April 30, 2012

April 26, 2012

April 26, 2012

The Pitch

Though not a person who often thinks outside the box, I understand the utility of those who can. While watching The Pitch recently (sort of a real-life modern-day Mad Men), I saw two advertising firms compete for a chance to present Subway’s newish breakfast program to the masses. Everything about how these places operate is alien to me. Everyone’s wearing casual clothing, often with one crazy accent (neon yellow shoes, purple hipster glasses, etc.). Offices have exposed brick and glass walls, and desks are strewn with funny objects and signs.

Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, it ain’t. And I’m cool with that, because I am a person who thinks inside the box. I would teach children geography by drilling them on lists of capitals. A creative would probably bake them cupcakes, leading to the awesomest geography lesson ever.

What I enjoyed about The Pitch was seeing the different approaches. One team found a guy on YouTube who rapped about making breakfast. They hired him to do a rap about Subway’s breakfast. QED. Another team capitalized on the zombies-in-pop-culture phenomenon and developed a campaign about not being a breakfast zombie, or zAMbie (AM = morning, get it?). A third team envisioned something about stop-motion talking breakfast sandwiches, but that was shot down pretty quickly.

[Side note: While watching TV during my London visit, I noticed that a significant number of adverts there include mascots who are animated, puppets, or singing. Lots of jingles and characters. It’s like US advertising of the 1960s. I need to see The Pitch: UK Version and I need to see it now.]

So the firms packaged their best campaigns, flew to Subway World HQ to present, and absorbed Subway’s feedback. It was reminiscent of pitch meetings in Mad Men, except:

- No alcohol.
- No cigarettes.
- Minorities present.
- Women present.
- Roger Sterling did not demean the clients with a witty cutting remark when they said it wasn’t quite what they were looking for.

One team ended up getting the contract, and one team ended up losing. Even the creative industry is a business, after all.

I don’t plan to watch any more episodes, unless the subject is a brand I really care about. Real-life Mad Men just isn’t as compelling, frankly. Don Draper doesn’t wear hipster glasses.

April 25, 2012

April 25, 2012

In My Opinion: Limitless

We’re all born with a limited amount of potential. You’re only so tall, so smart, etc. As much as you may want to be an NBA power forward or the President of the United States, it just may not be in your genetic cards. It’s okay. You do the best with what you have.

Though it’s fun to imagine what life would be like if you had unlimited potential. Surely, you’d be rich, powerful, successful, and adored on all sides, right? Right?

Eddie (Bradley Cooper) learns the hard way that this is not the case in Limitless. Eddie’s a writer, down on his luck, who runs into his ex-wife’s brother one day on the streets of Manhattan. (For only in Manhattan, you see, does this sort of thing happen.) Eddie can barely make rent, is at a creative dead end with his book, and admits that he exudes that je ne sais homeless. Luckily, ex-wife’s brother has been doing some pharmaceutical consulting of late, and has Just The Thing for Eddie. Take this one little pill, he tells Eddie, and all will be well.

Because the pill is clear (the best color), because it has a cool name (NZT), and because he is running out of options, Eddie takes the pill.

And oh DANG.

Suddenly, the world is his oyster. We viewers are clued into this by sudden color saturation. Bleak greys and blues give way to yellows and greens. Eddie's brain, previously only 10-20% used*, starts running at 100%. He realizes that he’s been given a fresh start, and immediately cleans up his apartment, his self, and his life. He can instantly learn languages, recognize patterns, and just KNOW things. He’s like an idiot savant for every single subject. Life isn’t good, it’s great.

Then he wakes up the next morning and we’re back to greys and blues. The pill has worn off. Obviously, he needs more. Needs more of the good stuff. The good stuff, yeah. Gotta get more pills.

Things start to go downhill at this point, as ex-wife’s brother ends up dead, and other people start wanting pills, and side effects manifest. It’s a twisty-turny ride until the very end, and you’re not sure whether Eddie is going to end up fabulously wealthy or utterly dead.

We’ve all probably wished for a magic pill at those times when we’re feeling uninspired and generally blah. Limitless shows us that pharmaceuticals are not the answer.

(It turns out Robert De Niro and/or politics may be the answer, but I’ll leave that to you to decide. If you get the DVD, check out the alternate ending and help me figure out what it means.)

