Friday, December 28, 2007

Ostensibly unwanted

More catching up...

A couple weeks ago my department at work had a holiday luncheon. Afterward there was a "white elephant" gift exchange. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea (at least in how it is practiced in this case) is to give items that are intentionally tacky or of questionable desirability. Re-gifting is not only allowable but tacitly encouraged. The way it plays out, in what tends to be given, this turns into something of an ironic exploration of the items that someone put non-ironic effort into producing (and which ended up being sold at the 99 cent store).

The truly incongruous element to the exchange is that when a person has a turn to select a gift, it is allowable to steal what someone else already opened. This suggests that the item in question is at least in some way non-ironically desirable, and negates the "white elephant" aspect (which, by definition, should be something one should not want to get but one should seek to get rid of). I digress.

An item that was not stolen but selected (as the only unopened gift) by the last person to choose this year was a calendar featuring photos of longhorn steer. Or cattle. I forget which is which (one still has its bits and pieces, one doesn't—I know that much… I think). Anyway, it's pictures of the animals for which the University of Texas takes its nickname, one after another, for 16 months (yes, not merely a 12-month extravaganza). In an office in downtown Los Angeles, of course this seems like the sort of thing one would get stuck with but never want.

Days later I saw the calendar on the desk of the person who got it, unwrapped and laid open to the December 2008 page. At first I glanced at it with the appropriate level of ironic appreciation for someone who regularly watches The Soup. The shot featured the animal essentially in profile (that is, showing it from the side), with its head turned to face the camera. Yep, it's a longhorn.


But then I looked at the photo closer.

The animal's body was almost facing directly the late afternoon, nearly setting sun, so the light was coming at it almost horizontally. With the head turned it cast a phenomenal shadow of the head and one long horn against the side of its body. The composition was genuinely impressive. I know only a bit about photography, but I'm certain it's the sort of shot that the photographer was lucky to capture. I've worked a bit with cows as a subject (long story) and I found them to be entirely dismissive to pose suggestions, so I can't imagine the photographer did anything to specifically position the animal thusly; he just happened to push the shutter when finally the animal glanced his way (and cast the shadow).

It was, by any aesthetic criterion I'd use to judge photos, a good picture. Frankly, I'd be very pleased to get a shot that good, regardless of the subject.

And there I was: Appreciating it outside of even the slightest hint of irony. All because I took the time to investigate whether it held genuine value.

The thing is: Its genuine value was always there. I merely failed to see it previously.

I am not being sarcastic. I say that with absolute sincerity. Yes, it's hideously telling that I feel compelled to mention that, as though my audience wouldn't believe me unless I clarified I wasn't winking at them (so to speak).

Now, to address what I suspect some readers may be expecting me to reveal: No, I did not give the calendar. (For the record: I put a box of bendy drinking straws in a gift bag along with a box of crayons—both items I merely had in my desk. I intended them to merely play against the idea of being tacky by being merely unexpected. Don't judge me.) That would give this story a better ending, complete with requisite character development, but as I'm sticking entirely in the realm of sincerity I cannot fabricate details out of convenience.

I don't think I can participate in the exchange next year. Everything otherwise cheesy will hold a hidden quality I never noticed before; I won't be able to find anything, and I'll kind of think less of those who fail to see it.

Well, maybe it won't go that far…

~

And even there I try to put the quaint little ironic spin on the end. That's what deserves a sense of looking down one's nose at, not a calendar featuring majestic (yes, seriously) creatures. (I probably would feel less in awe were I in a position of having to deal with them, but I digress.)

I concede it's an infinitely risible epiphany, but I find myself regarding it as just that: an epiphany. A moment of heretofore unrealized clarity.

When I reflect on it, the best pieces I've written are undoubtedly the ones that eschew irony altogether and identify something worthy of praise rather than something that is easily put down. That's not to say the latter aren't fun, on occasion, but they're not the best ones. Perhaps I really needed to come to a point where I grasped that sometimes one needs to be ironic about being ironic.

The "useless" in "uselessdoug" comes in part from an Oscar Wilde quote (which can be found at the very bottom of the page), which ultimately (in my interpretation) suggests that art is that which exists for its own sake, not for utilitarian purposes. I have given lip service to applauding "art" and anything someone does just because something inside compels him or her to do it, but it took a well crafted picture of an animal to remind me that one only finds art when one is willing to see it.

~

I know I overused "irony" in the post above. Sorry.

Three sizes too small

This thought is a bit late, but here goes:

Scrooge and the Grinch are the common metaphors for not having "holiday spirit"; those are the ubiquitous terms used in virtually any context to describe anyone who isn't filled with joy leading up to Xmas.

However, both characters are redeemed in the end (coming around to having the spirit), ultimately making them symbols of the spirit that ostensibly they are against.

Thus, they really aren't good metaphors for lacking goodwill toward men. If in their stories they remained curmudgeonly opposed to the holiday, then they would be good symbols of it, but that's not how the stories end, so they represent something other than not liking Xmas.

We need to find a new term for that.

I'm not saying I have one. I'm just saying we need to find a new one.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Best is a four-letter word

I do not see enough movies, watch enough TV, listen to enough new music, or read enough books to offer any year-end lists about what was the "best" of anything that came out this year. However, of all the "best of" categories on which Entertainment Weekly readers voted, there was one (and only one) where I saw all of the five finalists: Funniest Movie.

And although I wouldn't necessarily consider myself to be like the typical EW reader (and I did not vote for any category), I can with the results.

Mostly.

Knocked Up slightly beating out Superbad, and then The Simpsons Movie*, and Juno.

Then, uh, Evan Almighty.

How Evan Almighty made the list at all, however, leaves me flummoxed. I very much enjoyed Steve Carell in Apatow part I (40-Year-Old Virgin**) and in his other movie from later in the year (Dan In Real Life), and of course on The Office, but Evan... I was not McLovin it.

We saw it with my fiancee's young nephews, and they seemed to like it.

Perhaps more adolescents read EW (or at least voted in their polls) than I realized.

~

(Thank you for reading past the hideous McLovin line.)

~

* I know. One would expect me to put Simpsons at the top, but while it was funny (and while I'm sure I'll find it funnier each time I watch the DVD), I laughed more at the two above it.

** Yes, I know he produced movies prior to that. It's merely what gets touted as the precursor to Knocked Up and Superbad. As though they were a trilogy.

Big frakkin' deal

Not that it is of any importance, but I noticed that the number of posts here for the period commencing January 1 and ending December 31 for the year numbered 2007 has exceeded that same period for the year numbered 2006.

Of course, some of them were undoubtedly self-serving stuff like this, so those probably shouldn't count.

Every year I get to blather on just a bit more than the last. I'm not sure whether that is progressing or regressing, however.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Not a finger

"Randy lay there like a slug; it was his only defense."
- One of my many favorite voice-over lines from A Christmas Story
(the only movie worth running for 24 hours straight today)

Merry Christmas, or Happy Tuesday

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wonderland

Happy Winter (as of 10:08 pm Pacific last night) to my northern hemisphere readers.


Naples Island in Long Beach.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lights out

You may recall a couple weeks ago I posted about taking pictures of trees that a week afterward had been chopped down.

Yesterday I passed the Max Factor Building in Hollywood and took this (not entirely impressive) picture of the lighted tree and wreath decorations atop it:



Today I passed the same building, around the same time of day (after dark), and saw this:


I fear that were I to take any more photos of it, all the lights would be out. (Although at least the second photo is, technically, better.)

I have heard that some people fear that photographs steal the subject's soul. Perhaps the same can hold true for pictures of buildings, too.

Again, sometimes it's difficult to believe in coincidence.

