Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: May, 2003

Finding Nemo

Yep, a kid flick. Be prepared to brave the theaters filled with screaming six-year-olds needing to go to the bathroom in the middle of the film. Now on to my impressions…

Wow. That was the beginning? Well, I guess they didn’t want to wreck the sensibilities of the children in the audience. From reviews that I had read prior to the screening, I had the impression that it would have been more disturbing. The only other Pixar film I have seen is Monsters Inc. where the styles and technical achievements are very similar. Polished and colorful. Pixar does monsters and fish very well. The humans however are caricatures, which I suppose works in this case since they are gags and peripheral to the story.

The story itself is filled with wonderful characters. Marlin (Albert Brooks) is a neurotic and overprotective clownfish, annoying at times, but ultimately sympathetic. Wanting to keep someone you love safe is a universal theme and the people at Pixar are smart enough to milk it for what it’s worth (especially when half the audience are parents). Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is the blue tang who accompanies Marlin to help find his son. Dory has problems, though, specifically memory problems of Memento proportions, and she is easily manipulated due to her child-like persona as well as the memory loss.

There are also a lot of other details that were quite amusing. My favorite character was Gill (Willem Dafoe) the zebra fish constantly planning jailbreaks from the dentist office aquarium. The greedy, food-obsessed seagulls were spot on (although I wouldn’t think their beaks would be sharp enough to pierce sail tarp!) and the dentist’s braces-wearing, fish-killing niece was deliciously bratty (of course, the Psycho theme playing whenever she showed up helped too).

At the end, though, I was sort of hoping that Dory and Marlin would get together but that was sort of spoiled by Bruce the shark and his cronies escorting the blue tang back to the coral reef. (I guess girls can’t resist bad boys even if they are cartoon fish.)

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Reading Habits

Another way to track reading habits is to look at which section in the bookstore or library you gravitate toward first when you enter. By gravitate, I mean standing in front of the shelves, looking at covers, and reading the titles and summaries. Yes, stores and libraries often put bestsellers and new books at the front to stop patrons in their tracks, but let’s disregard that for a minute because everyone to some degree notices shiny, new things.

Four years ago, I would have said with fair confidence that I would go to the science fiction and fantasy section of a store first and rarely look at any of the other genres. One year ago, I would have been seen browsing the literature and mainstream fiction sections instead. And now, well, I’m mostly at the bargain bin.

One could say that my tastes are less picky and have cheapened considerably. In one sense, yes, but the main reason for this would have to go to my pocketbook. But on a different level, I have become extremely picky. I no longer go to bookstores and libraries (most of the time, anyway) to inhale the scent of paper and ink–I’m there because I already know what I want to get. I would have to blame this particular problem on the internet with its superior search capabilities and databases of reviews and summaries and for society for making me feel guilty of wasting time.

Blog reading, however, is a more haphazard endeavor. When I first began reading blogs, I was in a complete vacuum except for perhaps a few other semi-serious novelists. I knew about webrings, though, and it was fairly easy to find webrings of bloggers. But for a person like me, it was exactly the wrong route to go. Many of the blogs I found on webrings were written by confrontational riot grrls and angsty teenagers. This wasn’t necessary bad, mind you (one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and all that), but it was a lot like reading the telephone directory.

The turning point was when I decided to research the origin of the term “blog.” I found Rebecca Blood’s essay on the history of the weblog which not only answered my question but also reassured me that online confessionals was not the sole purpose of the blog. From there, I read the popular blogs and slowly stumbled into a strange clique of late 20’s to early 30’s bloggers obsessed with juvenile humor and hit mongering–another dead end (although I have to admit that some of them were on my blogroll for a while).

There were also some review sites. Although most are run by teenagers dedicated to making people feel good, a few reviewers were actually honest about what they thought were good or bad blogs. So I read reviewed blogs. At about the same time, I also began participating in the now defunct Blogger Insider that paired bloggers up randomly to interview each other. This was a great idea to allow bloggers to find out more about each other and to find new reads. I was quite disappointed when the project was discontinued due to some bloggers not reciprocating the interview process.

