# (1) 26 Apr 2013, 08:37AM: Breakfast Conversation:
"You can look up [shop name] to get the address. They have a map and everything."
"Oh I already did it."
"I did it thirty-five minutes ago."
"Well, I did it about five minutes ago."
"Man, Mountain Goats would be just the worst songs to put into commercials. But in your arms, in your arms / I buy vegan shoes..... Like, remember when Devo did those ads where they turned 'Whip It' into 'Swiff It'"?
"Yeah, but that's not surprising, because Mark Mothersbaugh has written a lot of music for commercials."
"Yeah, but imagine some Devo fan who doesn't know that, but to whom Devo is really important, and they see that, and are like 'Aaargh!' And, like, there were probably fans to whom They Might Be Giants is, like, an anti-selling-out-machine, and then they did the Dunkin' Donuts ads."
#08 Dec 2012, 01:28PM: Friday:
"What license is it under?" "The 'I put it on Tumblr' license?" "Ah yes, Misattribution-ShareAlike."
(Today) I read "dear web people: forcing smartphone users to click on a tiny dot 9 times to see all of a story almost guarantees no views past the 1st page" and momentarily got anxious before I remembered that I work for Wikimedia now, not Salon, and we don't do that!
"What lists do we post to to advertise that we're a queer-friendly workplace?" "The Castro?" "I think me standing on a corner handing out pamphlets doesn't scale."
"In engineering we have these six Director-level groups, but we might be adding The Seventh Directorate, by Robert Ludlum."
Also yesterday when I walked to lunch I was the thirtysomething middle manager bopping down New Montgomery to a decades-old rock song ("Smells Like Teen Spirit"). I am not a Dilbert character, but I believe I show up in a Jonathan Coulton song or four.
#21 Sep 2012, 10:19PM: 14:
I used to do a lot of stand-up comedy. I was at open mics at least once a week, I polished my material, I was always coming up with bits.
The impetus: I went to comedy shows and open mics, and saw people doing terribly, and thought, I could do better than that! and did.
But it turns out that seeing good comedy -- cerebral comedy, social justice comedy, mindbendingly absurd comedy -- sates me. I was making what I wanted to exist, and when I see comedians like Hari Kondabolu, I laugh and sit back and feel as though the need is filled. I'm like Sepia Mutiny in that way.
# (2) 01 Sep 2012, 03:04PM: Bertie Wooster, Tom Buchanan, and George Oscar Bluth II:
In Arrested Development, G.O.B. makes use of a racist felon, "White Power Bill," as the unwilling demonstratee of a magic trick. Humiliated, Bill stabs G.O.B., crying, "White power!" As G.O.B. falls, he croaks, "I'm....white..."
This, like his more famous line "illusions, Dad, you don't have time for my illusions," demonstrates G.O.B.'s knack for the irrelevant riposte, but more clearly reveals why he does it. G.O.B. is entitled and one aspect of his entitlement is the inflexibility of his mindset. He does not even recognize immediately when life has handed him a setback, so his reflex is to immediately nitpick any criticism. Think of how often his conversational turn starts with "Technically, Michael..."
I thought of White Power Bill as I was flipping through The Great Gatsby just now, and reread the Tom-Jay confrontation scene:
Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. "You're causing a row. Please have a little self-control."
"Self-control!" repeated Tom incredulously. "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out.... Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white."
Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.
"We're all white here," murmured Jordan.
They are. But Tom's status anxiety is fungible, channelling into abuse along race, gender, and class lines -- the Triple Crown of the kyriarchy! Fitzgerald makes Tom's racism part and parcel of his hideous dominance fetish, and it makes complete sense that he and White Power Bill would frame their attacks (on other whites) as defenses of whiteness.
But back to the irrelevant riposte, a dialogue trick I adore beyond reason. As a kid I read Wodehouse, and my favorite bit in all of the Jeeves & Wooster tales is from Right Ho, Jeeves. Backstory: Bertie quietly talked to Angela in the garden, making mock of Tuppy in a scheme to get Angela to un-break-up with Tuppy. This did not work, and it turns out Tuppy was hiding in a bush and heard the whole thing. After Tuppy emerges, enraged, Bertie tries to cool him down and is mostly terrible at it.
A sharp spasm shook him from base to apex. The beetle, which, during the recent exchanges, had been clinging to his head, hoping for the best, gave it up at this and resigned office. It shot off and was swallowed in the night.
"Ah!" I said. "Your beetle," I explained. "No doubt you were unaware of it, but all this while there has been a beetle of sorts parked on the side of your head. You have now dislodged it."
"Not beetles. One beetle only."
"I like your crust!" cried Tuppy, vibrating like one of Gussie's newts during the courting season. "Talking of beetles, when all the time you know you're a treacherous, sneaking hound."
It was a debatable point, of course, why treacherous, sneaking hounds should be considered ineligible to talk about beetles, and I dare say a good cross-examining counsel would have made quite a lot of it.
But I let it go.
Bertie Wooster is detail-oriented in all the wrong ways, and sometimes I am foolish that way too, and that exchange has cheered me for twenty years. I may be an annoying, bikeshedding pedant, but I'm not alone, and sometimes we make people laugh.
# (2) 12 Apr 2012, 08:48AM: She Was a Buuuuuuuuug Filer, Defect Ticket Yeah:
So this morning I discovered, while chatting with Leonard, that "(Now) I'm a Believer" by the Beatles has the line "Not a trace / Of doubt in my mind," where I had gone three decades thinking it was "Not a trace / I'm out of my mind." My feeble arguments led to:
L: I think you should take this up with the Beatles. S: I already did! In Beatlezilla. The Beatles' bug tracker. L: And what did they say? S: They said, "We love you, yeah yeah yeah, we love you, yeah yeah yeah." But I think that was an autoresponse.
Postscript: Leonard told me he was filing a bug report against this very blog post as "I'm a Believer" is by the Monkees, not the Beatles. Given that I evidently filed my bug with the wrong tracker, Leonard suggests that "We love you, yeah, yeah, yeah" is the Beatles' equivalent of WONTFIX.
#15 Mar 2012, 02:40PM: Everybody Loves Raiment:
As a certain variety of corporate-office woman knows, it's great to have a variety of black trousers. (Or, as time goes by and one does not replace them when they fade, a variety of fairly-dark-gray trousers.) Non-denim black slacks go with a lot of tops, look professional, have pockets, hide stains, and so on.
Today I ran into a wrinkle (ha!): I pulled a pair of black drawstring sweatpants out of the bureau. They looked kind of familiar but I do not remember acquiring them. They fit, so they're probably mine. Did you give me a pair of black drawstring sweatpants, sister N.? This seems like the kind of nice thing you would do and have done -- you know, like how you gave me the black hoodie that (until Wikimedia gave me a Wikipedia-branded hoodie) was the only hooded sweatshirt I owned.
I decided to wear the sweatpants. Leonard and I sang the traditional putting-on-black-pants song, a filk of Soundgarden's "Fell on Black Days":
Put onnnn ... black paaaaants....
Put onnnnnnnnn .... blackpantssssss....
How could I know! That these would be my paaaaaants....
How could I know! That I would wear these .... paaaaaants
Leonard also can't remember getting the jeans he's wearing now. "Their origin is shrouded in mystery," he informed me.
S: And where did you get that shroud?
S: Did you get it from Kenneth Turan?
L: He gave it four stars.
(Rejected titles: "Garb Gab," "Slack," "The Wrong Trousers.")
Sumana's Stand Up Comedy on the second day of the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit 2011.
Unfortunately the recording died half way through the video...
Thanks to Heiko for recording this. It's 14:28. There's an odd synchronization problem with the audio and the video. Also this is unpracticed. I often go to unconferences, realize I may as well do some nerdy stand-up, and then do it with like fifteen minutes' rememorizing/practice. The answer is to develop new material that excites me more.
Better by Atul Gawande; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (attacker's POV) andInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini (defender's POV); The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin; Bossypants by Tina Fey; should have also mentioned Ellen Ullman's The Bug;
#22 Apr 2011, 11:45AM: I'm Making A Note Here: Moderate Success:
24 people came to the performance last night, and, by all appearances, enjoyed it. Thanks, all! This included one Astoria resident who misread the "Geeky Standup Comedy" poster and came thinking I'd be speaking in Greek. (Astoria has a lot of Greek immigrants.) She enjoyed it anyway; phew!
After the show, some of us were talking about jobs, technology, and so on. It's not enough to be right... it's more profitable to read Dale Carnegie than to read Kernighan and Ritchie, I said.
I didn't mean that to depress them! I mean, How to Win Friends and Influence People is a shorter read than K&R! It's faster and easier; the ROI is way better! Inadvertent buzzkill there.
The bookstore folks are very friendly and accommodating, and asked me whether I'd be interested in hosting a monthly show. I will think about it.
#19 Apr 2011, 11:51PM: My Standup Comedy This Week:
Every night this week, I am making jokes in front of people here in New York. On Monday, I entertained a few friends eating dinner during a Passover seder. I was pretty bad and am glad they had something else to busy themselves with. Tonight, I practiced in front of a few friends in their apartment. And I've now made plans for the rest of the week:
Wednesday 20 April: Planning to workshop five minutes of material at the Anything Goes open rehearsal, which starts at 7:15pm. Shetler Studio, 244 West 54th Street in Manhattan, 12th Floor.
Thursday 21 April: Full performance (half an hour), 7pm at Seaburn Bookstore, 33-18 Broadway, in Astoria, Queens. My picture is in their window!
Friday 22 April: Hoping to perform for ten minutes during a hacker dinner that starts at 7pm. Red Egg, 202 Centre St at Howard St in Manhattan.
Saturday 23 April: Full performance, basement of Greenpoint Reformed Church (thanks, Camille!) in Brooklyn, 8pm. 136 Milton Street between Manhattan and Kent. Camille directs: Take the G train to Greenpoint, and get out on the Greenpoint Ave. side, or take the 7 or L train and then grab the B62 bus to Greenpoint Ave. Pass the 7-Eleven and turn the corner at Milton. It's the small white church on the left hand side of the street. Careful to come to the basement, not the meeting hall; we are not the AA meeting!
# (1) 17 Apr 2011, 09:17AM: Apropos:
Leonard and I have been watching a few episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show every day. Battlestar Galactica, The Babysitters Club, and The Dick Van Dyke Show all suit me partly because they focus on labor. Robert Petrie takes substantial pride in doing his job well. I am now imagining Admiral Adama from BSG as Rob's boss Mel Cooley. Sure.
Yesterday, we watched "Big Max Calvada," in which a mob boss gets Rob and his comedy-writing colleagues to write an act for the mobster's untalented nephew. My PICC performance approaches in less than two weeks. Perhaps it didn't help my nerves to watch the nephew's act bombing.
So: this Friday, 8pm, the Pacific Standard bar, 82 Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, I will attempt to do a very rough 15-minute preview act. Come, critique, socialize! (My full act, which I'll perform at Seaburn Books on the 21st and at PICC on the 29th, is 30 minutes.)
#12 Apr 2011, 03:26PM: Geeky Standup Comedy as Value-Add:
So, about that standup I'm doing this month. Have you perhaps further pondered, "It would be awesome if Sumana performed at a tech conference where I could also network with the IT community of New York and New Jersey, and attend training programs for way cheaper than I could get elsewhere"?
Your wait is nearly over. I will be the evening keynote speaker at PICC, the Professional IT Community Conference, on Friday, April 29th, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. PICC is a nonprofit production of LOPSA, the League of Professional System Administrators. Other (serious) speakers will include Tom Limoncelli, Sheeri K. Cabral, and the sysadmins from StackExchange. Python, Nagios, security, time management, Hudson, IPv6, all sorts of useful stuff.
The student rate is under a hundred bucks. Today is the last day to register at the early rate -- check it out!
(So yeah, all those other performances this month will be to prep for the PICC keynote. Please attend and help me improve it!)
# (2) 12 Apr 2011, 01:52PM: Geeky Standup Comedy, April 21st in Astoria (And Elsewhen):
Have you ever thought, "I wish Sumana Harihareswara would do some standup comedy about project management, Linux, relationships, Agile, public transit, science fiction, and These Kids Today"?
Here you go. I'm giving a few performances this week and next. Solidly confirmed: I will perform for half an hour on Thursday, April 21st, at 7pm at Seaburn Bookstore, 33-18 Broadway, in Astoria, Queens.
(I know I'm not on the Seaburn events calendar yet. They're a little bookstore and press, a short walk from the N/Q and R/M trains, with a cafe upstairs and a surprisingly big events space downstairs.)
Also: I'm seeking a Brooklyn bar for 15-minute workshoppy performances tomorrow night (13 April) and Friday (15 April); I may just hijack Pacific Standard. And if someone in Manhattan or Astoria wants to host me on Friday the 22nd, then that would be awesome.
#04 Apr 2011, 01:35PM: Capital Venture:
This morning in the hotel lobby I talked to a fellow guest who slightly resembled Vinod Khosla. We joked that he could make some money on the side as a Vinod Khosla impersonator, opening new car dealerships, snipping ribbons with a giant pair of scissors. (I guess that would work for, like, Honda of Palo Alto or Tesla of Santa Clara.)
Then some tourists from Brisbane joined in the conversation. "Have I seen you on television?" one asked me. I think I've been on TV about three times in my life: once at the age of five when my family was caught in an airport delay, once around eleven as a cohost of the local FOX Kids affiliate, and once about six years ago, in Japan, in a women's wrestling match. "I'm pretty sure you haven't," I ventured. Evidently I resemble a comedienne of South Asian descent who's been on Australian TV. Not Mindy Kaling, I think.
#02 Apr 2011, 04:41PM: Joel on Coal Postmortem:
I got the idea for Joel on Coal during a work lunch at Fog Creek in 2007. I assume the idea popped into my head because it rhymed. Care for a lengthy recounting of my process?
It lay fairly dormant in my head till this January. I started thinking seriously about it because he'd said he was basically retiring from blogging and my friend Julia was doing a lot of research on coal mining for a writing project. The environment sounded ripe. She agreed to write some of the text, and we were on!
Leonard bought the joeloncoal.com domain for me and set up the server on the Linode virtual box where we keep our sites. I gave Julia links to several classic Joel essays, and she chose to write excellent parodies of the Joel Test and then of Two Stories.
Things I decided not to do:
Use a real content management system. I thought of setting up a CMS, maybe something with Django, maybe WordPress, maybe Jekyll or a Bloxsom variant or something. But then I realized, why do I need a CMS? A couple of flat HTML pages would be fine. Not like I'll need to update this. So I just did flat HTML pages + images. (I'm glad the site didn't depend on a database -- that would have made it harder to scale up when thousands of people started hammering it.)
Mention Joel's partner, Jared. I originally planned on including something silly about how Joel and Jared were adapting to life in Appalachia, but worried it would come off as too personal and possibly insulting.
So, in mid-March, I used the Wayback Machine to grab an old Joel on Software page. Some of the newer designs of JoS depended on CSS, which I have been meaning to learn but don't know. So, spring 2004 was my base template.
On Tuesday, March 29th, I started working on the site, removing Wayback Machine HTML and some of Joel's text, and adding Julia's copy. I was mostly editing in gEdit and using git to keep a log of my changes. Then, Thursday night, I found some suitable photos via Google Image Search and Flickr's CC-licensed image search, used GIMP to manipulate the images (learning along the way about fuzzy select, transparency, and layers), finished adding Julia's copy, and added the "yes, this is a parody" page. Then I wrote the "Fire & Motion" piece that -- within the fiction of the blog -- is Joel's first entry, explaining the backstory. (First draft: ten to fifteen minutes longhand on the subway.) And I removed some cruft (I should really learn how to use regular expressions properly), added a Reddit button, simplified the left-hand navigation bar, changed nearly all the links to point to "index.html" or "parody.html", and so on. I edited the pages and images in a test directory on my laptop, and every once in a while used scp to copy them to the live server. (git came in handy when I tried to add a Digg button and it didn't work. Revert!) All that took a few hours. At this point I started telling a few geeky friends, letting them preview the site, and asking for their help spreading the word the next day.
Once I thought it was ready (around 11:40 the night of March 31st) I started microblogging, emailing, blogging, and generally publicizing the site. I submitted a tip to TechCrunch, which ended up giving me thousands of hits, and I sent a link to Liz, Fog Creek's office manager, which may be how Joel eventually found the site & tweeted about it. A zillion retweets followed and Joel on Coal made it to the front page of Hacker News. I'd encouraged friends to Reddit the site, but in retrospect, HN front-page status + positive acknowledgment from the prank's victim + probably a hundred tweets = success. I ended up getting about twenty thousand hits to the front page. (Leonard increased max_clients in Apache and I reduced the quality of one of the images to handle the traffic better.) People definitely spent more person-hours enjoying the site than Julia, Leonard and I spent making it, so that's totally success.
It dismayed me that several people thought Joel had created the parody. It's hard, with a prank like this, to claim credit successfully; the unity of the joke depends on keeping a straight face on the front page, so I liberally linked throughout the front page to the "yes, this is a parody" page, which credited Julia and me. But most people didn't read that much, or click. Also, as Leonard reminded me, on April Fool's Day most people parody themselves, not others. And Brendan reminded me that it's a compliment to our satire that people thought it got Joel's voice so right. Rather like one's fanfic being mistaken for the original author's work.
I particularly loved the two times when I instant-messaged friends and the following exchange happened:
I'm glad my April Fool's prank is such a success. What was it? http://joeloncoal.com
That was you?! I loved that!
So I figure I've paid my April Fool's dues for the next few years. I hope you enjoyed Joel on Coal; I enjoyed making it. Big thanks to Julia and Leonard for your work!
Square Pegs is funny. It's light, and even the few villains are comical. And it moves fast; a plot point that, on another sitcom, might take fifteen minutes to resolve, comes out here in three (see especially "Hardly Working").
The creator, Anne Beatts, worked on Saturday Night Live in the seventies. This shows in the writing, in the caricatures, and in the guest stars. Bill Murray shows up as a genuinely wacky, scary substitute teacher in "No Substitutions".
So eighties! One episode is called "Pac-Man Fever" and for good reason. One student's obsessed with New Wave (his passion borne out when Devo performs, live, in "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah"). One young teacher used to be a radical protestor; another teacher is obsessed with his Vietnam experience ("Square Pigskins"), and it's played for laughs. (All the teachers have strange obsessions. "A Cafeteria Line" is exemplary.)
Muffy Tepperman, obsessed with pep, is an easier-to-hate precursor of Reese Witherspoon's character from Election.
One of the two stars: a young Sarah Jessica Parker.
Some episodes portray Vinnie Pasetta as a wise, benevolent thug and it's great. (Example: "To Serve Weemawee All My Days".)
Square Pegs is not at all like high school. No arcs, no studying, about eight students of consequence, teachers who host sleepovers, just an utter fantasy.
Leonard suggests you start with "Hardly Working" or "A Cafeteria Line." Tell me if you've seen any, so we can wonder together where in the heck Weemawee is supposed to be. New Jersey? Southern California?
(A qualified endorsement: there's a lot of fatphobia in Square Pegs. As much sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. as you'd expect from a CBS sitcom from 1982, but way more sizeism than I was expecting.)
#27 Feb 2011, 09:35AM: Miscellaneous:
Winter in New York City; learning to love the gurgle of the radiator.
Project management is sometimes a matter of asking an obvious question, then standing there with an expectant look while your team member gets around to promising they'll do what they know they ought to do.
At karaoke, some songs had music videos -- not the original music videos, of course, but karaoke music videos, much cheaper in cost and effect, one step above B-roll. Motorcycle riders, abandoned warehouses, beaches, you know. The video for Radiohead's "Creep" featured a hunchbacked dude yearning for a woman who rejected him. I told my fellow singers, "I'm waiting for the bit where he invents Facebook."
Sandi Toksvig: Miles, whose Gallic grump is of global proportions?
Miles Jupp: .... It turns out that the French -- they are the most depressed people in the world. Which is a surprise. Well, I suppose what it teaches you -- that if you live in a country where people are either rioting, shrugging, or refusing to work, it will eventually grind you down.
Sandi: We only came fifth. Fifth!
Miles: In the grumpy?
Sandi: In the grumpiness! They must have only polled people who don't watch EastEnders. Fifth!
Jeremy Hardy: It was developing countries where people are more cheery, wasn't it?
Sandi: The Nigerians are, apparently, very cheerful.
Jeremy: Well, because when people are materially disadvantaged, maybe they're more optimistic, because they know that their destiny's not entirely in their own hands. And so they just have to hope for the best. Whereas in the developed world, where materially we've got plenty of stuff, and lots of opportunities, we know that the only thing stopping us from being happy is ourselves, which of course is a kind of downward spiral into disillusionment and hopelessness, isn't it, really? Because you can't -- you're never gonna get rid of yourself, so if you're basically unhappy, you're always gonna be unhappy, and in the remaining time that you've got left, you're either gonna be in despair about the fact that you've wasted your life, or maybe a bit cheerful about the fact that it's nearly
Miles: How depressed must the French be!
Sandi: And a very happy New Year to us all.
You're not going to hear that on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.
#20 Feb 2011, 05:44PM: Apple Jacks:
Today I learned that TV advertisements for Apple Jacks cereal used to emphasize the apple taste, then (coinciding with my watchership) proudly renounced any claim to tasting appley, and now have a talking apple mascot who goes on about how apple-infused the whole production is.
My childhood overlapped with a historically aberrant period. Mass media was a business model that worked. Cheap and abundant fossil fuels made long-distance travel easy. And Apple Jacks was honest about the faintness of its apple connection. Peak Copyright, Peak Oil, Apple Valley.
#13 Feb 2011, 10:34AM: Sweet!:
Years ago, on Jeopardy!, a contestant incorrectly rang into a food science clue with the response, "What is aspartame?" Nope. Then, for the next clue -- something about NutraSweet -- no one rang in. Beep-beep-beep, the timer said. And then host Alex Trebek pronounced, all stentorian, "Now's the time for aspartame."
I take fake sugar with my coffee and tea these days, and every time I reach for it -- even if it's sucralose or saccharin -- I think of Alex Trebek.
# (1) 22 Jan 2011, 09:18AM: May Already Exist:
Variation: Google Platitude. It analyzes your recent SMSes, your emails, and the galvanic response of your skin to choose a cliché relevant to your mental state, and displays that to you and your circle of friends.
"Sandy's current mental location: Once burned, twice shy"
If you turn off Google Platitude out of privacy concerns, it doesn't actually turn off, it just spitefully sets your status to "If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide".
I wore it to Arisia, where Julia and her friends surprised me. I thought the shirt was black, but their color impressions ranged from gunmetal to brown to purple. Julia today in IM said:
your velour top is velour, color uncertain
should we call that color Ellen Kushner Grey?
My immediate response:
Many works of speculative fiction shift raiments to the background of the story. Few put these crucial elements of worldbuilding where they should be: center stage. What clothes will wear us as we change our politics, our culture, our technology, and our way of life? What will be the fabric of our brave new lives?
John Joseph Adams presents a new anthology:
MATERIAL VELOUR, COLOR UNKNOWN
What's inside that magic wardrobe?
[This is a what-if, an imaginary story. Not a real anthology, not even a fake anthology. No, I'm not about to do a sequel to Thoughtcrime Experiments. However it would be hilarious if someone thought this idea were a goer.]
# (3) 13 Jan 2011, 09:55AM: Do Your Choice! I Have No Job!:
Leonard & I are watching Battlestar Galactica from the beginning -- we'd started watching at season 3 while it was airing. Leonard says that the worst sin on BSG is not doing your job. Maybe the reason Saul Tigh is such a drunk is that he's playing a drinking game around the words "job" and "choice." This is not a show about the nature of humanity, or reconciling with enemies. This is a show about diligence under constraint, like Project Runway.
I grab my trench coat and fedora from the closet before looking around the room.
That's when I see my new boss. Four feet of trouble. Brunette variety.
"Death and Suffrage" by Dale Bailey, from the 2007 anthology The Living Dead. "The dead had voted, all right, and not just in Chicago." Not a postapocalyptic zombie story; instead, politics and a compelling droning dreary nightmare feel. Like The West Wing meets World War Z.
"Talisman" by Tracina Jackson-Adams, 19 August 2002, Strange Horizons. Is this urban fantasy, except rural? Horses, a family feud, dark ceremonies in the wood. I don't usually like fantasy, or fiction about horses, but Jackson-Adams got me with high stakes, slow-burn reveals, and believable emotion and characters.
"How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade" by Nick Poniatowski, 21 June 2010, Strange Horizons. "I wasn't mad at you for losing the rocket. I was mad at you for being such a nerd. I'm not your friend, and I never was." Hurts so good. One character's wish fulfillment, but not the POV character's.
It was a good salesman voice, keen and enthusiastic, and it bore shockingly little resemblance to the one he'd been using his entire workaday life up until that day about two months ago, the day Simon now liked to call "Torn Apart And Devoured By Lions Day."
A brown bear entered the clearing. It walked upright and carried an old-fashioned miner's lantern filled with fireflies. It waddled towards the pool, looking less like a predator than like an elderly sumo wrestler tottering uncertainly towards a bout with a reigning champion.
