Wednesday, May 31, 2000


I watched Superstar tonight. It is, of course, based on Molly Shannon's Mary Katherine Gallagher character. If you like the sketches on SNL, then this movie is worth your while. It doesn't feel like a sketch gone on too long, but it's instead an absurd gag of a movie. Beforehand, I felt like I had probably seen the funniest parts in the trailer, which showed Mary Katherine french-kissing a tree. But what the trailer didn't show, which was even funnier, was Mary Katherine talking dirty to the tree. 3 stars, but keep in mind there was no way this movie was getting any more than 3 stars. So it played well above expectations.

By contrast, Clerks the TV show was fairly disappointing. I like Kevin Smith, but the TV show just was flat until the end -- the dream sequence and Korean animation really made me laugh. Maybe things will pick up next week.

Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Time Code

I saw "Time Code" yesterday. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see a movie where four different camera shots are displayed simulatenously in the four corners of the screen? If you have, then see this movie. If you haven't...well, now that I've mentioned it, doesn't it pique your curiosity?

"Time Code" was shot with four digital cameras in one continuous take. Neat trick. That's what it is -- a trick -- and the movie makes fun of those who would ascribe more pretentious motives to this sort of filmmaking. But I did say neat trick. After a while it becomes sort of hypnotic as your gaze passes from scene to scene, and then all of a sudden two scenes overlap, but from different angles... For some reason, I never could concentrate too much on what was going on in the upper right.

The story itself is enough to fill the hour and a half, but nothing more. In the setting of a production company, x has an affair with y, y has an affair with z, movies are pitched. The comedy is the best part of it; particularly memorable is the description of an imaginary Trey Parker/Matt Stone concept called "Time Toilet".

Worth the price of admission. 3 1/2 stars.

Completely Mental, I Must Say

I went to a Mensa "New Members Reception" over the weekend. I approached it with some trepidation. I mean, what kind of people join an organization whose only entrance criterion is scoring well on an intelligence test? I mean, really. Stop for a second and get a mental image.

There. I have no idea what your mental image is, but wasn't that fun? One of the mental images I formed was of a bunch of complete geeks. Now far be it from me to get high-and-mighty on this subject, but I prefer the company of self-aware, ironic geeks. Anyway, another image that I got was of my friends from CTY, a program for academically talented kids I attended as a youth. They were a blast, and the only standard to get in there was scoring well on the SAT in middle school. So...I decided to roll the dice and take a chance. I mean, what's the worst thing that could happen? If I didn't feel like joining, I'd have material for a weblog entry.

About an hour into the party, I was composing a weblog entry in my mind. Not for the total-geek reason I imagined, but well...the first title that sprung to mind was "Older and Wiser." 90% of the people there were over 40. Don't get me wrong, I like people over-40, but it wasn't exactly the social scene I was looking for. I was wondering what this a manifestation of the Baby Boomer dominance of our population? Is Mensa an idea that has come and gone, and these are the aging remnants of a once-thriving group?

But I stuck around for the announcements, after wading through a lot of polite chatter and trying to explain to people where I work. A woman belonging to the younger 10% stood up and introduced herself as the co-ordinator of the Singles SIG. She explained that Singles did not mean that she was "here to introduce you to your soulmate" or that you weren't in a couple; it rather meant you were there by yourself to do things "targeted at the 21-to-35 age range". (So why the name? I'm new here; I haven't asked such questions yet.)

Anyway, the "21-to-35" comment caught my attention, so I went up to ask her some questions and instead found myself being bombarded by them. "Why are you here?" "What did you hope to get out of this?" "Why would you think anyone my age would want to come to one of these events?" It turned out that she was really annoyed by Metropolitan Washington Mensa's means of introducing new members to the group, and wanted to use me to prove a point.

Cool. Bitter is interesting. Bitter I like better than cocktail party chit-chat. Anyway, after the party, some members (including a couple of the 10%) went out to dinner at "EatZi's" and I joined them. It was a better setting to get to know people, and I had a good time. I was convinced that the Singles SIG might provide a more entertaining way to mingle with these Mensans. And...well, I'm sitting here with my application and my GRE scores, and thinkin' about sending them in...

