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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bunsnip Best Movies of 2007

Although there has been a severe lack of worthwhile movies in the past couple of years, I've still managed to come up with a list of ten movies from 2007 that I think are worthwhile. Three of these movies were actually released in 2006, but I saw them in 2007, so I am counting them amongst the Bunsnip Best Movies of 2007. These movies are listed in no particular order of preference:

1) Shortbus (2006)
This film is a character study in sexuality. From the creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus tells the stories of five or six main characters who are dealing with issues surrounding their sexual lives. The film basically addresses all types of human sexuality (of the strictly human-to-human kind) with compassion and acceptance. Shortbus does an excellent job of drawing the line between what is explicit and what is pornographic. The sex scenes leave little to the imagination, but they are not indulgent or crass (this is no Two Girls One Cup, that's for sure!). Instead they are tender, passionate, and realistic (the latter quality especially being something pornography generally lacks).

2) The Science of Sleep (2006)
This is one of my favorite films ever, which is why I'm pretty sure almost none of you are going to like it. That usually seems to be the case with my favorite films. (I tend to really like really strange movies.) But if you do decide to see The Science of Sleep, you can expect to see into the mind of a young man whose sense of reality skirts the divide between the conscious and unconscious mind. The result of this dreamlike story is a showing of the symbiotic relationship between absurdity and reason in defining one another. The story is also somewhat tragic, however, as our hero never really comes to grips with the juxtaposition of absurdity and reason in his own world view.

3) Perfume (2006)
A story of a man with a superhuman sense of smell. Sounds innocent enough, but when the man becomes obsessed with the idea of bottling the scent of women, his obsession accidentally leads him to the life of a serial murderer. Before that scares you off, let me just say that serial murdering is one of the themes that I object to the most fiercely in movies. But I still loved this movie. The interesting thing about this film is that you as a viewer begin to sympathize, and very nearly empathize with the olfactory-obsessed killer, even while you root for his undoing. In the end, it is we the viewers who are undone.

4) Beowulf (2007)
I liked this movie so much that I saw it twice in the theaters: once normally, and once in IMAX 3D. The 3D definitely adds. The movie explores the theme of a single weakness in otherwise unconquerably strong men: lust for beautiful women! (Isn't that just the way?) As the oldest piece of extant literature written in the English language, Beowulf remains a timeless tale of the demons that are born from the foolish pride of men.

5) Harry Potter 5: The Order of the Phoenix (2007)

It is interesting that I so loved this movie, because I so hated this book. The book is very difficult because it is soaked in negative energy. Harry is very, very angry, which incites anger in the reader, and the frustrations caused by the infuriating Professor Umbridge incite even more anger, and all this angry energy made the book very difficult for me to read. Top that off with the death of a beloved character in the end, and I was worried that the series was going downhill after this book. But the movie somehow handles the darkness of this story much better than the book does. I can't exactly tell you how, because it's one of those things that is better felt than expressed, but whatever it is, it's the difference between the words "love" and "hate", and that's mighty powerful stuff.

6) Knocked Up (2007)
The premise of this movie had "bad movie" written all over it: attractive, successful woman meets slobbish, underachieving man; the two become intoxicated, one thing leads to another, and before you know it, she's pregnant and the two find themselves in the position of trying to make a relationship work. Sounds like your standard bad movie. Luckily, however, Knocked Up features some really intelligent writing, and a rather realistic perspective of what it might be like to be in this situation. It's received some criticism for being somewhat sexist, painting the women as up-tight emotional harpies and the men as fun-loving rational guys. This may be true to some extent, but overall I felt that the portrayal of male and female behavior was fairly realistic.

7) Hot Fuzz (2007)
From the same people who brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz is equally hilarious and shocking. The film tells the story of a London Police Officer with an embarrassingly good track record who is forced to transfer to a sleepy peaceful village in order to allow the rest of the London force to save face. Only this little village isn't as innocent as it appears. My only complaint with this movie is that it runs a bit long. The first time through, I thought the movie was wrapping up when it was only halfway over. But in a way that's the beauty of this film: it subverts your every expectation of what's going on, all the way up to the actual ending.

8) The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Although The Simpsons Movie is drawn in a 2D style, the big screen adds a definite 3rd Dimension to the characters of TV's most beloved dysfunctional family. The dynamic between Bart and Homer, for instance, is best displayed at the beginning of the film as they engage in banter and teasing that nevertheless communicates their affection for one another. The dynamic between Homer and Marge is likewise well illustrated when Marge follows Homer to Alaska despite Homer's effective extermination of Springfield. The same old Simpsons humor comes through on the big screen with even more laughs than on TV, perhaps because the big screen allows for writers to get away with more outlandish circumstances. In any case, this is one of the best Simpsons "episodes" ever.

