“Bouncing Off the Walls”
Welcome to my WebLog. (I won’t call it a “b--g”;
I don’t like the word.) Way too much information about my
life, my thoughts, my fears, and my ever-evolving politics. For
those of you who care (or for those who just accidentally found this page
due to a web search).
4:19 pm / Monday, June 28, 2004
For more than a decade, the term “Twinkie” has been in use in the gay community, especially in the leather and bear sectors, to describe a certain type of guy. Usually derisively, although in good queer form, it has been embraced by those it was used to described and turned into it’s own self-affirming and descriptive term.
It amazes me, though, the number of people who apparently have no idea what the term means. They have this hazy idea that it means “young guys” or “club kids,” but they miss the what-should-be-obvious derivation. (Maybe this is an indicator of the post-modern nature of our society today, that we refuse to look for the obvious connection, preferring to expect irony or conspiracy in everything.)
Here, then, is a definition (as posted to the Handball list at QueerNet):
A "Twinkie" is made of light, golden sponge
cake, stuffed with cream filling, loaded with preservatives, and not very
good for you. (With apologies to Hostess.)
Comment by Fritz (from New York) / received June 28, 2004:
You may think you are being witty, Jim, but by posting that drivel publicly, you not only offended our young friend in San Diego, but potentially everyone on the list who is under 30 or maybe interested in guys under 30. Please note that this is not a public post, it is private to you. What I find astonishing is that a self-styled "daddy" who is 36, turning 37 soon, would put out a public post so contemptuous of younger guys. If you are not interested in meeting, connecting with and perhaps helping younger guys, because, according to your post, they are all "fluffy, full of cream, and not very good for you", what in hell gives you the right to call yourself a "Daddy"? I've earned that right, boy, both by benefit of age and by being willing to meet and judge any man on his personal attraction for me and to me, his willingness to learn, and his intrinsic merits, not arbitrary standards of age, race, class, income, etc. There is a word for such arbitrary judgements, and the word is bigotry. By my calculations, legal age plus your shelf-life of a "Twinkie" is 18 +17 = 35. Since you recently passed that barrier, do I detect a faint whiff of bitterness from an ex-twinkie who now wants to pretend to be a daddy? Get a life, and learn a little humility when talking to a forum of men who have far more experience and compassion than you are willing to demonstrate. If you consider this a flame, so be it. One of the benefits of my advanced age - I'm approaching 60, and proud of it, and I'd hate to see your opinions of older men - is a flame-proof asbestos suit against wannabes on the Internet who think they are being clever. Two words, Jim. Grow up!
11:41 am / Monday, June 28, 2004
I used to have a parallel set of commentary pages dubbed “What Were They Thinking?”, which tackled issues about advertising, computer user interfaces, and packaging design. These have now been threaded (well, are being threaded; it will take a couple days) into “Bouncing Off the Walls”.
Click here for the initial explanatory entry.
Click here for the earliest one, regarding chopstick packages.
Click here for the most recent one (#14), about light switches.
The original page will stay up for a while, since I just sent out a post to a UI list, pointing people to it.
Update / posted July 12, 2004:
I’ve finished remixing the old posts into this Weblog.
2:34 pm / Monday, June 21, 2004
In the aftermath of the Reagan funeral, I’m reminded of my all-time favorite episode of Berke Breathed’s Bloom County strip, where Opus is talking to his mirror, commenting on politicians (paraphrased, since I don’t have the original cartoon handy):
“A statesman is a dead politician.”
(Oddly, for how well-regarded Bloom County was, this is one of only two strips which I can really recall dialog from. The characters – Steve Dallas, Opus, Bill the Cat, Milo, Oliver Wendell Jones and the Banana 3000 computer – and the scenarios – elections, the anxiety closet, etc. – are all well recalled, but danged if I can remember many strips. Oh, yeah, the other one was during Steve Dallas’ effort to win the Mr. USA competition, with Opus yelling out “Mr. Rhode Island is stuffing his shorts!”)
12:41 pm / Monday, June 21, 2004
A couple weeks ago, I had to go into the local Boy Scouts store, because Rusty needed green epaulets for his Seattle Boys of Leather uniform. I was initially leery of going in, because I’ve been so indoctrinated over the past decade that the Boy Scouts of America is evil due to their policies regarding gays and atheists (both as Scouts and as Scoutmasters).
Background: I was a Boy Scout. I started as a Cub Scout in Waterville, Washington (population of about 1000 people at the time), continued into Webelos and Boy Scouts in Vancouver, WA, and then further into Boy Scouts in Cashmere, WA (population of about 3000, and their Scout Troop is the oldest one west of the Mississippi). I dropped out around my senior year of high school because Scout meetings and activities were taking time away from other things I wanted to do. (No gay angle there, although I do retain some resentment that I had to choose between Boy Scouts and high school Drama Club; the latter took such a big time commitment that I couldn’t have done Boy Scouts, not unlike if I had been in school sports.)
Aside: I was a Life Scout when I dropped out of Boy Scouts. Not an Eagle (one step below), and therefore not worth shit. If you don’t achieve at least Eagle Scout – and probably the various awards beyond that – then you have no status, no value. It’s Eagle Scout or nothing.
After a couple minutes in the store – and being helped by the yummy, bearded Scouts store staffer, in his shorts despite the rainy weather that day <grin> – I realized what gets lost in the midst of our indoctrination: that there are Boy Scouts (the people) and there is the Boy Scouts of America (the organization).
The organization sets the policies, and is driven by its own religious, political, and monetary goals, and those can be quite discriminatory. We are quite right to fight this organization, to try to get it to change (either from outside or from pressure from within, from the individual Scouts and their Troops). It is right and just to protest against the organization and its policies, to change or withhold our donations to the national organization, and to lobby for it to move into the 21st century.
