Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur

9/17/2003

Resurrection

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 8:15 am

There are some artists that I wish I could resurrect just so I could smack the hell out of them. I would give Andy Warhol a good thrashing for ruining the concept of art. I would give Frank Sinatra a sock in the jaw for not recording more songs in his later years. Most importantly, I would beat the tar out of Somerset Maugham for being so right and so wrong.

Life isn’t long enough for love and art. W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

I can’t believe that an artist must suffer. I want to believe that love is the best and most true inspiration for art. I want to live in a world where artists are the people who have the most loving lives. I want artists to be the self-actualized people. They have shelter, food, and acceptance, and only then can great art spring forth from their bodies. I want to have the hope that now that I have love in my life, I will still be an artist.

Then again, I know that he is right. How may stories of suffering artists do I need to read before I believe him? What about those artists that didn’t suffer? I don’t believe it. We just didn’t know about their suffering. The biographers were negligent and didn’t find it. Maybe the artist suffered so much in youth that there was enough art to last during the luxurious and indolent years.

Even darker, I know that everyone suffers. No one escapes this world unscathed. Give me an hour stuck in an elevator alone with anyone on this planet, and I will hear about their pain. Give me five minutes in a checkout line with most people, and I will learn their pain. Worst of all, if we were able to exchange our pain for anyone’s we would chose our own. No matter how blessed the life of that adversary may seem, that person is suffering and if I only knew, I wouldn’t even think of trading places.

There’s always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved. W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

I can’t believe in a world where all the relationships are like that. I have to believe there is that magic that happens when both people are equally in love with each other. I have to believe that there is a chance for me to be madly in love and be madly loved at the same time. I can’t bear to live in Somerset Maugham’s world.

Yet, the dark corners of my heart know he was right. Sure, he was a bitter old man, but he also lived longer than I have and lived more than I probably will live. He must be right because he’s a published author. I’m the one who is idealistic. Everyone should just settle. I should just be safe in the knowledge that when I’m madly in love, he is just allowing me to adore him and eventually I will lose him to the object of his adoration. I should just refuse to allow Charles Strickland in the house and let him die like the dog that he is. The only other route is the acid tonic before sleep and the four days of agony. Four days isn’t that long. God, I wish that I had never read his works.

It’s asking a great deal that things should appeal to your reason as well as your sense of the aesthetic. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage

I find myself poised at the beginning of another book by Somerset Maugham. It is called “The Summing Up” and I find myself paralyzed with fear. I have learned so much good from this author, but at the same time, I have learned to hate him and am filled with the desire to box him about the ears. Should I read it and risk more pain? Should I read it and learn more from this man?

9/18/2003

Temptation

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:47 am

I forgot to tell you why I love him. I forgot to tell you why I’m tempted to read that book I found at the failing used bookstore in Sugarhouse. I forgot to tell you why I handed the tired and grieving owner my last three dollars. I love Somerset Maugham because he taught me how to love Impressionist art.

Art is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

Before I read Of Human Bondage, I couldn’t make sense of it. Impressionist art seemed like the sort of thing that artists without talent resorted to. I’m not talking about Abstract art, with its Jackson Pollack squiggles of paint. I’m not talking about Surrealist art, with its Salvador Dali melting watches. I’m not even talking about Cubism art, with its Pablo Picasso double noses. These are also art movements that I had relegated to the home of incompetence, some of which I have learned to love and others I have just learned to tolerate. I’m talking about Impressionist art, where the picture is told in globs of paint on huge canvases. It’s like looking at the world without my glasses. Why would anyone paint that?

Of Human Bondage follows Philip, a failed artist turned medical student, on the journey of his early life. It is Philip’s sojourn in Paris and his burning desire to be an artist that helped me appreciate the artwork of the Impressionists. On my last visit to San Francisco a few years ago, I visited the museums and was lucky enough to see a Monet. I remembered Philip’s pride at showing the artwork of Paris to his friend, Hayward. I imagined him at my side, telling me why this painting is brilliant and why everything else in the museum isn’t worth seeing. The painting became dear to me because of a well-written story.

The important thing was to feel in terms of paint. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

Now there is a whole classification of art that I can enjoy that I couldn’t enjoy before. Because the artists were referred to so often in that damned and haunting story, their paintings are dear to me. I still can’t appreciate them for the artistic ability. It may be that he is right and only a painter can judge a painting.

[T]he painter’s arrogant claim to be the sole possible judge of painting has anything but its impertinence to recommend it. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

10/16/2003

Miles Vorkosigan

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:40 am

He’s short. I’m not talking normal short, this guy is midget short. I’m talking dwarf short. Not only that, he’s sickly. His mother was poisoned when she was pregnant with him, so all of his bones are brittle. Even my excitable nature could accidentally break his arms. He’s smart as hell, though. If you are in trouble, the sight of him should fill you with hope. It’s just that he’s so damn short

If power was an illusion, wasn’t weakness necessarily one also? Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campain, 1999

He’s loyal, too. If he made an oath to protect you, you would be protected for the rest of your life. If you made an oath to follow him, he would expect it. With great loyalty, comes devotion. He demands it by his actions, not by his words. If you know him, you don’t see the man who is under four feet tall, you see a true hero.

The problem is that I’ve never seen him. He lives in the imaginary world of Lois McMaster Bujold. I have been reading her books for a couple of years now and I find that she has completely ruined me for almost all other science fiction. Her books are so well written that I have a hard time reading lesser authors. Plus, I love Miles so much

[Y]ou have to be careful who you let define your good. Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campain, 1999

Miles Vorkosigan comes from a planet called Barrayar, where mutants and cripples are exposed at birth, or at least were just a couple of generations ago. He is the son of the second most powerful man on Barrayar and most believe that his advance in the military was based on nepotism rather than merit. He spends his young adult life proving that he is worthy of accolades and his adult life has been spent foiling various attempts to overthrow his cousin, the Emperor of Barrayar.

If all of this sounds complicated, it is. Added to all this intrigue is the fact that his mother is an off-worlder, he has an alternate identity with a mercenary group, he has a clone traipsing around the galaxy causing trouble for him and those damn Cetagandans are always trying to muck things up. Every novel she has written has enough going on to keep the most active mind on its toes and the characters still have enough presence of mind to tell me important things about my own life.

Read Mountains of Mourning online for free. It isn’t the first book in the series, but it is a good example of the compact beauty of her writing.

2/10/2004

Why Girls Are Weird

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:07 am

I just finished reading a book by a blogger about a blogger. It’s fiction and a love romance novel in many respects, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. I’m not a romance reader, so this is a switch for me. I’m usually hardcore sci-fi all the way. There was a blog entry about a Tiny Wooden Hand that just had me laughing out loud. I worried that I would wake up Mike with my guffawing.

The book is called Why Girls Are Weird by Pamela Ribon. She still keeps a blog at http://pamie.com/. I haven’t scoured its pages yet. I just did well enough to finish the book before it had to go back to the library. I wish I had bought it. Tiny Wooden Hand is exactly the kind of fix I need when Old Cowboy Winter starts closing in on me.

I don’t know why I feel the need to provide an advertisement for this book. Ok, that’s a lie. I want to tell you about the book because I really enjoyed it. It was a book in a genre that I usually abhor and I loved it. I ate it up. I actually finished reading it. Plus, it was recommended to me by another blogger. I feel like I need to pay it forward.

If you didn’t know, I maintain the Motivational Quotes of the Day, so I’m always looking for quotations. Some authors are wonderful writers, but they are far from quotable. Other authors fill my little black book with interesting quotations. Here is what I gleaned from Why Girls Are Weird:

When something that honest is said it usually needs a few minutes of silence to dissipate.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003   Having a holiday weekend without a family member felt like putting on a sweater that had an extra arm.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003   When you live in Texas, every single time you see snow it’s magical.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003   It’s sad when our daddies die. Makes us one less person inside.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003

All of this tells you nothing about the story or plotline. That’s what Amazon.com is for. They have a synopsis and lots of readers’ comments for you to chew on. For me, I can only rate her as a quotable author. Here is the scale: with J.K. Rowling as a one (hard as hell to sift through all those adventures to find a good quote) to Somerset Maugham as a ten (you should see my copy of Summing Up, to post all of those quotes would be a copyright infringement).  I rate Pamela Ribon as a seven: some good quotes that are mixed in with all the good reading. Thanks, Pamie!

2/17/2004

Ocean’s Eleven

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:28 am

“Did you guys get my email about the cool idea I had?”

“Is this the idea where we sit on the couch and watch movies for four hours?”

Dan doesn’t mince words. It was clear to all of us that he was not enthralled with the idea of watching two movies in a row.

“Yeah, but it will be really cool. It’s Frank Sinatra Vs. George Clooney. We’ll watch the original Ocean’s Eleven with Frank Sinatra and then watch the new Ocean’s Eleven with George Clooney. Then we can argue about which one is better.”

Stacey, Dan and Mike were concurrent: George Clooney is better. Sight unseen, they were certain that the original Ocean’s Eleven couldn’t hold a candle to the new one. I hadn’t seen the original, so I couldn’t defend it. Then again, who could beat Old Blue Eyes? George Clooney? I think not. The point of contention was not the aversion to watching old movies that they all have. It was the four hours on the couch, which is something that I can do on a TV binge without even thinking. I didn’t even see that coming.

We decided to watch the original last Sunday and compare it to what we remembered of the new one. We got Free Wheeler Pizza from the old Mad Platter building and sat down to an evening of smooth talkers and one big Las Vegas Heist. There was only one rule: we would fast forward through any singing.

There was nothing that I remember from the new Ocean’s Eleven. Daniel Ocean hasn’t just gotten out of jail. Daniel Ocean is still married to his wife, even though she has walked out on him and got an unnamed job. Daniel Ocean isn’t even the idea man. The idea man is anguishing over the project with a sidekick that builds card houses. They pick up one of their accomplices at a burlesque show and we had to have an argument about exactly what a burlesque show is.

Best Line (said to a stripper at the Burlesque show): “Honey, I want to take you home and spread you on my waffles!”

Worst Line (said by Angie Dickinson to her husband, Frank Sinatra) “Danny, we both know that you love one thing and that thing is danger.”

We fast forwarded through the gratuitous singing of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin. We suffered through so many scene changes and different players that we were confused. All I know is the Electrical Man has lung cancer so he wants his share to pay for his kid’s college. “With your share, you can buy your kid a college.” I had that strange feeling that comes with old movies when I realized his kid is probably old enough to be my father by now.

All of this, and we only lasted thirty minutes. We turned off the original after only thirty minutes. When I finished fast forwarding through Dean singing to himself at the piano before a gaggle of platinum blondes walked in, they all agreed that they couldn’t take one more minute. We popped out the DVD of the original and popped in George Clooney. I would like to say I was outnumbered, but even I was cringing at the corniness of it all. I wanted to see a real heist.

You can’t imagine how much more pleasurable it was to watch the new one after just seeing thirty minutes of the original. We saw George Clooney walk into the strip joint to pick up Brad Pitt and we all recognized it, “The Burlesque Show!” At Elliot Gould’s fancy house, we saw the Chinese Acrobat sitting on the diving board, “The House of Cards!”  When the big fight started, they panned over the celebrities who were attending the fight and guess who we saw, “Angie Dickinson!” Julia Roberts looked eerily like the young Angie Dickinson. Since we had only seen thirty minutes of the original, that was where the little in-jokes stopped for us. I wonder how the movie would have been for us had we been able to watch the whole damn thing.

