Thursday, January 6, 2011

Things Tyler taught me about Canadia

My very good work friend, Tyler, is Canadian. He just got back from spending the holidays with his family and explained why Canada kicks America's ass:

  1. The drinking age is 19
  2. Strip clubs feature full nudity
  3. They have a place called Tim Horton's which suposively rivals Starbucks in coffee and Panera in sandwiches.
  4. Socialized Healthcare
  5. Everyone is very polite.
  6. There are mounties.
  7. They're, like, the ultimate hipsters, they've got all this awesome stuff and nobody knows about.
  8. eh?

Friday, December 31, 2010


I could feel the rain in the air from inside the bus. My Dad could smell rain days ahead of time and had told me we were due soon. I never could smell rain until it was right on top of me with rumbling clouds and sheet lightning like it was on the ride home from school. When Ms. Judy let me off the bus I scrambled to my door, leaving my sister to cross the street on her own.

When I got inside I dumped my backpack on the floor by the door before racing upstairs as my mother’s voice called after me. I ignored her and slammed the door to my room as an answer. If she realized I’d ripped a hole in another pair of jeans I’d be locked inside without my books at least for tonight if not the rest of the week. So I hid them at the bottom of my hand painted dresser under old gymnastic uniforms and riding pants from failed athletic attempts. I pulled neon bike shorts and one of my Dad’s college t-shirts out of the top drawer. All his old school clothes fit me now, I wondered if he ate anything while he was at college.

I didn’t bother putting my shoes back on. It was only April and my feet were still tender, but a storm is no fun in shoes. My room was in shambles but if I hurried, my mother probably wouldn’t notice in time to stop me from leaving. There was a huge crash of thunder as I raced down the stairs. After the skies had said their piece I yelled some sort of explanation towards the kitchen. My mother was too busy tiling the backsplash to really care anyway.

Outside the first raindrops had just begun to stain the concrete. I leapt off the porch and ran across the yard, marveling in the cold thick grass under my feet. My Dad said when he was young he wanted to grow up and have a house with a white picket fence and rich people grass. Even though our house was modest, and our fence tall and unpainted, the grass was thick and even. He’d spend hours fertilizing and weeding it on the weekends. It was rich people grass.

I reached the edge of the yard and continued my flight down the street. I could feel raindrops beginning to splatter in my hair and on my shoulders. Two houses down the hot asphalt gave way to gravel that made my feet yelp and ache. I dealt with it. The pain was worth it. In a month I’d be able to step on the broken glass and nails that littered the half built houses I explored in the summer without feeling a thing. The road dead ended at Danielle’s house. I didn’t bother going to the door, instead I went around to her tiny basement window. I lay on my belly and stuck my head in the window. The wind blew my shirt up my back and let cold, tingly raindrops fall on my spine. Surprisingly, she wasn’t there. Something touched the back of my neck and I jumped, banging my head in the process. I hoped it wasn’t a spider, with their shiny eyes and crackling legs. It was Danielle. She stood over me with the rest of the gang: the Tongeus sisters, Thomas, Katie, and my sister.

“Well are you coming?” She asked

I nodded and began to stand up as they all began to run around the side of Danielle’s house. When I rounded the corner they had all disappeared into the mist surrounding her lake. It was stiff and dense like my mother’s meringue. The rain began pounding down on me, making my hair dark and slick and my clothes stick to me. I wiggled my toes in the mud that was beginning to form and chased after my friends.

This is a highly fictionalize memory from my childhood.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Three Types of Science-Fiction or Why Jon Scalzi’s Science-Fiction Novels Don’t Work for Me

I was thinking about why I enjoy Science-Fiction the other day and it occurred to me that most Fiction fits into one of two categories: Character based or Story based. Science-Fiction introduces a third option, Concept based. To be truly enjoyable, a Sci-fi story must contain elements of all three but I think most stories have one as their focus.

My favorite Sci-Fi stories are Concept based with a very strong Character basis as well. Sci-Fi lets you ask the “What if?” questions. Some authors pose these “What if?”s to their readers, but I prefer to watch the people within the “What if?” grapple with living in that world. That’s why I prefer Asimov’s novel version of “Nightfall” over his short story, “Nightfall”. They tell the exact same story—a Concept story—but in the novel I’m able to connect with the characters and feel their complete terror. After reading the short story I couldn’t recall any character’s name. The short story was thought provoking but I couldn’t connect on an emotional level.

