31 July 2008

The Triceratops and the Whale

If you love the American Natural History Museum like I do, then these archived photos including the initial set-up of the space and the installation of exhibits is a must-see. If you don't love the AMHM, why are we friends?

Check out this picture of them swabbing the elephant skin. The navigation for the photos is horrible but for some of the highlights, you can go here.

I can't remember the first experience I had at the museum, or who took me, but I know that seeing the sheer volume of all these animals, big and small, was mind blowing. I feel like I'd been to the zoo before (we lived in San Diego) but c'mon, most of the animals at the zoo are sleeping or hidden away. Being able to sit and stare at an animal -- albeit dead, but life sized -- was just amazing. Plus, this was probably one of my first experiences with dinosaurs, launching a childhood love affair. One of my male college roommates didn't know anything about dinosaurs, which blew our mind. We asked him to name a few. "Rhino-saurus?" Um, no.

The room with all the ocean animals was always my favorite. Here's a shot of it, nearly empty. Plus a closer one of them hanging up a sperm whale. Of course the most memorable thing about the History Museum is the life-sized blue whale. It's not the only model blue whale in existence but it's certainly the most dramatic. The way it's positioned, shaped, and seems to be swimming at you out of the dark makes a huge impression when you get to stand in front of it.

Speaking of dinosaurs, this one at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum would have freaked the crap out of me if I was young. Listen to the background audio of kids crying. "C'mon, eat one. Just one?"

Ah hell, I might as well just post all animal related links right now. While I think pandas are way overrated, even my cold heart can't resist these photos. And here's a pretty realistic robotic fish (with video). I can't wait until they can make a mini pet-sized robotic dinosaur. I'd pre-order that guy right now.

28 July 2008

Mr. Job's Wonder Emporium

After the iPocalypse when the new iPhone came out, I was wary of upgrading until I was sure everything was tip top. I realized that Apple wouldn't be fixing the bugs anytime soon and at a few friends' urgings, I had to just suck it up and upgrade.

The new app store is ridiculous. I mean, there's a ton of junk in there but there are so many cool things that are already out there that I'm sad I got on the wagon so late. I have decided to not purchase the new iPhone due to battery concerns but having 3G would certainly make some of the new apps incredibly useful.

The app I was most excited about was Pandora on iPhone. Having Pandora on the go has been a longtime dream of mine and it's sort of realized, even if using the EDGE network really compromises its usefulness. Ameer put me onto Apple Remote, which allows you to control your iTunes from far far away. It's incredibly amazing how you can scroll through your entire library (more than 120 gigs for me) worth of music from your phone. At first I was confused about how it worked since it seemed so seamless and automatic and I wondered if you could use it miles away or something. Instead it's simply WiFi accessible, which is still mad cool. I'm going to be jacking people's iTunes whenever I'm around their computer.

Actually all the fun apps for me centered around music. Shazam was a serious revelation. You hold your iPhone up to any music source and after a few seconds it identifies the song for you. The incredible thing is how deep it goes. I tried it on obvious songs, obscure songs, and in locations with lots of ambient noise. It pretty much worked like a charm everywhere. No more wondering "Hey, what song is that?" I can't wait to try this out when I go out. I'll never have to ask the DJ again what they're playing. Not that I do something like that anyway.

Midomi has a similar function to Shazam but its awesomeness is that it allows you to sing or hum a song into the mic and it'll recognize it. Well, depending on how you sing. I tried it out with my paltry singing skills and was psyched that it felt sort of like acapella karaoke. I've been pointing it at people and demanding, "Sing something."

And for the inner geek in everyone, an app that makes Super Mario jumping sounds when you move and a portable light saber.

With this new 2.0 release, the iPhone just became that much more important in my life. Subway maps, music recognition, mobile social networking, and games. I'm just incredibly sad that the camera is now super slow and there seem to be bugs and slow response times everywhere. Apple needs to step up and fix everything. In the meantime, I'll be singing to myself and figuring out what that great song blasting from the speakers is.

