March 29, 2012

March 29, 2012

Press 1 for Pizza, 2 for Cheesy Bread

Dubai is worthy of admiration for a great many reasons. They’ve got vending machines for gold. They’ve got buildings so tall, you can’t even see the ground from the higher floors. They filmed a Mission Impossible movie there. They’ve sent a man to Saturn. You get the idea. Anything gloriously excessive and astoundingly cool probably started in Dubai. Even the name is cool. Dubai. Doobai. Doobie doobie Dubai.

It’s a place where you can order a pizza by pressing a fridge magnet.

What we have here is a simple, attractive (i.e. food-shaped) device that further reduces the amount of human interaction required to get food. Tears, people. Tears. In my eyes. Beautiful.

It’s things like this that give me hope for humanity. Someday we might have a wall of function-specific buttons, providing instructions to robot butlers regarding our dietary, entertainment, and even hygienic needs. Like Wall-E, but real! Win-win-win.

March 28, 2012

March 28, 2012

Things I've Read: At Home

Every so often, I read a book that is so chock-full of astonishing facts that I hardly know where to begin. One would think that my Kindle’s ability to highlight, mark, and otherwise take notes would have inspired me to track these things from page one to share with you all. But I was so sucked into the vortex of awesome that is Bill Bryson’s At Home that something had to give. You’re just going to have to deal.

I’ve read Bryson’s work before. The gist: he grew up in Iowa, moved to the UK, and now bemusedly observes things. He’s smart, he’s funny, and he gets to live in England. If he weren’t a middle-aged man, I’d try to do a Freaky Friday-esque body swap. In this book, Bryson walks around his house, from the entryway to the attic, and examines the history of each one. I don’t mean his particular entryway and attic, though. I mean the entire concept of entryways and attics.

Did you ever wonder why we have grass in our yards? When people started building second stories in their houses? Where the phrase “barking mad” came from? All of those things are answered in this book! As in life, this book is a great combination of history, humor, and poop.*

Bryson has the advantage of living in a country and a house that has been around for a while. I love that. I love the idea that you can walk a street that has been in existence for hundreds of years. Part of the reason I moved from Wisconsin (settled in the early 1800s) to Virginia (early 1600s). Things are just older here. In a good way. When my tour group stood at the London spot where Thomas a Becket was born, I FREAKED OUT. Thomas effing a Becket, you guys. Ridic.

Normally, I would here regale you with the choicest things I noted whilst reading. Since I didn’t in fact note anything (a disgrace to the title of this very blog, I know), here are a few items I remember:

1851 was a big year. The Crystal Palace was built as part of the Great Exhibition and all sorts of other stuff went down. When I build the time machine, I’m heading there first. (Then to 1893, then to 1912.)

Eiffel was pretty soundly thrashed for his crazy tower idea. BUT WHO HAD THE LAST LAUGH?

The word “toilet” has evolved. It comes from “toile,” which originally meant any cloth. Turn that into “washcloth,” then “the act of washing,” then “the table at which one washes,” then “the items on that table” (“toiletries”), then “the room in which one washes,” and finally the commode definition of today. Whew.

“Barking mad” comes from the symptoms of syphilis. Advanced stages of the disease induced a cough that sounded like the bark of a dog.

That Crapper was involved with toilets has nothing to do with that four-letter term for excrement. In fact, the word “crap” was in use by the French long before Crapper came around.

Of all the rooms in the house, the hall has fallen furthest. In Viking times, the hall WAS the house. Now, it’s just a passage between rooms.

Corn was somehow genetically engineered from a rye-like grain. It does not occur in nature. The most convincing argument I’ve read so far in favor of alien intervention in agricultural history. How else were the Mayans or whoever splicing plant genes, I ask you?

We all know that I’m weird about history and the origins of things**, so obviously this is right up my alley. But since we’re friends and all, I think you could find something to like, too.

* The bathroom chapter, obviously.
** Words and phrases, not species. Science, meh.

