March 30, 2007

Sometimes life hands you a perfect setup

Eric Berlin writes (via IM):

At lunch, a co-worker said yesterday, regarding the movie Borat. "I couldn't watch it. It's like the show The Office. I know it's really popular, but that kind of humor just makes me really... there should be a word for this..."

I got quite a look when I laughed louder than anybody was expecting.

And thus another seed is sown.

Posted by Francis at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2007

The Tie Project, days 83-89

Well, all this crosswordy stuff is very exciting, but I can't let it make me neglect my tieblogging.

Day 83. This shirt looks a little more brown and less green in the photo than it does in real life, I feel. Or maybe I'm just willing it to be greener with my mind so it'll match the tie better.


Day 84. The color scheme of this shirt always improves my mood somehow. I'm wearing it with a similarly cheerful (and handmade) tie that was a gift from my friend Alexandra. I don't know where she bought it, but I think it was the 1970s.


Day 85. I told you that I'd be wearing the shirt from day 4 again, and I was not lying. It just took me about four months to get around to it. (It was winter!)


Day 86. This is the other tie I received as a gift for contributing to the Business 2.0 article (see day 77). It's yet another Rooster. The shirt was spotted by Rose in a tiny little Chinatown shop just outside the East Broadway subway stop; she rescued it and brought it home for me. That store has never stocked anything with the least bit of merit since.


Day 87. A new combination. Shirt from Filene's Basement, tie from...Cargo, I think. Shirt looks a little oddly taut at the shoulders from me trying to get the camera far enough away from myself to get the full pattern of the fabric in the frame.


Day 88. An old standby. The tie is vintage and the pink bits are starting to get a bit thin in places. (Well, it's been happening for a while, really.) I try to treat it gently.


Day 89. Another new combo, another shirt from Filene's basement. I've had the tie for a while, but I think this is the first time I've worn it. It's much more the sort of tie that one wears with a retro '50s suit and a fedora, which is not quite my idiom. Glad I finally got to give it a day in the sun.


Posted by Francis at 12:01 AM in Ties | Comments (6)

March 28, 2007

Pulling the drapes

Yesterday I got a Windows alert about an system update. As usual, I checked to see whether it was something actually necessary, or something lame like an Internet Explorer update that's going to eat up memory and not improve my life in any way. It turned out the update was for a "Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool", which was described thusly:

The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be a non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.

So...basically, if one has a licensed version of Windows (as I do), this update is useless -- unless it turns out to have a bug and decide that my licensed copy of Windows is actually pirated and lock me out of my own system, which admittedly seems unlikely, but why risk it for a useless program? This update isn't to help me, the user, it's there to be a security guard for Microsoft, released as an automatic update in hopes that some unsuspecting pirate will install it. Pushy! And Vista's only going to be worse. This is why Windows XP will be the last version of Windows I use. After this computer dies (however far down the road that may be), it's Mac or Linux all the way.

Posted by Francis at 09:40 AM | Comments (5)

Hack minds think alike

Peter found this unfortunate (or serendipitous, depending on your point of view) juxtaposition in the comics yesterday:


Now if only someone had also beaned Mary Worth in the head with a brick, this would have been the best comics page ever.

Posted by Francis at 09:36 AM | Comments (2)

March 26, 2007

More tournament thoughts (Warning: gets sentimental)

One of the best things about being part of the puzzle community is how essentially nice everyone is. Yes, we all play to win, but when we don't, I've never seen any of us taking it out on each other. I know Trip was really itching to be back on stage, but even though I edged him by a minute this year to grab third place (tied with Al Sanders on time, but officially in 3rd because of the same tiebreaker rule that would have put me in 4th if Trip had made up enough time on the last puzzle to tie me), he was honestly really happy for me that I got into the finals for the first time. Seriously, I am super lucky to have the friends and peer group I have.