Saturday, May 27, 2000

Beer Snob

I'm a beer snob. I admit it. Unlike many of my peers whose introduction to beer was sneaking their dad's Coors Light, I started drinking beer at age 22. After visiting my parents in England, I realized that the only thing I'd get when ordering a soda in a pub was a warm thimbleful of Coke. That wasn't going to do, so I had to learn how to drink beer. Real beer. English beer.

I enlisted the assistance of my friends, some of whom were more helpful than others. Some said that it was best to start with bad beer, since that has less taste, and as you're starting, you don't like the taste of beer. Bah. I didn't get into this to drink bad beer; I wanted to drink good beer. With the help of The Globe, I started to drink Bass. Where my parents lived in Yorkshire, Old Peculier was the local drink. Most outsiders thought it was too dark and too strong, so of course I had to adopt it. It remains a favorite to this date.

Last night, four of us went out to The Brickskeller in DC. They claim to have 800 beers, and I believe them. It was a real beer snob's delight. I had a bottle of Straffe Hendrik to remind me of my recent trip to Belgium. Actually, since the bottle is 750 ml and 8.5% alcohol, my memory was sort of fuzzy at the end. Then a bottle of Keo to remind me of my '94 trip to Cyprus. Then a bottle of Old Peculier, of course, to remind me of England. Then a bottle of Dock Street Illuminator to...well, it's beer and it tastes good, damn it. I won't refuse the occasional Budweiser, but it's nice to go to a place where "we have all kinds of beers" doesn't mean "Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Michelob, Michelob Light..."

Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Primary Colors

"Governor Jack Stanton seduced me..."
The novel by Joe Klein ("Anonymous") is a thinly disguised re-telling of the 1992 Democratic Presidential least the first part of it. This book gave me the most insight into the Clintons' behavior since I learned that they once claimed a tax deduction for used underwear donated to the Salvation Army. Governor Jack Stanton (aka Bill Clinton) stumbles his way through the primary campaign with a combination of dumb luck, bad behavior, policy smarts and, above all, overwhelming sincerity.

I think some on the right see the sincerity as "fake", but in my opinion, one of the maddening things about the Clintons is that they think they're right. Every dodge they take, every time they seem to be shoveling another load of horse manure on the American public...I really think they believe that what's best for them is best for the country.

Anyway, like I said, the book gets a little odd at the end with some dramatic turns that unfortunately never happened in real life (well, it would have been more entertaining that way). I had earlier seen the movie, which is very faithful to the book. I recommend experiencing one of them.

Friday, May 19, 2000

More Martin

"I was also conscious of being white, and of having bettered my lot in life considerably. Would this lady, with whom I'd worked as equals, now think I was gloating in some way?"

Martin has written a thought-provoking article on race relations. Check it out.

Unfortunately, Themestream is gone, so the above link doesn't work any more. 24 Mar 2005


Slate has an article about Priceline. Only read it if you are interested in the economic theory behind Priceline.

But definitely do read this article it mentions in eCompany about two staffers' experiences with Priceline and Expedia. Very funny.

JOSH: 8:55 a.m. Skywest propeller plane takes off from Salt Lake City. Notice loose plastic airplane panel skittering about on floor.

Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Out in the Rain

I had a pretty good afternoon. I skipped out on lunch a little bit early to take advantage of the conference's offer of a free boat trip. Good timing, too, as when the trip was over, conference-goers were lined up pretty deep to get on a boat. I found it interesting that the guide found English to be the most appropriate language for the tour, but it seems like the largest contingent of tourists is from the UK, and others are just as likely to speak English as any other language. The trip was very relaxing, especially since the weather has been very warm here. It's a very attractive town, but the trip just confirmed my belief that the "sights" aren't as interesting as the overall medieval ambiance.

