Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Everyday Moments of Potential Disaster

Warning: This post contains a story about me going to the bathroom. If that's weird to you, read this instead.

If you really think about it, there are hundreds of moments every day in which something could go horribly wrong. By this logic, it kind of makes me happy because most of the time nothing that bad actually happens (knock on wood). However hard we might try, the human mind seems to be set up evolutionarily to protect itself from potential danger, and we are what we are because of that. We anticipate bad things that might happen, and we are cautiously aware of our surroundings. It comes in handy sometimes.

Where it gets weird is that the new dangers that we try to protect ourselves from are not actually dangerous in the way that getting eaten by a lion is dangerous. In the modern world, most people worry about things that don't actually put our physical condition in danger, but rather focus on things that might put our emotional condition in danger. Things like being seen by another man with your pants at your ankles. It's more difficult to explain why that is bad, compared to having to explain why getting gored by a rhino is bad. It's just bad in a socio-psychological kind of bad way. Not as simple.


I consider myself to be one who worries less than the average person, but today I had a moment of acute awareness of potential disaster. While on the toilet. I had sat down to TCOB in the one-toilet, one-room, no-stall lavatory on the basement floor of Goodbody Hall at Indiana University. As I was sitting there with my pants down, I looked at the door and realized that I had neglected to lock the door. There was a distance of about five feet from where I was s(h)itting and where the door was. With my pants still down, I stood up and lunged over to lock the door. This was the moment. My moment of acute awareness of potential disaster.

If during that one second somebody had tried to open the door, it would have been pretty embarrassing. But, I had carefully weighed the economics of embarrassment and felt that my very short period of risk of total disaster (being caught standing up with my pants down in the middle of the bathroom) outweighed the potential for the significantly-less disastrous (yet still completely undesirable) possibility that some one would open the door and see me sitting on the toilet.

I'll spare you the logistics of why I couldn't have pulled my pants up before going to lock the door, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I guess I am a little bit of a risk-taker. When it comes to these very short moments of potential embarrassment, I seem to not care most of the time. Pulling a bag of popcorn out of the trash at the movie theater, ejecting an irritating booger from my nose in public, adjusting an uncomfortable testicle from under my desk, checking a celebrity gossip blog during a class; all of these potentially embarrassing things can usually be done quickly and safely. I get away with it. All the time. (I'm pretty sure I have just jinxed myself.)

What is really interesting is how our minds almost subconsciously calculate the risks and benefits of potential embarrassment, in the same way that our minds once used the same facilities to assess the potential for danger. Real danger has been replaced by imagined, virtual, and social danger, and it still feels dangerous. That feeling that you get when you haven't read for class and then your teacher is looking out at everyone, trying to decide who to ask the next question, that is our evolved sense of danger, being applied to something that is culturally contrived. Pretty neat, huh?

In the same way that germs are everywhere and it will just gross you out or make you paranoid if you think about it too hard, the potential for cultural disaster is everywhere, but it's ok, because like most of the germs floating around, embarrassment cannot kill you. Plus, then you might have a good story to send in to Teen Magazine's Most Embarrassing Moments section. I'm pretty sure most of those are made up anyway.

I Saw This On The Ground Today


I have no idea what this is. At first I thought it was some kind of pet food, but why would it all be bunched up together like that? I didn't smell it. I was afraid. Any ideas? If Carlos Gonzales still lived in town, I would probably guess he had something to do with it. But he doesn't live here anymore.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A QuickNote From:

10 things, real quick.

1. Something is wrong with the celebrities of our nation. Why do we put such uninteresting people up on the pedestal of fame? What does this say about our society?

2. I officially take back everything I said about VH1. Their programming has been abysmal lately. Rock of Love 2? Come onnnnnnn.

3. As of Christmas, I have entered the club of iPod owners. I held out for a long time. For a while I intended to write some long, crotchety diatribe about why I think they are bad for the future of musical creativity (similar to a recent posting here you may have seen), but now I just kind of have to say to heck with it. One thing that I have been surprised by is the shuffle function. I used to think "why would anyone want to shuffle the songs like that?" Now I get it. Sometimes I'm not sure what I want to listen to, so I just put it on shuffle and skip through the songs until I find something that I like. Also, what can I say, podcasts are pretty cool, pretty handy, pretty futuristic. What if I turned this blog into a video podcast, where I sat on a comfy beanbag and read every entry to you in a soothing voice while doing accompanying hand motions? It would be awesome, right? Of course you would subscribe.

