Dog paddling discouraged

I just found out that a friend of mine from high school is training to swim the English Channel.  Holy crap.

Good luck Michelle!


One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
by A. J. Jacobs

This book was pretty darn entertaining.  Jacobs spends a year reading the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and writes a memoir about the experience.  Here are a few of my favorite bits:

From the Millard Fillmore entry:

The thirteenth president was born in a log cabin.  Why doesn’t poor Millard ever get press for this?  Lincoln hogs all the log cabin spotlight.

A Japanese joke from the entry on Humor:

The boss of the monkeys orders his one thousand monkey followers to get the moon that’s reflected in the water.   They all try and fail.  Finally, one of the monkeys gets the moon in the water and respectfully offers it to the boss.  ‘This is what you asked for,’ he says.  The boss is delighted and says, ‘What an exploit! You have distinguished yourself!’  The monkey then asks, ‘By the way, Master, what are you going to do with the moon from the water?’ And the master says, ‘Well, yes … I didn’t think of that.’

on oratory, from the entry on lector:

My favorite is one called “aposiopesis”–the deliberate failure to complete a sentence, as in “Why, you…” or “Why, I ought to…” (possible Business Idea: print T-shirts with the motto “Aposiopesis makes me want to…” and sell them to rhetorical scholars for a killing).

I would buy one.  From the section on Tolstoy:

“The figure of Stiva is perhaps designed to suggest that evil, no less than good, derives from the small moral choices human beings make moment by moment.”

Jacobs reflects on the value of that idea for day-to-day living.  Finally, in an entry discussing the best and worst jobs, one of which is vexillology (someone who studies flags):

2. Abbot of Unreason.  I just think this would look cool on an embossed business card.  In medieval Scotland, the “Abbot of Unreason” was the man who organized the elaborate Christmas festivities, complete with a mock court that paid homage to him.  In England, he was called the “Lord of Misrule,” also cool.

This last entry struck me as the most interesting, stemming mostly from my regular return to McLuhan’s statement that “Western man has mistaken literacy for reason.”  Perhaps the Abbot of Unreason is emblematic (in name anyhow) of the electrate mode of thinking.

I also enjoyed the book because it demonstrates a literate database writing practice.  Jacobs blends his experience of reading the book with his family life, his work life, and the way facts meander through his world as he reads.

At the same time, I felt a connection with him, as I am also fascinated with facts, and regularly annoy people with them.  On a bad day, I feel like Cliff Clavin, muttering my aposiopesis–it’s a little known fact…–into my beer.

Two technology revelations


1. I love my earbuds.

I’m not usually one to crow about my extravagant purchases, but I can’t help it in this case. I love my headphones. I don’t mean to say I love my iPod, though I am very fond of it. I mean I love the earbuds I purchased to go with it. These bad boys block out annoying people and/or trains; they let me listen to my audiobooks or music at FAR lower volume levels than I would otherwise have to — especially on my commute. If you have the means and the least excuse, I highly recommend purchasing some.

2. I may need to buy a power mower

Those of you who know me well know I dislike yard work. I enjoy having a yard, but I don’t really like having to cut the grass or trim the weeds. When we bought our house, I bought a rotary mower, what my neighbor Eddie calls a “Ward Cleaver.” I like it well enough and as long as I trim the grass every week, it works fine.

However, I don’t always get the grass trimmed every week. By the two week mark, alas, some of the grass has grown so long that the safety bar on my eco-friendly mower gets in the way. It pushes the blades of grass down instead of cutting them, leaving a few sprigs here and there poking up on my otherwise nicely trimmed patch of suburbia. So I borrowed my neighbor’s power mower tonight and MAN was it nice. 15 minutes to do the whole lawn and a nice bag of clippings to dump on the flowerbed as mulch. I may need to shop around and find a mower to buy. Sigh.

One-liners: weekend media edition

Around the World in 80 Days

You can tell “good” Indians from “bad” easily: good ones stop the train to smoke a peace pipe with the conductors.

Dark River: The Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book Two, by John Twelve Hawks

Waited a long time, went too fast; good, but not as good as The Traveler.

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen (audiobook)

The master of the “bunch of goofy weirdos run into each other in South Florida, meyhem insues” genre.

Nero Wolfe, season two disc 4

A bit light on the fooeys, but otherwise pleasant as always.

Little Britain, Series 1

Like Kids in the Hall with two people instead of five.  Excellent.

Zombie Nazis in Balloons

Worst Case Scenario

One of my students told me about this when I taught my zombie class last year, but I was just reminded of it recently. If you aren’t excited for Worst Case Scenario, you should be.

Worst Case Scenario 2

Jeeves and Wooster

Jeeves and Wooster
I just finished watching disc 1 of Jeeves and Wooster, a British T.V. show from 1990 starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I’m shamed to admit that I was unaware of the Wodehouse novels that inspired the show. I enjoyed the first episodes quite a bit, and am looking forward to a fruitful, if rare, imbibing of future episodes. I’ve spaced them out at intervals of 15 on my queue.

My favorite moment from this disc: Bertie is learning to play “Minnie the Moocher” on the piano. He asks Jeeves what a “Hootchie Cootcher” is; Jeeves is sure he doesn’t know. Bertie decides that he needs someone to sing along, and asks Jeeves to accompany him:

Bertie: Hidey hidey hidey hey

Jeeves: High dee high dee high dee Hey, sir.

Bertie: Hidey hidey hidey ho

Jeeves: High dee high dee high dee ho, sir.

I was rolling on the floor.

Deaths, wizardly and otherwise

So Jenny and I went to Oak Park for their “Countdown to Midnight” hoopla.  Was great fun and saw lots of costumed hilarity.  We got to the front of the register line to pick up our reserved copy of HP just before 1 in the morning, and by three P.M. yesterday, we’d both read the book.  I am highly pleased with the outcome of the series, and will write more about it later.