But we need to remember that individual Troops (and Explorer Posts) may have their own preferences. The adult leaderships of those small units of the larger organization may not agree with the national direction, and may work contrary to it where they can (that “changing from within” thing). The individual Scouts themselves may disagree with those policies, or in many cases may be oblivious to them (often because of their ages). Some of them (Scouts or adults) may be gay or atheist or whatever.
And thus we need to be careful to direct our ire and and focus, keeping them on the national organization and not on the local Troops and the individual Scouts. These Scouts are being taught valuable life lessons and survival skills, and in my experience, are typically not being indoctrinated into adhering to these national policies. The best thing that we can do is to support the local groups and individuals while at the same time, trying to change things on an organizational level. Make donations to the local Troops rather than on the national (or regional) level. Volunteer your time and skills to help and teach the boys. Participate in their fundraisers and charity drive.
And show your approval and support for the Scouts, but not for the Boy Scouts of America.
(And yes, you should read complete parallels from this to the idea of supporting the Troops but not the War!)
11:51 am / Friday, June 18, 2004
Here’s one of those things which gets my dander up. A small thing, admittedly…
Here at work, they set us up with free coffee and free soda and free bottled water and so on. It’s one of those perks which really came in strong with tech companies in the early 1990s and hasn’t gone away (like some benefits have). Amongst that free stuff is packets of hot cocoa (which I like to mix into my coffee).
Every now and then, I reach into the drawer and find an open packet (which is typically dribbling cocoa dust all over the drawer, counter, and floor). Presumably someone only wanted half the contents and put the rest back – not wanting to be wasteful – but come on, what were they thinking?
The cocoa comes in measured amounts. This partial packet now contains how much? Half, third, 80% of the original? No thanks, I’ll just take one where I know what I’m getting.
How long has it been sitting there? Did I not see it the last time I took a (whole) packet? Has it been there 5 minutes, two hours, a week? How fast does cocoa mix go stale? No thanks, I’ll take one expected to be fresh.
Is it only cocoa mix in there? Not that I’m going to think of my co-workers spitting in it, but did they drop it on the floor and pick it back up? Did they spill some on the counter and sweep the extra back in the packet, along with dust and coffee grounds? (Or God forbid, did they intentionally lace it with Anthrax spores or something like that. Again, not that any co-workers would actually do that, but pick up a leaking packet of cocoa and see what runs through your mind.) No thanks, I’ll take one expected to be untainted.
So use the whole damn packet. Or take the half-packet back to your desk to use the next time. Or just throw the unwanted portion away! Because I guarantee you, no one else in the company is going to want to use your left over 1/2 ounce of cocoa powder!
11:46 am / Tuesday, June 8, 2004
It used to be that they couldn’t put someone’s picture on a postage stamp until they had been dead for ten years, with the exception being a deceased President, who could go on one immediately (or a year after dying; same thing, really, given the time for designs to be created and the like [see update below for greater detail]). This always seemed like a reasonable time delay to extend to other adventures in naming things for dead people.
As such, my vow from a few years back to not refer to National Airport by its redubbed name, “Reagan”, goes by the wayside. (After a year from now.) (But it’s still going to be Intercontinental in Houston for a while!) Not that I really had anything against the man: having been in high school and college while he was in office, Reagan will always be one valid “face” of the U.S. Presidency to me, and I wasn’t yet old enough, jaded enough, cynical enough to recognize any evils he did for what they were at the time they occurred. So I largely just give him a “bye” in terms of rating his terms in office.
Of course, I see on CNN that there are moves afoot to put Reagan’s face on either the $10 bill or half the dimes. I come from the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought here: there’s no need to make a change, the existing pictured people are from long enough ago to not bear any bitterness from any but a tiny fraction of the populace, and there’s a certain historical value in having someone like Hamilton on the $10 bill, as it’s the only way most people will ever encounter his name after 10th grade U.S. history class.
I’m so opposed to this sort of a change that I’ll make a vow now: if this is done any time in the next ten years – before Reagan has been dead for a decade – I will examine the money I get as change and refuse anything with his image on it. It may mean work for me and a lot of annoyed shopkeepers (especially with the dimes; I only get a $10 bill maybe one time in ten when getting $10 in change anymore, it’s always fives instead), but it will also send a message. You don’t see Susan B. Anthony or Sacajawea dollars in use very often, do you? A big piece of that is because people just didn’t want to use them. If enough people do likewise with Reagan dimes or bills, you’ll see them fade away quickly, too.
Update / added on June 18, 2004:
Per this story, a stamp is already in the works. Look for it on February 6, the first birth anniversary after Reagan died.
[Weblog title reference: From The Wizard of Oz, in “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.” “As Coroner, I must aver, I thoroughly examined her…” It’s also a cruel reference to Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis, of course.]
3:23 pm / Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Listening to talk radio (Dave Ross, I think, on KIRO) this morning, they were discussing a real estate discrimination case in Pierce County, Washington (where Tacoma is, although the case was not in Tacoma), where a seller decided to take one offer over another because the rejected offer was from a single woman. The woman had made the higher offer, and she was pre-approved for the loan needed to buy the house. (She is also engaged to be married.) And the real estate agent was dumb enough to state that here being a single female was the cause of the rejection… which thus gives the evidence necessary for a lawsuit.
The talk show host broached the matter of whether there would be a lawsuit if the rejection had been stated to be because the seller thought the woman was a lesbian (whether she was or not). Because neither Pierce County nor Washington state have laws prohibiting that sort of discrimination – although Seattle and Tacoma do – there wouldn’t be the basis for such a lawsuit, although of course it could result in the sort which gets such protections explicitly put on the books.