9) 300 (2007)
Two syllables: SPAR-TANS! 300 manly and extremely fine-physiqued men are enough reason to see this movie. But of course, drool-fest aside, the movie does have other fine attributes that encouraged me to add it to the Bunsnip Best list. Style is one: supersaturated colors and strategic slow-motion framing added to the comic-book style of the film. So did the grotesque features of the Persians and their beasts. I am not generally a fan of violent films, but I make an exception for sensationalized violence like that in this film. The blood is not realistic, nor are the battles themselves. It is the fantasy abstraction that makes this movie more accessible to sensitive viewers like me.

10) The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers that you either love or hate. I'll admit it took me awhile to tune into Anderson's sense of humor and manner of viewing the world, but somewhere between Rushmore and The Life Aquatic, I fell in love with Anderson's minimalistic style of storytelling. The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson's finest film in my opinion. It deals with a trio of brothers who embark on a train journey through India in order to improve their sense of brotherhood and self, while dealing with their own issues of trust and past hurt. Do they get anywhere? See for yourself.

Special Mention:

Juno (2007)
I saw this movie a couple days after originally posting the Bunsnip Best Movies of 2007 list, and so it didn't make the original selection, but it arguably belongs on this list. Juno is a 16-yr old witty, outspoken, tomboyish girl who finds herself in a pregnant situation. While attempting to "procure a hasty abortion" at the local abortion clinic, she runs into a schoolmate protester who points out that her unborn child has fingernails at its current gestation. This ultimately prompts Juno to opt for the other A-word: adoption. Wishing to provide her child with a perfect homelife unlike her own broken family, Juno picks out the perfect couple from the penny ads, and as her pregnancy develops, so does her relationship with the couple. Yet when the husband tells Juno of his plans to leave his wife, Juno is forced to reexamine her ideal of the perfect couple and the perfect homelife. The strength of the movie is in Juno's character, brilliantly and hysterically portrayed by Ellen Page, but the film is well balanced by the strong cast of supporting characters. And the soundtrack is mostly The Moldy Peaches. Can't go wrong there.

Tune in next time for the Bunsnip Worst Movies of 2007!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Huzzah! Christmas is over! Time to prepare for the New Year.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christmas is over, and we can finally breathe again! Or at least we can try to catch our breath. Luckily, I've taken off from work until January 2nd, so I should be able to catch some relaxation in the post-holiday days of December. In fact, just today I indulged in a nice two-hour afternoon nap on my couch, even after sleeping in until noon today. But believe me, I needed this nap. Sleep deprivation is cumulative in nature, and unless you manage to nap it off, you will eventually turn into a zombie. That is a fact.

I think now that I've gotten the major nap out of the way, the next few days of my vacation should be more productive. I have a number of tasks on my to-do list:

(1) Clean up the house (it's mad crazy messy in the holiday aftermath).

(2) Stock up the fridge on healthy groceries so I can stop eating all the holiday junk.

(3) Make an appointment with the Dentist to clean all the holiday junk out of my teeth. Check!

(4) Register for my community yoga class and get a membership to the fieldhouse so I can burn off all the holiday junk. Check!

(5) Visit the liquor store and stock up on libations for New Years so I can drink away the holiday trauma. Check!

(6) Return any you-really-shouldn't-have items and go shopping with my various holiday gift cards. Check!

(7) Do a practice LSAT exam.

(8) Finish reading Self-Made Man and start reading whatever's next on my reading list. Check!

I know I may be alone in this, since not many people (well, one person actually) posted a response to my previous holiday rant. That could have to do with the fact that only about 10 people read my blog regularly, or maybe the scrooge attitude really is a minority attitude. But I seriously feel traumatized by the hectic nature of the holiday season, and I for one am relieved it's over. Next year, I will try to implement one of two strategies to cope with the season: (1) get my shopping done before the end of November, or (2) try to convince my family to engage in an alternative to the gift-giving frenzy.

But until then, it's time to put this year's Christmas behind us and look on to the new year. I'll close this post with things I resolve to do in 2008:

(1) Grow my hair longer so as to avoid last year's traumatizing hair butchery.

(2) Get private tutoring for LSAT Logic Games so I can make the LSAT my bitch in June.

(3) Do more hiking this year, for real. (I always say I want to hike more, and this year I mean it!)

(4) Go camping at least once.

(5) Try to maintain closer relations with my beloved friends.

(6) Acquire a clarinet.

(7) Get my body into delicious condition for the summer.

(8) Try to adopt a more optimistic outlook on life. (Difficult task for a realist!)

(9) Spend less money on lattes, but enjoy the lattes more.

(10) Be more selective of the musical shows I attend.

(11) Make better use of my time so that next year, it's not as much of a shock that another year has gone by.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

How to help a night owl survive in a morning dove's world

I'm not a morning person, and I find it difficult to understand how anyone could be. To make matters worse, no matter how sleep deprived I am, I always find myself wide awake from about 10 pm - midnight. So it is very difficult for me to go to bed early.

