July 30, 2013

July 30, 2013

Public Radio Roundup: A Threeve

Since the number of podcasts I regularly listen to has gotten out of hand, I’ve started managing them in iTunes.


Yes, I have reluctantly allowed Apple to control this one tiny part of my life. Blame Ira Glass. Actually, blame public radio in general. A review of my podcast subscriptions shows that a whopping proportion of them are public radio programs. And while I won’t give you a rundown of every single one, allow me to recommend my top four.

The first public radio show I started listening to, and easily the one I would want if I were stranded on a desert island. It’s a panel quiz show about the week’s news, including the big headlines but also those weird stories you find on the back page of the arts section. Contestants call in, and I hope to someday be one of them. First, I must conquer Jeopardy!, because you don’t just call in to Wait Wait without something good to talk about.

I’m still divided on TAL, because when it’s good, it’s great, but when it’s sad, it’s lying-on-the-floor-in-the-fetal-position-and-sobbing sad. And I estimate it is sad about 90% of the time. This American Life? Not for the faint of heart.

I accidentally stumbled on Studio 360 on a long drive home from Butt of Nowhere, Maryland.* It’s an interview program, like TAL, but with just one guy. And sometimes on just one subject. You might have an hour on Superman, for example. Not just the movie, but the entire ethos and its psychological overtones. Recently, they did an episode on Aaron Copland, the song “Dixie,” and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, and that sound you heard was me dying of happiness.

You guys, I’ve saved the best for last. I think this show is my new favorite (don’t tell Wait Wait). An hour of trivia and wordplay. Jonathan Coulton is the in-house one-man band, and he writes the musical clues. Yes, there are musical clues. Trivia + wordplay + music. I know you’re already convinced, but here’s a bit from a recent game that will seal the deal. The game was called “The Philosopher’s Comedy Club,” in which contestants heard a bad joke and had to guess which famous philosopher would have told it. Here goes:
So a guy goes to a talent agent and says "Have I got an act for you. It's a family and the dad realizes that achievement of his own happiness is the only moral purpose of life. And the mom, she rejects ethical altruism. And the son knows that government help is just as dangerous as government persecution." And the agent says, "I love it. What's the act called?" And the guy says "The Objectivists!"

I don’t know about you, but that was easily the funniest effing thing I have heard this year. If the combination of an Aristocrats reference and the works of Ayn Rand doesn’t tickle your funny bone, maybe we shouldn’t be friends.

Go forth and download.

* Name changed to protect its identity.**
** Nah, I just want to pull in all the Google searches for “Butt of Nowhere.”

July 29, 2013

Hey, Mister Tally-Man

I like my bananas ripe. This is not a euphemism. I won’t even consider eating a banana until it looks like this:

Actual banana consumed on July 12, 2013

Honestly, this one could have used another day or two. My ideal banana is one day away from turning soft and gelatinous. To me, this makes perfect sense. Fruits ripen as they age. So it stands to reason that the longer you leave a fruit alone, the sweeter and tastier it will be when you eventually eat it. As go peaches, so go bananas.

Sadly, the entire rest of humanity apparently disagrees. I was watching a BBC food documentary recently and was told that the perfect banana has no green, but also no brown specks.

Um, what?

Then I was shopping at my not-so-local Giganti-Walmart and saw a chart in the produce section that looked a little something like this:

…making the point that a 5 is ideal and a 6 is maybe acceptable if you’re going to eat them in the car on the way home.


I’ve had 5s served by the misguided. They’re terrible. Hard. Not sweet. Nothing at all what I’m looking for in a banana. I suspect if you peeled a 5 and a 7, and set up a double-blind test, the majority of people would prefer the 7. So stop judging books by their covers.

The problem with my method, of course, is that you have a very short window in which to eat your bananas. And if you live alone, the only person around to eat your bananas is you. Thus I rarely purchase them, because I end up having to eat the whole bunch over the course of 18 hours or so. Great if you’re training for a marathon or a NASCAR race. Good thing I so often do those things.

Can we at least agree to move to, like, the 6? Is the 6 acceptable to you?

July 23, 2013

July 23, 2013

In My Opinion: Star Trek Into Darkness

The world’s gone mad. Heat dome. Royal baby. Comic Con. I’ve taken refuge with indoor entertainment because it’s chaos out there. Star Trek Into Darkness was more than a movie; it was two hours of security from the madness of summer oh-thirteen.

