Cogito, Ergo Sumana

Categories: sumana | Comedy

(1) : A Comedy Memory: I'm having trouble getting started on things I ought to do today, so here's a story I think I've never told here before.

In early 2011, I travelled to San Francisco for work, and one evening I went to an open-mic comedy night at BrainWash. I signed up for a slot -- maybe I got slot #4 or 5. And the first or second person to go up was just bad. He was not just misogynist or unfunny, but both -- it was as though he had forgotten that you will actually need punchlines to make people laugh and that demeaning women and fantasizing about drinking alcohol is insufficient. For instance: "I went to Wondercon and I saw a woman who said that on Saturday she dressed up as Batwoman and on Sunday she dressed up as Dark Phoenix, and I said, 'all anyone wants is [raunchy desire elided]'."

He finished his gross set and slouched out the door, and then several minutes later I went up, and said:

I'm in San Francisco because I just got a job with the nonprofit behind Wikipedia. So I've decided that this is the open mic that anyone can edit, and I'm going to edit a routine you heard earlier tonight.

And I then repeated the earlier guy's setups, but then added actual punchlines. For example, my punchline about the cosplayer was feigned shock at mixing DC and Marvel, and I turned a setup about soy milk that had ended with "you could make a White Russian out of that" into a joke about white vegans.

My audience loved it. I loved it. I told folks about it the next day and one of my colleagues said that I should just make that my M.O., going to open mics and improving upon an act that had come before. I said that I did not want to get beat up. But also I think it's a bit rare that someone else's comedic incompetence and my talent line up such that I can so immediately dunk on someone by spontaneously riffing on their work, like Mozart does to Salieri in Amadeus.

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: Upcoming Talks Plus Stand-up Comedy: In May and June I'll perform some comedy and I'll speak on open source management and investment!

WisCon logo WisCon is going to be online this year, and on Saturday, May 29th, 7pm CDT/8pm EDT, I'll serve again as the comedy host for the Otherwise Award Auction. You can expect jokes and silly live bits about scifi/fantasy, a custom crossword puzzle to solve, and interesting stuff you can bid on! Please register (pay what you wish). I doubt that this will be recorded for later viewing, so if you want to see it, you should register to experience it on the 29th.

Conference logo ÖzgürKon is an international and virtual conference organized by the Free Software Association in Turkey. At ÖzgürKon on Sunday, May 30th, I'll be performing ~25 minutes of stand-up comedy about open source software life. You don't need to register to watch the sessions, but if you want to support the conference, you can buy a ticket. There will be a video recording.

Logo for Upstream: A Tidelift Expedition On June 7th, as part of Tidelift's Upstream event, I'll speak for half an hour on "Sidestepping the PR Bottleneck: Four Non-Dev Ways To Support Your Upstreams". They've now posted the full schedule and you can register for free. I believe there will be a video recording.

Conference logo, featuring a camel and butterfly wearing protective face masks The Perl and Raku Conference, June 10th 2021, online: "Rescue and renew: how to get legacy open source projects unstuck", a 50-minute talk. This will be my first time speaking at a Perl conference (except that I have spoken at OSCON, which started as a Perl conference). Registration is $10. There will be a video recording.

And I can't tell you the specific virtual conference yet, but in mid-June 2021, online, I'll deliver a 30-minute version of "Rescue and renew a project: How to get legacy open source projects unstuck". I'll mention it on my talks page when I can announce it. [Edited May 20th to say: it can now be told!]

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: Autocorrect Hilarity: A friend found out recently that his spellchecker did not know the word "disempowering" and instead suggested "disemboweling". Spellchecker, I beseech you, in the bowels of Merriam-Webster, think it possible you may be mistaken.

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: Bad Startup Idea: You provide a set of songs that people want to sing together but don't have the skill and range to sing. We use machine learning to rearrange them into more singable versions.

Pricing: this is a monthly subscription, enterprise-licensed, with a minimum of 100 seats per customer.

Target market: companies that want to be just a bit like classic IBM, and religious congregations and schools without music directors.

Exit: sell to Spotify.

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: Podguess -- A Little Guessing Game: I came up with this game and Leonard and I have been enjoying it the last few days, so here it is for you. I just came up with the name "podguess" which does not seem to be taken.

One person, using a podcast directory on the web or in a podcatcher app, searches for a really common word, like "five", "light", "box", or "board". That person reads podcast names to the other players, who try to guess what the podcast is actually about. What's "Be There in Five" about? or "Potholes and Penguins"? Sometimes you'll need to go to individual episode descriptions to find out! And sometimes you can't figure it out at all without listening!

While playing this we usually skip really obvious titles like "[name of church] Sermon Podcast" or "[money-related cliche] With [entrepreneur/self-help expert]". Also, I've only played this in person with one other person, but I think it would also work in groups and in a videocall.

This -- like Podcast Roulette -- is a fun way to discover the great breadth of podcasts out there, and to be mystified by odd things. And -- like my Powerpoint Karaoke best practices or this Wikipedia category-guessing game, which a friend built into a web app -- it's a way to harvest the natural weirdness of humans making and sharing stuff on the Internet and turn it into a little game for you and your friends.

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: Two Upcoming Sumana-Talks-At-You Events: Most urgently: You have just over 24 hours to back the Mermaids Monthly project on Kickstarter, supporting a fun, independent speculative fiction magazine for 2021. If you back at the $100 “Subscription, Pin, and Poetry” pledge level, you'll get invited to a special Zoom party where I'll perform stand-up comedy.

And: in late January, I'll speak for the first time at Linux.Conf.Au, on "How To Get A Project Unstuck -- And Fixing The Skill Gaps That Got Us Here". You'll come away from this talk with steps you can take, in the short term and in the long run, to address this for projects you care about. Ticket sales are now open for LCA (which will of course be a virtual convention). Buy a ticket if you'd like to see my talk live and participate in questions-and-answers!

This talk will draw from the same material as the book I'm writing on getting open source projects unstuck. I aim to teach the skills open source software maintainers need, aimed at working scientists and other contributors who have never managed public-facing projects before. And I hope to have more news about that project soon!

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: Ashwatthama (The Elephant): I read the comic book version of the Mahabharata as a kid (thank you, Amar Chitra Katha!) and many of its stories stayed with me. As I recollected in a newspaper column in 2005:

Yudhisthira is an incredibly virtuous man, and is in fact the son of the god of dharma (righteousness and duty).

Yudhisthira has never spoken a lie. The gods so smile upon him that his chariot floats an inch above the ground, never touching the dust.

But, as the days of war drag on, he knows that he must get a psychological edge on his opponent. So Yudhisthira has an elephant bought and named Ashwattama, the name of his opponent's beloved son. Yudhisthira has the elephant killed so that he can honestly say, with his opponent listening, "Ashwattama is dead."

As planned, this breaks the other warrior's heart, and he recedes from the battle.

But because he lied, Yudhisthira's chariot falls upon the ground, never to float again.

In the comic book version (Issue 36, "The Battle At Midnight", page 29):

battle scene, text in accompanying post

So now, he replied: "Ashwatthama is dead." Adding in an inaudible aside -- "Ashwatthama the elephant." As soon as the lie was uttered Yudhisthira's chariot touched the ground.* [We see Yudhisthira standing in a chariot in the background, and Drona in the foreground, visibly overcome.]

Hearing the news from Yudhisthira, Drona fainted. Dhrishtadyumna rushed toward him. When Drona gained consciousness, he could not gain his earlier strength. Yet he killed Dhrishtadyumna's horses. [We see him take aim at some horses with his bow and arrow.]

* Because of his righteous conduct Yudhisthira's chariot was always four fingers' breadth above the ground.

It surprised me to see this, going back to the comic, because I honestly remembered the speech bubble looking like:


Anyway, now you know one particular reason why Four Seasons Total Landscaping reverberates inside my being like a perfect joke outside of time.

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(2) : Potomac Jokes: When my spouse Leonard was young, his mother told him a joke about President Richard Nixon:

Nixon fell into the Potomac River and was in danger of drowning. A local kid jumped in to save him.

Nixon, grateful, said, "Is there anything I can do for you? A tour of the White House? An official commendation?"

The kid said: "When I die, can you make sure I get buried in Arlington National Cemetery?"

Nixon said: "I think so, but why is that on your mind? You have your whole life ahead of you!"

The kid replied: "But when my mom find out I saved you, she's gonna kill me!"

This is a great joke but it is not specific enough for my taste; it is a joke template into which you could insert the name of any particularly hated President. As a comedian I find it enticingly inadequate to my desires.

Our household owns a copy of a decades-old edition of Scholastic's 101 President Jokes For Kids. I went through it a few days ago and found perhaps 3 Potomac jokes, none of which were particularly funny or felt President-specific.

I do not have time for another project* but it would be neat to try to write a bespoke Potomac joke for each US President. Gerald Ford tripping, fallling into the Potomac, and dealing with a mermaid who's angry at him about the Nixon pardon. Millard Fillmore trying to use the Union Wagon as some sort of amphibious vehicle. I've already come up with one FDR joke and two Biden jokes. Ask me about them if we're chatting. Or share a joke in the comments. Child-friendly, please!

* but I may do it anyway

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: Stand-Up Comedy Today: I'll perform 20 minutes of stand-up comedy about open source software today (Friday), 3:30-3:50pm PT, 6:30-6:50pm ET, at SeaGL [as I did at GUADEC].

Watch for free, no registration.

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: Imaginary Book Club, and How To Run It: "Imaginary Book Club" is an improv-type session that's fun to run at a scifi/fantasy convention. It's a panel where each participant "reviews" a book that does not exist, and the other people riff on that. Julia Rios and I came up with the concept (origin) and it first ran at WisCon in 2011.

It's a lot of fun! In the past ten years it's become a bit of a WisCon tradition, and sometimes other cons run it too, as NASFiC just did. One attendee said that every con should hold a version of it because it's so fun. So I figured I'd write up how to run it.

Basic structure

I suggest 3-6 people, allotting at least ten minutes per person. The moderator can be a presenter or not, per time and inclination. Assuming a 50-minute panel with one moderator and four participants:

  1. Very short intro by moderator, explaining the premise to the audience, and explaining that from here on out, everything may be a lie --perhaps allowing one-sentence introductions from each panellist
  2. First book
    • Panellist 1 gives a description & review of a book: title & author(s), genre, premise/setting/idea, and their reaction -- 2-4 minutes
    • Other panellists react, pretending they have also read the book, and the group discusses the book, digressing into general history/litcrit/anecdotes etc. -- 5-6 minutes
    • Audience Q&A -- 1-3 minutes
  3. Repeat for Panellist 2
  4. Repeat for Panellist 3
  5. Repeat for Panellist 4
  6. Moderator ends the panel by lifting the veil of lies and thanking everyone

This worked pretty well over a videocall, in my opinion, as long as the moderator could see everyone's faces simultaneously (gallery/tile view).


Pick participants who enjoy bantering and thinking on their feet, and whose go-to quips don't tend to the demeaning.

If you've never seen the session before, watch bits of Julia Rios's video from WisCon 2011, with Sumana Harihareswara, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Ellen Klages, Liza Furr, and Richard Chwedyk:

  1. Part 1: Material Velour, Color Unknown (an anthology about fashion edited by John Joseph Adams), and the lost Oscar Wilde cyberpunk novel*
  2. Part 2: Trailer Gnome
  3. Part 3: Beneath Yellow Skies by Elizabeth Bear (a novel about sparkly dragons in Iowa)
  4. Part 4: The Arm With the Golden Man

A few days before the session, the moderator ought to send panellists a prep note, telling them the structure to expect, and suggesting they each start thinking of a fake book to review. My prep email for the panel this year included:

This is meant to be a fun session with a lot of improv and banter. I've run it before, and it works well if everyone prepares their fake book review ahead of time but DOESN'T tell the other panellists what they've come up with, so it's a surprise during the panel.

Sample ideas for fake books:

and noted: "If you'd like to see a sample video, is this panel at a past WisCon."

If people need help thinking of fake books, I suggest "real author in a genre they never wrote in" or "fake collaboration between two real authors" to connect easily with the audience. And I'm not particularly rigid on "no one can know others' books ahead of time!" and sometimes people want to share and divvy up ideas, and that doesn't ruin things.

Gotchas Book cover: The Babysitters Club #12: Claudia and the New Robot, by Ann M. Martin. Claudia might give up the BSC -- and it's all the new robot's fault! [Cover has clearly been photo manipulated to show a robot outline over a girl's body.]

There's a fine line between lovingly mocking an author's quirks and being mean. Watch out and avoid the latter.

It's nice if the fake books are varied -- not all tie-ins, not all sex jokes, not all by similar authors. If you're presenting, you could prep two or three different books in advance to avoid this.

Panellists will end up pleasurably digressing into actual litcrit and anecdotes. As long as they're being entertaining, let them!

Some panellists will go all-out, making fake covers or writing fake chapters. Most won't. Both approaches work fine with the audience.

Audience participation will be a mix of attempted quips, successful quips, and pedantry. Use your moderator's discretion to gently redirect anyone who is trying to quip and not landing well.

Jokes from this year that I shall now inflict upon you

I briefly discussed an anthology of short stories sponsored by Big Pharma, which included:

And I discussed the recently unearthed Babysitters' Club book by Isaac Asimov, Claudia and the New Robot, 1988 (cover above). JOKE STARTS HERE: Claudia Kishi's older sister Janine develops a robot that can babysit, and wants it to join the club. I liked the babysitting diaries told from the robot's perspective, in fixed-width typeface, and enjoyed how the robot's Kid-Kit contained materials and plans for the babysitter to actually build a new kid.

The Babysitters' Club franchise in many ways plays to Asimov's strengths, as it's got a very strong repeating structure, what some might call a formula, but so do the Black Widowers mysteries, the Susan Calvin robot stories, and the Azazel stories. And this book had some of the most three-dimensional, well-rounded characters of Asimov's entire career, and I think it really stretched him to write almost entirely from the perspectives of girls. JOKE ENDS HERE

Go try it!

If you're running an sf/f con, try an Imaginary Book Club session! Tell me how it goes! And this structure probably also works for fake films, games, TV shows, foods, and more, as long as the audience is fans who will get your in-jokes.

And, speaking of fun improv sessions for conventions, here's how to run Slideshow Karaoke in case you want to try that too.

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: Incentives: From the time that I was a child, my parents wanted me to learn and be fluent in Kannada. My interest has waxed and waned.

Yesterday I saw this tweet, which starts generalizing (in English) about girls named Sumana, and then switches to Kannada to make a jibe that I only fractionally understand.

Finally I have a strong, urgent motive to learn fluent Kannada: people might be making fun of me and I need to know what they're saying.

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: Four Conferences In Three Days: I'm performing or speaking at, participating in or attending four different conferences/conventions online between July 24th and 26th. You can join me at no cost for all of them!

Going chronologically:

  1. GUADEC: Friday, July 24th, 21:00 UTC (5pm Eastern Time): I'll perform twenty minutes of stand-up comedy as part of the social events for GUADEC, the GNOME Users And Developers European Conference. This will be a bit like the stuff I've performed at AlterConf, Open Source Bridge, the Google Summer of Code Mentors' Summit, and so on. Yes, you can hire me to perform stand-up comedy at your tech conference, too.

    I'm also curious to watch talks on power management, principles of digital autonomy, freelancing tools, an open, programmable virtual assistant, rescuscitating a GNOME app, measuring and improving a project's environmental impact, and making videos.

    Register: for free! Watch live via BigBlueButton (in your web browser).

  2. EuroPython sprint: Saturday-Sunday, July 25-26, European time: Within EuroPython, I'll co-lead an online sprint where people can learn more about, and hack on, Python packaging tools.

    I unfortunately don't think I have time to attend the rest of the conference, but I'm looking forward to watching the videos of "Lessons from the Trenches: rewriting and re-releasing virtualenv" and "The Hidden Power of the Python Runtime".

    Register: for free, for a sprint-only ticket! Please register by July 23rd. Participate via Discord and via Zoom or Jitsi (I'm not clear on whether the sprints will use Zoom or Jitsi).

  3. CON.TXT: Saturday, July 25th, Eastern Time: I'll attend CON.TXT, a fan convention for people who enjoy talking about media, scifi/fantasy, fan fiction, fanvidding, etc. I'm looking forward to "Bring Your Fandom to Work", "Financial Crime for Fun and Profit", and the vidshows.

    Register: for free! Register by July 24th. Participate via Discord and Zoom.

  4. PyOhio: Saturday or Sunday, July 25th-26th, Eastern Time: I'll speak at PyOhio, delivering a pre-recorded ten-minute talk, "Apply for Grants To Fund Open Source Work".

    When I tell people about grants they could get to help fund work on open source software projects, sometimes they are surprised because they didn't know such grants existed. I share:

    This year, all PyOhio talks are 5 or 10 minutes. I'm also interested in talks on PySpark, livestreaming, Flask, "How the Python Software Foundation Fared Through the Impact of the Pandemic", managing your finances, mapReduce, and underappreciated gems of the Python standard library.

    Register: for free! Watch via YouTube. You don't have to register to watch the talks; PyOhio will stream them publicly over YouTube. You do have to register to participate in sprints and open spaces.

Please consider joining me! Probably not at all of them! That would be pretty difficult! I am curious how it will all work out myself!

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: Trailer and Registration for Otherwise Auction:

You have till 8pm ET tonight -- so, about 6.3 hours from me publishing this -- to register for this year's WisCon if you want to attend the auction I'm hosting on Saturday night (watching via YouTube livestream). You can register for USD$0 if affordability matters to you.

The auction is a comedy show where you don't need to spend any money, but you can donate to support some worthy causes.

This Otherwise blog post about the auction includes a one-minute video trailer/preview, and a list of auction items.

I'll also speak on Sunday within a panel on the recent renaming of the Otherwise Award (blog post).

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: WisCon and Otherwise Auction, May 22-25: I'm hosting the Otherwise Auction (formerly the Tiptree Auction) at WisCon the night of Saturday, May 23rd. It'll be a virtual auction within WisCon, and mostly, Earth currency will not be involved. You can register for this year's WisCon now to make sure you'll be able to watch via YouTube and participate/bid via the private Discord chat server. I'm not 100% sure yet what time the auction will be, but it will probably be 7:30-8:30 pm Central Time.

This morning I was talking to my mother about some prerecorded material I am working on for the show. I told her how nice it is to get to work with my friends on a small fun project, and to edit together these videos with their faces all next to each other. Mom understood and said: it's like tying flowers in a garland. And my face broke into a goofy grin. It so is.

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: Underused Headline:

In all the reporting about Internet infrastructure, bandwidth usage during the pandemic, spectrum controversies, etc., I have not yet seen this particular punny headline.

In the 1934 film It Happened One Night, one character tries to extort $5,000 from another by threatening to snitch on him: "Five Gs, or I crab the works!"

