Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Our new lens

Our new 35mm f/1.8 Nikon lens arrived today!  For those of you wondering what that means, perhaps this highly inspirational quote from the Nikon press release will clear things up:
When mounted on a DX-format camera body, [this lens] enables photographers to document their world with a lens that produces a picture angle similar to the field of vision as seen through the human eye.
 In other words, it's basically like looking at stuff, if you're a human.  My spine tingles.  This lens is actually really great for us, though, because we have been using a 50mm portrait lens for everything.  Our old lens takes beautiful pictures, but you have to be pretty far from your subject unless you want a closeup.  The new lens will allow us to take pictures that don't make our house look like a closet.

So far I've been able to document what I saw when I opened the fridge this morning:

Ah, the pleasures of living with small children.  That Saurolophus really made my day.

Also, I am finally able to take a picture of the bike hutch I built for $5:

Previously I would have had to stand in my neighbor's yard to take that picture.  Now you can see the whole hutch, plus a bunch of crap in my yard!  Hooray!  Oh and if the hutch looks rickety, that's just uh, barrel distortion from my new lens.  Yeah, that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

You know what annoys me?

I'll tell you what.  It annoys me when people describe their music taste in one of the following ways: (a) eclectic or (b) "anything but rap."  

The former (a) is only annoying because when somebody says his or her taste is eclectic, it's almost never true.  It usually means they like Nickelback AND Bob Marley.  It often also means that their tastes run towards the shitty, for some reason.  (Which is to say that they don't have the refined tastes of this blog's humble author.)

The latter (b) makes me want to say: really?  You're into Norwegian black metal, shoegaze, lounge music, contemporary Christian music, Shomyo Buddhist chants, Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, free jazz, Southern gospel, and Raffi*?  Just as long as nobody attempts to rapidly speak rhyming phrases over a sampled beat.  Huh.  That's weird.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: if you somebody asks you what kind of music you like, you're best off just sneering and saying "you wouldn't have heard of anything I like."  Or, you know, naming some specific bands or genres.

*(Well, not all Raffi, I guess.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Let the sucky rumpus start

As a kid I was no great fan of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are."  To me, it glorified Max (the protagonist) and his bad behavior.  Also, I thought it was silly because it was all about some jackass kid's imagination, and the last thing I wanted was to be seen as silly.  I'm not sure what was wrong with me; although I had as active a fantasy life as any other kid, I thought the imagination was just dumb.  I hated it when TV shows talked about how your imagination could take you to magical places and other such nonsense.  I loved watching Reading Rainbow but Geordi LaForge sure did like to talk about my imagination and how awesome it was.  Also, the theme song* and intro made me want to puke -- what kid wants to be Ben Franklin?  I mean, I loved reading about Ben Franklin, but it was totally beneath me to pretend to be him.  I wanted adults to treat me like an adult, but adults seemed to think the imagination was some wonderful thing only kids are posessed of.

Now that I'm over all that (Monty Python cured me of my hatred of the silly sometime around eighth grade) and have kids of my own, I really enjoy "Where the Wild Things Are."  It's a perfectly told story that gives us just a slice of a fully-realized yet tantalizingly hidden universe that only Max has access to.  Older Daughter loves the book.  Alia probably will too, if she doesn't tear it in half and cram it down our dog's throat.  (As of last night, she just roared through the whole book.)

Anyhoo, it turns out they've made "Where the Wild Things Are" into a movie.  This is a bad thing.  The preview is great and all -- I love the acoustic Arcade Fire song they used -- but WTWTA is like a 32-page book.  The world doesn't need a feature length movie about Max.  We don't need backstory.  We don't need CGI Wild Things.  We don't need to know more about the mysterious ocean voyage.  The Wild Things certainly don't need to be anthropomorphized and tamed.  We don't need subplots.  Just leave a good thing alone for once, dammit.

* I now recognize that the RR theme song is actually totally awesome.

