Monday, January 31, 2011

Spending money to make money.
Well, other people's money anyway.

The story so far.

I have another blog. It's about the supermarket tabloid headlines each week. I've been posting there since around New Years of 2010.

I decided to "monetize" the Other Blog, which means ads. Ads are tacky, the blog is tacky, perfect fit.

The blog grew slowly and steadily until mid November, when it done blowed up. Since then, about 2,000 people a day show up, steadily and consistently. That means three to four times the traffic this blog gets. That also means the ads are starting to pay off.

Yay, free enterprise!

So last week, Google sends me a promotion. Why don't I advertise my blog on other blogs? They gave me a promotional card worth $100 American so ads for my tacky blog can show up on other tacky blogs.

This is what business people call "synergy".

So I'm going to spend $100 American of Google's money to see how this whole "spend money to make money" thing works. After all, the blog is making about $100 a month, which certainly is not paying the rent or supporting me in style to which I want to be accustomed.

Translating this into language Charlie Sheen can understand, this is not hookers and blow money.

One thing I worry about is that AdWords only lets you put in one word at a time for searches. So if I want to advertise on blogs that mention plastic surgery, I have to have the AdWords "plastic" and "surgery" separately. Likewise "reality" and "TV".

We'll see how well this works. When the first $100 American is gone, I will report back.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stuff I like:
People admitting they have a problem.

Dana Milbank writes for the Washington Post. He's not my favorite writer there. I like Eugene Robinson more. But still, he did something this week that makes sense.

There's this woman on the national scene. She was a vice-presidential candidate and her ticket got beat like a red-headed stepchild. She was governor of a very sparsely populated state for a while, but she quit that job because some folks waved a lot of money in her face.

I think we know who I'm referring to, right?

Well, Mr. Milbank admits he is tired of hearing about her and realizes he is part of the problem. He has promised that he will not mention her in his column or on his blog for the month of February. Ross Douthat, a conservative writer at the New York Times, is also tired of her, but annoyed more in the fact the press treats her like the only important conservative voice, which she most certainly is not. So according to Milbank, Douthat will join him in the month long pledge.

I'm making the pledge here on this blog. On The Other Blog, I admit I'm powerless to choose what I write about, since I promise to report on the headlines on the covers of the supermarket gossip rags, and currently the National Enquirer and some of its sister publications in the AMI kennel are going after the half term governor and her husband, who according to Enquirer has a hooker problem.

This could work. If people stopped treating her tweets and Facebook posts like they were national news, they wouldn't be national news. I also promise not to comment on any posts about her in February on political websites like the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo. It is a mighty temptation, but I can take strength in the fact that February is the shortest month of the year.

Blogging comrades, please consider this moratorium yourself. Case in point: that Plumber fellow. You know the one I'm talking about. It took months and months for the media to finally figure out he didn't amount to a hill of beans, but now he is back to being a private citizen to whom the press pays no mind, like Condoleezza Rice or Larry Craig or Lisa Kudrow.

I know you can do this, comrades. As we know, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

p.s. If you have the time, go on over to The Other Blog and click on some ads. There's only one day left in the month and I'm close to going over $100, but I need a strong day tomorrow (Monday).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stuff I like:

I have now seen the movie Zodiac four times. I saw it in the theater, I rented it twice from Netflix and I now own my own copy. It may very well be my favorite movie made this century so far.

People from Northern California of my age will certainly remember at least some of the events the movie is based upon. Some guy calling himself Zodiac took credit for multiple murders in Northern California starting in the late 1960s and continuing into the 1970s. He wrote letters to the local papers, most notably the San Francisco Chronicle, and the papers published his letters and the cryptograms he included. The murders he took credit for did not all have the same modus operandi and forensic science of the time is like the Stone Age compared to today, so even the best evidence the police had was circumstantial and the leads supplied by the public largely useless.