27 July 2008

No Money, No Problems

"I keep hoping the corporations will wake up and realize that publishing is not, in fact, a normal business with a nice healthy relationship to capitalism. Elements of publishing are, or can be forced to be, successfully capitalistic: the textbook industry is all too clear a proof of that. How-to books and the like have some market predictability. But inevitably some of what publishers publish is, or is partly, literature-art.

And the relationship of art to capitalism is, to put it mildly, vexed. It has not been a happy marriage. Amused contempt is about the pleasantest emotion either partner feels for the other. Their definitions of what profiteth a man are too different."
-Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading-

"Finally, there's the money issue. An editorial assistant at a major magazine is unlikely to make more than $30,000 a year, whereas a successful blogger right out of college could pull in as much as $50,000 -- a big difference when it could mean getting out of a bedbug-infested Bushwick loft share.

Of course, at the upper echelons of the industry, things are a bit different. A contract at a major national magazine can be worth upward of $5 a word; contract writers are generally paid a set yearly amount for a specific number of articles, or a particular word count. But freelance rates are generally much lower.

For most established but not well-known writers, $2 per word at a major magazine is standard, though usually negotiable. So even if a fledgling magazine writer were to write one 1,500-word feature a month for a national magazine -- which would in itself be a difficult feat to pull off -- he or she would be pulling in $36,000 a year before taxes. That's also assuming that none of the stories were killed or held and that everyone paid on time."
-The Decline and Fall of the Writer-

25 July 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

Man this movie came in hyped for me. All week long people have been asking me what I thought of it. I had to meekly reply, "I haven't watched it (yet)!" My geek cred was in serious dispute. People everywhere loved this thing and I was hoping to be swept away by Christopher Nolan's vision.

Then again, seeing as I didn't enjoy Batman Begins that much, I had to be skeptical. Keeping my expectations in check, I finally got to watch it tonight. What do I think? Well, it's certainly got a ton of good things going for it. The plot was complex and yet tied together well. The Joker kept me on the edge of my seat and he struck just the perfect anarchy reigns tone. Overall it's a semi-must see and definitely one of the finer comic book films.

Of course, there were also excruciating horrible lines and moments. None worse than the little boy at the end screaming "Batman!" Seriously, if you've seen this movie already, wasn't that incredibly jarring? We walked out of the theatre making fun of this little boy's voice and Batman's guttural mumble. Let me expand on that. Do you think anyone would take Batman seriously if he talked through clenched teeth all the time and pitched his voice so damn low for no apparent reason?

I really want to give this thing an A just because they really did craft an intriguing tale and I can see that they tried to put some intelligence and heart into the film. However, it was just a bit too long, a tad cheesy, and the hilarious voices just kick it down a notch. Sorry.

23 July 2008

Said the Shotgun to the Head

As a long time admirer and fan of Saul Williams' work, I was delighted to come across his piece titled "An Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey." In it, he provides his answer to a question she posed: "Are all rappers poets?" Excerpted below.
"Because of the competitive stance that all emcees are prone to take, they, like soldiers begin to believe that they can show no sign of vulnerability. Thus, the most popular emcees of our age are often those that claim to be heartless or show no feelings or signs of emotion.

The poet, on the other hand, is the one who realizes that their vulnerability is their power. Like you, unafraid to shed tears on countless shows, the poet finds strength in exposing their humanity, their vulnerability, thus making it possible for us to find connection and strength through their work. Many emcees have been poets. But, no, Ms. Winfrey, not all emcees are poets. Many choose gangsterism and business over the emotional terrain through which true artistry will lead. But they are not to blame."
-Saul Williams-
And below is a short piece from one of Saul's poetry books. He's gotten some attention recently for having one of his music tracks used in a Nike commercial. I was amazed to hear his work coming through my television attached to a sneaker ad but the song's energy was powerful, just like his is.
"our relationship
falling apart
at the seams

