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January 30, 2005

Urban Legends: I Too Can be Taken In

My mom works as a media specialist (librarian/IT person) in a local school system. Here is a story that she told me:

A co-worker's daughter is house sitting for a family who lives in Chicago. Their dog dies. She calls the family and asks them what she should do and the family says to have the dog appropriately disposed of. She calls around and finds a place that will do it for her for $100. It's close enough that she can walk, so she stuffs the dog into a suitcase and carries it.

Despite fitting into the suitcase, it is still heavy. She gets tired after a bit. Fortunately a guy sees her, picks up the suitcase, and helps her along. After a while though, he does ask what's in the suitcase.

Not wanting to say "A dead dog," she says, "All my possessions."

Moments later he runs off with the suitcase, never to be seen again.

I found the story very funny and decided to write a blog entry about it. As I began, I told my wife what I was doing.

"It sounds like an urban legend," she said. "They're always a friend of a friend."

"Yeah," I said, "but we've got an actual name here."

Kristen wasn't convinced.

As she walked upstairs, I typed the following words into the font of all knowledge (Google):

urban legend dead dog suitcase

Here's the result.

January 29, 2005

Online Comics: Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire

Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire follows the life of Dominic Deegan, a professional oracle and mage. It's set in a fantasy world with a medieval flavor.

Like many of the comics I like, it tells a series of stories that depend on you having some memory of what happened in previous episodes to fully understand what's happening now.

It begins with a series of one shot comics in which someone has Dominic read their fortune. This didn't give me much of a motivation to read the comic. Thus, it wasn't until the second time I ran across Dominic Deegan that I actually decided I liked it. On that occaision, I read far enough that I noticed a story was developing.

Stylistically, the comic ranges from fairly serious fantasy (the discovery that one of his friends is partially possessed by evil forces) to silly fantasy (a story arc in which Dominic is cursed to have fish drop on his head). The author also appears to be fond of puns.

I found the silly parts funny enough to continue reading even though I'm not much of a fan of silly fantasy. The fact that I'm not much of a fan of silly fantasy also means that I'm not particularly bothered by the fact that the comic has gotten more serious as time goes on.

I have mixed feelings about the art. It's fairly simple in style. I'm unsure if the writer is deliberately using a simple style or if it's simply the best he can do (which is still better than I can do). Whatever the case, though it mostly works for the story, I have to admit that there are times when it jars me. Mostly this happens when he shows people's profiles. I just can't pretend that people's heads are shaped like that--this despite the fact that I like Peanuts (which isn't exactly anatomically correct). Still, I think that overall the art is more realistic than the shapes of the faces in profile and that's probably why it doesn't work for me.

Nontheless, it does work most of the time. For example, despite what I think are the limitations of the art style, I think he did a good job making the landscape of a possessed person's mind feel appropriately disturbing.

Before I say what I dislike about the comic, I'll make one observation: the author of this comic and I have a different sense of aesthetics. Thus the comments that follow really are comments rather than complaints.

--The comic is "mushier" than I tend to prefer. Its not as if its devoted to romance, but I think he spends more time on characters' feelings for each other than I would.
--Not all of the puns are funny (in my opinion).
--The characters sometimes sound very modern.
--I don't think the author's really thought about the culture/technology of the place much and thus ends up with anachronistic items. Basically, I can't help but think about how magic and technology affect each other and the culture. In Dominic Deegan, the technology and culture seems medieval except for magic, the existence of professional sports teams, and newspapers. Basically, I tend to do fantasy with the aesthetic sense of a hard science fiction writer. He doesn't.

Now that I've said all that, I want to make sure you understand that I do think its a comic worth reading. I like the characters. I like the stories he tries to tell. I can happily reread story arcs a second time.

Check it out.

January 24, 2005

Basic Truths of Parenthood: Toys

My personal theory is that childrens' toys do not come from Santa Claus. They are not made by elves. My theory is that childrens' toys come directly from Hell and and were designed by Satan.

How else you explain the overwhelming number of electronic toys that do not have an off switch but do have multiple levels of volume?

Or what about the unbelievably large number of toys that really, really hurt when you step on them? Everyone knows about legos, but there's no reason to stop there. When I think about small, painful objects that I might be stepping on at 2 am, I think about Thomas the Tank Engine.

Not only do Thomas and his friends have small pointy bits (the funnel, the dome, the corners of the cab), but they have an added detail that sets them apart from all the others--wheels.

With legos, it just hurts. With Thomas the Tank Engine, you can place your weight in such a way that as you experience the pain you also find that the ground moves beneath your feet. Better, thanks to proper marketing, you will never find Thomas alone. Thomas is accompanied by his many friends, all of whom have wheels.

Thus, if at 2 am you do step on Thomas and you find your foot shooting forward and you frantically attempt to find a safe spot on the ground, you will probably actually step on James, Percy, Gordon, Trevor, Annie, Clarabel, Duncan, Donald or any of a million slightly different engines and cars.

After that, you will always be able to identify each engine no matter how miniscule the differences. This is partly because you probably bought all too many books, videos, and Thomas-related merchandise, but mostly because their shapes will be permanently imprinted on your skin after you fall.

