Archive for the ‘random’ Category

Read more stuff that I wrote!

July 25, 2012

I no longer reside in Brooklyn, so I’m not updating this site anymore…but you can always read more stuff here:
or here:
or here:


Breaking Bad is Amazing

December 11, 2011

There can be little argument that Arrested Development is one of the finest TV shows ever produced. But it is essentially a pre-recession show: the characters are careless, shallow, and rich, the plot follows executive hijinks at a real estate development company, and the humor revolves around intricate post-modern inside jokes. It’s a lighter-than-air comedy that couldn’t be more delighted with itself.

What people may not know is that Breaking Bad is also one of the best shows ever produced, and perhaps the definitive post-recession show. It’s a brooding drama about wasted talent, the struggle to make ends meet on a middle class paycheck, and the dark temptations of power.

The plot follows Walter White, a brilliant but timid chemistry teacher stuck in a thankless job and a decaying marriage. When Walter, played with otherworldly intensity by Bryan “Dad from Malcom in the Middle” Cranston, receives a cancer diagnosis that’s equivalent to a short order death sentence, he takes matters into his own hands. He decides to use his chemistry expertise to create the purest and most potent crystal methamphetamine in the country.

Suburban Albuquerque, NM (ravaged both by the spread of crystal meth and the collapse of the housing bubble) is the perfect setting for this story — sunny all the time yet extraordinarily bleak. It’s also worth noting that the desert, and this unlikely city right in the middle of it, is photographed beautifully.

The show proceeds slowly and awkwardly, as Walter must find some entry into the drug trade while also fooling his innocent wife and son, who sense his desperation. He happens upon a former student, a shiftless drug addict whose affected urban speech and careless attitude clash with Walt’s meticulousness — and (finally) allows us a little fun. The two are hopelessly out of their depth, and soon blunder into danger. Walt’s family life goes from tense to barely watchable, with the threat of a DEA raid or a brutal gang reprisal lurking in the shadows. In order to lead this double life, Walt gradually slips away from the moral mainstream, from mild mannered everyman to fraught anti-hero. As the suspense builds, Walt finds himself enjoying the thrill of this transformation, even as his life crumbles around him.

I am running late so I’m gonna wind this up: Watch Breaking Bad! Like The Wire, it’s so good, and so unexpectedly pertinent to the real world, that it’s hard to believe such a show was ever produced.

A (final?) thought

June 28, 2010

Well, I’m going through some big and potentially significant life changes. I’m not sure how to approach blogging about them. Also, although I still very much enjoy visiting Brooklyn, I think I’m physically and emotionally far enough away from the borough that I should change things up blog-wise.

(If anyone actually reads this, I’ll keep you “posted.” Zing!)

Anyway, you were promised a thought. Here we go: one of my new roommates appears to have a thing for Ultimate Fighting Championship, the uber-violent cage fighting program that they sometimes show on Spike TV. I have it one some authority that the martial arts style employed in these matches tends to be a roughshod mixture of Thai kick boxing and Brazilian ju jitsu. These two styles form the basis for “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) because of their devastating effectiveness in the UFC context. When you’re in a one-on-one, no-holds-barred battle the goal of which is to either knock out your opponent or force him (they are invariably men) to submit, you apparently always turn to these techniques. Thus, even though UFC is supposed to be an “anything goes” forum where you might expect there to be representatives from all of the world’s wondrously different martial arts traditions (kinda like that one Van Damme movie), these get homogenized into dominant strategies for survival. This is less fun for the viewer because all of the more interesting and visually appealing styles succumb to this boring MMA crap.

Now. Yesterday, I very nearly attended the North American Organic Brewers Festival. I’m told that a large proportion of the brews at the event were IPAs. Also, a beer magazine recently ranked the “Best Commercial Beers in America” and mentioned that, “six of the top 10 vote-getters in the competition are IPAs, proving that hoppy beers are still king among readers.” Of course, I love IPA as much as the next guy — but I’m also inclined to pause and wonder whether brewing the “best” possible beer (i.e. the most appealing for the largest number of drinkers) is worth it in the long run when all the other styles of brewing might face elimination. Same thing with martial arts. Shouldn’t diversity count for something? That’s my thought.

Scene: the front lines of a farmers market

May 10, 2010

Customer: I love this cheese! But this $10.50 piece is too expensive for me…do you have a smaller piece?
Me: (at my friendliest) Officially, no. But, especially since you are a repeat customer, I could sell you the other half of the piece I’m cutting samples from? I would charge $6.00.
Customer: Hmmmm
Me: Actually, I am running low on quarters…so if you have a quarter, I would charge $5.25.
Customer: Done! But I don’t have a quarter.
Me: OK, $6.00
Customer: So because I don’t have a quarter, you’re charging me an extra 75 cents?
Me: Uh…that’s right.
Customer: (angry) No, that’s wrong! (Buys cheese for $5(!!!) and storms off).

End scene.

In sum, I was trying to do this dude a favor and he gave me shit about it! And stiffed me a quarter/a dollar. I must say, like Dustin Hoffman in the last scene from Straw Dogs I yearned for outrageous violence. Only the strictures of “the law” and “customer service” kept me from stabbing him repeatedly with one of the many, extremely sharp knives that were at my cheese mongering disposal. Bah!