4. Smoothie Guy David Wolfe is loco. Somebody please explain to me what "ormus" is. You should check out his band, The Healing Waters Band. Coincidentally, I have kind of been on a smoothie kick lately. Or is it a coincidence? Sometimes, something so weird and hokey comes along that I can't help but kind of get into it. The Secret definitely had this effect on me. I was like "this might be the most absurd thing I have ever heard, but they are somehow pulling some kind of double-negative mojo and it actually kind of makes sense." David Wolfe is so weirdly charismatic and has such cosmic hair that I can't help but be interested in what he is saying, even if what he is saying sounds like it might be being dictated by aliens.

5. Gordon B. Hinckley, president and prophet of the Mormon church, died today at age 97.

6. I finally found out the title of a movie I had been thinking about for the last six years or so, and what I thought was a fake documentary turns out to be real. Well, it turns out the illusive movie is called Painting the Town. It was always on IFC at my parents' house, but I always started watching it in the middle, and never was able to figure out what the movie was called so I could rent it and see the whole thing. Well, after years of unsuccessfully searching, through my newfound advanced Googling skills (it was a combination of the terms "dances with wolves" and "stands with celebrities" that finally did it), I was somehow able to finally crack the code and find this movie, and now I can't wait to see it again. It's a documentary about a guy named Richard Osterwell. put it well:

"According to Richard Osterweil, the star of PAINTING THE TOWN and its sole raison d'etre, he moved to New York City in 1974 for the same reason everyone does: to spot celebrities. Osterweil is a painter, a rather unsuccessful calling he supports by driving cabs and checking coats at fancy restaurants. (He's prolific and, if somewhat derivative, surprisingly good, but his insistence on retaining visiting rights to his paintings has scared off most buyers.) His true metier, however, is crashing the parties, marriages and funerals of the rich and famous."
Sounds like a good movie, right? Maybe this movie will help me come to terms with my current confusion about this whole celebrity phenomenon.

7. Should I do NetFlix?

8. My friend Patrick from Germany asked me if the Super Bowl was today (Sunday). Was it?

9. You know how Creed from The Office sprouts mung beans on a wet paper towel inside his desk? It turns out mung bean sprouts are the same thing as moyashi in Japanese, an ingredient you'll find in pretty much any self-respecting bowl of restaurant-style ramen in Japan. I never knew! Creed was right. Those things are good! I'm going to be doing some of my own home-sprouting here in the next couple of days, so look out for a full report on that!

10. What is it about the character Mel from Flight of the Conchords that seems so strangely familiar?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Racial Transformations

Yesterday I had my face transformed by this thing called the Human Race Machine that was set up at the Indiana Memorial Union. It was a little electronic booth where you sit down and it takes your picture and then mucks around with the proportions of your facial features. Understandably, there were a few people lined up to try it out. I'm pretty sure that most of the white people were standing in line primarily for the purpose of seeing what they might look like as a black person. That seemed to be the major appeal. In front of me there were these young men from Africa who pretty much went bonkers when they got to the machine and saw what they might look like as white people. I was in line with my friend who is half black/half Japanese, and they kept looking at her, as if to say "can you believe this stuff?!" They were laughing really hard, taking pictures, calling their friends. They seemed to be getting the maximum amount of enjoyment possible from The Human Race Machine. Anyway, according to this machine's calculations, this is what I would look like as a person of the following ethnicities:

Normal Me
First off we have normal WASP me. You can't really see it very well in this picture, but you had to go in with a joystick and manually put in points where the edges of your eyes, mouth and nose were. Is my mouth really that small?

Asian Me

Black Me

Hispanic Me

I Forget What This One Was Supposed To Be
Middle Eastern

Middle Eastern Me

It was also supposed to be able to age your face by a certain number of years, but I tried that and all it really seemed to do was turn the picture black annd white instead of color. Maybe my face is just already too old-looking!

So what do you think? Which race should I push for if it turns out that reincarnation is what it's all about? Not to sound racist or anything, but I think I look best as an Asian. Or maybe Indian.

P.S. I am told that this machine was featured on Oprah a while back. Does this mean that there is a picture out there somewhere of Oprah as a white woman? The answer is yes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

David Bowie is My New Favorite Andy Warhol

I mean, I knew he was good in Labyrinth, but David Bowie has really outdone himself this time. Last night I watched Basquiat, and I must say, that D.B. really stole the show as Andy Warhol. The movie featured a lot of interesting actors, including Vincent Gallo as some random dude at a restaurant, Courtney Love as a very unlikeable and gross blonde floozy (weird, I know), Willem Dafoe as an electrician, Christopher Walken as an annoying reporter who talks like Christopher Walken, and Dennis Hopper as a guy with an accent, but David Bowie was awesome as Andy Warhol. Sure, he was a little bit too tall, but everything else was perfect. His effortless weirdness, the tone of his voice, the way that he tilted his head, the awkward white sneakers, it was really great. Every time he talked I just kind of chuckled.