Happy holidays. Or something.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Between the lines

As a frequent pedestrian in the automobile-obsessed Mecca that is Southern California I have noticed with some regularity evidence that drivers are not pay attention, at least not all the time. If it's not a matter of failing to paying attention it indicates they're just bad drivers, which is no more comforting.

I am not suggesting that when I'm behind the wheel that I am any better, by the way. That's part of what makes me happier about taking public transportation and then walking: I'm not making myself part of the problem.

When I am a pedestrian amongst the cars it is always the reality that my safety relies on the drivers acknowledging my existence, but it is somewhat disquieting when they demonstrate that they aren't or weren't until the last second.

The most frequent example of this, and the one I find particularly flummoxing, is when I am crossing the street at an intersection where I am in the clearly defined crosswalk, with the "walk" sign, and where the traffic signal for the cars on the perpendicular direction has been red for many seconds. Seems simple enough. However, on many occasions as I'm crossing a car that's approaching from that perpendicular direction pulls up to the edge of the crosswalk and has to practically slam on the brakes to stop without sliding into the crosswalk. Again, the light didn't just turn; for that driver it has been red for plenty of time to alert him/her that stopping will be necessary and allow him/her to cease the forward momentum of the vehicle without causing the brakes to squeal, but no effort was put into smoothly stopping. And had I not been in, you know, the area designated for pedestrians, with, you know, the right-of-way, the car would still need to stop because, um, that's what the red light means, and because barreling out into the cross-traffic of the other cars would not be in the driver's best interests.

The really puzzling aspect is that such behavior, if nothing else, indicates the driver hasn't grasped that it's not good for the brakes to stop abruptly like that, especially when it can be avoided. Apparently these people enjoy spending time at their mechanics' shops.

There are those who aren't locking up the brakes but are still having to stop before they were otherwise going to. These people simply fail to grasp that the line of the crosswalk is the point before which one is supposed to stop, not the point at which one should start braking.

Clearly humans were never intended to operate motor vehicles; we lack the ability to simultaneously focus on all that requires attention while driving.

If any effort were being put into focusing, that is.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Got too many notes

In his latest column for Esquire, Chuck Klosterman accepts the task of trying to figure out what music he likes so he can have an accurate reply to people whom he meets at cocktail parties who throw the question at him about what music he likes.

He takes as the thesis that the reason such questions are asked when people make small talk is the perhaps unconscious motivation to learn something about the person. He reveals what he uses for his answer (the opening to Humble Pie's "I Don't Need No Doctor"), but what that reveals about him is nebulous, so he then lists the specific bits that he likes best (not songs but parts of songs, including but not limited to individual guitar riffs) in pursuit of his answer (a "grand unified theory"), but ultimately those bits sound nothing like Humble Pie, and thus he concludes that it is inherently flawed to use such questions to learn something about a person because the person himself doesn't know why he likes what he likes.

As an alternative question, Chuck recommends going with "What kind of music do you think you like?" If that doesn't get one punched in the face it is likely to get closer to the tacit goal suggested by the question of what music one likes. He also offers it as the reason he tries to avoid small talk.

While I see exactly where he was going with the piece, and it is fairly classic Klosterman, I do have a theory about the nature of asking what sort of music one likes in order to learn something about that person. It's not so much seeking profound insight into the person's psyche but looking for commonality in that area that implies commonality in other areas of personality.

In short, if you ask me what music I like and I rattle off the names of a few artists and you happen to like the music of at least some of those same artists, you can speculate that this similarity of taste in a specific area makes it more likely we share other similarities in our personalities, and thus you can feel more comfortable about not being judged by me, and you can begin to reveal more of yourself in the conversation. Conversely, if the artists I recite fall into the category of ones you despise, you know it's probably best to politely excuse yourself and find another conversation at the party.

Essentially, it's a litmus test. We feel most comfortable around people with whom we believe we share some modicum of commonality. That is so ridiculously obvious that I feel stupid having to include it, but I do include it just so there's no confusion regarding this thesis of mine. We wish to interact with those who are more likely to understand us—or at least, those who are less likely to be confused or offended by us.

We may not understand why we like (individually) the music that we like (collectively), but we understand that whatever it is that explains it, we presumably share that as well.

~

If you like Chuck Klosterman's writing, you are probably more likely to enjoy the Dougressions. Not absolutely so, of course, but if we must speculate in demographic terms, that's about as good a yardstick as any.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More adventures in inadvertent irony

In one of the eateries at Universal Studios Hollywood, the following sign is hung on the wall:
I got a chili cheeseburger with this "never frozen" beef anyway. I've had worse.

Wink-wink.

Almost grown

Back in the spring, we took some friends visiting from out of town to Amoeba Music to do some CD shopping. They didn't have any stores like it back home, so they were up for a trip there.

It's a place where over the past few years since it opened down here I had spent many hours walking up and down the aisles (especially those of the used discs). I never had difficulty finding something to buy when I went. Frankly, it was more the case that I had to limit the number of times I went in, simply to keep from spending too much money.

I hadn't gotten into downloading music that much, despite having had a high-speed connection for years. I'd been making intermittent journeys to stores to purchase CDs since 1987, and there was a certain enjoyment I'd developed from browsing the used bins and finding albums at a price I was willing to pay. It wasn't merely the pragmatic exercise of acquiring something I knew I wanted but discovering what was available that I may or may not have known I wanted.

Hence the reason I'd accumulated close to 1400 discs over two decades. I'd ripped my collection to mp3 and tended to listen more to the songs on the computer than by putting in a CD, but still there was something about having the disc that held a certain appeal.

Anyway, back to the story: When we got to Amoeba, we all dispersed to the various sections of the store, with the plan to reconvene by the registers in two hours. (No, that's not enough time for me to do a proper patrol of the bins, but others do not have my browsing stamina.)

After a while I came across one of the friends, and she had no prospective purchases picked out. Having an idea of her tastes, I couldn't believe she had found nothing that interested her. When asked about it, she mentioned how she had subscribed to emusic, and she was no longer feeling inclined to buy discs when it was possible she could find the tunes available for download.

I was slightly incredulous, and perhaps because she seemed to rebuke the act I held in such regard I tried to assure her it was still okay to buy CDs. Nonetheless, she left without making any purchases. (The rest of us found at least a few items worth spending our money on.)

Later, after talking with her more about emusic, and seeing how happy she was with it, I was somewhat intrigued. I did nothing for a few months, but finally one evening in the summer I saw there was a promotion wherein one could get 25 free downloads, so I (perhaps too impulsively) signed up to give it a try.

I found an album available that I was not able to find at Amoeba either of the previous two trips I'd made, so I used some of my freebies to get that. And browsing through the site I found enough other music I was interested in that I kept the subscription. However, I figured that I'd still buy CDs when the inclination struck; I'd been doing it for two decades, as I said, and that was not a habit to be easily dismissed.

About little over a month ago I was in Target (I am still somewhat flummoxed by finding that is a place that sells albums I would find interesting, but I digress) and saw the new album by The New Pornographers on sale for $9.99 (which is not a bad price for a non-used disc). I already owned their previous three albums on CD, so I started to reach for it on the end-cap display. Then I was struck by the thought that the New Pornographers were a band available on emusic. If it was available, I could wait and download the 11 tracks for roughly 26 cents each (which obviously comes out to be much less than $9.99).

I refrained from buying the CD.

I even had cause to be in another Target store about a week later and saw it again, still on sale, and again I passed on it. Intentionally.

I had turned my back on my old ways.

And after a few months of monthly downloading, I feel myself moving more and more toward the dark side, where I may not buy CDs any more. It's so subtle I hadn't really noticed until this incident.