In the comments, I welcome your thoughts on the linked stories, or additional filk on spec-fic titles.
# (8) 04 Nov 2010, 02:26PM GMT+5:30: To Build A WiFire:
Nandini advised me that video chat with her fiance makes it far more bearable to be away from him, so I decided to investigate the Google Chat videochat integration in Empathy so I could videochat with Leonard for free without having to install anything proprietary (read: Skype). It worked fine between my and Leonard's Ubuntu machines when we were in the same apartment in the States, but my Empathy froze up when I tried to initiate an audio or video chat from here in Mysore. That was just over wifi, though; it kinda worked when I plugged into an Ethernet cable. Kinda. (I hereby apologize to my former coworkers and the GNOME community for not actually making efforts at debugging this yet; I may poke at it soon.)
Over two days, my pal James A., a sysadmin who lives in Perth (Western Australia) and thus inhabits a time zone suddenly much more congenial to random conversation, spent at least 90 minutes on the other end of the notional line, helping me work out a few hitches and exchanging the most boring possible text and audio chat with me. "I can't hear you." "Oh, my mic was muted." That sort of thing, interrupted of course by talking about themes in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age.*
From the middle of that: "OK, now your face is just a bunch of blocky squares." "Yeah, that's a natural consequence of aging. I learned that from moisturizer ads. If you don't use Oil of Olay then your face gets all pixelated."
From the end of one troubleshooting session:
Sumana: Well I think we've all learned a valuable lesson today
Sumana: and that lesson is, never make a friend who does not live in your postal code
Sumana: and never leave said district
James: or take them with you
Sumana: Katamari them on up
It was around then that, while out on an errand, I thought I'd buy a longer CAT-5 (Ethernet) cable, since the one I had wasn't long enough to snake to my room from the router. So I walked to the computer-stuff shop a few blocks away.
"I need to buy an Ethernet cable. Do you sell them?"
We clarified that we were talking about the same thing. I shoulda just said "CAT-5."
"What length do you want? One meter, five meters?"
"What do you have?"
"What length do you want?"
"Just tell me what you have. What's the longest cord you have?"
"We have all lengths, which do you want?"
I sighed, said I was bad with meters, and estimated I wanted about 30 meters' length. That's when he went into another room and got out the mega-spool of CAT-5 and the hand-held crimper.
Rakesh cut off some insulation, got the wires in order (asking me what I meant to do with the cable so as to check crossover vs. patch), cut off the extra wire length, pushed the wires into the connectors, and crimped them into place. Then he tested the cord with a handheld device and frowned, then cut off one of the ends and started again. After this had happened a few times, we commiserated about Rakesh's inadequate crimper, which wasn't forcing the wires all the way into the connector with a nice click. I ended up going home and coming back for it an hour later, after he'd switched crimpers. Cost: 365 rupees (50-rupee crimping fee plus 9 rupees a meter), or about USD8. Carrying a 35-meter coil of CAT-5, tied with a couple pieces of string, on my shoulder down a muddy Mysore lane made me feel an authentic part of the Indian tech scene.
What also made me feel authentic was coming home to discover that construction workers a block down had accidentally cut a line while digging and my household had neither landline phone nor broadband. The next day, Mom called The Guy She Knows at the telco, who came down and fixed it. I tried to talk with him in my incredibly broken Kannada plus Internet-related nouns. Sample, translated for sense into English: "Yes, cell phone, 3G, AirTel, it is. Right now, wifi do." He told me that WiMax has successfully launched in Kerala and is coming to Mysore, which led me to ask excitedly, "Mysore WiMax ya-wa-ge?" or "Mysore WiMax when?" which sounds like I'm some sort of Wired-reading Conan the Barbarian. About 15 days from now, apparently.
His colleague didn't speak as much English, so when I mentioned that I lived in New York City, this got reiterated/translated as: "She lives in America. New York City. A very big city. There was a bomb. [hands sweep across each other, like buildings falling down]"
"Yes, that's where I live," I agreed quietly.
I got to see a minuscule slice of that city yesterday, when I videochatted with Leonard.** (For now it's soundless video + a plain telephone call for audio; more troubleshooting is in our future.) A less sweatshoppy laptop, some open protocols and FLOSS software, a friend's help, a bespoke Ethernet cable, innumerable components and stories and wires and decisions forming the infrastructure of the digital world, all so I could pretend to be a crab clacking my claws at my husband. Nandini was right.
** "Just so you know, since I introduced you to Beth and Pat and Lucian, I expect a commission." "Oh, okay. Some kind of friendship commission?" "A blue-ribbon commission." Plus me listing off a bunch of names and him adding one more. What do these people have in common? Randall Munroe, Vienna Teng, Jonathan Coulton, Ken Liu, Charles Stross, Darcy Burner, Seth Schoen, Vernor Vinge, Ellen Ullman, Joel Spolsky, Eric Sink, Ryan North, Neal Stephenson, Paul Graham, John O'Neill, Naomi Novik, Kristofer Straub, Leonard Richardson, and arguably Jerry McNerney.
#09 Oct 2010, 08:54AM: Private Lives:
Martin and I saw our pal John Stange in Private Lives last night in Silver Spring, Maryland. I don't think I've ever seen any Noel Coward before. Funny and hot; recommended. Closes tomorrow so go see it if you plausibly/feasibly (flausibly?) can.
We hung out afterwards at what John described as a dive, but the lights were too bright and there were children at the next table. Are my "dive" criteria off? Turns out that all three of us have got to management positions in the workplace. Huh.
# (3) 04 Jul 2010, 05:25PM: On The Mic:
Today, when I was really glad to have made someone else laugh, I thought about how important that is to me. I think my values might go something like:
making people laugh
impressing other people
and then other stuff like patriotism, actual intelligence, tidiness, beauty, efficiency, health, justice, transparency, courage, and so on.
In fact, it is so ingrained in me to jest that sometimes I put service providers (waiters, doctors, dentists) in a tough spot when I joke with them; if they don't think a customer's joke is funny, and don't laugh, the customer might pout and be a jerk about it, so they feel pressured to laugh. So I should be more considerate about that. Was it the boss from The Office who called himself primarily an entertainer? Yeah, I shouldn't do that.
I started the workshop "You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy" (notes, slides, more notes) with some reasons to learn and perform stand-up.
One is pragmatic: learning some stand-up improves one's public speaking abilities across the board.
Another is philosophical. You are human and nothing human should be alien to you! Specialization is for insects! Dilettantism as ideology!
And another is rather more disturbing. Stand-up comedy is the most manipulative art I know. If I'm doing it right, you're enthralled. There's no conversation, just your helpless response feeding my hunger for power and control. It's tarted-up tickling. Don't you feel spent and high when it's over, when a really good comic has had her way with you?
So that's the last reason to learn stand-up. It's a safe refuge for the power-mad, so that we can keep ourselves from turning into control freaks and prima donnas in the rest of our lives.
# (1) 28 Jun 2010, 02:05PM: Foo Camp Follies:
I spent this past weekend at Foo Camp, an unconference for/by/of makers, leaders, and generally interesting hacker-ish people. Thanks to O'Reilly Media (the tech publisher with the woodcuts on the covers, not the blowhard FOX guy) for hosting it at O'Reilly's office in Sebastopol, and especial thanks to Sara Winge and Tim O'Reilly for organizing it and for inviting me.
I'll be thinking and writing about ideas and people from Foo Camp for a while, but I can immediately provide a few amusing anecdotes and quotes:
I ran Powerpoint Karaoke, during which Amber Case presented my "Three Models of Power" slides. When she saw the slide "Groupthink, Asch, and the Prisoner's Dilemma," she said, "The Prisoner's Dilemma is, f***, what the f*** am I going to think about for the next twenty years, I'm in a f***ing prison!"
I taught the workshop "You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy" (notes, slides, more notes). During the weekend, people hearing of this asked me, "what's your stand-up comedy about?" I would bring up an idea that I haven't yet developed into a routine: Agile vs. waterfall bedroom negotiation methodologies. This led to many puns about Cucumber, test-driven development, and "fail faster."
Relatedly: not sure what to do with the phrase "Vorlon safeword."
On Friday night, we scheduled our sessions by writing on big stickynotes and slapping them on a posterboard schedule grid. On Saturday morning, I woke far too early, thinking, "was that my imagination, or is that a rooster crowing?" It was not my imagination. After I showered, dressed, and ate, the sessions were still four hours away. I realized that no one had yet copied that schedule to the conference wiki. So I sat with a laptop in front of the grid and did it. Selena Marie Deckelmann plunked herself down and helped out. I asked for a bit more help from passers-by, and got it from a woman I didn't know, "Jennifer." I helped her learn a bit about MediaWiki formatting as she filled in the last few lines of the day. Only afterwards did I realize that I'd pressganged Jennifer 8. Lee. There's an unpretentious egalitarianism within Foo Camp and this is an example.
One session title included the word "humans," and the author's scribble initially misled me to read it as "hummus." This amused me, so I transcribed the title of the session as "hummus" and no one ever changed it. I'm not sure whether that's a crowdsourcing fail or a silliness win.
I led a "Models We Use to Understand the World" discussion that filled a whiteboard. I mentioned three books: George Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By,
Elliot Aronson's The Social Animal, and Albert O. Hirschman's
Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Scott Berkun recommended the
Dictionary of Theories edited by Jennifer Bothamley. The
status play resource I mentioned is here. Sample concepts: The No True Scotsman fallacy, authenticity vs. adaptation, confirmation bias, kyriarchy, the Overton window, the fundamental attribution error, and "Rules divide and narrative unites." I'm still thinking about that last one in particular.
Three of us drove back to San Francisco yesterday, during LGBT Pride weekend. This led to the exclamation: "As queer as a six-dollar bill! Inflation, don'cha know."
I defined hackers as systems thinkers who like poking at edge cases, changing constraints, and seeing what behavior emerges from that.
So, great conversations, laughs, many events and thoughts and interactions I'm still processing, and gratitude. And exhaustion. Flying back to New York today.
#17 May 2010, 10:40AM: "Earl Grey" Rhymes With "Morgaine le Fay":
I made up a doo-wop song to celebrate Leonard's breakfast generosity. I like to make up songs, but the rhyming dictionary in my head gives me pretty strange rhymes on short notice. Excerpt:
I'll pour your orange juice
Into a goblet
I'll get you orange juice
Into your yob it
(doo-wah, doo-wah, do-do-doo-wah)
Also, yesterday, Leonard was looking for a rhyme for "stop her" and my first suggestion was "Karl Popper."
# (2) 27 Apr 2010, 07:34PM: The Fortress of LOLitude:
I took the train from New York City to Providence on Friday morning. My
first seatmate: a salesman who was discussing with a fellow sales
executive why he should get a unified sales quota, rather than one for
software as a service and one for permanent licenses. He then switched
to complaining about a colleague. "He thinks he has territory? He
doesn't have shit." His phone call was in several parts, like a
miniseries or that one set of Taster's Choice commercials with Giles
from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due to bad cell reception. I think he used every variant except "Can you hear me now?" out of cliche aversion. A man after my own heart.
He left at Stamford. My next seatmate phoned someone and complained
about a daughter? daughter-in-law? whom she'd just visited. "She
doesn't have any good breakfast food in the house," she confided. "She
doesn't even have breakfast bars." I am unsure of the implication. Are
breakfast bars the most essential component of a breakfast pantry, or
the worst adequate choice?
"So Greyhound has this new innovation called 'Reserved Seating' --"
"So you just said 'innovation' and 'Greyhound' in the same sentence. Let's just take a pause to appreciate that."
"No, no, it's sarcastic -- the end of my sentence is, this new innovation called 'Reserved Seating' where if you buy a ticket, then you will get a seat on that bus. You are guaranteed to get a seat on the bus at that date and time."
"Wow. Greyhound. Um, welcome to....the twentieth century."
"I think maybe even in the 1800s, with train tickets? I think they had that."
"Or even earlier than that. With, like, coaches."
"Let's stick with nineteenth. We can be pretty certain that trains worked like that."
Now that I recall -- Greyhound (at least in the DC-NYC-Boston routes) seems to have had something called "Reserve Seating" since late 2007 although I think it was more like what they're now calling Priority Boarding, which is where you get to board the bus first (but in practice I believe you aren't limited to the exact departure time printed on your ticket).
Anyway, beware of the Greyhound website's Reserved Seating dealie; I thought I was going through the right form to buy a Reserved Seating ticket, but the purchase process didn't mention Reserved Seating after that initial screen, and then the PDF I printed didn't have the magic words Reserved Seating on it. I'll report a bug to them soon.
And now I'm wondering how train tickets worked, back when the whole passenger rail deal was starting up...
# (3) 18 Mar 2010, 11:12AM: In My Dreams, I Know Everyone:
"I was friends with Jerry Seinfeld. We were just hanging out. He had a plot in a community garden so we went over and worked on that for a while...as he dropped me off at the train station, I told him I was worried that I didn't treat him enough like a regular person, because sometimes it was hard to get around how famous he was. He said, 'I think you do a pretty good job.'"
"Sumana's ultimate celebrity fantasy."
"And then I remember being worried about how to talk with my other friends about this. I mean, I don't want to be name dropping, but if it comes up in conversation, 'Oh when I was hanging out with Jerry the other day --,' and the other person asks, and I say 'Jerry Seinfeld,' then it's just coy. Like, either I'm name-dropping, or I'm pretentiously not name-dropping..."
# (1) 14 Feb 2010, 04:51PM: Happy Silly Day:
I went to high school for four years. Each of those years, I wrote for the high school newspaper. And each year, for the Valentine's Day issue, I wrote a separate, all-new anti-Valentine's Day opinion piece.
Leonard and I started dating in 2001. Somehow I'd gone through eight Februaries with Leonard without telling him about these editorials. Specifically, until yesterday, I hadn't told him that one of them was a glimpse into a utopian future in which Valentine's Day was merely a historical curiosity. Children in school were learning about this custom and found it astonishing. I'm certain I'd already read "The Fun They Had" but I can't remember whether my piece was a deliberate homage.
Yesterday we also came up with the name "Guns N. Butter" (for a girl, no?) and we realized that my ninth-grade biology teacher, Courtney Porter, could easily have doubled as Batman stenography villain "Court Reporter."
Leonard's sample dialogue:
Batman: "I'm taking you down!" Court Reporter [fingers madly clattering over keyboard]: "I'm taking everything down!"
"Yeah, it doesn't convey the sophisticated wordplay that characterized the comedy in Mr. Belvedere."
Pause. "Did it?"
We recently switched to commercials rather than opening credits/theme music sequences. This means that twenty-year-old jingles have like dormant infections reawakened in my brain. "Bonneville!" may now replace "YEAHHH!" for me as a non sequitur suffix.
Speaking of reactions to entertainment: Danny O'Brien, if you're reading this, Brian Malow is to nerdcore comedy what They Might Be Giants is to MC Frontalot. A few minutes into Brian Malow's Wonderfest act he mentions that tic I have that I think you have too -- instead of laughing at a joke, nodding once you've parsed and compiled it and judged it sound. We're in a great tradition, you and I. Around 9:20 in this compilation is an ad for...life insurance? a real estate company? no, Benjamin Moore paints. "When something means so much, see your Benjamin Moore dealer." Instantly Leonard and I took this literally.
"Bob! I just asked her to marry me! It just meant so much!"
"Bob! My dog just got hit by a car! It means so much!"
"Bob! Ulysses! Just look at this text! It means so much!"
"Bob! Encyclopedias! All those sentences and articles! They mean so much!"
"Revised commercial: 'When something means so much and could conceivably be paint-related, see your Benjamin Moore dealer."
#29 Jan 2010, 12:18PM: "Of The Other Insectoid Worlds, I Shall Say Nothing":
Just finished Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker after a year or two. I was reading it at about two pages a day. But more happens in two paragraphs of Stapledon than happens in most entire novels. Entirely ordinary example (Ch. 8, "The Beginning and the End," Section 2, "The Supreme Moment Nears"):
The supreme moment of the cosmos was not (or will not be) a moment by human standards; but by cosmical standards it was indeed a brief instant. When little more than half the total population of many million galaxies had entered fully into the cosmical community, and it was clear that no more were to be expected, there followed a period of universal meditation. The populations maintained their straitened utopian civilizations, lived their personal lives of work and social intercourse, and at the same time, upon the communal plane, refashioned the whole structure of cosmical culture. Of this phase I shall say nothing.
# (4) 16 Jan 2010, 12:18PM: My Worst Inhibitions:
As a Christmas gift, Leonard got us the DVDs of the first three seasons of Psych. We're in season three or so. Some observations:
Wow the pilot feels way different from the rest of the show. Shawn's more hypercompetent, the tone is darker and less funny, fewer pop culture references, Detective Lassiter's nearly neutral evil (instead of the lawful good he turns into later in the show), Shawn's dad is "back" in town (instead of having lived in Santa Barbara continuously since working for the SBPD), Det. Barry is more skeptical than Det. O'Hara is, etc., etc. I like the general tone of the later episodes better, but Leonard and I both miss Barry.
Psych as Sherlock Holmes homage: Shawn uses keen observational and reasoning skills, J Watson & Burton Guster are both medical folk known by their last names, and they have a weird relationship with the legitimate police. Leonard also stretch-suggested that, just as Holmes was addicted to cocaine, Shawn is addicted to pop culture references. The constant stream of references, only some of which I get, is one reason that Leonard likes this show -- like Mystery Science Theater 3000, it provides quantity and variety in pop culture jokes. (Leonard alsolikes their episode titles.) For example, in Anupam Nigam's Season 1 episode "Game Set...Muuurder?" the tennis star is "Deanna Sirtis" which is a really obvious reference to Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Nigam tends to write interesting episodes that use characters well, and is Indian, whoo!)
Yeah, basically ALL of Psych fails the Bechdel test massively. Even when [Interim] Chief Vick and O'Hara talk, it's usually about one of the guys. "Who You Gonna Call?" made me cringe a bit in how it treated a trans character, and none of the show's treatment of non-hetero folk has ever struck me as especially winning. I think the show treats Gus's blackness in a non-fail manner but I may not have caught things.
Henry Spencer is, in the more formulaic episodes, basically Wilson from Home Improvement.
Leonard and I usually sing along to the theme song as though we are happy guinea pigs named Enthuse and Happy (way too bizarre and one-off to put in the slang dictionary). Leonard thinks the song's lyrics make very little sense. I've unsuccessfully argued that the song is from a true neutral to a lawful good, trying to persuade the listener to live and act in the fruitful ambiguity of method and purpose. Steve Franks (not to be confused with household favorite Steven Frank) created the show to have a nice light comedy feel, so I speculate that his song is also a message to darker, less referential & over-the-top shows.
I'd watch a version of Psych that was 90% Detective Lassiter. I am resisting reading all of Timothy Omundson's in-character blog, but found this four-year-old interview interesting (mostly so I can give thanks I'm not a worker in the Byzantine industry that is mass media entertainment). Lassiter likes to believe he's a paladin (Julia, Moss, thank you for showing me episodes of The Middleman), but he's more of a lawful neutral. I am in idle moments working on a taxonomy that compares and contrasts Lassiter, Fraser from Due South, the Middleman, and Captain Carrot from the Discworld novels.
OK, now Leonard and I are just going through all our old episode titles and deciding which ones could be Psych episodes. "Mentos: The Deathmaker," "java.util.Murder," and "Death With Jeeves" are all probably unsuitable for various reasons. "Part One: Mur" I still adore. A quiet Saturday at Gunlinghorn.
# (1) 28 Dec 2009, 10:23AM: Refracted Light:
Glurge is a certain kind of inspirational story. It's unattributed, it's a honed anecdote honoring goodness and generosity and loyalty and stamina and often faith, and it has a kitschy feel that irony-aligned people of my cohort are allergic to. Gives Me Hope made tears come to my eyes, but the saccharine gets to me after a few pages.
And then there's another kind of inspiration, from another direction, a different color of light. It's the way someone tells their specific story, or celebrates an achievement, more expository than persuasive. The author didn't write it specifically to inspire the reader to generalized goodness, but basic empathy leads a reader to consider the lessons mentioned, perhaps raise her sights a little.
Things that made me want to up my game recently:
Mel, as always. In this case, the way she actively seeks out uncertainty, and her ability and willingness to frankly say that she's good at things. My reflexive self-deprecation nearly won't let me think I'm good at things, and certainly wouldn't let me say it out loud. I need to work on that.
See, I think a lot of the angst surrounding this debate is happening because some folks -- particularly newer writers -- are caring about the wrong things. They're basing their sense of themselves as writers on extrinsic factors like which markets publish their work and how much their work sells for and whether they've got any sales at all, rather than on intrinsic factors like belief in their own skill. So of course they get upset when someone disparages a market they've sold/hoped to sell their work to; this feels like disparagement of them, and their skill. They take it very personally. And thus a conversation that should be strictly about business becomes a conversation about their personal/artistic worth.
This will sound cold-blooded. But the solution is for these writers to stop caring. Or rather, care better. I think the shift from extrinsic to intrinsic valuation -- from caring about what others think to caring about yourself -- is a fundamental part of the transition from amateur to professional, perhaps even more than pay rates and book deals and awards and such. It's a tough transition to make, I know; how do you believe in yourself if no one else does? How do you know your judgment of yourself is sound? I could write ten more blog posts trying to answer these questions. But for pro writers -- and I include aspiring pros along with established ones in this designation -- it's an absolutely necessary transition. Otherwise you spend all your time caring about the wrong things.
A kick in the butt to care about the right things.
Desi Women of the Decade. I bet my sister will be on this list in ten years. I love seeing us achieving in politics, arts/entertainment, science and business. Kind of hilarious that Parminder Nagra got on US TV to play a doctor. Maybe that's only funny to Asians.
I saw this seven-minute documentary about an aspiring comedian via the Best of Current video podcast. We all know the glurgy slogans: the lessons of adversity, no pain no gain, that sort of thing. But it is a different thing to see this man on stage, and then find out where he was before, and to think, of course the worthwhile thing is hard. I am comfortable and I need to reexamine my little lazinesses. And more that I don't have words for.
Yesterday, in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, I ran across these lines from Rabindranath Tagore, which somehow get past my kitsch shields because they are personal, confessional, yearning, desperate:
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
#12 Dec 2009, 12:15PM: And A Round Of Applause For Yourself For Coming Out And Supporting Live Theater:
Sepia Mutiny got me to go see a bunch of Asian & black comics doing standup Friday night and it was great. Hari Kondabolu & Kumail Nanjiani were especially awesome, but I also enjoyed seeing Ali Wong's, Sheng Wang's, and Baron Vaughn's acts. (I'm now at the age where I suspect I've seen several of these performers before but can't remember unless they reuse jokes.) Now to get on a bunch of email lists. I only saw Aziz Ansari live once or twice when I had the chance, and now he's off Hollywooding; not again! Kondabolu made me point and say YES more than any stand-up I've seen in years.
Before that, I saw Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult: fantastic as always, as good as the best Daisey. It's playing through the 13th and you should catch it if you can. I often have a hard time visualizing scenes, but Daisey made me feel like I was in a Maine college dorm, or on a bare-metal plane, or watching the John Frum Day celebrations, or in a car driving to the Hamptons. Some of his phrasings and lines stay with me, like splinters; some of the story has sailed through my conscious recollection and I'm not sure yet which appendage is bleeding.
#15 Oct 2009, 01:04PM: Postmortem:
Four of my coworkers gave up a night when they could have been eating or hacking and came to an open mic night to watch me perform. I knew a goodly proportion of the other acts wouldn't be very good, but I forgot that so much unfunny comedy is incredibly tired sex/sexist jokes. So that was blah. But I was passable for someone who basically hasn't done stand-up in five years.
#29 Sep 2009, 11:38AM: Buy In Bulk And Save:
"I think my case of the Mondays arrived a day late." "Well, your first step should be to stop ordering Mondays by the case. Most of us just take one dose a week."
# (3) 01 Sep 2009, 03:24PM: Silliness:
While talking with Anne & Jane last night about that Buffy/Edward slash (sort of) video, we agreed: when you see a vampire, you stake him! Don't they teach that in health class anymore? Oh, no, the Bush Administration was all, "just don't invite them in, it must be your fault" and "we'll give you a cross necklace and a silver ring to wear, you'll be fine." Free stakes in schools, I say!
#30 Aug 2009, 02:33PM: Look!:
Every so often, Leonard and I watch several Colbert Report clips from his recurring segment Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A. Leonard loves the props, the silliness, and the variety of jokes within a very tight formula. I adore that Colbert cannot make it through a Cheating Death segment without breaking character. And we both cherish the lists of fake side effects of the drugs Colbert hawks. Our favorites are re-appropriations of existing phrases:
speaking in tongues
Jimmy crack corns
Nine Inch Nails
Jack Russell Derriere [technically a pun but an awesome one]
#10 Jul 2009, 11:39PM: My Standby Joke:
A few times in the past year, I've taken the risk of leaning over to an English-speaking stranger in the airport, one who's wearing a suit or the like, and saying, "Ah, the glamor of business travel." It hasn't yet failed to get a laugh.
