Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Pooping Log

Ronan has been telling us about the festive yuletide log with the smily face in his classroom.
If you beat it with a stick, it poops candy.

Tonight he predicted that Christmas Eve it might poop out sardines.

Normally, I'd chalk this up to the imagination of a 4 year old. But wikipedia says it's an old Catalan custom.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

MDA: An Open Letter to the New York Film Critics Film Circle

Mike D'Angelo posts his picks for the year's best, and quixotically asks the New York Critics Film Circle voters to go beyond the usual award fodder hyped by the studios. And, as usual, a great reference tool for heading to the video store.

That is, if you have time to watch videos anymore.

And if you even have a video store anymore.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Berkeley J-School: Multimedia Boot Camp --> Local News Sites

First week of graduate school in Journalism at Cal: a crash course in audio and video editing, and Flash animation. Why? Because the school (and the Ford Foundation, which is funding this project) recognizes the role of multimedia, multi-platform storytelling in the future of journalism.

Next, the students targeted local communities, asked what locals would want in local news, and then set about building web sites. They went live at the end of October.

There's one San Francisco site:
And six East Bay sites:

You access them all at:

Award winning photojournalist and now J-School faculty member Richard Koci-Hernandez even created a video piece on the project (Vimeo link), but it's not as interesting as clicking around the student's local news sites.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Architecture - In Berkeley, Toyo Ito’s Plans for a Museum Wrapped in Honeycomb -

Latest on Berkeley Art Museum, from Nicolai Ouroussoff, the NYT architecture critic. Interesting part is on page two, where practical concerns from the client (the museum) clash with the vision of the architect. Ouroussoff sides with the architect.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Translating the analogy

Tim, writing from the second leg of his India journey:
Autorickshaws in Chennai : autorickshaws in Delhi :: Asteroids : Sinistar
For those too young to remember, or who were busy with an actual life in 1982 to have been playing Sinistar at their local Golfland, I've provided a helpful visual translation.

In Asteroids, players control their ship with short bursts of thrust in an environment approximating zero-gravity physics (in two dimensions). Motion continues in a straight line, and even slows to a stop (as if there were somehow friction in space).

The asteroids you are attempting to destroy/avoid are also moving in straight lines at constant speeds. When they disappear off the edge of the screen, they reappear at the opposite edge (180° opposite), continuing to travel in the same direction at the same speed. The challenge is that as you shoot the larger, slow moving asteroids, they break down into smaller asteroids, now moving in new trajectories at quicker speeds.

At the start of each level, it is easy to sit in one spot and rotate your ship to shoot at asteroids passing by. As the level continues, you are forced to continually adjust your position with short (or long) bursts of thrust to avoid the paths of an increasing number of asteroids traveling at varied (if constant) rates of speed. The video below is illustrative (you do not have to watch the whole thing):

YouTube link

While unrealistic, the physics of the game are extremely predictable. When your ship is eventually destroyed, there is a sense that had you only done a better job of anticipating the various trajectories, you could have escaped your fate.

Sinistar begins cosmetically the same. You pilot a triangular ship in two dimensions, attempting to break apart large asteroids.

But unlike Asteroids,there are multiple things flying at you, in variable trajectories, at variable (non-constant) speeds. Worse still, one cannot control the acceleration of the ship with controlled engine thrusts. In Sinistar, THERE IS NO STOPPING.

YouTube link

Add to that the screaming Sinistar (skip ahead to 1:30 into the video), and a game of Asteroids begins to feel like a spa day in comparison.

Which is simply to say Tim's had an exciting first day in Delhi.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The End of Wall Street

For a while I've meant to read Moneyball, the story of the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his statistics-driven approach to building a winning baseball team.

What I didn't realize was that the author, Michael Lewis, was the same Michael Lewis who got famous for his book chronicling his time as a Salomon Brothers bond trader in the 1980s, Liar's Poker (which I also have yet to read).

Apparently Lewis has started to write a new book attempting to understand and explain the financial system collapse of 2008. After reading this corker of an article by Lewis in Portfolio I cannot wait for this book to come out.

Here Lewis introduces us to a handful of people in and around the industry who did see doomsday coming, and in some cases bet on it. But who themselves could not believe what, exactly, was going on.

One of these character, Steve Eisman, is a merciless character, willing to confront anyone whom he has judged as having no idea what they are doing. Here's a moment from a subprime-mortgage "trade show", at a speech by one company's CEO:
When the guy got to the part of his speech about [his company's] subprime-loan portfolio, he claimed to be expecting a modest default rate of 5 percent. Eisman raised his hand. Moses and Daniel sank into their chairs. “It wasn’t a Q&A,” says Moses. “The guy was giving a speech. He sees Steve’s hand and says, ‘Yes?’”

“Would you say that 5 percent is a probability or a possibility?” Eisman asked.

A probability, said the C.E.O., and he continued his speech.

Eisman had his hand up in the air again, waving it around. ... He had his thumb and index finger in a big circle. ...

“Yes?” the C.E.O. said, obviously irritated. “Is that another question?”

“No,” said Eisman. “It’s a zero. There is zero probability that your default rate will be 5 percent.” The losses on subprime loans would be much, much greater. Before the guy could reply, Eisman’s cell phone rang. Instead of shutting it off, Eisman reached into his pocket and answered it. “Excuse me,” he said, standing up. “But I need to take this call.” And with that, he walked out.
The article ends with Lewis sitting down for lunch with former Salomon Brothers CEO and "King of Wall Street" John Gutfreund, who has still not exactly forgiven him for Liar's Poker, what he calls "your fucking book".

It's crackerjack storytelling. I started reading it as my car's oil was being changed, and when they came to tell me my car was ready I was angry that they had interrupted me.

Seriously. Take the time to read the article. It's my favorite thing on the subject since The Giant Pool of Money.

(Via Kottke, who links to other Lewis pieces as well)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Michael Pollan's letter to the President-Elect

Back in early October, Michael Pollan wrote a piece in the NYT Sunday magazine in the form of a letter to the incoming president, calling for an overhaul of the nation's food system.
[W]ith a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.
Of course, these "open letters" are merely literary devices that allow a writer to use prescriptive (as opposed to descriptive) language. They are designed to provoke discussion among a publication's readers, and there is never an expectation that the intended (or imagined) recipient actually reads these things.

Except, of course, when he actually does.

From Joe Klein's sit-down interview with Obama:
I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen [sic] about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs.

I don't know what's more awesome; that we have a president-elect that has at least been introduced to Pollan's reimaginings of food or that we have a president-elect that actually reads.

As to whether Pollan's prescriptions will make an impact: we'll know if we see Michelle and the girls planting a Victory Garden in the South Lawn.

