June 27, 2008

June 24, 2008

Apple and the Appalling Apostrophe

As some of you may know, I'm kind of an Apple fan. I have been using Macs since I was four years old — way before they were cool, obviously — and have a healthy well of respect for the company despite the numerous times I have suffered at their evil-bastard-hood. Charging iPod Touch users for software updates was bad enough, though that wasn't the worst thing they've ever done to me — let me weave you a tale.

When I was fifteen or so I was a lonely kid, and one of my many extremely cool hobbies was running a small website devoted to all things Mac. I wrote software reviews, created art on a Mac, provided links to other Mac websites... It was fantastic, let me tell you. And it had an awesome name, too: ".Mac". I came up with that all by myself, and was pretty damn proud of it. I'd soon attracted the attention of two other teenage Mac geeks and before long we were publishing a monthly newsletter, hosted, on the initiative of one of my co-authors, at www.dotmac.com.

This must have been in late 1999.

So then, in 2002, a few months before Apple's .Mac service was made public, they sent us a cease-and-desist letter claiming that we were infringing on their Mac trademark. Except "cease-and-desist letter" doesn't really capture the tone they used therein, which was actually extremely pleasant. They even offered us £300 to give up the domain! To three eighteen-year-olds, this was exciting stuff. £100 each! Just imagine all the beer! So we gladly accepted and the cheque was soon in the mail.

And then Apple launched their $100 a year subscription service and promptly made ten squillion dollars. £300 must have seemed like a pretty good investment for them. Needless to say I was pretty pissed. It was pretty much the dirtiest trick Apple has ever pulled, as far as I'm concerned — bribing children! They may as well have offered us a bag of candy each. And yet, despite all that, I've still bought three Macs and three iPods since. I even caved and bought a .Mac subscription eventually — though, man, am I bitter about it.

Now, though, they have gone too far:

With your PARENT'S money?! Unless daddy cheated on mommy and is paying your tuition in alimony, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the copy should read: "with your PARENTS' money." What a boneheaded, unbelievable, glaring mistake. Poor show, Apple. Poor show.

Ahem. I will now purchase a new iPod.

June 20, 2008

June 17, 2008

Get In My Belly

It's only six weeks until the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off for 2008, and, as I will ONCE AGAIN be back helping to rule the Underbelly box office with an iron fist, I spent this morning starting to get myself up to speed with what to expect this year:

•One of our performers from last year who complained — I swear to God — every night about how unprofessionally our venue was run is BACK again! I can't understand it. He really seemed to hate us. There were angry crying fits and everything. I guess we must have bought him a bunch of free drinks at the end of the month or something.

•A couple of our more popular shows from last year have, predictably, moved on to other venues. Underbelly is great for smaller gigs, but when you're selling out one hundred seats every night at £8.50, it doesn't really make much financial sense to stay with us when you could go to, say, Assembly, and sell out three hundred seats every night for £14.50. That's Fringe-o-nomics: if you're one of the lucky few who can actually make money in August, you go for it. Of course, those shows that leave the Underbelly will miss our charm, and our skill at accommodating their exasperating demands — and, of course, the venue's unique character — but we can always hope that they'll remember us when they make it to Parkinson one day.

•We're getting a couple of minor celebrities this year! I'm particularly excited about Lewis Schaffer, a London-based stand-up with whom my improv troupe and I shared a couple of mixed bills last year. His material is pretty sharp, snarky New Yorker–type stuff — though on one memorable night in Islington he decided to close his set by trying out some Madeleine McCann gags he'd been working on (this was still just a few weeks after she went missing). He was booed offstage. Then it was our turn to go on. Thanks, Lewis!

•We're also getting a couple of bona fide celebrities this year, including Joan Rivers (yes, the Joan Rivers!), and Scott Capurro. Capurro is probably most readily recognised as the gay make-up artist in Mrs Doubtfire who was not Harvey Fierstein. He is also the person from whom I heard the best Canadian joke ever:

Q. How do you get five hundred Canadians out of a swimming pool?
A. Say, "Please get out of the swimming pool."

•Remember those three geeky computer hackers from the X-Files? Well, one of them (the one who kind of looked like Garth from Wayne's World) is doing an improv show, in which an entire episode of the X-Files is extemped every night. I'm very curious.