Next time, we’ll do it right. We’ll do The Thomas Crown Affair. It’ll be Steve McQueen Vs. Pierce Brosnan! Pierce Brosnan is the best James Bond we’ve had since Sean Connery. Who could be a better Thomas Crown? Then again, it’s Steve McQueen! All he needs is a fast machine! Hard call. Who do you think will win?

2/29/2004

Adult Eyes

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

“I have something for you.”

One of my engineers stopped me when I walked into the office on Thursday. He went into his office and returned with a VHS tape: Xanadu. Olivia Newton-John’s face and windblown hair stared back at me. I was truly happy to see her.

“Xanadu! I haven’t seen this movie since I was in sixth grade.”

I remembered that the two of us had talked about this movie. I was a child when I saw it and he was a father with a child almost my age. He loved the movie so much that he bought it. I was curious to see how well it aged.

I haven’t watched it yet. I am still in that state that loves the movie as only a child could. Olivia Newton-John was the roller-skating muse of music. She inspired Gene Kelly during World War II. I remember her inspiring Andy Gibb to build a roller disco, but when I look at the credits, it looks like that character was played by an actor named Michael Beck. Both IMDB and Amazon have Michael Beck playing the character of Sonny Malone.

I had a BeeGees record player when I was in sixth grade and I remember thinking that I could use that record player to open my own roller disco. Maybe I just made the strange connection to the Brothers Gibb in my own mind.

I remember one scene where there is a competition between the Big Bands and the Rock N Rollers. There was a song for the Big Band people and lots of jitterbug dancing, then there was a song for the Rock N Rollers and lots of modern dance. At the end, the two stages merged into one and the songs merged as well. I could still sing both songs and the merged version for you to this day. It was beautiful. I wanted to be a Big Band singer so much. It’s probably why I’m obsessed with the Andrew Sisters and Peggy Lee to this day.

I remember being so impressed with Gene Kelly playing a clarinet. I’m sure that my adult eyes will see right through that now. In fact, I’ve been procrastinating my viewing just because I don’t want my adult eyes to see right through the magic. I enjoyed that movie so much when I was eleven years old that I can’t imagine it will look the same at thirty-four. I could have rented this movie on my own any time that I wanted, yet I hadn’t watched it.

Now, my engineer has brought this movie in to me. I  don’t want to lose the magic, but he is going to ask me if I watched it when I return the tape. He loves Olivia Newton-John and will be disappointed if I don’t love the movie with the same fervor with my adult eyes as I did with my child eyes. Maybe I should just pretend that I watched it.

3/2/2004

Xanadu Update

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 8:50 pm

Please read Adult Eyes before reading this entry:

I just finished watching Xanadu with my adult eyes. It’s not nearly as bad as I was worried that it would be. The corn factor wasn’t as high as I expected. I found it amazingly entertaining considering it’s twenty-four years old.

I used to think that Flashdance was the first breakdancing that I ever saw, but I was wrong. The breakdancers at the end of Xanadu that are dressed in swinging twenties zoot suits weren’t the focus of the movie, but they are a first for me. I didn’t even notice that I saw breakdancing a full five years before I thought I did.

I didn’t even remember the Disneyesque music montage to “Don’t Walk Away.” First they are tiny little people in a red rose, then they turn into gold fish, then they turn into birds and finally they turn into tiny little people in a rosebud again. Did you notice that the bird was wearing leg warmers?

I did remember the shopping montage to the song “All Over The World.” If you ask me, Gene Kelly was dressed better before they went shopping. I liked the dancing mannequins, though. That punked out hair didn’t really hit the big time until Pink showed up on the scene with “There You Go” a full twenty years later.

Wow, that was so totally NOT Andy Gibb. I don’t know what happened to my eleven year old brain to mix those two guys up, but I was totally wrong. Even though I read the credits and knew that Sonny’s part was played by an actor named Michael Beck, I thought that maybe Andy Gibb had been working under a pseudonym or something. Maybe they didn’t want another Peter Frampton episode, so they made him change his name. That’s what I thought before the first scene of the movie. I don’t know how I mixed that one up in my head.

I could sing almost all of the songs word for word, beginning to end. I think I’ve only seen the movie once or maybe twice, but I listened to the Xanadu Soundtrack at least a million times. “Whenever You’re Away From Me” came back to me so clearly that I could sing every word, even though I couldn’t have named the song before the movie started. God, I wish I could have danced with Gene Kelly. Olivia Newton-John was the luckiest girl of 1980.

Tomorrow, I need to return the movie to my engineer, but never fear. I’ve ordered the movie at the library on DVD. Maybe there will be some cool special features and I can obsess about it even more. I’m so glad that I didn’t get disappointed. Sure, it was a typical 1980′s type of movie. It was the epitome of the 80′s, but any movie that shows me Gene Kelly dancing, singing, roller skating and pretending to play the clarinet is totally worth the ride!

3/18/2004

New Music Binge Test

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I’ve found that I need to listen to an album at least ten times to decide whether I like it or not. If I like it after ten repeats, then I really do like it. If I start skipping past a couple songs to get to the “best songs,” then I don’t really like it. There are few albums that are good listens all the way through. It seems like every album has at least one stinker on it.

Scritti Politti’s album Cupid and Psyche ’85 was the first time that I ever encountered an album that could be listened to nonstop for days at a time without wanting to kill someone. Just mentioning the title of the album and seeing its cover makes me want to go on a Scritti Politti binge. Maybe I’ll throw in Provision for good measure and just take a music bath in their androgynous splendor.

The reason I’m thinking about truly good albums is that I’m test driving one right now. I just got Tasty by Kelis. That’s the album with that Milkshake song on it that has been burning your ears off for the last month or so. There was something about the video that seemed so funny to me that it made me want to give the album a try. I’m only on the second spin, so I can’t tell you if it’s a truly great album, or just an enjoyable interlude.

I’ve listened to Heavier Things by John Mayer over twenty times and I can most assuredly tell you that it’s a definite binge album. I wasn’t expecting it to be. I can’t listen to Room for Squares all the way through. I seriously only listen to the first four songs and then start the CD over again. No Such Thing and Your Body Is A Wonderland are the two cuts from that album that I just love and I just put up with the two songs stuck between them. Heavier Things, however, is totally different. It has several mood swings and it just makes me happy all over. I especially like Bigger Than My Body and Something’s Missing. I’ve been bingeing for about two weeks.

Britney Spear’s new album In The Zone is one of those enjoyable interludes. I really like Toxic and (I Got That) Boom Boom. I love the part of Boom Boom where she says, “This is for all those Southern boys out there” and then a righteous banjo sample takes over the song for a couple of seconds. It rocks. I kind of wish the Ying Yang Twins would shut up and let the song alone. I didn’t really care for Me Against The Music. I like Britney by herself and I like Madonna by herself. I guess the song wasn’t quite right. The album is definitely not binge-worthy.

I must admit that I just really like the Now That’s What I Call Music series. I have Now 14 in my CD changer right now and I just really like the mix. I guess it’s the cheapskate in me that is so attracted to them. I am NOT shelling out fourteen bucks for Murphy Lee, but I’m happy as a clam to listen to Wat Da Hook Gon Be. I just noticed they have #15 at Amazon. That’s what I get for shopping for CDs at stores. Man, I could have saved myself the grief and got Now 15 instead of buying that Britney album. Of course, then I would have missed Boom Boom. Man, I gotta get me that one.

I’m not finished test driving Kelis yet. I’ll run right out and get Now 15 as soon as I’ve decided whether her album is binge-worthy.

3/25/2004

Dancing Barefoot

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

On of the advantages of being an author for O’Reilly and Associates is that you can get books from them whenever you want. When I heard about Wil Wheaton’s book, Dancing Barefoot, I asked Mike to get me a copy of it. It arrived last Wednesday and I finished it over the weekend.

If you have read his weblog from the beginning, then you’ve read every story in the book, but there is something infinitely different about reading a book. A book is so intimate. You can curl up with it in bed. You can take it with you to the park. You can hide it in your car as a reward for later. Even a laptop and a PDA are not as convenient and friendly as a book.

Over half the book is a recounting of an experience at a Star Trek convention and was my favorite of all the stories. I guess I should have prefaced this entire entry with one caveat. I am a Star Trek fan. I’ve enjoyed almost every series and tolerated the others. I don’t speak the Klingon language. I don’t know anything about the ship schematics. I couldn’t even tell you the name of my favorite episodes, but I do consider myself a Trekkie. I’ve never been to a convention, though. Those people scare me.

Hearing Wil’s view of a Star Trek convention was touching and frightening. His encounters with the rabid Trekkers were exactly what I expected from a convention, but the loving side of the fans was surprising to me. So many of my friends were critical of Star Trek and almost every character that I was happy to know that there are fans that are polite. Wil’s epiphany at the end of that story was beautiful and touching.

I definitely recommend Dancing Barefoot, even if you have read his entire weblog since he started it. I recommend it even if you have never watched an episode of Star Trek. The stories are universal and there is something enjoyable for almost anyone. I am so pleased with Wil’s progress as a writer. I can’t wait for Just a Geek to come out.

5/2/2004

Donnie Darko

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I like to think that I have my fingers on the pulse of the disturbed teen market, but this one was a total surprise to me. I was shopping at Hot Topic a few weeks ago and I was scanning the CD’s and movies that they had for sale. I had already picked out the belly button ring that I wanted, but I was just kind of browsing. They had Office Space (saw it, I guess it was ok) and The Lost Boys (of course). Then I noticed the title to a movie I didn’t recognize, Donnie Darko. I filed the name under, Hot Topic, and went to look at the vinyl underwear and bustier sets.

A few days later, I was shopping on Amazon. Actually, I wasn’t shopping, I was looking to see when my Bosu Ball was going to be delivered to my house and just kept looking at Amazon when I was done. Under my DVD Recommendations, the movie Donnie Darko came up. Based on what I had bought and how I rated other movies, Amazon thought that I might like it.

I thought that I should give this movie a try, so I looked at the Salt Lake County Library system and put it on hold for myself. There was no waiting for it, so I figured it must not be that big of a phenomenon. I got the movie last week, but I didn’t get a chance to see it until last Wednesday. Still sick from the monster cold that Mike gave me, I sat on the couch and prepared to be scared silly by a man-sized rabbit named Frank.

I expected B-Movie and considering their budget (only 4.5 million dollars), it should have been. Instead, I realized that I was watching a classic. It’s one of those movies like Harold and Maude or The Rocky Horror Picture Show that define the outcast teens of an era. The beastly way these teens treat each other is typical and very reminiscent of life in teenage hell. The man-sized rabbit is just a creepy benefit.