I forgot to mention in my earlier recounting of the final puzzle: I had some difficulty when it came time to put on the headphones which would be playing white noise at me during the finals. I never realized how they worked; from the audience it just looks like everyone is wearing big-ass headphones. They're not. Finalists wear a combination of earbud-style headphones that play the United Nations white noise, and then heavy-duty sound-blocking earphones-without-the-phones go over those. Problem was, I couldn't get my earbuds to stay in -- they were too small! I'd put them in, and then they'd fall out while I was trying to put the bigger headset on over them. This happened multiple times. Finally I remembered that I had my iPod headphones in my bag, and I asked if I could swap them in instead. That worked much better. So that's my advice to you: if you get in the finals, bring your own earbuds.

That whole mishegas probably contributed to my flusteration on the stage, but there were a lot of other stresses too, not least of which was a recurring feeling of, well, impostor syndrome, I guess -- like, "Holy crap, these guys are the best solvers around! What the hell am I doing up here?" There was a reporter interviewing us downstairs before we went up -- an extremely unprepared reporter who had clearly never come within a mile of a Wordplay DVD, I might add, based on the questions like "Have you ever been in the finals before?" that he was asking Al -- and he talked to me a little about what it was like to be in the finals for the first time, and was I worried, and I joked, "Well, you know, obviously I'm at a disadvantage because they've had experience solving on stage and using the big boards, so I'm just going to have to try to crush them with my innate superiority" (meanwhile thinking, "Please just don't let me embarrass myself").

In the end, it was a very stressful 15 minutes I spent up there, but it was quite an honor to be solving beside Al and Tyler. Coming in third has never felt quite so much like winning.

Posted by Francis at 05:38 PM | Comments (17)

Saturday night's all right for writing

So, as promised, here is the puzzle I presented on Saturday night (the solving of which will eventually be seen as part of a Discovery Channel documentary, probably around the end of the summer sometime) -- and here's the outfit worn at the event by my co-presenter Erin, seen on the mannequin as well as in action. (The swank sweater I'm wearing in the second photo was knitted by the lovely Lorinne, who also documented me photographing myself in it for a future installment of the Tie Project.)

UPDATE: You no likey the pdf? Here is an Across Lite version. The clues with asterisks indicate either recently coined words or archaic words waiting to be repopularized.

Posted by Francis at 01:56 PM | Comments (7)

March 25, 2007


Hey! I just got back from this year's crossword puzzle tournament, where I had a kickass year! The puzzle I presented Saturday night (which I will be posting tomorrow) was very well received, but more importantly DOOD I CAME IN THIRD!!!!! This meant I was on stage for the final playoff round, which was fairly stressful, since I've never been in a playoff before -- I moved from the C division to the B division by finishing in a high enough percentile, and I moved from the B division to the A division in a sort of freak finish in 1998 where I came in 10th overall (thus winning an A prize) but was 4th in the B division, so didn't make the playoff. (After that, I came in 9th in 1999 and have been pretty much dogging it in the 12th-to-14th zone since.) As you know if you've seen Wordplay, the finalists wear headphones with crowd noise recorded at the U.N.; this actually turns out to not really be very distracting at all. The distracting part is knowing that everyone is watching.

Anyway, I didn't finish the playoff puzzle, which is irritating, but I don't feel too bad about it, given that many other A division solvers came up to me and told me that they couldn't finish it in under 15 minutes without the pressure of being on stage. Al Sanders finished the puzzle slightly ahead of Tyler Hinman, but with an error, so Tyler won the three-peat.

So -- that error he made. I had the same error, as did 4th-place finisher Trip Payne (solving in the audience), and apparently quite a few other people who were trying to solve the A division clues. The Down clue was "Carpenter's tool", for which I had LEVEL, and the Across clue (crossing the first letter of the Down clue) was "Secesh". Which looked like complete nonsense to me! I got the rest of that area filled in and ended up with REL as the answer to "Secesh". Turns out "Secesh" is short for "Secessionist" (I wasn't even close to pronouncing that word correctly in my head! I kept saying to myself, "Suh-kesh? What?"), and thus the correct answer was REB (as in "Rebel", as in the Civil War), and "Carpenter's tool" was BEVEL, not LEVEL. Agh!