The host posited that the effect of such laws isn’t to stop such discrimination but rather to drive it underground. I both agree with him and disagree at the same time. By disallowing such discrimination in public transactions, it can have several effect. (1) For some, indeed, it will make them learn to simply be quiet about their attitudes, teaching them that they can do it so long as they don’t say what they are doing. (2) For others, it encourages them to make up some other reason for the discrimination, which leads to silliness like “We can’t allow gay marriages because of the strain it will add to Social Security”. Of course, done often and long enough, that can lead to people dropping their old attitudes in favor of the new ones, ones which may be easier to puncture and train out of people. (3) Some people who are discouraged from being public with their attitudes may finally find that this “breaks the camel’s back” and leads to real change for them. (4) And there are people who were being discriminatory without realizing it – I had a relative who called blacks “Nigras” for years, and was proud that she wasn’t using the full-on N-word, for example –for whom it may serve as a wake up call, making them simply change their language.
Some people will, of course, ask why they can’t sell their home (or conduct whatever business they want to) with whomever they want, however they want. Part of it comes down to whether the business is public or private. If it’s a private transaction, you can sell whatever you want (if it’s legal) to whomever you want for whatever price. But once you move into the public transaction space – listing the home for general sales, for example – you then move into a realm where you have to deal with all comers.
Second, of course, is that you are transacting with an individual, and thus the basis of the transaction must be on the qualities of that individual, not the group they belong to. You sell based on who they are, not on what they are.
This is the same basis for Hate Crime laws. Yes, murder is always a horrible crime. (Or rape or assault or vandalism or whatever.) But just like we take intent into account when determining how to charge someone – First Degree Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter, etc. – intent is also what is behind Hate Crime (and Discrimination) Laws. When the perpetrator hit or killed someone, or painted graffiti on the wall, was it random? Was it directed at the individual, probably because the victim was known to the attacker, or perhaps because a wad of cash had been seen, or because he was walking in a bad part or town? Or was the person attacked, maybe killed, not for who she was but for what she was (or was perceived to be): black, a lesbian, Jewish? If it’s the latter case – if the crime would have occurred no matter who the individual was, if they were attacked because of their race or religion or sexual orientation or whatever – then the crime isn’t being done just against an individual, it is being done against an entire group. And that warrants a different examination of the crime, and perhaps a different penalty: part for the affected individual, and part for the targeted larger group.
When someone asks why we need Hate Crime or Anti-Discrimination Laws, I’m reminded of the answer to the question of why a “Gays in Comics” panel was needed at a big comic book convention: “We need it because people keep asking ‘Why do we need it?’” If people don’t understand, then they need to be educated.
2:54 pm / Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Two weeks ago, I went to New Orleans and spent some time with some friends, one of whom is a bodybuilder (or maybe he just works out a lot to stay hunky) on a no-fat diet. I have another friend who is doing the Atkins no-carb thing. (Actually, I know several people on Atkins diets, some of whom have always been thin and well built. Why do they need a special diet? Societal guilt, probably. )
I’m beginning to think that the main benefit of these extreme diets is to give the people on them something to bitch and moan about. They complain that there’s nothing on the menu they can eat. They complain about how tasteless it is. They have to ask about how everything is prepared. They claim they’ll blow up like a balloon if they eat the smallest bit of bread (as though it were one of those compressed sponge animals or something made of FERP from the old Super Friends cartoon).
Okay, you’re on a fucking diet (whether you need to be or not). We get it. We also get that you’re (a) trying to spread your pain around and (b) trying to guilt us all into not enjoying our food the same way you don’t get to (don’t let yourself). Misery shared is misery decreased, or something like that.
Sure, I could stand to pare out some of the excess fat and carbs from my diet and lose a few pounds – and I have been doing so – but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Mom always said to eat a “balanced” diet, and that means reducing the things that are bad (make that: “less than good”) for you, not cutting them out entirely. Everything in moderation.
So next time you are out on the town, live a little. Ease up on the diet and enjoy life for a couple hours. If nothing else, you’ll let everyone else you’re with enjoy theirs.
Comment by Daniel (from Kentucky) / received May 27, 2004:
I had been on the Atkins to get rid of the excessive weight I gained after my partner died in 2000. I only mentioned it as a prelude to let you know that, while the Atkins Diet works, there are some severe drawbacks that are never mentioned.
First off I should have eased off after 8 weeks but didn’t I went a full 16 weeks and ended up loosing muscle mass. Not “Mr Happy and the twins” but general muscle mass. At my ripe old age of 54, that is scary! I wonder if I will be able to get any of it back.
1:52 pm / Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Click here for part 15.
Well, it’s May 18 – one day after legal same-sex marriage started up in Massachusetts – and civilization as we know it hasn’t ended. (At least I don’t think it has. It’s a slow day at work today, so you never know. Could be a Sign of the End Times. And I think the NASDAQ is up again, too, which can’t be good.)
So how long do we have to wait for the world to grind to a halt? The validity of Newsom’s bid to open up marriage in California comes up in court later this spring. Whether Oregon can resume its marriages has a 90-day limit expiring in July. There are request to fast-track the Washington lawsuits.
Or maybe we have to wait until the end of 2006, when Massachusetts voters get to say yay or nay about a Constitutional amendment, after they’ve had the chance to the see 18 months of societal chaos cause by same-sex civil marriages rip their state apart. (Uh-huh. Whatever.) That assumes, of course, that the 2005 legislature reconfirms the amendment, rather than sending it back to start in a giant game of Parcheesi.
Today (May 18) is also the 24th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack. Nary a rumble there.
Click here for part 17.
12:07 pm / Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Rusty’s teenage daughter, Sarah, lives with us, and along with her, we’ve got her corn snake, Dragon. Every three weeks or so, we get Dragon three white mice for food. Every couple months, Dragon sheds his skin, and during the days leading up to that, he is lethargic and moody and doesn’t want to eat, and his eyes cloud up.