Therefore: if you see an article entitled "5G Or I Crab The Works," please let me know.

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: Another Burble: From a recent conference call:

"... if [our project] even matters anymore."

"Oh I'd argue that our project is MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER!! I'm about to write a Medium post saying so!"

[peals of laughter]

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: Extremely Limited-Value Insight: The 20-second songs-to-wash-your-hands-by releases are to 2020 what ringtones were to, say, 2006.

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: Background Music: So in my household we have a zillion little shared references, and some of those are about pop songs of the late 20th century. For instance, if we're in a restaurant or something and we hear "Higher Love" by Steve Winwood (I just had to look that up, it's not like I knew the name of the song or the artist already), we laugh because of the time Leonard pointed out that the main lyric kinda sounds like a complaint a customer might give a server.

Bring me a higher love
This love is insufficiently high
Leave bad review on Yelp

(Upon a full listen: the synth riff from 3:04 to 3:11 reminds me of the start of the Doogie Howser, M.D. opening theme. A lot of the folks I meet are not people who went to schools in the US in the late 1980s/early 1990s while younger than approximately everyone else in their grade cohort, and thus they did not experience being called "Doogie". Nor did they experience Head of the Class which was -- for me -- sympathetic representation of book-smart nerddom in mass media. Not sure I'd feel that way if I re-watched it now.)

Every once in a while we go use YouTube to watch the music videos for songs that are in sort of the "you will hear these in public spaces in the US" canon but that we've never really listened to. Always feels like popping the hood in a car where up till now I've just been a passenger.

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: As The Saying Goes, I'm Part Of The Precipitate: Tonight, I'm gonna attend my local Community Board meeting, which will include an MTA presentation on the Astoria Boulevard ADA & Station Renewal project. (I hope that, after the meeting, I can hang out with other locals and toast to the end of the Amazon HQ2 giveaway.) I wondered aloud to Leonard: how will people at the meeting use the Astoria Boulevard station closure as a demand for more parking spots? (The members of my local community board mostly own homes and cars, and are far more interested in the alleged lack of parking in Western Queens than I am.)

The easy answer is: the MTA is closing a station for renovations, so more people will have to drive, so they'll say we'll need more parking spots. But: who should be responsible for providing that parking, and how? Some satirical answers we came up with:

I do not recommend anyone do any of these things. I do recommend you joke about parking-hungry community boards.

Also if you can figure out how to make a good joke combining the Lisp function cdr and the fact that we should lengthen the G train, do make it somewhere and let me know.

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: Puns About Domain Names Are Kinda Par For The Course Around Here: I blearily woke this morning - Leonard was already up. I wished him a happy Valentine's Day.

"I think we really match. And in some sense, because we met online,* we met in e-harmony. And when I think of you, I say: OK, cupid."

He was definitely laughing by this point.

"But even though there are plenty of fish in the sea, I'm glad that we're consumating, that we ... something, something, spark, tinder ..... OK, I can't figure out how to work in JDate."

"Isn't that where Ashley Madison works?"

"Oh, that's good... wait! No! Not that one!"

He also offered to get me a "coffee and bagel" which reminded us of someone I met who showed me how the Coffee Meets Bagel app works. I had mentioned that I'd heard of the "bagel of the day" mechanic from the New York Times "Vows" section, and she'd replied, somewhat resentfully, that "Vows" is filled with people marrying their "bagel of the day". "Oh, it's The Ladders of dating apps," Leonard compared. (I'd also asked her: ok, if you have a "bagel of the day", and they have you as a "bagel of the day", then who's the coffee??!! She and I settled on the unsatisfying conclusion, "everyone is their own coffee".) We talked about how the "bagel of the day" seems to create temporal scarcity, to push the user to be more impulsive and go ahead and say yes.

"No, you have 24 hours to make a date, not to meet them -- how would that work? Like, you use NFC or Bluetooth and tap your phone to theirs? It's a dating app, not a scavenger hunt....I'm glad we're together, that we don't have to do the dating world, go through that grinder .... Grindr's actually even less appropriate to us than Ashley Madison."

Anyhow! My sympathies and best wishes to everyone today. I literally loathed Valentine's Day so much, as a teen, that I wrote an anti-Valentine's Day editorial every year, for all four years of high school, in my school paper, including one science fiction story where future kids marvel that back in the 20th century people had this awful destructive ritual. Now I have an old, familiar "grah" about it, plus a friend who works at a greeting card company and has to attend to battle stations all day.

So, whoever you are, I hope you get some laughs today and some unexpected delight, and, if you like puns, puns. More than the ones above, I mean.

* I met my partner online the old-fashioned way, by reading his blog.

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: Some Movies Are For Not-Me: I haven't really been keeping up with reviewing movies here. Some recent joys: I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was astounding in its artistry and the marriage of story and virtuosic presentation. The Muppet Christmas Carol, which I'd never seen before I think, made me cry buckets and is an excellent adaptation of the Dickens! Won't You Be My Neighbor?, The Peacemaker, and Infinite Football are a sort of only-in-my-mind trilogy of documentaries about men's quests to improve some corner of our world.

But also: I've seen a few films recently for which I am perhaps not the target audience! Examples follow. Most of these were with Leonard so his film reviews are longer and more interesting.

There's more, I'm sure, but I don't want to go into a depressingly long list. I am not that much of a fiction author, and when I see people acting irresponsibly in fiction, I nearly physically want to reach into the screen and get them, like, therapy and a nap -- I want things that would make their lives better even if it would make the story worse.

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: Now It Can Be Told: The "I would ask for wall. We need wall." nonsense* reminds me:

About 11 years ago, I was at some industry networking event here in New York City, gladhanding, schmoozing, &c. At one point I spoke to a recruiter who suggested that I "send résumé." I was willing, if a bit confused by the phrasing. They gave me their card and said again: "Send résumé." I looked.

Send Resume

I never did Send Résumé to them, I believe. I did come home to Leonard and we joked about how Neolithic recruiters would say "Send résumé!" and "Get in on ground floor! That being only floor." and "Work on cutting edge making cutting edges."

So that's how I hear it now.

* 2017: orb; 2018: wall. What one-syllable noun will take on new connotations in 2019? Place your bets now, diversifying your portfolio of bingo card wagers.

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(1) : Code Review Play at RubyConf, and Think Tank Fiction:

Jason Owen and I will co-present "Code Review, Forwards and Back" at RubyConf in Los Angeles, November 13-15 2018. We'll update and slightly lengthen the version we performed at PyGotham last year. If you'll be at RubyConf, consider watching our one-act play:

Your team's code review practices cause ripple effects far into the future. In this play, see several ways a single code review can go, then fast-forward and rewind to see the effects -- on codebase and culture -- of different code review approaches.

The setting: an office conference room. The characters: a developer, who's written a chunk of new Ruby code, and a team lead, who's about to review it. The code is not great.

See a fast-paced montage of ways things can go. Recognize patterns from your past and present. Learn scripts for phrasing criticism constructively. And laugh.

I've been doing a lot of theater-inflected conference presentations recently. I came up with the ideas for "Code Review, Forwards and Back" and "Lessons, Myths, and Lenses: What I Wish I'd Known in 1998" and "Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays" (more details on all of these on my Talks page).

In some sense this is unsurprising, as I'm a programmer and public speaker who has dabbled in the more creative performing arts my whole life. As a child I had small parts in school* and community** theater, and my sister and I wrote and performed in some number of long skits for Indian-American association get-togethers (there was a lot of No Big Deal family-based practice here, as with writing and public speaking in general). I have also been willing to sing in public really quite out of proportion to my actual singing ability for a very long time. And I got all right at stand-up comedy and at comedy auctioneering.*** So I have started to bring those skills into my conference presentations, and am interested in how spectacle, fictional narrative, and different presentation formats can make different kinds of teaching and representation possible.

Someone else thinking about the value of storytelling in conference talks is Maria Farrell, who posted at Crooked Timber about that and about "think-tank fiction" (fictional stories/scenarios, sometimes composites of real situations and sometimes future projections, reflecting on and demonstrating the effects of particular policies and trends).

I find several of Farrell's reflections resonate with me, about the "quality of atmosphere" that obtains when you start telling a story at an event where it's unusual to do so, and:

...people at all-day tech events are really, really glad to just relax and have stories told to them. News flash. And actual stories, with, hopefully, meanings heading off on different trajectories, not TED anecdotes driving to One Big Lesson...

I hope Farrell can come to !!Con or a similar event sometime, to see how it nurtures some similar experiences.

There must be a bunch of talks like this and now my cataloguing fingers are itching. As Bruce Sterling wrote in "User-Centric":

To: the Team Coordinator
From: the social anthropologist
Subject: Re: *****Private message*****

Fred, people have been telling each other stories since we were hominids around campfires in Africa. It’s a very basic human cognition thing, really.

My colleague Erik Möller did a talk like the ones Farrell mentions at Wikimania 2013, "Ghosts of Wikis Yet to Come: Three Stories of Wikimedia's Future" (video). And I think Tom Scott's scifi shorts and story-style talks, and the "Slaughterbots" video from Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons, are worth checking out as exemplars.

I also love related "our technology will make this future possible/likely!" narratives like AT&T's 1993 "Connections" video. (The AT&T Archives page pointed me to this collection of similar concept videos I totally want to see, made by Ameritech, Motorola, Sun, NEC, etc. Natalie Jeremijenko and Chris Woebken collaborated on a 2009 montage I haven't watched yet, and there's a 2014 followup -- looking forward to diving in.)

* Not always onstage -- the first bit of project management I ever did was stage management. I fuzzily remember running a puppet show in elementary school, and officiously checking off attendance using a clipboard (oh how important I felt!) for some middle school thing.

** Perhaps most memorably: Rudy, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's nerdy little sister, in "The Night Before The Night Before Christmas" at a local YW/MCA. I actually had lines in this role! To demonstrate Rudy's bookishness, the script had her say aloud, apropos of nothing, "O is for oxygen," "N is for nitrogen," "C is for carbon", and so on. In retrospect this dialogue has more verismilitude than I would like to admit.

*** And of course this feels completely normal to me, because, you know, you only have your own one life, and your own life has a way of becoming the yardstick rather than the judged.

But a great swathe of programmers and other technologists don't think of writing or putting on or starring in a small play as No Big Deal. Many haven't ever memorized lines. And sometimes I forget that, if you've taken a storytelling workshop and served as a dramaturg for someone's one-woman show, and you're a programmer who gets to speak at conferences like PyCon and FOSDEM, you're unusual. Your intersection of skillsets is rare.

And one of the intuitions that's helped me develop my career is that I can provide unique value where the intersection of my skillsets is rare.

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: "Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays" Accepted for PyGotham 2018: Fresh from the waitlist onto the schedule: Jason Owen and I will be performing "Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays" at PyGotham in early October. If you want to come see us perform, you should probably register soon. I don't yet know whether we'll perform on Friday, Oct. 5 or Saturday, Oct. 6.

(The format will be similar to the format I used in "Lessons, Myths, and Lenses: What I Wish I'd Known in 1998" (video, partial notes), but some plays will be more elaborate and theatrical -- much more like our inspiration "The Infinite Wrench".)

To quote the session description:

A frenetic combination of educational and entertaining segments, as chosen by the audience! In between segments, audience members will shout out numbers from a menu, and we'll perform the selected segment. It may be a short monologue, it may be a play, it may be a physical demo, or it may be a tiny traditional conference talk.

Audience members should walk away with some additional understanding of the history of Python, knowledge of some tools and libraries available in the Python ecosystem, and some Python-related amusement.

So now Jason and I just have to find a director, write and memorize and rehearse and block probably 15-20 Python-related plays/songs?/dances?/presentations, acquire and set up some number of props, figure out lights and sound and visuals, possibly recruit volunteers to join us for a few bits, run some preview performances to see whether the lessons and jokes land, and perform our opening (also closing) performance. In 68 days.

(Simultaneously: I have three clients, and want to do my bit before the midterm elections, and work on a fairly major apartment-related project with Leonard, and and and and.)

Jason, thank you for the way your eyes lit up on the way back from PyCon when I mentioned this PyGotham session idea -- I think your enthusiasm will energize me when I'm feeling overwhelmed by the ambition of this project, and I predict I'll reciprocate the favor! PyGotham program committee & voters, thank you for your vote of confidence. Leonard, thanks in advance for your patience with me bouncing out of bed to write down a new idea, and probably running many painfully bad concepts past you. Future Sumana, it's gonna be ok. It will, possibly, be great. You're going to give that audience an experience they've never had before.

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: Tentative Taxonomy of Tech Talk Narratives: Several months ago, as I was talking with Michael Rehse (my actor programmer friend who initially advised me on the code review play), we talked about the intersection of theater and technical talks, and taxonomized tech presentations. He and I came up with some:

the MacGyver
I did this ridiculous thing and it worked!
the Stephen King
I underwent horrors!* (Perhaps in retrospect the better trope namer here is "hell house" because these talks often end "beware and avoid my fate!" in the same way as certain scare-you-into-acting-morally Halloween hell houses.)
the Amazing Grace
I once was lost but now am found! (On this theme in Julia Evans's early blogging.)
the Bob Ross
Here's how you do foo with bar! (Perhaps that's appropriate for hands-on workshops and This Old House is a better trope namer here for lecture-style presentations.)
the Mr. Rogers factory tour
Here's how foo turns into bar! A soothing exploration of a complicated machine, following input as it turns into output. Variant: Macaulay-style "The Way Things Work" exploded diagram.

I wonder what other large categories there are for this.

Separately from that "what kind of story is this" categorization, a tech talk can have varying amounts of Reading Rainbow/!!Con-style emphasis on the discovery of joy that I discussed in "Toward a !!Con Aesthetic".

* I would genuinely love to go to a talk where the speaker started: "I could a tale unfold whose lightest word / Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, / Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres, / Thy knotted and combined locks to part, / And each particular hair to stand on end / Like quills upon the fretful porpentine." And then talked about, like, a database migration.

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: Request: Donate To the Tiptree Award Auction: The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award encourages the exploration & expansion of gender, and holds a fundraising auction at WisCon each year. I'm the auctioneer, which is a pretty fun form of community service, and serve on the Tiptree Motherboard. We're seeking donations of objects to be auctioned -- handcrafts, books, memorabilia, games, and art, especially with scifi/fantasy or feminist elements, are welcome.

I would personally love to get some donations this year of types I haven't yet seen:

  1. Games of all sorts -- board games, card games, indie games, video games (we could auction off a Steam code or a USB stick)
  2. Handmade blank books
  3. Art commissions, e.g., "I will draw a portrait of you"
  4. DVDs or CDs of feminist media, e.g., a The Middleman box set
  5. Your secret recipe for a dish you consider wowzers

Some items I'll auction live from the stage. Some, people will buy directly from a cashier, at the Gathering on Friday afternoon or from the Direct Sale table at the auction. Some, folks will bid on via a silent auction throughout the con. And a few, we'll auction online. I wrote last year about what an award does, and the reflections I've seen from winners of the Tiptree Awards and Fellowships tell me those honors are doing the job -- encouraging creators and fans to expand how we imagine gender -- and by donating to the auction, you're supporting that.

The auction will be Saturday night, May 26th, and will be about 90 minutes long. If you want to come and you're local to Madison, you can buy a day pass at the door (just to attend WisCon on Saturday) for about $25. And it's totally fine to come to the auction just to enjoy the show, and not to buy anything.

Please feel free to signal-boost this, and if you're donating please fill out the form by May 15th. Thank you.

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: Video of Our PyGotham Play: You can now watch the 22-minute video of the play I discussed last month. "Code Review, Forwards and Back", co-written by and co-starring Jason Owen and me, directed by Jonathan Galvez.

Thanks to:

We were happy to hear people say things like I'm new to the industry, and this helped me learn things to watch out for or I used to be that reviewer and I'm trying not to be anymore or My name is Randall and I never hear my name in fiction and it was nice to hear you say my name or I don't code at all but this is a marvelous management parable. Indeed, code review is just a particularly visible moment where you can see the effects of an organization's culture and processes. Too execution-focused (the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing)? Too alignment-focused (we're taking so much time deliberating and gaining consensus that we can't make forward progress on the mission)? Too lax, or too superficial, in enforcing rules? Our play can't dive into every scenario but it's a start. And -- the most frequent comment we got from happy attendees -- it was a change of pace (no slides!).

We're revising the play and submitting this a few other places; once it's run its course, we'll be posting the text of the script online.

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: Hello City Limits, I See Your Sign, Left Your Dystopia Way Behind: A joking-around conversation from a recent conference, from memory and condensed.

A: "I saw the eclipse in Nashville."
B: "Oh I'm from Nashville!"
A: "Oh cool! Did you see it there too!"
B: "No, I didn't, I don't live there anymore."
A: "So you're from Nashville. Do you play an instrument? Are you a musician?"
B: "No, I'm not."
A: "Is that why you had to leave? Is there some age by which the Machine sends you a notification that you have to choose an Instrument and perform at the Audition?"
C: "I'm imagining that scene from A Wrinkle in Time, the street of identical houses, everyone in a row on the sidewalk, with their guitars."
A:"Playing 'Wonderwall', all at the same time. And you show up at the Audition, like, 'I'm Divergent, I'm not gonna choose an Instrument, I'm leaving!'"
B: "This is actually a little too real."

(You may also enjoy Randomized Dystopia, a.k.a. Assorted Abrogations.)

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: A Misheard Moxy Früvous Lyric, Corrected: Sometime around 1999 or 2001, I first heard "King of Spain" by Moxy Früvous. The UC Berkeley a cappella group DeCadence performed it during one of their lunchtime concerts near Sather Gate. (Four out of five weekdays one of the a cappella groups would do a noon concert -- DeCadence, Artists in Resonance, the Men's Octet, the California Golden Overtones -- and I caught as many of them as I could.) And then Steve Shipman introduced me to more of their songs and albums -- it was Bargainville, which ends with that haunting a cappella "Gulf War Song", that I was listening to on September 10, 2001.

In 2014 it came to light that band member Jian Ghomeshi had a fairly sordid history, and for a while I couldn't listen. Now I seem to have the ability to listen again; that change I don't have as much insight into as I'd like.

Just now Leonard and I were singing bits of "King of Spain" to each other; he sang:

Lord, it looked good on me

I said "What?!" Because back around 2000 and through all the years to the present, I heard those lyrics as:

Lord of the good ennui

So for the entire time I've been with Leonard, he and I have interpreted that song slightly differently. He heard the narrator figuratively wearing royalty like clothing, like a fashion statement, which connects to the silk he mentions in the next line, and which logically connects to the garment swap later in the song. Through my mondegreen, I heard an emphasis on the narrator's malaise and boredom (a reason for the prince-and-pauper swap) and a connection to the literal meaning of an additional French loanword, laissez-faire, that he uses later.