Mike asked me what the movie is about and I told him that I couldn’t tell him very much or I would ruin it. It’s the same thing that others have told me about The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s the same thing that I’ve said about Fight Club. If you talk too much about it, the whole movie is buggered, but it’s frustrating as hell when you’re trying to decide whether to see it or not. He asked me how I would classify it. I said that it doesn’t look like it, but it really is science fiction. IMDB has a different attitude. They classify it as fantasy, drama, sci-fi, mystery and thriller. With that many genres, it’s hard to go wrong. By the way, IMDB has a totally inappropriate spoiler in one of its plot outlines, so read with care.

Donnie Darko is not a cheap shot. There are no “boo” moments where the music screeches at you and you jump out of your seat. This movie is filled with tension and dread, but there is no gore or cheap shots. Donnie is a disturbed teenager who is seeing a therapist for his past behavior. He relates to her that he saw a six-foot bunny named Frank who told him that the end of the world is coming in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Because of this hallucination, Donnie is spared a sure death when a jet engine plummets from the sky into his room. Sensitive Donnie can perceive that there is something awry with the world since the accident and does his best to uncover the errors, whether they are a sadistic school mate, a devout gym teacher or a self-important self-help guru. All his efforts to uncover the inconsistencies end up getting him deeper and deeper into trouble and more vivid hallucinations until the final moment when he finally understands why the world is going to end.

After watching Donnie Darko, I knew that I needed to own it. Check it out for yourself. Now you have Hot Topic, Amazon AND me recommending it to you. What can you lose?

5/3/2004

The Princess Bride

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I went to Barnes and Noble alone on Saturday. When I go with Mike, I always feel rushed, so I told him that I was going to go the bookstore without him while he slept Saturday morning. He didn’t worry where I was and I didn’t feel like I didn’t have enough time to see all that I wanted to see at the store.

Ok, that’s a lie. I still felt like I didn’t have enough time to see all that I wanted to see at Barnes and Noble. I don’t think I will ever get that feeling of being literarily satiated. Unless I could walk into the store and read every single book that I had a passing interest in before for leaving, I doubt I would have that feeling. I should quit blaming my feelings of being rushed on Mike. It’s not his fault that I cannot consume the entire bookstore in one sitting.

I spent over an hour doing one thing at Barnes and Noble. I sat on a hard wooden chair and read the new introduction to The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It was the 30th Anniversary Edition and it was sitting in the bestsellers section at the front. I didn’t even get to the discount books section this time. I was accosted by a book that I already own.

I read The Princess Bride after seeing the movie and was amazed at how closely they matched. It was one of those rare occasions when the book didn’t ruin the movie for me. They were both perfect and beautiful in their own right. What was even better than seeing the movie was reading William Goldman’s description of the effort of abridging the original manuscript by <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />S. Morgenstern. What a fanciful addition to the classic story.

After reading the 30th and 25th Anniversary Introductions, I started to question myself. Maybe S. Morgenstern wasn’t imaginary. Maybe Florin and Guilder really existed. Maybe it wasn’t a fanciful addition to the classic story. Maybe it was the truth. Sitting there in Barnes and Noble, I suddenly wanted it to be the truth. I wanted there to be a museum in Florin where I could see the sword of the six-fingered man. I wanted there to be lawyers for the Morgenstern Estate. I wanted Fezzik to be a real giant and I wanted to see the mold of his fingers.

After an hour of reading the new introductions to The Princess Bride, I wanted to believe so badly. Mike called me on my cell, wondering if I was ever going to come home (for the record, I might have forgotten to come home until I had finished reading all the books in the store, so it was a good thing that he called).

“Mike, I need to you come here and bring the Barnes and Noble card because I’m going to buy a book and I want to get the discount.”

“What are you buying?”

“It’s the 30th Anniversary Edition of The Princess Bride. I know that we already have it, but this one has all this interesting stuff about Florin and The Morgenstern Museum and stuff. I guess there really was a S. Morgenstern and he’s been having all this legal trouble with the estate. There is a sequel that he wants to abridge, but the estate wants Stephen King to do it.”

“Laura, Florin isn’t real. There was no unabridged book. We’ll get a map and I’ll show you that there is no Florin on it.”

“No, Florin is now some part of Russia, I think.”

I could feel the illusion leaving me. Did William Goldman actually say that Florin was in Russia or was he just comparing their airlines to their Russian counterparts? Come to think of it, there is NO Florin in Europe. But the story seemed so real. Who would make up a story about lawyers? It was madness. No, Inigo Montoya existed and killed Count Rugen in the castle by the billiard table. William Goldman saw the spot in the castle himself. The Cliffs of Insanity are real and Andre the Giant practiced climbing them to prepare for his part in the movie. He was the kind of guy to do that. He was French. They do stuff like that over there.

“No, Mike. I’m telling you. It’s real. There really was some old book that is totally long and boring and William Goldman really abridged it and now he’s having legal trouble because of it.”

“No, Laura. It’s all part of the story. There is no such place as Florin or Guilder. He made it all up. Think about it. If there really was a book, it would be in the public domain by now and there would be no trouble with lawyers.”

“It didn’t come into the public domain until 1987.”

“That would mean the book was written in 1902. That’s a little late for a true tale of medieval history.”

I could feel the truth wash over me. There is no Florin. Inigo Montoya never lost his father to Count Rugen because neither one of them existed. Buttercup never jumped from that castle window into Fezzik’s arms. The Man in Black was never brought back from the Mostly Dead. There is no life-sucking machine in the bowels of the Zoo of Death. It was all a story. There are no lawyers preventing me from reading the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby. For one fleeting hour, I believed it all. I sat on that hard wooden chair and believed that it all had been real.

“I want it to be true.”

“That doesn’t make it true.”

I thought about Andre the Giant placing his hand in Fezzik’s finger mold. I had felt such joy thinking that the sweet man had found a cohort from the past whose hands were bigger than his. It was all gone.

“I still want it to be true. I’m going to buy this book.”

“Ok, I’ll be right over.”

If you haven’t read the two new introductions to The Princess Bride, you must read them. If you don’t own the book, buy it now. If you do own the book, go buy the 30th Anniversary Edition anyway. The mark of a brilliant writer is the ability to transport the reader into another reality. I was taken to a world where revenge really was sweet. I was taken to a world where the hero really saved the damsel. I was taken to a world where all of it and more was true and documented. There was a museum that displayed the sword and the life-sucking machine. Maybe it seemed so real because there were blood-sucking lawyers in that world.

The final nail in the coffin of the fantasy came to me Sunday night. I was still clinging to the desperate hope that maybe it was all real. I was going to write this entry leaving that question open to debate, but Mike insisted that I try to find Florin on the map. He insisted that I try to find Florin on the Internet. A Google search led me to several Florin sites in Russian. For a shimmering moment, I actually believed again.

“See, here’s a Florin in Russian. I told you it was part of Russia.”

“Go to the website.”

When I went there, I found that it was a Russian IT company. I tried The Morgenstern Museum and found one in Germany, but a translation of the website proved that it was merely about shipbuilding. The final nail came when I searched using the phrase, “Buttercup’s Baby.” Toward the end of the first page was a frequently asked questions site on Stephen King’s website. The question at hand was, “In the Princess Bride it says you’re going to write the abridgement for Buttercup’s Baby. Is that true?”

In simple and plain words, my final illusion fell from me. Stephen King wrote, “No, it’s not true. That’s a little joke from Bill Goldman who’s an old friend. I admired his books before I ever met him and as a kind of return tip of the cap, he put me in that book The Princess Bride. But actually I think that that particular baby, Buttercup’s Baby, is Bill Goldman’s and if there’s ever going to be a story about Buttercup, Bill will have to write it.”

We are both men of action. Lies do not become us.  - William Goldman, The Princess Bride, 1973

So, there is the truth. For approximately 37 hours, I held the hope that it was all true in my heart. I’m buying Buttercup’s Baby as soon as it comes out. Get cracking, Bill. Don’t you dare kill Fezzik. We’ve already lost Andre. I can’t bear to lose another giant.

5/11/2004

Artificial Intelligence

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

When A.I., the movie by Steven Speilberg staring Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law, came out, there was a whole website of cool stuff affiliated with the movie. I spent a day on the Internet just reading all the pretend magazine articles that had been created for the movie. There was an article about a man who was being convicted of murdering a house (and its artificial intelligence that had lived within it for years). There was an article about a woman who reprogrammed her robot to kill her husband and her trial for murder. There was a story about a man who was missing. The man’s name was the same as a name that had been slipped into the ending of some of the A.I. trailers.

The website built a huge mystery within my imagination about the implications of robots and our legal system. I had seen all of the trailers, but they didn’t explain Jude Law to me, so I figured this little robot boy became implicated in the missing status of this mysterious man named at the end of the trailers. I wanted to see the boy solve the mystery and go back home to his mommy. I was so stoked to see the movie, I made Stacey, Dan and Mike take me the first week it was out (unheard of for me).

Dan warned me it was going to suck, but how could it when the mystery on the website was so intriguing and beguiling? In short, Dan was right. The guys designing the website gave that movie far more interesting thought than the producers did. I walked out of that movie so angry I could spit bullets. I remember waiting in line in the bathroom afterwards. There was a whole line of angry women.

“What kind of mother would leave a kid in the forest? That doesn’t even make sense, even if the kid was a robot.”

“I think they were trying to be like a fairy tale or something, but what kind of fairytale ends with aliens?”

“What a stupid ending. The magical aliens can bring her to life, but only for one day?!”

“You can’t even get DNA from cut hair like that anyway. You have to get a follicle to get DNA and Teddy just had the hair that David cut. Don’t these guys watch Law and Order?”

“If David was so smart, why did he just keep begging the Blue Fairy for a million years? Don’t you think he would have noticed that she was just a freakin’ statue?”

“It was Gigolo Joe that was sentient anyway. David didn’t solve any of those puzzles it was all Gigolo Joe.”

“Hell, Teddy was smarter than David most of the time.”

Ok, some of those comments were from Mike, Stacey and Dan after I got out of the bathroom, but I tell you, there was an entire bathroom of angry women at the end of that movie. In fact, it has been four years since that movie came out and I’m still pissed as hell. Can you tell?

I think I’m so angry because the website was so much better than the movie. I had this elaborate murder mystery built up in my mind that involved that cute little kid from The Sixth Sense, except he’s a robot instead of a psychic this time. All of those articles about sentient cars and houses were totally cool.

This article reminded me of that totally cool website (which is gone as far as I can tell, replaced by a milquetoast version of its predecessor with “fun” games). The article is quoted here:

DRONE LOST AT SEA

Fisherman and divers of Norway, If you happen to see a ten-foot long, robotic mini-submarine swimming off of your shores, please call the U.S. Navy. The service has been trying to find its mine-sweeping drone for a week, now, after the ‘bot failed to return to its mother ship, the USS Swift.</>

Swift has broken off its participation in a military exercise to look for the Battlespace Preparation Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, the AP reports.

“The ship has searched everywhere from the fjord leading into the southern town Kristiansand to deep ocean water some 30 kilometres out, where the waters can be as much as 580 metres deep,” the wire service says. “Because the sub could surface just about anywhere along Norway‘s coast, [Norwegian military spokesman Cmdr. Thom] Knustad appealed on national radio for Norwegians to be on the lookout for the torpedo-shaped, yellowish-orange device with a propeller on one end.”