Before that, though, I have to finish summer school, move house, and design a syllabus for the class I'm teaching in the fall. Wish me luck.

June 16, 2008


This came up on the Mini-Feed of someone I went to high school with today:

So, I'm guessing that at some point between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m., Paul's lucky lady logged in to Facebook...

June 15, 2008

Learn Turkish, Marx and Engels Style

Although Conversations With Greatness has long been popular with the Dutch and the Germans, today the illustrious ranks of inexplicable European CWG fans have been joined by... the Turkish! ek$i sozluk, the Turkish MetaFilter (more or less), has sent 140 visitors to the CWG microsite in the last two or three weeks — an increase of about 140 visitors!

Now, my Turkish ain't great, and neither Google nor Babelfish will translate it, but my knowledge of CWG has allowed me to at least work out which strips cause particular Turkish delight (wah-wah).

The first entry on CWG says something like "Nineteenth century intellectuals [konulu] bombastic comic series", and then proceeds to transcribe what is clearly CWG XII:
[yılbaşı partisi, tüm çete oradadır]

weber: parti nasıl, hoşuna gidiyor mu?
durkheim: evet de, kızlar nerde?
w: biz 19. yüzyıl akademisyenleriyiz. kızların önemli olduğunu düşünmüyoruz.
d: ah, tabii.
w: biraz daha şampanya?
d: god, yes.
Apparently there is no direct Turkish translation for "God, yes." But it seems like "kizlar" means "girls", and I would imagine that "tüm çete ordadır" means "everyone is wearing hats" (you might want to remember that one if you're going to Istanbul anytime soon).

Next, they transcribe CWG LXII (this one took me a while to work out, I'll admit), from which we learn the very useful Turkish phrase: "şeyyyy... 20 papel borç alabilir miyim?" (Or, "Say, will you lend me twenty bucks?")

They then move on to CWG XXVI — which yields the extremely useful vocabulary item "smileylendirilmiyecek", or "smiley face" — and CWG XXXIX, which you should check out if you want to know the Turkish for "Is this jerk bothering you, Fred?"

I will now, naturally, sue the pants off Turkey.

June 14, 2008

Monkey Business

If you haven't heard, the latest election issue/Obama smear/mountain made out of a molehill being discussed in the blogosphere these days is The Obama Sock Monkey. Turns out that some guy in Utah thought he'd cash in on Obamania by selling a loveable, plush, toy version of the candidate — the only problem was, he decided that the best medium in which to capture the true cuddliness of Obama was the sock monkey, and now the whole internet is calling him racist. Indeed, even the NAACP said the toy was "pure racism at its extreme".

Hmmm... Tell me, NAACP: on the continuum where a stuffed monkey is "pure racism at its extreme", where does a lynching by the Klan rank? Let's try and cling on to a tiny shred of perspective, shall we?

Now, look, I'm a reasonable guy and I'm certainly no fan of racism, but are we seriously getting our knickers in a twist over this? Yeah, okay, so it's kind of an unfortunate choice in retrospect, but don't you think that if the guy selling the monkeys really wanted to make a racist statement about Obama, he would have chosen something a little less oblique? A sock monkey named after a black guy is about as offensive as a Fat Albert t-shirt.

Besides, it's not as if this is the first time it's ever occurred to someone to make a stuffed animal based on a real person. To wit, the Vermont Teddy Bear company is currently offering bear versions of all the presidential candidates. And the Obama bear is — gasp! — BLACK! Somebody get the NAACP back on the line! (The Muffy company has also been making celebrity bears for almost thirty years, including Amelia Bearheart, Albeart Einstein, and Bearb Ruth — pictures here.)

I don't know if you know this, America, but just because Obama is a black guy, it doesn't mean that every single reference to him is directly related to his being a black guy. Sometimes a toy monkey is just a toy monkey. It's going to be a looooong four years if he gets elected without the rest of the country getting over this knee-jerk, alarmist fear that somehow we are oppressing him with every breath. Yes, racism is bad; and yes, we should be vigilant — but not to the point of absurdity. And I would say that the point at which the NAACP is calling a sock monkey "pure racism at its extreme" (to broad consensus on the topic!) is about where absurdity begins.