[First, a notice: The Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy IMAX now sells concessions, including alcoholic beverages. This isn’t a problem if you like to eat and drink at movies, and I know that many people fall into that category. It’s more troublesome if you don’t like stepping on a floor that’s simultaneously crunchy and sticky, but I’ll deal with it if it supports the Smithsonian. Sequestration, you are a cruel, cruel mistress.]

[Second, another notice: There be spoilers ahead. And lots of mangled Star Trek references because I’m a girl.]

Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a thrilling scene on the planet Nibiru, which is similar to earth except with red plants instead of green ones. A giant volcano is about to obliterate the indigenous people of Nibiru (Nibirans? Nibirites?), so the crew of the Enterprise has decided to covertly detonate a cold fusion device that will literally save the world.

[They have to do it covertly because of something called The Prime Directive, which says civilizations have to be allowed to develop on their own without interference from humans or something. I’m fuzzy on the details. Pretty sure this is why we don’t have flying cars yet, though.]

Of course, things go horribly wrong, and Captain Kirk has to fly the Enterprise right over the volcano to beam Spock out of it and man, did all of that look fantastic on a giant IMAX screen. Sadly, this rescue brought to you in amazing Technicolor gets Kirk in trouble for breaking that Prime Directive dealio, so he gets hauled into Starfleet and shown the what for.

[Me myself personally? Would absolutely be working at Starfleet rather than going into space. Why leave earth? We have Ikea here. And tater tots ANY TIME YOU WANT THEM.]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (London), random Starfleet employee decides to blow up his workplace one day in exchange for a mysterious stranger’s promise to cure his gravely ill daughter. A pretty big deal, and that’s before we learn that said workplace is Section 31 and said stranger is “John Harrison” aka…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…



So TheBoy was absolutely delighted at all the lore being whipped out because most of the plot of this film parallels that of Star Trek 2: Electric Boogaloo The Wrath of Khan. I, not having seen that movie, didn’t catch any of that. I kept wondering why Sherlock wasn’t Sherlock.

[Khan – now 100% Cumberbathcier!]

So the film involves a lot of complex stuff between Khan and Starfleet and Kirk and Spock and shifting motives and random aliens (including one adorable tribble). By the time Kirk dies after crawling into the warp core, it barely cracks the top five of “OMG” moments.

[For me: 1. Destruction of Section 31. 2. Enterprise rising out of the water on Nibiru. 3. Harrison shooting out the Starfleet conference room. 4. Spock detonating the cold fusion device in the volcano. 5. Kirk’s death.]

I really liked this film. It looked great, it was the sort of super-sleek future world I really like (if not the slightly-dystopian one I really love), and it was populated with all sorts of interesting characters. Not least the supporting ones: Sulu, Bones, Uhura, etc. I look forward to the next film (there has to be another, right?) and can only hope the tribbles get more screen time.

July 16, 2013

July 16, 2013

Sorry I Missed It: The Great British Sewing Bee

You might say that I can’t be blamed for not watching a show live if it’s only aired in the UK. But I like to pride myself on knowing these things, on familiarity with the zeitgeist. So the fact that I found out about The Great British Sewing Bee only via a blog entry on Smitten by Britain shames me a bit.

The Great British Sewing Bee aired over four hourlong programs. Though I haven’t asked my Helper Hippo to confirm through research, I’m pretty sure it was produced by the same people who did The Great British Bake-Off. It’s not just the names that are similar: it’s the set layout, the music, the camera angles, and even the competition structure.

[A quick search of this here blog informs me that I appear not to have written about The Great British Bake-Off. BOO ON ME. Soon to be rectified. Because even though I watched spinoff The American Baking Competition, Jeff Foxworthy is no Sue Perkins.]

The contestants were eight amateur sewers, from various age groups and of both genders. They were all British, of course, which immediately makes them seem classier and smarter than 80% of reality show contestants in the United States. Add to that the fact that this show involves a verifiable skill, and not just the ability to move piles of money from one table to another or pick from one of three doors, and you’ve got yourself a show.