Which brings me to an author I’ve been fangirling lately, Jon Scalzi. He’s probably best known for writing “Old Man’s War” and for taping bacon to his cat and posting it to the interwebs. “Old Man’s War” is an absolutely mind blowing book that won lots of great awards that it totally deserved. I picked it out of the bargain bin and figured that after three months of cyber-stalking Scalzi’s blog, “Whatever”, I should probably try reading something he wrote. “Old Man’s War” is a concept novel. It builds a world that I felt like I could be living in, in the far off future. Jon Scalzi is amazing at world-building. It was the best part of “The Android’s Dream” and is also showcased in his short story “An Election”. Where Scalzi fails, at least for me, is in making characters I care about. In “Old Man’s War” the main character reads like Prince Charming from “Sleeping Beauty”. People are willing to die for him more or less because he’s the main character. He’s abnormally bright, abnormally charismatic, abnormally attractive to women, abnormally suited to alien negotiations, if it’s a positive trait, he probably has it. When I read “Old Man’s War” these things didn’t bother me. “Old Man’s War” is a straight up concept story, the main character exists to illustrate the concept—he doesn’t need to be more than a cardboard cutout. My problem arose when I picked up another of Scalzi’s novels, “The Android’s Dream”. The title is a clever nod to my favorite book, Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (better known as “Blade Runner”). I was disappointed to read a book about yet another Prince Charming (this time from the FBI/CIA agent with a heart of gold mold) who gets the girl with even less character. As the book dragged on, I found myself thinking something I hadn’t thought since reading Dan Brown’s “Digital Fortress”, Why won’t the main characters die? In “Digital Fortress”, I believe they survived bombs, submarines that were sinking/out of air, and an open wound in shark-infested waters. The protagonists of “The Android’s Dream” were even less likely to make it out alive, and even less likable. However, like I said above, “The Android’s Dream” also featured some really great moments in between the plot where glimpses of this amazing future peaked in. Aliens in Washington D.C. live in neighborhoods similar to the ones immigrants set up in New York City with their own unique culture that is part alien and part human. For example, one particular race of aliens has a remarkable affinity for dogs, above and beyond what is ever seen between humans and dogs, despite dogs being an (obviously) Earth exclusive species.

Yesterday I downloaded “Agent to the Stars”, Scalzi’s first novel (though published after “Old Man’s War”) and read the entire thing on my shiny new kindle. And that was when I felt like I had had enough and needed to talk things out with the interwebs. Because it featured the same cookie-cutter hero with the same vaguely sassy romantic interest in a concept story that had a dull, dragging plot, and a concept that I didn’t really care for.

So that seemed a little bit like a huge rant. It kind of was. But honestly, Scalzi is a really good writer. He just doesn’t write the kind of novels I find enjoyable. I want a healthy dose of character with my concepts while he prefers to give you plot (which I can take or leave). I’ve found all of his short stories extremely enjoyable (especially the one where yogurt rules Earth) because in the short story you only get to pick one of the three elements and when push comes to shove I’ll take concept stories any day. I would strongly advise anyone who hasn’t, to read one of his short stories—several are floating around the ‘net. And if you find them enjoyable then read “Old Man’s War” because it really is a good, solid, concept novel that won a Hugo. I’d also encourage you to check out his blog, “Whatever”. It covers everything from the velvet painting of Wesley Crusher that he sent to Wil Wheaton to some remarkably sensible views on politics and budgeting. Also, bacon taped to cats.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Movie Reviews

I've seen a lot of movies lately and they all probably merit pages of discussion but I'm kinda busy these days.

Cyrus: Your typical indie romance/comdey. It's a very sparse movie. Five actors and a hand full of extras in the whole thing. The most moving moments are without dialog. The ending is a tad too perfect for a movie like this.

Inception: What? You haven't seen this yet? Well it's mind boggling to understand but delightful to follow. My favorite bit involves Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a vest wearing action hero in variable gravity. I think between this and Avatar, we've learned that when a good director has a pet project, it pays to go along with it.

Twilight: Eclipse: I can't stop watching these train wrecks. The first one was straight up awful. The second one seemed to be making fun of how awful it was. The third one was passable if you could ignore how horrible the casting for anyone but Jacob was.

The Kids Are Alright: Everyone else in the theater was 35+ and (almost certainly) straight. Which doesn't really make sense until you see the movie. This isn't really a movie about lesbian mothers. It's a movie about a family, the kids deal with kid stuff like shitty friends and unrequited crushes while their parents deal with varying ambitions and adultery. This movie could've just as easily featured a straight couple. The thing that most struck me was how much this movie felt like real life. When Jules was gardening, her hair was slightly frizzy and she was (apparently) makeup-less. All the little touches reminded me that this movie was the pet project of someone who actually understood what she was writing about.

The Other Guys: Will Ferrel was awesome in this movie. He just knocked it out of the park. Mark Walburg was pretty meh in my humble opinion but other people in our group disagreed. It was certainly better than the last buddy cop movie I saw, Cop Out.

