August 31, 2004

Damning with faint pretense

Also via Boing Boing comes this report of Dennis Hastert attempting to smear George Soros:

"You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where ? if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from," Hastert mused. An astonished Chris Wallace asked: "Excuse me?" The Speaker went on: "Well, that's what he's been for a number years ? George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there." Wallace: "You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?" Hastert: "I'm saying I don't know where groups - could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know."

Brilliant. I mean, who the hell keeps voting these idiots into office (besides crooked voting machines, I mean)? It seems like the only people who would vote for such a man are crazed crack whores and dangerous psychopaths, although I guess we'll never know. I notice Mr. Hastert hasn't disavowed the support of such voters, though. Suspicious.

Posted by Francis at 11:01 AM

Pushing all my armchair conspiracy theorist buttons

Black Box Voting has uncovered a very very disturbing security flaw in Diebold's vote-counting GEMS software. You know how we've all been worried about how individual voting machines are not secure and may be vulnerable to tampering? That's nothing compared to the central tabulators that actually count the votes. You'll be ever-so-reassured to know that the tabulators have a deliberately programmed ability to create a second set of files with altered vote counts.

It is never appropriate to have two sets of books inside accounting software. It is possible to do computer programming to create two sets of books, but dual sets of books are prohibited in accounting, for this simple reason: Two sets of books can easily allow fraud to go undetected. Especially if the two sets are hidden from the user.

The data tables in accounting software automatically link up to each other to prevent illicit back door entries. In GEMS, however, by typing a two-digit code into a hidden location, you can decouple the books, so that the voting system will draw information from a combination of the real votes and a set of fake votes, which you can alter any way you see fit.

That's right, GEMS comes with a secret digital "on-off" switch to link and unlink its multiple vote tables. Someone who tests GEMS, not knowing this, will not see the mismatched sets of books. When you put a two-digit code into a secret location can you disengage the vote tables, so that tampered totals table don't have to match precinct by precinct results. This way, it will pass a spot check -- even with paper ballots -- but can still be rigged.

Scary as fuck. You should read the whole thing.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Posted by Francis at 10:17 AM

August 30, 2004

Secrets of blogging, #1: link to things written by other people

This has been linked to by many a blog, but perhaps it is still new to you -- the Morning News's Tricks of the Trade, which reveals inside secrets about acting drunk, writing newspaper headlines, and selling pianos, among many others. Anyone here got any of their own?

Posted by Francis at 12:57 PM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2004

Mag Lite

I'm starting a new job at Cargo magazine in a couple weeks, in the swanky Frank Gehry-designed Conde Nast building. Is this what it'll be like?

Posted by Francis at 09:00 PM

Giving the finger

If you sit up nights, unable to sleep because you are wondering which celebrities have missing digits on their hands, relief is here at last.

(Via Monochrom.)

Posted by Francis at 08:58 PM

Other things you can do with paper besides compare it to the internet

Rose got me started attending the yearly origami convention in Chelsea back in 2001, and it's been interesting to be a more casual attendee at something. (Generally, I go to puzzle conventions and crossword tournaments, where I am one of the more hard-core people in attendance.) You know -- while I'm able to fold some relatively difficult models, and can often fold things that are a bit beyond my skill level if someone who knows what they're doing is teaching the model, I'm just not really part of the subculture.

All of that is a long way of saying that I can see where Lore is coming from on some of his origami ratings. Like, I don't want to fold a thousand cranes, either. (I don't fold that often, so I want to fold cool, interesting models when I fold -- not more freakin' cranes.) However, Lore is dead wrong when he suggests that wadding up a piece of paper is a simple matter.

Posted by Francis at 08:20 AM

August 27, 2004

Dawgs playing polka

Just got home a few hours ago from a swell concert, and boy, have I gotten my workout today. I already ran five miles at the gym this afternoon, and then I spent about 90 minutes on the dancefloor, because the band was Brave Combo, and I realized quickly that there's just no point in going to a Brave Combo show and not dancing.

I've been aware of Brave Combo for a long time, but only own two of their albums (the Tiny Tim collaboration, "Girl"; and the excellent "Box of Ghosts", which rearranges classical music for the dance floor, in many many styles), and given that their discography is massive, you may glean that they're a band I appreciate but don't keep close tabs on. So the only reason I knew they were playing was because I have a friend who is a huge fan of theirs who tipped me off about the show. She lives in Boston and couldn't make the trip down to see them, and thus she sent me and Rose to enjoy the show for her vicariously.

