Monday, December 22, 2008

There's Got To Be Some Other Name For It

it's apparently 0.5 degrees fahrenheit (-17.5ºC! 255.65 K! 460.17 Ra! -1.68°Rø!) in Chicago. which, I found out earlier tonight, is too cold to stand around waiting for the train, especially if you're like me and forget that the little salad-bar-heat-lamps on the platform don't actually do anything to provide any warmth. Relying on my apartment's steam heat isn't much better, but it's tolerable. Knowing that I'd have to venture out into the cold and because I was fed up with trying to download a copy of EndNote from the Northwestern IT site, I somehow found my way back to the Wookiepedia.

I should start with this. I'm amused by the incredibly specific wikis out there. HeroesWiki was useful as I remained fascinated by the show's nosedive toward awfulness (plus, it was the only place I've found the most hilarious screen-cap of any television show in the history of television and confirmed that I wasn't losing my mind and that Peter did indeed taunt Sylar with, no joke, "I'm the most special!") I've written about Lostpedia before, which is a pretty good resource even if the "theories" pages do tend to get a little wacky. There appear to be wikis for everything else in existence, but one of the first of these I found was the "Wookieepedia", an incredibly large, overly extensive Star Wars wiki. Perhaps spurred on by a recent Alt Text concerning incredibly minute details in Star Wars canon, and the fact that it's incredibly cold, I wound up on the entry on Hoth.

I understand that fandom tends to concern itself with getting every single detail about every single detail, but I was somewhat surprised to see that there's evidently some source out there which gives an Average Planetary Temperature for a planet that, in terms of the movies, is important for right around twenty minutes. I'm not sure how you just assert that it's -61ºC (I guess you want it to be really, really cold, but not so cold that the carbon dioxide is going to start depositing out of the air), but it's nice to know that the authors of the authors of a book for a roleplaying game decided on a number, and that that number as good as fact for the Wookieepedia. Deciding on the climatology of minor fictional worlds in movies isn't what I spend my time doing, but I'm not really in a position to knock it too much.

What confuses me is this. I'm not sure whose fault this is (the authors of the eight sources listed on the page of something which isn't in the movies or the editors of the wiki), but when you've set up a resource where you can find long detailed pages about anyone who anyone has ever written about ever as well as Jedi who appear to have been named while the author was bored and in the kitchen or watching their cat walk across the keyboard, it's a bit disappointing that it's just called a "knobby white spider". That's what I'd call it, but I don't even count as someone who liked the movies in comparison with the editors of the wiki.

It's just sad, is all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Think About Elevators

Desperately trying to cheer myself up from the travails of grad school, I was doing what I normally do at about this time and repeatedly pulling up random xkcd comics. Which I realize is something that's probably overdone, but it goes well with my threadless t-shirts and my bad-tasting-but-attractively-priced-alcohol and my awful music and everything else which has rendered me a soulless brand-hungry homunculus.

That not withstanding, I eventually ran across this which reminded me of something I occasionally thought of and something I was talking about yesterday.

Imagine you're completely unfamiliar with the concept of an elevator. You've never seen one before, you've never ridden in one before. They are completely foreign to you. Now let's say you're following your friend around a building and he gets in. Let's also postulate that this is the smoothest elevator ever, so it's hard to tell when you're moving (adding that bit back in is a bit farther in the thought experiment). He presses a button, and you move down into the basement.

From your perspective, you entered a room, pressed a button and when the doors opened again, the entire world was different. You were in a different place. Sure, you'd probably figure out (especially if you could feel the motion) that you'd been in a box that was suspended in a shaft and that you simply moved down the shaft, but I'd be really tempted to think that it was a magical world-changing box.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I've never seen a lot of movies in the theater. There's been a bit of an uptick in that recently, but I'm still kind of limited by the fact that I'm a graduate student, which means I don't have the money to see too many movies or the free time I'd need to see them. I finally got around to seeing Milk, though, and figured I'd jump on it while it's still fresh in my mind to actually start writing on here again. And no, before someone on the internets asks, I didn't see it in a Cinemark theater. I saw it at the Landmark on Diversey and Clark; the same place I saw Redbelt (which, if you haven't seen it, is a pretty solid movie).

The assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk happened a good five years before I was born, so I hadn't really heard much about it. I'd heard vaguely of the "Twinkie Defense", but I never really looked into the person that term was coined for (Former Sup. Dan White) or the case behind it. It seems really strange, now, that I'd not heard of Harvey Milk before this, but it's possible that I'm just completely unaware of the things that go on around me. I could spend this post talking about Sean Penn's performance as Milk, or James "I'm in this as penance for being in Spider-Man 3" Franco as Scott Smith, but that's boring. That's been done everywhere else, and I'm not particularly good at it.

Instead, all I could think of while I was watching it was how incredibly appropriate it was for what's happened in the past few months. I'm to young to remember Anita Bryant running around the country, trying to eliminate laws that barred employers for firing employees because of their sexual orientation, but when Marina turned to me after her introduction and said "She's Sarah Palin", the parallel was hard to dismiss. The fight against California Proposition 6 in the film (which would have called for the firing of anyone employed by California schools who either was homosexual or wasn't outwardly hostile to them) mirrored the recent passage of Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. I'm not sure whether the speeches were taken verbatim from the speeches Milk gave, but the focus on hope seemed oddly similar to Obama's message.

Beyond the politics, it's just a good story. The tension between Scott and Harvey, the difficulty of running a campaign (and the changes that were necessitated between the first and second runs) and trying to figure Jack out would make it something you should see even if you don't particularly care about what its opponents would demonize as the "homosexual agenda". But the politics are essential. It's oddly inspiring that way. Milk is set up in the first few minutes as a forty-year-old closeted insurance salesman who's never done anything with his life other than just getting by, and is able to take a position and effect actual reform with it. Lately, I've been having a lot of doubts about what I've done so far, but hell, if someone can get elected City Supervisor and push through a successful campaign to defeat an unjust bill between the ages of forty and forty-eight, then twenty-five is starting to seem pretty young again.

I don't know if I've ever experienced this before, but people were audibly crying by the end. That may say something more about the kind of movies I tend to see than anything else (people weren't crying at Ghost Town or Die Hard 4, and there were only two other people in the theater the last time I made it to the Music Box to see Boy A, which you should do if you haven't, by the way), but nonetheless, I thought it was an appropriate reaction. Afterwards, the mood seemed a bit somber; it seemed like we'd just watched the rise of this politician and radical reform he was able to enact in the mid-seventies, but since then nothing's changed. I don't think I agree with that. The anti-protection-from-discrimination laws have been tossed out and while we have states changing their governing document to make sure only certain relationships are given the full benefits of state acknowledgement, same-sex marriage is legal in two states, something that is so far beyond what Milk and his allies were fighting for that it's hard to believe it's only been thirty years since the events of the movie. The most perplexing part of the whole mess was (in the film) and is (in reading arguments against gay rights) that I just don't understand why people care so much. The bogeyman of "they'll come after the children" is invoked, but that's not got much statistical evidence to back it up and, on the whole, is an appeal to base fear. I don't, and likely won't, understand how people can simultaneously claim to be in support of limited government and advocate an expansion of governmental power into the personal lives of citizens in such a way. It all seems to be a screen for something else. It has to be, because I don't understand what the deal is otherwise. It's hinted at in a recreation of a debate between Milk and John Briggs, a legislator in support of Prop. 6, that it's all really about a power grab and the institution of a society much different than the one the Constitution mandates (which, I guess, makes it appropriate that people are demanding we change the core document to get their petty prejudices codified).

The only thing I'd have liked to see more of is the story of Dan White, who seems like a decent guy throughout, if a bit overwhelmed by what he's been thrust into. The movie, I think, actually makes the case that his murder of Harvey Milk was not motivated by Milk's sexual orientation, but that he was merely someone who irritated him and was on his mind when he snapped. His plans to kill two others, though not shown in the movie, suggest that it was premeditated and that he had just completely lost it, and I'd have liked to see more of his descent from supervisor-who's-trying-to-do-what's-best-for-his-constituents to someone who would assassinate the mayor and a co-worker. It seemed kind of sudden. But that's a minor detail. It's not a movie about him. It's a movie about Milk, and you really probably had better see it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Results of My Godawful Attempt at Making a Functional Website

I actually finished this late last week, but I've been working out the kinks and neglecting to blog about it (which could apply either to this project or things in general lately.) The O'Halloran Group Page is back online and completely redesigned. For those of you who don't know, that's my lab (as is evidenced by me being in that picture on the entry page and on the group members page). It's arguably not much (I based it off of a template, but had to learn how to play with the CSS well enough to make it work reasonably well), but it's the most thorough job I've done of building a website since sophomore year of college (when I made a special interest house site for the Jazz House), and it's far and away the best and I hope a bit better than the old site. Most of the content's the same, but the site hadn't undergone an overhaul since 1998 (meaning most of the links were out of date, none of the individual pages were consistent with one another and no one who joined the lab in the past five years was actually acknowledged on the site, and a few of the old grad students had to have their "current status" updated from "doing a post-doc at University X" to "Tenured Professor at University Y") and used frames like they were going out of style (which they did.) I've worked out most of the bugs I've found, so let me know what you think. And by let me know what you think, I mean give me positive comments.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Serial Killer Fiction

I've been taking in quite a bit of serial-killer related fiction lately. I'm not sure why. Well, no, I do know why. Because I've enjoyed American Psycho for a few years and finally decided to go back and read Bret Easton Ellis' novel and because, while the Instant Viewing service from Netflix isn't terrific with its variety, it has managed to turn me on to a few shows I wouldn't have watched otherwise, Dexter being the most relevant for this post.