UPDATE OF SORTS: Since writing this post (but before posting it), I have run into approving commentary from numerous friends about the WTWTA trailer.  There are a lot of impressive names behind the movie: Spike Jonze directing, Dave Eggers writing the screenplay (?!), and not the least, Maurice Sendak giving this blessing to the project.  Regardless, I remain skeptical.  Also, the Wild Things' movement looks cheesy and their faces are all wrong.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gave dude a dog

In an attempt to close the puppy gap between this blog and Craig's, Baby and I picked up a new dog last night.  Actually, my dad realized his daschund Alvin (previously pictured here) was a bit more than he could handle, so we took Little A off Dad's hands.  I had kind of anticipated this happening when we got Dad the dog (at his insistence), but I had hoped it would happen after Alvin was older and more housebroken.  Oh well -- it looks like Baby's mom might take him home with her this weekend.  

At the moment, though, things are a little rough; Ramona (our seven-year-old black Lab) wants Alvin to leave her alone and Alia is terrified of him.  Older Daughter just wants to lock him in his kennel -- not because she doesn't like him, but because she feels like that's his "home" and so she puts him there like she would put a doll in its house.  He's actually a very good dog and seems to be pretty clever, but he's quite a nipper and he pisses everywhere.  But you know, that's kind of just what you get.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My daughter the gnostic

Me: What's that you made?
Her: It's Shootplane, he shoots fire at night so kids aren't scared, but if they're scared, he sends ghosts to play with them!  Pretend it has a mouth and eyes and talks to you.
Me: Okay.  Hi Shootplane, what's going on?
Her (as Shootplane): Last night I shot fire and made the earth planet!
Me: That's great, but I thought you told me God made the earth.  [Referring to an earlier conversation.]
Her (as Shootplane): Actually, God is my cousin.  He didn't want to make the earth planet so he let me do it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Begun the SXSW has

So, I'm on spring break.  I don't technically get this week off, but I could probably have not shown up to work for the last two days and gone unnoticed.  Case in point: I had to take down the building's network for a little over an hour yesterday, and my administrator forgot to send out the email; I got one phone call about the outage.  During this time nobody in the building could print, use their email, surf the web, etc.  You would think this would be a great time for extracurricular activity, but in truth having nothing to do at work turns my mind to mush so that the only thing I can do is indulge in some newfound guilty musical pleasures* and watch Flight of the Conchords online.

Yesterday was not only St. Patrick's day but also an old friend's birthday, so I met him and several others at the Draught House pub for good times.  By "several others" I mean that there was a line out the door snaking through the parking lot** and that people in the know brought camping chairs to avoid sitting on the pavement while drinking.  It was good times, though -- I only had to wait in line for a few minutes since a friend was near the front and gave me cut-sies.  Booyah!  Take that, civility!

Spring break is an awesome time to be in Austin, mostly due to SXSW.  For the first few days -- during the film and "interactive" portion of the festival -- the town is flooded with fat, ponytailed computer dudes and thin, ponytailed movie dudes.  After that wave the ironically-ponytailed music dudes and sideponied scenester dudettes from all over the world take over the city with a million SXSW-sanctioned shows, free corporate-sponsored RSVP parties, non-sanctioned house parties, panel discussions, label showcases, etc.  It's also apparently a really great time to release massive clouds of pollen if you are an oak tree.

I'm taking the next couple days off work to hang out with some out-of-town friends staying with us and try to catch some new music.  The conversational go-to around Austin during this whole month is "so what are you going to see during SXSW?"***  I honestly have no idea what I'm going to see; other than a day party tomorrow and a showcase that night, I have nothing planned -- but the best times at SXSW are usually the ones that come up at the last minute.

* As far as guilty pleasures go, I could do a lot worse than Yelle, but I have also found some good stuff lately.

** For people in LA: in many parts of the world it is considered unusual to wait in line at a bar on a weeknight.

*** By the way, it's always pronounced "South by Southwest" and never spelled out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Five karaoke anti-jams

The key to karaoke, as I think I mentioned before, is commitment.  It doesn't matter that your voice is bad if you know the words and you can sell your song.  However, there are certain songs that should be avoided unless you really know what you're doing.  These are they:

1. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen); Other people would like to use the stage sometime tonight.  Also, if you're picking this song, you probably think you're being original.  You're not.  Attempt this only if: you hate humankind and want to inflict pain others.

