Merely Wires and Lights in a Box

It is not my intention to turn this blog into yet another ranting-about-politics thing or an all-video-all-the-time thing...

...but if you haven't seen it, and you have ten minutes to spare, you really owe it to yourself to watch Keith Olbermann ripping George W. Bush and his assorted cronies, sycophants, hangers-on and apologists a collective new asshole. It's a brilliant, rousing expression of seething, barely-contained rage. He's been "borrowing" Edward R. Murrow's "Good night and good luck" sign-off lately, and I think in this case he's really earned it.

Okay, that's all. Next time, a video-free post about comic books or an in-depth compare & contrast of James Bond novels vs. movies or something like that...

The Nerdiest Thing Ever

The video linked in this post is, without any doubt, the nerdiest thing ever. As Jack Ross once said, "These are the facts of the case, and they are not in dispute." I don't think anyone could possibly argue otherwise.

Here, why don't you go take a look at it, then come back here so we can discuss.

Two Nerdy Tastes That Taste Nerdy as Fuck Together

Back? Okay, good. Am I right, or am I right?

I mean, the guy (yes, I can be quite certain it was a guy) who made this thing is not a cool guy. He has probably had a heated discussion on more than one occasion about who would win a fight between the Injustice League and the Masters of Evil, maybe even one that has come to blows. He and his friends have probably staged hours-long Starfleet Battles sessions to prove their theory that Kirk and the original Enterprise could beat Picard and the Enterprise-D in a fight. He probably owns (and frequently wears) a t-shirt that says, "Joss Whedon is my Master now." His apartment probably looks like Andy Stitzer's.

Not that I'm Mr. Cool or anything...but, like, wow, man...

No Coincidences

"I'm not against machines, as are some people who feel that the computer is leading us back into the jungle...I'm against machines only when the convenience they afford to some people is regarded as more important than the inconvenience they cause to all."

- E.B. White, 1967

Generally speaking, I avoid discussing politics 'round these parts. Who wants to read that shit?

But take ten minutes to watch this video, in which Princeton computer scientists demonstrate how easy it is to hack Diebold's voting machines.

Then take a few more minutes to read Robert Kennedy Jr's Rolling Stone article about Diebold's electoral shenanigans. His description of the events surrounding the 2002 election in Georgia seems to be exactly what the Princeton video describes.

This concerns me.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride it Where I Like

I had a strange feeling almost from the start. I rode down the block to the corner, just like always, and turned right onto 13th, just like always. The weird thing was that I suddenly found myself in a small pack with two other bicyclists, looking like they were also on their way to campus. I'm generally the only bicyclist on 13th at 8:15 in the morning.

We all three rode down to Speer, then got on the Cherry Creek bike path to take us the rest of the way to campus. Suddenly, the guy in front of me just wiped out. I don't know why, he was just suddenly (and very briefly) airborne, and then sprawled on the pavement. Bad enough for him, but things were worse, because I was only about ten or fifteen feet behind him and cruising fast when he crashed.

How often during the course of an average day do you curse? I throw an f-word into a conversation every now and then for emphasis or just for the childish joy of swearing, like I suppose a lot of people do. But how often do you curse because there's really just no better alternative to express how you're feeling at a given moment? For me, it almost never comes up. But here was a moment where it was absolutely necessary.

"Holy shit!" I yelled as he hit the ground. I squoze the brakes so hard that my hands hurt, to no avail. It looked like this was about to become a two-bike wreck. Time slowed as my wheels kept turning and I loomed over the poor guy and his bike. Our eyes met in a shared look of horror, dreading what we were both certain was about to make both our days a lot worse.

I rolled right over him. More accurately, I rolled right over his bike, which was on top of him, and I surmise protected him from damage from my own bike. I finally came to a stop after that.

"Holy shit," I said again while I caught my breath and waited for my heart to resume beating. I hopped off my bike and helped him up. He was dripping blood from a pretty ugly gash on his left eyebrow, but appeared otherwise unhurt. His bike wasn't so lucky. The front end was pretty mangled. Still, the whole deal could have been an awful lot worse. After confirming that the dude was okay, I got back on my bike and rode on.

Guy was especially lucky not to be hurt worse than he was, as he wasn't wearing a helmet. I've been a helmet-wearer since I got a concussion in a bike accident when I was twelve. Even though I wound up not crashing, I was very glad I was wearing my helmet. I was thinking about this as I rode on, and wasn't paying much attention to what I was doing and took the wrong exit from the bike path, bringing me out on the wrong side of campus. Still not thinking much, I rode across campus to the spot where I usually lock up my bike. I was really rattled, because I didn't even think about most of campus being a mandatory pedestrians-only dismount zone. As I'm locking up, a cop rides up to me and I realize what I just did.

