January 31, 2010

Plan D

So — as I have discussed at length elsewhere — following thesis-completion in December I felt pretty grotty. And though I've been on an undeniable upward trend since then, the grottiness has continued, on and off, and so eventually I decided to go to the doctor about it.

The doctor in Edinburgh was fairly sanguine about the whole thing, but did a blood test and asked me to repeat it once I was back in Boston. So I did, and the doctor here, convinced there was some more sinister diagnosis to be made, took several extra litres of blood (it felt that way, anyway) and finally pronounced last week that the problem was likely a vitamin deficiency — specifically vitamin D, of which apparently I had the lowest level she had ever seen.

Now, my first reaction was something like, "Pfft, you should try practising medicine in Scotland for a few years, lady." But then she sent me a copy of the report and a prescription for ultra-strength D supplements, and since then I have been forced to reconsider that knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the jerk), for two reasons:

1. The normal range of vitamin D (at least, according to the lab that did the testing) is 20–100 ng per mL of blood, with anything below 30 being cause for concern, and anything below 20 being, by definition, deficient. My level (and I still find this simultaneously hilarious and terrifying) was 4, which makes it sound as if I should have been dead or something — and I'm sure is worse than even the pastiest of Scots.

2. I took the first of my prescription-strength supplements yesterday (N.B. they are so strong I am to take only one PER WEEK), and MAN!, I feel fucking fantastic! The stuff is like liquid sunshine! I cheerfully walked two miles home last night, at 1 a.m. and in well-below-freezing weather, bouncing to my iPod the whole way and ready, at the end, to walk five more. And this was after two hours at capoeira in the afternoon, too! I haven't been so chipper in weeks — in fact, I was so perky yesterday that Mallory asked what I'd taken.

Well, the answer is: VITAMIN D! Glorious, better-than-sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll vitamin D! Huzzah and hurrah and long may it grace my bloodstream!

I think this is a sign I should move to a sunnier climate.

January 29, 2010

January 28, 2010

Andrew Evaluates Yesterday's Momentous Events

On the iPad:

Please, everybody, for the love of God, stop making pantyliner jokes. If ever there was evidence that Facetwittertube has infantilised the masses — or at least made more socially acceptable the sort of stupid potty humour that used to only be okay in private — it's that people can't see Apple's new product without giggling over the menstrual cycle. Did anybody make this kind of joke when IBM/Lenovo released the ThinkPad? Do people sit in Asian restaurants snickering about the pad thai? Was anyone that entertained by Natalie Portman's Padmé Amidala from the Star Wars prequels? (Answer: no. Nothing about those movies was entertaining in the slightest.) Quite apart from anything else, it's such an obvious gag that it isn't even that funny to begin with. FFS.

Anyway, I have to say that I'm fairly nonplussed by the iPad. I read one tech commentator describing it as a useful blend of smartphone, Kindle and laptop, which I guess I agree with — but those three things on their own each do their respective jobs much better than the iPad does any of them, so why would you want one if you already had even two of the others? Smartphones let you, you know, make phonecalls; Kindles let you download e-reader content without WiFi or a monthly fee; and laptops have bigger screens and can actually run real applications (Jobs made a joke about buying the iPad keyboard dock for when you want to "write War and Peace", but who's going to do that in a slimmed-down version of Pages, for God's sake?).

I can sort of see it as a neat replacement for newspapers/magazines, but frankly I'm not sure I'm willing to pay $500 for a "newspaper" that I'd feel nervous about reading on the subway; and I can sort of see it as a neat replacement for, say, a paper notepad, except there doesn't seem to be any accommodation for inputting text longhand (no, I wouldn't want to write War and Peace that way, but it would be nice to be able to scribble quick notes without having to call up a keyboard, or even just cross stuff off a list with a swipe). So what's the point?

On the State of the Union:

Fucker can give a good speech. Also, unlike during his campaign, I actually did kind of perceive some substance beneath the good speech, which was nice. But I question how much extra traction it will actually give him on any of his initiatives.