Recently, the blog equivalent for gravitating toward a certain section have been looking up blogs of people who are geographically close to me or have similar academic interests. I posted several months ago a list of blogs on campus. Last night, I stumbled on yet another campus blog aggregator: Dartblogs which began last month. This was inspired by the Harvard Weblogs Project. (Of course, it might also be due in part to Dave Winer‘s idea for Citizen Bloggers in New Hampshire–interesting, but too topical and narrow for the long-term.)

An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Scholars Who Blog (via Daypop) is yet another find that includes directories to blogs with academic interests. But with quotes like these:

“Almost all are in public policy, law, or the social sciences; only 14 of the blogs in Mr. Farrell’s directory are by scholars in the humanities or natural sciences.”

It makes me wonder if I have stumbled onto another dead end. (In his defense, Henry Farrell says: “I strongly suspect that the dearth of humanities and natural sciences bloggers in my list is in part an artefact of my weak ties networks – I’m more likely to come across social scientists’ and lawyers’ blogs than I am, for example, computer scientists’ writings.”)

Peculiar Type #8 – Relationship Columnists Not Needed

The houses built in the early 1920s along Pine Street had been ruthlessly gutted and demolished within a span of three months. The Samson and Moynihan Company had considered it a success that they had outbid their rivals to build condominiums and a shopping center in this old, tired district, and the contractors were eager to put up the buildings as soon as possible to collect that final paycheck from the city.

Don was glad that Samson and Moynihan had outbid Smith, Smith, and Smith-Johnson because that meant that he had a job with regular hours for at least two years as the district was being renovated. It meant that he could use his hands instead of idling in front of the television and being nagged by the wife. It also meant that there would be fewer arguments about money, and that it was an excuse to avoid the in-laws and to pretend that there was nothing wrong with the kids.

During lunch break, Don would stake out a seat at the stone wall. Although the original houses were gone, the architect had decided to leave the stone wall that divided the subsequent hilly forest from the relatively flat district as a demarcation between human activity and one of the few remaining pockets of nature. Samson and Moynihan didn’t understand the architect’s rationale, but Don didn’t care. It gave him a perch while he ate his customary salami sandwich.

Don’s lunch companion was a pimply-faced kid in his early twenties. Marty was one of those happy kids with either a grin or a whistle on his lips. He was optimistic and talkative. Usually Don left him to chatter away while he munched on his sandwich, allowing him to talk away the gloomy thoughts that always lingered in the periphery. But today, Marty was silent.

The older man swallowed and glanced at the kid. Marty was a little pale and he was chewing mechanically as if lunch was a chore and not a respite. Don cleared his throat.

“Hey Marty, what’s the matter?” He winced. His voice sounded gruff, unused, and maybe even a little accusatory.

“Nothin’ Don.”

“Aw, com’on, you can’t fool me.”

Marty sighed as if he was Atlas, carrying the world on his shoulders. “It’s Sandy. She won’t talk to me. And I can’t think of anything that I might have done wrong.”

Sandy was Marty’s equally young wife. Don had seen her once, a pretty, plump girl with long hair to match her name and a charming smile. Marty and Sandy reminded him of the first years of his marriage, when he had thought that he had been happy. And now, he felt hollow as if something had leaked out through the years. He wondered if his wife felt the same way.

“Have you told her that you love her?” he found himself saying.

“That I love her?” Marty was confused only for a moment. “Well, of course, that must be it! I don’t recall telling her that this morning. You must be a genius, Don!”

And as the kid began jabbering about how he had read in this magazine once that husbands should pamper their wives to put them in a good humor and that maybe he should offer to cook dinner for Sandy, Don fell back into a silence that was now cloudy with questions of his own. Should he follow his own advice?

Linguistic Stereotypes

Mandarin vs. Cantonese. Pretty much every Chinese speaker familiar with these two dialects thinks that Mandarin is genteel, aesthetically pleasing, and makes one sound more educated. Cantonese, on the other hand, has been regarded as the poor cousin who rants like a fishwife on ecstasy. I vehemently disagree. Compare a shouting match in Mandarin with a shouting match in Cantonese. Mandarin is a lot shriller, on average, than Cantonese.