One "sight" that I was particularly interested in seeing was the Belfort (or Belfry). It towers over the Markt, and for 100 BF you can climb it. Sounded cool. So I did. Apparently this is where they kept the important city documents of Brugge after the previous place to do so burned down in the 13th century (oops). The views of the city, and the canal heading north to the Black Sea were quite nice. I hope my pictures captured some of the feeling.

After that exertion, I decided to head back to the hotel to cool off. I felt much better after a couple of hours of rest and decided to head out again. As I was leaving, I noticed a few sprinkles of rain. "Good," I thought, "that'll cool everything off." A few blocks later the rain was coming down harder than anything I had been out in in years, and the water running down my glasses had helped me get lost (OK, and my general knack for getting lost was the main culprit). I was going to duck into the first cafe I saw, but a few minutes later, I was soaked from head to toe, and no cafe was in sight. I pulled out my map, which was disintegrating by the minute, and with the help of my trusty compass made my way back to the hotel.

Half an hour and a complete change of clothes later, I headed back out. I did some present shopping, then decided since I'm getting some form of food at tonight's "rump session" (can't tell you what kind of food, since the rain got to that piece of paper, too), I'd have a light dinner. So I got a small order of fries from a street vendor. I've heard many people say good things about Belgian fries, and let me tell you that they're all true. I even decided to go all the way and get mayonnaise on them (I don't like mayonnaise). It was good! I don't think I could do that at home, unless I became a mayonnaise snob ("Oh, American mayonnaise, yuck!"). So I decided that coming here to Bruges Online was a better diversion than going to the poster session -- I'll have a chance to see the posters in between the two parts of the rump session. But I better head out and see what food and alcohol they're offering before I have to sit through the first part...

If It's Tuesday...

Sorry, but I couldn't resist a quick post just so I could make this reference. I'm continuing to enjoy Brugge. Last night I went out to dinner with 3 other people, including an authentic Dutchman. Since we had said Dutchman with us, we thought we'd be adventurous and try to find a restaurant that didn't have "menus in four languages". No such luck, but it was still an enjoyable dinner. I think we had no luck getting off the tourist path because Brugge is just one big tourist town. Hey, given that I'm a tourist, I won't object. Most of the time. But I did read last week that Belgian linen was very nice, so I thought I'd get myself a linen shirt while I was here. No dice. All I found was overpriced tourist stuff; I think I even passed "The Gap." Nothing wrong with that, but why would I come to Brugge to shop there?

I'm learning my way around town -- one of the things about a medieval city is that there seems to be no direct route from one place to another. We have the afternoon off from the conference, so I'm going to try to climb the Belfort and take advantage of the free boat tour they're offering free w/ the conference. They're closing the comptuer center for lunch, so I'll post this and see what conference food is like today...

Monday, May 15, 2000

Sunday In Brugge

I got to the Brugge train station at around 10:30 yesterday morning. I dragged my suitcase around the cobblestone streets of the town and arrived at my hotel about an hour later. Memo to the authors of Cadogan Bruges: the statement "The maps in this book will provide all the detail you need for this small and compact city" might be true if you labeled the side streets. Thank goodness for my compass, but will this push me over to buying a GPS receiver?

When I arrived at my hotel, my room wasn't going to be ready for another 45 minutes, but they provided me with a place to store my luggage and a map with the side-streets labeled. I used the latter to stroll down to the Markt and have lunch. I chose a restaurant that the Cadogan people derisively refer to as one of "the kinds of restaurants that offer menus in four languages." No matter. I was sitting in an outdoor cafe on a glorious sunny day. I had a view of the Markt square, I was reading a book and enjoying Stella Artois beer, mussels and Staffe Hendrik beer. If I had to die, I thought, forget Las Vegas; I wanted to go like this.

Ater a couple of hours, I wandered back to my hotel. My room was ready, thankfully. And it was gloriously luxurious -- huge bathroom, high ceilings and beautiful furnishings. I took an incredibly relaxing bath. Despite my understanding that it's better for avoiding jetlag to stay up until the next night, I couldn't resist crawling into bed and falling peacefully to sleep.