March 27, 2012

March 27, 2012

Trouble Down Below

Ever had something you thought was universal turn out not to be so? Maybe the restaurant on the corner closed down, or your best friend moved far away, or your municipality finished the year under budget. It’s disconcerting, right?

I’ve been having that experience lately, as I encounter more and more people who do not have a basement.

Now, depending on your personal circumstances, you either responded to that statement with:

“Well, yeah.”


“Wait, WHAT?!”

As you know, I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Middle West, United States, Earth. In that part of the world, we have basements. We store things there, like our furnaces, our deep sinks, and our spare refrigerators. Our outdoor equipment, too, since most of it can only be used during the six weeks of summer. Whether you call them cellars or basements, they are incredibly handy places. Where else would Dorothy Gale’s family have hidden from that tornado, I ask you? The garage?

[Basements are also mildly terrifying until one reaches adolescence. They’re dark, they’re damp, and they’re filled with strange noises. Some movie or other of my childhood—perhaps Home Alone—included a scene where the furnace appeared to be coming alive. Been there, had that freakout.]

So here I am, haplessly living a quarter century assuming that basements are a universal aspect of modern-day dwellings. Door, check. Bedrooms, check. Basement, check.

Then I meet TheBoy and learn that people in Houston didn’t have basements because it’s too humid and they’d turn into enclosed swamps or some such. OBVIOUSLY, HEATHER.

[One might incredulously ask whether I met nobody from the South—or any other geographical region—during my stint at college. I would remind that one that my school had about the same diversity as Harvard’s graduating class. Of 1699.]

Yesterday, I find out that many (all?) people in the southwest don’t have basements because the ground is too hard and/or dry.

I don’t get it. It’s like the concept of a carport. Without a garage, where do you keep your snowblower? And your shovels? And your rock salt?

No wonder hoarding is becoming such an issue. Most of America has nowhere to stow their stuff. I’m not definitively stating that requiring everyone to have a basement will solve America’s hoarding issue. I’m tentatively suggesting it.

Did you have a basement? Do you now?

March 26, 2012

March 26, 2012

Things I've Read: Jen Lancaster

So I’ve been having a heck of a time lately, what with buses not showing up and literal fires at work and a transit system that puts both an F and a U into the phrase “customer service.” Thank goodness for my Kindle, and my recent discovery of Jen Lancaster.

I don’t recally exactly how I found her, though I’m sure Amazon’s “You Might Also Like” feature had something to do with it. Honestly, this algorithm/computer assistant/soon-to-be-AI-overlord is one of Heather’s Favorite Things. Without it, I’d probably just read the Harry Potter books on a loop. But when I tell it what I’ve already read and enjoyed, it shows me a plethora of books that are similar. And unlike when people I know say, “I think you’d like this,” the algorithm is almost always correct.

[See, here’s the thing. You think you know me, you think you know what I like. But please don’t try to get me to watch/listen to/read/eat stuff unless you yourself think it is the bee’s knees. Because, frankly, I’m not sure whether I can trust you.]

The three books of Lancaster’s I’ve read so far: Pretty in Plaid, Such a Pretty Fat, and My Fair Lazy. They deal with wardrobe, diet, and media consumption in turn. But they’re not advice books. Heck no. They’re accounts of how Lancaster has struggled with clothing, food, and reality television. She’s hilariously self-deprecating as she talks about her love of sweatpants, Survivor, and a sandwich made with a Twinkie and a Hostess Cupcake. It sounds boorish, but reading about this sort of glorious depravity made me feel better about myself.

Plus, Lancaster is smart. And savvy. She was an executive at a dotcom before it went bust. This is a woman who not only has hilarious experiences, but who also can describe them in ridiculously-funny detail. Fantastic.

Though I have more of her oeuvre to consume, I’m already convinced that Jen Lancaster will be one of my Great Discoveries of 2012.

