Monday, April 28, 2008
All of these three records are enjoyable in their own way, but I don't really think that I'll be spinning any of the three again (well, maybe Steven Wright). Some of this is sick, sick comedy. When a terrible, yet well-crafted joke or anecdote makes you laugh, that's great - heaven knows that some nice shock value can add to comedy. Check out Jim Norton for an example of how to pull this off (or, better yet, don't). Richard Pryor, like Mitch Hedberg, came across as intelligent and classy despite occasionally base material. I'm not endorsing blue material, per se, but I will say that a good guilty laugh can be therapeutic now and then.
Keep in mind that I'll be doing these comedy reviews sporadically for the next few weeks, among other reviews. These are comedy reviews, meaning that celebrity hacks (*cough* - Dane Cook) won't be given much space. See how the trio did below:
Werewolves and Lollipops
Sub Pop (2007)
Like most comics who also happen to do voiceovers, Patton Oswalt bears little resemblance to his animated ally Remy, the rat from last year's Ratatouille. He's a jovial, acerbic, overweight man with a penchant for biting sarcasm and a tendency to incorporate little songs and sound effects into his commentary. He's also very funny, but not in a joke-telling, Emo Philips sort of way; he builds off of his audience more, most famously in the prolonged sequence where he berates a "whoo-hoo!" guy before continuing with his story.
The sarcasm may be too much for some to take, as it's sometimes tough to figure out whether he believes what he's saying. Sometimes it feels as if he goes too far intentionally just to mock his own position; for example, a fairly hilarious bit satirizing television censorship begins with a shocking, non sequitur blur of profanity. If you plan on purchasing or listening to this album, I suggest you view some of his clips on YouTube or on Late Night talk shows - he's always in character.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Stand Up Records (2004)
Greg Proops is a gem of sorts, and probably one of the most audacious comics working today. Much like with Bob Saget, his television persona is far gentler and safer than the guy you see in the club. And exactly like Bob Saget, Proops gets most of his fun from mocking the audience, provided that they're in on the joke. Houston, Texas (hence the title) provides ample mining ground for stereotype exploitation and controversial statements. Proops' verbose commentary is never quite as flowery as when a joke bombs and he sets his sides on the crowd. I noted that the crowd seems to get quieter and quieter throughout this record, but it's not really a consequence of weak material; every word counts in Greg's delivery, and throwing out a guffaw might miss you a punchline.
Proops goes all-out for the final few minutes, in a prolonged gag questioning Jessica Simpson's mental acuity. Though he picks a predictable target, the magic is in the delivery:
"It's difficult to ascertain how much information Jessica is deriving at any given moment. Because her face, in repose, is a pizza of discomfiture and query. I mean, where you would see a person or a car, she just sees swirling oblongs and fractals. Everything looks like the Matrix; just green numerals running up and down a wall, unfathomable, eternal."
I Still Have a Pony
Comedy Central Records (2007)
(Note: I am required by law to use the following words in this review: deadpan, surreal.)
I review this album with an air of reverence. For the long-time comedy crowd, anticipation for this album rivaled the hooplah surrounding the release of all of the records that Brian Wilson's been sitting on. A subtler comrade to his brother comedians from the 80s (like Emo Philips - there's that name again), Wright finds himself in the company of the select few who fall so completely into their routine that they become original characters even as they mumble non sequiturs and surreal one-liners. ("I have a new camera. It's so advanced, you don't even need it.")
Wright's been at the top of his game for as long as I've been alive, and I must in all honesty admit that this album is the best of the three I've reviewed today. The jokes are top-notch and the delivery is deadpan but not without expression. Unfortunately for me, something about Wright's voice begins grating into my eardrums after a short period, slowly grinding out my nerves and auditory machinery until I'm forced to take a break. It's completely my problem, and I'm sure that most of the rest of you won't have this issue. In any case, it forces me to limit to about half of the album at a time. This is, of course, just fine; the other half isn't going anywhere.
Note: I haven't just been playing comedy at work - I've also gotten into some great world music lately from Kenya, Mali and even ethnic music from Japan. Stay tuned for similar mini-reviews later this week. Fun stuff.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I've had trouble having a normal conversation while playing some of the more intensive songs of Guitar Hero, but Rock Band's neat drum kit brought my brain to an functional standstill. It had to shut down everything but life-support systems, my arms and right leg (for the bass pedal). Speaking as someone who is often known to freeze in midsentence, stroke victim style, this was not a good thing.