The host, Claudia Winkleman, is a journalist/host who I guess would be vaguely analogous to a Katie Couric. Hard for me to say; before this, I’d only seen her on a celebrity edition of UK quiz show The Chase. Regardless, she manages enough authority to present the show and enough cheek to keep it interesting. Which is important when the show is about sewing versus, like, diving or jumping through hoops on fire.

Each show involves three challenges. First, the pattern challenge, in which the contestants are all given the same pattern for, say, an A-line skirt. They can pick fabric and embellishments, but they must all end up with the same skirt. So in challenge one, we see how closely the contestants can hew to someone else’s “recipe,” and also how they make that recipe their own.

Second is the alteration challenge, wherein the contestants are given a very simple store-made garment and asked to sex it up. Add pockets, redo the collar, chop off six inches of hem, whatever..

In the final challenge, the judges just tell the contestants what to make and the rest is up to them. “We want to see a woman’s blazer.” The design and materials are totally up to the contestants. The trick with this challenge, though, is that actual models are used. And when you’re used to dressing mannequins, using real models kinda sucks. They have shoulders that aren’t symmetrical, boobs, and arms. It’s a mess, really.

The two judges have legitimate Savile Row and sewing expertise. No celebrity judges here (I’m looking at you, Project Runway). It’s all about technique, and these people will call you out on a puckering collar or a French seam that’s too wide. As someone who sews, I can appreciate just how difficult it is to get those things right.

[I have, indeed, worn garments I made myself. When the apocalypse hits, I will be able to keep us clothed, as long as I’m provided with electricity for my sewing machine and a well-stocked fabric store.]

And as with Project Runway, the things these people do with needle and thread is pretty astonishing. Like music, sewing’s no longer considered a vital life skill for a woman, and I think that’s too bad. Then again, neither are conversation and cookery, and I suck at those. Call it a wash.

July 15, 2013

July 15, 2013

98th Percentile, You Saucy Minx (Part 1 of 2)

After a bit of cursory research and many “Only Connect” viewings, I have decided that this is the year I try to join Mensa. It shouldn’t be intimidating, really. If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s my intellectual abilities. (Rather than a sense of style, social skills, or an aptitude for eating neatly, obviously.) But still. Mensa means something even to the non-quizzing layperson. It has clout. As per Wikipedia, it is “the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world.” Total membership: about 110,000 people who score in the 98th percentile or higher on IQ tests. Considering the planet has like 7 billion people on it, that is…not a lot of people.

Hoo boy.

So I’ve obviously started my long game, which is to find as much scoop out about the test as possible. Luckily, the internet is chock full of that sort of thing once you push aside the porn and cat videos. It’s easy enough to find sample questions from Mensa, psychologists, and random people who do this sort of thing for fun. (I myself enjoy putting pennies into those paper roll things, so I daren’t judge.)

The questions tend towards several categories: verbal, maths, analogies, spatial. They often involve deducing a pattern, which I’m much better at since getting addicted to “Only Connect.” Still, sometimes I get tripped up. Example:

Pear is to apple as potato is to?
A: banana
B: radish
C: strawberry
D: peach
E: lettuce

Think about it. I’ll wait.

Got an answer?

The correct answer is (B) radish because pears and apples both grow on trees and potatoes and radishes both grow underground. Whereas I went with (D) peach because I thought the pattern was that the length of Word #2 was the length of Word #1 plus one letter. As Britta would say, Duh doy.

Then I get something like:

What is the following word when it is unscrambled?
H  C  P  R  A  A  T  E  U

…and I’ve unscrambled “parachute” before I’ve finished reading the letters. Just goes to show, I guess.

I do hope they give us scrap paper for the test, because my practice has already resulted in quite a bit of this:

I’d prefer not to resort to writing on my hand but I will if it means I get into Mensa.

[For any wondering, I have never taken a real IQ test. I just now took the test here and got a 130, which I don't think is quite good enough. Stay tuned.]

July 10, 2013

July 10, 2013

The Sign of Four

Four good weird things happened on my commute yesterday. The qualifier—good—is important, since a day with four weird things on my commute is pretty much just a day. But good weird? Something is up with the universe. (You know the saying: Two’s company, three’s a crowd, four’s the universe screwing with you.)