I got hung up all kinds of places in that puzzle, although I apparently was the first person to get the upper left mostly filled in (seeing through "Lead character in Glengarry Glen Ross" and writing in CAPITAL G right away -- since I know that play really well, and the only eight-letter character name I could think of was DAVEMOSS, and I knew perfectly well he wasn't the lead role), but I wasn't able to build any momentum off that, and I had a bunch of tentative wrong entries in the lower left that I never managed to correct (like WEAR/WAKEUP for "Don" and "Stop sleeping" -- or something like that -- instead of the correct CAPO/COMETO). This is probably attributable to the fact that the puzzle was by Stan Newman, whose wavelength I am just never on. And seriously, the man is just a sadist. Having an entry with an ambiguous first letter crossing a clue like "Secesh"? I call bullshit on that. And now Stan is the guy who cost Al yet another first-place win! Way to apply for "least beloved puzzlemaker".

So obviously I was a little deflated after that semi-debacle, but that wore off before too long, and eventually I was just happy about having my best year ever at the tournament! I've spent a long time in the A division feeling like, "Maaaan, it's going to be years before I drop back down into the B division, and I'm never going to get in the A finals, this sucks, waah waah waah, etc.", because, seriously, I've always been a pretty quick solver, but the gap between finishing in 10th and finishing in the top 3 is a bitch of a gap to get across, and I felt like I'd kind of hit the wall of how much faster I could possibly get.

But then last year I was on target to finish in 6th before I made a careless error in puzzle 7, and that was with a ridiculously slow solving time for puzzle 5. So I thought, huh, if I don't make any mistakes and don't get hung up on puzzle 5 this year, I could actually be in contention for the finals. And I did actually make an effort to train this year, which I don't usually do; I printed out six months' worth of Times crosswords and have been solving them on the subway -- and I realized I was definitely getting faster the first time I thought "God, I can't believe how lame I am, I'm solving this Monday crossword so slowly" -- and then I finished and checked my time and was like, oh, 2:45. That's...actually pretty quick. Okay then! So I went into this tournament feeling like, "Okay, dammit, I am getting into the finals this year." And I did! Too fucking awesome.

Some other moments from the tournament: After the first three puzzles, I returned to my seat to discover that I'd mislaid my favored pencil (a Pentel .5 mm Quicker Clicker). I did have a backup pencil, but I don't like it as well because it clicks from the eraser to extend the lead, which means that you can't press very hard if you want to erase something. So I finished the fourth puzzle in 3 minutes and change and thought, okay, I've got like 15 minutes before this puzzle's time limit is up -- I'm going to run over to the mall across the street and buy a new pencil at the drugstore.

Every fellow competitor to whom I have mentioned this has thought it was an insane thing to do.

Whatever! It only took me like two minutes to get into the mall, one minute to get over to the drugstore, and 30 seconds to curse angrily about the fact that the drugstore was not there anymore. It had closed and been replaced with a store selling sports paraphernalia. Gah! (That whole mall seemed like it was kind of on a downhill swing, economically -- every single restaurant on the food court had closed down except for one lonely little Subway, which was mobbed on the Saturday lunch break.) I actually had time to check two more long-shot stores -- wouldn't you think a store that sells fancy stationery would also sell pencils? You would be wrong, though -- before dashing back with a couple minutes to spare.

I related all this to the crew that was filming the documentary for which I'd written Saturday night's crossword, and they said I should tell the story to Pentel and try to get an endorsement deal. My hypothetical tag line for this ad campaign: "Pentel Quicker Clicker: There could very well be other, better mechanical pencils out there, but I'm used to using this one."

In any case, I did fine with my emergency backup pencil. I finished the next puzzle (the hardest of the tournament, but by no means the hardest puzzle 5 we've ever had) in just under 5 minutes; the only other solver to finish that fast was Trip. The theme was just the sort of thing I do well at -- it was about a "sex change operation", so a "Pane that breaks easily" is BRAND X GLASS (changing the Y chromosome from BRANDY GLASS to an X chromosome). The really cool thing about the puzzle was that the theme wasn't confined to the grid entries -- it was in the clues as well. So "Ox relative" was ALAS (a word akin to "oy"). I'm really good at themes where you have to translate clues in your head before solving them, so I zipped right through this. And it didn't hurt that I spotted the theme right away, probably aided by the fact that I had thought of a similar puzzle theme earlier that day. (One of the puzzles had PO' BOY as an entry, and I thought, oh, you could do a sex-change theme where a clue like "Sandwich delivery location?" would lead to PO' BOY P.O. BOX. So, perhaps some useful serendipity there.)

