Tuesday, December 18, 2012


If this is my last correspondence with the outside world, I want everyone to know what happened.  I am currently secured inside the last known uninfected stronghold for miles.  I fear any attempt at escape is futile.  My siblings have both been infected, as have many of the families we’re friends with.  Already there are 17 victims of the unknown disease confirmed.  As of my writing this, the pathogen has claimed no lives, and I can only hope that pattern continues, but I cannot count on such an optimistic idea.

This is the part where many of you may roll your eyes in derision.  You may think I’m overreacting.  But that's the way it always goes.  I saw Contagion; I know how this works.  The first few victims get written off or diagnosed with something normal.  That’s when the disease mutates.  I’m not going to be one of the naysayers that waits too long to take action.  Those people never make it to the end of the movie.

There was a picnic on Sunday evening.  A gathering.  My current research suggests that this is where the infection took hold.  There were huge quantities of children in close contact with one another and lots of unguarded food.  It’s a miracle I made it out alive, though it is possible that I have already been infected and the disease is already circling through my system, dormant.

I am dosing myself with Vitamin C tablets and still have an adequate supply of antibacterial soap, but my resources as of today are insufficient to start a colony of survivors, should that become necessary.  I have begun to draw up plans for a city, and all I need now is a suitable site to start building.  That’s currently the best solution I’ve got, and it worked in I Am Legend.

If you think you may be infected with this new and dangerous illness, please seal yourself off from the rest of humanity.  I’m sorry but it’s quite probably too late for you.  As for the rest of you:  Good luck.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Outwit, Outplay, Outcare?

My favorite class this semester is, hands-down, Intro to Psychology.  It's partly because I never have homework in that class and partly because Skiing & Snowboarding simply hasn't started yet.  But I'm also genuinely fascinated by everything I'm learning.  Today, we started talking about Social Psychology.  What do we think of one another?  How much do we let others influence the decisions we make?  How much do we trust each other?  Why do we follow rules and how do we treat those who break them?  We branched into morality in cooperative societies versus competitive ones, and I started thinking about Survivor.

image from
Behind those midriffs is a lot of serious psychology, I promise.
In fact, I would say that it's these questions of trust and morality and influence--and not tropical beaches and girls in bikinis--that are the reason why the reality show is still on the air after more than 20 seasons, and why so many other reality-TV competitions have been patterned after it.  It's brilliant, both in concept and implementation.

The show has grown and morphed over the years (also a key ingredient if you are to survive in entertainment), but the central formula has always been the same:  Take about a dozen and a half people out of this mostly-cooperative society we live in, and place them in a highly competitive one, where conventional standards are effectively defenestrated.  A society is created in which people aren't punished for behaving dishonestly.  In fact, such behavior is encouraged as a means of winning the game.

Hidden immunity idols, the occasional opportunity to betray your entire "tribe" or team to benefit yourself, and the ultimate truth that there can only be one winner demand that the game is played with an individualist mind.  People are reduced to the very bottom rung on Kohlberg's moral ladder:  How do I avoid negative consequences, and what's in it for me?

This is also the reason that people who come into the game sitting on the top rungs of that ladder, thinking in terms of what is truly and universally "right" or "wrong," or, more specifically, "I'm going to prove that the game of Survivor can be played with integrity," have doomed themselves before their feet ever touch the sand.  For that level of morality to work, you need a society that's cooperative, one that looks down on those who "play dirty" as it were, simply because it's "wrong."

But Survivor doesn't offer a sense of moral fulfillment as its grand prize.  It offers a million dollar check.  And we, as the viewers sitting comfortably in our living rooms, love to watch people deteriorate into animals.  Of course, the significant lack of any real clothing certainly doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Star Wars: The End of Everything

Disney bought LucasFilm.  Everybody freak out.  Ready? Go.

Ok, now that we've gotten that out of our collective system and hopefully everyone is feeling at least a little better about him- or herself, let's take a deep breath.  Because you know what I think?  I may be way out of bounds saying this, but I dare to suggest that everything just might be ok.  I mean, in fairness, could this be the event the Maya predicted all those years ago that will finally cause the end of everything as we know it?  Sure.  And the timing certainly seems right.  But I'm still going to go with "No."  Call me crazy.

As long as I'm being honest, I'm not a devoted Star Wars fan (is there a term for this fandom?).  The full scope of my knowledge of Star Wars comes from having seen the first installation (Episode IV, for those even less informed than I), and having been a proud resident of the Internet for a few years.  I know what a light saber is, and that Darth Vader is Luke's father, but don't ask me to explain what a Jedi is or how Jabba the Hutt factors into anything (I had to Google "Jabba the Hutt" to make sure I spelled it correctly).

So maybe I'm not much of a purist.  But the LucasFilm and Disney organizations have been buddies for years.  One of my favorite shows in Disney World's Hollywood Studios is the Indiana Jones stunt show.  So it's not as if Disney doesn't have the footing to step into this new territory.  In fact, I'll go ahead and assert that this isn't new territory at all.  Nevertheless, the news that Disney will put out a Star Wars: Episode VII has the fans in a panic whirlwind the size of Hurricane Sandy (sorry, too soon?).  Though what I don't understand is why they'd bother to start going in numerical order now.  Why Episode VII?  Why not Episode... I don't know, X?  Then come back and make VII - IX in a decade or so.