* That we only use a fraction of our brains is actually a myth. While we only use some of our brains at a time, we use all of them at some point. One bit lights up when you’re scared, another when you’re happy, and so on. It’s not as if running all parts of your brain at once would turn you super-smart.

April 24, 2012

April 24, 2012

A Daily Triple

So here's a thing I did on Saturday:


Yep. Jeopardy! was in town, taping the end of its Teen Tournament and also its Power Players Week. Power Players, as Alex explained before the start of one game, are those who get us to change how we think or feel about the news. Mmkay. I just wanted to see Anderson Cooper.

Though we weren’t told in advance how long the tapings would last, we knew the doors open and doors close times as shown above on the tickets. We drew our own conclusions, but through Metro f---ery didn’t arrive on-scene until shortly after 9 am.

The line was approximately 300 people long at this point. It wrapped around three sides of the building. I have harnessed my almighty Paint skills to graphically depict, behold:


And here's an actual picture of part of it:


Fifteen minutes elapsed before the line even started moving. Meanwhile, I, TheBoy, and our friend Julia were making small talk under a scorching sun while secretly wondering who to eat first. (Maybe that was just me. Idk.)


Once we got inside, past security, and into our seats, we realized that we had what’s kindly termed an “obstructed view.” In this case, we could only see the game board. We could not see the players. Luckily, Jeopardy! had set up large monitors on either side of the stage to help everybody out.


Turns out the morning and afternoon tapings were two games each, so we got to see two sets of contestants do a practice round, a media junket, and the real game. On the down side, it was a really long time before I got to eat lunch. On the up side, KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR.

The afternoon session wasn’t nearly as hard to get into, so TheBoy and I were able to position ourselves in the center section of seats. Though we had to contend with stage lighting that NEARLY BURNED MY RETINAS OUT A LA PHOEBE SEEING MONICA AND CHANDLER KISSING THAT ONE TIME, we were able to see the contestants, Alex, and the game board all at once. The highlight of the afternoon session was Anderson Cooper.


When he first walked on stage before the rehearsal round, a squeal echoed throughout the hall, followed by a PA announcement:

“Attention ladies and gentlemen: please, no photography from the audience. Photography is prohibited.”


I grew steadily more anxious during the afternoon taping, as I had two sets of friends coming for the evening show. I snuck text messages throughout (sorry, Anderson) keeping them informed on the taping progress, seeing where they were, etc. I’d be a really sucky event planner because I’d die of a heart attack shortly before the big day.

Thankfully, everyone ended up with a ticket and a good seat. They all seemed to have enjoyed themselves, even. Good people.

As for who won? I can’t say. I *will* say that my new favorite person is Clarence Page, because he is freaking adorable.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Not bad at all.

(PS The new Blogger template sucks. It took me way too long to position these pictures, since I have too much knowledge for the shiny GUI interface but not enough for the hardcore HTML one. It's the valley of despair.)

April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012

GSA-Holes

Loath though I am to blog about anything even remotely work-related, you’d have to live under a rock to not have heard that the General Services Administration knows how to throw one pretty freakin’ amazing party.

I myself have attended two GSA-sponsored conferences, both of which were open to employees across federal government. One was held in Orlando in May 2010, the other was held in San Diego in May 2011. (For your reference, this year’s conference will be held in San Antonio.)

Most of my souvenirs from that trip were provided by vendors. Normal course of business for anyone with purchasing power, no matter the sector. The GSA goodies I got were minimal—a small notebook, a pen, etc.

Though I’ve been closely following this week’s Congressional hearings, and watching several hours’ worth of video, that speaks just as much to my interest in schadenfreude as my interest in the subject matter. As Congressional hearings go, these have been rather heated and entertaining.

Don’t even get me started on the Secret Service thing. Oy.

Please keep in mind that not all 2 million of us are actively wasting your money. Most of us assiduously try to avoid it, in fact. Though it would be a shame to not link to my new favorite segment of The Daily Show EVER:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
GSA-holes
www.thedailyshow.com





April 19, 2012

April 19, 2012

Definitely NOT a Bird

The space shuttle Discovery came to its new home, the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy, earlier this week. You may have seen photos or video of the shuttle, piggybacking on a regular plane, flying around the DC area.

(Picture courtesy of friend of friend-of-blog Patricia.)