"Riding through there's a $60 ticket," he tells me. Aw, fuck. That's all I need. "You're lucky it was me on duty," he continues. "I'm the last guy to write a ticket for that unless I have to. Just mind the dismount zone." I assure him I will.

Oy. Heck of a way to start the day.

Let's be careful out there. If you're riding a bike, wear them helmets, boys and girls.

I Know Kung Fu

There's all these ads on TV right now for the latest wire-fu import, Fearless...or perhaps, as they're calling it, Jet Li's Fearless, I guess. The ads are calling it "Jet Li's final martial arts epic." I realize he's over 40 and all...but what's he going to do now? Shakespeare?

Jet Li is probably the best kung fu star going these days (I know all the in-the-know nerds are calling it "wushu" these days, but that just ain't how I roll). Jackie Chan is pretty cool, but not what he once was in a variety of ways, and was kind of slapsticky at his best. Jet Li's got the total-badass-beat-the-shit-out-of-you-before-you-can-blink thing going on. The spiritual heir to Bruce Lee.* Jet Li beating the shit out of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover was the only thing that made Lethal Weapon 4 even remotely watchable. But he doesn't strike me as much of a Thespian. Maybe I'm wrong - maybe he's going to begin starring in subdues Kaige Chen dramas. But somehow I suspect that "Jet Li's final martial arts epic" is going to be sort of like The Who's 1989 Farewell Tour.

*And by the way, no matter what anyone tells you, no one was ever better than Bruce Lee. I mean, yeah, Game of Death was overall pretty lame, slapped together after Lee died from old footage...but it features the single coolest scene in any kung fu movie ever, in which Bruce Lee figthts Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And his other movies are just pure, solid, 100% kung fu gold.

Obligatory Football Post

I know that probably only one of my loyal legion of readers really cares at all about football (hi, Matt!), but I'm going to babble about it, anyway...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the headline for the recap of Saturday's game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Colorado Golden Buffaloes:

No. 22 Arizona State stumbles past lowly Colorado

I knew going in that the Buffs would suck this year, but I didn't think they would suck bad enough that the headline writers would be calling them "lowly." The Big 12 North champs four of the last five years, the 1990 National Champions, are now being referred to as "lowly." I thought "lowly" was reserved for teams like Duke or Temple that never, ever win...I really didn't expect it to be this bad. The way they're playing, I look down the rest of their schedule and see that they could easily wind up 0-12 this season. They've got pretty much guaranteed losses looming at Georgia, at Oklahoma and at Nebraska, almost certain losses against Texas Tech, Missouri, Iowa State and Kansas State, and there's no real reason to expect that they can beat even Kansas or Baylor.


Still, it wasn't all bad in college football this weekend. After hearing everyone babble constantly for weeks and weeks about how great Notre Dame was going to be this season, how they were on their way to an undefeated season and clearly headed straight to the Fiesta Bowl, they were absolutely destroyed by Michigan on Saturday. Not just beaten, but slaughtered. Creamed. Wiped out. Laughed off the field. In South Bend, no less. I'm a long, long way from being a Michigan fan...but every time the Fightin' Irish lose, another angel gets its wings.

Things weren't a lot better on the pro side. The Broncos tried as hard as they could to lose to the Chiefs, just barely managing to squeak it out in overtime. I think it's kinda silly that so many fans are saying that Shanahan should play Cutler; still, Jake Plummer is sure stinking up the joint these days. Things probably won't get much better for the Broncos next week when they play on Sunday night in New England.

It's going to be a long, long season for football fans here in Colorado...

Nothing Up My Sleeve

The list of my qualities that classify me as a nerd is, as I'm sure you are by now aware, as long as your arm. Or my arm. Or someone's arm, anyway. One of the entries on that list that you may not be aware of is my interest in/minor obsession with magic. There was a magic shop tucked away in a corner of the local shopping mall, and when we went to the mall, I would always go watch the proprietor demonstrating his wares. It wasn't long before I went from spectator to buyer. At first I didn't really have the patience for the stuff that required a lot of sleight-of-hand, so I mostly stuck with the more idiot-proof self-working kind of stuff. Before long, I was checking out magic books from the library and spending hours practicing all manner of sleights, forces, flourishes and so on. I didn't generally perform my tricks for anyone except my family, who generally at least feigned the proper amazement. I did put on a little show for my 7th grade class when we were doing demonstration speeches, and that went pretty well, but I didn't do children's parties or anything. I practically lived for the (at the time) annual David Copperfield TV specials. I begged and pleaded to get my Mom to take me to see him when he performed live in Boulder - and Copperfield's version of the old magician's stand-by, the saw-a-lady-in-half trick, remains one of the coolest, most amazing things I've ever seen.