1. A company was handing out free K-Cups outside my Metro station. I’m probably supposed to use the generic term for K-Cups but no one really knows what that is (single-serve coffee pods?), in the same way that Kleenex and Xerox have become shorthand for their respective product categories. Anyway, I’m a sucker for anything free and the fact that this was actually something useful blew me away.

2. In the evening, two people were playing bassoon outside my Metro station. Musicians aren’t unusual outside Foggy Bottom; there’s a ton of foot traffic and a Starbucks nearby, which results in people with spare change literally in hand. But bassoons? Seriously? For those of you who didn’t grow up playing in band and orchestra, here’s what a bassoon looks like:

It’s not exactly portable. Street musicians with violins? No big deal. Trumpets? Sure. But you never hear about a troubadour with a bassoon for apparent reasons, so the fact that there were two of them, in yesterday’s heat, standing, is pretty freaking ballsy. I love it.

3. My train came early. As one of the people shafted by Rush Plus, I’ve become thankful when a blue line train shows up at all. We’re down to a handful an hour, with a passenger count that has remained flat and possibly grown now we’re in tourist season.

[Sidebar: Almost all of the big tourist attractions are on the BL: White House, Smithsonian, Arlington Cemetery, US Capitol, Library of Congress, National Mall, etc. So please don’t complain to me about all the tourists on your line. We’re at the point where I’m considering kicking strollers over on a daily basis.]

But yesterday the train came at 4:37 instead of 4:40, and I had a glorious three extra minutes. Those of you who commute in DC understand how huge a deal that is. Not exactly Donald Trump “yooge,” but still.

4. A guy gave up his seat for me on the train. I don’t want to go all “woe is me, stuff like that never happens to me” but stuff like that never happens to me. I like to think it’s because I exude a capable air, but it’s probably the brown hair and absence of visible cleavage. I was so impressed with the guy, I thanked him TWICE—once when he gave up the seat and again when I left the train. I repeat: I acknowledged another human being two times. Rarer than a smile from Vladimir Putin.

Which brought me back to my original question: Universe, what’s your game here? I appreciate the efforts to get me in a good mood, but why? Then I realized: That Woman is about to have the royal baby. And if these events are any indication, that thing is going to be adorable. Sigh.

July 8, 2013

July 8, 2013

Things I’ve Read: Dad Is Fat

As you wait with bated breath for the birth of the next British royal, and consider the recently-born North West (named, I believe, for the now-defunct airline), might I recommend Jim Gaffigan’s book “Dad Is Fat”? I thought it was a hoot, and you know that I’m not exactly a kid person. (By which I mean “not at all.”)

Gaffigan identifies himself upfront as “the Hot Pockets guy.” Despite my love of all things encased in pastry, I first heard of Gaffigan when he played the lead in a sitcom based on the life of David Letterman. I don’t remember its name, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about that sitcom. Anyway, he’s a funny man from the Midwest (Indiana), so I penciled him on my mental good list.

Cue to this book, in which Gaffigan writes about the logistics of parenting five small children in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. This is a lifestyle which is technically summed up with the acronym “WTF.” Props to him, though, because he is surprisingly full of aplomb for someone who I can only assume has literally handled tons of crap.

That’s the thing about kids: They’re messy, and noisy, and hungry, and inconvenient. They take up space and prevent you from doing all the grown-up sorts of things grown-ups do. (Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m talking about dinner and a show. Jeez.) To Gaffigan’s credit, he obviously loves his kids and his wife, no matter what. Even when his son’s very first written sentence was the titular “Dad is fat.”

(I obviously don’t have the parenting gene, because expending energy and resources only to create someone who insults you makes no sense to me.)

So for the parents out there, who inevitably say that parenting has been both the hardest and greatest thing they’ve ever done, read this book to have a laugh and commiserate. For we childless, read this book to have a laugh and be reminded why no thanks, nuh uh. The chapters are short, almost like comedy bits, and I finished the whole book over two long reads. Even a parent should be able to manage that, right?

July 5, 2013

July 2, 2013

July 2, 2013

Ignore the .14159

During the train ride to trivia night, TheBoy and I were discussing maths. We needed a break from the nonstop news orgy of the past week. Paula Deen, the Texas filibuster, and the SCOTUS rulings alone would all have been blockbuster stories, but when they all happen over the course of a few days? Information overload, universe. Take it down a notch.

