On my way home from work today, I stopped my bicycle at a red light. There was a scooter right next to me, also awaiting the green light. I noticed the chauffeur (is that the right word? I don't think so) had his right hand on the speeder. Revving. Wroom. Wroom. Wroom. Wroom. Wroom. On and on, like a nervous tick. Surely the scooter is recent enough that he doesn't need to rev his engine to keep it from going out, I thought to myself. It wasn't a particularly cool scooter — it was the type of scooter that'll make most casual observers think "man what a lazy person, why aren't you on your bike instead?"
It's fine. It was in the middle of downtown. I had a podcast in my ear, and cars were going by. The noise level was measured in enough decibels that I wasn't worried about falling asleep at the wheel; a little noise from a constantly revved engine like that will surely blend into white noise, I thought.
And it should have, but this pointless revving reminded of a motorcyclist who lives in the building across from me (fortunately not for long). I'm pretty sure he suffers from a severe case of douchebag-itis, enough that he should at least have it checked by a doctor (if you don't treat douchebag-itis early, you might end up buying a Porsche Cayenne!). Now this motorcyclist constantly revs the engine, to a point where I'm pretty sure it affects the performance of his driving — it's really quite ridiculous. Alas, this happens even when there are sleeping babies around. Of which I have one. That is, she's sleeping some of the time. She's not when he's revving his engine.
The difference between a motorcycle and a scooter is that one of them makes an engine-noise that could theoretically be satisfying to the part of the population that has octane in their blood. Theoretically. When I muster all the testosterone that I can, testosterone that's usually busy making me an exoskeleton for my daughter, I can sort of understand this.
I can't understand revving the engine on a scooter. Because scooters are not, and do not sound, cool. Ever. If you looked up cool in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Miles Davis. Not a scooter. Not Miles Davis on a scooter. There would be no scooters nearby. No presentations discussing the birth of the cool would mention scooters.
So please dear scooterist, answer me this: why are you revving your engine?
Trust me. I looked long and hard for a "my other mode of transportation is a Millennium Falcon" bumper sticker on the scooter. Because yeah, revving the Millennium Falcon, that's cool bra', yo dawg). Unfortunately, such a sticker was nowhere to be found. I could only see an itsy bitsy engine, making loud noises by the rhythmic revving. I meant to chuckle, but I was baffled chuckleless.
Parenthood is a club. Not necessarily a prestigious or elitist club, just a club. Like nerds really into Settlers of Catan, so do parents share a profound, mystical understanding. No, it's not that non-parents aren't welcome into this club, it's just that — like the Matrix — you cannot be told what it is like, you have to experience it for yourself. To clarify, by "parents" I also mean surrogate-moms and dads, adopters and sure even pet-owners — it's not about the blood, it's about taking on the responsibility of a life other than your own.
It's the little things that set parents apart. Like spotting a passing baby-carriage and quieting down as you pass it by. It's having been desensitized to diaper jokes. It's going to bed early and honestly looking forward to the morning coffee at 05:19. Mostly, it's carrying a void in your heart when you're away from the little one for too long.
From an outsiders perspective, parents are super annoying. They appear to be completely self-centered around their own little world. They bring their kids to grocery stores. And on flights, oh god they bring kids on flights make it stop. And they yell, and their children scream, and they lose their temper, and they should be bringing up their kids differently I'd show them how I'd teach'em good. And oh man the topics they drone on about, on and on and on and on, hours on end. "Did you know the diapers are really cheap in that store you don't normally shop in?" "Oh you really should be using cotton diapers, those one-time diapers aren't good for you." "Selma's teething now, it makes me look forward to the morning coffee at 05:19." Terrible.
Bear with us. Becoming a parent does something to you. The sleep deprivation combined with the intrinsic knowledge that failure won't ever be an option, sprinkled with the occasional tiny smile you receive from the creature in your care. It'll hit you like you haven't been hit before. It may only be chemistry, but it'll make you see through time and feel like you can punch through a wall. When I held my baby girl in my hands for the first time, while it was the biggest moment in my life, it was frankly bittersweet. The moment reminded me that everyone was once a cute little baby. That angry cat lady down the street who keeps yelling at you for no good reason. The sad homeless guy carrying an ominous sign. They were both once little cute babies, with a mother who nursed them and cared for them. Or, even more heartbreaking, lost their mothers.