Needless to say, sometimes food and won’t eat overlap. Like this past week.
At first, we feared he was sick, because he didn’t eat the mice and wouldn’t even really pay attention to them. But we finally realized that he was getting ready to shed his skin. This left us with the question of what to do with the mice.
We could just let them starve to death, but I said this was even crueler than waiting for Dragon to eat them. We could smother them and put them out of their misery, but that would be wasteful, as we would just have to get more mice in a few days. The pet store wouldn’t take them back. Rusty was worried that if they didn’t get eaten soon, they would make babies, and then we would have dozens of the things. So we decided to leave them in Dragon’s tank, feed them, and wait. They got to dine on lettuce, cheese, and Basic 4 breakfast cereal (which they really liked).
In the meantime, my cat, Dumaka, sat on the edge of the dresser – or even on top of the cage – and watched the mice. You could just hear the gears in her little head: “Hey, if he won’t eat them, give them to me! I know what to do with them!”
Two days ago, Dragon buried himself under the wood chips, presumably to start to shed. And last night, he was out on top, with some shed remnants and clear eyes.
But he still wouldn’t eat the mice. In fact, Rusty and I watched as he slithered along the back edge of the tank and one of the mice climbed up on his back – even onto his head – and was carried along for the ride, like one of those people-mover conveyor belts at the airport. (It was kind of funny to see, actually.)
I decided that something had to be done. The best way to get a pot to boil, a train to arrive, or something else to happen is to go and do something else. So what we had to do was get attached to the mice, turn them into pets. Then they would surely die! And the first step in the process of making them pets – well, other than feeding them – was to give them names. So we did…
George, Dick, and Donald.
(You figure it out. No sense wasting good names on them if we wanted to get rid of them.)
This morning, Dragon was curled up at the top of the tree in his tank, no mice to be seen.
[Weblog title reference: From the theme song to The Mickey Mouse Club.]
3:36 pm / Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Professionally, I do software testing for Adobe Systems. (No, I can’t tell you on what product or get you a free copy of Photoshop.) I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years, for three different companies. On a mailing list I’m on (dedicated to FrameMaker), we had a thread on how companies address errors in their documentation, and how they get that information to start with. My response below goes for giving feedback about all sorts of software problems, large and small.
We do put the tech pubs email address in all the books, but people hardly ever use it.
I think it is safe to say that nobody is going to give feedback unless you send it directly to them and ask for their feedback.
And is that because people aren’t willing to give feedback, or because we’ve trained them not to?
We (software developers, tech writers, etc.) don’t fix the problems they complain about. We don’t even usually acknowledge that we’ve received their feedback. We charge them $40 a pop to have us look and see if we already know about a problem they encounter, whether we have a solution or not. We sometimes don’t provide a contact method at all.
I’ve been reasonably happy that Apple has a Report Bugs to Apple menu item in Safari. (They originally had a bug report button in the UI.) And Provide iCal Feedback in their calendar program. I’ve never received anything back to indicate that they have received what I sent (much less will act on it), but it’s at least a start.
I use Eudora in “sponsored mode,” which gives me no support mechanism. Twice now, I’ve dug through their website and sent a message to their Sales e-mail, for lack of any other way to contact them… and both times I got a response! Woo! (I really should reward them and go to “paid mode,” huh?)
On the down side, I’m now seeing a new trend in software development: bugs found and not fixed (deferred) during the development cycle will never get addressed. This was the case in FrameMaker 7.0: due to tight schedules and limited resources, they cherry-picked a couple dozen high-profile bugs already known (and frequently complained about by high-profile user sites) and that was all the bugs fixed from previous releases. There was just not be the ability (time and resources) both to fix more and to address the new ones which would come in. The party line was basically “People are already working with or around those issues, so they don’t need to be addressed.” (The ideal answer to this is “Add more time or resources. Making the product better is more important than making it hit the street in Q2 of next year.” But sometimes the date – and the money associated with it – are more important than the product being Şbetter”.)
I’ve now worked tangentially (not directly) on another project where a similar tack is being taken: the only bugs from the last version which will be addressed in the next one are those which customers complain about (as opposed to which QE identified). The logic behind this – “If it’s important, they will tell us about it” – only makes sense in a world where customers are willing, able, and encouraged to tell. I imagine that this mechanism for prioritizing work (and cutting development costs; it’s always all about money) will only accelerate.
So… do not sit on your butt as a user and hope that some issue will be addressed! Even if it’s just a typo, or a preference that doesn’t get saved (my pet FrameMaker peeve: two spelling checker prefs on Mac don’t save between sessions!), or of course a repeatable crash, you have to tell the company, or you should expect it to never get fixed. Find a user forum. Find an e-mail address. And maybe tell them over and over and over again, to make sure they listen.
Save both yourself and us QE engineers some grief.
2:59 pm / Monday, May 10, 2004
Click here for part 12.
I heard an interesting call on talk radio this morning, pertaining to the events and photos from Abu Ghraib prison.
The gist of it was this: at least back in the Viet Nam era, soldiers were put through some training (called “SEAR”, I think he said) regarding what might happen if they were captured by the enemy. The first thing that happened in this training was that they were stripped naked. Then they were physically beaten. Then they suffered other humiliating experiences intended to “break” them (or in the case of training, help them prevent being broken).
Not that it excuses the atrocities here, but if this sort of training is taken to heart, then it also does the reverse, and trains people in what to do when being put in charge of prisoners of war.
Understanding the causes of events like this is the best way to prevent them from recurring.
Click here for part 14.
11:58 am / Thursday, April 22, 2004
Click here for part 11.
I’ve been hearing occasional numbers batted around about the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since the war “ended” almost a year ago. The last number I read was 630, but I can’t pin a date on it, identify the breakdown of in-combat vs. other, or tell how many were soldiers and how many were civilians.
