Thursday, January 31, 2008

The "Lost" drinking game

"Lost" returns in all its awesome glory tonight. To celebrate, I offer this "Lost" drinking game. Because I am on a diet, I encourage you to suffer along with me and play the game while enjoying low-fat green tea. Mmmm...

God, I want a donut.

Anyway, feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. The more, the merrier!

Take a sip every time:

* Hurley says “dude.”
* Ben says something nonsensical...and menacing...and semi-rodent-like, possibly about cheese.
* You notice Future Jack’s beard looks like a small bear is getting sexy with his chin.
* Kate waffles between Jack and Sawyer and then Sawyer and Jack and then Jack and Sawyer...and wait for it...Jack and Sawyer some more. Egads, woman!
* Desmond says “aye” in that saucy way that makes you wish he was your yes man
* Locke goes crazy, does crazy, exudes crazy, says “crazy,” acts mildly wacky or kills a guy.

Chug every time:

* Claire actually has a line.
* Claire aggravates you because she actually has a line.
* You get misty-eyed when Bernard and Rose are together.
* Sayid kicks ass...and reminds you of how Naveen Andrews was the only good part of "The English Patient."
* Sawyer grimaces and/or furrows a brow...and you want to tell him that if he keeps making those faces, it’s going to stick. Didn’t his mother teach him anything?
* You feel compelled to call shenanigans because Jin said something way too complicated for a guy who just learned English. Although let’s face it, when Jin’s on screen, are we really listening to what he’s saying or are we just staring? I think we’re just staring.

Pour entire keg over your head and dance around chanting, “I knew it! I knew it! You can’t fool me, Lindelof, with your fancy fooling ways!” if:

* Jacob turns out to be played by the ghost of Anthony Perkins.
* Charlie turns out NOT to be the future! Also, he is now a polar bear.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

For the shy nerd, nothing beats yoga

Near as I can figure, my nerd DNA accounts for two troubling roadblocks in my efforts to get fit: one, I think it made me clumsy and two, it made me ridiculously shy about performing any kind of physical activity in front of groups of people. Hence, my aversion to pratfalls, stripping and exercise classes.

Years ago, a friend dragged me to a spinning class. For those who have never experienced spinning, it goes something like this: you walk into a room with a bunch of stationary bikes, thinking to yourself, "Huh, bikes. I know how to ride those. This won't be so bad." Then everyone climbs onto their stationary bikes not realizing that the wheels are actually embedded in drying concrete, out of which you will be expected to pedal. (Okay, it's not really drying concrete but it sure feels that way.) But before that all starts, they try to drive you insane by putting you under the guidance of one of 16 perky physical trainers named Amber. It is her job to shout encouraging things to you as the concrete-pedaling threatens to make your heart explode like tanker trucks in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Amber will chant things like, "Three, four, five, six, think of all the fat we'll nix!" Which, you know, kudos to her for using the word "nix" but really? Was that supposed to inspire me? Dangling a Hostess Fruit Pie in front of my bike would have been more effective...and tasty! Mmmmm....

Years later, I tried a kickboxing class at the local community center. I was assured it was a class for amateurs, so I signed up thinking, "Well, this won't be so bad." Sucker. I got beaten up by a 13-year-old girl less than 10 minutes into the class. I gathered up my towel, my shoes and my dignity and left quickly.

So, overall, my experience with fitness classes has not been positive. But then, my friends, I discovered slow-flow yoga. For shy, clumsy, nerdy women, I can't think of any better exercise option (outside of Wii Fit, of course). And here's why: it's done in a dark room, everyone is supposed to keep their eyes closed and, just like in English lit class, there are no right or wrong answers. Yup, you could fall on your ass six times in a row and no one except the teacher will know -- and let's face it, he's a hippie and probably high -- and even if he does notice, you didn't really fail because -- and let me state this one more time -- there are no right or wrong answers! It's all about stretching and breathing and being calm. Best of all, it's far better than Xanax which, if you're like me, just makes you feel calm about feeling anxious.

If you apply yourself, yoga can be extremely challenging. I come home three times more sore from yoga than I do from the gym, but it's a good kind of sore, the kind that makes you feel you accomplished something positive for your body. And I cannot underscore enough how awesome it is that no one is watching you and no one is judging you and more likely than not, no 13-year-old girl is going to kick the shit out of you ten minutes into class. Of course, I've only been to three sessions so I can't guarantee that's not coming up next week or something. You know those hippies, tricky bastards every one of them....

So if you're shy and don't like being judged by all the size twos in their $100 breathable tank tops, then I'd suggest giving this yoga stuff a try. And as an added bonus for all you "Lost" fans out there, I'm pretty sure yoga folks are part of the Dharma Initiative. They totally end every class by saying, "Namaste" ... and locking Desmond in a hatch.


Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union, Hollywood-style

In honor of tonight's State of the Union address, check out NPR humorist Brian Unger's "preview" promo of the speech. He does it in the style of an blockbuster movie preview and, well, it completely cracked me up. I would totally watch the speech if I thought it would be this entertaining!

I'm coming for you, Charlie Watts! (AKA, yes, we just got Rock Band.)

Deprived of football this past weekend, the husband and I resorted to a more traditional form of entertainment similar to that enjoyed by the pilgrims so many years ago: we rocked the house with Rock Band for the Xbox 360. Yup, after selling back 49 games, searching the couch for loose change and prostituting the cat, we were able to purchase this grand entertainment and engage in our long-held fantasy of being Meg and Jack White – but without the fake sibling part because that would be super weird.

Let me just get straight to the point here and say, this is a fabulous game. The fact that it allows you to play drums, guitar, bass or sing ensures limitless possibilities that I’m guessing will stave off game boredom for months and months. There’s nothing worse than mastering a game within a few hours (not that I’ve ever done that but I’ve heard stories) and having nowhere else to go with the experience. There is so much variety involved in playing this game – and so many songs, touring options, challenges and more – to take part in that it is well worth the rather hefty price tag. It has great multiplayer options and still allows you to have a ball going solo.

And best of all, for the non-musically inclined like myself, it is the closest we’re ever going to get to feeling competent with an instrument. One of my secret lifelong dreams was to drum, a dream that was dashed into a million pieces when I discovered I didn’t even have the rhythm necessary to keep my heart beating in perfect time. (I feel it lags on the quarter notes.) But joy of joys, Rock Band solves that problem with an easy-to-follow color-coding system that’s very similar to Guitar Hero and other music/rhythm games. Truly, when I was grooving on Gimme Shelter, I had visions of kicking Charlie Watts’ ass in a drum-off. He’d just have to agree to play on Easy.

The game is great, too, for duos or larger groups of people. Of course, we never have people over so I can’t truly attest to that last part, but for two people who are social shut-ins, it was awesome. We took turns playing guitar, bass and drums. And the cool part is that if someone starts bombing on their part, the other person can “save” their partner by kicking their own performance into higher gear.

