughout my life that anyone, church or otherwise, valued those characteristics. My parents do, and a number of friends, a number of whom are Artisan folks anyway. The rest would fit nicely, I'm sure.

Friendship and faith without pretense are where it's at, and I've found that at Artisan. Don't get all mushy on me.

Well, that's all! I'd like to thank these five fine people again for their participation. I hope you've enjoyed reading, whether or nor you're a part of Artisan Church. (I certainly enjoyed reading as I put this together today.) As you can probably tell, Artisan is a place where you would be welcome to explore who God is and what Jesus has to do with you. Consider yourself invited.

Big post coming soon

I've got the Artisan Meta-Blog Project almost finished and ready for posting, but Blogger seems to be having some problems, because I can't access two of the blogs I need to quote from in order to complete the project.

Look for it to go up soon, though, hopefully sometime mid-afternoon!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Strangest referral ever

Would the person who linked to this blog from "C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/Local Settings/Temp/Inkjet90.html" please identify him- or herself, and tell me how you managed such a thing? How very odd.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Friday, March 03, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell on Las Vegas

Bill Simmons recently published an e-mail interview with Malcolm Gladwell, the wildly popular author of The Tipping Point and Blink. Toward the end of the interview, Simmons, who is as big a fan of Las Vegas as there is, asked Gladwell, "Can you explain in one paragraph why you're against Vegas?" The answer was brilliant:
"Where to start? You get there. You can't get a cab. Last time I waited 30 minutes in line at the airport. You get to your hotel, you wait another 45 minutes to check in. It's 120 degrees outside, and inside it's 45 degrees and all you can think about is there's about to be a epidemic of Legionnaires Disease. The food is terrible. Everyone loses money—everyone. The amount of plastic surgery is terrifying. There are large packs of enormous, glassy-eyed people in stretch pants, pulling the levers on slot machines. (By the way, greatest and most under-appreciated gambling story ever: William Bennett, he of one best seller after another lecturing Americans on moral values and virtue and the bankruptcy of our culture, turns out not only to be a degenerate gambler, but a gambler who only played the slots. The slots! Had he been a great poker player—even a decent poker player—I'm in his corner. But the slots?) I digress. Back to Vegas: Why would I want to see Celine Dion, ever (and I'm Canadian)? Or white mutant tigers? Or the Village People? Or Tony Orlando and Dawn? I have more fun walking to the laundromat from my apartment in New York than I do in Vegas."

Having lived in Las Vegas, I can say he pretty much nailed it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mini-review XV: Millions

Movie: Millions

Recommended: Yes.

Comments: A nice clean, feel-good family movie. Stars the 6-year old, Irish equivalent of Abel—bonus. I liked the special effects: nothing mind-boggling, but very well-used, particularly the halos on the saints. A sweet movie, quite refreshing.

Ten-second results

Well, not exactly, but pretty darn close...

Less than 24 hours after posting about my recent obsession with the Fender Blues Jr., my friend Mike said to me, "Hey Scott, I'm an evil human being, and so I feel compelled to tell you that there's a used Blues Jr. at the music store where I used to work. I bet you could pick it up for [insert very low price here]."

Jerk.

Not really—it's just that even the low price he mentioned was more money than I really wanted to be spending on anything at the moment. Still, I was curious, so I looked into it. And then I talked to Tracey, who agreed that the price point made it a wise purchase. And the next thing I knew, I was walking out of the store with it in my hand.


(Click the photo for specs.)

This has already made me a better electric guitar player. Granted, that's not saying much because I wasn't exactly inviting the SRV comparisons before. But it is saying something. I remember when I bought my first—and only, come to think of it—nice acoustic guitar. My playing ability doubled over the few weeks of summer that remained, because I wanted to play it all the time. If this afternoon was any indication, I can expect a similar result now, because the great tone this amp makes possible encourages me to play more.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More on design styles: Apple and Microsoft

This post, which contains two small screenshots, tells you all you need to know about the difference in philosophy between Apple and Microsoft when it comes to design and user interface.

Click that link and take a look. Can anyone honestly prefer the look and feel of IE7 over Safari's? I realize IE7 is still in beta stages, but Microsoft is so far down the Ugly Confusing Highway that it seems rather unlikely it will be much better by the time it's ready for public consumption.

Now apply that kind of thinking to an entire operating system, and you'll know why I switched and never, ever looked back.

Ten-second Thoughts

1. I don't trust any pizza without tomato sauce. Oh, I'll still eat it, mind you. I just don't trust it.

2. Well, I'm completely depressed that the Winter Olympics are over, but the Academy Awards come to the rescue in a mere four days. I can hardly contain my excitement. And I can barely conceal my sarcasm.

3. Ethan Rom is so badass.

4. If you've been longing for some high quality niche-market satire for the last 14 months or so, you may be very happy in a couple weeks.

5. Whoa, Mister Eko is even more badass.

6. My latest obsession is a little 15 Watt Fender Blues Jr. tube amp. Sometimes, music is too expensive.

7. I swear, if one more big star withdraws from the inaugural World Baseball Classic, it might start to seem like a bit of a farce...

8. A local news station has been running a Dancing With Rochester's Stars segment for a few weeks. I don't know what I could possibly say about that.

9. It's slightly old news by now, but still worth noting that your senator needs an iPod.

Your Senator Needs an iPod

Artisan Church meta-blog reminder

Just a reminder to anyone who would like to participate: please have your thoughts posted by Friday, now two days away. I'm looking forward to reading!

Find more details here.