Taking the Republicans to task on their stubbornness might have been a nice soundbite for frustrated liberals, and likewise with his promise to meet with the GOP leadership once a month, but I suspect both will just alter the rhetorical stance any naysayers need to take to defend their positions ("I'm not blocking the bill out of partisanship, I'm blocking it because I genuinely believe it takes the country in the wrong direction"; "I suggested alternatives to the president but he wasn't interested in pursuing them").

Considering the overall gun-sticking tone of the speech, I was also a little disappointed he didn't actually stick to his guns more on healthcare. It's fine to make jokes about the healthcare bill being political poison, and full of gravitas to admit that he didn't do a good enough job explaining the philosophy behind his vision for healthcare — but so why not take ten **&£!!ing minutes to EXPLAIN THAT PHILOSOPHY BETTER?! This is the biggest audience you'll have all year, and the best opportunity to directly reach the electorate, so why not swallow some of that political poison you're apparently so nonchalant about and set out your healthcare beliefs and a plan for achieving them? "Take another look at the plan we've proposed"? How much wishy-washier can you get?

Still, what do I care? I'm going to move back to my socialist utopia eventually, anyway, and get all the free healthcare I need. Take that, Mitch McConnell!

January 26, 2010

Information Is Even Beautifuller

The current craze in statistics is "information design", or compressing complex social, political and economic issues into pithy and colourful GIF files that make those murky issues a little easier for the layperson to grasp. But I say, why stop there? Surely the information in infographics can be made even simpler; why waste time deciphering a highly detailed image when FIVE WORDS can do the job in seconds?

After the jump are a few examples, all courtesy of David McCandless's seminal Information Is Beautiful blog — mouse over for the improved versions.

January 22, 2010

January 20, 2010


So last night, Republican Scott Brown cruised to a flabbergastingly comfortable victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to replace Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy.

The New York Times ran with the following analysis of the results on the front page: A Year Later, Voters Send a Different Message.

Actually, NYT, I'm going to have to disagree with you there and say that voters have sent pretty much the same message they send at every election in this country: we are indecisive and impatient, and are for the most part so mindlessly anti-establishment that we will, on principle, vote against the ruling party because we simultaneously believe that they have too much power and that they are incapable of getting anything done.

In her concession speech, Coakley praised her campaign staff and supporters, saying, "We never lost our focus or our determination" [N.B. because they didn't have any in the first place], and "I know how hard we worked" [N.B. NOT AT ALL UNTIL ABOUT TEN DAYS AGO].

Scott Brown, meanwhile, celebrated his victory with a brash terrorist fist bump:

I hope you're happy, Massachusetts.

January 19, 2010

Hustler and Bustler

From FOXNews.com: Russian Hackers Jam Automobile Traffic with Porn
Traffic jerked to a standstill as rubbernecking motorists ogled a pornographic clip posted by hackers on big-screen video billboards in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported Friday.
I'm sorry, there was porn on a billboard and what happened?
Traffic JERKED to a standstill.
Well played, FOX News.

January 18, 2010

Pros and Cons

The campaigning in the increasingly frantic Massachusetts senator race reached a new high over the weekend, with both sides bringing in high-profile supporters to stump for them at eleventh-hour political rallies.

Martha Coakley, most notably, was joined at a campaign event by President Barack Obama, and given that Massachusetts voters sided with Mr Obama in the 2008 presidential election by a margin of roughly 800,000 votes, I'd say the Democrats have it pretty well sewn u—
In a rally of his own at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, which drew nearly as many people as the Obama rally, Mr. Brown said the “Democratic machine” had been caught off guard by his surging popularity. He surrounded himself with local legends, including Curt Schilling, the retired Red Sox pitcher [who, in 2004, famously helped the beleaguered Boston team win their first World Series since 1918].
Aw, crap. If there's one thing that will sway pretty much any Massachusetts voter it's a legendary Red Sox player. (Massachusetts political trumps go like this: Ace = a Red Sox player, King = a Kennedy, Queen = a Kennedy wife, and so on all the way down to Two, which I believe = John Kerry).

Still, Massachusetts is a pretty liberal place, I'm sure one little Red Sox player couldn't possibly overturn more than forty years of Democrati—
Mr. Brown held his “people’s rally” . . . [joined by] a cast of local legends, including Mr Schilling; Doug Flutie, the former quarterback for the New England Patriots; and John Ratzenberger, who played the affable mailman Cliff Clavin on “Cheers.”
Awwwww CRAP!