I woke up a few hours later and thought, "If I have to die, please let it be now." I had one of the worst hangovers I can remember having. Only the time I made the mistake of drinking a "Skullsplitter" right before going to be really compares. I noticed that registration still had a couple of hours to go, so I tried to sleep it off. Marginally better. I got dressed and made my way through town to registration. Having done that, I made my way back through the city to the reception, which was being held in the town hall. I didn't manage to eat very much at the reception, although I'm sure everything was good. I chatted with a colleague, excused myself, browsed the proceedings, and headed back to the hotel. I bought a Coke on the way back, and that pretty much settled my head and stomach back to normal. I watched some CNN and, exhausted, fell asleep. I woke up this morning, nicely on Belgium time. So my new method of adjusting yourself to a new timezone: a hangover. I probably won't try that on the way back, though.

Greetings from Belgium

Hi from Brugge, where I'm on a coffee break between talks at the conference. Since I don't drink coffee, well, this seemed like an appopriate use of my time. (Y'know, instead of actually talking to people.)

The flight over was the smoothest transatlantic flight I can remember. These direct flights are really cool. The only new things for me were the 2-3-2 seating arrangement (yay, no center seat for me) and the video monitor on the back of the seat in front of me. I dropped my headphones pretty early into the flight, so I set the monitor to show the map/airspeed/time display the whole trip. I really love that display.

The train ride from Brussels to Brugge was also uneventful. I was suprised that I managed to make the connections without screwing things up somehow. My impressions of the entire country of Belgium based on that one little trip...It seems very generically European. I mean, if you were going to make a movie set in "Europe", I think Belgium would be a great choice. It has no national character instantly identifiable to Americans, like England, France or Germany would. But it has the old buildings, the new, ugly-looking buildings, the signs, the people...the same intangibles that I've come to associate with Europe. The fact that I heard a wide variety of languages...French, Dutch, German, English, only adds to that impression.

Incidentally, I like wandering around in a country where I don't speak the language. I have that same vague sense of not knowing what's going on that I get when I'm in any unfamiliar place. Only I have an excuse...I don't know what the heck anyone's saying. In Brugge, there's the advantage that when I need to communicate, most people actually do speak English. Whoops, time for the next talk. More later.

Thursday, May 11, 2000

Android on the Moon

"It is our goal, to land a robot on the moon, and bring it back safely, by the end of this decade."

How sad is this? For someone my age, too young to remember the Apollo missions, what does NASA have in store for the return to the moon? A freakin' robot. C'mon, can't they do any better than that? What about this idea?

And for something really strange, read this "review" of Man on the Moon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Egyptian Rat Screw

I've been playing a fair amount of Yahoo! Hearts lately. Pretty fun, although my skills are a bit rusty (and I may be playing against people better than I'm used to.) I mentioned that I was doing this to Ben, and we started discussing the disadvantages of playing card games on-line. For one thing, he pointed out, you can't play Egyptian Rat Screw on-line.
Egyptian Rat-Screw. Now there's something I hadn't though about in a long time. For a good description of the rules, check out the above link. For a bad description, read on.
The goal of Egyptian Rat Screw is to get all the cards. Players take turns placing cards face-up in a pile, without looking at them first. There are two ways to win the pile. One involves face cards, and I won't bore you with it. The other is that if two cards of the same rank (e.g., two sixes) come up, the first player to slap the pile wins it. This game is a great deal of fun.
I first learned it at a CTY summer program, and eventually taught it to my friends in Maryland. One thing I never learned at CTY was the advantages and hazards of playing with drunk people.
There are two main advantages. One is that drunk people may not be able to concentrate enough to remember to slap when appropriate. The other is that, in their enthusiasm, they often slap for no apparent reason.
Their enthusiasm, however, creates the hazard that when they slap, they slap hard. As in, you may not want your hand on the bottom of the pile. The most memorable example of this was when George slapped in without removing the beer from his hand. Ouch. Plus, it was pretty messy.
Anyway, it's a fun game. Unfortunately, I don't think I've played it again since that incident...