March 25, 2012

March 22, 2012

March 21, 2012

March 21, 2012

I Coulda Been a Contender

Whether by coincidence or design, I’ve found myself reading a string of biographies/memoirs lately. Benjamin Franklin. Condoleezza Rice. Catherine the Great. All great people with great accomplishments. A nice change from my typical “robots take over the world while children fight to the death” sort of book. (Not that I’m not eagerly anticipating The Hunger Games movie, mind you. I hope to see it in glorious IMAX so lifelike that the adolescent blood almost leaps off the screen.)

And while I find many biographies inspiring and amusing (the best are both), I find that they’re often intimidating as well. I mean, by the time Benjamin Franklin was my age, he’d already rocked like four different careers. Catherine the Great had lived in three countries. Whereas my proudest accomplishment in the past week was knowing Prince Albert’s age when he died (42).

Normally, this sort of thing wouldn’t bother me, as I realize that knowing Prince Albert’s age when he died (42) can be a great conversation starter. (Don’t think so? I guess we aren’t having many conversations, then.) Unfortunately, I find myself in need of five interesting personal anecdotes for an upcoming event linked to that countdown at the upper right of this blog page.

(*dun dun DUN*)

Suggested topics include my activities, awards, or collections. Which would be fabulous if my answers weren’t “watching TV,” “almost 400 GetGlue stickers,” and “Hello Kitty memorabilia.” While I myself personally find these things interesting, I’m guessing Alex Trebek would not.


My lack of children and pets makes this even more difficult. I could always make one up, or appropriate a story from a Facebook friends, but there seems to be a lot of vomit and poop involved when you’re dealing with both small animals and small people.

Since I’ve only been able to come up with two short-but-interesting things about myself so far (1. once accidentally marched in a parade, 2. classically-trained pianist), I just might have to go with my backup plan: using events from other people’s lives. They did this once in an episode of The Office, where thinly-veiled movie plots became personal stories.

“I once walked almost an entire continent to destroy a powerful ring by dropping it in a volcano.”

“I tried to make every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook.”

“I’m a wizard.”

Yep, that’ll work.

March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012

In the Spirit

Friend-of-blog M* recently wrote about the banes that were our college’s dress code and Spirit Weeks. Now, in fairness to M, she was much more well-connected and spirited than I ever was. My problem with Spirit Weeks is they generally involve at least one instance of “let’s all gather in the gym and toss around giant bouncy balls.” I’m very (VERY) anti-things-coming-at-my-face, so this sort of thing is sheer torture. It’s not bad enough that we’re throwing balls at each other; they have to be FOUR FEET IN DIAMETER? REALLY?

But, anyway, Spirit Week. In which I could usually get on board with Color Day or Career Day. (Though judging by my Facebook timeline, many of my classmates would’ve been better served by accessorizing with a carseat.) I have clothes in several of the colors, and certainly a wardrobe befitting a federal government analyst. (Wait, so I knew even then what I wanted to become as an adult? YOU. BETCHA.) Clone Day, though, was a whole other story. You had to find a friend willing and able to dress in conjunction with you. Look carefully and you’ll find at least three chances for failure in that sentence.

Kudos to those who rocked it out, though. Who covered themselves in duct tape, or leisure suits**, or bear skin rugs. Those people knew that they were literally living the best years of their life right then, and they owned it. Even though we were at a fundamentalist institution (I chose both of those words very carefully), they did what they could. Those of you who went to state schools don’t understand. You hear the phrase “dress code” and think “collared shirts.” Here are actual sentences from my school’s dress code regarding shirts allowed in classes:

- Athletic cut polo shirts and t-shirts with writing are not permitted.
- Sweatshirts and sweatshirt “hoodies” are not permitted.
- Blouses/shirts must be tucked in unless designed to be worn untucked. Untucked blouses and tops must fall at least 4 inches below the top of the skirt or slacks. Tops must always be long enough to cover skin at all times—no matter what the activity.
- Necklines may not be lower than 3 fingers from the collarbone in front and 5 fingers from the base of the neck in back.
- Sleeveless garments are not permitted for any level of dress (unless it is part of an athletic uniform).
- Sleeves must have material that is connected to all parts of the arm hole opening.
- Cap sleeves must be at least 3 fingers from the shoulder edge.
- All clothing and T-shirt logos must be in good taste.