(Via Kottke.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Photos from the (long) campaign trail

Photographer Callie Shell collects a series of her photos of Barack Obama taken for TIME magazine over a span of two years.

Some great stuff here: resting in a back stairwell, cleaning up after himself in an ice cream shop, a couple of spontaneous pull-ups.

Take a look.

(Via Kottke.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I got the horse right here

I've owned the CD of the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls" for fifteen years and did not realize until today that it featured J.K. Simmons as Benny Southstreet.

as featured in "Fugue for Tinhorns":

YouTube link

and "The Oldest Established":

YouTube link.

Simmons was of course the best thing about Burn After Reading, despite appearing in two scenes and not interacting with any of the leading characters.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tarvuism: It's So Easy to Join!


It is all encompassing, and it's all non-encompassing. Learn more about Tarvuism here.

via Jesse Thorn

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wassup? 2008

Eight years later the original "Wassup?" boys return, in a surprising, brilliant mashup of culture and politics. This is what YouTube was made for.

YouTube link

True dat.

You can watch the original Bud commercial (which itself was an adaptation of a short film).

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"a brighter day will come"

My friend Pani linked to MC Yogi's pro-Obama hip-hop video "Vote for Hope" last week, both for its relaxed vibe and its skillful use of motion graphics.

I figured it might take off big, like "Yes We Can", but so far it hasn't (just over 100,000 views so far). The rhymes are a bit simplistic, but the song's bassline, beats, and snippets of Obama's speeches have hooked it in my ear.

And almost any speech by Obama is a reminder of the value of oratory to the presidency. I remain hopeful that come election day the numbers will move towards this candidate who despite his flaws speaks a vision that speaks to people's hope for the future for themselves and their children.

And not to the once-dignified shell of a man who seems only to speak in sneers, sarcasm, derision, and scorn.

YouTube link

Monday, October 20, 2008

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

Finally got to see this, albeit with two boys clinging to me and the last reel with the sound turned down. (Oops. Didn't check to see that this was PG-13). Liam pointed out that the thing that made the scary parts scary was the sound. And sure enough, with no sound, no music and no screaming and yelling, the adrenaline levels went waaaay down. The sound came back up for the necessary post-duel exposition that wraps up the story ("this is the boring part," said Liam).

The boys were prepared for the plot, knew many of the characters and planets from library books and The Clone Wars tv movie from the Cartoon Network, although after so many explosions and light sabers duels it's apparently hard to remember that the infant Luke will be a young adult in the next movie and it's the same person ("Whose house is that? What planet are they on? What happened to Luke's father?")

Satisfying, partially since the movie was an improvement over the previous two prequels, but mainly because it puts into place the story details that set in motion the first movie.

Absolutely stunning visuals... although I kept thinking of Hawaii Five-0, with long tracking shots of cars driving down the highway, and parking in front of office buildings, just to remind everybody "Hey, we're in Hawaii!" Lucas has so many subplots he's juggling, he has to put in establishing shots to remind us what planet we're on now, and each planet has to be distinct, just to remind us how big and diverse the galaxy is and how hard his art department is working.

But I wondered if the critics, who had a nominal duty to pass judgement on the film for those who hadn't seen the other five, thought it worked as a standalone. Some of them did, some didn't.

And then I found one critic who absolutely lambasted it. Hated it with a fiery passion. I burst out laughing reading his review.
The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

Anthony Lane, The New Yorker.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hot Topics 2008: General Election Ballot Measures

What's hot?
State propositions are hot!

Cal's Institute for Governmental Studies Library has once again provided state proposition analysis and an list of endorsements (updated as they come in) for all your democratic information-gathering pleasure!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Theme from Shaft. Live. On Ukuleles.

Sheer awesomeness from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2007.

I'm also quite partial to their covers of:

Ennio Morricone's main theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
You Don't Bring me Flowers

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals

Missed in the initial hubbub over the Palin/Biden/Ifill debate sketch, this two-minute Andy Samberg sketch becomes the stuff of SNL legend.

Via Jesse Thorn et al.

Late Show - George W. Bush: How'd He Do?

Letterman & Co. look back at Bush's promises from the 2000 campaign and sees how well he executed on them.

YouTube link

Yes We Can (hold babies).

An entire blog devoted to photos of Obama (and Biden) with infants and children on the campaign trail. Seeing babies being crowd-surfed over to the candidate is both awesome and vaguely alarming.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Take On Me: Literal Video Version

Filmmaker and musician Dustin McLean literalizes A-Ha's iconic video from the 80's.

Ever wish songs just sang what was happening in the music video? Well now they do.

Hat tip to Chordstrike

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Laura Marling, Singer-Songwriter, Myspace Artist

Neo-folk artist Laura Marling is 18 years old, and drawing comparisons to Sandy Denny, the McGarrigle sisters, Martha Wainwright. Musically she reminds me of a young Suzanne Vega or Michelle Shocked, but with a darker mood. She started touring the UK soon after people started noticing her songs on Myspace when she was 17. Her first launch party turned into a busking session on the street because she was underage and the venue wouldn't let her in. Captured on video here:

No ukulele, no iSight gimmicks, although now that she's signed to Virgin records, there are several artsy music videos available on her web site.
I find them a bit too artistic as to distract from the music, so here's a live set in the studio in the Netherlands.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LA Times Buzz on the Berkeley Bowl

Google News pointed me to the LA Times feature story on Berkeley Bowl, one of our local grocery stores with a justifably stellar reputation for its produce selection, quality, and price. (Back in 2001, I wrote about the store on Everything2 as a must-see destination in Berkeley)

Staff Writer John Glionna focuses as much on the antics of shoppers as much as the produce, and notes that the penalty at the Bowl for grazing (sampling foods before purchase) is being banned from the store, forever.

Today I learned (hat tip to the Daily Clog) that after it was published on Monday, Glionna heard from Berkeley Bowl owner Glenn Yasuda. According to Glionna's blog, Yasuda didn't like the tone Glionna took in the article, and banned him for life.

Glionna seems to take it in stride. Read the comments following his blog posting, though. I learned as much about Berkeley's reputation, culture, and recent history from these postings as anything I've ever read in all the time I've been living here.

In Case You Missed It: McCain Snubs Letterman

You may have seen this buzzing around the internet this morning. I stayed up to watch the show because of the buzz moving through Twitter last night, and wished I'd waited for the YouTube edits.

For those who aren't caught up: along with McCain's announcement that he was "suspending" his presidential campaign, he called David Letterman hours before his scheduled appearance and cancelled it, saying he had to rush back to Washington to deal with the economic crisis.