Alas, Rose had a splitting headache, and two hours of dancing to polka/salsa/twist/mambo/whatever did not entice her, but I went anyway, and damn, they are a really fun band. I don't know if I actually need to own lots of their albums, but I definitely need to go see them in concert again next time I get a chance.

Although I was assured by my polka pusher that audiences at Brave Combo's shows are friendly and that I should feel free to ask people to dance, I never quite got up the nerve. There was hardly any room to do proper partner dancing, anyway, and while I don't mind just fooling around on the dance floor, I really only find that fun to do with someone I already know. So I just jumped around like a crazy person all by myself, which was perfectly enjoyable.

There were a couple tense moments at the beginning of the concert, though, which, thank goodness, I was able to ignore, and thus still enjoy the show. (So often at concerts, for some reason, I end up having to interact with some unpleasant fellow audience member, which makes me tense and distracted, usually for at least two songs.) This was probably thanks to the fact that the weirdness wasn't happening to me, but to the people next to me.

I was at the bar, waiting to order some dinner (there were no tables left), and a couple had walked up a few minutes after I arrived. While we were all waiting, this scary guy with a shaved head, mustache, and a German Iron Cross-shaped belt buckle walked up and started talking to the woman, ignoring the man. The conversation went something like this:

SCARY MAN: Hey, I know you.

WOMAN: You do?

SCARY MAN: Jeanette, right?


SCARY MAN: Well, look, I want to talk to you. I'm going to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Come outside with me so I can talk to you.

WOMAN: (clearly freaked out) Why?

MAN: Yeah, why can't you talk to her here?

SCARY MAN: Who are you?

MAN: What do you mean, who am I?

SCARY MAN: I mean, who the fuck are you? I'm talking to her.

WOMAN: Well, I don't want to go talk outside.

SCARY MAN: Well, we can talk here if he takes a walk.

MAN: What?

SCARY MAN: Step outside so me and the lady can talk. Or go sit down at a table or something.

MAN: What is this about?

SCARY MAN: It's a financial situation.

MAN: What?

SCARY MAN: Look, I'm not trying to threaten you here.

By this point I had given up trying to figure out what this guy's deal was and was just freaked out by the whole situation, so I went and alerted the nearest member of the waitstaff that there was a weird guy threatening some customers. (Really, what better way is there to threaten someone than to say, apropos of absolutely nothing, "I'm not trying to threaten you"?) By the time anyone looked like they might come over and try dealing with the guy, he had wandered outside (though he eventually came back in). Fortunately, I didn't see him for the rest of the night.

The poor couple, already a bit stressed, then got beer sprayed on them by the bartender, who had apparently been holding a pint glass too close to one of the taps. Now, had I been that bartender, I would immediately have offered them a free beer. He did not do this. Given that he did not do this, and that the beer sprayage was relatively minor, had I been those customers, I would have just paid for my beers, maybe been a little skimpy on the tip, and gone on with the evening. Instead, the guy of the couple ended up arguing with the bartender about how they deserved some free beer, with the bartender lamely claiming "It's my first night" (a claim which I felt rather dubious about) and "I have no authority to give out free beers" (oh...yes, you do -- you just pour out a beer and don't ring it up).

Both these positions are lame. The bartender should have sucked it up, and the customer shouldn't have been wasting time he could've been enjoying the concert (which had started by this point) by spending five minutes arguing with the bartender (and thus, incidentally, making service slower for everyone else at the bar). Sad. As for me, I ate my dinner quickly, got to the dance floor in time for the Habanera/Hava Nagila Twist, and never looked back.

Posted by Francis at 01:29 AM

August 26, 2004

Well, I can see why no one had invented it yet

Jon points me to the Delphion Gallery of Obscure Patents. My favorite is the pair of chopsticks that has a single fork stuck to the ends.