I've sort of accepted the fact that sleep deprivation and I are going to be pals for quite a while. At least until I'm powerful enough to make my own schedule. Ideally, I would go to bed around 1 or 2 am, and then sleep until about 10 or 11 am. Then my official day would start sometime between noon and 1 pm and end somewhere between 3 and 7 pm, depending on how much I need to get done at any given time.

I don't think this is an unreasonable desire. For me, it's a rather natural, and much more productive schedule. I know that under such a schedule, I would be twice as productive as I am in my sleep deprived schedule of doom and despair.

But since I am not in a position to rework my schedule to my liking (that is, without taking a huge pay cut, which simply wouldn't do), I have to find ways to cope with the god-awful early morning hours. (To clarify, let me just say that anything before 10 am is god-awful early in my book.)

So twice this week, I employed a new waking technique which I learned from a friend who does the same thing: I got up immediately with my alarm (usually I snooze it for 30-45 minutes), and then hopped right into the shower. As soon as I was done showering, I came back to bed and slept until I normally get up from my snoozing. The second night, I programmed my second alarm to be one snooze alarm shy of my normal up-and-at-em time; that way I still get to snooze a little.

The result is not that I'm not tired. The only prescription for that would be either (1) more cowbell, or (2) applying the aforementioned change to my ideal sleep schedule.

But, I do find it easier to actually get up when I try this little mind trick. It's easy to get up and shower, because I know I can come take a nap as soon as I'm finished, and then it's easier to get up for real because I know I don't have to shower. And I don't have to spend as much time blowing my hair dry, because the nap takes care of most of the drying.

It's seeming to be a promising technique for helping me wake up during the god-awful hours.

If anyone else has a similar problem with being a night-owl in a morning-dove's world, feel free to comment with your coping techniques.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scroogess rants about obligated giving with homage to bum hatred

I don't like to censor what I write on this blog, and that means that sometimes I say things that make me look like an ass, like when I wrote about how I hate bums. And maybe I am an ass for hating bums, but at least I'm being honest about how I feel. If I wrote that I have compassion for bums, that would be a warm and fuzzy post, but it wouldn't be the truth. That's not to say that there aren't good arguments for having compassion for bums, and so a part of me understands people who advocate for the homeless penners. But personally, I don't have that compassion. And that's the honest bare-boned truth.

So what I'd like to talk about today is related in that my opinion is not popular, and not admirable, though it may be understandable. But in any case it's the truth: I rather hate the holidays.

Sure, you might say, all atheists hate the holidays. Well, I don't agree with that assessment, but it's also not the reason that I hate the holidays, because in all honesty, the holiday season isn't about religion. It's about presents, but even deeper than that, it's about forced obligations, and THAT'S what I hate.

I don't even hate the presents. I don't hate receiving them, and I certainly don't hate giving them. But I hate knowing that I am socially obliged to buy presents for everyone that I care about in order to prove that I do care, and that I have to do it by Christmas.

This is a depressing thing to talk about just before the holidays, but it a way, it's an appropriate time to talk about it, because I feel like the spirit of the season needs to move away from this obliged giving. There shouldn't be these expectations from all sides, it's too draining.

I don't think I'm the only one to espouse this opinion. I read quite a few advice columns, for example, and almost all of them have had letters during the past couple months dealing with this issue of Christmas gift giving, and alternatives that families have independently come up with. These letters testify to the amount of tension that this obligated giving creates among family and friends. Some have issues with not being able to spend as much as others, some with not being able to find something for someone who has everything they need. Some don't want to give to people they feel emotionally estranged from, but they still feel a social obligation exerting pressure on them to give anyway. Some complain about having to give gifts to their kids' teachers or to coworkers or other acquaintances when they really only can afford or want to give to close friends and family. The list goes on.

For me, it's being obligated to buy presents for everyone all at once that I hate. I like buying presents for people. But I want it to be more than a result of a social obligation. I want it to be special.

And finally, I'm also one of those people who doesn't like the additional pressure to give to people that I wouldn't consider giving to normally, like acquaintances or even strangers.

We're having a food drive at work, and even though it's "voluntary", the pressure has been exerted on us to give food in equal value to what we might have spent on a gift to the firm.

Another obligation. Great.

How much more do I HAVE to give? Why can't I just give when and to whom I want? Though this drive may be voluntary, it's expected that I give, and thus I basically get to look like a selfish ass if I don't give anything. And to be honest, I don't WANT to give anything. I mean, that should be obvious based on my opinion on bums, right? Why should I enable this crowd of people I despise by feeding them?

(Please take the time of this parenthetical to throw any rotten vegetables you have in response to what I just said, I'll wait.......................................................................
Quite finished? No?..............................................................................................
Now? Out of your system? Alright thanks. Can't blame a girl for being honest.)