So far, there are really only a few downsides to the game. First, on occasion, the instrument connections will randomly fail when starting up the system. It never happened during gameplay, but it did make getting set up kind of irritating. Also, you really need to be hooked up to Xbox Live to get the full effect of the game, which is kind of a drag if you’re like us and don’t have wireless. The game also requires you to play at increasingly higher levels of difficulty in order to win fans and unlock more gigs, which can be very frustrating if you’re not a fast learner. (Raising hand here…) That caveat forced us on more than one occasion to have my husband play on Expert while I kept plodding along on Easy, just to earn points.

Overall, though, I heart this game in a true and passionate manner reminiscent of the love Oprah and Stedman once shared. It is fabulous on so many levels and is just an absolute blast to play.

One last word of advice, if you do decide to buy this game, please stretch for a good five minutes or so before sitting down to the drums. Just trust me on this one. I didn’t, and I’m hobbling around like Tom Brady today all because of a Rock Band-inflicted hamstring injury. It’s incredibly embarrassing yet totally worth it. And that, my friends, is always the sign of a good time.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Fly me to the moon

Sir Richard Branson, founder of all things Virgin, wants to blast average Joes and Janes into space – to which I say, “Cool!” Earlier this week, this nerd’s favorite billionaire unveiled Space Ship Two, a new flying machine that will carry two pilots, six passengers and 600 mini bottles of peppermint schapps 100,000 feet into the air, providing close to five minutes of weightlessness and a chance to say you’ve “done the space travel thing.” So fare, hundreds of people have put down $30 million in deposits for the chance to be one of Space Ship Two’s first passengers.

Given my tendency to vomit in a minivan, I probably won’t be one of those people – also, I don’t have the $200,000 ticket fee – but damn if it doesn’t look fun. The design is sleek and futuristic, but actually functional. The ship works by piggybacking on a jet up into the highest regions of the Earth’s atmosphere before unlocking itself from that plane and firing its own engines, which rely on a combination of solid and liquid fuel. The original Space Ship One prototype ran on rubber and laughing gas – no foolin’ – so I imagine version two runs on wool and whippets. Or something. I’m no scientist.

Besides ushering in a new era of space tourism, experts say this style of aircraft might have other applications as well, including transporting military troops and launching small unmanned crafts and satellites into space.

Check out this article in The Economist for full details on the ship and its capabilities. And watch this video from Virgin Galactic touting the new craft. Watching it made me feel like I was living in some Stanley Kubrik movie…from the future!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Nerd’s Lament: The Folly of Follicular Fulfillment or What The Hell Am I Supposed to Do With This Stuff On My Head?

There are times when I’m convinced I missed Girl Orientation Day back when I was a baby. Like maybe when I was born all the other female infants in the hospital were taken to a special room where they received training on how to dress themselves, match accessories and comport themselves with female dignity while I was somewhere down the hall trying to use my little baby hands to pluck a free Twinkie out of the vending machine and ended up missing the whole thing.

I feel this way in particular when it comes time to get my hair cut.

Nearly every other woman I know has lovely hair, the kind that falls into place just so and swings in a silky and elegant manner with a simple coquettish toss of the head. Me? I can’t help but think small animals are crawling onto my head in the middle of the night, committing murder and leaving their hirsute victims for me to shampoo and condition each morning. It is the only viable explanation for what has been happening to the top of my head for the last 30 years or so.

Weeks before a scheduled hair appointment, I begin to fret. Should I try a new style or just accept – much the way a circus freak accepts their own delicate tail – that no matter what I do, it’s not going to get better?

Once I did try something new. I let a new stylist curl my naturally straight hair. I ended up looking like an old brunette Little Orphan Annie. And I even had those creepy wide open eyes of hers because that’s what I look like when I’m horrified. I tipped the stylist excessively – because who doesn’t reward one’s perpetrator in a situation like that? -- and fled the scene. Oddly enough, a bald rich man and an adorable mutt followed me out....

There is usually one golden moment in the whole hair cutting process. It’s those first few hours after a good new haircut, after the stylist has just spent 30 minutes coating your hair with magical ointments and creams and delicately blow dried each and every layer of your hair with a precision and grace normally associated with the creation of a Faberge egg. Everything looks wonderful in those first few minutes. I look good. I am one of those women with the silky flowing hair and I feel glamorous, like a small-chested movie star.

It’s the next day when it all goes to hell. After the first shampoo, in my clumsy ham-fisted mitts, my follicles return to old form. Whereas the stylist could actually see the back of my head, I have no idea what the hell’s going on back there. There could be Lilliputians building condos. I have no clue. And because I don’t have three hands or a $1,000 blow dryer or three years of professional schooling or the ability to distinguish layers of hair let alone pay individual attention to them, I become resigned once more to the fact that I will never, ever, ever be able to make my hair look the way it did in those first few post-haircut hours.

I’ll never know how other women do it. I stand outside beauty salons trying to study the moves. What do they have that I don’t? And can I buy it in a tube? And why did my baby self have to have that Twinkie? Selfish baby self.

Does anyone else have this problem – the haircut problem, not the Twinkie-eating baby problem – or am I alone in my hair despair?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An interview with Cinematic Titanic's always awesome Mary Jo Pehl

Remember how I said I was looking forward to 2008 because I would get to see "Cinematic Titanic" and would love it? Hey, guess what? 2008 came, I saw "Cinematic Titanic" and I loved it. For anyone who adored "Mystery Science Theater 3000," hearing original cast members Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein back together again, riffing their way through another God-awful movie, is a trip back to our collective comedy happy place.

In fact, I enjoyed "Cinematic Titanic" and its first offering, "The Oozing Skull," so much I asked writer, performer and Texas bon vivant Mary Jo Pehl if she would mind talking to The Park Bench and giving us the scoop on "Cinematic Titanic," the writing life and what it's like to get a back rub from Harrison Ford. She was kind enough to agree and the results of our confab are below. Enjoy!

What was it like getting back together with the guys again?

Terrific and interesting: we're old, most of us are married, our lives are different. It was like putting on old, comfortable shoes, only less stinky. And it was a bit different for me personally because although I wrote on the show for many years, there was only one brief movie segment where I actually riffed on the movie. Here I get to riff on the movie in front of the camera, and durn it if I don't work with some of the funniest people ev-ah!

Could you tell us a bit about how the CT writing process works?


Oh, all right.

We each get a copy of the movie with a time code on it, telling us each second of the movie so we can write for that specific moment. In the old days of MST3K we all sat in the writing room together, watching on a big screen TV. Now we're each doing it alone on these newfangled computers. Frank, Joel and Josh might get together since they all live in L.A. but those of us in the field offices, Trace in Minnesota and me in Austin, we're writing alone. When we got together to shoot the first episode, we rehearsed it a couple of times, tweaking and adjusting along the way.

Do you eventually just become inured to the pain of watching the movie over and over?