Not only was Letterman ruffled by the last-minute need to rejigger his show, but he was genuinely bothered by the implications of McCain's decision to suspend his campaign. He spent much of the show stuck on the issue.

Even *before* he learned (during his sitdown with Keith Olbermann) what McCain was actually doing at the time.

If you only have three minutes, here's a quick version from Air America:

But I'd recommend this nine minute edit, which gives you a better sense of how much talk of McCain's cancellation dominated the entire program. It also includes Letterman's disclaimer in which he spends a full minute lauding McCain for his heroic survival in North Vietnam.

A surreal and classic pop culture moment.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fictional advice for a real candidate

Maureen Dowd hands over her Sunday column to Aaron ("The West Wing") Sorkin, who dramatizes a meeting between Obama and a certain former president.
OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Got Cowbell?

SNL. 2000. Will Farrell. Christopher Walken. "More Cowbell" sketch.

Web. 2008. Your mp3 collection. A web developer with a lot of time on his hands. Cowbell.

Add cowbell to any mp3 file.

Also, add Christopher Walken.

 Make your own at 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Pro-Life Catholic and Barack Obama

Conservative and antiabortion legal scholar (and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Reagan and Bush I) Douglas Kmiec made waves last spring when he publicly endorsed Barack Obama over John McCain.

The clarity of thought expressed in his endorsement is remarkable, but it angered at least one Catholic priest enough to verbally shame him during mass and to deny him communion.

He recounts this story this week in an excerpt from his new book Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question About Barack Obama.
The irony of ironies was that my motivation for the endorsement was entirely Catholic. No, Obama doesn't share the Catholic faith, but he certainly campaigns like he does. As reflected in his book, the Senator is focused on the human person, on the common good, on the social justice of economic arrangement. All is so very Catholic.
Whether Obama and his base of support are able to capture the election in our current political and cultural environment remains to be seen. But I welcome any and all evidence of intellectual honesty and rigor in America.

Real clarity of thought (and LEARNING) on any issue of importance will always lead to accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal by those who would rather feel good about an issue than do good.


(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Insanity is: Skateboarding down Claremont Canyon

The shrinking of digital video cameras has allowed for the creation of new forms of cinema that would not have been possible otherwise. I make kids'-eye-view home movies, others toss their cameras in the air, still others hold cameras to their faces to create "POV" sex movies.

Skateboarding videos take up an entire wing of YouTube. Skaters have become increasingly skilled at performing tricks while holding small HD cameras, to capture footage inconceivable by Hollywood cinematographers and their enormous camera rigs.

This video manages to stand out from the crowd, simply by being UNBELIEVABLY FUCKING NUTS.

Two guys (Noah Sakamoto and Patrick Rizzo) in powder-blue suits and laughably insufficient head and hand protection, skateboard down Claremont Ave in the upper hills of Berkeley at speeds higher than I would probably drive (at one point they zoom past a car), all the while videotaping each other with an HD camera, outfitted with a fisheye lens.

If you can ignore the meaningless title ("Adam Kimmel presents: Claremont HD"), interminable opening credits, and opaque two-minute intro, you will be "treated" to two gravity-driven runs down the canyon that make street luge-ing seem positively serene in comparison.

Oh, and click through to Vimeo if you actually want to watch it in HD, full screen, so you too can clutch at your seat muttering bad idea bad idea bad idea bad idea BAD IDEA BAD IDEA BAD IDEA BAD BAD BAD IDEA.


(Via Kottke.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Les Misbarack

An improv company from LA pays homage to Obama. Or Les Mis. Or something:

Is it me, or does framing the election as the finale of Act I of Les Mis, seem to miss the point of both the campaign AND the musical?

It's been twenty years, so it's kinda hazy, but IIRC this song musical counterpoint threading together inner emotional monologues from disparate subplots and building to a thunderous was meant to musically browbeat the audience into an emotional frenzy-- not because anything was resolved in the story to this point, it wasn't, but because Schoenberg wanted the audience to stay for the second act.

(Also, I'm not sure but I think the tune keeps modulating and the chord progression never resolves until the very end of the four minutes)

Also, while it's framed here as a rallying point for the Obama campaign, in Act II of Les Mis, the mob on the barricades is abandoned by the people and they all realize they're going to be crushed like bugs and that their movement accomplished exactly nothing and then they all die. Maybe that's the point, but seeing as this is coming from an improv group I kinda think they didn't think that far ahead.

Especially because most of lyrics expressed here DON'T fit the visual narrative (a one location number? no way. And if McCain is Javert in what possible world does it make sense that Palin is Madame Thénardier?)

Okay, I've just spent way too much time on YouTube and Wikipedia fact-checking a musical I wasn't that interested in two decades ago just so I could confirm that
this new mashup squandered a key musical theatre geek callback: the marching in place of the actors.

Although I have to say it's growing on me. The fourth time around the video isn't so grating and I'm ready to dash out to the lobby to buy me one of them tricolour Cosette/Obama mashup t-shirts.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Particle Zoo: Subatomic Particle plushies

When Boingboing posted the photo below of the plush toy version of the as-yet-unconfirmed Higgs Boson particle, I thought it was a rushed attempt to capitalize on this past week's news from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in which they flipped the switch on their massive 17-mile long particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

Turns out though, the Particle Zoo (a home-based business) has been offering plush physics particles, both real and imagined, since last year... you can get your proton, your electron, your neutron, quarks, leptons... and for the truly nerdy, the entire line is also available in their antimatter counterparts.

And, if you browse through the gallery at the Particle Zoo, you can see photos of various famous physicists with their plush particles, answering the question "What do you get a physicist for Christmas when he already has a Nobel Prize?"

Hats off to Particle Zookeeper Julie Peasley, the sole proprieter (and sole seamstress) of this venture.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Daily Show does journalism. Again.

The Daily Show spent a lot of its annual budget dispatching its sets, writers, and performers to Denver, CO and St. Paul, MN to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions.

But the sharpest segment of either week, as assembled by the writing and video research staff, could (and may) have been put together from the show's New York home base.

It leaves one wishing that "real" television news organizations were as quick or as skilled in retrieving footage from their voluminous archives.

Or as willing to call people on their bullshit.

Or go here

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pat Buchanan Gives It Up for Obama

I wasn't watching MSNBC last night, so I missed this moment where Pat Buchanan declared Obama's nomination acceptance speech "the greatest convention speech, and probably the most important."

It's pretty remarkable to see this typically-condescending jackass express such unaffected enthusiasm, as he strains to read a passage of the transcript without his glasses.