French vs. German. This one is practically a no-brainer. French is known as “the language of love” and German is “guttural and harsh sounding.” Different speakers can make each language sound either beautiful or ugly, but I actually associate each language to temperament. I find French to be artsy, flighty, and at times snobby. German sounds very practical and frank.

Various forms of English. And by this, I mean accents. As I posted before (numerous times), I find the southern accent annoying. I’ve lived long enough with it, however, to overlook it most of the time. This goes for all other types of accents (British, Australian, Canadian, Midwestern, Valley Girl/Surfer Dude speak, etc.) except for the New Jersey accent, which stands out as grating no matter how hard it tries to disguise itself as merely annoying. Interrogators can stop using Barney as a torture device. All they have to do is to hire a native New Jerseyan. I’m sure natives from New Jersey are nice people. I just don’t like the accent (especially if you’re stuck in a flying tin can for several hours at 30,000 feet sitting next to a kid from New Jersey who just can’t shut up).

* * *
Is it Art or is it just plain, old Crap? (via Reflections in d minor) Um, I got 11/16. I guess my ability to ferret out the pretentious bs isn’t that great.

The Geek Test. This says that I am a Major Geek. I think my score would have been higher if I knew more about computers and had role-playing games.

Hits and Misses. (via Allied) “Site counters are useful tools for personal sites and blogs. And they can be loads of fun too!” Well, I agree to that. But unlike some of the interviewees, I don’t even try to tailor my posts toward my on-and-off-again audience because, to be honest, I don’t know what they want due to no feedback. Aside from linked posts, if I personally find one of my posts insightful or informative, there are no spikes in visitors. If anything, there are less visitors and no comments. (Which, I guess, should tell me a couple things. People don’t care for my insights, I’m speaking over their heads, or people are too busy to visit. I’d like to think the very latter.) And I don’t blog according to peak visitor times. My posts usually coincide with my free time (typically in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening, EST–and if you don’t know that already, well, now you know). But do you know what I really worry about? Other people logging my hits on their website. It’s very easy to tell when I’m bored.

The Thursday Threesome: Pop Quiz!

Onesome: Ain’t- There’s a lot of slang floating around out there. Some of it has even found its way into the dictionary. Is there any one word that you find more annoying than others? That you just wish would fall off the face of the planet, never to be heard again?

I’m somewhat of a word elitist. I like to coin new word clusters (especially if they roll off the tongue easily or sounds nice) but most colloquial and slang terms bother me to no end. For instance:

Wicked. It means “cool.” When I first heard it being used in this fashion, I was about to scream. I still don’t like it being used this way. And saying “wicked cool” together does not cancel out the effect.

Bling-bling. Money, dollar signs, gaudy jewelry. I suppose it came from the sound of cash registers, but somehow for me, it sounds like what a rapper wannabe decked out in gold jewelry would say to indicate that he got laid.

Phat. Also meaning “cool.” I dislike this term because it causes too much confusion, especially when people use the term to describe other people. Is it phat or fat?

However, I do like tripping (going crazy) and wacked (weird, messed up) and maybe a few other terms, mostly because I can say them without feeling, well, wacked.

Twosome: It- It’s/Its, they’re/their/there. Just a few of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language. So the question is, when you blog, do you worry about grammar, punctuation and spelling? If you notice a typo do you go back and edit? Or do you shrug it off because everyone makes typos?

Yes, I worry about grammar, punctuation, and spelling when I write an entry. Besides the it’s/its, they’re/their/there paradigm, I’m also rather anal-retentive about to/too, possessive vs. plural, and my newest pet peeve: site/sight, nite/night, and all their derivatives. However, I’m a little more liberal about punctuation and I can never tell how to use that or which. I usually type up my entries in Notepad and then copy and paste into Word where I run a spell and grammar check. Then I replace the entry in Notepad with the corrected entry before sticking it into Blogger. For some reason, Blogger doesn’t like Word characters like m-dashes and quotation marks. It must be some technical quirk.

And I almost forgot. I absolutely detest people who write without capitalization and/or use hacker speak. The complete laxity in rules make me go cross-eyed.

Threesome: Purty?- Purty/pretty, crick/creek, warsh/wash. All common pronunciations, whether they sound pretty or not. And one is mispronounced. What’s one commonly mispronounced word that just drives you nuts?