2. Virtually any rap song; Even the worst rappers have better flow than you.  I promise.  You just don't know it because you've never rapped in front of a crowd before.  Also, you don't really know all the words to Gin and Juice, let alone City of Compton.  And there's nothing less entertaining than watching you laugh and read the lyrics off a TV.  Even your friends aren't laughing with you.  Well, except the really drunk ones and the ones who have a secret crush on you.  Actually, maybe that's a good relationship test -- if s/he laughs through your shitty rap karaoke, then s/he's still in the infatuation stage.  Hold off on any major decisions until s/he is at the "politely feigns amusement" stage.  Attempt this only if: you are a rapper.

3. Any song you don't know the words to; Arkay and I once did Whitney Houston's "I want to dance with somebody." Did you know that song has bunch of parts that aren't the part that says "I wanna dance with somebody, I wanna feel the heat with somebody?" Yeah, it does. And those parts suck.  Attempt this song only if: you are drunk and you think you know all the words to REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It."

4. Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf); Not just for the obvious reason -- namely that beer commercials and movie trailers have turned a halfway-decent rock song into a cliché so overused that it now represents exactly the opposite of what it was originally intended to -- but also for the fact that is has a two-minute guitar solo in the middle of the song, during which you have to figure out what you're going to do with your hands. And the thing about karaoke guitar solos is that they're not the original songs, so even a good solo sucks in the karaoke version.  This rule applies to pretty much any Steppenwolf song.  Attempt this only if: it's the only song available.

5. The Friday the 13th theme.  Well, I mean, it doesn't have words.  What's the point?  I just had to say something about the fact that it's Friday the 13th.  Attempt this song only if: you are a conductor, standing in front of an orchestra.

A winner is you!

Yep, it was "Psycho Killer."  

Bonus blog points to Christie and Tyler.  Bonus laff points to Craig -- I hope he finds them helpful when he's stuck in summer school and all his friends are hanging ten or shredding the gnar-gnar or whatever the kids do these days.

Pictured, R to L: Tyler, Christie, Craig (who isn't quite sure what to do with his hands)

As for elcaballo's suggestion of "Under the Bridge" (via email, since comments weren't working at the moment) -- well, I'm not sure what to say about that.  Perhaps, like Tyler's "cheeseless pizza" comment, it is best left alone.

UPDATE: Whoa!!  I didn't actually know the name of "Tell it to my Heart" until Craig inadvertently made me look it up.  I get that melody stuck in my head all the time, so I'm really glad to know specifically which "eurodance classic" torments me day and night.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cleaning out the cameraphone

A softer, gentler blog entry today; these are some of the pictures accumulated on my cameraphone.*
I don't know what happens if Alia "gets you" with her terrible black arm, but I have always assumed it's really really bad.

Which is better: Dog A above (Alvin Blacktail) or ...

Dog B (Ramona)?  I don't want to make any judgements until BOTH of our rugs are fully dried out from the horrors Ramona's colon inflicted on them Tuesday night.

Speaking of abominations before the Lord, who is up for some Onan's Pizza?  I'm not sure if there is a less appetizing Biblical character to associate your foodstuffs with.

From underneath the bridge next door to my house:

"Good luck going my shit."
"Bitch I'M all over Austin."

Just for the record, I didn't write either of those things.

A small sample of the amazing inventory of an optician's office also near my house.  These frames are new old stock (meaning they're authentically from the 70's or 80's) and remarkably, they are being offered unironically as glasses people might really like to wear.  The story is that the optician ordered way, way too many frames when his shop opened and has never been able to unload the old stock.  He also sells modern frames.

And finally, check out this awesome viking logo I saw the other day.  Kind of makes you want to go back in time.

* Bonus blog points if you can identify the song referred to in this video which seems to have become an inadvertent theme of comments on my blog and Craiger's.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Top five karaoke jams

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would not have gotten on a stage in front of strangers and belted out soul classics.  That time is no more.  Now, when somebody suggests karaoke, I'm the first to agree, and also the one who makes sure we go to the kind of karaoke bar where all the patrons have to hear you sing, not just the people in your booth.  I make no boasts about being talented -- anybody who knows Jessie already knows who the undisputed ruler of all karaoke is, she being possessed of a great voice and the ability not only to dance, but to make up choreography for songs apparently on the spot.  (Either that or she spends a lot of time at home coming up with dances for Britney Spears songs.  Dave?)