The term usually used for this is “casualties”.
That’s not accurate, though. “Casualty” indicates those injured as well as those killed. With all the focus in the past couple days about John Kerry’s war record (at least he has one!) and whether he really “earned” the first Purple Heart, you’d think we’d be focusing a bit more on accuracy in our terminology.
How many of our soldiers have received head wounds?
How many have lost a limb? Or even just broken one?
Gone blind or deaf?
Nerve damage from crushed hands?
Lung damage from fumes and smoke and dust and other particulate matter?
Exposure to caustic materials?
How many are casualties omitted from the numbers we’re being told? Why do we accept that only deaths are important enough to tally?
According to AntiWar.com, it’s almost 4000 (as of April 22, 2004). I’m not sure just what their numbers are drawn from, but they link to a page at the Department of Defense which tags 566 killed since May 1, 2003 (almost 400 Killed in Action) and 3100 wounded (with just under 2000 not returned to duty in three days).
We’ve got about 130,000 troops in Iraq right now. A little under one-half of 1% have been killed, and 2.4% have been wounded. That’s almost one soldier in 40.
UPDATE: I’m obviously not alone in the recognition of this discrepancy in the numbers that get pushed at us and the greater impact on our troops’ bodies. This week, both Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy have moved to the issue of seriously-wounded-yet-not-killed soldiers.
Click here for part 13.
12:50 pm / Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Probably the biggest attraction of DVDs, at least for me, is the extras. I try (but don’t always succeed) in watching all the extras from any DVD I buy – “making of” documentaries, cast bios, trailers, insipid commentary tracks by the assistant producer – but the one thing I make a point of watching, including on rentals, is the deleted/extended scenes.
Often, you can clearly see why the scenes were deleted, because they don’t add anything, and may even contradict other parts of the film. In many cases, though, they truly illuminate. The second Tomb Raider disk included an alternate ending. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde had numerous bits deleted which expanded on and explained small plot bits, and so on.
The classic case, of course, is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with each of the first two (and undoubtedly the third) having more than 30 minutes of additional footage available. But most notable is that these extensions and restorations were completely finished and incorporated back into the film, so they aren’t extras, they are inclusions. One of the earliest DVDs I rented – damned if I remember what it was – had an option where the deleted scenes could be watched “inline”, but because they weren’t fully produced with sound and post-production filters and such, the result detracted from the film as much as it added.
Not so with Lord of the Rings, of course; here the DVDs are the real movie, what ideally should have been seen the first time, except for concerns of length and pacing. While some fans would dispute it, I generally agree with the choices to make some of those cuts. When you’re in the theatre, your bladder filling up from a 48 ounce Pepsi, an extra two minutes of the Fellowship floating down the river or wandering through Moria may not add to your experience, but at home, where you can pause or stop the film and come back later, the added lushness and dialogue bits have much greater value.
With Legally Blonde 2, there were enough extra scenes with real meat to them (or even just fun fluff, since that is a fun fluff film, after all) that I found myself really wishing they had been reincorporated into the DVD. I suppose the answer comes down to money in the end: will the DVD sell enough extra copies if they do the extra work to pay for it?
Obviously in the case of Lord of the Rings, the answer is yes. That’s why they are doing, what is it, four DVD releases of each film? (Initial DVD, initial plus extras, with reincorporated content, and collector’s volume with a statue – which will undoubtedly be of an oliphaunt in the third box.) The extension of this is that “fans” are the ones who will desire (and pay for) the extra content and extra work. We can see that a trend is starting here, as they have announced two DVD releases for Hellboy, one with 20 minutes of extra footage incorporated. (Sign me up now!) I’m actually surprised that they didn’t do this with X-Men 2 last winter, but I’ll bet Spider-Man 2 gets the treatment this Christmas. It should become de rigueur for high-grossing “fan” films.
11:18 am / Thursday, April 15, 2004
[Weblog title reference: Same as last year. From Sally Field’s 1984 acceptance speech for the Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart.]
2:28 pm / Wednesday, April 14, 2004
For the past couple months, I’ve been thinking that it’s time to get a new car. My current one (a Plymouth Neon) will be 9 years old in early August. A few months older than that, actually, since I bought a demo model with 6500 miles on it at the time.
(Yes, Plymouth Neon, not Dodge Neon. The hood has the Plymouth star emblem on it, not the Dodge ram. Identical car, just made in a different factory.)
My green Neon – named “Pranth”; my previous car was a white Hyundai Excel GL which I named “Danth” (SCA and Pern fans will get the joke) – has served me well for the past 117,000 miles, some 14,000 miles per year. It’s never been broken into (knock on wood), it’s never been in a serious accident (but it has the still-dented fender when I hit something unknown on the freeway – not a car – 6 months after I got it, and the hanging rear bumper where I was rear-ended about two years after I got the car), and it’s only broken down on me once (last year with a water pump which went out while I was getting a blowjob driving down the freeway, ahem, never mind).
In looking at my next car, I’m thinking about just what I want out of a car. I want a “butch, fun car”. I characterize this as a non-sports car convertible: something to have fun driving in which looks appropriate for a leatherman, and which is larger enough to carry home stuff bought at Lowe’s or IKEA. (A VW Beetle convertible fails on two of those. So does a ’Vette, to me.) The classic example of this is the Jeep Wrangler (with a hardtop; no soft tops, please!).
(Note that there are two things which some people would call “butch fun cars” which I don’t want: I don’t want a pickup and I don’t want a big SUV.)
So I go out looking at what is out there in this class. Defining the class itself is hard. Is it a “convertible”? Is it an “SUV”? Is it a “sports car”? Is it a “pickup truck”? My best term for the class I”m looking for is “(semi)convertible small SUV” (or a “semi-con” as opposed to a “non-con”, a regular, non-convertible SUV). That at least tells makes it easier to look for similar things on car company web sites.