Salt: Through no fault of this movie I fell asleep several times. As far as I can tell, this is like if Tomb Raider wasn't sexualized and was McGyver.

Scott Pilgrim VS. The World: Totally awesome. I have yet to read the last volume, so I dunno if the slightly lame bit at the end about Ramona going back to her ex is to blame on the movie or the comic. But if you liked the comics you'll love the movie. It was a subvertly nerdy movie. No Star Wars jokes, but the non-nerds in the audience where rather put off.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Do We Judge Statements Based on the Speaker

Lately I've been thinking about perceptions a lot. The way we see people obviously changes how we view their words and actions. For example, I have believed that religious beliefs should have no bearing on politics. When I identified myself as someone who was extremely religious, this view was taken with a lot of weight. My opinion counted. Now I still have the same view, but people say "Well of course you think that. You don't understand what it means to have the law challenge your morals". And even more often they don't say that, they just think it.

If you were previously in a position of privilege and move to one without it do your thoughts and opinions become worth less? What about your actions, previous and present, do they count differently? In some ways it seems like they shouldn't, but it is much easier for an atheist to say that religion is irrelevant to the way we govern ourselves than a theist. It doesn't feel right to give more weight to one than the other. Yet it does make sense in some ways.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How To: Look Like a Douchebag, Starbucks Edition

After 2 months, I've decided there are three reasons people go to Starbucks:
  1. They like our coffee/beverages/food
  2. They like wifi and couches but hate the imposed quiet of libraries
  3. They like to feel cool
Those are all fine reasons, but a lot of times that third one gets annoying to baristas. So if you feel like looking like a douchebag, order this:
  • Upside Down Caramel Macchiato: This is a vanilla latte with caramel drizzle. If you want to look like an idiot who doesn't know what they're ordering, this is your drink
  • No Foam Caramel Macchiato: THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE
  • No Espresso Mocha: If you order this, I'll ring you up for a Mocha not a Hot Chocolate. It's only a 15 cent difference but it makes me feel better about you being a dumbass
  • Double Shot: Here's the problem with the double shot, it's not on the menu and it's not in the recipe cards. And this goes for anything not on the menu, you shouldn't expect me to just know how to make it. If you wanna tell me how to make the drink, I'll do it. I'll even pretend to be happy about it if you're polite. But if you don't know how to make it then I can't really help you.
  • Venti Iced Triple Latte: An iced venti comes with three shots. How many extra would you like me to ring up?
  • Skinny Americano: What is this? I don't even...
  • Lite Non-Fat Sugar-Free Frappuccino: A lite Frappuccino is all of those things by default.
  • Ordering something then changing your order while I'm making it: Seriously guys. No matter what you do, I'll smile and act like it's no big deal but if you ask for your drink iced as I'm slipping the sleeve on your extra hot Skinny Vanilla Latte, I'm gonna be pissed. I just spent 2-3 minutes of my life making your $5 coffee so that you can simper about it not being what you wanted. I'm sorry that you thought a Dark Cherry Mocha didn't have espresso in it, but it would've taken about 15 seconds to ask me and find out that it does.
Um, so now that I've bitched about people who don't know what they're ordering I have something else to say: I love when people ask me questions. I spent a week and a half learning about every single drink on the menu. If you wanna know what goes into a drink, what "skinny" means, or want a suggestion, I'd love to help. When I get to help people have a happier day, it brightens my life too. So don't order blindly, "ask and ye shall receive".

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Wonders of China

I'm still on my parent's health insurance. Which unfortunately has the worst optical coverage ever. Basically if you buy super expensive glasses they might knock off $20. If you buy glasses at Walmart like I do, you pay full price. I have a normal prescription, nothing special but my glasses ran about $160 at Walmart. That's a lot of money for a college student. So when my roommate was looking at $8 prescription glasses, I was all over that. Well sort of. Because I was a lazy, broke college student, I lost the link and forgot about it til almost a year later when another friend mentioned that he used the site to get his snazzy new glasses. So I got on the interwebs and ordered two pairs of glasses (cause for $8 why not get a little crazy?) I didn't bother getting any of the upgrades, which was a mistake. The anti-glare stuff would've been worth the like $4 they wanted. I was also surprised by how cheap shipping was. As best I can tell, the glasses are made in China, but the shipping was less than the $8 I was paying for my prescription glasses. Here's the two I picked:

Well today they finally came in. And they are fabulous. I could not be happier. With the exception of a slight increase in glare, they wear just as well as my Walmart glasses. I've been wearing them all day and haven't had a headache yet. Which means they probably got my prescription right. I've certainly been able to see fine. They actually fit better than my Walmart glasses too. Would definitely buy again.