Anyway, here are my top five karaoke jams.  I have not been karaokiing as much as I would like, so anybody who has been with me has heard at least one of these.

1. These Eyes (Guess Who); Although this song has the classic karaoke problem of being much longer and more repetitive than you probably remember it being, it brings tons of energy and possibly even creepy dudes pretending to play the trumpet to the dance floor.

2. I'll Be Around (The Spinners); It's all in the phrasing.  Not that I'm good at it or anything, but you have to sell it.  Sell it!  If you delivery is shitty, own the shittiness!  The singer in the linked video certainly is.  What happened to him?  It sounds like had to re-learn English after an extended coke bender.

3. Cat's in the Cradle (Harry Chapin); This is the song I've gotten the least positive reaction to, but it's really fun.  If nobody else gets it, fuck 'em.  Must be sung with maximum heartstring-pulling pathos.  Plus, the song "scares [Harry Chapin] to death," which is always a bonus.

4. Treat Her Like a Lady (Cornelius Bros. and Sister Rose); "Strange as it seems / you know you can't treat a woman mean."  Actually Mr . Cornelius, that doesn't strike as all that strange.  This one makes me wish there was karaoke for background singers.  If there was, though, "Midnight Train to Georgia" would be the best choice.

5. Twilight Time (The Platters); I've never actually done this song live, (not counting numerous family-only engagments) but it's definitely on the list for next time.  This song has everything: long coherent sentences, shitloads of metaphors, rhymed iambic pentameter -- and it does it all with such aplomb.  I look forward to slaughtering it. 

UPDATE: My brother reminded me of an infinitely better link for "These Eyes," so that has been updated.  Go ahead, click it.  Also, have you heard the Celine Dion "version" of "Treat Her Like a Lady?"  I have never liked Celine Dion even slightly, but I thought she at least had a modicum of taste and class.  Either I was very wrong or there is a wider cultural gap between the U.S. and Canada than I could ever have imagined.  This song is atrocious!  

I got nothing

So, let's see.  My dad got a dachshund puppy named Alvin.  He's cute.  I think he got him 40% for companionship and 60% for giving his granddaughters a reason to hang out at his house.  I'm cool with that.  Also, it has worked so far -- my daughters have been over there at least three times since we picked up the dog on Saturday.

Today Baby called me a bureaucrat because I said "this deaf Taiwanese girl took up a ton of my time today -- reminded me why I should never make exceptions to the rules."  In my defense, she really did take up two or three hours of my time.  Individual undergraduates who don't work for me, as a rule, should take up no more than three minutes of my day.  And even that much time is a bit taxing.

I built the top of this "bike hutch" or "bike cave" (as my older daughter calls it) thing this weekend.  I made it almost entirely (with the exception of a few metal brackets and one 1x4) out of scrap lumber from a pergola.  Do you know what a pergola is?  I didn't until I carted off the remains of one to build a hutch.  I have since discovered that most people actually do know what a pergola is.  Cost of project: $5.  Booya.

Also, losing an hour really sucks when you have kids.  Benjamin Franklin should have shut his smart mouth.  And this is funny.

UPDATE: Aw, shit.  I have 11 subscribers now.  Horseballs aren't going to cut it.  I'm usually slightly better than this, I promise.  Fucking time change, new puppy, mumble mumble mumble.  The New Yorker did a whole piece on Beyoncé a few weeks ago and I missed it because I didn't want to pay $4.95, but from what I could read in the novelty/holiday/periodical section of HEB, they did talk up her song "Apple Pie à la Mode" as a sign of Beyoncé's genius songwriting or something.  I'm listening now and I can't say I'm blown away; I'm not sure how this is any better than a TLC single.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reader response, feat. face-rocking comments

I have received several great comments and questions in the last few days.  I'd like to take some time to respond.

1. Faithful reader and assprint maker Craiger would like to know the resolution of the wireless network problem I alluded to yesterday, and whether the wind is causing his own wifi network to go out.  Although I don't think there was really any problem with my wireless network at the office, I am fairly confident that your problems are caused by the wind.  Perhaps the satellites are being blown off course by large gusts.  You may want to consider tethering them better, or switching to dialup.  Or maybe reinstalling AOL.  Hope this helps!
2. Keen observer of the human condition Marcus points out that I look like Joaquin Phoenix in that infamous Letterman interview.  You are not the first person to note the alleged similarity; the night after that aired I was forced to put on Blu Blockers and chew gum for the amusement of my hosts at a dinner party.  Well, not forced exactly.  Actually, you could say I was kind of tipsy and I forced my hosts to watch my "hilarious" and "perfect" imitation of Mr. Phoenix.  However, I think it's just the beard and hair, and I recently trimmed by beard for a wedding, which is a bummer because with a suit on I really could have pulled off the look.