I'm not saying the Thomas the Tank Engine is a bad thing. I'm just saying that there's no need to use mines in warfare. Just put enough Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise on the ground and your army's position is nearly impregnable.

January 22, 2005

Star Wars Through the Eyes of a Toddler

I did not intend to show Abby "Star Wars." It happened like this: I own a t-shirt from the time when the Smithsonian did a Star Wars exibit. Sometimes I still wear it. It's a durable shirt. On one of these occasions, Abby asked me about it. By ask I mean she pointed to a tie fighter and said, "What's that?" (or perhaps it was "What dat?").

Sometime after that I decided it would be amusing to pull out the video and see what she thought. She was two at that time and didn't seem impressed--though she did seem a little scared at points. She ran around and played through a significant chunk of the movie, leading me to conclude that it was probably over her head and would likely continue to be for a few years.

I was wrong.

Somewhere between now and then she's decided that the Star Wars movies are the best movies ever. It seems like she's always asking to watch them. I don't always say yes. Watching any of the Star Wars movies requires a two hour time committment and I think her time could be better spent. Also, though I'm not someone who believes that watching violence does incredible damage to young psyches, I don't really want to give her a constant diet of it either.

Bearing that in mind, it's interesting to note her preferences in movies. She seems to like "Empire Strikes Back" best and the original series in general. She's much less likely ask to watch the prequels and seems decidedly antsy during certain scenes in "The Phantom Menace."

In short, her preferences probably match your average film critic except that she thinks Jar Jar Binks is pretty funny.

Owing to the fact that she's old enough to recognize letters, she knows that something's happening during the crawl at the beginning of the movie. She demands that I read it to her--which I do in more or less the same tone as I use when reading "The Cat in the Hat."

Abby's enthusiasm seems to be shared by Rebecca, who (though she doesn't ask to watch a Star Wars movie without Abby asking first) does ask to "watch Yoda."

The fact that she clearly enjoys the movies helps me justify allowing her to watch them. That being said, if she gets curious about "The Godfather," she's definitely got a long wait in store. Ditto the movies of Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy...).

It'll be interesting to see if she ever watches Babylon 5.

Cancelled Due to Blizzard

As I've mentioned previously, I'm trying to start something in which I regularly invite people over for a Saturday morning brunch. Had I known that we would be getting the largest snowfall so far this year, I think I'd have chosen another weekend.

I called a few people to let them know that while I wouldn't mind if they came over, they might want to consider the possibility that doing so would be hazardous to their health.

Then I went about doing what all sane people are doing right now--shovelling the driveway and the sidewalks around their houses.

January 20, 2005

Tempest in a Bitbucket

I read a number of online comics regularly. One of them is PvP. Another is Megatokyo.

Late last week Scott Kurtz, the artist and writer of PvP, made a joke about Fred Gallagher, co-founder of Megatokyo with Rodney Caston. The joke congratulated Rodney and his wife on becoming pregnant and suggested that Fred wouldn't be able to steal the baby. This refers to the fact that while both Fred and Rodney started Megatokyo, Fred took over the comic and has been doing it solo for a few years now. Some people imagine that Fred somehow cheated Rodney out of his share of the comic and Scott was joking about that speculation as much as anything else.

Alas, things soon grew out of hand. Scott Kurtz phrased things in such a way that one could easily read it as an attack. Fred Gallagher (who apparently has read all too many attacks of this kind) responded with an explanation of the breakup process. It didn't stop there. Fanatic followers of both comics took potshots at each other in online forums and called each other (and their favorite artist/writers) nasty names.

Apparently Scott Kurtz and Fred Gallagher also both got a lot of emails on the topic.

At this moment, both artists' sites have messages saying the equivalent of "please stop caring about this. Nothing to see here. Move along..."

Funny how one attempt at humor can blow up into so many wasted words.

Part of it might be the medium. When people say something like that in person, they can see the effect of the words and immediately apologise and explain their motivation. On the web you say it, people get offended and never get to say something to you directly. In fact they can go back to the same object and re-read it and it's just like it was before. With an in-person problem, the details blur and when you feel better you can reinterpret your memories.

Thanks to the web, if you tell people about it, they can read it and get angry too. They, in turn, can tell even more people.

It would be interesting to track how people found out about the comments, if they made a response, and what sort of response they made.

January 16, 2005

Moments of Transition

I haven't been writing much in my blog this week. If you've read some of my entries from the end of last year, you might guess why. GRACE, one of the organizations I work for, is reducing my hours and moving out of their office. Quite unintentionally, I am now making more on my consulting work than on my part time salaried job. This isn't entirely because of the reduced hours. My consulting work has gone up, almost equalling my pre-reduced hours monthly pay from GRACE and slightly passing my current pay from GRACE. Thus, we're doing okay.

That being said, much of the last week has been spent going to the various locations that GRACE now receives free office space from, setting up their computers and making sure that they can connect to GRACE's virtual private network and get their files.