And that’s just the shirt section! We haven’t even gotten to bottoms yet!

But anyhoo, suffice to say that these stringent guidelines spurred my classmates to even higher levels of creativity. (Not me, because I was just standing in the back of the gym trying not to get beaned by a giant bouncy ball.)

Whether these Spirit Weeks did in fact induce Spirit, I cannot say. I feel like it was more of a “you had to be there” kinda thing, and I was definitely doing my best to avoid being there.

(Where’s the Spirit Week that involves feats of acadmic prowess and quiet boardgame play? I’d be all over that!)

* I’ve decided to start referring to blog acquaintances with single letters. I don’t know why. Seems a bit more glamorous.
**Anyone watching 30 Rock? Kenneth’s new “real job” wardrobe kills me. Every time he pops up on-screen looking like the old guy from “Three’s Company,” I cannot stop laughing.

March 19, 2012

March 19, 2012

You, Kid

While changing from train to bus at the Pentagon last week, I heard a baby crying somewhere in the vicinity. It was confusing. The only acceptable reason for crying near the Pentagon is a silent shedding of tears in awe of the ferocity of our military-industrial complex. Or possibly a quick cry in a bathroom stall after a general has been yelling at you. I’m sure that were I employed by the Department of Defense, I’d spend plenty of time sobbing in private. But anyway.

The fact is, I just don’t encounter kids much. Or at all. My daily routine of commute-work-commute-home involves 99.9% adults. I’ll occasionally see one in the train station, but that’s about it. I’m bracing myself for Bring Your Kids to Work Day (end of April at Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named) because I’m not sure I know how to interact with kids anymore. What are kids into these days? Can we bond over Downton Abbey or the situation in South Sudan?

I always have a bowl of candy on my desk, so I guess that’s a start. The key is to make the candy good enough to appear as a friendly gesture, but not so good that they swarm. My offices fills with kids, I’m going into panic mode and siccing* a fire extinguisher on them.

This will be my first experience with a Bring Your Kids to Work Day, either as a kid or an adult. I’d appreciate any advice you can think of. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure my fire extinguisher is fully-charged.

* Microsoft Word has no idea what this word is. Obviously the future progressive tense** of “sic” is beyond that little paper clip’s vocabulary.
**Had to look this up, unfortunately. I miss the days when I knew all the English verb tenses.

March 15, 2012

March 15, 2012

Within Walking Distance of Everywhere

Now that the cherry blossoms are getting ready to bloom, and now that we’re rolling into spring break season, DC tourist numbers are on the rise. My goal this year is to be at peace with the tourists. I was one once (though I preferred visiting in fall and winter), and I’m sure I stood on the left of an escalator or two, or used the wrong exit at Chinatown. (Heck, that still happens sometimes. Why so many exits, Metro?)

I’m afraid that not everyone has the tourists’ best interests at heart, though. For example, the promotional propaganda for almost every DC hotel includes the Washington Monument. Sometimes the hotel is just down the street from it. Sometimes you can see it from inside the room. It is definitely RIGHT THERE, within spitting distance of the front door.

Except when it isn’t. The very picture above is of the hotel I stayed at during my first-ever DC visit, in 2001. I was totally scammed by this picture, as the Monument is a good 30-minute walk from the hotel.

Let’s take the roughest of rough looks at the District of Columbia:

As you can see, the Washington Monument (point A)—nay, the entire National Mall—is just one part of DC. You can see it from a distance, but not from, like, Takoma. It’s tall, but it’s not THAT tall. So caveat touristos when your hotel says it’s within walking distance of the Washington Monument, even if there is visual evidence. More likely, someone knew how to use Photoshop.

Certainly this can’t be limited to DC, though. When you have an iconic structure—whether bridge, arch, or metallic bean—you want it featured prominently in your literature. A visual clue to the unwashed masses. Truth, schmuth.