Okay, okay, but I'm sure even the Democrats have more to offer than just Obama; they must have a ton of other beloved local figures lined up to offer their suppo—
Thomas M. Menino, the mayor of Boston, expressed the urgency of the moment on Sunday to a crowd of fellow Democrats, declaring: “Get off our butts. Let’s go out there and find our friends.”
Well, that healthcare bill sure would have been nice. Oh well.

January 16, 2010

Census Violence

I'm applying to be an enumerator for the U.S. Census this year — finally putting that sociology degree to good use! — and yesterday I had to go take the employment test.

The test itself was nothing too taxing (because that's the IRS's job, wah-wah!), and mainly asked you to do things like alphabetise names and perform a little basic arithmetic (sample available here). What was infinitely more taxing was restraining myself from strangling one of the other women taking it.

Right from the start she was complaining, in one of those upper-middle-class sense-of-entitlement ways that just drives me absolutely up the wall: first she was mad because nobody told her she would need to bring ID (she had ID with her, so I'm not really sure why this was a problem anyway); then she was mad because it was taking too long for the proctor to check everybody's ID; then she was mad because a few guys turned up late and she didn't see "why we should have to wait for them"; then she was mad because there was noise in the corridor and she "couldn't concentrate" (NB. this was before the test had actually started); and finally she was mad that the proctor wouldn't score her test first, because she didn't want to wait around.

So — ahem — a few choice words for you, madam:

1. I don't know what's so important in your life that you need to rush off — it clearly ain't work because YOU'RE APPLYING FOR A JOB — but when you weren't paying attention to them explaining that you'd need to bring ID, they were also explaining that you should allow two hours for the entire process, which in the end finished after NINETY MINUTES, i.e., ahead of schedule — and this despite the single proctor on duty having to stop what she was doing every five minutes to deal with your incessant kvetching.

2. I suppose it's because the Census Bureau is a government agency — and you're undoubtedly one of those people who likes to constantly remind government employees that your taxes pay their wages — that you feel justified in acting like the proctor is there to service your every unreasonable whim. But, once again, I am forced to remind you in all caps that YOU'RE APPLYING FOR A FUCKING JOB! The conventional approach in such situations is to toady to the person in charge, not to expect them to toady to you. (Sub-point: again, recalling that you are applying for a job and are therefore presumably unemployed, your taxes aren't paying shit, so simmer down.)

3. Since you were working right up to the wire, looked positively terrified when the proctor announced there were only five minutes left, and, judging from the murmuring that went on when you were finally told your score, you did poorly on what is essentially a dumbed down high school maths quiz, I am forced to conclude that you are neither qualified to be a census taker nor qualified to feel high and mighty about anything — so please kindly remember, before you get your velour track pants in a twist next time, that your nice big house in Cambridge doesn't make you a better person.

Thank you.

January 15, 2010

Conversations With Greatness CCLXIV

I would like to point out, by the way, that I'm not just jumping on the Leno-bashing bandwagon — I've been doing it for months.

January 13, 2010

Breaking News: Haiti Earthquake Caused By NBC

PORT-AU-PRINCE — In the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti, an unlikely culprit has emerged to claim responsibility: the National Broadcasting Corporation.

"We weren't content with only sending shockwaves through our late night schedule," explained NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker. "This is our way of getting NBC back on the map. You know, that little map in the earthquake infographic in USA Today."

NBC brought about the horrific seismic disturbance in the Caribbean Sea by attempting to move Cuba half a klick to the east, displacing Haiti, though Haiti swiftly issued a statement saying that it would reject the proposal. "Haiti further into the Atlantic simply isn't Haiti," explained the document. "And we cannot participate in what we believe is its destruction."

Meanwhile, other islands in the Caribbean were quick to pounce on the morass; Turks and Caicos's reaction was particularly biting, with the popular resort destination spending all day Wednesday dressed as Cuba. Puerto Rico was less vitriolic, though it still devoted much of its morning to jokes about the rift.

All eyes, of course, continue to rest on NBC — right where they should be.