It makes you realise you have something to lose now. Like a chronic tristesse, it drastically widens your perspective. Life takes on new meaning. Yeah, it'll likely take a while before you can watch the news again. Yeah, it'll make you focus your complete attention on children in your vicinity — not only your own, but other children as well. And yes, doing so will make you seem completely self-centered to your peers. It's a steep price and there are no returns. Fortunately it takes only one smile from the little creature and you're willing to pay double.
When you reach a certain age, that is, the age when you start sentences with "When you reach a certain age", you start to think that kids today aren't what they used to be. Which is of course an eternal falsetruth because kids both are, and are not what they used to be. And kids today say "fail".
Actually, kids say many dumb things, including "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but the word "fail" when used as a noun, makes me die a little inside. Like the sound frequency that breaks glass, the mere utterance of the word initiates an intellectual necrosis in my being. It makes me sad, tired, and a little on-edge. Instantly.
It's not so much the meaning, I'm fine with failing. In fact, I do it all the time. Sometimes I even learn from my failures. That's when experience is generated. Yay for that.
It's when the word is used in its impoverished, truncated non-verb form. Fail. It makes me think of George Orwell and Idiocracy. It confirms my fears of the future and amplifies them. We're dumbing down the language to a point where expression is becoming a scarce resource; and this at a time where the tools for publishing said are increasingly numerous and easy to use. Yet time and again expressions are truncated, not even filling the 140 character limit. Poof. Gone with the wind in a cacophany of who cares.
Go start a blog or something, write about your cat or the difficulty of the human condition. If you must use the word "fail", use it in a sentence. On the other hand, if enough people use the noun-form word in a meaningful way — excrutiating as it would be — one day "fail" would be canonized a noun in the dictionary. What would really sanction the word would be if Stephen Hawking used it to describe string theory. That would be the day I embraced newspeak.
While listening to my favorite podcast the other day, one host casually threw out this statement, which is all it takes to infuriate me:
I don't believe in pills
Well good for you. And real fucking good you don't have allergies. Or Pneumonia.
In all fairness, this is a statement that I hear all the time from all sorts of people. It's also a statement that probably shouldn't be taken at face value; I'm sure the host in question was referring to plain headache pills or even vitamin pills. While I'm at it, let me clarify that I harbor a tremendous respect for this particular host, and he does believe in vaccines so he's not a moron. So let's not make this about him. Which is why, in the interest of putting myself in the opposing viewpoint, there are many reasons why you might want to avoid some pills. Multi-vitamin pills may or may not work, and if you eat right: fish, vegetables, meat or chickpeas, you're probably better off without 'em. Also, make sure you get lots of sunlight so you can skip the D-vitamins. It's probably also better to search for the root cause of your headache (did you remember to hydrate?) than to eat a painkiller. Finally, there's a lingering concern that some pills, especially pills involving hormones, have serious side-effects we might not know about until the next generation.
That's all good and well. But the statement still kills me. "I don't believe in pills". Well fuck you: pills can save lives. Pills can cure you. Pills can relieve your pain. Pills can give you a decent life despite chronic illnesses or even ease the passage of someone with a terminal disease. Sure, some of those pills have side-effects, but sometimes you'd rather experience the side-effects than the effects of the illness for which you're eating the pills in the first place. I personally prefer to eat antihistamines and be just a little bit tired all the time over not being able to breathe. In fact, I really love those pills, despite their side-effects, and I sure as hell believe in those pills. Because those pills work.
I'm not out to lambast anyone for this particular brand of ignorance; everyone is entitled to a modicum of stupidity. But I want to shine a light on the fact that saying "I don't believe in pills" makes you sound like a dumb douchebag. It's a simplistic view of life and you could at the very least augment your opinion by clarifying that you prefer not to eat pills if there's a readily available alternative to your particular needs.
Or do you just want me to grind up your pills and put them in some OJ, sport?
This night, Christopher Hitchens passed. He'd been struggling with cancer for a couple of years, yet he'd kept going despite knowing exactly what was in store for him.
A passing always hits a special part of your body, an organ you did not know was there. It's like losing part of what helped keep your balance. It's going to take some time to find a new balance in absence of that support.
