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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bunsnip Live! Feb. 17 2:PM Main SLC Library

I've been invited to participate in a live blog reading called, straightforwardly enough, Live Blogging Thingy '08. So if you want a chance to hear some live Bunsnip, put this on your calendar:

Sunday, February 17, 2008, 2:PM
Main Salt Lake City Public Library
Conference Room 4
210 East 400 South
Salt Lake City UT 84111

It'll be something special. Or if it isn't special, you'll at least get to listen to some other SLC bloggers who might be special. And if none of them is special, you'll at least get to visit the Main SLC Library -- the most special thing this town has going for it! There you go, at least something will be special. So you should come!

Thanks to Sarah Nielson for inviting me to participate. Be sure to check out her hilariously witty blog, and her Dating Years column in IN Magazine.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

HealthQuest 2008 - January

I've settled into a great 3-day per week exercise routine over the month of January, and I've been trying to manage what, when, and how much I eat. So far, I'm having lots of success with the exercise, but I think I have some tweaking to do with my eating. Here's the January breakdown:


Cycling 2wice per week
At first, it was frustrating trying to hit the gym because the parking situation at the fieldhouse is ridiculous unless you pay the ungodly amount for a parking pass. Instead, I try to get one of the dozen or so parking meters. I've found that it usually isn't problematic to get a meter on Mondays - my first cycling session of the week -, but on Thursdays, it's nigh impossible to get a spot unless you happen to enter the lot just as someone else is leaving. I think everyone is trying to fit in their exercise before the weekend. On two separate Thursdays, I found myself vulturing over a couple pedestrians headed to their cars. Both times, the peds got in their car and shuffled around a bit only to exit a minute later and return to the fieldhouse, but not before giving me one of those Nelson Ha-Ha looks. Jerks. So I've finally resigned myself to getting dropped off and picked up on Thursdays instead of irritating myself in the parking lot. I look forward to spring so that I can dispense with the parking charade altogether and walk to the gym instead. The 12-minute walk is a great warm-up and cool-down.

On the bikes, I've been doing 30-minute manual resistance sessions, instead of the pre-programmed sessions. I prefer to have control over the routine, and be able to mix it up based on how I'm feeling. But I still try to push myself, either by turning up the resistance slowly over several minutes, or by keeping the resistance stable but increasing my cadence every 20 or 40 seconds. I've also tried to do a few standing routines, but I haven't figured out if the bikes can go to a resistance higher than 21, which is only just barely comfortable for standing. If I can figure out how to increase the resistance even more, I'll start doing jumps (rapidly alternating between standing an sitting for a number of pedal rotations) and standing climbs (slowly increasing the resistance while standing). And I'm finally feeling comfortable enough at 30 minutes, that I think I'll start increasing my sessions in 5-minute increments. So I'll go up to 35-minutes tomorrow.

Yoga 1nce per week
I'm taking an awesome yoga class through the community education in my area. If you've never taken advantage of community education classes, I suggest you do so. My class is only $45 for 8 weekly 1-hour sessions - a great price for yoga - and luckily I have a very good instructor, who tries to challenge you but let you go at your own level at the same time. My flexibility is getting better, and I'm strengthening muscles I didn't even know I had. Yoga is great for balancing, breathing, strengthening, stretching, and it really does make you feel a little more zen when it's over. I bought an inexpensive illustrated book called Om Yoga that provides a week's worth of daily routines, complete with explanations of what to focus on during a particular pose. I plan to study the book, which is already somewhat familiar to me since I've been doing this class, and then implement the routines over the summer, once my yoga class is over.

Exercise Results
Since I'm no longer weighing myself, I have to gauge my progress in different ways. I have noticed a definite increase in energy over the month, and while I don't think I have lost too much fat yet, I have noticed a small difference in the way my clothes are fitting, and I've definitely noticed increased tone in my muscles, particularly in my legs and abs. I should probably try adding a little weight lifting to give my arms a chance to get stronger, although yoga is helping with that.

The same time last year, I'd already stopped going to the gym, but now I look forward to going. Last year, I was making things harder on myself by trying to go to the gym every day before I went to work. This was suicide for two reasons: (1) I am SOOO not a morning person, and (2) going everyday is unrealistic, especially in the beginning. This year, I go after work, which is actually a great stress reliever, and I know that I get a few days to rest in between visits, so it's much easier to feel ready to go back. So right now, my motivation is high, and my attitude is very positive.


Small lunch, long lunchtime
Planning ahead on your meals is very important. My best strategy so far has been to bring a small, healthy lunch to work. That way I don't have to decide on the fly what to eat each day, and therefore I'm not as tempted to make unhealthy choices. If my lunch is already prepared, then that is what I eat, no questions asked. That's a good start, but there's more to it: I eat my lunch throughout the workday, bit by bit. So maybe I'll have a granola bar with my tea in the morning, and then two hours or so later I'll have an apple, then a yogurt, some cheese, and maybe some jerky. The idea is to stave off hunger - not to achieve fullness. As long as I don't feel hungry, I have no reason to ravenously stuff my face. If I happen to eat all the items of my lunch and still feel hungry, then I've sometimes walked to the gas station to get something else. But most of the time, I actually don't finish everything. I know that I'd be more likely to finish everything if I ate it all at once, because there is a delay between eating and feeling full. So if you look for that feeling of fullness, you will probably eat too much.

This has been a great technique, but the only roadblock for me has been that sometimes I don't get my grocery shopping done in time to have everything I need, and then I'm left with having to decide on the fly, and not being able to eat throughout the day. So my goal is to make sure Sunday nights that I have my lunch items prepared for the week.

Not shunning my guilty pleasures, just reducing them
You are just asking to fail if you completely deny yourself of your vices. My main vices are chocolate, Coca-Cola, and candy. So the goal is to allow myself to have these things, but to try to say no to them more often than not. I could probably do better on saying no to the chocolate and candy, but I've made terrific progress on the Coke front. I used to be an at-least-one-coke-a-day kind of girl. Now I will have maybe 1 or 2 per week, and only in the evening. One day I had one at work, and it completely ruined my appetite for my healthy lunch items. So I sacrificed the nutrition of my lunch for the empty calories of my coke. Since then, I've stayed away from coke during the day, and only have my tea in the morning and water in the afternoon. At night, I will sometimes have a coke, but oftentimes I will have more tea, milk, or some beer.

Eating Results
My appetite is definitely more under control. I don't feel ravenously hungry all day, and I've been able to feel satisfied with smaller portion sizes. I still have a mighty sweet tooth, though, so my goal for the next month is to reign that in some more. I also need to do more to make sure I'm making healthy choices in the evening, and not just at work.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Things Best Left Unsaid, Part 3: It's Oh So Quiet... Shhh!

Countless times in my life, people have remarked upon how quiet I am. And I love it when they do that, seriously.

No actually, I was pulling your leg before. It's really quite annoying when people feel the need to vocalize about how non-vocal you are being. But the interesting thing is people actually think they are being clever when they tell you how quiet you are: "We just can't get you to shut up, can we?", or "Gee, maybe if you'd stop talking so much, we could get a word in edgewise!", or "I'm getting sick of hearing your voice so much, why don't you give others a chance!" Thanks, guys, haven't heard those ones before. That's really clever of you, no really. Congratulations on filling the silence with your inane babble.

The worst part about statements like these, though, is that there's really nothing I can say in response. I mean, what would you say? I haven't been able to think of anything good, so most of the time I just give one of those pity smiles that looks obviously unamused. It would make my life a whole lot easier if people would just get over the discomfort they feel when other people aren't talking. If you want to get me to talk, then talk to me. Ask me a question. Remark about a current event. Tell me about your day. But for god's sake, please don't tell me that I'm not talking. I know that already, and your comment isn't helpful. It only shifts the discomfort from you to me, and I don't appreciate that. Nothing is less effective in getting a quiet person to talk than telling them they are quiet. So knock it off, already!

