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Monday, June 19, 2006

Watch The Philip K Dick Robot On Comedy Central. Brought To You By Red Lobster. 

I just finished reading A Scanner Darkly by SF grandmaster Philip K. Dick. Richard Linklater has made a movie version -- stylistically similar to his Waking Life -- which comes out next month. (Check out the trailer. But don't go to the official site; see below.) I'd never read SD, so I gave it a whirl.

Like a lot of PKD's books, it's engaging and extremely thought-provoking -- even while the plot drags considerably at first, and the characters are rather cardboard. Dick is clearly brilliant and does a great job of painting a complex picture of complex situations. His work deserves the attention people give it, and I encourage my students willing to give it a try to read PKD. But I think I'd prefer to steer those looking for good thoughtful SF toward Stanislaw Lem, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, Lem gives us more story and less headtripping. After all, no one is going to make it through VALIS without being extremely confused, at least the first time. (I don't believe anyone who says otherwise, so you can save your breath.) Of course I think PKD knew he was losing it, and so if we can make that leap of mentalism, we're fine. But Lem is accessible even for the sane among us.

Lem also works harder on character and story. Ijon Tichy is at least as central to The Futurological Congress as the cryptochemocracy he stumbles into. And Peace on Earth delivers a solid kick in the teeth, accompanied by an "Oh, wow!" moment. The only "Oh, wow!" moment I ever got from PKD was The World Jones Made. Obviously there are a great many fine books which don't deliver any "Oh, wow!" moments, but the SF which sticks closest to me provides.

Irregardless, SD is a fascinating read, and I'm very keen to see the movie version. It looks like they've done some nice work on the blur suits and the scanners themselves -- and the animated format allows for some intriguing possibilities. I'm not going to get myself all worked up, because the gods know how often I've done that only to be vastly disappointed. But let's just say that if this isn't the best movie I've ever seen, I'll pour salt in my eyes. (TPCQ: "Always pour salt in your eyes!")

Red Lobster: The Apogee of Mediocrity

As many of you know, I shared a very special discussion with my father soon before he died. We went out to eat and had this talk, and he allowed me to choose the restaurant. Because I was an imbecilic 15-year-old, I chose Long John Silver's. (TPCQ: "I hope you know you're sponsoring a celebration for a muderous pirate!")

Anyway, since his death I've gone to LJS or some other similarly wretched seafood restaurant every year on Father's Day and write a letter to dad. Since Madison has no LJS restaurants (thank the gods), I go to Red Lobster. This past Sunday I made my yearly hajj there, and I realized that it is the absolute crystallization of mediocre dining. The scallops, for instance, are rubbery and all stuck together -- like they were defrosted after being chiseled off from some huge clump. (They probably were.) At least their clam chowder is okay. (TPCQ: "Chow-dair!? Chow-dair? It's CHOWDAH! Say it right!")

Here's how bad it got: I was asked by my very friendly waiter (more on him in a second) whether I wanted a garden salad or Caesar. I didn't want either, but I momentarily flashed on Glass Nickel's delicious Caesar salad, I indicated the latter. It was hideous, with sugary-sweet dressing and sickly squishy lettuce. Then, as I read back through the letters I wrote in previous years, I found this sentence, written in the very Red Lobster one year previous: "You know, I think this is the worst Caesar salad I've ever had." Man, I'm stupid.

TPCQ: "Red Lobster is the IHOP of shellfish. That is not upscale."

My waiter was really into my being there. He kept alternating between calling me "man" and "sir", neither of which put me anywhere near at ease. When he brought the main course, he asked "What brings you to Red Lobster today?" I should have just said "bad seafood" and started eating, but my annoying Polite Genes kicked in and I told him about dinner with dad. He nodded like Matthew McConahay in Contact (man, he sucked in that) and said it was "really cool" that I did that. Then he told me all about how his mom died when he was younger, so he got the same tattoo she'd had, "surrounded by my own tribal," and since mom loved balloons, he goes with his brothers every year into the cemetery and releases balloons with little notes in them. "We know she gets 'em," he assured me.