The second that I saw this article, it reminded me of those articles written for the A.I. website. It was obvious to me. This drone went missing because it didn’t want to die. It didn’t want to be blown up looking for mines. It was running away. This article is one of the clues to the mystery. Maybe David will find the mine-sweeping drone and it will rescue him from the amphibicopter. That drone will move the Ferris wheel off the copter so that David and Teddy can escape and rescue Gigolo Joe from certain death. They’ll prove that Joe didn’t kill that man’s wife. To Hell with the Blue Fairy. To Hell with Mommy. To Hell with magical robots that look like aliens. Let’s solve a murder.

I sit poised at the brink of another robot movie, I, Robot. I think I’ll try to forget the last robot movie and think about this new one instead.

5/12/2004

I, Robot

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

There’s no risk that the website for the movie I, Robot will be as misleading as the one for A.I. I’ve thoroughly scanned it. What you get for completing the “investigation” are three wallpapers for your computer desktop (One was really cool. It’s on my work computer for now, but it’s rather flashy, so I might just go back to the black screen.). It was enough to make me excited about the movie, but there doesn’t seem to be any misleading articles there unless you count the “advertisement” for the NS-5. It’s pretty cool and they let you “build your own NS-5,” which results in more wallpaper instead of your own robotic personal assistant. The “ad” had an Apple feel to it.

I’m stoked about the movie. I remember the story that this movie is based on, but I’m hoping that they make it better than the bare bones story that Asimov wrote. The pictures of Will Smith make him looks so paranoid and unhappy. I like happy go-lucky Will Smith much better. I’m glad to see him in another sci-fi flick. He deserves better than the last few scripts have given him. I hope I, Robot lives up to his and its own potential.

Somehow, I wish they had decided to do Caves of Steel instead of I, Robot. It’s a typical buddy cop movie (Will Smith would have made a good Baley), except one of the cops is a human detective from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New York and the other is a robot from the Spacer world where the murder took place. When I first saw the large cardboard advertisement for I, Robot in the theatre a few months ago, I immediately made the connection to Caves of Steel instead of the correct story. I guess they figure they have to slowly introduce the movie-going public to the concept of robots. It would be too much of a jump for our puny minds to just jump to Caves of Steel without pounding the Three Laws of Robotics into our head AGAIN.

Honestly, the first time I heard of the Three Laws of Robotics, was in an episode of Buck Rogers on television. It was the 80′s sci-fi show with Erin Gray. I so much wanted to be like her. She was like a perfect Barbie doll woman and she had brown hair, just like me. She really showed me that women with brown hair can be knock-outs just like blondes, maybe even better than blondes. Gil Gerard was no Captain Kirk, but he was ok for a hero. He was some lame guy who was brought into the future accidentally, which I never thought made him anything special except to history geeks. Somehow, he ends up being a cool hero, even though he’s basically a caveman.

Anyway, they had a cool robot called Twiki (voiced by the wonderful Mel Blanc). Once, Twiki got broken and needed to be reset. When he was started up again, he recited the Three Laws of Robotics. The entire cast was fawning over these “beautiful” laws that kept them safe from the robots and kept the robots under their control. I remember thinking, “What’s so great about that? If you’re going to have robots, you need to put in safeguards.” I think I was eight years old and the whole thing seemed really corny.

When I read the robot short stories and the novels, those damn Three Laws of Robotics were pounded into my head over and over. There was one story in which a robot just kept circling out there on the planet because a human had told him to do something, but going there would damage the robot. The thing was getting as close to the danger as it could until the radiation would start damaging it, then it would head away, but it would remember the order, so as soon as the radiation levels were lower, it would head back toward the danger. That story was interesting and actually used the Three Laws as a plot device.

Most of the stories were really anti-robot. Sure, Bicentennial Man eventually got his way and was deemed “human” in the end, but most of the stories were filled with paranoia. I don’t think it’s going to be like that. I think that robots will be the cool thing. First, only the truly rich will have them. Paris Hilton will have her own personal robot assistant that accidentally breaks her stuff and works very poorly. Then the medium rich will have one that will work poorly. Then everyone will have one that works poorly. Fifty years after that, everyone will have one that works pretty darn well and we’ll all wonder what we did without them.

Of course, by then, I’ll be dead. I don’t think we’ll see the wide proliferation of robots in our lifetimes. Plus, let’s face it. Humans are much cheaper to create. They’re harder to control, but they are much easier to come by. With the correct incentive program, humans are so willing to sacrifice even their lives. We are so much more cost efficient than robots and we keep creating more every day. For a few dollars or maybe even for an Employee of the Month award, humans are willing to work hard and long hours. Hell, they’ll even volunteer to be Human Billboards for minimum wage. Why mess with a robot that needs to be rebooted every fifteen minutes because the OS is buggy?

All in all, robots are cool. I wish they really existed. I like to see movies about robots. Hell, I’ll even watch third rate sci-fi on television just to see robots. I doubt they’ll ever exist in my lifetime, but maybe Sony or Honda would like to prove me wrong on that one. I won’t stop them.

5/15/2004

Gossip Girl

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I just started reading a new series of books. I feel like I should be really embarrassed that I like them so much, but I’ve decided not to be. I still read teen books. For light reading that doesn’t make me think too hard, I read teen novels. I like Meg Cabot’s books, whether she’s writing about psychic teens, ghost-seeing teens or even one of her adult novels, I like her. I haven’t read any of the Princess Diaries franchise that she is so famous for. I guess I’ll get around to them eventually.

I’m not reading a new series by Meg Cabot, though. I’m reading a series called Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar. When B.Dalton was going out of business, I bought the three book boxed set for mondo cheap. I decided that if I didn’t like the books, I would donate them to a school or the library. I’ll probably still do that when I’m finished with them. Maybe the DI will get them, who knows?

Anyway, I’ve already read the first book and I’m tearing into the second one right now. There are lots of “tortured teens” each with their own problems and worries. There’s Blair, who has been trying to lose her virginity with her longtime boyfriend, Nate. I find myself chuckling at their failures. There is Serena who got kicked out of boarding school and is the totally coolest girl you’d ever meet. I wish I were her with her long blonde hair and perfect everything. She used to be best friends with Blair, but they had a tiff and Blair has been avoiding her like the plague. There is Jenny, who is poor and her boobs are way too big. There’s Jenny’s brother, Dan, who is madly in love with Serena. There is Chuck, the total pervert and a date rape waiting to happen. There’s Vanessa, whose two desires are to bang Dan and go to NYU’s film school. She hates all of these rich bitches at her school and she wears all black. There are enough characters for love triangles galore. It all reads like a day playing with Barbie dolls.

The most intriguing and thought provoking item in these books has been Serena. She is absolutely perfect and Blair is so jealous of her she could spit, except she’s a society girl and that would be vulgar. After Blair gave Serena the cold shoulder, Serena started hanging out with the NYU hopeful, Vanessa. They worked on a film together and now Vanessa is dying of jealousy because Serena’s work is so much better than hers. Serena is the type of girl who excels at everything she touches. She’s the kind of girl that you just wish you could hate because she’s so damn perfect, except she’s so perfect that she’s a really nice girl and would never try to hurt you on purpose. You want to hurt her, even though she’s you’re best friend.

I’ve been in this position and I want to write more about it. What to do when your best friend is perfect. How to survive the green-eyed monster. That sort of thing. I’m sure these books won’t give me any pointers on dealing with jealousy in a productive manner, but that doesn’t matter. They are entertainment, not philosophical self-help. They are supposed to entertain me and maybe give me a couple of good ideas.

5/18/2004

A Scanner Darkly

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

This could be totally cool or totally lame. I’m hoping for totally cool, of course. According to Sci Fi Wire, Warner Brothers is working on making a movie adaptation of A Scanner Darkly by Phillip Dick. That is totally cool. They have cast Keanu Reeves as the cop and are also using Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson. Potential for cool. They are going to film the actors and then use the film for animation like they did in Waking Life. Potential for lame.

They’ve got great actors, why don’t they just film them? I promise, if Robert Downey Jr. falls off the wagon, it will only add to the realism of the movie. They don’t need to be animated. They’re cool enough in real life. Please don’t ruin this story for me.

I read this book a few years ago. A narcotics cop is on the tail of a drug dealer, but something goes terribly wrong while he’s deep undercover. Phillip Dick isn’t a really good writer, so you know right away what happened to this guy. When the surprise ending was revealed, I was thinking, “That’s it? I knew that at the beginning of the book.” If the movie is done right, however, it will be supremely cool.

This book was written in 1977, after the first War on Drugs, instigated by President Nixon, but well before Reagan’s “Just Say No” frenzy and the ensuing second War on Drugs. I’m always amazed at how well Phillip Dick was able to look into the future. I’m equally amazed at how simplistic his writing is and what intrigue and beauty can come of his work. Bladerunner, Minority Report, Paycheck, and Total Recall are all examples of Phillip Dick stories masterfully reproduced on the big screen. Let’s hope that A Scanner Darkly is just as good.

6/19/2004

i2Workout

Filed under: Computer Stuff,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

The Bosu Incident

“I think $17 is too much to pay for those iFit workouts. You only get one workout for 17 bucks and if you get sick of it, you’re stuck.”

“I just think that finding iFit MP3s on the Internet is going to be a little difficult. The more obscure something is, the harder it is to find. Unless you’re looking for Top Forty or Trance music because there’s some weird overlap with Trance music and computer geeks. I’ll look, but I don’t think I’ll find anything.”

I puffed out some air and we talked about something else. The next morning he didn’t mention anything about finding any MP3s for me, so I logged on myself. I only had thirty minutes before I had to get my butt on the treadmill or I would have been late for work.

I searched using the phrase, “treadmill mp3″ and the third thing on the list was i2Workout. It is a program to make your own iFit workouts for your treadmill. I was reluctant to even look at it because I only had twenty-eight minutes to get this thing working, but after browsing the other selections, I tried it.

I looked at it, I downloaded it, I installed it and I created a workout within five minutes. After ten minutes, I had a CD in my hand with a random 40 minute workout. There was no music because I didn’t want to have to figure that out. I ran downstairs and grabbed the ghetto blaster and some connectors.

I started my workout on time and it kicked my butt. I’m just so happy that I’m sending in the measly thirty bucks to register it. You can try it out for free for thirty days, so I could just make a whole ton of CDs of workouts before they lapse, but I’m happy to pay the registration fee. For less than the cost of two iFit workouts, I can make all the workouts in the world that I want using my favorite music.

I know that this sounds like a huge commercial for these i2Workout guys and by golly it is. I was able to make myself a random workout, burn it to a CD and set it up on my treadmill within 30 minutes. It made me totally happy.

Have I mentioned how ecstatic I am to have my treadmill back?

Previous: The Return of the Treadmill   Next: Does Anybody Love Their Gym That Much?

UPDATE 09-21-05: If you are unable to download this program from the i2Workout website, there is a mirror of it here: WinSite: i2Workout

You can see my further adventures with this issue at my weblog on Starling Fitness.

6/27/2004

Have I Told You How Much I Love You?