If you want to list out the adjectives that describe me, quiet would definitely be on the list. But I don't understand why that is such a remarkable thing. I happen to not like talking just for the sake of filling the silence. I'm not uncomfortable with silence; on the contrary, I like it because it allows me to use my brain instead of my mouth, and that's when I get all the brilliant ideas for these blogs.

I have three examples in which people would benefit if they only learned the value of silence, and that you don't have to flap your gums constantly. So we'll end this little nasty gram with those examples:

1) Exercise Gabfest
I've been going to the gym to ride the bikes twice a week for almost a month now (January update on HealthQuest 2008), and it's alarming how often people on the neighboring machines will actually be talking to each other. Let me help you out with a little advice: If you have enough breath to hold a steady conversation with someone while using an exercise machine, then you might as well stop all pretenses and go home, because you are not getting an effective workout. I'm all for bringing friends with you to the gym -- it's one of the best motivators to keep you going. But if you can't shut your mouth for 30 minutes, then you are wasting your time and it will take you much longer to get results than if you push yourself on that machine. And no texting, either!

2) Standing Outside My Bedroom Window in the Middle of the Night
My apartment is very unfortunately situated just above the walkway that leads from the front of the building into the inner courtyard. My neighbors think it is very convenient to stand on the top of the steps just below my window at all times of the day -- and apparently at all temperatures! -- and talk loudly on their cellphones or with their friends. I think the cellphone talkers go out there because they think they will get a little privacy away from their roommates, but ironically and much to our utter dismay, we can hear every damn word they say, and most of the time, we would really rather sleep than listen in on their gossip. I think everyone else goes out there to smoke, and apparently you can't smoke without bringing a friend out to talk to. I can't really fault people for doing this in the daytime, but between the hours of 10:PM and 10:AM, I would much rather not have to listen to people talk outside my bedroom. How about a little silence in the nighttime?

3) Filling My Empty Inbox
My office manager strikes me as one of those people who is particularly bothered by silence, which explains why she can't walk down the hall without whistling, babbling, or attempting to sing. Or maybe she just always wants people to know she's coming. But in any case, she has taken up the annoying habit of remarking about how bad it is that my inbox is empty when she comes to put stuff in it. "You empty out your inbox much too fast; you need to pace yourself!" or "Uh oh, your inbox is empty, that always worries me!" First of all, this is another one of those annoying statements for which there is no logical reply, so I usually just say nothing. Secondly, just because there is nothing in my inbox doesn't mean there is nothing on my desk that I am working on. Thirdly, and most importantly, let's imagine that my empty inbox really does signify that I have nothing to do: that just shows you what an efficient worker I am, so how about you either shut your mouth when you're talking to me, or if you must speak, tell me that I'm doing a good job! There is far too much emphasis on criticism and not enough on praise in our society.

I'd like to now ask for a moment of silence, which you may use to visit the previous installments of this series:

Things Best Left Unsaid Part 1: The African Tree Slug

Things Best Left Unsaid Part 2: Smile Pretty For Me Now

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

2008 State of the Bunsnip Address

It's January, which means politicians at various levels of government will give speeches in which they address the state of things, and then lie about how they are going to make things better. So in honor of that tradition, I thought I'd start my own annual State of the Bunsnip Address!

Bunsnip Hits Resulting from Websearches

I have a SiteMeter (at the bottom of the page) which proudly tracks my modest number of visitors. But in addition to that, it gives me information about how people are getting to my site, so I can tell what is effective and what isn't. It's been rather entertaining to track the searches that bring people to Bunsnip. Here are a few of the most popular:

Coma Coma Cameleon

Hands down, I get the most hits from people searching for some variation of "Coma Cameleon" -- probably 3 or 4 such searches per week! Who knew that people were so interested in Boy George and Culture Club? Actually, my post Comma Cameleon (previously misspelled as Coma Cameleon, ironically enough) is a rant about grammar, which is one of those subjects that I like to go off on every now and then. I'm sure people are very disappointed when they come to my site looking for Boy George lyrics and instead find an English lesson. But to be helpful, I have posted a little notice at the top of the article telling people that they're looking for the word "karma." Hopefully by my spreading the word, a little karma will bring me more readers.

(I've just now noticed that Cameleon is actually spelled with an H, thus: Chameleon. Who knew? I'm going to keep it how it is, though, because I sense a need for a little spelling reform with this word.)

Jodie Saeland, Pregnant

The second most-sought topic that brings people to Bunsnip is some variation of the words "Jodie Saeland" and "pregnant". Saeland watchers are directed to my TV observations post, where one observation is that Jodie Saeland always seems to be pregnant. I therefore have a theory that she is actually played by twins, because no one can be pregnant all the time! Interestingly, that observation takes up the least space in the post, but it's getting the most attention. I think I really struck a chord with Fox 13's viewership. In fact, one of the most recent searches was "Jodie Saeland is always pregnant," so you know I'm not the only one who's noticing! Oh yes, it's got to be twins, baby.

Scales of Justice Tattoo

I get a pretty decent number of hits from people searching for Scales of Justice Tattoos, which has made me feel a little bad since I haven't had a picture of my scales tattoo on that post, because the post was mostly about the search for my second tattoo. So, I finally had a picture taken and have posted it up for all to see. Enjoy.

Seeking Millionaire

Surprisingly enough, there are quite a few people out there Seeking Millionaires. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because there are quite a few more millionaires out there today than ever before, which makes the millionaire dating pool prime. (Of course, it also means that it is much less impressive to be a millionaire today. These days, you're not impressive unless you're a billionaire. Give it ten years for the seeking billionaire site to launch.) I don't suppose that my post making fun of the Seeking Millionaire dating site is going to attract any permanent readers, since the people who get to that post by way of search probably are actually seeking millionaires and not making fun of people who do so. That's ok, I'm fine with Bunsnip not belonging to the millionaire's club.


With all these great search hits, you'd think the Bunsnip readership must be booming by now, right? Well, I am pleased to report that Bunsnip is currently receiving a modest but stable readership. We are now up to an average of 18 unique visitors per day. Alright, alright, stop that laughing! Don't you know what happens when you can't stop laughing? One of these days, you're gonna die laughing. But seriously, I'm pretty pleased with that number so far. Bunsnip has only been off of MySpace since November, and I've already made back my average readership, and I've even been seeing a slow increase -- not bad for a non-social network page! Thanks to all my readers, and especially to all my regular readers and commenters. Preeshyate-cha!

Future Endeavors

This is the part where I make promises and get everyone excited, and hopefully, unlike some "State of ___ Addresses", I won't actually be lying when I say these things.

Increased Interactivity

I'd like to do something to make Bunsnip more of an interactive experience. I'm working on figuring out the best way to provide a means for sending general comments or feedback, in addition to the comment section provided for each individual post. Whether this will be in the form of a submit message text box, a bulletin board, a guestbook, or a simple email address, I'm not yet sure. But more than that, I think it would be fun to include some polls or some way that you can come here to play and not just read. Maybe I could get a mad libs thing going. I don't know, but I definitely welcome suggestions.

Increased Readership

I have a goal to double my readership to 36 unique visitors per day by the end of the year. Maybe that's selling myself short, but pessimists are rarely disappointed, right? I mean, for a private blog, I've got to have modest expectations.

Collection of Funny Signs

I've had in mind a project of taking pictures of strange, funny, or stupid signs around town and posting them for all to see. First on my list is the dry cleaner on State in Murray that says: "Dry Cleaning $2.99 All Garments" and then in fine print immediately beneath this, it says: "Most Garments". Huh? I think this might be a fun community project, and so once I get it started, I would welcome submissions.

Alright, so those weren't very many things to get excited about, but since there really isn't too much to look forward to that I know of yet, at least you know that it won't be that big a deal if my promises turn out to be big fat dirty politician lies. But hopefully I will come up with some nice new things in 2008 to make Bunsnip a must read daily. Thanks for all the support everyone has shown so far!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sundance Film Festival 2008: Things NOT to see

Otto; or Up with Dead People

Don't see this movie unless you are into graphic and explicit gay zombie porn. You have been warned.