A quick web search tells me that Leonard's version is the consensus, that to join intersubjective reality I would let go of "Lord of the good ennui". I shall bury it here, with due ceremony. Goodbye, old mondegreen friend! You were a lot of fun.

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: In Black: Grabbing a book to read, thought I was grabbing Johnny Cash's autobiography, was actually grabbing Jonathan Zittrain's The Future Of The Internet And How To Stop It.

I'd like to code a rainbow every day
And tell y'all it's 200 OK
But cyberspace is crying out: the commons we shall lack
Till we steal it back
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: Timesaving Negativism or Masculine Calumnies?:

"Do your lairstone relations HAVE to come over?" she snooted.

"Look, my uncles are almost done repairing their peatship, so happiest case, this is the last time for a long while."

"After all day patching up that thing, I suppose they'll need a nightcap."

"'Just a teardrop,'" he parroted.

"And then they'll intoxicate themselves into such a state of excitation --"

"I promise you, I understand your exasperation, but if my zombie uncles forget their precautions and catch another xenoparasite, this time it's on them to dig it up."

"Fine -- but you serve this time, I'm not a starwise waitress."

(This tiny short story inspired by Mark Dominus's list of awesome English anagrams and his !!Con talk on this topic.)

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: Penguicon, Orwell, ETAOINSHRDLU, and Being Important: When I was eight or nine years old, I think my parents went through a chunk of "how do we support this weird kid?" planning and work. Around this time I remember coming across a book my parents had acquired, something like How To Deal With Your Gifted Child, the kind of book that has 70 pages of large-print line art-illustrated stories to read to your kid and discuss with them, followed by 40 pages of smaller-print nonfiction prose meant just for the adults. I read the whole thing, of course. Pretty hard to prevent a kid who loves reading from reading the whole book and finding use and joy where she can.

Another one of the paperbacks that made its way into our house around this time was about word puzzles, trivia about English, neologisms, and so on -- it had something to do with Mensa, I think. This is how I learned that the twelve most common letters in the English language are, in order, ETAOINSHRDLU.

Also I remember being given a collection of modern British short fiction and essays, for use in a supplemental tutorial or something -- this is how I read my first George Orwell, his essay "Shooting an Elephant", and my first D.H. Lawrence, his short story "The Rocking-Horse Winner", and my first taste of how truly dark Roald Dahl could get, "The Great Automatic Grammatisator".

The advice on dealing with myself, as a gifted child, helped some -- I got it into my head that an aversion to doing things that I wasn't already good at would be harmful, for instance, even if I couldn't prevent acquiring a bit of it anyway. Everyone who comes out of childhood has scorch and stretch marks. I'm glad I got an early start on Dahl, Lawrence, and Orwell, warning me about technology's effect on art, obsession's effect on childhood, and imperalism's effect on the oppressor, respectively. And though ETAOINSHRDLU caused me to regard "Wheel of Fortune" the way many programmers feel about Sudoku -- that it presents problems to humans that properly ought to be solved by computers -- and thus be a bit of a funless jerk for a while about a TV show that provides pleasure to many people, it's has proven useful in countless games of Hangman, and in an inadvertent audience participation moment during a play I saw in Manchester in 2014.

There's a bit in Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis where a lecturer, solving a Hangman-style puzzle and mocking the audience for our wrong answers, says something about the likelihood of the next letter. I blurted out something like "E, then T, then A, because the twelve most common letters in the corpus of English-language writing, in order, are ETAOINSHRDLU". The speaker teased me occasionally for the rest of the act, and I later learned that several other audience members inferred that I must be a castmember, a plant.

More and more frequently I find that other people in my communities treat me as though I must be one of the cast, not one of the audience. As though I am important. One way of looking at impostor syndrome is that it looks at two people with the same characteristics and pasts and treats one as less important, always the audience and never the cast, solely because it's the self. The How to Deal book had stories about kids who got swelled heads, and stories about kids who never believed they were good enough. "Shooting an Elephant" said: once you're in the cast, you have to follow the script or there'll be hell to pay. And ETAOINSHRDLU has long represented to me the power of double-checking whether something really is random, and finding patterns, and sharing them with others, empowering us. Which can break a kind of fourth wall between watching and acting.

In a little over a week, I'm a guest of honor at Penguicon, and one of my sessions will be a reprise of my LibrePlanet 2017 keynote, "Lessons, Myths, and Lenses: What I Wish I'd Known in 1998" (description, video, in-progress transcript). I'll give the audience a menu of topics and they'll select the ones I talk about, and the order. It'll be massively different from the LibrePlanet version because the audience will choose different topics or a different order, barring deliberate collusion. One reason I'm doing my Guest Of Honor talk this way is because there is too much to say, and this way each story or insight has a fighting chance to get said. But another is that I have given written-in-advance keynote speeches enough times before that it's in danger of becoming a habit, a local maximum. And -- perhaps this does not speak well of me -- I think this particular audience participation method also provides a release valve for the pressure of being the Important one in the room. Instead of performing as a cast of one, I turn everyone into a plant.

To close out, my favorite chunk of Orwell, the ending of "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad":

At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, Spring is still Spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
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(2) : Scifi Takes on Coen Brothers Movies: Leonard writes scifi novels, and one of them (that a publisher is currently considering) has the working title Situation Normal, a followup to the previous working title, Explosion of Honor. It's witty military scifi -- like Star Trek as directed by the Coen brothers, as I told some folks at MergeSort. A few of them didn't care for the title Situation Normal and didn't get a "this has humor" vibe from it, so I told Leonard.

"OK, here's a title suggestion. 'Bargo," I said. "It's, like, short for 'embargo' but it'll remind people of Fargo."

"I got some bad news for you. It did not remind me of Fargo. Also there is no embargo in the book."

"Oh there isn't?"

However we did start thinking of more scifi takes on Coen brothers movie titles:

(If you liked this, consider skimming "Tonight's Episode".)
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: Clover: On Sundays I make omelets. Today's omelets included three diced cloves of garlic.

"I wish to make you aware that we are basically in a garlic ratchet. I will be increasing the number of cloves of garlic involved in our Sunday omlets basically ad infinitum. In sort of a manigarlic destiny approach. So if at some point you find it's going too far, well, file a complaint with your local consulate."

"Well, since I am the one who buys the garlic, I think I can pretty effectively --"

"Oh, that's where the executive orders come in. You think you control appropriations?"

"Are you going to draw from the Strategic Garlic Reserve?"

"There's a slush fund."

(I see that I sort of went from early US President to ... emperor? ... to modern US President over the course of this flight of fancy.)

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(2) : Political Memories: I've been reminiscing about past US elections and administrations.* I've been paying attention to US federal politics since the early nineties, which means I remember a lot of details that many younger politics enthusiasts don't. I decided to dredge some of them up:

I imagine some of my readers will be utterly uninterested in this litany, and some will be a little curious, and some will say "AGGGGH" and remember a bunch of things they thought they had forgot in a partially pleasing and partially disorienting experience. I will admit that this entry is mostly aimed at that last group.

* I misheard Leonard or something and we came up with the phrase "Munchin' Accomplished" which he immediately realized ought to be the name of a George W. Bush-administration-themed food cart. It would serve:

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: Five Loosely Connected Things:

  1. Unexpected beauty: There's a little stretch of quiet waterfront walkway with benches tucked away behind the Astoria Costco. It's just north of Rainey Park.
  2. Fierce spycrafty women: At the launch party for Genevieve Valentine's new book, Icon, I purchased it plus The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. Both recommended! Valentine engages in a recurring focus on women who fight their way out of institutional and interpersonal status traps -- using deception, self-control, fashion, and any other means at their disposal -- to achieve freedom and security for themselves and those they care about, and I consistently enjoy it.
  3. Incisive comedy: Hari Kondabolu has a new album coming out! And he and W. Kamau Bell have a new podcast!
  4. A little better every day: Beeminder continues to be a great tool to help me make better choices that will lead me towards my goals.
  5. Bees and art: The current exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park includes a salvaged piano turned into a beehive -- and earthworks and gardens that attract pollinators. I like to imagine it would be a safe place for a woman to make bees in public (short story by Alexandra Erin). That piece of fiction is sad and funny and incisive about the necessity of being fierce and spycrafty in order to be a woman, about bees, about unexpected beauty, and about doing a chunk of work every day and witnessing what emerges. I recommend it.
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: Endorsements, Sort Of: This week, when searching for my own name online, I came across these three judgments of my works and character:

  1. About my January talk "Comparing Codes of Conduct to Copyleft Licenses", which I delivered without visual accompaniment: "Sumana gave a very well argued speech without media support, leaving clues of a probable theatrical past (or present)." Indeed I suspect my stand-up comedy practice helps me deliver good presentations, as does my experience teaching, and that both those skillsets serve me well when I choose to go slidesless.
  2. In response to a Salon article I wrote in 2003, a contemporaneous reader listed me as #1 in a list of "People who smoke crack". (I do not.)
  3. Discussing a WisCon panel I spoke on a while back, an anonymous and often scurrilous message board includes this chunk of conversation, neither as laudatory as #1 nor as scornful as #2 in this list:

    That list of panelists is like a who's who in horrible people and their enablers.
    Does Sumana have a wanky reputation? I didn't know that.
    I was thinking of everyone other than her, her I don't know that well.

    I find it hilarious that the anonymous poster is not, at this time, smearing me, but that I should not count on their permanent forebearance in this matter.

As the skeptical idiom goes, take it with a grain of salt -- in some cases a grain so large it may serve as a lick for deer.

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(3) : The Eight Mile Road Between Republic City and Massachusetts Bay Colony: Leonard and I have started watching The Legend of Korra, which is fun. In one episode, a character says to the guy who's just arrived, "Oh, hi, 'Shady' Shin." And then proceeds to let Shady hire him for a pretty sketchy job.

Leonard said that, as a rule, he would not become business partners with someone who's commonly known as "Shady." I asked whether Eminem counted; Leonard replied that for Slim Shady, "Shady" is a surname, but in any case, Leonard would insist that some non-Shady collaborator be involved. And besides, he said, what might Eminem even want to hire Leonard to do?

I said: a Twitter tool. Specifically: sometimes people tweet bits of Eminem lyrics (without attributing the song or artist), or incorporate snatches of Eminem lyrics into the sentences of their tweets, and so we'd want to monitor the tweetstream to find those, and analyze whether those people are "influencers" (and whether it's likely they and their followers buy music or pirate it). And then, based on that data, Eminem could forecast trends in sales of his music, and hook that forecast up to his investments, to automatically change his strategy towards riskier or more conservative options, as appropriate.

Leonard had been nodding this whole time. I finished: And the name of the tool could be: Increase Mathers.

(Incidentally, in other Korra-rap relations, a big reason I got interested in The Legend of Korra was this fanvid set to "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J.)

(Also, Eminem's clothing line of course ought to be "Cotton Mathers".)

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: Apology: Earlier today, during my stand-up comedy act at AlterConf Portland, I failed at living up to the AlterConf code of conduct and to my act's title, "Stand-Up Comedy that Doesn't Hurt". I made a joke that hurt members of the audience. The joke was in a section about attempts to be perceived as a cis ally:

I try to be intersectional in the media I consume, and sometimes that leads to carbon credit-style bargaining, like, "How many memoirs by trans women of color do I have to read before I go see 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'"? [laughter] And then sometimes there's cheating on that diet, like, "Does 'Mrs. Doubtfire' count?"

In this joke, it is not clear enough that the cis ally narrator is completely wrong to categorize "Mrs. Doubtfire" as having anything to do with the goal of reading and supporting trans narratives. I won't make it again and I'm sorry that I made a joke that hurt.

For this act I practiced in front of audiences that included trans people, and I asked them for feedback, but I was not thorough enough about checking beyond that for offensive material. In the future I'll be more thorough.

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: Geeky Standup Comedy May 8th and 12th in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY: Sumana doing standup at the Wikimedia Foundation in 2011 Have you ever thought, "I wish Sumana Harihareswara would do further standup comedy about project management, Linux, relationships, Agile, public transit, science fiction, and These Kids Today"?

Here you go. I'm giving at least two performances this month.

This Friday May 8th, 8:30pm-9pm, I'll be doing about a half-hour set at 257 12th St. in Brooklyn. Admission is free.

Then, Tuesday May 12th, I'm the opener for sketch comedy group Think Pound, also at 257 12th St. in Brooklyn. My performance is 8-8:30pm. Admission is free. I will perform nearly the exact same material, but I may additionally be leading some Powerpoint Karaoke.

The venue's in Park Slope, Brooklyn, near the 9th Street R stop and the 4th Avenue F/G stop.

Both of these performances will help me prepare for my gig at AlterConf Sessions in Portland, Oregon on June 27th. Please come, and feel free to invite friends!

Sumana performing stand-up comedy in Berkeley a decade ago
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: Director's Commentary on "Randomized Dystopia": Now that I'm not all arrrrgh I just want to launch this thing I'll talk a little more about why I made Randomized Dystopia: to help us think about how dystopian fiction (and real repression) works, and to remind everybody of rights that don't get enough airtime, like variety in breakfast -- wait, no, I mean:

Freedom of association

In January, I read Courtney Milan's Trade Me, in which protagonist Tina Chen mentions how hard it is for many Americans to wrap their heads around the oppression of Falun Gong practitioners. A stripped-down excerpt, from page 9 of my edition:

I hate trying to explain Falun Gong to Westerners. Sometimes, I wish my parents had been caught up in something comprehensible, like tax reform or Tiananmen Square....

No, it's not a freedom of speech issue. No, it's not a religion, not like you understand it. It's never going to make sense to you ... It's like free exercise of ... exercise...

Milan goes into more detail on this point in an interview about Trade Me. Again, a snipped-up excerpt:

...the communist regime is very, very jealous of concentrations of power in anyone but the Communist Party. And so near the end of the '90s, there were probably millions of people who were practicing Falun Gong, and they would get together in the park and they would practice and, you know, all of this stuff, and they, the Communist Party started getting a little worried about it, because they didn’t like the idea that there were these people.... he had followers, and they don't like, they didn't like the idea of somebody having followers, so they banned the practice. And to their amazement, people protested it, and they didn't know the protest was coming. So, like, 10,000 people showed up to protest in Beijing, and they were like, the fuck did these people come from?

And that, it scared the shit out of them, basically. You know, like, all these people care, and this is just sort of like what happened with, like, almost no organizing over a weekend? This is scary. So they cracked down on it, and they cracked down on it really, really hard.

One way to understand the Falun Gong crackdown is as a denial of freedom of association (articulated as "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, to oversimplify). A totalitarian state only allows relationships that the state can surveil or break. We need not only privacy in the metadata of our group membership, but respect for our underlying freedom of association, the freedom to belong to a despised group.

But when I hear people talking about rights, including when we explore dystopias where someone's denying us those rights, I don't usually hear us explicitly mention freedom of association. We talk often about privacy, freedom of speech, reproductive and sexual freedom, fair and free elections, and judicial due process.

And so I'd also like to raise awareness (especially in the US) of more comprehensive lists of rights. In "Randomized Dystopia" I draw from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Too often in the US I hear people talk as though the first ten amendments to the US Constitution comprise all the rights we ought to honor, and humanity has done some more thinking on those topics in the intervening centuries.

Upon using Randomized Dystopia, several commenters noticed how the US falls short regarding many of the rights in the UDHR, CEDAW, and CRC. Yup.

How dystopias work

And then, in mid-March, I was talking with Sabrina Banes about current dystopian fiction, especially novels in English for the Young Adult market. She sketched out their basic themes and trajectory (and Sabrina I'd love for you to write more about your thoughts on what aspects cluster around Evil Villain Governments versus around Plucky Young Protagonists). And I realized how essential it is, as a plot mechanic, that cookie-cutter YA dystopias deny freedom of association.

Chapter 1. My parents, friends, and government tell me I can't ever go talk to Those People Over There. They're bad and wrong and subject to arbitrary arrest or execution. But sometimes I don't particularly want to be a WheelCog. But what else is there?


Chapter 5. So I talked to Those People Over There and hoo boy, I was spectacularly underinformed about the nature of my world, political system, and socially constructed values! [If freedom of association is limited, the author can more plausibly dribble out exposition to the reader -- it's easier to play keep-away with the MacGuffin -- and it gets easier for authorities to enforce limits on speech.]


Chapter 10. Oh wow, I am one of Those People Over There. In fact maybe quite a lot of us don't fit as WheelCogs, down underneath! [If you hang out with someone, it's a lot harder to treat them as a category, an object. And once you can talk freely with an ostracized group, you might see how you are like them; your perception of your own identity might change. I believe the standard YA dystopia character development arc depends on struggles around freedom of association.]


Chapter 12. However this is causing certain problems with, well, every other part of my life. Time to overthrow things!

What other rights have interesting properties as plot mechanics within dystopian fiction? I hope writers find "Randomized Dystopia" interesting as a writing prompt, and I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on the interaction of rights and dystopian narrative.

Technical details

See the README in the code repository (go ahead and reuse the code and the idea -- the code is GPL). If you've never written a web application before, this kind of toy -- massage some text into structured-data form and use random.choice or random.sample to display a few selections to the reader -- is a fun starter project.


  1. Yeah the US is not doing so hot (and many other countries are not, either); there's a lot to be done
  2. Please write science fiction about Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 14, Section 2, Clause E of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (or, failing that, please write about insurance fraud and/or Quakers in space, so I can read it)
  3. I launched a project making fun of the tropes of dystopian science fiction just before Taco Bell did, which means I'm an influencer and available for consulting at exorbitant rates

[Edited February 2016 to remove defunct link to Taco Bell ad and add Slate link that works.]

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: Randomized Dystopia: Are you tired of the same old dystopias? Why not write about tyrannies that deny different rights?

Try Randomized Dystopia!

I see a lot of repetitive dystopian fiction about denying people (often teenagers) the right to free speech or freedom of movement. But did you know that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women discuss several more ways that governments sometimes stomp on our liberties?

The next time you're writing a futuristic dystopia, hit the Assorted Abrogations page to see three underappreciated freedoms a government could quash -- until your rebellious heroes stop them! Or hit the Custom Terribleness page to make yours a specifically sexist or ageist dystopia!

Made on a lark by Sumana Harihareswara using Flask, partially based on bev-a-tron's tutorial and inspired by a conversation with Sabrina Banes and elements of Courtney Milan's book Trade Me. Thanks to Leonard Richardson for aid with deployment. Harihareswara does not endorse the sexist language of the UDHR, which was ratified in 1948, the gender binary implied by the CEDAW, or the otherwise less-than-inclusive language of these documents.

Seriously, it would rock if someone used this as a jumping-off point for a scifi short story where, say, rural women were denied equal access to artificial intelligence training.

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(1) : Revisiting "Dave Barry In Cyberspace" (1996): I have been rereading Dave Barry's Dave Barry In Cyberspace (published in 1996), which has held up about as well as Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning Was The Command Line (1999).