For some reason, I'd been avoiding it, but after watching it, the idea of a serial killer who follows a strict code caught me as "really damned interesting". For a while, the wikipedia page for the Dexter Morgan character included what his alignment would have been if he were a Dungeons and Dragons character, which I found kind of interesting because even though I've never played D&D, I like the idea that two words can plot you in a little matrix that describes your motivations and how you treat others. But then there was some disagreement over whether he was Lawful Neutral or Lawful Evil, and eventually someone realized that we probably don't need to apply fantasy gaming systems to every character in all fiction, and it's since been removed. Either way, I became a big fan of the show, have since watched both seasons that have been released so far and eagerly await the start of the third season (which is surprising, as I don't have cable, but damn it, I'll figure out some way to watch it.)

For the same reasons as I picked up Ellis' American Psycho, mostly wanting to see how the series compared to the source material, I went out and bought the first two of the novels that inspired Dexter. I should note a few things first, though. I don't like doing literary reviews, mostly because I don't think I'm a very good writer, I don't think I read enough and, after all, who the hell am I? Second is that I realize that they're trying to draw in people exactly like me, who have seen the story in one medium and want to find out what the original is like, but I'm really not a big fan of plastering stills from the show on the cover of the book. Just no. But getting back to it, I went out and bought Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter.

I'd recommend against that. For one, I could never quite escape the reality that I was reading a crime novel. Not that that's a bad thing, but there are times when the over-the-top mystery-crime-ness of it became off-putting. Lots of cliches, and a few too many points where I noticed that the writer was trying to be witty. Which is fine, but I prefer a little more subtlety in my serial-killer-as-antihero crime novels. The cops all talk like crime-novel cops and the second book seems to have lost a bit of the charm present in the first. But that's fine. Some people are down with that, and I'm not even necessarily knocking it as writing technique.

The bit that actually bothered me was something that I had to reflect on a bit. It seems to me that the books go in a far less interesting direction than the series, but I have no way of knowing whether that's just an artifact of the fact that I saw the series before I read the books. Certain characters living or dying or not being exactly as I remember them from their portrayal on the Showtime series is absolutely fine. The books are, after all, the source material, and though I think some of the characters are a bit more deeply explored on the show than in the books, that's fine. Some decisions, though, it just seems a bit hard for me to understand.

Massive spoilers ahead. Only continue reading if you've seen the series, read the books, or don't care.

Although if you don't care, you should be doing something else.

The first series and first book end with the revelation that Dexter's brother is alive and is also a serial killer who happens to have been dating Dexter's adoptive sister, and a final confrontation occurs between Dexter and the brother. In the series, the sister is unconscious for this confrontation, and it ends with Dexter chasing off his brother and later killing him, as he believes he will never stop attacking his sister, who he claims he's fond of at the same time he claims that he can feel no emotion. In the novel, the sister is awake, Dexter very nearly kills her himself, and then helps his brother escape, despite the fact that he's just killed a police officer.

The first scenario is more interesting, to me. The internal conflict the character suffers from knowing that he has a living relative who shares his same mental illness, but knowing that preserving his current lifestyle means forever cutting that contact off (literally, in this case) drives the ending. Having Dexter nearly kill Deborah removes another dramatic aspect of the television ending, that though it's true that Dexter and his brother are both serial-killers, Dexter is somehow elevated above that by his adherence to a strict code, while the brother kills without reason, merely to satisfy a blood-lust. Dexter's adherence to this code and refusal to kill innocents is what allows the reader/viewer to identify with him. It's not entirely that he's charming, it's that his claims of being a hollow monster come off as not quite true. One feels, in the series and the book up until that point, that he's lying to himself, claiming more emotional deadness than he's actually saddled with. Furthermore, Deborah's consciousness plays a very important role. In the series, she is unconscious, never learns her adopted brother is a serial-killer and hence doesn't have to change the way she acts towards him. It sets up a huge arc for the second season; the question of what would happen to the friends and family who depend upon Dexter if his murders were ever linked to him. In the novel, she realizes he's a serial killer, but doubles up on the "gruff cop" act and inexplicably refuses to turn her brother in, despite knowing that he's responsible for 40+ murders. Their chemistry is essentially destroyed, and it's implied that it's only because he's her brother (by adoption) that he's not been turned in, which is made further unlikely when she freaks out and threatens to turn a visiting federal agent in for buying methamphetamine in an effort to confirm the presence of a meth lab. She claims that she "took an oath to stop this kind of shit" and threatens to arrest him. Yet we're to believe she just sort of grudgingly accepts that Dexter's a mass murderer, no matter what his reasons for killing are? It's unreasonable and, for me, destroys a bit of the illusion. It just seems like a case in which the less interesting choice was made.

But, then, what do I know, and I'm probably being influenced by the fact that the first thing one sees is what one tends to feel a connection to.

Only one final complaint. Things that sound strange stick out to me. I don't like reading typos in a book I've paid money for (and there aren't any, so far, in either of these) but confused metaphors also kind of stick out to me. Shortly before writing this post, I read a passage in which an ER doctor answers a question about whether a patients blood contained any drugs with "Traces, hell. This guy's blood is a cocktail sauce."

Leaving aside the bit where, I guess, he could be referring to the fact that cocktail sauce is made of a variety of ingredients, it seems like a bit of a stretch to connect the phrase "drug cocktail", referring to a solution of a variety of drugs similar to the way a cocktail contains a variety of liquors, with the patient's blood. It just. No. It makes me think of shrimp, not so much with how many drugs are in the guy's system. Nitpicky, sure. But I'm writing a whiny, irrelevant review, and I'll put whatever I want in here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Making Things Not Suck

So, my forays into actually making a website that looks decent have been suspect at best. I remember, I suppose during my senior year of high school (as I clearly remember doing this on a desktop in the house I grew up in) setting up a variety of incredibly amateurish websites done in the most basic HTML possible. I did it again in trying to make a Jazz House website when I lived there during my time at Allegheny (I'm not sure it exists anymore, as the people who lived there after I left were too lazy to fill out the paperwork and lost the house), but again, that's probably gone. I think the only reason that I have been keeping up with Murphspot (to the extent that I've been doing that) over the past few years is that it really doesn't demand that much in the way of design, and while I'd like to do more to control how this looks, the templates are good enough and my readership is small enough that I don't really care.

So, because I've never really done anything beyond the incredibly elementary, the whole "volunteering to update the lab website" has turned out to be an interesting experience. The current site was, it looks like, written in 1997 and everything has been piled on since then, resulting in a huge mess that made no sense. So, I've decided to make a new website, still depending on a template (because I'm not good enough at CSS to come up with a design that doesn't blow, but I'm getting better at understanding what does what) and getting everything else to work in a way that doesn't break the universe. Once I'm done with it and relatively ok with how everything looks, I'll post a link here.

And then everything will be fantastic.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Children's Cinema

I saw Wall-E last night, and I could write something about the allegations of "fattism" because of its depiction of a dystopia in which humans have become too reliant on entertainment, machines and convenience foods or the rampant Leftist Propaganda allegations that go along with a children's movie which would dare suggest that maybe you should exercise and not throw garbage everywhere (though, notably, it doesn't touch the concept of global warming; humans didn't leave earth because the climate changed, but rather because there was simply too much trash to move, which is I think to its credit). Yes, there's probably some anti-consumerist propaganda latent in the whole Buy 'n' Large corporation which runs the world (though that New York Times opinion piece does well to point out that Wall-E depicts a future where big business has merged with Big Government, which, at least traditionally (though I'd suggest that the current administration has been characterized by huge increases in government power), conservatives are supposed to be against. I've always held that the first purpose of going to see a movie is to be entertained, not to nitpick any part of the plot where you disagree with the writers and get all whiny about it, and I can't think of another way the plot they wanted to tell could have been set up. So yes.

No, I'm not going to write about any of that. Instead, I was stunned into silence by what happens when you go to a children's movie. The audience was fine, though I was worried about that in the beginning. They laughed at the appropriate times, there weren't kids screaming about "yay robots" and it was generally a pretty well behaved group. What got me were the previews. Now, given the types of movies I typically go to see, the last few previews I've seen were for comic book movies (during Iron Man, including one preview for a showing of the live-action Death Note movie), independent films (during Redbelt, which if you haven't seen, you should) and generally something exploding (during Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). I'd mostly forgotten that children's movies exist, because I'm sort of totally divorced from any media outlet where they're going to be advertising. But, having bought a ticket for Wall-E, I was suddenly right back in the center of "marketing-to-kids".

