January 2007 Archives

Geek Zinger of the Day

From the Sony Jeopardy! forum, in a discussion about the typesetting conventions used by Jeopardy! clues:

User 1: Microsoft Word will not be winning any awards for typesetting as long as I have anything to say about it. For my money, that's like saying that the Harry Potter books are the pinnacle of modern literature, because they're popular.

User 2: Well, I like Harry Potter a lot more than Microsoft Word. In Harry Potter, at least some wizards know what they are doing.

Jeopardy! Round: Robin

As many of you learned a few years ago, watching game shows is vastly more entertaining when you're emotionally vested in the outcome. Robin, a college friend, fraternity sister, and Static Zombie reader/commenter will be appearing on Jeopardy! on Monday. Tune in to root her on, won't you? I'll even bet it wouldn't take much cajoling to convince Robin to post some commentary about her experience after it airs. Which, we hope, won't be for many, many days.

Comments (9) | last by prescription Phentermine no order, Sep 22, 11:05 AM

Middle Chef

The only Top Chef from this season is Sam. Nobody else-- certainly neither Marcel nor Ilan-- has the maturity to claim that title. Marcel seems to have some genuine cooking chops, but I can't see him leading or inspiring people. And Ilan is a one-trick caballo. It's not Top Cocinero-- come out of your Spanish safe zone and show you have some versatility, man!

The capriciousness of the judging is irksome. They talk about it being all about the food, then get rid of someone for not showing enough initiative in spending his equipment allowance. They drone on about the qualities of a top chef, then ignore issues like maturity, leadership, and history in a fit of food-centric tunnelvision. From what we see, it's unclear how well the basis for judging each challenge is explained to the chefs. Nobody told Sam he had to apply heat to anything. If it wasn't a stated criteria, he shouldn't be dinged for serving two raw dishes. Is it all about the food, or isn't it? Did the food taste good? Shouldn't that be what matters?

Booting Sam was a mistake. And a huge number of viewers seem to agree. There are over two thousand comments on Tom Colicchio's blog for this episode. At least Sam won the $10,000 fan favorite prize, and the exposure from the show has likely opened a lot of doors for him.

It's hard to imagine Marcel being called Top Chef, yet he actually seems more skilled and versatile than Ilan, whose adolescent antagonism of Marcel demonstrates he still has a lot of growing up to do.

Comment (1) | last by Danielle, Jan 29, 10:37 PM

Take It Easy, et al

A number of years ago I wrote an online version of Take It Easy, a bingo-like board game with no player interaction but plenty of difficult decisions-- perfect for a solo game. I was surprised this week when Actor Dave (hmm, I guess he's a blog character now) revealed he didn't know/remember my version existed. Taking that as a cue, you can find it here.

I'll also remind you that you can find an active Lost Cities and Schotten Totten community, where you can play online against other people, at Flexgames, and a somewhat clunky but serviceable incarnation of Acquire at Get Hostile.

Comment (1) | last by Actor Dave, Jan 28, 11:33 PM

Deal, or No Deal?

Amazon currently has the KitchenAid 12 cup food processor on sale for $130, with a $25 discount code (CLEAROUT) and a $20 rebate, for a total of $94 with free super-saver shipping ($85 outside of Washington, thanks to tax). And you can have it in any color you want, as long as it's black.

The regular price on this elsewhere is $200, so this is a steal. I just bought one. Feel free to use the link above to get one for yourself (and a tiny commission for me!). It feels like I should buy a dozen more and then resell them all on Ebay for a profit. I know there are people who do that-- buy a ton of units when something goes on deep discount like this, then resell them on Ebay. Have any SZ readers done that successfully?

Comments (2) | last by Travis Eberle, Jan 23, 12:22 AM

Have Some Madeira, Voir Dire

I spent three days last week on jury duty. I answered the call out of a sense of civic responsibility, a genuine curiosity about how a real courtroom works, and the understanding that failure to appear when summoned is a felony.

Elevator Life

The juror assembly room on the twelfth floor of the Seattle Justice Center is a bright, airy place with free wireless access (woohoo!) and enormous windows offering panoramic views of the city. I was surprised to find a quirky piece of art mounted in the corner of one wall of the room-- a panel of elevator call buttons which, when pressed, become an animated game of Life. Not the sort of thing one expects to find in a jury room, but my preconceived view of city government was reaffirmed when I discovered that the artwork was unplugged. In my grand gesture of support for the arts, I plugged it in. Take that, faceless government bureaucracy!