This is really bad, but throughout the whole movie, I kept thinking to myself "Is that the painting that Lars from Metallica had?" Truth be told, the only reason I even know who Basquiat is is because the guys from Raccoo-oo-oon (they're like all artists and stuff) pointed it out when we were watching Some Kind of Monster, adding that he was most undeserving of such a piece of art. Well, later in the movie he sells it at Christie's for 5 million dollars. Lars is such a tool. He will never be even close to being as cool as David Bowie. I mean, I knew D. B. was a great musician, but let's add this to the list: He did a great Andy Warhol.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Seriously, Guitar Hero is Useless

You know how in movies about time travel, people from the past come and look at what we are doing in the present (the future to them) and make some comment like "Now why would you need to go and do that?" The backwards person from the past fails to see the significance of some awesome new invention we have now. Like when people kept asking Alex P. Keaton why he was wearing a life preserver. If time travel was real, and a man came from the 80's and saw us doing what we do today, I think that he would surely be most confused by the popularity of games such as Guitar Hero and their ilk. Even as a person from the present, I find games like Guitar Hero to be completely useless, and not just in the way that video games in general are useless, but useless in a much deeper, hilarious kind of way.

First off, I must fully disclose that I am a guitar player. I play real guitars, the kinds with strings on them. Any guitar player who has tried to play Guitar Hero knows that actually knowing how to play guitar puts you at a disadvantage, because there is no logical correspondence with the pitch of a note and the position of the key on the "neck" you are supposed to press. David Fair's eloquent, hilariously simple rules of guitar playing do not apply. And that is fine. The fact that I suck at this game is not what makes me hate it. I hate it because people mistake it for being something cool when it is actually one of the most pathetic things imaginable. The title of the game Guitar Hero is pure comedy, because when you are playing it, you are about as far away from being an actual guitar hero as possible.

First off, let's make no mistake, this game is essentially Dance Dance Revolution for people who don't like to exercise. DDR is by nature a much more interesting game than Guitar Hero will ever be, simply because people have to move their bodies. Sure, both require a certain amount of coordination and the basic concept of both games is the same: hit the button at the right time. But Guitar Hero sucks because there isn't even that element of physical challenge that DDR had. With Guitar Hero, you are sitting on your ass, pretending to be a rock star while actually being the furthest thing from it.

Second, becoming good at the game is a pathetically obvious outcome. All you have to do is keep playing. Sure, this applies to all video games, but I really think that the word "pathetic" applies to Guitar Hero because becoming good at the game means being able to anticipate when to press the right buttons at the right time and nothing more. It's a little too Pavlovian. In other games you at least have to experiment, make guesses, and take risks. Not with Guitar Hero. If you press the right button at the right time, you are deemed a rocker. Being "good" at Guitar Hero only means that you have spent a lot of time playing it, becoming familiar with the patterns in the songs. Considering oneself to be good at Guitar Hero is like the punchline of a cruel cosmic joke, it's like saying "I'm good at obeying traffic lights" and "I have a lot of time to waste" at the same time. As a video game, Guitar Hero is pretty much conceptually void.

Third, the game masquerades as being about guitar playing, and people seem to take it seriously. Sure, the fact that it's finger-DDR with a rock soundtrack is what makes it seem so cool, but there seems to be something going on with Guitar Hero that I haven't really seen happen with other video games. Nobody played Olympic Summer Games Atlanta for SNES and thought they had what it takes to be a pole vaulter. In most games in which you are participating in the emulation of some real-life talent there is a healthy suspension of disbelief. But what annoys me/worries me is that I hear people talking about Guitar Hero songs as if they were real-life challenges. A song will come up on the radio, or in conversation, and someone will say something like "Oh yeah. I love that song. I can beat that song on hard on Guitar Hero." As if anyone cares. That is what's interesting, is that being good at Guitar Hero has been elevated to the status of being something noteworthy, something anyone would be interested in hearing. People naturally assume that I don't care about how they are doing in their other video game pursuits, but for some reason, if people know that I am a guitar player, they feel the need to tell me about how their progress is going on Guitar Hero, in a kind of half-joking/half-serious sort of way. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say "Well, I can't play real guitar at all, but hand me one of those Guitar Hero guitars, and whoa..." It's most annoying joke of the past three years. The only other video game that inspires a similar crossover from actually-cool to virtually-pathetic is Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and although the game is also based on arbitrary button-mashing to equal "actual" skate moves, I would argue that even that game is quite a bit less mind-numbing and paint-by-numbers than G.H. Although I doubt that anybody really thinks that they are an actual guitar hero by being good at Guitar Hero, this game invites a little too much of that irony-blurred-with-reality blend we've been seeing a lot of lately. What do I mean? Look no further than the popular Rock Band Stage Kit. Point being, people seem to think that this stuff actually has something to do with music and/or being "cool," and that's kind of creepy.