I will say this: Downloading doesn't result in me having a sore neck from craning over bins for hours. I suppose I've grown to the point where that badge of honor (of sorts) from my younger days is now... well, a pain in the neck.

~

And just for the record: A couple weeks ago I downloaded the latest New Pornographers album. It took a couple months to become available, but I have found, despite the immediate-gratification aspect of downloading, I can be patient.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pic for its own sake

Sign of the times

A short while ago on E! they ran a scroll along the bottom of the screen, announcing the "breaking news" of Kiefer Sutherland going to jail to begin his sentence for his latest DUI. Details of his arrest (including his blood/alcohol content at the time) through to what duty he has been assigned in prison (laundry) ran for several minutes under the end of The Soup Presents: The Best of the Worst Game Show Moments and over the beginning of The Girls Next Door.

Whether that deserved that level of spotlight is not why I'm mentioning this now. (Whether I should be admitting I was watching E! is questionable.)

While that ran, in the corner next to the E! logo was a panel showing the logo of an advertiser sponsoring the scroll.

That advertiser: Bacardi.


At first glance it seems like this would be the worst thing that could have happened for the rum maker, but the more I think about it, I doubt the typical E! viewer would be dissuaded from consuming alcohol no matter what the news was. It may be the most effective advertising ever.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to see what's in the liquor cabinet...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don't tell the Lorax

One evening back in late October I paused by these trees (palm, I believe) next to this streetlight and experimented with shooting straight up along the pole of the light. You can judge the result for yourself:
I had passed this spot many times and thought the illumination of the streetlight on the trees to be interesting (or at least potentially so) for a photographic subject, but on those occasions I'd kept going, procrastinating because I figured I could take the shots later. But then on this October evening, as you can see, I got over the procrastination. (Whether I should have is another story.)

So?

A week later I passed the same location and... well, have a look at the picture below, taken looking up the post of the same streetlight.


Yes, the trees are gone. The photo has not been altered in any way.

I should note that this spot is next to a construction site, but the construction had been going on for months. When I took the first picture I had no idea the trees were scheduled to be cut down. Presumably mine was the last picture ever taken of those trees.

This seems to be a rather obvious example of why it's important to not put off until tomorrow what you can do (or photograph) today, but given that after every week where I didn't take their picture the trees were still there, I cannot help but wonder if they'd still be around if only I'd procrastinated longer.

If the universe was just keeping them around until I got around to acting on my idea of taking this picture, I would have gladly kept not doing it to allow them to survive indefinitely. (It's not like the shot turned out well enough to justify tree-killing.) I'd much rather have trees than pictures of trees.

Sometimes it's tricky not to believe in coincidence. I'm just sayin'.

Spikey


This and another one like this shot can be seen here (on the useless photo site).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More reasons you're glad you're not me

It's important to keep in mind that no matter what you think or believe or do that there's someone else out there who thinks it's stupid. I am using "stupid" euphemistically in that context; it is merely a pithy way of indicating "there's someone who disagrees with it being prudent or allowable that you think it or believe it or do it"; it's easier to summarize that as "stupid."

It is a ridiculously broad assertion to make; that point must be conceded. I further concede that I have no supporting evidence other than general observation of the world (more specifically, my perception thereof). I expect that if such a statement jibes with one's beliefs about the world one will agree with it and if it does not then one will disagree; I am not trying to convince anyone of anything he or she isn't already convinced of. The reason is simple: I do not need you to agree with it. I was not convinced of that by having someone else tell me it but merely by coming to it myself (to the extent that any idea can be reached by one's self alone).

If someone reads this and considers it "stupid" that will only serve to support the assertion. It may be in the form of reacting dismissively, considering it lazy and cowardly to make no effort at persuasion, even though I explained the reason for that.

Here's the thing: As long as this theoretical person comes to his/her conclusions on his/her own about why it's lazy and cowardly, I fully respect that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Still

another useless photo site

I have no mustache

"Got" is the past tense of "get," which suggests acquiring something. "Go get milk at the store" orders acquiring something that is not possessed; "I got milk at the store" states that something was acquired.

"Have" indicates what is already possessed. "We have milk in the refrigerator."

To get and to have clearly indicate different states. Yet it is common to use the past tense of the first to indicate the present tense of the latter: Case in point from a very successful advertising campaign: "Got milk?"

That's truncating the question "Have you got milk in the fridge?" down to its essence. It's catchy, which is more important in a commercial or on a billboard than worrying about whether the deconstructed meaning conveys the real question.

"Do you have milk?"

"Got" sounds better than "have"; the hard sounds from the g and t stand out better than the softer h and v. There's no arguing with that. But using "got" in its purest sense (which obviously has no place in advertising), "Got milk?" is suggesting "Did you acquire milk in the past?" That clearly is not what the ad intends to make one think. "Do you have milk? And if not, should you not go get some?"

That doesn't look as good on a billboard or t-shirt. I know.

The only conclusion to be drawn from this: You should be glad that you are not like me.

And there's a reason I do not, in fact, have milk at the moment: This ad is not for me.

~

Tune in next time when I blather on about "Where's the beef?" or some expression that fell out of the cultural spotlight long ago, and do so without any hint of nostalgia or apparent justification for ruminating on it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Take a seat

Monty Python has a song with the refrain: "Sit on my face, and tell me that you love me." They didn't come up with the expression, of course, and they were using it in a humorous context.

(Monty Python? Humor? Really, Doug? Do tell...)


However, actually sitting on another's face seems like it would be uncomfortable for the sitter and potentially suffocating for the sittee. Conceivably the only option for sexual pleasure for either party would involve the one squatting over the other's face (without putting one's weight down on the person), or allowing the other's face to be plunged betwixt one's legs.

I suppose "squat on my face" doesn't sound the same, and undoubtedly it would not be an expression that would catch on in general usage, with squat possessing an undeniable connotation with defecation (and that appeals only to a very specific demographic sexually).

Still, I must conclude the whole "sit on my face" expression doesn't hold up to analysis all that well.

Granted, if we thought about the things we say—really stopped and thought about them before we said them—we probably wouldn't speak much at all.

That probably wouldn't be altogether a bad thing.

~

Something I should have noted up front: This blahg is not intended for children. (That's not suggesting it's for adults either. Frankly, if you can determine who the audience really is, please let me know.)

~


The above was partially inspired by this post, which handles the topic in a much better (and less disturbing) way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hey! (Hey!) You! (You!) Get out of my email!

Last week I got an email from a site that promotes concerts. I've received them many times before. I never did business with them but I got on their list somehow, but I don't object so much that I will do anything more than delete the message after glancing at it.

The message is HTML-formatted, with pictures of each act above the artist name and the date and location of the show, and links to purchase tickets. They concerts are listed in rows of four, and in my Yahoo mail browser only the first row displays.

Last week's message came up thusly:
Yes, all four pictures on the first row were of Avril Lavigne, spotlighting four concerts ranging from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

If ever there was a need to warn the reader of something in the subject line, it is that upon opening the message one will be subjected to an onslaught of a Canadian snot popster. That should require agreeing to continue at an initial prompt before getting it delivered.

That's the one good thing about Outlook over Yahoo mail: Pictures get blocked.

Monday, November 19, 2007

At it again

Some photos have been added to the useless photo site, for those who delight in such things.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

As you take it

I can only imagine that if Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" were composed in an email today and he didn't include a smiley face emoticon or xml-esqe notation to duly announce the satirical nature of the piece, likely those offended by its suggestions would forward the message with wild abandon (because there's nothing that people who delight in their own indignation enjoy more than stirring up the ire of everyone in their address books).