January 11, 2010

Ah, Remorse!

January 10, 2010

Note To Fiction Authors:

Always check that your story's main characters have only ONE name each, rather than alternating at random between two different names, often mid-scene. Ideally, this check should be performed BEFORE you submit your story for publication.

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Slush Reader

January 08, 2010

January 06, 2010

They Were Playing Baseball?

Whoever wrote this article should be grounded. DAOAFDA?

January 05, 2010

Man Flew

Evidently the universe, having been robbed for two years running of its usual opportunities to inflict travel-related misery upon me on my birthday, has decided to extract the karmic balance several times over this month. (I’m not sure what I did to deserve such bad travel karma in the first place. Did I oversee the galley of a slave-powered longship in a past life? Did I take the piss out of Skymall one too many times?)

I declined to rant about my trip home on the 23rd because I figured nobody wanted to hear about it, and it seems even less relevant now, so long story short I eventually got to Edinburgh seven hours late that day — which was pretty awful, though yesterday certainly tried to trump it.

So I wake up at 4:30 a.m., having not fallen asleep until probably 2 a.m. in the first place, in order to catch my cab, which — and perhaps I should have seen this as the omen that in retrospect it clearly was, and stayed in fucking bed — didn’t turn up because of heavy snowfall (by Edinburgh standards) the day before. Only when I was halfway to my dad’s, on foot, to help him dig the car out, did the taxi appear, so I turned around and hoofed it back to my mum’s. And after that, everything seemed to go smoothly: I got to the airport in plenty of time, had a delicious breakfast, breezed through security, and arrived in Manchester for my connection to Newark a full ten minutes early!

And that was when, at 7:45 a.m., after I had already been awake for three hours (AND MADE MY INITIAL FLIGHT!!!), the airline staff decided to tell me that the Newark flight, due to leave at 9 a.m., had been delayed until 3:20 p.m.

Now, rather hilariously, Continental doesn’t have a dedicated customer service desk beyond security at Manchester, and the people at passenger assistance — who, bless ‘em, did a great job, considering — were telling people to call the airline. So I did, three times, and each time, somehow, got the same lovely old Jewish woman, who by our last call was recommending books and assuring me that soon we’d be boyfriend and girlfriend, but was unable to do anything else except tell me that there wasn’t any other way to get to Boston unless I wanted to pay for a first class ticket on another airline (and with Manchester airport as my oyster, why would I ever do something like that?).

So let me tell you about Manchester airport: it caters pretty much entirely to the worst stereotypes of British holidaymakers you can imagine. Consequently it is full of places to buy cheap booze, and slot machines, and not much fucking else. The choices for food in Manchester airport are as follows: a Burger King; an Americanoid restaurant with an improbable name like “Frankie and Dino’s Bad-a-bing-bam Steak and Burger Diner Extravaganza”; a canteen-style place serving full English roasts; and a sandwich place offering fresh, handmade sandwiches (all of these, by the way, also served lager, with the exception of Burger King). If that doesn’t sound Dantesque enough to you, please also consider that every few hundred yards there was, for some reason, a Dance Dance Revolution machine wired to play “Cotton Eye Joe” on endless loop, which constitutes an odd sort of white noise that was drowned out only by the constant swish of shellsuit leg against shellsuit leg.

If I seem to be getting a little bit too bourgeois here, you’ll have to forgive me: sitting in an airport at nine o’clock in the morning while people chug lager around you and then decant themselves onto planes bound mainly for Mediterranean islands isn’t good for a lot except reminding you of class boundaries. Still, I did my best to find a quiet corner, and started on my book, and eventually dozed off until noon when I was paged by the customer service people. I was dreading some new wrinkle, like, that Newark had dropped off the face of the earth (a good thing under any other circumstances) and that my flight would instead be landing in Savannah, Georgia, from where we would be transferred to a 1979 John Deere combine harvester and towed to the Massachusetts border.

But it turned out they merely wanted to give me a meal voucher to compensate me for all the inconvenience, of which I had apparently suffered only £4’s worth. Armed with my bounty, I set off to find myself some lunch, and by the time I was finished eating I had to get in line for the extremely “friendly” extra security pat-down and, eventually, onto the plane.