And finally, ingrate though I am, I wouldn't even want to give anything to my coworkers if we were doing that instead. I don't mind doing the white elephant gift exchanges. That's a fun game where everyone wins, and it isn't personal. Gift giving is personal, and giving to people that I don't feel personal with is meaningless to me. (It's like when people ask you how you're doing and you know they don't care how you're REALLY doing, so you just tell them you're fine regardless. It's a ridiculous social dance that I loathe. We might as well just dispense with the false interest and stick with a simple "hello". )

Well, as a good rant is meant to do, I feel emotionally spent, so I think I'll go read a book for awhile. But really, I would appreciate any comments my readers have on this subject, whether it be good or bad. I'm interested to know what other people think. Please note that you may comment anonymously, so there's no fear of retribution for your opinion.

And finally, I wish you all a very merry holiday, and I hope that you find some way to make it truly special and meaningful for you and yours.


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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why weighing yourself is bad mojo

I was smart enough in high school to figure out that it's bad for your self-esteem to weigh yourself. That's why I made a rule sometime around 9th or 10th grade that I would not weigh myself or attempt to otherwise find out how much I weigh. At the doctor's office, I would stand on the scale, but look up at the wall as the nurse measured my weight and wrote it down in my chart. When I got my driver's license, I told the guy to put 150 lbs on my license. That was probably high at the time, but I really didn't know my weight, and so I was generous in my estimation.

After dealing with the regular struggles a teen faces in high school, I approached my senior year with a renewed sense of self and a great self-esteem, which I cultivated even stronger in college. I finished high school and college without once learning how much I weighed. And really, I didn't need to know the number to know when I was trimmer and when I was lumpier. Looking in the mirror and seeing how my clothes were fitting was good enough.

But then one post-college day in the doctor's office, my attempt at weight-ignorance was ruined by the nurse who measured my weight and then proudly announced it to the world. Oh man, I really was happier not knowing that information, you jerk, I thought to myself. It alarmed me that I was roughly 10-15 pounds higher than my license weight. I hadn't really felt unhappy with my body, but the knowledge of the number planted a little doubt in my self-esteem.

And since then, I've wanted to drop down to my license weight or 5 pounds lower, if possible. That's why I dabbled with the crazy failed snake oil (aka Shangri-La Diet) before and that's why I'm doing Ian's Healthy Eating Diet now. And in order to keep track of my progress, I have been weighing myself once a week. In short, I'm doing exactly what I shouldn't be doing if I want to start feeling better about my image.

Sunday affirmed my negative feelings about relying on the number. I usually weigh myself Monday mornings after I shower, but on Sunday evening, I decided I wanted to see what I might expect to see Monday morning, so I stepped on the scale... and reeled when I saw that I was 3 pounds higher than the week before -- making me one pound higher than my starting weight! That was very depressing, even though I know that weight regularly fluctuates within 2-3 pounds every day from eating and drinking. And then Monday morning, I stepped on the scale again only to find that my regular weight hadn't changed at all -- it was just those delicious bowls of Lucky Charms the night before (and probably part of everything else I had eaten that day)! I made myself obsess and worry over nothing, even though I knew better than to change the time of day that I weigh myself.

So now I'm left with this issue: I want to continue tracking my weight-loss progress on this blog, because for one thing it motivates me to keep trying. But on the other hand, I really think it's better to boycott the weighing, for the sake of reclaiming a positive self-esteem and better acceptance of my body.

It should be enough reward for me to know that I'm trying, and that I'm liking some of the new foods I've been eating, and that I'm enjoying the yoga I've started doing, and that I'm excited to reclaim the positive endorphins that I used to get when I used to bike regularly. (I'm planning to start going to the fieldhouse to bike soon. If I get my act together, I'll hopefully add that to my routine next week.)

So maybe what I'll do is start focusing these diet blogs more on what I'm doing, how I'm feeling, and how I feel I'm progressing, rather than on how much weight I've lost or gained. I really think that, as a woman, and probably even as a man, it's bad mojo to obsess over your numbers. I don't care what my number is, I just want to like how I feel about my body and how sexy I look in my clothings.

So that's the type of thing you can expect to see from now on.

And incidentally, I feel I'm doing pretty well for the holiday season.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Prescriptive Grammarians are Out to Lunch

I just took a call from one of those annoying prescriptive grammarians who think it's their duty to correct anything that they believe to be a grammatical infraction.

When I told him the attorney he was calling for was "out to lunch", he retorted, "Don't say out to lunch, he's out FOR lunch." I greeted his bad manners with stony silence, and then sent him to the attorney's voicemail.

Let's first analyze this man's grammatical issue, and then discuss why he's a jerk for correcting other people's grammar.