Google Maps is your friend, DC visitors. Don’t let the flashy brochures fluster and confuse you. We have Congressmen for that.

March 14, 2012

March 14, 2012

You Win Some, You Lose Some

There’s something about election season that gives me a little thrill. I’m not at all a pundit or a wonk. I couldn’t tell you who won which states last election, or even last week. It’s not so much the minutiae that gets me as it is the general idea of judgment being passed.

I can’t be alone, though. Much of the reality show industry involves people being judged on their appearance or their skills. We viewers aren’t interested in seeing a bunch of talented people make cupcakes. We want to see a bunch of talented people make cupcakes and then ranked in order. The whole “We’re all winners” idea is for people who came in second.

It sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

Same goes for awards shows. The real honor isn’t the nomination. It’s holding that statue in front of 50 million people while remarking that you really didn’t expect this but here’s a speech you had typed up just in case. It’s cool. We get that the other nominees were just as good as you were. We get that you won the award and you’re pleased as punch. It’s okay.

Is the need to rank things a survival skill remnant from our days of prioritizing natural threats? Are we constantly making lists because our ancestors did the same, except instead of “string cheese, baby spinach, and fudgsicles,” they had “corn mush, buffalo, and grass”? I couldn’t say.

(If that list is at all accurate, I bet our ancestors would be right at home in a Whole Foods.)

Is our polite applause for award winners just a latter day version of the Coliseum’s thumbs-up? I sure hope so. That leaves open the possibility that someday wild animals will be set on the losers.

(If the next time you write your grocery list your mind goes to Kardashians being chased by elephants, that’s all me. Sorry.)

March 13, 2012

March 13, 2012

We're All Mad Here

Spring is here. When did that happen? I guess DC’s lack of snow means my subconscious is still expecting winter any day now. Score one for global warming.

Alas, ‘tis March already, and I assume that means March Madness at some point soon. There’s usually a selection show where they populate the brackets, right? Did that happen already? Do I need to do actual research on this?

As I’ve mentioned before, my approach to March Madness is an entirely non-scientific one. And while I haven’t run and hard numbers on this*, I bet I tend to do okay over time compared to someone who studies and runs stats and plays multiple brackets. If you love the number crunching, go for it. I will continue to pick based on interesting school names and funny mascots.

Nor have I ever played in a pool for money. I’m sure that doing so would make me consider my choices a little more carefully. Maybe pick fewer teams whose mascot is a color.

I wonder if other countries do anything similar, or if this is all us. Do the Japanese rank their sumo wrestlers? The British their cricketeers? The Floridians their shuffleboard teams?

March Madness. Catch it!

* I have run zero numbers on this. Tra la LAAA.

March 12, 2012

March 12, 2012

That’s-a One Spicy Meatball

Friday was National Meatball Day. Though I’m not usually a fan of almost-meaningless celebrations, I can get in the holiday spirit when food is in play. How did you celebrate? Did your local Italian eatery do anything special? Did you have dinner at the Olive Garden? Anybody? Bueller?

One DC restaurant had an interesting special: $35 for a carafe of wine and all the pasta and meatballs you could eat. I didn’t go, but I’d like to think about what could have happened if I had.

I’m definitely a girl who likes her money’s worth, so I’m consuming at least $35 of stuff, and twice that if possible. I’m not a drinker, so I’d have to pass on the carafe of wine. (Is this different from a bottle? How so?) That means I’m putting away $35 worth of meat and starch.

Challenge. Accepted.

As someone who doesn’t buy much (read: any) ground beef (or whatever it is that goes in meatballs), I have no idea how many pounds $35 gets you. I actually don’t know how much spaghetti costs, either.

Perhaps I should have thought this through more.