The movie has re-enactments of a few of the crimes Zodiac took credit for, but the bulk of the film is about the investigation, some from the point of view of the police and a lot from the point of view of Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist for the Chronicle who became obsessed with the case, played in the film by Jake Gyllenhaal in one of the best performances of his career. The few gory scenes didn't bother me that much, and I usually have a very low tolerance for that kind of thing. It's the investigation that makes the movie fascinating. Again, being from Northern California, I already knew before I saw the movie that there was never an arrest or conviction for any of Zodiac's crimes, so each time a new name is brought forward as a suspect, you don't know how much credit to give the evidence the film brings forward.

Here is a picture from what may be the best scene in the film. Three detectives interview a worker at a refinery. From left to right, Elias Koteas plays Detective Mulanax from Vallejo, Anthony Edwards and Mark Ruffalo are the detective partners Bill Armstrong and David Toschi from San Francisco and John Carroll Lynch plays a "person of interest" named Arthur Leigh Allen. Of these actors, only Ruffalo can be considered a movie star. The rest of the guys are just working actors, but they are all pitch perfect, completely believable and wonderful at delivering the building suspense. I mean it as a compliment when I say that all of them are better at listening and reacting than they are at delivering lines, and they are perfectly competent at delivering lines.

The movie is played very low-key with the exception of Robert Downey, Jr. as the reporter Paul Avery, but his flourishes of flamboyance are completely in character. The cast is good up and down the line and the story is really about the victims of the investigation more than the victims of the murderer. It is directed by David Fincher, who also directed, Se7en, Panic Room, Fight Club and this year's Oscar nominated The Social Network. Those are all interesting movies in their own right, but if I was to introduce someone to Fincher's, I would absolutely start them out with Zodiac.

Matty Boy says check it out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stuff I like:
Dreams for teens from long ago.

During the Bush Administration, the blogger formerly known as Princess Sparkle Pony gushed like a schoolgirl over the fashion choices of Condoleezza Rice, with the usually clear subtext of mocking her complete lack of success as a diplomat. When the administration changed, the blog lost steam and the Princess retired, much to the sadness of her many fans, but eventually returned, under a new nom de blog Peteykins (always a male, just pretending to be a schoolgirl, not unique on the Internets) and with a more personal and eclectic direction.

One of my favorite features of the new blog is Book Shelf, where Peteykins dusts off some odd piece of pop culture he saved and scans it for all his fans to see. His collection of the pop music fan magazine 16 Magazine is by no means complete, but each one is like a moment in time captured in amber. 16 was aimed at girl fans of music, but the dreamy guys featured in the photo spreads were sometimes actors, like David Selby and Christopher Pennock featured here, stars on the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows.

Teen girls getting all excited about vampires! Who knew?

As fellow Sparkle Pony commenter Lulu Maude wrote, the magazine would have been more accurately called 11 Magazine, and of course the genre is not completely gone. (Simple celebrity math: Justin Bieber = Donny Osmond + Time Machine.) For someone my age or even possibly younger, the nostalgic pull is terrific and when you click on the scans, they blow up to a large enough size to read the text or enjoy the pictures more completely.

I've written it before and will likely write it again. If you read my blog but do not read Princess Sparkle Pony, you are only cheating yourself.

'Cos it's Stuff I Like.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stuff I like:
Clare Dowling teaches you reggae.

Not everything on the You Tubes is cute cats, music downloaded without copyright and football players wiping boogers on teammate's uniforms.

There's also... wait a second, I'm sure there's something else.

Oh yeah! There's Clare Dowling teaching you how to play reggae guitar!

Young Clare comes from the reggae hotspot of Huddersfield, England. If you go to her You Tubes channel, you can also watch her busking on the winter streets, giving the beautiful and possibly sloshed young people a reason to dance in the streets.

I love how self-possessed and generous she is. Matty Boy says check it out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

For that which was lost has been returned to me.

I can smell again!

(This is a good thing.)

This latest cold/flu/whatever hit me much harder than anything has hit me for a while, and for the first time I can remember I could not smell a thing. Ammonia, vinegar, fried food, absolutely no sensation whatsoever. It's like watching a movie with sound off or switching from digital TV to an old black and white.

Very disconcerting.