Posted by Francis at 12:25 AM

Dead Men Rocking

If you like the music of the '60s in the slightest, you really can't live without the Zombies' 4 CD box set, which contains, basically, everything they ever recorded, including an album's worth of (excellent) unreleased studio recordings. Not Lame has it back in stock for a mere $42. I bought it on a recommendation by Dawn Eden way back when it first came out, when all I knew of the Zombies was "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season", and she did not lead me astray. Don't kick yourself later. Just suck it up and buy it now.

Posted by Francis at 12:00 AM

August 25, 2004

Playlists of the Rich and Famous

As someone who has been making mix tapes and/or CDs for, oh, at least 15 years with no signs of slowing down (indeed, I think the rate has increased significantly in the past couple years, although I'm really not on par to match my 2003 output this year), I find that learning someone is a fellow longtime mix maker is a pretty good indication that, hey!, here is a person I will enjoy knowing.

I mean, sure, whether or not that person and I share a significant overlap in musical tastes is important, but generally anyone I run into in my social circles probably has not-too-mainstream tastes. Of course, I don't run into too many celebrities.

(In case I am ever famous someday and readers of the future wish to peruse my own playlists, here is where to find them.)

(Via Coudal Partners.)

Posted by Francis at 07:31 PM

August 24, 2004

Jimmy Carter (Extended Remix)

I contributed lots of pieces to Modern Humorist's now-out-of-print (but available used) "Rough Draft", and was pleased with the presentation of pretty much all of my contributions, but I was always a little sad that the full version of my rendition of Jimmy Carter's Playboy Interview didn't get used. (Only the final question and its response appeared in the book.) So here's the long version. Enjoy.


The details of Jimmy Carter's history are common knowledge by now, and the winding path he took from peanut farmer to presidential candidate has already been mapped out many times. But there is one question the public may still not know the answer to: Who is Jimmy Carter?

When Carter agreed to our request for an interview, we made a vow to challenge him with questions that would force him to reveal more than just a party platform, but unveil the man inside. We had no idea how well we would succeed.

PLAYBOY: After nearly two years on the campaign trail, don't you feel a little numbed by the routine -- for instance, having to give the same speech over and over?

CARTER: Sometimes. But usually I can find something that's unique about a particular audience. Maybe it's a man who looks like I'm really starting to change his mind. Or a child who might believe I really want to help him. Or a really beautiful woman. And I try to talk directly to those people. Sometimes I'll even talk to them personally after a speech, or give someone my phone number. These things keep me going.

PLAYBOY: Every politician probably emphasizes different things to different audiences, but in your case, there's been a common criticism that you seem to have several faces, that you try to be all things to all people. How do you respond to that?

CARTER: I think I'm as honest as I can be with people about what I believe. But I do admit that, in some sense, I want to please everyone. However, I think this is just part of the strong feeling I have toward the American people. I don't want to leave anyone unsatisfied. Jimmy makes sure everybody goes away satisfied.

PLAYBOY: Both the press and the public seem to have made an issue out of your Baptist beliefs. Why do you think this has happened?

CARTER: I think religion scares people, even though the majority of U.S. citizens would say that they were religious people. Still, for many people, any religious faith apart from their own is bound to remain somewhat mysterious and perhaps even suspect. But these distinctions are really only cosmetic. I have the same desires as any other man -- perhaps more so.

PLAYBOY: We've heard that you pray 25 times a day. Is that true?

CARTER: I don't keep track. But it's true that you can often hear the phrase "Oh, God" coming out of my bedroom.

PLAYBOY: There seem to have been relatively few women in important staff positions in your campaign. Is that accurate?

CARTER: Not exactly. Women have been in charge of our entire campaign effort in many states, and beyond that, I have many women on my staff, from the bottom of my staff to the top, up and down, up and down, oh yeah.

(At this point, a press aide indicated that Carter was running late for another appointment and that we would have to continue the interview later. As the interviewer and the Playboy editor rose to leave, a quick, seemingly casual question was tossed off. Carter then delivered a long, personal monologue while his press aide glowered and pointed at his watch. The interviewer signaled to Carter that they were still taping, to which Carter nodded his assent, or maybe he just coughed, but here it is anyway.)

PLAYBOY: Do you hope to reassure people with this interview, people who are uneasy about your religious beliefs, who wonder if you're going to make a rigid, unbending President?

CARTER: I do. Because I'm not rigid -- except when it counts. Then I am rock hard. But I am human. I am human and I am tempted.