This movie is a perfect example of why Sundance really needs to work on putting out more telling synopses in their film guide booklets. This has been a problem for a long time: When I was maybe 8 or so, my parents took me and my brother up to Sundance to watch Kevin Smith's Clerks. Imagine their horror and embarrassment at having exposed their kids to such an adult movie! Luckily, at least on my part, I was too young to really understand most of what I was seeing. It wasn't until I re-watched the film in college that I was a little shocked at the adult nature of the film. (For the record, I love Kevin Smith's movies.) But at least Clerks was discreet enough that a little kid like me didn't understand what she was seeing.

Otto, on the other hand, oh boy... there's no way a kid wouldn't understand seeing a dozen zombie penises engaged in explicit gay zombie sex. If only the catalog had characterized this film as an explicit gay zombie porno, I would have passed it by. Instead, I had to ask myself: "Did I stay up past midnight on a weeknight and pay $15 a ticket for THIS?"

Ian almost decided not to come to this movie with me, and so I was about to find a friend to bring along. But I am eternally grateful that it was Ian who ended up enduring this film with me instead of one of my friends, because I would have been utterly embarrassed exposing anyone else to this movie.

The movie did have a couple redeeming qualities. One of the characters was always inexplicably filmed as if she were existing in a silent movie, complete with her own soundtrack and speech screens if she ever talked. That was interesting. Another character made a good joke about not being able to think of a better use for a football field other than filling it with garbage (you had to see it).

But other than that, the movie was off-putting, discordant, and cacophonous.

Update: One of my awesome readers, Feed the World with Pez, posted a brilliant comment which gives a much more grounded response to the film, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share it here:

"Not a film for the masses for sure. I felt however, that the movie had its place as a political/art film.

It basically was a mish-mash of every film genre. Horror, art, documentary, melodrama, action, war, porn, sci-fi, reality and even silent (and others I probably didn't include). So with regards to the artistic view (necrophilic gay porn aside) it was actually rather brilliant. It is definitely an abrasive film directed to stir up controversy. Touching on many societal issues.

I would have enjoyed it better if Otto would have come to the realization that he wasn't a real zombie. The film does allude to this but doesn't clarify it enough.

One thing to keep in mind about Sundance is that the films are unrated. So you never know what to expect."

-Feed the World with Pez

Animation Showcase

I was likewise very disappointed in the collection of animation shorts. The first short showed some real promise. The visually appealing animation style of the first short was akin to the old Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer stop-animation style, but with new twists, like real filmed eyes. The story was very interesting, but the ending fell flat. It was almost a very good short animated film, but wasn't quite there.

It was all downhill from there as the rest of the showcase stunk. I've seen better animations done by amateurs using Flash on the internet. Most of the films used actual footage that was manipulated into a pseudo-animation, which I personally think is unoriginal and kind of cheating if you want to call your movie animation. I felt that a lot of the films belonged in a frontier-short category, because weird for the sake of weird seemed to be a valued quality in most of the films. I don't care how twisted the film-maker's mind is, I want good stories and good animation!

Also, the Broadway played this showcase so loud that I had to keep my fingers in my ears for most of the show. Not really the fault of the film, but it only added to my agony.

I don't recommend paying the overinflated ticket price for this showcase, but I'd still recommend this one over Otto. Still, you have been warned.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger dies at 28

I just read this Yahoo! story which says that Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn this afternoon. He was only 28, and they are not yet sure of the cause of death, but an autopsy will be performed.

I find myself startled and saddened by this loss, probably because of Ledger's youth. He was only 3 years older than me, and his career was really starting to take off. He wasn't one of my favorite actors in the world, but even so, I always did enjoy his performances. 10 Things I Hate About You is a classic movie, in my eyes. Never saw Brokeback Mountain, but Ledger received a nomination for his performance in that film. He finished filming his part as the Joker in the upcoming Batman movie, so we have that to look forward to. But then that's it, he's gone.

And that makes me feel very sad and ephemeral. I suppose we all go sometime, but some go before their time.

You will be missed, Heath.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Sundance Film Festival 2008: Time Crimes

It's time for my first film recommendation of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival: Nacho Vigalondo's Time Crimes.

Time Crimes is a thrilling story about time travel. Though it starts out rather light-heartedly sedate, it quickly intensifies into a constant adrenaline rush. The film is in Spanish with subtitles, but the subtitles are well written, and most of the action is unspoken anyway. Besides, with all the adrenaline pumping through your system, you won't even feel as if you are watching a subtitled film.

Hector and his wife, Clara, have moved into a house at the edge of a wooded area. While looking through binoculars in his backyard, Hector sees a woman hiding in the woods. He goes to investigate, while Clara goes out to buy dinner. In a clearing, Hector finds the woman naked and apparently sleeping, and he tries to get her attention by tossing sticks toward her body. But then, just as the woman appears to stir, Hector is stabbed in the arm by a man with pink bandages wrapped around his head wielding a pair of scissors. Hector runs into the woods and, as the sun goes down, he stumbles upon a secluded laboratory, where he decides to hide from his pursuer.

Inside, Hector finds a walkie talkie that connects him to a lab worker in a nearby silo. The lab worker tells Hector to follow a lighted path up to the silo, where it will be safer for him to hide. As Hector makes his way along the path, the lab worker radios that he can see the bandaged man in pursuit. Hector runs up the path, and finally makes it to the silo. The lab worker tells Hector to hide inside a mysterious tank, but Hector hesitates until the bandaged man's face appears in the window. Hector jumps into the tank, and when he reemerges, it is daylight, and the lab worker doesn't seem to remember who Hector is. The two exit the silo, and Hector looks through his binoculars towards his house, where he sees himself exit his house into his backyard to greet Clara. Now there are two Hectors living in the same time line!

Trying to calm down the distraught Hector, the lab worker draws a diagram to explain the theory of time travel. It looks something like this:

This diagram of time travel is composed of a single time line, only the time line isn't linear, but Z-shaped. At the end of the top part of the time line, Hector 1 travels back in time along the diagonal and thereby becomes Hector 2, but Hectors 1 and 2 are now existing parallel to one another in the same time line, thus they can see each other and interact with each other.

Now Hector 2 has to try to fix the situation by luring Hector 1 into the tank so that he can go back to his wife. But meddling with time always seems to make things worse. And in this movie, it seems that time and events are much less controllable than one might think.

Unlike in the movie Primer, which monotonously relives events over and over after each time travel, in Time Crimes, you see the same series of events, but each time from a different Hector perspective. And in each shift of perspective, Hector plays a different roll: victim, perpetrator, and savior. If you want to look at it symbolically, you might say that these different rolls represent the inner potential we each have as humans to play these rolls ourselves: the potential for innocence, corruption, or heroics. Of course, this could be reading too much into it, but I like the interpretation.

I'll leave the rest of the movie for you to see, and I can tell you that what I've already told you is only the beginning of a very interesting chain of events. This is one of the best time travel movies I've ever seen. I wholeheartedly recommend that you try to catch one of the last three viewings, if you can:

See Time Crimes:
Wed. January 23, 11:59pm @ Broadway Centre Cinemas V, (300 S. State Street, SLC)
Thu. January 24, Midnight @ Egyptian Theatre, (Main Street, Park City)
Sat. January 26, 6:15pm @ Holiday Village Cinema III, (near Albertson's, Park City)

Update: Apparently United Artists has bought the remake rights for Time Crimes, so unfortunately, there will probably be an American production. This will probably be a much worse film, since the Spanish version is perfect, and Hollywood has a way of ruining perfect things. I wish people would just get over their fear of subtitles. Then maybe the remake market would die out.

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Iterate v. Reiterate

Could somebody please explain to me the difference between the words iterate and reiterate? I would be much obliged.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bunsnip Most Overrated Movies of 2007

It's the moment you've all been waiting for: I've finally gotten around to completing my 2007 movie list! We began with the Bunsnip Best Movies of 2007, then moved to the Bunsnip Worst Movies of 2007, and now we finish with the Bunsnip Most Overrated Movies of 2007. Prepare to bask in overratedess!