So this blog post is really the only socially acceptable way I could think of to vent my frustration after the fact. And, now that it’s written, I can put my revenge fantasies to rest…

Rare Earth Elements — an abandoned paper topic

April 23, 2010

I was toying with the idea of writing a foreign policy paper about the chemicals depicted below:

Source: Journal of Energy Security, “The Battle Over Rare Earth Metals”

It turns out that the above elements are crucial for the manufacture of a lot of gadgetry, including a large swath of “green” tech. The US and US allies also use them in various hi-tech weapons, e.g. guided missiles. 95% of the current supply of these chemicals is mined in China, which is moving both to restrict their export and increase their domestic consumption of the stuff.

The folks at BBC did a brief video piece on this topic, pointing out that the Chinese monopoly may annoy the Japanese in particular — a point also echoed here. (I would embed the BBC video here, but I don’t appear to be web savvy enough to download it…)

This NYTimes article takes a different angle, focusing on the high environmental cost of mining for these metals. Apparently the extraction process is devastating both to the environment and to communities in the vicinity (similar to uranium mining, I might add.) PBS did a blurb about this as well. So the question becomes: do the benefits of hybrid cars and windmills and cetera outweigh the costs of mining? That’s a legitimate question! It’s just not really a foreign policy question as such…

Leaving for China makes Tai Shan a Saaaad Panda

January 8, 2010

(This photo, lifted from a DCist article, was taken by dc.John)

Christ, it’s so sad!

I wondered whether or not this photo should warrant a blog post of its own…but statistics indicate that the VAST majority of visitors to this blog are folks who, for one reason or another, are scouring the internet for a picture of a smiling orangutan, another emotionally evocative exotic animal. One does wish to please one’s reading public, so here we have the star attraction of the National Zoo looking kind of miserable. Aww.

Happy Boxing Day!

December 26, 2009

I like to think that the open ended phrase “Happy Holidays” has a little room in it for Boxing Day. Woefully under-appreciated outside of the Commonwealth, the 26th will always be a perfect day for playing with toys, eating cookies, and languishing in post-xmas warmth. I’ll save you the (Sarah Vowell-esque?) exploration of the holiday’s history and remark instead that the great thing about Boxing Day is that you get all the warm/fuzzy without any of the religious connotations! Delightful.

On an unrelated note, isn’t it odd how some words aren’t ever used outside of a set phrase? Some examples:


Really, try to think of anything else that is “vested” other than “interests”…etc.
Happy Boxing Day!

Sheet Music, DRM, Musicianship

November 25, 2009

On my way into campus today there was a dude with a keyboard serenading us Metro patrons with the Peanuts theme! Amazing.

I’ve been playing piano (to some degree) for almost 20(!) years now and I’ve never gotten around to figuring that song out. So I gave the guy some change, struck up a conversation with him, and he showed me the basic fingerings. “Yeah this is one of those magic tunes,” he said, “people love it!” But then he encouraged me to buy the sheet music…

Like, he was quite emphatic about it. “Don’t just go online and get it! Don’t even buy the PDF for a dollar! Go to the real website and buy it for full price!”

Now even though I have experienced a strong desire to learn this song in the past, I never once considered actually buying the music. Clearly one reason for this is that I’m cheap, but another is that it’s just patently unreasonable to pay full price — even more so given this dude’s situation: here’s an unkempt guy who may or may not be homeless, carrying around an old keyboard and a scruffy backpack of random other stuff, and he is apparently willing to pay more than necessary to some music publisher?

Perhaps he was a sheet music salesman in a clever disguise. Homeless or not, it just seems crazy that anyone would buy the music, let alone buy it for full price, online, with all of the intrusive DRM stuff built in.

But talking to this dude made me realize that I was also opposed to buying the sheet music on a personal level even. When I was a kid I would pore over sheet music and then memorize what I was playing, which was boring…and not a good way to learn to read music. Now that I am an adult (an assertion which calls for another parenthetical !) I take a certain amount of pride in being able to play jazz rather than classical, and to play by ear or with a lead sheet (a sheet that provides you with just the chords and basic melody of a song, allowing you to improvise and play the song however you like). For a jazzy song like this, sheet music just feels like sacrilege to me.

That said, I think I’m going to swallow my pride on this one. It is a tricky song. I’m going to take this guy’s suggestion and actually get the sheet music — since I’m sure I’ll forget how to play it by the time I get back home to the piano.

On the other hand, if anyone out there happens to be looking for gift ideas…

Google Wizards strike again

November 18, 2009

Faced with Google’s awesomeness, I usually assume a stance of quiet wonder. But at the moment I can’t restrain my enthusiasm about the fact that Google Translate provides standard romanization (pinyin) for Chinese characters now. Yay!

I just discovered this; I wonder how long has this been the case?

Of course realistically this doesn’t effect my life much at all, but, that said, it does make things slightly easier! See, like all online translation tools, Google Translate is great at translating individual words but falls short when you plug in entire phrases; often you will end up with words that make sense by themselves but become gibberish when GT places them next to each other. To verify Google’s potentially nonsense translations, you used to have to either a) go through the laborious process of looking up the character by itself in a print dictionary, or b) paste whatever translation Google gave you into some other, lesser online dictionary — with often questionable results. Now that we have the romanization, it’s easier (for us no-iPhone luddites) to use a print dictionary to look up characters because we can do so via the roman alphabet, which always elicits a sigh of relief.

Super Wholesome Video

November 12, 2009

A dog and an orangutan fall in love. It’s your classic animal bondage bonding story:

So obviously the video is heartwarming. But it’s also engrossing in a weird way — some combination of the twangy music, campy fades-to-white, a mini life preserver, and the emphatic use of the words “monkey biscuits”…it’s just weird. Ultimately, I don’t know what to do with this video except inflict it upon others.