Were it posted in a blog that was not duly identified as satire, the twelve people who still read things on the 'net (rather than spending all their time looking at YouTube) might respond by leaving comments filled with outrage and offense (except the one cannibal in that group who would inquire if Swift could direct him to a good recipe for infant fricassee, as that Google search gives no suitable results).

If it were presented on television by a commentator with no disclaimer running along the bottom of the screen with the words "satire--do not take seriously" looping the entire time, almost certainly groups would rally in protest and force the network to fire the person (and the director and the producer) by the next day. (The only reason it would take that long is because it wouldn't get much attention until someone posted it on YouTube and then others forwarded the link to all their friends.)

However, with proper announcement of its satirical intent, a couple intellectuals would smirk and think it slightly amusing, and everyone else would dismiss it as "just not being that funny."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hey

For those jonesing for more photos, they are being posted approximately one-a-day at my aminus3 site.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A rose by any other term of reference

I have an announcement:
I will no longer be alluding to "my girlfriend" in posts here.


Here's why:


If appropriate, I will now be making reference to "my fiancée" if the post needs to mention the woman I love.

(Yes, I popped the question this morning, and as evidenced by the photo above, she accepted.)

Just alerting my intrepid readers of this alteration of future phraseology, so there's little confusion. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Waxing nostolgic about All Hallow's Eve

Four years ago I was in Beijing on Halloween. The Chinese don't celebrate it, but someone in our group heard about a party being thrown by Western ex-pats, so despite not having costumes we took a cab across town to check it out. And we got there just in time to see the police shutting it down.

So we took the cab back to our hotel and had a nice chat.

Can't say we didn't try.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pressed

This evening, on a friend's recommendation (as a possible better way to photoblog), I checked out Wordpress. I get to the home page and see it has "news" sections. I see the "headline" under "In Science" is "Burn Hollywood Burn," which I presume has something to do with the wildfires in Southern California.

Which it did. It claimed that God was angry at California and in His wrath was punishing us.

Okay. This is the internet, and every wackjob is entitled to spout off whatever fucked up world view allows him to feel better about his sad, little life.

How that falls under the category of "science" I'm not entirely sure.

The thing is: He cites Cleveland and Toledo as places where such "catastrophes" don't occur, and by inference as being more virtuous.

Seriously. Cleveland and Toledo.

Eh, I suppose those are cities that definitely need to keep the Big Guy on their side.

~

It seems that in writer's faith one of the commandments must be "Thou shall not spell check." ("Judgement"--what are we, in England?) Also forbidden: Being able to distinguish the contraction of "it is" from the possessive of it. ("Maybe its not terrorism...")

But spelling and grammar surely dwell in Beelzebub's domain...

~

I think I may have to pass on Wordpress. I mean, I should be happy that Blogger here (as well as Aminus3) allow me some place to post photos. And, of course, this opportunity to spout off these glib reactions to the world that allow me to feel better about my sad, little life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Song lyrics du jour

Lyrics I heard today that inexplicably inspired me to post them here:

Thousands of people would die for a chance to be alone
And there's millions more who'd kill if they thought they'd make a friend
Oh, it's nonsense I know, but have to find out where they could be living
You never know, they could be living in sin
The could carrying shame
For a price find someone to carry the blame
Find out what makes your heart sing
Because I've found out already what makes my heart sing

From the last verse of "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)"
by the Jazz Butcher

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Adventures in lunar photography

Back on August 29th I set up my camera on a tripod and pointed toward the almost-full moon in the eastern sky. Having gotten semi-comfortable with shooting the crescent moon back on the 17th, this became an experiment with taking shots of it with scattered clouds in the sky.

And now, for no discernibly good reason, I now reveal my results (and pretend I know what I'm talking about when it comes to photography even though everything refutes that).

Mostly I was seeing what I'd get by playing around with the lens aperture (how wide the lens opens--the bigger the number the smaller the opening) and with the exposure time (how long the lens is left open while taking the exposure).

All were taken with a 22mm focal length, with (I think) the ISO set at 100. (The ISO isn't stored in the file properties, alas.)

I started with lens aperture at F/7.1, a 1 sec exposure, and got:
Moon is bright (with a spiked corona), but with no surface detail, and the clouds are dim.

Then I opened up the aperture to F/5.6, keeping other settings the same, and got:
Moon is still a bright white circle, but the clouds are a bit more distinct.

Then I further opened the aperture to F/4, still 1 second (and same ISO), and compensated with a +0.7 overexposure, and got:
The moon's corona is smoothed, and the clouds are bit brighter.

And then I reduced the aperture down to F/6.3, no exposure compensation, but extended the exposure to 4 seconds (yes), and got:
And here the moon is really bright (so much so that it's not even a sphere), but on the clouds we can make out shadows.


So I pulled the focal length down to 10mm, knocked the aperture to F/3.2 and pulled the exposure back down to 1 second, and found that bringing in more of the clouds and making the prominence of the indistinct moon less important in the shot, and it didn't seem so bad:
No, it's not that good either...


In the end, what I learned is that getting a brightly lit object and dimly lit objects in the same night sky to show up with decent detail on both is way more difficult than it might seem.

And you've now learned... that I am not above hiding my moments of semi-ineptitude.

Mr. Mojo written













On the side of a gym parking lot in Hollywood is this portrait of Jim Morrison, with lyrics from the second stanza of "L.A. Woman" written in the upper left.

I see your hair is burning
Hills are fill'd w/ fire
If they say I never lov'd you
You know they are a liar

(That's how it appears on the wall.)


Despite being a Doors song I have liked for many years and where I have sung along with the words from memory, I was taken aback by seeing them up on a wall like that.

Mostly, I was struck by the realization that I'd always overlooked the hideous grammar of "they are" (plural) with "a liar" (singular).

This reminded me how little grammar matters when sung stylishly and backed by guitar, keyboard, and drums.

(To see another shot of this, check out this post on the useless photo site.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Relief in L.A.

The following piece is rated PG-13, in case you care about that crap.


Noticing things is not so much a gift or a curse for me, but something that tends to happen. At least when I'm paying attention.

[Ba-dump-chick!]

(Thank you. I do two shows on Sunday.)

I have been an avid reader of the print version of The Onion ever since it started to be published here in L.A. (or at least when I noticed it being available around town). I have also discerned that the content for most of it is the same in other cities where it's published, but that the layout and local listings are up to those running it in each town. More important, much of the advertising is local as well, which makes the ads representative not only of the Onion reader but of the Onion reader in that city.

For a period of four weeks (from the August 23-29 issue to the September 6-12 issue), in addition to the ads for eco-friendly products, for clubs and bars, for movies, etc. (which I imagine appear in every city's edition) I noticed a recurring ad. Ostensibly the appeal of it would be prurient, as it featured pictures of two young women, but after decades of watching TV and reading magazines and looking at billboards, that alone isn't worth noticing.

What intrigued me about this ad was that the girls weren't hawking beer or clothes or suggesting sex; the ad was for a website touting that these girls (and many others like them) were looking to "hook-up" with male readers of the publication who sought no-strings-attached sexual encounters. It made no pretense about being other than that.

Now, one can find plenty of ads in the back of other weekly publications for "massages" or "escorts" that are obviously code for... something else, and I imagine there are online posts soliciting such affairs, but those are not generally found in The Onion (I'm not sure if that's an editorial decision or merely that such services are already happy with advertising elsewhere). I took it as this ad figured it could get away with merely leaving out the paying-for-sex part and it would seem less sleazy. And apparently The Onion was fine with that as well.

However, that ad ran only for those four issues and then was discontinued. I interpret that as indicating that the site wasn't getting a return on its investment.

Something else that I notice is another set of ads that have been running virtually every week and continue now. There are multiple advertisers promoting the same product (usually about four ads per issue): medical marijuana.