Sometimes movie critics and audiences are quite taken with a film that really isn't that good. It might not be bad, either, but it's not worth raving about, purchasing, or even seeing more than once. Some of these films will receive Academy Awards and Golden Globes, only to be forgotten a few years down the road when people realize that they really weren't THAT good after all. Former Best Picture winner Crash comes to mind. That's one of the most overrated movies I've ever seen. It won accolades because it was emotionally manipulative, and emotionally manipulative films are best at fooling people into thinking they are brilliant. But how many of you out there actually own this film or have watched it more than once? My bet is not many.

Hopefully, with a little discussion and critical analysis, we can nip this overrating business in the buns! So here are the Bunsnip Most Overrated Movies of 2007, in no particular order of overratedness:

1) Once (2007)
Once tells the story of an Irishman who spends most of his time writing guitar-based pop music and playing it on the street for pocket change. One evening, after passionately belting out one of his tunes, the Irishman is greeted with the applause of a Czech woman who stopped to listen to his music. As they converse, it comes out that the Irishman is a vacuum repairman by day, and it just so happens that the Czech woman has a vacuum in need of repair. Irishman agrees to look at Czech woman's vacuum the following day. He does, then takes her up to his bedroom above the shop and awkwardly asks her if she'd like to stay the night, which she declines. When he sees her on the street another day, Irishman apologizes for his forwardness and the pair start up a friendship. Czech woman reveals that she is married to a man back in the Czech Republic, and that she has a child from that relationship. She also reveals her own musical skills at the piano. Irishman backs off his advances and the movie turns into a musically repetitive showing of the two recording songs together.

This movie was a darling of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. But I think it is misunderstood as being a story about love. The movie's slogan is, "How often do you find the right person? Once." Which is cute, really, but that's not what this story is about. There is a tenable lack of chemistry between the pair, and every moment that tries to push romantic tension between the two feels forced. At best, this story is one of friendship, but it doesn't even pull that off very convincingly.

The movie is really about finding your passion and following your dreams, but it fails to follow through with this theme when the storyline is all but abandoned halfway through and replaced by long sequences of the pair tediously playing and recording the same five or so songs over and over again.

I have a feeling that Once will be like most pop albums: immediately popular and successful in the beginning, but forgotten over time.

2) Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Dead Man's Chest (2007)
I am of the minority opinion that both the second and third movies in this franchise shouldn't have been made. The first movie had a very succinct and well-told beginning, middle, and end, and there was no need to continue the story. But sometimes movie makers don't know when to quit (maybe they can't see past the dollars sign in front of their eyes). Anyway, this movie picks up where the second one left off (which effectively just makes this the second half of the second movie -- another reason why the franchise thing is a bad idea: movies are often left without a distinct beginning, middle, and end).

This is usually the part where I give a brief synopsis of the movie's plot, but honestly, I can't really remember much. I remember Jack Sparrow being in the land of the dead (aka, Davy Jones' Locker [not sure why]) (afka, the Salt Flats of Utah). The crew of the Black Pearl, including Miss Swan and Orlando Bloom, must rescue Sparrow for some reason.

And I remember that the voodoo witch Calypso turns into a giant goddess, and creates a whirlpool to suck in the Black Pearl and one or two other ships. And then fighting and shooting of cannons ensues in the whirlpool, for much longer than you would think ships could circle a whirlpool without falling into the hole in the middle.

And then, Bloom sacrifices his life in order to save his father, because he loves him more than he loves his wife. Romantic hearts everywhere are beating wildly at this heroic display of misplaced affection. Then Bloom must take over Davy Jones' ship and remain at sea forever, except that he may set foot on land once every ten years to have sex with his wife. (You gotta know she's gonna get it from somewhere else in the interim.)

The best part? This whole once-every-ten-years-you-may-have-sex-with-your-wife thing was stolen from another story. I came across this other story not long after seeing the movie, but unfortunately, I can't remember what it is or where I found it. Even so the concept is not original.

Overall, the worst thing about this movie is that the plot was too convoluted, and the characters were not steadfast in their motivations, so you never knew whom to root for, and really didn't care. For one of the highest grossing movies of 2007, I would have expected much more.

3) Pan's Labyrinth (2007)
A young girl and her pregnant mother go to live in the household of a Spanish Captain, who is fighting against a band of rebels in the time period following the Spanish Civil War. The girl's mother grows increasingly ill as the pregnancy progresses. A servant of the household is spying for the rebels. And the girl begins receiving visitations from a mythical Faun, who believes that the girl is the princess of the underworld, and that she is destined to return and rule the kingdom.

The Faun charges the girl with three tasks which she must accomplish to reenter the kingdom. The girl completes the first two tasks, but disobeys the Faun's strict orders on the second task, and barely escapes with her life. The Faun refuses to give the girl the third task. But he provides her with a mandrake root to help cure her mother's illness, which seems to work, until the Captain discovers the girl tending to the root, and her mother throws it in the fire, after which time she goes into labor and dies in childbirth.

The Faun returns and offers the girl one last chance to complete the final task. She is to steal her baby brother and meet him in the center of the labyrinthine
garden. So the girl drugs the Captain, and kidnaps her brother, fleeing into the garden. The Captain groggily chases after them. In the center of the garden, the girl meets the Faun, who tells her that the way into the kingdom is to spill innocent blood. But the girl refuses to harm her baby brother. The Faun disappears, then the Captain catches up with the girl, and shoots her, then steals her baby brother. Outside the garden, the Captain meets the rebel house servant, who takes the baby and kills the Captain. When she rushes to the girl, her blood is spilling around the center of the garden, and the girl sees herself in the kingdom, now crowned princess, and then she dies. It is unclear whether the fantasy realm was all in her head or not.

This movie was billed as being a fantasy spectacular, but in actuality, it was rather light on the fantasy and rather heavy on the bleak reality. Perhaps this was a desired contrast, but it was the most disappointing thing about the film to me. It also featured very graphically violent scenes, such as the Captain literally beating in the face of a supposed rebel, who was actually just a rabbit hunter. Overall, my expectations for this film were not met, and I was rather surprised at the way local reviewers (e.g. Jeremy Matthews of IN Magazine) gushed over the film for months. It really wasn't THAT good.

4) Reign Over Me (2007)
Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle were college roommates long ago. One day, when Cheadle sees Sandler ride by on his moped, he chases him down, but Sandler seems not to remember who Cheadle is, because he has blocked out much of his past as a way of dealing with the death of his wife and children. However, this self-inflicted amnesia mostly just makes Sandler act retarded -- something he is very good at, but that's not a desired trait in this movie.

For some reason, Cheadle is drawn to hanging out with Sandler and neglecting his wife, and together the two act like a couple of 11 year old boys. Then Sandler gets into some legal dispute with his ex-in-laws, god remembers why,
but the judge says that Sandler is obviously going through some profound changes (like devolving into a retarded ape), and then Cheadle apologizes to his wife, and the story finally ends with the possibility of Sandler hooking up with one of Cheadle's psych/dentistry (can't remember which) patients who earlier tried to blackmail Cheadle into a sexual harassment suit.

Maybe this movie should have been on the Bunsnip Worst Movies of 2007 list, what with how stupid that synopsis makes the movie sound. And in truth, I'm not sure that Reign Over Me did particularly well in the box office (though that is DEFINITELY not a reliable indicator of a good movie). But they tried to sell the movie as being some deep, meaningful movie, when really it was a poorly written attempt at emotional manipulation, which was not effective since Sandler's and Cheadle's ho-hum performances made it very difficult to care about the characters. This movie will soon be forgotten forever, if it hasn't been already.

