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Good-bye, World!

March 30, 2010

The title’s a play on the default WordPress post, not a suicide reference.

I’ve finally decided to become a grown-up with my own domain and commercial host. If you want to keep reading me (and I do plan to update, believe it or not), check out the new

I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll delete this blog. On one hand, it’s part of the record now. On the other, the Internet has enough abandoned-blog clutter as it is.


Selling real products by selling fake products

October 20, 2009

Last night’s rerun of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson* was sponsored by Outback Detergent.

The interesting part? Outback Detergent is not a real product, at least not in the sense we would usually think. It’s part of an ad campaign for the Subaru Outback.

After you get over the original “Huh?”, it almost makes sense: People tune out car commercials, so Subaru’s trying to shake it up a little.

But then you realize that the company seems to be targetting guys who fancy themselves tough and rugged by advertising laundry detergent.

Or if Subaru is trying to target the crowd that loves infomercials for their sheer cheesiness — well, those people are mostly college students or other people with too much free time who won’t be in the market for a brand-new SUV anytime soon.

It doesn’t seem all that well-planned to me. But maybe the whole point was to generate buzz about the campaign’s tactics, in which case …. darn. Well played, Subaru.

Does anyone else know of another brand that’s done something similar with a fake product?

*I adore Craig Ferguson. So there.

Discrimination against Digital People?

August 18, 2009

Transhumanist magazine h+ has an interesting article on discrimination against “Digital People,” who use online worlds like Second Life to create a new persona that better fits how they see themselves. Keeping that separate from their physical self, however, can be a difficulty, as many people are uncomfortable working with an anonymous avatar. As one Digital Person puts it:

Many potential clients are expecting to talk to me on the phone and sign Real Life documents. I tell them that I have two options. One is total anonymity, which sometimes works because I have a pretty solid reputation in Second Life and a recognizable name. The other is I offer a Real Life proxy to sign all papers. Exactly the same as when people do business in Real Life. It’s binding. If something goes wrong, they can sue him.

I can’t seem to find a way around it. It’s very difficult to tell your client you want to remain anonymous and then say, ‘trust me.’ They immediately suspect something is wrong.

My knee-jerk response is to think people should be willing to put their “real” names on their work. I always say you should never do anything that you’re ashamed to own up to. For the most part, I use my real name online.

But that’s not really the issue here — Digital People have reputations to protect, just like anyone else. That reputation just happens to exist online. Many of them aren’t using they’re anonymity to hide what they’re doing; rather they don’t want to be encumbered by their physical selves.

Digital People don’t see themselves as well represented by their faces, voices, bodies, etc. Why shouldn’t they remain anonymous? After all, when I buy something on Amazon or eBay, I don’t expect to see that person in the physical world. I don’t expect a phone call. I don’t even usually expect an e-mail. I judge whether or not the person is likely to be trustworthy by the ratings and feedback the person has received, and I accept the risks of the margin of error.

And really, if you go to Second Life to hire someone, is it really so odd that the person would want to carry out the transaction in that forum? It’s so typical of established forces: trying desperately to branch out, lest they be left behind, but completely missing all of the cultural cues involved in their new endeavors.

That said, I have to wonder about the psychological distress of someone who feels it is necessary to completely break bonds with one’s past, one’s heritage, and one’s physical place and being. It seems to me that maybe it would be healthier to deal with it, overcome it, take pride in it. But maybe I’m the one with the identity problem — maybe I’m a little too attached to my atoms.

Julie and Julia: the movie (plus: older moviegoers?)

August 9, 2009
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I went to see Julie and Julia yesterday. You’ll recall I was cynical about the movie after finishing the book, but that turned out to be unfounded: Julie and Julia is charming, touching and funny.

The movie does an excellent job blending the two true storylines — based on Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia and Julia Child’s My Life in France.

Most of the attention paid to the movie has focused on Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child. The attention is well-deserved; she is excellent. However, I would hate to see Julie Powell (Amy Adams) pushed under the rug.