The ads run from featuring a big pot leaf and touting the ease of qualifying to attempting to making it seem mainstream and suggesting it's good for relieving stress from "high pressure jobs like being a talent agent." (I've never had an agent, but I have to imagine that any agent who can't get his hands on pot without having to get it from a clinic is not an agent worth having.)

That latter angle, specifically mentioning being a agent, is clearly directed toward an L.A. audience, or what they perceive a stereotypical L.A. audience to be. And, alas, it probably works better than I'd care to admit in appealing to potential clients. (However, I suspect those clients have occupations that may not be as stressful as dealing with celebrity demands. Still, it surely relieves the stress their jobs to cause. Or so I'm led to believe, for the purposes of any law enforcement personnel who may read this.)

These suppliers of marijuana keep running ads. That's more than can be said of the hook-up website.

So, what conclusion are we to draw from this? For readers of The Onion in L.A., when it comes to paying for a little relief from the troubles of daily life they prefer dealing with cannabis rather than with the clitoris.

(What? Would it have been better had I gone with "pot over pussy"?)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mixed up

Starting in the late '80s I made more than my share of mix tapes, both for my entertainment and (ostensibly) that of my friends. And when I used to make mix tapes, I made them by hooking two CD players up to a mixer and doing live cross-fades on the tracks as the tape recorded, which required me to practice the transitions, making notes of at what point in the track playing to trigger the next track on the other player, and of what adjustments to the level were necessary to keep the overall volume as close to consistent as possible. And if I screwed up anywhere during the 45 minutes of one side, I had to start over. (Sometimes I’d split it up to two or three separate sets per side to relieve some of the pressure of keeping the flow for the whole side.)

Oh yes, I took it way too seriously. If only I’d been learning how to use serious equipment, rather than the Radio Shack schlock I had, I probably could have gone into sound engineering. And I would almost certainly have come to despise making the mixes.

(A friend once advised: “Never turn your hobby into your career; eventually you’ll hate both.” Sage words.)

When I bought a computer in 2000, I got the best sound card available, because I figured I’d be using it for a lot of music-related activities. Technology was going to make simple what I used to have to plan out through a lot of manual effort. Software would allow me to set up the cross-fades on screen, and balance the levels, and burn the result to CDs (the format in which I’d been amassing my collection for 14 years at that point). Hell, I’d be knocking out these things every week, I thought.

In the five years that followed, I made three compilation discs. Two of those were projects I did for my dragon boat team, as thank you gifts for the teams that hosted us at out-of-town tournaments, which weren’t even all that representative of my music tastes (but representing the team as a whole).

So really, one disc.

Making something easier through technology appears to be the kiss of death for me.

Okay, I need to clarify the terminology here: I’m talking about a compilation of songs where I plan it out, and cross-fade the tracks, and design a cover, and burn a bunch of copies with the express purpose of giving them to pretty much anyone I know (or meet) who I think may listen to it. I’m not talking about a disc where some of the mp3’s on the computer are selected (by me or by software) and converted back to the CD format for my personal enjoyment; it’s not that I haven’t burned more than just the one CD over the years. I’m alluding to something that turns into a serious project, done to shove my music tastes (or a portion thereof) down the throats of people silly enough to listen. That’s what I figured I’d do more of after getting the computer.

Turns out I got off on the difficulty of it, or something. Perhaps the acquisition of a home computer skewed some kind of cosmic balance, and that stripped the inspiration from the process.

Perhaps I came to realize that it was a lot of work to put into something that wasn’t going to further a career, and more than that, no one would listen to a new disc every week even if I could somehow find the time to achieve that kind of schedule.

[Does this piece have a hook? Certainly not. Are you still expecting that by this point?]

My friends already have their tastes when it comes to this stuff. By and large, the extent to which they enjoyed the disc revolved around whether I included tracks (or at least artists) they already liked (or were similar to songs/artists they already liked). I don’t begrudge them that; everyone does. It wasn’t like I was doing serious promotion of the tracks in question; they meant something to me, for whatever reason they did at the time I was assembling them, but I got nothing out of it other than whatever pleasure I could delude myself into believing there was from a job well done (whether it was appreciated by the listeners as much as I hoped or not).

Perhaps I grasped that it takes something of an arrogant prick to make such demands on the time of others with such ostensibly altruistic gestures, and I didn’t need to be that guy any more. These people either liked me, or "got" me, or they didn’t, whether they liked the disc or not. It was mostly me camouflaging a juvenile need (Look at me! Look at how cool my tastes are! Think well of me! Justify my pitiful little existence!) with a project that, at best, others would take as such: Oh hey, cool; something to listen to.

Perhaps I succumbed to the laziness that was inevitable. Technology does allow me to just get a bunch of random songs to listen to, without me having to go to the arduous process of overanalyzing them, reviewing how well the transitions between them flow (so one song is followed by another to achieve the proper effect, be it smooth or jarring), spending all that time putting the human element into the equation when it isn’t necessary. It may be appreciated, on some level, by some of the listeners, sure, but this is the time of the iPod; as long as Mozart isn’t followed by Motorhead (not that I'd have a problem with that, personally; I find classical and metal have something of a corresponding vibe in these transitions, but I concede such things are not for everyone)—on the off-chance that one has both Wolfgang and Lemmy in one’s iTunes—and it’s songs one associates in some way (probably in some banal fashion, like chronologically—e.g., songs from the 80s—or by genre—classic rock, hip hop, polka, etc.—then that’s good enough to be a playlist.

I can't get behind that, myself, but that’s part of why I don’t have an iPod yet; if I'm bothering with putting effort into organizing the music, I will turn it into a project. That’s not admirable, by the way; it borders on the pathological, but I gotta be me. However, if I don’t devote any effort to organizing it, I have no problem with just letting the musical chips fall where they may.

Unwittingly, I anticipated the future regarding what was to come regarding what people would consider important when it comes to music, and it was everyone carrying around their music in smaller and smaller devices. It didn’t matter whether they wanted or needed it; they could have it, and that proved sufficient rationale. What they wouldn’t need was someone else's music, cross-faded so there was no pause between songs. There’s no cover or liner notes with mp3 files on a hard drive; there’s just the tracks.

I suppose there's no way this can’t seem like a lamentation, but I had long abandoned what is ostensibly lamented here by the time the silhouetted figures with the white headphones gyrating to U2's "Vertigo" changed the landscape. It was only to me that it ever held any significance, but in years past there was at least that hint of cachet to handing someone a CD one had spent time working on, whether they listened to it or not; now it was just something that the CDDB couldn’t identify when they tried to rip the tracks (on the off-chance they did so). It’s not so much that the world passed me by—I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to have been on the same path as the world prior to all this—but that what I prized (more in theory than in practice, admittedly) moved farther away from what the world valued.

Now, however, I have found some use in the software. (I’m not entirely sure why iTunes would have CD burning capabilities, as that’s going back in my direction rather than toward the portable mp3 device Apple got rich from, but perhaps it’s merely to act as a reminder of how archaic one is by bothering with CDs.) I can create a random “smart” playlist of as many songs will fit on a 70 MB CD-R in 128kb mp3 format (around 200), then burn all of them on a single disc and play that in the CD Walkman (Sony once ruled this world) for weeks before listening to all of them, and without having put more than maybe ten minutes of effort into it.

That’s all I wanted: to not have to decide what I wanted to hear, unless I was really going to decide seriously, as an artistic statement.

Not that the mix tapes ever really were art, but I fancy the notion they were.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Love is all your phone needs

An advert I heard on the radio included a woman's voice, representing a customer for a new cell phone, exclaiming something about getting a phone that could hold her "entire music library" at a great price. I chuckled silently to myself.