This brings me to my fourth and final point. One thing that I actually really like about Guitar Hero is the songs on it. The soundtrack is for the most part a tasteful cross-section of guitar rock from the past 30 years, although the majority of the songs are covers, probably re-recorded by a silk-shirted musical chameleon session band somewhere in Florida. Every time I see the song list for the new version of this game, I actually kind of think to myself "Oh, cool, some rock and metal songs from back when I was first learning to play guitar." People are at least getting turned on to cool older songs, and I've read that these featured artists are getting new popularity (and royalties) as a result of their songs being licensed. But here's where things get lame again: Inevitably, you will realize that you were introduced to the song "John the Fisherman" by Primus via a mixtape that a friend made you back in high school, while everyone else seems to know the song from Guitar Hero. And they can probably beat it. On hard. So this is my final point: The music is introduced to people, not for their enjoyment, but for their conquest. And most of the times it's not even the real songs, it's weird, silk-shirted karaoke versions. And for the majority of people, these versions are the versions of the songs they will carry in their heads for the rest of their lives. They might hear the real version on the radio (I keep talking about the radio, but does anyone even listen to the radio anymore?) and think "Man, that song sounds weird compared to the Guitar Hero version." I now know what it must have felt like for my parents when as a kid I said "Wow, the Beatles sound a lot like the Monkees."

On another note, I often hear people say "If people spent the same amount of time learning to play a real guitar as they do getting good at Guitar Hero, they could actually be good at playing the guitar." Yes, this is probably true, if you applied the same zeal to learning to play the real guitar, you could probably learn to play a few cover songs on the guitar, although I would argue that playing the real guitar is in a lot of ways more complicated, because it's not compartmentalized to those 5 or 6 buttons, however many it is. With a real guitar, you have to tune the darn thing, put down a bunch of fingers at the same time to make a chord, bend the string the right way during a solo, etc. But I'm going to go ahead and be a jerk here and invite people to not start playing guitar. Not if making a more productive use of your Guitar Hero hours is your impetus, anyway. There are already enough guys like that hanging out down at Guitar Center right this very moment. The world does not need more cover bands. Trust me. The issue at hand here is not that people are playing fake guitars instead of real ones, but rather that people are interested in getting good at tasks with an obvious, static outcome instead of engaging in divergent, productive thinking.

So, the Man From The Past who was brought in a time machine from 1983, he walks into a living room and sees people totally having fun playing Guitar Hero. At first he thinks it's strange, that these guitars have buttons on them and no strings, then he realizes that they are just fake things shaped like guitars and that they are trying to press the right color button at the right time as it falls down the screen. It's just a button game, wrapped up in the guise of being about rock music. But the participants are enjoying it. What's strange is that they are not anywhere close to rocking out. Everyone is fixated on the screen, heads are not bobbing, hands are not clapping. That is taken care of by the fake audience on the screen. Next time you see people playing Guitar Hero, really look at the people who are playing. It's like some sci-fi comedy, it's like a scene from Idiocracy. How strange it really is.

I don't doubt that it is a fun game. I have had fun playing it. But, I have also had fun watching "Parental Control" while eating Cheetos. Having spent most of my life making music and doing all sorts of social things related to making music, it's not a stretch to say that Guitar Hero is completely unmusical and almost completely antisocial. In the most recent issue of Wired magazine, a writer for the Mr. Know-It-All column answers the question of whether or not it's ok for a man's wife to object to him breaking out Guitar Hero III at their next party because she thinks that videogames are antisocial. This writer states that "there's no question that Guitar Hero can boost a gathering's fun quotient - much like that tried-and-true party classic karaoke." Um, I really don't think so. I would have to argue that karaoke is much different than guitar hero, because in karaoke, what makes it interesting is the way that each person interprets the way that a song is sung, and there is no quantifiable rating of who has done the best job. In fact, in karaoke, it's almost good to be bad, that is what makes karaoke fun. I suppose it all depends on what kinds of people you expect at your party, but with Guitar Hero, unlike karaoke, which requires only the (pretty much) universal skill of singing, you may be subjecting guests to a test of the new and arbitrary skill of matching colored shapes flying down the screen with their corresponding buttons on a fake little guitar. Perfection is the goal, and a less-than perfect performance leads to cacophony. If you're good at the game, it might be fun, but I would say that it is very different from karaoke because it is usually not fun to watch (not enough people "rock out" while playing it, isn't that the point? I guess it screws up your accuracy.) and there is no room for people to let their personalities out in a game that only requires you to push the right button at the right time. Plus it probably means that the owner of the game is going to the best guy at it, and anyone who knows the "Hey, let's play this game I own and am really good at" scenario knows how much fun that is. So, I'm going to have to go ahead and disgree with Mr. Know-It-All, aka Brendan I. Koerner. <-- Google Alert alert! Hi!