5) 28 Weeks Later (2007)
The zombie-producing rage-virus of 28 Days Later has been eradicated within the confines of parts of London, so the British Military lets people back into the safe area to live. The opening sequences of the film show a man and woman sequestered in their house. They talk about how lucky it is that their kids are away at camp. But when zombies attack the house, the man ends up running away while his wife is attacked by zombies. Fast forward 28 weeks later, and the man has a security job in the newly re-opened London, which gives him clearance to special areas. His two kids join him in London, and together they mourn the loss of their mother. Then the daughter, feeling homesick, decides it would be a good idea to take her brother on a nice little trip outside the safe zone to visit their house that has been ravaged by zombies. Much to their surprise, they find their mother alive, though terribly wounded. Scientists within the safe zone puzzle over the mother's lack of zombie-qualities, despite exposure to the virus. Turns out she is immune, but can still carry and transmit the virus. The father uses his security clearance to access his wife, kisses her on the mouth, and contracts the virus through her saliva. He then brutally eats his wife to death and then escapes into the compound where the virus is transmitted like wildfire. Death, destruction, carpet bombing, a stupid scene with a helicopter chopping up zombies, and utter despair ensue.

The worst thing about this movie is that it wouldn't exist if the characters didn't behave in a continually stupid fashion: after seeing the utter state of oblivion London had been left in, what would compel the kids to venture out of the safety zone except a severe mental deficiency? Likewise, having seen his own wife attacked by zombies, and knowing that it isn't a very smart idea to enter the quarantined chamber (why his security clearance would even allow him into the quarantined area is another example of stupidity that should have been avoided in this film), why on earth would the man think it prudent to visit his wife, let alone allow bodily fluids to intermingle?

I have no patience for movies that rely on the stupidity of their characters for plot development. At least in the first film, the characters behaved rationally, and some died, but only as a result of unlucky circumstances. This movie is far inferior to the first, and not worth seeing.

6) I Am Legend (2007)
A virus that turns people into blood-thirsty night crawlers has completely depopulated Manhattan, save one sole survivor: Will Smith. The virus started out as a cure for cancer, but somehow started turning people into contestants for the Mr. Orc Universe contest. (Seriously, all the vampires look like super-buff Orc men -- what's up with that?) Smith plays a scientist who has somehow developed an immunity to the disease, and is working on a cure for the virus by capturing vampires and testing compounds on them in his basement.

His lone companion is a dog, who accompanies Smith on his daily routine, which involves hunting gazelle and avoiding lions. (Where did all these African animals come from? How about some North American animals, eh?) He also talks to mannequins, and actually goes through the routine of borrowing and returning videos from a rental store. But at night, the creatures come out.... Will Smith save the human race?

I Am Legend is a remake of the 60's Charlton Heston flick Omega Man, which is in turn a remake of the earlier The Last Man on Earth, which is an adaptation of the book I Am Legend. While I have neither read the book nor seen The Last Man on Earth, I have seen Omega Man, and, surprised as I am to like a Charlton Heston movie better than a Will Smith movie, that is the case here. I Am Legend is an exposition-light version of Omega Man. It focuses on stunning CGI transformations of Manhattan, but is hard pressed to get the audience interested in the story and characters. My main reaction to this film was apathy and a slight nauseated feeling in my stomach.

7) Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an attorney in a law firm who specializes in cleaning up the messy situations of his clients. When one of the firm's partners (Tom Wilkinson) decides to strip naked in a deposition and declare his lust for the deponent, Clayton is called in to calm the waters. When Wilkinson ends up dead in an apparent suicide, Clayton discovers that Wilkinson had uncovered a damning secret concerning one of the firm's clients. Beginning to think that Wilkinson might have been murdered in a cover-up, Clayton begins to investigate, and finds out that his own life may be in jeopardy.

That doesn't sound like a bad plot for a movie, does it? No it's actually pretty decent, and could have been really excellent. In fact, parts of this movie were excellent: the performances were great all around; the visual style was stunning. But on the whole, this movie was extremely slow moving and boring, and though it felt at times like it was trying to be a thriller, ultimately there was nothing thrilling about the anticlimactic revelations in the film. The beginning sequences gave off the impression that we were in for an interesting ride, but the end result was a movie that felt much longer than it actually was and that moved too slowly to maintain interest. I'm surprised Michael Clayton rated as highly as it did with reviewers and moviegoers. Maybe people are fooled by great acting and filming, but that is not enough to save this boring film.

8) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) was once a young London barber with a different name, a young beautiful wife, and a baby daughter. But a town politician (Alan Rickman) had his eyes on Todd's beautiful wife, so he falsely sent Todd to prison, raped Todd's wife, and then adopted Todd's daughter. When Todd is released from prison, he returns to London to seek revenge on Rickman, and begins a partnership with a woman (Helena Bonham Carter) with a run-down meat pie shop.

Todd opens a barber shop upstairs from the pie shop, and the pair begin stuffing pies with the fruits of Todd's murderous revenge. Meanwhile, a comrade of Todd's from the ship which brought him back to London spies Todd's daughter captive in the Rickman household, and vows to steal her away (how romantic...). The plan is for the best, though, since Rickman gets the notion that it would be a fine idea to marry his adopted daughter.

This was a difficult film to put on my overrated list, because in truth, it was finely acted and beautifully sung (who knew about Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman, of all people?) The sets were also marvelous. But in the end, I felt very unfulfilled. Even in sad movies, I wish to feel like I received something from the film. But all I received from Sweeney Todd was nausea and a hesitancy towards meat pies. I wonder if I would feel differently had they laid off all the graphic splattering of blood and slitting of throats. Maybe if they had turned the camera away at the right moments, I would have loved this movie. As it is, though, I have to give it overrated status.

Jump to Bunsnip Best Movies of 2007

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Atheism, Agnosticism, Theism, and the Faith Factor

In response to the question: "What have you changed your mind about?", Alan Alda wrote about changing his mind about God.

The change in Alda's beliefs basically went like this:

Believing Jew > Atheist > Agnostic

Which is not too dissimilar from the change in my beliefs, which went like this:

Believing Mormon > Agnostic > Atheist

The main difference in the progression of our beliefs, aside from the Jew/Mormon aspect, is the order in which Alda and I became Atheist or Agnostic, but to really appreciate this difference, it's important to understand the subtle difference between Atheism and Agnosticism, and Alda does a great job addressing this in his essay:

"As I understood the word [atheist], it meant that I was someone who didn't believe in a God; I was without a God.... But, slowly I realized that in the popular mind the word atheist was coming to mean something more: a statement that there couldn't be a God. God was, in this formulation, not possible, and this was something that could be proved.... The problem for me was that just as I couldn't find any evidence that there was a god, I couldn't find any that there wasn't a god. I would have to call myself an agnostic."

Therein lies the distinction between Atheism and Agnosticism -- and it is one that ties Atheism closer to Theism than one might think -- namely, faith. Yes, Atheists are as much believers as Theists: Theists believe God exists, in one form or another; while Atheists actively believe God does not exist. Agnostics are the only realists in this picture -- they recognize that it is impossible to prove one way or another the existence of God. God's existence or non-existence is a matter of faith.

When this realization about the distinction between Atheism and Agnosticism occurred to me not long ago, I was somewhat alarmed to be able to connect the word "faith" to myself again. I have always deemed my mind to be very staunchly based on reason as opposed to faith. (Reason and faith are traditionally viewed as a dichotomy, meaning that they are mutually exclusive, opposed, or even contradictory of one another.) When I first made the leap from believing Mormon to Agnostic, I had come to think of myself as incapable of faith; I based my knowledge solely on evidence. But when I finally stepped down from the fence-sitting position of Agnosticism, I decided that there was no evidence that I could point to to explain why it is that, deep down, I really did believe there is no God. That's different from just not believing in God, which both Atheists and Agnostics do, but it's adding an affirmative stance to an otherwise negatively-defined position. Instead of merely not believing, you are actively disbelieving. And in my case, it's me being true to myself and my own mind, which seems to have a little faith intermingled with its reason after all.

Like Lady Justice with her scales, Theists and Atheists alike must use reason to weigh what they know, and then they must add a little belief one way or the other to tip the scales in favor of one view about God. Agnostics, on the other hand, look at the scales and speak the realist perspective: one cannot know.