While it's fine that there are cell phones that double as mp3 players, and the capacity of the hard drives in these phones is increasing in capacity, I think they're only up to 4 gigs. The ads tout them as being for "music lovers."

With players that aren't also phones, they've only recently come out with an iPod that could fit my entire library (approximately 20,000 songs), so such a phone could not even pretend to accommodate about 5% of my library. While 5% would certainly be plenty to listen to while out and about, that's not really the sort of claim that sounds impressive in a commercial. However, I am the sort of person who is more than content to have a cell phone that focuses on making and receiving calls and having a separate means of listening to whatever portion of my collection I happen to be able to carry with me; these phones are not meant for me nor marketed toward me.

If you want such a phone/mp3 player, there's nothing wrong with getting one. However, I would argue that if every song you love enough to own fits on a 4 gig drive, you don't really love music. You may love those songs and love having a phone on which to carry them with you, but the overall art form of music you merely like.

The ad was directed toward you.

~

It's tricky to convey a sense of you-are-deluding-yourself-but-you-have-every-right-to-delude-yourself without seeming like an elitist asshole.

Perhaps I'm deluding myself that I'm not, in actuality, an elitist asshole (which I do have the right to be, but such is not my aspiration).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Four minutes

Proof of the earth rotating can be seen at this post on the photo site.

Words keep flowing

Across the Universe came out a couple weeks ago (to mixed but generally unimpressive reviews--which is to say I saw three reviews and two weren't good but the other one was more forgiving). I did not see it, nor do I have any intention of seeing it, despite being a fan of the Beatles' music. Perhaps I have no such intention because I am a fan of their music.

However, it did give me reason to ruminate on how I came to know the Fab Four.

[Yes, yes, Doug. That's what your readers are clamoring to know!]

I don't have much in the way of specific recollection regarding first hearing a Beatles' song, but being born the year after Sgt. Pepper's came out, and growing up in the '70s, I'm reasonably certain I must have heard something on the radio while Mom drove around (although I remember more hearing the likes of the Carpenters). Dad thought them dirty hippies, so there was no chance of hearing them in the house.

So we'll jump to 7th grade, where my earliest specific memory regarding them takes place.

At the time my mother had re-married a younger man and relocated us to southern Orange County (which at the time wasn't as upscale as recent reality TV would have one think, although it was not shabby). The middle school I attended devoted one period to four different areas; a quarter of the year was spent in home ec (it was acceptable at the time to call it that), a quarter of the year in wood shop, a quarter of the year in something else I don't remember, and a quarter of the year in music appreciation. I imagine we did some cooking in the first one. I made a pathetic little letter "D" in the second one. As noted, I do not recall any specifics about the third. But in the fourth class we were introduced to John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

It was 1980, and probably before John was killed (or else we would have focused on that, I'm sure). The teacher was a man, probably in his 30s, so it was likely he grew up with them. Now, remember that the time he had us was only a quarter of the school year, so probably around five or six weeks tops. And we spent at least half of that time on just the Beatles. I am not kidding.

We breezed through Mozart and Beethoven and the like. Okay, I figure we must have covered them, but I don't remember exactly what we did before the Beatles. That was what the teacher wanted to impart to us, and obviously in that endeavor he was successful, at least with me.

When I say we covered the Beatles, I don't mean we merely listened to their records. We did that, sure, but we also learned the mythology of the lads from Liverpool. We played the records backwards…

When I say we covered the Beatles, I don't mean we merely listened to their records. We did that, sure, but we also learned the mythology of the lads from Liverpool. We learned the clues that supposedly indicated that Paul had died and been replaced with a double. We played the records backwards to hear the hidden messages in support of that theory.

I am serious. The teacher put the stylus on a record and used his hand to rotate "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the direction counter to the way it would normally go. And this was 1980, so it's not like the turntable was built to do that.

(For the record, if one is so inclined, one can make a portion where when played backwards it sounds like John says "I buried Paul.")

Paul's out of step on the Abbey Road album cover. "I Am the Walrus" is supposedly about him, with the walrus representing death. I won't go on.

In retrospect, I am kind of amazed he was able to get away with this. We were only 12, after all. Impressionable. I can only imagine the PTA would have balked at it had they known.

I'm not suggesting I was transformed into a Beatles fan after that. That wouldn't really occur for years after that. After all, I was only 12, and didn't really know what I was going to like.

The thing about that: Of all I remember learning in middle school (and I assume I learned at least a few things), that is what made the biggest impression. I'm not saying it shaped me, per se, but 27 years later I still recall that without having to look it up. It's not like it really helps me in my daily life. No one calls upon me to know this.

(Granted, most of what I learned in school—at any level—is not what I am generally called upon to know on a daily basis.)

To a great extent, I must declare that to be some of the most effective teaching I ever got. One can only wonder how much of physics or trigonometry I might recall if those teachers played records backwards.

Koo-koo-ka-choo.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hiro

The towers in downtown Los Angeles that used to be the Arco Plaza back when the Atlantic-Richfield Company was the name on the building are now the City National Plaza.

Regardless of the name, the erstwhile Arco Plaza is what was used by the producers of Heroes as the location for "Kirby Plaza" (a fictional New York place where the climax of the first season transpires). There's a distinct large sculpture in the middle of the open area between the towers (called "Double Staircase") that immediately identifies the actual location as downtown L.A. rather than N.Y.C. to anyone familiar with it. (The California state flag is kind of a giveaway in the shot below.)


In seven and a half years of walking past it, I had never taken any pictures of it. Obviously I've photographed a number of downtown locales over the years, but not there. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it seemed too obvious.

(While I do not consider myself to be in any way groundbreaking in my photography, nor am I above shooting sites that have been done by others before (as this clearly has), but what inspires me is finding some different angle (either literally or figuratively).)

Back in June, just after the first season of Heroes concluded, on my walk back from lunch my path took me right next to the art piece, and the mid-afternoon sun reflected off the north tower on to the piece at an angle opposite that of the actual sun. And as we've seen in the past, that sort of thing intrigues me, so I snapped a few pics. They turned out semi-okay. (Two of which are included here. "Semi-okay.")


As I continued back to the office it occurred to me that the shots could be "marketed" as being the actual site where Hiro ran his katana through Sylar (not that the "running through" was actual, of course) to fans of the program. However, that would tacitly be could be construed as trying to pass myself off as a geek, and that I dare not do.

(And of course, the inspiration sat idle for months, until the fall season debuted. Very un-geek-like.)

~

It's not that I consider "geek" to be a shameful designation. Quite the contrary: I would not wish to denigrate the term by even implicitly identifying myself as such. While I have certain traits that are associated with geeks (working with computers, having read comic books, watching a show like Heroes, for instance), I do not consider the level of voluntary involvement with these things to be sufficient to qualify for geek-ness (geekitude? geekosity?). I am too much of a dilettante in these areas to warrant such a designation; it would not be fair to the true geeks.

I am completely sincere when I seek to protect the integrity of the term "geek" by not assigning it to myself. Frankly, were I a geek I would undoubtedly make a lot more in my field of employment than I do; I'd actually like computers rather than merely put up with them for my job. I would do infinitely better at Trivial Pursuit. I would not find the message boards on the Battlestar Galactica website to be confusing. I would fit in.

It's not that I completely fail to fit in, on some levels; I can identify that the music the cantina band plays changed from the original 1977 release of Star Wars to the 1997 re-release, but I can't tell you what the names of the band members were. Ultimately, however, it comes down to this: True geeks would see through me if I purported myself as one of them.

It's not that membership was sought back when the "club" started but those who consider themselves part of it do not allow just anyone in the circle. There is no faking it; either you have the tendencies and knowledge and desires to be a geek or you don't.