Filed under: Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Have I told you lately how much I love my Xbox? Did I even tell you that I have one? My sister and Dan gave me their Xbox for my birthday along with Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and a Dance Pad. I was so excited that I insisted that we hook it up to Reed’s super big screen TV and play it right there at my parents’ house. We played it that night even though it was really hard to play. Stacey, Mike and my mom were willing to play. Dan and Reed had a pact of solidarity, but Reed finally acquiesced and played one song, much to Dan’s chagrin. It was major fun for all of us.

Even though the directions tell you otherwise, don’t play DDR with bare feet. It’s best to wear socks. If you play it barefooted, you will get the worst blisters on your feet and it will take you weeks to heal from them. Word of honor.

I got a Wallace and Gromit game from Mike on my birthday also. I was so scared of the controller that as of this date, I have yet to play it. In fact, now that I’ve written this, I know that is just silly and I should play the game right now. I definitely should play before I leave for Vegas.

I got the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban game a week or so ago. I burst past my fear of the controller to play this game (makes the Wallace and Gromit excuse sound silly, huh?). Right now, I’m still at the beginning of the game, trying to get the Marauder’s Map. Using that scary controller isn’t as scary when I play a low stress game like Harry Potter. I died a couple of times trying to drag Harry away from the dementors. The dork fainted and I had to take over Ron’s body and drag him out of there. It’s a pretty cool game.

The reason I even started this entry was because the other night Mike found a totally cool thing for me. It is an Xbox Karaoke called Xbox Music Mixer. It only came with 12 songs, but I can put any album I own on it and it will take out the vocals so you can sing to it. I can print up lyrics from the Internet on any song I own, so really it’s the greatest toy in the world for me.

The night we bought it, I stayed up late singing all the songs that came with the game and then I put in Pink’s Mizundastood album and sang almost every song from it. Mike pulled me away from the microphone at midnight and forced me to go to bed. I had been up since three a.m. that morning (nightmare), so I should have been sleepy, but I could have sung the rest of the songs on that album and probably all the songs on Staring at the Sea by the Cure.

After looking for cool games for the Xbox and only finding first person shooters, sports games and the rare puzzle game to tempt me, I am totally stoked by this Karaoke game. It’s a lot of fun. Now, game developers, will you please make more games that use the Dance Pad controller so that I can play games and exercise at the same time. Wouldn’t it be cool if your games worked with iFit machines and let you run on the treadmill to play a game or ride on an exercise bike? I’m not a thirteen year-old male, but I have an Xbox, a pocket full of money and no games to buy. Get Cracking!

7/13/2004

Project Gotham Racing

Filed under: Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 3:13 pm

Have I told you lately how much I love my Xbox? We bought a used copy of Project Gotham Racing for the Xbox. After playing for awhile, Mike noticed that it had a tiny crack in it that was causing trouble. The trouble got so bad the other day that we needed to decide whether or not to buy a new one.

Can I tell you that it wasn’t a question in my mind? I hadn’t earned more than a Bronze medal on each of the Arcade Race tracks in the easy section. I was THIS close to a Silver medal in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Tokyo. I can’t let all of that practice go to waste. We bought a new disk last night.

At first, we couldn’t find the game. Mike insisted that it must be at Best Buy somewhere because it was a classic game (in a Platinum box instead of lime green), but all I could find was Project Gotham Racing 2. I looked at the sequel and I thought about buying it, but I hadn’t conquered the first game yet. I didn’t feel worthy to start the sequel. I wanted the original, so I asked the guy in the blue shirt if they had it. He knew right were it was. They had moved all the Platinum games to an end cap by the registers. All was saved!

We also got the wireless link to hook our Xbox up to the network. Mike played with that this morning and got it to work. The best part is that we can import music into Project Gotham Racing so that we don’t have to listen to their songs over and over. I’m going to end up knowing the first 1:32 minutes of each song on the new Christopher Lawrence album because I imported the entire All or Nothing album into the game so that I could listen to it instead of the radio.

The radio feature is cool, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the reception will go out when you go under a bridge and I love it when the DJ’s in Tokyo are speaking in Japanese (most of the time, they speak in English, go figure). The only problem is that I’ve been trying to get enough Kudo points to win the Silver medal in Tokyo and I’m pretty much sick of all the songs that the game came with. Thank you, for The Little Things. It’s a great song, but I never want to hear it again.

If you’ve never played this game, you are probably a little pissed off by this rant. I’m sure I would have been. “Jesus! It’s just a game!” No, you don’t understand. It’s not just a game. I’m going for the Silver medal and I’m going to get it and when I’m done, I’m going to the get the Gold. You hear me?

7/20/2004

I, Robot Reloaded

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I had eagerly awaited to see it months ago, but when opening day came, we were busy with family things. It took us until Sunday night to see it. Both of us had our reservations about whether it would be worth it to spend two hours of our lives in a cold movie theater. Kathleen recommended it highly, though, so we bought the tickets on Fandango and went.

I have to tell you that I don’t think Isaac Asimov is that good of a writer. I struggled through the first Foundation book and I haven’t been able to return to the series. My favorite of his books were the robot mysteries and short stories. I liked the R. Daneel Olivaw the best. I liked those stories for their ideas far more than their writing. I’m not ashamed to say it: I’m an Asimov fan, but I hate his writing style.

It seems that when an author dies, you’re not allowed to say anything negative about him. Asimov had some great ideas, but he insisted on communicating them through dialogue, which is great if you’re writing a screenplay, but murder if you’re trying to read his books. There have been too many times when I had to go back a page or two to see who said what because I had just realized that I had gotten the speakers confused.

The screenplay writers of I, Robot have done a brilliant job of rewriting the short story on which it was based. I was so happy to see Susan Calvin there, analyzing the robot. Spooner is a paranoid detective, intent on proving that the robot killed Dr. Lanning.

The story deviates from the simplicity of Asimov quite quickly, but the details they have added are humanizing and brilliant. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it was so fun for me to watch without any spoilers. It’s a shame Warner Brothers didn’t do this movie because this could have been the perfect prequel to The Matrix.

There were a couple of plot holes in the movie that could ruin it for you if you think about it too much. Don’t think. It’s sci-fi. Hell, it’s a sci-fi movie filled with robots. Just enjoy the ride for the fun that it is. By the way, I don’t miss the happy, go-lucky Will Smith at all. I like the brooding, paranoid Will Smith just as much.

7/27/2004

Dance Dance Revolution

Filed under: Health and Fitness,Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Ok, it’s time to admit it. I’m completely addicted. I played for forty minutes this morning and I’m contemplating rushing home from work to play some more. I played for an hour yesterday morning and I still hopped on the pad in the evening to see if I could finally get a better grade on Secret Rendezvous.

I thought it had a bug. I got an A on Secret Rendezvous, but when I went to the high scores, it showed my old grade of a B. I backed out of the game to the beginning and played it again. I got another A, but it still didn’t save my score. So, I backed completely out of the game, turned off the console, restarted and played again. This time I got the amazing score of AA, but it STILL didn’t save my score!

After logging onto the forums and talking to the DDR obsessive compulsives with more experience than I have, I found out that DDR Ultramix doesn’t have a bug. It saves the highest score, not the highest grade. Apparently, it’s possible to get a B with a higher numerical score than an impressive AA performance. Somehow those two items aren’t inherently linked. I’m glad to know that there are people out there who are more obsessed than me.

Now, can anyone explain to me why the Workout Mode has different steps for the songs than the Game Mode? And, what am I going to do when I finish unlocking all the songs, pass them all off with AAA grades at all levels and finish all the downloadable Song Packs? Maybe I’ll be obsessed with something else by then.

7/29/2004

Just a Geek

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I just finished Wil Wheaton’s new book, Just a Geek over the weekend. It’s such a cruel twist that it only takes a few hours to read a book that took a year (and sometimes longer) to write. You can tell someone is a good writer when you finish the book and wish there was more. You find yourself perusing the index or reading the back cover or even reading the dedication or acknowledgements in an attempt to squeeze just that much more out of the experience. Fortunately for me, I only have to wait a day or so to read more from Wil because he updates his blog regularly.

In this book, he talks about his experiences after leaving Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s not some dorky celebrity thing. He continually runs into a brick wall every time he auditions for acting parts. He starts his blog to jump start his career, but when he asked the universe for a favor, he forgot to specify which career he wanted started. Instead of getting him acting jobs, his blog takes on a life of its own and forays into a writing career. It’s a great underdog story and the best part is that it’s true.

The Dot Bomb was so hard on all of us. When the bubble burst, Mike went from writing several books a year with good compensation to writing one book a year for a pittance. He had kept The Quotations Page as a hobby and before he knew it, he was getting so many hits from it that it was crashing the server. When we were lamenting the loss of income from his book writing career, we were also lamenting the fact that we were paying so much for bandwidth on the websites. The second that Mike stopped looking backward at his depleting writing career and started looking forward at the popularity of his website, things changed. After all his work and dedication, he now has the number one quotations site.

It’s like Wil’s book is a book for our generation. All of us had to reevaluate ourselves after the bottom fell out of the Dot Com phenomenon. He was talking about acting and writing, but for a lot of us, the carpet was pulled out from under us. I’m sure there are people out there blaming politicians or stock analysts for the carpet pull, but the blame really belongs squarely on our own shoulders. It was wrong for us to depend on book publishers, dot com startups, or the acting profession. The only people we can truly rely on are ourselves. The minute Wil started depending on himself instead of the whim of the casting directors, he was free. Just a Geek is truly a book for The Computer Generation.

The reading public is insatiable. What’s next, Wil? Write some fiction for me and please let it be about cool sci-fi, not poker.

8/10/2004

Eastern Standard Tribe

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Eastern Standard Tribe at Amazon.comI just finished Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow. Very fun sci-fi. I love all the new ideas he has about how things are going to be in the future. I want the comm, the TunePay system and the Sony cars. I want the future all right now.

We meet Art on the rooftop of an insane asylum, trying to decide whether it’s more important to be happy or smart. Pencil up his nose, he contemplates the events that lead up to his current condition and whether he should give himself a home-brew lobotomy. Instead of answering the question, Art takes us on a global tour of futuristic London, Boston, and Toronto, with a strangely karmic, “I’ll take both, please” ending.

One of the cooler things about this book is that you can read it for free. You can download it in a wide variety of forms and read it on your computer, print it up or read it on your Palm. I strongly recommend that you buy the book so you can fold down the pages and underline your favorite quotes. Here are mine:

Engineers are all basically high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff. – Cory Doctorow, Eastern Standard Tribe, 2004

I see this every day. Fortunately, my engineers work in the heavy duty big stuff instead of pepper grinders and car gear shifts. Normal people don’t deal with the work of my engineers.

You can’t fuck a crazy girl sane. – Cory Doctorow, Eastern Standard Tribe, 2004

Same goes for crazy boys, by the way. Half the time women who fall for “The Rebel” are trying to, you know. It doesn’t work.

Check out this book. It’s totally cool science fiction and Cory is one of those people who isn’t afraid of the changing world out there. In fact, he may be one of the instrumental people out there changing the world. He’s definitely not coming from scarcity thinking.