but our grandmothers
were both seamstresses
for a reason"
-Saul Williams, She-
Years ago, my friend Babbs gave Presidential Candidate Al Gore a copy of Mos Def's Black on Both Sides during a taped MTV appearance at Ann Arbor. He urged him to listen to it and to open his mind to the idea of hip hop as a form of social statement. Unfortunately, the full text of the e-mails is no longer online but you can read about what happened here.
"I wanted Gore to recognize people through hip-hop. Hip-hop to me isn't just an 'art form.' It's so much more than that. Hip-hop is experience. ... I think Black on Both Sides is extremely representative of the universal message of hip-hop ...and hip-hop as a proactive response to social injustice ...'Mr. N---a' and 'Mathematics' are two tracks he could learn a great deal from, to see why racism is still a very salient issue."
-Brian Babb-

21 July 2008


Don't read books by their covers? Yeah right. Studies have shown that an eye-catching cover can increase sales a gazillion percent. Heck, when browsing through a bookstore all I'm doing is walking around picking up books to see if the cover material is matte, my favorite.

A great book cover even alters my reading habits. Reading a book with a great cover makes you be more careful with it, because you're not only reading the art of work inside, but also preserving the work of art outside. No hanging out gushing water while brushing your teeth while reading these gems. No sir. Keep it safe and tidy before reading.

Just like in any art form, there are some serious standouts. Chip Kidd is a name you hear alot. I recently started paying attention to which designers are responsible for the covers that catch my eye in a crowded bookstore and it's like a whole new world. I'm partial to the vintage look and just covers that are beautiful and simple, or visually witty, or able to capture the spirit of the entire book in just one image. It makes a great book even better.

I mean, look at something like the photo inset on this post. That's an alternate cover image (sketch) idea for The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is set in New York and involves a fictionalized super hero called the Escapist who can break out of chains like Houdini. The Empire State Building in chains is exactly that plus the style of the drawing evokes the 1940s setting of the book. It's super simple, and maybe obvious, but just awesome.

Check out the New York Times' Book Design Review and Covers for reviews on, well, book covers. Through reading this blog, I've been introduced to the work of Henry Sene Yee, the creative director at Picador, which regularly wins awards for their book covers. It's fascinating because Yee talks about the design process, the evolution of a book's cover, and also showcases ideas that never panned out. Here's an article with him talking about book design. David Drummond offers similar access to the book cover design world on his blog.

Seriously, feel free to judge a book by its cover. Cry if you want to, cry if you want to. You would cry too if it happened to you.

19 July 2008

Light My Candle

My love for musicals is well documented. I went (and am still going) through an obsessed with Wicked period. Recently though I've been listening to a lot of Les Mis and fiending to watch that and Phantom again. Actually, someone I met said that Les Miserables was her favorite book of all time so I should check that out first. Victor Hugo is way underrated.

The thing with musicals is that it's sometimes seen as a semi-highbrow, somewhat feminine form of entertainment. Which is ridiculous because musicals are designed for everyone. It's not exactly a cultural experience like the ballet or the opera might (perceived to) be. It's just pure entertainment. Everybody loves to sing -- even if secretly -- and the pleasure you receive from obsessing over a musical's soundtrack is something that all fans can relate to. I used to insist on listening to the soundtrack beforehand so that I could have an idea of the lyrics before I saw the actual show.

But that can detract from the experience sometimes. For first time viewers of Wicked, for example, I think it's so much better to just go into it without having heard anything. My difficulty in going in blind has been an inability to properly process the words and plot of the musical at the same time. I always feel like I just missed something. That's been resolved a bit as I'm more capable of paying attention to both the action and the lyrics. Practice and experience I guess.

I wish I'd seen more musicals. I've seen most of the big Broadway-ish hits. In chronological order it's been Phantom, Cats, Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Starlight Express, Tommy, Rent, Chicago, Lion King, Wicked. I really couldn't get into Miss Saigon or Chicago (even though I really enjoyed the movie) and I lean toward the Andrew Lloyd Webber classics because to me that's what a classic musical is all about.
Fave Five Musical Songs
For Good (Wicked)
Think of Me (Phantom)
A Little Fall of Rain (Les Mis)
Defying Gravity (Wicked)
One Song Glory (Rent)
Did you know there's a Spider-Man musical in the works? Julie Taymor of Lion King fame will be directing it. The first reading just happened recently, with Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess as Mary Jane and Spidey respectively. So basically it's Across the Universe 2.