I was home that day, preparing for my [game show redacted] audition, so I got to see the flying contraption firsthand. Whilst hanging out my eighth-floor apartment window like a lunatic.

Though my shaky hands, cheap camera, and distance from DC conspired to create so-so pictures, here is an even more so-so video, complete with bitchy commentary.



I’m going to blame it on pre-audition nerves. People are fantastic! So are babies!

April 18, 2012

April 17, 2012

April 17, 2012

This! Is! The day!

If you’ve been paying careful attention, you’ll notice that the countdown clock at right has been counting down to today.

I have a very big thing happening today. Not “life event” big, but definitely “highlight of the Christmas newsletter” big.

It could be over pretty quickly, or (I hope) last a couple of hours.

Preparations have involved watching a lot of TV, reading on everything from geography to science, and practicing how to talk extemporaneously about myself.

It could culminate in a trip to California, or it could go no further than Washington, DC.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

April 15, 2012

April 15, 2012

Not Sure About: Magic City & Scandal

My immediate affection aside, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 isn’t the only midseason show I’ve tried. It is, however, the only one that went onto the Must Watch list straightaway. I’m still deciding on the other two: Magic City and Scandal.

Magic City

Magic City, Starz’s riff on Mad Men, starz stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a hotel owner in 1959 Miami. Not just any hotel, mind you. The awesomest hotel that Miami ever did see, with all the alcohol and boobies one could ever want. (Indeed, stay away if you’re not a fan of boobies; they’re featured right from the opening credits and on through several major plotlines.) Unfortunately, hotels require both money and staff to run; thanks to various circumstances and labor disputes, Morgan’s character is running short on both.

Enter the Slimy Investment Partner played with almost comical panache by Danny Huston. You’ll know him as “that guy from the thing.” (Seriously, look him up on IMDb and tell me otherwise.) This is a man who shoots his wife’s dog in order to get some peace and quiet for a phone conversation. He is serious bad news. And yet seriously rich. Dangit.

Other characters: Morgan’s two sons, one who’s besotted with a hotel maid and the other who’s besotted with anything in a skirt (including Slimy Investment Partner’s wife, egad!). Morgan’s wife, who converted to Judaism to marry him and is now more devout than he is. Various hotel staff. Etc.

Starz put the first three episodes online; I believe the show regularly airs on Friday nights. I’m not saying it’s a bad show; I’m just saying that it’s no Mad Men.

Scandal

Scandal, brought to you by ABC and Shonda Rimes, is about Olivia Pope. She’s DC’s go-to fixer for scandals political, animal, and mineral. You have a problem, go to Olivia and her “gladiators in suits.” Such a noble thing, sweeping Washington’s dirt under the carpet! Whatever would we do without people like Olivia?

Except it’s all a little too handy. Of course the cop guarding the crime scene has a secret, used by one of Olivia’s team to blackmail to access the crime scene. Of course the President of the United States has some sort of romantic history with Olivia and comes across as a sort of needy ex-boyfriend. Of course all of these coincidental connections allow Olivia’s team to wrap up any problem in 42 minutes.

Washington is a small town, but it’s not THAT small. C’mon.

The pilot’s opening scene featured talking so fast that I (I!) had to turn on the closed captioning. Shonda Rimes, you are no Aaron Sorkin. Don’t even try. In addition, the outdoor scenes all featured parks that I’m pretty sure don’t actually exist. Here’s a scene that happened in my apartment about four times during the first episode:

[On-screen, a park in front of the White House or Jefferson Memorial]
Me: Where IS that?
[Show goes to commercial]
Me: Seriously, where IS that? I don’t think that place exists. Why was there no fence in front of the White House? That’s not what the Tidal Basin benches look like. Was that whole thing green screened?
[Show returns from commercial]
Me: THAT IS NOT A REAL PLACE!

It was frustrating, to say the least. Episodes are available on Hulu; I believe the show regularly airs on Wednesday nights. I’m not saying it’s a bad show; I’m just saying that it’s no West Wing.

April 11, 2012

April 11, 2012

Read/Write Error

Genealogy is still a thing, right? Several TV series help celebrities research their histories, and sites like Ancestry.com can help even those of us without an EGOT. Gone are the days when people hid their shady immigrant pasts and real men made their own luck. Now, it’s all about where you came from, how far back your family tree goes, and how many cousins separate you and Justin Bieber.