No, I have never become inured to the pain of watching a bad movie over and over again. Sadly, I become outraged and indignant all over again with every viewing. On the good side, sometimes these movies are so convoluted that with repeated viewings one is able to figure out plot points. So there's some sort of payoff!

As a writer, how do the experiences of writing solo and writing collaboratively compare?

I think the collaborative thing can be tricky. It's a difficult dynamic to navigate, but man, if you find someone that it works with, it can be gangbusters. (Former MST writer and cast member) Bill Corbett and his writing partner sold a screenplay that got made and will be released this spring.

I work alone because that's the kind of writing I do mostly. Freelance magazine and radio pieces are not really conducive to partnering up. I think MST3K set the bar very high for me to work collaboratively. These were funny, smart people and on the whole, the feeling in the writing room was about making the show better and not pursuing individual agendas. Also, there was a rule that if any line or joke made someone uncomfortable, it was out. It could be lobbied for and a case made for it, but it might still be gone. It was a great learning experience for me to learn how to make a case for something!

But with RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic, writing these gawd-awful films is very hard. You don't have a "jamming" environment, where the energy of the group helps you to go on, and build on each other's jokes. It's just you and the movie -- and it can feel like an anvil on your head.

What's it like being the lone woman writer with a group of guys -- do you bring a different take on things?

I think anyone coming to the table has a different take on things, because everyone has such diverse experiences, gender being only one of those experiences.

Believe it or don't, many of the shopping, makeup and boys jokes are made by the fellows, with an alarming insight! And I have been known to make the occasional political or sports jokes.

You debuted the show live at Industrial Light and Magic, which I've always envisioned as a sort of nirvana where Harrison Ford gives delicate massages and George Lucas uses the Force to put coasters under your drink. First of all, what was it like doing that show, and second, what was it like to get a massage from Harrison Ford?

It was a total geekfest. First of all, I felt dizzy and lightheaded to be there, and I wished I had a personal assistant to tote a fainting couch behind me as we toured the facility. We were thrilled to be there and they were thrilled to have us there, so you can imagine us all falling over each other like clumsy lovers! And I have to keep this short because Harrison is still administering my massage, and Darth Vader and I are having lunch in a bit.

Do you have any favorite "Oozing Skull" moments? (A question you'll never hear on Oprah...)

I love the moment at the very end when Amir is having the press conference about how great Kalid is going to be from now on, with the help of the new "surgeon general," the evil Dr. Trenton. The camera goes to Dr. Trenton, and he has this wonderful, cocky, jaunty, smug little smile. I loved Dr. Trenton because he showed up for the movie. He knew what he was doing there and was actually a capable actor. Did you know he was a supporting lead in a lot of "A" movies?

Another moment that cracked me up is when Mohammed and Dr. Nigserian are driving along, and Mohammed is just plain cranky about the plan to take the body to get the brain transplanted. His country's fate hangs in the balance, he passionately swears he would give his life for Amir's reign to continue, but when push comes to shove, he's just pissy about it. It's a moment in the front seat in the station wagon when he sort of whines, "Are you sure this will work?" "Why are we doing this?" A few scenes later, they are being run off the road in a low-speed action chase, and it seems like Mohammed isn't so much terrified but aggrieved that his nap has been interrupted and they might not get to stop at Cracker Barrel as planned.

I think I have a crush on Trace's silhouette. Should I be concerned?

No. Crush away. Even though it's probably not my place to give you permission to do so. [Ed. - I'm taking that permission and running with it anyway.]

A big thanks to Mary Jo for taking the time to talk with The Park Bench. If you'd like to own a piece of comedy gold, order your "Cinematic Titanic" DVD now by going here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I caught Oscar fever -- and now I have a rash.

Sure, I mock the Golden Globes and thumb my nose at The People’s Choice Awards. (Seriously, look at our elected officials. Should the American people really be allowed to choose something as important as best musical or comedy?) I will not, however, cast aspersions on The Academy Awards, the granddaddy of all awards shows, aka The One That Really Counts.

Given my deep and possibly disturbing feelings for the Oscars, you can understand my excitement at today’s announcement of the 2008 nominees. Sadly, since this was the year I officially became old and cheap and stopped going to movies on a regular basis, my reactions to the nominations were pretty much as follows:

“Heard that one was good.”

“Haven’t seen it.”

“Haven’t seen it.”

“Wanted to see it.”

“Saw it! And it was good!”

Therefore, given my wealth of knowledge about this year’s nominees, I feel confident in making the following predictions:

Best Picture
Nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood
Of the five nominated films, I’ve only seen “Juno.” Which means it’s officially the movie I’ll be rooting for in a very hardcore, fangirl way all the way until the bitter end when my dreams are crushed and “Atonement” takes home the prize – because the dreary love stories always beat out the comedies and the movies that depress our souls. The experts call this The “Man, I Still Can’t Believe We Gave That Oscar to ‘Shakespeare in Love’ Instead of ‘Saving Private Ryan’” Effect.

Best Actor
Nominees: George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, Tommy Lee Jones and Viggo Mortenson
My friend once sat next to Johnny Depp in a restaurant and said he smelled like cigarettes, so I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis as the winner because I hear he smells like apple strudel and old money. Oddly enough, George Clooney smells like Irish spring, Tommy Lee Jones smells like leather. And Viggo Mortenson? Viggo smells like truffles and springtime.

Best Actress
Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, Laura Linney and Ellen Page
I’m giving this one to Ellen Page. Not only because she was in “Juno” -- which I saw -- but also because she is small and Canadian, just like Michael J. Fox and everyone loves Michael J. Fox. Also, she kicked ass in a movie I once saw called “Hard Candy.”

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Casey Affleck, Javier Bardem, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hal Holbrook and Tom Wilkinson
I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about how much Hal Holbrook wanted to win an Oscar and I always figure, if a guy wants the thing that bad, why not give it to him, you know? But on the other hand, Javier Bardem makes me wet myself with fear just watching the damn commercials for “No Country For Old Men,” so either he or his haircut are accomplishing something pretty big there. In the final analysis, I’ll go with Bardem. I’ll just have to cover the couch in plastic on Oscar night.

Supporting Actress
Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Ruby Dee, Saoirse Ronan, Amy Ryan and Tilda Swinton
It’s Cate Blanchett all the way on this one, baby. Unless one of the other people wins.

Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Diablo Cody for “Juno,” Nancy Oliver for “Lars and the Real Girl,” Tony Gilroy for “Michael Clayton,” Brad Bird for “Ratatouille” and Tamara Jenkins for “The Savages”
First of all, way to go with three ladies staking claim to the prize here. And as much as I loved the rodents in Ratatouille and as much as I wanted to see “Lars and the Real Girl”, I’m giving it to Diablo Cody for “Juno” – because I saw it – and also because how could you NOT give an Oscar to a former stripper turned blogger turned first-time screenwriter named Diablo? Honestly.

I hope these predictions were helpful. They are 100 percent certain and accurate,* so feel free to take them to your bookie or to Vegas, make thousands and then buy yourself something pretty.

