Posts from April 2005.

Cell Shock

We bought some refrigerator magnets for The Squirrelly. They required batteries. I’m not kidding.

Modern parenting is often dumb.

Update: Okay, I have to grudgingly admit that this Fridge Farm Magnetic Animal Set is kinda cool. The batteries go into a big barn that has a rectangular area in the middle of it; the other magnets are animal halves. So if you put a sheep’s forequarters and a pig’s hindquarters into the barn, for example, it will play a song about how you made a “Sheeppig.”

It’s like a training kit for future genetic engineers. Maybe if The Squirrelly plays with this enough, he will someday figure out how to splice together cows, tomatoes, mustard seeds and pickles, and invent the holy grail of the fast-food industry: the pre-condimentimized burger. Hell, if he can figure out how to work some potato and cola bean genes in there, he might make an animal that can produce an entire Wendy’s combo meal. Then he winds up a bajillionaire and The Queen and I ride the gravy train into retirement. Or, at the very least, he pays us back the fifteen bucks we paid for these stupid magnets.

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Movies: Sin City

I like comic book movies, even when I don’t particularly care for the comic books they are based on. Hellboy, Blade, The Crow — even The X-Men is an example of a film I enjoyed way more than the source material.

I’ve read a couple of the Sin City trade paperbacks, and found them largely uninteresting. The characters, action, and dialogue all seemed lifted from Mickey Spillane novels and back issues of The Punisher. Plus, I’m no fan of Miller’s art — where others see a distinctive style, I see a guy who can’t draw a straight line. And if I wanted my story in black & white, I’d just read a novel.

But black & white motion pictures I like. And as I said, I’ll go see pretty much any comic book movie, regardless of my opinion of the book. So I caught of late show of Sin City last Friday. Based on the trailer my expectations for the film were moderately high, and they were exceeded by a considerable amount.

Sin City contains three stories which, while distinct, share a few overlapping characters, settings, and elements. They are told in a noir style that’s so hyperbolic as to border on parody: all the women are buxom, all the men can take a bullet and shrug it off as a flesh wound, all the villains have a distinct look and a distinct method for dispatching their victims. Bruce Willis stars in the first chapter, and essentially reprises his world-weary tough-guy role from Pulp Fiction and Unbreakable. (That’s a good thing — he’s really good at that role*.) His portrayal of a good cop beaten down by the unrelenting corruption of his force sets the stage for all the subsequent tales, each of which features a few of Basin City’s rare noble citizens struggling for justice in a town where everyday life is akin to that of a maximum security prison.

Frank Miller is cited as the film’s co-director (he’s even given top billing over Robert Rodriguez) and his presence is noticeable. The movie has just the right amount of “comic book physics” — cars go over hills and catch 10 seconds of air, strongmen shatter wooden doors with a single punch — but still feels tethered, if just barely, to the real world. That the scenes look just like something out of a graphic novel is not my subjective opinion — check out these side-by-side comparisons of panels from the books and stills from the movie and marvel at the exactitude. It’s as if the Sin City graphic novels were the storyboards for the film.

And, in fact, I think that’s why I didn’t like them. I went back and reread The Big Fat Kill after seeing the movie, and it doesn’t seem like a finished product; it seemed like the rough draft for something great. And that something great is now showing at a theater near you.

* So good at this role that I has me thinking the unthinkable: Bruce Willis as Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Somebody make it quick, before I come to my senses.

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Spam Update

Out of curiosity I dug around in my gmail Spam folder a bit and found three legitimate messages squirrelled away in there. I labelled them “Not Spam,” but since then gmail has been all pissy, like, “well well, look who’s the expert on Bayesian filtering. Maybe you’d just like to sort your own email, Mr. I’m-better-at-identifying-spam-than-100,000-servers.” So now all “Sma|lCap c0mpany in the right sect0r” announcements go right to my Inbox. I’m not sure what to do now. Maybe if I sent gmail some flowers and an “I’m Sorry” e-card?

Also! remember how I was whining about all the comment spam this site receives? Problem solved. I installed MTModerate [info] over a week ago, and nary a single comment spam has slipped by yet. NARY I SAY! So far it’s been 100% effective in completely blocking comment spam, which is pretty great but, if I had my druthers, it would just strip the URLs out of the submissions and leave the comment text, since most of them say things like “wow great blog keep up the good work” and, frankly, my ego always appreciated the boost.

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Breotches

Sweet Betsy From Pike
Folk Song
c. 1870

Oh don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who crossed the wide prairie with her lover Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yellow dog,
A tall Shangai rooster, and one spotted hog?

Well Ike and Sweet Betsy attended a dance,
And Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants …

I’m not one to overly romanticize the past — I like living in a world with more flavors of ice cream than strains of smallpox — but I think we can all agree that the tradition of every county having their own pants should be revived immediately.

That would be so awesome. Just image: me at a party, chillin’ with my homies, some young punk in low-riding jeans pimp-rolls over and gets all up in my grill, saying, “yo, what up wit the tan khakis, grampa?” And then I’m all like “best be steppin’ — King County pants repraZENTS!”

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Tricks of The Trade on NPR. Maybe.

If you (1) have submitted a Trick of the Trade that I’ve used (a) either in the original article or (b) on the Tricks Of The Trade website and (2) live in Seattle (or thereabouts) and (3) are interested in being interviewed for a NPR radio piece, please drop me a line.

If you (1) only meet the latter two conditions above and (2a) have a great trick that you haven’t got around to sending me but (2b) would like to do so now, here is the submit form. Please put “Seattle” in the Occupation field (e.g., “[Seattle] Skydiving Instructor”), and be sure to include your email address.