Oh, you wouldn’t want to go there with all the southern pronunciations. I could rant about that all day.

But I will say this. Since my parents’ first language is not English (as are my other relatives) I have a certain tolerance for mispronunciations by non-native speakers. Of course, putting non-native speakers with southern English-speakers is a bad idea. I think my Mom speaks pretty good English, but for some reason, some southerners cannot understand her at all.

I spent my first years listening to Cantonese and French, so my own accent may be a little funky. Of course, you can judge for yourself here (mp3) if you haven’t already listened to my prior audblog post.

Recently, though, I’ve been disturbed by this:

Intestine. Some people pronounce the last syllable like the last syllable in turpentine.

Are All Blogs Created Equal? (via Shawn Allison)

Short answer: No.

Why? Disregarding that some blog software are more powerful than others or that some people have better design skills than others (or even that some people have better spelling ability than others), blogs solely in terms of hits and linkage are unequal. Usually this is due to: real life fame (Dave Barry, Wil Wheaton), historical significance (such as the creators of Blogger and Userland), certain bloggers being around longer than anyone else, and readers being too entrenched to branch out to new authors.

Me? I find this topic amusing. It’s just a more elegant way for people to moan about their lack of hit stats. One can’t alter real life fame (unless you’ve found the cure to cancer or at least published a best-selling book), historical significance and being around longer than everyone else (unless you have a time machine), but one can at least give a little nudge to new or obscure authors. However, if bloggers are so obsessed with driving traffic to their own sites and tearing down the popular kids in blogland, I’d say people have missed the point of blogging entirely.

[originally posted on 8:40 AM]

There is no Tuesday Too.

Well, duh! It’s Wednesday. (I think I’ll just answer these and then get some real sleep.)

1. Where do you suppose jf has gone?

I don’t think she’s gone anywhere. Real life has probably gotten her swamped.

2. Should we do anything about it? Alternately, has anyone emailed her to see if she’s okay?

I’m not too worried. There have been bloggers before who have taken off months before getting back into the game. But now that you’ve mention it, I’ll probably leave a comment on her blog. I usually don’t e-mail unless someone specifically states on their website that it is okay to e-mail them comments.

3. And for a change of pace, what were your birthday parties like as a kid?

I had no birthday parties. This is not because of indoctrination by cheapskate parents. If I had wanted a party, my parents would have gladly helped me write the invitations and order the food. Really. My sister is the party girl. One time she invited pretty much her entire grade for a wild time at the local skating rink.

Insecurity and self-embarrassment were probably the main things keeping me from asking anybody over to my house let alone a party. And there was the problem of gifts. I had no problem with bringing chocolate cupcakes and candy to school to share with everyone, but I have a difficult time with accepting gifts from others. The primary reason is that I have to fake looking pleased at the gift. A secondary reason is that the gift is never what I need, want, or like. People may think they know what they should get me, but they are 90% of the time wrong.

But I have been invited to birthday parties before. It usually involved a small gaggle of girls giggling and gossiping and playing dumb games. Sleepovers were also a rather frequent part of the party. Of course, by that time, I realized I was completely out of my league. But what could I do but pretend that I was having a good time too?

Un-Sleeping Habits

Periodically I go on sleepless binges. When these binges occur is extremely predictable.

Of course, it’s entirely my fault for creating such a situation, but I can’t help but recall those days when all-nighters were a rather weekly occurrence. I also can’t help wondering how I got through all of that with people actually considering me saner. The worse time during the all-nighter is between four and seven in the morning (like this morning, in fact) when my brain ceases to function no matter what I do. I’m catatonic–semi-aware, yet not asleep–and I’m stuck exactly like a broken record. I keep on glancing at the clock every twenty minutes or continuing to write the same sequence of words over and over again.

But my sleeping habits are really quite ordinary. What I find strange are people who sleep with the light on, especially with the light left delibrately on. Lamps, nightlights, what-have-you at three in the morning make me think of people with sleeping disorders like sleepwalkers, insomniacs, and people who sleep with their eyes open. Sometimes I think people leave the lights on because they never got over their childhood neuroses about boogeymen in the closet. But unlike people who feel safe going to bed with the light on, I feel vulnerable. I can’t hide in the light.