I think that it has to do with the rhythm. Give me a rambling solo and I can debate philosophy, albeit not very well, but a simple rhythm section turns me into a drooling mess. After the section ends I'll continue, but not a second before, and Heaven help my roommates if they remember what I was talking about.
Needless to say, the Rock Band drums require a fair bit of rhythm. To simulate the experience at home, try tapping a desk twice a second with your left hand while attempting three taps a second with your right. While doing this, tap your foot every two seconds and hum the Ducktales theme. Have we all learned our psychology lesson? Good.
Image from a T-shirt design available at Amorphia Apparel. Looks pretty neat.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Wired gives out an astonishing portion of its magazine for free online. Factor in the magazine's alliance with The Office (that link deserves a post of its own) and it's downright unbeatable. Last year's Jenna Fischer cover was kind of cruel to my geeky mind, though.
Wired's new list of twelve ways to improve brainpower is killer and practical. Among them:
- Distract Yourself - "The trick is to distract yourself by studying stuff that's slightly different from whatever you're trying to learn. Your brain will then work harder to permanently store the original information."
- Embrace Chaos - "Mix yourself up. That's advice from Robert Bjork, chair of UCLA's psychology department and a leading expert in memory and learning. Volunteers in his experiments exhibited superior recall when they learned information in randomly ordered chunks. . . When tested, the random group had much better recall."
- Speed-Reading is a Myth - "It should take you two and a half seconds to read this sentence. Any faster and you won't absorb its meaning. The motor response of the retina, and the time it takes the image of a word to travel from the macula to the thalamus to the visual cortex for processing, limits the eye to about 500 words a minute. (That's peak efficiency; the average college student can expect a rate about half that.)"
This goes hand-in-hand with some neat rules of health that I've picked up over the years. Even five minutes of exercise will make you feel better for the rest of the day. Carbs in the morning will earn you a sluggish afternoon. A one-hour nap will leave you more tired than a twenty-minute nap. Don't stick razors under your fingernails. There's probably thousands more of them.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
They are among us. Road flares, that is. Those lights in the Phoenix sky earlier this week? A man in Phoenix, Arizona has admitted responsibility for tying road flares to helium balloons and letting them fly. Seems his neighbor ratted him out.
This sort of prank isn't "funny" per se, but interesting. It's obvious that nearly all of these sorts of events are man-made, and the multiplicity of ways in which to send glowey things into the skies invites any number of explanations for other events like this, few suspicious.
This whole sort of thing is like throwing a lit match into the tinderbox of the easily alarmed and the paranoid. Most people are fairly sure of the veracity of their own beliefs, but most of us stop short of alien conspiracy theories. It takes a special kind of numbskull to deny the balloon explanation in the face of overwhelming evidence. Most of them look like this minus the smile:
CNN (via BoingBoing) reports that the Mosquito Device has come to America. The device emits a shrill shriek that can only be heard by youngsters. I've heard the sound - I'm at the upper end of the age spectrum for this particular frequency (there are more powerful variations), but it was pretty annoying. It gets in your inner ear like Tinnitus and gets terribly obnoxious after a few minutes.
Naturally, I don't condone vandalism in any form, even against crusty old ignorant ageist shopowners. On an unrelated note, look at the large variety of baseball bats available for online purchase! Some of them look pretty sturdy!
Related link (Feb 22) where I discuss the device
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
"[Blogging is] absolutely bad for the culture." - Sean Hannity
A huge part of my coming of age in my teenage years was my gradual awareness of ambiguity in the world. For the same reason that I had latched onto obnoxious, unlistenable bands in the first few years that I began to listen to music, I had become a fan of talk radio, specifically Sean Hannity. I thought that I was getting into politics, into something important and exciting, but in my desire to understand the world quickly I was drawn into nothing more than a High School football rivalry.
As I began to notice inconsistencies in Hannity's statements, I began to consider my own thought processes. Watching him attack his enemies for relatively minor improprieties while letting his friends consistently off the hook, I began to understand the mind of Hannity - the role of that oh-so-subtle level of making and applying labels that drive all of his thinking. Becoming a repeat victim of the moderator-driven fascism at his vapid web forum was the last draw.
