February 29, 2012

February 29, 2012

#PartyTime

I’ve gotten into Twitter parties lately, and I’m sure it’s not a good thing. Even though I’ve won a few things (gift card, vitamins), I’ve spent more time than I should following hashtags and frantically answering trivia about mommy blogger topics.

Oh, yes, there is a whole universe of moms out there.

Now, I’ve nothing against moms. Moms are great. I have a mom, you have a mom, everybody has a mom. Moms have to worry about things like diaper innovations and parent-teacher conferences and how many times you can double a recipe before you run out of freezer space. Some of my closest school friends are now moms once or twice (or thrice or—seriously—four times) over. And the moms these days are savvy. They tweet and blog and extreme coupon all day long.

My interaction has been limited with them until now. Mercifully. We have so little in common, what with their days absorbed in wiping up poop and my days absorbed in swimming through my vat of golden coins. But at these Twitter parties, moms are all over the place.

Then you’ve got the whole concept of a Twitter party. Sort of a chat room for the 21st Century. I use TweetGrid to track the thing, with a column for the host’s tweets, a column for the party hashtag, and a column for me (medevam). I’m in it to win it, baby. (Whereas the moms are in it to win it for their actual babies, ba DUM bum.)

In case you’re thinking of throwing a Twitter party, here are some tips:

-Have good prizes. They don’t have to have a theme, though it’s preferable. Gift cards to widespread retailers (Target, Amazon, etc.) are always acceptable.

-Ask smart questions. If your party is about your company’s kitchen gizmo, ask questions that make people think about how they’d use the gizmo. Put that marketing degree to good use.

-Be organized. Pre-determine how many questions you’re going to ask and what they’ll be. Make sure you point out to the party when you’re asking an official prize-related question and when you’re just chatting with the group. Also: DON’T SCREW UP THE QUESTION NUMBERS. Put that I-can-count-to-ten ability to good use.

There are way too many of these parties for anyone (mom or not) to attend them all, but someone compiled a handy calendar of them here. Come join me sometime, won’t you?

It’s interpersonal reaction without the interpersonal part, which is ideal when most of the partygoers have been wiping up poop all day.

February 28, 2012

February 28, 2012

Things I’ve Read: Letters of a Woman Homesteader

Much as I’d like to claim grandiose motivations behind my selection of this book, I got it because it was free. Turns out Amazon is chock-full of free e-books whose copyright has expired. I’m now ankle-deep in Les Miserables and The Time Machine. Bit of a palate-cleanser before I start White Girl Problems.

Anyhoo, despite my interest in pioneer living, I have to admit that I’m culling mostly from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and the Oregon Trail computer games. There’s a chance, a small chance, that these portrayals of the frontier may not be totally accurate. I’m betting that at the very least, women had much bushier eyebrows.

After the Homestead Act was passed in 1909ish, Elinor Pruitt decided to up and move to Wyoming, where the land was cheap to anyone who’d farm it. As a widow with a small child, she realized that help would probably be needed. Luckily, a guy named Stewart was advertising for a woman to co-habitate (on the property, not in his house) and take care of the domestic whatnot. She needed his help with the outdoor work; he needed her help with the indoor work. Bing bang boom. Though they had no intention of marrying at first, the isolation of frontier life pushed them together. Her letters indicate a pretty happy life, so it worked out.

The book is a collection of letters Elinor wrote from 1911 to 1913. I’m not totally clear on who she wrote to, but she often signed them “Your former washlady,” so draw your own conclusions. Elinor recounts meeting neighbors, getting lost in the wilderness, breaking the land in, etc. It turns out that Wyoming had a lot of crazies at that time. (I’ve never been; does it still?)

At any rate, things were a lot different back then. You had to make a lot of stuff yourself. During the Christmas of 1912, the hung ornaments on the tree with hair. Hair! Gifts were peanuts and oranges. Oranges! And you know what didn’t get mentioned at all during the letters of 1912? The Titanic. I was so disappointed. I bet they didn’t care about the Kardashians at ALL.

As a kid, playing Oregon Trail 3 on my Macintosh 6360, I used to wish I lived back then. Biscuits for breakfast, a morning collecting wildflowers and berries, campfires…what’s not to like. If the occasional family member is lost to dysentery, well…that’s why you stocked up on quinine and ipecac before leaving Missouri.

