McDonald's ads.

I've got four ads from McDonald's that I'm raging about. I wish I could find video, but American audiences should recognize these. (Sorry, one reader from England and one reader from Amsterdam.)

1. Snack Time
This is a series, and actually the one with the basketball house makeover isn't too bad. I chuckled the first time I saw that, I'll admit. The one I'm up in a tizzy about is the one where the lady in the office is freaking about what she should wear on her date. What date? Why the one with the dork of the office, of course. She looks over at him and blows him a kiss. He does something I can only assume was dorky in "catching" the kiss and then the articulate, non-threatening African American gentleman says, "Looks like somebody missed snack time."

Maybe I'm just too sensitive to the portrayal of non-beautiful people in the media, but WTF?! First off, the guy only looks moderately dorky. Second, what's wrong with any of this? You know what message I get from this commercial? "Eat our food or you'll end up with a loser. Remember, looks are everything. Nobody has anything to offer except beauty. That dorky guy is fat, but not from eating our food. He must be rejected. Be warned."

2. Morning Person
You know the one, with the morning guy who carpools with three people who are grouchy and sleep-deprived. That is, until they hit up the McD's drive-thru and get coffee. Now everyone's happy! Yippee hooray!

I really don't have anything against this commercial. The guy genuinely pulls off happy, and we all know the type. My problem is with the part where they tout the fact that your server at McDonald's can put the cream and sugar in for you, just the way you like. You know, because they remember you from last time. Sure. They can't even get cheeseburger no onions right, I'm going to trust them with my coffee. It's so difficult to pour and stir myself, I need a highly trained employee to do that for me.

Besides, I take it black. Like my men. (Airplane, 1980)

I'll have two more this afternoon.


A funny story.

Last night I'm laying on my couch, watching some crime drama centering around dead hookers. I don't remember which one. CSI? Medium? Criminal Minds? Can anyone distinguish between them anymore? Poor hookers, always gettin' killed all the time. Anyway, my dog Sasha comes up and sets her front paws on the couch, looking for attention. I oblige, scratching her back. She loves that, apparently that's where the itches always are. You can tell when you hit the spot because she sticks her nose straight out as far as it will go and halfway shuts her eyes, sort of as a way to say, "Oh yeah, right there. That's the money." So I'm scratching her back and I hit the spot, no doubt. She is lovin every second of it. So much so, in fact, that she lets out a long, low squeaker. I can't convey how funny this was, but the timing could not possibly have been any better. So I'm busting a gut, but there's more. Sasha has this thing where she's surprised every time she farts. So while I'm almost crying from laughing so hard, she's looking around to see where that noise came from, getting a good whiff of her own brand. I just about died. It was too funny.

Unrelatedly, I did this:


Some links to kill time.

A happy hello to visitors from San Francisco, Calgary, Rome, Tucheng, Carlisle, and Lakeville! How about a couple of links to brighten your day.

1. Heart Made of Sound. Yeah I'm ripping this link off from Design Observer, but I've been obsessed with this video and song for a week now. I love it, you will too.

2. Developers. This guy runs Microsoft. If you search through the related links you'll find the source videos for this masterpiece. I secretly think Steve Ballmer hired someone to do this, because I can't stop thinking "developers, developers..." after I hear it. Thanks for the tip, G Money!

3. Start This Sentence. I would completely hang with Demitri Martin. And despite its ties with Windows Vista (or Mac OS Xb as I like to call it), Clearification has some pretty funny stuff on it too. Thanks for the tip, Jan!

Wow, I get all my stuff from someone else. I guess we all do though. As the good book says, "There is nothing new under the sun, except for new Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips!" Or something like that.

Also, here's a picture for a t-shirt I invented. It's for all tha playaz out there.


Musical memories.

In response to a comment the other day, I decided to stop shuffling songs. We'll see how long it lasts, but I started in earnest yesterday on the drive home. I was surprised when the second song followed the first. I knew the order of this album because I had listened to it in sequence many times, but it had been so long that hearing one song properly followed by the next song threw me off. Then I was surprised by the fact that I was surprised. It was a very introspective commute.

I thought more about how music is tied to specific memories and I came across a curiosity. I borrowed or burned "Something to Write Home About" by the Get Up Kids from someone in late 2001. This was the first time I ever heard it. But it sounded instantly familiar, and in fact from the very first listen it has been very closely tied in my mind to memories from 1998-99. I've tried to disect the possibilities as to why this is, but I've gotten nowhere. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Ever had music remind you of a time before you even knew that music existed?


Get thee behind me, Stan.