For instance, I have lusted in my heart after those bitches, you know the ones, they've got their miniskirts right up to their ass and their nipples pointing straight through their T-shirts, man, I just want to grab them and throw them on the floor and fuck them all night till they finally know what pleasure is, because let me tell you, you ain't had pleasure till you've had Jimmy pleasure. That's right. You know what I'm talkin' about.

Christ said, "I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery." So that's why, as soon as I feel that lust, I figure I might as well get the pussy if I've already committed the sin, if you see where I'm coming from. And God forgives me for that. Because that's what God does. It's a pretty fucking sweet deal, if you ask me.

Christ also said, "Don't consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women behind his wife's back while the other only screws one woman behind his wife's back because he's not that great a lover and he just can't get more women to fuck him." I do not look down on men who cannot leave their women screaming into their pillow as they're being pounded from behind, the way I can.

Now let me tell you something about cunnilingus. (Continued on page 317)

Posted by Francis at 02:36 AM

August 23, 2004

The pause that refreshes

Sorry for the blog lull there; I was out of town. However, while I had a fine weekend, it wasn't an especially productive weekend vis-a-vis subjects for blog entries. So you get a link instead. But an interesting one! It's the website of an artist/crafter (Lisa Bennett) who Rose met while she (Lisa, not Rose) was making a set of stuffed letters that spell BOYCATBIRD, and it's filled with idiosyncratic, highly entertaining artwork. Just the thing for going back in time to Thursday and whiling away four days with.

Posted by Francis at 02:06 AM

August 18, 2004

Amuse a man, and he's amused for a few minutes. Teach a man to amuse himself, and he will annoy everyone he sits next to in a restaurant for the rest of his life.

Recently, some fellow puzzle dorks and I were playing a game that was introduced at July's National Puzzlers' League convention in Boston by its inventors, NeilFred and Henri Picciotto, "Unwords". This is a game even non-puzzle dorks would enjoy, it being highly entertaining and not requiring much preparation, so let me explain the rules.

The only thing you need to do is print out this list of sets of seven letters. None of those sets of letters has a single word anagram. Your job is to make up a word that can be anagrammed from those sets of letters, and define it so that the other players can guess it. There aren't really any turns -- once you think of a word and a definition, you call it out, and once someone figures out what word you made up, they call it out as well, and hopefully hilarity ensues.

Here are some examples from the game mentioned above. (Answers appear in the comments.)

A permit that allows you to spill oil

The act of turning the sound back on after the commercial break

Foods that aren't good for you...but aren't bad for you, either

Posted by Francis at 12:11 PM | Comments (4)

August 17, 2004

Wordplay in the news

Dairy Queen inadvertently runs across a slightly unfortunate final-sound change, to wit: MooLatte/mulatto.

Also note that DQ is offering free MooLattes on August 24 to anyone accompanied by a live cow.

(Via HappyScrappy.)

Posted by Francis at 11:45 PM

August 16, 2004

I hope the rest of the business world doesn't start picking up on this interpretation of "branding"

Columbine directed me to this article about a skateboarder and a manhole cover:

Magazine receptionist and DJ Liz Wallenberg ... was skating to see friends at an East Village club early Wednesday when she hit a bump in the road at 13th Street and Second Avenue.

"I landed with my arm and back straight onto the metal cover," Wallenberg said. "I noticed it was kind of hot, but I didn't realize how bad it was until my skin started to sizzle."

A distressed Wallenberg lifted her shirt and saw a large red imprint from the manhole cover on her back.

A large imprint that will possibly scar her for life. I know some hardcore people like to brand themselves, but I think they like to pick the images, at least. Anyway, the message is clear: manhole covers will fuck you up.

Posted by Francis at 01:48 PM

Some kind of movie

So Rose and I saw "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" yesterday afternoon, and it turns out to be a pretty remarkable documentary. As you may or may not know -- and, gosh, isn't that true of a lot of things? -- the movie covers several years in which the members of Metallica were having group therapy to help deal with intraband tensions.