First, I don't think there was a single movie that was previewed which had human protagonists. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, The Tale of Despereaux, Bolt and a movie which I won't mention just yet were all previewed, and it appeared that only in Bolt were there significant roles for human characters. Have I missed something? Were my childhood movies completely devoid of people? I mean, sure, talking animals, but no people? Where is the lovable misfit baseball team? Where are the adventuring pre-adolescents lurking around in phenominally dangerous scenarios? Where are the giant death robots?

I'm old.

The film I didn't mention above (because it deserved special note) was Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which, frankly, made me hate children merely with the insinuation that they would be entertained by it. The trailer is here, though I've got to warn you that you probably shouldn't watch that if you like having the will to live. There's just no part of that that doesn't offend me on some level by merely existing. I don't even get the reason it exists? I guess there was the whole "small dogs which go in purses and are used as accessories" thing, but the last time I recall a Chihuahua in popular culture was eight years ago for those awful Taco Bell commercials. I don't know who pitched this, or who thought it would be a good idea to make this, but the idea that kids are going to grow up in a world that contains Beverly Hills Chihuahua horrifies and infuriates me. There are a few reaction videos of people watching that trailer on YouTube, a lot of which seem staged and as though the person in the video is playing up being shocked at how bad an idea this is, but there are a few that seem to be genuine, characterized by speechlessness.

So yes. Beverly Hills Chihuahua has succeeded in making me lose hope for the future. Thanks, Disney.

Addendum: Why on earth was there a Billy Ray Cyrus music video during the previews?
Second Addendum: Wall-E was actually rather good. I'm not sure you would have gotten that from my post, but there was indeed enough time between the Beverly Hills Chihuahua trailer and the movie that I could stop seizing and enjoy the film I'd paid to see.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Columbus Voyage

I've traveled by bus before. Not for very long distances, but when there's something like Megabus which offers (as long as you purchase it far enough in advance and are going somewhere that no one actually wants to go) $1 tickets, it's hard to justify flying over the bus.

Until you've been on it for nine hours.

Before last weekend, I'd only ever used Megabus to get to Milwaukee, which is a 90 minute drive that I'd make if I had a car and is nowhere near far enough to justify actually flying there, even if this was back in the dark ages when fuel was actually affordable. It was an hour and a half on a bus, but I think I got some reading done (I think that was when I was reading The Fountainhead) and it was tolerable enough. I have it on good authority that even the four hour bus-ride from Chicago to Toledo is relatively painless, as “by the time it gets unbearable, you're there.” After nine hours on a bus between Chicago and Columbus, I think I've found that point at which it becomes not worth it at all.

To start with, some of you who have made this trip (and know it should be six hours) might be wondering why it took us nine. Evidently, you're supposed to go through Indianapolis if you want to get to Columbus, but throwing in Cincinnati, which is about an hour out of the way, throws the whole thing off.

If that was all it was, that the bus went a bit further south out of its way than it had to if it were strictly a Chicago-Columbus route, I'd have no problem. It told me that on the ticket, after all, and if I'm bad enough at geography to have not known how far out of the way Indianapolis and Cincinnati are, well, that's my fault, not the fault of the Megabus. Nor can I blame them for not being able to fall asleep. I can hardly fall asleep anyway, and being on a bus didn't help that any, particularly when the ride down was filled by listening to podcast after podcast. I would like to question their judgement in picking sites for dropoffs.

Both Chicago and Columbus are fine in this regard. Buses in Chicago stop at Union Station, which is useful because it's somewhat of a hub as far as both Metra and Amtrak trains, and is pretty close to the loop, where you can pick up any inner-city train you'd want. In Columbus, there's a stop at Ohio State (which is useful, because that's just as likely as not to be the reason you're going to Columbus) and at some sort of bus depot, which is at least still in the city. Getting off in Cincinnati at 5am in what appears to be the middle of the damn city (stopping on a street corner) is a bit of a stretch, but at least it seemed to be a pretty nice part of the city, and so that's fine. Indianapolis looks a bit better during the daylight, but stopping there at 3am is a different story. The lights come on, everyone wakes up and about a third of the passengers de-bus, while the rest of us sit and look. It appeared to be kind of an open plaza, which I'm fine with. Open plazas are fun. The seven 24-hour bail bondsman locations on the street perpendicular to ours were... something other than that. They were the only thing open, and though now it seems like not that bad a part of the city, when the only things that are open are “hey please get me out of jail” shops, well, I'm not sure what you're supposed to think.

Either way, it got me down to my friend's bachelor party without much trouble, and got me back to Chicago the next day (an hour late, due to the bus driver's frequent stops, leaving us all on the bus while he went to the restroom, and the ride up until Indianapolis was next to a woman who just flat out refused to do anything about her baby who was screaming its lungs off, but what are you going to do? Be a parent?) and while I wouldn't recommend it for nine hour trips, it was less expensive than a plane. So there's that.

I'm glad, even with gas prices, that I'm driving to Cleveland for the wedding this weekend. At least there'll be no screaming babies.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Wonders of my Adventure Spoon

I was planning, initially, on writing another post where I whine about how maybe it'd be nice if I could run into Dominick's at 12:45am looking to buy some and soap and not have the five people in the only line open be doing their shopping for that month all at once. I pretty much fulfill all the stereotypes of the “lonesome bachelor”, but sweet mother of God, there's no reason to buy thirty Lean Cuisines all at once. The store's going to be there tomorrow.

So yes, I was planning on kvetching about that for a few paragraphs, especially as I rode home at one in the morning over roads which can charitably be called “paved”. But then, something happened.

I allowed myself an indulgence, you see. I don't have the best diet, but I've been trying to fix that, and decided to give myself yet another allowance. If I buy a sugary cereal (rather than something bran-y), well, I'm at least still getting milk, and that's good for you. So I bought a box of Frosted Flakes because it was on sale. I had settled on opening it as soon as I got home for a late night/pre-sleep snack (which considering how difficult I find it to get to sleep, was probably not the best plan) and wonder of wonders, there was a prize. I'd forgotten about prizes. I think most of the prizes I'd run across in the past few years had been some kind of lame temporary tattoo stuck somewhere in the middle of the box, or an advisement that you save up UPC codes in order to get some barely-worth-the-effort , piece of merchandising. When you get something solid, plastic and potentially useful in box, though, it's (apparently) a joyous experience.

Upon opening the box, I found a small plastic spoon in two parts. So that's actually the first thing. Not having to dig through a box of cereal and open a sugar-coated plastic bag is a bonus. And if you're completely unaware of the promotion, you don't find out on your fifth straight bowl of cereal at 3am on a Monday. You get to enjoy it straight away.

Apparently, it's an Indiana Jones Adventure Spoon, by which I mean a two-part plastic spoon emblazoned with a skull and other logos from the recent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's not going to affect whether I see the movie (I saw it the week it came out, and was somewhat disappointed, but thought it was a fun ride nonetheless. I could go in to exactly what I found objectionable about it, but I'll save that for another post), and so for me, it's just an extra spoon, which is good, because I don't have that many. And there's a small yellow light at the end of the (grip/barrel/whatever you call the part of the spoon you hold on to), such that when you press a button, the bowl of the spoon is yellow and glowing, like it's The Spoon of the Ages. Furthermore, simply pulling the bowl off results in a somewhat effective if low powered-and-yellow flashlight, which was effective enough to help me find my keys.

Before adventuring, please check your firearms, your satchel of survival gear and your nifty-plastic-spoon-that-lights-up.

And so, from what seemed to be a bad night at the supermarket, I now have a brand new utensil perfect for eating bowl after bowl of sugary cereal in a darkened apartment at five in the morning, staring into the middle distance and weeping quietly.

3.9/5 for the light-spoon.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Laundry Adventure

I'm currently writing from inside the “Morland Cleaners”, the first laundromat I've ever had to use. Actually, no, that's a lie. We used one when several friends of mine and I went to Ocean City, Maryland after our senior year, but I don't really know why. I guess because it was between our apartment and the tattoo parlor (which was technically in Delaware). Anyway, that has been my only experience with laundromats until today, if you don't count that one episode of Dragnet where Sgt. Friday kills someone and they have to find the bullet in the laundromat or he'll be fired. The washer is broken in my building, and rather than schlep wet clothes back there to dry, I figured I'd do it all here.

I'm trying to spend the same amount I usually do on laundry ($2.50), but we'll see if these clothes need another twelve minutes of drying soon enough. Actually, by the time I post this, I'll know, and will be able to update you. I'll leave that until the end, though. Building suspense and all that.