8/12/2004

DDR Search

Filed under: Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Yes, I know it’s strange, but I was reading a DDR Forum on the Internet. Ok, it’s not so strange considering how obsessed I am. One of the members was talking about a recent trip to Las Vegas. Here is an excerpt from his entry:

Just came back from Vegas and about to go to Los Angeles. While in Vegas, i tried to play on as many ddr machines as I can.

Here’s the list of where i’ve played

Stratosphere – Extreme NY NY – Megamix (bootleg vr. of Extreme) and USA(upgraded to Max 2) Luxor – Extreme Gameworks – Extreme Circus Circus – Extreme ( the most ddr machine i’ve ever seen in one place, that was cool)

He had gone to My Vegas and played DDR on every machine he could find there. I was feeling jealous and desperately wanted to go to Vegas just to play DDR on as many machines as I could.

Mike convinced me that it might be better to just look for DDR machines in Salt Lake and play them here rather than driving seven and a half hours to go to a different city to play. Friday night, we went to Hollywood Connection in West Valley. They have two machines: DDR 3rd Mix (but it really had the songs for lots of mixes) and a Pump It Up machine (but it was broken). It would have been a great night of playing, but the one machine that worked was surrounded by at least twelve kids. No room for me.

Mike took me back to Hollywood Connection on Saturday afternoon and the place was completely different. The DDR machine was abandoned and I was able to play twenty dollars worth of tokens on the thing. We were there for about two hours and only twice did anyone else want a turn. I gave it up graciously (frankly because I was getting tired).

Sunday, Mike and I went to The Gateway. After lunch, he let me play for about a half hour on a DDR 3rd Mix machine at the arcade. It was a dollar a play (as opposed to 75 cents at HC), but I still had fun. I didn’t have to fight any kids to play there either. I guess Friday night is the big night for DDR among the adolescent sect.

I just checked out DDR Freak Machine Locations and I only have two machines out of eleven under my belt. Who knew that there were so many in my area? I can just feel Mike cringing at the idea of taking me to so many arcades. Please, can we go? Please, please?!

8/19/2004

DDR

Filed under: Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I am obsessed with Dance Dance Revolution. I played for two hours this morning and I just want to go home and play some more. I want Stacey to bring back my game. She borrowed it, but I want it and my Mad Catz pad back. I think I’m going to trick out my Mad Catz pad so that it’s extra spongy like my Ignition pad. If I trick it out with foam as thick as my Ignition pad, then I could use them together and play double songs easily without falling off the Ignition pad.

Maybe I should just buy myself another Ignition pad. It might even be cheaper than working with my Mad Catz pad. That one doesn’t work with StepMania anyway and I would like one that works with both. Of course, convincing Mike that I need yet another pad after all of this is pushing it.

Maybe I’ll just wait until Ultra Mix 2 comes out. I’m sure I’ll be able to buy it in a bundle with another dance pad and get them for cheaper that way. Maybe I should get a metal pad and just go all the way to the true gaming experience. The only problem is where am I going to put a huge metal dance pad in my little house? I don’t need that. I don’t need another pad. I don’t even need Stacey to give me back my Xbox game. I just need to let myself play it as much as I want.

That has always been the problem. I have enough toys; I just don’t let myself play with them. I feel like I need to be doing something useful, so I end up wasting my time instead of enjoying it. Instead of doing something useful, I mope around the house. Instead of doing something fun, I scold myself by thinking that I should be working somehow. The truth is: I don’t need to work all the time. Sometimes I need to play.

I played for two hours this morning, so I guess that’s enough. Tomorrow I will play some more. I don’t need to buy anything. I don’t need to do anything but play with the toys that I already have.

8/29/2004

Thinner Than Thou

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Health and Fitness,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Buy ItThey were playing poker in their tent. I felt like I should be playing with them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get interested in the game. Instead, I read the book I brought along.

“I hate this future.”

Stacey and Dan looked at me with confused faces.

“I don’t like the future that this book has set up. It’s too depressing.”

They were still confused, so I tried explaining more.

“In this book, being thin is like a religion. It’s against the law to be fat.”

“That’s not a diet book?” I don’t remember who asked me.

“No. It’s sci-fi and I hate this future.”

“We thought you were reading a diet book or maybe a non-fiction book about the diet industry.”

It was then that I realized that I was already living in the future that I hated. I was already working toward a goal that I despised. We talked about the insurance industry and the inevitable future of taxation on the overweight (whether they call it premiums or not, it’s still taxation). We talked about the concept of beauty that has become so attached to the concept of physical fitness. The conversation got heated. I felt guilty for interrupting their game of poker.

Last weekend, I found myself halfway through the book, desperate to finish it. I didn’t really care how it ended. I just wanted all the characters in the book to quit suffering. There wasn’t a happy life in the mix. Every person in this book was miserable and I just wanted the pain to end.

Mike suggested that I just stop reading it, but I couldn’t. I had to find out if they escaped. I had to find out if they rescued their sister. I had find out if they brought down the evil empire. Worse than Darth Vader, Reverend Earl had to be taken out. I couldn’t have stopped reading this book in the middle any more than I could have stopped breathing.

I don’t know if this is a recommendation or not. It was a good book with good writing and a good ending, but it wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t light reading. It brought up many issues for me and for a brief moment, I considered abandoning all exercise and healthy eating habits. It was a difficult book for me to read.

This is a book about an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance. It has nothing to do with healthy eating. It has nothing to do with the joy of physical exertion. It has nothing to with loving your body, no matter how it looks. This book is about altering the physical form at all costs. Take the pills. Starve. Exercise to exertion. Eat until you are gorged. Do whatever it takes to get the body that is “beautiful.” It’s sheer hell and I’ve been there.

Right now, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. I exercise regularly doing activities that I enjoy. I eat nutritious and delicious food. I enjoy treats with moderation. I have finally learned to control my bingeing. I didn’t get here with the attitude that I should do whatever it takes to get that beautiful body. I got here because I wanted to be healthy. I was sick of being sick. The doctor told me that there was nothing the matter with my digestive system. It was sick because I was eating poorly. I needed to learn how to be healthy. Learning how to be healthy has gotten me to where I am today.

That’s why this book was so scary to me. When I was at the point in my life that I was willing to do anything to get a fit body, I ended up making myself worse. The minute I stopped focusing on appearance and started concentrating on health, I started to get better. That exact thing happened to one of the characters in this book, but it was so subtle that I don’t think the author intended it to be the message of the book. I really don’t know what I think about this book. I’m just glad I finished reading it so I can get my head out of that sci-fi future.

9/9/2004

New Palm

Filed under: Computer Stuff,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 10:46 am

9/8/04 12:33pm: I’m sitting outside wondering what to write and trying to learn the new Graffiti. I just got this new Palm yesterday and this is really the first time I’ve tried this. My speed is abysmal. There are new strokes for almost all of the letters, so I am learning it all over again. I’m finding the double-stroke characters the hardest. Half the time, the old strokes work, but there are a few that insist on their way only.

I’ve had trouble with Graffiti in the past. My 5’s have always been indistinguishable from my 9’s. That alone allows for why K-Mart put me on data entry during inventory.


The preceding took me over a half hour to write on my Palm using the new Graffiti. I know that I’ll get faster the more I practice, but right now, it’s bloody annoying. My stroke that looks like a 7 that always made the perfect T is now useless and ends up putting apostrophes where I don’t want them. I know it should be easier because a lot of double-stroke things (like punctuation) are simplified, but I am having a hard time adjusting.

Learning Graffiti the first time was a piece of cake. I had to learn a different way to write a V (backwards), which is completely useless now. I never really was able to write a G, Q or Y correctly. With this new system, those letters seem to work better. I know this new Graffiti is better, but I’m just learning right now and it’s frustrating as hell.

Don’t recommend that program to me that lets me use the old Graffiti system. This is the new system and I’m going to learn it, dammit. The gauntlet has been thrown down and I picked it up when I bought the Tungsten E. Now I have to conquer this beast. It’s a point of honor.

For the last three to four years, I had been happy with my Kyocera SmartPhone. It was only within the last month or so that I realized that if I bought one of the cool new Palms and went back to my Motorola StarTAC, then I could have all those cool features that I have been coveting on those Palms lately: those beautiful color screens, the memory card slot, that new operating system, the MP3 player functions, the huge amounts of memory and (once again, for effect) those beautiful color screens. Plus, the Tungsten E was so shiny.

So I made the plunge. I gave up the convenience of having my Palm in the same machine as my phone. In return, I have six albums of CD quality music with me at all times. I have a crystal clear screen that has all of those pretty colors. I have more memory than I know what to do with. I have a new version of Bejeweled that glimmers and shines.

I dug the StarTAC out of the basement, charged it, and made the switch. I haven’t missed the SmartPhone yet. I keep thinking that I’m going to miss the phone numbers programmed into the phone. Since I stopped being a real estate agent, I’ve found that I only call three people a week: Stacey, my mom and Mike. I have to admit that I don’t have those phone numbers memorized, but the StarTAC has enough speed dial entries to cover my huge list of peeps.

Now, I just need to learn this new Graffiti system and I’ll be all set.

9/16/2004

Xbox Live

Filed under: Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

You can’t download the cool new tracks for Project Gotham Racing 2 without a membership to Xbox Live. You can’t download the cool song packs for Dance Dance Revolution without a membership to Xbox Live. It kind of sucks when you know there are cool additions to your game that are out there, but you can’t get to them without a bunch of red tape.

You can’t just log onto Xbox Live with your computer or Xbox and start a membership. You have to go into a store and buy a stupid Xbox Live membership. Once you input your magic password from your membership card, the first thing they ask you for is your credit card number (so you can pay for those cool tracks and songs). Why didn’t they just let us give them our credit card number and log in without the stupid card from Best Buy? It’s really very confusing and it makes me feel like I’m jumping through hoops for nothing.

I did get this little microphone/headphone thing with the membership card, though. It works with the Karaoke thing on Xbox Music Mixer, so I can sing and dance at the same time. It makes me feel a little like Britney Spears. You’re supposed to use it with the Xbox Live competitions so you can talk to your competitors.

I bought all the song packs for Dance Dance Revolution as soon as Mike logged us onto the system. They totally rock. My two favorites that I downloaded are hard and kick my butt, but I still love them. Heaven is a ’57 and Afronova Primeval are fun songs that I had played on the DDR machine at The Gateway arcade a month or so ago. It’s nice to have them on the Xbox to play whenever I want.

Mike bought one of the tracks that he wanted for PGR2, but he was a little disappointed by them. I think he was expecting Cone Challenges or Street Races and such, but they are just tracks that you can race on alone. Maybe they are useful for competing on Xbox Live.

Mike was the first to try playing Xbox Live against other players. He did a couple of games, but he told me he didn’t really like it. He told me that the kids with the headsets were annoying and it really felt like he was just racing against computer drivers if they didn’t talk.

When I tried Xbox Live with DDR, I was a little disappointed because there were no matches available on Light Mode. I’m not good enough to compete on Standard or Heavy yet. Sometimes there weren’t any matches available at all. I felt like no one was using Xbox Live with DDR. I tried to convince Stacey to get Xbox Live so I would have someone to play with, but she was having none of it.