What I’ve found is that there’s almost nothing out there to buy in this class, although there used to be! Jeep makes the Wrangler (in several flavors; I would probably want Sahara or Rubicon), and these can be found all over Seattle. Land Rover introduced the Freelander in 2003 with the SE3 variant, which is an SUV with a removable back end; I have seen precisely one driving around Seattle since I found out about the vehicle. Suzuki used to make the Samurai, a Wrangler look alike, but discontinued it years ago. Toyota’s Rav4 used to be a semi-con, but it’s now a hardbody SUV. Chevrolet used to make the Tracker in this class, built on the Suzuki Vitara, but that became a non-con only in 2004. Isuzu discontinued the Amigo a decade ago, brought it back as the Rodeo Sport, and discontinued it a couple years ago. Chevrolet also makes the SSR, a convertible pickup. (But it’s a pickup, it looks even more fucked up than the PT Cruiser, and it starts at a whopping $42,000!)
So my choices are Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover Freelander SE3. (Or last year’s Tracker, which I can still buy new 3 hours away in Portland, according to the Chevy web site. The SSR isn’t a viable option, not at that price point.) Nobody else produces something in this class. Nobody.
Over the holidays, I went to Palm Springs, and I rented a Dodge Dakota for the week. (It was the cheapest thing I could get at LAX, $100 less for the week than even a Ford Focus, believe it or not!) After about five days of driving it, of getting in and out of it, I found that my knees started to hurt because of the stepping up and down due to the vehicle’s height. (I hurt them years ago playing volleyball, and then never took the long time to let them fully heal due to my performance dancing. They don’t bother me much these days, but now and then they kick up.) If anything yanked tall pickups and big SUVs out of the running for me for sure, that was it; I can’t (won’t) drive a vehicle that will cause me pain.
So what I want to do is rent these vehicles for a week to really test them out. Find out how I will deal with them physically, and see what will really annoy me about the way they drive or their interior features. But you can’t do that. The dealerships won’t rent the vehicles, just test drive them for an hour. The only major rental company which says online that they have Wranglers in their fleet is Dollar, but they won’t rent them to you in Seattle, and their phone people say “Are you sure we have those?” (Some companies may have them in select markets. Wranglers are apparently common rentals in the Caribbean, for example, not that such helps me here.) Avis had the gall to tell me that they don’t have them because there’s no demand for them; gee, maybe no one asks for them because you don’t have any for them to ask to rent!) Land Rover, not even being based in the United States, is just about as easy (read: impossible) to rent, it seems. I’ve found that Enterprise in Seattle has some Freelanders (but not SE3s), which should deal with most of my rental desires, leaving only “How is it without the top on?” to be determined by test drives. Maybe I can find a recent model Jeep for rent via the yellow pages from a used car dealer, but I have no real expectation of that.
The overall frustration here brings up a more major point about our society: how do we make decisions to buy things? We’re encouraged to (and really only allowed to) have limited information to make decisions with. In many cases, a TV is a TV is a TV: so long as you like the look and can see that the remote isn’t too confusing, if it’s the right size, then it’s fine. But when you’re talking about a $25,000 car you’ll be dealing with for several years – or to take it the next step up, I spent maybe three hours total in my house before offering to buy it for $250,000 – it seems like we should want to be really damn sure that we are going to be happy with what we buy. Instead, we have to swallow and live with anything bad about what we buy that we didn’t notice before hand. That’s a bitter, horse-sized pill.
Click here for part 2.
12:33 pm / Wednesday, April 14, 2004
The plot, as can be gleaned from the trailer, is that a pair of women (Nia Vardalos and Toni Colette) who do showtunes as (lousy) dinner theatre entertainment witness a murder and end up on the run, taking refuge posing as drag queens in West Hollywood where they are a runaway success. One of them (Vardalos) falls in love with a (straight) guy (David Duchovny), who of course believes she’s a man posing as a woman.
This movie is hilarious!
(Okay, it’s made even better by the ticket being free, but I was interested in seeing it anyway, and this is definitely worth the ticket price.)
What makes this film work is the realization that performers are performers, no matter what gender they are and what costumes they wear. And that audiences most of all want to see something both fabulous and familiar, which is why drag queens in gaudy outfits singing showtunes works well.
I got a special kick out of this film because of Duchovny’s presence. I remember him fondly in an earlier role as an FBI agent. No, not the one where he battled weird phenomena, teamed up with Dana Sculley. The one where he battled weird phenomena, teamed up with Dale Cooper: Duchovny appeared in Twin Peaks as the cross-dressing agent Denise Bryson.
There is also a Rocky Horror Picture Show bit in this film (another favorite of mine: I’ve played Frank, Brad, Riff Raff, Rocky, Magenta, Columbia, and Betty Hapschatt in casts over the years, and I was also in the chorus in a stage production), which reminded me that every now and then you come across a film which seems like somebody desperately wanted it to become the new Midnight Movie sensation by loading it with bad dialogue and dramatic pauses to encourage the audience to call back to the screen. This film doesn’t try to do that at all, but it sure has the potential: I can just imagine a cast – mostly in drag, of course – hamming it up, singing and dancing along with all the musical numbers. To heck with “Sing-Along Sound of Music” (or the “Sing-Along South Pacific” in this film), or even the “Rocky Horror Lion King” I know has been done; this film could do the job.
[Weblog title reference: The movie’s executive producer and one of the stars (Vardalos) are best known for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.]
11:57 am / Wednesday, April 14, 2004
You know, any comic which carries the cover title “You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me” probably answers it’s own sales question right there. Why should I bother?