Morland, by the way, is likely taken from the fact that it's near Ashland on Morse, which takes me back to my first apartment, on Sheridan and Glenlake, which was called “Sheridan-Glen” and which was a nice, quaint little 4+1, with crackheads in the lobby, a washer immediately above my apartment which, it turns out, the management company had not had a plumber check out, and so drained into my kitchen sink and a never-ending roach problem. It was fun. Anyway, this place seems to be much better, despite the “parts of street names” name, though I think that might be because I can leave soon. There are knick-knacks all over (I guess that's the name for them), including, from what I can see from my position facing the manager's office, some Indian corn and chili peppers stapled together, a sort of weird hook-golden-with-jingle-bells Christmas tree, a bunch of puppies, two of whichever the red Teletubby is, and a variety of lollipops, not least of which are both Dum-dums and Ring-pops, which I remember being kind of unpleasant and never fitting without pinching. Oh, there's also a pretty phenomenal clock which is in the shape of the top half of a gold wristwatch on the far wall. I'd appreciate a bit more air-conditioning (I've become spoiled since buying a window unit last week) and a bit fewer mosquitoes (but if you've got to have the doors open because there's no air, I guess I understand), but overall, not an unpleasant experience. There is a telenovela blaring on the television, but that's better than silence, I guess, and if I start coming here more often, I may even start trying to pick up some Spanish again. There's also a lot of signs, most of which are along the lines of “Please don't break everything”, but one that reads “You are responsible for your child's behavior and well-being” I find kind of poignant. It probably says something about me that rather than bringing a book, I brought a laptop because I knew I wouldn't be too distracted by the internet to actually write a few posts, but let's just leave that where it is.

So yes. 3.1/5 stars for the Morland Cleaners, on the “Scale I Just Made Up” scale of Murphspot. I'm not sure where other things rank, so for reference, name things in the comments, whereupon I will offer snap judgements.

Oh, and the dryer seemed to work solid enough on 3 quarters (36 minutes). If it gets me writing again, I may start coming here more often.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day of the Dead, 2008. A Review

I haven't been writing in here at all lately. Part of the problem is that it seems like something you have to sit down and do, and nothing seems like it'd be interesting enough for me to bother commenting on. That isn't to say that my commentary is in any way unique or insightful, but by the time I hear of something and convince myself to write about it, it's been written about by everyone, everywhere.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been anything to write about. I could have written a review of the new Indiana Jones movie (better than Temple of Doom, not as good as Raiders or Last Crusade) or yammered on about the fact that if you get into a car-on-bike accident with a laptop (which wasn't my fault, other than biking in Chicago at night, as opposed to me doing something like riding my bike down the wrong side of the road) and then trying to get home in the rain a few months later will eventually kill it, followed by a review of my new sort-of-cheap laptop which is better than what I had. I could have commented on the whole “Lesbians At SafeCo” thing, but that would have been a rather predictable “People shouldn't be so frightened to talk to their children to explain what's going on, but the Mariners are a private organization and can tell anyone to leave for any reason, but they probably wouldn't have done it if it were a straight couple, but I'm bored of this and desire nachos.” I could have continued blogging about the whole “let's try not to be such a fatass now, shall we?” but given my penchant for nachos, that seems sort of hypocritical.

Thankfully, there are things that exist explicitly to get me to break out of these blogging slumps. And those things are really bad horror movies.

I don't think I've seen enough bad horror movies actually. The worst, I think, has got to be House of the Dead, which might be in my top three for worst movie I've ever seen, but that's Uwe Boll and hardly controversial. The worst premise has got to go to The Mangler, adapted from a Stephen King short story in which a laundry folding machine is possessed by a demon and starts killing everything. My standby, even for bad horror, is the zombie genre. There are a lot of terrible zombie movies (the copies of Undead and the more ancient and MST3K friendly Revolt of the Zombies remind me whenever I go by my DVD rack.) But there have also been a lot of fantastic ones. In what can be an abused genre, there is the basis of a terrific story. George Romero's Living Dead movies (at least the original three, and arguably Land are rich studies in social commentary. Ben's level-headedness and fate in Night and the Hari Krishna/Nun zombies as well as the dissatisfaction inside Monroeville Mall in Dawn are what make those movies terrific to this day. Day as well has some interesting insights into the authoritarian mindset and asks, essentially, “Who is a person?” with the Bub subplot.

So when I heard there was going to be a remake of Day of the Dead, I got excited. After all, the remake of Dawn in 2004 was a pretty good horror movie. They discarded more of the social commentary of the original than I would have liked, but overall, it's a fun zombie movie, done really well and very much in the style of 2002's 28 Days Later. Surely, I thought, this Day remake will be along the same lines, and I'll enjoy it and not spend the entire movie wishing for the sweet embrace of death.

Not so much, it turns out.

Netflix, which is my primary source for entertainment given that I don't subscribe to cable, had Day of the Dead on their “Instant Viewing” service, meaning that I could watch it streaming online without having to wait for it in the mail, wasting an actual mailing. I have never been more glad about that. I watched it last night while I was stuffing pipette tip boxes (a tedious task that's relatively mindless, and therefore something during which it's ok to watch a movie) and ... my God.

It's bad enough that it's the first movie that's compelled me to write a Netflix review. Let's start there.

Actually, let's start with this. There are going to be spoilers following this disclaimer. If you haven't seen Day of the Dead (and why should you?) and want to keep things a surprise, by all means, stop reading now. And then don't ever watch Day of the Dead.

It turns out that Day 2008 was initially supposed to be a theatrical release, but after poor reviews during screening, became a straight-to-video project. It discards everything about the original except very superficial concepts, like “the military is involved” and “Bub”, whose role is diminished and is confusing. It starts off as many zombie movies do. The military is quarantining an area in Colorado (which we eventually learn is because there's a virus that kills you, causes you to grow bad makeup and leap across the room, searching for a victim that's been released). There's initially no explanation as to why. People start getting sick. The family members of the protagonists start getting nosebleeds, and we all know what that means.

They'll turn into zombies within five minutes or so (though the timing seems to be kind of arbitrary, with some having enough time to be admitted and given a hospital bed and others, prominently “Bud” being left in a humvee for all of a minute). All hell breaks loose because, apparently, dying and reanimating now gives you goddamn super powers. It looks a bit cartoonish as zombies leap after their victims, but it's basically all lost when they start climbing bare walls and running along the ceiling like they're Spider-Man. I guess this is the next step after “fast zombies”.

Characters we don't care about (Mena Suvari and her brother, who have some sort of dispute in the past that's never actually explored, Ving Rhames, who was in the Dawn remake but is playing a completely different and unrelated character here, Nick Cannon, whose primary function is to run around playing bad-ass and making the lamest puns imaginable, and a motley crew of other survivors that are completely uninteresting) have to try to make it out of the town to, well, someplace that doesn't have zombies. What follows is about an hour of jumping out of windows, Nick Cannon getting a machete, Ving Rhames turning, getting up to eat his own eyeball for some reason (which raises the question of why zombies wouldn't eat other zombies, since apparently they're just really hungry) and Mena Suvari's boyfriend-that-she-met-literally-a-few-hours-before being bitten and reanimating and, for some reason that's not actually explained, being allowed to hang out in the back of the Humvee. There's a handwaving explanation as to why he's docile (“They must retain some bit of what they were, and Bud was a vegetarian”) and they never adequately explain why he's the only one in the town who doesn't immediately tear the flesh off the nearest person. They make it to a barn, then go down the road to the enormous military/medical bunker that's apparently in the side of the mountain in the middle of the woods to find a doctor who deserted them earlier and is working for the government, who released this on everyone. He explains that “certain people are immune to the virus, but if you're bitten that immunity goes away” (which I'm almost certain is now how viruses and immunities work) and shows a video which introduces Patient Zero, the doctor who was working on the virus. The protagonists try to kill him, but he dodges bullets. Because, you see, they retain something of what they were, and all biochemists are Neo from The Matrix.

Trust me. I work with a few and they're always going on about the struggle against the machines and the Architect and it's like whatever, man. Play around with your plasmids and let me eat my bagel in peace.

Anyway, yes. Neo Zombie and a horde of others chase our heroes (minus Nick Cannon, who thankfully finally gets killed by something) to a broom closet full of gas tanks, and what follows is an affront to both physics and special effects. One of the characters knocks the valves off of the canisters to release all the gas (which I'm almost certain would send them rocketing through the wall, not just sitting there slowly releasing their gas, given the pressure those tanks are under), while another lights a spark and the Magical Oxygen follows the zombies around, melting them the way nothing melts while leaving our heroes unscathed to go back outside, where everything's magically ok now. Somehow.

Which brings me to my final complaint. Ok. It's a terrible movie. Whatever. It's even got nothing to do with what it was claiming to be a remake of. Fine. But, and this is the same complaint I had with House of the Dead where there is no House, all of the events take place over about ten hours at night in Colorado.

So, Day of the Dead is not even set during a Day of the Dead.

There are a few “what the hell, why not” moments, mostly comprised of zombies flying over things or, the only decent scene in the film as far as I'm concerned, emerging from a bunker with automatic weapons firing wildly into the air (because you're damn right that's what I'd do if I were a zombie), and at least one memorable line (“What a dick!”, which is actually the most convincing part of the whole endeavor), but overall, it was miles and miles of awful.