YouTube link

via @laughingsquid and @KarinaLongworth on the Twitter

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stunning Olympic Photos from The Big Picture

If you haven't yet been pointed to the Boston Globe's new photojournalism blog The Big Picture, then this wrapup of the Beijing Olympics is as good of a place as any to start.

One of the many casualties of the transition of newspapers from print to online has been the art of photojournalism; online news sites originally designed their template grids with a minimum of images to avoid alienating readers with slower internet connections. What photos do appear are too small to make much of a visual impression.

Enter The Big Picture, which assumes that a critical mass of Americans are now surfing the internet with fast connections and widescreen displays, and presents the work of some of the world's best photojournalists in gigantic, gorgeous, sometimes shocking color (since computer displays can present a wider range of sharpness and contrast than newsprint could ever muster).

Like a museum exhibit or a good coffee table book, The Big Picture reawakens viewers to photography's power to startle, move, and astonish, whether depicting the Iowa flooding, California's wildfires, or images of people from around the Northern Hemisphere merely trying to beat the summer heat,

It may sound like hyperbole, but I'd nominate this four-month-old site as one of the best uses to date of the world wide web.

Go there now.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Unresolved anthrax questions - Glenn Greenwald

Taking a break now from the general internet oddities I've posted of late.

I would feel remiss if I didn't point to this article by Glenn Greenwald posing questions about the apparent suicide of Bruce E. Ivins, the FBI's most recent lead suspect in the anthrax mailings of late 2001.

Greenwald generally offers smart, lengthy, ridiculously well-researched analysis for Here he is clearly struggling not to jump to wild assertions or theories, despite a series of facts that in their aggregate stink to high holy heaven.
If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick.
That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information [about the presence of bentonite, a chemical additive used by Iraq] that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein.
Lots more, including reports of suspicious behavior by Ivins back in 2001 that went uninvestigated by the Department of Justice, and a sideswipe at McCain that asks why he was asserting a link to Iraq even before ABC's original bentonite report.

(Via Boing Boing.)

InDecision 2008: The News Better Run

The Daily Show loudly states its case as to why it has the best political news team (and the most Situation Rooms) on basic cable.

CNN mailbox, meet the Daily Show bat, as swung from a moving convertible.

Decoding Joe Cocker

This is one of those bits with a premise (Joe Cocker's unintelligible Woodstock performance of "With a Little Help from My Friends", with added comedic subtitles) that depends entirely on the execution.

Which in this case made me laugh. More than I might like to admit.

By Jared Pike. Via Your Monkey Called

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Mom, Dad, I'm Into Steampunk"

(via boingboing)

This gem available on Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Short Imagined Monologues

If you want to label me retrofuturistic so I can fit into your compartmentalized worldview, that's fine. But look past my airplane goggles. This is my lifestyle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ernie & Bert Ante Up

This does not appear to be the first example of someone recutting Sesame Street footage to match up the muppet lipsync to rap songs, but the execution on this one definitely makes it a winner.

Here Ernie & Bert take on M.O.P.'s hit "Ante Up".

YouTube link

via Monoscope

Friday, July 18, 2008

Slate: You've already spent your tax windfall on gas and bread.

Citing Merrill Lynch's chief economist, Slate's Daniel Gross writes:
The chunk of the stimulus package likely to get spent is roughly equivalent to the amount Americans are paying for higher food and gas prices because of inflation. Put another way, you've already spent your stimulus at ExxonMobil.

Here's the math. Merrill Lynch is basing its calculations on two assumptions:
1. that Americans will spend only 40% of their rebate (and pay down debt with the rest, or save it); and,
2. energy and food inflation combined is costing us $50 billion per quarter.

Total stimulus package in rebates: $120 billion.
40% of 120 is 48 billion, eaten up in one quarter.

At first I thought, big deal, there are still three other quarters in the year. People might--operative word, might --choose to spend more than 40% of their rebate. Say, 100%.

$120 billion minus $50 billion minus $50 billion minus $50 billion (3rd quarter) minus $50 billion (4th quarter)...


We don't track the gasoline expenses in our house, but this year we're on track to pay $700 extra in groceries, not because the kids are eating more, or because of more organic produce, but simply the increased cost of everything at the store. $4.50 gasoline doesn't faze me. But $4.50 bread: I get sticker shock.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wait. This isn't a fake documentary?

(via Whack-a-Flick)

I watched this movie trailer, and wondered at first if it was a low-budget indie movie. Then, once the trailer revealed its premise, I thought it was a put-on. Like Christopher Guest doing a "Best in Show" take on the war in Iraq. (Warning: graphic images in the trailer)

Turns out, this is a straight ahead documentary.

There really is a fake town in the Mojave Desert where the military pays Iraqi refugees to play the part of Iraqi police and insurgents so that the army can conduct war games, complete with fake explosions and movie make up and funerals.

J. Hoberman's review in the Village Voice

David Edelstein in New York magazine

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ethicurean: Eating Local isn't about Greenhouse Gases

Ethicurean, the group blog dedicated to the notion of food mindfulness, or, as they so artfully put it, "Chew the Right Thing", responds to Dubner's post in the New York Times Freaknomics blog.

Well, not directly. They respond to the same peer reviewed study that Dubner cites in his blog, namely "Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States," by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews.

The paper does note that the last miles to the table are not the major source of greenhouse gas emissions... agricultural inputs are. So you make more of a "green" impact by reducing consumption of red meat (since you're using a lot less agricultural inputs (fertilizer) to grow soy and corn which is fed to methane-producing cattle) than by buying local.

Ethicurean doesn't disagree. But their analysis of the paper doesn't lead them to the conclusion that local isn't better. There are other quality of life reasons for eating locally (which Dubner doesn't address... since he sticks to simple economics).

Ethicurean also stands up to
Salon's recent attack on localvores here:

A dissenting commenter on this latter post dismisses the food miles issue and notes: "I buy food at farmers markets. Mostly for the reason you mention: it's picked later and thus tastes better."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I'll See Your "Jordan Jesse Go" and Raise You: The Bugle

For a while I was limiting my comedy podcasts to bootleg RSS feeds of the CBC's Wiretap --Jonathan Goldstein's weekly offering which lands somewhere between a solo sitcom and a Larry David-inflected version of NPR's This American Life.

But while it was funny, it was an acquired taste. Like David Sedaris' work, you had to get used to the voice, and then the mind behind the voice, and over time, as you got to understand Goldstein's quirks and the regular foibles of his co-stars, the humor built up occasionally into laugh out loud moments.

Then the feed stopped. Don't know why.

Then, a chance bit of Facebook trivia ("Brett S. has joined the group The Bugle- Audio Newspaper for a visual world") led me to follow the link to, of all places, the The Times Online, the web site for one of the United Kingdom's national newspaper.