Okay, here’s something. You can get a regular spaghetti and meatballs at Noodles & Company for like $6, right? So let’s say I would have to eat at least 6 of those to get my money’s worth. A lot of food, but possible. It would be like that “Man vs. Food” show, except that I’d ask to drink out of my Hello Kitty party cup. (The party for which I first used it? My birthday. My 28th birthday. Shutup.)

Then again, if you’re counting value on an Olive Garden scale, it’s probably only two orders of spaghetti and meatballs. Barely worth getting worked up about. I guess it’s all in your perspective.

I’ve now missed the holidays for pancakes, waffles, and meatballs. It’s as if the internet is of no use at all.

March 8, 2012

March 8, 2012

Sorry I Missed It: Mildred Pierce

Despite being a huge fan of British historical drama, I find something a little lacking in its American counterpart. I mean, I watched that John Adams miniseries a few years back Our history has lots of interesting aspects, to be sure, but it's somehow not as enthralling. Really, it's the same for any non-UK country; I’m reading a biography of Catherine the Great now and mixing up the Peters and Ivans like you wouldn’t believe. I can reel of the Stuart dynasty with no problem, but give me two Ivans and I have no idea which was the Terrible one.

Le sigh.

I therefore wasn’t expecting much from Mildred Pierce, set in California (-1 for liberal West Coast hippes) during the Depression (-1 for all the dust). It’s basically The Grapes of Wrath, right?


Mildred Pierce is, first and foremost, a story of mother and daughter. Mildred (Kate Winslet) has two daughters. The older daughter, Veda (played in later episodes by Evan Rachel Wood) is a grade-A brat. She treats her mother with unveiled contempt and considers herself deserving of better. You will come to loathe Veda. I did. Everybody did, really, except Mildred. Mildred, in the way mothers often do, saw something of herself in Veda. Veda was going to be the success Mildred never was.

Though Mildred did okay for herself, especially for the standards of the day. She kicked her good-for-nothing husband out and supported herself by taking a job as a waitress. Hard work, combined with phenomenal baking skills, allows Mildred to open a chain of (hand to heart) chicken and waffle restaurants. And she stumbles on a famous actor or something (Guy Pearce) who becomes her on-and-off again lovah. Plus, all those years of Veda’s piano lessons pay off when she becomes a renowned opera singer. Things are going, as they say, pretty swell for Mildred.


Except her younger daughter’s [spoiler redacted].

Except the fact that her lovah likes living well and expects Mildred to pay for it.

Except Veda’s dalliance with [spoiler redacted].

The fact that I didn’t spoil you by revealing the shocking! Plot! Twists! Shows you just how much I loved this miniseries. I want you to be just as fascinated and horrified as I was when I realized [redacted] was going to [redacted] and that [redacted] and [redacted] were [redacted].

I know Kate Winslet gets award nominations every time she walks to the grocery store, but seriously, she earned them here.

March 7, 2012

March 7, 2012

Check, Please

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about how waiters “read” tables at restaurants. (Don’t worry; I’m not classy enough to read the WSJ. I just followed Lifehacker’s link to the article.) How does your server know whether to offer wine, how fast to serve you, and when to bring the bill? Turns out your behavior and appearance are key.

For example, waiters tend to give better service to tables that appear distressed. This seems a little counterintuitive, I know, but I guess it’s their way of making you feel better. I can personally attest to this practice, since the best service I ever had was at an Olive Garden when I was homicidal from a combination of hunger and general irritation. You have never seen so many breadsticks, so fast, and so often. I also drank about six Diet Cokes. Great meal, or greatest meal?

You should also dress well. As in every other aspect of society, looking important goes a long way. It’s a nonverbal way of saying both “I am important enough to wear this outfit” and “I have money enough to afford this outfit.” I’m not advocating for nonstop suit wearing, but maybe leave the college sweatshirt at home.

If you have another engagement afterwards (movie, concert, bank robbery), you might want to casually mention it. The waiter will probably speed up your service so you don’t miss your film/music/felony. If you just want to be served quickly despite having no other activities planned, you could probably just make something up. I suggest going with that “bank robbery” idea.