So yes. Maybe I'll start writing here again.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Grocery Store

I've written on here that before I made the decision to become a chemist, I spent my time working a variety of godawful jobs. Actually, if you were reading this early enough, you saw a documentation of what I hope is the last of those jobs, "the guy who makes burgers at McDonald's who I hesitate to call a cook of any kind". Before that, I spent about two years of summers, weekends and weekdays after-school doing various things that could be categorized as "retail" The first six months was spent as a stock-boy for a local franchise grocery store, which was terrible and made me hate the idea of employment, but which is somewhat relevant here. The last 18 of those months were spent at a K-Mart, which was so much better it's hard for me to explain while still being kind of terrible. I've got stories from both of those places that I'll post on if I ever do one of those month-long-Ryan-actually-blogs things again, but for now, it's enough to say "Ryan worked in stores."

Part of the responsibility, other than cleaning up what customers have done to either the bathroom or the electric wheelchairs, scraping frozen chicken breast off of the ground while being stung by bees in January and praying for a quick death, was to set up the displays and make sure everything looks all nice-like. I still feel an impulse, when I'm at a store, to straighten things out.

I was at a Dominick's a few hours ago, and since then I've been trying to figure out if the whole science of displaying things has changed fundamentally since I've stopped stocking things. My non-retail-worker brain has apparently lost the ability to drum up the faintest connection between Gushers and fish sticks (marketed together through the advance of putting a little shelf on the freezer door, which, if filled with glass salsa bottles, makes a bunch of noise when I have picked out my waffles and startles me). Suddenly, it was like the entire grocery store was one big Magic Eye Thing, which is funny because I can hardly ever see the things you're supposed to see. Suddenly it wasn't just "why are the Gushers near the fish?" but

  • "Why are there books for sale, and if I grant that one can buy books from a grocery store, why are they all either religious texts, diet books, poker how-tos or John Grisham novels?"

  • "How many John Grisham novels could the guy that places orders for the store honestly have thought they were going to sell? These things are like copies of Matthew McConaughey movies in the overstock bins at Blockbuster."

  • "What's with this bookshelf of clearance items that clearly have nothing to do with each other? Or is it some sort of game, where if I can figure out how to combine the little wooden house, the bug spray and the shampoo into a weapon, I win something that's actually useful?"

  • "Why is there a cooler filled, mostly, with Gatorade, when there's an aisle with Gatorade just that way? Is this for athletes who run into the store while being athletic and desperately need that cool, refreshing blast of blue sports fluid immediately? And even postulating that that is the case, why is the other half of the cooler for soup and cole slaw? There's not even a divider."

  • "That's nice, the summer theme they've done up front, putting the kites right next to the patio furniture. Wait. Who the hell buys patio furniture from Dominick's? Maybe I do. I need a patio."

Luckily, I escaped, having found a satisfactory pizza, and sped home to watch a movie I've had for far too long from Netflix and write this nonsense up while I'm still tired enough to think that it's a good idea.

And that is why I don't post anymore.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Murphspot 4

A return to videoblogging to talk about the Pirates, some headbands and, hopefully, confuse the hell out of you.

I'll be returning to writing shortly.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

I got an email from the University the other day, informing me that NU would be participating in Earth Hour, asking students and businesses to voluntarily turn off their lights in an effort to raise awareness about global warming and reduce energy consumption.

I'm afraid I don't really know what to make of it. I'm more or less completely ignorant on climate science, but my understanding is that there's strong evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and I'm willing to buy that. I think it's astonishing how intertwined the whole issue of trying to determine an answer scientifically has become with politics, something which both the left and right are guilty of. But that's not really an issue here, as it's voluntary and I really can't think of any political reason to care if someone wants to turn their lights out.

My issues, I guess, are with the overall "awareness" jive that gets thrown around in the form of wristbands, magnetic ribbon stickers and hour long voluntary black-outs. It seems like a cop-out to me. If you're actually concerned about global warming enough to make a change in your life to minimize any actual anthropogenic effect that does exist, it seems like it's a token gesture to turn out your lights for an hour on a specific day at a specific time. Most of the website seems to be suggesting the same "turn off the lights when you're not in the room/buy compact fluorescent bulbs" that usually get suggested (and which actually make sense even if you reject climate change science, because it's often cheaper), but organizing cities around the world to turn off their lights at a specific time, all at once, strikes me as something designed to make people feel like they're actually doing good without actually doing anything. It reminds me of those gas boycotts that get passed around every once in a while that completely misunderstand the concept of a boycott and the concept of how supply and demand work (if you get a million people to not buy gas on Day X with the intent of forcing oil companies to bring down prices, it accomplishes nothing unless you get them to do it on Day Y, then Day Z and so on. Merely shifting when you buy gas does absolutely nothing, but unfortunately, cutting back on the amount of gas you do use, which would cause the gas companies to drop their prices, actually takes a bit of effort. It seems like the only people that are going to notice that Earth Hour is happening are either people who are participating (and are, hence, already aware of global warming) and people who get emails about it, like me (who are also aware of the awareness campaign) and so I'm not sure among whom this is supposed to be raising awareness.

My other problem is with the timing of it. Apparently, Chicago has been selected as the US "Flagship City", whatever that means. Fine and dandy, and I understand that the organizers are Australian, but this isn't exactly the best time of year to be turning off all the lights at 8pm local time. It's not only completely dark by then (still, because winter will never end) but it's also below 30 degrees C (also, because winter will never end), which minimizes the possibilities for going outside and playing softball instead of playing on the computer. I'm sure it was an effort to pick a time when both the Northern and Southern hemispheres would have moderate weather, but I still think you don't pin "moderate weather" on Chicago. At all. Ever. So, because staying inside a completely darkened house isn't an option and playing by the lake isn't an option, I guess the suggestion would be to hang out in stores which aren't participating, which still reduces the total amount of energy used (because the store's lights would be on anyway) but which feels like it cheapens the thing. Also, you have to spend energy getting to the store that you wouldn't otherwise, so yeah. I'm not sold on Earth Hour.

I guess where I come down on this is that I'm not going to do it (though I'll probably be on the train during that hour anyway) and while I understand the goal, I'm not sure it'll actually accomplish very much in the way of raising awareness among people who, I guess, had never heard of the Global Warming controversy before and think it seems a bit too much like a way to pretend to be doing something while not suffering the inconvenience of actually doing something. If you're worried about global warming, get some light bulbs that use less energy and ride a bike once in a while. Better yet, support nuclear power. Nuclear's gotten a bad rap since Chernobyl* and Three Mile Island**, but it's 30 years later (22 years in the case of Chernobyl) and nuclear plants are safer by orders of magnitude. They're cheaper than they were, they're much cleaner than coal-burning plants (which actually put out more radiation than uranium plants because of radon), which does result in dangerous waste, but the fission products that are actually harmful have relatively short half-lives and are all but gone within 50 years, which we know how to store, and which we can recycle into more power production. The fact that France derives 80% of its power from nuclear plants while we get 20% should say something. It's time to look past the hysterical nonsense and, if pollution and global warming are actually a problem, fix it by switching to nuclear rather than building more and more fossil fuel plants.

*Very bad times, but they really had to try to get it to be as bad as it was, by which I mean that if you're running a nuclear power plant in a corrupt nation which is in bad shape to begin with, you might not want to run unnecessary, dangerous tests while not looking at the status of the reactor, ignoring what the previous shift had done that makes your test a phenominally bad idea, while running everything with a skeleton crew of people who weren't trained to deal with what you were trying to make them do.

**Yeah, partial meltdowns are bad times, but the safeties successfully contained what could have been a terrible disaster, the technicians were able to fix the problem in spite of the fact that they were given incorrect information, that was found to have resulted in zero deaths and which resulted in the equivalent of a chest X-ray's worth of radiation for those who were exposed to radiation from Three Mile Island. It was a successfully prevented disaster, but groups who rail against nuclear power for whatever reason seem to always leave off those first two adverbs.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Back to the Kingdom

If you haven't noticed, I tend to do things for a while, then get bored and give up on them, which is why it's somewhat amazing that I'm still sticking with science as a career and haven't run off to become a juggler. It would be even more amazing if I could actually juggle.

I've recently created yet another Kingdom of Loathing account, which is my third one, I believe, my past two being eaten by the thing that deletes your account when you're inactive for, in my case, three years. For those of you that haven't played, it's a whimsical little turn-based MMORPG that I found out about through one of Lore Sjöberg's old projects, Little Fluffy. I've never really gotten into the whole "become obsessed with it" thing and tend to just treat it as though other people don't exist, but that's fine and dandy and the worst that will happen is that it'll take me longer to defeat the Naughty Sorceress than it would otherwise. I'm fine with this.

Also, for those of you who have no ability to control how much time you spend on things, whether it's RPGs or making cotton candy or looking at carpet swatches, you only get 40 turns per day, and while they roll over, you can only ever have 200 turns saved up. So it's nice for not playing with for a while, then playing with intensely for like half an hour, then forgetting about for a week.