And I don't. (I just play one on TV.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My brain has no business with business

A couple things I shouldn't think, which reveal how little I understand advertising (and, by inference, how little I am like the typical American):

While flipping around the radio dial on a recent morning, on the "oldies" radio station I caught a commercial by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was actively promoting the use of food stamps. However, it wasn't merely reminding people that, yes, there's still federal funding for the underprivileged--I'm sorry, the alternatively privileged--to get food; it was actively encouraging those who might not think they qualify for the program to look into getting food stamps. It sought to drum up more business (so to speak) for the government to pay for people's groceries.

I could only interpret this as indicating that there's fewer people using food stamps than the program's funding is set up to support, and they need to get their numbers up to keep from getting their allocation reduced. That may or may not have any accuracy; it was merely what came to mind. It could be completely wrong.

I don't think there's much of question about there being at least some stigma associated with the use of food stamps, so it could be that the ad also sought to reduce the shame of admitting one could use help putting food on the table. I won't go so far as to suggest the ad was trying to make food stamps seem cool, but to make it less embarrassing. And in my middle class experience had always tacitly made me think the whole point was for there to be some shame to encourage people to make enough money that they didn't need to use food stamps. It's what allows those who are no longer using food stamps to feel good about themselves. Or at least to feel superior to those who still use food stamps.

There was a bit of shame on my part at admitting there was supposed to be shame on their part. I wouldn't be investigating the promotion (of sorts); I'm not sure whether they take such options at Trader Joe's, but I find it unlikely.

I switched over to listening to a CD.

Then I flipped open the new Esquire and noticed a full-page ad for a watch. Not just any watch, but a waterproof watch. And not just any waterproof watch, but one that was supposedly strong enough for use to a depth of 39,600 feet. In the background of the ad was one of those fish with the jutting jaw and huge teeth that show up in those specials where they drop a camera to the sea floor in depths where the sunlight never reaches.

I'm not a diver, nor a biologist, but I'm reasonable certain that the pressure at nearly 40,000 feet would crush the person wearing the watch, even if the watch itself was fine.

Obviously, the advertisers wanted to imply that the watch was good for diving in general, and to associate the product with daring and adventure, presumably traits that those who dive would fancy themselves to possess.

But this was Esquire, which made me question whether there's enough actual divers reading the magazine to warrant spending the money for the ad rates to solicit it to them alone. It was really directed at those who merely fancy themselves daring and adventurous without actually engaging in activities like putting on scuba gear and a strong watch that one could wear down in the dark waters. Which may be the typical Esquire reader.

(I still don't understand why it is that Esquire wanted Chuck Klosterman to write a column for them. He would only poke fun at the notion of such a watch while making allusions to pop culture. Yet by doing so they got me to read it.)

Anyway, having been shamed by feeling elitist by the radio spot for food stamps and befuddled by feeling non-elitist by the magazine ad, I composed this with some scant hope of proving how I don't fit in to either category, as though that somehow makes any of it better. Obviously, I've proven nothing other than, according to the evidence of how my mind operates, that I don't fit in with any group.

Which was more or less what I proffered in the opening sentence. So, uh, mission accomplished, I guess.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I'm not a screenwriter...

Line from a screenplay that would seem profound in the context of the scene but which would not hold up to scrutiny well:

"The sooner you realize that everyone else is miserable, too, the happier you'll be."

Monday, September 24, 2007

More of those picture things

Egad, will I never cease shooting our planet's satellite and posting it on the photo site?!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ya-who cares?

On the Yahoo home page at the moment, in the "Featured" area, one of the stories is titled "Eyebrows: why and how?" That linked to a question on their Yahoo Answers, where someone inquired about the evolution of eyebrows, and the answer selected as the best (by the asker) featured multiple references.

The featured stories on the home page include sub-links to other items on the same general topic. The sub-link for the story above was called "The purpose of eyebrows and lashes."

That text, I presume, is set by the powers that be for the home page.

That one linked to another question on Yahoo Answers, where a user asked about the purpose of eyebrows and lashes. The answer he selected as best noted several purposes for eyebrows and lashes, starting with:
"They were meant to be absolutely for reasons.
1. Beauty since god created human in teh [sic] best shape to differentiate him among creatures."

(After that the answerer mentioned protecting the eyes from sweat, communicating non-verbally, protecting the eyes from dust, and another allusion to "god" making they eyes beautiful.)

Not surprisingly, the comments left in response to that start with someone lamenting the inclusion of God in the "best" answer, with others declaring the question and answer a "joke" and stating "'God did it' is a cheap answer."

And whether or not it's cheap, it doesn't tend to be that convincing. Until one notices the asker's screen name: goodisgod.

Well, there you go. Whether one agrees with the answer or the selection of that answer (over all the other, more scientific answers offered), it becomes clear that none of the objections in the comments are going to convince the asker of anything.

Personally, I am fascinated by the amount of emotion spent on both sides (those who agree and those who disagree), implying that there was the likelihood of either side being swayed even a tiny bit.

(As though anyone ever changes his mind in the 21st century.)

And apparently, those who select the featured stories for the Yahoo home page wanted to spotlight that. Along with pointing (in one of the other featured stories) how people are searching for the singer in the new iPod commercials (Feist).

It's the internet, people; it's about what's popular, not what's right or wrong. And it's definitely not worth getting all worked up over.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One likes to believe in the freedom of music

Recently I was talking about music with someone who had borrowed someone else's iPod and was making notes about what to download. She did not restrict the notes to songs, but to artists.

It did not take much to discern that she would not be paying for the songs.

Concerns about the legality and morality of file-sharing aside, I pondered having such an arrangement from another angle (that I do not get the impression is something those who engage in such things worry about): If one need not restrict one's input of songs based on monetary restrictions or based on what's available at a store, how would one know when to stop? Obviously there are issues of memory, but with hard drives as large as they come these days (and the ease of getting external ones to augment the storage capacity of the computer) that's not much of a hurdle to overcome. So if one has access to what is essentially an unlimited selection of music, without the restriction of what one can afford to spend, conceivably the only limitation one would have is the amount of time one has to devote to downloading. What reason would one have to refrain from simply downloading everything one thinks might be even of vague interest?

What would be of concern to me in such a scenario: How could one listen to that much music? Certainly one could play that much music, by loading it on a portable device and putting it on while one went through one's day, but that wouldn't really be listening to it; that would be hearing it in the background while one conducted one's duties. One could devote a certain level of concentrated attention to some tracks, but not to the entirety of the collection. Much of the collected music would simply be collected for the sake of collecting it.

Not that there is anything intrinsically awful about that. However, it is not so much fueled by liking music but by liking the acquisition of music, which is a different thing.

To "listen" to a song once is, by and large, not enough times to get a true appreciation for it. Once may be enough to determine whether it is something that holds appeal for one's tastes or does not, but even that's not much of a test. However, to really get to know a song, to be able to sing along with it, to really get it inside of you, one needs to listen to it. Many, many times.

But how is one to do that if one has more songs at one's disposal than one could realistically listen to unless one did nothing but listen to them without focusing on any other activity (including sleep)?

~

My rumination on this amassing of downloaded music and the impossibility of listening to all of it to the point where one would have true familiarity with every single track seeks only to establish that: one has more than one can handle. I do not claim that there's anything wrong with having more than one can handle, however.

Obviously the people who just download en masse in that manner have no issues with doing so nor with the challenge of actually listening to it all. The question was what would prevent one from downloading everything in the absence of outside circumstances (like running out of money) to stop it.

I imagine the answer is that eventually the novelty wears off. The thrill of acquiring all those music files wanes. At some point the effort to maintain and track all those songs—especially if there's only a certain percentage one really likes—becomes… effort.