Anyway, I finished puzzle 5 with two seconds left on the clock and threw up my hand instantly, because I knew this year was a speed race, so I couldn't take the time to check my grid for obvious screw-ups like blank squares or what-have-you. I just had to turn in my paper and hope I hadn't screwed up somewhere. And those two seconds got me into the finals. WHEW. And now I finally know what it's like to solve on stage. I'm looking forward to another chance someday! Maybe next Brooklyn!

Posted by Francis at 08:24 PM | Comments (20)

March 22, 2007

And still I am thwarted

Andrew Bird's "Weather Systems" album featured a great but short song called "I", which, I learned while at one of Mr. Bird's concerts, was a truncated version of a song called "Capital I", which he was apparently unable to release for legal reasons, although he did not elaborate at the time. The song didn't appear on "The Mysterious Production of Eggs" (although I suspect a studio version exists, based on the fact that every song on the album had artwork created for it by Jay Ryan, and this was one of the pieces, not included in the album package). I held out hope that the song would be released in some fashion eventually, and I was excited and then slightly disappointed in rapid succession as I learned that Andrew's new album would include "Imitosis", a reworked version of "I" -- but then I listened to a live recording and discovered that one of the key parts of "Capital I" (the chorus) wasn't included. So I did some Googling, and finally I know why:

"The chorus "We all live in a Capital I' is taken from a Sesame Street song. Even though the melody is totally different, Sony Music wanted tons of money for publishing, so I couldn't afford to put it on the record."

Uh...the hell? A seven-word reference to a lyric from another song that doesn't even use the same melody isn't fair use? Rose, your boyfriend works for the EFF, can't they get on top of this?

Ah well. At least there are still a zillion live recordings of "Capital I". You can get a bunch at the Internet archive, including one from this 2003 show (a bit quietly recorded, but a lovely rendition; my favorite of the ones I've linked here), an early version with a rather different instrumental arrangement from 2001, and a sparse but very clearly recorded version from a 2003 radio session. Then you can compare, if you wish, to the live version of "Imitosis" here.

Posted by Francis at 02:35 PM | Comments (6)

March 20, 2007

Let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

If you weren't around for the filming of the last documentary that shot footage at the Stamford crossword puzzle tournament (as I wasn't), you may be pleased to know that there will be a Discovery Channel documentary filming there this year: The Joy of Lex. It's about words -- how they're coined, how faddish words come and go, how corporations name new products, etc. One of the segments features my homegirl Erin McKean and her quest to popularize new coinages and save cool old words from the lexicographical dustheap.

I've been asked to write a crossword featuring a number of these words, and I'll be presenting it as an unofficial event at the tournament on Saturday night, in the downstairs mini-ballroom at 7:15. (In practice, we'll probably start a little later than that, because that's how these things go, but that's when I'm aiming for.) Prizes will be awarded to the fastest correct solution, and to one solver (chosen at random) who finishes correctly during the time limit. Copies of the puzzle will be available after the event for those who can't make it or who'd rather that Discovery Channel viewers not know that they're nerdy enough to attend a crossword competition, and I'll also post the puzzle here after the tournament. Thanks to Will Shortz for finding us a space and time to squeeze this in.

Posted by Francis at 11:52 AM | Comments (8)

March 19, 2007

The Tie Project, days 76-82

In the comments on an earlier tie post, Fran pointed me to a New York Times article about how untraditional ties are becoming fashionable. Does this mean my look is suddenly "in"? Judging by the closing paragraph, I suspect not:

But what about Mr. More Ordinary? Can he wear a cheeky tie and not look clownish? The answer is yes. But Matthew Edelstein, the fashion editor of Details magazine, cautions: “It’s important to keep the rest of your styling subtle. Pairing an unusual tie with an equally statement-making look could make you appear as if you’d recently escaped from the mental ward.”

Hmm. Well, Matthew Edelstein, maybe that advice applies to Mr. More Ordinary; as for me, I shall carry on as before.

