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Showing posts from December, 2013
I'm a little surprised that no one has jumped down my throat over my checking the idea of "acting straight" when writing about the latest Olympic to-do. It occurs to me that if you're sufficiently young and enlightened, you may not recognize that as actually a Thing.

I think it's pretty clear from context that what I'm talking about is intentionally suppressing mannerisms and behaviors traditionally associated with homosexuality in the hopes that no one will ask any awkward questions, and it's pretty clear from the quotes that it's not my phrase. It's just that as a concept, it doesn't have much meaning anymore. It describes the act of consciously crossing a cultural divide that has largely ceased to exist, even if the memory of the underlying stereotype persists.

Twenty-five years ago, "acting straight" or describing someone as "straight-acting" had a distinct meaning, and it would be disingenuous to pretend that it didn&#…
Finally tracked down Boitano's actual statement, or at least the actual statement sent to that particular website. Given the fuss that everyone's been making, I expected it to be a very gay speech gayly recounting his exceedingly gay gayness, couched in official language. Nope. He mentions it once, near the end.

Boitano was apparently in Europe when the names of the delegates were officially announced. I half wonder if he didn't do the same thing the rest of the planet did, which was read that and be vaguely perplexed at his name not being highlighted as one of the athletes who was openly queer. That press release reads quite plausibly as something written before he'd even realized there were still people on Earth who hadn't gotten the memo. He may not have made any statements before now simply because he thought everyone would get the hint without it, and he didn't want to encourage the press to be nosy bastards about who he was actually dating.

Notably, the S…
I am pleased to note that President Obama appears to be trolling the Russians. He's politely declined to attend the Olympics, but generously offered as his emissaries a number of extremely famous American athletes who also happen to be gay. Putin could still opt to arrest them, I suppose, but now that we've announced that there will be a quintillion cameras focused on them at all times, and the story would break on Twitter before they finished snapping the cuffs on, so this is an unlikely result at best.

Accompanying this story is the news that Brian Boitano has come out. If you know who he is, you probably expressed vague confusion and asked if he didn't already do that like twenty years ago? Anyone who has ever seen this man has quickly come to the conclusion that the only closet he's familiar with is the kind that is full of sequinned ice dancing costumes.

If you're too young to know who Brian Boitano is or why the hell he is on Food Network, Boitano is the main…

Post Advent Boxing Day Treat: Big Fat Quiz of 2013

Jimmy Carr is joined this year by Jack Whitehall, Jonathan Ross, Dara Ó Briain, Kristen Schaal, Noel Fielding, and Richard Ayoade. As you might guess from the roll call, nothing in this quiz is normal. It's like someone rearranged the seating chart specifically to make sure the substitute teacher has the worst time possible. They slam Robin Thicke for being a slimy douche, Kristen questions the rationale behind British TV, Noel and Dara have a one-night stand on the apron of the stage, and then a turkey appears. Plus they start drinking.

A surprising amount of the quiz is US-friendly. Partly because of Kristen Schaal, I expect, but mainly because we also did a lot of moronic things this past year, and it would be unfair not to point it out alongside the video of that one British politician who decided it would be a good idea to accuse a reporter of being racist when said reporter pointed out that there are no black people on the cover of his brochure, and then take the aforementi…
For once, I'm doing all right on Christmas. Generally I spend my time drunk and wishing I had something to do, while at the same time vehemently willing my family to stay the fuck away from me. They don't know where I am now, which is good. Mainly, though, I replace that last thing with rounds of 'hey will the rats eat that?' and the answer to that is 'yes for all food objects, and also yes for several non-food things that are fun to chew', so it's not as absorbing as it could be.

We passed some kind of fast food something on the bus route tonight that had their TV tuned to BBC News and visible from the window. Normally, I hate this. World news scares the fuck out of me. At least 50% of my trips to the ER to beg for Xanax have been triggered by this shit. I still resent the pilot years ago who decided to interrupt my nice calm flight over the Rockies -- I am not at all scared of flying, don't ask me why; I actually like it -- with the news that we'd…

[Advent Calendar 2013] The Santa Tracker

This is a re-post from last year's Advent Calendar, both because it's still relevant, and because it's one of my favorite stories ever. Once upon a time, in a long-ago era known as "1955", the world was a dark and scary place. The Second World War was over but certainly not forgotten, and behind every addlepated political press conference lurked the spectre of those godless heathen Ruskies, who were just itching for an excuse to start a nuclear holocaust. There were no such things as the Beatles. Brylcream reigned supreme over maddeningly impractical haircuts. In order to telephone someone, you had to physically find a telephone, which was tethered to the base with a cord and to the wall with another cord, and it was the Official Property Of The Phone Company And Don't You Forget It. The moon landings were over a decade away, and the internet almost two. It was a frightening time.