The grammatical issue: verb vs. noun; to vs. for

His objection to the use of the preposition "to" instead of "for" stems from his belief that the word "lunch" is a noun and noun alone. It is indeed a noun, and if the word is used as a noun, then "for" is the correct preposition to use with it. However, if the word is a verb, and indeed, this listing says that lunch can be a verb, then it is also correct to use the preposition "to", which in this case completes the infinitive form of the verb "to lunch".

Therefore, one may say "Out to lunch" or "Out for lunch", depending on whether one is using a verb or a noun. In other words, both forms are correct. ( "Out to lunch" is also an idiomatic expression that means "mentally vacant or crazy".) Personally, I hear people use the verb form most often, and so I was taken aback that this caller believes this is a grammatical issue worthy of impertinently correcting someone he doesn't even know.

So that brings us to why this guy is a jerk. First a little background:

Descriptive v. Prescriptive Grammar

I have a bachelor's degree in linguistics, and one of the things you learn when you study linguistics is that there are two types of grammar: prescriptive grammar, and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar consists of a set of rules that are imposed from the outside upon a language. For instance, in English we have many grammatical rules that were borrowed from Latin. You might ask yourself why it makes sense to impose the rules from one language on a completely unrelated language. And indeed, it really doesn't make sense to do so. But I think a possible explanation is that Latin was a well-revered tongue for a very long time, and may have even been considered a supreme language by some, thus its rules may have been considered superior as well. Of course, no language is inherently "better" than another language, because all grammatical rules are arbitrary. What works for one language may be completely awkward another.

(For instance, in Chinese, there is no distinction between "he" and "she". Amusingly, this meant I was sometimes referred to as "he" by a Taiwanese friend back in college. Also, in French, it is perfectly acceptable to use their word for "me" (moi) as the subject form of the first person singular pronoun instead of the word for "I" (Je). In English prescriptive grammarians fight against this, but you might wonder if the reason it crops up in English has something to do with the French influence on English that resulted from the Norman Conquests of England in 1066. I wonder too.)

Descriptive grammar also deals with rules, but instead of the rules being imposed on the language from outside, they are determined by the patterns of USE in a language. This is a more sociolinguistic approach to grammar. They are not worried about what is arbitrarily supposed to be right, but with what is right according to how people actually speak and write.

The important thing about descriptive grammar is that it changes, because languages themselves are in a constant state of flux. Look at Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and hell, even Virginia Woolf to see that English now is not like it once was. It is constantly evolving, and that change is both natural and beautiful.

Prescriptive grammarians, however, are afraid of change. And that's understandable -- it's human nature to fear change. But unfortunately, prescriptive grammarians are naive enough to think that (1) language is not supposed to change, and (2) it is better to have good prescriptive grammar and to enforce it on everyone instead of having good manners.

The old fuddy-duddy jerk

Thus, I suppose it is a matter of opinion as to whether prescriptive or descriptive grammar is better. My opinion is that descriptive grammar is more practical and less stuffy-English-teacher-esque. But the heart of the issue isn't whether prescriptive or descriptive grammarians are right, it's whether one or the other is polite.

It is in bad form (that is, bad social form, not grammatical form) to correct the grammar of people you don't know. (Some might even say that it is bad form to correct the grammar of people you do know. Ian might say that of me, for instance, since I tell him to pronounce "nuclear" as nu-klee-er instead of nu-ku-ler, and to use the past perfect form of a verb in conjunction with the auxiliaries have or be, as in I have eaten instead of I have ate.

Everyone has grammatical pet peeves that grate on their ears, regardless of whether or not the pet peeve might be used by enough people to be considered good descriptive grammar. Besides, he's my boyfriend, so I have a right to annoy him.)

But as for the caller, first of all he couldn't possibly know whether the person he was talking to might actually know a thing or two about grammar, and secondly, nobody likes a know-it-all. Seriously, you shouldn't correct the grammar of strangers unless you want to be put on their bad list.

If you want to be polite, don't be a prescriptive grammarian jerk (unless the victim is your boyfriend, then by all means correct away).

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Iron and Wine Concert Underscores the Problems with Utah Venues

We went to the Iron & Wine concert at Saltair on Friday.

I know what you're thinking: Saltair seems a rather unfitting venue for a band such as Iron & Wine. And you're right, the show really would have been better suited for Kingsbury or Abravanel Hall.

For one thing, even though the tickets claimed that this was a general admission seated event, the great employees of Saltair neglected to put out any seats, even though they kept us outside for a half hour after doors were supposed to open, and thus had plenty of time to put out the chairs. (That half hour might have only been 10 minutes, but it was cold and snowy, and so it felt like a half hour anyway.) I know that they had chairs, and that other people expected to get chairs too, because a small group of people on the first level asked an employee to get them some chairs, and they set out a dozen or so near the staircase. Good for those people; they were smart to insist upon their seats, because listening to rather undanceable music on your feet really starts to wear you out after 3 hours.