I expected this to be amusing, and it was -- though honestly less for the sight of the members of Metallica talking about their feelings (because those guys all come across as people who are making an honest effort to learn how to be grown-ups without changing who they essentially are), and more for the contrast between the band and the extreme touchy-feely laid-backedness of the therapist -- but what I didn't expect was that I would find the film as moving as I did. Seeing lead singer James Hetfield's transformation over the course of the film, through the band's therapy sessions and an offscreen year of rehab, is pretty fucking remarkable.

I mean, I'm not a heavy metal fan in general or a Metallica fan in particular, and I'm probably not going to go out and buy any Metallica albums after seeing this movie, but I came out of the theater feeling pretty warmly towards the guys in the band (even the onetime inadvertent RIAA tool Lars Ulrich, who appears to have realized that he had been kind of a twit about that whole Napster thing, and that maybe he should be content with the fact that he is a freaking millionaire). All this did not prevent me from coming up with some alternate subtitles for the movie:

Kill 'Em All (And Let Our Therapist Help Us Sort Out Our Guilt Feelings About That)
Enter Sadman
...And Intense Discussions for All

Also, I'd like to point out that I would buy Metallica's "Master of Puppets" in a second if it were called "Pastor of Muppets" instead.

Posted by Francis at 06:49 AM | Comments (1)

August 15, 2004

Think of the cruciverbalists! Oh, won't someone think of the cruciverbalists?

Someone in Cheboygan is thinking about the future.

What is going to become of the crossword puzzle industry when parents stop giving their children names such as Otto?

Otto is popular with puzzle makers because it has two vowels in the space of four letters. The "T's" also are welcome because they are common to many words.

The trouble is that you rarely run into anybody named Otto any more.

Apparently he didn't see The Two Towers. We're good for a while on the "Otto" thing, thanks.

But he does bring up a question. Are minor celebrities apt to stay in the public eye longer if their names commonly come up in crosswords? Why else, after all, would anyone still remember Charlotte Rae, Polly Holliday (star of "Flo"), Conrad Bain, or Inga Swenson, if not for the needs of crossword writers? Therefore, it may be a savvy career move for people who are planning to push their children into show business to give them crossword-friendly names, perhaps even ones that are entirely made up, like Iula, Anir, Mora, or Selt.

Or not.

Posted by Francis at 12:27 AM | Comments (1)

August 14, 2004

I'll apologize, if smoke gets in your eyes

Japan Tobacco Inc. educates the people about cigarette etiquette.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Posted by Francis at 05:41 PM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2004

Cap Killa

I enjoy the thing where rebellious young people try to find brand new ways of wearing the same old articles of clothing. Recently, Rose and I saw a guy on the subway who had apparently decided that wearing a baseball cap backward or sideways was just not anti-establishment enough for him. He wanted to wear it perpendicularly.


As I asked Rose at the time, What exactly is the message he is trying to send with that hat? "I am so bad-ass, I don't care about anything that happens on my right side. Because I am sinister."

Rose was dying to take a picture with her cell phone/spy camera, but worried that they'd see us taking it and get angry with us. I was able to persuade her to go for it, largely because of the big hat visor blocking his field of vision -- how was he going to see her taking the picture? She was pretty sneaky about taking the shot, but Perpendicular Hat Man's friend seems a bit suspicious.

Anyway, since the quality of the cell phone photo is, perforce, not ideal, Rose took a couple photos of me at home sporting the same look. Somehow it's not quite so tough-looking on me.

cap1.jpg cap2.jpg

Posted by Francis at 09:15 AM | Comments (7)

August 11, 2004

I, of a needle

This weekend I competed in one of the various geek types of thing I often participate in -- a running-around-Manhattan multi-puzzle extravaganza called the Haystack.

We fielded an all-National Puzzlers' League team with me and Rose, one Manhattanite (Jon, aka Coach in the NPL), and two friends (both onetime New Yorkers) who came down from Boston for the event, Jenny and Kevin (Hathor and Ucaoimhu). Our team, on Jenny's suggestion, was called the "Uncorrected Personality Traits"; the game organizers also asked all teams to write a verse or song explaining why their team was the one that was going to win win win, so she and I, naturally, wrote a full parody of the Robyn Hitchcock song from which the team name was taken. (Some lines will make more sense when you know that the prize for successfully searching the haystack that is Manhattan is the Golden Needle.)