Next thing I know, you’re going to tell me that real-life real estate is nothing like SimCity.

February 27, 2012

February 27, 2012

Carmageddon

As my mom prepares to leave for her next OCONUS work assignment, I prepare to take ownership of her car and say goodbye to mine. I can’t complain; it’s been a good run. But cars are like televisions and children: when you hit the 10-year mark, it’s time for a trade-in.

I’m sorry, what?

Unfortunately, this vehicle transfer is taking place in the state of Virginia. Where not a single transaction can be accomplished in fewer than two visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Dante’s Inferno has nothing on this place.

The fun starts before you even set foot in the door, of course. I made a checklist of actions to keep everything straight (also because I have slight OCD), and here’s what I have so far:

1. Put my mom’s car on my insurance.
2. Cancel my mom’s insurance.
3. Have my mom sign the car’s title over to me.
4. Apply for a new title, registration, and license plates.
5. Return the old license plates.
6. Apply for a refund on the time remaining on the old registration.
7. Tell my mom’s car tax jurisdiction that she has sold the car.
8. Apply for a refund on the time remaining on the old car tax.
9. Tell my car tax jurisdiction that I have purchased the car.

All this, plus four forms (two of which must be notarized), calls to at least three entities, and finding an envelope big enough to fit license plates in. Thank goodness we don’t have those long European plates. I have to get a mailing tube.

And that doesn’t even start to cover the process I have to complete to get rid of my old car. HAHAHAHAHA.

I’m not annoyed that I have to do so many steps and forms and calls. (Well, a little annoyed.) I’m more annoyed that Virginia wants these things to all be done pretty much simultaneously. I first encountered this belief when my mom and I bought the car. The dealer wouldn’t let us drive it off the lot until we had proof of insurance. The insurance company wouldn’t give us insurance until we’d purchased the car. So I end up sitting at the car salesman’s desk, on the line to Geico, negotiating an insurance policy, on Labor Day 2010. HAPPY HOLIDAY TO ME.

Part of me wants to believe there is a method to the madness. Maybe the VA DMV makes this so complicated in the hopes that people won’t do it. Then the DMV can fine them, and keep the taxes they would have otherwise refunded, and have the best story at the national DMV convention. (I feel like Alaska would have the worst stories, because everyone there uses those li’l planes.)

Anyway, I have taken the motto “I SHALL OVERCOME” as my theme throughout the process. I will repeat it as I wait in line at the notary, as I take my number at the DMV, and as I’m told (as I expect to be) that I also need form XYZ-1 because my last name ends in a vowel and a copy of my genome sequence.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'entrate.

February 24, 2012

February 24, 2012

See the Future

Google, your friend and mine, recently announced that they’ll soon offer augmented reality glasses. This is the sort of futuristic innovation that I’ve been waiting for. While my parents’ generation expected robot maids and flying cars, I expect an improvement in the very fabric of the cosmos. Call me greedy, call me ambitious, just don’t call me late to the 5D movie.

I’m not sure how exactly the spectacles will augment reality. I myself personally am hoping for any of the following:
-GPS, like a Google Maps overlay for your field of vision
-A holographic screen, like a touchscreen that could be pulled up 12” from your face and used to search Google, Yelp, etc.
-Integrated phone capabilities, so I could tell my robot assistant: “Forward all my calls TO MY GLASSES!”

Modest, utilitarian demands. I’m not asking for Predator-like capabilities, so I could see infrared in order to hunt and kill my enemies. Or x-ray vision. Or even the ability to listen through doors and walls. I just want to avoid getting lost or going hungry when the Chipotle is closed.

Logistically, I’m among the lucky, as I’m already used to affixing a contraption of wire and glass to my face every day. Haven’t forgotten to do so since that one time in late 1995. The rest of the world might have to adjust, at least until they come up with the contact lens version (c. 2017) and then the surgical procedure (c. 2019, earlier if you’re willing to go to the moon base).

What would you want your glasses to do?

February 23, 2012

February 23, 2012

The State of the Midseason

It occurred to me that I haven’t checked in with everybody’s viewing habits in quite some time. By which, of course, I mean that I haven’t told you what I’m watching. This blog is currently one-way technology, though I hope to have the cameras in your houses up and running any day now.