By the way, it turns out that when several of my friends give me access to their private LiveJournal entries in the space of a day, that day gets eaten, because I am obsessive enough to go through and read a few years' worth of job/relationship/hobby/family angst RIGHT THEN.
Sometimes I have trouble pulling that trick where I tell myself, "come on, just do this task for 5 minutes." Maybe that's because my brain knows that if I start, I'll work for hours!
# (1) 12 May 2009, 10:09PM: He Meant To Post To Causal Encounters:
For those who don't know: Craiglist has a category of personals called Casual Encounters (not to be confused with Missed Connections, even though Missed Connections often result from accidental encounters that are fairly casual). Folks using Casual Encounters use "NSA" to mean "no strings attached" rather than "National Security Agency". But that's not the only disorienting bit of language in CE.
Before you even read on. This is a COMPLETELY discrete experience. If you decide to meet up, our meeting ENDS when either you are I leave one another. This is NOT for an LTR. It is for a no strings attached encounter.
"Secrete" is an obvious misspelling, but I really can't tell whether the author is correctly using "discrete" or just happened upon another appropriate word while spelling "discreet." It's wonderful.
#17 Apr 2009, 08:43AM: Joke, Joke:
Perhaps wearing my oldest, most beat-up Electronic Frontier Foundation shirt to a party full of new-to-copyright law students is not as effective a dominance/status display as I'd hoped.
# (9) 12 Apr 2009, 01:14PM: Bluths as Bartlett's:
Some lines from Arrested Development stick in my mind as incisive embodiments of some less-acknowledged fallacies, afflictions, and distinctions. To wit:
Should the Fünkes try an open marriage? Tobias notes that many couples he counseled thought it would work for them, even though it never works, and indeed it didn't work for those couples either. Beat. "But it might work for us!"
Michael disengaging from Marta, his brother's girlfriend. "This is wrong...not hot wrong, regular wrong."
"Illusions, Dad! You don't have time for my illusions!" has a nice little critique of missing-the-point nitpicking, but it's not as strong an association for me. Any other candidates?
Financial news that focuses on short term profits and stock tips is an unhealthy market force. Financial reporting has a responsibility to be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true profits and investigate companies and trends that produce them. Finance experts who know about a house of cards have a responsibility to tell the public. It's irresponsible to cheerlead unsustainable bull markets, persuading laypeople to invest in "responsible" retirement plans, then blame evil CEOs and weak regulators after the inevitable crash. Saying people can get wealth without doing work to create value is disingenuous and possibly criminal.
Stewart's most controversial point, and one that hasn't been discussed as much in the mass media, is in the last part of my summary: cheerleading unsustainable bull markets, and encouraging investment rather than work as a way to wealth, is wrong. His words:
But isn't that part of the problem? Selling this idea that you don't have to do anything. Anytime you sell people the idea that sit back and you'll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don't you always know that that's going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work. That we're workers and by selling this idea that of "Hey man, I'll teach you how to be rich," how is that any different than an infomercial?
"Our wealth is work...we're workers." I asked Leonard to help me figure out why, when a political candidate praises work and workers, it sounds like cant, but Stewart's phrasing felt subversive. He pointed out that the word "workers" and identification with the working class remind people of Marxism. Oh yeah, that. Also, "wealth" usually means earnings and/or capital -- cash, real estate, securities, some financial instrument or an item that can be sold in the open market for cash. But Stewart is saying that our wealth, the prize that we've earned, isn't money, but our ability to earn money. Our asset is the ability to create assets.
Again, identification with the working class. But it's a short step from that to rabble-raising populist demagoguery, which Stewart and Colbert make fun of. A lot. Possibly while engaging in it.
'You say ... I want to keep this homicidal fury forever!' [side-annotation: Hysteria, Our Only Growth Industry] 'But, Stephen, your Thunderdome idea will kill all the CEOs, and there'll be no one left to force through the man-sized paper shredder!' But I say: we will never run out of scapegoats. Because if we focus on pitchforks and vengeance, instead of the fundamental problems that got us here, soon, we'll have plenty of new criminal banks and irresponsible CEOs to start all over again. And we can cry 'Off with their heads!' -- and we'll never have to keep ours.
I get annoyed that the TDS/TCR audience cheers so loud, gilding the lily at every punchline. But sometimes their silence is a tell. When Stewart tossed off that key phrase, "our wealth is work," and when Colbert made his point about scapegoating, the audience was too stunned to clap. This reminds me of a similar moment from Colbert's interview with Daniel Gilbert, happiness expert, June 27, 2007, about 3:45 into the interview:
DG: "It turns out that kids have a very small effect on people's happiness, and the effect tends to be negative. But you'd be happy to hear-"
SC: "Wait wait wait..."
DG: "Well, it means that people with children tend to be a little less happy than people without them, and the more children they have, the less happy they turn out to be."
SC: "Now, are you confusing happiness with the feeling of the sublime? Because children are a pain in the ass. Okay, I'll grant you that. But the feeling that comes with children, I have found, is a feeling of -- that is superior to happiness."
DG: "Yeah, of course."
SC: "That is the sublime feeling. And the sublime comes from beauty."
DG: "The happiness that children give you is a little like the refrigerator light. Every time you look, it's on. Every time you think about your kids, you're happy. The problem is, they're a pain in the ass more often than you're thinking about them."
SC: "Well, that's interesting."
So this is a big shaggy dog story where I end up trying to convince Leonard, who enjoys Colbert but doesn't like to watch the interviews, to start watching the whole show. Because sometimes stuff like that comes out, where you see the real Colbert peek through, this witty improv-loving geek with a background in Catholicism and Tolkien. Basically, it's the Brendan Leonard show!
# (7) 01 Apr 2009, 09:17AM: New Awesome Work:
Martin and I are co-founding a new firm to produce the PoTeaTo, a food-and-beverage convergence device targeted at the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Simply drop the PoTeaTo into a small pot of boiling water and watch the seam split, revealing two pre-blanched potato halves and one strong teabag! Boil them together and you'll have a meal and the drink to go with it.
Just kidding. Actually, starting in a couple of weeks, I'll be working at Collabora, an open source consulting firm. I'll be managing projects and helping them develop awesome tools like the Telepathy framework and the Empathy instant messaging/IRC/VoIP/video chat application. Yes, people are using the phrase "Skype-killer."
I'll get to telecommute (casual day every day!), advance the cause of Free/Libre/Open Source Software, and facilitate the work of dozens of geeky colleagues around the world.
Exciting! The PoTeaTo shall have to wait (in a dry, dark, cool place).
# (3) 27 Mar 2009, 10:22AM: A Quiz! And, Thoughts on Ads for Nonsensical Products:
Last night Ron came over and we played The Big Idea, the Cheapass Game where you get cards with nouns and adjectives on them and have to combine them to create products that you then pitch to your fellow players. Leonard's fond of the game, and I am too, except that we simplified the investing/IPO stuff away so we could just focus on the funny pitches.
I wish I could remember more of the products Ron did; the X-Treme Toaster launched bread, Texas toast, an entire bagel, or half a panini outwards at up to 60 miles per hour, with a user-controlled directional system that you could use to target your friends and enemies. Leonard made a hit with the Mentholated Drug Forklift, for use in medical injections of 50-foot monsters, and the Mechanical Machine as useless expensive status symbol: "It does nothing, because it means everything."
Edible High-Priority Chowder, to cure anxiety of choice at the salad bar
Cat Addictive Plague Virus, to get your cat to physically need you and not be quite so independent
Patriotic Puppy Camera, for when your snapshots aren't always cute and unbearably American
Herbal Natural Chainsaw, strong enough for a logger but made for a hippie
Networked Beer, to ensure you never feel like you're drinking alone
Government Alien, a standardized, tax-deductible alien for your abduction and inspiration needs
Electric Self-Heating Satellite Necktie Fruit, so you get your daily nutrients, heated for your comfort and whirling around your torso for your convenience, in attire appropriate to a professional office
The supposed plot of The Big Idea is that other people invest in your company and then you do a public offering, but if I were really pitching to investors I would do company pitches, not product pitches. Our pitches were like ads, not business plans. How boring would it be to bury the Mentholated Drug Forklift in a PowerPoint about the top-flight experienced management team and market projections? However, Leonard's pitches were often short "here is the problem, here is the solution" expositions, which translate more easily to investor meetings than does "Sometimes, people just can't see things from each other's point of view" (excerpt from my pitch for the Herbal Natural Chainsaw).
You learn people's styles as they improvise. Ron goes to infomercial style, hilariously repeating litanies like "bread, Texas toast, an entire bagel, or half a panini." I dreamily meander among references to theory and axiom -- Kenneth Arrow's theorem on ranked preference voting, "shared joy is increased/shared misery is diminished". Leonard uses narrative arcs, sci-fi monsters, and Veblenesque/Situationist critique.
The funniest pitches started off with a great first sentence. The best was probably Leonard's intro to the Mentholated Drug Forklift: "When you're giving injections to Godzilla or the Fifty-Foot Woman, you quickly realize that standard needles won't do the job." This reminded me of a pet project I now reveal to you. Guess whether these are opening lines for
This American Life or Trader Joe's Radio Ad?
Here's a ritual that happens in millions of American families every day.
At [This American Life/Trader Joe's], we spend a great deal of time contemplating the great issues of the day: the economy, climate change, cheese.
OK, here's something that we did not expect. Check this out.
Our enemies are in hiding.
Steamed food is cooked with steam.
Here's my seventh grade teacher's sad fate.
No matter who you are, life is all about making choices.
So how many years were you an executioner in your job?
Lately it seems like everyone is talking about value.
It used to be, if something was big news, it got turned into a song.
No Big Deal: I visited Nandini. Her friend, a landscape architect, is helping her do up her apartment. We talked over breakfast. Susan's dad has always been a DIY type; his attitude is, why not try and do it himself? When she was a kid, her dad built a deck and she was his gofer. She'd take the leftover wood scraps and make doll furniture. To this day they enjoy working together and making stuff with their hands.
My parents have written and edited stuff for fun for decades. When I was a kid, Nandini and I helped them mail out their zine. Dad performed pujas and wanted participants to know what the rituals and Sanskrit mantras meant, so he'd write up articles in Hindi, Kannada, and English, typeset them in MS Word on the 486 running Windows 3.1 or 95, run off 200 copies at Office Depot, and have me staple the brochures together. Eventually he started asking me to edit them ("Dad, no one knows what 'clarion' means, you should use a different word").
They're always giving speeches, at parties, at Indian-American banquets/variety shows (invariably called "functions"), at schools, at an interfaith municipal Thanksgiving. And they'd push Nandini and me in front of the mike -- "Recite that poem you wrote! Sing that Weird Al song!" Once Nandini and I wrote, cast, and acted in a little four-act play called "Lost in Translation" at one of those Indian-American functions. I think we were teens.
So after breakfast, Susan was singlehandedly putting up shelves in the guest room -- studfinding, putting up rails, cutting planks to size with a saw, and placing the brackets. Meanwhile, in the living room, Nandini was writing a big report on transit infrastructure in Thailand and India. She'll be doing a presentation on it, too. And I was working on a fiction anthology I'm editing. But we took a break to cowrite a silly monologue.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children, your employees, the people to whom you are a role model, is the knowledge that some field of endeavor is in a sense No Big Deal. Knowledge -- belief backed up by experience -- that they can do interesting and rewarding projects in it without fear of public embarrassment.
I grew up thinking that writing, editing, publishing, public speaking, community leadership, hobbyist programming, and using the Net were No Big Deal. To this day, though, I'm leery of trying home improvement, car repair, sports, camping, and childcare. I don't have a baseline, I don't know where to start, I don't know how to know if I'm doing okay, I've never played around in a context where results don't matter, so I have that vague fear. Nandini got cooking from my mom; I didn't. I lost my fearlessness about hobbyist coding and am trying to get it back. I've gained some fearlessness about travel and capitalism.
Leonard suggested a conclusion: you should treat everything like it's No Big Deal. Danger: you turn into one of those jerks who scorn strangers' struggles. (Yes, I'm thinking of those MIT jerks I met at that entrepreneurship meeting.) Self-efficacy demands that I treat my own attempts like No Big Deal; compassion demands that I recognize my privilege and help others build their skills and confidence.
Hospitality + Integrity: How can I enter a party or meetup and start a good conversation with someone I've never met? I take the initiative to introduce myself to random people. I have a few starter and restarter questions at the ready -- what cool things are you up to? what's exciting you these days? how do you know the host? do you live around here? what are you reading? -- avoiding the boring status-laden questions like "What do you do?" and "Where did you go to school?" I enthusiastically listen and ask follow-up questions and bring up related topics and trivia.
Some people respond in kind and get the momentum of the conversation going, start new threads and return to old ones. Some don't. If after five minutes of that treatment the person isn't saying anything particularly interesting, I say, "will you excuse me" and say something about food or drink or something, go away, and find some other person to talk to. I almost always find someone who can do twenty interesting minutes with me. And now I've made a new acquaintance, probably a friend. If I now need to mingle more to get good ROI out of the event, I frankly say, "I need to go mingle and meet more people," take her card or give him mine, and move on.
In a sense I think of my conversation-starting as merely hospitable. I try to make people feel cared-about and give them a platform to show off their coolness. But I couldn't just do that insincerely; that's cynical and such a drain. I honestly believe most people have something interesting to show me, and that some just need a little help opening up. So I don't hide my opinions (open platforms win in the long run, the GOP is irresponsible, venture capital is uninteresting, Harry Potter Book 4 was great). But compassion demands that I avoid giving needless offense, and integrity demands that I back up my arguments and admit when I'm wrong, and hospitality demands that I never let myself become a boor or a bore.
As I grow older, I find my deepest friends have integrity, a work ethic, some project that they're passionate about, and this seemingly innate dedication to conversational generosity. Attention, empathy, turn-taking, nitpicking only in the service of substantive truth, following the truth and the argument wherever it leads. And that's what I look for in new friends, and I keep finding it.
Jokes, Games, and Stories as Syllogisms: A common way to describe speculative fiction (otherwise known as "science fiction and fantasy" is to call them "what-if stories." There's some counterfactual premise. My favorite stories are the ones where the interactions of the characters and the counterfactual premise(s) elegantly and inevitably lead to some satisfying resolution. The author reveals the emergent properties of a system.
It turns out that this is also something I like in jokes. We see the rules of the world at the start, and then we see how they work themselves into something entertaining. My directions for creating observational humor aren't going to give you Dane-Cooky "that's so stupid! Blaaaaaah!" They're going to give you a Seinfeldesque analysis of the absurdity. Where did the incongruity come from, and what trend does it reveal?
I'll leave it to the Adam Parrish/Zack Weinberg/Leonard Richardson/Brendan Adkins/Holly Gramazio/Kevan Davis/Alexei Othenin-Girard types to let me know whether I'm grounded in suspecting that this is some of the joy they find in designing games.
I started thinking about these models while chatting with friends and acquaintances near and far. Man, sociability is awesome.
# (1) 28 Dec 2008, 04:24PM: Square One TV Paean:
If you ask geeks what influenced them in their formative years, the responses cluster around some well-known loci: Star Trek, great science teachers and permissive school computer labs, a particular BBS, LEGO, authority figures who let them obsess.
If you ask fans of sketch comedy how they got to love it so much, you hear about Monty Python, SNL, skits with siblings and friends from the same block, camcorders, Mel Brooks, and stuff I'm too much of a philistine to know about.
It turns out a single TV show got to me on both those counts. Square One TV.
When I was in elementary school in Pennsylvania - so I couldn't have been eight yet -- I remember turning on the TV and seeing a girl explaining to detectives that their radius was all wrong. The gorilla could have traveled 30 miles an hour, yes, but only for a few minutes at a time. For longer durations, he only could have gone five miles an hour. She took their compass and drew a new circle on the map, a smaller one, one they could brute-force search or narrow down further with heuristics.
They didn't say it like that, of course. Mathnet (a Dragnet filk with detectives who made heavy use of geometry, algebra, probability, and pattern-matching) explained whatever it needed to, but never with grownup jargon.
I realized that when I found Square One TV clips on YouTube, years after I gave up Square One so I could watch Star Trek: The Next Generation just as religiously. [Obligatoryephemerallinks to S1TV clips.] I wince a little watching those old low-budget sketches -- think fake 24 pilot from 1994. But the songs and Mathnet hold up well.
Watching all these old skits reminds me:
Others describe S1TV as a sketch comedy show about math. It is! And I didn't realize it until last year because I didn't think about the sketches as much as I thought about Mathnet.
S1TV's sketches were inventive and wacky, with big old filks and parodies and off-the-wall references in every episode. "Angle Dance" parodies a slew of new-wave pop; comedy sketches include an offhand Gettysburg Address quote and an actor suggesting, "I could internalize more." Mathnet was more superficially staid, with its Dragnet procedural plots and dialogue, but check out the over-the-top snobs in Monterey Bay.
My favorite Mathnet story arc, starring ingenue actress Eve Addams in a production of "Anything Went," ended with a five-minute song-and-dance version of the classic parlor scene. My sister and I memorized that song. Audio available here; video seemingly vanished. Listening now, Leonard says the rhymes are ridiculously bad ("rally by/alibi") even by the standards of Broadway musical. So be warned.
Square One TV was wacky. And sometimes it broke the fourth wall, as in asking: "45% of this show is over now. What percentage of it is left to go?" Zany and referential in a way I didn't notice in Sesame Street, because I was too young to catch it. Square One prepped me for Animaniacs.
Sometimes Square One TV was mean, meaner than I expected or expect from a kids' show, which raised the stakes and drew me in. The Mathman segments include a lot of sad endings: Mathman just not thinking long enough before saying yes, or Mathman ranting so much about math use that he ran out of time and got eaten. The sketch "Common Multiple Man" isn't very kind to its title character, and the songs "Less Than Zero" and "Ghost of a Chance" aren't about the loser winning in the end. As a kid, I found "Ghost of a Chance" haunting (ha), partly because I'd expected all along that the pizza delivery guy would triumph.
Sometimes the math was hard or uncomfortable! No one explains in the "Oops!" on fractions how you should actually add fractions with dissimilar denominators; the character just demonstrates a mistake and then fixes it. There's a similar moment when someone figures out the area of a triangle. And some questions, like about the percentage of the show remaining, an announcer asks you and doesn't answer.
Most profoundly, sometimes the lesson wasn't just about math, but about assumptions and problem-solving. Mathcourt skits review how people get real-world statistics wrong. In every episode, the Mathnet detectives fail, get stuck, backtrack, estimate, revise (as in the gorilla speed scene). They often play "What Do We Know" to systematically review their situation and come up with new leads. Change Your Point Of View is exemplary in this respect.
It's nice that the show depicted black men and women as architects, Archimedes, a Roman sax player, science teacher Ms. Snodgrass, head of computing Debbie, and so on, although police chief James Earl Jones was probably a no-brainer. And Kate Monday is the female cop providing the missing link between Cagney/Lacey and Dana Scully. She's a sensible, tough but sensitive detective who keeps her kooky partner grounded. Monday's also the reason I want to wear ties with my suits.
I learned about math as a means to an end, about problem-solving as a fluid process, about what kinds of humor I liked, about recursion and breaking the fourth wall. And I learned math too. So awesome. I wish it were all on Hulu or DVD so I could foist it on people, and so Nandini and I could watch it together again.
#22 Dec 2008, 08:59AM: Movies, TV, Music, And More! Well, Actually, That's It:
Previous entry aside, Leonard and I have been staying in from the cold and experiencing media.
Music: Dar Williams's latest CD, Promised Land, has a song about the Milgram Experiment! Timely. And I'm on my way to filking Cab Calloway:
You can stop listening to Weezer
Claim Star Wars memories are blurred
But you still can't hide all those smarts inside
A geek ain't nothing but a nerd
Movies: The original The Day The Earth Stood Still from 1951 starts off looking enough like every other 1950s sci-fi movie that I expected to be bored. But it's not a B-movie, it's an A-movie, and it confronts the profound Otherness of the alien. It also reveals the profound Otherness of an era when a single mother might possibly be okay with the mysterious guy who just moved into her boarding house taking care of her son for a day. Resemblance note: Leonard thought the professor looked like Malcolm Gladwell.
I had to leave the house to watch Quantum of Solace, which was a quite adequate sequel to Casino Royale but not as shattering. How nice to see a really expensive globe-spanning action movie where Bond didn't sleep with every single woman he met. Casino Royale's opening music video made the argument that death is a matter of chance, and that becoming a spy might make you think you can put your hands on the wheel of fate and turn it to your will, but you're wrong and your actions will have disastrous and unforeseen consequences. The music video in Quantum of Solace had an all-flesh-is-grass theme transmuted into shifting sands: all your foundations will disappear beneath your feet. Such stylish cynicism.
TV: Last night we finished Babylon 5. Well, except that now we're going to watch the TV movies and whatnot. Bab5 is a tremendous accomplishment and I only wish stupid real-world obstacles hadn't gotten in the way of its realization. How great could it have been if they'd known all along that they'd have five seasons? Or if Claudia Christian had stayed on as Ivanova for the last year, instead of leaving because of contract confusion? I now agree with everyone who said that seasons two, three, and four are strongest, and would argue that the show's strongest when it is creepiest.
Now Leonard and I have to have the discussion where we seriously compare Bab5 and DS9. Hoo boy.
The most insane stuff in there might be something by Frank Zappa or PDQ Bach or Barcelona or Weird Al or They Might Be Giants or Lawsuit or Dengue Fever or Moxy Früvous, or the odder bits from Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, or Steven Schultz's rock opera Stalin Claus Superstar, or Van Morrison's contractual obligation album, or video game music, or wizard rock, or A Prairie Home Companion joke show segments, or songs by Leonard's friends Jake Berendes, Jeremy Bruce, et al. But the most insane song on that drive is actually Cab Calloway's song about chicken.
It was the dish for old Caesar
Also King Henry the Third
But Columbus was smart
Said you can't fool me
A chicken ain't nothin' but a bird
#25 Nov 2008, 02:45AM: Some images, tweets, and documentation from Seattle MindCamp 2008:
Please link to other relevant stuff in the comments!
I learned about MindCamp sometime Friday, Nov. 20th, and devised the idea for my talk in about 5 minutes late Friday night while going to sleep and talking with my incredibly patient host, Riana. This was the first talk I proposed and the last session I ended up leading: basic first-year political science concepts, boiled down for use by people who want to understand and change their organizations.
I eventually realized that tickets were sold out, but was determined to go anyway. So I made the 20-minute walk over and threw myself on the mercy of the front desk. Beth Goza gave me her extra registration and refused to let me give any money in return. In hindsight, maybe this is why I was determined to give extra value as a camper.
I filled out a proposal form and put it up. Andru encouraged me to propose as many as I wanted. So I did another for a standup comedy HOWTO, then another to ensure that there would be Powerpoint Karaoke (I was surprised no one else had proposed it yet), and then another to suggest the mini-debate session. I expected that about a hundred proposals would go up and that about half, including 1 or 2 of mine, would get "funded."
Then, during lunch, I discovered that there had been fewer proposals than I'd expected, and that almost all the proposed sessions would be scheduled, so I'd be leading 4 sessions. Eventually, after I swapped a few spots with people, my schedule was:
2pm: Powerpoint Karaoke
11pm: You, Yes You, Can Do Standup
8am: Zany Insta-Debates
9am: Three Models of Power: A Political Science Lens On Your Organization
I found out that Powerpoint Karaoke would be in the first session slot [2pm] at 1:55. Much thanks to David Whitlock and other troubleshooters for arranging the projector ASAP. It attracted attention, someapproval, and chickens.
After more sessions, dinner, and conversing, I went back to Riana's to enjoy her birthday party, but ended up fleeing after it got crowded. And they say I'm an extrovert.
You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy - 11pm, specifically placed outside the regular session schedule by Andru to ensure everyone could come and the time limit wouldn't apply. David and about five other participants did these exercises, inspired by my Dec 2005 posts. I loved helping people develop skills in such a short time, walking in possibly scared of public speaking, walking out with some tools and something to work on.
Ride home, passed out for a few hours, woke up around 7 to hoof it back to the Synapse building for my 8am mini-debates activity. (Riana later noted that my marketing-speak in the proposal included "zany" and "quickly and reliably goes off the rails.") I was surprised that people got more into the serious topics -- censorship of profanity on broadcast TV, Prop 8 -- than the light starter on the color of Pepto-Bismol. I also learned that many participants and viewers wanted scrupulous consistency in the rules, liked having people argue a side they didn't believe in, preferred logic to eloquence, and deducted "points" if a debater did not at least try to refute his opponent's arguments.
My last session: Three Models of Power: A Political Science Lens on Your Organization. Completed the night before, despite the interruptions of the drunk guy who had to get kicked out. (You may notice that the slideshow is very heavy on the photos, which allowed me to leave my speaking parts less polished.) We started late, and only had 30 minutes and 4 participants, but I think people got some ideas out of it. The most resume-friendly talk title, but the session I feel least satisfied with. I intend to rework it for a future conference.