Today, my roommates make fun of my irrational dislike for Hannity. I feel that his consistent assaults on rational thought have done more to weaken America than any of the leftist politicians he trashes. To be fair, he's probably the worst offender in his field. This has nothing to do with politics - I have a high tolerance for other right-wing radio figures, ones who consider issues and facts and form opinions in that order. None of these have a perfect track record - some of them get irrational from time to time - but perfection is an impossible standard. At least they're trying. I'd rather have somebody disagree with me for the right reasons than perpetuate ignorance.
Enough ranting - on to the point. Sean Hannity and his ilk can only survive in an informational vacuum. As information and, above all, proper context become readily available, reasoned debate should flourish and only those with something to say will remain viable in the market. This isn't to imply that Hannity will fail entirely; he's thinking for far too many people who understand the world the way that I thought I did five years ago.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Weezer hasn't had a great album for twelve years, so considering the joke that their last album was I reckon it's nice to see their album covers fall into depressing self-parody as well.
But wait! It gets better! Pitchfork goes on to redeem the art with the following request:
If [this is] true, can it get married to this Lil Wayne album cover? And can they have lots of baby album covers featuring unflattering yet TOTALLY AMAZING portraits of the artists?
Using my rudimentary Photoshop skills, I have (sort of) fulfilled Pitchfork's request. Behold:
Aside from "somebody make this album", my main thought is a slight worry that I now take orders from Pitchfork Media. I will serve you well, my new master.
This is timely - those blasted "thumbs.db" files prolonged an extended copy of mine by three hours earlier today. Just try to leave your Compy unattended for a minute. . .
You might not consider anarchic art and mainstream computer culture particularly friendly bedfellows (they're not - they're really not), but nobody would blame you for trying out one of these nifty sawed-off USB drives. The thing looks like a safety hazard (there I go again), but there's no actual current flowing through those jagged, torn wires so rest easy. Go over to Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories and make one for yourself!
Today I posted my fiftieth strip at Forest For the Trees. I've been updating more regularly and will continue to do so in the future, so hopefully it won't take another five months for the next 50. I'm thinking that my writing is getting better, but I'm aware that the quality of the art has been slipping (see above). School can do that to ya.
I'll be touching up the art more in Photoshop before I post, so hopefully you'll start seeing more art like this and less like this.
Still, take a look at the strip if you like. It's 25 to a page so the whole archive fits in two screens, though you'll have to click to magnify most of them to get the full impact of the majestic art. Remember, at Cracking My Knuckles in Public and her sister blogs, we love you. And we would never tell you to click on the ads, par Blogger's policy.
(Note to Blogger: Ha ha! Humor!)
Saturday, April 19, 2008
GIBSON: I noticed, Mr. Lincoln, that your American flag pin was upside down…
LINCOLN: Yes, the wind caught it. Now, as I was saying...
GIBSON: We get questions about this all the time over at Powerline and on Hannity’s talk show. Mr. Douglas has said this is a major vulnerability for you in the fall. So I’ll ask again – do you love America?
LINCOLN: (scowling with a forced smile). Yes.
GIBSON: If your love for America were ice cream, what flavor would it be?
LINCOLN: (pausing with disgust and turning back to camera) Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.
DOUGLAS: He didn’t answer the question Charlie. This fall, that question is going to be on the minds of the American public. I’ve proudly stated that my love for America is Very Berry Strawberry.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Huh - I just noticed that Scientology is advertising on my blog through Google ads. I doubt they'd advertise if they'd read the blog's actual contents. Two ads which seem to fit a theme are the two for gay online dating and David Bowie album re-releases. They'll be putting up synchronized swimming banners before you know it. . .
Those of you who have been poking around in my profile have probably noticed Ziggy Liberated, my new year-long project. It's an attempt to divine enlightenment and joy from a source that most people aren't used to finding it - namely the comic strip "Ziggy." Sometimes on-topic, sometimes off, the blog's been a blast to right so far and is shaping up to become the most popular thing that I've ever written.
I've long-noticed the philosophical ramifications of the strip, but just now gotten around to starting this project after seeing a couple kickers. Of course, the blog also has its lighter moments, meaning that it's not complete despair and nihilism.
And as with Forest For the Trees, I'll be posting every day that I am able.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
So far the results have been lackluster. Does anybody out there have a quick fix? Any help would be greatly appreciated. You can use the comments or e-mail me through my profile.
Well, this is fairly incredible. I'm a fan of art that takes an inordinate amount of time for low-key, subtly-spectacular results. My favorite part is the security guard's neutral look at the end.
Now offered in bad format-o-vision.