From my vantage point overlooking the south side of downtown, I realized I wasn't far from Salumi. When we were dismissed for lunch, my destination was clear. Salumi, run by Food Network chef Mario Batali's father, is a mecca for out-of-town foodies visiting Seattle and a popular lunch venue for nearby locals. This was my second trip, the first having been last year when "actor Dave" (as distinguished from "doctor Dave", "pirate Dave", and "Sharry Dave" in Peter/gf conversation) visited and we staged an informal Salumi/Paseo sandwich-off. I opted for their porchetta (roast pork stuffed with sausage meat and spices), which was sensational-- especially with the crusty bread slathered in garlicky olive oil. I felt sorry for the jurors who had to sit next to me after that, but only fleetingly. Sacrifices must be made in the name of gastronomy.

After lunch my name got called and I was ushered into a courtroom for the voir dire process, which was both fascinating and a lot of fun. During voir dire, each attorney has twenty minutes to question the jurors in an effort to determine who is most likely to favor their side of the case. In reality, the lawyers use this time to lay some foundation for their case outside the rules of evidence. The prosecution asked jurors to tell her what caused car accidents, for example, while the defense asked who the most guilty person in the room was. This was the only part of the trial where jurors got to actively engage with the attorneys. What a blast! It felt in many ways like being on a game show, but without any prizes ("Congratulations, juror #2! For giving answers that make you sound like an asset to both sides of the case, you've won the right to come back tomorrow and sit on the jury!").

Jurors can be dismissed "for cause" (none were), and both attorneys can execute peremptory challenges and dismiss up to three jurors for no reason whatsoever. I expected to be dismissed at this stage, since I was one of only two jurors who said they didn't drink alcohol, but they kept me and kicked the other juror (who said she didn't drink because she tends to eat too much and smoke too much, and she was afraid she'd drink too much also so decided not to drink at all). The defense seemed to like that I'm an engineer, perhaps hoping I'd find a flaw in the prosecution's case and hold them to their burden of proof instead of making an emotional decision.

The case itself took two days to present to us and was ultimately a no-brainer. The defendant was being charged with DUI and negligent driving, and had a blood alcohol level of .236-- almost triple the legal limit of .08. Once the breath test got admitted into evidence, we really had no choice. We went through each condition of the charge line by line and considered them all carefully, but returned a verdict of guilty in ninety minutes. The case seemed clear cut to us and we were surprised the defendant didn't plead out, but he may have had no choice. If a plea was even offered, it might have meant losing his license and by extension one or more of his three jobs. Faced with that possibility, taking it to trial might have seemed his only option. We just don't know.

I loved the experience, which was educational and satisying. It felt good to be part of the process, even if it seemed like more efficiencies could have been built into the system to make things happen more swiftly.

Comments (4) | last by "Sharry" Dave, Mar 5, 11:38 AM

Pan's Labyrinth

I never would have gone to see this film were it not for its split identity. Part of the story involves a little girl, Ofelia, who travels with her mother to a mill serving as the headquarters for a captain of the Spanish army just after the Spanish Civil War. The captain, a regimented, callous man, is the woman's new husband and father of her unborn son. While the woman rests in advance of giving birth, the captain seeks to locate and eliminate rebels hiding in the hills. This portion of the story certainly works, and even delivers some powerful scenes as we witness the captain's uncompromising brutality, but it treads fairly familiar ground-- the abusive military leader, the housekeeper sympathetic to the rebels and protective of the children, the doctor true to his oath first. If that was all there was to the film, it would merit little true notice.

Ofelia, however, is not an ordinary child. Her soul is that of a princess of a lost underground realm. Early in her journey she discovers a stone carving of an eye, and when she replaces that piece into the stone plinth from which it came she encounters a large stickbug-like insect that she calls a fairy. The fairy follows her to the mill and, in one of the truly magical moments of the film, visibly transforms itself to match Ofelia's notion of what a fairy really looks like. It leads her to an ancient labyrinth behind the mill, where she meets a satyr-like creature called a faun who informs Ofelia of who she really is and tells her she has a chance to return to her father's realm.

The fantasy sequences are inventive and vivid. The use of CGI is utterly transparent, with the fairies integrating seamlessly into the scene and never once feeling like a distraction. The faun was particularly well-done, possessing an ancient quality to his movement and voice that utterly sells the idea that he's been around for a very long time. While the fantasy storyline takes its cues from countless fairy tales, it feels fresh and new thanks to the art design, dark palette, and direction.