Monday, May 08, 2000

More Harry Potter

I finished the 3rd Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was very enjoyable, like the first two. So far I'd have to say that I liked the first the most, followed by this one, then the second one. Can't really justify it, though. This one was a lot about death. Someone's trying to kill Harry, Ron's rat seems in danger of dying, Harry's parents are of course...already dead. And several other items (that I won't spoil) play into this theme. It seemed awfully dark for a kid's book; I mentioned this to my friend Melissa, who teaches 3rd grade. She said, "Kids are thinking about death anyway." I guess this book gives parents a way to talk to their kids about death. And it deals with death in what seems to me to be a healthy way...not sugarcoating it, while not turning into the bloodbath that might seem appropriate in an adult fantasy novel. Anyway, I'm eagerly anticipating Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament. Thankfully, I'm 28, not 8, so I'm doing a pretty good job containing my enthusiasm.

Saturday, May 06, 2000

West Coast Girl

Have a look at the on-line journal West Coast Girl - East Coast World for a peek inside the life of one of my fellow-Gladiator-sufferers. I even rate a mention. :-)

Lisa Gibbs Recruiting

I've started playing Sissyfight lately. My nom du sissy is "Lisa Gibbs". I started thinking about the origins of that name...(you Wayne's World fans start waving your hands, going do-diddle-do, and playing "Dream Weaver")...One day in college, I was walking down South University in Ann Arbor, when my eye spotted a plastic nametag on the sidewalk. I picked it up and looked at it. It said:
Lisa Gibbs


Cool, I thought. (I'm not sure why.) It was one of those rectangular plastic pins, and furthermore it was in maize and blue. So I pinned it on to my jacket, and from now on that was my nom du bowl -- whenever we went bowling, that's what I'd enter into the computer (LGR).
Then one day, as I was wont to do when I was young and irresponsible, I left the jacket in a classroom. I figured I'd never see it again, but I got a call from Campus Security saying they had found it, and would I like to come down and pick it up?
When I got down there, I was asked if Lisa Gibbs was my girlfriend. When I explained, I got a rather stern lecture from a kampus kop who had spent some time trying to track down Lisa Gibbs before finding my name on a library copy card in the jacket pocket. She explained to me in no uncertain terms that if I was ever to find anything lying on the street I was to turn it in to campus security.
So I asked her if she wanted the "Eat at Joe's" button I had found. She said "I'll let you decide that."
And that was the last I ever saw of Lisa Gibbs...


What can I say about this movie that hasn't been said by Slate: "Crapus Maximus" or by Salon: "We who are about to be bored to death salute you!". You might might think that at the very least you'd have kick-ass gladiatorial scenes. You might think that. But the fight scenes were all blurry and camera moving around and everything. At first I thought it was the beers and the bourbon I had at Bertucci's beforehand, but Steve pointed it out too. And the plot...well, at least the plot was comprehensible. Simple, boring and comprehensible. I mean, it had your standard badder-than-bad bad guy (ooh, he's into incest) and your noble, self-sacrificing hero. Fine movie elements, but you have to do something with them. 2 stars, but only for the comprehensible plot. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 02, 2000


I finally got around to seeing The Matrix this weekend. It had been heavily recommended to me, but I successfully fought my contrarian streak and enjoyed the heck out of it. It was a little tough the first 1/2 an hour or so, as I had no idea what the heck was going on. I was afraid that it was going to be one of these "too cool for a plot" movies that was all style, and if I wanted to know what was going on, I'd have to check a web site later on.
Silly me. As it turned out, there was quite a bit of explanation. And maybe I've read too many SF novels, but it made a lot of sense. Despite my general anti-cyberpunk bias (I wasn't too thrilled with Neuromancer, frankly), the movie was a blast. The special effects were fantastic. Everybody in the movie just dripped cool, even the baddie "Agents". Very enjoyable. 4 stars.