I decided early on to get cold medicine that promised not to knock me out, but after going for days without the sense of smell and not having to teach until Monday, I decided this weekend to bring out the big guns and got some generic stuff with Sudafed in it.

That did the trick.

And to show my gratitude to the Powers That Be, which in this particular case is modern medical science, I am going to dedicate this week on Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do to Stuff I Like.

And so it is written and so it shall be done.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Not so random 1 for Trish Keenan 1968-2011

Trish Keenan, lead singer for the British synthpop band Broadcast, died from complications of pnuemonia earlier this month at the age of 42. I didn't listen to this band's music until I read the obituary, and now I realize that was my loss.

Here's Trish singing their song Come On Let's Go from the album The Noise Made By People.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Trish Keenan, from a fan.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lazy blogging Friday.
Relationship advice from a hermit.

It's all about give and take.

It's all about compromise.

Or so I've been told. I honestly have no clue.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lite blogging schedule.

I don't post here every day any more, but I do aim at three or four posts a week. For the first time in a long time, I have a bad case of "whatever's going around". My head feels like a corked bat. I have no sense of smell and can't clear my ears. I'm going through Kleenex like it was... well, Kleenex. The good news is that I'm not suffering from insomnia.

I'll report back when I return to the world of the humans.

Monday, January 17, 2011

So, what CAN'T a computer do better than a human brain?

Much is being made of a recent project from IBM called Watson*, a computer trivia program that is set to compete with top players on Jeopardy!, the show to be aired in the middle of next month. The machine beat top champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a short practice which can be viewed already.

As a computer programmer and a former Jeopardy! champ, I am very impressed with this accomplishment.

It's nothing at all for a computer to have a massive amount of data in storage and the ability to access it at literal lightning speed. The great accomplishment here is the ability understand a sentence in spoken English a person has made intentionally tricky by employing homonyms, puns and other word play. English is by far the language with the most words of any used by humans, roughly twice the size of any other. If the data set is correctly formatted, that doubling of size means searching for words might take ten superfast decisions instead of nine.

But consider the word bat. Are we talking about the flying animal or the piece of wood used in baseball? Don't forget that it's also the name for the piece of wood in the game cricket, and in British usage, a ping pong paddle becomes a tennis table bat. When combined with the adjective "old", it's probably not a flying animal or a piece of wood used to hit a ball, but instead a somewhat outdated piece of slang for a disagreeable older woman.

"He was disgusted when the old bat batted her eyes." There are two ways this can be disgusting, one much more likely than the other. How do you fill a computer with all the possible permutations of word play? What about an audio Daily Double or a video Daily Double? We are used to pulling the human voice out the many sounds in a song. How well can a computer do that?

*As you might have already guessed, this program Watson is named for Thomas Watson, the man who in 1924 renamed Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation to International Business Machines and became the president of the newly named company, which would dominate the tabulating machine industry for many decades to come.

IBM is building on a track record of making software that excels at brain games. Their greatest previous victory was the chess software that defeated legendary world champion Garry Kasparov in a six game match in 1997 by compiling a record of two wins, one loss and three draws. When it comes to speed chess, computers have dominated humans for decades, but this set of matches was played using the regulation time limits for the top professional tournaments, two hours a piece for each player to complete 40 moves and if the game is still undecided, the position is sealed and play begins later with less times allotted. Kasparov wanted a rematch but IBM refused and accusations of cheating were thrown around. Still, the final score was Deep Blue 2.5, Kasparov 1.5, and it is still considered a watershed moment in the history of software development.

On the other hand, there are some brain games that do not have particularly good software opponents available. Most notably the great Asian game known as Go in Japanese (Weiqi in Chinese and Baduk in Korean), a game whose rules are somewhat simpler than chess since pieces never move once put on the board unless they are captured. Many fans of Go say it does not have a good algorithm a computer can follow because it is so much more subtle than chess, but it seems more likely that the problem of making a strong computer opponent lies in the fact that no one has decided to put in the resources necessary to develop such a program. Go is a great game and very subtle, but it is nowhere near as subtle as understanding the spoken English language, and Watson has shown it can do that remarkably well.