I’m sorry, what?

Anyway, a quick day-by-day:

Sunday:

Californication

I’ve completely lost most of the major threads, though I’m amazed how much the actress playing Becca has grown to resemble the actress playing Becca’s mother. Fortuitous casting there. Also, Marcy: never not funny.

Monday:

How I Met Your Mother
Gossip Girl
Smash
Hawaii: Five-0
Castle

I’m considering giving up on Gossip Girl, since they long ago convoluted themselves right out of my interest zone. Castle continues to delight me every time I actually pay attention to the episode, which is sadly pretty rarely. Smash reminds me of what Glee once was, and I’m #TeamIvy all the way.

Tuesday:

NCIS
Glee
New Girl
Southland

Southland is perhaps my favorite show on TV right now. (Until Don Draper comes along to sweep me off my feet in a smoke-filled haze.) It’s incredibly depressing, in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. I’m not strong enough to watch The Wire, so I watch this instead.

Wednesday:

Whitney
Modern Family

SHUTUP already about how much you hate Whitney. It makes me laugh, even as I wonder whether she ever actually eats anything.

Thursday:

Community
30 Rock
Parks and Recreation
The Office

It pains me to say this, but someone needs to put The Office out of its misery. And NOT by giving Dwight a spinoff.

Parks and Recreation, on the other hand, needs to go on for a good long while.

Friday:

Who Do You Think You Are?

Watching celebrities discover their genetic history will never get old. I don’t care that by season 35, they’ll be on the Z-list. As someone who has no interesting ancestors, I envy and respect those who do.

What are you (still) watching?

February 22, 2012

February 22, 2012

Battleground

A cursory review of my blog tags at lower right indicates that I write often about television, The West Wing, and Wisconsin. One could call them three of the motivators that got me where I am today, but since you’d also have include frozen foods and Korea, it’s not a perfect analogy. Suffice to say I’m keenly interested in any combination of the three.

Naturally, when something touching all three of these areas comes highly recommended, I’m going to look into it. Enter “Battleground,” a made-for-Hulu series about a state senate campaign in Wisconsin. Stylistically, it’s very like “The Office.” 80% indoor scenes with occasionally-jittery camerawork, 10% outdoor scenes, 10% talking heads. The characters seem to be much more attractive in the talking heads, with better wardrobe/hair/makeup. I’m told by friend-of-blog Melanie—one of the show’s assistant editors—that the talking heads were shot on the last day, so everyone put their best foot forward.

Oh, that’s right: MY FRIEND WORKED ON THIS SHOW. THAT HAS BEEN COVERED BY NATIONAL MEDIA OUTLETS. BOOYAH.

Having only seen the one episode, I don’t remember any of the character’s names, but here they are, sorta:

- The Campaign Boss. He looks to me like a young Dean Cain, though the Rob Lowe character on Parks and Recreation is probably a more contemporary comparison. He is attractive, he is passionate about the cause…how can we NOT like him?

- The New Kid. Idealistic volunteer who shows up with a letter of recommendation from his last job…a renaissance festival.

- The Nepotism Case-in-Point. His dad bankrolled the campaign or something, hence his job. Not that that keeps him from pretending that he’s a political genius.

The candidate herself doesn’t show up much, which isn’t actually a problem. Remember that President Bartlet didn’t show up until the very end of WW’s pilot; that show was actually originally envisioned as being almost-exclusively about the staffers. But, y’know, Martin Sheen is amazing and all.

Structurally, it was a bit confusing. The first scene takes place as the candidate wins the election (spoiler alert), then flashes back to earlier in the campaign. The talking heads, though, are all in the present day. So when one character turns out to be in jail, you’ve got yourself a big WTF moment. I hope things will become clearer as the show progresses. The first two episodes (of 13) are available on Hulu.

As for setting, my beloved home state doesn’t get its full due in episode one, as it’s relegated mostly to shots of farm fields and Madison (the capital). Still, there were a few pitch-perfect accents and enough atmosphere (cold, barren, plenty of salt-covered cars) to give you the gist.