Disney has been a filmmaking giant for nearly a century and they know what they're doing.  And not to compare Star Wars to Toy Story, but a lot of people (myself included) were very concerned when the trailer for Toy Story 3 started popping up everywhere that it was too late for a sequel and that its very existence would somehow taint the brilliance of the first two.  But that Toy Story 3 was tasteful, emotional, and consistent with the established characters.   I know, I totally just compared Star Wars to Toy Story.  Let's move on.  (Edit: When I wrote this, I'd completely forgotten about the homage Toy Story 2 pays to Star Wars by means of the Zurg/Buzz subplot.  Obviously, the writers thought of this comparison long before I did.)

I'd also like to point to the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which are four (yes, four--I liked On Stranger Tides) of my favorite movies.  And they're not only Disney movies, but I learned today that they are actually based on the Disney World ride of the same name.  Thanks, Wikipedia.

So while I certainly understand resisting changes to things we're passionate about (looking at you, David Tennant), I've got a more objective point of view of Star Wars (because that's what this "LucasFilm" drama boils down to, in the end) by simple virtue of the fact that I'm not a crazy fan.  And personally, I'm intrigued by the notion of a movie that combines the rich Star Wars mythology with all the movie-making technology at our disposal today.

The best comment I've heard about this particular news item came from the kid that sat behind me in Psychology class this morning:

"Does that make Leia a Disney Princess?"
Hastily photoshopped this with pictures I stole off the internet.  Enjoy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fish Are Friends

Alright, so the gang has been moved in and living comfortably in their new home for a while now.  I moved the two goldfish I already owned, I adopted my sister's goldfish, and I bought two new additions to the family.  Thankfully, everybody's getting along.  These are my kids:

This is Geisel.  He's named after Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodore Geisel.  He's a calico Ryukin.

As soon as I put everybody in the tank, Geisel swam straight into the volcano.  Before he did that, I had not even considered the possibility that any of the fish would do that.

He didn't come out for a solid ten minutes.  I figure he's either the dumbest fish in the tank, or the smartest.

This is Angelo, a Common goldfish.  I've had him for more than a year now, and compared to the bowl he was living in, he probably thinks he's in the ocean.  He also is probably very confused by the corners of the tank, since corners were never something he had to contend with before.

This is Cc.  He's the one that lived on my desk at work over the summer.

Cc and Angelo, after staring at one another from each of their bowls for months, finally got to meet.  It was heartwarming.

This is Dot.  He's another Common, and the smallest of the bunch.  He, like Angelo, probably thinks this is the ocean, based on the care my sister provided (or didn't).  We're all just glad he's alive.

This is Calvin (my cat's name is Hobbes).  He's a Black Moor.  He's the largest of the bunch, and the least efficient swimmer.  Watching him try to actually get anywhere is rather amusing, as he wiggles his whole body back and forth, as if he knows he has a tail but he's not sure what it's for.  He's the friendliest though, and always the first one to swim to the front of the tank when I walk up.

The whole gang (yes, there are five fish in this picture).

Aaaannd this is what the whole thing looks like.  I'm proud of it; I think it came together really nicely.

I really love my fish.  Sometimes I catch myself carrying on a (one-sided) conversation with them, and I question my sanity.  But whenever I walk into my room, regardless of the mood I'm in or how the day has gone, I smile.  Once I even smiled when I woke up in the morning, which was weird.

All these photos were taken with my new camera, a Canon Rebel T3i!!  I love it.  More photos from that thing soon.  But if you saw my previous fish-photo-fails, then you can appreciate how much better these are.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

With the Band

A few years ago at one of those hippie festivals with lots of organic food and even more bare feet, I wandered onto the grass in front of the stage where a band called Holy Ghost Tent Revival was playing.  I fell in love that day—as much with the band’s unrivaled sound as with the energy level of their live show.  I sat on the ground and watched them, bereft of any desire to see the rest of the macramé and scented candles.  I can still picture the guys leaping up and down as they strummed and banged and honked and wailed.  The lyrics to one of the songs they played (something about a view from a rooftop, and then “it never felt so good to feel so small”) stuck in my head for a long time, but the song wasn't on their album, and I couldn't find it anywhere.

I'd heard that they were going to be in town a couple of times, but each time discovered with dismay that I could not make it to the show, for one reason or another.  A couple of months ago, I found them on the schedule at a local venue and decided that this was it—I was finally going to get to see them again.

In the meantime, I continue to get to know the people I work with, and have learned that a lot of them are musicians.  Two of the guys who work in support are in a band called Annuals, whom I had not heard but decided I liked almost immediately.  I went to one of their shows a couple of weeks ago and was blown away (which may have had something to do with having my favorite tune —“Hardwood Floor”— dedicated to me by name, at which point I may or may not have cried a little bit).  Needless to say, they procured one more screaming fan.

So you can imagine my excitement when I casually mentioned my plans to go see Holy Ghost Tent Revival and one of the guys said, “Oh that’s cool.  We’re playing with them.”  I honestly couldn’t have put together a better lineup if I had tried.  The show that I had already been looking forward to for more than a month had now become the ideal concert.  All I had to do was make it a week and a half without peeing myself.

Last Friday night, the wait was over.  I was not disappointed.

From walking through the door and being able to say, “I’m on the list” (which I found out shortly before the show), to getting to hang in the balcony area with the guys of Annuals after they played, to shaking hands with the members of Holy Ghost Tent Revival (with what was probably the biggest and most idiotic grin in history on my face), it was pretty much, to put it eloquently, totally the coolest night ever. Seriously, unprecedented levels of cool were reached.  Because apart from being musical geniuses, they are some of the friendliest people in the whole world.  They even played the song I remembered from the first time I saw them.  The name of the track is "Overlooking Brooklyn," and you can listen to it here.