As for great games that also involve the element of chance, some have been the focus of very intensive software research and others have not. A computer backgammon program beat the World Champion Luigi Villa back in 1979, and by using backgammon software to analyze positions exhaustively, some players consider the game close to "solved", such that the best plays are known and it just comes down to luckier dice.

On the other, bridge software is still in its infancy. Again, I am willing to concede bridge is more complex than backgammon, but I don't think bidding and playing bridge properly is as tough as understanding natural language, especially natural language where word play is the norm instead of the exception.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Linking to what other people have to say.

I haven't written anything about what happened in Arizona on this blog. It's not that I have nothing to say, but having read stuff online, other people have already said most of what I would have written myself anyway.

Dr. Zaius, for example, doesn't think this particular shooting incident can be blamed on violent rhetoric, but other incidents can.

Oliver Willis liked Obama's speech a lot, but the comments to the post degenerate into the standard name calling and flame wars.

And while it may seem less political than other recent acts of violence and threatened violence, this Friday, a 49 year old money manager was arrested for making threats against a list of federal regulators.

All kinds of Americans still fear the threat of terrorism, but if the nation falls, it's much more likely it will us tearing ourselves apart.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Random 10, 1/14/11

Prashanti Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass
Cult of Personality Living Colour
Xanadu The Mills Brothers
Straight to Hell The Clash
Lost in the Stars Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet
I Think It's Going To Rain Today UB40
Kung Fu Christmas Christopher Guest and Gilda Radner
The Vatican Rag Tom Lehrer
Trouble Man Marvin Gaye
Born Under A Bad Sign Albert King

Wandering all over the 20th Century today! Sorry the Mills Brothers and Elvis and the Brodsky don't get repped, but always glad to see Marvin Gaye, The Clash... heck, all these folks.

A fun trivia note about Born Under A Bad Sign. While the first version is by that great blues man Albert King, it was written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell when they were very young men not even 25 years old. I love every version I've heard, even the one by Homer Simpson, but Albert King is still the standard by which all others must be measured.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, 1935-2011

"Cookie" Gilchrist, one of the premier running backs in the Canadian Football League, then the American Football League, has died from cancer at the age of 75. His obituary in the New York Times tells of his remarkable life.

I knew the name when I was a kid, a really great sports nickname, but I knew little about the man. He was one of the few players to speak out about the racism he encountered, and his biggest success in that part of his life was as the leader of a threatened boycott of all black players from the AFL All-Star game if it was held in New Orleans, after days of mistreatment of those players in that city, denied service in restaurants, nightclubs and taxis. The boycott did not take place because the league decided to move the game to Houston.

Besides his stands against racism, Gilchrist was one hell of a tough running back. At 6'3" and 250 pounds, he was one of the most bruising fullbacks of his era and the first AFL running back to pass the 1,000 yard mark for a season.

I know some readers may find my interest in obituaries morbid, but my view is different. Well written obituaries celebrate a person's life, and often remind up how much the world has changed since we were young. Writing The Other Blog, I sometimes get weary with America's new obsession with instant celebrity, and to read about people like Cookie Gilchrist is a reminder of a time when people achieved success the hard way, when success in sports was not a ticket to untold wealth but just a little more than the folks who sat in the stands.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Cookie Gilchrist, from a fan.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Never say "It can't get any worse."

(Photo by Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian)

As far as I can tell, the Oregon Ducks football team wears a different variation on their uniform for every game.

Every game, I think their uniform is the ugliest thing I have ever seen a group of human beings wear. But just when I think that, they play yet another game and take the ugly to a whole new level. In the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last night, they had the whole package, from the ugly helmets to the clumsy font for the numbers to the grotesquely garish shoes and socks.

And, oh yeah, they lost the game on the last play, 22-19.

Anything else, Matty Boy?

Now that you mention it, hypothetical question asker, both teams in the first half didn't just play sloppy football, it looked like they were trying not to score. Anyone betting on the under in this game won their bet very comfortably, possibly too comfortably.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Casting matters.

