Thursday, February 24, 2011

The So-Called Classics

It was Jack Black who convinced me to start reading classic literature.

Well, not directly. It started in the movie theatre, where I saw a poster for the new Gulliver’s Travels movie, starring Jack Black. I immediately guffawed.

“That’s the worst thing to happen to literature since ever,” I thought, which sounds at least half-clever until you realize that I just couldn’t think of a good analogy. Still, there was no way that movie could ever do justice to the classic. I’m sure they’d do the whole “strapped to the ground by Lilliputians” scene, because it’s the most famous part of the book. But what about the other islands that Gulliver traveled to? Like, you know …that place where he…something about a horse, right?

That’s when I was forced to face the truth: The joy I had in making fun of the movie was severely hampered by the fact that I’d never actually read the original book. I was at a disadvantage if I wanted to mock the movie more intelligently.

I tried to talk myself out of it. I could just see how the movie would go: Jack as Gulliver would somehow find himself in the land of the Lilliputians, and we’d get a wide array of sophomoric size-related jokes. (Where will Gulliver ever find an outhouse that can accommodate him? Oh, the slapsticky troubles he’s sure to have!) Throw in a few random Tenacious D references, and there’s your movie.

But it was no use. I had to read the book to be sure. And once I was doing that, I figured I may as well expand my reach to other classic works as well. After all, what if I wanted to make fun of Pride and Prejudice or something, too?

So. Read the classics. Sounds simple enough, right? But here’s the secret that no college professor will tell you: Classic literature is boring.

Take Gulliver’s Travels, which is the book I started with. It’s over two hundreds pages long and contains a total of four distinct paragraphs. In other words, the thing is dense. It’s known as the quintessential satire, but unless you’re up on your eighteenth-century English politics, some of the references can be a little obscure.

For example, on page 56 in my edition, Gulliver talks of speaking to the king of the Lilliputians: “I communicated to his Majesty a project I had formed of seizing the enemy’s whole fleet; which, as our scouts assured us, lay at anchor in the harbour ready to sail with the first fair wind.” The endnote in the book explains the passage thusly: “Gulliver’s project to hijack the Blefuscudian fleet plays out allegorically the moderate Tory policy during the War of Spanish Succession in the last years of Queen Anne’s reign. Swift’s employers Harley and Bolingbroke believed that British naval dominance was more important than military prominence on the continent. Their secret efforts to negotiate a deal with the French to end the war struck some as close to Jacobitism and resulted in charges brought against them for high treason in 1715.”

Ha ha! Yes yes, quite quite. Very good.

But I did plow through it. I also read Fahrenheit 451, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Sherlock Holmes. Interesting fact: Did you know that House from TV’s “House” is actually just a medically-minded Sherlock Holmes? The characters are practically identical, right down to the drug addiction. (I know. I was upset that I learned something while reading, too.)

So yes. Now I read classic literature. It’s okay. I got what I wanted out of it, which is this:

I've read Gulliver’s Travels. Have YOU? Ha! I seriously doubt it. (Although I don’t recommend it. Watch the movie instead.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Things I Don't Understand #4

LA’s laissez-faire attitude towards cataclysmic events.

What’s your favorite disastrous weather phenomenon?

I recently had this conversation with an acquaintance of mine. I’ll call him Joe, both to preserve his anonymity and because I forgot his name. He was telling me that he greatly prefers LA’s earthquakes to Chicago’s blizzards.
Now, to sane people to you and I, this may seem ludicrous. Yes, blizzards can be dangerous if you’re not careful. But if you really consider it, it’s basically just a whole lotta snow. And for those of us who are not LA natives, we know that snow isn’t a mystical curse sent by the gods to punish us. All you have to do to deal with a blizzard is dig yourself out or wait for the stuff to melt. And any disaster in which procrastination is a viable method of survival should rank pretty low on the disaster scale. But earthquakes? Buildings fall down. That’s a gen-u-ine bad situation.

So how did Joe respond to this?

“Eh,” he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Buildings don’t actually fall down these days.”

And that’s technically true. Tall buildings are built on “rollers,” which allow them to roll when earthquakes hit, instead of falling down. A nausea-inducing solution, but a solution nonetheless. (Their other tactic is to build very few buildings over two stories. Also effective, but it makes the entire city seem like one big strip mall, which is kind of like an ongoing natural disaster.)

But I guess there’s an upside. When The Big One™ comes and cracks California into the ocean, at least I can have a good “I told ya so” moment.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Try This At Home

I had a great idea for a blog the other day. This didn’t surprise me. I have lots of great ideas.

I hear snorts of derision in the back, there. Well, prepare to be blown away with a sample idea. Are you ready? Are you sitting down?

Popcorn on the cob.

That's right. Have a seat. 

The problem I find is that I’m very rarely given the respect that I deserve. Also, sometimes I’m twenty years too late. Take my idea for revolutionizing reading on airplanes.