My friends harassed me afterward saying that it was "like I had gotten to meet a celebrity."  My response was, "What do you mean, 'like'?"

Am I biased a little at this point? Possibly.  Should you listen to them or go see them if they come to your town anyway because they're genuinely awesome, biased or not?  A thousand times 'Yes.'

Help me make them (more) famous:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

First Day of School... Or Not

As you may have noticed (but admittedly probably haven't, because you are all busy people with successful careers and families and hobbies and lives), I've been a lazy bum about blogging recently.  In an effort to rectify this situation, and no doubt improve all of your busy, successful lives by at least .0037%*, I'm going to do something I don't usually do here on my cozy square foot of Internet:  I'm going to tell you about my day.

Today was supposed to be the first day of classes.  I guess I sort of knew, over the course of the summer, that school was looming somewhere in the distance, but I was working 40 hours a week at my ridiculously cool summer job, and had forgotten about all of the prep that was necessary.  I needed a parking pass, textbooks, and probably notebooks and pencils.  I also had to unearth my backpack from the archaeological site my room had become.

I waited in line for about an hour yesterday with all the other lazy college bums who waited until the day before class to pick up their parking permits.  I woke up at six this morning and didn't hit the snooze button.  I yanked my backpack out of a mountain of art supplies, then decided all I needed was my laptop.  I put on a brand new pair of contacts, left the house on time and with a full tank of gas, remembered my phone and my wallet and my headphones and my car keys.  I caught the bus and snagged my favorite seat in the back left corner.  I landed on campus a full half-hour before my 8:30 math class.  I swung by my favorite coffee shop and bought the first cappuccino of the year, which earned me the tenth and final punch on my "Java Junkies" card.  I strutted to class with Holy Ghost Tent Revival wailing through my headphones.  I even found my classroom without excessive wandering or hair-pulling.

At this point, I should have been suspicious.  I wasn't.  I poked my head into the classroom.  Empty.  I was fifteen minutes early, so it was plausible that I was the first one there.  Then I looked at the board.

305 canceled
jury duty

I was conflicted.  Was this the cherry on top of my perfect day?  Or the thread that unraveled it all?  Am I excited because my first and only class today is canceled or enraged because I woke up at the butt crack of dawn and burned a gallon of gas to get here?

I'm usually a proponent of the philosophy that no class is better than class.  Period.  And any frustration toward the professor is speedily erased by imagining how his morning has probably been.

So I've decided, sitting back in the coffee shop, listening to the classical music they're playing, overhearing snatches of intellectual conversation at the tables around me, that this development is indeed a positive one.  And while I'm on campus, I can procure textbooks, which I have yet to do.

My aquarium stand landed on my porch yesterday, and now I have everything I need to set up my Atlantis/Pompeii-themed goldfish tank.  I suppose I can do that.  And I should probably clean my room.

But I think I'm going to take a nap first.

*percentage based on a clinical study of females ages 18-35 in Siberia

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Hal 9000 By Xbox

Dance Central 2 image from
My family has invested in an Xbox Kinect.  If that looks like Klingon to you, the basic description is that it's a video game platform (the Xbox) and another little gadget with a couple of cameras that does a rather impressive job of seeing the players.  The idea is that you get off the couch and engage in these games with your whole body.  It came with a game called Kinect Adventures.  They're straightforward, designed, basically, to help you learn to use the Kinect.  Most of them are pretty fun.  The avatar on the screen does whatever you do--waves when you wave, dances when you dance, etc.--except, whenever you're actually trying to accomplish something like kicking a ball or grabbing a handle, it's a bit like having some neurological disorder where your limbs just don't respond as precisely as you'd like them too.  It's only a little less disturbing than it sounds.

One of the Adventures games is called "20,000 Leaks," and the premise is that you're standing in a large glass tank under the ocean when all of a sudden blowfish, crabs, sharks, and other adorable but malicious aquatic lifeforms start breaking the glass.  Your job is to cover the leaks before the time runs out.  It must be hi-tech future glass, though, because once I place my hand over a crack, the glass heals and I don't have to worry about that spot anymore.  I'm not sure why I'm on the ocean floor in the first place;  I never receive any kind of mission to find lost treasure or obtain samples of the adorable but malicious aquatic lifeforms.  Perhaps I need to evaluate my career choices.

Another game involves standing in a raft and steering it around, over, under, and through various goals and obstacles.  If you launch yourself high enough, you can actually raft across the clouds before crashing back down to the rapids below.  So I guess my question is, If they've figured out how to make a raft that floats on clouds, why haven't they gotten the leaky glass tank fixed?

The game with which I'm having the most fun embarrassing myself, however, is Dance Central 2.  In this one, I'm a crew dancer with an attitude, and a snappy dresser at that.  I usually play as "Miss Aubrey" (pictured).  She's a good dancer, but she lets her boyfriend do the trash talking while she stands behind him and blows kisses.  Not nice kisses, you know.  Sassy, mocking kisses.  Kisses of death.  Anyway, the way I see it, in a few weeks I'm going to be the best dancer the world has ever laid eyes on.

The downside to this little toy is that it takes your picture.  And it can see you, so I've developed a theory that it waits until you look completely ridiculous before snapping the photo.  Contributing to this theory is that after you've completed a level, it shows you the photos it's taken, complete with snarky captions.  My sister has begun to combat this by watching for the onscreen camera, and abandoning any gameplay to strike a pose.  So her scores suffer, but she's probably the only one who cannot be blackmailed with the countless photos the Kinect (which I think we should affectionately name Hal 9000) has stored in its evil memory.