Much has been made of the fact that the Coen Brothers, one of the most original movie making teams of the past three decades, have done a remake of the 1969 film True Grit. Many people forget that they also did a remake of the 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers back in 2004. Forgetting their version is probably a mercy, as it did not compare well to the original.

Joel and Ethan Coen have said in interviews that they were not remaking a film as much as they were filming a novel that had been turned into a film before, but staying more true to the material. I saw the new version this week, and it outshines its predecessor in many ways.

True Grit was a good John Wayne movie, not a great one. It gets a lot of credit because Wayne won the Oscar, but this Oscar win was more or less an apology to a dying man that his good work on film had been ignored for so long. The Coen Brothers' True Grit is a much better film, and casting makes a major difference. Jeff Bridges is not John Wayne. He is not this generation's perfect Western icon, but you can believe his Rooster Cogburn is a mean, no nonsense, hard drinking lawman.

The casting that makes the biggest improvement is to have Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Not to give away too much plot, but Cogburn is hired to chase a criminal and LaBoeuf comes to town to announce his prior claim on the man for the murder of a senator in Texas. The two men have a clash of wills, but agree reluctantly to work together.

In the original, the role of the Texas Ranger was played by Glen Campbell. In a battle of manliness, John Wayne vs. Glen Campbell is a grotesque mismatch. It might be that studio executives thought it could work because Ricky Nelson successfully played a young gun in Rio Bravo, but Glen Campbell is not even in Ricky Nelson's league as an actor. His performance was as unconvincing as the sideburns he wore, and he couldn't really keep up with Wayne or Kim Darby.

The other casting coup for the recent version is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the young woman who wants her father's killer brought to justice. Kim Darby was 22 when she played the 14 year old Mattie and already a six year veteran in front of the camera. Ms. Steinfeld is 14 and this is her first major role, having small roles on TV or lead roles in short films. I put up this picture of her from the movie instead of her publicity headshots because in costume, she is very believably a young woman from the 19th Century American West. The ads list Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin as the stars above the title, but the movie belongs to Hailee Steinfeld, and she gives a masterful performance. (Brolin plays the object of the chase, the killer Tom Cheney. He might have about ten minutes screen time total.)

I have barely mentioned Jeff Bridges, who is the big star. He does an excellent job, but the movie really works because the two other leads do such a great job of holding up their ends of the story. It feels much more balanced than the 1969 version.

If you like Westerns at all, you should see True Grit. Unless you have the absolute best home entertainment system available, you should see it in a theater on a screen that does justice to the big outdoor scenes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Bill O'Reilly had an atheist on his show last week. As you might expect, this was not to have an open and frank discussion between differing viewpoints, but instead a chance for Bill O'Reilly to have a chance to call someone he disagrees with a pinhead.

Here was Mr. O'Reilly's trump card for the existence of God.

O'REILLY: I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that.

SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?

O'REILLY: See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can't explain that.

And this is from a Harvard graduate. Where, if anywhere, can we even begin?

The math and physics for the explanation of the tides are about 300 years old now. It has to do with the gravitational pulls of both the moon and the sun on the earth. Newton did the math and he was really good at it, though he readily admitted he did not understand the causative agent of gravity.

Our best idea for the cause of gravity now is Einstein's idea that we live in a four dimensional universe, where time is the fourth dimension, and physical objects warp the spacetime around them. This idea is a mere 100 years old and the math of warped space is about 50 years older than that. It takes a lot more mathematical background to 'splain these things, both on the part of the speaker and the listener, but the tides, like the rainbow and the seasons and where babies come from, are among those wonders of the world about which science has a very good working knowledge.

Instead of using this incident as a chance to mock Bill O'Reilly's massive if not boundless ignorance, I would like to look at the topic of authority. O'Reilly wants to give the final authority to God, but his definition of the Almighty is honestly one of the worst possible. If God is the sum of all mysteries, then God would be numberless, possibly even infinite. The problem lies in the fact that people work hard to solve mysteries, and each new solution diminishes our view of God using this definition. It would also set the faithful against human progress, and sadly that has been the case for several millennia.

