Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Attempt #2

My loyal readers (or those familiar with archival post search) will remember this post, in which I outlined my plan of action toward getting on Jeopardy. Although I think I did reasonably well on the test, they never called, which stank.

I didn't think much else about it until I saw a guy from Lexington on the show a month or two ago. He worked for the Herald-Leader and wrote a few columns detailing the more technical aspects of his appearance. Like me, his first contact with the show was via the online test. But what he said about his "callback" really caught my attention: he had almost missed it thanks to his spam filter. His e-mail identified the invitation to come to a real-life audition as junk and was ready to delete it until he noticed it at the last minute. So they didn't call him after all, they e-mailed him.

Now I'm not saying that I missed my invitation. The selection process is, after all, largely random, and I have heard of people indeed being called on the telephone. But, thanks to the wonders of caller ID and the dogged tenacity of those infernal telemarketers, I never answer my phone unless I recognize who it is. And until a few months ago my Hotmail account was set to automatically delete e-mails it interpreted as spam.

Needless to say, I have now amended my junk mail filtering process and check it regularly for things I might actually want. And as luck would have it, Jeopardy has another online test scheduled for tonight that I've been eyeing with an enlightened mind ever since I read those Herald-Leader stories.

So here we go for Jeopardy Attempt Mark Two. They limit you to one a year. Updates to follow...

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Breadfan" by Budgie: Nugget de música

I'm experimenting with a new widget that will let you, my gentle reader, experience for yourself some proverbial sonic diamonds in the rough. It is my sincere hope that, in so doing, I can open your ears to musical experiences beyond your wildest imagination. I intend on making this a weekly event, and as I am sure all of you will be waiting patiently, please do not send me irate letters wondering where the next one is if I'm a bit behind. Also, I pray thee, please note that although I wholeheartedly endorse the selection that plays first, I cannot in any way endorse what may come afterwards. In fact, I may find it abhorrent. Please keep these facts in mind.

Anyway, this week's selection is from an early-70s British metal band named Budgie. Yes, it's a rather lame name, and unless you're a music scholar or old you've probably never heard of them. But I hope you'll agree with me that this is one fine tune. It makes me think of skulls, leather, and ape hanger handlebars. This, my peeps, is the proper way to rip off Led Zeppelin.

Press play now.

Breadfan - Budgie

I've also gone back to my older posts where I've referred to music and added the link so you can hear for yourself.


Ye Olde Medieval Storey

The first time I heard about the Bayeux Tapestry I was in Fourth Grade. In the hullabaloo surrounding the appearance of Halley's Comet, its famous depiction of "they marvel at the star" showed up in newspapers, books, and posters. It was cool to think about how this object we could go outisde and see in the sky was the same that had been taken as an omen of doom over 900 years earlier.

It was only later, in high school, when I started to learn more about 1066 and the Battle of Hastings that I was able to contextualize the Tapestry as more than just some ancient image. It's my current historical object of fascination. One of these days I would love to see it with my own eyes.

Until then, I made my own. There's no deep historical or philosophical meaning...it's a depiction of an old Latin joke. You don't have to understand Latin to get it, although it does make it funnier. If you don't get it, just try reading it out loud. If you so much as chortle audibly, you are a nerd.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Drive-By Morality

What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?

--Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, Part II, Chapter 3

One of my favorite bike routes rolls through farmland that is typically rural Kentucky -- verdant hills, black wood-plank fences, cow pastures. I don't remember exactly when, but in the past year or so this sign appeared along the way, redolent of cheery pastels belying its staid message:

It's perched on the side of a relatively short but steep hill that I like to attack aggressively, so its themes of death and punishment are tangible to me both figuratively and literally as I gasp past. I sometimes expect to look up and see standing in front of me that final, stark image of the hooded Reaper himself -- grim scythe in hand, a single skeletal finger beckoning me, slowly, as I inexorably draw closer. If that day comes, you won't be reading about it here, but rest assured it was a pretty dang poetic image to go out on.