Much thanks to David Whitlock for running the projector at PPT Karaoke and the poli sci session. Iin the middle of all this, got rides from Nikhil & Leif -- thanks. Beth Goza and Andru Edwards let me in and started the show, respectively, so my thanks to them. And thanks to all the campers who encouraged me, participated in my sessions, and put on cool stuff.
# (2) 02 Nov 2008, 09:27AM: Nandini, This Trailer Isn't On Apple's Site Yet:
Given that most people who read my site have broadband, I'm experimenting with actually including graphics, video, etc. Basically stuff you couldn't do with a telegraph in 1872.
On any given day there would be three or four debates
Sixteen or more debates would determine the winner, tournament-style
You'd see team debate ("Oxford-style") where each ticket found out 90 minutes before the show what side of the issue they were supposed to take
All the debates in a single year would center not just on one issue (e.g. immigration or China), but on a single specific resolution (e.g., this year's "The United States federal government should substantially increase alternative energy incentives in the United States")
It would be perfectly acceptable to read evidence and citations off index cards, and in fact the judges would frown if you couldn't cite evidence for your arguments
In between rounds and while waiting for the administrators to tally the judges' scores, the candidates would read, do homework, play arcade games, re-enact Monty Python skits, go for short walks in unfamiliar cities, or try desperately to find edible food they could afford on their allowances
Instead of big-shot journalists, the judges would be teachers and candidates' parents
#12 Sep 2008, 02:52PM: Border Patrol On The Shore:
A colleague is having a bunch of trouble involving government documents - passport, social security card, driver's license, and recursive dependencies among them.
After our oldest, first female, or first nonwhite president, maybe we'll be ready to elect a president with a deep understanding of human interface design. This "Archident" would make sure the Presidential Daily Briefings clearly highlighted imminent threats and critical information, and would give US residents single-payer healthcare just as an act of user interface mercy. Any post hoc changes to federal websites or the Congressional Record would be recorded in a Subversion-like record management system for ease in search and retrieval, and to discourage Orwellian history erasures. The State of the Union would include Steve Jobs-esque Keynote accompaniment, a far cry from Ross Perot's posterboard charts or the school-project volcano dioramas that grace the floor of the House today.
Also s/he would have a blog. And constantly be redesigning it. With a White House IT team on call 24/7. And I'd probably be the poor PM dealing with the constant random enhancement requests. So maybe we should wait on a PresIAdent.
# (1) 14 Aug 2008, 09:07AM: Screenpay to Screenplay:
Last night's dream included a Make/Shawshank Redemption crossover, a visit to Rivka's gigantic historic landmark house (it had Wings), and tomatoes growing near my bed -- providing, as Leonard pointed out later, nightshade.
Also invented in my dream: a Japanese restaurant where the low tatami couch covers could be removed to reveal -- a bathtub! You could lounge in the tub while eating your sushi off a little shelf. Once New Yorkers get tired of egg creams again we should try this. First customer: George Bluth.
In other news, Condi Rice finally gets to exercise her base skillset by going to the former USSR to oppose Russian hegemony. Next: bin Laden challenges Bush to a drinking contest.
#22 Jun 2008, 10:02PM: The Invalid Coughs Piteously:
Am siiiiiiick. Leonard characterizes my amount of whining as "not more than is seemly" and has been providing very homemade chicken noodle soup (seriously, made noodles from scratch and turned a whole dead chicken into soup) as well as tea and whatnot. Napped extensively, reread Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller and watched some over-the-top Psych. I should construct a Grand Unified Theory of Easy-To-Digest Media For The Sumana Sickbed. Criteria include: funny, not too original, happy ending.
Funny typo in my incoming email: "Sumana: Thanks for conforming." I'm assuming he meant "confirming" but why risk finding out what he really thinks of me?
#01 May 2008, 05:02PM: Musings:
On a colleague sitting alone in a conference room with low lighting, sternly focused on his laptop screen: "He looks so hard-core in there. Like he's checking checkboxes in a web app to decide who to kill."
#15 Apr 2008, 09:41AM: Quarter-Baked Ideas:
Leonard's daily conference call just now sounded like You Look Nice Today. Thus, I thought of an idea for another comedy podcast: a parody of a daily or weekly conference call. Think The Office.
Also last night I thought the five Pandava brothers would make a good boy band.
#23 Mar 2008, 08:30PM: Who's Afraid of Castle Wolfenstein?:
Zack and Pam stayed with us for a few days just now. I was mentioning something that Leonard's not great at -- boring repetitive tasks, or something.
# (2) 11 Mar 2008, 10:28AM: Olfactory Equity:
Today I splashed a little of Leonard's aftershave on my wrist so I can sniff it and think of him. He warned me that I might seem mannish! I replied, "So what? I'll get a raise?"
#10 Feb 2008, 03:39PM: After:
Last night was the last weekly Slightly Known People show at Rififi in the Village. They performed some of their best skits, other sketch comedians and groups did bits, and we all sang together at the end. In April they start a regular gig at an Off-Broadway venue, which is great for them, like a graduation, but I'm going to miss the old ritual.
I am getting kind of tired of going to comedy shows alone.
Sixty-odd years later, the Galacticast vodcast is making terrific fun of Trek, Battlestar, and every other sci-fi touchstone. Reminds me that I should be putting my creative powers to better use, since I have a few weeks since classes/possible job begin. Before I leave for California next week, I'll make further inroads on Miro testing work and How To Design Progams study, and make a stab at my Mahabharata parody project.
Instead of a New Year's Resolution, maybe I should just be working a week at a time anyway.
# (2) 17 Dec 2007, 02:19PM: Powerpoint Karaoke: Best Practices:
Danny O'Brien mentioned this concept and tried it out at a conference several months ago. So Leonard and I playtested it at Backup Thanksgiving (photos) at our apartment, with several of our friends. One of them, a hacker with a drama degree from NYU, mentioned that it's similar to acting exercises, which makes sense since this is a species of improv.
Before you play, you should do technical/logistical prepwork and select some Powerpoint slide sets ("decks") for the victims' use.
Technical/logistical: make sure there'll be at least 6 people participating -- 1 host/slidemover/timekeeper, 1 player, at least 4 audience members. I used a kitchen timer where I could set it to count down from some number of minutes. Make sure the video hookup to the laptop/computer works ahead of time.
Slide research: go to slideshare.net and bookmark a variety of decks. Languages the speaker doesn't know are GREAT. Leonard had success doing searches forbuzzwordsandjargon, but you could do well with art analysis as well. Look for decks that have around 10 or 20 slides each, with clip-art visuals & some text, and for a variety of topics -- not just all Web 2.0 stuff. Avoid:
Decks full of text with no pictures -- novices find themselves reading out loud instead of talking on their own
Decks shorter than 10 slides of simple stock photos -- it's hard for a novice to hang a funny narrative on them
# (3) 02 Dec 2007, 12:08PM: "Firefly" Jokes:
Today Leonard is having his yearly backup Thanksgiving. I say "his" because it's really his idea and his motive, although I do get to eat lots of stuffing. I get leftovers twice! It's great. And he makes famous sweet potatoes!
Anyway, I am reminded of the primary Thanksgiving we had this year, where I saw all of Firefly with my sister and husband. Our more durable jests:
In "Shindig," when Atherton Wing angrily gestures with Inara to leave the ball with him, Leonard supplied his line: "My arm! Candyless!?"
In "Jaynestown," the youngster asks Inara whether he isn't supposed to be a man, now that he's mated. Inara says, "A man is just a boy who's old enough to ask that question." I added: "And kill a tiger."
Responding to part of a post of mine, Zed stated that mental health always increases one's creative choices. I would submit that there are particular artistic realms or methods that get harder to explore, or less attractive, the happier and saner one gets. "Health doesn't mean you can't visit those [old dark] places," Zed writes, but really? Maybe I should just take Zed's word on that, because he has way more experience in life and art, but just physiologically there are sensations and emotions I've had that I can't even remember now, much less access for use in stand-up or writing. I'm sure it's not a zero-sum game between artistic mojo and life function, but I bet the tradeoff will cause some friction with one's agent during the transition.
It is possible to realize that your urge toward artistic accomplishment arose from feelings of worthlessness, or otherwise from a bad place, and realize you don't actually want to pursue the same artistic endeavor in the same way. The incompatibility between ambition and contentment speaks to this, but there's such a thing as healthy ambition and unhealthy ambition. Contentment isn't incompatible with the former.
Maybe this is my comic-book understanding of Buddhism coming through, but ambition = desire and desire is by definition a lack of contentment. Yeah, I'm gonna say that's too simplistic. Evidently there are people who are basically happy with their lives and find some drive other than the need for therapy that pushes them to make neat stuff. Maybe the urge to awesomeness, or "I could do better than that" exasperation. OK, that I could believe.
# (1) 15 Nov 2007, 11:01PM: What Slash Taught Me About "Stephen Colbert":
You might think that I began reading Stephen Colbert fan fiction because the writers' strike is keeping his show off the air.* But it was two weeks ago that I started seeking it out. I'd had two or three recent dreams where Colbert was trying to teach me something -- math, management skills, ethics. What did that mean? I turned to The Colbert Report fanfic to help my conscious mind understand the themes in The Colbert Report that my subconscious was chewing on.
For background: like other fans, I didn't watch Colbert's show when it started out. This, despite a very friendly and funny call from a Report staffer when I worked at Salon Premium, back when the Report was just starting in 2005. He asked for a free subscription, a perk Salon and probably most major media outlets give their colleagues. We joked about Adam Carolla's car-like name and I wished him luck. But I wasn't watching. I thought The Colbert Report would be a one-trick pony and rather boring until that White House Correspondents Dinner speech.
Then I started tuning in and didn't stop. The Daily Show is parody but The Colbert Report is satire, the thumbnail conventional wisdom goes. "What's happened to The Daily Show?" one asks as Colbert looks comparatively hotter. "The Secret Agenda of Stephen Colbert", one speculates as his show nails not just the forms but the underlying conceptual dysfunction of reigning ideologies.
Erin Ptah specifically aims in her fiction to humanize the superficially despicable character that Colbert plays. Ptah comments:
He's clueless in a way that is (usually) charming. He's well-intentioned. He craves attention and approval. He's fragile and plagued by self-doubt. He always tries to do his best. He has a streak of childish innocence.
The theme of attention-seeking and approval-seeking resonates with me, and I hadn't expected it. The real Stephen Colbert is the youngest of eleven children and lost his dad and two brothers when he was a child. He freely admits a huge attention-seeking drive, but he'll act silly on stage without fear of embarrassment. The Colbert persona is a tremendous narcissist and that may be the only urge of his that he isn't in denial about. The real Colbert is aware enough to declare how lucky he is in an interview with Larry King: "[My character has] got a tremendous ego. I get to pretend I don't."
Once I really start thinking about how Colbert constructed an attention-hungry persona that screens his private, attention-hungry self from exposure -- because being authentic 100% of the time may turn you grey (cf. Jon Stewart) -- I want to digress a lot. His mask reminds me of customer service habits that prevent burnout, and the doubly-indirected attention-seeking reminds me of Anna Fels's insights on attention as a necessary component of mastery. But you get my point. There's a lot here.
Another pervasive lesson in the Colbert character is the undermining of authority's assurances. It's always Opposite Day, so his blessings and curses are inimical to real-life value. What Ptah calls well-intentioned cluelessness goes hand-in-hand with pretzel logic:
"Well, there you are!" Stephen replied, triumphantly. "Only a man who was petrified of finding out he was gay would avoid having sex with men!"
How more succinctly could we put a neocon's wiretapping rationalizations than in this Colbert Report ad slogan? "I'm looking over your shoulder, but only because I've got your back." Well-intentioned cluelessness all the way.
You see the character's innocence come through when his character breaks. The fanfiction, as a rule, either shows Stephen or "Stephen," and so doesn't explore the space in between; Ptah's "The Thing With Feathers" is an exception (explicit example with implicit discussion throughout).
And that's how you know he is having a good time. He wears the character lightly, breaking at least a little bit once an episode or more. It's great to see him smile for real! There's a lesson: the power of a genuine smile. And it makes you wonder how anyone could see those breaks and not recognize them, see the show and not know it's a parody.
And as for the character always trying to do his best, and probably failing, he's not alone in that. For a fan fiction piece that explores this, I recommend Ptah's "Expecting" -- at the very least you should see the trailer.
So, if Colbert is showing up in my dreams as a teacher, what are my lessons? In some ways they're the same lessons I learned from sitcoms: be straightforward and honest to avoid drama. Low-probability embarrassments will happen, so get over it. Be kind to outsiders. But in sitcoms we learn to be kind and honest to others; Colbert is telling me to be kind and honest with myself.
* Leonard and I made muffins yesterday morning and I brought them to the Writers Guild picket line in midtown. Gawking report: John Oliver looked exhausted and a standup comic whose name I can't recall gave me a smile. Then, near Rockefeller Center, I saw paparazzi surrounding a car and asked a gawker who was in there. She finished snapping her cameraphone shot and turned to say triumphantly and definitively, "Celine Dion!"
In the comments, we see hordes of teenage girls noting that it's only n years till they can legally schtup Stephen Colbert. And indeed when we get to see Colbert's genuine smile it's quite winning. And this video is three and a half minutes of just those endearing moments, so of course it's cracktastic and attracts those gals. Maybe there are fanboys among the SQUEE! contingent too, but in their Twitter-length comments they'd have to justify why Colbert would divorce his wife AND TURN GAY for them at their 18th birthdays, and that takes a little longer than 140 characters.
The vid does not drive me to YouTube-comment-posting levels of lust; nonetheless, I enjoy The Colbert Report quite a bit. Certain episodes ("American Pop Culture: It's Crumbelievable" and the Decemberists shred-off) I've watched several times, and I maintain that "The Word" is changing how people understand Powerpoint. But I did not seek out the literary criticism, fan homages, fan music videos (aww), and fiction about Colbert written by amateurs until a few days ago. My reasons and findings: forthcoming.
Alton grasped the edges of the counter, then moved his left hand along as if looking for something. He pressed a hidden button under the lip of the counter, and a shallow drawer concealed above the other drawers popped out. In it were .... could it be? Mike stopped [redacted] for a moment in sheer astonishment. Labeled in Alton's neat handwriting were half-a-dozen small screwtop jars: chocolate-cayenne, raspberry coulis, pineapple-mint, unflavored, cinnamon-clove, ginger-mango. There was also a stash of gloves and a beautifully polished marble french rolling pin, the kind that tapers. Alton cleared his throat. "Um, I've never liked the feel of the glycerin-based lubes, so I infuse my own silicone lube. I was.... I was hoping you'd like....." His voice tapered off, but this time it wasn't uncertainty, or ONLY uncertainty. It was invitation.
Author's Note: I'm not sure if this counts as a fanfic, a parody of a fanfic, a fanfic of a parody, or all of the above. Whatever it is, I just had to write it.
Slash folks sometimes argue over which pair of characters belongs in a couple -- which is the One True Pairing? Troi/Riker or Troi/Worf? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, or Stephen Colbert and Tad, his building manager? (Self-conscious Mahabharata slash could have some fun defining Draupadi's OTP.) What pair feels right?
But that feeling of OTP rightness fits, in good slash, with the elegant subversion that makes it pleasurably wrong. Erin Ptah's wonderful and Pratchett-influenced "The Thing With Feathers" is an example. The way she borrows Colbert and Stewart, they belong together -- yet she rearranges the reader's universe, disorienting and reorienting my experience of The Colbert Report.
Some people write RPS, or Real Person Slash, about celebrities. I find this more icky because now the writer is objectifying a real person. The layered nature of reality on The Colbert Report allows writers to play with RPS and Fake Person Slash in the same story, so some FPS lands in the RPS community and it gets weird. Weirder, anyhow. And that's as close as I come to the reflexive anti-fanfic stance I've seen in a few folks: Fan fiction is cheating, since you're not making up the characters or their universe. And you're stealing someone else's work, and you shouldn't publish it, and probably it's stupid for you even to be writing it, much less reading it.
It makes me happy to read good fiction, fan or pro. And it's edifying, although what I've learned about The Colbert Report will be in a future post. But is all of fanfic stealing, cheating, regular wrong?
#09 Oct 2007, 10:18AM: Seen:
Now that Leonard's starting his new job, we're waking up earlier and moving our daily handball games to the realm of 7:30 or 8am. This means that today we saw Astorians in suits walking to the subway. The most prominent example: a youngish man in a very proper suit and the most incongruous camo baseball cap ever.
Leonard suggested that the worker was dressed for "Casual Tuesday," "Funny In Context Tuesday", or "You Had To Be There Tuesday."
#21 Sep 2007, 12:14PM: Sumana Performs This Sunday Twiddles Her Thumb:
This weekend I'm doing a monologue workshop called "Performing Your Life". Mike Daisey, a performer I like a lot, is teaching it. On Sunday the 23rd, at 9pm, those of us who want can perform the piece we've been working on. I'm pretty sure I'll be one of them. The show will be at 9pm at The Tank, in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. Probably my performance will be between five and ten minutes, but it might be fun for you to see anyway.
# (1) 01 Sep 2007, 01:16PM: Comedy This Midmorning/Early Afternoon:
I just watched A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum for the first time, so now I finally get the backstory for Michael Dorn's "Stand aside; I take large steps" Star Trek: The Next Generation outtake from that one episode of Reading Rainbow.
Leonard went into the bedroom and emerged, holding one end of a cell phone charger cord high in each hand, like a mad scientist about to show them, show them all. "This is a catenary," he explained -- the shape a hanging cord or cable describes when its ends are held up but gravity pulls down the weight of the cord itself.
"So it's a parabola, right?" I asked. He said no, and I looked it up.
Galileo claimed that the curve of a chain hanging under gravity would be a parabola, but this was disproved by Jungius in a work published in 1669.
"I am so wrong," I said. "I was proved wrong in 1669!"
"On the other hand," Leonard pointed out, "you're as good as Galileo."
Leonard was confused at the "poor man's Bob Dylan" genre evidenced in the recordings, because he had thought Van Morrison was a hard rocker. This is because he was confusing Van Morrison with Van Halen.
We agreed that it would be interesting to use the snippet-length songs from the contractual obligation album as the basis for other songs. They feel like jingles or samples, and "Just Ball" for one was favorably compared yesterday to "Revolution #9". I mean, they're perfectly competent as bits of music -- one can't just noodle about and improvise 31 songs at this level of composition without some chops. There's a combination of tossed-off horrible and baseline quality that makes this album, in some sense, the opposite of The Eye of Argon (link to a new Leonard toy relating to EoA) and "The Good, the Bad, and Scarface".
Leonard, could you put in the comments or something what Evan wrote in response to this music? The ones about ennui and the void?
#21 Apr 2007, 12:32PM: Futurama Lives:
I work in the heart of New York's historic Garment, um, Fashion District (the bit with the giant button and needle poking out of the ground at 40th St and 7th Ave), yet I rarely see people who give off the "I am a fashionista!" vibe. Maybe that's because everyone in NYC gives off the better-dressed-than-Sumana vibe and I can't distinguish between martyrs to style and Easter-and-Christmas clotheshorses.
Yesterday, though, I saw a group of five stylon-emitting men and women on 7th Ave, conversing in a little circle. One woman seemed to be flashing her chest at another, but as I passed, I saw that she was merely holding up the hem of her shirt so another woman could inspect it. The only phrase I overheard: "hand-lasered."
I watched one performance to get a taste of it. And I realized what I might have guessed all along: I've seen performances just as bad (and we weren't allowed to laugh) by people who prepared the slides themselves. Sheer knowledge of the content of the presentation will only get you so far! Let me practice giving a presentation on a topic I know nothing about, and I'll do better than an expert who's assembled the slides but never practiced the presentation.
Danny O'Brien, did you have a Tufte-esque hidden agenda in throwing this shindig?
At an engineering offsite in the Marin Headlands, soon after the announcement, a "V.C.-type" speaker came in to put [Collabnet]'s move into a larger economic context, developer Leonard Richardson, 24, remembers.
"He talked about how the agricultural economy had become the industrial economy, which in turn had become the knowledge economy. Someone asked him what comes next, after outsourcing takes its toll on the knowledge economy. He said that if anyone had any ideas he was interested in hearing them," says Richardson.
Kevin Maples, another programmer, dubbed this vague notion the "I don't know, you think of something" economy.
#01 Apr 2007, 10:53AM: Also, Bikram Seth's Ultra-Steamy "A Suitable Boy":
Patrick McKenzie has a funny story from Palm Sunday, with a child's suggested revision of the holiday's name. I pointed out to Leonard that this child has an admirably meritocratic view of holiday-naming, where the person/thing that did the work that makes that holiday special gets name credit. By that standard, should Good Friday be Pilate Friday? However, I accidentally said "Pilates" instead of "Pilate." Pontius Pilates: the killer with the killer abs!
#19 Mar 2007, 03:14PM: Hundreds Of Hours After School In The Comp Lab:
I just explained to a new colleague, with reference to "Oregon Trail", that if his workload goes past steady into strenuous or grueling, he should let me know so I can bear some of it. You can sing "Oregon Trail" to the tune of "Minimum Wage" by They Might Be Giants. Achewood remembers. Where On The Oregon Trail is Carmen Sandiego?
#08 Feb 2007, 09:12AM: Minimalism:
Just got off the column for this Sunday. Something I had to leave out: Mike Daisey wrote about his time at Amazon in his book 21 Dog Years (based on his monologue) and talked about dot-coms and minimalism in architecture for a paragraph.
I don't know what it is about tech companies and exposed ductwork -- they love the stuff. It's as though the building's guts reflect an inner anxiety writ large, so that at any point in the day any of us can look up at the exposed piping and exclaim, "We're so busy, look how hard we're working...oh God, please, we're almost profitable, we're working so hard that we don't have time to cover up these ducts! They had to be exposed! That's how dedicated we are!"
#31 Jan 2007, 08:57AM: Come On, People:
Sometimes the subconscious just phones it in. Doing stand-up comedy about Battlestar Galactica? Sorry, not nearly inventive enough. The only creative element was a Cylon leader, played by Don Cheadle, whom I call "Kofi Cylan."
I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: The more punchlines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." have maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits" and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" have about zero.
"The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel format. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.
There's more here but I figured I should provide you a list of links to the gateway webcomics I recommend in the article.
#10 Nov 2006, 10:41PM: I Haven't Read Any Scott McCloud Yet:
You may have noticed that my column runs on Sundays, while it used to run on Thursdays. This means that it's no longer in the same section as the comics. Not that I read newspaper comics much anymore, but I'd probably pony up for a "Zits" or "Get Fuzzy" collection.
When I was a kid, reading the comics as I ate breakfast before heading to the bus stop, I was fond of "Zits" and "Foxtrot." I saved them for last. I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: the more punch lines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." has maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits," and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" has about zero. Like "The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel nature. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.
Nowadays, I get comics off the web and in graphic novels and comic books. I'll probably write a recommendation list for a column soon. The Comics Curmudgeon provides me with funny-paper snark.
And have I mentioned that "Bit Torment" is a terrible comic book?
#30 Oct 2006, 06:05PM: Greenback-Colored Glasses:
The business-y reports we have to write for my Corporate Finance class got to me when I was rereading P. Larkin's "This Be The Verse". The first two lines are "Executive Summary," the second half of the first stanza is "Analysis in Detail," the second stanza is "Historical Considerations," the next two lines are "Summary," and the last two are "Recommendations."
#25 Sep 2006, 11:27PM: Why?:
Why, why, why did Aaron Sorkin think that Gilbert & Sullivan filk was the way to go? I am the very model of a cringing, disappointed fan. And why are bicker banter scenes not rising above the bar set by Coyote Ugly?
Maybe Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip needs to build characters and baseline conflicts for a couple of episodes, but here's what I want to see soon:
skits that Sorkin thinks are better than the SNL state of the art, and that I like
Nate Corddry, D.L. Hughley, and Matthew Perry being hilarious
Writing room, rehearsal, and design process that makes awesomeness
#22 Sep 2006, 05:45PM: Daisey & Franken & The Kids:
Ah, it's not on Will's site, but Will Franken will be at Pianos NYC Sunday night! Ordinarily Whitest Kids You Know would be performing at that time, but they're on tour. Friends in Portland, Lawrence, and San Jose: go see 'em!
"No. I supplement my meagre income by generating 'white noise' text to help spam messages skip those pesky Bayesian filters. Pays 5p per million words. It's hard work, but artistically satisfying. What the spammers can't use, Douglas Coupland buys to put in his next novel."
#09 Sep 2006, 08:44AM: Don't Resign Yourself To Blair's Resignation Just Yet:
I'm told that Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, has said he'll resign next year but won't give a specific date. Evidently he's fond of the surprise execution paradox. Hmmm, if he's going to resign in 2007 but make it a surprise, then it can't be December 31st, because then it wouldn't be a surprise anymore. But reasoning inductively from that, it can't be December 30th, or December 29th -- in fact, he can't resign at all!