* You’re not taking me seriously, are you? Don’t do that. Britney did once and then she broke up with Justin and now there’s all this mess...

Monday, January 21, 2008

You know what's worse than the parking in Manhattan? The giant monsters.

If Godzilla movies had ever aspired to be scary, they would have looked a lot like "Cloverfield." And I mean that as a compliment to "Cloverfield." It takes a monster movie theme we've seen all our lives -- giant monster crushes city -- and makes it tense and exciting, pretty much living up to all of my (very) high expectations.

For those who don't know, "Cloverfield" is about a group of friends whose Manhattan party gets crashed pretty fiercely by a 100 foot tall monster who I like to call Clyde. Clyde basically wrecks havoc while the partygoers -- and millions of other folks -- try to flee Manhattan and not to get eaten. It's a lot like Shark Week. While our heroes are fleeing, they videotape the whole thing, leading to lots of crazy camera angles and a strong recommendation from me not to sit in the front row.

While some people have complained about the camera work, I didn't find it too distracting it all. It was a lot like our vacation videos -- a little shaky, but steady and in focus when it comes to the important stuff.

The movie does a very good job creating a sense of being trapped on an island with no means of escape. The hand-held camera gimmick also creates an oppressive sense of being one of a million very small people fleeing a very large problem with lots and lots of shooting going on overhead. The sound is exceptional with the roars and thundering footsteps of Clyde amplified enough to echo deeply all around you. If you're on the fence about whether or not to see this movie and are thinking, "well, I'll just wait for DVD," don't do that. You've got to see this in a theater. The visuals and the sound simply demand it. Clyde demands it too and he's one bad motherfu -- Shut your mouth! I'm only talkin' 'bout Clyde. (That was a little Shaft homage to brighten our Mondays.)

I give "Clovefield" two big nerd things up. If you like monster movies and you like to be scared -- but not too scared -- it's a very good time. And now that I've seen the preview, let's hope J.J. Abrams next project, the new Star Trek movie, is just as fun.

Friday, January 18, 2008

News of the Day

+ There's pictures ahoy for the new Star Trek movie including a shot of the spiffy new Enterprise.

+ Remember when there was talk of a Caprica-based spin-off of Battlestar Galactica? Well, thanks to the writer's strike and the fact that producers are dusting off as many old scripts as they can find, we may get to see the two-hour pilot.

+ Former Nerd Man of the Month Stephen Colbert received another honor recently when the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC hung his portrait in their esteemed halls right alongside presidents and judges and congressmen and...the restrooms. Which, actually, is prime real estate when you think about it. Plus, it's a great opportunity for him to tell people he's "flush with pride."

+ Speaking of great art, did you know that the Library of Congress has a Flickr page? Indeed they do, and it's filled with gorgeous images from the 1910s, 1930s and 1940s, like the one below.

+ Word is that the makers of Scrabble are trying to get Facebook to discontinue their Scrabulous application. Facebook users are up in arms about this, especially since it's the single greatest application available on the site. To Mattel and Hasbro, I say, you may take our lives (well, you know, hopefully not), but you'll never take...OUR SCRABULOUS!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

News of the Day

+ The trailer is out for Tina Fey's upcoming movie, "Baby Mama." It looks cute.

+ A few days ago, Yahoo News ran a story on a Texas town where residents have said they've been seeing UFOs overhead. In and of itself, this isn't all that funny or noteworthy. What's funny is the video of the story and the fact that one of the townspeople thought about actually shooting the UFO. You gotta love America.

+ And good news for those of us who kick ass at Wii Tennis! ESPN soon will begin broadcasting competitive gaming. I think we gamers owe a debt of gratitude to the poker players who paved the way for "sports" that can be played while sitting down and drinking.

+ And finally a bit of sad news. The toymaker who popularized the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee died this past Monday. So while I could never spin a Hula Hoop more than 12 seconds and consistently threw my Frisbee like, well, a girl, I tip my proverbial hat to Mr. Richard Knerr for making some really fun toys that actually required imagination and skill. Those were the days....

+ ETA: USA Today has a story this morning on the upcoming X-Files movie. There's a picture and everything! Mulder and Scully, I miss you so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Nerd Man of the Month: Alton Brown

Foodie Alton Brown is a girl nerd's dream: he can cook for us AND explain all the cool culinary science behind what makes that food taste good. As the host of the Food Network's "Good Eats" and my personal favorite, "Feasting on Asphalt," Alton makes food and the chemistry of food seem like the most fascinating thing in the world. "Good Eats" is half-cooking show, half-Mr. Wizard and, uh, half-pop culture variety show. (Okay, maybe those should have been "thirds.") And with "Feasting on Asphalt," Alton took viewers on two inspiring and sometimes touching journeys to roadside diners and family-run restaurants along the side roads and byways crossing the U.S. and running the length of the Mississippi River.

As if that wasn't enough, Alton also serves as host of the American version of "Iron Chef," helping us forget the horror that was the first Shatner-hosted incarnation. And he's published three books -- I'm Just Here For the Food, Alton Brown's Gear For Your Kitchen (which makes me want every kitchen gadget ever invented...and I don't even cook) and I'm Just Here For More Food, all about baking.

Alton's true genius lies in making food seem accessible...and looking good in glasses. He shows, clearly and concisely, that good food is a science, one that can be deciphered with the proper amount of passion and study. Knowing and understanding food will make even the simplest concoction taste better. Plus, who doesn't love to take Alton's little biscuits of knowledge and toss them out at dinner parties. Thanks to Alton, we all look at least 20 percent smarter than we are.

Plus, you gotta love a guy whose website sells these t-shirts:

So far all these reasons and also because his website shows us how to safely deep fry an entire Butterball, the Park Bench is pleased to name Alton Brown as its January Nerd Man of the Month.

Obsession, healthy interest...whatever

This afternoon, I spent ten solid minutes peering intently into my computer screen at this image:

Why? Because it’s reportedly where The X-Files 2 movie is filming today. As I stared at the screen, the rodents in my brain worked hard to try and glean some sort of clue as to what could possibly be happening on that little island. What major plot point would it reveal? Was that Mulder in the foreground or a tree? And if it’s a tree, is it a special alien tree?* And then I wondered, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Actually, I know what’s wrong with me. I’m a compulsive nerd who has to know everything about anything she likes. Which leads me to wonder, is that okay? And if not, does it really matter?

David Anderegg in his book, Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, makes what I think is a sensible argument about nerd compulsions. For every Star Trek geek out there who knows how dilithium crystals work (and yes, I’m raising my hand here), there are ten other people out there obsessing over LaDainian Tomlinson’s yardage or how many units Beyonce moved last week. Basically, Anderegg says, we’re all obsessed about something. It’s just that nerds get dissed because our obsessions tend to be out of the mainstream…and be animated and have space ships.