On the software you'll need for your personal computer:

First off, you need an operating system, which is the "Godfather" program that operates behind the scenes, telling all the other programs what to do, making sure they cooperate, and if necessary leaving the heads of horses in their beds. The most popular operating system in world history as of 10:30 A.M. today is Windows 95, but there are many other options, including Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11, Windows 3.111, Windows for Workgroups, Windows for Groups That Mainly Just Screw Around, Windows for Repeat Offenders, Lo-Fat Windows, and The Artist Formerly Known as Windows. There is also the old "MS-DOS" operating system, which is actually written on parchment and is rarely used on computers manufactured after the French and Indian War. And there is "OS/2," which was developed at enormous expense by IBM and marketed as a Windows alternative, and which has won a loyal following of thousands of people, an estimated three of whom do not work for IBM. And of course there is the Apple operating system, or "Apple operating system," for your hippie beatnik weirdo loner narcotics-ingesting communistic types of Apple-owning individuals who are frankly too wussy to handle the challenge of hand-to-hand combat with computer systems specifically designed to thwart them.

On the internet:

... I had managed to send this hideously embarrassing message to everybody in the world except the person who was supposed to read it.

Yes, thanks to the awesome communications capabilities of the Internet, I was able to make an intergalactic fool of myself, and there's no reason why you can't do the same.

Prefiguring Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus arguments:

So go ahead! Get on the Web! In my opinion, it's WAY more fun than television, and what harm can it do?

OK, it can kill brain cells by the billions. But you don't need brain cells. You have a computer.

The origin of Bill Gates's wealth: "versions."

How much should your new computer cost? "About $350 less than you will actually pay."

Also, I am gonna avoid G7e rage and not quote the entire section, but check out the Comdex chapter for Barry's thoughts on the limited range of stories and game mechanics available in games written by and for men in 1996, and his speculation on what more diversity would look like.

The fiction short story that appears in two parts at the end of the book causes disproportionate feels in me, because it's about falling in love with a stranger via America OnLine chat, and I read it around the same time I fell in love with a guy I met on Usenet, via a Dave Barry fan group. Oh dear I just looked him up and he has a freaking beard. I don't know why that detail gets to me, but I was not prepared for that. At this moment I am under a blanket on my couch in New York City with midmorning light bouncing off brick and fire escapes outside, but I am also in hand-me-down tee shirt and shorts in front of a 486, easily remembering how to turn the audible modem volume all the way down so Mom and Dad don't hear me dialing in, the mousepad the only clear area on my dad's desk that's cluttered with printouts and Post-Its and boxes of 5-and-a-quarter floppies, navigating to HoTMaiL, California night outside the blinds. And now I'm remembering all those other local maxima and minima of my teenage life, and how intense things felt. He sent me a photo and I printed it out in black and white and took it into my AP US History test. That printout is probably still in a box somewhere. He dumped me, and we never met, and I wonder whether either of us still has a copy of that email.

And now the only Dave Barry book I own is Dave Barry in Cyberspace. It's still funny and it still has a barb in it. I am genuinely curious whether people ten years younger than me would enjoy it, since clearly part of what I'm getting out of it is nostalgia. And now I'm thinking about setting a reminder to myself to read current tech humor by Rose Ames and James Mickens in 2035.

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: But He Doesn't Know (That The Map Is Not) The Territory!: OK, so, Leonard and I were talking about The Music Man -- I grandly pronounced "it's about delusion, as every musical should be" -- and I asked for his take on one salesman's outraged wail, at the end of the opening number, "But he doesn't know the territory!" (Leonard, at a young age, memorized that particular choral spoken-word piece, "Rock Island," and can still recite great chunks of it.)

Leonard said: the other salesman has learned how to sell his goods via a system, and cannot stand that Hill does not follow that system. In order to serve a legitimate market that already exists, you have to know facts; the reality-based community assumes you have to be able to, say, assess how many buttonhooks the region will need. Hill, on the other hand, is creating a need.

While the soundtrack to The Music Man provides a listener with tremendous lyrical density (thus it's on heavy rotation for me when my favorite podcasts haven't updated), the songs do not actually cover the whole of the plot. Leonard reminded me that Hill swindles the townsfolk not by taking fraudulent orders for instruments and uniforms without delivering, but by promising that his amazing system can teach your kids to play music (spoiler: it can't).

Which caused me to realize that we are due for a Music Man parody in which "Professor" Hill brings a code school to town. "And instead of the romance with Marian, there's some other obstacle that keeps Hill in town, like, they genuinely start to care about local social justice issues," I mused.

"I can always tell when a plot becomes a Sumana Special Edition," Leonard said aloud.

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: .illusion(): Last night one of my Hacker School peers was practicing sleight-of-hand with a card deck, and another peer walked over and said, "Oh, I used to run a magic tricks website."

I waited with bated breath for the punchline. None came! So I had to make some up.

I used to run a magic tricks website, but it disappeared.

I used to run a magic tricks website; I wrote it in Haspell.

I used to run a magic tricks website; it ran RabbitMQ.

I used to run a magic tricks website; I used SQLAlchemy. (predicated on the false memory that SQLAlchemy's logo is a tophat and cane)

I used to run a magic tricks address book application; pick a .vcard format, any .vcard format!

I used to run a magic tricks website; this is my lovely helper function.

But I felt stymied. When I think of magic tricks, I think of visuals and descriptions, not easy-to-pun jargon. And I couldn't think of any puns on the names of GOB Bluth, Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, or Criss Angel/Mindfreak.

And then Cerek Hillen came up with: "I used to run a magic tricks website; I wrote it in Brainfreak." And I thought: yes. It is done.

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: If I Did It: As we passed a closed-up storefront, Leonard informed me of the type of restaurant it's turning into, and I allowed as to how that was fine, but I'd rather one of the transforming storefronts in our neighborhood turned into a feminist makerspace.

Leonard pointed out that what I really want is an Ethiopian restaurant. I do. MenuPages knows of no Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurants in Astoria.

But I immediately hit a snag with my fantasy: an Ethiopian restaurant in my neighborhood would potentially propel further gentrification. "How could I make it so that the Ethiopian restaurant is good and all, but doesn't attract even more yuppies like us to live here? How can I make it less appealing to people like us, but in a way that doesn't bother me?"

"How about an Only Sumanas sign?" Leonard suggested.

"But I don't want something de jure, just offputting de facto," I said.

"It's just a sign! It's decorative! It's historical."

"And it's heritage? Leonard are you doing a Confederate flag argument?"

"I kind of went in that direction, yeah."

We discussed some more tactics that would not work, and then Leonard gently suggested that I just accept that sometimes other people like the same things we like.

"But this is just a hypothetical fantasy restaurant! Can't I try to imagine a way that it wouldn't attract even more ..."

"Sumana, you're redlining the imaginary restaurant."

(And it was at this point that I asked for permission to blog.)

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: On Troubleshooting:

Nothing is built on stone; All is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.

-- Jorge Luis Borges

Goddammit why won't this work

OK, fine, screw the venv, I'll do this in my main environment
I guess I have to just do this as a global variable
really, chmod 777? FINE

-- a plaintive chorus of programmers

We don't need a Sherlock Holmes; we need our infrastructure to not be a precarious wobbling Jenga tower.

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: Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of Spamusement!: The spam-comedy group blog I lead, Spam As Folk Art, does still post every few months. Today, I posted there a tribute to the ten-year anniversary of the Spamusement! webcomic, with links to some favorite strips.

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(1) : Exuberantly Metatextual Historical Comedy: So, I am about the zillionth person to think about how we use history in popular culture. For instance, my sister-in-law Rachel Richardson (who just finished her Ph.D. and got married - congrats on an epic 2014, Rachel!) is a historian who works for a publisher and thus a much bigger expert than I on this stuff.

The thing that just struck me is the trend of silly, earthy, exuberant, sentimental, loving, infernokrusher and literally fantastic retellings of our history, especially retellings that give us wish-fulfillment. I never saw or read Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but it seems to be all of a piece with Drunk History and "Hark! A Vagrant".

Like so many people in my demographic cohort, I cherish sincere earnestness, emotional vulnerability, and intense enthusiasm. Drunk History uses alcohol to bring out these characteristics in its narrators, and I love it.

In a recent Drunk History episode, the cops dragging hard-done-by civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin off the bus say to her: "It's 1955, and we don't have to do [bleep]." (She frustratedly responds, [bleep] [bleep] 1955.") Later, narrator Amber Ruffin drunkenly mispronounces "Birmingham" as "Burning Man", causing Colvin to say "You know what, [bleep] this, I'm moving to Burning Man." The dramatization obediently surrounds Colvin, standing on a sidewalk in Montgomery, Alabama, with dirt-smeared dancers bopping to techno beats. This is sublime. Claudette Colvin had a really hard time! I want her to have fun! I want 1950s-era Colvin to be able to say "screw it, I'm going to Burning Man" and leave behind racist oppression! This wish does not make sense and we know it's nonsense; it is so hyperbolically impossible that the image works as wish fulfillment without implying that anyone could have cured racism in this way. If you watch all the way to the credits, you see that Colvin laughs as one of the dancers drapes a garland around her neck. It's like the future coming back in time to bless her.

Kate Beaton, like the Drunk History narrators, has historical characters speak their subtext (examples: Ida B. Wells, various explorers, Perry and Henson, Juarez and Maximilian, Kosciuszko, World War I generals). Many of these narratives -- Beaton's comics and Drunk History both -- share this bathetic anachronistic conversational style, and the figures we view today as heroes tend to see the dramatic irony that the villains can't. For a longer, more explicitly wishful treatment of this, see Ada Palmer's wish that Machiavelli could participate in an all-stars philosophical salon. (It occurs to me that this wish, or the wish that Colvin could escape to Burning Man, is like the wish that God had Raptured someone into heaven.)

Leonard pointed out to me that, while we have always applied our values to the people and situations of the past, this trope gives us a conscious way to do it. It also occurs to me: history is, in the popular imagination, set in stone. Comedy depends on surprises. Comedy founded in historical fact can do meta-surprises; a new frontier!

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: Workplace Silliness: I'm on the Systers mailing list for women in tech, and sometimes I post there. It is especially valuable for technical women who don't otherwise get to talk with other technical women. I suggest people apply to Hacker School, I share info about jobs and internships, and I publicize calls for talks for conferences (and talk reviewers). It's a good place to share data about one's past experiences, e.g., "Last year I submitted three proposals and one was accepted."

And sometimes I say things like: definitely sounds like your boss is, if I may, an anti-mentor. A rotnem.

Or, several years ago, on being one of the few women in an office and offering coffee to visitors:

At my office we have the same sort of coffee rule by default; the one developer who drinks it makes it. Our office manager (a woman) has naught to do with it except ordering coffee beans.

The other developers drink soda, and the rule there is that if you finish off the last Diet Coke in the fridge then you must move more Diet Cokes from the closet to the fridge. The office manager enfridgens a bit of each week's soda shipment as it arrives - that's all.

I agree with other Systers in saying that hospitality is great and dignified as long as everyone in your office treats it as an equal obligation. Whenever an interview candidate comes in to our office, s/he has about ten people saying, "can I get you some water?" over the day. It gets sitcom-funny.

Side note: Somehow "would you like some coffee?" can be made to sound more suggestive than "would you like some water?" "can I offer you a Diet Coke?" or "we have Emergen'C if you'd like it." However, there's really no good way to offer someone a serving of Yoo-Hoo. More research is required.

This was not actually the best message to send, because Systers is an international list but Yoo-Hoo is not an international drink, and thus follow-up messages were necessary to inform (and disgust) my correspondents. Ah well.
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(1) : In Conversation: From yesterday:

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: Bad Startup Ideas:

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: An April 1st Linux Tip: It turns out you can go into your init.cfg file and change the usability flag from 0 to 1, and that improves user experience tremendously. I wonder why distributions ship it turned off by default?

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: Darmok and Jalad at StackExchange: I have a cold, so I've been watching and reading comfort media. Yesterday Leonard and I rewatched that old Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause and Effect". When the senior officers need to figure out what to do with the oracular number "three" that's popping up everywhere:

Riker: Maybe we should run a level-three diagnostic on all key systems.
LaForge: Good idea. And I'll have the computer run a pattern-matching algorithm based on the number three.

Luckily, right after that meeting, they have to deal with a giant space-time anomaly that renders those plans moot, so LaForge doesn't end up with an LCARS screen listing the billions of line numbers in the Enterprise's filesystem that correspond to mentions of the number three.

I know some subset of my cohort started drinking Earl Grey tea because Captain Picard did. I wonder how many technologists, solving problems and running meetings, reach for patterns we learned from Rick Berman et alia.

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: Accidental Quine: On Friday, while trying to work with standard input (stdin) and command-line arguments (argv), I accidentally wrote an almost-quine (a program that produces its own source code as output). I've removed a few debugging print lines, unused functions, etc. to give you this cleaned-up version:

$ ./ testfile.txt

import sys

def intakefromfile():
    b = sys.argv
    if len(b) > 0:
        with open(b[0], 'r') as f:
            filedata =
    return filedata

if __name__ == '__main__':
    print intakefromfile()

Explanation: I meant to have grab the first argument to, assume it was a file, and open and print it. However, I failed to actually check the behavior of sys.argv ahead of time; turns out that the actual first item in sys.argv is, in this case, "", not "testfile.txt". You can try this out yourself, and verify that you'll get the same output whether or not you include testfile.txt as an argument. Off-by-one error. I should have had the with open(b[0], 'r') bit try to open(b[1], 'r') instead.

Reading a file is cheating in real quine competitions. But I still found this pretty funny.

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(1) : Prank And/Or Business Idea: Problem 1: Food at tech meetups usually fails to satisfy foodies. Make-your-own-tacos if you're lucky, "the Statue of Liberty is crying" bad pizza if you're not.

Problem 2: Most places we hold evening tech talks just aren't very good for actually hearing and enjoying those talks. Either the sightlines and sound suck, or you're in some weird institution like a college or Google that comes with a bunch of other emotional freight.

Problem 3: People want entertainment with their dinner, gimmicky outings for their friend or professional groups, and opportunities for limited socializing with strangers.

Proposed Solution: a proper restaurant like those old 1940s halls, the ones that used to show up in set pieces in Astaire movies. The terraces of round tables, where you might be seated with a few folks you don't know yet, remain the same. But the floor show is a few short tech talks, nightly.

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: Programming Jokes: The Hacker School application form asks you to provide some code you've written so the faculty can look at it. I wrote a game: "Where on the Oregon Trail is Carmen Sandiego?" It is a joke of a game and a platform for further jokes. During my first week at Hacker School, I improved my programming skills by improving it. For instance, now multiple villains might have stolen that wagon tongue, including Waldo.

Kat Walsh encouraged me to actually implement the joke I made in August. So I am now working on a toy web app (using Flask) to grab physics article titles from English Wikipedia (via the MediaWiki API, via Pywikibot) and perform Queneau assembly on them to make plausible scifi novel titles, and then display those strings on a web page. So far, fun titles have included:

They make people laugh. With software, I can scale my comedy! I can make more people laugh at more things. I think we could get more people programming if we showed comedians that you can pull better pranks if you can code.
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: It Is A Fun Word: This MetaFilter comment, plus not actually knowing how the song goes, caused my household to start chanting bringing in the sheaves; bringing in the sheaves as a sort of "la la la can't hear you!". Like, during the spoiler trailers during Drunk History. But I was saying it pretty monotonically. Like it was a song robot farmers would sing. Or sort of a ritual fear-driven shout. And now Leonard and I just say "sheaves" to each other sometimes, as a random "hey" or "just passing through the living room" substitute.

I offer this to you.

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(1) : 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."
"Shorter Watchmen."


"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."

I am listening to The Sunset Tree over and over because I just listened to a great interview with John Darnielle, Mountain Goats frontman.

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(2) : Naming Opportunities: "Additional naming opportunities within the Museum are also available."

Things to name include:

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: Kids' Jokes: Via Metafilter: some kids' jokes that don't quite work, on inexplicable behavior, vocations, garb, and very explicable behavior.

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: 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.

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: 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.

Embedded: a video in which Kondabolu jokes about the state of having about 14 prominent Indian-Americans. An embarrassment of riches!

If you want, next time you chat with me, ask me to compare and contrast how I got into (and out of) stand-up, and how I approach management.

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(2) : 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."

He snorted.


"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.

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(2) : 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.

(The Monkees use IBM Rational ClearQuest.)

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(9) : Request: Post a clever and funny joke in the comments?

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: 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?
L: Turin.
S: Did you get it from Kenneth Turan?
L: He gave it four stars.

(Rejected titles: "Garb Gab," "Slack," "The Wrong Trousers.")

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: Drinkin' One-Forties: Oh, one more thing -- Leonard & I distilled my ten best microblog entries from 2011:

#captions error on TV yesterday: "We hold these trouts to be self evident"

You know that moment when you see a bright flash from the window through closed eyes, and know it's probably not a nuke, but still?

Procrustes was just Goldilocks with power.

Being a workaholic who works from home is like ... hmm, all these analogies are offensive.

"We have found that people of talent, ambition and accountability tend to stick together" - truth from

PLEASE CLIP YOUR NAMEBADGE FACING OUT. A personal appeal from Sumana Harihareswara of the Wikimedia Foundation. #wikimania

"Breaking Bad" in our house has been termed "the Arrested Development of despair," "evil Good Eats," & "Meth Mr. Wizard"

on getting lunch: "The thing about fixing your hunger is, it doesn't scale." "Depends how you fix it!" "I'll plant some corn." #osb11

Joke of the day: Who's Treebeard's favorite philosopher? Hume!

"Enjoy responsibly" is actually very difficult advice to take.

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(1) : A Sample Of My Stand-Up:

Geeky Stand-up Comedy from Heiko V. on Vimeo.

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.
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(5) : Cooking: Leonard and I are making dinner: pasta with mushrooms and kale. I was frying the mushrooms in the cast-iron skillet.

Sumana: Do you ever make up stories about the mushrooms as you move them around?
Leonard: No. Do you?
Sumana: .... no.
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(3) : Nerdiest Joke Of The Day?: The GitHub Terms of Service restrict GitHub to humans who are at least thirteen years old. Which means Kes will just stick with Launchpad.

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(2) : Transactions of the House: I saw a five on the bureau in the bedroom.

"Leonard, you literally left a crumpled bill on the bureau... I'm trying to figure out what I'm being paid for."
"You're not! It's my money! You can have it if you want."
"I'm offended!"

Also, our décor now includes a copy of the US Constitution, which led me to realize you can passably filk the Preamble to "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy." At least the start of it.

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(1) : PICC 2011: My performance at the Professional IT Community Conference went all right. Consistent light laughter, some long belly laughs and several bits of applause. Sheeri Cabral and Tom Limoncelli really hit it out of the park on Slideshow Karaoke (best practices). Thanks to The League of Professional System Administrators for inviting me, and especially to Matt Simmons and William Bilancio for organizing my attendance and appearance.