#04 Sep 2006, 02:07AM: Adapt To Win:
Jon Stewart's crew actually doesn't push the Orwell/Huxley jokes that much. But The Daily Show a few nights ago, in a four-minute piece on propaganda, did a very unexpected 1984/They Live/1984 Mac ad reference. It's near the end, and I wasn't expecting it, and it stunned me.
#01 Sep 2006, 02:33PM: Solids & Powders Replace Liquids:
Per Leonard's posts, sometimes we use shampoo bars. I also use stick deodorant (Tom's of Maine or other non-mainstream stuff) and chew gum or use those little plastic strips for breath freshening. Thus, my usual liquid-carrying through airports constrains itself to a water bottle and toothpaste.
My recent trip to California took place after the TSA ban on liquids and gels. So I didn't take water, and I didn't get enough water on the flight, so I got mildly dehydrated. This probably facilitated the illness that got me down for three days in California, preventing me from visiting Berkeley and seeing and doing a lot of things I'd been looking forward to for weeks. Gar!
But the ban did give me a chance to take tooth powder on the plane as an experiment. My parents and other Indians have for decades used mildly abrasive powders, often including baking soda, to brush their teeth. You just rinse your mouth with water, sprinkle maybe half a teaspoon or a quarter teaspoon on your toothbrush, and start brushing. The leftover saliva and water turns the powder into a paste in your mouth. If you've ever read The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill, remember the initial ingredients for the toothpaste. Tooth powder also takes up less room than toothpaste, since it doesn't have added water, glycerol, etc. (I assume this is also true of shampoo bars regarding liquid shampoo.)
I'm currently using Eco-Dent anise-flavored powder so I took it in my carry-on. The TSA folks in New York didn't care. The TSA screener in Oakland, on the way back, carefully looked through my bag because the X-ray had shown them a bottle.
"You'll have to check this," she said, holding up the Eco-Dent.
"My tooth powder?" I said.
"It's toothpaste," she said.
"No, it's a powder. It's not paste," I said, turning it upside down (while closed) and then opening it so she could see inside.
She was pleasantly surprised, and mentioned that she might acquire some to use when she flew. So I got through with some dentifrice, and one more person knows of the magic of toothpaste.
In the days right after the TSA ban, people started chortling over all the mightily wet solids the TSA could ban for consistency's sake. Watermelons! Cucumbers! Cooked beets! Candles, since it's so easy to melt them! And the human body is mostly water; should we get freeze-dried before flights and reconstituted upon delivery?
It really would be easier for us to just get sedated for the whole flight. After all, Leonard hates flying more than he hates the dentist; why shouldn't he get to go under for both? And if it's good enough for colony ships, it's good enough for spring break.
Or we could just anesthetize passengers the jetBlue way: TV for every seat. I watched a Project Runway marathon on the way home. Reality TV where people make something? Wow!
If Leonard leaves the house, I find it easier to clean. Why is this? Other people who live with spouses or significant others: can you comment?
Anyway, that means that I had a spasm of cleaning today. Also, today I wrote and almost finished a new column on a funny problem with a naturalization exam study sheet. Well, that's where it starts, anyway.
#10 Aug 2006, 02:55PM: Water Cooler:
Conversation ended up pondering which would happen sooner, if at all: my reproduction or the end of cheap oil. "Oddly enough, both of those depend on Alaska senator Ted Stevens."
#07 Aug 2006, 07:28AM: I Still Miss You, Will Franken:
The Whitest Kids You Know are back from filming a season of their new series for Fuse TV. Saw them last night and they're in top form. Really enjoyed Roger Hailes and Aziz Ansari's work as well. Hailes made a funny, feminist joke about strip clubs, if you can believe that. He also was the first comic I've ever heard to point out that prayers too often devolve into to-do lists. Oh man, so true it's simultaneously hilarious and not funny at all.
Hailes hosts "Flying Blind" at Rififi on Tuesdays; I'd like to go sometime. Improv/extemporaneous standup sounds promising.
Seeing bad standup makes me want to do good standup. Seeing good standup just makes me deeply, deeply happy.
I started doing standup partly because Simon Stow, a fantastic political science teacher, had a background in standup. His example also helped get me into teaching and political science. But I also started because I kept seeing bad standup and thinking, "I could do better than this." You'll recognize this as the same impulse I had when watching bad management at former jobs and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I reluctantly quote Paul Graham:
I've found that people who are great at something are not so much convinced of their own greatness as mystified at why everyone else seems so incompetent.
I seem to remember this as "the good just think they suck less" but evidently that's not in the original.
The problem of metacognition nags me. It's one of the reasons I waited so long to try booze. One classic work on the topic: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own
Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Justin Kruger and David Dunning (PDF and plain text versions). One way to get people to realize that they lack a skill is to teach it to them. How else can we correct cognitive illlusions? As a future manager, I find this a troublesome and fascinating topic. As a comedygoer and comedymaker, I want to show them how it's done.
The result is a kind of black-Muslim fusion. Azeem recalls being 17 and telling his grandmother, a devout southern US Baptist, that he had become a Muslim. "I said, 'Grandma, I'm a Muslim.' She looked up and said, 'No you're not. You ain't never been to jail.'"
"Female scientists who are competitive or assertive are generally ostracized by their male colleagues," [Barres] says. In any case, he argues, "an aggressive competitive spirit" matters less to scientific success than curiosity, perseverance and self-confidence.
Women doubt their abilities more than men do, say scientists who have mentored scores of each. "Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed they had less ability than they actually had," [genetics] Prof. [Gregory] Petsko wrote. "And almost without exception, the talented men I have known believed they had more."
My parents kept telling me to be confident. I understand better now.
"I think we want to step back and ask, why is it that almost all Nobel Prize winners are men today?" [psychologist Elizabeth Spelke] concluded. "The answer to that question may be the same reason why all the great scientists in Florence were Christian."
#04 Jul 2006, 08:47PM: Independence From Work:
Things I sort of wanted to do today: work on an essay, start reading The Baroque Cycle, rewrite a humorous play about Indian-Americans that my sister and I wrote ten years ago. In fact, I've watched the World Cup match and browsed far too much of Overheard In New York via hitting the Random Entry link over and over. Some favorites:
#17 May 2006, 02:15PM: Three Equals Three Except After E:
Coworker 1, futzing with double-precision or floating-point or something: "Does 3 equal 3?"
Coworker 2, immediately: "Sometimes."
Me, cracking up: "Coworker 1, did you ask that just to try to get Coworker 2 to make an absolute statement?"
Coworker 2: "What I said was absolutely true."
#28 Apr 2006, 01:18PM: Turtle Power:
On Travelocity right now: "In The Spirit of Da Vinci: Last Minute Code-Cracking Getaways from $199."
Sedoc gnikcarc ekil*? If you've got a taste for cloak and dagger intrigue, solving puzzles and riddles, or wandering through the labyrinths and mazes of the world, we encourage you to decode modern mysteries in the following destinations.
(*backwards for "like cracking codes?")
Actually, it's backwards for "?like cracking codes" or "?*like cracking codeS" or something else Semantic Web-looking. But come on! ROT13 it or something. GOB from Arrested Development could do better.
Travelocity recommends Poe's grave, the Spy Museum, the Morse statue and museum, the Winchester Mystery House, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Did they omit the Denver Airport because then you wouldn't need a hotel too?
#13 Apr 2006, 09:53PM: Dead Mice Eat No Peanut Butter:
"Man, [that instance of vermin] is eating that poison like crazy!"
"Yeah, we can't keep it on the shelves!"
"Yes, because the FDA won't let us, because it's POISON."
#04 Apr 2006, 11:25AM: Dr. Warren's Logic Class Shows Up Again:
The other day, I made a funny typo when writing a letter to a customer. I wrote, "Iff you'd like to order..." Logically, that's "If and only if you'd like to order..."
#24 Mar 2006, 07:44AM: Insults:
When you are insulting a piece of software in the "it is ugly" or "it sucks" manner, does it make sense to say "it has diabetes"? Or -- as a colleague suggested -- is mere diabetes morally neutral such that a proper insult would be "it has adult-onset diabetes"?
#11 Feb 2006, 10:12AM: Jellyfish - Wait, "Sea Jelly":
My instant messenger icon is something I did in Microsoft Paint ten years ago.
nandini: i like your im icon
nandini: did you draw it yourself?
sumana: yeah, 10 yrs ago
sumana: I call it "jellyfish"
nandini: it feels as though you are talking to me.
nandini: so i am talking to a jellyfish
nandini: i can call you jelly from now on
nandini: "what up, jelly?"
sumana: I told Leonard
sumana: he also laughed
nandini: he is the bf of the jelly fish
#09 Feb 2006, 09:04PM: Error Messages From The Bard:
A zillion years ago, back when Leonard was one of the editors of Segfault (a geek humor site with user-submitted content), I wrote and he published this bit:
If Shakespeare Wrote Error Messages
What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet your login is incorrect, try again, you quintessence of dust.
'Tis nothing to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, except for that bad command or file name.
Brevity is the soul of wit; too many arguments.
A little more than kin, and less than kind, and even less memory.
The fs type is out of joint. Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!
What is the matter that you read, my lord?
Read error, file not found.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are in your kernel, but it's still too big.
Your process hath shuffled off this mortal coil.
Oh, what a noble drive here is o'erthrown!
'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played upon than a pipe? OK, maybe not that pipe.
I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room, or just dump them in your root directory.
Something is busy in the state of your mount point.
Revenge should have no bounds. As for floating points, I'll make an exception.
Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I, to this server what reset my connection!
Fie, thy grief is a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature, and a fault of segmentation.
Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?
Memory access error.
Your login flies up, your password remains below; to logins without passwords authentication never goes.
Something wicked this way comes -- oh good, permission denied.
Bus error: the rest is silence.
As he did command, I did repel your packets and denied you access to me.
And flights of angels sing thy process to its rest!
Someone wrote me once, telling me that he actually used "Your login flies up, your password remains below; to logins without passwords authentication never goes" as an error message in a live system. I wonder whether it's still out there.
#05 Feb 2006, 08:40PM: Sketch Mayhem:
I met up with an old friend of Nandini's on Saturday night to watch some sketch comedy. Incidentally, Nandini is not only pursuing two simultaneous Master's degrees, she also just visited China for a few weeks. When we were kids we'd pretend we were jet-setting millionaire witches. She is much further towards that goal than I am. Although I think neither of us is making much headway on the witch thing.
Anyway, I got to see Slightly Known People (they perform at 8pm every Saturday night at Rififi/Cinema Classics on E. 11th St.) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I laughed at every single sketch, which is quite rare. They remind me of the sadly defunct Fresh Robots.
Saturday night's show included a sketch set on a subway platform. In one part of the scene, one character rather slowly and methodically listed, to an unwilling listener, various strategies for getting to one's destination while expending a minimum of time and money. I found it hysterical and yelped in laughter while the rest of the audience was silent. This caused other audience members to laugh and caused one actor to break character and laugh. The actor tried to stifle her laughter, but this only caused her eyes to tear, making her mascara run. After the show, I heard that this was incredibly rare, as she never breaks. What can I say; I'm a demolition derby of suspension of disbelief.
#04 Jan 2006, 07:15AM: Comedy Carroll:
"As we know now, space and time are really the same thing. Space is just time moving very slowly. So, if our time is slightly off and needs correcting, it follows that our space is also slightly off. What you call your "personal space" may in fact belong to Anthony Hopkins. We may all live in Nevada. We won't know until scientists figure it out -- and that could be a long time because most scientists are spending their time standing up at rural school board meetings explaining radio carbon dating."
#13 Dec 2005, 06:57AM: Conversation From Last Night:
[Context: A few of my friends have leads on job opportunities that would be pretty awesome, such as jobs at the Make-a-Wish Foundation and People Magazine.]
"Job interviewers can't ask you your ethnicity, or whether you're married, or a veteran, or disabled, or gay. But they can ask, [Darth Vader voice]'What is your greatest weakness?'....'I'm a total chocoholic!'"
#10 Dec 2005, 08:36AM: HOWTO Write Hackish Standup, Part II:
Leonard suggested that I follow up my bare-bones standup comedy writing HOWTO with an example. I'll start with some really unsuitable observations and anecdotes, explain why they are unsuitable for the easy procedure I'd outlined, and then take some more suitable ones and develop them into a routine.
Unsuitable observation: The character of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man is an archetypal Trickster God. Yes, this is true, and I think it is amusing to consider bringing other common gods from polytheistic systems into early twentieth-century River City, Iowa. But observational humor at its easiest immediately connects with the audience. You can't count on most audience members having seen The Music Man and most certainly won't know what the Trickster God archetype is.
Unsuitable anecdote: When I was the stage manager for Heather Gold's one-woman show, I Look Like An Egg But I Identify As A Cookie, various people were in charge of getting the ingredients for the on-stage baking from Heather's house to the venue. One day, when it was Heather's responsibility, she showed up early for the show (which was great) but, as we discovered about 45 minutes to showtime, without the ingredients.
I immediately dispatched a friend of Heather's to go to the nearest convenience stores. When she came back I hurriedly poured and measured everything on the stage, which had no curtain. People had already begun to take their seats. So they witnessed me warming the ice-cold butter by setting it atop the toaster oven and hitting the Toast button. And they watched me take a meat hammer to the block of brown sugar that was masquerading as granite, and then use the spiky side of said meat hammer to grate three quarters of a cup of sugar off the rock and into the little clear bowl. I joked with the audience, announcing that this was not part of the performance but sort of a Hints from Heloise prelude.
This may or may not have been the performance in which we ran out of vanilla extract, I asked the chefs at the hotel restaurant for help, they gave me two whole vanilla beans, and I had to slit and scrape them in a manner I'd only seen done on TV cooking shows.
Anyway, this anecdote is like the observation above; it takes too much setup because audience members won't know what the Egg/Cookie show was. And the ending isn't very funny to people other than me; it may be a "you had to be there" story. I could exaggerate how difficult the brown sugar was to grate, or lie and make jokes about the trouble I had with each single ingredient, or cruelly mock Heather and her friend for imagined incompetences, but I think that's far too much trouble to take for far too little payoff.
A more suitable anecdote: When I was at UC Berkeley, I was (I believe) the only Sumana on campus, so I thought it would be easy to get email@example.com. But I couldn't because it was already taken by Stacy Umana.
I think this is much more suitable. It's short. Most people in comedy audiences are familiar with email addresses, in particular the username tradition of "first letter of first name and all of last name," and with the mild frustration of not getting the username you want. And people are unfamiliar enough with my first name, and with the last name "Umana," that the incongruity is instantly obvious.
More suitable observation: A popular mockmeat brand, Morningstar, shares its name with Satan, who was Lucifer or "the morning star" before falling from grace.
Like the Music Man/Trickster God analogy, this note is an observation about some bit of religious trivia connecting with pop culture (I say food is pop culture). But it's more accessible. Now, accessibility isn't everything, and if you're as practiced and amazing as Greg Proops or Patton Oswalt, then you can throw in Milton and the photoelectric effect and it works and you've reached a higher plane. But for the first-timer at the open mic, accessibility makes timing and high punchline frequency a heck of a lot easier, because you get through the setup that much faster.
So here is how I might pathetically spin out those premises:
When I was at Berkeley, I wanted my name for my email address. sumana@uclink. And I thought that would be fine because I was the only Sumana on campus. But I couldn't, because there was a Stacy Umana.
People did not use to have this problem. Can you imagine some guy, scratching out [pantomime] name after name on his kid's birth certificate?
"Dammit, there's already a John Smith?"
"Okay, I've got it. John Smith 1111111111."
And the stupidest thing to put in there is the year. I mean, come on. You're going to have that email address for more than a year! When I see crazydaisy98@aol, should I think that you've been on AOL for seven years, or that there are 97 other crazydaisies on AOL?
Names are so useless. I mean, there's this brand of mockmeat, soy bacon and stuff, called Morningstar -- which is another name for Lucifer, for Satan.
So, because I'm a vegetarian, I have to eat Satanburgers?
But I guess this proves that those Christian groups really don't care about the devil. I could open Satan's Used Cars and they wouldn't boycott me unless I hired gay people.
But just imagine how Satan feels!
The strongest and mightiest adversary of God, and all he gets is vegans?
Plus, you know he can't get the email address he wants, because some twelve-year-old goth kid took it.
darklord@hotmail, taken. Damn!
Now, that's the set before iteration through practice to make the thing not suck. But you get the idea. Only a few sentences between punchlines, the punch word as the last word of the punchline, exaggerated-yet-logical extrapolations from the incongruity dressed up with opinion ("stupid") and Satan. Definitely get Satan in there.
#10 Dec 2005, 07:26AM: On Cutting Through Personal Style:
Sometimes I wonder why I like House (properly House, M.D.). After all, in real life, I'd shut a jerk like Greg House out of my life entirely. But then I remember the writing - not of the plots, but of individual bits of dialogue. The conversations between House and his consciously Watson-esque friend Wilson always slay me. Check the Wilson/House conversation when House is about to go on a date with the sweetest woman on the show:
Dr. James Wilson:
[House is attempting to put on a tie before his date with Cameron] The wide side's too short. You're gonna look like Lou Costello.
Dr. Gregory House:
This is a mistake. I don't know how to have casual conversation. You think you're talking about one thing, and either you are and it's incredibly boring, or you're not because it's subtext and you need a decoder ring.
Open doors for her, help her with her chair -
I have been on a date.
Uh, not since disco died. Comment on her shoes, her earrings, and then move on to D.H.A.: her Dreams, Hopes, and Aspirations. Trust me. Panty-peeler. Oh, and if you need condoms, I've got some.
[sarcastically] Did your wife give them to you?
Drug rep. They got antibiotics built in, somehow.
I should cancel. I've got a patient in surgery tomorrow.
[House moves to the kitchen]
And if you were a surgeon, that would actually matter. That's a good idea, settle your nerves. Get me a beer too.
You're gonna eat before dinner?
[House reaches into the fridge and takes out a corsage.]
This is pretty lame, right?
I think she likes lame.
So my guess is that, after three years of customer service and living in The Real World, I've toughened my resistance to perceived arrogance. I can better derive useful data from what people say, even if I don't like the style, unless the style is the message in 90+% of cases, in which case I stop listening. This is why I've stopped reading Heather Havrilesky's snarky TV criticism and Skot Kurruk's blog. This is also why I keep reading, say, the Nielsen Haydens' lit/politics blog and software/economics essays by Paul Graham; I may not like their style of sweeping generalization, but they are saying interesting and important things, and I'm more willing to put up with unpleasant style for information and wisdom now than I used to be.
Someday I should really do an overhaul of my links page. It's inevitable but not urgent; learning what can wait and what can't is another skill I'm on the way to picking up.
#09 Dec 2005, 07:10PM: Manufacturing Consent To Laugh:
I've come up with a commonsensical procedure for manufacturing observational humor. In fact, it's so commonsensical that I refuse to believe I'm the first to invent it. It won't catapult you to the standup A-list, but as long as you are not an introvert and you have a sense of humor, you can string jokes together into bits and bits together into sets and do a fair job at some open mic.
Think of something you are cranky about, or one of those anecdotes you always pull out at parties. Look at its causes or predict likely outcomes of this incongruity. Extrapolate into absurdity, preferably retaining a kernel of the original truth-in-paradox. Make multiple jokes about each premise for a cascade of punchlines at the climax of each bit. Repeat for each topic.
Construct shortest-path segues, turning your group of unrelated bits into a set. Practice saying your set in a little speech to yourself or to friends who have a sense of humor, testing rhythm and diction, iterating through better and better versions of the set. Preferably you'll have at least three punchlines per minute. Once it reliably makes people laugh, it might not make you laugh anymore, but it's ready for the stage.
#08 Dec 2005, 12:56PM: Quote of the Day:
Well, there are probably several, including Scott Rosenberg's instantly memorable comment on a person updating Video Dog ("I think he's walking the Dog"), but the only one I have said is: "Well, too bad Tupper & Reed closed; otherwise I would head over to buy the world's tiniest violin."
Yesterday night, thanks to a severely overworked video clerk and John's kind lending of his laptop, a bunch of us watched the wonderful 1962 classic The Music Man. Along with The Producers and Chicago, The Music Man has a huckster as its primary character and has the social construction of reality as a very strong theme. When I think about the suspension of disbelief necessary in watching musicals, and the kangaroo court scene in Oklahoma!, I wonder whether the social construction of consensus reality is the subtext of all musials, especially since so many of them have show business as a plot or subplot (viz, Showboat, Kiss Me, Kate, 42nd Street, Bye Bye Birdie, A Chorus Line, Sunset Boulevard, Cabaret, Phantom of the Opera, etc., etc.). But I figure that, even so, Chicago and The Music Man concentrate especially hard on mass delusion for satiric effect.
"The Sadder But Wiser Girl For Me" is a fantastic song and I can't believe I've never heard it before. The term "Shipoopi" and this business of using the evening star to say good night to someone you love are absolutely not elements of my universe. And the ending is almost as apt and deadly as the ending of Urinetown.
I gibbered that it was a bug bite and looked, pleading, at the nurse. She saw the desperation in my eyes.
Also, my friends Steve and Alice Shipman are selling stuff at great prices so they don't have to move it across the country. (Bah to friends moving great distances away! But huzzah for neat opportunities and cheap airfares!) There is awesome stuff.
Invincible Summer ... can be seen for one night only at Long Wharf Theatre on December 10, 2005.
The Long Wharf Theatre is in New Haven, Connecticut. Could I manufacture a reason to be in New Haven in three weeks? or in Maine in late January? I mean, he's going to talk about the history of New York City transit!
#14 Nov 2005, 08:11AM: Map Of Our Past:
When I last saw Eric, we had a wide-ranging conversation. We talked about flatmates, and music (what with being at the TMBG show), and our careers, and the shape of the tech industry. We laughed at the dominance of Goohoo (Google + Yahoo) in sucking available tech talent away from other companies and academe.
I playfully supposed an EU/Airbus-style consortium of minor and obsolete search engines, trying to topple Goohoo's dominance. "I can just imagine Inktomi, Altavista, Excite, Hotbot, AskJeeves, Go, and Northern Light getting together," I said.
Eric said, "It's kind of scary that you can just reel them off like that."
#07 Nov 2005, 05:40PM: Cheering Exchange:
"Hold on, I was thinking about a bit you do in your stand-up act and realized you have a mixed metaphor! Here is a suggested fix." "Oh, thanks for noticing! I'll fix that."
#07 Nov 2005, 07:56AM: East Bay Denizens & Franken Fans Take Note:
Will Franken's one-man sketch comedy performances have traditionally taken place after 9pm, making it hard for people from out of town to get home afterward at a reasonable hour. His current Marsh run, however, includes Sunday night performances at 7pm every week between now and December 3rd. The show lets out before 9pm and it's just a few blocks to the 24th & Mission BART station.
I saw the show last night. Highlights of the set for this run: "Conference Call," the new skit "Voice of God" (which includes a bonus callback to the title "Good Luck With It" bit), "Movie: The Remake/Matrixian Philosophy," "Q&A," and "18th Century." Also, the mix CD "overture" that you hear as the audience arrives and leaves includes a track from "Switched on Bach." So I'd be willing to go again.
This run has the highest per-ticket cost of any Franken show I've seen; then again, there's no one- or two-drink minimum, and for the first time the ticketholder gets an actual paper program. I speculate that any given multilevel performance venue, like The Marsh, uses profits from high ticket prices on select shows to subsidize the low ticket prices for less well-known shows/performers who are trying to build audiences. Franken has gone through that entire cycle, then, at The Marsh.
In other cycle hypotheses, many smart suburban/small-town/small-city Californians I knew went to Berkeley, then moved to San Francisco, and are now moving to New York. I assume they will then move back to smaller towns to have kids. I assume.
#06 Nov 2005, 08:49AM: Comedy = Tragedy + Paradigm Shift:
Leonard's relative Nate Oman is always saying interesting things. Example: "I have always had a soft spot for Prometheus. I figure that to a greater or lesser extent we are probably going to basically fail at most everything that we do. That being the case, fail big. Set yourself a monstrous goal like toppling divinity and go down heroically, I say. The remarkable thing about Mormonism, of course, is that it takes the Prometheus story and retells it as comedy."
Some people may react to a nomadic past by living lightly, keeping only enough possessions to fit in two suitcases for quick getaways. I lived with someone like that, whose room resembled the cell of a secular monk. I would peek in, awed.
Completely unrelated: Libelous Claims About Large Corporations is a comic strip/blog sort of in the fashion of Spamusement!, but also like that other stick figure one with stories of a cat and a grandmother and whatnot.
Trevor: I like the films that have a lot of scenes with just two or three characters having a conversation, because then you can just throw whatever words you want into their mouths and completely twist the story's plotline. The films that are tricky are the ones with a lot of action and not a lot of dialogue. There's a difference between "bad/funny movies" and "bad/bad movies." We've had to scrap movies a week before our deadline because we didn't realize it was a "bad/bad movie" until we were halfway done writing it.