Last night, we went to see The Illusionist. Emily has a not-so-secret little crush on Edward Norton, and I have my obsession with magic, so of course we had to see this one. This movie, strangely, hasn't gotten a whole lot of press, so I imagine a brief summary is in order.

Norton plays Eisenheim, the most popular illusionist in circa-1900 Vienna. His relationship with the Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel) gets him on the bad side of the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, playing the Victorian equivalent of Hollywood's ever-reliable Asshole Boyfriend archetype), and therefore under the eye of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti). Norton and Giamatti are two of the most reliably excellent actors working today, and they are as good as we have come to expect of them. Giamatti is especially good as the conflicted police inspector, torn between his duty to the crown and his admiration for and developing friendship with Eisenheim. Sewell's role is a bit of a cliché, but he plays it to the hilt and is suitably villainous. Jessica Biel...well, she's very pretty, wears the corset-and-high-collar wardrobe very well, but isn't given a whole lot to do. Still, she acquits herself much better than many of her contemporaries would, at least holding her own against some great actors when necessary.

The movie is very pretty to look at. Prague is the city of choice these days for filming any movie set in any Victorian-era European city. Eastern Europe is, of course, cheaper than the western EU countries, to begin with. Prague is also one of the few eastern cities that wasn't bombed to the ground during the War and rebuilt in the '50s in Communist big-concrete-slab style, so the look is just right. It makes a lovely Vienna here, full of shadowy cobblestone streets, mansions and interesting old theaters. There are a few flashback sequences in the film, which are done in an interesting and beautiful way, slightly sepia-toned, and luminous and flickery like old silent films.

Above all, there is the magic. Writer/director Neil Burger really seems to understand the appeal of illusion, that it's a delicate balance between what you conceal and what you reveal. Ricky Jay, a talented magician and a well-regarded magic historian, served as a consultant on the film, and it shows. The feel of the scenes where Norton is actually performing magic is just right for the era. Magicians of the day were showmen, but their performances didn't have the more flashy theatricality and comedy of modern magicians like David Copperfield or Penn & Teller. The illusions themselves are also era-appropriate - the "Orange Tree" effect Eisenheim performs was actually performed by the popular French illusionist Robert Houdin. Of course, the technical side of stage magic actually hasn't changed much in 150 years. Copperfield and Penn & Teller achieve a lot of what they do in very similar ways to the illusionists of the Victorian era. The old trope about doing it with "smoke and mirrors" was very true at the time, and remains true to this day.

The film's ending is kind of tricky, and depending on how you read it, could be considered either a betrayal of the conceal/reveal balance, or a perfect application of it. My reading of it makes me think that Burger understands that the cinema itself is an illusion and employs many of the same techniques. Another old trope about magic and illusion is not, in fact, true. The hand is not really quicker than the eye...but by definition, the movie camera is.

It is significant that all the magic in the movie is performed for the audience, both within the movie and on the other side of the fourth wall. In the end, this movie isn't about how magic is done, but why, and that's an awful lot more interesting, I think.


Also, there was a trailer for the fall's other Victorian magician movie, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johannsen, and that one looks even better. That one has jumped up alongside Casino Royale on my Autumn must-see movie list.

Stupid TV Fucks

I know it's probably not very hip to say so, it probably marks me as a shockingly uncultured mouth-breathing troglodyte...but I think the American version of "The Office" is better and funnier than the original British version. I know, I know. The British "Office" is just a bit too mean-spirited and a bit too dry for me to really get into. Steve Carrell is funnier than Ricky Gervaise. Rainn Wilson is funnier than Mackenzie Crook. Not hip, but true.

And now NBC is trying to turn it into a sitcom soap opera, "Friends" style. Instead of a weird, funny show about the weird, quirky people who work at Dunder-Miflin, they're turning it into "Jim loves Pam, does Pam love Jim?" crap, with sappy piano music in the promos and focusing on the kissing and crying and suchlike.

Shenanigans, I tell you.

The "will-they-or-won't-they" thing can work in a sitcom - "Cheers" is the prime example here - but it's a delicate balance, and it usually doesn't.

Speaking of the idiot box...

Can somebody explain "Deal or No Deal" to me? This is a game show for morons. They could eliminate all the vamping models and the trumped-up drama, have each moron pick a briefcase and tell them how much they win, the end. And it inflicts Howie Mandel on a world that thought it was done with him ten years ago, to boot.

