Posts from April 2005.

The Bad Review Revue

A Lot Like Love: “To call A Lot Like Love ‘dead in the water’ is an insult to water.” — Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

The Amityville Horror: “How dare anyone put this piece of crap in front of me? How dare anyone put it in front of you?” — Stephanie Zacharek, SALON.COM

xXx – State of the Union: “So primitive, it must have been written in lizard blood on animal skin.” — Stephen Hunter, WASHINGTON POST

Cursed: “The best thing that can be said about Cursed is that it’s scarier than Teen Wolf Too.” — Nicholas Schager, SLANT MAGAZINE

King’s Ransom: “Dumber than the worst UPN sitcom.” — Elizabeth Weitzman, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The Jacket: “The characters are so flat and the dialogue so dull you expect it to be one of those movies whose existence is justified by a big final twist. But it’s three days after the screening, and still no twist. Maybe it’s coming in the mail?” — Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

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Newer Rule

Matt Haughey invented a new Internet rule. I did not know we could do that. I assumed that new Internet rules had be approved by the W3 foundation or Al Gore or the Gnomes of Z

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URL ABCs

I want to drive a phenomenal amount of traffic to my site, but I don’t want to go through the bother of writing something funny or clever or thought provoking. So maybe I’ll try my hand at spawning a blogmeme instead.

These are my URL ABCs:

How to find your URL ABCs: Type the letter ‘a’ into your location bar, copy the first URL that your browser autosuggests as a completion, and paste it into the corresponding field below. Repeat for letters ‘b’ through ‘z’. You may add a comments as well, but they are not required. You can skip a letter if you’d like, or you can supply a comment for a letter even if you omit its URLs (to explain that nothing came up for that particular letter, for instance). When you are done, click ‘Format My URL ABCs’ and this script will return the HTML code you can paste in the comments of the URL ABCs post , use on your own site, or print it out and enclose it with your next Kelly Osbourne fan letter. Whatever.

Letter URL Comment
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z
List my URL ABCs as a bulleted list: yes no

Print comment following URL (e.g. “A is for apple.com — I love my iPod!”):
yes no

Use comment as link’s title attribute (e.g. “A is for apple.com “):
yes no

Note: This may only be an interesting exercise with Firefox or Mozilla, both of which offer autosuggestions in descending order of last accessed (the sorting algorithm may also take the frequency of access into account as well). I don’t know what IE does. If it just cough up URLS in alphabetic order — and, after a little experimentation with my rarely used copy of IE, I think this might be the case — then picking the first one off the top doesn’t really reveal much about you.

Update: I just realized that my spam filter — which automatically blocks comments that contain > 20 hyperlinks — has been preventing people from posting their ABCs in the comments. Sorry about that — the filter has been temporarily disabled.

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See Ya

News … on the march!

Syrian Troops Say Farewell to Lebanon

Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon today with a farewell ceremony near their shared border ...

Hahaha. Yeah I bet that shindig was a hoot. Like a retirement party for a coworker that no one liked.

I can see the Syrians opening their “We’ll Miss You!” greeting card and feigning delight at the enclosed $50 Applebees gift certificate, while Lebanonese duck in, grab plates of Safeway chocolate raspberry sheet cake, and start sidling toward the exit.

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Hero Of The Year

The Hero of the Year has been announced! Read all about it at The Morning News.

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Reality Bites

Occasionally large, heavy objects fall on both my wife and our remote control, simultaneously turning on the TV and immobilizing The Queen, leaving her no choice but to watch some of the worst television programs ever aired. Or so she would have me believe when I wander into the living room and find her riveted to The Swan or American Idol. When she notices me she’ll sort of start guiltily and exclaim “I was trying to find Nova! And I completely accidentally came across this! And then I … I, uh … uh …” and then she trails off and her eyes drift back to Extreme Nanny Makeover Swap III.

I think the low point came when I caught her watching Colonial House, a reality show on PBS. Yes, you heard me right: PBS has reality shows. But they’re public television, so they have to be all educational and dignified and shit, right? So instead challenging contestants to eat centipede feces or whatever, they do the sixth-grade play “The First Thanksgiving” writ large. In the case of Colonial House they stuck all a bunch of people in a remote community and made them pretend like they were living in 1628, which they did with remarkable verisimilitude except, possibly, when (1) one of the indentured servant announced that he was gay and the whole community pelted him with accolades for his bravery instead of cobble, and (2) one of the colonists walked a few miles to the nearest modern town for a cheeseburger and beer (really).

“It’s a bunch of people dressed in itchy clothes and pretending like they live in ye olde olden tymes?” I asked, when The Queen explained the premise to me. “Good lord, you’re watching a televised LARP!” I continued to mock her for several more seconds, until it dawned on me that, of the two people in the room, only one was geeky enough to know what “LARP” stands for. (And, let’s me honest: when PBS holds Seattle auditions for Gamma World House, the guy at the front of the line in the mutated badger costume will be me.)