While the principle of uncertainty is beautiful to some, like physicist Richard Feyman (whom Alda mentions in his essay, and who wrote several lovely and very readable books, my favorite being The Pleasure of Finding Things Out), not knowing makes most people uneasy. And this uneasiness is the main motivation for making a choice about belief.

Many people are comforted by a belief in God, and I can understand why, since I am just as comforted by my belief that there is no God. But I have just as much respect for the Agnostic perspective, because it takes a lot of courage to admit that we don't know.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Seeking Millionaire: Dating for the Rich and Fabulous!

Are you single, wealthy, and beautiful? Are you tired of wading through the seemingly endless supply of ugly, poor single people who are desperate to get a piece of your good looks and finances? Then Seeking Millionaire is just the dating site you're looking for!

While some people consider it shallow to assess a potential mate based solely on looks and wealth, we at Seeking Millionaire understand that wealth and beauty are the only assets that truly matter, and we know you wouldn't settle for anything less than perfect in your mate.

Our rigorous selection standards ensure that you won't be bothered by messages from average singles. Only genuinely beautiful people and millionaires or people who make at least $100,000 per annum are allowed into our pool of desirable singles.

So if you are rich, beautiful, and single, apply today. The illusion of happiness is waiting for you!

The above is (obviously) a fake ad of my own making for an actual, honest-to-god millionaire dating site. (Thanks to Ian for the link!)

Here's a quote from the actual site:

Some people may think it is superficial to focus only on
WEALTH and BEAUTY when finding a mate. But let's face it... it's only human nature to be attracted to these two important qualities.

And here's what I have to say about beauty:

Beauty is a quality that is both relative and absolute. It's absolute because there are some people that everyone will agree are beautiful (like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, damn their eyes!). It's relative because there are some people who are beautiful to some, plain to others, and ugly to still others. And even after this first impression of beauty is formed, that impression may be influenced by other factors. People who we are not initially attracted to may become beautiful to us once we find out what a great person they are. Conversely, people who are intrinsically beautiful may become unappealing once we find out how shallow and self-centered they are. This relative factor outweighs the absolute factor. And even if it didn't, beauty fades, absolutely, for everyone. Even Paul Newman.

And here's what I have to say about wealth:

People mistake wealth for happiness. What they fail to see is that everyone has the same financial problems, no matter the income or wealth level. The problems just rear their ugly heads on a different scale. Have you ever noticed that you never seem to have more money after you get a raise? That's because you don't really -- you have adjusted your spending level according to the increased income. You aren't as careful with your money, because you don't have to be now that you make more. It's the same thing for poor people and wealthy people alike: you will always "need" more money, and if only you just had more, you could finally be happy. It's an illusion; a carrot dangling from a string in front of your face. You will never find happiness through money.

For a couple years in college, about 4 years ago, I made roughly $300 per month working part time as a file clerk for a law firm. My full time job was going to school and earning my degrees. I was lucky enough to have earned a scholarship that paid for my tuition, but I still needed to cover rent, food, utilities, entertainment, and school fees and books every semester. My rent was $163 per month, since it was split 4 ways amongst my roommates and myself. So I had about $137 per month to cover the rest. Luckily, utilities were also split 4 ways, but sometimes things were tight. I had to bargain shop, and sometimes I had to choose between buying food and buying entertainment with friends. Sometimes I bought the food, and sometimes the entertainment. I had to lie on my credit card application because I didn't make the required $8,000 per year to qualify for a card. But I got the card and a $500 limit in case I couldn't make ends meet, and that happened sometimes. But even though it was tight, and I was worried about money sometimes, those were still some of the happiest years of my life thus far. Money didn't matter, because I didn't have it, so I found true happiness in myself.

The moral of this story:

Money doesn't buy happiness, and beauty doesn't last forever.

I'm not going to say that these qualities absolutely don't matter when it comes to dating and relationships. To say that beauty isn't important is to kid yourself. Attraction is important. You don't want to be with someone who repulses you. And to say that finances aren't important is naive. More relationships break up over money issues than anything else. But at the end of the day, there are far more important things in life and in choosing your mates than just beauty and money. Like compatibility, intelligence, humor, kindness, understanding, and communication.

In the end, it's the whole picture that ought to be considered.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

(Nearly) Fried Green iPods and Crushed Coffee Pots

I washed and dried, and very nearly fried, my green nano iPod. When I pulled it out of the dryer, cords all twisted up in a huge knot, I thought for sure I had destroyed my one source for entertainment at the gym. And that would have really made me mad.

But luckily, the headphones kept the water from completely flooding the inner workings of the iPod, and so my trusty little MP3 spieler will spiel on.

(Update: After a couple days, my right speaker developed an unhealthy-sounding buzz, which really interfered with my chi. No problem, I thought, I'll just get another pair of headphones. So I went down to the Apple store this weekend, and guess how much a fresh pair of ear buds costs? $30. Thirty-effing-dollars! I was appalled, even as I stood in line to make my purchase. Then a guy standing in line behind me asked whoever he was talking on his cell phone to if he should buy a cover for that person's iPod. "Do you want a cover like mine or do you like yours how it is? It's only $30." ONLY $30. For a $0.02 piece of colored rubbery plastic made in China! What is the matter with people? What is the matter with me?)

Meanwhile (i.e., in the meantime, as opposed to in the nicetime), I was using my trusty new mixer that I got for Christmas to make some genuine whipped cream to cream my coffee. (It is the preferred method of coffee creaming.) But suddenly, the cord of my mixer ferociously and spitefully grabbed hold of my coffee pot and thrust it uponst the floor, killing it instantly by means of shattering to a million pieces. I cursed at the wicked irony that the creator of my delicious coffee creamer was the destroyer of my means of making coffee.

After sweeping up the sad remains of my pot, I settled for some black Starbucks coffee instead, and really it's lucky that I had my own cream at home, because it's like pulling teeth to get the Starbucks people to leave room for cream.

A few days later, I went in search of a replacement pot only to find, illogically, that it was only two bucks more expensive to buy a whole new coffee brewing apparatus than to simply buy a replacement pot. The pot isn't even the business end of the coffee brewing process: it's just the receptacle. So why should it cost $15? I bought the new brewing apparatus instead.

Corporate America: 1 2; Sra: (still) 0.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Reconciling Becoming a Lawyer with my Anti-9-to-5 Mindset

Lawyers have a reputation for being obsessive workers, putting in well over the 40 hours per week that most normal people are forced to do in order to survive in our society. I think this obsession with work has a lot to do with the way most lawyers bill for their work. Well, that's just it, they don't bill for the work, they bill for the amount of time it takes to do the work. And of course, this method of billing doesn't provide much incentive to be particularly efficient, which rather makes me uncomfortable with the ethics of the legal field. (...Ethics... ha!)

There are other things besides method of billing that make legal work extremely expensive. When I started working at my current law firm, for instance, I was appalled to find out that we actually itemize postage, copies, faxes, and various office supplies, and then bill those to our clients. Whatever happened to business expense write offs? I'm sure each of these would apply. But that's the legal industry for you -- even in a good firm, there are bad practices.

Lawyers aren't all bad. There are plenty of good people out there who happen to be lawyers (and I happen to hope to be one of them one day). There are also lawyers who don't bill by the hour, but on a contingency fee basis. This only really works for areas of law in which the lawyer is out to get a settlement for his client, and then the lawyer takes a cut, usually 1/3 of the settlement amount (and another 1/3 usually goes to cover litigation expenses, so the client gets only 1/3 of the settlement for himself. Sometimes I think that 1/3 isn't worth the outrageous amount of time it takes to get anything done in the legal industry.) Contingency lawyers have more incentive to get work done quickly so that they can get paid, but this of course means that the quality of work may suffer in the process.

It's no wonder no one likes lawyers. They are expensive, slow-working, slave drivers.