I've written before about how riding out into the middle of nowhere allows the mind to slip away from the tedium of day-to-day life and instead drift toward the esoteric. I appreciate a sign like this, not only because its author saw fit to fashion it free of the overtly mangled grammar and haphazard punctuation that is far too commonly passed off as English around here, but because it makes the reader think.

Although I'm sure some would say in so doing you miss the crux (pun intended) of the matter, let's set aside the theological implications of the message (which involve faith and thus can be, and have been, argued endlessly for eons) and instead approach it from a more rational philosophical standpoint. When I read this sign, I think about operant conditioning. Reward and punishment. Right and wrong. To me, the fundamental question this sign and ones like it raise is this: should you do good because doing good is the right thing to do, or should you do good because you will be punished if you don't?

Taken at face value, the sign doesn't convey the message that following Jesus brings you closer to God, leads you to help the less fortunate, or makes you a better person. In fact, it doesn't really say anything about Jesus. It just wants to "remind" you that if you don't follow Jesus, something terrible will happen to you.

Emblematic of the author's method is his choice for the sign's largest word. But which is the better method for convincing people to come around to your way of thinking? Join me because I'm right, or join me because bad things will happen if you don't?

And beyond all of this, does true and pure altruism really exist? Is the philanthropist who donates millions to a charitable foundation doing so out of the goodness of his heart, or because he knows they will name their new building after him? Is the anonymous donor doing his part to feed the world's hungry, or is he in effect bribing God now for an anticipated reward to paid later in heaven?

What does it say about the quality of a person's character if his good deeds are done under the guise of selflessly helping others, but, deep down in his heart of hearts, he's really only doing it to help himself? Is any good deed lessened if the person doing it expects a reward, even if the reward is simple satisfaction?

Maybe our best deeds are the ones we don't even realize we're doing.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Son of Rambow (2007): Netflixin 1/12/09

  • Why I rented it: Bored kids in the 80s make movies with a video camera. I did that.

  • Verdict: 6.5/10. Not bad, but just kind of good. A bit hokey toward the end, plus too much of that whole romanticized "kids act and talk as adults see them" stuff rather than kids as they really are. It also relies too often on the nostalgia bludgeon of "Hey, remember this (insert painfully obvious 80s song that everybody can recognize)? If not, don't worry, we'll find a way to shoehorn another one into the movie within the next five minutes whether appropriate or not becuase we don't want you to forget that this movie is about the freaking 80s!!!" But maybe I'm being too harsh. Like I said, the movie's subject matter is near to my own heart, and there are parts where they get it right, like in random cool things like the flying dog and the slightly scary French exchange student Prince clone named Didier. All in all, a great idea incompletely executed.


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Greatest of All Time shows us, his adoring fans, once again why he is thusly dubbed

Those little interviews sideline reporters do with professional athletes are usually an exercise in speaking without saying anything. String together a few sentences about coming to play, executing, giving credit to the other team, then pepper them with a generous amount of "you know"s, and you can pretty much write your own at home. Cliched and completely disposable. But when I read this one from Rickey Henderson in the paper this morning I nearly spat my chocolate milk across the room:

A reporter once asked Henderson about the late Ken Caminiti’s assertion that 50 percent of the players in baseball were on steroids, to which Henderson replied, "Well, Rickey’s not one of them, so that’s 49 percent right there.""

Aside from the inherant awesomeness that comes from referring to oneself in the third person, The Greatest's mastery of statistics is a light in the black we all must diligently seek. An angel in heaven died when he retired.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Parallel lines

From the department of odd coincidences (is there any other kind?) -- I read this post from Patterson Hood on the Drive-By Truckers website today:

I'll...mention a few simple pleasures that made this year special.

"Man On Wire" (movie) - An incredible film that pushed all my buttons. Maybe it's my fear of heights, my obsession with skyscrapers, my fascination with the crazy artistic temperament and a criminal disposition but this one had it all for me. Probably my favorite movie I saw all year....