But there’s one terrible, terrible reality show that The Queen doesn’t even try to hide her addiction to. She enjoys it so much that she gets excited about it days in advance. On Sunday afternoon we’ll be in the middle of a discussion about whether cauliflower should be refrigerated, and she’ll suddenly gasp and say “My trashy show is on in three days!” “Trashy show” are her words, not mine. Although they are also mine now, since last Wednesday I was conscripted into watching the show with her.

Yes, dear readers: I watched America’s Next Top Model.

The Queen has been trying to get me to watch it for ages, and I caved when she upped the ante by adding yet another “really” to her description; as in “You should watch it: it’s really, really, really, really bad.” (Curiously, this advertising technique always seems to work for me.)

I figured, what the hell: even if the show sucks, at least I’ll get to look at hot girls for an hour, right? Bzzzzzzt, wrong. First, it looks they cast the show by going to a local high school and herding the drill team into a van. Second — how do I put this diplomatically? — I like curves, and these girls are about as curvy as a yardstick. Regardless of who wins, America’s Next Top Model will have to visit the Old Country Buffet every day for a month before I’ll ever steal furtive glances at her in the Old Navy catalog.

Thirdly — and this is what makes the show entertaining, or so The Queen assures me — you get the distinct impression that none of these ladies are exactly mathletes, if you catch my drift. One of the reoccurring features of the show is that the host, Tyra Banks, sends the contestants cryptic little notes hinting at the next event they’ll be asked to participate in. They are like the puzzles that the Riddler is always sending, except, instead of solving the enigma and charging off to apprehend the villain, imagine Batman and Robin reading the riddle and then just sort of staring off into the middle-distance for a while, befuddled, before wandering off to touch-up their roots.

Yep, it was an atrocity, all right. Some of the more cringeworth moments:

  • In one scene, a girl (I don’t know which, I didn’t bother trying to keep them straight. The skinny one.) complained “This competition is getting so competitive!”
  • In another, one of the girls went to an event wearing this t-shirt:
  • They did a photoshoot based on the seven deadly sins. Afterwards, while evaluating the photos, the judges bad-mouthed the girl who got stuck with “gluttony” because she looked fat.
  • Also, not ten minutes after they had reminded us that “pride” is a sin, one of the judges gave a long and unironic speech to one of the contestant about how crucial it is that we all be filled with pride in ourselves.
  • And in the big, final, “who is going to get kicked off the show” climax, one of the girls got criticized for not having “a good face for makeup.” I DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND THAT WTF AMERICA??!!?

When the show ended, The Queen and I had the following exchange:

Q: See? Awful, huh?

M: Even worse than you promised.

Q: So now you’re as addicted as I am.

M: And that’s where you’re wrong.

Q: Oh c’mon. How can you not watch it? It’s like a train wreck.

M: Tell you what: if the next episode features those girls in an actual train wreck, I’ll watch.

Q: Whatever. You’ll make a big show of not watching next week, but as soon as it’s over you’ll be asking me who got kicked off.

Pffft. I’ll so totally be not asking her who got kicked off. Not when I can just search Google and find out for myself.

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Repopelican

New pope intervened against Kerry in US 2004 election campaign:

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican theologian who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, intervened in the 2004 US election campaign ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters including presidential candidate John Kerry. In a June 2004 letter to US bishops enunciating principles of worthiness for communion recipients, Ratzinger specified that strong and open supporters of abortion should be denied the Catholic sacrament, for being guilty of a "grave sin" ...

Hmm. You have to wonder what Ratzinger received in return for this favor. I mean, let’s look at the facts:

  • Karl Rove “went on vacation to Italy” three weeks ago.
  • Shortly thereafter a new group called Noah’s Ark Veterans For Truth springs out of nowhere, and begins airing commercials questioning the character of nearly all of the cardinals except Ratzinger.
  • Likewise, Ratzinger is the only cardinal not mentioned by name in the book, released one week after John Paul II’s death, entitled Unfit For The Popemobile.
  • Ratzinger has never explained the mysterious bulge that was seen in the back of his frock while he delivered his homily last Friday, nor why he shouted “now let me finish!” in the middle of it.
  • Ratzinger frequently mentioned the crucifixion of Christ in speeches and even went so far as to wear a cross around his neck in a cynical attempt to capitalize on the tragedy for theological gain.
  • Also notice that Satan was almost never mentioned by Ratzinger, despite the fact that he remains at large and is unlikely to be captured any time soon.

I’m not saying it was payback, but it sure looks suspicious to me.