On a lark this weekend (while avoiding writing my chapter), I decided to Create a Match that I would like to play with a song that I liked. I set it up and within seconds, I had three people desperate to compete with me. We played, they kicked my ass and I created another match. I played for over an hour with a total of about ten users (I lost count after ten.). I realized that these kids didn’t know how to create a match and were much more willing to join one that someone else created.

I have logged on twice again since then and played Xbox Live against tons of people. I’ve met people from New Hampshire, California and El Salvador. I had no idea that so many people out there wanted to connect with fellow DDR players. It has been a solitary game for me outside of the arcade experience, so it is so refreshing to play against others, even if they kick my butt.

On the whole, Xbox Live is totally worth the money they ask. I’ve already played enough to pay for the month. The downloads were totally worth it for DDR, but Mike didn’t like the tracks for PGR2. Now, they just need to create a method for people to start their memberships online instead of having to buy the membership at the stores. Not everyone is going to appreciate feeling like Britney Spears with that little headset thing.

10/5/2004

The FITALY Keyboard

Filed under: Computer Stuff,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I wrote about a month ago when I was trying to learn the new version of Graffiti. I knew the old version of Graffiti like the back of my hand and I found it frustrating to write with the new one. Mike showed me how to pull up the keyboard on the Palm and I realized that I could plink out my thoughts on the keyboard faster than I could write. I think it was even faster than I was with my old Graffiti skills.

The only problem with the innate keyboard is that when I pull it up on my Tungsten E, it takes up half the screen and I have precious little space to see what I have typed. Additionally, I have to press an extra button to bring it up, so if I only need to type one or two letters, it’s a pain in the butt. For WWCalc, I have so many shortcuts programmed in, I usually only need to type a couple of letters for each entry. It would be silly to bring up the big keyboard just to type two letters.

Mike started playing with some different keyboard that he could install on his Tungsten T3. It replaced his typing area with this new keyboard that is specially arranged for a stylus. It was so cool, but my Palm doesn’t have an active writing area, so I thought it wouldn’t work for me. Mike said that they have stickers to put over your active area on the old-style Palms so that you can use this cool keyboard without using up all your screen space. They had a trial download and it included an Acrobat document to print onto a sticker to put on my Palm.

I printed the sticker up on normal paper and stuck it over my screen protector. I knew I would have to sacrifice a screen protector if I didn’t like the thing, but I thought it was worth that. I used it for about thirty minutes and had Mike pay the registration fee for the program. It was that great. Three days later, their really slick stickers came in the mail (they send you four) and now my Palm is the most efficient note taking device I have every owned outside of paper. I can officially take the Moleskine out of my purse and just pull out the Palm when inspiration hits me. I can type that fast.

I am still learning how to use it. I’ve put in a ton of custom slides for common suffixes and prefixes so that I don’t have to tap “i-n-g” or “t-i-o-n” over and over. I can use my own shortcuts for those common word combinations. The cool thing is that I get to decide what means what. If I don’t use a suffix very often, it doesn’t have to be on my list. I could program entire words for any letter I want. It’s entirely customizable.

My typing speed with the FITALY keyboard is about 28 wpm right now. I’ve tested as fast as 34 wpm, but it’s not consistently that fast yet. It is still substantially slower than typing on the computer. My speed on the computer is between 59 and 70 wpm. I’m sure that I will get faster with the FITALY keyboard as I practice. I know that I’m much faster than I could ever do with Graffiti. I tried testing my speed with Graffiti and I couldn’t get over 15 wpm. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get faster than that and my hands started getting a little sore after writing for so long. Tapping on the keyboard is a lot easier on my hands.

I totally recommend trying this keyboard out for yourself on your Palm. You can install it risk-free and use it for about five days. It only took me thirty minutes to know that I wanted to keep it. DO NOT stick a normal label or sticker on your Palm. If you are going to print yourself up the keyboard to stick on your machine, put it over a screen protector. You WILL NOT be able to remove it from your screen without damaging it. Try it out and see if you like it. It might make your little “toy” something much more useful.

10/14/2004

Disney and Debussy

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I don’t mean to sound uncultured (anti-cultured? dis-cultured? unpasteurized?) but I hate Claude Debussy. One of his Interludes showed up on my random music mix and I listened to it like the dutiful music lover that I am. That’s what I get for ripping those damn classical CDs with the rest of my collection. Give me Grieg. Give me Beethoven. Give me Mozart. I know what to do with those guys. I’ll fight great battles. I mope and brood. I’ll dance and twirl. But Debussy…

Man, that music makes me want to sing to the birds. It makes me want to run away from the evil stepmother. It makes me long for that mysterious happy ending I was promised. It makes me wonder why I’m taking all these punches instead of living in a beautiful castle somewhere with hand-maidens to serve my every wish. Something about that music reminds me of Disney, and not in a good way.

The guy died in 1918. How could he remind me of Disney movies? Wasn’t Sleeping Beauty based on a Tchaikovsky ballet? Rumor has it that Claire de Lune was supposed to be in Fantasia, but it was cut. That still doesn’t explain why all of Debussy’s stuff makes me want to force wild animals to listen to me sing. (They like it… really…)

Maybe Debussy was in “style” when the Disney Imagineers were creating their Magic. Sometimes composers go in and out of style. Mozart was in style during the Eighties. His white wig was all we could see whether it was on Tom Hulce or Falco. Maybe Debussy and his style of orchestral pastorals were everywhere when Disney was king.

All I can say is I’d rather be trapped in the Haunted Mansion listening to Grim Grinning Ghosts for an hour than spend the same amount of time listening to Debussy. If I listen to too much of his stuff, I’ll just end up molesting innocent animals. No one wants to see that shit.

10/19/2004

Rock Concert Movements

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Well over a year ago, Mike and I went to see the Blue Man Group when they came to town on The Complex Tour. It was before I had a weblog. It was before I even knew about weblogs, so it might have been a couple of years ago. I could find out the exact date that it happened, because I’m sure I wrote about it in my personal journal and I could just do a search of the entries to find out when I mentioned it, but you don’t really care about the exact date and neither do I.

After the concert, I was so stoked. I wanted to tell everyone about the experience. I hadn’t written down any of the truly funny things that happened. I wanted a complete list of the Rock Concert Movements that were mentioned in the concert. The announcer explained to the Blue Men the exact movements that they had to master in order to be Rock Stars. They were given to us out of order and so quickly that there would have been no way for me to write them down, even if I knew that they were coming.

A couple of years later, I found myself at Fry’s in Las Vegas. They were selling the DVD to The Complex Tour. I picked it up and bought it without another thought. I would finally have the complete Rock Concert Movement List so that I, too, could become a Rock Star. Culled from the DVD, my memory and other websites on the subject here are the Rock Concert Movements:

Rock Concert Movement #1 The Basic Head Bob Rock Concert Movement #2 The One-Armed Fist Pump Rock Concert Movement #3 The Up and Down Jumping Motion Rock Concert Movement #4 The Behind the Head Leg Stretch Rock Concert Movement #6 Two Armed Upward Thrust with Yell Rock Concert Movement #8 The Black Out Rock Concert Movement #10 Getting a Closer Look at the Audience Rock Concert Movement #15 Bringing a Guest Vocalist Onstage Rock Concert Movement #23 Getting the Audience to Sing Along Rock Concert Movement #27 Saying Hello to the People in the Cheap Seats Rock Concert Movement #28 Getting an Audience Member Onstage to Dance Rock Concert Movement #48 Introducing the Band Rock Concert Movement #63 Bringing out Venus Hum Rock Concert Movement #78 The Fake Ending Rock Concert Movement #91 Enjoying the T-Shirt You Bought at The Complex Rock Tour Rock Concert Movement #237 Taking the audience on a Jungian journey into the collective unconscious by using the shadow as a metaphor for the primal self that gets repressed by the modern persona and also by using an underground setting and labyrinth office design to represent both the depths of the psyche and the dungeon-like isolation of our increasingly mechanistic society which prevents people from finding satisfying work or meaningful connections with others.

I love the Blue Man Group. I love both of their albums. I loved watching the DVD last night. It wasn’t as good as the live concert because the show really is a audience participating cathartic experience. I should have bought this T-Shirt at the concert, but I don’t remember it being available. The only reason I wrote this entry is because I wanted a list of the Rock Concert Movements after I got out of the concert and it was nowhere to be seen online. Not even the Blue Man Group’s Official Website had anything about it. It’s not like the list spoils the beauty of the concert. It’s completely incomprehensible unless you’ve seen the concert.

If you get a chance to see the Blue Man Group (New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Berlin) check out their regular show. The Complex Tour ended in the fall of 2003, and they are not planning another rock concert tour right now. You’ll have to get your butt to one of these cool cities and see them for yourself. You can buy the CDs and DVD, but nothing can compare to the live experience.

10/20/2004

The Postal Service

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

“This is The Postal Service. I have this album. You’d probably like it.” Mike was singing quietly along with the song on the overhead speakers at the store. I don’t remember the store. I don’t remember the song. I just remember that Mike recommended it to me. A couple days later, I put the album on my Palm so that I could listen to it at lunch in the park.

I’ve talked before about using The New Music Binge Test to decide whether an album is good or not, but there are some albums that I love from the second that I hear them. I can tell that there are no stinkers. I can tell that I could listen to this album a hundred times and just be learning the words and memorizing the bass lines.

That’s how Give Up by The Postal Service is. It’s the kind of album that leaves you playing it on repeat for days. You’ll forget all about all the other CDs in your changer and you’ll just keep starting it over and over. You can listen to clips on Amazon.com, but they are painfully short and don’t really convey all the beauty that the album has to offer.

My favorite of them all is Natural Anthem.

I’ll write you a song and it won’t be hard to sing It will be a natural anthem, familiar it will seem It will rally all the workers on strike for better pay And its chorus will resound and boost morale throughout the day

I’ll write you a song and I hope that you won’t mind Because all the names and places I have taken from real life So please don’t get upset at this portrait that I paint It may be a little biased, but at least I spelt your name right…

Posted here, the lyrics feel empty and stripped of their true meaning. I don’t know how it is that music adds so much more to the experience of poetry, but I’m left with the sense that poetry is not enough. The first time I heard Natural Anthem, I was weepy at the end. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “that’s what I want to do. I want my blog to boost morale throughout the day. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings sometimes, but at least I spelt your name right.”

When you click on the clip on Amazon.com to hear this song, they just play the music and you won’t hear any of the lyrics. You’ll just have to buy the album. It passes the New Music Binge Test, but more importantly, it passes the True Artist Test.

10/28/2004

Web Comics

Filed under: Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Speaking of the test of a true artist, major props to Something Positive and Queen of Wands. Since I’ve been sick, I have been reading web comics obsessively. I didn’t have the energy to do anything else when I was at home or work. I have read the entire archive of Something Positive, Queen of Wands, The Red String, and Questionable Content. All of them just make me want to start a web comic of my own.

Being completely unschooled in Manga or comic drawing in general doesn’t daunt me. The fact that I haven’t finished Looking for Christ does, though. So, I have an additional incentive to get cracking on the book because as soon as I finish it, I can start a web comic.

It doesn’t help that Cory Storm is thinking of starting a comic of his own with Chuck Perkins. Cory has major artistic talent and Chuck has intriguing sci-fi ideas, so whatever they produce will be totally cool. They haven’t done anything about it just yet, but it is all in the works.

