Archive for the 'Pop Culture' Category

As overheard on the DC Metro

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

This past Friday, I took the Metro into DC to attend a birthday party for one of my coworkers. Sitting directly across from me was a group of three girls — they looked rather young, but I’ll be charitable and say they were eighteen. They were definitely dressed up for a night on the town, so I’m going to guess they were headed to one of those clubs that lets eighteen-year-olds in. The one right across from me was a slightly chubby blond wearing clothes sexier than she was (not in a good way) with a mouth that was open obnoxiously often.

Not having anything else to do, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation. This blond was talking about her taste in men. Specifically, she was discussing what she considered to be “husband material”. And it was an earful, let me tell you. Her number one qualification was that the guy has to be Jewish. Not because that’s what she was, mind you (I would wager at least even odds that she was), but because she wanted a rich husband. Yes, that’s right, Jew=Rich to her, and so she wanted a Jew. She doesn’t want to reap the benefits of hard labor, oh no — she just wants to marry rich and have everything taken care of for her. And apparently that’s what Jewish men are for?

I was floored enough at this line as it was, but it was the next thing she said that really flabbergasted me. She said, and I quote, “And you know I’m too much of a fan of Coach handbags not to marry rich.” Her friends nodded along in agreement, as if being able to provide voluminous quantities of over-priced portable containers was a standard metric for assessing husband potential. I nearly spoke up right then and there, and perhaps I should have — I love a good argument — but I did manage to keep the resultant yelling strictly inside my own head.

What in the hell is wrong with these people? How is owning a certain brand of bag so important? Is this the Sex and the City culture that we’re living in now? I almost reminded this girl that there are people in Africa who don’t even own anything to carry around in a bag, and that the cost of a single high-end handbag could feed a person for life. But I didn’t feel the need to — she wasn’t attractive enough to make a good trophy wife, so sometime in the near future, when her mommy and daddy finally cut her loose and stop buying her expensive accessories — she’ll finally realize how inconsequential her worries over purses were. Real world, meet spoiled average-looking brat.

Brushing up against fame at the Good Stuff Eatery

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

This past weekend on the night of my birthday (Woohoo, another year closer to death!), I joined in on an expedition to a new restaurant in Washington D.C., the Good Stuff Eatery. The friend that I went with is a local food review blogger and pretty thoroughly covered the food, so I shall cover the experience.

Coincidentally, a day before we headed to the Good Stuff Eatery, I was listening to Elliott in the Morning, a local radio morning show. Elliott was interviewing Spike Mendelsohn, a contestant from Top Chef who was opening up a burger joint in the local area. Lo and behold, the mentioned burger joint and the Good Stuff Eatery are one and the same, so I already knew a bit about the place before we went there. In particular I knew that I wanted to try the Blazin’ Barn Burger, which is inspired by the Vietnamese banh mi submarine sandwich. At work we get banh mis fairly often and they’re very good — think of a normal sub, but with pickled vegetables, jalapeno peppers, seasoning, and different sauces.

The Good Stuff Eatery was crowded, as one might reasonably expect for the opening weekend of a restaurant created by a celebrity chef. An old guy was managing the line outside the door (after which you had to wait in another line to order food). And, on a rather significant note to the two Top Chef fangirls who were amongst our number, Spike was there behind the counter, packing hamburgers into bags and chatting with customers.

I’d never heard of him before the Elliott in the Morning interview, so I didn’t develop a sudden outbreak of shyness like my friend over from The DC Dish. She was at first too afraid to even talk to him, and had me take a covert picture of him (which she didn’t put up on the blog, I see!). Meanwhile, I was chatting with him about the music selection in the restaurant, which was quite good — in the time I was waiting in line I heard Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and some other classic rock. He revealed to me the secret of his music: the classic rock station on XM satellite radio.

This brings me to an interesting point: fame is situational. If you are well aware of someone who is famous, it is a Big Deal when you actually meet them. If you haven’t really heard of them before, it’s not a big deal. The awe factor of meeting someone famous comes directly from hearing about them repeatedly, coverage in the media, appearances in television shows, by reading their novels, whatever. If you merely hear that someone is famous without any reinforcement to back that up (as it were), it doesn’t affect you. So I didn’t feel a sudden outbreak of nerves when talking to a guy I’d just heard of a day prior, but the two fangirls who had seen a whole season of him on Top Chef understandably felt a bit different about it. Now if we were to run across, say, Neil de Grasse Tyson, I bet our roles would be reversed. But I return to the restaurant.

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Authors are the only ones to see the fairer side of copyright

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Most netizens agree that copyright is pretty horrifically broken. It lasts far longer than it has any business to, its length keeps getting extended, it’s way too restrictive, and it benefits major corporations a lot more than it does individuals. Most of copyright’s terrible public image has come from the music industry and the movie industry (thank you RIAA and MPAA!). What it hasn’t come from, for the most part, is the book industry. Here’s why.