Of course Rove may have helped just to stay in practice for 2006.

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The Twelve Man / Thirteen Man Problem

If you enjoy Sam Loyd, you may also want to check out my post Sam Loyd’s Trick Mules. – MB

Every few years the “twelve man / thirteen man” puzzle makes its way around the Internet. And every time I see it I am baffled.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here. That’s an animated gif, so keep watching until things move. When the image first appears, count how many men there are. Then, after the top halves swap, count them again. The first time you should count twelve; the second, thirteen.

I’ve long suspected that I could figure out the trick if I really applied myself but, slacker that I am, consistently given up after a minute or so.

Well, I came across the “twelve man / thirteen man” illusion yet again today. But this time there was an accompanying image by Matthew Sturges, one that colors the men and shows both their start and end positions. I took his image, added numbers, and finally think I can see what’s going on here.

There’s two reasons this is so hard to wrap your mind around, I’ve concluded. The first is that the drawings look unrefined, which both disguises the fact that the solution is very subtle, and gives the viewer few key features to use as reference. About the only clearly identifiable body parts are heads, torsos, arms, legs, crotches, and feet. Note that their hands are all hidden behind their backs — crafty, that.

The second reason this illusion tends to defy analysis, I think, is because there is no “smoking gun” solution to it, something you can point to and say “Aha! Here’s where the 13th man comes from.” That’s because the thirteenth man comes from all twelve of the others.

Look at the start configuration and note that there are twelve of each body part: twelve heads, twelve torsos, twelves pairs of legs, etc. Now look at the end configuration and note that there are thirteen of each body part. That makes it seem as if a thirteenth person has somehow materialized.

But now narrow your focus. Instead of looking at the whole pictures, just pick a single body part. Pick a man in the first picture, look to see where your chosen body part is, and then look to see where it ends up in the end configuration. Now repeat this for all twelve of the men. In all cases — and this is the key point, kids — one of the twelve instances of a body part in the first picture is bisected and used twice in the second.

For example, let’s look at faces. Man #1’s face in the first picture is below the divider, so it remains with man #1 in the second picture; man #2’s face (along with the rest of his head) goes to man #9; man #3’s face goes to man #10. So far so good. Now look at man #4. His face is split in half, with the top half going to man #11, and the bottom remaining with man #4. In other words, the single face owned by man #4 in the start configuration is now two faces in the end configuration; in other other words, where there were twelve faces there are now thirteen.

Pick another body part, do it again, and again you’ll see that one of the body parts in the first picture is split and used as two in the second.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Hair: #1 -> both #1 & #8
  • Face: #4 -> both #4 & #11
  • Arms: #2 -> both #2 & #9
  • Torso: #9 -> both #5 & #9
  • Crotch (i.e., point where legs meet torso): #5 -> both #5 & #12
  • Legs: #12 -> both #7 & #12
  • Feet: #10 -> both #6 & #13

So in the second picture we get a new head of hair, a new face, a new pair of arms, a new torso, a new crotch, a new pair of legs, and a new pair of feet — all of which adds up to an entire new person. But these parts are distributed amongst thirteen different composites. Thus, you can’t point to any one person in the second images and say “he’s the new one.”

[There used to be a few more paragraphs here describing which men in the first picture contributed what to whom in the second, but Jon's illustration, in the update below, neatly summarizes everything.]

If you’re still not getting it, take a look at this simplified version of the illusion, where I magically turn five lines into six:

The “twelve man / thirteen man problem” operates on exactly the same principle, although it’s cleverly convoluted to make it seem like there’s more going on. Notice, for instance, that, on the average, the men in the second picture are shorter than the men in the first, as is the case with the lines above.

Incidentally, this is a variation on Sam Loyd’s famous “Get Off The Earth” puzzle, which you can read more about here.

Update: Good gravy, I can’t believe I’m got to spill yet more virtual ink on this. But I did say I wanted this to be the definitive page on the subject, so here we go.

Some folks in the comments and claiming that the 12-13 Man Problem is waaaaay more straightforward than I am making it out to be. “Look,” they say, “you have 12 men in the first picture. You split them into 24 halves and recombine 22 of those halves into 11 people. Then — and this is the entire trick — you point to the remaining two halves and claim they are full people. 11 + 2 = 13 men. In the final configuration, the two ‘half men’ are #1 and #13, each of which gives up a half and doesn’t get one back.”