Weasel Warning: (1) assuming this actually happens (not assured) I’ll (2) only be able to interview three or four folks, but (3) that will not prevent me from using any good tricks I get sent from people hoping to be one of them, because (4) I am an opportunistic bastard.

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For Whom The Bell No Longer Tolls

The Squirrelly’s teeth have extruded or protruded or whatevertruded, so he’s feeling a hundred jillion times better* than he was last week, and is once again as delightful to have in your company as a case of Pilsner. And he’s already putting the new choppers to use. This morning he became mesmerized by my wedding band, and after struggling to take it off my hand for a few seconds he suddenly bit my finger just below the ring. No harm done, but if his first words are “my preccccious” I think we’re going to be concerned.

The teething discomfort must have ended sometime Tuesday night, because Wednesday morning I took The Squirrelly out of his crib, put him on the changing table, and then — on the spur of the moment, and despite the fact that he hadn’t smiled at anything in four days — put his pants on my head. Unexpectedly, he totally cracked up. I didn’t know that 13 month-olds had a good enough grasp of the absurd to recognize that “pants on head = laff riot,” but maybe The Squirrelly is an early bloomer in the appreciation of comedic genius. At any rate, the kid has been a fount of grins and giggles ever since.

But there is one bit of bad news here in the Baldwin household. I regret to announce that while the rest of the Laugh & Learn Learning Home works fine, the doorbell — previously mentioned here — has gone to the great playroom in the sky. Its demise was sudden, but I’ll never forget its final words:

“Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-                                 “

How true. How true that is.

But grieve not for the Laugh & Learn Learning Home doorbell. It’s purpose in this world was to be pushed, and The Squirrely helped it achieve that goal several hundred times per minute. It had a good life, rich in both dings and dongs.

Rest in peace, Laugh & Learn Learning Home doorbell. Now that you’re gone, we certainly will.

* Exaggerated for humorous effect.
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Wearing That Cross Must Have Been Uncomfortable

Me and The Queen chit-chat after work:

The Queen: Have you heard the Pope speak?

Me: Which Pope?

Q: The one who just died.

M: Have I heard him speak? Since he died? No, have you?

Q: Yeah. They had some clips of him on NPR today.

M: What’s was he saying? “Braaaaaaaaaains! Braaaaaaaaaains! But no condoooooooooms!”

Q: No, these were clips from before he died.

M: Ah.

Q: I’d never heard him speak before, and his voice sounds just like somebody else’s.

M: Whose?

Q: Someone really famous.

M: Okay.

Q: Do you want me to tell you?

M: Or I could just listen to the clips online.

{pause}

M: But you’re clearly dying to tell me. So, okay: who does the Pope sound like.

Q: Dracula. A really, really bad Dracula.

Judge for yourself.

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Books: Oracle Night

Note: This review is part of the Booklist 2005 Project.

I hailed Cloud Atlas as “the best book I’ve read in years.” For a week, at least. Then, seven days later, I finished Oracle Night by Paul Auster, and that novel usurped the “best book” title. I’d never heard of Auster before, but after mentioning my admiration for the novel to some friends, they replied knowingly that he’s one of the best in the business. I’ll have to read a few more tomes by the guy to determine if I agree with that assessment, but I was certainly taken with the the way Night was written.

The story is set in 1982, with protagonist Sidney Orr recovering from a near-fatal illness. An author by trade, Orr has been unable to muster the energy or inspiration to write during his recuperation. But his muse returns in force after Orr wanders into a paper store and purchases a mysterious blue notebook. Here the focus of Night shifts to the story-within-the-story, as it devotes several dozen pages to describing the narrative that Orr is jotting in his notebook. From this point on the novel switches back and forth between Orr’s reality and the fiction he is penning (and sometimes even to stories within Orr’s story), and curious parallels between the two begin to emerge. That an author’s work would mirror his own life is of course unsurprising, but the stories that Orr writes in his blue notebook are not only reflective of his past, but, in some cases, also eerily predictive of his future. In fact, soon after he resumes his craft, Orr’s life becomes as convoluted and intriguing as that of the characters he’s created.

Oracle Night is written in first-person, as if in a journal or a letter to a friend, with Orr relating the tale several decades after the events occur. This informal tone makes the book feel unusually intimate. Though the story is rife with odd coincidences and forces that appear to be borderline supernatural, we understand that Orr is providing us with an honest — albeit subjective — account of the events, and that he has no more insight into the strange occurrences than the reader does. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed the unresolved ambiguities in Night, whereas I criticized Cloud Atlas for same. Night is like a ghost story told to you by a friend — you don’t know whether to believe every element of the tale, you only know that he believes them all. And this aspect adds yet another layer to a book that already has more levels than a parking garage.

One thing I disliked: the book is infested with copious footnotes, some of which run for several pages. I guess they were intended to further the illusion that Orr was providing us with as full an account as possible, but they only served to pull me away from the main story and send me off on tangents. And I didn’t have the willpower to simply not read them. Aside from that, though, I thought Oracle Night was fantastic, and I look forward to reading more by Auster. If his other novels are as good as this, I’m sure I too will be raving about him in the near future.

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Google Maps Satellite

Google has integrated satellite photos into their map service. Click the link in upper right-hand corner.

And I’m the only one who finds this a little unnerving?

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Idea!

You know what would be really funny? If someone made a comedy movie and the bad guy character was named Richard and everyone called him Richard throughout the whole movie but then at the end when the good guys wins he (the good guy) said “See you later — Dick!” and the bad guy looked all steamed because in addition to being a legitimate nickname for people named Richard “dick” is also a euphemism for male genitalia. If anyone uses this be sure to credit me.

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