A few things I recommended at PICC:

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(1) : PICC: PICC Tomorrow night I keynote at PICC. Then the next night I get to see Quinn Norton's keynote! Wonder.

I decided to take out a joke because it's too similar to the most recent XKCD. I wonder how many speakers have this problem.

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: 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.

Despairing silence.

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.

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: 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!

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(1) : 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.

Back to work, laboring over jokes about Facebook.

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(2) : Brooklyn Gamble: I can't reach Pacific Standard via phone or email, but I think it will probably be fine if I gather pals there on Friday night and shout jokes at them.

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.)

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: 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.

PICC '11

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!)

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(2) : Geeky Standup Comedy, April 21st in Astoria (And Elsewhen): Sumana doing standup at the Wikimedia Foundation last week 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.)

Please come!

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.

Update as of 19 April: more performance dates for 20-23 April.

Sumana performing stand-up comedy in Berkeley a decade ago
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: 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.

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: Business Trip: I'm about to spend a week in San Francisco for the Wikimedia Foundation. Friends in the area: want to meet up? I hope to spend most of my evenings performing at local comedy open mics, so recommendations for April 3rd-7th are welcome. (Thanks to Dave Neary for helping set up an open source marketing/PR training that I aim to attend.)

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: 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?

manipulated photo placing Joel Spolsky in front of a coal mine

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 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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. Made with CityDeadThe obvious "ShittyDesk" joke for the "Made with CityDesk" graphic in the page footer. Again, wrong tone. Instead: "CityDead" to poke fun at the Fog Creek product whose last release was in 2005.

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.

manipulated photo placing Joel Spolsky in front of a coal mineOn 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.

photo from Fog Creek office manipulated to show coal mine through windowIt 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?
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!

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(2) : "Square Pegs": Until the end of March, US residents can watch 1980s high school sitcom Square Pegs on Hulu. There was only one season, so you could, on either a steady, strenuous, or grueling pace, finish the batch off before Hulu takes it down.

Why would you wish to do this?

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.)

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: 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."

The BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy Podcast has been the News Quiz for several weeks; I'm looking forward to the next installment, a The Now Show. The News Quiz has introduced me to socialist/nihilist comedian Jeremy Hardy, perhaps to make up for all the reactionary snark. Let me quote from the 8 January show:

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 over.

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.

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: 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.

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(1) : More Jokes About Culture And Food: Brunch ideas:

The "tempted by the fruit of another" song as fanfic about that William Carlos Williams icebox-plums poem

Trix rabbit as Prometheus, punished for giving humanity the gift of sweet breakfast cereal

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(1) : Consulting: Soooo much easier to work with people who laugh at my jokes.

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: 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.

(Obligatory musical link to Leonard's excellent song "Sweet & Lowbrow".)

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(1) : 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".

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(1) : Clothed For Submissions: At my first WisCon, Ellen Kushner's aid led to a new shirt in my wardrobe. It's dark and velour and has a mild V-neck. Leonard calls it my T'Pol shirt, after the Vulcan from Star Trek Enterprise.

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:
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.]

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(3) : 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.

(The "no choice" thing is another sign that this isn't Star Trek, because if it were, William Adama would automatically be the villain.)

This came to a head last night:

What's Adama's least favorite thing at Safeway?
Anything that's President's Choice.

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(1) : Speculative Filk & Short Fiction: As with The Autograph Man, I have a couple book titles that now fall into melodies in my head.

Billy Joel's "Great Wall of China":

We coulda gone all the way
to The Left Hand of Darkness
if you'd read a little Ursula K. Le Guin

They Might Be Giants' "Mink Car":

I had sex in a Glasshouse
sex in a Glasshouse
written by Charlie Stross
[pronounced "Strouse" causa rhymi]

Thanks for recommending Glasshouse, Danni and (IIRC) James. I'm a few chapters into it now, so, just past the second sex scene (hence the filk). So far this is the most enjoyable Stross I've read, with neat ideas and a compelling POV character and mystery, up there with the clever "Down on the Farm". I never got into Accelerando, the other Laundry story of his I read didn't hook me (yet another creepy-funny take on Santa Claus), and The Family Trade felt dumbed-down. I find The Family Trade's origin story more interesting, and C.C. Finlay's July 2010 Futurismic story "Your Life Sentence" is a better woman-on-the-run story.

Speaking of that, some short online pieces I've liked recently:

"Private Detective Molly" by A. B. Goelman, 4 June 2007, Strange Horizons. I'm a sucker for hard-talking detectives, and talking robots.

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.

I'm halfway through the great Machine of Death anthology (free to download). The Camille Alexa and J. Jack Unrau, David Malki!, and Jeffrey C. Wells stories especially stick with me.

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."

"Hokkaido Green" by by Aidan Doyle, 1 November 2010, Strange Horizons. Bittersweet fantasy about emotions and trafeoffs.

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.

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(8) : 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: Yes!
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.

Oh. If only I'd brought my crimper! I knew how to do this, once!

Rakesh spinning a coil of CAT-5 around his arm

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.

connectors next to CAT-5, shorn of insulationI 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.

* I mentioned that Stephenson is obsessed with how to best arrange for institutions to keep going past any one member's death, and James pointed out Uncle Enzo's career and his disdain for the Young Mafia. Also, when James mentioned that WordPress is written in PHP, which is really itself a CMS, I called WordPress "an unstable sedan chair atop a drunken Godzilla," which I don't stand by, but which is funny anyway. WordPress is more stable since I last had to work with it and I shouldn't be so hard on it, especially since they folded the great WordPress MU back into trunk. I am curious about Melody, though.

** "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.

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: 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.

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: Comedy in Melbourne Tonight: I have had a very good WorldCon, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't have time to sleep more than four hours the last two nights, much less post to CES. I'm doing 5 min of (geek?) standup at the SYN Bar in Melbourne tonight, 9pm, free. Time to finish my set!

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: No Good Reason: From conversation with Leonard: Q as Will Shortz in the NPR Sunday puzzle.

Picard: "I don't have time for your games, Q!"

Q: "This 7-letter word explains why humanity should not be obliterated. Backwards, it's a common Moroccan dessert. What is it."

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(3) : This Time For Sure: I know what'll make everything better: self-loathing!

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(3) : On The Mic: Sumana performing standup several years agoToday, 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:

  1. integrity
  2. compassion
  3. independence
  4. making people laugh
  5. impressing other people
  6. work ethic
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.

Sumana performing standup several years agoI 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!

alt="SumanaAnd 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.

I'll happily teach private lessons.

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(1) : 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:

So, great conversations, laughs, many events and thoughts and interactions I'm still processing, and gratitude. And exhaustion. Flying back to New York today.

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: *clap clap*: Leonard was pretending to be angry beyond reason. I said, "Wow, looks like you're a savage beast!" and hummed.

"What are you singing?"

"The 90210 theme song."


"Because 'music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.'"

"Not the 90210 theme song."

"...It doesn't say which music."

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: "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."

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: Je Suis La Tour Eiffel: Two jokes from the hackfest, both rather picking on Vincent:

  1. Vincent projected from his computer onto the big screen to demonstrate. GNOME windows and apps showed up, appropriately localised into French. "Oh, it's in French, I'm sorry," he said.

    Sumana: "I think that's the first time I've ever heard a Frenchman apologize for something being in French!"

    Ryan: "Yeah. Instead of 'It's French, I'm sorry,' you should have said, 'It's French, you're welcome.'"

  2. We were writing talking points. I wrinkled my nose at the word "functionality" in someone else's draft. "Do users like that word?" I asked. Paul gave it the raspberry.

    Vincent said that the word "functionality" reminds him of a French speaker making up an English word. "In French, it sounds fine! Functionalité."

    Sumana: "Yeah, isn't that your national slogan? Liberté, Egalité, Functionalité."

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(2) : 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?

Actual QuahogCon entry to follow.

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(1) : Omnibus: From conversation with my sister yesterday:

"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."
"Yeah, seriously."
"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...

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(3) : 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 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..."

"This sounds like a Seinfeld episode."

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(1) : 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!"
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(2) : Sometimes Things Get Turned Around And No One's Spared: I made it back to New York City just fine, and in time to catch our own snowfall. Leonard & I have again been using the infinite uploads of the mysterious bobtwcatlanta for entertainment.

"This theme song for Mr. Belvedere is really heavy on the slapstick."

"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 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."

Tough room. TO PAINT! (Bonneville!)

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: "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.
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(2) : Turn Style: "Is that your MetroCard?"
"Yeah, it has 50 cents on it."
[examining magstripe] "Oh, I didn't know you could put music on these now."

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(4) : 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 also likes 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.

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(1) : 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.

N.K. Jemisin, principally on a clash between an amateur writer's and a professional writer's mindset, but more profoundly on feeling secure in your past choices:

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.
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: 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.

Quick fun: Baron Vaughn on movie parent cliches and agribusiness, Kondabolu on "found" artifacts, and Nanjiani on Benjamin Button, or, the difference between science fiction and fantasy.

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(2) : Der Lulzening (or, LOL): Happy-making web fun: that Mario Don't Stop Me Now video, absurd hip-hop lyrics and videos, that OK Go video, and B-roll.

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: 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.

Returning to NYC tonight. Happy that the Maemo Summit in Amsterdam went so well, even if I couldn't be there (maybe next year I'll go to that).

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(1) : Le Line Du Punch: I'm planning on doing an open mic comedy show tomorrow night.

sumanah: I'm thinking scrum humor
sumanah: comparing the 3 questions of scrum to the 4 questions of passover
sumanah: it'll be a riot
sumanah: sorry, rioutte

Accidental comedy mentor Simon Stow used to perform stand-up here when he was getting his master's at McGill, so I'm coming full circle.

If I'm really on the ball, I'll see some improv tonight, too.

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: 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."

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(3) : 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!

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(2) : The Other James Bond: Casino Royale is on Hulu to watch for free. Not the 21st century one, the Peter Sellers/Orson Welles/Woody Allen/Ursula Andress/David Niven/Joseph Heller/Billy Wilder/&c. 1967 version. Leonard & I are about two-thirds through and this is the strangest film I've seen this year. Also, bespectacled 1967 Peter Sellers is hott and resembles Joe W.

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: Jokes And The Unconscience: Misunderstanding number one:

"You're it. You're me. You're what I've got. Like in that song."
"I don't know that song."
"What I've Got. I think that's the name of the song. Something about a microphone."
"That's 'Where It's At'."

And another misunderstanding, less because someone takes a particular type of joke badly than because I make that joke rather badly.

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: 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:

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(3) : Fun Short Scifi: "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs," by Leonard Richardson, Strange Horizons, 13 July 2009.

"I want to buy a gun," said the Thymomenoraptor. He moved his foreclaw along the glass case of pistols, counting them off: one, two, three, four. "That one." He tapped the case; the glass squeaked.

"Why would a dinosaur need a gun?" asked the shop owner.


The owner's gaze dropped to the three-inch claw that had chipped his display case.

"These are killing claws," said the dinosaur, whose name was Tark. "For sheep, or cows. I merely want to disable an attacker with a precision shot to the leg or other uh, limbal region."

"Uh-huh," the owner said. "Or maybe you figure humans shoot each other all the time, but if someone turns up ripped in half the cops are gonna start lookin' for dinosaurs."

Tark carefully pounded the counter. "There used to be a time," he said, "when gun dealers would actually sell people guns! A time . . . called America. I miss that time."

"I don't sell to foreign nationals."

"Racist!" The gun dealer flinched but said nothing. "All right, look, just give me this periodical, okay?"

"I got ripped off," said Tark a little later. "That periodical contained neither guns nor ammo."

Leonard wrote it and Jed edited it, and it would thus have a special place in my heart even if it weren't hilarious.

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: 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.

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(3) : My Life Is Complete: Brendan, I think this is for you.

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(4) : Distractions & Discoveries: Dave Bort, a friend of a friend of a friend, used to do these awesome comics. A selection of my favorites:

Music that's been cheering me lately, other than fanmix CDs that Cabell gave me at WisCon: Songsmith remixes. I'm completely serious. Songsmith vs. Queen: "We Will Rock You" as bossa nova? A big-band Songsmith of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl". Bluegrass Eminem. "Synthpop is so 2008, so for 2009 the Killers are setting a new trend in light jazz." And best, Will Smith doing a bluegrass "Wild Wild West."

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!

Time to go back to that. Just five minutes...

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(6) : Rhythm Methods: Seeing the trailer for "Surrogates" put me onto this escalator:

  1. I don't say "philosophical zombie" nearly enough
  2. In the future, a "horse of a different color" will be a "brain in a differently-colored jar"
  3. "Brain in a Jar," to the tune of the Saturday Night Live classic "Dick in a Box":

    One: Twist open a jar
    Two: Put your brain in that jar
    Three: Make her wire up the jar
    And that's the way we do it
  4. You can also sing "Ahmadinejad" to the tune of "Dick in a Box"
  5. Any phrase that scans like "I'm rockin' the suburbs" will also fit "American Woman," and possibly vice-versa
  6. The titles of both Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon are truncated double dactyls, thus rendering them suitable for either "American Woman" or "Rockin' the Suburbs" filking
  7. Ergo:

    I'm Masoning Dixon
    Just like Thomas Pynchon did
    I'm Masoning Dixon
    Except that he was talented
    Gravity's Rainbow!
    Stay away from mee-eee
    Gravity's Rainbow!
    You're a complex reeee-eeead
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: Dude, Where's My G'Kar?: I miss watching Babylon 5 for the first time.

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: "But It Might Work For Us": Quote Of The Day: "If code is free, why not me? Well, maybe some kind of gated source model..."

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(2) : Oh That Sheldon!: Someday I need to check whether I enjoy "The Big Bang Theory" when I am not on an airplane.

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(1) : 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.

"Shhhh. Your secretes safe with me...." starts off:

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.
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(2) : Out-Of-Context Quotes Of The Moment: "Pretend you're in a giant teacup." "Why?!" "You just are."

"It's like you have an 'it's complicated' in Facebook with yourself."

"You should delicious that tweet - NOOOooooooo....."

"Riker's so boring I'm falling asleep just talking about him."

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: 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.

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(9) : 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:

"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?
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(3) : If You Read This To The End You Get To See Inside My Marriage: I watched the interview Jon Stewart did with Jim Cramer a few weeks ago. If you're the kind of person who loves Jon Stewart's work, you probably heard about it.

Stewart's key critiques of CNBC:

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.

Salon followed up on many of these substantive critiques, not just following the blast and noise of Media Titan Confrontation. "On "Mad Money," Cramer back to normal": he was contrite on the Daily Show, then the next day he minimized the whole thing and kept on doing his normal schtick. More insidiously, "There's nothing unique about Jim Cramer: The mindless complicity in disseminating false claims is not aberrational media behavior; it is, as they acknowledge, the crux of what they do." Greenwald compares recent finance reporting to prewar Iraq reporting.*

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!

* Salon, ProPublica, New Assignment, and similar ventures are trying to do good journalism that avoids the inherent blindspots of traditional mass media. In a similar vein, I'm fond of Fred Clark's suggestion that a Work section replace the Business section.

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(7) : 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).

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(3) : 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."

My inventions:

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?
  1. Here's a ritual that happens in millions of American families every day.
  2. 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.
  3. OK, here's something that we did not expect. Check this out.
  4. Our enemies are in hiding.
  5. Steamed food is cooked with steam.
  6. Here's my seventh grade teacher's sad fate.
  7. No matter who you are, life is all about making choices.
  8. So how many years were you an executioner in your job?
  9. Lately it seems like everyone is talking about value.
  10. It used to be, if something was big news, it got turned into a song.
  11. We don't get to use the word "jumbo" very often.
Answers in comments.

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(3) : Two 101-Word Stories Inspired By Fred von Lohmann's Talk Last Night:


Most clients sounded more stressed and less grammatical than this guy. "Why did YouTube take down a video without soundtrack music? I didn't break any copyrights, did I?"

"You came to the right effing lawyer," O'Porter smirked, though technically EFF had fired him when he kept calling Seth a "Latin hunk." "Let's see it."

The stranger clicked Play and swiveled his laptop. O'Porter watched hamsters and tried to hear the words under the strange hiss --

Seth David Schoen closed the lid, peeled off his mask, and walked away from O'Porter's body. Really, breaking the Content-ID tool was just a bonus.


"I'm saying, 'Leibnitzian Python wonder-language that contains no ambiguity' was a JOKE, not a spec."

"So he was a jester-philosopher, the Birbal of his day."

"I think Colbert, Haskins or Stewart --"

"If code is law, shouldn't law be code? And who'll port it but us?"

"But it's the Cyc problem. We write legislation using subjective moral distinctions that change over time. Barring Seldon-level sociological prediction, your version 1 architecture is going to include something as abhorrent to future Americans as slavery is to us. Worst. Legacy. Code. Ever."

"Not if CSAIL works with us," said the dean of MIT Law.

Also inspired of course by Leonard and by Brendan. Very much not inspired by anything Seth or anyone at the Electronic Frontier Foundation has ever done.

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(5) : Skills And Lenses: A few models I've happened upon recently:

I started thinking about these models while chatting with friends and acquaintances near and far. Man, sociability is awesome.

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(1) : Garth Marenghi's IT Crowd: Matt Berry and to a lesser extent Richard Ayoade went from Darkplace to The IT Crowd basically playing the same characters. If Matthew Holness showed up he could be an efficiency consultant.

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(1) : New Year's Inspiration:

40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes.

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(1) : 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. [Obligatory ephemeral links 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.

Happy Dog the Happy Dog would be pleased.

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.

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: 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.

We've been watching Sarah Haskins's Target: Women religiously (2:12 to 2:30 reliably makes Leonard belly laugh) but I've also gotten him into Ben Ehrlich's Viral Video Film School. These are both segments on infoMania from Current, so we tried the most recent episode of the whole show and liked it fairly well. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are about pinpointing the ridiculous and meditating upon it, while infoMania only does that kind of media critique in its genre-specific segments. Conor Knighton, the host, is more about snarky drive-bys. In that, infoMania is more like a video-enabled Suck than anything else.

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: That's The Story I Heard: All our music -- ripped CDs, Creative Commons stuff, ripped tapes, and Amazon MP3 purchases -- now lives in the MythTV media center that Leonard built, making for about 3 days of music. I recently used the MythMusic documentation to create playlists and install pretty visualizations. Our party soundtrack now leaves out Patton Oswalt, Steve Martin, and Frank Zappa.

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
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: 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."

Me early in the day, before I became utterly bedraggled. After posting my session proposals, I got up [literally] before the group [tweet] to convince people to vote for my proposals with their happy face stickers.

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:

  1. 2pm: Powerpoint Karaoke
  2. 11pm: You, Yes You, Can Do Standup
  3. 8am: Zany Insta-Debates
  4. 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, some approval, and chickens.