The Bugle has British comedy writers John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman dissect the news of the week. They've been compared to The Onion, but fake news is a mere 5-10% of their show. They comment on the news-- it's more like The Daily Show (Oliver, is, in fact, a writer and correspondent for that show).

The two hosts also play off each other, like the Car Talk guys, but, I have to say, English accents work way better for this shtick than Boston ones.

With Zaltzman based in London, and Oliver in New York, they tend to cover world affairs... and it's surprising how many laughs they can generate over political violence in Zimbabwe, the war in Iraq, the global response to climate change (true, much of the humor is at the expense of the United States). The international perspective on American politics is nice to hear, and they even make British sports (rugby, cricket, football) funny knowing that their American audience has little idea what they are talking about.

At least one laugh out loud moment, usually more, per episode.
3 out of 4 episodes will actually find me in tears from laughing so hard.

Available on iTunes, or get episodes here: The Bugle

Friday, July 04, 2008

Vintage Americana

For your 4th of July viewing pleasure, a glimpse of our nation's halcyon days as viewed through the lens of "Dynasty".  I see in this charming folk-dance an echo of Martha Graham's work in "Appalachian Spring".

Thursday, July 03, 2008

TED 2008: Benjamin Zander on classical music

This made the rounds on a couple of arts administration and theatre blogs, and it's my second favorite TED talk of all time.

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. I didn't know that when I followed the link. I watched it because a couple of bloggers found it a great example of evangelizing for the power of art.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Julia Nunes: Singer-Songwriter, YouTube artist

I'm a bit delayed in writing about Julia Nunes (pronounced "Noons"). (Tom blogged about her way back in May.)

She's a college student in upstate New York, who over the past few months has built up a strong YouTube following, with more than 30,000 subscribers and with many of her videos topping 200,000 views.

Her "schtick", at first glance, is performing covers of pop hits directly into her iSight camera, while accompanying herself on ukulele. She won a uke manufacturer's "World Ukulele Video Contest" back in December for her cover of Destiny's Child's "Survivor."

Here's a characteristic performance from last September, of NSYNC's "Bye, Bye, Bye":

(Link to video)

Where most amateur musicians with Macs might use GarageBand as songwriting tool, Nunes started using the iSight and iMovie for that purpose after taking a high school new media class, performing in-progress songs as videos (according to an interview she gave this year). She got comfortable adding harmony tracks, percussion, or alternate guitar or ukulele tracks by listening to the main video playback using iPod earbuds, and then editing the multiple tracks/takes together.

Here's her cover of The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" featuring herself on harmony vocals:

(Link to video)

Nunes' comfort in performing to the camera, her clever multitracking, and her goofy enthusiasm make her a terrific match for YouTube. But I think even more than these, it is her willingness to publish unpolished or unguarded moments that creates a feeling of sincerity and authenticity, and builds an emotional connection with her viewers.

Here, for example, is an original song of hers entitled "First Impressions", in which emotion flits across her face in reaction to both the lyrics and the awkwardness of a couple of her chord changes.

(Link to video)

Revealing this kind of vulnerability is antithetical to traditional showmanship, but creates a powerful emotional hook particular to online/portable video (small formats where the viewer stays close to the screen, enhancing a feeling of intimacy). Plus she responds in video to the many video comments she receives, and has started up a separate YouTube channel just for videos of her talking to her fans and peers.

In fact it's as a YouTube artist that I most admire Nunes. I ponied up the $10 to order her CD of original songs, which pretty much matches one's conception of an album by an earnest college freshman singer-songwriter. (It doesn't feature the song above, but does include both a studio and live version of her hit single.)

It'll be interesting over time to see what kind of musical "career" she can build, either through touring and live performances (she opened for Ben Folds for a few nights in May, and headlines a show at the Knitting Factory next week) or as a mostly online presence. Like Jonathan Coulton, she's got just enough technical savvy to have established something like a direct relationship with her fan base, even if it is using someone else's platform.

Speaking of which, she's savvy enough to know that the still image shown to represent YouTube videos comes from the exact middle of the video. So she cleverly spliced this quick flash frame into her video of "Build Me Up, Buttercup" so as not to give away a surprise she had in store.

(Link to video)

You can visit Nunes' main YouTube page or on MySpace, or buy her CD at her home page.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Swayze! Baio! Buzzi! Barty!

The trailer for "Skatetown, U.S.A." (1979) features some tasty bites of Patrick Swayze (here in his movie debut as Rollerskate Gang leader "Ace Johnson"), and plenty of contemporary flamboyant fashion and lighting.

The cast, as glimpsed in the trailer and as listed at IMDB, reads like a punchline we might have come up with in college: Scott Baio, Swayze, Flip Wilson, Ruth Buzzi, Maureen McCormick, Ron Palillo, Billy Barty, Melissa Sue Anderson, Murray Langston ("The Unknown Comic"), Judy Landers, and Dorothy Stratten.

An extended synopsis with a few screencaps can be found here.

(via Nick Adams, pointing to a screening this Saturday in Los Angeles)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Russian Winnie-the-Pooh

Soviet-era (1969) animated film adaptation of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree, featuring an illustrative style quite unlike either Disney or the original Shepard illustrations.

In this telling Piglet provides the balloon to Pooh, walks beneath his umbrella saying the Russian equivalent of "Tut, tut, it looks like rain," and shoots the balloon with his gun.

via Boing Boing

Monday, June 23, 2008

Freakonomics: Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores?

On the NYT Freakonomics blog, Stephen J. Dubner tackles the question of whether the inefficiencies of growing our own food wouldn't actually be more resource-intensive than relying on the food grown by professionals. As his launching off point he recounts his family's experiment with making their own orange sherbet.
We spent about $12 on heavy cream, half-and-half, orange juice, and food coloring — the only ingredient we already had was sugar — to make a quart of ice cream.... In the end, we wound up throwing away about three-quarters of what we made. Which means we spent $12, not counting labor or electricity or capital costs (somebody bought the machine, even if we didn’t) for roughly three scoops of lousy ice cream.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The High School Tony Awards

The Onion News Network with television coverage of the High School Tony Awards:

Link via Eli Goretsky.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Make fun of "The Happening" without having to, you know, see it

Christopher Orr was scheduled to write a review of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" for The New Republic. He found it so stupefyingly bad, however, that he instead compiled a list of its worst aspects.