My own family tree is pretty stumpy, since my mom immigrated from Korea and my dad’s only three or four generations removed from Europe. Your ancestors may have traveled on the Mayflower; mine came over on much later conveyances. But it’s cool, since I don’t have to worry about slaveowner guilt and all that.

But while watching Rita Wilson’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” I was inspired to poke around Ancestry.com once again to see what I could find. I’d looked through the recently-released 1940 census with no luck; the fact that you can only search by enumeration district and not by name really limits its utility. Anyhoo, I did a search on my dad’s dad and LO AND BEHOLD, he popped up in the 1930 census. He was 15 at the time, with the listed occupation of “newsboy.” Work location: “Street.” It’s like something out of Dickens.

I was all excited to discover this tidbit about a man I never met, until I looked at the head of household line for the fam. And saw that the column about reading and writing was labeled “No” for my great-grandpa and “Yes” for my great-grandma.

Excuse me, say again, WHA?

It’s possible that this is the generation that came from Poland, and so they were literate in Polish. Fingers crossed. How my great-grandma (newly coined nickname: Gramz) learned English, I cannot say. Soap operas, maybe. Wikipedia. YouTube videos. Go Gramz go. And while she of course had no job listed, my great-grandpa (Grampz) was identified as a machine operator. Indeed, I hail from humble stock. I had no idea how humble.

Maybe you will have better luck than I did with 1940. Check it out at http://1940census.archives.gov/ then report back with your findings.

April 10, 2012

April 10, 2012

Arrest Him for Being Awesome, Maybe

You may have heard that Batman was recently pulled over in the DC area for driving without proper license plates. To which America asks: Why would you mar the Batmobile with tags?

Seriously, though, apparently the guy is named Bruce Wayne Lenny Robinson and he drives his black Lamborghini to local hospitals to cheer up sick kids dressed as Batman. Like Patch Adams, BUT SO MUCH INCREDIBLY COOLER.

You do see occasional news stories about people who dress as superheroes and fight crime. I think there was even a Castle episode about the phenomenon. These people also probably occasionally end up on the wrong side of the law while pursuing evildoers.

But seriously. You do NOT pull over the Batman.

April 9, 2012

April 9, 2012

Duly Noted Recommends, Volume 28: Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23

It is not lightly that I highly recommend something to you. You know this. 95% of things in existence disturb and/or disgust me. I’m even pickier with TV shows, because my plate is already pretty full. A new comedy is lucky if it makes me smile a few times; it has to be pretty killer to move from “watch on Hulu the next day” to “watch live, even if copious amounts of caffeine are required.”

Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 made me laugh. Out loud. FOUR TIMES.

The gist: Innocent June moves from Indiana to NYC for an amazing job. She leaves behind her fiancé and her parents, both of whom feature in the pilot episode. But she’s super psyched for an amazing corporate job and apartment in the Big Apple.

Unfortunately, June’s new company goes up in flames before she starts, so she finds herself without a job and an apartment. An online search leads her to Chloe, whose style and digs outshine the other options (hello, crazy cat dude). I mean, she is besties with James Van Der Beek. DAWSON FRICKIN’ LEERY. June signs on the spot, and finds herself the newest resident of apartment 23.

"So how was moving? I was gonna help you, but then I didn’t want to."

Chloe turns out to be a bit of a challenge, though, and by “bit of a challenge,” I mean “batshit crazy.” She overcharges June for the rent, eats her food, and generally proves Dawson’s claim that she has “the morals of a pirate.”

"I wrote a rap at Christian camp. It was called 'Jesus is My N-Word.'"

Poor June. Between a rock and a hard place. Luckily, we Midwestern girls got game. She sells all of Chloe’s furniture and earns some grudging respect.

"Well, look who picked up a racket and decided to join the game."

The pilot had many funny throwaway lines and a couple of great visual gags. I’m very interested to see where it goes from here. I hope to get a little more of June’s parents and a TON of douche-y Dawson. As a former Creek Geek*, I can appreciate the fact that the things of my childhood are now old enough to be parodied.

The pilot is available on Hulu legally for free here. The show premieres on ABC this Wednesday at 9:30. DO IT.

* Fun fact: I used to smuggle tapes of the show to a classmate whose parents wouldn’t let him watch it. Shutup. It was the '90s.