#27 Sep 2005, 10:57AM: Uncle Morty's Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House:
Evidently Leonard and I pop up rather soon if you use Google to look for information on ImaginAsian's TV show "Uncle Morty's Dub Shack," whose second season premieres on Oct. 14. I just remembered why I started watching in the first place: the weird name. I saw it in the TV listings and thought it might be related to The Asian Dub Foundation. Boy, was I surprised!
By the way, you can watch clips from UMDS online. I particularly like "DisRap" and "Tic Tacs" but almost all of them reward.
#21 Sep 2005, 02:11PM: But You'll Never Find The Right Bijou:
Am listening to Bargainville by Moxy Früvous right now. How did I go so long between listenings? "King of Spain" should be on anything we send into space to explain ourselves to aliens. Or to cheer them up after a long day of abducting people.
#19 Sep 2005, 02:50PM: We Need Jimmy Carter, We Can't Afford To Settle For Less:
Thank you to all who attended my recent birthday party. At least four well-wishers donated in my honor: two to Fix Our Ferals, one to the Red Cross, and one to an unnamed low-overhead charity. And several people made the ultimate sacrifice - listening to me drone about writing the column. (There was no column yesterday because I was an irresponsible flake who didn't get a good one in on time.)
Alice and Steve brought drinks from Beverages & More, including Cheerwine. A colleague and I just tasted it. Cheerwine is like a lighter Cherry Coke, and it has real sugar instead of corn syrup. Recommended.
As at the Fourth of July party, I put on the CD of presidential campaign songs. The lyric that best sums up the 42 songs:
Wait for the wagon
The Millard Fillmore wagon
Wait for the wagon
And we'll all take a ride!
#17 Aug 2005, 09:45PM: Petrarch Innovated The Wacky Twist Ending:
Salon published a review of new Nike ads. Sadly, the Salon piece contains no instances of the word "bedonkadonk" or its variant spelling "badonkadonk." It brings to mind a phrase I loved in Salon long ago, "'Our Sportsbras, Ourselves' agitprop."
Anyway. As a companion piece to the Nike campaign critique, Salon anthologizes silly body poems the staff wrote. I have a tortured sonnet-y thing in there; check it out if you'd like.
#10 Aug 2005, 09:49PM: Eh:
If you see The Aristocrats, you should probably bring a barf bag. I nearly threw up twice. It has some very funny moments, but as an interview-a-hundred-people documentary, it pales next to Ken Burns's Baseball, and I can watch Baseball with my family and children.
#21 Jul 2005, 07:51AM: Not "Ironic," Thank Goodness:
The SF Zoo has an exhibit/event called "Parrot Encounter." That sounds ominous. More ominous than the old magazine or comic "Tales of the Unexpected." Today I conceived of a similar magazine or comic: "Tales of the Weirdly Apt."
#12 Jul 2005, 09:07PM: The French:
I got to speak some broken French to two French tourists at a bus stop yesterday. They are from Paris, they said. "We almost got the Games," one added, as though that would jog my memory. Unsurprisingly, I got to spring the "Paris of the West" cliche on them and used the phrase "On y va!" upon my farewell. The title of my high school French textbook comes in handy yet again!
A colleague has seen March of the Penguins and enjoyed it except for the cheesy narration. Leonard and I have decided to wait for the DVD and watch it with the original French soundtrack. Heck, since it's about penguins it's basically a black and white film anyway.
I saw Brent Weinbach for the first time last week and didn't like his act. Then yesterday I saw most of his jokes again and then one or two new bits, and I laughed. I don't understand myself. Maybe it's the pain meds.
I piqued Tony Camin's interest by clapping for the concepts of 99-cent stores and helping people move. Then I mystified him by claiming truthfully that I'd never tried pot. But the kicker: in the leadup to a bit about parades, he asked rhetorically whether anyone ever came home to put on a CD of marching band music. I guiltily thought of the "Greatest Marching Band Classics" album in my CD player and raised my hand.
#29 Jun 2005, 11:42PM: Back From The Show:
Cobb's showcased about seventeen (exaggeration) "comics." Hey, guys and occasional gals? Talking about sex and drugs is not enough! Every few months I forget that mainstream standup sucks but hope grows stronger than hard-won prejudice. More detailed review later. For now: Sheng Wang and Yayne Abeba pleasantly surprised me.
#26 Jun 2005, 12:52AM: Unending Action:
I saw a bunch of Will Franken this weekend at his Fringe benefit show. It looks as though he made enough money to get to the NYC Fringe Festival, which gladdens me.
Today I also went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Riana and Leonard and will post links to their accounts when I am unlazy. They planned well and enjoyed stuff in an educational fashion while I meandered and oohed and aahed at pretty things. All the blurbs next to the tanks have really good writing.
People don't believe that my trip to Vik's tomorrow is for research purposes. But it is.
#12 Jun 2005, 07:42PM: The End Of Hu-Mor:
I want to laugh at something. I tried watching A Night At The Opera and my face cracked maybe once. I found all the Marx brothers completely annoying. Leonard is currently looking for a Goon Show tape. Is there no hope? Has the flu infected my funny bone? Shall I never laugh again?
#26 May 2005, 07:40PM GMT+5:30: Caustic Commentary & Time-Fillers:
Get Your War On makes me laugh bitterly. On a scale of "how bitter is my laughter?" where ten equals "I am laughing black, black tears," The Daily Show is around a five and Get Your War On is a nine.
#22 May 2005, 01:13PM: Now Awaiting The "Publish" Cronjob:
About four years ago, I wrote a story for Leonard's now-defunct geek humor site Segfault in which I listed nonsensical Salon headlines. A conversation with Farhad Manjoo reminded me of it, so I reproduce it here:
Winglows: XP isn't so bad
HighDander: Drugs ruined my life and I chose neither to write an indulgent confessional, nor to pursue a graduate degree in English
If Code is Free, Why Not Kimchee?: Free software zealots love Korean cuisine...too much for their own good?
If Code is Free, Why Not Flee?: Why open source is doomed
Microgoth: The Redmond raver subculture
E-Toys: How banner ads, Cingular, and spam enhanced my MDMA trip
Pottery Darn: Stop whining, franchises are better than independents anyway
The Conventional Wisdom: It's right, yet again!
Our Fascist Friends: At least the Taliban uses Linux
Salon Reaming 'em: Why you should never feel obligated to pay for online content, unless it's ours
The Microsoft and franchise story jokes are showing their age; I think Salon has now done both of those.
#15 May 2005, 09:34PM: Validation:
Will Franken won a "Best Comedian" award from the SF Weekly. Those of us who were fans several months ago get to nod in snobbish pride, while those of you who have foolishly prolonged the Frankenless portion of your existences can make up for lost time on May 26th, when Franken plays the Purple Onion on Columbus.
#08 May 2005, 03:19PM: Uncle Morty's Dub Shack:
ImaginAsian TV's Uncle Morty's Dub Shack makes me laugh very, very hard. Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 for kung fu and Bollywood flicks, and only a half hour long. Absolutely worth taping.
#04 May 2005, 09:02AM: This One Goes In the "Comedy" And "Religion" Categories:
While in Utah, I got to meet many of Leonard's relatives, including the Omans. I got to tell them that I really enjoy Nate's posts on Times And Seasons. Today I read just such an example.
#03 May 2005, 09:47PM: "Illusions, Dad! You don't have time for my illusions!":
Leonard bought the Arrested Development DVD and we can't stop watching it. The early episodes, even ones I've seen over and over, still make me laugh. Thanks, Leonard.
We remember exceptions. Out of hundreds of BART rides, I remember the two ugly ones. A bit of unexpected praise can carry me for three weeks, as Twain said. And, even though almost no non-Indians do wince-worthy or laughable things when learning my name or ethnicity, there are the few.
#01 Apr 2005, 08:54AM: Core Competency:
I was about to take Websnark off my to-read list, and then in his April Fool's entry he made me smile with a self-mocking riff on "Diff'rent Strokes Syndrome". OK, you get another week.
Audiotapes of interviews can be a wonderful source [italics in original]. They offer excellent legal protection. In a trial, libel lawyer David Korzenik says, "the factual support for an article needs to be reproducible; tapes are better than notes." He adds, "Everyone thinks they've been misquoted. Most people would sue a mirror for what it shows them in the morning if they could...."
#14 Mar 2005, 10:35AM: Who Would Need To Say "AOL" To Describe E-Mail?:
Two-person Taboo is a relaxing game in improving communication skills and revealing implicit assumptions. Last night, I tried to describe "Denzel Washington" to Leonard by saying, "This is an African-American man who gets paid to pretend things that are lies." His guess: Armstrong Williams.
Literature explores different ways of being human, as my old English teacher said. I realized, after reading George Eliot's classic Middlemarch and finding in Rosamond's character a reflection of myself, that I should be more emotionally independent and not a self-important parasite like her. But that's not because the story punishes her. It's because Eliot describes Rosamond so precisely, wittily, and devastatingly that I wince at recognizing myself.
And TV shows have taught me stuff, too. Sitcoms teach me that lying and hiding stuff never works; if I'm straightforward and honest with people, my life gets a lot easier. The elegant plot structures and wordplay I remember from Seinfeld (probably a classic) and Mad About You taught me about art before I ever read Fitzgerald.
I'd argue that the movie The Matrix is a classic; if anyone wants me to expand on that, shoot me an e-mail.
Compare-and-contrast: the CAPAlert guy who marks a movie down for portraying sin, even if the movie shows the sinner punished for his sin. His justification is that the very portrayal of the sin might influence a child who had not previously considered that sin. I'm not certain there are any edifying stories that don't depict bad behavior; there has to be a Goofus to make Gallant look good.
In our everyday lives, sometimes good things happen to bad people and vice versa. So morality plays for children will have to be somewhat unrealistic, and stories for adults, aiming to recreate the familiar, will depict these dismaying outcomes. (I hesitate to say the word "unrealistic." I've just read C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, and his scorning comments on the secular world's use of the word "real" to mean "most unpleasant, whether material or notional" make the word "real" stick in my throat. What a funny, disorienting, doubly-directing book, Lewis's Christian edifications feinting behind the Devil's decreasingly convincing instructions.)
Last night I saw Camus's The Just, a hundred-year-old play about terrorists aiming to overthrow the Tsarist Russian state. [Spoilers ahead.] In the end, only one of them dies, but one goes mad. We as adults watching the play know that none of these people comes to a happy end and Russia never gets free, but within the play there's very little explicit punishment for the plotting and murdering. [End of spoilers.] Does that make the play immoral? I really doubt The Just encourages anyone to become a terrorist.
But the main point of your post, Kristen, was about teaching ourselves to act responsibly and accountably. If I could change one thing about the way my parents raised me, I'd work on that very aspect of my rearing. If they'd let me make little choices and suffer the consequences of choosing wrongly, I'd have been more prepared for the stormy ocean of adult life. I think.
#11 Mar 2005, 11:09AM: Or Possibly Joke-hovah:
Today's a really unusually wonderful day, weatherwise, in San Francisco. It just calls out for an earthquake from
Jerkhovah. Leonard: "I'm still God, and I hate you!"
#09 Mar 2005, 02:45PM: Nerdcore Hop:
The Metreon at 4th and Mission in San Francisco has a Dance Dance Revolution machine in an arcade on the theater floor. The machine now runs DDR workalike software called "In The Groove" and most of the songs are in English. Today I got to dance to MC Frontalot's "Which MC Was That?".
Tonight some friends and I will possibly go to The Make-Out Room, also in the Mission, to watch other people dressed up as Presidents, First Ladies, and assassins for a Little Fuzzy concert there. Evidently Little Fuzzy is like an early They Might Be Giants but less lyrically gimmicky? I don't know. If we end up there it will be after a dinner and a show at the Hotel Rex -- the show being, of course, "I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify As A Cookie," which Heather has just extended through March.
#01 Feb 2005, 10:59AM: "Cooking, Juggling, and Getting Hurt":
Recently I met Eric Fischer, who probably knows at least one of my readers through the geek network. In fact, I know he knows Mike Popovic. Hi, Mike!
I met Eric through Valencia Street Books, one of those funky San Francisco bookstores that has a store cat. I bought a gangsta rapper coloring book for Steve there. Eric alerted me that there is now Zachary's-level deep-dish pizza in the city of San Francisco and we visited Little Star Pizza, which doesn't deliver, just like Zachary's! And indeed the pizza is great.
Also, I got to evangelize Eric, as well as former flatmate Michael Constant, into seeing Scott Nery's Crash Course, a cooking/juggling/standup show that makes me laugh very hard. I highly recommend it, and would probably go to future Crash Course shows (they change every week) in case you'd like a companion.
#30 Jan 2005, 11:28PM: Will Franken:
Several friends turned out tonight for the Will Franken show at the Odeon. Neat-o for the friends and the material. I'm proselytizing the gospel of Franken more successfully than I ever evangelized Linux.
#19 Jan 2005, 11:57AM: Together They Would Explode:
Will Franken's diary was on fire a while back - check out A RESPONSE TO H.L. MENCKEN'S INQUIRY: "WHY DID I DECIDE TO GO INTO COMEDY?" despite the Comic Sans typeface.
Once I started to hear laughter, it got even better. Laughter became and still is confirmation that I am on the right track. Confirmation that I'm not simply some fed up misanthrope skulking through life with contempt for everything.
It is confirmation that other people are fed up misanthropes skulking through life with contempt for everything.
But it does seem a big rip-off, no? The ultimate sadness is not death. The ultimate sadness is that we are first born into a life where there is no escape from death.
#03 Jan 2005, 09:15PM: Cookies and Eggs:
The Egg/Cookie show went great last night. By the way, the staff at the Hotel Rex are fantastically helpful and the bar/lounge and restaurant within the hotel serve extremely good product. Y'all should come on down.
Usually, when introducing the dishes at the focus of an episode of America's Test Kitchen, Christopher Kimball says that bad versions of those dishes are, say, "the end of civilization" (chocolate-chip cookies). For Greek or spinach salads he went with some lighter epithet. I wish he'd said, "But bad specialty salads take the Christ out of Christmas!" or "But when we eat bad specialty salads, the terrorists win!" or "But bad specialty salads lead to the rise of militant Islamofascism in previously moderate Muslim countries such as Turkey or Jordan!"
#17 Dec 2004, 11:01AM GMT+5:30: Metahumor Discovery:
I have probably 150 Amar Chitra Katha ("immortal picture stories") comic books, and have been reading ACK for as long as I can remember. I learned most of my Indian mythology from ACK and press it on friends to teach them Indian culture and history. (Right now a friend has one of my Mahabharata sets.) I saw a recommendation for ACK and set off to the ACK online store -- fantastic! Ships anywhere in the world!
Click on "The Making of a Comic" to find out how much work goes into a single ACK. I started laughing uncontrollably when I saw that the ACK folk had drawn this section as an ACK comic. Metahumor works best when it's subverting something you have always taken for granted, not just taking a new joke one step further.
#06 Dec 2004, 06:41PM: December 11th:
Yes, Will Franken's one-man shows at the Marsh take place at 11pm, when I sort of want to go to sleep. Oh well. This one is "Ohio! Ohio! Ohio! (You Can Say It Ten Times) And It Will Still Be There".
#23 Nov 2004, 09:34PM: It's A Faaaaaaake:
Leonard and I watched a bit of an America's Test Kitchen about Chicken Diavola, which does indeed mean "devil-style."
CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL: So tell us a little bit about Chicken Diavola. Diavola. Am I saying that right?
JULIA COLIN: Yes. It's "Diavola," meaning chicken of the damned. To make this requires that you damn your soul to hell.
KIMBALL: Okay, what do we do first?
COLIN: Well, there's this oath that you sign in blood.
KIMBALL: Does it have to be my own blood?
COLIN: Not necessarily. We actually found that pig's blood works best. It has a certain viscosity that we really liked.
COLIN: We tested about fifteen different bloods. A lot of people think virgin's blood would be the blood you'd use here, but that's actually pretty thin. You don't want something that'll just run off the page. Pig's blood really has that earthiness and stickiness, so that's what we use.
#12 Nov 2004, 08:26PM: The Dot Isn't Just For "Dot Com":
Some customers write highly coherent and comprehensive help requests, whether courteous or profane. And some write help requests that resemble in prose style the opening of Flowers For Algernon.
#27 Oct 2004, 09:12AM: No One Cares If You Smoke In A Bar In The Tenderloin:
Last night I tried to watch Will Franken perform at 50 Mason. I did arrive a bit late, after schmoozing with my Salon colleague Jeff, and saw the ever-friendly Mike Spiegelman, as well as a fella named Louie who evidently saw me perform a bunch of times back when I did the Squelch nights. But, since almost no one came, the venue decided to cancel the show. Instead, Will caught the end of the Red Sox victory over the Cardinals, and Will's friends (including Mike Capozzola and Dan Piraro) and I embarked on a short-lived "find someplace to do a set" that could have been a timeless picaresque. But no. I wish I'd gotten to see all these people longer.
I had to Google "Don Quixote is" to remember the word "picaresque."
#19 Oct 2004, 09:32AM: Sarah Said It Was An Adlerian Slip:
I'd had to deal with this customer before. He was having an inexplicable and chronic problem and we talked often. He talked over me, interrupted me, misunderstood me, but always thanked me profusely for my help. Today I accidentally called him "Dad."
The news is the currency of The Daily Show. I can't write a show on Jan. 4 and run it on Jan. 11. You've got to write it on Jan. 11.
Sitting around with funny people, banging out jokes and creating a television show. I have no hobbies, no outside interests. I'm fine with spending 14 hours a day putting a show together with tape and string.
Joe and I wondered how the Daily Show does it - polished AND current political humor. One answer: several writers dedicate several hours per day to writing 7-10 minutes of material four times per week. Another answer: practice, practice, practice. When you have to pump it out anew each day, and you can't fall back on repeating a practiced set of characters and jokes, your craft gets fantastic.
#07 Oct 2004, 04:34PM: I Can't Explain Why It's Spooky:
Leonard and I saw the hits-too-close-to-home Napoleon Dynamite last night at the spooky UA Stonestown Twin. Maybe now I should call Leonard "Alexander TNT" or "Stalin Nitroglycerin."
#23 Sep 2004, 04:30PM: Will Franken, Today and Tomorrow:
Will Franken plays The Dark Room on September 23 and 24, 2004. 2263 Mission Street, San Francisco (between 18th and 19th). Shows start at 10pm both nights. $7 admission. I plan on going both nights. Feel free to come with!
#11 Aug 2004, 05:43PM: Learning By Mistakes:
Salon offers various benefits for its subscribers, including free magazines. People who write to us about these magazines (usually "I never got it") sometimes forget the name of the periodical. A list of some magazines we have offered and some misnomers subscribers have given them (if I recall correctly):
Mother Jones: Mother Earth
National Geographic Adventure: National Geographic, National Geographic Explorer (a popular misnomer)
US News and World Report: US Report, Newsweek, Time
New York Review of Books: New York Times Book Review (a VERY popular misnomer)
Granta: surprisingly, no one has misspelled or mistitled Granta in my virtual presence.
At least one person believed that we had offered Lingua Franca, which we never have. Sorry, ma'am.
In other office comedy: the bathrooms on our floor stay locked, and all of us get keys. (Since I sold my car and don't have a locker of any sort, this significantly increases the number of keys on my keyring.) I've realized that a person walking towards the office exit with her keys already jingling in her hand makes for only one possible interpretation in the eyes of her colleagues, a rather overinformative one, so I have to remember to keep my keys in my pocket till I get out the door.
#26 Jul 2004, 06:44PM: Will Johnny Control?:
Didn't get to see Johnny Steele because his show sold out. Went to the Marsh instead and saw a showcase. Some pretty good stuff, one or two "you are embarrassing please leave please" comics, and then the superlative Will Franken. He was meta. He was spot-on. He was amazing, fantastic, hilarious, paralyzed me with laughter, the best comic I have seen in a year if not ever. Just wow.
Zack and I saw Control Room and really enjoyed it. Of course, when you make a documentary interviewing articulate reporters and spokespeople, you'll get lots of great quotes. Lieutenant Rushing, the military spokesman, really strikes the viewer with his combination of thoughtful curiosity and dedication to his mission. Provocative, counterintuitive, and insightful statements and questions fill the movie; I actually sat on the edge of my seat for much of the film.
Other movies I really want to see: Flavors, Garden State, Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle.
I can't recommend the Gilroy Garlic Festival; too many booths selling things, not enough crafts, activities, exhibitions, and rides. Maybe I'd prefer a county fair. Certainly I'd prefer the train to driving. Also: remember sunscreen, hats, and bottled water when traveling to the heartland in summer!
#23 Jul 2004, 02:51PM: My Name is Say and I'm Here to -- Wait, No:
Joe and I saw Mike Daisey's show Wasting Your Breath last night. I loved it. I also got to hang out with Mike and Jean-Michele Gregory for an hour after the show. Fun! We swapped tales of stage-management disaster, and it tickled me that he'd read my article about outsourcing.
I also got to meet Johnny Steele, a quite funny and intelligent comedian (thanks for the hookup, Joe!). We talked a tiny bit about how to do non-autobiographical one-person shows. How do you frame a solo performance that is not "I was such a dope in college" nor just 90 minutes of jokes? In Continental Divide, characters mention that, in politics, people judge you on your worst mistake. I'm not ready to share my deepest regrets with an audience. What else do I have to share? I love the power of being onstage, but I don't burn with a message to share. Perhaps anecdotes.
I may go to the Gilroy Garlic Festival this weekend. Bah that Caltrain, which has a station in Gilroy, doesn't run trains there on the weekend.
#02 Jul 2004, 09:47AM: Everybody's Working, Till The Weekend:
Jade and her friend Ari witnessed me at the SF Comedy Club on Wednesday night. I did pretty well but didn't win any prizes. At least some people got the "I am Indian, but I'm not just here for JavaOne" joke.
Last night Mr. and Mrs. Minutillo came to Leonard's for dinner and entertainment. Leonard and Steve found that the opening of "Stairway to Heaven" resembles a portion of Zelda game music ("Do you wish to continue?"), and Leonard used a small grill much like Andrew Northrup's.
Also, while accompanying the Minutillos on the Muni trolley, I picked up a lost cell phone that I gave back to its owner today. It would have been sort of fun to do the sitcom detective thing, where you call people off the speed-dial to track down the owner and/or make dates and announcements to shock and baffle the owner and her friends. But instead I just met up with her in front of the Old Navy this morning for the handoff. No flowers.
#29 Jun 2004, 07:15PM: I Could Tell You Stories, Wait, They'd Be Boring:
This weekend Heather et al. take a break from the show, which will help my mental health significantly. Unfortunately, I cannot use that long weekend to prepare for my comedy performance tomorrow, because it's tomorrow. Between now and 8ish pm tomorrow, I have to come up with and polish four minutes of material for a contest of sorts at the SF Comedy Club. Come if you'd like.
#18 Jun 2004, 06:14PM: Men In Black And Blue:
Often, if I compliment a woman on her couture, she responds either with a compliment on my clothes or with a description of the item's provenance and bargain-basement price (e.g., "I got it while I was in [country], they use such great colors and textures there, and it only cost [amount]"). Both men and women sometimes respond to compliments with self-deprecation, but until yesterday I'd only seen women immediately, reflexively tell me how much they paid and where.
Yesterday, while waiting for a light to change, I admired a stranger's pleated/ruffled short-sleeved button-down shirt. It reminded me of Adam Parrish. I told him it was snazzy.
"Oh, thanks! Thriftmart, in the Mission, maybe six bucks."
We walked across Fourth Street, the crowd separating us, as I burst into guffaws.
On Wednesday evening a guy harrassed me on the street in my neighborhood. I responded calmly and prudently but he unnerved me; this hasn't happened to me before in my neighborhood. Among his blithering I heard him ask whether I was Iraqi. Real reassuring.
I left work early on Friday to talk about tax history with a Berkeley professor and then to see Mike Daisey. Both rewarding. Then I basically spent the whole weekend working on Heather's show. No major mistakes on my part - huzzah! I'd forgotten how tedious and nerve-wracking shows can be. No offense, Heather.
#08 Jun 2004, 04:50PM: I Am A Nut:
I'm now basically stage-managing Heather Gold's show, "I Look Like An Egg, But I Identify As A Cookie". It'll run Sundays, June 6th through July 18th. Playgoers indeed receive fresh cookies at the end of each performance. You see, she bakes onstage, and the cooking is a metaphor. And every night is different, because she talks with different special guests as they stir and chop and so on. A neat concept, implemented well.
And there's music! And lighting changes! That's me.
#04 Jun 2004, 09:38AM: "Scum-Sucking Bottom Feeders":
The writer of a letter to the editor used this epithet, which doesn't quite work, in my view.
Jon Stewart has had the hilarious David Cross and the "Talking Points Memorized" Thomas Friedman on The Daily Show this week. Cross (who plays Tobias Funke on Arrested Development (Fox renewed it for another season! Yay!)) persuaded me to buy his CDs. Friedman whipped out his "more secular than Iran, more federal than Syria" message, leading Stewart to write down a recipe for "Thomas Friedman's Democracy Brownies". As Belle Waring said, "More federal than Syria? Frickin’ awesome!"