Give it a look-see:

February 21, 2012

February 21, 2012

In My Opinion: Meek’s Cutoff

Though we’re only two months in, I feel certain that Meek’s Cutoff will turn out to be the worst movie I see in 2012. Or, quite possibly, the entire 2010s. Though I have a great tolerance for movies that are historical, artistic, or both, I didn’t enjoy a single minute of this film.

Perhaps I had misguided expectations. Meek’s Cutoff, you see, is about a group of ill-fated Oregon Trail pioneers. The year is 1845, before things really got going. (Fans of the computer game may remember that the default start year was 1848.) A group of settlers hires adventurer Stephen Meek to guide them. Meek, played with phenomenal bombast by Bruce Greenwood, decides to take a short cut. As one of my favorite hobbits once said, “Short cuts make long delays.” ‘Twas true in the real-life incident this film is based on, and ‘twas true in the film. Turns out Meek had explored the Oregon territory during the wet season. 1845 was dry. Without rivers and lakes and such to guide him, Meek was basically doing circles in the desert. Lovely.

The settlers deserve some mention here. Three couples, one with a young son and one on the way. Michelle Williams is the most recognizable cast member, though the woman who played Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films and Paul Dano are there, too. Unfortunately, they rarely speak...and when they do, they mumble…through beards. I had to turn the subtitles on, even though most of them explained the sound effects. Because, again, the entire film’s dialogue could probably fit on two pages.

After Meek literally loses his way, an Indian comes upon the group. Lucky, right? Well, maybe. The group trades him some blankets in exchange for being led to water. Michelle Williams’s character tries to bond with the Indian by mending his shoes and such. It doesn’t go very far.

Do the settlers find water? Do they survive? What happens to the Indian? I couldn’t say, because the move ends in medias res. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, which tells me that a) some but not all of the group survived, b) the group was never as small as portrayed in the film, and c) the Dalles is still a real place.

Spoiled as I am by the films of today, I was expecting DRAMA and NARRATIVE and FLAMES of some sort. I mean, have you seen the trailers for Battleship? They took “C5…hit. You sunk my carrier” and turned it into effing aliens! You’re telling me the natural and interpersonal drama inherent in the process of WALKING ACROSS THE ENTIRE COUNTRY couldn’t be dramatized any better than this? Approximately 60% of the movie involved people squinting into the sun. Where are the buffalo hunts and the river fords and the cholera?

Next thing I know, you’ll be telling me Carmen Sandiego actually sells car insurance.

February 17, 2012

February 17, 2012

Without the fiddly bits!

Thanks to YouTube, you can now view programming from all over the world. Since I’m a pathological Anglophile, I tune in to British programming on a regular basis. I watch documentaries on the monarchy whilst*on the treadmill, I check out Ramsay’s Best Restaurant during dinner, and I put on game shows when I want to see contestants smarter than those on any game show we have here.

For example, there’s this show called The Chase. A group of four strangers answers trivia questions. The Chaser, a ridiculously intelligent and intimidating person will then try to answer the same number of questions. There are various rounds, but that’s the gist. Now, we expect The Chaser to be super smart, because duh. But the regular contestants! Holy cow! You see some old lady and think she’s toast:

“Ello. I’m Muriel Fiddlestone, and I’m a pensioner from Liverpool.”

Then BAM, she’s giving the date of the 29th Olympiad, the Grammy winner for best new artist in 1994, the conservative MP for Kent, and the names of the 19 Duggar children.

Oh no she di’int? Oh yes she did!

I can only conclude that the Britons are both genetically and environmentally smarter than we are. Perhaps it’s the result of a nation that’s more interactive than we are. (Quick: Name the last time you went to Canada.) Perhaps it’s something in the school uniforms. Perhaps (and I’m really hoping it’s this one) it’s all the mashed potatoes they eat.

To be honest, I have only seen the contestants win once. As good as they are, The Chasers are even better. They know literature, and sports, and pop culture, and maths.** Ridic.u.lous.

But best of all, the last episode I watched had the commercials left in.

IT HAD THE COMMERCIALS LEFT IN!

