Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Requiem Frye


2005 - 2006

R. I. P.

(The queen is dead. Long live the queen.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Golden Oldies

This weekend, for some reason I remembered mankind's official "Welcome to Earth" sign: the Golden Record. Launched with Voyager in 1977 and long past Pluto now, the record is...
a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim. Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played.

That last part always got to me. I remember hearing on 3-2-1 Contact about these "symbolic language instructions" that could be understood by any civilization that (in the words of the esteemed Dr. Sagan) "understood science." I looked at the etched instructions and thought it was a load of crap.

Granted, I was 11.

But this weekend I decided to look it up again. Being a little older and a little wiser, I should be able to decipher this language and figure out how to play this record should it crash land in my yard. After carefully studying the markings, I have decided that no one would ever figure out to play the damn thing.

To hear the audio, you have to spin the record at 16 2/3 revolutions per minute. Right? Great. They explain that in a diagram using "binary arithmetic." But, you're an alien -- how long is a minute? Cleverly, they decided to explain that using a constant in the universe -- a hydrogen atom. Somehow, you should be able to figure out that this drawing is a hydrogen atom...and how long a minute is.

Good luck!

Let's assume you somehow manage to get sound playing. But then guess what? In the middle of the record, it switches from being audio to being an extremely low grade version of video (like looking at PXLvision...but you're drunk.) To expirience what our alien friends would, you can try this simple experiment at home:

1) Listen to music on your stereo for a few minutes.

2) Unplug the yellow video wire coming out of your VCR and plug that into your stereo.

3) Listen to that hideous, obnoxious noise for a while.

4) Do your damned not to decimate the planet that would subject you to such a hideous cacophony of sound.

5) Plug your VCR back into your television.

6) Pretend that instead of watching Flava of Love, you are actually looking at a slide show of bad 70's stock photography.

7) Try not to feel gypped.

Why not just stick with the audio section on the golden record and....ohhh...I dunno...include a picture book?

Lastly, (and this is just for the TV broadcast standard geeks out there -- you know who you are!) the images are interlaced. So, our alien life form doesn't just have to decode the images, it has to go into Photoshop and run the De-Interlace filter as well.

I think the issue is pretty clear. It's 2006 -- guys are talking about talking tombstones for the love of God! We need to send a whole new multimedia presentation into the cosmos. And I don't trust NASA to do it. I hate to go corporate on this, but I think the only people we could trust to do this right are GoldenPalace.com or Richard Branson. Who's with me?

(If some managed to resist clicking on this link before, you really should give it a shot.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Low Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Just finished George Packer's The Assassin's Gate. Wonderfully well reported and well told account of the Iraqi Freedom. Watching Packer (an admitted hawk at the beginning of the book) lose faith in the war and become angry at it's architects is both fascinating and heartbreaking, because he, as we all do, wants the country to do well and succeed in all it's ventures (whether we support them or not). But he cannot stomach the caviler and ridiculously optimistic way that the war was approached.

It's late, and I've had some wine, but I'm gonna transcribe two sections, because I thought they were illuminating. If you've got some time to kill in a Barnes and Noble, the "Memorial Day" chapter is one of the best. These two are from there:

One of Bush's advisers once explained to the journalist Ron Suskind the worldview of the White House. Whereas the nation-building experts and the war critics and Ron Suskind lived "in what we call the reality-based community" where people "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality," unfortunately, "that's not the way the world really works anymore." The way the world now works amounted to a repudiation of reason, skeptical intelligence, the whole slate of liberal Enlightenment values. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors," the aide concluded, "and you, all of you, will be left just to study what we do."

After reading that on the train, I literally had to put the book away for a while.

One month after he survived the bombing in Baghdad, I met Ghassan Salame, the late Sergio Vieiera de Mello's political advisor, in the lobby of the UN headquarters in New York. Looking a little wan, Salame said, "Iraq needs to be liberated -- liberated from big plans. Every time people mentioned it in the last few years, it was to connect it to big ideas: the war against WMDs, solving the Arab-Isreali conflict, more recently the war against terrorism and a model of democracy. That why all these mistakes are made. They're made because Iraq is always in someone's mind the first step to something else."