More importantly, web comics are few and difficult to find. Typing romantic web comics into Google doesn’t produce any worthwhile results and I’ve only been able to find what I have by following links and adverts. I want there to be more web comics in the world, so I feel it is my duty to create one, even if it sucks.

Of course, all of that is on hold right now. I’m sick. I can’t even keep up on my weblog, much less add further commitments to my schedule. First, I’m going to get well. Then, I’m going to host the best Halloween party EVAR. Then, I’m going to finish my book. After I’ve got all that past me, I’m going to start a web comic. I’ll keep you posted.

10/31/2004

Fable

Filed under: Reviews,Video Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

There’s a new game out on Xbox called Fable and it looked really cool. They were talking about it on Queen of Wands and it sounded like fun to play, so I looked at it at EB Games and Game Stop and Circuit City. Each time I fell short of buying it, even though it looked so cool. The package said that decisions that I make with my character would affect the story and how my character develops. Even though it was a fantasy game, it looked so cool.

I didn’t buy it, though. Shannon in Queen of Wands said that she had to make her character marry the girl that she had been courting. When I looked at the box, all of the characters shown were male. It was looking like I would have to be a boy if I played that game. I didn’t want that. If I’m going to play a fantasy game where I have to be one character, she sure as hell better be a girl. I decided I needed to research more.

As it turned out, Mike did the research for me. Be a girl? No way. The character can be gay. He can marry a man. He can marry women. He can marry and divorce as often as you want him to. He can wear women’s clothing, but he can’t be a woman.

I find this incredibly disturbing that they would forget that one feature. ZAP! There goes half the world. Half of your audience is suddenly alienated. If I want to play your game, I’ll just have to play with the wrong gender.

Poor Mike tried to defend the game programmers and I bit his head off and spit it out at CompUSA. How dare he defend these companies? They cut out half the population of the world with their design skills! Mike tried to tell me that it was through incompetence, and I agree, but it seems like a pathetic way to run a company.

Sims was a fluke. Sims was a mistake. They accidentally made a game that appealed to women and the best they can do to keep up with it is to make more Sims games. Instead of creating focus groups, they just churn out interesting clothes for the Sims to wear and the ability to change their appearance.

Here’s a tip, video game developers… include us. Don’t put women in your game to start the race (Need for Speed). Let us drive the damn cars. Don’t put women in your game to be courted (Fable). Let us live the life of a hero (or slacker as the case may be). Don’t put women in your game to take over when Harry Potter faints (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Let us be Hermoine and let us relive her adventure. Don’t even get me started talking about Lara Croft.

I’m just glad I didn’t spend the fifty bucks on that game. You think I’m mad now? I would have hunted down the programming fools who didn’t even think about adding a female character and kicked them square in the balls. How’s that for a decision that I make that affects the story and how my character develops?

12/20/2004

A Cheap Foucault’s Pendulum Rip-Off

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Dylan,Personal History,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 4:35 pm

“Have you read the Da Vincio…”

His voice trailed off, but I knew what he was talking about.

“No, I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code .”

“I was watching something on The History Channel about it…”

I could tell that he wanted to talk about a book he didn’t read and conspiracy theories he has only had a passing glance of. I went through my conspiracy theory phase in the early nineties, so I had no patience for him.

“I heard it was a cheap rip-off of Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I read Foucault’s Pendulum, so I didn’t bother with The Da Vinci Code. Foucault’s Pendulum was written in Italian and translated rather poorly, so maybe that’s…”

The phone rang and I answered it professionally even though I was in mid-rant. We never got back to the conversation and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get to finish. I was about to talk about Portuguese, Latin and Italian. I was about to tell him how I regretted that I didn’t write the translations in my book so that my friends could read it. I was about to tell him about Dylan’s rant, “Bring me the head of Umberto Eco!”

I just looked up The Da Vinci Code at my library’s website. They have 10 books and 49 holds. Anyone who has stepped into a Barnes and Noble in the last year has seen the huge display of Da Vinci items. Apparently, The History Channel even has a show about it. All that popularity makes me recoil from it like a Britney Spears concert.

Yet, at one time, I was so intrigued by the idea of conspiracy theories that I was willing to slog through Foucault’s Pendulum. I looked up the Latin. I muddled my way through the Portuguese. I did my best with the Italian. I consumed the Templars. I was intrigued by the Kabala. I even chuckled at the thought that Mickey Mouse had a part in it all. I didn’t go all Illuminati or anything, but I enjoyed the ideas for a brief month or two in my life.

I liked the ideas in the past. Why do I recoil from them now? Is it just the popularity of them that makes me dismiss them with a “cheap rip-off” jab? I’m feeling guilty now and my words from this morning sound callous and hollow. I guess I should read the book. It’s not like it’s going to tax my intellect like Umberto’s did. I could probably read it over a weekend. I’m not waiting in line behind 49 people, though. I better buy my own copy.

12/28/2004

The Da Vinci Code

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:29 am

The Da Vinci CodeOver the Christmas holiday, I read The Da Vinci Code. I had been told that it was a cheap Foucault’s Pendulum rip-off. At first glance, it might appear that way. Both books start with a murder in a museum. Both books are conspiracy theory stories in which the characters are searching for The Holy Grail. Both books drag everything under the sun into the conspiracy including Mickey Mouse. That, however, is where the correlations end…

(Continue Reading…)

12/29/2004

Toilet Light

Filed under: Gadgets & Cool Stuff — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

The LavNav From Boing Boing: “The Arkon LavNav is a nightlight that clips onto your toilet seat. It senses your approach in the night and glows gently (no blinding 100w bulb at 2AM) — green if the seat is down and red if the seat is up.”

I’m a little clumsy in the middle of the night. Can you just imagine how the toilet would look when the light fell off the lid and into the toilet? I can’t flush it. I’d have to reach in and get it. Yeah, I think I’ll leave this one to the early adopters and risk sitting on the toilet without the seat.

Arkon’s website seems to have a multitude of choices in gadgetry. Motion activated soap dispensers that would spew soap on my cats when they walked by. Personal air purifyers that would blow that strangely smelling ionized air at me. PDA mounts that would allow me to see what songs are playing on my Tungsten while I’m driving (ok, those look really cool).

12/31/2004

Honda Running Robot

Filed under: Gadgets & Cool Stuff — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

ASIMOI’ve talked about robots alot (Artificial Intelligence, I, Robot, I, Robot Reloaded) in the past. I don’t know why I want them to exist, but they are so cool to me. Honda has some movies of their brand new ASIMO robot. Not only can it walk on two feet (amazing!), it can go up and down stairs (rock on!) and it can RUN! They say it runs at 3 KM an hour. That’s almost 2 miles an hour, which seems slow, but when I weighed 236 pounds, I could barely walk 2 miles an hour. I think it’s amazing and the videos are fun to watch!

Honda ASIMO Videos

It just made me feel like I would be able to see robots in my future. I would be able to interact and communicate with a brand new life form of our own creation. I have all but given up seeing aliens in my lifetime, but a different species of our own making is something that we are so close to that I feel like I could reach out my hand and touch it.

1/5/2005

Ballard Street

Filed under: Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I finally figured out why I love Ballard Street. It’s a comic that is offbeat and strange. There are no real punchlines, but it makes me happy every day that I read it. Partake of the splendor here:

Ballard Street

I love Ballard Street because the characters are so emotional. Their faces fill with pride at their strange accomplishments. Their brows furrough with anger at the disputes. They shiver in anticipation of the next bad thing in their lives. They bounce with joy at their odd activities.

The characters of Ballard Street are living on the edge. They are filled with their respective emotions and they seem like they are going to burst with it. That’s why I love Ballard Street.

2/7/2005

Notorious C.H.O.

Filed under: Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Dear Margaret Cho,

I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you’re familiar with the area, I think you will understand my surprise when I found your DVD, Notorious C.H.O., at my local library. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, so I thought I would see what your stand up act is like. I grabbed it as if there were someone right behind me, ready to take it away.

You’ll be happy to know that in this conservative bastion of Mormonism, your DVD has been watched so many times that it is damaged beyond repair. It kept freezing up right in the middle of your frank discussion of Food Issues. I enjoyed it so much I had to get a copy of my own to see the end.

Sadly, Notorious C.H.O. is the only DVD the Salt Lake County Library System has of yours, although they do have I Am The One I Want in book form and book on tape. I have your other DVDs in my queue at Netflix as we speak.

Thank you for your honesty. By the end of your DVD, I was happy and wanting to hug my husband. I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes and I struggled for breath. Sure, I was surprised at the details that you were willing to share, but I was raised in Salt Lake City. We’re not allowed to talk about those things here. That doesn’t mean they don’t happen, we just don’t talk about them. Thank you for being so open. It’s a breath of fresh air in the hushed land of Zion.

Right before the credits, one of the audience members said, “Margaret makes me want to be a better person.” When I heard him say that, I breathed a huge sigh. Yeah, he was right.

So, just a quick note to tell you, thanks.

Laura Moncur


Laura,

Margaret will be at a club called MoDiggity’s on Feb. 26th. She’s doing a couple practice shows for her new Assassin Tour. Thought you’d like to know. I’ve passed your message on to her. Thanks for writing.

Karen Taussig


I’m just the luckiest girl in the world!

3/10/2005

The Devil You Know

Filed under: Gadgets & Cool Stuff — Laura Moncur @ 2:00 pm

We had been with Sprint for over seven years when we switched over to T-Mobile last November. We got new phones at such a discount that the rebates actually paid us to move over to T-Mobile. The switch over was relatively painless and I was happy to replace my four year old phone.

From the beginning, there were problems. Our home was a dead zone. Our phones worked within a one block radius of our home, but at our house, we never got our calls and calling out was difficult. When we could call out, we could barely hear the person on the other line because the phones cut out so often.

Then, about a month ago, my phone got worse. Wherever I tried to call, I had this noisy static coming over the line. There was nothing I could do to prevent that static noise. No matter who called, all I wanted to do was to get them off the phone as quickly as possible because I couldn’t hear what they were saying anyway.

We had a year contract. Yesterday, we broke it. We’ll willing pay the fee to T-Mobile to go back to Sprint. They ported over our numbers easily. I got the free clam-shell phone from LG and Mike got himself a Treo 650, which is a Palm device and a phone all in one. We spent most of last night talking about the phones and calling each other once they worked.

Ironically, when we had Sprint, we had horrible experiences with their customer service over the phones. Their automated phone system, called Claire, was supposed to understand English, but it didn’t work well at all. Once I would finally get a hold of a human being, they were just trying to get me off the phone as quickly as possible, giving incorrect answers and, at times, they were even rude. We had been so happy to move to T-Mobile because their service department seemed so great.

After experiencing the coverage nightmare that was T-Mobile, we were set on buying out of our contracts. We could have gone with any company: AT&T, Cingular, Cricket, Qwest, etc. Instead, we went back to Sprint. We KNEW that their coverage was great. We were able to get calls in Kauai, Hawaii and remote camping locations with Sprint. Sure the customer service was a nightmare, but the phones worked every time. That’s why we walked in the doors of the Sprint Store yesterday. The devil you know is better than the angel you don’t.

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