While Jenny was busy reading Saturday evening, I tried Netflix’s “Watch it Now” feature, which allowed me to watch Dead and Breakfast, a moderately entertaining low-budget horror movie starring some relative of David Carradine’s.  Zombies, country music, and the sleazy guy from Clueless (who hits on Cher in his car) are all present. Better than Die, You Zombie Bastards, but not really worth watching unless it’s for a low cost like free.

3 books, 2 shows, 1 song

3 books I’m excited to read, all dropping as we speak:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – duh
  • Crooked Little Vein – Warren Ellis’ first big novel.  ROCK.
  • The Dark River – John Twelve Hawks.  Second book in a series; first book was excellent.

2 bits of British TV next on my queue

  • Jeeves and Wooster: Hugh Laurie rules.
  • Da Ali G Show.  Verrrry nice.

1 song that Amarok just shuffled and I enjoyed immensely

  • “Yellow Ledbetter” – Pearl Jam.

Little Miss Sunshine on Fire

Little Miss Sunshine was great.  I love character movies, and as always, the road trip serves as an excellent analogy for the spiritual journey the characters take.  I think the van also serves as a metonym for the family itself.  At the end of the film, neither works but the members are content with their dysfunction.


Man on Fire was okay, but a little disappointing.  Here’s its niche:

Badass finds a reason to live life, only to have it taken away by villainous villains.  With nothing left to lose, badass comes out of retirement to wreak vengeance.

The winner of this category, obviously, is Unforgiven.  Another personal favorite is The Professional.   These films work by tapping into the desire for bloodlust–Orestes’ memory of his father, for instance.  They only work well if the vengeance is truly deserved, and we both feel for the badass and hate his enemies.  In this case, the vengeance wreaking was good, but not great.  It didn’t show the sorts of violent virtuosity of a Leon or a William Munny.

My favorite of these films, though, is Mel Gibson’s underrated Payback.  I’ve still got to see Point Blank, the 1967 original, but Gibson’s film works very well.  The difference between Payback and the other films is that it eschews the empathy element, giving the viewer free reign to enjoy the violence for its own sake.  I won’t comment on how I feel about enjoying violence for its own sake.

King Solomon’s Mines

by H. Rider Haggard

I enjoyed this Librivox recording immensely.

Awesome turns of phrase:

Read as an audiobook

Strange Data

headphone guyAs my faithful readers, you know that I loves my audiobooks. While I get some of them from Librivox, I get many from the public library, using the following process: 1) check book out of library; 2) rip to mp3; 3) transfer to iPod; 4) listen to audiobook; 5) delete mp3s from iPod and home puter. This last step makes the whole process ethical, imo.

When I go about the process of ripping them, however, I find one of three states: 1) quality ID3 data; 2) no ID3 data; 3) mixed ID3 data. For those of you who don’t do this sort of thing much, ID3 data is the info on the CD that tells your computer or stereo what album, artist, and track names to use. Two of the three states above make sense to me, but the third leaves me baffled.

  1. Quality data. This is how all albums should be. By including quality data, they insure that the tracks catalog properly in my music-management program (Anarok).
  2. No ID3 data. While I don’t like that they would choose not to encode the data properly, I can understand not doing so. It would take some work for someone to do it, so maybe they didn’t do it. Also, I can see it as a pretty-much worthless method of making it inconvenient for people trying to do what I’m doing, as ripped tracks are unidentifiable unless you set the data yourself (as I’ve learned to do).
  3. Mixed. This is the weird one. Some audio books will feature ID3 data on SOME discs, but not all. For example, the one I’m ripping as I type this went as follows: Disc one was called “Shadow Divers (disc 1)”, disc two was unlabeled, disc three was called “03-Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson”, disc four was unlabeled, and disc five was like disc 3. What’s that all about?

The Mote in God’s Eye

By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

An excellent story about mankind’s first encounter with another species. Quite compelling.

I particularly liked the suggestion of a race who had evolved in space after decimating their own planet. Thus, they have a strange three-armed physique. Makes me want to read more Larry Niven. Ringworld, after all, is amazing.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

So I saw movie 5. Spoilers ahead!

Belatrix LeStrange


  • Belatrix Lestrange.  Excellent work, Ms. Bonham-Carter.
  • The battle at the ministry.  Excellent effects and the teleporting thing was cool.  Death Eaters looked awesome.
  • Dolores Umbridge.  Not quite as sadistic as in the book, but still vile.  The translation of the “Hem-hem” was great.
  • Wall of proclamations.  The movie had more of these than the book, but the effect of Filch on the giant ladder hanging them is excellent.
  • Dumbledore.  The battle with he-who-must-not-be-named at the end was great.  I got chills the likes of which haven’t danced up my arm since Yoda pulled out his lightsaber in Episode 2.
  • Patronus charms.  The scene where the D.A. practiced making them was great.

Didn’t like:

  • The Longbottoms.  The book contrives an excellent reveal of this fact.  The movie’s version is just contrived.
  • Gurp.  Hagrid’s half brother wasn’t menacing enough for my taste.
  • Snape’s worst memory.  As the Trib says, too short and hard to follow.
  • The pacing.  Seriously.  We needed another hour.
  • Sirius’ death.  In the book, he’s knocked through the arch by a curse and vanishes.   In the movie, he’s hit with the avada kedavra curse, and vanishes through the arch.  HUGE difference.

If ever there was another series that called for self-indulgent, obscenely long films ala Lord of the Rings Special Editions, it’s this one.  Films three through seven should all get the four hour treatment.  And I haven’t even read book seven yet.