March 28, 2014

March 28, 2014

Vikings

Have I mentioned that I watch Vikings?* I think of it as a happy medium between Game of Thrones and The Tudors, taking the best of both shows. From Game of Thrones, a regal historical setting complete with power plays and violence. From The Tudors, bodice ripping, codpiece ripping, and salacious staring matches. Plus the fact that Vikings airs on The History Channel gives it the sheen of respectability.

The main character is Vikings is a guy named Ragnar Lodbrok. (Be warned: You’re going to encounter a lot of Nordic names. You thought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was rough. So many vowels, guys. So many vowels.) He apparently actually did live in the 12th century, and you know I love things Based on a True Story. The show’s first season focuses on the conflict between Ragnar and the tribe’s leader (“Earl”) over whether or not to go a-raidin’. Ragnar is pro, the Earl is against. Once Ragnar goes a-raidin’ anyway and returns with craploads of English booty, though, his fortunes—literal and metaphorical—rise completely. Season two, currently airing, furthers the themes of intertribal conflict (Ragnar’s Earl now. Pull quote: “I AM DE CAPTAIN NOW.”) and a-raidin’.

But enough of the plot summaries. Let’s discuss why this show is ÜBER GÜT (REALLY GOOD):

- Medieval Times: not just a restaurant. Quick: How many TV shows have you seen set during the Middle Ages? Not a lot, right? Yet it’s literally a thousand years when people lived and stuff happened. Nothing against shows involving people staring at cell phones or whatnot, but there’s something moving about the days when life was nasty, brutish, and short. In one scene, a woman is asked how old she is. She responds that she doesn’t know. PEOPLE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW OLD THEY WERE BACK THEN. Mind. Blown.

- Badass women. The Vikings were fierce long before Beyonce; you know that from high school history class. The show naturally involves a fair amount of fighting with swords, fists, axes, arrows, etc. However, it’s not just the boys that can take care of business. Ragnar’s wife Lagertha is truly a woman after Eowyn’s own heart. You don’t want to get between her and a sword.

- Clever use of language. Non-spoiler alert #1: The show’s in English. Non-spoiler alert #2: Vikings didn’t speak English. It’s artistic license for sake of convenience, and I completely accept that. Where the show excels, though, is when the Vikings meet the English. In scenes featuring the two peoples, the English characters speak Old English with modern English subtitles. English speakers can pick out just enough words to recognize it, in the way that you can read a teeny bit of the Magna Carta. As a lover of language, I find that fascinating. In these joint scenes, the Vikings speak some sort of Scandinavian language, but more often just glare while fingering their axes.

- Violence and romance in equal measures. The violence is quite violent. The romance is quite romance-y. Something for everybody.

I’m thrilled that this show, about a civilization from a thousand years ago that neither read nor wrote, is finally getting a little press. Well-deserved. Strong recommend.

* Before now, I mean. I realized I mentioned it just then, smartass.

March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014

Beware the Jabberwock, My Son

Whether you love captchas or hate them with the warmth of a thousand suns, they’re here to stay. Partly because they help distinguish us from the robots (FOR NOW), partly because they help the Powers That Be transcribe old books, and partly because I like all my lists to have three points.

It’s fine. Really, it is. Even though some captchas lately have involved numbers rather than letters. Those tend to be even easier because there are fewer numbers than letters, at least in English. Your native language’s mileage may vary.

(Related: On this week’s Brain of Britain, we learned that the number four is represented in Morse code by four dots AND A DASH. I bet Samuel Morse found that effing hilarious. Dick move, man.)

So I’m clicking around Ticketmaster browsing John Hodgman tickets (still undecided) when I get this:


Now, okay. Two can play at this game. And by “game,” I mean “reciting ‘Jabberwocky’ in its entirety.” This was a moment I’d been waiting for since 1995.

(I am also prepared with the first chapter of the Bible book of James, all the US Presidents in order, and the first verse of that Nations of the World song from Animaniacs.)

Those of you also familiar with the poem know that it includes a lot of tongue-twisting portmanteaus. Because I wanted to show our future robot overlords* that humanity still has a thing or two going for it, I tried:


I hoped that my “error” would at least be logged somewhere if not actually reported to the robot overlords.