I think I need to go rent the Phantom and Les Mis film adaptations. For some reason, I can't really get into movie musicals. Moulin Rouge didn't strike a chord with me. Rent as a movie was semi-awful except for the fact that most of the original leads were involved. You would think that having easy access to a musical would be a dream come true. That's proven to be not usually the case. I do have to plug the movie Once here though, since it's sort of a movie musical and really endearing and sweet -- adjectives that I'd never be described with.

13 July 2008

Hellboy 2 (2008)

Man it's been a pretty horrific summer for movies hasn't it? Quick, name a good movie you've seen in the last two months. I'd guess you'd have to date back to Iron Man to find something that was entertaining and well done. Everything else has been really hit or miss. I keep hearing good (and some bad) things about Wall-E so that may have to be the saving grace of the summer since I'm pretty sure Batman will underwhelm.

I really thought Hellboy would be a sleeper hit -- the trailer looked so awesome. Instead I was left trying to figure out if it was just average or way below average. Guillermo del Toro creates great visuals, the characters are all likable, the action is pretty good, and sure Selma Blair can't act but that's okay because she doesn't really need to in this movie. So why did I hope for Hellboy to pound me into submission about three fourths through the movie?

Well, the biggest problem was that the movie tried to be a bit too romantical and sentimental. Yeah, romantical. Think the worst parts of the Neo and Trinity love story, all those stupid cheesy scenes with them declaring their undying love, yada yada, and then times two. Hellboy swings back and forth between bad ass and cartoony and it just ruined the whole thing. Plus a few ridiculous plot holes that puncture believability all around and you're looking at another summer dud. Next!

08 July 2008

The Ghost Whisperer

While I can't say it's been a highly anticipated album, I have been waiting for Scarlett Johansson to get her much hyped (and vilified) album out. The big question was "Can she sing?" Well, if you've seen Lost in Translation, there's hints that she can give a charming vocally on-and-off performance -- but that's with her on-screen. Then her version of a jazz classic, Summertime, seemed to indicate that she could translate her awesome raspy talking voice into something special (or at least interesting) musically.

Her album has been out for awhile now and after taking a few listens I have no idea what to think. The original advance song had me all confused until James explained to me what Tom Waits was all about. If you're going into this thinking it's a traditional "singing" album then you're going to be mighty disappointed. Since I don't get Waits at all, I can't really give much of a review. The critics seem to like it though. Some of it just sounds to me like tepid karaoke.

The better question might be "Can she act?" Sure, she's been nominated a few times for Golden Globes (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lost in Translation, Match Point) but awards mean nothing. How many movies has she been in that made you think "Damn, she was really great in this!" Even if she is one of my esteemed Top Ten, it's hard not to cringe when watching her sometimes. It seems like she's much better in period pieces and hard to stomach when given regular girl roles (In Good Company). I wish she'd do something like Ghost World again, where she could be a little sarcastic and caustic, where she had actual character.

Here's a song I'm obsessing over: Jay Brannan's Soda Shop. It's on the Shortbus soundtrack and while the film may not quite be for everyone (read a review to see what I mean), the soundtrack is pretty damn good. Plus the Manhattan-themed intro to the film is just incredibly beautiful and well done.

06 July 2008


Do you want to improve your immune system functions? Decrease your levels of stress? Cope better with trauma and past emotional experiences? Increase your attention span and memory capacity? How about having longer lasting relationships? All this and more can be had by simply writing in a journal for as little as fifteen minutes a day.