So we were talking about calculus, and I mentioned that the only thing I know about calculus is Euler’s number. Recently had to log that up when I was trying to determine what a logarithm is. (My math knowledge stops at the very beginnings of trig. Which I sum up as “Cosine, tangent, and the other one.”) Furthermore, for us laypeople, Euler’s number is approximately three. Just like pi. Approximately three. I’d like to think that this single-digit approximation would be lauded by most of the population, but the people I tend to encounter seem to get Pretty Snippy when I mention it so WHATEVER.

Three. It’s a magic number.

Sorry. Had to do that. It’s in the contract for people born in 1983.

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation Speaking of my generation, at least two news stories recently disparagingly pointed out the travesty of Millennials responding to the courtesy “Thank you” with “No problem.” Unbeknownst to us, this is completely and totally offensive to everyone everywhere. Because HOW DARE YOU intimate that whatever you did to elicit thanks would have been a problem.

[Yes, I did just finish listening to “Three Is a Magic Number” and clicked over to “I’m Just a Bill.”]

Baby boomers, let me mention a couple of things. First, it’s a tad self-centric to assume that our response, whatever ‘tis, has anything to do with you. My go-to is actually “Sure,” but after this whole kerfuffle I’ve started just half-smiling and half-grimacing. It’s the thought that counts, you guys.

Second, being offended by succeeding generations is kinda that way things work. Your parents weren’t thrilled when women started working outside the home, men grew their hair out, and black people got their own bubblers. Their parents weren’t thrilled when women started voting, the workday was cut to 8 hours, and people took down those “Irish Need No Apply” signs. My generation, in turn, will hate when our kids* insist on robotic enhancements in both eyes instead of just one and insist on flying the hovercar at 40 kph over the speed limit. It happens, is all I’m saying.

Third, we should all really be saying 别客气.

So let’s just agree to disagree and discuss things we have in common, like how ridiculous this cronut craze is but how delicious the cronuts themselves probably are.

* And I mean that collectively because no babies here.

July 1, 2013

July 1, 2013

Give It a Rest

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of USA TODAY. News, sports, and entertainment in a colorful, easy-to-digest package? Absolutely. If I want in-depth reporting, I’ll read the WaPo or a magazine. But most days, I want just enough information to keep my apprised of what’s happening in the world. For the same reason, I only watch the opening segment of the NBC Nightly News.

Sometimes, though, a headline or a graphic gives me pause. Happened again today, with this poll:

Let’s start with the source. Sleepy’s. The mattress people, I assume. Makes sense that they would be doing a survey about sleep habits, right? Perchance they even sell a mattress that will help with the maladies listed.

And, oh the maladies. Sleep talking/snoring, I understand. I would debate whether midnight snacking is a problem, but I guess it depends on what is being consumed and where. I see no issue with a li’l peanut butter sandwich after dark, but I supposed POPCORN CRUNCHING IN YOUR FACE would be unpleasant. Early bedtime? Are you kidding me? Unless you’re living in a studio, having one person go to bed earlier than the other shouldn’t be a problem. These people know they can just stay in the living room watching TV, reading, or plotting world domination, right? The Brain didn’t go to bed when Pinky went to bed. C’mon, folks.

But my eye skipped to the bottom of the graph, to “Childish sleeping habit,” and my imagination went wild. What could this possibly be? Do we have a Linus/blanket situation, or thumb-sucking, or what? Are these people crying themselves to sleep, or asking to hear Goodnight Moon, or what? Each possibility is more fascinating than the next, and I say this as someone who slept with the same pillow until age nine or so. (My parents still have it. It seems a lot smaller now than it did then. And shabbier. Honestly, it’s sort of a Velveteen Rabbit without the smallpox or whatever caused that thing to be burned in what was possibly the most psychologically-scarring childhood book this side of The Giving Tree.)

I’ll finish by noting that this poll asked for habits people’s partners were “trying to make you break before marriage.” Which would indicate that a) these habits can be stopped and b) marriage is the do-or-die cutoff when it comes to weird shit you do. Not so much, right? Because I have known a great many married people who are weird as hell, and that’s with no knowledge of what they get up to in the privacy of their own homes.

I’m claim to be neither a scientist nor a statistician, but the science behind this poll seems iffy at best.