The government felt it could do little about telephones and Brylcream, frankly,…

[Advent Calendar 2013] "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" (1974)

Another Rankin-Bass special, this one traditionally animated, "'Twas The Night Before Christmas".

[Advent Calendar 2013] "A Claymation Christmas" (1987)

The infamous A Claymation Christmas, aka "the one with the California Raisins". This variation of stop-motion animation is, obviously, called "claymation", because instead of custom armature puppets, the figurines used are made of malleable clay. Rather than being moved between frames, they're resculpted by the animator. The technique allows for more fluid -- and in this case, way more psychedelic -- movement than the traditional model-based stop-motion techniques, but at a price: If you manage to damage a figure or miscalculate a manipulation, you can't just put it back. You have to remake it. Hope you have steady hands.

Claymation was more or less a fad in the 1980s, although in the mid-1990s there was an SNES game called ClayFighters released that used a hybrid of claymation and digital photography to capture the sprites for a quirky 2D fighting game. A similar method was used for its N64 sequel, ClayFighter 63 1/3.

[Advent Calendar 2013] Weekend Radio Theater - "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

From The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, read for Librivox by Ruth Golding.

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
Part 1
Part 2

[Advent Calendar 2013] "Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2012"

The Big Fat Quiz of the Year is a UK tradition, generally airing on Boxing Day. It's a pub quiz, more or less, about events of the past year; even if you don't know about the UK-centric events, you can pretty much guess what happened, and a surprising amount of US news leaks across the pond. Last year's featured Jack Whitehall, who will flirt with anything on two feet; Jonathan Ross, who has a bajillion comic books in his collection but virtually no filter on his mouth; Russell Howard, who is cheerful as ever and patently surreal; and Richard Ayoade, who is terrifyingly shy but has apparently taken a liking to the rest of the panel, because that's the most I've ever seen anyone get out of him without a script.

Jimmy Carr, the host, is one of those comedians who intentionally crosses the line over and over again with his act in order to make a point, but whom I'm increasingly convinced is actually quite a nice chap in person. People who are genuinely assholes t…

[Advent Calendar 2013] "Jack Frost" (1979)

Another Rankin-Bass Christmas special, this one aired more rarely these days.
The new rats continue, unsurprisingly, to grow.

Yuki is becoming a tomboy. She's big, she's unsubtle, she's kind of pudgy, and she's lazy as fuck, particularly by girl-rat standards. (This is why she's the one who got the name Yuki, in fact; it means 'snow' in Japanese, and is used as a name for both sexes.) Yuki has already tumbled onto the secret of this whole pet deal. If I come by and say hello to them through the bars while she's awake, she immediately scrambles to the front of the cage and goes NO NOT GOOD ENOUGH YOU COME CUDDLE ME NOW. When I pick her up, she conducts a half-assed inspection for concealed food and, finding none, smashes herself into my armpit and goes to sleep. I have to stand there like a B-movie ronin, one arm half tucked back into my bathrobe sleeve, because that armscye seam is clearly there for Yuki to lean her face on, and if I unbend my elbow she doesn't have anywhere to rest her chin. I introduced her to one of my roo…

[Advent Calendar 2013] "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964)

The beloved 1964 classic by Rankin-Bass, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer".

Stop-motion animation is a fussy, exacting art form. Not only must the animator be a skilled sculptor but a skilled toy engineer as well -- stop-motion models, particularly for animation that involves human characters, are often crafted in many pieces. Most commonly, they have a different body for each costume needed, sometimes with specialized bodies involving joints that are only needed for one particular scene or made out of different materials that can withstand particularly hot, harsh lights, and a different face for each facial expression. They don't just need 'happy', 'sad' and 'surprised' either; they also need a different face, or swappable mouths, for the common lip and teeth/tongue shapes of speech, like "ee", "oh"/"oo", "ah", "f"/"v" and "th". On top of all that, you need a mind like a strobe…
I've just got myself fired from a theatrical troupe. I'd be more upset if I hadn't been an hour or two away from quitting when I got the text message. I'm not naming anyone, because I don't like seeing people fail and I really do hope they get their act together and put on something brilliant, but considering I ended up typing up a whacking great list of things I objected to in a Facebook message because I'd never met the director in person, I doubt this is going to happen.

