Saturday, May 31, 2008

Previously On Lost: The Band

Although I'm not watching TV, I do follow Lost online at so I was able to catch the finale last night but I bet Jeff Curtin and Adam Schatz were watching it even closer. After every episode, the musical duo debuts a new song about the show; their band is appropriate named Previously on Lost. Visit to listen to all 12 songs of the season so far on their MySpace page, or if you happen to be in New York, you can catch them performing live tomorrow, including the thirteenth song about this week's season four finale. To hear Curtin interviewed a long with clips of their songs, listen to this story on NPR.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pork and Beans

No, I'm not going to write another food-related post about pork or beans. I just finally clicked on the video "Pork and Beans" that's been popping up on YouTube all month it and I'm glad I did.

It's a music video by Weezer featuring all your favorite viral stars, including the Numa Numa Kid, Miss Teen South Carolina, Afro Ninja, and Chris Cocker. At first you think the band is just stealing clips, until you realize the stars are lip synching along with Weezer's song, which is about dancing to the beat of one's own drum without shame.

The video makes me happy. While some of the virals referenced here are just fun, many of them featured folks who's most embarrassing moments were played out over and over by several million people in an endless loop of purgatory. It's nice to see them in this video on their own terms, embracing the unique qualities that made their videos such hits.

Monday, May 26, 2008

One Degree: Two-Timing Robert Downey Jr.

First the answers to the last One Degree, which was all about Iron Man Robert Downey Jr.'s connections with the Batman franchise. He was movies with three Batmen: Game Six with Michael Keaton, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with Val Kilmer, and Good Night and Good Luck with George Clooney. He never starred with Christian Bale, the fourth Batman, but he did star in Less Than Zero which was written by Bret Easton Ellis, who also wrote American Psycho, the movie that launched Bale. Finally, he also starred with a bunch of Batman's leading ladies: Uma Thurmann in Johnny Be Good, Nicole Kidman in Fur, and Katie Holmes in The Singing Detective.

To close out the month, Robert Downey Jr. has starred in two movies with each of the following stars.
Name two movies in which RDJ starred with any one of these two actors: Mel
Gibson, Woody Harrelson, Katie Holmes, Elizabeth Shue, Kevin Kline, Marissa
Tomei, Ian McKellen and Heather Graham.

Answers next week! Leave your guesses in the comments!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Human Calendar

Craig Giffen (lower right) created a human calendar. You can smaller versions to your site, like the one below, but the full calendar is more impressive.

Too Much Candy

Never has a criminal mastermind been so cute. Capuchine and her mother Anne try to get their stories straight before Daddy comes home.

Too much candy from Capucha on Vimeo.

Here's a bonus video. Thanks for featuring this, Vimeo!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cool Beans

After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, listening to a barrage of stories about the rise of global food prices, and seeing prices go up in the supermarket, I've decided to try to cook on the lower end of the food chain and the budget. Apparently I'm not alone.

On April 18, Heather Havrilesky wrote about frugal shopping and buying beans for $0.65 in Salon. "Not canned beans, mind you: Dry beans. Bags of dry beans." She observes a pragmatic woman fondling a 15-bean blend until she sees that the bag costs $2.69, puts it back and declares "Too expensive...You have to buy beans at the Mexican grocery store. They're cheaper."

If I had to eat beans and rice for the rest of my life, for me there's only one dish that would be a top contender: Dal Makhani or creamy lentils. I didn't even have it at a restaurant, I had it out of a foil pack from Trader Joes--it's like Indian chili but richer and ever since I had it, I wanted to try to recreate it. So a couple weekends ago I found a Dal Makhani recipe online that looked promising and went in search of the ingredients, namely the black lentils, which I found at a local Indian grocery.

Unlike Safeway, which only had a couple varieties, they carried every hue of lentil you could imagine, but none of the packages were priced. I asked the mom of this mom-and-pop store how much the "urad dal" was and she said with gas prices so high, the cost of importing them from India kept going up, so she wouldn't know offhand until she rang it up at the register. I may be trying to save money, but I wasn't about to say "Three dollars? In that case, never mind." For $10 I brought home a packet of Dal Makhani (for taste comparison), a packet of palak paneer, a bag of urad dal, and a bag of dry kidney beans.

My first batch didn't turn out so well. I was hungry so I only cooked it for an hour (you can cook it for 30 minutes, but only if you have a pressure cooker), so the lentils were cooked but not creamy-soft. And I burned half of it because I was skimpy on the water. I had to make a few substitutions--didn't have garlic-ginger paste, so I just chopped up some garlic and ginger. Also, I used American chili powder which has cumin and oregano for the red chili power, which I don't think is technically right. And I only had canned diced tomatoes on hand, which I figured was fine since it was going to stew anyway.

