183 Articles


12 years Ago

Well-Worn Grooves

Published by marco on

We all do it. We all commit certain behaviors to habit so that we don’t have to think about them anymore. We don’t think about how we get to work in the morning or home again in the evening. We just take the right exit, the right stairway or get on the right train without a second thought, our bodies taking us where we need to go without any intervention from the brain.

So we all have these well-worn grooves along which we coast, using the energy we spare for other things—perhaps thinking... [More]

Critiquing the Phantom Menace

Published by marco on

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out years ago and stunk up the place big time. Most of us just agreed that it sucked and that it spent way too much time on the stupid little kid and the even stupider Jar Jar Binks. The movie below builds a 70-minute thesis on the suckiness of SW:TPM with copious examples of how the older movies did everything better and a startlingly insightful analysis of plot devices and movie-making, in general.[1] You almost have to feel sorry for the older Lucas, because... [More]

Dumbing it down

Published by marco on

The New York Times thinks we’re mentally challenged; from today’s NY Times Front Page podcast:

“The MTA will be eliminating the W and Z lines.”

So far, so good. That’s the informative bit. They followed up with:

“As a result, some commuters will have to wait longer for trains.”

With a bit of editing, they could chop the podcast in half without losing any information at all.

DFW Grammar Quiz

Published by marco on

The post Grammar Challenge! by Amy McDaniel includes a quiz written by David Foster Wallace that she obtained during a writing course many years ago. Each of the sentences has one major fault—not necessarily a grammatical one—though there may be other, smaller ones as well.

The full text of the quiz is included below; the footnote for each line links to its answer.

25 February 2004


America’s Child Soldiers

Published by marco on

The following picture is from a photo essay, Ian Fisher : American Soldier (Denver Post) following a young American from his initial recruiting to deployment in Iraq and return to America.

 Child Soldiers

The picture of the four recruits during basic training makes them look remarkably young, far less than the 18 years each of them must be. The two to the right—with Ian, the star of the essay, on the far right—really look like they dressed up in Daddy’s war togs.

To be honest, Ian’s story is neither particularly... [More]

Catholic Church Late-night Commercial

Published by marco on

Psst, Anglican clergy!

Listen up.

Is your church way too liberal for your tastes?

Are you tired of the homos and broads cluttering up your ranks?

Are you tired of having to live in a world run by liberals with their annoying need to make everything equal for everyone even though everyone knows they’re not?[1]

Well, has the Catholic church got an offer for you!

Act now and you can get back into the good graces of a real church; one that has no room for homos or broads and with the added bonus... [More]

Daily Show Full Episodes Complaint

Published by marco on

In early September, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report made a triumphant return after a hiatus of a few weeks. They unfortunately dragged some obnoxious commercials with them, so I wrote the following note to Comedy Central:

“I just checked out the first show for this fall and noted that the commercials are back. That’s cool, you guys gots to get paid; however, is there any reason you need to run the same pair/trio of commercials in four, two-minute blocks during about 20 minutes of content?... [More]”

Drawing from a Russian Soldier

Published by marco on

The web page, Ballpoint Afghanistan (EnglishRussia), includes images of artwork created during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. These are purportedly the work of a soldier and were done primarily with a ballpoint pen (and colored pencils, apparently). There’s some really cool stuff in there for fans of line-drawing and doodling. I particularly liked the drawing of a soldier gazing out over mountain ranges (reproduced below; click to enlarge).

13 years Ago

Old Growth Forests

Published by marco on

Stop wiping your ass with them.

According to this article, Mr. Whipple Left It Out: Soft Is Rough on Forests by Leslie Kaufman (NY Times), “[a]lthough toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel.”

Regrettably, America manages to stand pretty much alone in demanding super-soft toilet paper for home use, although even in European countries, recycled paper makes up only 20% of paper intended for home use. That’s still ten times... [More]

Geekamania: social networking so you don’t have to

Published by marco on

The article, I Twitter for you! by Mark Morford (SF Chronicle), is about a great new service called Geekamania. This site takes mechanical turking to a whole new level by providing a service unique to the new millenium: integrating you into the online world in a “cool” way.[1]

Here’s the sales pitch:

“We design, set up and maintain as many hip social networking pages as you want, spinning off the information you provided but also totally rearranging it and making it up at will, all to make you sound exactly as... [More]”

The Worst American Fast Food

Published by marco on

The 20 Worst Foods in America 2009 (Men's Health) catalogs exactly that. The listings are nearly unbelievable, especially the number one entry. It is the Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which boasts the following characteristics:

  • 2,600 calories
  • 135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
  • 263 g sugars
  • 1,700 mg sodium
  • 73 ingredients (or more)

That’s a whole day’s worth of calories and three days’ worth of fat in a container that can be slurped empty in less than ten minutes. Not that 263g is... [More]

MLK Day, 2009

Published by marco on

The following radio address is the speech given by Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in 1967. The full transcript is available from the UC Berkeley archives. In it, he talks for twenty-three minutes—at times employing exacting historical detail—about the Vietnam War and its effects on the Vietnamese, Americans and the U.S. role from the very beginning. This was back in ‘67, when many Americans were barely aware of the conflict in the first place. Listen to the speech below and hear a... [More]

One Small Note About Shoes

Published by marco on

The following post was written about a month ago and never published. The context is that of the show-throwing furor that has ebbed somewhat lately.

For a solid week, at least half of the political cartoon output of the world has involved shoes. It is well-known that the media suffers from a severe dearth of imagination but there is no reason to display this deficiency with such pride.

As far as shoes go, this author had two immediate thoughts on seeing the video footage:

  1. Bush is pretty... [More]

Commonly Misspelled Words

Published by marco on

Check out the The 25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words quiz (for English, of course). I went in with an obnoxious braggadocio and walked out with a sobering 22 out of 25. Here are the words that I have newly learned how to spell:

  • consensus (I chose “con[c]ensus”)
  • perseverance (I chose “perse[r]verance”)
  • supersede (I chose “super[c]ede”)

The title of the quiz is a bit misleading, as it’s not clear to what the word “commonly” refers. While the words are not extremely rare, they also don’t come... [More]

Teaching Kids to Write

Published by marco on

826 Valencia is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6–18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers get their students excited about the literary arts.” They’re in San Francisco and take advantage of the strange work hours and free time of the average freelance writer to provide afternoon tutoring to students who need more one-on-one time. The “store” that they run doesn’t look like a tutoring center; instead, it’s a pirate supply store. There are similar venues in Brooklyn... [More]

Going to America

Published by marco on

The years since 9–11 have seen U.S. border policy become increasingly hostile, with an entire new department of the U.S. government having been conjured out of thin air, complete with its own $50 billion budget. Various measures and overtly hostile attitudes as well as an egregiously cavalier attitude toward civil rights—for American and non-American alike—have prevented many people from even venturing into the veritable no-man’s land that is the modern American international airport.
... [More]

I’m a Postman, Not an Athlete!

Published by marco on

The article, Union claims Royal Mail postmen are being told to walk faster, clears up the confusion surrounding the claim that the Royal Mail in England will be “requiring delivery staff to walk at four miles an hour”. It’s amusing that the claim is taken at all seriously. People are notoriously bad at judging numbers. They hear the claim and think nothing of it, thinking that the number—which a “new software system, Pegasus” calculated is anything but a complete fairy tale. It may also show that... [More]

Definition: To Beg the Question

Published by marco on

The phrase “to beg the question” has become much more popular outside of philosophical circles. In almost all cases, it is being used incorrectly. When you hear someone say the phrase, then follow it with a question, they are doing it wrong. Consider the following cartoon about Obama’s involvement in the Blagojevich scandal:

 Stuart Carlson − Obama, Republicans and Blagojevich

In this case, the reporter actually means, “which raises the question”. It is common practice for people to dress up their language to make what they’re saying sound more... [More]

14 years Ago

Heath Ledger’s Joker

Published by marco on

Much has been said of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Many have drawn parallels between elements in the movie and the recent history of the United States, from the attacks of 9–11 to the ensuing war on terror and its effects, both foreign and domestic. The Joker is chosen as the terrorist and the only way to stop him is to be just as lawless, to forsake all that you are defending—if only for just a little while, until order is restored—before everything you hold... [More]

Chains and Acres

Published by marco on

You learn something every day. After years of wondering how the acre came about as a measurement of area, here comes the Chain (length) (Wikipedia) to explain everything. An acre is apparently not just an inscrutably long and decimal-place–laden number of square yards. It is, in fact, exactly 10 square chains. A chain is one tenth of a furlong and equal to 66 feet. That makes more sense than 4840 square yards or a box 208.71 feet on a side.

In addition to the chain, there’s also the rood, which is a... [More]

June in Switzerland

Published by marco on

 Weather Forecast for 14th–18th of June

[1] Yeah, I know you can see some of my web page behind the picture, but it’s not exactly a security breach for people to find out that I’m reading about “Kucinich’s articles of impeachment”.