If there’s anything more amazing than intelligent British people, it’s British people convincing other British people to buy things:

“Tired of draining your tuna? Buy SureFresh drain-free tuna. It’s tuna, without the fiddly bits.”***

TheBoy and I spent the rest of that weekend randomly interjecting “WITHOUT THE FIDDLY BITS!” into conversation. Gold, I tell you. Solid gold. That phrase is never not funny. Should I ever be appointed to high office, I am going to erupt into giggles while getting sworn in, because I will mentally insert “without the fiddly bits” after “So help me God.” I’m not even sure what “the fiddly bits” refers to. I’m not even sure it matters.

Man, I miss England.

But, yeah, whenever you feel depressed at the state of affairs in our country, just pop on a bit of British TV. Delightful.

Update: I found the actual commercial!



* See what I did there, with the whilst? Classy, right?
** See what I did there, with pluralizing math? Classy, right?
*** For maximum effect, pronounce it as “tee-YOO-nuh.”

February 15, 2012

February 15, 2012

Work Books

My co-workers at Cabinet Department That Shall Not Be Named are an intelligent lot. I spend my days in the midst of very sharp people. While you may be used to that sort of environment, I’m not. At all. The bookcases around here are filled with texts on subjects that I can’t even pretend to have studied. Haven’t even brought in any of my business school textbooks, because “Innovative Marketing Strategies” seems like it would be out of place here. The two things I have brought in so far: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Statistics” and “SQL for Dummies.” Seriously.

Sure, I have two degrees, but neither of them is in any of the STEM fields. It’s a good thing I’m a quick study, because the six credit hours of database management and three hours of programming I took as an undergrad were very long ago. They prepared me to make an Etch-a-Sketch in Visual Basic and do a SWOT analysis. Neither of those things is required by my current job. Shocker.

You all work in a lot of different places. You’re teaching, and statting, and filmmaking, and GISing, and so on. What books are on your office/cubicle/desk/virtual shelf? Do you have any just for kicks, a la my copy of “Who Moved My Cheese?” (My fellow fundy grads will be amused to know that I have my blue backed A Beka Handbook of Grammar and Composition. Possibly the only existing A Beka textbook in a federal government office. Daring!)

Do you actually refer to those books, or are they mostly for show? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. 99% of degrees displayed on office walls aren’t required during the normal course of business. Unless you’re a doctor, I don’t need to know that you graduated from the Online University of Good Times. In fact, it makes me like you a little less.) I’ve inherited a couple of programming books since coming on-board at CDTSNBN, and I’ve found them quite handy.

Still, I’m feeling a serious lack of credibility around here. Time to troll the thrift store book sections for some texts on COBOL and analytics, and maybe a biography of Charles Babbage.

February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012

Things I’ve Read: Moonwalking with Einstein

How’s your memory? Are you the type of person who can never remember where you left your keys? Or can you still perfectly picture your favorite birthday cake? Maybe both?

That’s the thing about the human mind. Sometimes it works too well, other times not at all. Worst of all, you can’t seem to pick and choose what sticks.

Or can you?

Joshua Foer decided to find out, and wrote about his experiences in Moonwalking with Einstein. Foer researched and then competed in the US memory championships. Because yes, it is an official competition, and yes, you can learn fast enough to be competitive after just a year of practice, and yes, the Americans do horribly at the world memory championships.

Foer provides some background on the concept of memorization to get us started. See, back in the olden days, the only way to pass information on was to remember it and tell it to someone else. You didn’t have a system of tweeting, or printing, or even writing. You did it Homer-style, through rote memorization. Without today’s external memory systems (books, internet, post-it notes, etc.), you had to internalize important information.

Even with the advent of writing and such, people still thought it was pretty darn important to keep the muscle of the mind in shape. As anyone who can recite the Gettysburg Address or Jabberwocky knows, many schools continue to make kids learn by memorizing. Apparently the pedagogical tide is turning, though, towards a methodology in which we teach kids how to find information instead of the information itself. Why learn the dates of the Civil War when you can look it up on Wikipedia?

(I’m not arguing for or against either system. I’m just making them known.)

After looking at where memory came from, mentioning a few people noted for their memory skills (or lack thereof), and talking a bit about the brain itself, Foer gets down to the nitty-gritty: training for the US memory championships. Several events comprise the championships; contestants have to memorize names and faces, random binary digits, decks of cards, and poems. The key strategy for Foer, and for many of the contestants, involves chunking the information presented to you, associating a mental image with each chunk, and placing that image in a so-called “mental palace,” which is a place you know really really really well.