Religious authority is so much simpler than scientific authority. The ancient text is true because the ancient text vouches safe for its own infallibility. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

Scientific authority is much cloudier. It is usually built on mathematical foundations, but it is constantly changing, sometimes by small increments, sometimes by revolutionary new ways of looking at problems. Any simplification of science, including what I write here, does a lot of hand waving over topics that are staggeringly complex, and to truly be a scientist is an initiation into a priesthood ever bit as arcane, if not more so, as any religious sect ever founded.

The sciences want change and speculation and refinement of ideas, but only such change that can carry its own weight. You could ask "What if the moon was made of green cheese?", but it's not really a question that moves things forward.

Religious authority changes as well, but sometimes in completely pointless directions. The idea of speaking in tongues, for example, comes from the story of Pentecost, where the disciples of Jesus, simple men who only spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, could somehow make themselves understood in the languages of foreigners nearby, like Egyptians and Romans and Greeks. Now, there are religious authorities who act as though any jibberish that comes out of their mouths is a sign of the Holy Spirit moving through them. This is movement, but not movement towards greater understanding.

A recent essay on the Huffington Post by a follower of Kabbalah spoke of bringing science and faith closer together, a worthwhile goal. Sadly, this benighted soul made logical arguments that assumed the measurements of longevity reported in the Old Testament as established scientific facts. Science fully accepts that some things in the past were not as they are now, but people living past 900 years old, which are the numbers bandied about for Adam and Methuselah and a few others, asks us to overturn dozens of things we know very well about the nature of biology and physics and chemistry. When it comes to longevity, we live in the true age of wonders, and the stories that say otherwise deserve the exact same credit we give to the stories of Achilles' invulnerability.

As I write this, an Arizona congresswoman lies in a hospital after a gunshot wound, victim of a madman who does not accept the authority of people to disagree with him on matters of politics. Others in the crowd, including a federal judge, are dead. The Tea Party thought their signs that read "We came unarmed... this time!" were the height of wit and cleverness, but those of us who disagreed with their goals saw something darker.

I wish we could make the stupid people shut up, but we can't. Democracy means the mean and mediocre and even murderous have the right to be heard just much as do you and I. And if only for a short time, the murderous will get the entire world for their audience.

It will not improve, because whether they are Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews, they think they have the true authority.

Or like the madman who made the news yesterday in Arizona, there is no authority greater than a loaded gun and a person willing to use it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Random 7, 1/7/11. Padre Mickey rule invoked

Águas de Março (Waters of March) Antonio Jobim & Elis Regina
Now Let The Weeping Cease The Blind Boys of Alabama
Superman R.E.M.
More Than This Roxy Music
Strange Ones Supergrass
Lonesome Suzie The Band
Patricia Pérez Prado

And there we stop because it isn't going to get any better. A nice symmetry starting with the King of Bossa Nova and ending with the King of the Mambo.

Watchoo list'nin too?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The undeniable lure of simple game play.

As I have mentioned many times before, I used to program video games back in the day. I'm not a huge fan of games now, because they are way too complicated. If I had kept playing them from the 1980s until now, I would have seen the gradual nature of the change, but I didn't, so trying to play Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft now is like jumping into a seven book set of novels in the middle of the fifth book.

Seriously not fun.

But cell phone games are a completely different story. While the computing power inside a cool phone these days puts the old video game machines like the Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo Entertainment System to shame, a cell phone has the restriction of a teeny tiny screen. A lot of programmers decide to get around this problem by going old school and designing games that could have worked on some 1980s home console.

One such hit is an app from Finland called Angry Birds, which builds a completely unnecessary story around a simple game of a catapult destroying a two dimensional castle. There are other versions of the same idea around, but for some reason the idea of birds wanting to exact revenge on egg stealing pigs makes this the true cultural touchstone.

Don't ask me why birds and pigs. I can't 'splain it. It's like asking why did Mario, a guy with a massive hammer rescuing a princess from a giant ape, have to be a plumber.