Hitchens Delivers Scathing Opprobrium

Published by marco on

The article Just one question (The Guardian) features a whole bunch of British people I’ve never heard of, half of them asking pithy questions, allowing the other half to offer equally pithy—and often, far lengthier—answers. “Julia Neuberger, rabbi and Lib Dem peer”, appearing about ¾ of the way down the list, though it a good idea to ask Christopher Hitchens an insipid question that he’d been asked dozens of times before. Whatever you may think of Hitchens either personally or professionally, this is the... [More]

Things You Didn’t Know About Elevators

Published by marco on

Up and Then Down by Nick Paumgarten (New Yorker) is a well-written look into the world of elevators and the companies that create them. It mixes research with the story of a man who was trapped in an elevator for 41 hours. Some interesting tidbits from the article:

  • The last time an elevator plummeted down a shaft was in 1945 in the US. It was called “the Empire State Building incident of 1945, in which a B-25 bomber pilot made a wrong turn in the fog and crashed into the seventy-ninth floor, snapping the hoist and safety... [More]”

Stock Exchange Hand Signals

Published by marco on

Op-Chart: Making Money Hand Over Fist (New York Times) is another in a long line of really slick, interactive, infographic presentations. Because of the extreme noise on the trading floor, traders use hand signals to indicate buy/sell interest, prices, amounts and status information.

“An oil trader demonstrates the hand signals used on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Text and graphics by Ben Schott, a contributing columnist.”

 Sample of Trading Floor Hand Signals

Required Reading (for Americans, at least)

Published by marco on

Though the article, What Every American Should Know About the Middle East (Daniel Miessler), has already done a decent job of summarizing Arabs, Islam and the Middle East[1], there’s still probably too much text[2], so here’s a summary of the summary[3].

  1. Arabs are an ethnic group.[4]
  2. Iraqis are mostly Arab.
  3. Iranians are mostly Persian (another ethnic group).
  4. Afghans are Pashtun, Hazira, Uzbek or Tajik (also ethnic groups).[5]
  5. Afghani is the unit of currency in Afghanistan.
  6. They speak Arabic[6] in Iraq.
  7. They speak Farsi[7] in Iran.[8]... [More]

Learning about America in the 21st Century

Published by marco on

Learning by example in Bush’s America leads to the list in Everything I Know I Learned Since Jan. 20, 2001 by Neal Starkman (Common Dreams). Some examples are cited below.

“Rich people hire everyone else to work for them, making our economy robust.

“Scientists’ opinions are neither better nor worse than anyone else’s.

“The fall of communism is the best evidence that providing everyone in this country with free health care is doomed.”

Don’t Be That Guy

Published by marco on

A year ago, it was silly to be concerned about the elections in 2008. With the primaries finally underway and the election actually within three seasons’ reach, it’s time to get engaged again. That means shaking off the cobwebs instilled by the ubiquitous brainwashing of the mainstream media (the cloaca of ideas) and actually figuring out what you need to know for the elections, which include:

  • Figuring out what your problems are
  • Figuring out where your interests lie
  • Thinking long term, even... [More]

Kristol-Clear Typo

Published by marco on

In Braking Kristol: ‘NYT’ Public Editor Hits Hiring of Columnist (Editor & Publisher) has a typo; they wrote that:

“Clark Hoyt, has called the controversial hiring of William Kristol as an op-ed columnist a “mistake.” … He also wrote, in his column today, that of nearly 700 messages he has received about the selection, only one praised the pick (empasis added)”

It’s a sad day when even Editor and Publisher can’t proofread well enough to detect that they mis-spelled “prick”.

Rapturous Truth

Published by marco on

Werner Herzog has made many films and not one of them was boring, either to watch or to film (he famously “haul[ed] a boat up a mountainside in [his film] Fitzcarraldo … in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, [because] audience will know if the shots are real”. His latest is Little Dieter Needs to Fly—a documentary about the only successful escape from a POW camp in Vietnam—with the unparalleled Christian Bale in the lead role. Roger Ebert wrote him a magnificent letter (linked below)... [More]

Improving the Pocket Calendar

Published by marco on

This guy kicked off a [a] better design to fit a year calendar comfortably within a business card. (ELZR) There are a lot of, shall we say, unique, entries. Many of them are interesting only in that they actually work, not that they would be more useful than the standard pocket calendar, which uses text too small to read. The winning entry is the Thumb Calendar by Adam Sporka, which is clean and clear:

Here’s how it works:

First half of the year is on one side of the card, the rest of the year is on the other.... [More]