Granted, many of these conclusions depend on the humanity of your waiters and waitresses. I daresay there are a few who don’t care a lick about how you act or what you’re wearing. This is the beauty of an industry where tips are involved. You as the diner can show how well or poorly your server did, assuming you’re not a stingy bastard who tips in coins or something.

March 6, 2012

March 6, 2012

Sorry I Missed It: Countdown

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, the internet is a great way to watch shows you couldn’t otherwise. Whether because you don’t get the right channel, are always busy on Thursday nights, or live in the wrong country, you have a backup in YouTube/Hulu/illegal filesharing websites. This has been a great comfort to me whenever I feel humanity is in a hopeless spiral to oblivion, which is most days involving a subway ride.

But hark! Other countries produce intelligent people whose are not solely concerned with getting three stars on every level of Angry Birds! They have smarts for smarts’ sake, and needn’t win flashy prizes for it! They could be our only hope!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Countdown. My favorite bits of the Wikipedia article:

Countdown is a British game show involving word and number puzzles. The two contestants in each episode compete in three disciplines: eleven letters rounds, in which the contestants attempt to make the longest word possible from nine randomly chosen letters; three numbers rounds, in which the contestants must use arithmetic to reach a random target number from six other numbers; and the conundrum, a buzzer round in which the contestants compete to solve a nine-letter anagram.

Dictionary Corner houses a lexicographer and that week's celebrity guest. The role of the lexicographer is to verify the words offered by the contestants and point out any longer or otherwise interesting words available. The production team is insistent that no computer program is used in this role, and that the words suggested in Dictionary Corner have been found manually.

In keeping with the show's friendly nature, contestants compete not for money but the Countdown winner's teapot (first introduced in December 1998), which is custom-made and can only be obtained by winning a game on the programme. Countdown has occupied a tea-time broadcast slot since its inception.

Obviously, there is a LOT to love here. I was unimpressed by the YouTube screenshots, assuming this was the UK version of Wheel of Fortune. HAHAHAHAHA. We decided to watch an episode late one Saturday night and were treated to something like this (skip to 5:10 if the video doesn't do that for you):

I don’t know about you, but by the time the buzzer rang, I WAS STILL WRITING DOWN THE LETTERS. (Actually, I managed "friends," which is a very respectable 7. Usually I'm about 4ish.)

Un. real.

Not to mention the random asides the host and the dictionary corner people give during the show. The episode we watched started with a good five-minute story from the host about a train ride he’d taken. This story had no apparent connection to the rest of the show. He was just havin’ a bit of a chat with us. TEATIME, BABY!

The letters rounds aren’t so bad, though I consistently do worse than the contestants. I’ll get four, maybe five or six, and they’ll come up with a seven-letter word every effing time. May you never challenge one of these people in Words with Friends, because they will slaughter you. Don’t let their unassuming appearance confuse you: the 72-year-old pensioner from Leeds has forgotten more words than you will ever know. And forget about the numbers rounds, in which you get six numbers and a sum and have to do quick arithmetic to achieve the sum using the numbers. Ridic.

Though I am proud that, while watching the French version (Des chiffres et des lettres), I did in fact manage a four (“quatre”). BOOM DIGGETY (“le diggety d’un boom-boom”).

March 5, 2012

Not a Good Deal at Even 100% Off

Groupon has exposed us to a world of experiences we didn’t know existed. Spa treatments and hot air balloon rides and dinners at restaurants serving food from countries we didn’t know existed. I subscribe to the deals for three cities (Milwaukee, DC, and New York), so I can personally attest that there is A Lot To Do out there. And on the cheap! Because surely none of these amazing experiences would be overpriced originally, right? RIGHT?

Yet every so often, you come across something so unusual that you’re certain Groupon is just messing with you. Like Milwaukee’s recent deal for a Jeffrey Dahmer-themed tour. In case you don’t know, Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer infamous during my formative years. On the one hand, I was too young to understand the news reports. On the other hand, I was co-existing in the same county as an effing serial killer. Six of one, half a dozen of the victims’ body parts in a refrigerator, so to speak.