These are the deep mysteries of the cosmos.

And then there's a game that sucked away a few weeks of my life back in 2009, Ninja Ropes Extreme. The idea is simple enough. You're a ninja in outer space with ropes you use to swing across the galaxy by attaching them to those things that look like gears, using the circles with arrows in them (called gravity vortexes) to give you pushes, sometimes forward like the one in the illustration, but the arrows on later screens point to any of the eight main points on a compass.

To quote the song Ninja Ropes, written by Joss Whedon and his brother Jed, "Simple in its game play, and yet epic in its scope."

The simple style games originated by old timers like me aren't going away.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Matty Boy lends a hand to the American economy.

I don't like shopping. I tend to buy stuff and use it until it wears out, then try to figure out how to use it in its decrepit and flawed state.

When I finally decide to shop, I have a three step process.

1. Do I need something?
2. If the answer to question #1 is yes, can I afford it?
3. If yes to both questions #1 and #2, do I know where to get it?

If yes to #3, mission accomplished!

Because of a favorable work situation at long last, I am in the unusual position of having a few nickels to rub together, which means I can ask the Three Essential Questions of Shopping™ about what is euphemistically known as a Big Ticket Item.

The recliner I bought early this century is no longer truly usable and I need a new one.

So we have a yes to question #1 and I can make a budget to say yes to question #2. The thing is, I am not clear on question #3.

Wednesday was my birthday, and my dad, bless him, bought me a birthday lunch as usual. I asked him if he had time to drive me over to Sears a few blocks away to look at recliners and he said yes.

We went. They had one recliner on the floor.

One. And it sucked.

As my friend Mina put it so well, Iron Curtain levels of service at Western democracy prices.

Okay, that didn't work. My dad, wise in ways younger than his years, advised me I should look online first, and he suggested Big Lots, which sells a lot of stuff at low prices.

Thursday, I took BART down to BayFair and walked over to the Big Lots. Much better selection than Sears and much lower prices, but the stuff wasn't that good.

I sleep in my recliner. I need a good one.

So comes the third step in what is usually a one step process for me.

On Friday, I went to the La-Z-Boy showroom in Emeryville.

Oh. My. Lack. Of. God.

La-Z-Boy is the leader in the industry, so you might think you are getting the Toyota of recliners, but the selection is absolutely astounding and if you sit in just the right one, you will know you are in the Cadillac of recliners.

I could have written "Mercedes" instead of "Cadillac", but La-Z-Boy is an American company that still makes their product in the good old U.S.A., and they definitely know what they are doing. The quality is good, the service is impressive and the sales staff was knowledgeable and low key. I was walking around looking for chairs and I saw other customers in their perfect and near perfect chairs doing everything they could to keep from drooling.

It's reeeeallllly nice.

I have no idea what percentage of people walk into a La-Z-Boy showroom and leave with a product. I have no idea what percentage of bugs wander into a Venus Flytrap and end up lunch. I suspect the numbers are just about the same.

I sat in a lot of chairs that were in my price range, but the one I liked best was the Maverick. I went in with the idea that I didn't want a rocker, but the mechanism of a La-Z-Boy rocker is significantly better than other rocker recliners I've tried, so I was debating between the rocker and the non-rocker, which they call a Wall Saver. There were two versions of the Maverick right next to each other. The salesman who greeted me, a nice fella named Aaron, walked me away from these Mavericks across the showroom floor to a non-rocker Maverick with leather upholstery.

I sat down. I did everything I could to keep from drooling. I may not have been entirely successful.

This was the only attempt to up-sell me. It was about $300 more and I decided, with an itty bitty tear in my eye, the leather Maverick was not for me, even at the end of the year sales prices.

I am now the proud owner of a La-Z-Boy recliner. It will be delivered on Tuesday. If the ownership experience is even half as nice as the shopping experience, I am going to be happy for many years to come, especially given how little I usually like the shopping experience.

If you need a recliner, you should take a look at their selection. I perfectly understand if it is out of your price range, but if you decide to go with someone else, at least you will know what you are missing.