Break via boingboing
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
We've seen Pastafarian/pirate versions, a Hillary/Tom Cruise mashup worth its weight in donations, but something about the German translation just gets me. I said earlier that something takes the cake. This one eats it in front of you and torches your house with you in it.
From the original German description (translated to English):
"Original translation of the Tom Criuse speech. Dr. Herforth naeherbringt [?] the church of the reason to the masses, on the basis the brilliant illuminated speech of Tom Cruise, translated into German."
So, that block of German translated into English identifies the following as the Scientology video, translated from English into German. Got it?
Tom Cruise Scientology Deutsche original Übersetzung
With the requisite explanation out of the way, I'll go on to my real question: what would it be like to view yourself from such a perspective. I mean - in real time? Today's BoingBoing TV features a suit designed by RCA designer Marc Owens that allows you to view yourself in the third person, like a videogame character.
"The Avatar Machine"
His intent was to determine if the detachment offered by such a suit affects one's personal responsibility for actions, but that's not what gets me about this suit. My interest is far more primal: I've been trying to get my mind around it for some time now, but I just can't imagine what it would be like to wear this thing. I mean, you still feel everything, you could still trip if you stepped on a step funny, but you're viewing yourself via camera just a few feet over your shoulder. Just how do you reconcile that mentally?
Anyway, watch the clip if you like. It doesn't elaborate much from the description.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
So - my friends know that I've become disenchanted with Scott Adams's blog of late. I once went so far as to say that everything the Dilbert creator did started out great and then deteriorated as he got lazy.
But it's been pretty good for the last few days (i.e. no more obvious jokes about odd medical stories). Case in point: today's post, regarding wartime economics. "When was the last time a relatively poor country successfully attacked and conquered a richer country?", he asks, provoking the question: can a good economy and a modest military lead to more security than a huge, ever-expanding military?
Keep in mind that this argument only really applies to our modern world, where international trade has done its job to unite economic allies and lead even reluctant nations to defend countries that bring in their moola. As one comment incitefully puts it: "[N]o country without a McDonald's has ever gone to war with a country with a McDonald's and won."
I guess we won't be seeing this anytime soon.
It's every K.K. Slider song overlapped into a hellish stew. The YouTuber who put up this video says "This is what you hear when the world ends." Kotaku's take is a little more entertaining:
Watch As K.K. Slider Sings Open the Gates of Hell
What's happening here is damaging to eyes, ears and souls alike, and also most likely totally NSFW. Unless you want a portal to the 7th level of Hades to tear itself open beneath your office's floorboards, dragging all and sundry to the fiery, eternal depths below. In that case, knock yourself out.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Reading the Wikipedia page on the upcoming film The Incredible Hulk gave me some ponderables. It seems that the new film is a reboot in the vein of Batman Begins, not a sequel to the succinctly-titled Hulk. Normally these sort of things rock (Batman Begins being the most famous example), but this situation is unique - I mean, Hulk came out only five years ago. Five years. Seems awfully short, dontcha think?
Not me. Word of mouth has it that the original sucked, and I'm all for opening up a can of "Ministry of Truth" on Hulk and erasing it from existence. In fact, I'd like to see some other movies from 2003 redone. It may not be too late to save the following movies:
(Deep breath) Matrix Reloaded, House of the Dead and Cat in the Hat (have Pixar CGI it).
Actually, that didn't take very much breath at all. Here's hoping that the new Hulk movie is good enough to compensate for the fact that I don't find the character interesting.
Adie Russell is an interesting artist with a unique and pleasant body of work. However, she will most likely receive her share of internet fame for her wonderful lip-synchs of famous interviews and political figures. Suffice it to say that you all have to watch this clip of a Merv Griffin interview with Richard Nixon. Adie does both sides of the interview, putting enough subtlety, character and conviction into the lines to make it stick. She's absolutely spot-on and I know art when I see it.
The singularity of what I was viewing took a moment to sink in, but once it did I was hooked. I think I like the Ginsberg clip even more.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Putting Shrek's visage up on a motivational poster is so nonsensical it actually makes my brain tingle. The whole thing makes about as much sense as putting Garfield's face on an ad for printer toner (the former President, not the cat). The message of the Foundation For a Better Life, when all is said and done: "We thought of a pun!"