Uncorrected personality traits
That seem dorkwaddish in a child
May prove to be useful in
A Haystack puzzle team

Lack of involvement with reality and
Overinvolvement with one?s brainstem
Can result in an eerie ability
To uncover needles in hay

And in enigmatic leanings,
Logic problems, cryptic crosswords --
Geeks from the neck up,
Geeks from the neck down --
Attempts to find your own gold needle

Reconcile your puzzles to you
By co-solving two at once

Even Marilyn vos Savant was a man
But this tends to get overlooked
By our Gardner-fixated
Literal left-brained media

So, uncorrected personality traits
That seem dorkwaddish in a child
May prove to be useful in
A Haystack puzzle team

If you give them puzzles
Every time they cry
They will become little loners
And they won?t remember why
Then when they are thwarted
By Will Shortz at a later date
They will become ingenious
And thus make an ideal Haystack teammate

The word search baby grows into
The Junior Jumble teenager who?s
The adult cruciverbalist who?s
The Golden Needle winner.

Oi! So,
Uncorrected personality traits
That seem dorkwaddish in a child
May prove to be useful in
A Haystack puzzle team

We apparently spent a bit more energy on our song than the rest of the teams. When Haystack HQ sent out their "Meet the Teams" e-mail, they wrote, "Looks like we've got 10 teams playing. What do their verses tell us about them? It would be specious to argue a correlation between the effort a team puts into versification and its likelihood of victory..." No, it wouldn't! Because we won!

Yes, in an exciting finish, we were the only team to solve all the puzzles in the Haystack, with approximately seven minutes left before the final deadline. (We finished the very last puzzle while walking to the restaurant where the wrap-up was being held.) And, to all our mutual pride, we did it without getting all hyper and competitive; if we all wanted to work on a puzzle, we all worked on a puzzle, rather than solving separately for speed.

The finish might not have been quite so tight if I hadn't completely forgot about one of the puzzles, a deck of cards that ended up being easy to lose track of in my bag. Fortunately, I realized my forgetfulness with enough time to spare to solve the (bitch of a) puzzle the deck of cards included -- reconstructing an entire game of hearts. When the game was correctly reconstructed, a letter written on each card, read in the order the game was played, spelled a message. That one took four of us about 40 minutes, using all our mutual brainpower. Whew.

Other highlights included a visit to the Tompkins Square Park dog run, where we had to read an important bit of information off the tag on one of the dog's collars; a walkaround in Greenwich Village that used an old, old map in which all the streets had different names (apparently Waverly used to be Factory, and W. 12th was Troy, for instance), thus making us (or at least Jon and Kevin) figure out which part of Greenwich Village the map actually depicted; and a puzzle in which the table of of people sitting next to us at lunch helpfully volunteered the name of the baseball player that our lacking-in-sports-savvy team didn't know (Trot Nixon), and then was also able to answer our question as to whether it was Metallica or Winger that had recorded a song called "One" (it was Metallica).

Oh, and I can't leave out the Triathlon, in which our team had to split up into three parts: our two "smartest" members, our two "most creative" members, and our one "most omnivorous" member. Rose was the least picky/least afflicted by food allergies person at the table, so she volunteered to be our omnivorous member. After the triathlon, she reported, "Oh, my god, it was horrible, they made us eat the most disgusting -- [laughter] -- I can't keep it up, it was fine, they made me eat a slice of cold pizza." Jon and Kevin were our two smartest members, and fielded a selection of New York trivia. Jenny and I got to be the creative delegation, and were given a big pack of gum, a pack of toothpicks, and told to construct a recognizable New York landmark. (That is, the Haystack official had to know what the landmark was without being told.) Jenny came up with a fine idea, which we executed thusly:


So then there was dinner at, ummm, Lili's Noodle Shop, I think it was called, which was great. I had honey BBQ pork with mango, a dish for which I would be willing to trek all the way to the Upper East Side from Windsor Terrace many times. I'm not sure my brain ever stopped making the Homer Simpson drooling sound once while I was eating it. And then came the awarding of the prize: the Golden Needle, which turned out to be two golden needles. Two golden knitting needles, in fact! Since Rose is on the verge of opening a yarn store, there was no argument about who got to keep the prize.