Of course this list "spoils" the movie for anyone who had planned to see it (or who were expecting anything like "suspense"), in order that those who had planned never to see it would have plenty of material with which to mock the film without having to sit through it themselves.
Since the threat driving the movie is a colorless agent in the air, Shyamalan has nothing, really, to dramatize visually. He solves this by showing a strong wind every time the deadly agent appears.... [W]e get leaves blowing every time people are going to die, and a hilarious scene where Elliot et al. are running across a field trying to outrace the wind. It's like the climax of Twister, without the twister.
It's a fun read, once you get past the point where Orr acknowledges having a thing for Zooey Deschanel.

Via Kottke.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Avenue Jew

An eight-minute skit mashing up the casts (and songs) of AVENUE Q and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, from an April 2004 Broadway Cares event (back when Stephanie was still in the show).

Includes subtitles (in English) to help navigate the less-than-perfect sound.

Via Eli Goretsky.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Meet the Wisenheimers: Twitter's Comedy Underground, Part 2

In Part 1 of this essay I wrote (in 1800+ words) about how Twitter's pack of wisecracking kids evolved to the point where they are today. As more funny people hop on board, one can expect that the "community" will fracture and fall apart, with misunderstandings and blood feuds and decades-long grudges, until the children of this first generation of Twitterers grow up, meet, and fall in love, against the wishes of their embittered parents.

Let's say you're just starting out on Twitter and are daring it to entertain you. In this, the second and final part of this epic post, I'll answer the question: "Who should I follow?" And I'm not including Robert Scoble or Kevin Rose. (You can also take Nick Douglas' advice on the matter.)

As with all forms of comedy, your mileage may vary. Click on a thumbnail to visit each person's individual page to decide for yourself.

Women on Twitter who make me laugh

@AmyJane Married to @gruber (see below). Mercilessly unafraid to skewer her husband or four-year-old son to get a laugh.
AmyJane Doctor asked me what I use for birth control. I should have told her that my husband takes photos of bad quotation marks. That's all I need.

@communicatrix Former advertising copywriter (and erstwhile compadre of Ana Gasteyer) Colleen Wainwright.
communicatrix I'm either going to have to rethink the "pistachios as reward" thing or the "fitting in these pants" thing.

@EffingBoring Rachel, from Brooklyn, "dynamite with a laser beam; extraordinarily nice." Partial to hiphop quotations and dick jokes. Recent winner of the You Look Nice Today white carnation.
EffingBoring Clothes shopping at Target. Apparently "in" this season: looking ambiguously pregnant, patterns that clash with themselves, yelling at kids.

@verdandi Criminally underfollowed. Expert observational humorist, brilliant absurdist.
verdandi Found 4 pens stuck in my hair, and it's not even noon.

@phillygirl A lot happens "offscreen" in phillygirl's tweets.
phillygirl You'd think singing "Domino Dancing" (incl. horn solo) while waiting in line would act as a deterrent to conversation-starting. You'd think.

@ShuffShuffGraduating high school senior, New Hampshire.
ShuffShuff Someone asked if I would sell them my Fugly Satirical Sunglasses today. "... but you're not supposed to *like* them!" Ugh, fuck fashion.

@echuckles Elizabeth Chuck, NYC. Has an ambivalent relationship with the shift key.
echuckles i've got a lot of questions about olives. like, a LOT

@ohheygreat Leah, student splitting time between Berkeley and the OC. Self-admitted total spaz; boss of the run-on sentence.
ohheygreat Have you ever scratched your nose & noticed your hand smells like horse only you haven't petted one in weeks and what the fuck did I touch.

@brittneyg Brittney Gilbert, Berkeley/SF. Uses Twitter for reasons other than cracking jokes, but can be funny when she wants to be.
brittneyg Yes, Wolf Blitzer, I am in the Situation Room, but it is not by my own hand, and I want the fuck out.

@kissane Writer and editor, Portland.
kissane Reason #85,097 not to live in Kentucky: Dramatically increased chance of discovering dead guy on your morning walk to the river.

@vmarinelli Victoria Marinelli, Richmond, VA. Seriously high-volume (not everyone is willing to follow her, for this reason). Flirts endlessly (and profanely) with women and men alike, but I find her parenting tweets the funniest.
vmarinelli Second to last day of our health insurance. Anybody in this house wants to get sick over the next few months, they'd better do it RIGHT NOW.

@AinsleyofAttack Ainsley Drew, freelance writer out of Portland. Smart, biting, with an aggressively raunchy (bi-) sexual persona that is spinning the wisenheimer boys into a bit of a frenzy. A bit much for my own tastes at times, but she's hella good at what she does.
AinsleyofAttack At the grocery store I just checked a girl out so hard they had to call for clean up. Cuidado, piso mojado.

@dooce "Mommy blogger" Heather "Dooce" Armstrong
dooce The 80-yr-old man on the treadmill next to mine was running twice as fast as I was, but I win because I had cuter shoes.

and then there are also boys

@SeoulBrother "Half Seoul. All brother." Up for any meme, any time. From his swipes at conference calls I gather that he has a job, but I also imagine his bosses don't realize what they are paying him for.
SeoulBrother Countering your 'monetize' with 'mad chedda.' Now that's playing the race card. Also, knuckle bumping is over. Draw 4. Uno. OUT.

@Remiel An early winner of the You Look Nice Today white carnation for tweets such as:
Remiel Tact is the art of deciding between "not really interested" or "really not interested."

@Moltz John Moltz, creator of the parodic Apple fan site Crazy Apple Rumors. Went on an extended, hallucinogenic tear through the TED conference (which, one suspects, he did not actually attend.)
Moltz At TED: Not proud of it, but I just had to punch Doris Kearns Goodwin in the face. Actually, you know what? I am proud of it. *Sick of her.*

@badbanana Tim Siedell, Nebraska. Surreal, minimalist one-liners from America's heartland. Doesn't just hang with the wisenheimers (he follows 700+ other people on Twitter).
badbanana Soon, I won't be able to afford my favorite meal of rice and crude oil.

@gknauss Greg Knauss. Was funny before Twitter.
gknauss Packing away kid crafts and becoming convinced that goddamned glitter should be banned. Next: Vacuuming, apparently.

@gruber John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame. Most of his tweets are about coding or Apple Inc. (neither of which may interest you), but he is the starting point for many a Twitter meme. Also worth following as the butt of many of @AmyJane's jokes.
gruber Fell down the stairs 15 minutes ago. Goddamn wife is still fucking laughing about it.

@magnetbox Ben Tesch, web designer/developer, Seattle.
magnetbox Take out the mixed case, and an e-mail exclaiming "There Will Be Blood shipped to you and arriving on or around Friday" doesn't sound good.

@zeldman Jeffrey Zeldman, co-founder, A List Apart.
zeldman Last time I checked my ass, I couldnt pull that kind of work out if it.