Anyway, I'm done being the curmudgeon grandpa for today. Thanks for listening. I'm going to go play guitar now. I'll tune it first, David Fair style.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey

Together at last.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Things I Have Enjoyed as a Sickie

I didn't really feel this sickness coming. I thought that I was just tired and groggy, maybe a little bored. So I went and watched A Simple Plan (not that horrible Hot Topic band, this is a movie that features two important Bills: Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton) and it made me so nervous that I had to rush home and puke as soon as it was over. At first I kind of wanted to believe that a movie had made me throw up, but this turned out not to be true, as the sickness has lasted well past the jitters induced by this movie in which greed screws up the lives of a bunch of ordinary people. If you haven't seen this one, you should, it will have you pounding your forehead for the duration.

So after a long night of vomitosity and fever-induced crazy philosophizing (for example, I got on this thing in my head about how most Legos have gender, or at least male and female sides to them, the fever-high seemingly took my brain to places it had never ever been before) I woke up, thought that I felt better (after all, I wasn't puking, right?) and then went to church, where Richard Hardy gave me a sweet red Kangol hat.

Red Kangols

I was glad I went, because this picture speaks approximately one bajillion words. Had this not happened, I can't even imagine what my life would be like today.

Everything was pretty ok on Sunday, but when I woke up the next morning it felt like someone had hidden their phlegm collection in my chest. Yikes! Soreness and general grossness has persisted, but when the going gets tough, I revert to my natural health instinct: eat (more) saltines and watch a lot of TV.

In the daytimes it has been a mostly solitary affair, trying to avoid the daytime TV scene as long as possible by using the internet, sleeping more, or whatever else I am able to pull off. On Monday sencillo amigo Torlando Hakes came over and we watched a little bit of MTV's worst show ever, Next (actually, it's a 3-way tie between Next, Parental Control, and Date My Mom), and then decided that it was time to step it up and watch something that heals the soul: Oprah and then Ellen Degeneres. Although they were both kind of mind warping, I kind of understood the appeal, as if to say that if your circumstances allow you to watch these shows at that time of day, perhaps your mind should be warped. I mean, it's interesting to think about how much power Oprah wields. In a way it's a good thing, because although she might be kind of annoying, it seems like she is trying to do good things. Same with Ellen. I guess I just wish that people would seek out other sources of good causes in their lives. They're out there, and the TV doesn't have to tell you.

By the time evening rolled around, I was able to convince a few brave people to come hang out with me, and by "hang out," I of course really mean "watch TV" with me.

Anyway, here's a brief rundown of what has been covered this week so far:

Eraserhead: I had never actually seen this movie. People who are into "film," please roll your eyes now. Now I have seen it. I now see how so many other art movies take a lot from this style of filmmaking.

No Country for Old Men: Holy crap! There are quite a few twists to this one. I have never thought that a killer in a movie was so damn cool. He was a man of principle, you do have to give him that.

Sons of Provo: This one always seems to get people's attention when they see it in our DVD collection. I will happily oblige and watch it again and again if people really think this is a movie that they would enjoy watching. The premise of the movie packs a theoretically powerful punch: A mockumentary about a fictional Mormon boy band. I don't know, non-Mormons keep wanting to watch this. It's weird.

I've also heard some good albums in my sickness:

I know it's like a given in this day and age, but I'm going to go ahead and say it. After not having listened to Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea for about seven years, listening to it again literally brought a tear to my eye. I had been thinking about it lately, because I started giving David Orr guitar lessons and when I mentioned that the songs from that record are played with mostly basic chords, he said that was great because he actually envisioned himself with a guitar singing those songs to his theoretical children when he thought about learning to play the guitar. Enough ink has been spilled about this record, I don't really have anything new to say, except that it still feels like this cosmically abstract spiritual journey to listen to that record. What's the worst thing about this album? The very obvious fact that it inspired The Decemberists. Eww. Eww.

Then there's Elephant Eyelash by Why? Two songs in particular are just so lyrically vivid and heartbreaking. The first is "Gemini (Birthday Song)." It's so unabashedly vulnerable and sexual and sad. I can't find the lyrics online, but I highly recommend you seek out this song. Not that you really need to know exactly what he's talking about, but it's just such a cool song with a good, sad vibe. The other song is "Light Leaves," the last song from the same album. Both of these songs exhibit the same sort of heartbreaking journey between relationships, death, sex, and the struggle to find life again. I never thought that an hip-hop/indie rock song with throat singing would win me over, but this one has certainly passed the test, as it is so weirdly yet comfortingly sad. It's interesting to see someone with a background in abstract hip-hop doing melodic songs, because the words do seemingly carry a greater weight, but the music also moves more than sufficiently. These are interesting songs that feel both heavy and picturesque. I think I get it now. It's weird, because this record motivates me to finally get my own record done and out in the air, instead of just on my hard drive and in my head. This makes me confident that people can really feel music as an experience. So, cool for that.