The bottom line is, it's a fantastic little toy (and it makes the Wii look like the prehistoric ancestor to modern gaming), but if I get wind of a robot apocalypse, that sucker is getting a sledgehammer to the processor.  It is smart and it knows where I live.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Spider-Man: New and Improved

Image from IMDb
Up until about a week ago, I hadn't seen any of the Spider-Man movies.  So to prepare for the pending blockbuster, my friends and I had a couple of movie nights and watched the first two, which were directed by Sam Raimi.  Then we went to the midnight premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man (directed, believe it or not, by a guy named "Webb").  Even if you ignore the obvious leg up this movie had, special-effects-wise, what with it being ten years since the first, there were a number of things I thought were done better in this film than in those of the last trilogy.  I hope you're comfy; this is gonna be a long one.  (And it's full of spoilers.  You have been warned.)

Let's get this one out of the way first:  Andrew Garfield.  In addition to being a talented, versatile actor who breathes life into science geek extraordinaire Peter Parker, he's also ridiculously good-looking.  And while I appreciated that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst did not look like supermodels (sorry guys), I definitely enjoyed staring at Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone for two and a half hours.

I found the spider bite (and subsequent discovery of powers) far more believable in this movie than in the original.  And before you start scoffing at my calling a superhero movie "believable," bear with me.  In the first movie, a rogue spider happens to land on Parker and bite him.  He hadn't done anything to provoke the spider, and there were a lot of people in that building.  Why weren't four or five people bitten?  Who was supposed to be watching the genetically engineered spider and should be fired for letting it escape?  And the one that bothered me the most:  Why didn't Parker say anything?  A simple "Hey [anyone], a spider landed on me back there and bit me and it's swelling something awful.  Think maybe I should get it looked at?" would have been fine.  But no, he decides to keep quiet, even when he magically grows muscles the next morning.  I cannot thank the writers of this year's version enough for not having Peter Parker magically grow muscles the next morning.

By contrast, when Webb's Parker winds up in a tour group he was never supposed to be a part of, gets through a locked door (which is where one might expect to find really dangerous arachnids, as opposed to running loose), and then walks into the spider habitat (or whatever that was), it makes sense that he would keep quiet about being bitten, because it would have required that he confess to snooping in a restricted area.  And then Parker (and kudos to Garfield for this) looked understandably freaked when he gets home after unintentionally assaulting nearly everyone on a subway car, as any normal person would, had he just learned he could stick to ceilings.

I could definitely buy both versions of the young hero as the vigilante out to avenge the uncle.  But in the original, Parker’s transition from infected freak to superhero felt disjointed.  The biggest reason was probably that his iconic suit seems to spontaneously appear.  We see him draw it, but his first attempt at a cool outfit was such a miserable failure that I had a hard time believing that he made the second one.  At least in the new one we see him decide (albeit grudgingly) on spandex; there’s even a brief clip where he’s holding a needle and thread.  I’ve seen enough episodes of Project Runway to know that it’s not quite that easy to make a skintight spandex suit, but it was far better an explanation than was offered by the original.

Superhero aside, I found it much easier to invest in Garfield’s Parker than in Maguire’s.  They’re both nerdy, but Garfield brings charm and personality to the character.  Even before he gets bitten, we see him stand up to the school bully.  And after he discovers his powers, he is less reluctant to experiment with them in everyday situations.  In an interview with Matt Patches, Garfield says Parker “finds a confidence when he finds his power… a kind of rebelliousness that he hadn’t been able to access before.”  Maguire’s Parker never accesses such rebelliousness, and it makes his mild-mannered alter ego irritatingly frail.

Parker volunteers the “I’m Spider-Man” factoid awfully fast to a girl he hardly knows, which I found a little concerning.  It took Raimi two movies to tell Mary Jane the truth, although she claims she knew all along, so I was surprised when Gwen found out.  However, I will admit that her knowing paved the way for a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, and provided Parker with a much-needed ally.

I think the feel of superhero movies as a genre is changing.  A decade old, Raimi’s film is more true to the comic book style, complete with witty banter, a damsel in distress, and plenty of cheese.  Webb’s hero never once says the words “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” for which I was very grateful, and while there was no shortage of comedic content, I found it easier to worry for the characters when the overall tone was more serious.

Whew!  I think that’s everything.  Kudos if you made it all the way to the end.  What did you think?  Did The Amazing Spider-Man fail to impress you?  Or did you think it was better than the original?  Anybody else crushing Andrew Garfield or Emma Stone?  Or is Tobey Maguire the only Spidey for you?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fish Person

I don't know when it happened, exactly, but I've become a fish person.  I don't know if that's along the same lines as being a 'cat person' or a 'dog person,' or whether it's in a different category altogether.  Like maybe you can either be a 'hamster person' or a fish person.  I think that would be okay, because I definitely like fish better than I like hamsters.  When I was in kindergarten, my family volunteered to keep the class hamsters over some break (I forget which one), and it involved a lot of biting and running around chasing hamsters.  The hamsters were the ones doing the biting, not us.  Although I think my mom was probably ready to do some biting by the time we caught the hamsters.  I've had several fish and have never had to chase any of them down.

Right now, I have two goldfish:  Angelo, who is small and white and before he got the job as my pet was doing a gig as a table decoration at a friend's graduation party; and Cc, whom I got from the State Fair (I happily relieved my friend who actually won the game of the fish he did not want).  People are generally impressed that he is still alive when the hear where I got him.  Cc now sits on my desk at work, and has been received surprisingly well at the office.  One of the web designers informed me that he and Cc were "getting to be pretty good friends now" and that he was going to take him for a walk later.  I wasn't sure what to make of that.  Cc seemed okay with it, though.  I caught another (not-so-well-intentioned) workmate terrorizing my poor fish by holding his canned tuna up the bowl and telling Cc, "This is gonna be you.  This is your cousin."