Across the entire book industry, authors retain the copyright to their works. That’s why they can pick up shop and re-release all of their older novels with a new publisher at the drop of the hat. This ever-present threat is what keeps the publishing industries in line: they have to give the authors good deals or else they’d lose all of their authors. It’s also how JK Rowling can make a billion dollars off a single series of seven books — she retains all of the rights to the series, so when a licensing deal is made to make a movie, she gets the money. You ever heard of a musician or a filmmaker pulling that off? Hell no! Musicians only get paid a pittance from their albums; the majority of the profit comes from concert touring. Filmmakers also don’t make (that) much off their work.

The reason for all of this? In the music and film industry, the publisher gets exclusive publishing rights. There are many musicians out there who’ve switched labels and who can’t legally sell their old music, because someone else owns the rights to it! The same thing happens in the film industry. How absurd is that? The “game” in those industries is so rigged that just to be able to play, you have to give away all ownership rights to something you came up with. That’s how broken copyright is that it allows this to happen.

Now granted, the novel is very much the production of a single person (and a few editors), whereas an album generally has a larger production staff, and a movie especially is made by a lot of different people. It’s harder in the latter two cases to argue that the work is completely owned by a small group of people, especially in the case of a movie studio ponying up hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a movie. But many indie films that are entirely self-financed still get the same raw deal, with their creators having to give up exclusive rights just to get them shown in major theaters. It’s a travesty of copyright.

So go out and support the book publishing industry when you have a chance, as it’s actually not rotten to the core and the authors retain ownership and earn a decent percentage of the profits. As for music and movies, well, you should treat those publishers the same way they treat their creative talent: by royally screwing them over.

This post was inspired by the recent move of the blog The Loom between webhosts for the third time. During each move, the author has retained full ownership of all of his posts, and has been able to move all of them forward to the new host. Yet such a thing in the music industry, simply moving all of an artist’s back catalog to the next label without having to draw up a lot of contracts and pay out a large sum of money, is unthinkable.

Update: After some further research and discussion with friends, it looks like I’m mostly wrong about contracts in the writing industry being more lenient than in the other industries. Dammit. Looks like I got the wrong idea from only considering people who’ve managed to negotiate good contracts. Check out some more book deal contracting issues at this link.

Better yourself through some brief reading

Monday, July 7th, 2008

While I’m still decompressing (or is it recompressing?) from my July 4th weekend vacation at the beach, and figuring out what if anything to write about it on here, consider these two excellent links:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice to Writers is a must-read for any blogger or writer, would-be or otherwise. The most important advice to me? Write about subjects you care about and write about things that readers will find interesting. I’m proud to say I came up with those two independently, though I am guilty of frequently not following them.
  • Why Nerds Are Unpopular is a must-read for any nerd out there. The short version of it is that nerds are unpopular not because of any inherent unpopularity to being smart, but because being popular is an endeavor that requires devotion of significant amounts of time. Nerds simply value other things more than popularity. Read the essay for the complete take on it, which is a bit more complicated than my summary.

The comments section would be a perfect place to discuss anything you find interesting in either of these links.

Regretting recommending American Gladiators

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

I apologize to anyone who took my recommendation of that abysmal show “American Gladiators” seriously and actually started watching it. It seems like everyone at my work (including me) reached the unanimous conclusion that that show was lame and not worth further watching within a couple of episodes of me writing that post. One can only handle so much Hulk Hogan in one lifetime, after all.

So, mea culpa. To whoever recommended that I watch Fear Factor a couple years back: now we’re even.

Going to the DC101 Chili Cook-Off today

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Woohoo, I’m going to the DC101 Chili Cook-Off today. It’s been awhile since I’ve gone (maybe five or six years?). I wonder which will be better this year, the bands or the chili?

Post-concert update: All right, that was fun. Unfortunately, I cannot speak as to the status of the chili, because I just saw the live performances. I think my favorite was Finger Eleven, because they closed out their set with a Led Zeppelin and then a Pink Floyd cover. How awesome is that?! My friend that I brought along (Grokmoo from SupComTalk, if any of you are still following along) was kind of “meh” up until that point because he likes classic rock a lot more than modern rock. So finally there was something there for him. Hopefully his opinion of the modern rock acts will improve, because most of them like the rock classics just like he does.

Some of the other acts were kind of “meh”. Too much emo whining, not enough great rock. I actually didn’t pay a lot of attention to some of the songs because I was up close to the stage and I was constantly defending across crowd surfers crashing down on top of my head. The craziest thing I saw was a guy in a wheelchair crowd surfing. I didn’t even know that was possible, but it happened, and the guy was having an absolute blast.

After the concert on the Metro going home I happened to sit in the same car as a bunch of young people (maybe recently graduated from high school?) from Martinsburg, West Virginia. They immediately asked me if I was a local (I am), then proceeded to bombard me with all sorts of weird questions, like “Does the Metro always shake like this?” (he’d never ridden a train before; the answer is yes), and another guy asking if the train’s doors open at all stops (they do).