I’m not ashamed of my nerd compulsions. They’ve been with me for as long as I can remember. Did I almost burn my eyes out reading all 27 Black Stallion books in three weeks as a seven year old because I just couldn’t stop? Yup. Did I walk around the house for days with two small flashlights strapped to the sides of my head and a brown blanket over my head pretending to be a Jawa when I was eight? Maaaaaybe. Did I go to an X-Files convention and have my picture taken in Mulder’s fake office with a big dumb smile on my face? Hell yes. Did I spend $75 on eBay for a sombrero-wearing Giles action figure? Not yet.

And here’s the thing: I just don’t think there’s anything wrong with that stuff. You know why? Because I had fun. Because I learned stuff – like how to handicap racehorses and how flashlights strapped to the sides of your head can burn after a while. All of my obsessions have yielded me some sort of satisfaction and yes, knowledge. If not for watching The West Wing like a crazy person for years on end, my understanding of the American legislative system would have ended with “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill.”

I agree with Anderegg: nerdy obsessions get mocked because they’re too esoteric for the rest of the kids. It’s okay to love football and shoes, but if your interest happens to reside an inch or two outside the mainstream…and has space ships…well, you might as well just raise the nerd flag high and enjoy yourself. Others may laugh but when scientists finally invent the warp drive, we’re gonna be the only ones who know how to steer the ship.**

* No, it was just a regular tree. :(
** Not necessarily a metaphor.

Photo from X-Files community at Livejournal.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Who'd have guessed it but "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," which debuted on Fox last night, is actually pretty entertaining. If you've seen the "Terminator" movies, there's nothing very original about the series: robots from the future go back in time to try and kill John Connor, the young man who'll one day grow up to lead a rebellion against the skull-crushing, Earth-ruling machines. He is destined to ruin their future days, much the way humidity ruins my hair, and the machines, well, they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.

This TV incarnation of James Cameron's tale takes place after "Terminator 2" and shows us Sarah Connor, played by British actress Lena Headley, struggling to raise and protect her son John, played by Thomas Dekker, who you'll remember as cheerleader Claire Bennet's gay and then, oops, suddenly not so gay friend Zach on "Heroes." As the story begins, a lean, mean, non-Schwarzennegger fighting machine is hunting down the Connors, retaining the typical terminator ability to shoot a gazillion bullets and still manage to miss the sides of several barns and, yes, all of his targets. Despite Mr. Terminator's inability to shoot straight, things are looking pretty grim for the Connors until the requisite good guy terminator -- or gal, in this case -- shows up, played by Summer Glau, formerly of "Firefly."

Let me just say right now: Summer Glau kicks ass, both literally and figuratively, and I think I may love her. She dominates every scene she's in, making you believe she has the innocence of a machine but also the worldliness of a machine that's seen a lot. She injects humor and subtle charm into her scenes yet also, seriously, just makes you want to watch her blow stuff up and pummel people all day long -- she does it so gracefully! With apologies to Governor Schwarzennegger, she's definitely my favorite terminator.

"The Sarah Connor Chronicles" makes its bread and butter off of explosions, pretty people running around a lot, chase scenes, more explosions and, because this is Fox, many scenes with a half-naked Summer Glau. And frankly, it all kind of works. This show is never going to win an Emmy, but at a time when all we're getting is reality TV and more reality TV, it's a welcome respite. It's a fun, solid show, and it's perfect when all you want to do is kick off your shoes, have a bowl of popcorn and be mindlessly and wonderfully entertained. And watch Summer Glau blow stuff up.

You can catch part two of the premiere tonight at 9 on Fox.

News of the Day

+ Ain't It Cool News reports that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may be released as two separate movies in order to better cover the vast amount of action and story involved in the book. As someone who complained bitterly about the truncated storyline of Order of the Phoenix, color me thrilled to bits.

+ You're playing Rock Band in your living room. The cat's standing on a chair with a beer in one paw, waving a lighter in the other, and you think to yourself, "You know what this moment needs? Smoke and lights." The Rock Band Stage Kit solves that problem by offering, well, smoke and lights to enhance your stage presence and general rock awesomeness. Now all you need are roadies, groupies and an unsavory manager to steal all your profit.

+ If you're a sucker for nature, check out this video of some amazing sea creatures. I'm especially fond of the two-faced squid who shows one side of himself to the ladies and another to the males...literally. Very "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"-y.

Friday, January 11, 2008

News of the Day

+ Do you like your men masked, wearing unitards, flexing pecs of steel and sporting wrists that spew spiderwebs? Then good news! Spiderman is single again. According to Yahoo News, the latest Spiderman comic is a real homewrecker with Peter and Mary Jane making a "tearful deal with the devil-like character Mephisto: In exchange for saving Aunt May's life, Mephisto erases all traces of the Peter-Mary Jane marriage from memory." In his sadness, Spiderman returns to riding Seabiscuit full-time.

+ In his new bachelor state, Spiderman might enjoy this high-tech bed that features "wireless Internet connectivity, an iPod dock, a surround sound speaker system, LCD projector, dual temperature controls and DVR capability." It also comes with a built-in solution for snoring, featuring "vibration-detection that will elevate that half of the bed 7 degrees if a user is snoring and then return to the original position once the snoring stops." High-tech gadgets and a solution for snoring -- this bed is my husband's dream come true. Soon I will have to tell him the bed costs $20,000 and crush that dream...yes, just like all the others.

+ LucasFilms, Inc. is looking for a few good Jedis...or at least someone to groom Chewie. Check out their funny recruitment video.

+ Okay, this baby polar bear video nearly made my head explode from the cuteness. Basically, all the little guy does is sleep -- and exude enough adorableness to make Dick Cheney coo. Watch the video with the sound off so as not to hear the disturbing talk about how polar bears eat their young -- thanks, National Geographic, that totally killed the mood for me -- and hang in there until the end when the baby bear becomes the Michael Jordan of sleeping.

+ Check out Entertainment Weekly's list of the 100 greatest websites, then top that off with its list of the top 25 fan sites. Hurry! It's Friday morning and you only have eight hours left to take advantage of your employers' T-1 line. Commence browsing!

+ Today's the last day to vote for your favorite blogs at the eighth annual Weblog Awards. You can vote for as many as you like in categories as weirdly diverse as best craft weblog and best Canadian weblog. And yes, I voted for The Park Bench but only like 18 or 19 times.

+ And finally, after days of deliberation and voting, it looks like we finally have our first selection for the Park Bench book club. The winner...narrowly beating out Mike Huckabee in a surprising turn of events! -- is E.M. Forster's A Room With a View. I hope everyone else is as excited about this choice as I am, and are ready to start some page turning. Two weeks from today, I'll post information on how to access the Park Bench Yahoo group so we can launch our discussion group. In the meantime, happy reading!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sometimes the shallow answer is the best answer

We may disagree on heels versus flats, Romney versus Obama, American Idol versus American Gladiator, but there’s one thing I believe all women can agree on: when you’re feeling blue, the only thing to do is shop.