It was still tasty enough that my husband ate it and said he'd eat it again. I doubled the recipe the following weekend, used more water, and cooked it for two hours and I think it turned out just right--my husband didn't get any of it because I finished it off over two days before he got to it. So I'm just going to have to cook it again--and I've still got almost a full bag of beans left.

Since I like to feature videos in this blog, I found a video of someone preparing this recipe--the recipe looks more elaborate and even more fatty (the recipe I made called for two tablespoons of butter plus milk, whereas this one calls for cream), but it's probably still better for you than a slab of prime rib.

Monday, May 12, 2008

One Degree: Ironman and Batman

It's Robert Downey Jr. Month, so here's the answer to last week's One Degree: Robert Downey Jr. starred with Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science, Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger, and Dan Akroyd (who he has named as his favorite SNL actor) in Chaplin. If you know of more answers, post them to last week's game.

RDJ month continues here at One Degree. Downey remarked in interviews for Iron Man that he's seen his arty peers go on to star in major summer blockbusters--specifically, Wonder Boy's co-star Tobey McGuire's turn as Spiderman--and wanted to make a similar splash. However, Downey has three times more in common with actors who have starred as Batman.
Name the three actors that portrayed Batman on the big screen then went on to costar in films with Downey, and name those three films.
As a bonus, Downey starred in a movie based on a book by an author who wrote another book that was adapted into the career-launching film for the fourth Batman star--name the author.

And for the golden snitch, there are three actresses who have portrayed either Bruce Wayne's love interest or Batman's femme fatale who have also been Downey's costar. This does not count his Gothika co-star Halle Berry, who starred in Catwoman but has never appeared in a Batman film. Name the actresses and the movies they starred in with Downey.

Answers next week! Post your answers in the comments! Have fun!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When is an Anecdote More Than an Anecdote?

I used to subscribe to The New Yorker. It was a little treat that arrived in the mailbox and it was just the right amount of bite-sized bedside reading. I'd consume that magazine like a reverse Oreo: over the course of the week, I warmed up with the Movie Reviews at the back, then read Comment, Talk of the Town, and Shouts and Murmurs at the front, and if while flipping between the covers I saw an interesting article, I'd plunge into the longer articles near the staples.

Despite my reluctance to read those meatier feature articles in the middle by reporters like Malcolm Gladwell or Seymour Hirsh, finishing those always gave me a sense of accomplishment akin to going for a jog, like I was a better, more informed person for having read them.

But not enough is said about the writers that sandwich those headliners, the warm up acts, so to speak. In fact, I would be hard pressed to name any of those writers, until today when I was compelled to figure out who was being interviewed on "City Arts and Lectures" on my local NPR station.

Adam Gopnick is a writer for many of those snippets at the beginning of The New Yorker, and listening to him being questioned about his daughter's imaginary friend Charlie Ravioli, I realized I recognized that story and had probably read several of his pieces. I was struck by one thing he said about essays, because it was so obvious, yet I had never heard it expressed out loud:

I just finished writing an essay about writing essays for an anthology of essays... and what I finally realized was what an essay is, it's simply a work of prose where the object of the piece and the subject of the piece are different and the writer thinks that he or she knows what that difference is. Where you have an object--a dying goldfish, or the imaginary friend, or the broomstick, or something, that's part of the normal run of life, and then that story about that object then really has another subject, and then the real subject is the nature of busyness or the nature of mortality, or in some sense some piece of the meaning of life--that's when an essay works.

Here's that interview at FORAtv:

The quote reminded me of something I heard Ira Glass of This American Life say during a live talk I attended: The secret of storytelling is not simply the anecdote, but the moment of reflection in which you pull some larger meaning out of it. Until he said it, I hadn't realized that this was format of the first five minutes of every episode of TAL and probably the reason why the show was so compelling (to see video clips of Glass saying something similar, and to read a nice summary of his technique, see this post from Presentation Zen).

The stereotypically bad high school essay never graduates beyond the plot-summary book report we did in third or fourth grade. Both Gopnik and Glass, despite the difference in medium, are describing why they probably got As in English all their life. The question for me is whether this skill can be taught--do kids write bad essays because they don't see the larger picture and can't synthesize ideas, or because they've never seen a good essay and haven't been taught it's structure?

I'm sure it's a little bit of both but to the extent that it's the latter, here are a few links to books featuring Gopnik. If he can relate Anna Nicole Smith's death to Jesus, Antigone, and King Lear, surely he has something to teach America's seventh graders.

Gopnik won a National Magazine Award for his essay "Like a King" which appeared in the New Yorker in 2001, and is now featured in his anthology Paris to the Moon

"Bumping into Charlie Ravioli" in which even an imaginary friend is to busy to play with Gopnik's daughter, was featured in the Best American Essays 2003.