Day 76. I wore this to Lorinne's husband Rob's birthday party. The shirt and tie have appeared in the project before in other combinations (day 11, day 48), but I think this may be the ideal pairing for each. Certainly it got the most compliments from people of any outfit I've worn in recent memory. (Fellow reveler Dianna told me firmly, "Make sure you say this is my favorite combination ever.")


Day 77. Today I was attending a friend's confirmation as a minister in the (rather liberal) United Church of Christ, an occasion on the solemn side of festive, so I went with a slightly more subdued outfit than usual. I got the tie as a gift seven years ago for contributing to an article by John Warner and Kevin Guilfoile for Business 2.0 in which they critiqued Al Gore and George W. Bush's campaign websites. I was consulted as an expert on the "puzzles for kids" section of Al Gore's site, which included a "crossword" (at least, that's what the website called it; it was actually a word search).


I was amused to see, when I arrived at the church, that I had inadvertently matched this wall hanging:


Day 78. I don't wear this tie very often because it's too short...I end up having to wear my tie clip higher than I like to.


Day 79. The shirt from day 59 again. I think I like this tie better with it.


Day 80. "I think this is much louder than that other outfit you thought was loud," says Rose.


Day 81. This tie is reversible; the reddish fabric you see on the edge wraps all the way around the other side. I always wear it with this side up, because I like seeing the contrasting patterns.


Day 82. Yay! This was the day the weather started getting warmer! Which means: short-sleeved shirts. And just in time, too, because I was getting to the point where I was starting to run out of long-sleeved shirts I hadn't worn yet.


Posted by Francis at 01:35 AM in Ties | Comments (1)

March 18, 2007

Francis's World-O'-Links (TM)

I'd buy this alarm clock but I'm afraid it would walk to my closet one morning and say, "Oh, dear, sir, this will never do. All these shirts and ties will simply have to go."

Maybe when you hear "cat lady" you think of a crazy old woman who takes in every stray she finds and eventually ends up having her house demolished for violating health codes. I prefer to think of this. (Nipple-free yet rather NSFW; lucky for you it's Sunday, eh?)

Carol Burnett is suing Family Guy. Does it still mean she has no sense of humor anymore if the joke she got offended at wasn't all that funny to start with?

Speaking of lawsuits, here's someone suing the Internet Wayback machine for archiving her site (which has crazy harsh Terms of Service). She talks about the suit here, on a page which, in its original version, was almost impossible to read because it was way wider than my browser window; she seems to have replaced that page with a pdf in the time since I linked to it. You can look at the rest of the site if you agree to enter in a contract with her, which I'm not especially enthusiastic about doing, myself.

I like to sing-a about the moon-a and the June-a and rumpspringa.

"You may publish my 105,000 word Symphony of Inspiration, but you have to buy the book first."

Don't paint and drive.

Finally, here's a sample mashup from Go Home Productions' import-only all-samples-cleared CD: Pink vs. Billy Idol.

(Links via various places, including Making Light, Table of Malcontents, and Reddit.)

Posted by Francis at 02:01 PM | Comments (1)

March 17, 2007

Does something require a spoiler warning if it's being reported in the news?

So a friend of mine, Scott Weiss, has been on Jeopardy! this week, winning Wednesday and Thursday's shows pretty handily. He was mathematically assured a win on Wednesday, having more than twice his closest competitor's score, and on Thursday he SHOULD have been mathematically assured of a win, but the judges retroactively (and dubiously, I thought) decided one of his answers was incorrect (pronouncing the middle name "Kinnen" as "KEE-nin" instead of "kuh-NIN" -- as if anyone would know how to pronounce that name by looking at it) -- but he won anyway.

The promos for tonight's show promised something special, although Alex was being coy and not saying what it was. But it was apparently something that had never happened before in Jeopardy! history. And if you taped the show and haven't watched it yet and don't want to know what happens look I'm putting my fingers in my ears right now LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA, then surely you have already stopped reading this entry, and so I can reveal that what happened was... the end of Double Jeopardy, Scott was in first with $13,400 and the other two contestants were tied at $8,000. Everyone got Final Jeopardy correct, and both the contestants with $8,000 bet it all. Scott also got the answer right, but instead of bidding the expected $2,601 (which would have assured himself the win), he bid $2,600. Wahoo! Three-way tie!