But the best reaction Cc's gotten so far has been the geeky suggestion that I start telling people that there are really two fish in the bowl, Cc and Bcc, but that you can't see Bcc.  I've told that story at every opportunity since then.

A couple of days ago, I took it upon myself to become a better fish owner and read up on goldfish.  There are far more varieties than I ever imagined, and I learned that they eat pretty much anything.  They're non-aggressive, social, and actually make friends with each other, which I thought was really sweet.  I also began to foster this desire to invest in an aquarium.

I'm serious about this.  And unlike my incessant requests for permission to buy a bird, my mother didn't shoot this idea down right away.  In fact, she spent her Friday night shopping aquariums with me.  I may have been imagining it, but she almost sounded like she was into the idea by the end of the evening.  She informed me that she would have to be allowed to help pick out the fish.

Angelo and Cc (Common Goldfish) will both go in the fancy new glass box, of course, but I also want a Pompom, and I've got my eye on the Ryukin and the Moor as well.  See?  Look at all of these fancy goldfish words I know!

My favorite part of setting it all up is going to be decorating it.  I get really giddy just looking at all the fish tank decorations in Petsmart and Petco.  Shipwrecks, ruins, bridges, even Spongebob's pineapple and Squidward's Easter Island head (or whatever that is).  Not to mention all the fake plants in all manner of unnatural colors (because as long as it's fake, who says it has to be green?).  I will post pictures when I get it all set up, but it probably won't be for another couple of months.  I want to by a nice camera first.  So when I do take pictures, they will do the aquarium justice.
He who says, "Nothing is impossible" has never
tried to photograph a goldfish.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Raz and the Internettes

I don't work at the movie theater anymore.  In fact, I quit more than a year ago, in April.  I spent that summer seeing the world and watching YouTube videos, in that order.  But I went broke rather quickly.  That happens when you don't have a steady source of income and you spend three dollars a day on cappuccinos at your local hipster coffee shop.  Bottom line, I got another job.

The process was shockingly simple, and involved calling up a high school friend who said he could get me part time work.  Now, I know how that sounds, but this was all very legitimate.  I am now working at ReverbNation, a website geared toward the independent music industry.  I got the job without any experience or real qualifications ("HTML familiarity" and "attention to detail," according to my beautifully formatted resume), and half a semester of college education.

They hired me without even knowing what they were going to do with me, and for a few weeks I worked with various departments, but that makes the company sound much larger than it is.  The difference between working in Operations versus working with the Product team, for example, was a hallway and a flight of stairs from one end of the building to the other.  There are around 60 people who work there.  Seven of them are named Steve.  Not kidding.  Seven.

I must have shown promise as a QA tester, because that's what I've been doing ever since.  (QA stands for "Quality Assurance.")  Basically, I break things.  It's exhilarating.  We all remember that burning desire we had as toddlers and young children to knock down lego towers, stop on sand castles, and rip the heads off of Barbie dolls.  That's what I do, except with web pages.

As one of my coworkers put it, I'm the only one in the building that's disappointed when everything works properly.  He was right.  I take it personally when someone declares something unbreakable, and feel like a failure when I am unable to virtually (har har, get it?) bring something to its knees.  Each new assignment is a daunting quest, and I am the last line of defense between these untamed beasts and the unsuspecting public.  It is a great and terrible responsibility.

I started back in October, but when spring rolled around, they asked me what my plans were for the summer, and offered me an internship.  I won't be the only summer intern; there are others starting in June, but since I've been there for about six months already, I elected myself captain and decided we should call ourselves "Raz and the Internettes." I didn't realize, until I said it aloud, that "Internettes" sounds like "Internets," and since we're a website, that's just too beautiful a pun to pass up.  The reaction was maybe one notch above rotten tomatoes, but I was laughing too hard to care.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Creative Process

This guy's attention span could swim circles around mine.
Lately, I haven't been posting as much as I would like to be.  I blamed it on finals for a while, and school before that.  Those were adequate excuses, but now that finals are over (yay!) they don't work any longer.  I am forced to stare my real problem squarely in the face and acknowledge its existence: laziness.  It's sneaky.  I don't usually wake up in the morning with the intention of spending all day doing nothing (although I can't in good faith say that it's never happened).  But whenever I set about doing something, like finishing a painting I started almost a year ago, or writing that blog post I've drafted three times in my head but never actually hammered out on the computer, a similar sequence of events takes place.  This is how it generally goes:

1. Wake up with the whole day ahead of me.  Big dreams.  Wonderful intentions.

2. Open Blogger.  Finally going to write that Hunger Games review.

3. Notice I have a new follower.  Become filled with happiness.  Click to see who this wonderful new person is.

4. Click to view other stats.  Check whether Russia is still the country generating the second-largest number of hits.  Wonder why my blog is getting traffic from Russia.

5. Check to see if more than a quarter of my readers are still using Internet Explorer to read my blog.  Feel pity for the population.

6. Stomach growls.  Get breakfast.  Make coffee.  Check to see if Julian Smith has posted any new videos to YouTube that I can watch while the coffee perks.  He hasn't.

7. Watch Chuck on the Internet.  Promise I will go back to the blog post after this episode.

8. Episode ends in a cliffhanger.  Watch three more episodes of Chuck.  Cry because I'm in love with Chuck but we can never be together because he's fictional and married.  And fictional.