When I was a kid, my mom made sure that the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy was sitting around the house. (In retrospect, I think the main reason for this was she was sure her little baby would be on Jeopardy and have the face to duel threat of both a Bible Character and US Presidents category.) And, of course, I agree that cultural literacy is an important segment of knowledge...but really, it's just a shorthand for educated people to speed our communication. We can say, someone "has endured neverending unpleasantness by being shat upon over and over by a vengeful and fickle God, but accepts that life is sometimes shitty and goes"....or we can just say someone is "Job-like". Much fewer words. A big concept, boiled down to little symbol.

What I noticed this last week, however, is that this cultural literacy is shifting. Understanding the codes from the Bible -- not so important. (And don't argue that they never were -- in in 1960's South Texas in polite society you damn well better have known who Methuselah was.) Today the literacy is much more about visual and narrative symbols that you have to decipher and not concepts and names. Two examples:

Top Chef is a reality cooking show on Bravo. In the first episode we meet the contestants. They introduce themselves in interviews. This is intercut with footage of the contestants dragging luggage and setting up bedrooms together in the house. No mention is made of this act. Not even a single person saying "Wow, what a great space," or "I can't believe my bedroom," or "The Top Chef House is the da bomb." No voice over explaining that the contestants will live together. No mention that they traveled from across the country to converge on this one space. I sat there shocked, waiting for it to happen (especially after working with some of the network executives I have who don't believe something has been said unless it's been repeated twice by the narrator and once in interview). Of course, I wasn't confused...and no one else was either. It's a reality show -- of course they all move into a house together! No need to explain at all. Just 20 seconds of shots of suitcases going up stairs was all it took. We've come a long way since 1992 when the first half of the first episode is needed just to introduce you to the space and the concept of co-habitation.

Those shots of suitcases and the structure of the reality show are all you need to understand the larger concept of "strangers in a big house / people stop being polite and start being real / etc. etc." If you came in off the boat from North Korea you'd have no idea what was going on. Oh, the rest of the show is explained up and down. Boat person would understand the contests and the elimnations, but the house ritual is a now a part of our cultural lexicon.

Even more visual is the shorthand in a Nintendo game Brianna and I bought a few weekends ago (meaning, I finally got to actually play some videogames with my self-described "video game princess"). Warioware, Inc. is strange in that there isn't one overarching game or one overarching goal. Instead Warioware throws you little 3 second "minigames" one right after the other. You usually get a one one command ("Defend!" "Swim!" "Chop!" and, my personal favorite "Curl!"), then have 3 seconds to not only figure out what you have to do, but also what buttons on the controller will do it. What's interesting is how easy, fun and intuitive it is. The language of video games is strangely consistent. Little line of dots leading from the golfball means "you're aiming this way". The graduated bar graph to the right of the karate chopper means "you have this much power". I only know this from playing other video games. Warioware couldn't have come out for the original Nintendo of the 80's -- it took time for those symbols to become hardwired. Now, these visual cues take no thought on my part -- they've evolved to be part of my cultural literacy.

What does this mean? It wasn't my intent when I started writing this, but I guess I'm making the Everything Bad is Good for You argument. This shorthand will keep showing up in pop culture -- but what starts out in our movies and video games evolves into many things. Computer interfaces, literature, art, architecture and, yes, even religion could all be remapped into our evolving shorthand.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Next Week

On Monday, I start working for the Mouse for a month and a half. Previously when I worked for Uncle Mickey, my big excitement while going to work across from Lincoln Center was seeing the audience line for Regis and Kelly. No more!

Never have I been so excited to go to schelp to the Upper West everyday. (But, I having lived off of feeding tube Gatorade for a month myself, I'm relatively unimpressed.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Great Idea

Although this description sounds like my personal fantasy stag film, Alpha Astoria is actually a blog:

2 german girls review greek cafes in Astoria, Queens


In other news: WTF? I was next in line!

(edit: explained that porn joke a little more, for the somewhat slow ones)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

War or No War

If you've been unfortunate enough to watch television with me recently...and cursed enough for Deal or No Deal to be on, you've probably heard me blurt out, on more than one occasion, "Damn, this is the best show on television." And although it's produced by the Dutch and has been all around the world in local varieties before arriving in the US, it seems an inherently American show. And maybe it's just the zeitgeist of the time, but the values that DOND espouses seem like those of the country at large. Or at least all of those millions of Americans who still fall in line when called on and blurt out: "I support the president."

I've mentioned the way the game is played previously, and how the contestants usually balk in the face of statistical good deals to try for a bigger cash prize. But I'd like to focus on the first decision in the game -- picking a case. There are 26 suitcases and the contestant picks one -- it becomes "theirs". Of course, they can "sell it" to the Banker for fraction of it's potential value, but the show is based around the possibility that "your" suitcase contains $1 million dollars.