They people making this argument are absolutely right: that’s how the trick works in principle, and I said as much in giving the illustration of lines. But they are ignoring the key element that makes the 12-13 Man Problem different from the line example. If you bisect a line you can truthfully call each of the resultant halves a “line,” but if you cut a person in half you can’t claim that you haven’t really done anything because each of the two halves is a person itself. (Believe me, when I used this line the police were not impressed …)

The 12-13 Man Problem is so baffling because each of the final thirteen men looks like a full person, even the two “half-men.” And it’s not just #1 and #13 that are involved: if you were to take the missing half of #1 and the missing half of #13 and put them together, one of your men in the final configuration would consist of nothing more than a scalp on a pair of feet.

No, all the men are altered. And luckily for me, Jon over at Corporate Superhero has created an image that shows how:

In his words: “Basically, the puzzle works by cutting each person in two, taking a small slice of them (1/12 of their height) and passes it over to the right until after 12 people you end up with a whole extra person. Then the creator mixed up the order of the people so that you couldn’t see what he did.”

Thank you, Jon — your picture is worth several thousand of my words.

* * *

Good Luck With That

The Queen overhears a conversation between two 50-ish women at the bus stop:

Woman 1: The next time I marry, it’s gonna be to a Christian.

Woman 2: Oh?

Woman 1: Uh-huh. I already have him picked out and everything.

Woman 2: Really? Why haven’t I heard you mention him before?

Woman 1: Well, he doesn’t know it yet. Also, he can’t stand me.

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Marketplace Music And The Next Weekend Debate

Who picks the music on Marketplace? I listen to two radio stations: the independent and kick-ass KEXP, and our local NPR affiliate. Curiously, I often hear the same bands on each: Death Cab For Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, Yo La Tango, Stereophonic. KEXP plays this stuff ’round the clock, but I also here it wedged between stories on NPR’s otherwise staid Marketplace, and I often find myself wondering “who decides to follow up a story about the AARP’s position on social security with a clip from The Get Up Kids?”

I went to the Marketplace Homepage to send them an inquiring email, but discovered that I didn’t have to: they are so proud of their tuneage that “LIKE THE MUSIC ON MARKETPLACE?” is the very first question they tackle in their Special Features section. A link takes you to Jane’s Music Blog, featuring “notes from the show’s director on what gets played and why, who is that band you heard on yesterday’s show, and … the connection between that story on global politics and the Massive Attack song that followed it.”

Though the blog isn’t updated very regularly, the “About Jane” on its side told me that the songs are selected by one Jane Lindholm, Marketplace producer, world traveller, and — apparently — fan of the Sneaker Pimps.

When does “next weekend” start? A friend and I were speaking on a Sunday, and made some vague plans to get together on the next weekend. The following day I wrote him an email and officially proposed that we get together “next weekend.”

“Sorry, ” he replied. “I’ll be out of town next weekend.”

“Wha-?” said I. “We just discussed this yesterday, and you said next weekend worked fine.”

“I said this weekend worked fine.”

“No, I distinctly remember you saying ‘next weekend’.”

“Well, I did say ‘next weekend’, but that was on a Sunday,” he explained. “Now it’s Monday, so yesterday’s ‘next weekend’ is today’s ‘this weekend,’ and ‘next weekend’ is the weekend after. Didn’t you know that’s how it worked?”

I did not know that’s how it worked.

I always thought that “this weekend” referred to the weekend you were either in or chronologically closest to, and “next weekend” referred to the weekend that followed it. So on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday morning, “this weekend” meant the previous weekend (as in, “I had a good time this weekend”) and “next weekend” meant the upcoming weekend; from 12:01 pm Wednesday to 11:59 pm Sunday, “this weekend” meant the upcoming weekend (or the one you were currently in) and “next weekend” meant the one thereafter.

I thought I’d get a majority opinion on this, so I posted the following to an online forum I frequent:

"This" weekend vs. "next" weekend debate

Today is a Friday. If I said "I'm going to eat 350 pickles next weekend," what days would you think I talking about: tomorrow (and the following day) or a week from tomorrow (and the following day)?

What about this. On a Tuesday I say "Let's you and I have sex next weekend." Am I talking about: five days from now (and the following day) or 12 days from now (and the following day)?

Bonus question: at what point in time does "next weekend" become "this weekend"?

As it turned out, there was no debate: every person said “a week from tomorrow” for the first and “12 days” for the second. Answer to the bonus question: A second after midnight on Monday morning.

The best clarification offered was “‘This weekend’ always means ‘this week’s end'; ‘next weekend’ always means ‘next week’s end’.” But it looks like I’m not entirely alone in my confusion. Over on this page, a number of folks say that “this weekend” v. “next weekend” isn’t as cut-and-dried as some people make it seem. And as one person points out, the confusion isn’t limited to time. How many times have you been giving directions to your spouse or partner while on the road, and resorted to the cumbersome locution “not-at-this-light-but-the-next-light” when telling him where to turn, knowing that just saying “next light” might result in a wrong turn and a subsequent argument about semantics?

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