@jimray Journalist/ruffian from Seattle.
jimray Man, once a Sharepoint site gets created, it goes from project to Project Managed!

@nevenmrgan Developer (you might be sensing a trend), Portland.
nevenmrgan At Chipotle, a friend orders a "small burrito". In the back, an old woman cackles menacingly - "Small!" - then vanishes in a cloud of smoke.

@textism Dean Allen. Another damn developer; this one the creator of Favrd, the site that captures the wisenheimers' favorite tweets.
textism Please shut the fuck up about Comic Sans. Comic Sans isn’t the problem. Times New Roman is the problem.

Other wisenheimer favorites include @Mike_FTW, @FarkerPeaceboy, @fedge, @awryone, @fireland, @strutting, fake clippings from a @larrykingcolumn, and an obscene fake @soupysales.

plus some you may know from other contexts

@hodgman THAT John Hodgman. Still trying to figure out how to use Twitter, but getting there.

@jonathancoulton Internet geek troubadour Jonathan Coulton. Posts infrequently, mostly texted from the road or while he's on parent duty.
@jonathancoulton Dippin Dots is the ice cream of a future that I don't want any part of.

@apelad Cartoonist Adam Koford, creator of the LOLCats comic.
@apelad In Soviet Russia, your pants spill salsa all over _you_.

@youngamerican Jesse Thorn, from The Sound of Young America and Jordan, Jesse, GO!
@youngamerican Do you ever get jealous of observant jews? They always look like they're goin' places.

@Jordan_Morris Boy detective. The Jordan half of Jordan, Jesse, GO! New this week to Twitter, but already getting the hang of it.
@Jordan_Morris Nintendo: Trying to combine video games and exercise is like trying to combine sex and punching.

@jdickerson John Dickerson, Slate political writer and co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest. One of the few wisenheimers that follows the election, in part because it's his actual job.
jdickerson It's not just Kentucky bluegrass that's music to my ears but the comforting victory state pun at the top of every one of my speeches.

and the hosts of You Look Nice Today

The current hub of Twitter comedy culture is the podcast "You Look Nice Today" (read Part 1 for more), hosted by @scottsimpson, @lonelysandwich, and @hotdogsladies.

@scottsimpson I figured it out. The spider, whose web I break every morning en route to my car? He's not stupid--his insurance company is.

@scottsimpson The music in your car always sounds like the soundtrack to a movie I don't want to see." —my wife

@scottsimpson Bathroom key fob size inflation is rampant in SF. At some point the key is just going to be bolted to a barista.

@lonelysandwich My heart is telling me one thing and my bangs are telling me something completely different.

@lonelysandwich If the headline "Obama breaks with former pastor" makes me picture them popping and locking, it doesn't mean I'm racist, just nostalgic.

@lonelysandwich If there's a way of looking good while a pigeon flies INTO YOUR FACE, I'm one step closer to finding it.

@hotdogsladies American Apparel tailors their shirts for men who aren't fortunate enough to share my sophisticated relationship with pie.

@hotdogsladies Oh, great. Now I smell like Febreze AND a warm hoagie.

@hotdogsladies Nice thing about a 2-year waiting list for a $7k purse is you can use the time to start sorting out exactly what the fuck is wrong with you.

in closing

I'm certain I've omitted several people. Just doing my part to get the blood feuds up and running. (Updated 6/9: Case in point: @nevenmrgan)

As I explained in Part 1, one can always find new Twitterers to follow by checking the Favorites page of anyone whose sensibility you appreciate. Or by keeping an eye on the front page of Favrd.

Of course not everyone on Twitter uses the platform solely as a hyperactive, distributed class to clown in. You might even decide to follow people you actually, you know, know.

But figure if you're still reading at this point you might decide to follow me:

@cjereneta I do not have a job that allows me to Twitter. Hang on--missing a period in there. I meant: I do not have a job. That allows me to Twitter.

Once I manage to build up a steady income we'll see for how long I can manage to stick around.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Meet the Wisenheimers: Twitter's Comedy Underground, Part 1

When I first joined Twitter, I mostly followed other videobloggers (who generally would follow me back) and famous people (who generally would not). As a social network Twitter has a one-way affinity structure, meaning you can follow people without them having to follow you in kind.

(I linked to a video earlier about what Twitter is and why a normal person might be interested in it.)

This one-way architecture means you get to choose whose 140-character or shorter posts ("tweets", in the vernacular) show up in your Twitter feed. I often describe it as a custom CNN newscrawl, in which you have pre-selected the writers for the content you expect they will provide. Or alternately as a steady stream of office chatter by workmates that you have hand-picked for their conversational value.

It's therefore up to you how to tune your mix of breaking news, tech convention updates, meetup invites, party gossip, internet links, lunch reports, clarifying insights, wisecracks, and updates from people you actually know. This process happens over time, as you follow new people, or "unfollow" others (because they tweet too often, or because they irritate or bore you).

By the time I joined in fall of 2007, Merlin Mann (@hotdogsladies) had already attracted thousands of followers for his snappy one-liner tweets—a hilarious mix of hype-deflating similes, wince-inducing self-deprecations, adolescent dick jokes, and inside nerdball. Most people know Mann from his productivity blog or the podcast MacBreak Weekly, but he had already spent years honing his minimalist writing skills on his site of ridiculous lists, 5ives. But on Twitter, Mann had something something apotheosis something something. (sic)

One of @hotdogsladies's social groups on Twitter was a cluster of wisecracking Mac software developers1 he already knew, the most "famous" of whom, John Gruber, author of the popular daringfireball.net2, had built up a Twitter following as large as Mann's. Where others might use the 140-character space for a quick, cheap aside, @gruber shot through it with the blunt force trauma of swiftly-delivered declamatory statements, made definitive (and often hilarious) with the masterful application of punctuation, capitalization, and well-placed expletives.

Thus another social cluster began to form that had no connection prior to Twitter, around a culture of using Twitter almost entirely for the purpose of cracking wise. These like-minded Twitterers found each other using two of the site's built-in features.

While the "follow" stream is one-way, the use of the "@" tag allows anyone to "reply" to people upstream from them. The person who doesn't currently follow you can choose to ignore your reply, or (if you are annoying) block you (meaning you can't follow or reply to them any more). But if s/he reads your reply, and likes it, s/he might click over to read some of your other tweets, and decide that you're worth following yourself.

The second feature, one that isn't used by the majority of Twitter users, is the "favorite". Next to each tweet (in the standard web page interface) is the graphic of a star. Click it, and that tweet is added to your list of "Favorites", publicly accessibly via your profile. So you can check out the Favorites list of someone you find funny to discover Twitterers that person finds funny.