Anthony Stevens's liveblog touches on how awesome Tom Music's self-help parody session "Winners Never Lose" became. Like spontaneous experimental theater, jazz meets sketch comedy.

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.

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: Yay For HOWTOs: Am running You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy. Going well! Then at 8 I run spar, then at 9 the political science talk. Which means Keynote time somewhere in the next 7 hours.

I feel like Mel Chua, which makes sense since I ran into a mutual friend of hers here.

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: Subconscious Homophone: The other day someone said the phrase "Edge Case" and I thought he'd said my name.

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(2) : 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.

In that spirit: My sister and I often relax by watching the Apple movie trailers site. We're not alone. Alyson & Dave and Susie & John use trailers for a cheap date. So I got all taste-test when I saw Hulu's new trailers page. Here's an ad for The Other End of the Line, a cross between One Night @ The Call Center and Bride and Prejudice.

The last joke is the funniest.

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(2) : If The Election Debates Were Like High School Debate:

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: 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.

"You sound like Jason Bourne."

"I feel like Joseph K."

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: Less Humor Content Than One Chainsawsuit: Upon the suggestion that Leonard's daily Skype status meeting would be mistaken for a radio call-in show:

"Hi, I have an '89 Miata and the XML just doesn't work right. I've tried flushing my carburetor and my cache and it still makes a sound like 'Eurrrrrrrrrghgagaga.'"

"That sounds like the sound my brother makes when you hit him with a sharp object!"

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: Slice-N-Dice: If only Saved By The Bell had produced a Lifetime movie. Maybe once Project Runway moves to Lifetime they'll get rid of Klum and Gunn and replace them with Rosie O'Donnell and Screech.

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(2) : Sarah Haskins: Possibly the best link from The Morning News in the last year was Ms. Gallagher's recommendation of Sarah Haskins's "Target: Women" humor videos. I especially recommend the analytical Chick Flicks, the spot-on absurdist Yogurt, and the seriously deadpan Birth Control.

How can a great Chicago comedian not have a website? What am I missing? Sarah Haskins, in case you egosurf, I hope you play in NYC soon so I can babble praise at you in person.

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(2) : Make The Eagle Bigger: You may have heard about information architect Sean Tevis running for state office in Kansas. He worked on the campaign logo himself. If you're looking for silly stories about the campaign trail, there you are.

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.

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(1) : 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.

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: Service, Cont.: Jury duty continues. Yesterday I called myself a prude and was called a prune. It all works out.

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: Note To Self: Write web quiz: "Highlander episode title, Star Trek episode title, or both?"

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: 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?

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: Work Quip: "Tuesdays With Morrie? Didn't that turn out to be fabricated?"

"He didn't really meet those five people in heaven."

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: New Word: Angst + maelstrom = angstrom.

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: Litmus Quest: "But is it art?"

"Well, it must be art, because it has an obnoxious Flash interface."

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: 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."

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: 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.

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: 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.

Leonard (entering): Wait, what's my alleged flaw?
Sumana: You're incapable of love!
Leonard: Don't talk about our son, Martha!
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(1) : Said At Work: "So it turns out I coulda bought Bear Stearns."

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(2) : 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?"

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(2) : Ribbit: What a difference between "Mike can probably do this today" and "Mike can probably do this toady."

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: 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.

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: From Work Today: After a very long conference call: "I've lost some acuity. I'm not the same person you hired....That experience was like the opposite of meditation."

"Crazy Bread. So 'crazy' means 'has cheese in it'?..." "Emotionally Disturbed Bread!" "Why does my bread come in a jacket?"

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: Hoodies Are Enough to Justify ASBOs, Right?: Walking back from dinner, passing the park benches. "Oh good, the ne'er-do-wells are gone."

"There's a couple of guys there."

"Yes, but they're wearing baseball caps, not hoodies."

"You're wearing a hood!"

"I'm wearing a hooded jacket. Ne'er-do-wells wear hooded sweatshirts."

"Look, I don't want to deny your Gift Of Fear, but..."

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(1) : Punchline That Goes With Two [Admittedly Related] Jokes: I discovered the second joke this morning and Leonard demanded I blog it because of its relevance to one of his thousand obsessions.

What did the duck say to the barman? "Just put it on my bill!"

What did Disco Duck say to the cocaine dealer? "Just put it on my bill!" [because that's where the nostrils are]

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: (Kazoo Sound): I like to do productive things on New Year's Eve/Day. Today I burned through a hundred new channel submissions in the Miro video podcast guide. Cool discovery: Cinemaniacal, featuring the Unisphere making-of short and short Superman films from the 1940s.

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.

Happy New Year!

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(2) : 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 and bookmark a variety of decks. Languages the speaker doesn't know are GREAT. Leonard had success doing searches for buzzwords and jargon, 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:

For play: give each volunteer a time limit. Half as many minutes as there were slides worked for us, and going over 7 minutes got boring. If the slides run out but there's still time, have a Q&A!

Some slides suck in boring ways, but nearly every slide can turn into gold. I boo at on players who completely skip slides without giving at least a joking explanation.

Alternate versions that we didn't try:

And tell me how it goes!

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(4) : Collection of SkyMall (TravelMall) Humor: SkyMall has inspired a lot of parodies and homages. There's the SkyMaul book and the Coulton song, item-by-item mockery, a Penny Arcade comic, more of an essay, and airplane-travel-specific item-by-item mockery. Those are the links I've collected over the past few months; if you know of more good SkyMall (or TravelMall if you're on a bus or train) humor, post it in the comments.

Also: if you run out of Rachel Chalmers, read her old Advogato diary.

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: Upcoming Heather Gold Show: In the middle of my finals so I shouldn't go, but you should; the Law Project has serious promise.

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(1) : More Taboo Wizardry: Leonard was trying to get us to guess "TV Guide." He said it was an empirical method for discovering what's on. I shouted, "Calling a guy?"

Evan heard this and suggested we make a Taboo card for the phrase "Calling A Guy", where one of the Taboo phrases is "empirical method."

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: Don't Forget Umbrellas From The Accessory Wall: Today I imitated Heidi Klum.

"Top American designer Michael Kors....Nina Garcia, fashion editor for Elle Magazine...and our guest judge, Mary Poppins."

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(3) : "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:

  1. Anytime we saw Inara's quarters, especially after "Jaynestown" halfway through the series, I intoned: "Pan-Asian Theatre now continues."
  2. In "Shindig," when Atherton Wing angrily gestures with Inara to leave the ball with him, Leonard supplied his line: "My arm! Candyless!?"
  3. 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."
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(1) : No Way That's Ruby On Rails: You Know You're A Geek When you see a trailer for Untraceable and immediately wonder what sort of infrastructure can scale like that.

Also, the government could just make up a copyright infringement claim and send a DMCA takedown notice.

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(1) : Health And Art: I hate owing more than one blog entry to someone. One seems reasonable, two seems sloppy. So here's the first of a couple responses to my old pal Zed Lopez -- improvisateur, author of the kind of thing that becomes an email forward, and Clarion grad.

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.

Brendan: was that last para transparent?

Okay. The harder one in a few days.

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(1) : 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.

But that's all stuff you can get from watching the show, or reading nonfiction commentary. The Daily Show/Colbert Report fanfic brings subtexts to the surface. Sometimes it's just porny fanservice slash, fulfilling Wally Holland's critique. Or HOT fanservice. But sometimes you get psychological meat.

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).

The best discussion, then, is a fan video: "Don't Stop Me Now/Don't stop me/'cause I'm having a good time!" Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" juxtaposed with three and a half minutes of Colbert breaking character. The character breaks are almost never outbreaks of seriousness when he's forcing jollity. It's his genuine pleasure breaking the serious mask.

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.

Speaking of which, disturbing comments on a behind-the-scenes clip. People express their shock that it's an act. Liar! they cry. Or -- and I quote -- "HAHA! colbert exposed!there u go stupid liberals"


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!"

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(3) : Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Making Out: Once upon a time, I watched that OK Go treadmill video once a day for a week because it cheered me so. I'm currently there with times Stephen Colbert has broken character, set to "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen. Evidently "Don't Stop Me Now" is a popular montage tune on YouTube, mayhap inspired by that scene from Sean of the Dead.

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.

If you don't know about slash and other fan fiction variants, or even if you do, there's no better intro than essays by Teresa Nielsen Hayden (whom I still haven't met!), such as: "Fanfic": force of nature; Squick and squee; Namarie Sue; and finally Punditslash. There is also a relevant xkcd cartoon in which the critical impulse turns into the creative impulse in four panels.

In case you think all slash is wrong, let me introduce you to the Very Wrong Slash community on LiveJournal. But what makes slash "wrong"? In the immortal Arrested Development distinction of "hot wrong" vs. "regular wrong," slash is only regular wrong if the author can't make her borrowed characters' actions believable. And it's easier to write fiction that's hot wrong using borrowed characters, because subversive and hot is like metahumor -- it works best when it's subverting something you have always taken for granted, not just taking a newly introduced idea one step further. And that varies by reader, like any taste or kink.

Example: I found this explicitly sexual Goofus & Gallant slash a little unbelievable, and it didn't overturn my mental furniture. In contrast, the moment I saw the name "Alton Brown" I said "Oh my God" aloud.

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.

See, that helps you calibrate your standards for wrongness. Test yourself on this premise: alternate universe slash where Sarah Vowell, the casts of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Anderson Cooper, Keith Olbermann, and Tina Fey attend a high school where Jerry Seinfeld and Will Ferrell teach. Or crossover Colbert Report-Harry Potter fanfic (no sex, mind) where the Stephen Colbert persona is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Might it be hot-wrong in some nonsexual sense of the word "hot"? It's certainly funny.

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?

Nope. Maybe it's my generation and the affordances of technology, including how we determine what is important or relevant. But smarter theorists than I, not least The Presidents of the United States of America, have long noted that all work is at least a little derivative. We emulate role models, we pass along memes, and we share. OK Go borrowed most of those treadmills.

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(2) : They're Everywhere: When ironic/sarcasm scare quotes meet signmakers who use quotation marks for emphasis, you have the "Quotation Mark" Abuse photo pool (found via every damn blog ever).

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: No Surprise: As of right now, the DonorsChoose site is not terribly responsive.

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: 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."

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: 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.

By the way, in November Daisey is performing his "Great Men of Genius" quartet again, in New York. I never got to see the P.T. Barnum one, and would love to see them all over again.

Update on Sunday the 23rd: Nope, won't be performing. The show got moved to Wednesday, when I have a class. Blargh.

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(1) : To Write: Business Lessons From The Mahabharata:

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: Froggy Went A-Suing: Leonard and I recorded our suggestions for updates to the "Mmm-hmm" motif in "Froggy Went A-Courtin'".

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(1) : 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.

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: Re: Microsoft Research: "Isn't it amazing that someone would create their own Xerox PARC and then treat it exactly as everyone treated Xerox PARC?" -me

Also by me: "J2EE: designed by committee, and used by committee."

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: Catenary: While reading Leonard's retrospective of the future, I had reason to ask, "what's a catenary?"

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."

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: Just Look Away: My first lolcat is one for Ron Paul, which logically makes it a RonLOL. I r serious candidate/this r serious debate

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(1) : Making Us Feel Old: People born in 1991 are now old enough to drive in California.

Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted twenty years ago.

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: Up Late Writing Dox: Diagram of machines and their locations, or diagram of machines and their LOLcations?

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(1) : Confluence of Fun: Saturday, June 16th: A friend of mine is in a play in Washington, DC. An interesting metal band plays a park in Astoria. And Slightly Known People leads several area sketch comedy groups in covering classic skits. I can only do one of these, but wouldn't it be awesome if my friends went to the others and reported back?

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: Talkin' 'bout Slang or Canon?: "Achewood is in the same universe as Brick."

"Is it also in the same universe as St. Elsewhere?"

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: Am I The Only One?: When a blog refers to "the Maliki government" I sometimes misread it as "the Malki government".

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: QOTD: "You can't destroy the master's house with the master's tools; it's against the tools' EULA."

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(1) : Want a Danish? I can see by the look on your face that you've got ringworm.: You have probably already seen that you can download Van Morrison's entire contractual obligation album or just view the lyrics. But Michael, Evan, and Stuart hadn't known of it, and none of us had heard any of it, until yesterday. Some observations.

  1. 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.
  2. 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".
  3. Leonard, could you put in the comments or something what Evan wrote in response to this music? The ones about ennui and the void?
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: 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."

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(1) : Next Up: A. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address Deck: We need more videos of Powerpoint Karaoke.

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?

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(1) : "Stephen watched the samosa being smothered.": I have posted over 160 links, without meaning to accumulate such a repository, to the account that Leonard and I share. Here's something that might not get posted there: the Colbert/Stewart slash that made me think Colbert/Stewart slash was awesome. I've been thinking JS/SC is the One True Pairing; what's all this Colbert/Olbermann nonsense? More evidence of OTP status from SilentAuror.

I assume people who regularly read and write slash about real-life celebrities, especially ones they admire, have some well-articulated set of ethics about it -- I'd appreciate knowing about it.

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: Even My High School Chemistry Teacher Liked "Frasier": From a reference on Jaime Weinman's MacLeans blog: parts 1 and 2 of the Frasier episode "Ham Radio" (the YouTube links in the original Weinman post don't work anymore).

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: And How Did That Work Out?: World-Famous Leonard from a Salon article three years ago:

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.

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: 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!

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: Conflation -> Comedy: Edward James Olmos + Admiral William Adama =

Does Eddie Adama have a deal for you?! Just look at the prices on this Raptor! Why are my prices so low? I have no choice. Just come on down to Crazy Eddie's; SO SAY WE ALL!

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: QOTD: In a discussion about She-Hulk #1 this morning: "Robert's Rules of Order are not a suicide pact." -Leonard.

Thanks for the recommendation, Zed.

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: Earworm Alert: "I'm Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer" by Atom & His Package. Has a faint kinship with the Ben Folds/Shatner version of "Common People."

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: "Deferred Success" = "Failed": The other day I referred to poop as "the deliverable." More "Performance evaluation euphemisms invading everyday speech (ironically)" from Raymond Chen's blog.

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: "World Phenomena Worry Me": The more things change...

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: 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?

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: An Exercise: "I think that's how you get stronger, is working through the pain."

"Not if you die!"

"You might fall over, yeah. But that's just ... heightening the contradictions. It's a Leninist model of personal fitness."

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(1) : From An Insane Tech Support Call Today: "Lovecraft once wrote a short story called 'At the Mountains of Madness.'"

"I cross those every day!"

"Yeah, we've built a highway through those mountains."

Filed under:

: 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!"
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: 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."

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: I Am Not A Janus: Leonard reassured me that the baby Nixon did not exist and look who's talking now!

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: Swingline, Sweet Stapler: A sensical-in-context quote from a friend: "I feel like Milton in Office Space, but people are piling staplers on my desk."

More Miltonage.

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: Two MC Masala Columns: Tips on small talk and my experience seeing "The Daily Show" get taped. Mildly entertaining.

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: Applying Capsaicin Topic: Today I ate most of a small can of sliced pickled jalapeno peppers. A colleague commented that I looked flushed. Yes, I'm fine. Hoo boy.

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(1) : MC Masala on Comics:

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.

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: Selected Cat And Girl: Sometimes I feel like Ozymandias and sometimes I feel like the hot dog is ignoring me.

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(1) : Flippant Snippets: The best of Overheard in the Office includes firings, drug tests, blasphemy, ninjas, Ann Coulter, complaint, employee recognition, and delighting your customers. I have submitted a couple but they aren't headsmack enough.

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(1) : Fictional Wikipedia Categories: Fictional eggplants | Famous complaints | Excel spreadsheets | Times of day | This animal can talk

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(1) : MC Masala on Sketch And Standup: Zed, I paraphrase you in this one.

My guess: It takes so much effort to write and hone a skit that too many writers and actors are reluctant to give up on a subpar one.
Filed under:

: 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?

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: Quote Of The Day: Right after the sysadmin solves a five-hour problem with an obscure SQL Server command (sp_updatestats):

Me: Is that something you have to do manually, or something that it automatically updates every once in a while?

System Administrator: I'm not sure. I'd have to do some research on that. I wish I could give you a real, scientific answer on that right now --

Me: We don't hire you for science. We hire you for Black Art.

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: Quote Of The Day: "He has, y'know, integrity."
"Yeah, see where that'll get him."
"I'll tell you what it's not gonna get him: LEGO Mindstorms."

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: Quote of the Day: "I was trying to determine your role. Are you a baby or a dinosaur? Those are the only two options."

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: Sucker For Covers: If I time it right, I can force thepAvedearth to play song after song by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

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: 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."

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: Quote of the Day: "There, there. It's ok. There's no baby Nixon."

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: Wanted: An eruv for free speech zones.

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: Non-Mohammed-Related Cartoons: Thanksgiving with the family, rulebreaking reduction, aspects of your personality.

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: Milquetoast Mainframe Japery: How IBM Trains Its Mainframe Sales Force. Found when I finally realized, "Hey, instead of trying to guess from context what this particular author means by 'mainframe,' I can look up the generally accepted definition and derive stuff from there."

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: Julia Sweeney Coming Back: Julia Sweeney's amazing show "Letting Go of God" is returning to Ars Nova starting Oct. 19th. It closes on Oct. 29th. I'd love to see it again.

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: Seen Today: An IKEA lamp set out with the trash on the curb.

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: Whooo, Sorkin: Okay, if Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will consistently be at least this good, I'll watch. At least, Sorkin.

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: You Know You're In A Business Class If: I read about the Dominion's polaron beams and the ease with which DS9 learned to defend against them, and thought, "what was the net present value of that technology investment?"

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: Textbook Example: "When developing a business model, do not forget to think about how this model will generate revenue."

-Information Technology: Strategic Decision Making for Managers by Henry C. Lucas, Jr.

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: Triumphs: Will Franken blew everyone away last night at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.

Yesterday I got a couple of laughs at the lunch table with, "Well, they don't call it Moderate Programming."

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: 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:

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: Sometimes I forget that Woot exists. It's a deal a day. And it's a podcast. Today: "I Never Got to Tell You Dude, Youre Gonna Get Yourself Killed (Song for the Crocodile Hunter)", which rhymes "mourn ya" and "warn ya" but not "California."

By the way: Leonard's sister Rachel got the "woot" nickname long before it became a meme.

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: 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!

I've reserved a ticket for Will at the Upright Citizens Brigade next week and am about to reserve my ticket for the Oct. 5th opening of Mike Daisey's "TRUTH: {the heart is a million little pieces above all things}" at Ars Nova.

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: House, S.D. (Senior Developer): Verity Stob writes a House episode about debugging.

"Is this part of the differential diagnosis?"

"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."

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: Leonardisms: "Support The Arts; Bring Them Home Now"

"Employees Are Our Greatest Operating Expense"

Upon being asked, "Do you want me to take your name, honey?": "No, I'm using it!"