I've been thinking about writing a blog entry on setting up a VPN on FreeBSD, but haven't really had the energy to address a technical subject with the level of detail it deserves. I've been wanting to address another project of the past week as well--setting up Windows Terminal Services on Windows 2003, but again, I haven't really been up to it. I've been too busy actually doing said projects.

Well, that and re-reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series. And Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver... So basically I've been reading rather than writing recently. That's not a bad thing. I don't think I've read much science fiction in the past two years. That's not because I don't want to. I've just been too busy.

With any luck this is a taste of what life might be like when I finish my master's project--something that can't happen soon enough.

January 13, 2005

Why You Might Not Want To Meet Someone You Only Know From The Internet

I ran across a rather old but highly amusing article just now. It's apparently about someone meeting someone he liked online but then discovering she was a little different from how she'd presented herself. It's called:

My Internet Love is a Corpse-Hoarding Granny

Brunch: Saturday, January 22nd

On Saturday, January 22nd, I'm hosting a brunch from 10-12 am. As there are undoubtedly people I know who read my blog but I don't talk to regularly, anyone reading this can consider themselves invited.

RSVP so that I have ballpark guess on how many people to expect. Also, since my address isn't in the phonebook, you'll need me to tell you where I live.

January 8, 2005

Taste of India

I like Indian food. By this I don't mean American Indian food (which aside from liking fry bread, I haven't eaten), but rather food from India.

Like many Indian restaurants, Taste of India's entrees fall into four basic categories:

Tandoori: Marinated, roasted meats from northern India where Islam is common.
Lamb curries: Lamb stewed in a sauce. You're supposed to put it over rice. Taste of India serves many of the more common lamb dishes such as Lamb Vindaloo (lamb in a hot tomato based sauce), Lamb Saag (lamb in a spinach based sauce) and Rogan Josh (can't remember precisely, but I do like it).
Chicken curries: Chicken stewed in a sauce. I seldom get the chicken dishes, but some are a chicken variation of the lamb entrees.
Vegetarian entrees: These range from dals (bean curries) to palak paneer (spinach and cheese) to vegetable based curries (cauliflower, cabbage, etc...).

It also serves lassi (a yogurt based drink much like a shake), various appetizers and has a good selection of Indian flatbreads (roti). Roti are a bit like pita bread, but are often stuffed with vegetables (for example: potatoes, onions, peas...). I like them a lot.

I honestly don't know whether Taste of India is a good Indian restaurant relative to restaurants in a larger city. It's one of three Indian restaurants in Grand Rapids that I'm familiar with. The other two are Bombay Cuisine and India House.It seems that I'm more likely to see people of Indian descent at Taste of India than I am at the other two, but what that means I'm not sure.

Whatever the case, I enjoy the food.

If you want to try it cheaply, you might go during lunch. They've got a buffet. Taste of India is a 44th and Breton in Grand Rapids. It's in the same strip mall as Horrocks and is just south of the D&W on that same corner.

January 4, 2005

Movies: Anchorman

Kristen's and my tastes in movies overlaps at some points, but not completely. For example, I like science fiction/fantasy, historical movies, dark comedies, and experimental narrative techniques (i.e. making sense is not absolutely required). Also, violence doesn't really bother me if its done in the service of a good story.

Kristen prefers other things. As a result, the point where our tastes overlap is in dramas and comedies. This makes a trip to the local Blockbuster an exercise in suspense. Will Kristen instantly groan as she sees what I have chosen to rent? Whether or not she groans, will it actually be good?

This week I rented "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," violating one of my guidelines for renting videos/dvds in the process. That guideline? "Never rent anything in which a 'Saturday Night Live' alumnus is prominently featured."

In this case, the guideline can be safely violated.

Wil Ferrell of "Saturday Night Live" stars as Ron Burgundy, the lead anchorman at a local tv station during the 1970's. He's confronted with the most horrible of all possibilities--the thought that a woman might be hired as a reporter and actually want to move forward in her career. Worse, she might want to do it at his station and do his job.

Fortunately for the viewers, the movie does not turn into an exercise in beating up on sexism. Though the movie's plot does use the gender issues of the 1970's to move the story along, I found the movie constantly funny. I'd love to give details, but I don't really want to give away any of the jokes. Anyway, they're much harder to convey in print than on the screen.

That being said, the characters were amazingly funny by themselves. I liked the weatherman ("Brick") and the sports reporter ("Champ") in particular.

One thing I really liked about the movie is the ability of the writers to take an absurd situation and make it consistently more absurd, successfully getting humor out of tv news rivalries, gender issues, and (if you listen carefully) 70's era music.

I liked the fight scene a lot. You may be wondering why there would be a fight scene in a movie about newscasters. I still don't know, but it was funny.

If you're looking for a comedy, I recommend it.

January 2, 2005

Kristen's Blog

Just thought that I'd mention that my wife has a web log and that she's been writing fairly regularly over the past year (though not as much as I). If you feel the urge to read about my life from a different perspective, you may wish to check it out.

It's worth mentioning that she has now enabled comments, allowing her to experience the wonders of comment spam as well.