* * *
Other Stuff:
My Pet Skeleton. Both trendy and gothic. Perhaps more trendy than gothic. But I definitely like the artwork.
Blogstreet. What I found really funny was that blog IQ correlates directly with popularity. The lower the IQ, the higher the popularity. Maybe the developers of this site delibrately fixed it this way so that the nobodies could feel better about themselves.

The Atmosphere of Words

ca·bal, noun: the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united to bring about an overturn or usurpation especially in public affairs; also : a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues

from Merriam-Webster

The word, cabal, is like a very dark scrying stone. It conjures up medieval ruins and phantoms in black cloaks dabbling in forbidden languages. Old men scribble with quills in the flickering light of a fireplace. Women hold bowls of oily libations and fashionable men wink, slightly sinister. There are libraries containing molding tomes and parchment etched with strange symbols and diagrams.

It is that shiver, just as a passage of a puzzle-mystery is read, when it passes from pretentious to predatory. And it doesn’t matter where it is read–whether it is during a storm (shadows in the corners), in an empty room (unexpected noises), or in a crowded bus terminal (a pair of eyes, watching)–that feeling that everything seen is only a veneer to something entirely unknown.

The roll of the syllables is the sound of an old bell, the creak of doors, the tap of a heel against a cold stone floor. The flat of a blade hits a corner. It is the hiss of fabric rubbing together. Or perhaps fingernails tapping against a surface. It is all seriousness and provocative stares.

But this word has been dragged out from the realm of otherness by newspapers that need something new even if it’s old, by newscasters who say every word as if they are commenting on a football game. It’s used like an ugly lampshade when it would have been better off as the polish on a very expensive shoe.

Atmosphere has been skewed, and now instead of those delightfully horrible nights populated with monsters and whispered Latin, the world is inundated with visions of dirty fingernails and garish boots. Uncouth laughter and smoke (guns, cigars) fill the air. Surgically altered women in scanty clothing, wide swimming pools, and grinning plastic skulls just for kicks. There are glimpses of green in suitcases and red buttons that say, do not touch–except the greasy fingerprints are everywhere.

There is no longer the logical, intellectual cabal. No, it has turned into a posse for dummies with wide-open spaces and flashy jewelry. There is no longer anything to understand. Nothing at all.

On Traffic

Cars hit lots of wildlife. Squirrels. Raccoons. Rabbits. Opossums. Deer. Household pets can also be victims. And what about those odd animals called pedestrians? Well, apparently drivers don’t pay attention to those either.

Unlike animals with brains the size of a baseball or smaller, pedestrians do have one advantage. That is, walk signs. These lights are coordinated with the other traffic lights so that pedestrians will be able to tell when cars have stopped on both sides. However, one must note that this will not deter the occasional driver who runs the red light in a desperate attempt to get to the nearest bathroom or cars that turn when there isn’t a sign that explicitly says “Don’t turn on a red light.”

Another invention designed to help the pedestrian is the crosswalk. These stripes of white paint on the road, unfortunately, are miserable failures when it comes to providing the pedestrian a peace of mind. Some drivers rarely look at yellow crossing signs let alone paint on the road, and to them, a pedestrian is nothing, just as grass clippings spewed out from a lawnmower is nothing.

Pedestrians should also beware of drunken young people in vans if they happen to live near a school as well as roads with few to no traffic lights (as lack of regulation tends to turn a driver’s mind to autopilot). One must especially be aware of sadistic drivers who speed up their monster trucks when a pedestrian is in sight, eager to add a person to their scorecard of dead rodents and family pets.

There’s no doubt about it. “Motor vehicles accidents account for more deaths than all natural disasters combined.” Why do pedestrians have to pay for their environmentally conscientious motives by getting squashed into bloody pancakes along road shoulders? What is it about wheels and engines that turn ordinary people into either numb automatons or raving monsters? I can’t speak for the clueless chipmunk that lives in the stump in the backyard, but I do know that when I see a roaring truck bearing down on me, I run for my life.