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: 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!

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: LOLOL: LOL inflation destroys semantics root and branch. ROFLMAO.

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: 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.

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: 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!

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: Dragging Everyone I Know To See: Will Franken! September 7th-28th he tours NYC, including a couple of stops at my usual haunt Rififi.

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: Disturbing Slash Pairing: Keynes/Galbraith.

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: Means of Production: The Poor Man says funny things about Mel Gibson and Daniel Davies causes me to enter this post in three of my four blog categories (Comedy, Religion, and Taxes).

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.

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: 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."

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: 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.

Filed under:

: Disturbing Comp Sci Porn Title: The Mythical Month-Man

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: Daring To Eat A Peach: Evidently comedian Will Franken is doing a podcast, and a very entertaining one at that. Man, I hope I get to see a show of his sometime soon.

His audio/video sample page includes "We Are All John Kerry Tonight," which still makes me laugh out loud.

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: Towards Less Sucky Management And Standup Comedy: Perhaps NYC has more opportunities for beginning standup than I'd thought. My sketch needs I fulfill with Slightly Known People every Saturday night, and once in a while The Whitest Kids You Know (although they have a scatology joke or two that really makes me nauseous) (and no women). But there's enthusiastically mediocre stand-up out there. Aziz Ansari, Laurie Kilmartin, and Ted Alexandro make for wonderful exceptions.

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.

Filed under:

: An Other Roundup: The Muslim comic boom! Includes a few jokes Muslims tell about themselves.

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.'"

Hugo Schwyzer, a soccer fan, has a fresh take on the Materazzi/Zidane incident from the World Cup final. Materazzi almost certainly made a racially charged insult to provoke Zidane. Schwyzer comments,

I am a white, Christian, heterosexual male.... There isn't a single term in English that you can use that attacks me for being who I am.
Yet another part of being Other -- the epithets hurt more, and there are more of them.

Ben, once Barbara Barres, automatically gets more respect. Joan Roughgarden, once Jonathan, automatically gets less. N.C. Andreasen's papers get published; Nancy Andreasen's don't. In psychiatry, in neurobiology, in lots of academe, this happens. Trans people, like immigrants, can tell us more about the color of the water we live in.

"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."
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: 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:

In apology, here is a joke Seth told me: The name of Ubuntu Linux comes from an old African word meaning "can't install Debian."
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: Hey Catholics: Zed linked to something hilarious re: Catholicism and that Dan Brown novel. Brendan already knows about this LiveJournal, but Claudia might not.

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: It Could Be Worse: From the often-worth-reading Coding Horror: fear of mustard and pickles.

Filed under:

: "the flautists and piccoleers become angry": Today in history: Leonard interviews someone for fake in a post so hilarious that it was one of the first entries in his Best Of category.

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: Leonard Quote: I asked, in our incredibly hot apartment, "Why are only some of your [shirt] buttons buttoned?"

Response: "Oh, I take life as it comes."

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: 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."

Filed under:

: Joke: Babak told me a knock-knock joke the other day. It really only works if you do it in a non-US accent.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
George who?
George W. Bush!


Knock, knock.
Who's there?
George W. Bush.
George W. Bush who?
George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America!

I still find it funny, but I doubt it'll become the next Interrupting Cow. I must point you as well to a funnier knock-knock joke and a funnier Bush joke.

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: "I hate the UN so much!": Super News! amuses me greatly. I laughed out loud at the end of "Wacky Saddam Trial."

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: 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?

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: Entertainment Miscellany: Watched the new Spike Lee film The Inside Man tonight. It contains a subtle Bamboozled reference, constant wit, and unyielding suspense. Very good.

From dinner: "Michael Dell [in Direct from Dell] has ruined the word 'strategic' for me. Just like George W. Bush ruined 'freedom.'"

On the phone, I asked, "Is anything amiss?" and Leonard retorted, "You're not a Miss anymore!"

Jon Stewart, Tom Selleck, and Stephen Colbert are very funny men.

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: Nonobvious Stuff I May Do Now That I'm Married to Leonard:

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: 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."

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: Irregular Verb Conjugation: I have a healthy respect for the inherent viciousness of the feline.
You don't care for cats.
He's afraid of the kitty.

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: 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..."

Filed under:

: 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"?

Filed under:

: A New Theodicy: "If you don't like it, file a bug with God."

"That's it! The reason that bad things happen is that God doesn't have a copy of FogBugz."

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: Miscellany From The Last 36 Hours: "You could use Dissociated Press to generate the string and then reverse the tokens. Is 'tokens' the right word?" "Yes, it is." "YES!"

"What's the singular of vermin?"

Since people who arrive new and befuddled at Fog Creek are like children who walk into the middles of movies, I'm now a Donny.

"There's a difference between not caring what people think and not caring how people feel."

"I am pretty sure I am paraphrasing Bruce Schneier...."

"....since we're a Haskell shop."

"[A colleague] is awesome. But I respect his boundaries!"

Joe heard that I am probably going to learn Lisp soon, tried to think of reasons to use to dissuade me, then realized that he shouldn't.

Ed McMahon could be an oracle. If you tell him a statement and it's true, he says, "Heyo!" or "You are correct, sir." If it's false then he just sits impassively.

"I called to talk to you! You are an end, not a means!"

"Is there casinoness?"

[Awed silence, upon seeing and lightly touching the boxed set of the complete Calvin & Hobbes collection.]

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: Quote of the Day: "That's my meta-weakness: getting into situations where my weakness is applicable."

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: Heard Today on the 8th Floor of a Building: "It means a lot that you came today, overcoming snow...well, there's not that much snow now, really...overcoming, um, elevators..."

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: Misc: Penny Arcade does an ad for Copilot and Leonard foreshadows my fear.

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: 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: LOL
sumana: I told Leonard
sumana: he also laughed
nandini: he is the bf of the jelly fish
nandini: bfjf
Filed under:

: 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.

Filed under:

: 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.

Filed under:

: Goodbye, Will Franken: The only DVD I hadn't packed: Will Franken's Good Luck With It, which I foisted on John, Angel, Michael, and Julia.

I'm sorry, Terri. I can't do it. I may be God, but I'm no miracle worker. In fact, last week, I accidentally made a rock so heavy that even I couldn't lift it.
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: More Last Day Magic: Finalizing a billion things before I leave Salon for the last time. A horrible day to discover Overheard In The Office.

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: 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."

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: 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!'"

Filed under:

: More Cutting-Edge Comedy Theory: There are two classes of Your Mom jokes...

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: 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 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.

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: 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.
Wilson: Open doors for her, help her with her chair -
House: I have been on a date.
Wilson: 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.
House: [sarcastically] Did your wife give them to you?
Wilson: Drug rep. They got antibiotics built in, somehow.
House: I should cancel. I've got a patient in surgery tomorrow.
[House moves to the kitchen]
Wilson: And if you were a surgeon, that would actually matter. That's a good idea, settle your nerves. Get me a beer too.
House: No beer.
Wilson: You're gonna eat before dinner?
[House reaches into the fridge and takes out a corsage.]
House: This is pretty lame, right?
Wilson: 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.

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: 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.

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: 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."

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: Edutainment: I'm going to Will Franken's one-man show Good Luck With It tomorrow, and you should too (if you can). Tomorrow's performance includes an optional epilogue about Tookie Williams. I've confirmed with Will that Good Luck With It repeats on Sat., Dec. 10 and Sat., Dec. 17 at The Marsh.

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.

Joe and I saw Dr. Phil Zimbardo and a Polish filmmaker speak at the California Academy of Arts and Crafts this week. We got Zimbarded! Joe's account is quite adequate and I direct you to it, as well as to my other previous musings on the Stanford Prison Experiment.

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: Smart Dirty Jokes: Funny interview with an actor who's on Arrested Development. And another and another.

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: Music And Linking: Leonard is practicing a song that intentionally sounds like 1990s alt-rock. It makes me nostalgic every time he plays it.

Cute child anecdote!

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: Column and Moving Sale: MC Masala this week recounts the tale of the one and only hickey I've ever gotten.

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.

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: Nonexistent Shirt: Sumana: Should we dress up for Thanksgiving at your uncle's?
Leonard: No, we don't need to dress up.
Sumana: OK. I'll put on my ripped Poison t-shirt, then.

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: Women Have Hair, Men Don't: Sometimes Steven Frank draws women in a way I find charming. Examples: "she likes peeping on girls" and "if you only had this years ago".

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: Mike Daisey Makes Me Laugh: Slate published an excerpt from Mike Daisey's monologue Monopoly!. I may have embarrassed myself by guffawing at length in my cubicle.

Invincible Summer

By simultaneously exploring the bizarre history of the Manhattan Transit Authority's epic subway system and his own gawkish status as a new New Yorker, Mike Daisey tells the story of coming to a new city to make a new life in the last, hot, glorious summer before everything changed....

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!

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: Old Anagrams: I Will Alarm Islamic Owls and Hen Gonads still make me laugh.

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: Exception: I almost never link to deals. But this is a fantastic deal: both full seasons of Arrested Development for $31.94. Via Wil Wheaton's weblog.

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: Yep, That's Optimus Prime: I'm transcribing some comics from Spamusement!. It's made me pay more attention to the details and buried assumptions in many strips, e.g., "its not even funny when you do that".

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: 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."

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: 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."

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: 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.

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: 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."

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: Links Of The Morning, If Old: Doesn't a management training program for tech companies sound like a great idea? Also, how to get your resume read if you apply.

Almost three years later, even I have to strain to get the Berkeley-specific humor from my comedy routine during my appearance on Bear in Mind.

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: Quotable Quips: Today I found myself quoting Keynes or Galbraith, one of those: "In the long run we are all dead."

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: Decluttering: This week's MC Masala focuses on how to make more from less.

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.

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: "Waiting Waiting Waiting": I laughed out loud at Spamusement! today. Incidentally, the other web comics comprising my daily comic trawl are: Achewood; Toothpaste For Dinner; Something Positive; and Dinosaur Comics.

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: Fame For Jimbo, Trevor, et al.: Salon's newest Arts/Entertainment story: my interview with the writers of "Uncle Morty's Dub Shack."

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.
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: How TV Doesn't Work: Kenny Byerly is blogging intelligently about the sitcoms of the new TV season.

Yes, it's for laughs, but if you continually go for easy laughs at the expense of the show's reality, eventually the whole thing falls apart.
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: 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.

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: Instant-Messaging Tidbit Of The Day: Leonard: "i will put the auto-coffinfish on a war footing"

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: 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.

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: 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!
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: Spring Break: "Arrested Development" has gotten to me. I am now constitutionally incapable of yelling "Whooo!" without subsequently yelling, "Spring Break!" I'm not the only one.

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: Your Sense Of Disenchantment: "Holy!"

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: Nice Moment: The BART conductor told people getting off at Montgomery Station at 8:30am: "See you again in eight and a half hours."

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: Self-Plagiarism As Cannibalism: As I'd sort of warned you, my MC Masala column this week is about a silly anecdote. Specifically, I cannibalized a July weblog entry about seeing a mouse. Enjoy.

I slammed the bedroom door, immediately ceding the rest of the apartment to the mouse's dominion. This was no time for thoughtful action or empowering gestures. This was a time to freak out.
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: Spicy Quip: Upon seeing that Leonard had spilled peppercorns in the kitchen: "Are you making counter au poivre?"

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: 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.

I've written previous sonnets about chess and my dad.

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: 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.

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: Blah: E-commerce is hard. Let's go shopping.

Will see a preview of the filthiest movie ever tonight. John, Kristen, Susanna, etc. will definitely not want to see it.

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: Seth Stevenson Is Making Sense: "But the house was TOO SMALL!"

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: Comedy Reminder: Will Franken's new website tells me that he's performing two discrete shows this Saturday, the 30th. I tell you that I'm going to both shows. They take place at The Purple Onion in North Beach, which has a bunch of fun acts in the next few weeks.

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: 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."

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: Obligatory Franken Notice: "Not Quite Thought, Not Quite Speech" tonight at 8 at The Marsh.

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: Past Current Events + Tastelessness: This Year In Nepal: Hamlet II: Where is Everybody?

Subtitle: "What's all this blood on the floor?"

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: "Because I do not know what you are saying.": The LiveJournal customers_suck community has gotten me hooked and I have drawn Riana into my web of addiction. This Job Would Be Great If It Weren't For The Zombies: A Series Of Open Letters repays all my devotion.

...I am not deliberately hiding the smoked turkey from you, we just don't have any. I am not being racist, and if I wanted to, I would do it in a more aggressive way than hiding the smoked turkey....
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: 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.

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: Hail To The Remixer: I think every time Lawrence Lessig walks into a room a band should play a verse and refrain of "Blank Baby" by The Presidents Of The United States.

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: Amazingly, I Liked Everybody: Joe covers last night's show.

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.

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: Comedy & Column: Today's column yells at the standup comedians who infest SF's showcases for being lazy. Tonight I see Patton Oswalt with Joe at Cobb's.

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: Rubber Chickens: I'm going to ask Joe to tell me how accurate this standup comedy FAQ is.

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: Superstition: Even in correspondence, I avoid writing a number followed by an exclamation point, since that would be a factorial.

"Good news! He paid $35!"

after all really means

"Good news! He paid $1.0333148 x 1040."

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: 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.

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: More Comedy: I have a spare ticket to see Bill Santiago tonight at Cobb's in North Beach. If you want to come with me, email me.

Update: Off to the show! No one emailed. Do call if you still want it....

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: 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.

Update: As promised! Leonard and R speak out.

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: Double Masala: The posting of my column last week got messed up, so today I alert you to my column from last week (about not finding a hairdresser who'll cut my hair short) and this week's column (about cool comedy this month in SF). Enjoy.

P.S. Some baseline data for what I like in comedy: Life At Low Reynolds Number (which I found via the Nielsen Haydens).

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: Nonexistent Sue Grafton Book Title: B Is For Hepatitis

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: 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?

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: 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.

For the long weekend, a bunch of free essays by Susan Orlean, Michael Lewis, Calvin Trillin, et al.

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: $10 For Fifty Minutes Of Laughs: I'm seeing Will Franken at the Purple Onion tomorrow night - are you? I apologize in advance for how unfunny Bridget Schwartz will be.

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: 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:

The Microsoft and franchise story jokes are showing their age; I think Salon has now done both of those.

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: Grump: Why am I always getting up, every day? Why can't up get me sometimes?

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: YAYAYAYAY: Rachel C broke it to me: Fox renewed AD! The thought of losing Arrested Development and Star Trek hit me harder than I'd expected. I'm so glad AD is coming back!

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: 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.

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: 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.

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: 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.

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: On Removing Sweeping Generalizations: Me to an editor today:

"I know this paragraph makes me sound arrogant. But I'm right!"



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: "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.

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: Made Me Laugh And Sniffle: Saw the Hitchhiker's Guide movie and liked it far more than I thought I would! I especially understood Zaphod, Trillian, and Adams's joyful atheism more than I ever had before. Recommended.

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: Good Luck With It: Come see Will Franken tomorrow night at the Marsh.

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: I Did Not Write The Headline: Today's MC Masala presents humorous and baffling moments of cross-cultural confusion.

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.

Some anecdotes, then, to amuse and warn you.

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: Before Copernicus: I had this very belief!

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: Yeah: On BART I stood next to three speakers of Russian. I understood maybe every fifth word in Russian, but a few specific phrases in English:

Also, just as English speakers say "yeah" instead of "yes," Russian speakers will make the sound "d" instead of saying "da."

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: Kneel-Down Comic: Just got to tell someone the most classic riddle (the Sphinx one about "Four legs in the morning..."). He didn't know the answer.

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: Fetch!: Pupna is a joke search engine.

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: 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.

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: Litigious Fairy-Tale Queens: From The Fact-Checker's Bible by Sarah Harrison Smith, pgs. 74-75:

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...."
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: gH: When dismayed, we often say "Gah." If I'm quite dismayed, I'll say "Gaah" or even "Gaaaahhhh!". But how can we quantify our dismay more precisely and accurately?

gH is a measuring tool for dismay. Its scale is akin to the pH scale of alkalinity and acidity.

7 = no dismay.
0 = dismay at murder, rape, and other such awful, barbaric behavior.
14 = dismay at Precious Moments figurines and other such sappy glurge.

Yes, a typo in an instant messaging conversation inspired this model. Coleridge only wishes he was on AIM.

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: Fame, I Want To Live Forever: Neat! Heather Gold has extended her one-woman show through April. If you'd like to go, let me know and I'll try to hook you up.

Heather's site now includes a QuickTime trailer, featuring my disembodied voice introducing Heather in the first half-second.

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: 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.

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: Question Marks: Unitarian Universalist jokes and a Satanism joke: "Satanism seems to be an elaborate prank designed to annoy Christians while having some good parties ... rather than a system one could practically live by."

The classics AND contemporary media sometimes show people doing immoral things, and sometimes we see that these actions lead to their downfall. Kristen, you ask why certain books become classics, and whether classics that portray immoral behavior are smut. I've never understood what smut is. I think smut would be pornography that didn't care about a story or characters. The classics care about story.

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.

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: 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!"

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: 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?".

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: More Theology Comedy: I've never seen Dr. Who and yet all references to Daleks crack me up. Also Triffids.
He'll say it for all of us.
Calling Steve Schultz: this one mentions Ultraman!

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: CJ Cregg Is Nicer: Jokes from the press gaggle. The White House reporter pool and White House press secretary possibly like each other but also feel very bitter about their relationship.

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: You Can't Fire Me, I'm Water: Via Leonard, a bunch of jokes. Speaking of jokes, I'm seeing Will Franken on Wednesday at 8 at the Marsh on Valencia here in San Francisco. I urge you to come for his new one-man show.

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.

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: Conversation: "I was just pointing out another reason that I'm right, and I think you should take that in the spirit in which it was intended."

"I think I did!"

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: Ace of Base, Eat Your Heart Out: As a sucker for Beatles and Beatles-esque music, I have now listened agape to a mash-up of several Beatles songs and this video for a "Paperback Writer"/"I'm a Believer" mix.

By the way, the only hip-hop I can stand is the nerdcore of MC Frontalot.

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: "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.

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: 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.

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: 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.

I'm planning on seeing Mr. Franken perform this weekend. But I also have to make room for Josh Kornbluth; I have read The Mathematics of Change and now I will have a chance to see it at The Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center. Come see them with me, people.
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: More Links: I hadn't considered these ethical questions in sign-language whistleblowing. Also, laugh-out-loud Lockhorns criticism.

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: Quick Links: "Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake" always makes me cry.

Things That Don't Exist. The video is also cool.

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: 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.

What in life is sweeter than the phrase: "OK, you were right!"?

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!"

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: Already!: I'm not READY! Could I have another month?

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: 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.

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: Egg/Cookie Redux: Advance tickets to the Egg/Cookie show are available and relatively cheap, and the show is fun. It's returning in January and February of 2005.