"Grey's Anatomy" is running that crappy Fray song into the ground ril, ril fast, "Dawson's Creek" style. Yes, yes, whiney-voiced singer man, how to save a life, yadda yadda yadda, shuddup...

I'm really sick of NBC telling my how great "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is going to be. Yeah, it actually looks like it could be pretty good. Aaron Sorkin is responsible for "Sports Night" and the good seasons of "The West Wing," so it's got that goin' for it. I just can't stand hearing about how great it's going to be in every frickin' promo.

Am I the only one who wants to whack that "Extreme Makeover - Home Edition" guy over the head with a two-by-four?

And finally...does it surprise you to learn that "Heroes" is the only new fall show I'm even remotely interested in watching?

Of Gordon Shumway and Bill the Cat and Other Mythical Beasts

I don't know if any of y'all ever read any of the webcomics I link to. You should, because every last one of them rules. You may not have noticed, but I just added a new one, Rob and Elliot. All I can really say about it is that one of their strips features the scene from "ALF" you never knew you always wanted to see.

Webcomics, you see, are the wave of the future. Those of us who are closer to 30 than to 20 are probably the last generation to remember when newspaper comics were any good at all. For Christmas last year, Emily got me "The Complete Calvin & Hobbes," three rat-squashing volumes of Bill Watterson's mind-blowingly brilliant comic strip. I've been pulling it out now and then over the last eight months, savoring the gorgeous art and finely crafted humor. "Calvin & Hobbes" ended when I was in high school, not long after Gary Larson ended his crude-but-almost-always-funny "The Far Side." A couple of years previously, Berke Breathed had ended his great "Bloom County," of which my brother and I had been big fans. Breathed has brought Opus and Bill the Cat and Steve Dallas back in "Outland" and "Opus," the returns ever-diminishing.

Today's newspaper comics section is essentially two pages of wasted ink. A few bright spots - Stephan Pastis' "Pearls Before Swine" and Jef Mallet's "Frazz" are often amusing, and "Frazz" is quite well-drawn - swim in a sea of tired old strips that have been running since God was a boy and which need to be put out of their misery. Worse still are the newer ones, painfully unfunny and artistically inept to boot. Say what you will about "Beetle Bailey" or "Blondie," at least the cartoonists who draw them are reasonably if not wildly talented. On the other hand you've got the new stuff like "Brewster Rocket: Space Guy!" and "A Doctor, a Lawyer and a Cop," which come from the "Dilbert" school of "you don't even have to be able to draw or be funny to have a successful comic strip." And the less said about stuff like "Baby Blues" and "Jump Start" that comes from the "Family Circus" school of "cutesy kids are funny!" humor, the better.

In contrast, the world of webcomics is vibrant and exciting, full of interesting new talent and bizarre humor. Admittedly, webcomics can be overly nerd-focused, too obscure, and there's far more chance of encountering sub-par art on the web than in the paper. Still, if you know where to look (and my links are a decent place to start), you can find more humor, style and personality than in every ink-and-paper "A&E," "Lifestyles," "People" and "Places" section in North America.

Potato Man

Amber's new sunglasses make her look disconcertingly like Bono. Inspired by this, she puts U2's "Best of 1980-1991" into the CD player. Nate makes a startling statement.

"I hate U2," Nate says.

I am startled. Arguing with Nate is pointless, and asking for an explanation will lead only to an hour of drunken babbling. So I remain silent and let the kickass opening bars of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" wash over me.

Who the fuck hates U2?

Maybe they're not your favorite band, maybe you don't own all their albums, maybe you can't name the ones who aren't Bono and The Edge. Maybe you don't own any of their albums and you're not even sure which one's The Edge. But can you hate U2? They're one of those bands that pretty much everyone can agree on. Everyone can at least listen to U2 for a while and not be bothered by it.

This isn't my first encounter with this baffling phenomenon. Back when "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was coming out and "Vertigo" (admittedly not U2's best effort) was getting lots of airtime, a co-worker said, "I could get more into U2 if Bono wasn't such a choad!"

This is, of course, an even more startling statement. Bono is a choad? What? Okay, so U2's not your favorite band. But Bono is a choad? I can see, "I don't listen to Limp Bizkit. Fred Durst is such a choad!" Quite true, though Limp Bizkit would pretty much suck balls whether Fred Durst was a choad or not. (Yes, by the way, I am just trying to make you read the word "choad" as many times as possible).