Microsoft Word apparently has a feature where you can check for grammar and be assigned a Flesch Kincaid Readability Score. It uses a sophisticated algorithm to measure how smart your writing is, essentially. The more syllables per word you use, and the more words per sentence you use, the lower your Readability score is and the higher your Grade Level Score is. Apparently government and insurance forms have very specific requirements on what score they pull down.

That's not a very awesome way to assess that kind of thing. Hemingway would score abnormally low, for instance. I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere in Cuba there's a man who never got his due for writing large chunks of "Old Man and the Sea" when he was in fourth grade. On the other end of the spectrum, philosophers like Sartre and Kierkegaard got incredibly dense to say some pretty basic things.

If you write a piece of fiction and have a computer tell you that it's actually written at about an eigth grade level, you tend to get a little defensive. It's natural. You know what would really show a high level of writing intelligence? Semicolons. Them things is crazy. Think about it: whenever you see someone use one and you assume it's used properly, you automatically think higher of that writer. I'm still not sure I know exactly when to use a semicolon, but I'm lacing them all over the place until someone tells me I'm wrong.


Sometimes a song is more than just a song.

Sometimes a song is more than just a song. Actually, that needs rephrasing: much more often than not, a song is considerably more than a song. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in the present day and age, songs have become some manner of amalgamated tapestry that both pervades and supersedes the experience of the everyday American.

An assertion like that deserves an example to serve as an entry point to further discussion, and I am inclined to provide one. The East Library in Colorado Springs is an exquisite repository for literature, reference, and educational materials of any and all ilk. I often find myself walking out of its mutedly modernist entrance with the distinct impression that I am both far less lazy and much more intellectually robust. I’ll remember these feelings only so far as the end of the road out front; half a mile away and I’ve already turned my thoughts to upcoming episodes of Gray’s Anatomy and what monumentally unhealthy processed foodstuffs I can cram down my gullet later in the evening. The benefits of an afternoon spent in stacks of musty old books are forgotten until the next time I, purely by happenstance, stumble in once again in search of a good date movie.

Today I found myself in the East Library, ostensibly under the pretense of research for an upcoming project at work that demanded the scouring of back issues of periodicals. Sounds good, right? Well, I was really in there to catch up on the last couple issues of Spin. I appeased my conscience by cracking open some pretentiously text-heavy magazine about writing, flipping through it for no more than five minutes, and tossing it aside like so much literati jetsam.

One of the brightest perks of a lost afternoon in the moderately comfortable chairs of the magazine lounge at the library is that I can bring along my iPod. Back in college I would have portable music with me everywhere and make solid use of its services, but as a current member of the corporate world with little or no chance of escape most days I find myself music-free. Whenever I get a couple hours to lose myself in my headphones, I realize that I need to take full advantage of the opportunity; thus, I spent a goodly amount of time at the mercy of a 3,000-song shuffle this afternoon.

The appeal of a good shuffle isn’t quite as attractive as it once was, I’m afraid. Too many times I get the filler material when all I really want is a computer to be entirely intuitive to my context and mood, and provide me with song after song that sends me into an emotional spiraling tirade without ever leaving my seat. Is this simply too much to ask? As an alternative, I dug out “Funeral” by Arcade Fire. I have a list of about twenty or so albums that haven’t received the proper amount of attention from me while at the same time courting a tremendous amount of praise from people whose musical tastes I trust. It is an unstated goal in my life to give these works their due and ascertain just whatever the heck it is that makes everyone slather so much over them in the first place. This is one of those albums, and by coincidence it happens to come first alphabetically and therefore was the first one I saw.

The opening track is called, um… you know, I can’t actually remember what the title is. Something about neighborhoods—one of the pitfalls of the digital music upswing is the propensity for learning albums and songs by number instead of proper names. Anyway, the song is one of those that starts out ominous and thumping and then breaks into a steady beat with accented up notes, like a traditional ska beat except not really similar in any meaningful way—if you heard the song then you’d know what I was talking about. As the overtly emotional vocalist was reaching higher and higher into the stratosphere of elucidation on some aspect of being from Montreal (I assume), I’m walking out of the library and into what has turned into a preposterously gorgeous day.

The temperature is hovering somewhere in the mid-sixties, not too shabby for late March. There’s still a sense of crispness hovering in the air, just enough to allow someone playing hooky from work to don a hooded sweatshirt if he so pleases. There is a convoy of cotton-candy-like clouds floating by over the entire city. As I look over to the west halfway through the parking lot I espy Pikes Peak, the westernmost 14,000-foot peak of the Rocky Mountains, mired halfway up in a ring of rain clouds that threaten to release themselves from the sloped moorings of the mountains and spill into the suburban basin below. This is a sight that I continuously pray I never get tired of, a sight that I almost never had a chance to see in the gently rolling grasslands of the Upper Midwest and a sight that I fully except I will miss and regret not appreciating more once I move on from my current home.