Ian and I opted to buy the $5 temp membership to go up to the bar level upstairs. If you are lucky enough to get a rail space (which we were, thankfully), you actually get a pretty good view from up there.

However, I have a problem with the fact that you have to buy the membership to go to the bar area. At all other venues I've been to, the ticket or door price is enough if there is a show going on. All you have to do is be 21 and you can go in the bar section for no extra fee. Even Club Sound, the shittiest venue in Salt Lake, lets you get into the bar section for free. So I have a real problem with having to buy a bar membership AND a door ticket at Saltair.

A guy behind me in line asked the lady selling the memberships why they weren't included in the ticket price, and she said that Saltair is owned by a separate company from the bar, which is owned by Club Suede. Apparently, Saltair couldn't get their own liquor license (not sure why that is), and so Suede comes out there to operate the bar. But that still doesn't explain why the door charge doesn't cover it. What difference should it make?

While we're on the subject of ridiculous charges, let's talk about the parking fee at Saltair. You HAVE to pay 5 bucks to park in Saltair's muddy and unkempt lot. There are no other parking options. You are not allowed to park outside of Saltair's property by the frontage road, because they will tow you.

Alright, so it might be fair to charge a parking fee for a well-kept lot (although I think $5 is too much). At Usana Amphitheater, the parking fee is added to the ticket price, which is lame, in that you have to pay to park even if you ride with someone else, but they at least keep the lot clean, and they have a couple dozen parking monkeys on hand to try to organize the madness that ensues following the shows (however unsuccessfully). On the other hand, most businesses validate your parking if they are doing business off of your parking there.

But Saltair just has a pot-hole-filled lot with two or three pot-head attendants who probably skim off the top.

All these things aside, the sound for Iron & Wine was uncharacteristically descent for a Saltair show. The balance was pretty good, though Sam's vocals could have been higher (and for that matter, his female back-up vocalist could have been higher as well), but all in all the performance was good. A little too Grateful Dead or Phish-esque at times with the end song jams, but it still attained the level of professional performance that I expect from a traveling band.

The opening act's sound was awful, and I noticed that there were different sound people manning the two sets, and so I assume that the opening act was relegated to the service of the in-house sound guy, who for all we know could be the same shitty sound guy who works at Club Sound.

The overall verdict is that we need to be more discriminating about which shows we see at Saltair. Bands like Iron & Wine are not suited for that venue, and based on my disappointment at some shows that were suited for the venue, like Coheed & Cambria, I think I will only go to shows that I absolutely need to see and that happen to be at Saltair. Like if Bjork or Mew or Alanis Morissette came and foolishly played at Saltair, I would faithfully attend. But no more dropping $30 bucks ($20 ticket + $5 parking + $5 bar charge) for a band that I would most likely have a better time listening to on CD or DVD.

Problems with Utah Shows/Venues/Tickets:

Hidden "service" charges on ticket prices
Charge the fee if you must, but just tell us the total price up front, you effing liars.

Shitty Sound / Sound Guys
You guys are in the business of providing live musical experiences, so let's get some people who know what the hell they're doing at those sound boards, alright? Otherwise we might as well all go home.

Making people wait longer than expected to get in
When you publish the door time on your tickets, guess what? That's the time people expect to be let in. So either stop being so optimistic with how early you will be able to let people in, or get your act together and get the damn venue ready to open at the stated time. Unprofessional!

Charging excess parking / bar / drink fees
If we have no choice but to park in your lot, then you really have no right to charge us to do so, especially if you don't keep up the lot. And no more of this double charging people who want to both go to the show and have a drink in the bar section.

Venue Ratings

Club Sound - THE shittiest venue in Salt Lake.

In the Venue - Most of my experiences on the larger half of Venue/Sound have been good. But I've got my eye on them.

Saltair - Would be awesome if it were well managed, got rid of the stupid parking and bar fees, and hired knowledgeable sound guys.

Energy Solutions - Effing expensive, but at least the sound is generally good.

E-Center - See Energy Solutions. Practically a carbon copy.

Usana - A very nice venue for a chill outdoor concert experience, even if expensive.

Avalon - This place would be awesome if they'd clean it up a bit. Come on, put a little of that revenue back into your business so it doesn't look like a pawn shop from the street, eh?

Urban Lounge - Would be cool if they worked on the atmosphere a little, and stopped cranking the volume so high that my ears ring even with ear plugs. Besides that, the layout is really cool, and the beers are large.

Club Velour - How I love this venue. If only it were in Salt Lake instead of Provo! And if only they would let people in at the appointed door time! I only go to this place if the show is worth the long drive.

No Brow Coffee - I've only been here for Chanticleer shows, but it is well-suited for small acoustic performances.

Have a venue or gripe that needs to be added to these lists? Post a comment!