Our first thought was "Why did he do that?" but it didn't take us very long at all to figure out, well, he must have just thought, "Hey! Wouldn't it be nice if we all won $16,000?" At a cost to himself of one dollar, he got to give two other people an extra $14,000. (I'm assuming the other guys would have both received $2,000 if they'd tied for the second-place prize.) Yay for altruism! Everybody wins! Now all of America knows what everyone who's met Scott knows: he is one of the nicest people alive.

Or you would think everyone would realize that! Apparently some people are too cynical to think that anyone would do such a thing except as a mistake. Case in point: this reporter's asinine article:

Being too careful probably cost returning champ Scott Weiss, who didn't up his wager much for the "Final Jeopardy!" round. The other contestants essentially doubled their earnings up to that point.


Also silly:

CBS Television Distribution, which syndicates the show for Sony Pictures claims a statistician they hired calculated the odds of a three-way tie on the show as one in 25 million.

One in 25 million? How do you determine the odds of something that's not random? The final scores aren't determined by flipping a coin, they're determined by bets. And today's end result may have been partly due to luck (the contestants being in scoring position for a tie, everyone knowing the correct answer), but mostly it happened because Scott made it possible for it to happen.

Posted by Francis at 12:43 AM | Comments (31)

March 15, 2007

The Tie Project, day 75

Okay, I warn you. This outfit is LOUD. I mean, a lot of my outfits are loud, but this one is in a league by itself. If you look at this and think that it is in any way a reasonable thing to wear, then I have apparently done an exceptional job of getting you to drink my aesthetic Kool-Aid, and I thank you for joining me out here on the boundaries of fashion.


Actually, Rose and Lorinne both think I've worn louder outfits. I suppose it depends on one's definition. Anyway, the shirt is one I bought from a street vendor in the East Village back in the mid-'90s, and the tie was bought around the same time. The guy I bought the shirt from wanted some assurance that I would actually wear it. I promised him that he had nothing to worry about.

Posted by Francis at 12:33 PM in Ties | Comments (3)

March 14, 2007

All fired up

Today George W. grudgingly admitted that the attorney firings were "mishandled", by which I can only assume he means "not done sneakily enough".

Update: And the GOP's main defense seems to be "Well, Clinton appointed all new attorneys when he was elected, so why is everyone complaining about a targeted political purge in the middle of Bush's second term? Democrats are such hypocrites!"

Posted by Francis at 03:34 PM | Comments (4)

March 13, 2007

Cross purposes

Hey there, puzzle fans, it's once again my turn at bat in the Onion crossword. Solve it, hmm, they haven't posted it on the Onion's website yet, but I hate that applet anyway, so why not download the Across Lite version instead?

Posted by Francis at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

March 12, 2007

Rest of country perhaps finally starting to notice that world is going to hell

For a long time it seemed like the Plame scandal would be the thing that finally brought down the Bush administration. It still might, but now my money's on this whole U.S.-attorneys-getting-fired thing (which I'm assuming the networks must have reported on by now). Let's see...a senator tries to push an attorney to issue an indictment against his opponent before an upcoming election, the attorney says he's not going to do that, and then a few months later the attorney gets fired. And Karl Rove was in the loop. And then there are the ousted attorneys who happened to be involved in the prosecution of prominent Republicans. And one of the replacement appointees (snuck in without Congressional confirmation) is a major Bush loyalist and possible election dirty-trickster. It's all kind of amazing in its audacity. Good thing we currently have a Congress willing to sink its teeth into all this.

If there are eight attorneys getting fired for not toeing the party line, who knows how many Bush-appointed attorneys are only too happy to pursue whatever indictments Republicans want them to? According to this Paul Krugman column, 298 out of 375 "investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power" involved Democrats, versus 67 involving Republicans (the rest were independents). It's enough to make one's lips tired from saying "hmmmmmm" all the time.

In other news, it turns out that maybe the whole anti-immigrant hysteria is bad for citizens! Who could have predicted that, he said with entirely predictable sarcasm.