But the ethics or lack thereof of the legal industry are not really what I wanted to talk about in this post. I want to reconcile my desire to join the legal industry with my resistance to the 9 to 5 lifestyle. So I'm going to lay out how I plan to run my firm, which we'll call Bunsnip & Associates:

1) Flexible workdays.
Let's face it, people waste at least 2 hours at work, and sometimes more than that. So let's give those hours back to our lives instead of forcing our employees to sit at their desks and try to look busy. I know that I was much more productive when I worked part time at my previous firm, and that's because I basically worked as much as was needed to get the job done, generally 3-6 hours per day. We've become obsessed with the amount of time we spend at the office instead of focusing on what's really important: getting the job done.

At Bunsnip & Associates, people will be paid a minimum of a 40-hour work week, but they will only have to work as much as necessary to get the job done -- and the workload will never go higher than what is reasonable for a 40-hour work week. Reviews will be performance based, and not based on number of hours-logged. If that means you work 3 hours one day and 6 the next, then great. All the better if it gives you back time to spend on what you actually want to spend it on: your life!

2) Generous vacation policies
Americans get less vacation time than even the Chinese -- who have a strong reputation for being overworked. Studies have shown that increasing the amount of vacation time employees receive in turn increases productivity and results in higher profits. The reason? Burned out employees don't care very much and do just as much as they need to do to keep their jobs. They don't strive to do well for the sake of self-betterment and pride in a job well done. One the other hand, well-rested employees feel rejuvenated when they return from vacation, and take pride in doing their job well, because they know another well-deserved break is just around the corner.

What's the deal with our scant holidays in America? And why only two weeks vacation (which tend to have to be broken up into smaller periods anyway)? Why do most businesses give two days paid for Thanksgiving, but only one day for Christmas? At Bunsnip & Associates, the firm will shut down between Christmas Eve and New Years Day, and every employee will get paid vacation time for the period. It will also shut down for the first week of July, in honor of our nation's birth, and complete with paid vacation. Other regular paid holidays will be observed. Employees may then take an additional month of paid vacation time.

Those are the two main things that I think are important for getting our priorities straight in life. We need to shift the focus away from work and back to our lives. Work should be a pleasure, and should sustain our lives, but it shouldn't come at the cost of our precious time. Work to live, not live to work. That's my vision.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff is an entertaining and provocative 20-minute video about the cycle of consumption that has pervaded American culture since the 1950's. Narrator Annie Leonard walks us through the cycle -- which is actually linear and not really cyclical at all (therefore proving problematic for a finite planet) -- and points out many of the limits of the status quo in our consumeristic society.

We all know there are problems, right? But this video really drives home that these problems are more serious than we'd like to think. It's really time that we start considering what we can do to improve the current system. I think this video is a great start -- getting to know the problem is the first step in addressing the problem. So please take a spare 20 minutes and watch this video. Delightfully, it's very well-researched and logical, instead of the crazy tree-hugger hippy type language that often flows freely from things like this. This video will really get you thinking more about the consequences of our choices as consumers and as a nation.

Plus, she addresses something I've been harping about over and over and over again. Namely, that the cycle of over-consumption is intimately tied to our overworked society. Work takes up so much of our time that we end up having lots of money, but no time to use it on experiences, so instead we use it on buying stuff, most of which we end up discarding within 6 months (99% of the stuff we buy is discarded within 6 months, according to this video).

We produce twice as much garbage as people in the 50's and are twice less happy. And we have the lowest amount of leisure time since the feudal period. Now THAT'S a BIG problem, in my mind. Especially as one who doesn't believe in life after death, I feel that it is critically important to seize the day. But when you are living for the weekends -- 2 meager days out of the week -- there is precious little time to develop and nurture your own interests.

It's time for a revolution in the way we approach our lives.

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I'm blaming the Weather Troll for this

My handy little Google Desktop thermometer says it's 49 degs F in Salt Lake right now. But I don't believe it; I'm looking out the window, and the wind is blowing ominously through the dingy gray skies. About two hours ago, the sun was shining like an early Spring day, and I almost fooled myself into thinking that it was a Spring day. I wanted desperately to go for a walk. And now looking out that window, all I want to do is go home and curl up in a ball under my down comforter.

I'm blaming Jodie Saeland for this.

It actually was about 49 degs F, and even got as high as 54 that night. Unseasonably warm! But that ominous blowing grew stronger and stronger as the night progressed. Turns out there was a giant hurricane-like storm coming in from the Pacific Ocean over Oregon and Northern California, and I'm willing to bet that's where the unseasonably warm temperatures came from: we stole them from the coast! Suckas!

The Weather Troll and other meteorological Nostradamuses claimed that we were in for 11 inches of snow in the valleys and 3 Ft in the mountains by morning. But there was only a light dusting of snow in the morning. Then one of the Nostradamuses claimed that we had only experienced the first part of the storm, and the second half was yet to come. Sure, anything to save face, but to me, that's what I call storm number 2, and y'all were wrong about storm number 1. Bunch of crazy Nostradamuses...

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Exercise Routine Initiated and Healthy Eating Renewed

Well, like I promised, I got myself an Alumnus Membership to the University Fieldhouse. It's been almost three years since I used to work out there on a semi-regular basis, and while last year I tried 24-Hour Fitness, this year I've returned to the Fieldhouse for three main reasons:

1) It's within walking distance from where I live, which limits my excuses for not going. Plus the walk is a great warm-up for the actual workout (I'll save that walking bit for warmer times, though).

2) It's much cheaper than other gyms. It was about $25 a month at 24-Hour, and it works out to only about $15 a month at the Fieldhouse. And there's no other hidden fees unlike 24-Hour.

3) They had the cycling bikes that I know and love.

I say "had" in number 3 up there because it turns out that the Fieldhouse has made some major changes since I last went, one being the replacement of my beloved cycling equipment. I liked the old bikes because they were analog, and completely manual. There was a little knob to control the resistance, and I knew how much of a turn I needed for the purpose I aimed to achieve. In that system, it was much easier to quickly jump from a low resistance to a high resistance, which I would frequently do to alternate standing and sitting.

The new bikes are all digital, which is handy if you want to passively let the bike determine your workout for you. They also feel like exercise bikes, whereas the old model felt like a real bike. Figuring out how to stand properly on the new bikes is something I'm still working on. Finally, the new bikes lack foot straps. I like the foot straps because they allow you to keep using your leg muscle throughout the entire rotation, pushing down, and then pulling up. Without the strap, you are just using the inertia that follows the push to let your foot come back up.

So I'm bummed about the bike situation, but I bet these new bikes are easier to service when they breakdown, and they are less intimidating to people who might not have had instruction in cycling technique. So I guess I understand why the Fieldhouse went this route.

Today was my first session at the Fieldhouse, and I managed to workout for a full 30 minutes, which is pretty good for my atrophied ass. We'll see if I can work that up to the 50 minutes I used to do back in the day. I plan to hit the gym Thursdays and Sundays, and I'm taking a Community Ed Yoga class that emphasizes some pilates techniques on Tuesdays. Hopefully three days of exercise a week will hasten my results; I've got some serious ground to cover after the holidays.

As for eating, I've been thinking that when people say you should eat five or six small meals a day, I think they have in mind much smaller "meals" than people realize. Like maybe an apple is a meal. And a granola bar another. I don't know though, people already have a skewed idea of what an appropriate portion size is. I think a serving of cereal is only a cup, for instance, and I'm pretty sure I tend to fill my bowl with twice that. And forget about the serving sizes in restaurants!

So here's going to be my technique: I will bring a small healthy lunch to work that I eat bits of throughout the day, then I will have a somewhat larger dinner. My problem is going to be the snacking, because a little bit of cheese here and a chocolate piece there adds up to more than you think. So I'm going to try to snack less. And in restaurants, I will automatically cut my meal in half and plan to take one half of it home. That way I can have at least some control over portion sizes while I'm out.

That's going to be the key: portion sizes.

I'll be hard pressed to give up some of my favorite naughty foods, but if I can moderate the size and frequency of consumption, I think I will still be ok.

So that's the current battle plan on the Healthy Eating & Exercise Diet!

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Bunsnip Worst Movies of 2007

Yay, it's time for some movie bashing!