But “mimsy borogroves” was accepted. ACCEPTED. As if they knew my game all along. As if, had I typed “mimsy borogoves” I would have torn a hole in the Matrix because humans are so fallible the robots have already accounted for our puny, oxygen-dependent, meatsack-operating brains.

BLUE PILL. I NEED A BLUE PILL.

* Who are obviously running this whole captcha scheme and possibly the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority as sort of psychological experiements in traumatic stress.

March 25, 2014

March 25, 2014

Ian Fletcher Can't Catch a Break

A few years ago, the BBC aired Twenty Twelve—a satirical look at the machinations before London’s Olympic Games. Even in Britain, and even with the Olympics, the folks running the show are often buffoons. Because it was very much along the lines of Veep or In the Loop, I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much I paid full price in iTunes for it. (Full series on Hulu Plus here.)

The BBC has now spun off some of the TT characters in W1A. Instead of the Olympics, this series focuses on the BBC itself. Think The Newsroom but focused on Charlie rather than Will. Worth mentioning: Hugh Bonneville (aka LORD EFFING GRANTHAM) plays the main character and seeing someone from Downton Abbey using a cell phone is exactly as weird as you would hope.

My favorite character, though, is Siobhan Sharpe, media consultant extraordinaire. I don’t care how amazing you are; if you tell me you work in social media, I pretty much imagine you to do this all day:


Fantastic, okay? Okay? Fantastic.

March 20, 2014

March 20, 2014

Gallimaufry

A collection of things that I can’t seem to write more than 100 words about…

I present to you the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 18-inch corn dog:


Meant to be shared (note: ha), it’s apparently stuffed with bacon and cheese. It comes with fries, too. Because it wouldn’t be a full meal without the fries, obviously. But don’t mind me; I’m just pissed it’s not an 18-inch cheese stick. Come on, Brewers!

Speaking of baseball (it’s spring now; we can do that), I’m reading The Art of Fielding and it’s turning out to be weirdly reminiscent of my own college experience. Small school in Wisconsin, not much collegiate glory to speak of, etc. Though I’m years late to the party, this one gets a recommend. (I haven’t finished it yet, though, so if it turns out to have a gruesome end I reserve the right to revoke the endorsement.)

Spring also means it’s cherry blossom season here in DC and HERE COME THE TOURISTS. On the plus side, we can see the kite festival and the fireworks from our condo. On the other hand, we can’t see the trees themselves and those are sort of the whole point. I’m trying to calculate a window of time when the tidal basin will be devoid of both tourists AND rapists, and I bet it’ll be something like 5 AM. Argh.

Oh, and March Madness. I submitted three brackets, two of which I created using the CBS Sports auto-picker. Not to rain on your bracketology parade or anything, but c’mon. I overheard someone this week boasting he could name all the 1-9 seeds and was thisclose to responding with “And some of us have a real job.” Because I do all the awards show stuff and people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw EGOTs.

Was SJP’s 73 Questions interview rehearsed? Probably a little. Still good? Oh yeah.

My undergrad alma mater changed its mascot from the Crusaders to the Sabercats and I just can’t. Even if you go with the cultural acceptability logic and throw out the PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE AND ONE MIGHT EVEN SAY IMPOSING Crusader, to go with the sabercat/sabrecat/saber cat/saber-toothed tiger is curious. If you’re going to pick a creature you believe perished in the Great Flood to represent your institution, go with the T. rex. Obviously.

Seriously, though, we gotta find that plane because it is starting to REEK of bad juju. When they announced files had been deleted from the pilot’s home simulator, I started thinking about all the stuff I’ve done/said/possessed that would look pretty suspicious if I suddenly disappeared. Note to self: Don’t suddenly disappear because that underbed box full of small Hello Kitty dolls is kinda creepy.

Facebook friends: The couple who accosted me post-workout in the condo elevator is moving! KARMA. Thank you, universe.