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: Continuity!: Hahahaha.

Also, hahaha!

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: Sorry, Sophomore English Teachers: To Kill A Mockingbird, a Flash movie that tops all other book reports.

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: Media Matters: Tim Goodman turned me on to Arrested Development and it is awesome and I love it. Even Leonard likes it. Something aside from The West Wing and Star Trek that I can watch with Leonard! It is so great.

Currently reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, which is also fantastic, detailed and observant.

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: White Shirt - No Marinara, Please: I feel drained after a day of meetings. There is a party later where others may attempt to get me sauced. Evidently I am pasta.

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: Happy Nostalgia: Quotes from the old Batman TV series.

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: 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".

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: Thanks, Professor Bishop: I'm watching Atul Gawande talk about "The Imperfect Science of Medicine". Actually, I am listening to his speech to distract part of my brain from the boring boring customer service stuff so I can do it without having to take as many breaks.

Gawande refers to a woman as "measuring out her days in coffee spoons." I recognized it! I'm edumicated!

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: Unitarians Be Walkin' Down The Street Like This: Instant Messaging with Leonard about religion:

Sumana: I found out why they don't take vows and oaths
Leonard: uus?
Sumana: no, Quakers
Sumana: sorry
Sumana: no, UUs don't take oaths because they don't believe anything is true
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: An Incredibly Unbalanced Inflation Index: "PNC also calculates a core index, excluding the six swans a-swimming, because the price of swans is so volatile."

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: Spilling the Beans (Into the Soaking Water): An incredibly funny Good Eats moment: "Okay, they won't explode."

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: More Than Reading Schneier At Lunch, This Reveals My Geekiness: Today I suddenly got mad about the Mercator Projection.

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: 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.
KIMBALL: Uh-huh.
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.
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: I Hope to Go: Will Franken hits the Odeon tonight.

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: He Is The Franken. I Must Go.: Tonight I go to see Will Franken (more detailed, if more ephemeral, description) at the Punchline comedy club near Embarcadero BART station. Come one, come many!

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: 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.

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: Google Ads Come Through Again: "Sexy Chordate Singles"! I hope so.

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: 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."

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: Yes, It's In The Tenderloin: C.W. Nevius's personal essay handwringing in the Chronicle will find its way into the wringing hands of many a high school student. Great dark humor in the ending.

Tonight I watch Will Franken at 50 Mason.

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: Come With?: I'm going to both Will Franken shows this week.

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: 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."

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: More Jon Stewart Obsessiveness: A Jon Stewart quotes page.

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.

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: Want More Profane Rants?: I bought America: The Book by the writers of The Daily Show. It is a jewel. It actually disturbs Leonard to hear my cynical laugh several times per minute while reading that thing. A sample from the audiobook.

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: "Why would I write my own epitaph?": In yet more Jon Stewart worship, an Amazon interview about the new Daily Show book.

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: 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."

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: Dot-Com Shocker: Someone spelled "unsubscribe" correctly!

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: 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!

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: No Coins With Holes In The Middle?: Oh yeah, back in the US you tip at restaurants.

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: Leonard: "Man, Jesus is so picky": Via Body And Soul, "Church Denies 8-Year-Old's Non-Wheat Communion". "An 8-year-old girl who has a rare digestive disorder and cannot consume wheat has had her first Communion declared invalid because the wafer contained none." Next up: the withering of the Fig Newton.

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: 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
  • Wired: Wire
  • 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.

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    : 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!

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    : 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.

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    : After the Weekend I Won't Be As Bitter: Six dollars.

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    : 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.

    No play this weekend. What, a weekend to myself?

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    : 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.

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    : 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.

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    : Listening To: Outside the Inbox, songs based on spam subject lines.

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    : Post-Weekend Update: My performance evaluation went fine. Evidently I am doing a very good job but we still have ideas for goals and improvements.

    My haircut makes me look like Anjali from Alison Bechdel's strip.

    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.

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    : "You're as manly as the manliest tree on the Isle of Man.": One of the best Five-Minute Enterprises yet: Hatchery.

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    : 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.

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    : How Could I Have Missed This?: Josh Kornbluth interviews Richard Yancey (Love And Taxes monologuist and Confessions ex-tax-collector, respectively).

    I guess the answer is that I missed it because I only bothered to register at the Washington Post two weeks ago.

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    : "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.

    Well, a brighter shade of brown.

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    : 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.

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    : She Said Yes: "Told that a banner would take two days to print, Mike grabbed some colored file folders and improvised a simple sign. The next day, as he crossed the stage, he kneeled and held it up for the entire Greek Theatre audience to see: "MARRY ME Jackey!!!"

    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.

    But these stories still make me sniff.

    Filed under:

    : Bobby Flay, Tina Fey, Liza Dei: Happy 34th birthday to Tina Fey!

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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?

    Filed under:

    : Me, to Leonard: "I have to consider how to frame this so that you're always wrong."

    Filed under:

    : Out Of Context Theater: "steve schultz's blog showed me the light. i now go out to wrestling parasite goth punk raves dressed as a schoolgirl."

    Filed under:

    : Jennifer Government's Sister: Yesterday I came across Cynthia Ngo.

    Filed under:

    : Schickele Live: P.D.Q. Bach, a.k.a. Peter Schickele, will perform in San Francisco this Friday. Tickets are as low as $15.00. I used to listen to Schickele Mix every week! Maybe I can go. Or at least hear him on West Coast Live, possibly even attending the taping at Fort Mason.

    Filed under:

    : Best Use of Clip Art Award: " will be sucking the rest of your meals through a straw!"

    Filed under:

    : 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."

    Filed under:

    : Photo/Desired Message/Truth (via BoingBoing) continues what the two main problems with friendster which have not yet clearly been articulated started.

    Filed under:

    : FDR Was A Patrician, Remember?: General Wesley Clark had his first IM chat (branded as a "Wireside Chat", argh) recently. You are free to peruse the various nonbad questions and answers, with many misspellings so you can tell it's really live. The funniest part:

    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.

    Filed under:

    : councilman jocund boo: New entry in Spam As Folk Art.

    Filed under:

    : Two Stories of Customer Service:

    1. "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!

    2. 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.
    Filed under:

    : Interview with Penn Jillette. 10 Questions with Penn Jillette. Interview with Stephen Colbert -- this one's for you, Zed, what with the improv and whatnot.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : The best of Defective Yeti.

    Filed under:

    : "I don't have a fulfilling career. Or a piggy bank.": Would that we all had the easily-met requirements of sweet little boys. Leonard says that Atticus is a cool kid.

    Filed under:

    : What do you get when you add insult to injury?

    Filed under:

    : Zippy Would Be Proud: The new head of tech is concentrating on the important things.

    Filed under:

    : Culture Gun: High culture, low culture, bacterial cultures, we've got 'em all!

    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."

    Filed under:

    : "Make the Heat Wave Pay!": Are you aware that 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.

    Filed under:

    : Biella Coleman has written a very funny tale of a day at a U of Chicago gym and has mentioned the solution to procrastination: nudity. As I am at work, perhaps the solution would be to have the computer somehow whip my clothes off if I spend more than ten minutes on non-work-related pursui-WHOA! uh, be right back

    Filed under:

    : I bought some mockmeat bacon and got home to discover that the expiration date was the next day. So I ate it all. I think the last slice was not quite as tasty as the first.

    Filed under:

    : 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?

    Filed under:

    : I thought this trekkie article was "Celebrate Cardassians With Robinson, Blogs", not "Robinson, Biggs."

    Filed under:

    : 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.'"

    Filed under:

    : As in so many parodies and late-night skits, the premise is better than the execution: Microsoft replaces "Clippy" with Iraqi Information Minister.

    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."

    Filed under:

    : Man, these spammers have great fake names. Russell Kerbrat, Ahmed Pollock, and Glenn Narayan!

    Filed under:

    : Bill Moyers Interviews Jon Stewart: "STEWART: You don't want to get the Democrats angry, because then they'll maybe meet in private." I wish that Stewart had poked more fun at Moyers, but it's still Jon Stewart.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : "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).

    Filed under:

    : And the NYT says Japan is insular: Steve Schultz's Japan diary continues to delight me. An excerpt from today's entry:

    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.

    What can I say, it was a long train ride.

    Filed under:

    : 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."

    Filed under:

    : Instead of eminent domain, I want to seize property via M&M domain, where you make a circle of M&Ms around whatever you want.

    Filed under:

    : Weekend Plans: Yes, this conversation took place near an authentic water cooler.

    "I have grandiose laundry plans for the weekend. There's gonna be detergent, there may even be fabric softener."
    "That's going a little too far for me."
    "I'm extreme, I know."
    Filed under:

    : Dreams Too Weird to Recapitulate, So Instead: This morning I saw a bit of Reading Rainbow and thought two things:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    Filed under:

    : "buy / my / album": First there was The Holy Tango of Poetry, and now we have the much more profane version which includes Jewel.

    Filed under:

    : One subscriber signed up for one of Salon Premium's benefits, a free six-month subscription to Mother Jones, and accidentally called it "Mother Hubbard."

    Filed under:

    : More good Achewood strips: loathing and fear.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Interview with a Fish: You must read this now.

    Filed under:

    : From a Meeting: Colleague: "That would be hard!"
    Me, in JFK accent: "We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

    Filed under:

    : "Weirdly, this is never called irony, even though every other bloody thing that anyone ever says is.": A very interesting history and analysis of "irony." (via Electroside)

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Squelch Humor: A Letter to Now Todd from Future Todd.

    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.
    Filed under:

    : Snow Crash Characters Spam Our World:

    Experience the digital high
    Filed under:

    : While trying to find a good "Last Comic Standing" link, I ran across The Lenny Bruce of Congress.

    Filed under:

    : KQED:

    Premise 1:
    I can't stand most "reality" TV shows, in concept or in execution.
    Premise 2:
    I saw "Last Comic Standing" (an NBC game show/soap opera/stand-up showcase) last night and enjoyed it.
    I enjoy only those reality TV shows that dramatize some aspect of my life.
    Potential for Growth:
    The obvious.
    • The Bachelorette Who Only Dates White Geeks
    • Customer Service Fear Factor
    • Survivor 6: The Island Is a Weblog
    Filed under:

    : A PBS Memory: Square One TV. Mathnet. Detectives Monday and Frankly receive a ransom note for a ridiculously nonround amount, such as $27,854.49.

    Monday: This is so strange. Why didn't they ask for more?
    Frankly: Or less?

    Filed under:

    : Shazia Mirza makes me wish I was Muslim so I could be cutting-edge.

    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?..."
    Filed under:

    : "Wow! Has nobody ever told you how boring that is?": Leonard gets right to my heart by dissecting the upcoming Transformers movie with reference to John Rawls, X-Men, motivation, and picoleers. It's hilarious and you should read it.

    Filed under:

    : In Soviet Slassia: Lenin/Stalin slash fiction. Bonus sequel idea: "Hotsy Trotsky."

    Filed under:

    : Spam Subject Line Inadvertently Reflects Reality: "Simulate your love life!"

    Filed under:

    : Don't Mess With Texas: Katharine Mieszkowski chews on tacks. She's hard as nails! Well, tacks.

    Maybe now that I've mentioned her here, she'll go to lunch with me.

    Update: Mission accomplished!

    Filed under:

    : Hail To the Grief: Leonard made up a Salon Premium theme song last night and I've been humming it ever since. It's quite catchy. It goes like this:

    Salon Premium
    Salon Premium
    If you need help call Sumana at Salon Premium

    But if you're not a subscriber then in the middle of the song there's a Lexus jingle.

    Filed under:

    : I Expound, Leonard Distills: "What if Data was gay?"

    "They'd do an episode about it! It would be called Data's Gay!"

    Filed under:

    : I can't help it. I must tell you about Aston Martin or whatever his name is.

    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."

    It makes me laugh all the time!

    Filed under:

    : Mondeblues: The other day someone asked me, "Have you seen The Matrix Reloaded?" and I thought he said "The Magic Freeloaded."

    Filed under:

    : Kernels of Funny Bits: First: Gollum in an ad for CapitolOne credit cards. "What has it got in its wallet?"

    And second: will my new job have me pay a Salon Insurance Premium?

    Filed under:

    : No, "Power of Babel" Is Not A Typo: Interpretive spelling in a purchase order I just received:

    Filed under:

    : 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--!'"

    Filed under:

    : 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 Everest next."

    Filed under:

    : 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!

    Now, sleep. Sleep, Data.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Gideon informs me that Wyoming's largest town, Casper, holds only about 500,000 people. Practically a friendly ghost town.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    [Update: Whoops, not Pi Sigma Phi, but Phi Sigma Pi.]

    Filed under:

    : Leonard on being a Salon Premium support tech: "You'd be like a telemarketer, only people would call you. You'd be working in Soviet Russia."

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Office Follies: "Have any of you been to Japan? I mean, I guess I'd know if you had, but still."

    "I've never been there, but I know things about it."

    "Anyway, do you know anything about their cops? Because I was watching that movie, Jackass..."

    [Sumana falls out of her chair laughing]

    Filed under:

    : Better Than The Original Dept.: I am still laughing at Colin Hayman's Enterprise parodies. Example:

    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!
    Filed under:

    : I need to start reading weekly reviews of syndicated comic strips. (via Jym)

    Filed under:

    : Sad Search Requests: 'my dignity'

    Filed under:

    : From Mandalay: Various clever things were said, including, regarding flamboyant behaviour, "I kindly request that you work have to put in a work-it order."

    Filed under:

    : Gems From Work: Boss: "Well, you could buy it for him."
    Underling: "With what? My soul?"

    Filed under:

    : "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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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 Russia" premise.

    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 reversal of ordinary practice (e.g., "too few cooks spoil the broth"). I myself love mixing up the three nouns like so:

    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!
    Do send in suggestions. Contributions will be attributed.
    Filed under:

    : The Audience of One: Two recent exchanges that have left Joe saying, "You're such a freak, but in a good way":

    1. Joe: So you know about the Tibetan monks' tradition of ritualized debate?
      Sumana: I was just reading about that today!
    2. Sumana: I just read the entire DNA Lounge changelog.
    Filed under:

    : 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.

    I'm very happy for Brendan. So happy.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Linkrot Guaranteed!: The UC Berkeley front page, for today only, prominently features my mug! Pretty jolting.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Her Stage Name is Sumana Somebody: Eventually the statute of blogitations will run out on Adam, Leonard, and Zed, and I'll post an Apollo Night Roundup. But until then, you can read the transcript or experience the photos and RealAudio recording of My Dinner With Bobbie B.

    Filed under:

    : Bald Ego: The Oakland Tribune featured a wacky photo of me on Friday along with the eerily prophetic "Boo? Yeah".

    Having never seen "It's Showtime at the Apollo," Harihareswara has been experiencing people saying things to her like, "Hey, what about that audience, huh?" followed by a nudge and a wink.

    More happily, the Tribune includes my banter with Chancellor Berdahl near the end of its "Bear in Mind" coverage. Soon to come: links to the transcript and RealAudio recording!

    Berdahl: Obviously this isn't your first venture into the world of comedy. What else have you done? How did you get to this point?
    Harihareswara: My therapist asks me the same thing.
    Filed under:

    : Dry T-Shirt Contest: I realized various things I could have done to improve my reception at the Apollo Amateur Night.

    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.

    Filed under:

    : 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 booing.

    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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : : 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."

    Filed under:

    : Daydreams: I find myself thinking of photos to use as headshots in case I get famous. How 'bout this one?

    Filed under:

    : Lack of Interest, Ha!: People actually are asking me to put them in my group-discount list for my Apollo performance. I think I'll get 10, especially if you write me!

    Filed under:

    : 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 [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'..."

    Filed under:

    : I made it to the Apollo Amateur Night! On Friday, January 31st, I will perform at Zellerbach and get a shot at going to New York! Wow!

    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.

    Sorry, the political rant will have to wait.

    Filed under:

    : 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 listening.

    Other: Today's 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 Agency.

    Filed under:

    : 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 a lecture 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."

    Filed under:

    : Maybe my sense that I'm a better heckler than a performer means that I belong in improv. Or maybe just that I enjoy heckling.

    "I am a C-section birth--"

    "Are you going to kill Macbeth?"

    Filed under:

    : 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?"

    Well, he cracked up.

    Filed under:

    : [Sumana reminisces about The Early Days.]

    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.

    Filed under:

    : 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!

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    The aforementioned Joe also told me about this freaky & incomplete table of area comedy open mics and comedy shows, Zed.

    Oh, and by the way, Joe, as Mark Twain said, I can last on a good compliment for three weeks; thanks.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : Last night I got to hang out with Sarah again and rent Chris Rock. I always forget how funny he is. Then I dreamt about doing stand-up. I need to get back on the stage.

    Filed under:

    : "We are all time travelers..."

    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.

    I wonder whether the desired woman here is someone I know.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    To liven up your day, a bunch of quotes that, for the most part, I've never seen in an email signature.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.

    Filed under:

    : 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 the middle, middling. I need to start some exciting new project to keep me interesting and interested.

    Filed under:

    : It's a PHC Joke Show -- on Kuro5hin! If you want to read a bunch of jokes, look no further.

    I enjoyed a not-really-racist joke and this one:

    Werner Heisenberg was driving down the Autobahn and got pulled over. The cop walked up to the side of his car and asked, "Son, do you know how fast you were going back there?"

    To this he replied, "No, but I know where I am."

    More funny jokes here and here.

    Filed under:

    : 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!"
    Does this even count as a joke? I sent an innocent man to jail!
    Filed under:

    : The next Comedy Nite, apparently, happens in May. Or so saith the Heuristic Squelch events page. Tuesday, May 7. I'll probably do my last college open mic then, in case you want to catch me.

    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.

    Filed under:

    : I went to a "ComedySportz" performance and was chosen as an audience volunteer. I made noises to accompany an improvised skit. Evidently I did very well! Great!

    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Poll: I am, basically,

    Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at
    Filed under:

    : Comedy Night Is Coming!: Many of you may know that I often indulge at the open-mikes at the Squelch Comedy Nights on campus. Well, here comes another one.

    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.

    Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at
    Filed under:

    : Space, time, and "take my wife ... please!": Today: Seth's diary, Einstein's Dreams, and free professional comedy!

    Seth's diary yesterday 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 hilarious, especially Brian 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.

    Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at
    Filed under:

    : 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.

    The 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 obscure.

    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 participates regularly.

    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 multipurpose-workhorse women.

    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 there.

    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 have little time and other, higher priorities. I wonder what I could do to accelerate the pace at which the arbitration of humor is more equally distributed among the truly and consistently funny, regardless of race and gender.



    Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at
    Filed under:

    : 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.

    Poll: Most influential meme

    Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at
    Filed under:

    : 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:

    Part I:

    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.

    Part II:

    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.

    Poll: You want more?

    Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at
    Filed under:


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