To hell with the mortgage. To hell with saving for retirement or making that car payment. When life’s wearing parachute pants and inflicting Hammer Time upon your soul, you’ve got to give in to the urge and buy something to ease the pain.

It doesn’t have to be anything big. It could be squirrel-shaped coasters or a new paperback novel. It could be the glorious, mega 99 cent bag of peanut M&Ms or that new Radiohead CD you should have downloaded for free but completely forgot about until you realized it was good. Or that sweater that makes you feel deeply and profoundly that your cleavage is the finest cleavage in all the land.

All it takes it just one little purchase to turn the day around. And yes, that’s shallow. And yes, it’s probably not true. And no, it’s not at all what the makers of Xanax want you to think, but yes, it’s exactly what Chase and Citicard want you to think. In the end, though, one must disregard all the folderol and nonsense because sometimes, that shopping spree is the only thing that’s going to turn gray skies into blue.

If I were running for president and wanted 51 percent of the vote, I would create a personal spending account for women to access – guilt free – at least once every 28 days. They could buy anything they wanted and that purchase would come with the following guarantee: it would be the right size and the right color; it would not make us look fat; it would make our teeth seem whiter and our hair seem shinier (just like dogfood?); it would not make us go blind from blood sugar shock; and most importantly, it would be guaranteed to lift our spirits from whatever depth they’d sunk to. It would turn our frown upside down and even banish the cynicism that makes us hate cliches like “turn our frown upside down.” In short, it would be, as Oscar Wilde used to say, “ass-kickingly awesome.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some shopping to do.

News of the Day

+ A guy named Mark has decided to live in IKEA for a week, which I assume means that anyone buying the furniture he's used gets a 50 percent discount because -- hello! -- some guy just slept in my new Swedish bed. You can check out his videos documenting the experience here.

+ Who knew MTV did anything these days except force the parents of teenage girls to rent helicopters and the Goo Goo Dolls for their sweet 16 parties? Apparently, they're also good at indexing. They now offer a track finder service for rhythm video games like Guitar Hero, meaning you can search in advance to find out if your favorite songs are included or double check later which songs are on which game, saving precious minutes of scrolling when all you want to do is play!!

+ There's nothing nerdy about this story, but I liked it anyway: a guy got his five-month-old baby photographed with all of the New Hampshire primary contenders. It's fascinating to read his views on each candidate and how they reacted with his daughter. Regarding the photo below, he says, "it looks like I'm giving up my baby for adoption to some rich folks." Given the WTF look on her face, I'm guessing baby's thinking the same thing.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

God Save the Queen...The One That Floats

Yesterday, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II embarked on her last voyage. Later this year, the majestic ship will be transformed into an equally majestic floating hotel in Dubai. The announcement of her impending retirement brought back memories of the six-day transatlantic journey my husband and I took as part of our honeymoon six years ago.

As a child in my nerdiest days, I would spend hours watching old movies, and loved picturing myself on one of those slow, ocean-going voyages where people dressed for dinner and exchanged witty repartee. What could be better, I thought, than wearing an evening gown, sipping champagne and affecting a British accent while standing at the rail on a moonlit night, motoring slowly toward the chalky shores of England? I thought, “Doesn’t everyone want to take a trip like this?”

The answer? Nuh-uh. At least no one under the age of 75. We were the youngest people on the ship by at least four decades. We were the only couple at the ship’s crowded honeymoon reception, in fact, who hadn’t buried at least one previous spouse.

I’ve never been on a “regular” cruise – the kind where there’s rock climbing and Disney animals -- but based on years of watching “The Love Boat,” I assume that other cruise vacations include the following: copious hours in the hot tub, lots of bikini wearing and tanning, lots of swimming in heart-shaped pools, much wearing of Hawaiian shirts, lots of making out with Gopher and Doc, and lots of going ashore in places with sandy beaches.

This is what a QE II cruise entails: no rock climbing, no Disney animals, no bikinis, no tanning, no loud shirts, no making out with Gopher and Doc (who totally turned out to be fictional characters!) and no going ashore in places with sandy beaches.

But you know what? I’ll take the QE II any day. There’s a sense of adventure when you sit on deck, bundled up like Shackleton as you turn your face to the cold North Atlantic winds, half expecting to hear huskies barking in the distance. There’s quiet pub conversation and old men drunkenly singing Wayne Newton karaoke songs at night. There are cucumber sandwiches and tea cakes every afternoon followed by mass napping. There’s ballroom dancing, where you tear up a little watching white-haired men and women who look just like your grandparents, smiling and happy. There’s the addictive thrill of being just one dot short of bingo. There’s watching your husband artfully reject the advances of a 76-year-old card shark who looks -- and drinks -- just like Elaine Stritch. There’s a captain who announces over the loud speaker that we’ve just passed the site of the Titanic sinking – and here’s hoping it all goes better for the rest of us. There’s a beautiful library and a ship full of people who read – actually read! And for those of us pale types who burn on partly sunny days, there’s, well, no sun. There are, however, beautiful moonlit nights in the middle of a dark, magical ocean when you wonder if this is how it feels in space, floating weightless in the stars.

I’m sorry to see ships like the Queen Elizabeth go. She was this nerd’s perfect vacation. And most important of all, she lived up to all my childhood expectations. How many times does that ever happen in a lifetime?

News of the Day

+ Yesterday, Yahoo News reported that a boy in Mexico glued himself to his bed in order to avoid school. Who wouldn't want to go to school? I think this might be a bad sign that he's not going to grow up to be a nerd. Poor kid.

+ An interesting new web site launched yesterday. Called Big Think, it's billed as a sort of "YouTube for intellectuals" where people can hear interviews and talks by big thinkers as diverse as Richard Branson, Ted Kennedy and Deepak Chopra. I haven't had much time to explore it yet, but the New York Times has a fascinating story on how it began.

+ Everyone's favorite 19th-century chick lit author, Jane Austen, is getting the red carpet treatment in the coming weeks on PBS' Masterpiece Theater with its Complete Jane Austen series. It all starts this Sunday, Jan. 13 with the debut of "Persuasion" in which Anthony Stewart Head, aka my imaginary librarian boyfriend Giles, has a featured role. And don't forget, the new series marks the debut of Gillian Anderson as host of Masterpiece Theater. Check your local PBS listings for times.

+ From Kotuko and the Consumer Electronics Show comes this funny little movie about Bill Gates' Last Day at Work. It's worth watching just for Bono's reaction to Gates' Guitar Hero riffs.

+ And finally, it looks like we have a nice group going for the new Park Bench book club. Don't forget to vote for your choice of the first book discussed. Right now, it's pretty much a dead heat between The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Digging to America and Room With a View with Pale Fire just a few steps behind.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Things Not To Say When Your Significant Other Is Playing Call of Duty 4 on XBox Live and Has the Microphone On For All the World To Hear

"Do you want me to throw away this Dungeons and Dragons board or put it in the closet with the Pokemon stuff?"