First off, consider it a bad sign if the director seems uninterested in vetting you for basic competence. I volunteered to sing. Not only did I not have to audition, they repeatedly turned down my offers to give them a demo, so at least they knew what I sounded like. You can get away with this for extras -- most of the time, at least -- but for a featured act? Not a good idea. What if I were completely delusional and sounded like a strangled cat?

Secondly, consider it a bad sign if no one ca…

[Advent Calendar 2013] Top Gear - "Middle East Special"

Watch as Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May trek from an undisclosed drop point to Bethlehem as only they can. It has all the elements of a classic Top Gear Christmas special -- cheap cars that are completely unsuited to the environment, a hurried shopping trip undertaken by idiots, an open air campout implied to involve substances that are thoroughly illegal at home, and a puzzling inability to drive in the right damn direction more than 50% of the time.

They do one of these every year. This year's is supposed to be Burma/Thailand, which was taped in October. Others worth watching are the Bolivia special, where Clarkson has a chainsaw, May has a machete, and Hammond has at least half a dozen carmelized coca-leaf candies; the Botswana special, where Hammond falls so in love with his Opel Kadett that he names the thing Oliver, has it shipped back to the UK, and later makes it a co-presenter on Blast Lab!; and the Polar Special, where the three of them are better at bei…
I've been distracting myself lately with more cars. You don't have to know the finer points of the engineering specs in order to identify them, so that's what I've been doing. Sort of like in WWII, they used to train plane spotters to ID different kinds of craft by silhouettes, only with cars it's far easier to start with the headlights.

Human brains are built to recognize patterns, faces are some of the most important patterns to recognize. We are social animals, and our ability to interact is heavily dependent on not just identifying who we're talking to, but what expression they're making. I learn best when I hang new stuff on old stuff that has a similar shape, so I've pretty much gone with trying to recognize cars by their 'faces' The headlights become eyes, the radiator grille the mouth, and the end of the hood something like a nose. This is a textbook example of pareidolia, by the way, and I'm not the only one who does it -- my mother…

[Advent Calendar 2013] QI XL - "Ice"

One of the infamous QI Christmas episodes -- in this case, from Series I, featuring notable personality BRIAN BLESSED, who has done everything from critically-acclaimed Shakespeare to the famously pulpy Flash Gordon movie. Also worth having a look at is the year David Tennant was on the panel, where both a joke and it's boomerang-brick punchline had everyone laughing too hard to breathe. Or the year with Daniel Radcliffe, who spent the entire show looking quite terrified and like he might accidentally end one of his answers by squeaking out, '...Mr Fry, sir,' but then goes on to nail not one but two of the obscure historical questions that the panelists aren't actually supposed to be able to answer. Stephen Fry is most impressed by him -- charmingly, they're friends now.

[Advent Calendar 2013] Never Mind The Buzzcocks

Never Mind The Buzzcocks Christmas special, 2012 .

[Advent Calendar 2013] Weekend Radio Theater - Sherlock Holmes

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - "The Night Before Christmas"
Image
I seem to have purchased some more critters.

See, I was out at a gig in Allston, and it turns out there's a PetCo between where I was and the nearest T stop. One thing led to another and somehow I walked out of there with a box of itty-bitty rats. I was worried that they'd get uncomfortably cold on the walk back to Harvard, but no. Apparently it's never too chilly to jam your nose into the leading corner of the box and try to smell where you're going.

This batch is a trio of ruby-eyed albino girls. Notoriously, red-eyed rats have eyesight even worse than the normal ones. As far as I can tell, they can see blotches of light and dark and that's about it. They can't track my hand if I wave at them from outside the cage, although they'll happily chase my fingers if I make some kind of noise for them to follow.

They've been named Bianca, Yuki, and Edelweiß, although this is largely for my convenience. If history is any indication, what I'm actually going…

[Advent Calendar 2013] "The Star Wars Holiday Special" (1978)

The rarely-seen Star Wars Holiday Special. Why is it rarely seen, you ask? Mainly because it's hilariously awful. No mere case of FX failure or cheesy dated script, this -- the fact that this has no particular cult following, whereas Shub-Niggurath does, is rather telling. It is the kind of bad that can only be stumbled upon by accident. For the longest time, rumor had it that Carrie Fisher had the only copy, and refused to show it to anyone out of sheer embarrassment. It pops on and off the internet at irregular intervals; judging from the appalling picture quality, this is sourced from someone's ancient VHS tape. Not that a clearer view would make it suck less.

(Hey, it's Friday the 13th. What did you expect?)