While I had 10 selections for the Bunsnip Best Movies of 2007, I only have 6 selections for the Bunsnip Worst Movies of 2007. This is not because there weren't many bad movies this year. On the contrary, in reading over Wikipedia's comprehensive list of movies released in 2007, I noticed an abundance of movies that must have been awful (Norbit and Fred Claus come to mind). Luckily, I only saw 6 of 2007's bad movies. Here they are, in no particular order of badness:

1) National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
When an evil history buff (Ed Harris) attempts to smear Nicholas Cage's great-grandaddy's name by revealing evidence that suggests his involvement in the Lincoln assassination, Cage embarks on a mission to clear his granddad's name and solidify his reputation. Forget about the fact that these allegations deal with the relatively distant past and are therefore not really worth getting so worked up about -- Cage will stop at nothing. He even kidnaps the U.S. President and breaks into Buckingham Palace to clear granddad's name. The whole hunt leads the crew to Mount Rushmore, where, remarkably, the City of Gold is believed to be hidden. If I were a native person from the Conquistador era, I'd personally put my City of Gold somewhere warmer than South Dakota.

I knew not to expect too much from this movie, but I thought it would at least be fun and entertaining, without making me want to bang my head into the seat in front of me. There were so many things wrong with this movie that I could write a single blog post about it. But that would be a bigger waste of time than watching the movie in the first place. The first wretched thing was Nicholas Cage's hair and makeup. His sideburns were trimmed all the way up to the top of his ears and the rest of his hair was long and combed back over the top in a failed attempt at sex-symbol-dom. And all his pretty eyeliner and lipstick wasn't fooling anyone about his age. I mean just look at his mug in the movie poster over there!

But bad hair and makeup aside, the most glaring issues with this film deal with plot and continuity. Most egregious: Ed Harris (who behaves alternatively like a bad guy or a good guy, depending on what is convenient for the plot of the film) eavesdrops on a phone conversation between Cage and his father (Jon Voight) wherein Cage tells Voight that he is currently snooping around Buckingham Palace. Harris, who was in America when he overheard this phone conversation, manages to appear right outside Buckingham Palace after only about an hour of snooping time. I wish I could get a flight to Europe that fast! Do the movie producers actually think that the audience is stupid enough not to notice that continuity issue and forgiving enough not to care?

As for plot, a good film of this nature provides clues sufficient enough for the audience to solve the mystery themselves, but the "revelations" in National Treasure leave no actual clues that the audience may use to solve the story themselves, and the result of this is a general sense of apathy about the characters, plot, and film in general.

Finally, neither the reconciliation between Cage and his ex-girlfriend, nor that between Voight and his ex-wife is believable. The movie producers just wanted to throw in a little beginning-of-relationship love to try to compensate for the poor writing and execution of this movie.

2) Transformers (2007)
Shia LaBeouf stars as an awkward high school boy who buys a new car that is actually a Robot in Disguise. Actually, the car sort of chooses LaBeouf, but nobody seems to notice. When LaBeouf and the girl whose pants he's trying to get in come across an evil robot in a junkyard, the car thoughtfully protects them. Then Optimus Prime and some other Transformers show up and explain to LaBeouf who the evil and good Transformers are. And there's some business about a cube.

The story is actually rather convoluted, and I'm not sure I grasp what is supposed to be going on, but I think you're not supposed to think about that. I think you're just supposed to be impressed with the cool robots and action, which in my opinion are only sort of cool, and definitely not cool enough to save the bad writing and hokey love story in this film.

I think even the target audience of 13-year old boys (and men who still behave like 13-year old boys) ought to be disappointed in this movie. I understand the nostalgia for the good old Transformers -- my brother and I enjoyed watching the show and playing with our Transformer action figures when we were young. But nostalgia is no reason to qualify a bad movie as good.

3) Pathfinder (2007)
A Viking boy is rescued from boat wreckage by some Indians, who raise him as one of their own. When Viking marauders return to the land and ravage the village while he's away, the young man seeks vengeance against the Vikings, joining forces with Indians from a neighboring village, and ultimately, against all odds, the Vikings are overcome. Pathfinder is the title of the tribe leader position. After the former leader is killed in the marauding and the young Viking man destroys all the other Vikings, you would think the role of Pathfinder would fall on the Viking man. Everything in the movie alludes to such an end. But inexplicably, the Viking man passes the role on to some random woman. It has nothing to do with the rest of the story, but it's like the filmmakers decided it would be cool to show how progressive this tribe is in adopting a female leader. Oh Kay.... Don't bother with this film.

4) Mr. Woodcock (2007)
An evil bastard of a gym teacher, Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), traumatizes a young fat lump of a student (Seann William Scott). Scott grows up to be a thin man who conquered his demons and wrote a self-help book about it. On his book tour, he returns home to find that his mother (Susan Sarandon, stooping WAAAAYYY below her level) is dating Mr. Woodcock. It's impossible to tell what redeeming qualities Mr. Woodcock might have that would endear him to Sarandon, but that's just one of those things that we the audience must accept in this mindless film.

The most mind-boggling thing is that, aside from Scott and a couple of his old high school buddies, the entire town is completely enamored of Mr. Woodcock, so much so that they award him some leadership/teacher award and defend him against Scott's attempt to point out Woodcock's evil character at the award ceremony. In the end, Scott does a complete 180 and accepts Woodcock into his family wholeheartedly. Yeah, I can't understand why either.

I thought this film might end up being stupid-funny, but instead it was just stupid-stupid.

5) The Number 23 (2007)
Jim Carrey plays your average Dog-Catcher who leads a rather boring Dog-Catcherish life. But one day, when he meets his wife in a bookstore, she happens to be holding a copy of a book that she once read and thought he would like. So she buys it for him. While reading the book, which is obsessed with coincidences dealing with the number 23, Carrey finds himself obsessed with the eerie way in which the book seems to coincide with his own memories. This piques Carrey's interest and fuels his own obsession in the number 23. Carrey begins to investigate the book and unearths a murder mystery. Fast forward to the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) and you find that Carrey actually wrote the book himself, did the murdering himself, and then somehow repressed or lost the memories.

When Carrey reads the book, he envisions himself as the main character of the stories -- a kinky tattooed detective. Seeing Jim Carrey trying to act in that role was very unbelievable in kind of a repulsing way. I actually think the story would have been a pretty good idea if you did away with all the 23 bullshit. You are supposed to be impressed with the coincidences -- dates, addresses, words that all can be related back to the number 23. But that's the stupid thing about numerology -- you can achieve the same "coincidental" results with any number you want -- you just have to look for it, and of course interpret your evidence so that it fits in with your agenda. Take out all that number crap, change the title, and the story might have been good, if only it had been better written and cast.

6) Reno 911!: Miami (2007)
The Reno 911 cops head to Miami for a police convention. When they are denied entrance for one reason or another, and when terrorists take over the convention center, the Feds come in to deal with the convention center and then send the Reno squad out onto the streets to handle the Miami crime scene. Stuff happens, people sleep with people and get tattoos, yada yada yada.

Alright, it was pretty clear from the get-go that this was going to be a bad movie. But I thought it might be at least as funny as the TV show, which is likewise stupid, but entertaining enough. Instead, I was mildly amused but ultimately bored. I think we ended up turning this one off before the end.

Tune in next time for the Bunsnip Most Overrated Movies of 2007!

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year! Now Remember to Turn Out the Lights!

Happy New Year, Bunsnip readers!

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that now that the new year is upon us, it is time to at least turn off, if not take down, those Christmas lights. Christmas is a December holiday, not a winter holiday. And those delightful decorative lights are Christmas lights, not winter lights. So for the love of monkeys, please turn off your Christmas lights now. You can wait until it warms up to take them down, that's fine with me. But just because they are still up doesn't mean you should keep turning them on. It's time to let go, my friends.

Last year, I saw Christmas lights turned on well into March, and I swear, if I see that again this year, I will be hard pressed to refrain from wielding my rubber-handled pruning shears and turning off those lights myself.

Just a pleasant little warning :)

Enjoy the new year while you still can.


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