9. Find videos of Zachary Levi on YouTube to ease the pain.  Pain gets worse.

10. Return to Blogger.  Stare at blank text box.  Lose patience.  Feel worthless.

11. Check Pinterest.  Jane Doe and 34 others have repinned my pin.  Feel popular.

12. Stomach growls.  Get lunch.  Notice that it's already 3:00 in the afternoon.  Wonder how that happened.  Remember that I woke up at 11:00.  Feel worthless.

13. Vaguely remember that I was going to write a blog post.  Ignore feelings of guilt and worthlessness and bury them in vanilla ice cream with Oreos crumbled on top.  Feel fat.  Feel worthless.

14. Remember that I'm awesome and stop feeling worthless.  Decide I don't need blogging to convince myself that I'm not worthless.  Discard any and all intentions of writing a new post.

15. Play Tetris.  Get bored.

16. Play Temple Run.  Beat high score.  Reward self by watching Chuck.

17. Realize it's midnight and I should go to bed if I want to wake up in time to get anything done tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

C(A)PJ: Day 4

We just arrived in Cuzco.  The hotel is awesome.  We have hot water, heat electricity for more than four hours in the evening, and toilet paper we can actually flush down the toilet.  Don’t get me wrong; I loved the jungle, but it made me realize how much we take for granted. Plus, after two nights under a mosquito net, everything from here on out is going to seem swanky by comparison.

Right now, we’re supposed to be resting for two hours to adjust to the altitude (11,000 feet!), but my brother is having a lot of trouble working the shower, despite the straightforward instructions to wait five minutes for the hot water.  We drank coca tea a few minutes ago, which is supposed to help with altitude sickness, too.  That’s tea made from the same plant used to make cocaine.  Seems like there are a lot of things that could fix, if you ask me.

A surprisingly good picture of the sloth
This morning, we got to sleep in for an hour—we woke up at five, instead of four.  We packed up and took a three-hour boat ride all the way to Puerto Maldonado, because last night’s rain made the bus ride too risky.  We saw a sloth, sort of.  He was very far away and—get this—wasn’t moving around too much, but Esteban was borrowing people’s cameras to take pictures through his binoculars. Mine, which has been on its last leg for a day or so, died, so I haven’t seen them yet.

At the airport, I bought brasilnuts because my sister and I had eaten so many of her free samples that I would have felt guilty just walking away.  They taste pretty good.

When we landed, the temperature was pretty surprising.  It’s chilly here!  We were met by another sign, this one with a woman attached to it.  Her English is good, but when I have a question, I ask it in Spanish.  She answers slowly enough that I can understand her easily.  She quelled our worries that hiking the citadel was perilous and scary, saying that four hundred people do it a day and that if you’re slow, it takes and hour and twenty minutes.  So we’ll definitely be doing that.

Cuzco is my favorite city so far.  I mean, okay, so basically my choices were Lima and Cuzco, but Cuzco is still awesome.  We were musing about how European it felt, and that it was also similar to New Orleans.  The common thread hit us like the Golden Corral frying pan:  Spanish influence!  I wonder how you say “duh” in Spanish.  We ate dinner at the restaurant suggested by the guy at the front desk and it was awesome.  For the rest of the evening we shopped.  In fact, before we even made it to the restaurant, a woman with a lot of hats and belts and a baby on her back attacked us and managed to sell my sister a hat, which she was glad to have after sunset when it went from chilly to cold.  We took pictures of the woman and her baby, and I think I’m going to paint her when I get home.

The woman and her baby
My mom and I walked into one shop and I fell instantly in love with a cream-colored alpaca fleece sweater with a tag that read “135.”  It wasn’t until I was pulling it over my head that I learned it was 135 USD, not soles.  So about two and a half times more than I’d thought.  But it was too late, I was in love.  I haven’t taken it off.  But I owe my mom $135 because I didn’t have enough with me to pay for it.

After that we had coffee and dessert at a place across the street.  There were three guys at the table behind us, and I turned around and asked where they were from.  The answer was a heavily accented “England.”  I immediately lost all ability to think clearly and proceeded to embarrass myself and totally contribute to the idea that all Americans are total morons.  I’m not going to record the exact details of that, because I’m really hoping to forget.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed a whole bunch of young people dancing in groups.  One group looked like they were dancing more traditional Inca dances, while the other group, divided into boys and girls, were dancing something more contemporary-looking that involved a lot of shouting.  It was really cool, because, based on the lack of any real audience, it didn’t seem like they were doing it for the tourists (which are in abundant supply here), but like they had maybe just gotten together to dance for fun.

Back at the hotel, my brother took about ten seconds to figure out how to work the TV, and about ten minutes to figure out that everything’s in Spanish.  Who would have thought?  Maybe he’s learning something.  Now we’re watching The Lightning Thief in Spanish.  It is the single most epic thing I have ever seen.
That's a staircase, folks.
La Plaza del Armas in the middle of Cuzco

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Work Out

Special thanks to my sister for taking this (amazing) photo!
Recently, in an effort to become the best possible version of myself, manage my struggles in a productive and positive way, and mostly to fit into last year's shorts, I decided I needed to work out.

About five years ago, I had a fairly regular workout routine.  I would go to the gym once a week, and while I don't know that I was ever working particularly hard, I was also growing a lot and was just more physically active in general.  It was effective enough.  Since then, things had slowly been going downhill.  When marching band season would roll around, I would get reasonably in shape.  I would go to the gym just often enough to quell my mom's threats to cancel my membership.  I liked the idea of being physical and healthy better than actually putting it into practice.