Speaking of neighbors, one of mine occasionally leaves his Army-style boots out in the hallway for a day or two and I’m not sure if he’s expecting treats in them or what. Should I put, like, an orange in there? Does a monkey come by and shine shoes left in the halls? IS THAT A THING OUR BUILDING OFFERS?! IS THAT A THING *ANY* BUILDING OFFERS?!

March 18, 2014

March 18, 2014

Citius, Altius, Fortius, Quietus

Now that I’ve settled into the new place, I’ve started taking advantage of the amenities. Namely, the gym. Though I’m by no means an athlete (or even an “athlete”), I do try to spend enough time on the treadmill each day to get through an episode of QI. Exercising the mind and body, blah blah blah. And America’s rapid decline into obesity means I rarely encounter anyone else.

Until I do.

As with any environment, the gym has its mores. Its social constructs. The rules we all agree to abide by as we put the needs of the many over the needs of the few.* Unless you want to buy your own exercise equipment, and use it only in the confines of your own home, you gotta play by the rules.

Don’t put your junk on the equipment unless you’re using it. I keep walking up to treadmills that appear not to be in use, but that are festooned—FESTOONED—with keys, iPhones, lanyards, and other detritus. Don’t “hold” the machine with your junk, people. Hire a child to sit on the machine until you’re ready to use it, like a civilized person.

Speaking of junk, don’t put your junk on the equipment even if you are using it. And by “junk,” I mean…you know what I mean. Let’s keep everything covered, sheathed, tucked in, and strapped down, okay? This goes for both ladies and gents. Do not subject us to your jiggle.

Keep mirror staring to a minimum. I don’t understand the people who spend more time staring at themselves in the mirrors than actually exercising. Are they searching for a sense of self-worth, or…? Anyway, it freaks me out because it makes me think it’s actually one-way glass and not a mirror and that we’re being observed as part of some social experiment. WHAT DO YOU KNOW? WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD? WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM US?

Also keep chatting to a minimum. As little as I enjoy making small talk with people on elevators, in queues, and at family gatherings, I do it in the name of social acceptability. But when I’m exerting physical effort? It’s not going to happen. I’m wearing earphones for a reason, and that reason is mostly to discourage you from trying to communicate with me verbally. If I could work out with blinders on, I’d do that too. But I don’t have enough inner ear balance for that.

If you want it wiped, wipe it. Though I’m one of the most obsessive-compulsive people I know, I’m not big on wiping the machines before, during, or after use. (Nor do I wash my hands repeatedly or worry about eating food off the floor.) My philosophy: If you want the machine completely germ free before you touch it, douse it and yourself in Lysol.

Caveat exerciser.**

*Maybe Communism gets it right some times, is all I’m saying.
**Exercisor? My Latin is rusty, by which I mean non-existent.

March 14, 2014

March 11, 2014

March 11, 2014

Not Yet Found

File:Main characters of Lost.jpg
How do you solve a problem like Crimea? With people like these.

With every new detail that comes out about Malaysia Airlines flight 370, I’m increasingly convinced that we’re living the pilot episode of Lost. That makes me a terrible person, I know—comparing a tragedy to a television show. But phrases like “dropped from radar” and “stolen passports” make me wonder whether the MH370 version of Kate is stitching up the MH370 version of Jack yet.

(WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALT!)

Because I like to hold out hope that the passengers are in fact stranded on an island somewhere, perhaps with the fuselage passengers separated from the tail passengers. Maybe they’re encountered a mysterious smoke monster or a polar bear. It’s only been a few days, so the Others probably haven’t shown up. Yet.

(Keep pushing that button, Desmond! Keep pushing it for PEN-NEH!)

I can’t even imagine how you begin to search an entire ocean for one tiny plane. If COSMOS reminded me of anything, it’s how tiny we people are when compared to, like, everything else ever in the history of everything. So basically, it could be a while before we find that plane, and even longer before we can pin anything on the Dharma Initiative.

Speaking of nanobots, it’s just a matter of time before the power goes out, Revolution-style, and we’re left to remake society. Stock up on non-perishables from Trader Joe’s now, before the rush. If I'm about to plunge into a postapocalyptic society, I want to do it with almond butter and wasabi peas.