The sun had just risen when I landed in Manchester yesterday morning, and it was setting as I left. There aren’t many more depressing ways to end a seven and a half hour delay in an airport than getting on a seven and a half hour flight, but after that the rest of the trip did, at least, go off without another hitch, and they even cut my wait in Newark down and got me home only six hours behind schedule. So I guess nine hundred words is about as much as I can reasonably complain.

And now, I resolve never to fly anywhere ever again.

January 04, 2010

Conversations With Greatness CCLXII

I realised yesterday that I completely forgot to post (or even write) a CWG on the 1st. Probably not a good sign for the coming year...

January 03, 2010

Plus Ça Change...

While cleaning out some old boxes this week I came across a copy of The Freakin' Beakin' — a regular Emerson publication that satirises The Berkeley Beacon, that other, better-known (marginally) Emerson publication — from November 2001, when I was a freshman. The two cover stories are "Emerson Lacks 'Formula' For Diversity!!!" and "Liebergott Loses Emerson College", which I think could pretty easily appear on the cover of the Beakin' even today — a fact simultaneously comforting and depressing.

Anyway, the Liebergott thing made me LOL so much that I thought I'd republish a few choice sections for current Emersonians to enjoy — since the website for the Beakin' and Hyena (the student organisation responsible for it) seems to have become an ad for penis enlargement products. Either that or a really convincing but not in the slightest bit funny parody of one.
[On Friday night] President J. Slappy Liebergott lost the entire Emerson campus in an ill-fated poker wager. The "Dean of the Green" as she become known, was down several hundred thousand dollars when, in a desperate move, she bet the entire Emerson campus. […]

Dean Ludman, Dean of Ludmania, said, "Not to worry, the administration has been preparing for this contingent for some years now. A second Emerson campus has been secured and will be in operation shortly. Our alumni association has pooled their resources to buy a 1968 Chevy Impala, which is the same type of car that Coolio rode to the beach for his video, 'Fantastic Voyage.' Emerson students will still be getting the same hands on approach to communications, media arts, and Coolio that they were before."
Supplementary question: why is this so much more lucid than the papers of many of my freshmen?

January 02, 2010

Bit Parts That Time Forgot

I have a longstanding January 1st tradition of watching terrible, terrible movies on TV instead of going outside to immediately grab by the horns the new year's metaphorical bull of boundless potential. (I'm sure many other people have similar traditions.) In the past I've treated myself to such masterful crapfests as Lightning Jack and Night at the Museum; one year the Sci-Fi Channel was doing a marathon and I watched Star Treks III through V; and last year I was in Vegas so instead of a movie Mallory and I went and saw Stomp (still relevant!).

This year I'd already jumped the gun with Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus in December, so my choice to ring in 2010 was Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Widely renowned as being the Andrew Johnson of the franchise (i.e. the shittiest, and e.g. here), it pits Christopher Reeve's Man of Steel against a variety of anaemic foes: Gene Hackman reprising his role as Lex Luthor, Jon Cryer doing his best to try out for the "half" in Two and a Half Men, the spectre of the Cold War, and Nuclear Man, an evil "clone" of Superman with a tragically Eighties set of fake nails, an obvious steroid problem, and the worst case of Seasonal Affective Disorder in recorded history (he draws his power from the sun, so all one needs to do to scupper him — and these do actually happen in the movie — is close the curtains, have him step into an elevator, or, of course, push the moon in between the Earth and the sun and cause an eclipse). In between all that Reeve also has to contend, as Clark Kent, with an overzealous cougar, an aerobics class, and a ridiculous set piece along the lines of Mrs Doubtfire in which he attempts to go on a double date with two women at the same time.

And then there's the cabal of three nuclear arms dealers who contract Luthor to destroy Superman in the first place: the first two, unremarkable American and Russian stereotypes respectively, are played by equally unremarkable actors William Hootkins and Stanley Lebor; but the third, the inexplicably French Jean Pierre Dubois, is played by a rather feckless looking JIM BROADBENT, apparently still trying to find his niche. Broadbent gets about one minute of screen time, all told, in which he is introduced by Hackman as an "arms smuggler extraordinaire" who supplies "zee black marquette", in an embarrassingly clumsy piece of exposition. He does little in that scene except nod and bug out his eyes in a "I'm a foreigner who has trouble understanding English and is therefore slightly confused and terrified" sort of way; his moment of glory doesn't come 'til later when, having been introduced to Nuclear Man, he screams something suitably spineless like "sorry, Mr Luthor!" (his only line) and runs away — into the waiting arms of eventual international stardom, presumably.