That's how Penzu.com breaks down the health benefits of keeping a journal. Strangely, the last bullet pointed benefit is "Finding a new job quickly if unemployed." I'd think that those fifteen minutes might be more valuable submitting an extra resume or two but we all know submitting resumes is a risky propsition anyway. Jobs come from people you know and people they know. Qualifications and past experience? All a wash if you have an in. That's the working world I've seen anyway.

I'll stop digressing.

Penzu.com is a novel journaling site because the interface is basically just a plain piece of college ruled paper. It feels so familiar and is much less intimidating than staring at a blank field. Penzu seems to focus more on keeping your journal private (as it should be) than integrating any of the features we'd come to expect in this blogging world. No cluttered sidebars, a slightly inefficient navigation system, and that's about it. Faced with a 8.5' x 11' it's everything you can do to NOT want to write something down.

Of course, if you need a little help getting started on topic ideas, Penzu's got a few suggestions too.

01 July 2008

Stuff I've Been Reading 7

  • Seventh Son - Orson Scott Card
  • Despite Everything - Aaron Cometbus
  • Reading Like a Writer - Francine Prose
  • Unfinished Business - Jack McCallum
  • Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
The only (new) book I've read in the last six weeks has been the Card, which I just finished yesterday. All the other ones listed above I've either read before or just flipped through enough to feel like I finished it. I don't feel like I haven't been reading but I guess it's been a dry spell. Between writing a new draft, watching the basketball playoffs, and trying to get out of the house, I've had no time to actually sit down and read a book maybe?

That's just a poor excuse though. Readers read, period. But so much of my time is spent in front of the computer I guess I'm skimming articles and blogs more than actually reading. So what separates me from the masses of "non-readers" who only consume short pieces and articles in magazines and online? Not much I guess.

And I quote "non-readers" because people who don't read books are considered capable of reading but not really readers. There's a few simple categories of readers. While I'm here, I'll just make a quick ranking.
Zero (0)
Can't/won't read at all. Like anything more complex than a menu would be taxing. Paragraphs are soooo long.
Favorite book: The funny pages

See Spot Run (1)
Reads a magazine on a flight or a newspaper during breakfast. Books with pictures and articles with bullet points are super awesome. Light internet browsing.
Favorite book: Who Moved My Cheese?

Blue Fish, Red Fish (2)
People who like to read but often only in niche categories. Subject matter is the most important quality when looking for something. Thinks self-help books qualify as reading. Medium internet browsing.
Favorite book: Tuesdays with Morrie

Gladwell's Code (3)
Light and fluffy fiction top sellers with a mix of the occasional hot non-fiction of the season. Knows where the tipping point is, why economics freak people out, and has a sizable collection of buy two get one free selections. "I totally read that in eighth grade!" Possible heavy internet browsing.
Favorite book: Harry Potter

Years of Solitude (4)
Seasoned reader. Scoffs at low brow drivel. Familiarity with the classics and devotes time to serious works. Not confined to genres because a book is a book is a book. Wouldn't be lost looking at a list of the 100 best novels. "I really enjoyed her earlier work but her new stuff sucks."
Favorite book: Something foreign

Rushdie's Rainbow (5)
Consumes literature, can talk about the works of so-and-so, isn't afraid of diving into something experimental. Words and ideas are fuel for life. One of their goals in life is to have a room for a personal library. The library card is always maxed out.
Favorite book: Gravity's Rainbow
Apparently length matters. Readers are people who can curl up with a book and commit to something longer than ten pages. Non-readers basically consume things in little bite sized pieces.

Anyway, since the beginning of summer has been such a bust in the reading department, I think I'm going to make a list of books for summer reading and make sure to finish them all by say, September.

Lilly was talking about a great idea the other day: starting a summer read-a-thon just like when we were kids. Remember those? You raced to read as many books as you could and then when you returned to school you got prizes like medals and trophies and pieces of paper to hang on the fridge. Of course, people have jobs now so an adult read-a-thon might be hard but it's a worthy goal. I'm going to start making my list now.

Oh, I consider myself a 3.5 reader. Somewhere in-between the things you find at the front of the bookstore and the stuff I can't pronounce without mumbling.