When Arthur C. Clarke passed, he'd lived a lifetime and written more than one lifetimes worth of work. Knowing that, it was somewhat more easy to celebrate his life and work, knowing he'd more than fulfilled his promise. Douglas Adams life, on the other hand, was cut short like now Hitchens was. Surely both Adams and Hitchens have achieved more in their lives than many of us can ever hope to, but it still makes this no less tragic.
Hitch had a profound impact on me. Through his writing and speaking he logically approached the difficulty of the human condition. In no uncertain terms, Hitch managed to make actual sense of what might not have any sense in the first place. Not believing in God is not as easy as it sounds. The notion that this is it and even if you live a life unfulfilled in the end you'll return to the void, that is a hard pill to swallow. Somehow it puts the injustice of the world in an even starker contrast.
Through this, Hitch taught me that what I need to strive for in life is to have more good days than bad days. He taught me what I want for my own deathbed; to have made some impact in the lives of the people I spent it with, to hopefully have been an invisible support to give balance. You were that support to me, Hitch, and like walking a staircase missing a step, I expect to stumble in your absence. I will do my best to find a new balance and help others do so. And I will tell my daughter about you.
The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it — Thucydides
The Star Wars Blurays are out. I’m not getting them. And not because Darth yells “Nooooooo” or because Greedo shoots first (or whatever). Simply, I’ve seen them enough times now. I’m done. No, not done in that smug, grown-up “Star Wars is for kids” kind of way, trust me I’m as juvenile as ever. I still love lightsabers, I giggle like a schoolgirl whenever someone says “titmouse”, and I listen to the Mega Man 2 soundtrack on repeat. I’m right down with you nerds. I’m just at a point where I’m thinking it’s perhaps time to throw my love on something else.
The amount of energy spent by the Star Wars fan community discussing the Bluray edits is astounding. One fan (or several, I wasn’t paying attention) is taking it upon himself to restore the “non special edition” of Star Wars in HD:
Note how R2s hologram is actually white in the original version, vs. slightly bluish in the “enhanced” version. I totally cancelled my Bluray preorder when I saw this. George Lucas, you ruined my childhood!
That would be me if not for the fact that I discovered other sci-fi television. Turns out, if you have 400 hours to spare, instead of restoring the original version of Star Wars to HD, you could watch every episode of Star Trek ever made! Think about that for a moment.
Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars was good. Especially Empire. That whole Cloud City thing was way better than what they did in Star Trek. Here’s Cloud City:
And this is Stratos from “The Cloud Minders”:
Still, once you’ve seen Cloud City, you’ve seen Cloud City (that is to say, once you’ve seen Cloud City in all three four versions, you’ve seen Cloud City — but don’t worry if you haven’t, they’re pretty much the same save for a tibanna gas refinery). And say what you will about Star Trek, but that Kirk got down with the ladies, even green ones. And not one of them were his sister!
You could also get into Buck Rogers (just pretend season 2 never happened). Listen to them crunchy grooves:
But wait, there’s more. Here’s Erin Grey as Col. Wilma Deering:
… and let’s not forget Pamela Hensley as the evil Princess Ardala. Always trying to score with Buck. Silly girl, didn’t she know Buck preferred good girls? And damsels in distress? And Amazon Women? Occasionally bad girls. But not Ardala! Except of course when he was brainwashed, but that’s another story:
That may not be a metal bikini, but it sure deserves being restored in HD more than the original Star Wars does.
Next time you get an irresistable urge to spend 400 hours on restoring Star Wars to the way it was meant to be, consider if maybe that time was better spent watching Star Trek or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (season 1). You could also watch Space 1999. Or UFO. Or even the original Battlestar Galactica — heck, any Glen A. Larson show. You could even watch Patrick Duffy as The Man From Atlantis! Patrick Duffy! (It’s all in this pamphlet).
You must do what you feel is right, of course. But sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us. It all starts with a choice. A choice to spend your credits not on more Star Wars. Instead, roll up your blinds and let in the light! Then roll them down again and put on Buck Rogers. Season 1.
The wife bought cupcakes the other day. Four of them. Really pretty ones from Agnes Cupcakes. "They were delicious", you'd think this blog post would end with, but no. It only begins with "the top half was delicious".