A little history: Alpha Flight premiered some 25 years ago in an issue of X-Men. They were a superhero team funded by the Canadian government (featuring such Great White North themed characters as Guardian [then called Vindicator], Aurora and Northstar, Shaman, Sasquatch, and Snowbird), and they had been sent to recover one of their own, Wolverine. A few years later, they got their own book, adding members like Puck, Marrina, the Purple Girl (daughter of the Purple Man, natch), Manikin, a new Guardian (wife of the original), and Diamond Lil. They had their ups and downs, had connections to the Avengers and the X-Men, and saw some notable storylines, including Northstar contracting AIDS (later revamped into him being half-Asgardian and “allergic” to Earth; that’s right, he wasn’t a fairy, he was a faerie), Sasquatch and Snowbird being killed and brought back to life as one being (so that the originally male Walter Langowski became the female “Wanda”), and the eventual outing of Northstar (see, he was a fairy!), a story which got so much press that it sent Marvel Comics back into the closet for a decade until they decided to out their cowboy character, Rawhide Kid.
This issue picks up a few years later, with Sasquatch – back to being orange and “Walter”, a story I undoubtedly missed and am happy I did – trying to form a new Alpha Flight. No reason for this is given (AOOGAH! AOOGAH!); I can’t tell if it’s to satisfy the government or just because he misses getting beat on regularly. So to do this, he goes and recruits the members of the old team who are still around, right? (Not that I know who they might be. Northstar is occupied in some X-Men title, and some of the others are dead, but I’m sure a couple are still around, right? If not Alpha Flight, maybe the second or third-string groups, Beta Flight and Gammas Flight? Maybe even the villains, Omega Flight, since a reformed villain always makes a good team member.) Nope, not a former Alphan to be seen. (AOOGAH! AOOGAH!)
Let’s pause to look at the first pages of this issue. We start with a pinup rather than any of the story. (This should be a warning already.) Then we go to the team in the middle of a battle with some robots, each giving a little quip (not that quipping and in media res stories are unusual for comics), with the page littered with day-glo colored maple leafs and title logos. And dialogue captions commenting that this isn’t the best place to start the story. The next page shifts in location and back in time, and the caption says “But as usual, we‘re getting to far ahead of ourselves.” Probably, this is meant to be funny (but it ain’t). Really, though, there’s a truism with comics: any time the characters complain that the story is bad, you know you’re in trouble. When the omniscient narrator makes that complaint, you’re really in deep.
Back to the story. Instead of recruiting his old buddies, Walter “recruits” (blackmails, actually) Nemesis, a character who appeared a couple times in old Alpha Flight issues; her schtick is that she can’t be killed, can’t remove her mask (something about demonic possession), and she has a sword that can cut through anything. (Sounds like a Wolverine crossover waiting to happen.) He also pulls in Major Mapleleaf (cheesy name alert!), the son of the original one who starred in the issue where Northstar came out; I vaguely remember something about MM’s son in that issue, maybe that he was gay, but there’s zippo reference back to that story here (even though it’s the same writer), so who can tell. It’s also not clear he is anything more than a guy who does public appearances at middle schools on behalf of the Mounties, a là “Officer Ron of the Highway Patrol.”
And he pulls in three new characters. There’s a tattooed girl who is the owner and super-strong bouncer of a bar in Montréal (we know it’s Montréal because we’re told so, not because the artist included any scene-setting landmarks or because the girl or any bar patrons speak French; Zut alors, not even comic book pidgin-French, mon cher!). Super-strong tattooed female bar bouncer? Oh, you mean like Grace from DC Comics’ The Outsiders? Original, original. (She’ll be co-opting the name of former Alpha Flight member Puck. Apparently it has been lost that he used that name because he was small and he tumbled in circles; she is/does neither.) Walter also pulls in an 96-year old geezer on his death bed; the guy only has “latent” super powers until Water-as-Sasquatch tries to kill him by scaring him to death. (Attempted murder. That’s a good way to build team spirit.) And a native shaman (but that’s not the codename he’ll use, and of course his real name is “unpronounceable”) from a never-before-known Arctic civilization (not even when Alpha Flight was fighting the Great Beasts up there?) who wears just fur boots and a loincloth (brrr!) and will adopt the name… wait for it… Yukon Jack. (Naming a Native American, er, Native Canadian after alcohol. Now that’s politically correct!) Oh, and lest we forget, he speaks in “thees” and “thous”, but he gets them wrong! (Sample dialogue: “I have given thou request its proper merit…”. “Thou” is the second-person archaic form of “you”; what writer Lobdell needed here was a version of “your”, which would be “thy” or “thine”. Hasn’t he ever read at least an issue of Thor? [Now, this was in a dream sequence, but it’s still shoddy writing.])
I should revise what I said above: Sasquatch does not recruit them. Everyone one of the characters refuses his offer. (He makes cliché offers to each, like “help the world that will hate and fear you.” Remember what I said about not knowing why the team is being reformed?) Obviously, he will get them together by the end of the first six-issue arc – sorry, not going to wade through this for that long! – but based on the end of this issue, he still plans to do it by manipulation rather than honesty. Will none of these characters have anything else going on in their lives to hold their interests? Like say, communing with nature, or being a role model to kids, or running a business they own, or dying? (You know, the stuff they were shown to be doing earlier?) Apparently not.
In the end, the ultimate test of a book like this is: Why this book, why now? There is no answer to this question. The most likely answer is simply that Marvel needed to bring the team back together in order to keep hold of the trademark; that’s why even the most stupid characters show up again once a decade or so. But a big question comes with why Sasquatch is the anchor of this book. You see, Marvel also publishes Exiles, featuring a group of characters from alternate universes hopping from world to world, trying to “fix” the timeline. (What If…? for the new millennium.) One of the characters there is Sasquatch – a white sasquatch who transforms into a black woman named Heather McDonald-Hudson, who as a white woman in the main Marvel universe, was the second Guardian. Confused? Think you’ll be any less confused by two Sasquatches running around with different colors, names, and genders?