If you happen to play, find "murphspot" and then send me all your meat. I'm a seal clubber this time through (having previously been an accordion thief and a sauceror) and could use some help with all of this nonsense.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Final Four and Championship

South Alabama Jaguars vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans

This isn't even fair. I suppose my problem of having too many big cats has been minimized, and it seems anticlimactic that the final cat should be destroyed by a mythological creature. There isn't any way around it though. Titans would beat jaguars in a fight to the death. Can Titans die? We'll have to find out in the Championship Game.

Cal State Fullerton wins it.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Xavier Musketeers

While Spartans no doubt had phenominal abdominal muscles and some guy who walked around with one eye narrating things in an awesome voice, as well as mighty squarish beards, they'd be no match for someone trained in the modern(ish) art of fighting. Or someone who could injure them from twenty yards away.

Xavier moves on to the final game.

Championship Game
Cal State Fullerton Titans vs. Xavier Musketeers

A lot of thought had to go into this final matchup. After all, both of these teams had to battle through long series of increasingly difficult opposition, facing all sorts of eagles and bulldogs and cats and whatnot just to get a crack at each other, at long last. Both teams surely have great mascots which have proved themselves throughout this nonsense. Both schools should be proud that they either have a human mascot with weapons or a giant precursor to the Olympian gods. Surely, any match to the death between the two would be devastating, and a great deal of analysis must be put toward attempting to comprehend the situation and assess who stands the greater chance of emerging as the victor. Only one may be left standing. And so it is only after much deliberation that I must announce that the winner of this year's Murphspot Mascot Nonsense Bracket is

Xavier Musketeers

Musketeers, you see, actually existed.

Mascot Bracket, Elite Eight

Washington State Cougars vs. South Alabama Jaguars

See, this is what I was afraid of. Two huge, fierce cats that I know nothing about meeting up in the final match for this regional. I could violate my premise and everything I stand for and consider that Washington State is ranked higher, or that South Alabama had a 26-6 record to Washington State's 24-8. Or I could go with the fact that jaguars have cool spots, which probably helps them in some sort of camouflage-y way. Yeah. We'll go with that.

South Alabama moves to the Final Four

UNLV Runnin' Rebels vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans

It may be that the Runnin' Rebel's mustache has finally run out of victory. Sure, he's a beast of a man, but Titans weren't overpowered by much other than the Olympians, and besides, Titan's pretty solid, as far as satellites of Saturn go. This one's going to have to go to Cal State Fullerton.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Stanford Cardinal

Which wins? The warrior society or the eternal tree? Considering that the Spartans are the first opponent that Stanford has encountered that I'm aware of that would have been able to build things out of wood, I'm going to presume they know how to chop down a tree as well. Michigan State makes it to the Final Four.

San Diego Toreros vs. Xavier Musketeers

And again, with the human-on-human matchup. I think, once again, I'm going to have to go with the superior weaponry, the proclivity to oppose Cardinal Richelieu, and the fact that I've met people who use muskets, while I've never met a Torero. Xavier fills out the Final Four.

Mascot Bracket, Sweet Sixteen

University of North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Washington State Cougars

I've been pretty positive toward the residents of the home of the first English colony of the Americas. They're fantastic people. George Clinton is a North Carolinian. So are Squirrel Nut Zippers and Reginald VelJohnson. Then again, Clay Aiken and Gallagher are from NC, so that's got to be points off. I think it just comes down to whether you'd go with a cougar winning a match with this guy.

This is Sunday Morning, and I've just had an arm torn off.

I'm going with the cougar. Washington State wins.

Boise State Broncos vs. South Alabama Jaguars

My complete ignorance of animals is starting to become a problem. It feels sort of cheap to keep giving the win to the big fierce cat, even though I'm pretty sure a jaguar wins a fight with a horse. I'll make myself feel better by arguing the same outcome, but on the basis that Jacksonville made the playoffs last year, while Denver didn't.

South Alabama wins.

UNLV Runnin' Rebels vs. Clemson Tigers

I might be tempted to say that I don't see a gun actually on the mascot of the Runnin' Rebels and that a tiger would win a fistfight, but another look at all of that fringe, that enormous belt buckle and the fact that while I'm writing this, I'm watching The Outlaw Josey Wales, I'm going to have to go ahead and assume he's got a gun and could take down a tiger. Is this the most scientific approach? No, but neither is picking who's going to win a basketball game based on their mascot. So screw you.

UNLV makes it.

Cal State Fullerton Titans vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Well, once again, let's see. Giant mythological creature or puny little dog with an underbite? Something so powerful it has to be trapped by the gods, or something that can be contained with a few strategically placed chairs? Which would you take? Number 14 Cal State Fullerton's going to advance to the Elite Eight.

Memphis Tigers vs. Michigan State Spartans

Well, I just argued that the Spartans are going to be able to take down large cats, because I saw it once in a movie. That's the kind of indisputable logic I thrive upon, and I'm not about to turn my back upon that kind of well-considered analysis now. Spartans take out the Tigers.

Michigan state advances.

Stanford Cardinal vs. Miami Hurricanes

I was worried when I got to this bracket earlier that both of these would be invincible, because I argued for the age-less quality of one and the sheer force of another. Here they meet, however, and I'm going with Stanford. Hurricanes come and go, societies rebuild, but trees seem to do pretty well. Do some trees get blown down in storms? Sure. But perhaps not this one.

Stanford moves on.

UCLA Bruins vs. San Diego Toreros

Am I a bit of a specist that I'm usually picking the human mascot over the animal on the basis of greater ingenuity/weaponry? Possibly, but those swords are really sharp and look at the end of these banderillas.

Note. Do not Google Image Search "banderillas". Just. No.

San Diego moves on to the next round.

Xavier Musketeers vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

I would like to come out here and take some pride in my brothers to the west, but I'm sorry, West Virginians. Not even Robert Byrd can save you from this one. I'm going to have to go with the guys with the moustaches and weapons and names like "D'Artagnan" rather than names like "Wayne".

Xavier finishes out the Elite Eight.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Round Two, South/West

Memphis Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs

I think we're going to see a bit of a Tiger bottleneck coming up rather soon. Especially if we're tossing smallish, stubby dogs into the tiger cage. But my hands are tied by the rules of the mascot bracket that I'm making up as I go along. Memphis advances.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Pittsburgh Panthers

Most of what I know about the culture of Sparta comes from 300, which is something that I'm currently totally fine with. There may come a time in my life where I want to learn more about the Spartans and their encounters with eight-foot tall androgynous god-king Paulo-from-Lost-s, but for now, that suffices. And as much as I want to fix this so that Pittsburgh wins it, I can recall a young Leonidas killing some kind of wolf-or-such with a pointy stick, so I'm going to have to give this to Michigan State.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Stanford Cardinal

Ignoring once again that the Tree is unofficial, this one's still going to have to go to Stanford. Sure, wildcats are feral and vicious and have scratchy claws and could probably do some damage to the bark of the tree, but if the cat dares to climb up into the tree, we've got to call the fire department to get it down.

Stanford advances.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Texas Longhorns

I want to say that the Longhorns would look at the storm stoically and press on in the face of adversity, but doing a google image search for "tornado cow" doesn't bring up good images, and they seem to be tossed around a lot in hurricanes, or confined to trailers in an attempt to get them out. The Hurricanes are going to win this matchup.

Miami Advances.

UCLA Bruins vs. Brigham Young University Cougars

Here's the kind of matchup I was hoping for when I started this. Bears, in my mind and because I know nothing about them, seem big and full of brute force. Perhaps quick on occasion and protective of cubs, but more on the "fat guy" side of things if we're taking all fights to be an analogy of the three character choices in Ice Hockey on the NES. Cougars are quick and claw-y and with the biting your jugular. So I'm not sure whether I want to go for guile or brute force. I think what it comes down to is that Bears sleep for a good chunk of the year, and so do I, and so they win.

UCLA advances.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. San Diego Toreros

I really, really want that goofy, happy, skipping guy with the floppy mouth to win this one. I really, really do. Unfortunately, that Torero's still got the banderillas and the sword and the ingenuity and he's not some big red blob.

San Diego advances.

Purdue Boilermakers vs. Xavier Musketeers

You probably think I'm going to hand another one to the Train, don't you? Because it's big and strong and if the musketeer were tied to the track, he'd be dead. And you'd be right. But he's not tied to the track, and even though his musket is going to be useless against a steam engine, I'm going to have to go with the musketeer being resourceful enough to board the train and figure out how to stop it.

Xavier moves on.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Belmont Bears

One-on-one in a naked brawl, I'm going to take the bear every time. But as that wasn't the rule I set out at the beginning and I'm making this up as I go, I'm going to go with the Mountaineers, simply because I've been to West Virginia and I've seen bear traps, and I'm pretty sure a mountaineer could figure out a way to kill a bear, at least by the weird, creepy, animal-carpet industry's existence.