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Friday, December 7, 2007

My brilliant invention: the tea globe

Since I'm better at making good-tasting tea than coffee, and since I haven't been making my usual morning run to Caffe Niche for a latte, I've been making a lot of tea at work lately. I use a Bodum french press to brew loose tea leaves. And the other day, as I watched my tea leaves swirling around the cylindrical glass chamber of the Bodum, thinking about how much they resembled the motion of those little styrofoam pieces in a snow globe, genius struck: tea globes!

Imagine a globe depicting a fall scene. You add hot water and tea leaves and then enjoy the delightful swirling of leaves around the tea globe while waiting for your tea to brew. There could even be little mechanical leaf rakers to rake up and bag your tea leaves for you (suckas!), so that all you have to do is add sugar or milk and drink your tea straight from the globe. Oh yes, it's brilliant.

Well, Ian didn't think it was so brilliant when I told him of my plan to get us rich. And he's right: it's stupid. But it might just be stupid enough that people would spend money on it.

Even so, instead of spending the egregious amounts of money to obtain and maintain patent rights, I'm going to take the cheap way out and instead prevent other people from obtaining patent rights by first publishing the invention here. All published materials can be used against patent applications as "prior art", and I believe this blog will apply. Possibly.

Of course, seeing as how it seems that patents for almost every conceivable invention have at one time or another already been applied for, it's very possible that tea globes are already out there. There are nearly no novel ideas left in the world, methinks.

Which is why I don't think too kindly on the patent business in general, now that I've been working in it. It is ungodly expensive to get a patent. And even more ungodly expensive to exert your patent rights against potential infringers (which is basically the only thing patent rights give you -- offensive rights against anyone else who wants to profit off your invention, so basically it gives you grounds to sue people).

Furthermore, many patents are essentially useless. (Take for instance the patent protecting a method of exercising a cat or dog using a laser pointer. How the hell are you supposed to enforce that? "Um, excuse me, I see that you are using a laser pointer to play with your cat. Well, I'm afraid I have patented that method, and so you're going to have to compensate me for all the financial gain that you have made in using this method...." Right.... )

Personally, I don't think patents are worth the money and trouble, especially if you are a single patent owner, and not a large firm. Firms can afford both to obtain patent rights and to enforce them. But if you're an average joe inventor, there's really no use in bothering, unless you know you can sell or license the patent to a large firm.

Finally, I'm actually a believer in sharing the wealth as far as technology is concerned, particularly in DNA and pharmaceutics (yeah, you can patent DNA sequences). These things are supposed to be for the furtherment of human understanding and health. And thus I think they should belong to a common knowledge domain, and not private money-making domain. Even if patent rights do only last 20 years from the date of application, I still think things like this ought to belong to everybody.

And even though tea globes belong in the category of things that ought to be protected by the brilliant conceptualizers, I wish to share the love of tea globes with the world.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Time to settle the stomach with music gripes

I may have gotten a little overzealous with all the mutant posts lately. Not that I don't think mutants are fun to post about, bit they seriously turn my stomach a bit, and now I'm even afraid to visit my own blog, because I know I'm going to see tree man down there, and he scares me.

So the best thing to do now is to keep posting so the tree man post gets pushed further down my home page. And then after about 14 posts or so, it'll finally be archived. I can't wait!

So in the meantime, I'd like to talk about some things that bother me. That's an easy and seemingly endless topic for me to write about.

Let's make today's theme music -- also an easy topic for me to write about:

(1) The meaningless jazz clap of appreciation

In the jazz world, it is customary for different members of a band to take turns improving solos during songs. Modern jazz today is based around solo improvisation. Before then, there was simultaneous improv, as heard in Dixieland style (i.e., N'awlins). (There's a word for this simultaneous improv, but it's escaping me at the moment.) And before then, there was a more structured style of jazz along the lines of big band and ragtime - less soloing, and more arrangement. (I'm certainly no music scholar, and this is certainly simplifying matters, but I'm just trying to point out that there has been an evolution in the jazz world.)

Now for my gripe: somewhere along the way it became customary for the audience to clap in the middle of a song after each improv solo. This bothers me for a couple reasons: one, I feel like things that become customary lose meaning -- since it is the rule to clap after a solo, you can't really distinguish the times when you are clapping because you were really moved from the times you are clapping because you are "supposed to"; two, there generally isn't a lot of space between solos, so right after one soloist ends, the next takes off, and the clapping drowns out and thereby steals appreciation from the next soloist.

It is for these reasons that I generally don't clap until after a jazz song concludes. There are times when I find myself clapping because I was too impressed not to. But most of the time, I think the end clap is sufficient.