Is Syria's government really that monolithic? I mean, when I think "Syria", I don't think federalism or lack thereof is really the main problem. But what do I know, I majored in political science.
Speaking of Crooked Timber: these eminently contrarian, geeky people skewer all sorts of conventional wisdoms!
...apples and oranges are both fruits, both about the same size, cost about the same and have similar nutritional value. They're about the most eminently comparable things I can think of....
I will accept "chalk and cheese" as a valid metaphor.... Readers of a literary bent might have a go with "lightning and a lightning bug", but I've never really got it to work....
In taxation news: I walked through a corridor at work. Two coworkers occupied it, leaning against the walls while conversing and forming a narrow meniscus for passers-by. As I negotiated my way, one joked that I would have to "pay the toll". Most of the time, someone telling me that is a boyfriend asking me to kiss him, so I blushed bright red.
#01 Jun 2004, 04:27PM: Life, Drugs, And:
On Wednesday I performed stand-up comedy for a SAGE Scholars graduation ceremony/fundraiser. I did okay. They loved the immigrant jokes, not so much the satirical opening (clichéd quotes and axioms). I'd say that no one reads Yeats anymore, except lots of people in the blogosphere have the same poem on our minds: The Second Coming. Maybe we grope for meaning and find this bit of Yeats, as after the 2001 terrorist attacks we found Try to Praise the Mutilated World.
On Thursday I went to Cobb's and viewed Nick Leonard, Joe Klocek, and Brian Regan. As per usual (how quickly I forget!), the openers were funnier than the headliner. Mr. Regan has a gift for caricature, and he resembles Alton Brown, but I only laughed maybe 20 times in the hour he performed. That's 40 straight-faced minutes. Well, one man's meat.
Cobb's brands its Cosmopolitan (a mixed alcoholic drink) as "The Cobbsmopolitan". Next: Cobb salad, corn on the Cobb, a male swan as the mascot.
On Friday I met Leonard's old friends from the Clark campaign over dinner at Pomelo, which had more vegetarian entreés in my recollection than on the menu. The week had left me a bit jaundiced, but they handled my bitterness with good grace. I drank sake.
On Saturday Leonard and I left for Bakersfield to visit the Richardson/Whitney clan. Leonard's grandfather seems stable, which is good. I got to see A Day Without a Mexican, which sprawled but had several nice touches.
"Boomers," the Bakersfield minigolf/arcade, has a Disney-branded Dance Dance Revolution machine. Among other tunes, it plays "M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E" and "Macho Duck," a "Macho Man" derivative starring Donald Duck. Creepy.
Leonard and I came back to San Francisco, visiting some friends in Mountain View (evidently not a total wasteland) along the way. I checked on Betty, my one surviving goldfish. She seems fine. I wish she would poop in my presence so I could verify that her whole digestive system is working, but you take what you can get.
Today I am listening to KSCU and answering customer email. The Religious Policeman has posted several new items. I should get more tea. This week I will actually write that article I've been postponing for months. Life is okay.
Of course, I am so enlightened that I find the man's burden/privilege of proposal oh-so-obsolete. I prefer continuing, mutual discussion as a means to such huge and momentous decisions. Like the SALT talks.
#09 May 2004, 08:26AM: You're Not Scottish, Stop Macking On Me:
Friday and Saturday had comedy stuff. Evidently people do not know who Robert Rubin is. Also, evidently there are unfunny male comics who will awkwardly try to pick up any given non-white-haired woman, regardless of her obvious bemusement. Pretty tacky.
#07 May 2004, 08:33AM: I Be Walkin' Down The Street (to the Marsh's Mock Cafe):
I'm doing stand-up again. SAGE, a nice-sounding UC Berkeley mentorship program, asked me to do a $50/head fundraiser on the 26th, so between now and then I'm hitting area open mics (info may be out-of-date). Last night I did the Brainwash, to no acclaim but some guffaws. Let me know if you want to come along sometime.
People at the Brainwash last night (at least, the first 10 or so) made surprisingly funny. Has the scene gotten better since I withdrew last year?
#17 Nov 2003, 07:06PM: SPOILER:
In Elf, Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human brought up by elves at the North Pole. So of course he takes offense when he sees a department-store Santa Claus - the impostor! Buddy hisses accusations at the fake Santa, even as the impostor dandles a boy on his knee. "You smell like beef and cheese. Santa doesn't smell like that. You sit on a throne of lies."
It is so beautiful to hear Will Ferrell venomously whisper, "You sit on a throne of lies."
17:15:21 Q: Brian Loken - Mitchell, SD - Your military experience has served you well, so you'd be much more prepared than others to answer this question What three things would you take with you on a deserted island?
17:15:55 A: General Clark - Brian, well, if this is about survivor, my adviuce is, don't do it. It is a lot less fun than it looks...But seriously, always keep communications, and water...if you have that, then you can manage almost anything...Maybe a knife would be the third thing.
"Hi, this is Sumana with Salon Premium. What can I do for you?"
I looked up his information. As I waited for it to appear, he asked, "Are you in India now?"
I slowly replied (in my born-and-bred US accent) that no, I am in San Francisco, to which he said, "Same difference."
Note that, were I actually in an Indian call center, I would fake a white name. Also, maybe this is why Salon hired me - by using an Indian for customer service, the management fools investors into thinking Salon has cheaply outsourced the work to overseas!
I assured a subscriber that I had emailed him a week prior. After digging through his email, he found the message, and explained that he had deleted it because my name looks like a spam name.
#15 Oct 2003, 01:42PM: Phony Phanatic:
Despite having watched much of Ken Burns's Baseball, I don't feel the passion for the game that many of my co-workers do. I do, however, know that it is only right and proper for the Red Sox and the Cubs to both make it to the World Series and then both lose.
#15 Oct 2003, 09:54AM: Taboooookie Crisps:
Seth came over to Leonard's last night and Leonard made a very yummy dinner. Then we adjourned to my place and played Taboo. When guessing, I sometimes lose track of the fact that long, obscure phrases are unlikely to be the Guess Words. Example: "man-in-the-middle attack."
Seth tried to get us to guess "psychiatrist" by mentioning that the person can prescribe various medicines. Of course, my mind jumped to Deepak Chopra, and then to Tupac Shakur, and then to Troy McClure, Laura McClure, and Tuvok from Voyager. All I blurted out was "Tuvok McClure!", which makes basically no sense.
#14 Oct 2003, 12:29PM:
Marina Sirtis, best known to me as Counselor Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation, played a villain in ABC's Threat Matrix last night. She's hiding something! Nerve gas, namely.
Lynn Harris writes about vulvodynia, women's genital pain, in Salon (free day pass or subscription required): "...16 percent of women will experience chronic vulvar pain, described as a burning, stinging or stabbing sensation, either constant or on contact, ranging from annoying to disabling, and lasting three months or more." That sort of pain is not normal -- there is a cause and there is probably a remedy.
Leonard and I were watching a cooking show. The hosts were making corn flapjacks and added both cornmeal and whole corn kernels. Leonard added, "creamed corn, cob of corn, corn plant, amber waves of grain, a cornpone musical, the band Korn, high-fructose corn syrup..."
Have pop singers forgotten how to find a note and stick to it? I get sick of all this warbling singing. If I want that, I'll sing into a fan.
Months ago, Steve Schultz found himself on the receiving end of my life story. I scrawled a world map on the whiteboard -- an indented box for North America, a huge rectangle for Eurasia, a jutting triangle for India. Steve noted, deadpan, "You forgot the Azores."
#29 Aug 2003, 10:20AM: "Make the Heat Wave Pay!":
Are you aware that StarTrek.com hosts a Ferengi and a Klingon advice columnist? Klingon concepts of honor and strength, sort of a Worfian view, suit the advice-column format well. The Ferengi stuff is just funny.
The current trend has fictional nonhuman characters dispensing advice. What next? Compulsive meta-ness would demand an advice column that gives advice to advice columnists, and actually the advice-giver is the newspaper itself or "an advice column". Or part of a debate among gubernatorial candidates could be an advice-column-writing contest.
#14 Aug 2003, 05:42PM:
My colleagues find entertainment in my conversations with customers. "So it's an unauthorized charge? What's your name?...Yes, I see a subscription under that name to Salon Premium....Well, we're a web magazine, called Salon....have you heard of the Internet?..."
Also, when I tell people about the free benefits that come with Salon Premium, I often adopt a "but that's not all!" informercial tone. Why not flow with my inner circus-barker nature?
#13 Aug 2003, 09:54AM:
New York Times story: a woman is cooking every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and keeping an online journal about it. It's a grueling project. "'I'm miserable so they can be happy,' Ms. Powell said of her readers. 'I'm like the Jesus of extreme cooking. I got fat and very unhappy for their sins.'"
Speaking of the Minister, We Love the Iraqi Information Minister has some vivid imagery in al-Sahaf quotes that I hadn't seen before. Example: "The midget Bush and that Rumsfield deserve only to be beaten with shoes by freedom loving people everywhere."
#26 Jul 2003, 11:15AM:
I am a happy mutant rabbit. I saw Josh Kornbluth's Love and Taxes last night with Katharine, and we really enjoyed it. After the show, I met the performer and he remembered me from e-mail. He's even read my blog! Wheee! A wonderful autograph and a great evening.
Love and Taxes is smart and funny and then suddenly moving and insightful. I remember when I first read an excerpt from Kornbluth's Red Diaper Baby and buttonholed friends to read aloud from it. I need to read all his stuff.
#24 Jul 2003, 02:50PM: "Buddhism is a relatively new religion based off the movie 'The Matrix'":
"We Need More Gods, G*****n It!": "This is why I, a famous webmaster (my mom and I think my dad knows about this website), am now demanding we ditch all our current 'incorrect' gods and go back to the days when gods actually did significant stuff and contributed back to society." Also, the discussion of karma includes: "If everybody loves you and you do nice things like return the person you've kidnapped, you will be reborn as the King of the Moon or a tree that has the ability to throw explosives at people like in various Nintendo games." Absolutely hilarious. More of the author's work here. Site found via egosurfing (there's a user named Sumana).
ALSO on the train today, I sit opposite one of THEM. You know
THEM. . . and you still see THEM from time to time. . .
. middle-aged kogals.
Remember the schoolgirls that became world-famous in 1998 when
they bleached their hair and tanned their skin and wore 18 inch platform heels and so on? . .. in fact, some women are still doing it only now they're like
26 which is ANCIENT. And I started wondering, exactly how
do these dinosaur kogals justify their time warp? If you see an old,
burnt-out hippy or punk, they will tell you that the're 'keeping it real'
and 'not selling out to the man.' But the kogal deal never had that kind of
political rationale. It was all about being young and trendy. So how do they
justify being totally behind the times? Are they like, "all the fashions
since 1997 are crap." Or are they like "dude,
as long as I still look like Welcome to Thunderdome-era Tina Turner, I will
remain eternally 17 years old, and that's just how it works."
or maybe they're just, like, all, "DUDE, my fashion is TOTALLY up to date. . . i traded in my old white eyeliner for this hot new SILVER eyeliner, and my skin is the exact NEW shade of brown that's all the rage this summer!!"
Eventually I decide this woman was a very repressed housewife
in 6 years ago, and saw all the kogals running around partying while she had
to iron her salariman husband's shirts all day. Then she finally divorced
him and with her newfound freedom, she's trying to relive a mythical late-90s
past which she never got to experience first hand.
#23 Jul 2003, 11:36AM: I'm Not Statuesque, Waah:
Avi Zenilman wraps up his internship roundup with "The Most Kick-Ass Job in the Whole Entire World: The Scott Shuger summer internship at Slate's Washington D.C. bureau" and a personal ad. "How do I get this job? First, you must vanquish me."
#18 Jul 2003, 12:16PM: Dreams Too Weird to Recapitulate, So Instead:
This morning I saw a bit of Reading Rainbow and thought two things:
What if Reading Rainbow is a huge payola scam for certain publishers? LeVar Burton in a back room shaking down Random House and Macmillan, as giant vats bubble with fuming, mouldering Play-Doh.
Reading Rainbow for adults. Still LeVar Burton, maybe with his Geordi LaForge VISOR on, talking about Ellen Ullman's The Bug, as varying-aged adults give little book reports on Douglas Coupland's Microserfs and Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It and Michael Crichton's Rising Sun. Especially commissioned illustrations by Neil Gaiman.
#11 Jul 2003, 11:22AM:
My boss Patrick was ahead of the curve on this one, forwarding an early report around the office and urging us to watch the Real video. The aspect of the Capital Times story that struck me: the Onion-esque layout and coloration. Do all Wisconsin-based webmags use that format?
So far the actual people involved (the batter and the sausage-woman) seem to be acting reasonably, which warms my heart.
#30 Jun 2003, 02:39PM:
Some people misspell "Salon" as "Solon," which makes me think that we're writing a magazine for Greek lawmakers of antiquity. But the other day my colleague performed an accidental transformation cipher and thanked a reader for subscribing to Sakib Premium. Say, while you're looking at that keyboard, you should consider cleaning it with compressed air, or at least shaking it upside down over a trash can.
As you might expect, your life has not gone according to 'Todd's Life Plan.' Everyone who ever loved you, up to and including Jesus, has either died or redied in the past 30 years. Your Berkeley degree became worthless when the campus was implicated in the kidnapping of three-year-old twins in Encino, California. Your first marriage was a sham, a shamelessly promotional wedding to Safeway's Low Low Prices for much-needed rent money. The kids hate you. The longest you ever held a job was three weeks, until the first Senior Citizen finally got word to the outside world.
She has had several death threats. Recently, on tour in Odense, Denmark, Mirza was told that fundamentalists had let it be known that if she set foot onstage, they would kill her. ''I was given two armed guards,'' she recalls. ''It was the first time I ever saw a gun that big. I thought, Bloody hell, I'm telling jokes, and that is a gun. But I thought the most important time to do the comedy was there and then. If these people think it's a sin to tell jokes, what will they think when Americans take their oil?..."
Kutcher finds life in L.A. a goof. Give your keys to a stranger for valet parking?! "Back where I come from, you park our own damn cars," Kutcher commands from the screen. "I could park an F150"-buddy, that's a truck-"in the crack of your ass."
Like Martin, Kutcher can flirt with the camera, solo, and seem to delight himself. Punk'd is his own creation and fiefdom; it's a nifty out-of-towner's reproof to Hollywood. "People go out to parties and try and like set trends," he says, as if making a discovery. "You're not cool because you're on the red carpet. I'm going to set a trend. The trend of you getting punk'd."
#26 Apr 2003, 07:44PM: Dying For Our Arts And Crafts:
When I completely forgot two thirds of my material on Tuesday, I felt much as
Skot did: "I mentally pictured the skipped-over lines dying like slugs on a salt lick, and they screamed, 'Why didn't yooou saaaaay uuuuusss? Weee are goooood lines! AAAAAaaaaaahh--!'"
#25 Apr 2003, 09:25AM: Morning Musings:
"Madonna wrote a children's book? Well, why not, she's done everything else.
You know, I never realized that before -- when you're Madonna, you run
out of things to do on a much larger scale. I think she's climbing
#22 Apr 2003, 10:50PM: Remind Me Not To Schedule Two Back-to-Back Performances Like This Again:
Salon interview went okay-to-well. I met Scott Rosenberg! I'll find out by the end of next week.
I was so exhausted by the evening that I didn't practice my act
nearly enough and therefore floundered semi-amusingly onstage. Fortunately,
not too many people I know witnessed me. Several other funny comics performed,
including Mike Spiegelman of Fresh Robots fame. I got to casually
hang out with a Fresh Robot! Lori Chapman and Shanique (?) Scott also
made a formidable impression. Tony Sparks and Danny Dechi rounded
out the ad hoc troupe. Note that they all did better than me. Much better.
Mike joked about drinking to forget, and thus precluded me from actually doing so. Thanks, Mike!
#17 Apr 2003, 09:12PM: Publicity Shock:
Hal stopped by the store today expressly and solely to tell me that PSP people are advertising my show on Sproul Plaza. He showed me a quarter-page yellow flyer for Free Comedy, with my name (spelled correctly!) given top billing! Yao!
Tight scheduling that evening -- Tuesday afternoon I have a job interview at Salon.
#16 Apr 2003, 06:04PM: Sumana Comedy Alert Level: Banana Peel Yellow:
This coming Tuesday, April 22nd, I get to perform comedy FOR MONEY! I'll be doing somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes of material for a Pi Sigma Phi fundraising night on the Berkeley campus. (I'd never heard of them either; some coed service honor fraternity Malkovich.) It'll be at 7pm in 10 Evans, and I have no idea how much the tickets are or how crowded it'll be, but 10 Evans is a largish lecture hall. Hey, that's where I saw Andrew Creighton lecture in Intro to Sociology, and where I met Matt Weinstein and Brandon! What an honor.
#12 Apr 2003, 07:25PM:
Trying to do my taxes. I'm relatively low-income, so I should be able to use the EZ (easy, simple, "I'm poor") forms instead of the scarier full-size forms. I want to go to the Mango Mic in Berkeley, and want to go to the Platypus Jones! improv show at Cafe Eclectica, but I should stay home and do taxes. Grocery shopping and getting lost in Emeryville (Trader Joe's) and Oakland (Piedmont Grocery) tired me out, and besides this midnight I'll see Office Space downtown. Tradeoffs are appropriate for an evening of applied economics.
Bouncer: Not so fast, buster. You can't come in unless your name's on the list. Mayweather: Oh, hi. A friend of mine gave me your address. What is this place, anyway? Bouncer: Can't you read the sign? This is the Underused Characters' Tavern. Now gimme some ID and maybe I won't throw you across the street. Mayweather: Underused characters? Hoshi must have made some mistake. See, I'm Travis Mayweather and -- Bouncer:Mayweather? That's YOU? Holy! Come in, come in! You're a legend with these guys!
#24 Mar 2003, 12:07PM:
"How do you tell someone you want to stop sleeping with them but you want to stay friends?" pondered an acquaintance. Someone desired me to provide a comedic solution. "Knock knock! Who's there? Don't want! Don't want who? You, that's who!"
In slightly related news, BYU = bring your unmarrieds.
#10 Mar 2003, 08:52PM:
So, Zed's improv show. Sadly, noise complaints
are forcing Cafe Eclectica to close down -- the cafe doesn't have the
capital to soundproof -- so I don't know where or when SF Improv will perform next.
A more than adequate night, with high points that made up for the low
ones. Craig Lant was, as always, a good host and superb at playing the
put-upon husband/father. Zed gamely put up with an overzealous
audience in the "No You Didn't" game. (The performer tells a story but
is interrupted by the audience saying "No, you didn't," and has to
immediately change that bit of the story.) Such audience behavior
makes me think that improv would be better without the audience, or at
least substituting computer-randomized suggestions for audience
suggestions. (Who am I, Leonard?) I didn't much enjoy the performances
of the "winning team," who won because one member teaches acting and
invited her students to the show.
My happiest discovery: Daron Jennings. Quick, funny, handsome. Reminds
me of Mike Parsons. Best of luck, Daron.
#07 Mar 2003, 07:58AM: You Will Believe the Twist!:
A few of you have noticed the new feature in the upper right corner
of the page. I'm using Tonight's
String to present you with a different gag each day on the "In Soviet
Yakov Smirnoff, a Russian
comedian, popularized the gag when he was big.
The schema went, "In the
US, you do x to y, but in Soviet
Russia, y does x to you."
These days the geeks are especially fond of it in more a straight
two-noun reversal of agency (e.g., "guns kill people...people kill
guns"), or a Bizarro
ordinary practice (e.g., "too few cooks spoil the broth"). I
myself love mixing up the three nouns like
Sarah: [looks at a box of cinnamon-scented soap from Sri Lanka,
featuring a picture of a leopard, or perhaps a jaguar] Yeah, because
cinnamon always really reminds me of jaguars.
Me: In Soviet Russia, jaguars remind cinnamon of you!
#14 Feb 2003, 12:40PM:
Last night Joe and I went to Cobb's Comedy Club and saw Bill Santiago, Greg Proops, and Dan somebody. Lewis. Dan Lewis. We had a ball and laughed our teeth out, and I recommend the combo, which continues through Sunday. Albeit, bleargh, $18 admission and 2-drink minimum. I tasted a concoction known as a chocolate martini which resembles a martini not a whit save the martini glass. Leonard notes a worse possibility, a chocolate Gibson. Even worse would be a chocolate William Gibson.
#11 Feb 2003, 11:27PM:
Tonight's open mic went well and badly. The audience actually came
with me when I started, "I'm reading a self-help book. It's called
The Prince." However, later I was a jerk and partially
enabled an ugly altercation between a comedian and an offended
audience member. Sigh. Yes, I do have buttons you can press even
if you're not my sister (whom I love very much!), and I made rude
comments about the fact that I am an Indian, and that
referring to American Indians as "Indians" just confuses.
Several other performers were very funny, although none quite
achieved the same level of transcendent "what the?" as did my
improv experiences this weekend; stay tuned.
#07 Feb 2003, 09:34AM: Democracy Now:
See, I thought the Apollo audience's input would affect the outcome
indirectly, through the filter of somewhat Burkean judges. But no,
as one correspondent put it, it was Lord of the Flies, meaning
really unpleasant direct democracy. Some contestants were more bitter than I. Political Science Major Sumana only now really taps into
the uneasiness some competitors felt with entrusting even a talent
show, much less government, to the masses.
#02 Feb 2003, 09:33AM: Dry T-Shirt Contest:
I realized various things I could have done to improve my reception at the Apollo Amateur Night.
Upon entering the stage: "Here's the deal: if you give me two minutes, I'll take my shirt off."
Made more Indian stereotype jokes.
On the one hand, I believe that successful adaptation to different audiences is a mark of a good comedian. On the other hand, if I were to make an audience laugh by potty-mouthing and talking black, I'd be glad to make them laugh but disgusted at them and at myself.
On the upside, all this is moot, since, as Leonard pointed out, I never would have won anyway. I wasn't singing a song that everyone likes, with lots of high notes.
I felt disoriented yesterday. I had hoped (and thus secretly expected) that I'd win, and instead I came nowhere close. The night of, my expectations changed, and I was glad to have retired gracefully. But now I don't have a ticket to fame, and I'll have to keep working if I want it.
#01 Feb 2003, 01:57AM: Here on Fibber Island, We Use Turbans Instead of Poker Chips:
I lost the Apollo Amateur Night regional competition. However, I enjoyed
meeting the other performers and the Apollo crew, and I know that
my performance did not cause my outcome. By the time I went up,
the audience would have booed a ham sandwich, so hungry for
"execution" were they. Extremely talented acts found themselves
cut off after a minute, victims of this quite saddening phenomenon.
My friends and I had a cool afterparty, during which I gave them the
routine I would have performed for a civilized audience. And did.
As it happened (not the CBC show), I dissed the audience back: "You would
boo yourselves! ... You're like Raiders fans, booing whether it's
good or bad!" But no one could hear me, due to the aforementioned
I did enjoy the work of the winner, Cherelle Fourtier (sp?), a
courteous singer. I wish her well, and hope that I'll get my
claim to fame some other time.
#30 Jan 2003, 11:24PM:
Leonard is helping me finalise my act for tomorrow evening. What a collaborator, and in a good way. I'll miss work for the rehearsal, so three-day weekend, yippee. As in previous similar situations, I forgot to make plans for days immediately following The Important Event, so I'm free to hang out.
Today, as I crossed a street, I nearly got hit by a car. Very stupid of me. It seemed to shake onlookers more than me.
#28 Jan 2003, 10:16PM: Observer and Observed:
I'd ben preparing for this showcase night in spurts for days and days, and then
I was frantically memorizing a sequence of bits. And then the emcee
discombobulated me by interacting with my companion, who absolutely
hates being the target of emcee banter, and I only partially
calmed down before going up.
I forgot my bits and put them in later, I switched stuff around, I
didn't hear nearly enough laughter to satisfy my inner critic, and
I was so nervous. After I sat down, people told me I'd done great, and
I couldn't believe they'd iie so barefacedly. I'd sucked!
But I can't watch my own performance as I was doing it, and I sure as
rain couldn't quiet the never-satisfied inner critic, especially while
nervous. So I will have to start recording my performances, as Joe
strongly suggests, to review once the storm has passed.
Oh, and I ran to the restroom gagging after a comedian tonight told a
quite gross joke. Whew, you don't expect that going to a comedy show.
Maybe I should.
So now I have a much better sense (thank goodness) of the material I'll do
for the Apollo finals. Exactly what I needed. Aside from feces jokes.
#23 Jan 2003, 10:27PM: Cue Old-School Star Search Theme:
Tonight I did not-too-badly at The Brain Wash, that laundromat
performance venue restaurant in SF. I'd never been, but Joe
fully acted as my text adventure help/hints screen. "The man over
there runs comedy classes and will tell you about them...Press
Control-H for more help."