Posted by Francis at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

Do your part to thwart the dickwads of the world

In case you haven't heard the story of one of the most angrymaking custody battles in history, read about Magdalen Bevilacqua's personal hell here (or check Boing Boing for a shorter summary), and then when you're good and het up, go here and donate some money to help cover her legal fees, because she is getting royally shafted.

Posted by Francis at 01:30 AM | Comments (2)

March 11, 2007

Middle English was my favorite class in Middle High School

Found a link in my referral log to someone's livejournal, linking to some excellent poetry parodies at Geoffrey Chaucer's blog. I don't recognize them all, but the William Carlos Williams and Dorothy Parker ones are very funny. Anybody know what "The Fortnights Run Away Lyk Draught-Oxen Behinde the Barn" or "The Daye Ladye Blaunche Perishhyed" are based on?

Posted by Francis at 11:01 AM | Comments (4)

What lies beneath

Thanks (if that is the right word) to the Comics Curmudgeon, I've found myself keeping up with rather appallingly creaky comic strips such as Mark Trail. In case you haven't been following it, here's what's been going on: an old friend of Mark's came to visit and then faked his own drowning for some reason. So anyway, I noticed two of the strips this week seemed to be hung up on one particular detail, so I wrote up a third strip that seemed like a logical follow-up:




Posted by Francis at 02:04 AM | Comments (4)

March 10, 2007

The Tie Project, days 68-74

The traffic from Gawker did not result in any hostile comments, as I'd had a slight fear it might; in fact it earned me a very complimentary entry on someone else's blog. So that was nice. Anyway, time for another update.

Day 68. Not my greatest outfit, but it was cold and I wanted to wear flannel.


Day 69. This tie's appeared before (day 6). I'm sure you'll agree it would be impossible for me not to wear this shirt and tie together.


Day 70. I think my friend Charles gave me this shirt, in one of his "I thought I would wear this shirt but it turns out I don't but then I realized it sort of seemed like Francis's thing" moments, which come up every so often. The tie reminds me of a particle collision.

I wore this outfit when Rose and I went to see the new Broadway revival of Company -- which I wanted to see partly because I'm a big Sondheim fan, and partly because one of the actors, Bruce Sabath, performed in my musical, We're All Dead, and I couldn't miss his Broadway debut. (Both he and the show were excellent, by the way.)


Day 71. I've photographed this outfit before, but I didn't like how the picture came out (it really didn't do the tie justice), so I reshot it when I wore it again, this time in better light. (I think I took the first one under the fluorescent light in the kitchen because it was raining out. Bleh.)


Day 72. This is the tie I was trying to find on day 51. I love this combination.


Day 73. I like the whole concept of a tie-dyed shirt that's not actually loud. This one has a ghostly, foggy look that I'm particularly fond of. The tie is another one of the batch I bought from onetime roommate Kenny (see day 53).


Day 74. In one of those serendipitous shopping experiences, I bought this shirt and sweater the same day. (Can't remember if they both came from the same used clothing store on Atlantic or not, since I usually hit both the stores I frequented in sequence.) In what is surely becoming a familiar refrain to you, I couldn't find the tie I normally wear with this shirt and sweater, so I improvised. I perhaps need a better tie filing system.


Posted by Francis at 10:32 PM in Ties | Comments (7)

March 09, 2007

Everything Newt is new again

Hey! There's an AP article today about how Newt Gingrich was having an extramarital affair (with congressional aide Callista Bisek, now Gingrich's third wife) during that whole Monica Lewinsky nonsense.

"The honest answer is yes," Gingrich, a potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said in an interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to be aired Friday, according to a transcript provided to The Associated Press. "There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards."

"Is it wrong of me to hold everyone to a standard that's higher than I'm actually able to uphold? You think it is? Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that."

Gingrich argued in the interview, however, that he should not be viewed as a hypocrite for pursuing Clinton's infidelity. "The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge."

"I didn't lie under oath about it, so I still have the moral high ground." But it's kind of not parallel, since he never had the chance to lie about it under oath! I'm sure he would've jumped at the chance. Anyone remember Anne Manning?