Movie-Julie isn’t quite as likable as the one in the book. Julie’s level of whiny is probably close to that of the book, but it is less tempered onscreen by the wit that permeated every page. When that wit does shine through, it’s still subtle — upstaged by the flamboyant Julia (through no fault of either actress, I hasten to add — it’s just a difference of the characters’ styles). And when movie-Julie talks about how much she loves Julia, she comes off as borderline-deranged, though in an adorable, Amy-Adams kind of way. My solution was to unconsciously project book-Julie onto movie-Julie, lessening the effect. I can’t tell how you’d see her without the book – maybe you’d love her, maybe you’d find her annoying.

The movie is a sparkling tribute to the power of hope and perseverance. With a tiny bit of ramped-up drama and cuteness oozing everywhere (not to mention a well-placed Talking Heads track), I, for one, was won over.

Related to the movie, but not about the movie: the audience. I have never seen so many elderly people at a movie theater. But there they were. It makes sense — those are probably the people most connected to Julia Child. It was still interesting to see, though.

One of my companions was talking to the theater’s manager (long story), and he said that the last movie with that kind of older audience was Revolutionary Road, which was set in the 1950s.

It makes me wonder how much movie executives intentionally target an older demographic. It seems, in some ways, to be on the rise (though I suppose it could be accidental). The trailer for this movie, It’s Complicated, played before the feature yesterday. It seems to be targeted to older viewers:

Are moviemakers trying something new, trying to expand their audiences? Or have they always targeted these markets and I’ve never noticed?

Julie and Julia: hope, wit and French food

August 4, 2009

Memoirs are a tricky genre. It’s easy for their authors to come off as self-absorbed, revisionist and/or overanalyzed. So I consider it a treat when I read a good one. And Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia? It’s a good one.

For those of you out of the loop, Julie and Julia is about a government-bureaucracy secretary who, on a whim, begins a project to cook her way through the entirety of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, blogging about her experiences on the way. She intersperses her stories with fictionalized accounts about Child and her husband. Julie and Julia is about Powell’s blog and her cooking, but even more, it’s about her life and about life in general.

(As a side note, it’s really strange to look at Powell’s old blog after reading the book. But it kind of brings back that throwback feeling you occasionally get while reading the book. This was only a few years ago, but it’s an “old-school” blog. Really, really strange. Here’s her newer blog.)

Some have criticized Powell as complaining too much. You know, usually I have very little patience for that kind of thing, but it didn’t bother me so much in Julie and Julia. I think there are two reasons for that:

  1. Powell is self-aware, but not too self-conscious. She knows she complains; she knows she can be irrational and neurotic. She occassionally feels bad about it. I think it’s refreshingly honest, in a way (some would call it oversharing, but you know what you’re getting into when you pick up the book — that’s what memoirs are for). So yes, she can be whiny, but I think it’s successfully lampshaded.
  2. I’ve been a little overindulgent lately, and I’ve been thinking too much about the future. I  could identify, at least somewhat, with the feeling of aimlessness. It reminded me of one of my favorite mantras: It’s OK to make mistakes, even big ones. Usually, the world doesn’t end.

Aside from the whining (because of it?), Julie and Julia is a witty look at cooking, people, despair and hope. It also made me really want to cook something (I’ll finally have a kitchen come September!).

Can the movie measure up? Probably not. But we’ll see. And I’ll probably be reading Powell’s next book, Cleaving, too.

* Another pretty good memoir-style book I read lately is Red, White and Muslim by Asma Gull Hasan. It’s an interesting, easy read about being an American Muslim woman and about the state of Islam in general.


Anathem: Brilliance, with sides of sexism and disappointment

July 31, 2009

I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. To recap, it’s a speculative fiction novel set on an Earthlike planet, revolving around what basically amounts to an academic — as opposed to religious — monastery.

In many respects, Anathem is an excellent book — it’s fascinating and complex, with novel or revamped ideas fairly examined from multiple perspectives. The many made-up words, which concerned me at first, were much less distracting a few chapters in (though I was still not totally clear on the philosophies of even the major sects, even at the end of the book).