For added amusement value, get the thing explained by The Nostalgia Critic.

[Advent Calendar 2013] Christmas Carol CAPTION FAIL!

Christmas Carol CAPTION FAIL! They explain it pretty well in the video, but the gist is: YouTube's auto caption function is both hard-of-hearing and fairly stupid. They fed it some Christmas carols, then went back and re-sang them with what YouTube thought the lyrics were. The results are hilariously dadaist.

[Advent Calendar 2013] Gene Autrey - "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"

Gene Autrey, the Singing Cowboy, performing "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" on his variety show, 1953.

Rudolph was not one of Santa's reindeer -- along with the original eight, who were named in Clements' "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" -- until 1939, when the tale was written as an advertising tie-in for the Montgomery Wards chain of department stores, where the storybook was given away to children who visited that Christmas season. The book proved an instant hit, and a mass-market edition was published in 1953, along with a sequel. Gene Autrey penned the famous song in 1949. It, too, took off, and inspired further productions, like the infamous Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation special in the 1960s.

Mongomery Wards no longer exists as a department store, although they still have an online shopfront called Wards, and periodically issued reprints of the original pamphlet as promotional items. We had one when I was a kid, and it turns out that you c…

[Advent Calendar 2013] Judy Garland - "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"

Judy Garland, singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". Like many other songs now considered Christmas classics, this piece originated in a Technicolor musical -- this one was called Meet Me In St. Louis. The lyrics as sung today have been slightly altered from the original; the scene, in the context of the movie, is actually a melancholy piece, trying to make the best of what the family thinks will be a sudden uprooting and move to New York City. A few lines that didn't make it into the movie were even more bittersweet, about soldiers who might -- or might not -- return home from the war.

[Advent Calendar 2013] David Bowie & Bing Crosby - "Little Drummer Boy"

The unlikely duo of glam rocker David Bowie and classic crooner Bing Crosby teaming up to sing "Little Drummer Boy" for a 1977 Christmas special.

[Advent Calendar 2013] Eartha Kitt - "Santa Baby"

Eartha Kitt singing "Santa Baby" in glorious color, ca. 1954. As far as I know, the song originally came out on a 45 single in 1953, but the inimitable Ms. Kitt continued performing it for quite a long time.

[Advent Calendar 2013] Weekend Radio Theater - Ellery Queen

Episode 28 of the "Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine" podcast, featuring a reading of "Stone Cold Christmas" by Steve Allyn.
I go on a reading binge every year at Christmas. The learning-things center of my brain is mysteriously the only one that works when I'm otherwise not having any fun. I can't do anything with it when I'm like this, since concentration requires massive amounts of caffeine, and I can only do that for so long; I just start pounding large wadges of some random kind of information into my head for a distraction, and take it on faith that it will be someday be of some use to me. I read through most of the sci.electronics.repair FAQ collection one winter when I was laid up with flu, and now I know far more than any normal human being ever needed or wanted to know about how to dynamite my way into a broken portable CD player and make a Jacob's ladder out of an old microwave transformer.

This year it is apparently going to be cars. Mainly because my sidekick is about to cough up 30k for a convertible, and when she gets neurotic about enormous things she knows damn well she'…

[Advent Calendar 2013] "A Christmas Tree" by Charles Dickens

"A Christmas Tree"
Charles Dickens

Read for Librivox.org by Ruth Golding

[Advent Calendar 2013] 「クリスマスの贈物」- "A Christmas Present"

クリスマスの贈物
[KURISUMASU no okurimono]
("A Christmas Present")
竹久夢二で
[Takehisa Yumeji de]
(by Takehisa Yumeji)

Read in Japanese for Librivox.org. Text here.

[Advent Calendar 2013] "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" by L Frank Baum

"A Kidnapped Santa Claus"
L Frank Baum

Read for Librivox.org.

[Advent Calendar 2013] „25 Dezember 1899”

25 Dezember 1899
Kapital 15 - „Brief, die ihn nicht erreichen”
[Chapter 15 - "Letters, which did not reach him"]
Elisabeth von Heyking

Read in German for Librivox. Text here.

[Advent Calendar 2013] "A Christmas Mystery: The Story of Three Wise Men" by William J. Locke

"A Christmas Mystery: The Story of Three Wise Men" by William J Lock, read for Librivox by Ruth Golding.

MP3 audio file

[Advent Calendar 2013] "Bertie's Christmas Eve"

Read for Librivox by Ruth Golding.

"Bertie's Christmas Eve"
by Saki