"What are these blue pills for again?"

"I DVRed The Hills for you."

"Just because you're twice their age doesn't mean you can't beat these kids."

"Who's a good little marksman? Who's a good little marksman? You are, boo boo!" (This achieves maximum embarrassment if uttered while tickling the person and/or speaking in a voice usually reserved for babies or cute dogs.)

"You know how you asked me if that shirt makes you look fat? I don't think so. I think it's the pants."

"Do you want marshmallows with your hot cocoa?"

"The doctor said not to scratch that."

"You never take me to LAN parties anymore."

"Just because it moved during 'Sweeney Todd' doesn't mean you're gay for Johnny Depp. You might just like musicals."

News of the Day

+ It's Monday, so it never hurts to have a new addition to the office time waster line-up. Check out this oddly addictive item called Xavier Enigma's Next Physics Game. Basically, you can draw any shape and the program will make it react the way an object that shape would react in a real, gravity-filled environment. I had a lot of fun drawing circles that rolled...and also a large-headed dog. Don't ask me why. It just seemed like the thing to do.

+ People Magazine's UK edition reports that Queen Elizabeth likes to bowl on Prince William's new Wii. (That sounds kind of weird, doesn't it?) My question is, was she able to make a little crown for her Mii? Are there Mii Corgis cheering for her in the background when she picks up a spare?

+ Looking for a new craft project? Want to turn your pantry into a disco? Well, now you can, thanks to's instructional guide on transforming your old CDs into a disco ball. Seriously, if anyone actually builds one of these, please send me photos. [via Lifehacker]

+ Ever wonder what Vin Diesel and Dolph Lundgren have in common besides enormous, kitten-crushing pecs? They're both apparently really smart. I know! Who'd have thought? But it's true. Read their stories in Cracked's List of Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Geeks. Also, the fact that Asia Carrera calls herself "the nerd of porn" has convinced me that if I had a favorite porn star, she would totally be it, Ron Jeremy be damned!

+ Those movies that get snubbed by the People's Choice Awards every year - I think they're referred to as "the good movies" -- got their due with the announcement of the National Society of Film Critics choices for best of 2007. (Spoiler alert: "There Will Be Blood" took top honors.)

+ And finally, Entertainment Weekly did a cool preview photo for Battlestar Galactica that's got that "Last Supper" look that's so popular with the kids these days. Check out this semi-spoilery post from that includes quotes from BSG producer Ron Moore on what the photo tells us about Season 4. You know, the season that was supposed to debut this month but that's been pushed back until April 4, nearly a full year after the last new episode aired. Not that I'm bitter.*

* Just kidding. I'm actually ridiculously bitter.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Book nerds unite!

Might there be any interest among Park Bench readers in starting a book club? And by book club, I mean a high-brow, intellectually snooty club that would cast aspersions and dirty glances at Oprah's Book Club, mostly out of jealousy because we're envious of her ridiculous wealth. (That last part might just be me.)

If there is an interest, I would suggest we could simply "meet" once a month in the old, abandoned Park Bench Yahoo group where we can post comments, sip tea, enjoy crumpets virtually and toss around the kind of three-dollar words and criticism we haven't been able to use since college.

Below are some ideas for a first club selection. Some of these are pulled from the New York Times Best Books of 2007 list, others are pulled from the Modern Library Top 100 Novels of All Time list and the last one is just because I like Anne Tyler. I'm going to put these in The Park Bench poll, so, if you're interested, please check out their Amazon links and vote for your favorite.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
A nerdy Dominican-American yearns to write and fall in love.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo
Through the story of a lawyer and his estranged wife, DeLillo resurrects the world as it was on 9/11, in all its mortal dread, high anxiety and mass confusion.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
About a crazy poet, his crazier 999-line poem and the critic who studies it.

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Victorians in Italy. Mayhem (well, Victorian mayhem) ensues. If we read this one, we can pretend we're in Pam's Finer Things Club from "The Office."

Digging to America by Anne Tyler
A story about what it is to be an American, and about Iranian-born Maryam Yazdan, who, after 35 years in this country, must finally come to terms with her “outsiderness.”

Please comment below if you have any interest in taking part. Also, if any good club names come to mind, please share. I'm leaning toward The Bad-Ass Book Readers Brigade myself, but am definitely open to suggestions.

News of the Day

+ If you're into massive multiplayer online games or as the acronym enthusiasts call them, MMOGs, and you love Firefly, boy, are you in for a treat! The Multiverse network, Inc., recently announced that Firefly will be transformed into a MMOG that will be available for play later this year.

“Fox’s Firefly series is set in an incredibly rich and exciting universe. It’s going to make a very compelling and unique online experience filled with adventure, humor, and mystery,” said Corey Bridges, Multiverse co-founder and Executive Producer. “It’s our hope that Firefly’s passionate and dedicated community of fans will enjoy the chance to become part of the story as they develop and explore the worlds of Firefly.”

Oooooh. All I can say is, there better be a virtual shop where my virtual me can buy an orange Jayne hat.

[From the Samurai Gunslinger]

+ I missed the return of the late night talk shows the other night...and then missed them again last night. If you missed them, too, Defamer put together a helpful video so you can compare and contrast which hosts did better -- those with writers or those without. I gotta say, whether this whole thing ends well or not, at least we got Conan and Dave and their sexy strike beards.

+ The marketing folks for "Lost" launched another one of those crazy, head-scratching viral websites that I like so much. It's been launch under the guise that Oceanic Air is returning to the skies. The husband of a lost Flight 815 stewardess is not so happy about it. Check it out at And don't forget to check out the press release available at the bottom of the page. Is it wrong that I enjoy being yanked around like this by a TV show?

+ Gawker ran a funny item yesterday about how just mentioning Ron Paul in your blog will boost your traffic and how people are exploiting that, which I think is just disgraceful. So disgraceful, in fact, I'm going to have to mention his name again. Here it comes: Al Gore may have invented the internet, but Ron Paul has hijacked the damn thing. Now excuse me, I have to go check my site meter.

+ Has anyone ever read the Max and Pinky graphic novels? I'd never heard of it before yesterday when NPR ran a story on its creator. I'm intrigued. It looks cute.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

DVD Review: Once

You know how sometimes Emeril will come over to your house and cook you a magnificent “BAM!” filled dinner but it doesn’t make you happy because really all you wanted in the first place was a really good turkey sandwich? And then when you have that sandwich, you’re so content and satisfied, you swear you might actually start purring?*

That’s how I felt watching “Once,” a movie written and directed by John Carney, set in Ireland and starring folks I’d never heard of but hope to see again. “Once” tells the very simple story of a street musician who fixes vacuum cleaners by day and writes songs by night. He meets a young woman, an immigrant who shares his passion for music. They spend one week together writing and recording songs, and sharing a kind of romance that’s much more about inspiration and mental connections than, as the young woman puts it, “hanky panky.”