Bono is actually quite the humanitarian, of course, donating bags and bags of money and not just a little time to criminally underfunded and unsung causes. Seriously, every Beastie Boys-listenin' fuckwit out there has a "Free Tibet" sticker on his Jetta 'cuz MCA hangs out with the Dalai Lama but couldn't give two shits about the stinking mess that the world has made of Africa.

Bono (and the rest of the lads from Dublin) also made a self-mocking guest appearance on one of the last great episodes of "The Simpsons." "The man's talking about waste management, people! That affects the whole damn planet!" Bono filled the "Andy Richter" role in Conan O'Brien's "In the Year 2000" sketch, too...and that's pretty good.

So...definitely not a choad, then (ooo, there's one more!).

And still I just can't get over "I hate U2." How is this even possible? Sure, there are bands out there that some people dig and some people just hate. Not long ago, the same Nate was shocked, shocked I tell you, when I countered his assertion that "everyone" owns a copy of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. I do not own said Spiral. NIN just doesn't do it for me. Never has. Too aggressive, too industrial, too much. Not my cuppa.

But what's to hate about U2? Maybe I'm way, way off-base here, but I just always grouped U2 in with those bands that pretty much everybody with any taste in music at all likes at least a little. It's a select group - U2, the Beatles, the Stones, R.E.M.... Not necessarily everybody's favorite bands, but the ones that are likely to find general agreement in a large, mixed group when you put one of their discs into the player, y'know?

Am I wrong? No way, I'm not wrong - Nate's just fuckin crazy, right?

Grumpy Old Man

The Cabin is a lovely, beautiful, amazing place. I love the Cabin nearly as much as my buddy Toph, whose Dad owns the Cabin. It's worth the giant pain in the ass of getting there just to be there. You drive north from Denver for three hours, until you hit a town called Glendo, Wyoming. You turn left at Glendo and follow a twisty, forking dirt road for another hour - it's not bad at first, but then you cross the dividing line between County Road and unmaintained private road, and things get hairy.


For all the years I've been going there (about four at this point), the Cabin has been Hedonism Central. There is sleeping until noon or later. There is much boozing. There is smoking of pot. And there is, Coneheads-style, the consumption of mass quantities. Oh, for the love of God, the mass quantities. More on this later.

I first noticed something was amiss on Friday morning. Ordinarily, everyone brings a 12-pack or two of soda (or, if you prefer, "pop"). Soda for drinkin', soda for mixin' with know, soda. As I stared at the pile of "fridge packs" on the porch, something occurred to me. Every single can of soda we had with us was diet. Diet Coke. Diet Coke with Splenda. Diet Cherry Coke. Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. No real sugar (or even high fructose corn syrup) to be found. "Dude, we're getting old," I said to Emily.

Then the drinking started. What was once an all-day booze binge had become "having a few drinks." I've never been a heavyweight, but I was shocked to discover how little liquor it takes for me to be pretty blitzed. The effect of the weed was about the same as usual - though I only partake of the herb at the Cabin these days, so I have no tolerance at all for it.

Are you ready to hear about the final straw?

I urge caution, gentle reader. What you are about to read is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation - life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even - horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to - uh, well, we warned you.

I participated in a hot dog eating contest.

I ate sixteen hot dogs in the course of an hour.

Believe me, I'm every bit as disgusted as you are right now. I don't really know what to say - it seemed like a good idea at the time.

A week or so before the Cabin trip, Toph made some off-handed comment about our friend Nicki eating six hot dogs in a sitting. Full of bravado, I said, "That's not so many. I could eat more than that!" This may be one of the most appropriate moments ever to deploy the phrase, "I rue the day I made that statement." Man, do I ever rue. Rue rue rue.

My brash boast turned into a full-blown contest. Most dogs in an hour, straight up. I am simultaneously proud and ashamed to say (admit?) that I won the contest. My digestive system, however, lost. Ugh.

Time was, I could eat sixteen hot dogs in a sitting and not feel a thing. Be ready to go out and run a 10K the next day. Not so much as I push ever closer to 30. I've felt awful for two days straight. "I'm sorry you don't feel good," Emily said last night. "But not that sorry." I brought it on myself...but jeebus, I didn't think it would be this bad.

Combine that with our friend Amber clinging desperately to youth and innocence by planning ever more elaborate kid-oriented birthday parties for everyone in the group - I swear to God, Toph's birthday in October is going to involve a clown, a magician and a pony - and you've got a weekend (and a weekend aftermath) where you spend most of your time feeling like a decrepit, run-down old man.

A decrepit old man who is never, ever, ever eating a hot dog again.