It is entirely possible, however, that such people are simply way better at managing their time than am I. They may also have greater mental capacity for getting a feel for a song with only a listen or two.

So all I was doing was explaining a question that was not asked, in a manner that ultimately was not that interesting.

I kind of figured I'd springboard into why I bother to pay for a subscription to emusic (rather than just find out from these people who download how they do it), but that's not likely to be interesting either. (However, I will note that part of my reluctance to download from file-sharing sites is the feeling like I'd be obligated to, you know, share. And I'm not inclined toward that, which is why I don't mind paying a modest fee for what I get.)

It's all about being fair to the music. Or something.

(Sure, that ending sucked, but just wait until it's remixed.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

TV Party... averted

Under other circumstances, I might be tempted to compose "Doug's completely unnecessary and utterly pointless set of glib reactions to the upcoming fall TV schedule." I would list what upcoming shows held any interest for me based on the highly unscientific criteria of what I thought of them based on the commercials and other promotion I had seen. (Given that I am not a television reviewer or in any way involved with the entertainment industry, I have seen nothing else on which to base opinions.)

While that could conceivably be rolled into a general statement about the efficacy of the ads and billboards and stories in the press (like the last week's EW), it would ultimately be rather worthless data on a very specific demographic group (me), and as I don't tend to be heavily influenced by the commercials that sponsor the programs on network television, I doubt I am the sort of individual sought by those who make decisions on the networks. Thus, the only thing to come of such a venture would be to further demonstrate how reading my opinions are not the best use of anyone's time. I assure you that I wouldn't have insightful observations nor witty remarks. Frankly, I doubt I'd really be inclined to offer even brief explanations about why I was interested or not; such a venture seems more like justifying my reactions when the reactions are not based on intellectual investigation but on knee-jerk pseudo-intuition, so there was no justification other than to tell the reader that the reactions were as genuine as I could muster. That would render them pretty well devoid of humor, as any modicum of irony would have to be avoided.

So it would pretty well boil down to the readers either agreeing with my unconsidered assessments based on their likely unconsidered assessments and thinking that we have something in common (eh, there are worse methods for determining commonality), or disagreeing with my unconsidered assessments based on their likely unconsidered assessments and thinking that I am an idiot (which they should have concluded based on reading everything else) and utterly dismissing the point of ever reading even my semi-considered opinions. It would be a shameful attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the current pop cultural event (the coming TV season) for the sake of attempting to jump on that bandwagon.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what these other circumstances (implied by the opening sentence) might be under which I might be inclined to compose such a piece. I suppose I figured there must be such circumstances, but that was probably a mistake on my part.

Thank goodness I caught it before wasting everyone's time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Generally useless

"To generalize is to be an idiot." - William Blake

~

The only accurate general statement I could hope to make is the ridiculously obvious one: All generalizations are inaccurate. The attempt at pseudo-paradox there is likely to be off-putting for readers in a way that negates any power the statement have had otherwise; it reeks of trying too hard to be clever (even though the thought itself came with relative ease, truth be told). Of course, the speculation about how readers would react could very well be construed as a paltry attempt at reverse psychology, where they are only turned off by the notion of me suggesting what turned them off. And the way the sentences in this paragraph keep following this pattern runs the very real risk of losing whatever readers have bothered to stick with it this far.

So the only recourse left available to us at this point is to delve back into the specific, but that throws down the proverbial gauntlet to the reader to decide whether he/she agrees with the details of the example offered.

Honestly, I am as flummoxed as you regarding why this is still going. The only explanation I can offer: I really am as screwed up as you're thinking I am. And now you're thinking that the ploy of self-deprecation is intended to steal the argument (so to speak) in a rather pathetic attempt to elicit some modicum of sympathy, when all I can say about that is if that was my motivation it was unconscious. However, you're not buying that, not merely because you cannot believe me that oblivious to my mind's inner workings but because I've made you dismissive of everything I say by suggesting you're dismissing everything I say.

For the love of all that is decent in the world, please stop reading! I implore you—cease running your eyes over the words in front of you! It's entirely likely that I'll keep on going, caught in a loop of neurotic self-analysis.

No! Don't refute that this is not particularly self-analytical, and that any implicit neurosis is not to blame for the way this continues. There is no point in you trying to render any sort of logical conclusion from this; I assure you that one is not coming, and you would be well-served to limit your expectations now to avoid inevitable disappointment.

Egad! I just did it again. There's little point in apologizing; you wouldn't believe it to be genuine after all these implicit and explicit moments of ostensible manipulation that were nothing more than trying to anticipate your reactions and account for them in how the piece went after that, and which succeeded only in burying itself all the further.

That deprecatingly accurate assessment you found off-putting, but if you're still reading at this point you have expressly ignored direct pleas earlier in the piece, and I doubt either of us can really have much empathy for our combined suffering. This went as it did, and if you're reading this far you stuck with it for reasons about which even I cannot guess. That's on you.

Specifically.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Area of mild intrigue: Cal Plaza

An area of downtown L.A. that mildly intrigues me, but which is probably not that interesting, all things considered, but of which I took some mediocre pictures nonetheless, in an entirely half-hearted effort to kinda document it:
The eastern portion of California Plaza, which is built over Olive St.

Looking up Olive St. from 4th St. as it passes underneath the portion of the Water Court built over it.

The different layers of California Plaza... at night, no less!

Why stop building just because there's a four-lane street in the way?

Don't turn around

Recently I was in a food court having lunch and I overheard two individuals seated behind me. I couldn't make out their conversation that well (nor was I trying to), but every so often I caught a line about "paladins" or the beginning of a sentence starting with "If they don't die right away…" (or references along those lines). After discerning a few of those I concluded they were either vigilantes or (more likely) discussing a fantasy-themed video game. (In years past I would have jumped to thinking they referred to a role-playing game, and that may very well have been what they were talking about, but that's not my default assumption any more.)

I happened to glance up when they departed the dining area and was a bit disappointed. It's not that they didn't meet my slight expectations; they more or less exactly met my expectations. Black t-shirts, shaggy hair, glasses, somewhat overweight. They may not have been the spitting image of the stereotypical geeky gamer, but they weren't far off.

I was a little bit sad that what I would have imagined they looked like proved to be pretty close to how they appeared.

Now, I concede that they have the right to look like whatever they please. They are under no obligation to intentionally derivate from a stereotype. I'm sure there's ways in which someone might look at me and think me stereotypical in some ways, and I'm not saying they'd be wrong. I grant that, like anyone else, they presumably move in social circles where their appearance is tacitly reinforced, and it is such that they are comfortable with it. They are who they are, and there's nothing wrong with that.

My reaction reveals only something about me, nothing about them. I must have some inclination toward breaking stereotypes. I'm not sure why. I don't think I've been the victim of such pigeonholing to put a chip on my proverbial shoulder about it. It must be more a matter of liking to believe not everyone falls into a clean little demographic group, because I suppose I fancy the notion that I don't. Perhaps I like to think there's more to people than meets the eye, and conforming with a stereotype serves to undermine that (even though it's perfectly acceptable, and of course, there must be some basis for how the stereotypes get started); our minds are inclined toward classification anyway, but it's likely there's something about when that's not so easily done that interests me. I'm not sure.

It's not a dilemma for me, of course. I got over it within seconds of when they disappeared from view. If I were to consider it a source of distress, the only recourse would be to assume that most people really are as predictable as they appear to be, and where's the fun in that?

I already have my moments of abject misanthropy without succumbing to that level of pessimism about my fellow humans.

And the fact that I don't play video games has nothing to do with fear of being associated with that stereotype. At least, I don't think that's why. Of course, I am hardly in a good position to explain all of my behaviors.