I hope to be back in full force by tomorrow. Look out! Thanks to everyone for keeping me company.

p.s. Prayer Breakfast Myspaced. Check out some tunes.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Program Doodle


Friday, January 11, 2008

I Kind of Miss Friendster

You guys remember Friendster? If you're old-school (that actually just means old) like me, you probably do! Heck, I remember rocking the "blink" tag with some hand-typed HTML back in the day, so Friendster is really not that far in the past.

In the past six years or so I have already seen social networking go through three distinct phases. One platform becomes cool, then your weird co-worker knows about it and tries to add you as a friend, and then you decide that it's time to move on. I think that's just the way that it goes, every year or two the new cool thing comes along, it seems to have better features, it seems to look more exciting, there seem to be less lame or creepy people on it, etc.

But let's not forget about the site that started it all: Friendster.

You see, as Napster once was to "naps," Friendster now was to friends. Or so it seemed.

Friendster was so cool when it first came out. It was the first of its kind. The concept might seem kind of obvious to us now, but at the time it was kind of revolutionary: Put up a profile, fill in the blanks about the stuff you are into, find your friends, if they're not there, invite them (because who wants to look like they don't have friends?), and then write Testimonials about your friends. Remember testimonials? Yeah. Before there were embedded YouTube comments, it was all about testimonials. It made it seem as though your friends were on a crusade to vouch for your legitimacy as a human being, as if they were your references on a job application, or they were writing you a letter of recommendation to help you get a job as a camp counselor. It was usually kind of personal, interesting, and more importantly, it was clean. When I say "clean" I mean that there wasn't any weird HTML, just clean text that said stuff. And not just funny stuff they found on YouTube, but stuff that was supposed to be specifically about you, about your character, kind of like signing a high school yearbook.

Where did Friendster go wrong? Why is the word "Friendster" used mostly as some weird hipster punchline today? How did MySpace "kill" it? What did it really have to offer that Friendster didn't? A lot of people have said that it was the customizability of MySpace, that MySpace let you put some horrible background on your profile, it allowed you to make the cursor spray glitter wherever it went on the page, it let you embed so many videos that it would crash people's browsers. Friendster also cracked down on fake profiles, and it didn't let you keep a profile for your band, or at least it wasn't encouraged like it was on MySpace. MySpace wanted bands to put up profiles, and it let you put up some songs, and of course it encouraged you to add friends. You could do pretty much whatever, as long as you were wasting time on the site, giving them hits.

All of this stuff seems fine and dandy, representing a relative anarchy, or free-for-all for internet social networking. As sort of a reaction to this, it seemed a bit surprising that Facebook has become as popular as it has. In response to the general sense of sluttiness that is MySpace, Facebook at first seemed like a cleaner, somewhat classier answer to social networking for the college crowd. It was originally only open to users with university-affiliated emails, it did not allow the wild HTML embedding that so often made MySpace such an eyesore, and it didn't seem to really offer anything that special, aside from the ability to "poke" people, and that didn't ever really make any sense. At first, it really just seemed like it was about the same as Friendster, but with more beer bong pictures and poking.

Of course, we now know that Facebook unleashed a potent weapon, its applications platform, and thanks to that, you can now be a zombie or play Scrabble or Oregon Trail or whatever else, all these little applications that by themselves are far from noteworthy but that seem all to be more fun because it is taking place with your friends and because your every move is being pumped out to the news feed (Remember how weirded out everyone was about the news feed when that thing first hit? "OMG it's like totally stalker" they said. Now you wouldn't think of Facebook without it, right?). The news feed provides you with all this important news about your "friends": Mandy has super-bitch-slapped Paul. Jane joined the group If 10,000 People Join This Group, I Will Do a Keg Stand. David and Sarah are attending Nacho Party 2008!

With regard to 99% of the new Facebook apps, I will say this: they're there because you can, and definitely not because you should. Does there really need to be an application to answer questions such as Which Disney Princess Are You? Which Swear Word Are You? Ugh. These are real applications. Whoooo caaaaaares! Almost all of these applications are completely insignificant and disposable. Surprise, surprise.

As a result of people's bizarre love for Facebook applications, their profiles are looking more and more cluttered, more and more trashy, and more like the garbage boat profiles that float on the MySpace waters. It has become that it so clearly was not in the beginning. Eyesore ads everywhere; overwhelmingly colorful, stupid graphics that make it look like a Microsoft product.