Let’s try an example. There are easier ways than what follows, but this one’s more intuitive.

Think of a house you know inside and out. Maybe it’s where you grew up, maybe it’s where you live now, maybe it’s the set of your favorite TV show. Whatever. This is your mental palace.

Now, let’s pretend that you had already come up with a set of mental images for each card in a standard deck of cards (52 cards total). Maybe actors for the spades, foods for the hearts, etc.

You’re handed a deck to memorize. You pull the first card: three of spades. Your mental image for that card is Clint Eastwood. Perhaps he’s holding up three fingers while swinging a shovel, as extra reinforcement that he IS the three of spades.

In your mind, approach your mental palace. Imagine Clint Eastwood there, pointing those three fingers and swinging that shovel in the driveway.

Next card: nine of hearts. Grapes

Go back to your mental palace. Walk past Clint Eastwood (three of spades, remember), and up to the front door. As you approach, look on the ground. Place a bunch of nine grapes there. Big, juicy ones. Maybe they’re in the shape of a tic-tac-toe board and sitting in the center of a heart-shaped tin. NINE of HEARTS. Okay?

And so you’ve memorized the first two cards in the deck.

Skilled players develop an image for each possible combination of two (or even three) cards. While that’s a whole lot of images to begin with, by dividing a 52-card deck into two- or three-card combinations, you end up only having to memorize 26 or 18 images. "Moonwalking with Einstein" was actually one of the images Foer used, hence the book's title.

Now, why does this work so well? Because spatial memory is way stickier than verbal memory. It’s why we learn how to drive by actually DRIVING, how to play an instrument by actually PLAYING, and how to throw a baseball by actually THROWING. I think we can all agree that reading about these activities only gives you half the story. You gotta get out there and DO it.

The book finishes with Foer at the US memory championships. I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say he applies the techniques he’s learned (including our mental palaces trick) and does pretty well. Yet for all that he learned, he still finds himself forgetting where he parked his car after work, or even that he drove to work at all.

The mind is a terrible thing.

February 9, 2012

February 9, 2012

I think they invented Milano cookies.

The website Foursquare, as you may know, is like Facebook for places. You use your GPS-enabled device to “check-in” to places, showing everyone else exactly how cool (or uncool) you are. The frequency and type of check-ins allow you to earn badges, and there’s nothing cooler than earning a badge. I say this with all honesty. My girlhood stint in Brownies taught me this. The first time I heard the famous movie quote “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” I recoiled in horror, then wondered whether I could have that person’s rejected badges.

But anyhoo, Foursquare offers a limited number of city badges, wherein you check into a certain number of locations in a city and unlock a badge with a symbolic image of that city on it. Think Golden Gate Bridge or Eiffel Tower.

Or, in the case of Milan, this:

What would Samuel Jackson say?!

Though I know very little about Milan other than what was shown on Top Model that one time, I’m almost certain its key attraction is a giant man-eating serpent king. I think we got rid of all those in the Middle Ages. If not, this may be the solution to that debt crisis everyone’s always going on about; if they can get $80 for a ride on the London Eye, the sky is the limit here, people. #capitalism

However, we must consider the possibility that a weaponized Loch Ness Monster is not, in fact, raoming the streets on Milan. In which case, WTF Milan?! Is there traditional symbolism here of which I am not aware? Did you pick this design after a night of too much prosecco*? Are you hoping it keeps the tourists out, so as to keep things nice for the residents?

If that works, I suggest the DC badge be a combination of the Grim Reaper and leeches.

* I don’t drink, and understand almost nothing about the various types of alcoholic drinks. I’ve always thought “prosecco” sounded snooty, which is what I’m going for here. If the Milanese are actually known for port, or brandy, or Riesling, that’s my bad.