West Virginia makes it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Round Two, East/Midwest

Mascot Bracket, Round Two East/Midwest

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

That's still a fierce looking pig, and the bit about razorbacks being able to kill humans still has me a bit concerned about them, but I think overall, the guile of inhabitants of North Carolina and their magical ram-controlling powers have to win out here. I'm not terribly sure, but I think I've had barbeque in North Carolina, and if so, it appears they know how to handle pigs. Plus, I'd like "magical ram powers" to continue a bit further in the tournament.

North Carolina advances.

George Mason Patriots vs. Washington State Cougars

All the freedom-fighting in the world isn't going to help you when a cougar's biting your neck off. I have it from a good authority that Roy Horn was incredibly patriotic, and look what happened to him. Cougars care not about your ideals and a new form of government. They care only about their dinner. Oh, and the age disparity in sexual relationships. They care about that too.

Washington State moves on.

St. Joseph's Hawks vs. Boise State Broncos

Again with the bird/horse matchup. Hawks are more dangerous, in my experience (which is zero) than cardinals, but I just really can't think of a way a bird is going to kill a horse. Please feel free to write in your suggestions in the comments. So, for now at least, Boise State soldiers on.

South Alabama Jaguars vs. Tennessee Volunteers

There's a lot of "humans getting their faces eaten by large cats" in the second round so far, but there's really no other way around that. Volunteers have a sense of accomplishment and grateful elderly women who now have a new roof and, perhaps, a circular saw. Jaguars devour you. South Alabama wins.

Portland State Vikings vs. University of Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels

Finally, a matchup that's actually human-on-human. This one's tough. As mentioned previously, the Vikings have that whole "fighting for honor/dying/going to Valhalla" thing going, but look at this dude.

You can tell he's a badass because he's not afraid to cover every square inch of seam with frill. And what a 'stache.

Added to the fact that they at one time used a sort of slack-jawed wolf

Is Disney getting residuals from this?

I'm going to have to go with UNLV.

Clemson Tigers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

Scene: It's the early eighteenth-century, and the United Kingdom is in the process of gaining political control over the Indian subcontinent. Recently given the rank of Commodore along with a squadron, Commodore Fredericks converses with Commander Insertwhiteguyname.

Fredericks: I say, it is a glorious day as we expand our empire.

Insertwhiteguyname: My word, Commodore, what is that approaching us with great speed?

Fredericks: Oh, Insertwhiteguyname, that is merely one of the Great Cats native to this area. I believe they are called tigers.

Insertwhiteguyname: Are they dangerous, Commodore?

Fredericks: I don't think so. They're relatively ta-AAAUUUGH.

Insertwhiteguyname: Oh dear. I believe I shall have some stereotypical British food and then stereotype stereotype.

Clemson advances.

University of Southern California Trojans vs. California State University-Fullerton Titans

I gave the USC Orlando Blooms a pass in the last round, but not here. I'm sure there's some sort of "Titan" condom joke I could run with here, but I won't. I'm going to have to take the giant mythological creatures over people who brought a giant enemy-containing horse into their walls because they thought hey, surely the opposition just up and left.

Cal State Fullerton advances.

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Georgetown Hoyas

I'm giving this one to Gonzaga just because bulldogs actually exist, as opposed to "what" in Greek or, alternately, pretty tropical flowers. I've seen what bulldogs do to flowers. It's not pretty.

Round Two South/West when I feel like it.

Mascot Bracket, Round One West

UCLA Bruins vs. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils

This one seems like it would be easy. Bears should probably lose to the Prince of Darkness. There are, however, two drawbacks to the Delta Devils. First of all, their name reminds me of Delta Burke, which makes me sad. But more importantly than that is the actual depiction of the Delta Devil.


I'm not one to criticize, but I'm just not threatened by this green-skull-cap wearing Lord of the Underworld. Sure, he apparently controls fire, but that just reminds me of Pyro, which reminds me of X-Men: The Last Stand, which makes me weep. I have no doubt in my mind that a brown bear could take this guy in a fight. UCLA it is.

Brigham Young University Cougars vs. Texas A&M Aggies

I haven't met any students of an agricultural/mechanical school, and so cannot testify to the ferocity of Aggies. I'm sure they're more fierce than I am and wish them nothing but the best. However, put one of them in a cage with Felis Concolor and I'm guessing all of education in the world isn't going to stop the cougar from ripping his face off. BYU comes away with the win.

Drake University Bulldogs vs. Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers

I've already expressed my skepticism for the ferocity of bulldogs. I was worried that I was going to have to give yet another one to the bulldogs, because what the hell is a Hilltopper? Even their logo is some guy waving what appears to be a scarf. However, Wikipedia informs me that "Hilltopper" is a name for a horse that is used in fox hunting, and both because I can't figure out how a bulldog would go about killing a horse and a general superiority of the horse over the Canidae family implied by the fox hunting, this one's going to Western Kentucky. Plus, this picture made me inexplicably happy.


University of Connecticut Huskies vs. San Diego Toreros

Huskies are pretty solid dogs. They've got the pulling-a-sled-through-adverse-weather thing, though that's probably forced upon them and not their natural behavior, and the heterochromia thing is another point in their favor. Toreros, however, have lances and pointy sticks and swords. Sorry, Balko. This one goes to San Diego.

Purdue Boilermakers vs. Baylor Bears

There are a few mascots that are tough to see going down. Tigers are going to eat pretty much everything, as are bears. Bears, from what I understand through the experience of Timothy Treadwell, if you constantly mess with bears, ignore all safety precautions and anthropomorphize them to an absurd degree because you have no grasp on reality, they will eat you whole. It's hard to think of what could kill a bear.

Until you get to a train, which just runs it the hell over. Purdue wins.

Xavier Musketeers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

Thinking about it now that I'm almost done with the first round, I kind of think I should have painted bulldogs as incredibly fierce and tough in a fight, because it seems like at this point I could have had the entire Elite Eight be bulldogs. This one, however, is no contest. I don't even to have to suppose what kind of weaponry the Bulldogs' opponent have. They have muskets. Muskets beat dogs. Xavier with the win.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Arizona Wildcats

I grew up about an hour from West Virginia and am not going to make a joke about the residents thereof, because everyone I've known from WV has been fantastic and, besides, it's not as though I'm separated that far from them geographically. Still, I think any given mountain man from West Virginia could not only take a feral cat in a fight, but could skin it, eat it and make a nice hat out of it. West Virginia wins.

Duke Blue Devils vs. Belmont Bruins

Again with the not-very-threatening Devil depictions. The Duke Blue Devil looks more like a Batman villain than anything else, and I think I'd trust a bear to beat the tar out of him. Is this influenced by an attempt to appeal to Fark? Yes. But no one ever said a mascot bracket that has no relation to reality had to have integrity. Plus, Belmont Avenue is good times. Belmont wins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Round One South

Memphis Tigers vs. University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks

I could go with a political bent here, given John McCain's status as a maverick, but I don't think a matchup between a 71 year old man and a tiger is going to be anywhere near fair. Instead, I will go with Tom Cruise, who played Maverick in Top Gun. The tiger's still going to rip him to shreds, but he stands a fighting chance by being younger and certifiably insane. Plus, it's more satisfying to have Tom Cruise ripped to pieces by Tigers.

Tom Cruise's crotch agrees. Also, what the hell is this picture?

Memphis wins.

Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Oregon Ducks

I'd like to knock the Bulldogs down a peg, since I have identical mascots winning two games in the Midwest, but I really just can't. It's a duck. You lock an irritated bulldog and a duck in a cage and see what happens. Actually, don't, because that would be cruelty and I don't want to be held liable.

Mississippi State takes it.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Temple Owls

I was hoping for a bit of a matchup here. Last year, I had Michigan State going pretty far in my mascot bracket because 300 had just come out, and so I was hoping to knock them off early this year, if, for example, they were up against some team whose mascot was a tank. Unfortunately, Temple couldn't pull through and gives me owls. Sure, they've got the head-rotation thing, but ultimately, it's just no contest.

Michigan State wins.

University of Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles

I hate to seem like a homer here (full disclosure: I do have a Pitt hat laying around somewhere), but in a matchup between some more goddamn eagles and huge cats that tear you apart, I'm going to have to go with the huge cats who tear you apart. Plus, taking the Panthers to be somehow affiliated with the Pink Panther, I'm going to have to say that I just like Peter Sellers more than I like Oral Roberts.

Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Kentucky Wildcats

I'm so over both of these mascots it's not even funny. That said, while the Wildcats and Golden Eagles both look kind of fierce, I'm going to have to cite Tweety v. Sylvester. Now, I could go the obvious route, that Tweety inevitably outsmarts Sylvester and so should win, but if you remove the Bulldog that's hanging around from consideration and get rid of Granny, Sylvester wins a deathmatch one-on-one. Plus, Tweety's incredibly annoying. Kentucky it is.