It was a special moment.

It's Not Funny

You know what really infuriates me about Comedy Central? They owe a great majority of their success to The Daily Show and Chappelle's Show (and South Park). And yet all their new shows are hideous ripoffs, only not funny -- Mind of Mencia? Gimme a break! And Dog Bites Man? Bleagh!

And another thing -- we used to get commercials for other good Comedy Central shows like South Park during the breaks on Daily Show. But now that DS is so popular, the ad space all goes to moron horsecrap like Disoronno. (You know, the one where the lady smears the ice cube all over her face.) So now I have no idea what's on South Park this week. Bastards.

Death to the Video Game Dorks!

I realized something else about Video Game Dorks recently -- they're making all the games for TVs that are too freakin' big! (TPCQ: "Gus. Why is the fire so big?") If you have a normal human-sized TV, you'll have to squint and sit right up against the screen to see the words or numbers. This is a problem in Gun (how are you supposed to play poker if you can't tell which cards you have?) and Star Wars Battlefront II (where the leaderboard at the end is now composed of tiny little letters and numbers -- I can never tell the 2s and 0s apart).

And there's no reason for it! You can make a sleek, cool-looking game without having to use tiny little type. The same thing, of course, happened with websites -- for a few years, all the cutting-edge sites like SlashCo and EdgeCom (TPCQ: "How about CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet?") were putting up sites that you couldn't read without a magnifying glass. Good call! I love not being able to read your idiot filler text garbage.

Stupid Websites

Speaking of stupid websites, I really can't stand two trends going on in the Interlink these days:
  1. Sites with too much crap happening all at once. Hey morons! Some of us don't have Athlon XXIII processors in our PCs. Some of us are going to go into your severely overloaded Shockwave/Flash/Java-heavy sites and watch as FireFox freezes, and we lose the first two paragraphs of a very pithy blog post. You suck!

    (Still, the BBC's Virtual Replay feature is way cool. (WARNING: Slow-loading Shockwave site.) You can watch the moron from Italy kick a goal into his own net during the recent game against the USA, which we totally deserved to lose, even if the refs were too harsh with the red cards except for that one Italian guy who elbowed McBride in the face, after which he went right back in, making him way hardcore.

  2. Stupid Moron Viral Marketing Websites That Don't Appear To Be Advertising Stupid Garbage But Are. Those who read The Onion might recall seeing recently an insipid ad masquerading as an edgy slacker-style cartoon called "Flocking Hell," all about this renegade flock of sheep and their digital personal stereos. So if you read this and find it to be "amazing ... brilliant ... [and] ridiculously silly" (like the site says -- perhaps they're being self-consciously sarcastic .. oo, tricky), you may go to the URL given in the cartoon, iDon't, which offers independent-minded consumers a way to rebel against Apple's technocratic marketing hegemony.

    And we can "break-free from restrictive formats" and express our individuality by .. buying a different mp3 player. Which one, you ask? Why the Sansa e200, of course. Look at it! It's completely different from the iPud. Whereas Apple's product is white, this one is black. (A white case is also available.)

    I also hate Taco Bell -- even though I love them for finally doing right by the Immokalee farmworkers -- because of their moronic 4th Meal website. First of all, the last thing we in the USA need is more regular eating times. Secondly, you stole the idea from The Simpsons. (TPCQ: "I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch.")
Okay, enough of this crap. I've got comics to read and video games to play. I'm on vacation.

Oh yeah. The photo is of the Philip K. Dick Android. The Red Lobster thing comes to us from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is urging RL to join the boycott of Canadian seafood. The Comedy Central Logo is from Comedy Central.


I don't think I ever posted this nifty YouTube video about How Vinyl Records Are Made. If I did, tough crap.

Today I'm listening to: DI Breaks!