(2) The meaningless standing ovation

Another annoying pet peeve of mine -- the standing ovation -- is actually more theatrical than musical, but my gripe with it relates to my gripe above. It seems to have become the rule to give a standing ovation after a play or musical. I think standing ovations ought to be reserved for really terrific performances, otherwise the gesture loses meaning, just as clapping after every jazz solo is meaningless. Perhaps some people don't -- or can't -- discriminate between bad, good, and great performances. But really, it's only the great performances that deserve the standing ovation. If we stand for everything, how can we show that we really appreciate the really excellent shows?

(3) Bored but paying patrons of music

Finally, I'm bothered by people who go to rock shows and then stand there looking like bored zombies. Do you people actually like music? You did pay good money to see this show, right? So why not look like you are having a good time? I promise nobody cares if you actually seem to be enjoying yourself. Dance, sing along, move those hips, or at least smile. And for god's sake, put your damn phone away.

For more music gripes, tune in next time.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Man grows bark from his hands

I feel a freak series coming on. Thanks to Nic for showing me this story.

This is by far one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. I can handle backwards feet, and I can understand octopus girls and two-faced kittens. But a man who grows tree-like roots out of his hands? WTF?

This Indonesian man suffers from an extremely rare condition that is a combination of a deficiency in his immune system and his exposure to HPV. (Now I'm really glad I got those three painful Gardasil shots!)

His deficiency makes his body unable to handle warts the way a normal person's body does, and so the viruses end up hijacking his cells and doing as they please. And they apparently please to create woody growths from out his hands and feet.

He has lived with this disease for about 15 years, and has lost his job and his wife and the ability to take care of his children.

An American doctor flew out to assess his condition and started prescribing a synthetic Vitamin A, which has been successful in treating warts in AIDS patients. They expect this man will have some success with this treatment as well.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lady with Backwards Feet

Ian sent me this great and creepy article about a Chinese woman named Wang Fang who was born with her feet backward. It actually looks to me like they are bent so completely forward that the tops of her feet are on the bottom, and the toes face to the back.

Ok, breathe through the revulsion... (Why am I simultaneously so disgusted and fascinated by things like this?)

Fang says she does not consider herself disabled, and has even refused government disability money. She can walk just fine, and even runs faster than her family and friends. She wears her shoes backwards.

I really respect that she considers herself normal and not disabled. What I'm going to say now might make me look like a total jerk, but I think a lot of people are "disabled" because they consider themselves so. That's not to say that some disabled people don't deserve the governmental assistance they get. But I think there is a huge mental element to how people cope with their situations. And sometimes I think people play the I'm-disabled-pity-me-card, and then expect to be treated just like everyone else.

I respect the optimism that this woman exhibits. She shows a true desire to really be treated like everyone else.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Joshua James: Super Musician Genius

Ian and I made the long drive down to Club Velour in Provo last night to see the Joshua James concert. I hate Provo, so I will only agree to go down there when it's for something really spectacular, and of course, Joshua James fits that bill to a T.

It's difficult to describe Joshua's music, because to me it's otherworldly, for lack of a better word. But I guess you could say it's in kind of a folky-rock-and-roll genre. A lot of people, I think, don't really get into folk-influenced music, and I understand, because I too was one of those people once. But I really suggest, if you are also one of those people, that you give it a try, because honestly, that's where all the really talented musicians are. Ok, that's a biased opinion (but really what opinion isn't biased? Isn't that the definition of an opinion?). Let me put it this way: it's easier for mediocre musicians to come off as decent in other genres, like mainstream rock, punk, indie, and so on. Not that I don't love and appreciate the real talent that some people who play in those genres possess. But it's hard to fake it in folk-influenced rock. And in Jazz it's impossible. But that's another subject for another blog.

Back to Joshua James. I first had the good fortune of hearing him when he opened for David Hopkins (another must-hear musician) at a free show up at the U of U last April or so. The auditorium was darkly lit, because whoever put on the show couldn't figure out where the controls to the stage lights were. (That will go on the list of things one must know before putting on a show. Check.) But Joshua's performance was undeterred by this minor detail, at least to my ear. He completely blew me away. And last night's show at Velour was equally impressive.

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that live music is one of my favorite things in the world. But I feel like Joshua's performance transcends even what I've come to expect from a live show. Words don't even give justice to the experience, which is why Joshua James is a simply-must-see-act. Even his albums, though excellent, don't fully communicate the passion that pours from him as he plays. When you hear him live, it almost seems like Joshua is his music; one and the same. It is completely entrancing to watch this man play live. Indeed, you almost forget where you are until the song ends and you are left in complete awe in the aftermath of his craft.

Joshua is also one of the most provocative lyricists I've heard. His songs are beautiful in both their simplicity and poignancy. He is not another spewer of love song cliches, though his music is very much full of love. Passion is a better word for it, I think. No matter the subject of the song, whether it be criticizing our politics, mourning injustices, mocking cliched love songs, or celebrating life, passion pervades his lyrics, melodies, and above-all, his performance.

Joshua James is music at its most sublime.

Visit the Joshua James Tour Blog.

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