Tomorrow an article partially about me will run in the Berkeley
Voice, I hear. Also tomorrow I will try to scramble eggs
for breakfast without the fantastic melt-resistant spatula that
my flatmate callously took with him when he moved out.
#20 Jan 2003, 08:50AM:
I'm steadily developing new material for tomorrow's A Cuppa Tea
open mic, my "showcase" performance (up to ten whole minutes!)
for A Cuppa Tea next Tuesday, and of course for the Apollo
Amateur Night on the 31st. So if you see me, caution: I may be wacky.
#08 Jan 2003, 08:45AM: :
Well, I was wrong. Musharraf's still around. That's the unfortunate thing about "today in history" -- it renders your "One Year Hence" predictions awfully available for inspection.
From last night: "Oh, you're going to do stuff about your parents in your stand-up, right? Because Margaret Cho does this stuff about her parents in I'm the One That I Want, and she does all these funny voices. She's great. I love her."
#18 Dec 2002, 10:35AM:
See, you thought that only Aaron Swartz was acknowledging my stature, on par with Leonard, in the something-or-other community. But no: evidently I'm an up-and-coming comic and, more importantly, a UC Berkeley alumna. (I get a photo and two paragraphs in the middle of the story.) My parents raised me to brag about myself modestly, so I sort of have to link to this, but please feel no obligation to read it.
At the Apollo Amateur Night, I must "Keep [my] routine to four (4) minutes," and "No profanity, please". Durn, no Bob Saget impersonation. Also, "Please send a one (1) paragraph bio for the program book via e-mail to me by January 10." Hmm, this is a chance to get more hits for my web site!
A message to me from Apollo admins revealed the e-mail addresses of my competitors; looks like excellence, lotsofmusic, lplover, cre8tivity, and overtones have made it to the finals. Have I mentioned I'm the only comic?
From the e-mail:
Remember, the Apollo audience helps select the winners by their response, so be sure to invite as many friends and family members as you can!
Groups of 10 people or more receive a 15% discount. To purchase tickets, call the Cal Performances ticket office at (510) 642-9988; access on line at www.cpinfo.berkeley.edu [sic; try this page to order tix]; or come to Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus at Bancroft Way just west of Telegraph Avenue on Lower Sproul Plaza (call ahead for hours). Tickets are priced at $20/$30/$40.
I'm willing to be the clearinghouse for blocks of people who want to buy together to get the discount, although I assume that the point will be moot due to lack of demand.
Oh, and the CalPerfs FAQ has some funny lines. Witness: the answer to "Where can I park in Berkeley without losing my mind?": "you might try out what we like to think of as our 'secret parking weapon'..."
Evidently I'm the only comic, and I get four whopping minutes
this time. Wowzers! Suddenly none of my material seems good enough.
To Writersblockistan I go!
A hundred or more acts auditioned, and I'm so grateful to have been
chosen, and probably everything that night will be outstandingly good, so I'd encourage you to go. And possibly to buy your ticket now, as it's already getting some press.
#15 Dec 2002, 08:02PM:
The Audition: Yesterday I auditioned for the Apollo Theater Amateur
Night. Most of the other contestants were music and/or dance groups, I
think. I am quite glad that I did not go over my time, that I got several
laughs, and that I did not make any major mistakes. Thanks to Leonard,
Nandini, Joe, Michael, and Devin for advice and material and for
Doonesbury makes real my speculations from a few days ago. And I find
myself wanting to read the mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective
#12 Dec 2002, 08:58PM:
Almost six weeks after my move, I've set up my computer. Caution:
if you, like me, delay post-move computer set up for too long,
you'll forget your password. I finally remembered, thank Filippenko.
Today: made a pretty good, St. Petersburg-reminding kasha with mockmeat, vegetable broth, and spinach. Devin liked it! Watched
that inspired me, but not as wildly as last year. I've changed.
Played a bit of Dance Dance Revolution, and read old stand-up acts to find some
best-of material for my audition. Some of it surprised me -- some
made me laugh, some made me wince. You decide on this one: "I like DDR, except that
now whenever I hear techno I think 'Up, down, left-right-left.' DDR
is doing for Korean pop what Tetris did for brick walls."
#10 Dec 2002, 11:14PM:
The audience, quite rightly, didn't much laugh at my performance tonight at A Cuppa Tea. My best line, a question to the MC: "How much time would I have left if I were funny?" (Response: "Oh, twenty minutes.")
If only I had been doing standup for Kris and Kurt.
All you have to do is use "bones" as every punchline!
Later in the evening I did achieve funny with Leonard. He explained that
the Iran-Iraq war was a bit like Iraq's WWII, in that women worked in
the factories and such and afterwards their rights expanded. I asked,
"Where did you find that out? The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Addendum: Every Other Cool Thing?"
The first time Leonard saw me do stand-up, we went to Burbank and filmed the moon landing.
No, but we did replicate an on-stage moment after my act had actually taken place before the live Bear's Lair audience. (In that photo, you can also see the banner that Johnny Steele mocked at the start of his act. "So, they do Concerts, and also Noon Concerts, and also Bear's Lair Concerts. I can only imagine the political maneuverings when someone puts on a noon concert in the Bear's Lair! Who's in charge, who's in charge?")
Wrt the other photo in that directory -- so proud, enigmatic, vulnerable; in ten years he'll be shot for tree-hugging.
#09 Dec 2002, 07:55PM:
The days tick by and I have to come up with a really good two-minute routine for the Apollo audition. Oh, yes, by the way, I get two minutes, it turns out. Ack! That's perhaps six punchlines, so it had better be good. What a tiny data set!
Today a few customers tut-tutted about their Hanukkah problems; one said that her candles from last year, though still tall enough, were broken. I remembered Zack and suggested softening the wax in a double boiler and realigning the shafts. They were happy!
#04 Dec 2002, 12:49AM:
I took a deep breath today and filled out an application for the Apollo Amateur Night audition, which occurs in ten days. I also devised some new material. If I look through my old stuff and hone a best-of set, I can really put together a really good three and a half minutes. I get nervous just typing this and filling out the paperwork. It would be so cool to play Zellerbach! Not to mention the Apollo!
Joe, my latest fan, seems to have great faith in me. (Sure, my sister and mom and boyfriend have had faith in me longtimenow, but as Aronson points out, new compliments seem to mean more than repetitions of old ones.) I ameliorated the nervousness a bit by remembering his compliments, even as college actors next door auditioned for some play where "Chopped onions!" shows up in the script an awful lot.
#27 Nov 2002, 03:56PM: :
Long ago and far away, Kris wrote about stand-up comediennes (May 7th, "Why isn't female stand-up comedy funny?"), and I must report that the mix of performers last night included at least two other females, who were about as funny as the median.
By the way, Devin was kind and surreptitious enough to take a nice photo during my performance.
#26 Nov 2002, 11:19PM:
Went to the A Cuppa Tea comedy night, somewhat spontaneously decided to perform, and had a great time - possibly the best place I've ever performed, in terms of space, atmosphere, and people. Several people performed and all made at least minimal funny. The crowd is quite supportive, a community that encourages newcomers instead of excluding them. At least one audience member really liked my work, and others also complimented and clapped and laughed. (Re: that link; his main site with cool photos, a poem that made an especial impact on me because earlier today I reskimmed Divorce Your Car!.) Thanks to Zed, Seth, and Devin for encouraging me to perform.
#26 Nov 2002, 06:24PM:
I'm going to A Cuppa Tea, at College and Alcatraz, for this evening's open mic comedy night. I probably will not perform, as I have no material and it's an hour from now, but will rather watch and enjoy.
Speaking of Zed, I got to see his Super Troupers of Improv tonight. Again, very funny. I only wish their set were longer! Ah, I'll have to get my next fix next month.
I enjoyed the bike ride to Cafe Eclectica (rent this venue for only $30 an hour!), and/but got lost a bit on the way back. Follow the BART tracks...where does this road go?...what a huge parking lot...and then a large, stately Barnes & Noble reared its head before me. Aaaah!
At work, I've discovered, I've become a good gift wrapper. Most recent innovation: after tying and curling a length of ribbon for the bow, make incisions in the end of the ribbon and pull it apart, creating two, three, four, or more thinner ribbon curls. I find that the mix of thin and thick ribbon creates a pleasing appearance. Of course, if I start talking about this sort of technique with my colleagues, then (to paraphrase Tamora Pierce) they edge away and start talking about soothing drinks.
#14 Oct 2002, 11:09AM GMT+5:30:
I ripped through Dave Barry's second novel, Tricky Business, in about two hours. It's faster-paced than Big Trouble, taking place entirely in one day, but the general theme stays the same (ordinary people stumble upon organized crime shenanigans in south Florida). I liked Big Trouble better, especially since Big Trouble focused more on likable characters and less on convoluted scheming by mobsters, but I did enjoy Tricky Business. The obstacles that sympathetic characters face in Tricky Business seem real, as opposed to the over-the-top ridiculous obstacles (cough *Connie Willis* cough) in Big Trouble.
People who actually thought about seeing me do some stand-up tomorrow: sorry to cancel on you. I realized that I have to be out of town Tuesday night.
#02 Oct 2002, 01:13AM:
Hurray for the writing group, which met and actually got some work done. Good luck to the perpetually stressed Shweta! I also met her friend Adam (argh, that makes, like, three now to distinguish) and hung out with him and his cool housemates, including a sweet and vulnerable kitten who had gotten spayed earlier in the day. I wanted to protect her, like in the Everclear song "I Will Buy You a New Life." Lack of kittens -- that's what's ruined Sumana-cat relations.
As long as I'm doing creative work, I should whip up some stand-up and see if the Heuristic Squelch will let me do the open-mic at their October 15th show.
#17 Sep 2002, 11:29AM:
Naomi Klein, of No Logo fame, speaks tonight at Cody's at Haste and Telegraph in Berkeley. She'll appear at 7:30 pm to discuss her new book, Fences and Windows, which I momentarily conflated with Bruce Schneier's Secrets & Lies when talking with a customer yesterday.
A slightly wacky day.
Steven Hill, author of a new book on fixing our (he says) antiquated and harmful electoral system, talked at the store tonight. I got to give the intro speech. It went okay, and I got the most excited I've gotten in weeks over something requiring no physical exertion. Wow, I really need to get back to doing stand-up.
A customer with whom I'd conversed a bit asked me out. I turned him down nicely, and I hope he got the niceness at least as much as the rejection. I certainly enjoyed the compliment.
My supervisor must think I'm a weirdness magnet.
I feel better than I did a few days ago.
In other news, I'm taking a tiny stand against a Blockbuster video store, the one at Telegraph and Alcatraz. They made a mistake a few weeks ago and in recompense put a credit on my account, but they won't transfer the credit to other Blockbuster locations. A crock! I say.
Note: the only reason I even went to Blockbuster in the first place is that I got a two-for-one coupon. Otherwise it would most certainly be Reel.
#28 Aug 2002, 11:00PM:
Various people I know are starting school again, or embarking on
new relationships or escalating their existing relationships, or
taking on new responsibilities at work. They have exciting beginnings
and I am just...in the middle, middling. I need to start some
exciting new project to keep me interesting and interested.
#29 Jul 2002, 11:37PM:
As long as I'm talking about comics: the other day I saw a Hagar the Horrible that seemed to have forgotten that it was a daily comic strip and not a vaudeville act. Dilbert and Zits and Foxtrot and Boondocks tend to have two punchlines per strip, while Blondie and Dennis the Menace and Hagar and and the Chesire-cat-like Sally Forth average about one. But this one had none.
"Your wife is threatening to sue you for divorce!"
"On what grounds?"
"Not taking out the trash!"
Geez, "Sumana's last x"-style events just keep popping up. I've just had my last midterms, my last spring break, true, but I used to sort of plan to do a Comedy Night twice a semester or so, and look forward to it, and it's a part of my identity now. I'll have to find some other venues.
I don't want to give up this great hobby.
#18 Apr 2001, 02:29AM: Without Darth:
there would have been no Luke," said a girl to another girl on Hearst yesterday evening. As my friend Drew would comment, Dostoyevsky was saying basically the same thing.
A report on the Comedy Night. And, "for justice, we must go to..." Judge Bob's Judicial system!
Comedy Night. I performed at the open-mike on Monday night. Anirvan, Leonard, and Leah came with me. WRT the professionals: Johnny Steele was funny, as was (to a lesser extent) Becky Pedigo. Mr. Steele was once a radio DJ for Live 105 FM, which attests to his ability to improvise. Very good.
I was surprised. Usually, there are around six or eight open-mike performers; Monday, there were, three, including me. And I got to go first! I never get to go first, since I'm a repeat performer and we usually have to go after the first-timers. But there were no novices on Monday. I still only had about thirty (if that many!) people in the audience, but I did pretty well. I think this might have been my second-best performance ever. No notes, and quite a few laughs.
I usually don't lie in my act. I may have a bit of comic exaggeration, but I try to avoid lies, profanity, and use lewd humor. But I cracked on Monday that my tax bracket "just went from mobile phone to mobile home," which wasn't that funny anyway, and is regardless false. So, just so you know, in case you were there, I was lying. I never was in the mobile phone bracket, anyway.
Political Science 2 was the first time I learned (explicitly) about patron-client relations as a model of a social system. The canonical example in modern literature may be Mario Puzo's The Godfather, which we referenced in the class.
"The two movies you need to watch to understand politics are The Godfather and Monty Python and the Life of Brian", the TA said.
I just skimmed the first page and a half or so of The Godfather yesterday at Shayna's place after California Politics discussion. Our POV character sees his daughter's rapists sentenced in court. They get off with a three-year suspended sentence, a slap on the wrist. His rage is inconceivable. This is no justice! "For justice," he tells his family, "we must go to our friend Don Corleone."
And it is true that machine politics and the Mafia and so on provided useful services to marginalized communities, especially immigrants. But patron-client relations are diffuse, not specific, which is their strength and their danger. I can rely on one supplier for security, loans, and assistance with the government, but if I annoy that one supplier somehow, I'm out all those services. And that's the inherent problem. It can be "unfair."
But I've recently encountered another mention of patronage that, along with the Puzo page, sent me "reeling around ... in some kind of primal Jungian fugue," as Neal Stephenson said in In the Beginning Was the Command Line.
I had to watch The Philadelphia Story last week. I was caught unaware -- I had thought I was in for It Happened One Night, but that'll teach me to not check the syllabus. And there's a moment where the kindly-intentioned heiress tells the rough-and-tumble reporter who would love to write fiction for a living -- if only he had the money -- that he can use her cottage, if he likes. And he retorts that patronage is out of favor these days. It's 1939.
Yes, it's charity; yes, it's degrading to a proud soul. But what else is wrong with patronage? Was pride the only valid reason (if you do consider pride valid) to take umbrage at her offer? It's not enough to say, "Do you want to go back to the Middle Ages?" We have to understand what's so wrong with the model. After all, there were some good things about medieval times. People had communities -- sometimes dysfunctional, but communities. There was connection and caring -- in a personal way -- and not some slick, efficient, coldly impersonal screen facing you when you made a transaction.
Well, perhaps one might argue that it's a bad thing to have some lord own your life in the way that feudal lords did. He would be able to "volunteer" you for the armed services, to take your crops, to enslave your family and seize your land if he saw fit.
Which, I would reply, is why the protagonist prepares to blow up the
credit report services in Fight Club.
Well, I'm off to a lunch from Cheese 'N' Stuff. I've discovered
their cheap, filling, and nutritious pasta and potato salads.
Monday, 16th of April at 8 pm in the Bear's Lair in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Union (near the intersection of Bancroft & Telegraph). At the door, tickets are $8 with a UCB ID and $10 general admission; ahead of time, $5/$7. The professional comedians are Johnny Steele ("Named by SF Chronicle as one of the smartest comedians around") and Becky Pedigo. Arrive early, as doors close at 8:15. Pre-sale tickets are available on Sproul Plaza at noon or so most weekdays, and at 4 Eshleman Hall. For open-mike info (the open mike is after the intermission after the professionals), call 510-642-7477.
And in my last diary, I gave the wrong link for Anirvan.
Seth's diaryyesterday contained a hilarious commentary on our historical shortsightedness, titled "California history." I recommend it highly.
Last night I read Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams in a voracious fit of putting-off-Russian. Very thought-provoking. I especially liked Lightman's imagination WRT the people who tried to defy the laws of their respective worlds. The book also reminded me of how difficult it can be to question my assumptions, and that the ones I least question might be the ones I most need to undermine (e.g., the nature of time, the merits and disadvantages of ambition, etc.).
All right! I was afraid that there would be no more Heuristic Squelch comedy nights this
semester, but it looks as though that's not a problem. This Wednesday,
April 4, there's a free comedy show on
the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley. The featured comics are
Malow. Again, 11:30 am till 1 pm on Upper Sproul Plaza on April 4th.
Great stuff! I imagine there's no open-mic portion, otherwise I'd be
doing four minutes of schtick.
#31 Jan 2001, 12:18PM: The Arbiters of Funny:
I took notes at a lecture, learning about the factors that
slow or hasten the formation of new ethnic elites. And then I went to a
meeting of the school humor magazine, where white guys decided what was
funny. I'm not some reflexively radical affirmative-action
equality-of-results By Any Means Necessary gal. But I wonder what makes
someone an agenda-setter, even in the realm of humor.
magazine to which I refer is the Heuristic Squelch, the only
intentionally funny publication out of UC Berkeley. And it is funny. It's
funnier than a lot of rather sophomoric efforts I've seen. Sometimes it's
just, well, sophomoric. But that's to be expected. Humor is, of
necessity, a hit-or-miss proposition.
I've been to a few meetings.
I've submitted a few articles, and ideas for Top Ten lists, both topics
and content. I've gotten little or nothing in, but that's to be expected
-- I haven't submitted that much, and editing happens. And my sense of
humor is -- again, of necessity -- offbeat. More geeky, more
Maybe, then again, it's all because I'm an Indian female.
What kind of privilege is operating here? Most of the people who
work on the Squelch are white guys. I saw a smattering of Latinos and
females. I was the only Indian -- I think a half-Asian or two
Maybe, if I had the time and inclination, I'd
join the staff, and go to every meeting, and try to get my unique stamp on
the humor that the student body reads pretty universally every month.
And I'd get experience, and clips, and maybe someday I'd write for
Saturday Night Live or a sitcom somewhere or "The Onion" or "Modern Humorist". I'm pretty
sure those are mostly guys. Why?
The Kids in the Hall and Monty
Python's Flying Circus get cited over and over as comic writers' formative
influences. Neither troupe had a single female. Why? And what effect
does this have on those who model themselves after them? No wonder sketch
shows' casters feel content with a tiny fraction of their casts being
Is it true that women just don't
have a sense of humor, or the sense of humor necessary to write
humor consistently? There are some consistently funny female comics out
there, like Margaret Cho and Janeane Garofalo. Is it a boy's club, where
a person who doesn't readily spit out middlebrow tampon jokes doesn't get
asked to come back?
I feel whiny. I probably just have to write
more and try harder to be funny. I have to work at it -- it's a muscle.
Hey -- the same people who don't think my spontaneous ideas are funny in
the meeting are the same people who sometimes do laugh at my comedy-night
open-mic stand-up routines. So there's probably no conspiracy out
I just get a bit annoyed when the prevailing humorous literature out
there is banal, often slyly misogynistic, and manifestly unfunny. The
free-market and/or punk answer is DIY: Do It Yourself. But I
little time and other, higher priorities. I wonder what I could do
accelerate the pace at which the arbitration of humor is more equally
distributed among the truly and consistently funny, regardless of race
Saturday Night Live
Observational Humor (collegehumor.com)
The funniest sitcom on TV (whatever you think it is)
#31 Jan 2001, 02:50AM: Learning to Teach; and, Comedy as Power:
Okay, continuing my ramble (not 'babble,' one hopes) on career, temperament, teaching, comedy, and talent.
During the week before my fifth comedy show appearance (it was Saturday, 27 January, in 145 Dwinelle, and I was that Indian female who made the jokes about Russia and Fruit Roll-Ups), I wrote a comedy act, a four-minute comic monologue. A few days ago, I wrote the lesson plan that I'll be using today. How similar the processes are!
What do I need to say? What's the best order in which to reveal each piece of information to the audience? Is this the premise or the surprise conclusion? For it is so true that "Teaching is one-quarter preparation and three-quarters theater." Drama is the seductive element in the best classrooms I've ever experienced. What's next? The students want to know.
I'm not going to claim that I'm an outstanding teacher. I don't think I am. I do think that I'm getting better each semester that I teach. And I think that I've been getting better at my comedy, too.
Preparation is really key. I have to think through the entire class and topic. What do I want my students to know or understand that they didn't before? What is the really interesting question here? Why is this relevant? What examples can I use to make abstract ideas more concrete? How does this lesson work in the overall plan of the course? (And it really should be a course; as surely as the course of a river carries the water in its current, the class should carry the students to some new destination. I want my students to have some new synapses in May that they didn't have in January.)
And I have begun to understand the importance of presentation. I used to be ideologically opposed to applying any effort towards the appearance or style of things. My clothes generally reflect that principled energy-conservation. But I am beginning to behave as though it were all of a piece, the content and the style in which I present it, just as the thoughts in an essay require an elegant and coherent organization into paragraphs and sentences.
I can facilitate laughter by arranging the joke a certain way, by placing a particular joke after its analog, by imitating accents, by speaking clearly and using tonal variation. I can facilitate learning by arranging the chairs a certain way, by taking on the tropes of authority in my behavior, by making clear my expectations. I use ordered lists and headings in my syllabus; I use the premise-setup-punchline-punchline-punchline mold in my jokes. It's all about communication, connection, and the tools I can use to get the message across.
I do a lot of unusual, attention-getting things. I teach, I do stand-up,
I advertise my class by barking on Sproul Plaza (in the manner of circus
publicists), I regularly wear a Linux pocket protector. A dime-store
psychologist or a talk-show host might trace this behavior to my past, and
say that I do these things because I feel insecure, because I
didn't get enough praise as a child, because I always felt as though I
weren't in the "in-crowd." And yeah, I can see some of that.
But maybe some of us are just evangelistic by nature, outgoing, friendly,
"leaders," and that's not a bad thing, just a temperament, a trait.
A trait is what you make it. I'm a born star, you're extroverted,
he's a showoff, to paraphrase (I think) W.C. Fields. I think I just
really publicly influencing groups. Political science is the study of
power, and I'm a political science major. What is power? It's a meme.
And I long to construct and spread a really influential meme, the meme
heard 'round the world.
#21 Jan 2001, 12:39PM: An extended narrative on teaching, comedy, and temperament:
I'm at the life stage where I should be thinking not just about jobs, but about careers. I'm something of an extrovert, I like to write, and I enjoy hanging out with geeks. What to do?
What follows is a meditation/narrative on thought-provoking incidents and situations I've had in the past few years (unless I stretch back to my sixth grade talent show cameo) (which I very well may). Your mileage may vary. The first part of, I think, two.
To back up:
I am a student at UC Berkeley, where the research is world-class and the classes are scarce. At least once every year I play The Waiting Game, hoping that enough people will drop a class, or be unwilling to take an 8 a.m. discussion section with a Graduate Student Assistant (a teaching assistant to the professor), so that I can enroll. A good Graduate Student Instructor is doubly precious: she motivates me to prepare for class, and she makes that 8 a.m. discussion enjoyable, educational, and mind-expanding.
I've had a few terrific GSIs here in the Political Science Department. One of them is a particular favorite of mine: funny, down-to-earth, very smart, and a fantastic teacher. He brought me to understand the texts in the course in a completely different way. Everyone in the department, it seems, loves him -- undergraduates, faculty, other grad students. This semester, students practically fought to switch into one of his dicussion sections for the course he's TAing. (The other is -- you guessed it -- ear-lie in the mornin'.)
Once I observed a conversation he had in the hallway in Barrows, the political science headquarters. A friend of his was urging that he acquaint himself with a female friend of hers, possibly with view to a romantic liaison. "She's really funny, just like you, you'd like her," -- I paraphrase -- she said.
And he replied -- was it a joke? -- that two exhibitionists don't go well together.
Shortly after taking his class, I learned about the comedy nights that we have here at Cal. The Heuristic Squelch, our comedy magazine, puts them on in conjunction with ASUC Superb, the entertainment arm of our student government. A few professional comedians come in and do their spiels, and then there's an open mic. Students can go up and do five minutes worth of "Catch a Rising Star, Or Maybe Just a Fratboy On a Dare." Once in a while, the audience wishes the limit were ten minutes. More often, it wishes it were two.
I signed up. I did okay. I've performed three more times since them, and will probably do some schtick at the next one in a week -- Sat., 27 January. Once I did great, the other times not as well. But I like it. I like giving people humor, pulling the rug out from under them at the punchline, making them laugh. There's a power there, having them listen to me, their attention focused on my words, my creation. And when they laugh, when my joke has worked as well as any line of code or any Swiss watch -- that's my drug. That's my moment in the sun.
I know, it's not a living. I don't intend to quit my day job.
But first I have to figure out what that will be.
Tomorrow: Part III. Teaching and temperament.