Anyway, tons of fun. I hope the organizers (two NPLers themselves) aren't too burned out to do it again next year. Further wrap-up will be posted here eventually, I gather, though the site is resting at the moment.

Posted by Francis at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

August 09, 2004

Bagpipe Patrol

Went to see "Much Ado About Nothing" in Central Park tonight, and I don't have much to say about the production except that I liked it very much indeed. What I do have to report is that as we were walking up to our designated gate at the Delacorte, I heard this exchange from a passing Public Theater employee:

Voice on walkie-talkie: ...a guy with a bagpipe.

Employee: (Hurrying off very officiously) I'm on it.

I long to know what the prelude to that conversation was.

Posted by Francis at 12:29 AM | Comments (2)

August 08, 2004

Woman of letters

Maelstrom pointed me to a news story about a woman who is spending a year living alphabetically, two weeks at a time.

In nearly every aspect of her life, Goody's thoughts and actions will somehow be related to a letter of the alphabet.

For example, for the next two weeks, "I will only listen to music by composers whose names start with A, or that is in A major, or if the performer's name starts with A," Goody says. "Which really allows for so many options. It will be a lot harder with the X's."

Yeah...I like Xenakis, but only in limited doses. I could handle two weeks of listening to XTC, though.

She will get together with friends whose names begin with A. She will eat foods that start with A.

At Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, the coffee and dessert nightspot Goody opened in 1980 on Southeast 12th Avenue in Portland, her staff will answer the telephone with letter-appropriate greetings. (For the next two weeks, it will be "Allo?" After that it will be "Buenos dias.") And desserts, for this fortnight, will be Apricot Almond Tart, Angel Food Cake with Ambrosia Sauce, and Apple Crisp.

The food is going to be much, much harder to deal with during the X weeks than the music selections. Maelstrom points out, "Eating nothing but xanthan gum may be a tad unhealthy." Is X-Men Cereal still available? Maybe if she cuts out X-shaped sandwiches with an X-Acto knife, with an X-Large drink on the side, it's okay. If it's too much for her to bear, there's always Xanax.

Posted by Francis at 02:37 AM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2004

A maze filled with pictures is worth a thousand mazes

We and some friends went to see Cartunnel this evening, and it was awesome. It's a sort of choose-your-own-adventure comic strip maze, except trippy and fucked up, in the good way. It was originally going to close...uh, today (now that it's after midnight), but it's been extended for a week, so you should go check it the hell out. They're pretty flexible about making appointments during the week, or you can just go to the closing party on the 14th, which will have the artists in attendance.

Posted by Francis at 12:12 AM | Comments (2)

August 06, 2004

Want a plane that loops the loop? Me, I want this GODDAMN SONG OUT OF MY HEAD

It's "The Christmas Song", sung by the slowed-down-to-normal-speed-Chipmunks. Truly, the stuff of nightmares.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Posted by Francis at 11:06 AM | Comments (3)


I watched a free showing of Thunderball in Prospect Park this evening, preceded by a selection of James Bond theme songs performed by the Loser's Lounge. They were good, but it sort of made me wish they had done other people's songs in the style of James Bond songs. I think Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me" would work well under the John Barry treatment.

I had never seen Thunderball before. Lord, but it is massively campy. Of course there are all the future subjects of Austin Powers parody (the jet pack, the villain with a pet cat, the swimming pool filled with sharks, the sex between enemy agents), but there were some other unexpected pleasures. For instance, all the evil henchmen who worked on the villain's boat, who wore matching uniforms with the name of the ship: Disco Volante. This is not merely a silly sounding name (which means "flying disc" in Italian, according to Google), what with the hindsight of living in the post-disco era, but also an album by Mr. Bungle. Thus all the evil henchmen looked like they were big Mr. Bungle fans. Laffs galore.

Another highlight was the constant use of sped-up backgrounds for chase scenes. This was particularly risible in the final scene, when the Disco Volante -- a large boat, even after shedding its rear half -- is speeding out of control. The background is moving at video game speeds, and the ship apparently has such a sensitive rudder that a mere spin of the steering wheel causes an instantaneous change of direction.

Two more good bits appeared in close proximity, during the parade scene. One shot features a dog plainly urinating in the middle of the street. The other was a shot that was quite obviously flipped -- a sign carried by one of the marchers appeared in mirror image.