It's starting to make Friendster look pretty good again. The simple gray interface, the simplicity of the text in the testimonials, the relative uniformity of the profiles. At the very least, I feel kind of bad for Friendster because as far as I can tell they invented the concept of making a profile and adding friends (social networking, whatever you want to call it), and they got their idea ripped off by Facebook and MySpace, who offered less-buggy, more server power versions of what is essentially the same crap.

So out of due respect, I logged into my Friendster account today. It took a minute, since I had to get my password sent to me, it was sent to an old email account I never check anymore. Remember Hotmail? Similar story (I hate to say it, but I almost feel a similar sense of sorrow for the lameness of pretty much everything that Microsoft does these days. They seem to be striking out pretty consistently. "I feel sorry for Microsoft." Doesn't that sound weird? But let's look at their latest offerings: Vista [apparently it blows], the Zune [iPod killer, my ass], the new Hotmail [when it comes to aesthetics and the user experience, they really just don't get it, do they?]). Anyway, I think there are maybe a few holdouts who still rock the Friendster full-on, but if these people do actually exist, they are internet rogues of the highest degree. I imagine them as people who wear headbands. Not quite sure why.

When I logged onto Friendster, the first thing I saw was a Metamucil banner ad. This is a bad sign. A very bad sign, actually. But it was a walk down memory lane seeing all those old testimonials. I might copy and paste those to my C.V. or something if I ever get really hard up for references. It really made me feel like people were pushing for me. It was kind of nice.

Of course, if you are over the age of 23 then you probably realize that the establishment of a presence on any social networking site is pretty much meaningless, disposable, and fleeting. Is it strange to feel nostalgia for a website? Heck yes! But it happened.

Send all sweet Friendster testimonials here. Let's bring back the Friendster.

Also, I feel that this post would be amiss if I didn't say that a friend of mine lost his virginity to a girl from another city he met on Friendster. In a van, a van inside of a warehouse. It's not as weird as it sounds though, I promise. Some months later, when we were on tour at a show at Modified in Phoenix, Arizona, some like 17 year old girls overheard him talking about how he wanted to check his Friendster, and these girls were all like "Friendster? Are you for real? It's all about MySpace now, didn't you know? It's way cooler." He had effectively been schooled (and maybe even pwned) by these little twerps. That must have been strange, to think that it was outdated, to think that this thing that had yielded a milestone hookup now sounded antiquated, as if he had just used the word "hootenanny."

Yeah, it all moves too fast and means too little.

I'm going to go sing and play guitar into a microcassette recorder. Be careful. I might loan you the tape.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sometimes Emotions Can Be...


Also, you probably already own a set of these, but for those who don't, there is a new invention to help dudes in SUVs to pick hot babes while driving.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Help Me Identify the Musicians in Craig Robinson's Wired Illustration

I saw this illustration in this month's Wired and starting trying to figure out who everyone was. Help me fill in the gaps. The illustration is by Craig Robinson, and it's from the article "On iTunes, a Careless Click May Buy You an Imposter." (<-- What's the difference between "impostor" and "imposter" anyway? Spell check doesn't like it, but it's listed as one of the spellings in the dictionary...) Help me identify these musicians.
Row 1: Dunno, dunno, Willie Nelson, the Go-Gos, Buddy Holly?, not sure, James Brown
Row 2: Devo, dunno, AC/DC, Hall & Oates, Blondie?, no idea (someone grunge, I presume)
Row 3: Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Dee Lite, not sure, Amy Winehouse?, New York Dolls?
Row 4: Dunno, Steely Dan?, The Ramones, Billy Idol?, Ronettes?, Aerosmith?
Row 5: 50 Cent, Guns N Roses, no idea, wait no this is Aerosmith I get it, not sure, Cheap Trick
Row 6: White Stripes, Beach Boys, Michael Jackson? (nahhh), ZZ Top, Elvis, some group that rolls realllll deep
Row 7: Bee Gees, The Donnas, no clue, Tina Turner?, Kraftwerk, Milli Vanilli, Mariah Carey

Help with the ones I don't know, or correct me if there's one that is wrong.

Sorry the resolution's not that hot. That image is stolen from the Wired website. I would scan in the one from the magazine, but that one's not so hot either, the pixels are all kinda blurred out. Mr. Craig Robinson, if you find this while ego-surfing, please send a better version! Thanks.

I wrote the artist and he kindly wrote back. Here are the answers, based on my initial predictions.

the answers

Looks like we were on the right track for the most part, except for Pearl Jam (that hat guy is Jeff Ament, duh!) and Culture Club. Good work, team.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Blog Post Where I Go On and On About Nathan Barley

This show is soooooo funny! Interesting social commentary too, I guess.