Those of you interested in the sort of thing that I can do when I'm not just being strange should check out "The Rainbow Correction", a neat little guitar-and-voice pseudo-comedy piece that I recorded earlier tonight. It's not really a parody of "The Rainbow Connection" - just the first verse of the original with some different lyrics. If that makes sense to you, then you'll be in a perfect mindset for the piece itself.
The guitar playing is mine, and the voice was done by the AT&T text-to-speech demo, an amazing speech synthesis program that really deserves its own blog post someday.
Download "The Rainbow Correction" (Yes, it's still spelled "Connection" in the link - chalk it up to the late hour.)
Friday, April 04, 2008
Orson Scott Card has proven himself adept at debating the subject of immigration, but his column on the recent Obama/Reverend Wright controversy may top even that. It's a succinct (and typically-lengthy) answer to those still harping on this issue:
"The real issue is: Should we be suspicious of Obama because of Wright's teachings?
Obama has made it plain that he rejects Wright's racially divisive teachings. But he is tied to Reverend Wright by bonds of friendship that transcend doctrines.
They are friends. Reverent Wright and Obama worked together trying to make life better for poor blacks in Chicago. Wright was part of Obama's spiritual awakening and of his search for an identity as a black man. Obama hardly knew his father. Wright took on some of that role in his life.
It's not as if Wright has been accused of a crime other than saying things that make white people mad. I'm a white person. It makes me mad. So what? Wright's not running for president; if he were, I wouldn't vote for him.
Here is my question to those who think Obama should have broken off his friendship with Wright over Wright's offensive statements:
Do you want as President the kind of person who would deny and abandon his closest friends in order to win that political office?"
Firstly, NPR's succinct debunking of water-related myths.
No, you don't have to drink eight glasses of water a day. Though people engaging in heavy exercise should gulp down a good 16 ounces of water to avoid dehydration, the rest of us can just drink when we're thirsty.
Secondly, a Middlesex University study has determined that violent videogames may cause relaxation. Unfortunately, the results of this study are as inconclusive as a thousand flawed studies on the opposing side for two reasons:
1) Relaxation (or increased excitement) cannot be equated directly with pacifism or violence. An individual's propensity toward violence or desensitization is simply not something that can be measured in a controlled study. However, rather than admit the weaknesses of our science, we feel a need to crank out a million biased, conflicting studies. It's true that violent videogames, symphonies or a good round of tennis might increase your aggression, just as it's possible that playing a game (or running over your annoying neighbor with a riding lawnmower) could bring you a sense of relaxation. There's too many factors to say anything conclusive.
2) Secondly, this study used World of Warcraft for its subject - a game with nearly as much exploration and item-shopping as actual combat, and not particularly violent combat at that. They should have used a game like Manhunt - something that we can all agree is sadistic and terrible, but not particularly exciting in terms of mere adrenaline. That way we should avoid false positives brought on by mere excitement or deep involvement with the game.
Story #3: Sunspots may not be a good argument against climate change theorists. As with the last story, I'm under no illusions that either side of the global warming debate really has an eye out for the evidence rather than trying to merely perpetuate their view, but let's try to phase out some of the bad arguments, all right?
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Here's another story which seems too good to be true, but we're well into April at this point so it seems that the merriment is well over and we can go back into believing reports from our various news agencies.
Like this report: Earlier today an FSU student nicknamed "A-Bomb" left his briefcase marked "A-Bomb" on his car one morning. Naturally, "A-Bomb" caused quite a panic, and various blah blah quarantine streets sealed off blah blah evacuation. You know the drill by now.
I'm not sure how I'd react if I saw a briefcase marked "A-Bomb" sitting out somewhere, particularly if I was on some overtrained bomb squad. Theoretically, the world's smallest atomic bomb could fit in a suitcase, but assembling it would be prohibitive and beyond the resources of any but the most resourceful nutbag. Occam's razor suggests quite strongly that it must be some other type of DIY bomb, and even more strongly that I'm not even really looking at a bomb at all.
Hopefully the kid won't face any sort of legal action or expulsion on account of his nickname. Heaven knows our nation's many reactionary principals wouldn't keep the kid around had he been in High School.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Anyway, you only get 10 per year, lest message receivers "lose faith in the accuracy of time, thus rendering the feature useless." Great stuff.
EDIT: OK - technically it was April Fool's day, considering that I read the sucker at 1:30 in the morning. Still, I'm not ashamed that I got taken in - it was part of the March 31 sleep cycle, after all. Now it's time to create some demand so they'll actually go out and create this.