Finally, the ending was classic. (This ending was going to be parodied in Austin Powers, but got replaced; you can see it as an outtake on the DVD.) Bond and Bond girl (Domino) await rescue in an emergency raft. Bond inflates some giant zeppelin thingy which floats up into the air to indicate their location. A plane retrieves it and Bond and Bond girl, holding on to the end of the rope, or tied to it, or something, are hoisted up off the raft. We then see the final shot of the film: Bond and Bond girl being towed through mid-air by a plane going at full speed. This is not some hovering helicopter. This is a freakin' plane.

Am I being picky? Perhaps I just had my expectations raised by the super-realistic scene at the beginning where Bond escapes a bunch of evil people of some sort via a jet pack that appears out of nowhere.

Posted by Francis at 12:09 AM | Comments (2)

August 04, 2004

I really wouldn't be very good with that whole zen thing where you release yourself from your possessions, or whatever the hell it is those people do

I hope to have lots of disposable income at my disposal again soon, so Rose and I can go to Japan and squander ungodly amounts of money at the Studio Ghibli museum. Christ almighty! Life-size plush catbus! DVD players with acorns! I need it all.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Posted by Francis at 10:29 PM | Comments (2)

Better tie-tying through science

Andy points me to an article on ties that is slightly over my head, math-wise, in a couple places, but introduces a tie-tying notation which I actually grok very well. It helped me tie my first ever decent Windsor knot, in fact. (I'm a four-in-hand man, myself.) I doubt I'll use it much, but since a Windsor knot uses up a lot of tie, it might come in handy for the handful of ties I own which are a bit too long for me.

I'm also interested in hearing proposed names for the new tie-tying methods introduced in the article. I'm currently calling the really short method a "Slacker". And maybe that last one is a "Mega-Windsor".

Posted by Francis at 03:31 PM in Ties

August 03, 2004

Just goes to show what a little faith can do

Many thanks to TMFTML for tipping me off about the upcoming reissue of The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, which many of my friends will be happy about, because it means I will finally stop complaining about how it's so lame that it's out of print, and in fact was never issued on CD, and is a better live album than Stop Making Sense, blah blah blah, music geek, music geek, music geek. Unfortunately, they will now have to hear me go on about how they've added, like, 16 more songs to the original album. You win some, you lose some.

Posted by Francis at 06:10 AM | Comments (3)

August 02, 2004

What's wrong with this picture?

From my ongoing Tom Cruise Height Obfuscation Watch. Which of these two men do you think is actually taller?


Posted by Francis at 07:55 PM | Comments (3)

August 01, 2004

Kitten of the sea

Here's a heartwarming story of a kitten who was rescued after being found frantically swimming three miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The report fails to mention the not-so-cheerful part of the story, which is that some idiots on some other boat must have brought the kitten with them out to sea, and then not have been paying attention to it when it fell off the boat. (It's even worse if they did know their kitten had fallen off the boat, and didn't rescue it.)

Punchline to make it all better: cat fished out of the water had worms! Come on, people, don't use live bait.

Posted by Francis at 04:36 PM | Comments (1)

I am writing this to you in confidence

I (barely) make a living as a freelance writer, and generally my contracts arrive with cursory notes that say "please sign and return", if they arrive with notes at all, since it is pretty obvious what one is meant to do with a contract. Recently I received a contract that was accompanied by the most extensive note possible. It was almost like receiving a Nigerian scam e-mail. It went like this:

Dear Francis,

Here is a copy of your contract with Anonymous Publishing on behalf of Unnamed magazine. Please notify me when you receive your contract. If I don't hear from you I will assume that you haven't received it yet. Please sign and return to my attention. My contact information is as follows:

[contact information deleted]

Thank you for working on this project with us. We greatly appreciate all of your hard work. If you have any questions or concerns please don't hesitate to contact me.

And now you are thinking, well, perhaps that seems a bit florid, but what's the big deal? So they've got some new person working in accounts payable or wherever who wants their letters to sound more personal, and has typed up a new form letter to accompany their contracts. Aha. Well, you see, this letter was written by hand, in loopy cursive handwriting.


Are all their contributors getting handwritten notes? That seems a little labor-intensive for such a near-automatic transaction.

Posted by Francis at 03:35 PM