But anyway. There is apparently some demand for this sort of thing, a la London’s Jack the Ripper walks. But really? Really, Milwaukee? It has come to this, without even waiting for the sheen and perspective of history? I think I speak for us all when I say: ew. Ew ew ew. I can’t imagine the appropriate time for this tour. Valentine’s Day? Birthday? Mother’s Day? At what point does someone wake up and think, I wish there were some way to tour various murder-related sights in southeastern Wisconsin. Never. At no point. None.

Sigh. Just when we’re making strides, what with Donald Driver’s casting on Dancing With the Stars and that guy who walked into a Denny’s and cooked himself a meal, this happens. Must be what Paula Deen feels like.

UPDATE: Since I drafted this last week, Groupon has dissociated itself with this deal, and the whole brouhaha has gotten national coverage. Glad I'm not the only one who found it questionable.

March 2, 2012

March 2, 2012

Door Number Three

Read a heartwarming story the other day about someone that reminded me of myself. Not because he saved children from a burning building, or collected donations for PETA, or went into a Denny’s and cooked his own meal (did love that last one, though).

No, this guy wrote an app so DC Metro riders could determine which train door would put them closest to their destination’s escalator.


But maybe some explanation is in order. See, the typical Metro train has six cars. Each car has three doors. Simple math shows that people entering the train have 18 possible doors to choose from. A crude and incomplete diagram:

As one might imagine, these 18 doors cover a respectable distance on the station platform. Not exactly the 9 bus bays I used to have to sprint at the Pentagon station, but close. Plus it’s much harder to sprint on train platforms, unless you don’t mind knocking people onto the electrified third rail.

Anyway, riders must position themselves before the train arrives and hope that their chosen entrance isn’t already packed to the brim. Wise riders think ahead to the end of their ride, when they will need to:

- Exit the train.
- Walk to the platform escalator.
- Walk up the broken platform escalator.

This is a key point, since they say a Metro train can hold about 800 people. That is a lot of people to funnel up a single non-functioning escalator. The sooner you can get in line, the better. I’ve spent days waiting to get to the Pentagon station’s mezzanine. It was like something out of Mad Max. Some of our stations have the longest escalators in the western hemisphere. Seriously. When those puppies go down, I think they send in the National Guard.

Now, during well-practiced normal commutes, picking the right door is no issue. I know exactly where on the platform to stand, and see the same people there day after day. But when part of the system is on fire or what have you, and I need to use a different route? I’m sunk. With this guy’s app, though, I guess you just plug in where you are and where you’re going, and you’re told which door to use. Win-win! Well, except for the “having to use Metro” part. We’re all losers there.

March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012

My Morning Playlist

A recent article suggests making a “get ready playlist” to help you leave for work on time. You figure out how long you have to get ready, create a playlist for that length of time, and chart your morning progress according to which song is on. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the idea, to be honest. It seems like something that would lead to a sort of Pavlovian response, wherein you’d be walking down the street, pass someone singing “Moves Like Jagger,” and start stripping for a shower. I used to have a specific playlist to prepare for dates, and “Around the Bend” still causes me to search for eyeshadow. Your mileage may vary.

Though I’m all for great organization, with great organization comes great responsibility. And with great responsibility comes smartasses who try to undermine the system. They’ll be the ones breaking out into Top 40 hits in crowds, seeing who drops trou.

Believe me, I understand the importance of leaving on time. I have exactly 42 minutes myself. And if I’m not out of the shower by 6:18, or dressed by 6:30, or putting on my coat by 6:42, I’m in big trouble. I hope your commute allows you to be flexible in this regard; mine does not. I miss the 6:54 bus, and I’m going to be an hour late. We call that “Metro Time.” It’s sort of a weird alternate time zone where the train is always leaving just as you get to the platform.

At any rate, I’m not saying that grown-ups should have enough discipline to wake up in the morning. I’m blogging it.