Let's move on.

June 13, 2008

June 10, 2008

What's D Problem?

From Parent Dish (via Netscape): Parents of girl brought up on vegan diet may face charges
Parents of a 12-year-old Scottish girl may face charges after the child was brought to the hospital with a degenerative bone disease. Doctors say that she has the spine of an 80-year-old, caused by a severe case of rickets, which occurs when a person does not get enough vitamin D. . .

Though doctors are not yet commenting on the case, some feel that her condition was caused by the strict vegan diet she was raised on since birth. Vegan diets don't allow meat, fish, or dairy, which are good sources of vitamin D (as is the sun).
Surely we should also blame the parents for bring up their child in Scotland, then.

Also, "the spine of an 80-year-old"? What kind of diagnosis is that?

DOCTOR: Mr Jones, I have some bad news.
MR JONES: What is it?
DOCTOR: You have the feet of a 45-year-old.
MR JONES: *gasp!*
DOCTOR: And and I'm not too happy about your eyes of a 12-year-old, either.
MR JONES: But he wasn't even using them!


June 08, 2008

The Price of a Shave And a Haircut, and Misspelt Slang For Breasts

Does anyone else find it slightly giggleworthy that Germany defeated Poland in football today?

(I have a feeling I've made that joke on my blog before, but can't seem to find any evidence of it.)


Speaking of football, Friday night I had the fortunate distinction of getting to see the Brazil national soccer team playing live (enthusiastic, drunken, yellow-clad, amorous supporters, and all), and the slightly more dubious distinction of getting to see the Brazil national soccer team lose 2–0 (to Venezuela!). I then proceeded to have the decidedly unenviable experience (not a distinction, for reasons that will become clear in the next part of this sentence) of spending two hours waiting to get out of the stadium's parking lot, along with 54,000 other people.


Today I was visiting a Target in Abington, Massachusetts, and passed a church with the following written on its marquee-style sign outside:


Which if nothing else has a nicely haiku-ish feel to it.


I am currently reading the new novel Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. I was skeptical about its premise (a "phantasmagorical" book about cricket and September the 11th), but have been pleasantly surprised so far; it is book seven from my summer reading pile, and I think I would happily rank it in second place so far. That puts it behind Lolita, but ahead of High Fidelity, Falling Through the Earth (Danielle Trussoni), Out Stealing Horses (Per Petterson), Dancing To "Almendra" (Mayra Montero), and The Almost Moon (Alice Sebold), which was freaking terrible. Still to come are Delizia! (John Dickie), Crime and Punishment, The Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan), and The Twenty-Seventh City (Jonathan Franzen). I think that will take me comfortably to the end of August, but if anyone has any further recommendations, do let me know!


...I am still trying to make the "different ways of saying 'bits and bobs'" gag work, clearly. But I think this may be my last attempt.

June 06, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CLXXXIV

EDIT: Sorry for earlier image problems. I blame .Mac. And the enormous Democratic conspiracy to get Obama elected at any cost.

June 05, 2008

Oh, Yeah — That's Cool

I was browsing in the Harvard Co-op's bookstore the other night. And right there, in the front of the store, on one of the display tables marked "Odd, Curious and Cool", was a neat little stack of...

Copies of the U.S. Constitution.

Those Ivy League liberal bleeding hearts have gone too far, this time.

June 03, 2008

Guest Star Trek

I'm about to reveal how deeply geeky I am.

Last night I saw the movie version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest for the first time (I'd already read the book, several years ago). I will say from the start that it is a damn good film and the fact that it swept the Oscars that year is no big surprise.

But something that did throw me when it started was that Nurse Ratched (one of the finest characters ever written into a novel, and one of whom I had a pretty strong mental image) was played by none other than recurring guest character Kai Winn from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (better known to her friends as Academy Award–winner Louise Fletcher). It was striking, partly because she doesn't look all that different now than she did thirty years ago, and partly because the two characters had so many similarities (widely feared, unsympathetic, authoritarian, etc.).