So like bloggers who constantly check their stats for traffic volume and incoming links, these jokesters wanted a way to find out who was marking a tweet they wrote as a "favorite". One could click through to the individual Favorites page of every person who followed them, but that could get tiresome, even for those with serious self-esteem issues.

Along came the website Favotter, the side project of a solo Japanese developer, which scraped Twitter for the Favorites selections of about 1,000 Twitterers who used the feature the most often. At last the wisenheimers could track which of their tweets had "scored" with their peers (and with how many of them). Favotter could also be used to discover new "talent", by scanning which tweets were being recognized by one or more peers.

Favotter accelerated the speed of the Twitter ego feedback loop, turning this small corner of Twitter into a near-constant stream of witticisms, profanities, and absurdities. (Remember that there were hundreds of thousands of Twitter users who were using Twitter for entirely different purposes.) The Favotter one-upsmanship among the wisenheimers was generally offset by how generous everyone could be (and was) with the Favorites star. Unlike, say, the Onion writers' room, there was no numerical limit on the number of jokes that could get the thumbs up. More popular Twitterers would also call attention to those with fewer followers.

Another third party tool was the startlingly good search tool, Summize, which offers near-real-time scanning of tweets. Keeping Summize open in a tab allows one to check quickly to see if someone has already made the joke you're about to submit.

Picture 5.png

This spring @hotdogsladies (with, at that point, more than 13,000 followers) started an audio podcast with two of his favorite Twitterers, @scottsimpson (Scott Simpson) and @lonelysandwich (Adam Lisagor). "You Look Nice Today: A Journal of Emotional Hygiene", brought the Twitter underground comedy scene into a much broader internet underground (readers of Boing Boing,, John Hodgman's blog). People in the internet community had known Simpson previously (from his podcast-related job), but Lisagor, a digital special-effects artist from LA, was new to everyone, having emerged as a minor Favotter star with his absurdist, often mindbending tweets. (@lonelysandwich responded to a series of running Mavis Beacon tweets with this brilliantly topical image.) The trio credit themselves in the show only by their Twitter handles, and have presented virtual carnations to wisenheimers whose tweets they respect (@Remiel, @Moltz, @EffingBoring).

"You Look Nice Today" (@ylnt) is more of an improvisational highwire act than Jordan, Jesse, GO! (which grounds itself with personal anecdotes and listener calls, and is built upon years of comfortable banter both on- and off-air). For YLNT, Mann, Simpson, and Lisagor step onto a metaphorical empty stage and bluster their way through each segment with the manic energy and desperation of college freshmen--hence the May 12 episode, which spent an exorbitant number of minutes describing an imagined early 1980s television show ("The Barber & The Balls") featuring Richard Roundtree as a barber who travels from town to town, solving crimes, with the aid of his talking testicles, as voiced by Estelle Getty. But the sharp editing (by Lisagor) manages to keep the show from falling down, and helps frame the uncomfortable moments as entirely intentional.

(YLNT and JJGo are teaming up for a live show called "The Monsters of Podcasting". Tickets, promoted only through Twitter, sold out in hours. Not sure if I'm going to attempt to get rush tickets on site.)

Many of the bits from YLNT then spread through Twitter, including The Fishstick, a dance set to Archie Bell & The Drells' "Tighten Up" that involves standing in one place and looking from side to side (while, optionally, performing one's kegels). They encouraged listeners to create their own "Fishstick" videos (the video by @lonelysandwich, however, eclipsed them all).

Meanwhile Favotter was having sporadic outages, causing consternation among the wisecrack-addicted. New players3 were unable to participate in the Favotter system even when it did work, because the Twitterers whose votes counted were limited to the original 1000 chosen when Favotter was launched. And Favotter also didn't distinguish between tweets marked as favorites because of their cleverness or because of their utility or "wisdom" (as applied to life or, more often, web startups and "social media").

Enter developer Dean Allen (@textism), who built his own custom tool to scrape Twitter for favorites, called Favrd, that recognized only votes by people in the extended wisenheimer community4 (what Mann had taken to calling the "Fun Bunch"). Allen described this exclusivity as his "no-webcock algorithm":
If you see Twitter as a venue for public relations or marketing, or as an audience eager to hear news of a post on your ‘blog’, or a rich hot sticky vertical, or if you consider yourself a web strategist, or if you talk earnestly about social media, or if you can read Techcrunch or listen to the Gillmor gang with a straight face, it’s very unlikely the things you say on Twitter will show up here.
but in what I take as an acknowledgement that his own elitism could itself be labelled "webcockery", Allen made the main graphic for the site an enormous rooster.

Favrd is now the go-to site for the latest in what's funny or clever on Twitter. Two thumbs up by the eligible pool of voters places your tweet on the front page of the site, until it's pushed off by the next wave of favorite tweets. At its worst, like Favotter, Favrd preys on the insecurities of the wiseacre crowd. But at its best, it highlights the work of new and funny Twitterers who have few followers. One can subscribe to the RSS feed of the Favrd main page to keep a finger on the pulse of the Twitter comedy scene without even signing up at Twitter.

As to what's popular among the wisenheimers (who are, mind you, predominantly white and technophilic geeks)? The brevity of the form is well suited to puns and verbal jokes that tweak grammar and punctuation. Rapid digressions in the style of Steven Wright or Jack Handey also work well. But someone stepping in cold will mostly notice all the dick, poop, and fart jokes ("puerile", which I use in the strictest, non-pejorative sense of the word) The influx of vagina-themed raunch from a handful of women has made waves of late, but not enough to displace the boy-centric vibe. Memes burn through and out in a matter of hours these days, such that last week one morning was taken up by tweets responding to a reported meme shortage.

Twitter itself has been having a lot of infrastructural issues, with its database servers down almost as often as they were up over the past week or two. There is some talk in the internet community at large that Twitter is vulnerable to a competitor swooping in and taking its business. At this point I doubt the "Fun Bunch" will pick up and move, unless a new platform will play as well to both their strengths and their emotional need for validation.

Not that I would know anything about that.

Next up in Part 2, some of the Twitterers who make me laugh.

1 I'm not sure if there is a parallel community of funny, outsized Windows or Linux developers, but I'd assert that this particular clique was propped up by the iPhone, arguably the best mobile Twitter device available in the Fall of 2007.

2 I'll also note here that Gruber is unparalleled in his outsider analysis of Apple Inc. His blog posts, though at times ridiculously granular in their content, suggest he has a greater big-picture understanding of the company than many of the people I know who work there.

3 I'd include myself here, at this point a wisenheimer-wannabe.

4 I was surprised as anyone that I was included in this first pool of voters.