"We had oral sex," Manning revealed. "He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, 'I never slept with her.'" She added that Gingrich threatened her: "If you ever tell anybody about this, I'll say you're lying."

Ah, it's kind of fun to relive my outrage at the incredible amount of skeeve caked all over Newt. The Notes on a Scandal-like affair with his high school geometry teacher! The divorce discussion at her hospital bedside as she was recovering from cancer surgery! Oldies but goodies all.

Actually, now that I'm looking at Salon, it appears that this story was covered in 1999, which begs the question as to why AP is acting like this is new information (although I, for one, seem to have missed it the first time around, or forgotten it when Gingrich drifted out of the public eye). Perhaps he's planning a presidential run and is getting all the mea culpas out of the way early.

Also of note, the terrible sentence construction in the first paragraph of the article:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich acknowledged he was having an extramarital affair even as he led the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair, he acknowledged in an interview with a conservative Christian group.

He acknowledged that he acknowledged it? Let no one say henceforward that politicians equivocate.

Posted by Francis at 01:32 AM | Comments (1)

March 07, 2007

Flash mob

All the games from the latest game design competition at Jay Is Games have been posted (I previously pointed you to Sprout). Links to all the games are here; I recommend Rings and Sticks, an original puzzle game that gets very complicated by the end (but it's still solvable, I swear). The constraint for the competition was that each game should embody the concept "grow" in some fashion. Both "Sprout" and "Rings and Sticks" managed that very well, I thought.

Of the other games, I also liked Grow the Robot (which rewards failure to solve its puzzles with entertaining short animations), although the thematic element is a little tacked on -- although not as much as it is in enQbate, which is still pretty good as puzzle games go, if not especially innovative. (It's basically a nice implementation of the type of path puzzle where you visit each cell once, sometimes with warps between cells. There are a few levels that involve revisiting squares you've been to before; I never really got the hang of how those were supposed to work exactly, although I got past them anyway.) The puzzles in Frog and Vine are mostly chestnuts, but I thought the puzzle you get to by clicking on the topmost leaf was worthwhile.

The other games didn't do much for me, but I mostly felt neutrally toward them, except for Grow Word, from the usually reliable Tonypa, which I found incredibly irritating. It starts out seeming interesting, until you realize that he's reinvented the cryptogram, but given it the worst interface possible.

If you find a game you like, consider spending a buck and voting for it in the Audience Prize competition. The programmers get to keep the money which was used to vote for them (minus PayPal's cut), and the top vote-getter wins an extra $200.

Posted by Francis at 09:17 PM | Comments (2)

This just in

Making shit up is still wrong if you're writing a memoir, but perfectly okay if you're writing a self-help book. Good thing we have Oprah around to clarify these issues for us.

(Thanks to Jon for the link.)

Posted by Francis at 09:21 AM | Comments (1)

March 02, 2007

Just six of those things

My friend Tarl has been working on starting up a new online magazine for aspiring writers called On the Premises, in which he provides a open-ended premise for a story-writing contest which all the submissions must follow in some fashion. For the just-posted first issue, the premise was "One or more characters are traveling in some kind of vehicle towards a specific, planned destination. For some reason, they fail to arrive at their intended destination."

There are other features in each issue, including a mini-contest and, probably of the most interest to people who wish I would draw more cartoons, an installment of Six Things based on the contest premise (my first paid cartooning work, incidentally). Check it out here.

Posted by Francis at 08:47 AM in Six Things | Comments (6)

March 01, 2007

And forgive us our vandalism, as we forgive those who vandalize our wiki pages

Did you know that the concept of faith is unique to Christianity? It must be true, I read it in Conservapedia!

There's lots of interest here. For those of you who think that fundamentalist Christians are anti-science, I suggest you check out the page on Baraminology. And it's clear to see how much one gains by discarding the anti-Christian Wikipedian point of view (I mean, they use C.E. instead of A.D., for heaven's sake! How anti-Christian can you get?) when you compare their heathen perspective on Pilgrim's Progress to the respectful Conservapedia version.

(Thanks to Bill for the link.)

Posted by Francis at 06:20 PM | Comments (2)