Gopnik's aforementioned introduction will appears in this year's edition, which is due out in October from Houghton Mifflin.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

SNL Predicted the Future: Gas Plan, Take One

Who knew that Tom Hanks was psychic? Here's his appearance on Saturday Night Live from two years ago, May 6, 2006-- two years ago.

"Oh, it's gonna."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Here Comes Another Bubble" Wins a Webby

And the 2008 Webby for Best Viral Video goes to...The Richter Scales for "Here Comes Another Bubble!"

Sure, the deep-voiced guy singing about cocoa dripping from the clouds and institutionalized racism won the popular vote. But when the 550 member Academy is stacked with writers and editors from publications such as The New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, and The Los Angeles Times, the song that packs "flickr, meebo, wikiyou, mahalo, bebo" into one line is going to win.

Haven't seen the video? Here's a link to The Richter Scales webpage.

And here's my original post about how they dealt with the copyright controversy surrounding the original video (I've become a lot less paranoid about embedding video into this blog than I was when I started in January--I just try to use common sense).

Monday, May 5, 2008

One Degree: Robert Downey Jr. and SNL

My faith in One Degree is restored. Two weeks ago I decided I would go on hiatus until I thought of topical One Degree trivia starring well-known actors who were in or about to be in the news, which would rule out actors like Romola Garai and Benedict Cumberbatch. However, two people correctly wrote that those two British actors had starred in Atonement and Amazing Grace and it wasn't even a formal question. So now I know a few people are paying attention.

If there is one actor who is in the news this week, it's Robert Downey, Jr. and for once, it's not for getting arrested. I've been overdosing on Robert Downey Jr. trivia following the release of Iron Man so now my entire left hemisphere is flooded with factoids about RDJ. In fact, my brain's so full, this may just kick off the start of Iron Month, just so I can purge before I go into shock. Here's the challenge for week one:
Robert Downey Jr. was a cast member of Saturday Night Live for one season and has starred with at least three other actors who once starred on SNL--name the cast members and the movies they appeared in together (Bonus points for identifying his favorite SNL cast member).
Answers next week! Post your answers to the comments! I made this one up, so maybe there's even a fourth cast member he's starred with--show me up! We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Iron Man, Hero for the Middle Aged Geek

I don't like comic books so much as I like hero origin stories. To date, Spiderman has had my favorite origin. Superman was born with superpowers and was a do-gooder simply because he was raised right. Batman trained for his powers but did so to avenge his parents, who were murdered in front of him as a child. Spiderman, on the other hand, fights evil out of a sense of guilt--as a teen, he could have done the right thing and used his newly conferred powers to stop the criminal who ended up killing his father-figure, Uncle Ben. Now he has a lifetime of atonement to work out.

However, I think Iron Man is my new favorite. I have never read the comic and frankly, I always thought Iron Man was kinda boring--it's a guy in a suit, woo hoo. But after the kick-ass trailer for the movie came out, I started my obsessive Googling.

In the original comic book, Tony Stark, an industrialist playboy genius CEO modeled after Howard Hughes, was captured by the Viet Cong while observing the his company's technology in use during the Vietnam War. He escapes by creating a suit of armor, and thus, Iron Man is born. Stark was originally conceived as a right-leaning, corporate, anti-communist hero, the ultimate capitalist and technologist. Apparently, this theme was tamped down as the Vietnam War became less popular in the U.S., but even so, Stark would definitely still be a donor to the GOP.

In the movie, Stark has gone over 40 years without thinking about the impact of the weapons his company produces. He's a flip philanderer who loves his toys and women who thinks nothing of how his genius is applied. When captured by an Afghani warlord who has gotten a hold of Stark's weapons, he's directly confronted by the products of his own making and he has a change of heart.

Stark's transformation into Iron Man combines elements of the origin myths of Superman, Spiderman and Batman. Like Superman, he was born with certain advantages, in his case not strength, but intellect and wealth. Like Spiderman, his transformation came after realizing that bad men had benefited from his prior actions. Like Batman, who trained in martial arts for years to hone his skills, Stark's transformation was an act of will--he didn't just land on another planet or get bitten by a radioactive spider--his powers come from months of work perfecting his suit.

But even more powerfully, Stark's transformation doesn't happen to him as a boy, as it does for nearly every other hero. He's over 40. And it wasn't just the inaction of youth that enables bad men to hurt people as it was for Spiderman--it is the actions of his own company, Stark Industries, that he must confront. This movie speaks to the idea that a person can change at anytime and face their own responsibilities, even the middle aged.

I don't think the movie is anti-technology or anti-capitalist, so much as it is about the application of brain power to things that matter. If anything, it is more of shout out to all the geeks of the world to use their massive noggins for good, much like Bill Gates' new evangelism for creative capitalism.

Too deep? OK, here's a little levity:

I'm a Marvel and I'm DC: Iron Man and Batma

"Iron Man" Trailer To Be Made Into Feature Film

Copyright 2008