So let’s see: duplicate characters, politically incorrect character names, clichéd and inscrutable reasons for creating the team, horrendous dialogue. Oh, I forget to tell you that some of the characters don’t even get names (codename or real names) this issue. And that the art is of the new “popular” Ameri-manga art school, with big feet and ultra-gelled hair, but mediocre anatomy and little detail in the art. Oh, and an unengaging story which gives you no reason to come back for #2 (unless you like watching train wrecks). I’ll be surprised if this makes it to issue #6 to conclude the first story arc; it should die at #4. (No, at #2! Do I hear a plea for the Exiles to “fix” the timeline by stopping it before #1?)
But really, don’t take my word for it. Go pick this up at the shop. Page through it. And then put it back on the stands. Quick. To paraphrase what friend told me to do with the excrement that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, “Wait for it to end up in the quarter bin, and then don’t buy it.”
11:26 am / Friday, April 9, 2004
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Needless to say, stupid advertising annoys the fuck out of me. See this item.
The latest one to get under my skin is for the Dodge Ram (I think). The billboard is about 2/3 black with the truck’s logo, and 1/3 an image of the truck’s rear bumper, with a bumper sticker reading “Yes, it’s got a Hemi!”
So what the Hell is a “Hemi”? Beats the heck out of me. I guess it must be something good for trucks to have. Hmm.
They are showing the bumper, and I’ve seen that those big chrome rear bumpers are not being included on some trucks these days, so maybe this means that this truck has a nice bumper? Or maybe a “half-bumper” (whatever that might be), since “hemi” means“half”? (Nope, it’s not the bumper.)
I’ve seen a lot of trucks in past years where there’s no tailgate. (How can you have a tailgate party without a tailgate?) They are replaced by a nylon web. Some people claim that this is to cut wind resistance and thus boost gas mileage, but I’m sure it’s mostly to add another option to the truck which the companies can charge more for by having to do special. So since they are showing the rear part of the truck, maybe a “Hemi” is some kind of a new half-tailgate? That could be cool. (Nope, it’s not the tailgate.)
So called “King Cabs” – space behind the front seat sufficient for people to sit in with only minor discomfort – have been around for years. As people buy pickup trucks more as around-town vehicles than purely as work vehicles, there’s increasing demand for more in-cab space and the ability to comfortably sit a family of four. I see now that there are even four-door pickups out there – from Dodge, in fact, and I think they look stupid– so maybe a “Hemi” is one of these super-extended cabs? (Nope, it’s not the passenger space.)
I finally looked up the ad phrase online. Turns out that it refers to the HEMI® Magnum engine inside. (And studies apparently say that 50% of purchasers will pay a premium for the most powerful such engine they can get. Probably mostly people who never use the truck for more than hauling lumber from Home Depot, I suspect.)
Is advertising successful if it doesn’t tell you what it is advertising, annoys you every time you see it, and eventually builds up enough bile to force you to go to the web to find out what the heck it refers to? On some level, maybe: it got me to look it up. But I have no interest in what is being advertised, and I’m annoyed enough to bitch about it in public. I’d say that qualifies as failure.
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Friday, April 9, 2004
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In March, I stayed at a Days Inn in Nashville. The light switches in the room were all of a design like the above diagram: about the same size as a standard light switch, but horizontal, with no projecting toggle but a divot divider down the center, and very pale text on the switch itself (just like on a normal toggle switch: unusable unless you looked closely at it).
These switches caused me no end of frustration. After about 24 hours, I finally realized that they were at least all consistent: when you can into a room or were facing the bathroom mirror, “On” was away from you, in the “going in” direction. If you pressed the away side, the light turned on (or stayed on), and if you pushed the toward side, the light turned or stayed off.
Of course, we’ve all encountered rooms with two light switches – or just ones installed upside down – that such consistency is meaningless. The apparent state cannot be trusted because it may be wrong; the best way to tell the state of the switch is by the state of the light. To turn on or off a light, you put your hand on the switch, feel for the current state, and flip the switch in the opposite direction.
With these switches, while there is a mapping to the real world, there is no indication of current state. (Since the state is binary – on or off – we don’t need consistency of indication, just indication at all.) And thus the typical behavior with them is to fumble and push several times until the desired state is achieved; inefficient. This problem is abetted by the inobviousness of the switch: you can’t just put your hand in the area and find it with tactile ease, but instead have to sense where the slight indentation of the horizontal switch is and then identify how to fit your finger onto the switch before you can move to the on/off part of the task.
Undoubtedly, this was a case of someone wanting to get a patent of their own, which they hug and squeeze and call George. It’s not of much value beyond that.
To make matters worse, this room was fitted with a panel next to the bed, with five of these switches on it (in vertical mode rather than horizontal), rigged to control the various lights in the room. Presumably, this was intended so that the person in bed could turn on lights before getting up. But none of the switches were labeled, and they were arranged in a grid, so the only way to tell what went with which light was to try them all out and memorize. (Like that’s going to happen when staying in the room for one or two nights?) But wait, that’s not all: one of the switches was apparently not hooked up to anything!
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Wednesday, April 7, 2004
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In February, I went to Houston for a weekend. The hotel I stay in (Holiday Inn Select / Greenway Plaza) had this alarm clock. The manufacturer was something like Empire or Elite; wish I could remember just what so I could avoid them forever more.
The picture above doesn’t do this device justice. We’ve probably all seen clocks which have minor control quirks, especially never knowing which dial is volume and which sets the station until you move one (since no one ever checks the hard-to-read label beforehand), or the way to have to closely read the labels next to the dots to be sure which indicates the alarm is on and which indicates AM/PN (and which is indicated by the dot being on).
No, this clock goes beyond the pale in three ways.
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