It's not that I have an aversion to physical activity, it's just that I really love good food.  And maybe some not so good food as well.  The problem with living in a first world country is that there's usually an abundance of good food available for me to stuff into my face.  Plus, my sister, who is supermodel skinny and has concerning affinities for cheese, chocolate, and steak (usually not at the same time), only ever works out when forced, and never gains any weight.  She's not exactly the best motivation for getting off the couch.  She just makes me angry that I don't also magically look like that.

So I've discovered that I really love granola, yogurt, and yogurt with granola in it.  I'm also a big fan of fruit and fresh veggies.  It's not necessarily a chore to eat healthy; it's a chore to avoid eating everything else.  I am usually an equal-opportunity eater.  I don't like to discriminate against a food just because of its fat content.  That's just unfair.

But I've learned a valuable lesson in the past couple of weeks.  Perhaps it was something of which I was always aware, but never really found application for until now.  Whenever a tasty and gloriously unhealthy something enters the house, all I have to do is debate eating it for a day or two, and my 12-year-old brother will usually have consumed all of it before I can decide that I really did want some and decend upon the sugary morsel of goodness in question like a swarm of locusts.  It's working so far, except that when my brother has finished devouring all of the sugar in the pantry, he turns his preteen appetite on my granola bars.  There will be a throwdown one of these days, and since I'm basically ripped now, he won't stand a chance.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Carter

I was excited for John Carter after I saw the very first teaser trailer, which provided infuriatingly little information about any plot or even basis for the story, but it looked completely bizarre and so, naturally, I was hooked.  I went on Saturday.  In short, it did not disappoint, although comparing it to the epic film and special effects pioneer Avatar or the brilliantly and artfully executed Cowboys & Aliens would be a mistake.

The movie is based (I don’t know how loosely) on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the first in an eleven-volume series written between 1912 and 1943.  Why they just now thought to make a movie out of it is beyond me, although I am glad it was done now that CGI and other special effects meld darn near seamlessly with live-action content.

Image... uh... borrowed from IMDb
Something that often suffers when writing plot-driven books (and suffers again when adapting them for the big screen) is character development.  Perhaps John Carter’s writers used this to their advantage, because the only character who really needs to be developed—the titular hero himself—is surprisingly deep.  His backstory (fought in the war, family died, nothing left to lose, etc.), albeit not the most original of them all, is valid and emotional, not fully revealed until he relives it himself in flashbacks while slicing and dicing aliens in a slow-motion rage.

The plot felt a bit crammed in places, which is often the result of trying to fit too much book into too little movie.  When you’ve got a few hundred pages and a committed reader, sub-plots are delightful.  But when you have 120-or-so minutes with an audience constantly trying to pick the next scene to skip for a popcorn refill or bathroom run, sub-plots become incommodious, and a couple of them—such as one of the tharks’ (a race of Martians) discovery that she is the leader’s daughter—could have been sacrificed for the sake of development more integral to the overall plot.

Undue emphasis was placed on the war between the two cities, when the really interesting stuff (like the conflict between John Carter and the supernatural therns who seem to be the real antagonists) tended to slip between the cracks.

The film draws a few giggles, and convincing the audience to like—adore, even—a downright ugly monster that looks like a very large frog. It panted and whined like any earth dog, and I even think I heard it bark once.  According to John Carter, if you’ve suspended enough disbelief to handle civilizations on other planets and magical drinks that translate alien languages, Martians are not so alien.  In fact, they could have been made to act a little more alien, if you ask me.  And not so British.  There are apparently a lot of Brits on Mars.  However, the damsel in distress—who, to her credit, does an impressive amount of butt-kicking—does literally shake John Carter’s hand, jiggling it by the thumb, which was pretty funny, if predictable.

The end was well done, though I suppose I won’t talk about it too much.  Based on what the rest of the Internet has to say, it doesn’t look good for a sequel, but if they make one, I’ll go see it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

All Tired Out

This weekend I went snowboarding with a couple of friends.  Yes, friends.  Well, most of them were people I'd never met before.  Regardless, I went snowboarding.  We stayed for free in the house of a guy who was out of town, which was nice because I recently went broke buying a snowboard.  However, he lived a good two and a half hours from the ski resort.  So we beat the sun out of bed by a couple of hours to hit the road as early as possible and get the most out of our one-day lift tickets.

We weren't fifteen minutes down the road when things started to go wrong.  We noticed that the car was making a weird whack-whack-whack noise and pulled off the side of the highway to investigate.  We didn't even have to get out to know what it was; as soon as we stopped, the smell of burned rubber filled the car.  Flat tire.  No, busted tire.  The rip was probably eight inches long.

No problem.  We're all reasonably intelligent people.  Plus, the car had a full-sized spare tire, so all we had to do was change it and be on our way.  Turns out removing the decorative wheel cover is easier said than done, especially when you're missing the tool that the manual refers to.  And a bent coat hanger just wasn't an adequate substitute.  We were sitting in the car trying to warm up and find instructions on various so-called "smart" phones when a cop pulled over.  Relieved, we explained our problem.  It's a little sad when the solution is just to yank harder, but we hadn't wanted to break any part of this otherwise very nice Audi  Quattro.

Things went relatively smoothly from there (except for the "alignment pin" which we deemed useless until we realized we needed it).  The cop was helping us lift the new tire onto the wheel, and none of us had been hit by the traffic, despite the fact that the busted tire was on the left and we could feel the breeze every time an eighteen-wheeler passed us.  Then the only other girl in our group goes, "Wait, what's that?" which are not words you want to hear when you think you're about to resume your cruise down the highway with only a forty-five minute delay.