I consider the cupcake a fundamentally flawed design. It's basically a lavishly frosted and decorated muffin. The end result is a messy eat that gets dull as soon as you've devoured the top. It's like starting with the dessert and once you're full you're given dinner. And not even a good dinner. Sure you can try to improve the cupcake design by carving chunks out of the cupcake-bottom, filling them with interesting curds and whatnot. The Wife tried, and as usual she succeeded. But that still means cutting chunks out of a muffin. Muffins deserve better.
The problem is not the muffin itself. The problem is the stark juxtaposition of the brilliantly inviting cupcake-adornment on the one hand, and the muffin on the other hand, which benumbs the latter into a damp, dreary affair. By focusing on beautiful swirls and delicious embellishments, the cupcake design turns the phrase "icing on the cake" on its head. Instead of being the glorious enrichment of an already delicious treat, the icing on the cupcake has become its sole raison d'être. I doubt even a cherry on top would help. To make matters worse, once you're done eating that which you're so obviously meant to eat first, your sugar intake is likely to be at a point where you'll consider simply throwing the cupcake bottom away. A tragic fate in its own right, but an indictment of the cupcake design if there ever was one.
The cupcake design follows a pattern I see all too often these days. It's the razor focus on presentation and appearance over substance and structure. As soon as you scratch the surface, you'll see it's all a thin veneer, a set piece hiding a lack of usability, functionality or even nutritional value. The prettified product may vastly outsell the more substantial, more usable, more functional, more nutritional alternative, but somehow people will not only not notice they're being fooled, when their error becomes apparent they'll pretend their decision was for the better. It's like a cupcake reality distortion field.
I don't readily have an alternative to the cupcake. I don't have a design handy which alleviates the structural issues with said chow. No, I don't have all the answers. Does that mean I shouldn't be allowed to point out apparent problems? I criticise because I love. That's how it's always been. And even if The Cupcake Defence Brigade comes out in full force, it'll still not change the fact that the cupcake is a fundamentally flawed design.
The donut, on the other hand, is an absolutely brilliant design. I wouldn't be surprised if it follows the basic shape of the universe itself.
Celebrating the sale of our previous apartment, The Wife and I had dinner at a restaurant yesterday. It was a mid-range price place — not shawarma cheap, not Noma expensive. We were seated and I had a look at the menu. Everything looked good, so when the waiter came, I asked if he could recommend me something. I was surprised to get a snarky response back, as though my indecision not only annoying but offensive.
I like to ask the waiter for recommendations. I have flexible tastebuds, so I can eat and enjoy the weirdest of meals, and when I go to a restaurant I like to eat something new. I’ve had great success with this strategy during my US travels earlier this year. The waiters have been almost universally accommodating, and my inquiries met with the opposite reaction to the Danish waiter. After all, who better to know what’s good than those that serve the menu on a daily basis.
Denmark is not big on tips. For example, tips are already included in taxi-cab fares, so you’re not expected to give extra. Dinners at restaurants are marked up so that even if you don’t give a tip, no-one will look at you with an evil eye (though you are thanked for an extra tip). In fact, you could live a perfectly normal, not-frowned-upon, life in Denmark, not ever giving anyone a tip.
Let me be clear, I do tip when I’m at restaurants. 10% universally, which due to the already marked up prices is a good tip. When I’m in the US I always ask the locals what the comme il faut for tipping is, and I tip the highest percentage I’m told, usually 20%. I tip the Starbucks lady, I tip the taxi driver, I tip the waitress. I do this because I’m told the US is a tip economy, that wages in many walks of the US life are based on the generosity of the clientele. Minimum wage might be viable simply by virtue of the tip. I suppose the master plan of this system is to reward great service with great tips and not so great service with a not so great or no tip at all.
I’ve never been a fan of this system, not because great service doesn’t deserve a good tip, but because I feel it adds a needless amount of complexity to life. And it feels like an institutional form of reward and punishment, on both sides of the fence. Instead of explaining to your Starbucks-barista-with-an-attitude that in fact everyone has bad days but that’s no reason to let it out on you, you just omit the tip. Instead of the tip being the icing on the cake, something you give for extraordinary service, the tip is expected and not giving a tip becomes a negative signal.
On the other hand, I can’t recall having received anything but great service during american adventures, and yesterday I do wish my missing tip would’ve said “hey, dear waiter, next time I ask for a recommendation, please don’t look at me like I peed in your pool”.