It's a fairly forgettable performance, obviously, which is probably just as well as as far as Broadbent himself is concerned. But to an audience now, twenty years later, who know the man as an accomplished character actor and Oscar winner, the novelty of his appearance is a welcome high point (which isn't saying much) in the midst of so much other buffoonery. If only Renee Zellweger had crept in somewhere, too, we could have had a quirky Bridget Jones prequel and a really fascinating piece of cinematic history. Oh well.

January 01, 2010

Sourcing My Sites

As dedicated readers surely know by now, I like to kick off the year with a quick review of my Google Analytics stats, and for this year I can happily inform you that I received 6,490 unique visitors, an increase of 29.5% over 2008. Rather than dwell too much on the numbers, though, I thought I'd show you the top ten posts, by number of pageviews, that visitors viewed on the blog. So:

10. "I Don't Want to Put You Out, But…". A rant about the Olympic torch, and all the protests that surrounded it in 2008 while it was on its way to China. My favourite part: "I'm all for a good symbolic tradition, don't get me wrong. That whole Easter egg thing is right up my alley."

9. "Blood Is Thicker Than Water". This was a stupid lookalike joke that I wrote in a drunken haze (probably) during the Fringe this year. It's only popular, I think, thanks to a combination of Google juice and lack of mainstream coverage of the story — though she really does look like Paul Giamatti.

8. "Meta-Procrastination". Out of everything I've written on my blog, I think this is actually one of my favourite posts, ever. It was certainly very satisfying at the time.

7. "Why I'm Glad I No Longer Study Sociology". Another rant, this time about a stupid cultural studies paper that I even more stupidly assigned my freshmen to read. My favourite part: an earnest Esperanto fan actually taking time to comment about Esperanto thanks to a throwaway one-liner I made implying it was an irrelevant and difficult to understand language. ("Interesting mention of Esperanto!")

6. "Recycling Jokes". Extremely popular, practically non-post this year, because of an inexplicably large number of search referrals from people looking for its eponymous subject; eventually eclipsed by actual recycling jokes (see below).

5. "Hello Photoshop, Goodbye Evening". Stupid and yet embarrassingly time-consuming (thanks to dial-up internet) Photoshop gag from when I lived in London. I'm extremely gratified that it's still bringing in visitors. My favourite part: zing match with Ken in the comments.

4. "Reasons Why Britain Is Better Than America, #1452". A frivolous lawsuit thrown out by a British judge inspired this fairly forgettable rant, which nevertheless became (and remains) a rich source of hits from people searching for "reasons why Britain is better than America" (and vice versa).

3. "Bewildering Spam of the Day". Another fairly forgettable post that became one of my top traffic sources this year, presumably from other people who were similarly bewildered. My favourite part: yet another earnest commenter who seems to have missed the point entirely.

2. "Facebook Fail". I wondered immediately after I posted this one whether or not the commenter I was making fun of was actually misunderstanding on purpose for comic effect — in which case bravo on them but shame, I suppose, on me. Became one of my most popular posts this year presumably because its only text consists of two of the (presumably) most-searched-for words on the internet.

1. "Actual Recycling Jokes". As I mentioned in the original post, and above, "recycling jokes" has been a bizarrely popular search referral for me this year, and so in this post I thought I'd give all those frantic Googlers something to talk about. It's not one of my proudest moments, particularly, but I tend to delude myself and think it must be getting used somewhere to teach people about recycling. So I feel okay about it.

And finally — just because — my five favourite search referrals from this year:

5. dan beirne (6 visits)
4. fuck americans and their tipping (1 visit)
3. my chicks have hatched what now (1 visit)
2. i want to buy a fucking kilt (1 visit)
1. postmodernism i am a pineapple (2 visits)