Stanford Cardinal vs. Cornell Big Red

Who the hell came up with this matchup? What am I, the blogger who's making a mockery of the whole bracket procedure by putting up picks based on team name/mascot supposed to do when it's two different shades of red going at it? Cornell does have an unofficial bear hanging about, while Stanford hase unofficial Stanford Tree. I might tend toward the Bear as far as sheer force, but in a match to the death, I'm going to have to go with the Tree out of sheer stamina.


Miami Hurricanes vs. St. Mary's Gaels

In trying to find out a bit more about the Gaels, I ran into basically every news outlet doing a gael/gale/hurricane pun, so I'll not do one here. Again, you'd think I'd go with the Gaels just because my name's Murphy and it's March 17th, but you'd be wrong. A single Gael trying to fight off Katrina would not have changed anything, so this one's going to have to go to Miami.

University of Texas Longhorns vs. Austin Peay State University Governors

There's an Eliot Spitzer joke here, but it seems kind of hacky, so I'm not going to do it, though I hope to get credit for the mention. I imagine that if we took any given Governor and put him or her in a cage with this

the Governor's not the one that's coming out of it. Enforcement of laws doesn't help you when you've been gouged. Texas wins.

Mascot Bracket, Round One Midwest

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Portland State Vikings

This one seems no contest. We have yet another bird going up against a big horn-wearing adventurer whose culture is centered around crushing you, Odin and flaming ships. Portland State in an unprecidented upset.

UNLV Running Rebels vs. Kent State Golden Flashes

The mascot for the Golden Flashes appears to be some manner of bird, which already is enough to send me into a fit. It's somewhat fierce looking and "Golden Flashes" is kind of sweet for a meaningless name, except that it sounds like a sex act I don't want to know about. I'm going to presume they went with that because their zoological prowess is impaired by the nearby Akron Zoo, which is the saddest damn place I've ever been. Running Rebels, on the other hand, remind me of Oi! bands from the eighties and definitely have guns. UNLV takes it.

Clemson Tigers vs. Villanova Wildcats

Hey there. Finally, a matchup that not only doesn't involve birds, it's actually kind of interesting. Which wins? The tiger, obviously. Apparently, wildcats are kind of puny, and even if you go with Wildcat as a superhero, he's apparently stuck using slang from the 1950's and pissing off Power Girl.
There's such a thing as tact, dude.

Clemson it is, then.

Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Siena Saints

Saints aren't exactly known for their fighting prowess, while commodores are at least military. I imagine the saints are going to turn the other cheek in a deathmatch and wait for their reward in the afterlife. Which is all fine and good, but doesn't move you along in this bracket. Vanderbilt wins it.

USC Trojans vs. Kansas State Wildcats

I've already established that wildcats are kind of puny and susceptible to being whomped, and it seems like you'd just pick the warriors and be done with it, but it's a bit more difficult than that. It depends, mostly, on which Trojan. I have no doubt that most would crush the cat into non-existence, but if your Trojan is Orlando Bloom, I imagine he's going to lose, then cry and beg for Eric Bana to make it all better.

What a douche.

Still, it's not fair to judge a group of people by their affiliation with Orlando Bloom, so reason will have to prevail and the Trojans take it.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans

From what I understand, badgers are unpleasant little bastards that will rip your face off. Which would be fine and good if they weren't going up against the embodiment of hugeness. Plus, it'll make this dude happy.

Cal State Fullerton takes it.

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Davidson Wildcats

I've previously expressed my skepticism about the tenacity of bulldogs, but that might be unfair since I've never actually met one. I've also painted wildcats as feral, but not much else. So which do I choose? I'm going to have to go with the Bulldogs. The standard dog/cat relationship is there and the spiked collar probably helps instill some fear. Gonzaga wins it.

Georgetown Hoyas vs. University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers

I've gotten no closer to figuring out what a Hoya is (and Wikipedia leads me to believe there's no real answer) so I'll be substituting a bulldog, since that's what Georgetown uses as a mascot. I'm kind of stunned by the use of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a mascot, and want to give it points for sheer inventiveness, but I'm still going to take the bulldog in a fight. If this were a fetching contest, I might go a different way, but it's not, and that means the win goes to Georgetown.

Mascot Bracket, Round One East

Play-in Game

Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers vs. Coppin State Eagles

This one's pretty easy. Mountaineers tend to have guns, and eagles tend to be vulnerable to guns. Even if we take away the weaponry, I'm going with the Mountaineer. I'd like to take some points away from Mount St. Mary's for having "The Mount" as the logo, rather than telling me what the mascot is directly or having some kind of an illustration, but as this is the play-in game, I'll let it slide.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers

I was tempted to go with the Mountaineers again, but on further reflection, the name Tar Heel applies to inhabitants of North Carolina generally, some of whom are probably Mountaineers and some of whom evidently control rams and make them do their bidding. I'll go with North Carolina.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

Hoosiers could also have guns, but I'm going to have to go with the Razorbacks here. Angry hogs are, I imagine hard to deal with, and Wikipedia claims that they "can become very dangerous if they are cornered, wounded, or with young, and can injure and even kill humans and other animals."

As Wikipedia is the infallible source of all information on anything, I'm going with Arkansas.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. George Mason Patriots

It's St. Patrick's Day, and I feel as though I should go with Notre Dame, if only because I'm named "Murphy" and they've got "Fighting" in their name and who doesn't love a good caricature? But Patriots, and I'm going with "Patriots" in the sense of the Founding Fathers, had something to fight for and had actually participated in a war. And they weren't drunk. All the time. George Mason it is.

Washington State Cougars vs. Winthrop Eagles

Provided they had to interact (that is, the eagle couldn't just fly the hell away), this is no contest. Cougars all the way.

Oklahoma Sooners vs. St. Joseph's Hawks

Every other one of these teams is named after residents of the state or, in the case of the Oklahohma Sooners, settlers who earned a part in the Homestead Act and, apparently, farmed. Actually, the hawks might be able to help them out by preying on pests, but let's not get all nice and cuddly here. Hawks are apparently intelligent and while a Sooner could theoretically just grab the hawk and crush it to death, I have a feeling that with the clawing and the scratching, the Hawk's coming out ahead in the fight. St. Joseph's it is.

Louisville Cardinals vs. Boise State Broncos

Again with the birds. They're making this hard because it's not a very likely scenario that a seed-eating songbird is going to go at it with a horse. Cardinals are, in my experience, relatively tame birds, and that Bronco looks kind of angry, so I'm going to have to go with Boise State in this one.

Butler Bulldogs vs. South Alabama Jaguars

I have friends that went to Butler, so I'd like to come up with some insane reason that a bulldog, which I'm not even sure is a dog that's renowned for its ferocity, is going to take down a jaguar, but it's just not happening. South Alabama in a mascot-rout.

Tennessee Volunteers vs. American Eagles

I'm only a quarter of the way through the bracket, and I'm already ready to break something if I see another goddamn Eagle. This is the problem with schools today. Not funding or overworked teachers, but the inability to have a little creativity in coming up with a mascot. Because I'm sick of birds, I'm going to presume this is the Volunteers (who have hammers and nails) against people who work at American Eagle, who have hair gel and money. I'm going with the Volunteers.

When I feel like it, the Midwest will be up.

March Madness

I've never had very much of a rooting interest in college sports. I was aware of Pitt and Penn State growing up, mostly because I'd occasionally see sweatshirts that told me about them, but I never really actively followed any college teams. As I grew up, I moved on to a Division III school that has, as far as I know only one professional athlete doing anything right now and he was cut for not being in shape. I've gone from there to a team that's actually in a major conference, but isn't, shall we say, feared.

On top of that, I've never been a big fan of basketball. I think it probably had something to do with growing up in a town without an NBA team, but it's not something I care about easily. With the other three major sports, following the team has been something that goes back to some of my early memories. The fact that I still remember watching the Sid Bream play, that I was able to throw out the first pitch, that I remember both Stanley Cups and how it felt watching Neil O'Donnell throw interceptions in Super Bowl XXX gave me a link to each of those teams. I don't have that with any NBA teams, and it seems fake just to pick a team at random, or start cheering for the Bulls because I happen to live in Chicago.

All of that to say that I really don't know college basketball as well as I should. I know a bit, but not nearly enough to intelligently fill out a March Madness Bracket. What I usually end up doing is a combination of looking at statistics and guess work to fill something out which usually fails horribly. So that's fun.

But, because I like brackets and things where you can affect the outcome by changing the tiniest thing, I tend to try to figure out some ways to entertain myself without actually entering picks into the office pool. Besides telling Yahoo! sports to pick everything randomly (which resulted in #16 Portland State winning the whole damn thing just now), I have attempted, over the past few years, to come up with a reasonable Mascot Bracket. The only rules being that whoever's mascot would win a fight to the death advances. If the team name is not something which could be involved in a fight to the death, I'll go with the mascot. If that fails, I'll assign losses randomly.

Over the next few days, I'll be taking a few posts to detail the Murphspot Completely Improbable Mascot Bracket That Has No Relation To Sports At All. It's going to be absolutely nothing like what I actually enter for the office contest and no relation to reality, but it'll hopefully be at least mildly entertaining.