Speaking of the end of the book, I found it to be extraordinarily disappointing. After its being set up for 900-some pages, I expected something much less bland, clichéd and formulaic. To say more would spoil any good parts of the ending, but it was ultimately a letdown.

What bothered me most, however, was the novel’s approach to gender and sexuality. (This isn’t necessarily to say that the author, or even the book itself, is sexist. It might possibly be an intentional display of the created society‘s cultural views on gender.)

The book, narrated by the male protagonist, portrays female characters, even the “tough” ones, as overly emotional. (“Her chest collapsed and her head drooped. The big eyes closed for a few moments. Here was where any other girl would have gone to pieces.”) And any deviation from traditional femininity is conspicuously noticed. The narrator must describe one female character, an engineer, as “unlike other women” or some variation of that at least five times. The female characters are also very, very dull (which is saying something, as characters are not the book’s strongest suit to begin with), and not one is truly essential — they could be swapped out with most anyone else.

But the sexism goes unaddressed, and when most every other intellectual debate in the book is hacked to death, one that isn’t touched won’t go unnoticed. I wonder if it is intentional. Is it simply background material that wasn’t relevant to the plotline? Was it in the orginal narrative and edited for length or clarity? (There’s a debate for another day: In fiction, especially that set in a created world, how much cultural ambience should be introduced but not explained?)

And while homosexuality is not ruled out, there are certainly no openly gay characters (or even thinly veiled closeted ones). I suppose that could be hand-waved away — it’s not Earth; maybe there are no gay people in this existence. But the author writes a full-page definition of “liaisons,” including this gem:

“Shortly before the Rebirth, several maths took the unusual step of altering the Discipline to sanction the Perelithian liaison, meaning a permanent liaison between one fraa and one suur.”

Basically that says that some institutions defined marriage as between one man and one woman. He mentions that it was unusual — perhaps a sly commentary on heteronormativity in contemporary culture? Well, maybe. On this particular subject, I don’t really mind preachiness. At best, gay-marriage opponents are poorly informed (even if some of them, including many I know personally, are nice people with good intentions). But please, Mr. Stephenson, practice what you preach — the characters in Anathem are as heteronormative as they come.

I would hate to believe this, but it’s possible that “unusual” in this case isn’t considered a bad thing. If that’s true, that makes the book almost explicitly homophobic — a strange fault for a book that is so enlightened in so many other ways. It’s possible I would be less harsh on some books, but I expected more from this one. If you can handle parallel cosmi, I think you should be able to handle “the gay.”

Despite its faults, Anathem is chock-full of redeeming qualities. All in all, it is not for the person who hates thinking. Much of the book is dedicated to analytical “dialogues” on subjects many people would dismiss as not worth considering (I wouldn’t be one of those people). Although I won’t be listing it among my favorite books anytime soon,  Anathem is worth reading, if you have the time. Just don’t expect stellar character development or a satisfying conclusion. Instead, read it for the imagination and the ideas.

Does your e-mail signature signal your importance?

July 23, 2009

From @cheeky_geeky on Twitter:

OH: “There’s an inverse relationship between a person’s importance and the length of their email signature.”

(“OH” is for “overheard,” but I’m sure you knew that. Wink, wink.)

If this statement is true, why is that the case? Perhaps it’s because truly “important” people tend to have shorter titles, like president or CEO. Or maybe the truly important people aren’t the ones at the top, and they’re too busy doing important work to be concerned about their titles.

Or perhaps it’s unrelated to titles at all, but to contact information. Less “important” people might be less busy, and they therefore try to make a bigger effort to be accessible — listing office and cell phone numbers, address, alternate e-mails and URLs — because they’re able to deal with the consequences of it.

Or maybe less-important people just give themselves longer signatures to make themselves feel more important.

What do you, think? Do important people tend to have short e-mail signatures? (How are we defining “important”?) If so, why do you think that is?