April 3, 2012

April 3, 2012

Sorry I Missed It: Bar Rescue

Though I’d consider myself one of the least likely people to watch the Spike network, I’ve found that a surprising number of its shows are actually pretty good. Auction Hunters, for one. Coal, for another. And now Bar Rescue, for a third.

In a nutshell, Bar Rescue is like Kitchen Nightmares, but for bars. “Renowned bar consultant” Jon Taffer goes to a struggling bar in _____ (Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc.). He talks to the owners and staff. He renovates the restaurant, revamps the menu, and usually changes the place’s name and theme. Midway through his five-day process, Jon has a “soft run” where he tests the new beverage and food menus. At the end of the five days, there’s a grand re-opening where the bar is packed and tra la la.

Jon’s big on the concept of bar “science,” and since true scientists just threw up in their mouths a little, allow me to explain. Running a bar is like running any business: there are best practices. When you’re serving cocktails, for example, you should always mix them a certain way. They should taste consistently good, and they should be just strong enough and just sweet enough to make people hungry. Best practice.

When you have a theme, your menu, décor, and atmosphere should match the theme. Don’t serve Italian food at an Irish pub. Don’t play country music at a sushi-and-sake bar. Best practice.

And beer? Beer turns out to be an incredibly finicky beverage. It must be stored and served at certain temperatures. In a specially-cleaned glass. Dispensed at a certain angle. If you mess up any of these aspects of the keg-to-gullet process, you’re doomed.

As with restaurants, the failure of bars usually comes down to an owner who wasn’t ready to be an owner. Sometimes they bought the bar because they were fans. Sometimes they bought the bar because they wanted somewhere to drink for free. Sometimes they bought the bar because they’re a chef who really wanted a restaurant but this was the best they could find. You get the idea. Hey America: don’t start a small business unless you have a large pile of liquid assets and no expectation of return!

What really makes the show, though, is Jon Taffer. This guy:

YOU DON’T MESS AROUND WITH THAT GUY. Whereas Gordon Ramsay and Robert Irvine will yell at you in a British accent, this guy will have you whacked with no compunction whatsoever. Look in his eyes and tell me differently.

My research indicates that many of these places end up closing anyway, despite Jon’s attempts. But if you’re going to go down, what a delightfully-loud way to do it. Full episodes available on Spike.com. Don't make Jon angry.

April 2, 2012

April 2, 2012

Things I’ve Read: The Last Bookstore in America

The Last Bookstore in America came to me as a free eBook from Amazon. See, they’ll occasionally discount eBooks for one reason or another, at which point I snap them up if they pique my interest. Lots of Titanic-themed books lately, for obvious reasons. The occasional historical drama (which I often get) or romance novel (which I never get). It’s a good way to build a backup library for those times when Metro starts on fire and it takes me two-and-a-half days to get home.

Ironically, this book is set in a world where something called the Gizmo (like an iPhone, I believe) has reduced the number of bookstores in America to the double digits, then to the single digits. Including the Firebreathing Dragon in Eureka, California. When its owner dies (right at the start of the book), his nephew inherits the store and a dilapidated house. Whose caretaker, by the way, is actually growing marijuana in the giant garden. And has been for quite some time.

It turns out the Firebreathing Dragon isn’t really about books. It does $1 million in sales a year, sure. But that’s because people don’t buy books. They enter the store, pick a book, pay for the book, and get the book and a little something extra in the bag, if you know what I mean.

It may just be my ignorance in these matters, but I didn’t figure out what was going on until quite a ways into the book. Several plot threads were introduced (inheriting of the book store, drug-growing caretaker, semi-corrupt local politician, tobacco executive visiting the town) but not really tied together. A bit confusing.

Much of the book, of course, is about the dramatic irony. We the readers know that the bookstore is dealing, but its new owners don’t. When and how they find out, and what happens next, is quite amusing.

I’m not sure whether the author was trying to link the advent of eReaders and cell phones as the downfall of books and/or society. I hope not. If so, releasing as an eBook is hypocrisy with a capital H, innit? There’s also a bit of an anti-big business and pro-legalization tinge, but I chalk that up to the Left Coast setting. Remember, though, that I’ve spent a total of three weeks in my lifetime west of the Mississippi. As far as I know, everyone in those time zones acts like the characters from Portlandia. In my defense, the book’s author and her husband actually do own a bookstore in Eureka, CA. So there.