Monday, October 23, 2006

Five places that make me happy

1. The front yard of the house where I lived from ages 2-10. There was a giant oak tree that shaded the whole yard. I spent many happy hours playing there. I don't really remember what I spent my time doing, but I think I sometimes made acorn stew.

2. The main quad at Notre Dame (aka "God Quad" because that's where the Basilica is). The golden dome towers over one end of it. The interior of the quad is an arboretum with tons of different trees. It's gorgeous and serene, and it's where I first fell in love with Notre Dame.

3. The kitchen of my grandparents' farm house. The best time was in the morning, with my grandma making eggs and bacon, homemade bread in the toaster, and my aunts and uncles from down the road stopping by for a morning chat.

4. The courtyard at my law school. You can sit in the courtyard's clean, comfortable chairs and tables for hours, enjoying the weather, studying, and chatting with the many passersby. Also, I made most of my law school friends in the courtyard, so it holds many fond memories.

5. Broadway Avenue in Capitol Hill in Seattle.
This is the sort of hip shopping/restaurant district in Seattle. What made it great was that in addition to the abundance of Thai food, feather boas, and used books you typically find in such neighborhoods, it also had two major grocery stores and a small Target-type store, so you could actually live there. For six years, I lived within two blocks of it, and I rarely needed to go anywhere else.

What places make you happy?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Helium shortage?

A few days ago, I went to the grocery store and tried to purchase some helium balloons. I was informed by a sign that the store was out of helium and that "This is a nationwide problem." So, I got to wondering about some things: Where does helium come from? Is there really a nationwide shortage, or did my grocery store just forget to pay its helium bill?

As best I could figure out, here's what's going on: Although helium is very common in the atmosphere, its concentration is too low to be usable. Most usable helium is found in pockets of natural gas in Texas, where it has been trapped after being produced by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. The federal government extracts the helium from the natural gas deposits and sells it to private plants to be processed.

The current shortage is probably caused by a combination of scheduled maintenance (fall is a low-demand time of year because of the lack of baloony holidays) and problems with processing plants in the middle east. Here is an article about it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ironing boards

I have an ironing board like this. Most people do. They are big, they take up closet space, they're kind of a pain to put up and down, and they make a sound when being set up that scares the cat. Also, they can tip over, causing irons to fall on small children or set fires.

Several years ago, I lived in an apartment in Seattle where I did NOT have to have an ironing board like the one above. The apartment had an ironing board built into the kitchen wall, much like this:

The Seattle board was even better than this because the storage box was actually recessed into the wall instead of sticking out. The board flipped down out of the wall, right in the kitchen. The iron was stored right there. It was an ironing paradise.

Note that this was not a fancy new apartment. It was a studio apartment in a building so old that the kitchen had an icebox (the system by which stuff was kept cold before the invention of refrigeration.) Clearly, the ironing-board-in-the-wall idea has been around for a while. So why are we moving backward as a society?

Welcome, Scarlet Panda reader #8

I noticed yesterday that someone has been coming to my webpage repeatedly from a blog called Barrington. I checked out her blog, and found THIS amazing shout-out. I am so proud. I encourage my other readers to check out her quite excellent blog.

I fear she will stop reading if I don't start updating more frequently, so I'm going to make some effort in that regard.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why Studio 60 Sucks

I love Aaron Sorkin, but Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip sucks. Five reasons why:

1. The SNL-type show-within-the-show is not funny.

Aaron Sorkin's shows (The West Wing, Sports Night) are about brilliant, passionate people who have completely dedicated themselves to their work. When Sorkin characters have a problem to overcome, they use their dedication and brilliance to work on the problem, and sometimes they emerge triumphant. Then the audience goes, "Wow, they're awesome!" It's satisfying.

On The West Wing, this formula works: Toby pulls off a political maneuver, the bill gets passed, the audience can see that something great has happened. The bill was passed against all odds! Wow, they're awesome!

On Studio 60, here's how the formula goes: the challenge the characters face is to pull off a funny show in light of some obstacle. Someone writes a sketch. All of the characters talk about how funny it is. We see the sketch. The studio audience laughs. We are all supposed to go, "Wow, they're awesome!" Except that they are not awesome, because the sketch was not funny. Not at all. It was a tired Gilbert & Sullivan parody or a dated Juliette Lewis impersonation. There is nothing to satisfy the audience.

2. The characters are not sufficiently dedicated to their work.

As I said in #1 above, the essence of a Sorkin show is dedication. On Sports Night, Sorkin managed to make us care about whether a sports show was good because we felt like the characters would do anything for the show. Here, it's not clear to me that the characters give a crap about whether the show gets cancelled, so why should I care?

3. The writing is too much about how smart Aaron Sorkin is rather than being smart itself.

Literary allusions are great if they are understood by a good portion of the audience and serve the story by providing a shorthand that helps illuminate the plot or characters. More obscure allusions are fine if they are quick references that can be appreciated by those who get them and ignored by those who don't (The Simpsons does a lot of that). Studio 60's allusions meet none of these criteria.

For example, in the last episode, we had to watch two characters spend a scene basically saying, "Hey, our subplot sort of follows the same simple plot as this Strindberg play, so let's have several minutes where we talk about the Strindberg play and how it's similar to our subplot. Strindberg Strindberg Strindberg." We get it, Mr. Sorkin. You know about plays.

4. Sorkin is under the misapprehension that simply repeating some variation on "Christians are bad" is either a joke or somehow instructive.
There are constant references to "Crazy Christians" and how they don't like science and believe in creationism. There's a Christian character on the show, and most of her interactions involve the other characters talking about how they disagree with her. There's no humor or depth. It is almost too boring and pointless to even be offensive.

5. It tells rather than shows.
There's an actress on the show who is supposedly really talented, well-liked, and funny. How do we know? Because the characters constantly announce it. We have never seen her be particularly talented, likeable, or funny.

I suspect that this show is on the fast road to cancellation.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Cult of Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's annoys me. It's not the food they have, some of which is good. I like the little pretzel things that are filled with peanut butter. It's the bizarre, cultish devotion it seems to create in its patrons. You know the people I am talking about. You're sitting at a work lunch or at a party, and they offer you a weirdly spiced cashew or some ginger snaps. Then, inevitably, they feel the need to tell you, "They're from Trader Joe's." When they tell you what they had for dinner last night, it wasn't just stir fry, it was "stir fry from Trader Joe's." They read Trader Joe's newsletters. Everything is Trader Joe's this, Trader Joe's that. It is unnatural.

I bring this up today because I happened upon this newspaper article today in my local paper that recognizes the Trader Joe's cult phenomenon. Among the many articles and sites devoted to Trader Joe's, I found blog devoted to tracking Trader Joe's-related news and an account of one person's recovery from the obsession.

You can't even buy an individual piece of fruit there!

Llama llama cheesecake llama

I love this video of The Llama Song. Watch it. Listen to it. Love it.

I don't think it plays music until you hit play, but just in case, you shouldn't click on the link if you're currently in Federal Jurisdiction or something.