The surprising part is how quickly people buy into this fantasy. "Yep -- I picked it, I'm going to the end with it." Even though (statistically) they should sell off their suitcase and get out of the game with the money offered, they keep playing, hoping for that huge pay-out -- as if their first decision was the most important one. Since they "own" that case now, it must be the right one. Hope springs eternal that the result you can't see locked in the case is the result you want. The more illogical and ridiculous iterations of this game show I watch, the more it starts to seem like Iraq.

The White House picked it's battle plan, and it's staying with it until it reveals their expected Million Dollar Pay-out (which, I suppose in this analogy is something like democracy+oil+permanent base). Yes, we're going to have to go through the painful process of opening all the other cases, but in the end, we're damn sure that $1,000,000 will be there. Even though, time and again, logical ways were presented to get out -- take the lesser amount and run, accept something less than the total victory while obviating the possibility of total defeat -- the administration has been steadfast. No cutting and running here. It's the American way -- we're not going to waffle. The decision was made and we're sticking with it. We're going to see what's in that suitcase we picked in 2003. The problem is, it might be one penny.

Art or Sandwich

JB and I went to the see the "Monument to Pro-Life" today. (It's right around the corner from his house.)

Johnny remarked how disturbing it would be for Sean Preston to see his little head sticking out of his mommy's wawa. I had to remind him: "Wawas are for hoagies, not for babies."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Table Image

So, Wednesday I played in a satellite for the Foxwoods Poker Classic Main event in lovely Southeastern Connecticut. I lasted 4 and a half hours in the tournament and got knocked out about 60th out of 232 entrants. The top 23 finishers would move onto the $10,000 buy-in tournament (ending today) where first place would walk away with at least $2 million.

But, I'm not there, I made a fatal mistake on Wednesday (moved all-in with KQ suited hoping everyone would fold, guy with AQ called and took the pot and left me neutered). Don't get me wrong, it was a great expirience and I learned alot while playing all these games...and that is the importance of manipulating table image.

I'm fairly decent at playing poker online, where you can't see your opponent...but at the casino, much of the game happens above the felt by reading the characters sitting around the table. Everytime I sit down, before any cards are dealt, I look around the table and try and assertain who the threats are. The imitiating guys in shades, the grizzled poker veterns, the guys wearing shwag from different tournaments...I pick a couple and decide they are the serious players I should watch out for.

I'm always wrong. The guy I usually peg to the be the chip leader is usually knocked out first. It's uncanny -- and it's a lesson I refuse to learn.

But, on the flipside, I try to use these perceptions to my advantage. I try to dress as young as possible (hello, Neighborhoodie!), I try to act as much like a "kid" at the table, I act like it's my first time doing it...and, most importantly, I fold a couple of big hands early on. I try to convince everybody that I'm new, I'm young and I'm scared. Then, I wait half an hour and get hyper-aggressive -- pushing my whole stack in with middle pair. Sometimes, I get called out, but people never know what to think about what I do. My reputuation becomes "unpredictable", "volitile", and ultimately "threat".

I wonder if all those shades-wearing guys who I initially think are threats are wearing thier carefully created poker costumes as well...and their play (and wrong headed table images) just don't hold up mine.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I noticed this before...

...but it's fascinating how much thought this hidden symbol was given at the time. And it's only after the fact, that you begin to appreciate the little design details that were agonized over that make logos, products and narratives "just work".

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


a) That "April Fool's" post didn't really seem to work that well. Or, at least, both the commentors have spoken to me in real life and not said anything about my "little problem." Don't worry -- next year I'll just change my color scheme, claim to have been bought out by Google, and announce I'm switching to Vista.

b) I'm off to Foxwoods for the Foxwoods Poker Classic today. JP stakes'd me $60 for Christmas and today I'm trying to parlay that into a $10,000 ticket for the big dance -- a World Series of Poker style tournament where the final table will broadcast on the World Poker Tour. In layman's terms -- if I survive 5 more days of poker, i'll be rich, bitch.

c) Instead of showering so I can head to Grand Central to get this degenerate show on the road, I'm blogging. Hence, I'm an awful procrastinator. More on this when I get back.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

This is embarrassing

I'm really pretty ashamed by this, but last night I had a pretty bad time on Pokerroom.com.

Really bad time.

Now that it's the first, can anyone loan me rent? I'd really really appreciate it.