February 8, 2012

February 8, 2012

Bring Me a Dream

Since neither the Green Bay Packers nor the Houston Oilers (not a typo) were in the Super Bowl this year, TheBoy and I had no rooting interest. We watched the game solely for the commercials, and the opportunity it afforded us to eat various forms of cheese. Look closely, and this plate alone has three:

One of the ads involved the song “Mr. Sandman.” I’ve no idea what it was selling, which attests not so much to the quality of the ad as to the poorness of my memory. It may have been the one with the cartoon characters. Idk. What I do k is that TheBoy and I both remarked how the concept of a Sandman scared us as kids. Contrary to the bouncy ebullience of the song, we assumed the Sandman would just as soon strangle us in our sleep, tan-colored Grim Reaper that he was. I mean, didn’t Batman have a nemesis made of sand? I was pretty sure it was the same guy!

What about you? Was the Sandman mentioned during your childhood? How did that make you feel? Is this starting to sound like a therapy session? What other childhood characters prevented your peaceful slumber?

(I’ll go: the Cheshire Cat. I spent most of 1990-1991 certain that a grin was hovering just in front of my bedroom door.)

February 7, 2012

February 7, 2012

Maybe That D is for Delicious

I’ve found myself watching a lot of programming in the “restaurant makeover” genre lately. This is due partly to the fact that TheBoy is a consultant who loves how these shows dig into processes and procedures and project management, but mostly to the fact that I love food. No matter the conditions in which it is made, and no matter the effect of those conditions. I mean, my favorite Milwaukee restaurant once made me sick, but I still eat there whenever I’m in town. Blood is thicker than water, but sweet and sour sauce is thicker than blood. (Not an ideal metaphor, granted.)

Between Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (the UK version), and Restaurant: Impossible, we have learned that there are a lot of dirty restaurants out there. If these places are a representative sample, approximately 100% of kitchens have slime in their ice machines, 80% have mold in their kitchens, and 20% have dead mice in their heaters. One could argue that these places are nowhere near a representative sample, but that one would probably prefer a blog with hard statistics and not involving pictures of Hello Kitty.

Granted, the closest I’ve come to working in a restaurant is reading Anthony Bourdain’s books. But it seems to me like 100% cleanliness is just not possible. Certainly not in home kitchens, which often house pets and small children—veritable germ factories. We hope that restaurants keep things as clean as possible, but y’know how that goes. Unless you’re microwaving everything from frozen (and even if you are), the occasional grit will happen. I’m pretty sure this is the whole reason we have 18 kinds of bacteria living in our digestive systems.

Now, I see you getting all judgy, so let me remind you that millions of people get sick every year while in hospitals. Hospitals, quite possibly the cleanest places in the civilized world. You will never see “Hospital: Impossible” (has a nice ring to it, though), because those things are kept SPARKLING. And yet microbes, bacteria, and viruses are still having keggers all over the place. It happens, people. Those teeny mofos are everywhere, just waiting to become sentient and take over the planet. Or something.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that a little grime doesn’t bother me in a restaurant, especially one without the benefit of chain restaurant-esque corporate support. I’d never eat at any of the places on the TV shows, because they’re typically a) non-Asian ethnic food b) now infamous for being so gross a professional realized it was reality-TV worthy, and/or c) in the UK. But if my local place gets a B grade from the health inspector? I’ll deal. With my lack of cooking skills, I’m in no position to judge.

February 6, 2012

Not Intended for Public Release

As a fan of The Colbert Report, I’ve been following Colbert’s Super PAC shenanigans with great amusement. I love how his overt mockery covertly subverts the entire political process. (I carefully thought through that sentence, and I think it says what I mean.) It’s the sort of non-confrontational thing I myself prefer to do. Instead of answering a stupid question with a quick stupid answer, I prefer to use a long answer that just emphasizes the questioner’s idiocy. But that’s a therapy session for another day.

When the Colbert Super PAC opened for donations, I considered it. Despite being the show’s only Republican viewer, I really wanted to see “Heather ‘MedevaM’ Mrockosockowiczkashavich”* on the donor ticker Colbert placed at the bottom of the screen during the entirety of his program. Boy, am I glad I didn’t. As it turns out, Super PACs are required to make their donor lists—including names, addresses, donation amounts, and employer information—public. So that PDF is now on the internet and searchable for the rest of eternity.

I don’t see it as primarily a privacy issue, since Facebook and the Patriot Act have effectively eliminated the concept. I see it as a poor value proposition. I feel like the Founding Fathers were on to something when they decided to make a limited number of copies of the important documents and take them on tour to an adoring public. We all know that limited editions are the best, for everything from ice cream to albums. You got something in high demand, you don’t make an unlimited supply. It’s basic economics! (Note: may not actually be basic economics.)