Go to any airport, and you’ll invariably find dozens of stores selling books and magazines. These stores capitalize on the fact that you’re trapped at the airport. And even if you only have a two hour flight, you’ll gladly buy an entire book because you have to do SOMETHING to drown out the roaring engines and crying babies, and you’re not going to watch the in-flight movie because you forgot to bring your headphones, of course, and you’re certainly not going to buy headphones on the plane for five dollars because c’mon, the principle of the thing, and you already went through the entire Skymall magazine the last time you were on a plane and you still don’t want that hot-dog toaster, and someone already filled in the Air Travel Magazine’s Sudoku puzzle in pen and it you don’t even like Sudoku puzzles but at least it would be something to take your mind off the fact that you’re in a big, flying aluminum tube traveling at hundreds of miles an hour through the sky, and so you may as well buy a damn book.

My idea changed all of that. Instead of buying books at the airport, rent ‘em. Two bucks a pop. You can return them when you land at your destination, or mail them in later.

Aside from the obvious logistical issues, there are two big problems with getting this off the ground. (No pun intended, except retroactively, yes there was.) One was that I don’t have the millions and millions of dollars necessary to set up a national book rental system like this. The other is that the Kindle killed it anyway. Why rent books when you can carry a thousand with you on the plane?

But the idea is sound. Rent books at the airport instead of buying ‘em. A great idea, decades ago.

But this new blog idea is different, because it can be done. And I actually want to do it, but I have too much work right now to handle. (i.e., once every week or so, I update this blog.) But I want to see this happen. I want SOMEONE to do it. I want to claim credit for it when someone else finally does.

The blog would be called “Your Blog Sucks.” Every day you’d click the “Next Blog” link on the top of every blogger site (like this one) and review whatever random blog it gives you based on your own personal preferences.

For example, I just pressed the button and it brought me to Captured Photon, which is some guy’s photo blog. The pictures on the site are amazing, and the guy is obviously a very talented photographer. But he’d automatically get points off for not incorporating video game reviews, which, as every knows, is the #1 reason to have a blog in the first place. So he’d get a B- at best.

So, yeah. Your Blog Sucks. Go do it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tips n' Tricks

Here’s to secret to writing online articles: Tangential anecdotes.

Consider the following example: A few months back, I was visiting my friend in New York. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him James. (Actually, that’s his real name, but he doesn’t read this blog so it serves him right.)

James and I were shopping for various sundries at a Target in Midtown Manhattan. We were browsing down the aisle, and apparently my friend moved in front of a middle-aged man.

Now remember, this is New York. Did the man politely ask James to move? Did the man simply move around Jamie and continue on his way?

Nope. He chose to kick James, instead.

It was light, on the shin. So light you’d think it was an accident, but I watched it happen. The man deliberately kicked my friend on the shin and then walked away, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. That kick is New York, to me. Where there should be politeness, or at least indifference, you get a kick in the shin instead.

But it brings me back to my original point, which is this: look how far down on the page we are! That was a good five paragraphs that didn’t have anything to do with my original point, and we’ve gotta be at least halfway done by now.

Another good thing to keep in mind when writing articles online is the audience’s short attention span. Due to a potent combination of video games, 30-second commercials, 5-minute web clips and Twitter, (which, incidentally, is my arch nemesis and a post in-and-of itself) the average member of our society now has the attention span of a hummingbird on speed. The key is to exploit this with shiny things

Another fun trick is to embed videos. This will make readers think that the entire article was about the embedded video, and if they watch it there's no reason to read all those annoying words. Watch me trick lazy readers by posting this:

Try it yourself! With these powerful tools, you can write your own rambling, nonsensical blog posts. Of course, you’d also have to take five minutes to register the space with a site like blogger or wordpress, and you probably don’t have the patience for that.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kitchen Utensils Are for the Weak. And For People Who Use Them.

My brother was visiting me for about a week, and we decided to put together dinner for a few friends. Unfortunately, I forgot that my brother knows how to cook.

I have very few recipes, but I’m fine with that. I don’t mind eating the same thing every day, so it balances out. For example, one of my breakfast recipes is cereal: I get out a bowl, add Cheerios, add milk, and serve cold. If I want to mix it up a bit, I’ll use Kix instead.

Same thing with dinner. I like tuna casserole, and I have a good recipe for tuna casserole, and so I typically eat tuna casserole for dinner. Sometimes I put in pepper, sometimes not. What can I say? I’m a wild and carefree spirit.

But my brother, intent on cooking, was not exactly impressed with my kitchen setup.

“What do you mean, you don’t have a large pot?” he said. I told him I had never needed a large pot in the past, and was there any way he could make do without it? “@&*%,” he said. 

Later he asked me where I kept my measuring spoons. I laughed and laughed.

But I’d gotten myself into this mess by inviting people over for dinner, and I had to fix it. So we bought a cheap pot from my local grocery store and made mashed potatoes. Of course, that meant buying potatoes, which is something else I’d never done before.

My Brother: “Should we get red or russet?”
Me: “I think we should stick with potatoes.”

I left my brother to his own devices as I coordinated with everyone else who was coming. They asked what they could bring over. I wanted to tell them to bring “the majority of the meal,” but instead I asked for side dishes. It seemed like a safe, vague thing to say.

All in all, everything went off without a hitch. And now I’m the proud owner of a new pot and a bunch of spices I’m never going to use again in a million years, unless I try to experiment, which I probably shouldn’t. Cayenne pepper goes with Cheerios, right?