March 10, 2014

March 10, 2014

Things I’ve Read: Hatching Twitter

The Social Network was my favorite movie of 2010, and remains solidly entrenched in the middle of my Top Ten. Some magical combination of Sorkin dialogue, Fincher direction, and frankly fascinating source material made an indelible mark on my psyche. I watched it again just the other week (in the midst of moving- and packing-induced stress) and it was just as good the eighteenth time around. Where our ancestors had Edison and Tesla, we have Zuckerberg and Saverin.

And Dorsey. And Stone. And, to a lesser-but-just-as-essential extent, Glass.

Who are they? They’re the founders or Twitter.

Hatching Twitter is very similar to The Accidental Billionaires, the book on which The Social Network was based. (Not written by Ben Mezrich, though, whose entire opus is worth a read.) The book follows the four men behind Twitter: Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan “Ev” Williams, and Noah Glass. Though you’ve probably heard of one of two of them, you probably haven’t heard of all four. I had seen Biz Stone on Colbert and read a Forbes interview with Jack Dorsey, but that was it. Intriguing, since the book details how all four of them played key roles in the development of Twitter. How important those roles were and continue to be depends on who(m) you ask.*Each of these guys (with the possible exception of Noah) want to be The Guy. The Zuckerberg of Twitter, if you will. And at any given time, they were each The Guy. Until one of the others pulled a coup and set himself up as king. Boys, amiright?

It’s not just about the founders, though. HT explains how the now-commonplace norms of Twitter came to be. @ and #. Handles. 140 characters. You know that box on Twitter.com, that says “Compose new Tweet…”? It used to say “What are you doing?” Then it said “What’s happening?” And the difference between those two questions—between those two ways of thinking, in fact—is much more than semantic. It speaks to the two camps of Using Twitter: Do I tweet about myself, or do I tweet about the world?

Oh, and how did it come to be called Twitter anyway? READ THE BOOK.

In the immortal words of Levar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it.

*Speaking of grammatical nitpicking, we must come to an agreement about this Daylight Saving(s) Time business. I propose a hyphen to more clearly delineate “savings” as a gerund adjective rather than a noun. Thus “Daylight-Saving Time” a la “life-changing technology” or “footnote-reading grammarian.”

March 7, 2014

March 6, 2014

March 6, 2014

COSMOS

Years ago, rock star astronomer Carl Sagan presented a TV series called Cosmos. Originally broadcast on PBS, the series covered many bits and bobs of science with a focus on origins and order. (The Mensan in me would remind you that kosmos in Greek literally means “order.” The non-Mensan in me wonders whether the collective noun for a group of Cosmopolitan magazines is a “cosmos.”) Now that we’re living in the age of Astounding! Visual! Effects!, Seth McFarlane (yes, the Family Guy guy) has rebooted the series with Duly Noted favorite Neil Degrasse Tyson* as host and—if previews are any indication—hella good visuals:


See, I’m a sucker for science presented with analogies and effects. Abstracts just screw me up, which is why I had such a hard time with physics and its pages of Greek letters. No wonder Newton had to wait for that apple situation to discover gravity, is all I’m saying. So when someone presents science well, as Duly Noted favorites Bill Nye* and Brian Greene* did, it’s a huge deal. Sadly, it’s usually a huge deal on PBS, which entire generations of Americans forgot about during the years when they were too old for Sesame Street and too young for Downton Abbey. Trust me: The Elegant Universe was an effing work of art.

(I was able to see Brian Greene speak in person at the Smithsonian last week. It was an interesting crowd. I was probably in the top quartile of “social adjustment” but in the bottom quartile of “understanding the subject matter.” Every time Greene fired up an animation, I was like, OOH SO SHINY! Then I got super pissed off at a couple of people who had apparently come along for shits and giggles rather than to pay attention. Hundreds of actual fans were seated remotely in an overflow room while your disrespecting and uncultured selves took selfies. But that's a whole separate blog post. Possibly a whole separate blog.)

The new series drops Sunday on both the FOX and NatGeo families of channels. 9/8 central. Whether you believe the universe was created suddenly by a big bang, or in six days by an Omnipotent Being, watch and be dazzled.

* Bonk/Marry/Kill: Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Brian Greene. DIFFICULT, right?