In colonial times, there were, what, like a million people in America? Did George Washington have a million copies of the Declaration of Independence made? No. He had a few made, posted them in the big cities and town squares, and called it a day. Did Martin Luther FedEx his theses all over Europe? No. He knew that sticking to a single original (the most limited of editions) would maximize effect. Or something. And now, I believe that original is worth eleventy trillion dollars. It’s basic economics! (Note: may actually be basic capitalism.) Whereas the list of Colbert Super PAC donors is eight, nine bucks, tops.

Wider distribution isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just wider.

* Not my actual name, but unfortunately very close.

February 3, 2012

February 3, 2012

Bowled Over

I’ve been inundated with reminders this week that a rather important football game is scheduled for Sunday. Ever since the Packers so ignominiously fell out of contention, I’d been assuming the entire postseason would be called off. I mean, why even bother? Turns out, the Patriots and That Other Team have similarly supportive fan bases keen on seeing them play for the championship. Since I can’t get myself excited about the Patriots (Tom Brady is just too pretty for a man) or That Other Team, I’ll have to limit my participation to ingesting snack foods and critiquing the advertising. Luckily for me, eating and criticism are my fortes.

Back in the day, much of the game coincided with church (-1 for Central Time), so I’d have to watch ads from the first and second quarters the next day over the internet. And there’s just something pathetic about purposely determining to watch a commercial on a small screen. This year, my cheesesticks and I shall be watching live. And we shall demand to be entertained with at least five of the following:

- Hilarious talking animals
- Saucy talking babies
- A catchy tune extolling the delights of a food or beverage
- Robots
- Cars
- Robot cars
- Movie trailers for summer popcorn flicks
- Famous people doing stupid things
- Famous people doing glamorous things
- Classic footage recut to sell a modern-day product
- Sweeping aerial footage of the Grand Canyon
- Aliens
- Old people taking pratfalls

While there will certainly be a thought-provoking ad or two, perhaps for a charity or the late Steve Jobs, I want my Super Bowl entertainment generally humorous. Reminding me that children in Africa live on 17 cents a day is going to take the joy right out of the cheese platter I’m slowly eating my way through.

Who’ll be the big players this year? Pepsi? Geico? Doritos? Honda accidentally-on-purpose revealed that Matthew Broderick is sorta-kinda reprising his Ferris Bueller role for one commercial, so there’s “Classic footage recut to sell a modern-day product” checked off already. Throw in the McDonald’s singing fish and you have a trifecta.

For those of you who do watch the game for the football, please be nice to the rest of us. Don’t ask what we thought about the running game, or the defensive ends, or time of possession. Come Monday morning, we’ll want an antacid and a place to lie down.

February 1, 2012

February 1, 2012

Sleep Write

On nights that I have trouble falling asleep, my mind seems to be inundated with blog ideas. Scraps of brilliance (or something like) come to me. You probably think I should keep a notebook near for occasions such as this. Yet I’ve never understood the logistics of keeping pen and paper near one’s bed. I tend to sleep in the dark. It’s hard to write when you can’t see, and I can’t see much in the dark. (I’m nearsighted, so I can’t see much in the light either.) The way I see (ha) it, to write down an idea that comes to me as I’m falling asleep, I’d have to turn a light on, grab the notebook, and write the idea down while squinting. None of those activities is conducive to sleep.

Lately, regardless of when I finally go unconscious, I have been having the most wicked* dreams. Dreams where I am on trips, where I am at restaurants, and where I am strangely untroubled by other people despite their proximity to me. I wake up from these dreams incredibly well-rested and ready for the day.

I can only conclude that I am somehow tapping into an alternate universe, and that alt-me is on a really kickass vacation. SHE doesn't get told to write her nighttime thoughts in a notebook, I bet. Then again, it's never nighttime in my dreams. Freud scholars, what make ye of this? Do I even want to know? Why are all my dreams set during the day and almost all of them outside? I HATE THE OUTSIDE!

Does this mean alt-me is some hippie treehugger? Typical.

* Used in the Boston sense, as in "wicked awesome," as in "The Celtics! Wicked awesome!"