She pointed to a giant crack in the spare tire.

We were devastated.  The cop basically told us we were on our own and bailed.  We drew the conclusion that the previous owners of the car had replaced the tire once already and had not gotten a new spare.  Having decided, therefore, that the dealership owed us a tire, we called them.  They offered to tow it.  Unless they were going to tow us all the way to the ski resort, that wasn't helpful.  So we started calling other people.  (And by "we" I mean the only guy that actually lived and knew people in the area.  The rest of us sat and listened supportively.)  Our other car group never actually stopped and were already an hour ahead of us.  The guy who was driving just needed someone to take him to buy a new tire.  He called his mom on speaker.

"Mom I need help I'm in trouble."

"Tell Momma where you're at."

"I'm on the side of the highway.  My tire's busted."

"... Call your dad."

"I can't call him I don't have his number."


"Mom, can't you just come get me?"

"I'm at the beauty salon, baby."

So we called someone else.  Meanwhile, another cop pulled over.  We helpfully suggested that he give our guy a ride to the nearest tire place.  "I can't really do that... I'm working by myself today and that would tie me up..."  Well, thank you, officer, for pulling over with no intent of actually helping us.  We would hate to inconvenience you in case you have to fight real crime.

Finally we got a hold of someone.  Three hours behind schedule, but we were back on course.  And the rest of the day went really well.  I love my board, and I did make a few new friends.  But every time we saw a cop pulled over behind someone we said, "Uh, I'm sorry, I can't help you man..."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Up in Flames

Oh, the irony!
Let's get something straight.  Kindles are not books. Books have pages. Real ones. Made of paper. Each one is different, an individual facet of the book's personality. Some of them might be crinkled or folded, the covers are probably worn and torn a little. The spine or binding is almost certainly destroyed, depending on how gentle a reader you are, but when you look at that book, you remember reading it, or lending it to your friend, or finding it under your bed. You remember the story, because that story is the only story inside that book. And when you open the cover and flip through the pages, the smell hits you and whether it's a new book or old book smell, or whether it just smells like mildew, it's the best smell in the world.

What does a kindle smell like? Plastic.

Kindles are cold, heartless, lousy impersonations of books. They lack personality and individuality. I know that the words are the same no matter how you read them. The experience is not. Haven't we let technology encroach upon enough of our lives? I am especially disappointed with the success of this invention because I had faith in my fellow readers. I imagined us standing strong, defying Kindles and all of their disrespect because we would never sacrifice the experience of reading a book. A real book. We, I thought, would halt this attack on our reader's integrity.

But I've been abandoned. I stand, seemingly alone against this massacre of books. Borders is bankrupt. The one near my house has closed and been replaced by a glorified flea market. I will not buy a kindle.

Ray Bradbury couldn't have been more right.  No, we're not literally lighting up books and watching them burn, but I mean come on; it's called a Kindle for Pete's sake!  And it gets better.  Do you know what the latest installment of this irreverent little machine has been dubbed?  The Kindle Fire.  

The Kindle FIRE.

If the comparison felt forced before, it sure doesn't now.  Bradbury himself said, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them."  Well, Bradbury, people are not reading books anymore.  They're reading screens.

So if I am solitary in my resistance, so be it.  I shall not be moved.

Friday, January 27, 2012

You've Got a Friend in... Someone Else

So if you've been keeping up with my ramblings profound analyses of life, the universe, and everything up to this point then this will not surprise you, but if you haven't, here's the quick "Previously, on Raz Berries":  I am many things.  A social creature is not one of them.

My sister, in addition to being the most advanced turn-by-turn GPS system I've ever seen (I was born without whatever gene most humans, pigeons, and salmon use to find their way around), is often my social coordinator.  If it weren't for her, I would probably spend the majority of my time holed up in my room playing Minecraft.  That is, a larger majority of my time.  And not the online/multiplayer version, either.  The version in which I am the sole inhabitant of my own world.

I had friends in high school.  I found a smallish circle of people with whom I shared interests but not personality.  I think that's the best kind of friend you can have, because you have things to talk about but your opinions differ enough to make conversation interesting.  In college, that changed.

I don't make friends easily.  This does not bother me.  I take a long time to decide I like someone and even then the level of social interaction I consider comfortable usually comes across as standoffishness (that's a real word) or rudeness.  My close friends know this.  That's why they're my close friends.  That's also why they're the only type of friends I have.  In high school your friend options are slim.  Most kids go with the people they see on a daily basis: the people in their lunch, their clubs, their classes.

Now, no one talks to his classmate.  People make friends with the people that live in their dorm.  They hang out with the people in their sorority, fraternity, or other miscellaneous organization.  I live at home.  On top of that, I'm now surrounded by engineers.  It's me, multiplied by thousands (but not as good looking and nowhere near as clever and witty).  We walk from class to class with our heads down and our headphones in our ears.  The second someone talks to you, your guard goes up because only the really weird kids are out to make friends.  The kid that sits next to me in my computer programming class introduced himself and then asked if he smelled bad.  I wish I was joking.

It was different when I walked into a humanities building for my Modern American History class (which I picked after the dismaying realization that Modern English Syntax didn't fit in my schedule).  I had barely made it to the elevator before some girl walked up to me and got friend all over me.  It was weird.  She asked me what room I was looking for and admitted that she, too, was lost.  I wasn't lost, but I didn't tell her that.  I made a joke about the elevator taking forever, which she found a lot funnier than I expected.  And I didn't scare her off between the elevator and the lecture hall (turns out she's in my class) because she sat next to me.  She doesn't look like there's anything wrong with her...

We'll see, I guess.