One of the girls who was with them was so freaked out by the whole Metro experience that she was having some kind of panic attack; she couldn’t stop shaking, and was grabbing onto a handrail really tightly. I guess it was the combination of the speed and being underground. Later, when we emerged from underground and were on a raised track above some local roads, one of the guys commented that he felt like he was flying. I’m guessing he’s never flown in a plane before, because the sensation of height wasn’t even close.

It’s interesting to get that perspective on the world. I’ve known there are many people who’ve never flown in an airplane, but I didn’t really pause to consider there would be better who’ve never taken trains before.

Finally, a good History Channel show

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

The History Channel has been disappointing me lately. I used to watch it regularly, trusting it because, after all, they’re talking about history; how could they get it wrong?! And their programs on actual history are still good. But they’ve aired a whole flood of pseudoscientific bullcrap recently. For instance, one of their new shows is devoted to ‘examining the wonders of ancient ages’.

In one episode I watched, they credulously reported on people firmly in woo-woo territory speaking about a full-sized glider that the Egyptians could’ve used to fly high above the pyramids. All of this speculation was based on a little children’s toy. Oh, and then there was the broach they said looked like a space shuttle and it had to have an aeronautical inspiration because the wings attached at the bottom, not at the top like with birds or insects. Hello?! Whatever happened to Occam’s razor? Isn’t artistic license a lot more likely than those ancient indigenous South Americans being visited by aliens (or time-traveling US astronauts?).

And I’m not even going to talk about “Ghost Hunters” or that show about alien encounters. That crap makes my blood absolutely boil. So the History Channel has been pissing me off a lot recently, and I’ve been wondering how it’s fallen so far from not that long ago when it used to actually, you know, talk about true things.

Well, here’s a redeeming moment for them. They’re making a new show about Evolution, and by all accounts it looks good. Evolution is one of my favorite scientific subjects. I wrote countless thousands of posts on debating it, and just recently I’ve been reading Stephen Jay Gould’s essay books (again). There’s a gaping dearth of coverage of evolution in American popular media, probably because of the many vocal idiots that inhabit the inland and southern areas of the United States, and I admire History Channel to have the courage to go ahead with this show. It’s going to be awesome, and it really could educate a lot of people.

Now if they’d just have the courage to not air all of that other crap.

The answer to “Where do people find the time?”

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Clay Shirky, who I saw at Wikimania 2006, has recently given an excellent speech that answers the question “Where do people find the time?” that is oft-asked to people with techie inclinations. I’ll let his own words speak for themselves. Click through to read the rest of it; his main thrust is dead on.

So I tell her all this stuff [about Wikipedia], and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

His point is dead on. Watching television is a completely passive, dead activity, yet the average American spends several hours a day attached to the tube. So don’t look down on the techie who’s enamored with the Internet; at least he’s doing something. Even playing World of Warcraft is better than watching television.

I’m happy to say that I’m down to just a few hours of television a week (I watch Battlestar Galactica, The Deadliest Catch, The Office, The Big Bang Theory, Doctor Who, South Park, and Mythbusters regularly). And I download everything I watch even though we pay for cable, just because I can’t stand wasting time on the ads. What have I done with all of that extra time that I don’t spend on watching television? I think my work speaks for itself.

DreamWorks to make Ghost in the Shell live action movie

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

This could either turn out incredibly good, or incredibly bad. DreamWorks, thanks to the dealings of Stephen Spielberg (who isn’t necessarily signed on as director), has acquired the rights to make a live action 3D Ghost in the Shell movie. Ghost in the Shell is an anime and manga that follows the exploits of an elite counter-terrorism rogue government unit in the cyberpunk future. The integration of humans and technology (think “cyborg”) is a major theme in the series.

Naturally, I’ve been a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell ever since I first heard of it. I’ve watched both seasons of the Stand Alone Complex series twice over, along with both films and the made-for-TV movie. I’ve even read the manga, which is a rarity for me, since I generally don’t like comics (let the flaming begin). Ghost in the Shell is just such a unique, gritty vision of a technology-enabled future that, as a techie, I can’t help but feel enthralled by it. Ever since 3rd GIG aired on TV, though, I’ve been aching for another fix. An American-made live action movie wasn’t my preferred vehicle of choice for that fix, but if it’s actually better than nothing, I’ll take it. Here’s how it can be done well.

DreamWorks has to resist the urge to mess with the source material, thus screwing everything up. It needs to be set in Tokyo, not relocated to New York City or Los Angeles or whatever American film studios typically do. It must remain just as gritty and realistic as the original. If I see anything that looks like magic or impossible stunts with no basis in the technology of the series, I’m going to scream. Basically, if DreamWorks approaches this from the angle of “this’ll be a cool action/thriller flick”, then it’s going to suck. But if they approach it from the original angle, a philosophical exploration of the intersection of man and technology in the coming decades, then it has a fighting chance.

No Slashdot April Fools’ joke?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

I’d been looking forward to Slashdot’s take on April Fools’ since last year. So what happened? There was nothing unusual on the site yesterday. It was as if the only April Fools’ joke was that there was none. Even Google does April Fools’ jokes; does Slashdot all of a sudden think they’re too serious for it? Color me disappointed. I wanted to see another take on OMG PONIES!