So there I was, appreciating this fine piece of American cinema on an extra, nerdy level, and suddenly I'm thinking to myself, "You know, wait a minute, didn't that kid have a recurring guest spot on Star Trek: Voyager. too?" And, indeed, the actor playing Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif) played the victim of a mind meld gone horribly wrong in a few episodes of Voyager's first season.

This is about where I should probably stop talking.

Then I'm taking a closer look at Vincent Schiavelli, who played Fredrickson, and it dawns on me that he was in an episode of The Next Generation way back when that show started.

"And for that matter," I think (because I'm on a roll, now), "Didn't Christopher Lloyd play a klingon in one of the Star Trek movies?" (Yes, yes he did… In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.)

This is about where my girlfriend leaves me.

So now I'm thinking, this is kind of weird, so I go to IMDB (I swear, I had to go to IMDB for the rest of these) and discover that there was a second TNG guest in the cast (Michael Berryman), and even a veteran of the original series (Peter Brocco)! Which means that, going by the thirty credited cast members, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is twenty percent Trek! Doesn't that seem high? Can anyone think of another Best Picture winner that has even close to that percentage Trek in it? I submit that it is impossible.

On a related topic, several of those who were not in Star Trek at any point in their careers were either in The Incredible Hulk or The Twilight Zone, so they can't exactly take the moral high ground. Also, one of the men was in an adult comedy called Sinderella and the Golden Bra, and one of the women in a film called The Man From O.R.G.Y. (synopsis: "Steve Victor (Robert Walker Jr.) is the head of a sexual research organization. When a wealthy madame dies, he must locate the three heirs, all prostitutes who have identical tattoos on their posteriors").

For the record, I no longer watch Star Trek. Though I'm kind of curious about The Man From O.R.G.Y..

June 02, 2008

Down The Tubes

From BBC NEWS | England: Tube drinks party sparks mayhem

So, since I don't live in London anymore, I guess it kind of passed me by that newly elected London mayor Boris "Don't call me a tosser" Johnson was planning to ban drinking on the Underground. He announced the new law almost immediately after taking office, and it took effect yesterday.

Now, I've never had any problems with drunks on the Tube (other than a guy who threw up across the aisle from me, once), and I grew up in a place where public drinking is okay, and I'm certainly no Boris Johnson fan — but it seems to me that a well-conceived ban on drinking on public transport could probably have some benefits. (No one would have had to clean up that vomit, for a start.)

But instead, as I understand it, Johnson literally just said "no more drinking on the Tube" and that was that. No extra staff. No new training. Basically, the plan was that current Tube employees would be responsible for asking people to stop drinking, and everything would work out perfectly. Of course, a lot Tube employees are weak and pallid and a little rusty with the ol' social skills (because, to be fair, they spend the bulk of their days sitting by themselves in underground tunnels), and are pretty ill-equipped to deal with roving gangs of drunken louts. The Rail Maritime and Transport Union even pointed this out.

Johnson, though, would not be deterred, and the ban went ahead as scheduled.
Londoners celebrated the occasion, naturally, by throwing a massive binge-drinking session on the Underground. It was called "Last Orders" and was meant to give public boozing a fitting send-off. Says the Beeb:
Six London Underground stations were closed as trouble flared when thousands of people marked the banning of alcohol on London transport with a party.

Four tube drivers, three other staff members, and two police officers were assaulted, and there were 17 arrests.

Several trains were damaged and withdrawn from service, which led to suspended services.
Fitting, indeed.

Now, conservative policy wonks will no doubt (and have, in fact, already) pointed to the drunken blowout as evidence of precisely why a ban on drinking is needed, but hopefully they won't get away with it. Mass orgies on the Circle line are a far cry from the isolated groups of drunken yobs that normally patronise the Tube, and I'm amazed, frankly, that it didn't turn out even worse. But instead of going in prepared and nipping things in the bud before they got really bad, the authorities were left with this debacle — a nice legacy, I'm sure, for all those Tube drivers who are going to have to start asking people not to drink in the coming weeks.

Anyway, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: boo on poor planned public policies!

Maybe I should run for mayor.