3. Style guru xieferris suggests that my wife is both radical and insane due to the intensity of her hatred towards a certain 19th century poet!  I can't help but agree, given the evidence at hand.

4. And finally, Marcus also brings up a crucial point about the nature of Jon Bon Jovi's face-rocking, suggesting several alternate readings to my own implicit interpretation of face-rocking as a musical/psychological act.  Although Nick J. ably rebuts Marcus with regard to the relevance of his concerns to the study at hand, I believe there are legitimate questions to be asked about the nature of face-rocking in general, and perhaps a detailed study of the phenomenon (or even the phrase itself) could shed light on the plausibility of JBJ's audacious claims.  However, if I am correct in reading a sexual interpretation of the phrase into Marcus' point (c) ... well, that's just a mental image I would rather not have to deal with.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Incompetence update

For the third time in two business days, Mustafa has implied that atmospheric conditions may have an effect on my building's wifi network.  Specifically, he wondered why the wireless was so slow "even though it's not cloudy out or anything."  The first time, I just dismissed it as me possibly misunderstanding what he had said.  The second time, I was too busy to correct him.  The third time, I felt the aura of his incompetence encroaching and I was forced to flee, lest I be sucked into the swamps of incompetence like stupid, stupid Artex.

A student today complained to Mustafa* that nothing was coming out of one of the printers in the lab, although the other one continued to work.  I'm not sure what Mustafa's troubleshooting procedure was exactly, but he ended up asking me to help diagnose the problem.  Long story short, I printed a page to each printer, then walked into the lab to discover a long line of students waiting for their printing.  Waiting in vain, of course, because there was no paper in the printer.  What the fuck.

I'm not used to being the most conscientious and competent person in my office.  Sometimes when I'm walking across campus I daydream about what it will be like to hire Mustafa's replacement.  

* At least the student went to Mustafa first.  Other than not having to listen to Mustafa chew, the greatest benefit of my tiny private office is that the students have stopped bothering me about every minute thing that happens in the lab next door.  However, I am still treated to some of the most inane and inappropriate hallway conversations, courtesy of large groups of undergrads standing outside my door.  Recent topics have included eyebrow dying, UGGs (!), cell phone bills, and how the undergraduettes (thanks for the word, Baby) outside my office were planning to make Valentine's day "really special" for their boyfriends by breaking out of the humdrum collegiate coitus they have become accustomed to.  I'm sorry, but if you're an 18-year-old and you have to figure out ways to "spice up" your sex life, there might be something wrong with you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ur guide 2 English, pt. 1: literally

I have noticed a number of my fellow "netizens" misusing common words and phrases, and as some kind of grammar authoritarian, I feel the need to put some of these common misapplications of English to pasture, like so many abused horses. I think a blog post or two should clear things up for you all, my dear fellow internet users.

We'll start what may be the most commonly misused word on all the internet.

Literally. Definition: "figuratively" or "very." If you want to say something is like, really intensely the way it is, then use the word "literally." For instance, if your head is hurting you very badly, don't simply say that; go for the $5 word and say "my head is literally exploding!" If your head has actually exploded, then you won't be able to express yourself anyway, so there should be no confusion about this one. Baby has pointed out that the British are particularly adept at using the word "literally" in the proper, emphatic sense. This makes sense, considering that the British invented English and are naturally experts in its proper use.

Some purists insist that the word only be used when one is trying to convey that something that is usually referred to metaphorically is actually happening in a non-metaphorical sense. For instance: if a person's flesh actually changes hue when he covets another's property, he could be said to be "literally green with envy." This kind of precision of language is BOORING and should be avoided if you are the kind of person who has an uninhibited, fun and unconventional attitude (e.g. a Pibb Xtra drinker).

When to avoid: 9-1-1 calls.