So is Ofelia really a princess, or is she just a girl with an active imagination? The film is agnostic on this question until the very end, when it seems to suggest an answer by showing a shot of Ofelia from the captain's point of view. That single shot completely ruined the effect of the film for me. Part of what makes the movie work is that, by consistently treating the fantastic elements as real but showing them only within the context of Ofelia's experience, the question of their reality is left to the judgment of the viewer. Did Ofelia really draw a doorway and sneak into the mill, or did she just find an unlocked door or hidden opening? We don't know. Did she really confront a giant frog, or just crawl around in the mud? We don't know. We can either believe or not. But at the end, the filmmakers seem to answer that key question for us, which trivializes the experience and removes much of the magic. Cut that one shot, and the audience leaves the film with no clear answer and must interpret for themselves.

With that one caveat, I was utterly captivated by Pan's Labyrinth. If anything, I would have liked to have seen Ofelia delve even deeper into the fantasy world so that we could see more delightful creatures and environments from the mind of writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Don't let the fact that this is a subtitled film keep you from the theater, but don't bring the kids-- this is not a Disney film.

Comments (21) | last by Liam, Sep 22, 8:26 PM

Wishlists

A friend recently gave me a holiday gift which, to my surprised pleasure, was an item from my Amazon wishlist. He never asked me what I wanted, and I never told him. He simply found my wishlist (perhaps inspired by a previous SZ post) and got something from it. Genius! This is the way gifts should work, people. Not the only way, to be sure-- getting something you didn't know you wanted is an unparalleled delight-- but it's a sure-fire way to make someone happy and avoid the Frozen Smile of Fabricated Enthusiasm.

Those of you who don't have Amazon wishlists should make one forthwith, adding some personal facts about yourself so that your friends and family can find it easily. There are other sites, like The Things I Want, that let you create meta-wishlists that include items from any retailer, but unless you explicitly tell people about it nobody's going to know to look there. Amazon is the default online store for most people, so an Amazon wishlist gets you the most coverage. It's the gift to yourself that keeps on giving.

Comments (6) | last by Robin, Jan 10, 1:45 PM

One of my guiltiest pleasures is back on television for its third season. Beauty and the Geek pairs brilliant but socially clueless guys in their twenties with gorgeous but not very learned women of similar age. But it's not a dating show. Each week both sexes undergo challenges to push them out of their comfort zones, with contestants ostensibly reinforcing their partner's efforts with encouragement and mentorship. The genius of the show is that although there's $250,000 on the line for the team that makes it to the end, this isn't a cutthroat eyes-on-the-prize competition. And while the show isn't above capitalizing on its contestants' limitations for humor, it doesn't try to humiliate them. The whole framework stresses the value of the experience itself, of having the opportunity to grow beyond the stereotype nature and society have trapped them in.

When they come in, both sides are train wrecks in their own ways. The guys clearly have it worst, since most of them wear their geekiness like a badge. Upon meeting his attractive teammate, one of the geeks informs her that he's proudest of being able to recite a stupefying number of digits of pi. Another earnestly declares that if he had to make a choice between Star Trek and a woman, he'd choose Star Trek. These guys have no idea how to dress, talk, or act outside of a graduate program, and watching them embody every negative stereotype of smart people is sometimes viscerally painful.

But the women are equally bad in their own way. Most are stunning, but their very beauty has kept them from realizing their own potential. One proudly displays her practiced pouting technique which, she says matter-of-factly, is usually all she needs to get her way. And she's not alone. Many boast that they use their good looks to get what they want. One claims she hasn't read a book since fifth grade. These women exist inside a bubble containing little else but themselves and their beauty products. They rhapsodize about how happy shopping makes them, but can't identify our vice president, the square root of 100, or Tony Blair.

Week by week couples are eliminated until only one remains to claim the money. But along the way, some amazing transformations occur. It's hard to tell how much the women gain from the experience-- it's hard to overcome a lifetime of flirtation with a couple of weeks' worth of cramming and positive reinforcement. But for the guys, there's the sense that their time on the show might genuinely have helped them break out of their shells and become more social. A couple of weeks in, the surviving men get a fashion makeover that blows your mind. It's astounding what a good haircut and a stylish outfit can do to even the geekiest man's image. It's then up to the men to live up to it by not flashing the Vulcan salute to every pretty woman they meet.

If you missed the first 2-hour episode, don't despair-- the CW is rerunning it later this week, so it's not too late to set the TiVo. Perhaps the best thing about watching Beauty and the Geek is that one finds oneself truly rooting for these people to overcome... themselves. And I can turn to the gf and point out, "See? It could be so much worse."

Comments (3) | last by Stephanie, Jan 23, 12:56 PM

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