There’s no big revelation in this story. No surprise ending and very little plot. Just two characters who are so well-crafted and real that you’d swear this was a documentary. And then there’s the music, which really serves as the movie’s driving force, bringing people together and creating joy out of small moments.

“Once” isn’t a gourmet meal. It’s a reminder that sometimes life’s simple stories are all that we need to feel truly satisfied.

* And yes, I once had a dream like this.

News of the Day

+ We have a winner in the ESPN Zone Ultimate Couch Potato Contest: Stan Friedman of New York, who lounged competitively for 29 hours. The lone female contestant dropped out after a disappointing 15 hours. Friedman's mark, while impressive, was well short of the Guiness Book of World Records mark for watching competitive sports, which was 69 hours and 48 minutes. I think we'll all be using that bit of knowledge at our next cocktail party. [New York Daily News]

+ Netflix soon will be delivering movies directly to your TV set via some sort of magical box that I believe uses fairies and pixie dust to transmit film from the internets, if I'm understanding my science correctly. This is an awesome development. I used to like Netflix because it meant I didn't have to go outside to the video store. Now I like Netflix because it means I don't even have to go outside to my mailbox. Yay, sloth!

+ Comic Book Resources did a year-end wrap-up of best and worst comics, writers and artists. Joss Whedon snuck in there as one of 2007's best writers for his Buffy season 8 work among other things. [Comic Book Resources]

+ And for all you political nerds out there, don't forget that C-SPAN is providing live coverage of the Iowa caucuses beginning at 7 p.m. EST tonight. I'm so curious to see how a caucus works, I'm actually going to watch this. Go, candidates I feel least unappealing! I'm totally rooting for you! [C-SPAN]

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

When Barbies ruled the Earth...

The trouble with a life that includes no premium cable channels is that inevitably one is forced to gripe about a TV show ten years after its relevance has ended and it’s finally come out in syndication. Such is the case with “Sex and the City,” a show I’ve just now experienced, thanks to being trapped on an elliptical machine four times a week at a gym that shows only TBS and the Food Channel. (Just a quick aside here – who’s the psychopath who turns on the Food Channel while they’re working out? Is it a cry for help, or a terrible joke that the skinny people play on those of us desperately seeking girth reduction? Either way, it’s troubling.)

Anyway, back to my late-breaking diatribe, which I like to call “Sex and the City: Why, God, Why?” So I’ve seen maybe four or five episodes now, and I don’t understand how any of it is supposed to be entertaining. Watching it, I just feel ashamed, as though I want to turn around to every guy in the gym and say, “Honestly, not all of us are like that.” One episode I saw the other night involved Sarah Jessica Parker’s character getting picked up by a Hollywood agent played by Vince Vaughen. He took her out to lunch and then to his new $3.4 million home. After he told her the price of the property, she pounced on him like a cougar on a pork roast. Later, she gets woken up by an angry Carrie Fisher asking what they’re doing in her bed. Turns out, the guy was just a lowly personal assistant, not a high-powered agent. But the first thing Parker’s character asks him is whether or not lied to her about the money and the house. There’s no indignation that he lied to bed her. There’s only indignation that he lied about being rich.

And that’s my basic problem with much of the show – the way it turns romance into a commercial transaction, i.e., you can have me in exchange for that shiny new toy. All of the “Sex and the City” women seem to be looking for the richest man, the best looking man, the man who can buy her the biggest ring or the most luxurious fur. I’m sure I’m missing important plot points here – I have friends who like this show, so I’m assuming there’s depth here that I’m just not catching. But honestly, how can any self-respecting woman condone the behavior of these characters? Is it supposed to be parody, or am I supposed to feel empathy for these women? If it’s the latter, then I guess this is just another honking huge clue that I’m a black sheep in the American sisterhood flock. I don’t see anything glamorous or exciting or magical about these women’s lives. In fact, if I knew them in real life, I think I’d just feel sorry for them. And also wonder which of them carried a contagion, but that’s neither here nor there.

And so ends my culturally-obsolete fist shaking. Tune in next decade when I share my thoughts on “Deadwood” and why large-thighed men rarely look good in chaps.

News of the Day

+ Sure, we may never get to see new episodes again, but we can relive the best of Battlestar Galactica Season 3 when the DVDs are finally released on March 25. Start saving your pennies now. [Buddy]

+ Lake Superior State University took its annual seven minutes in the sun (and trust us, that's a good thing because there is zero sun in Michigan in winter) this past week with their list of 19 words and phrases that were so overused, they made cliches turn away in shame. Topping the list? The phrase "a perfect storm," which they said "was numbingly applied to virtually any notable coincidence." When pressed, however, scholars were forced to admit it was still a pretty good movie. [Reuters]

+ Finally, a contest I could win! Yesterday morning, the ESPN Zone Ultimate Couch Potato Competition kicked into high gear. And by high gear, I mean four guys climbed into a La-Z-Boy and started watching TV. No, really. Here's how Yahoo describes it: "The participants, sitting in recliners in front of a dozen 42-inch high-definition plasma televisions and a couple of 14-foot HD projection TVs, will try to watch the most continuous hours of televised sports. They can order unlimited food and drinks, but can't sleep or leave their recliners except for restroom breaks once every eight hours." No word yet on whether or not any of the participants have been Medivaced out for couch sores. [Yahoo News]

+ The Washington Post ran a fascinating review on a new book called, Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them by David Anderegg. I'll be running out to get this book at my lunch hour today and delving into it as soon as possible. Why? Because of excerpts like this:

"Indeed, nerds are just about the last group of people it's safe to mock in polite company, which infuriates Anderegg, a professor of psychology at Bennington College in Vermont and a practicing psychotherapist: 'We act like it's all in good fun to communicate to our kids that people who are smart and do well in school and like science fiction and computers are also people who smell bad and look ugly and are so repulsive that they are not allowed to have girlfriends. And then we wonder why it's so hard to motivate kids to do well in school.'"
[Washington Post]

Hell yes...and hell yes again. Sing it, nerd brother!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Remember when it was just called the Sugar Bowl?

The names of college bowl games seem to be getting more and more ridiculous each year. I'd like to offer a few suggestions to make it even worse:

* Cialis Up For Anything Bowl

* Nicorette Twitch Bowl

* The Pottery Barn If This Was Really One of Our Bowls You'd Never Be Able To Afford It Bowl

* The UPS Our Packages Are Huge If You Know What We Mean Bowl

* Xanax So Mellow We Wet Ourselves Constantly Bowl

* McDonalds McGriddles Are Totally Worth the Coronary Bowl

* The Wild Turkey Gobble Gobble Ha Ha Ha I'm So Drunk I'm Just Going To Lay Here a Second Bowl

* The Gas X Bloat Our Way To Victory Bowl

* The Norwegian Cruise Line Guess Our Staph Infection Bowl

* The Google Can You Believe Our Stock Is Over 700 Dollars a Share We're So Rich Our Blood Is Made of Unicorns Bowl