Having been a fan of The Mighty Boosh, I was pretty excited when my friend Sue Anne Zollinger (the person who introduces me pretty much all funny British TV, [incidentally, she just got a job and moved to Scotland, so she will certainly be in the pulse]) said that Julian Barratt had a new show (new to us Yanks, anyway, it actually came out in 2005) called Nathan Barley.

The show is based on this fictional character Nathan Barley who is a complete jackass techno wiki-chump* media chode living in London. He runs a counter-culture website called (registered in the Cook Islands, yes, it is a real URL) which seems to mostly consist of his sole employee, Pingu (Ben Whishaw, who recently played Bob Dylan in that one new movie about Bob Dylan and who by the way, has a ridiculous website that I can only hope is a joke) getting pranks played on him where he ends up peeing his pants, sort of like Jackass, but with more of a bullying element. Nathan goes around saying vapid, meaningless things to everyone he comes in contact with, and is always calling average British citizens "my nigga." In the UK, the show is so successful that the name "Nathan Barley" is often "used pejoratively towards those whose lifestyles were satirised by the series." Nathan Barley is truly a loathsome character, but he is not alone, as pretty much everyone on this show is a hipster idiot of one kind or another, with the exception of Dan Ashcroft (Julian Barratt) and his strangely attractive (I know! A hot British woman?) sister, Claire Ashcroft (Claire Keelan).

Clare Ash

Dan Ash
(He doesn't usually look like this, really.) Dan Ashcroft, applying for a 20,000 pound loan after accidentally falling asleep on a bunch of paint. This hairstyle, know as "Geek Pie" goes on to be all the rage in Japan. He doesn't get the loan.

Dan Ashcroft is a not-so-great journalist and his sister Claire is a documentary filmmaker. They both struggle to be noticed for their work in a world that appears to be inhabited mostly by idiot hipsters. Dan writes for a magazine called Sugar Ape, an exaggeratedly more ridiculous parody of urban lifestyle magazines like Vice and whoever else runs huge American Apparel ads these days. In trying to critique the world of fools around him, he write a piece entitled "The Rise of the Idiots." The piece becomes a major hit among the very people he is trying to criticize, because these idiots call each other idiots as if it were a compliment and take the notion of idiocy as their credo for coolness. Dan Ashcroft is immediately bewildered to find that all of the hipster idiots around him love the piece, and he has become their poet laureate, the William S. Burroughs of this idiot movement, the King of the Idiots. Throughout the show, you see him struggling to not be as big of an idiot as the people around him, but having to compromise his values to make a living as a writer for Sugar Ape (the most extreme example probably being when he finds himself giving a middle-aged dad a handjob at a pub while on a Sugar Ape investigative journalism assignment exploring the depths of "straight-on-straight gay encounters" which he took so that he could pay off an enormous video store late fee).

What I find to be most interesting about the show is the great detail put into the portrayal of the hipster idiots, especially the ones who work in the Sugar Ape office. Although their fashion is kind of exaggerated for the sake of comedy, the truthiness of this fashion satire definitely shines through.

My favorite of the hipsters is this one kid who works in the Sugar Ape office, I call him the kid with the hood:

hood kid B
His shirt says "You can't rap if you ain't black."

hood kid
You can't really see it here, but he is jumping on a trampoline while talking on what appears to be a huge Zac Morris-style cell phone.

Sometimes he rides a small plastic tractor around the Sugar Ape office.

barley C
Hoodie kid and a friend are getting honked at as they ride other ridiculous vehicles.

barley B
Riding little things seems to be all the rage among the idiots.

More funny hipster fashion.

barley G
The new Sugar Ape logo.

barley E
Nathan Barley, note the double bluetooth action.

pingu B
Nathan, Pingu, and Claire at headquarters.

tophat guy
Another funny hipster.

One of the real treats of this show is that every once in a while you get to see Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh, who plays Dan and Claire Ashcroft's flatmate, a tweaked-out electronic musician named Jones. His character is absolute genius. He prances around their flat with electronics strapped to his body, making music that is intended to sound like the worst crap in the world but that I actually find myself kind of liking.

jones C
It kills me that he has a painting of himself up on the wall.


The real gem though is this video:

Anyway, this show is only six episodes long, and I think it's pure gold. You can watch the entire first episode on YouTube, and if you really like it, I have a disc with the remaining episodes if you want to borrow it. I think it's out on real DVD as well, if you have some duckets to drop.

*Thank you to Andrew Restrepo for making up the word "wiki-chump." It's one of those terms that is both strangely vague while also being completely descriptive. He coined this term in his scathing review of Make Magazine's Weekend Projects Podcast host Bre Pettis.