In a spurt of divinely refined timing, I behold this breathtaking sight exactly at the point where this song in my ears reaches its emotional climax, bursting into a sublime moment that will almost certainly be forgotten in little time but that colors a larger span of my life into a significantly radiant swash of meaning and fulfillment. Perhaps you think I’m making too much of this moment; I assure that my capacities with the English language are not doing this moment justice. At that moment I realized just how much music has provided hue to my world in such an enormous and seemingly omnipresent way since I first bought a Discman with money earned at my first job almost twelve years ago. Music is more than songs; it’s a continuous tapestry of life enhancement and affirmation.

The preceding paragraphs were written with a Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level of 12.1. In your face, high school students!

Nostalgia Friday.


It's weird to see people from high school in cyberspace. I graduated before most of us had regular email addresses, blogs, pictures online, anything like that. So when you see someone you knew nine years ago has a myspace page, and their photos look nothing like you remember them, it kind of throws your thinking off.

I subconsciously assumed everyone was still 18, including myself. Woops. Trips down Memory Lane are good for bringing you to a more complete understanding of reality, if you ask me. And you must have asked me, since you're reading this.

Big ups to all the RHS alum who track me down here. Shoot me a lil' flava.

EXTRA! Here's a desktop wallpaper I invented for April. You're welcome.


On writing.

I got myself a Jack Kerouac anthology from the library yesterday. I'm trying to be more writerly. I'm trying to watch a lot of PBS and read the classics in the hope that it'll help me be a better author. You've probably skimmed over the first three sections of a book I'm trying to write, and passed them off as amateurish and boring. Sweet. Well no more sections for you until I'm done. This is not a serial. That being said, I am in the process of writing.

The biggest thing holding me back at this point is simply motivation. I don't want to write more because I'm afraid it will screw up what came before. I can't take failure, and a perfect idea seems more appealing than a mediocre result. Wah wah wah.

I wrote the fourth section last night. The whole project is running about 12 pages right now. In my estimation that's about 5% done. At this rate, it'll probably be around 2030 when I finish. Or I could just suck it up and get on with it, in which case maybe I'll have a draft by the end of the year.

It feels good to finally live out my dream of writing a novel.


The Unneccesarily Long March Madness Post

Picking everything to the end. I won't defend any of these decisions unless directly challenged.

First Round

Florida over Jackson State
Arizona over Purdue
Butler over Old Dominion
Davidson over Maryland
Winthrop over Notre Dame
Oregon over Miami (OH)
UNLV over Georgia Tech
Wisconsin over Texas A&M - CC

Second Round
Florida over Arizona
Davidson over Butler
Oregon over Winthrop
UNLV over Wisconsin

Third Round
Florida over Davidson
UNLV over Oregon

Fourth Round
Florida over UNLV

First Round

Kansas over Niagara
Villanova over Kentucky
Virginia Tech over Illinois
Southern Illinois over Holy Cross
VCU over Duke
Pittsburgh over Wright State
Gonzaga over Indiana
UCLA over Weber State

Second Round
Kansas over Villanova
Southern Illinois over Virginia Tech
Pittsburgh over VCU
UCLA over Gonzaga

Third Round
Southern Illinois over Kansas
UCLA over Pittsburgh

Fourth Round
UCLA over Southern Illinois

First Round

North Carolina over E. Kentucky
Marquette over Michigan State
USC over Arkansas
Texas over New Mexico State
George Washington over Vanderbilt
Washington State over Oral Roberts
Texas Tech over Boston College
Georgetown over Belmont

Second Round
Marquette over North Carolina
Texas over USC
Washington State over George Washington
Georgetown over Texas Tech

Third Round
Texas over Marquette
Washington State over Georgetown

Fourth Round
Washington State over Texas

First Round

Ohio State over Central Conn. State
Xavier over BYU
Long Beach State over Tennessee
Virginia over Albany
Stanford over Louisville
Texas A&M over Penn
Nevada over Creighton
Memphis over North Texas

Second Round
Ohio State over Xavier
Virginia over Long Beach State
Texas A&M over Stanford
Memphis over Nevada

Third Round
Ohio State over Virginia
Memphis over Texas A&M

Fourth Round
Memphis over Ohio State

Florida over UCLA
Washington State over Memphis

Washington State over Florida, 74-67

There you have it. Bet accordingly.


Midnight in the Velveteen Sector, Chapter 3.

To many in this day and age, convenience has become an unconscious yet very real pursuit. The history of humanity could be laid out as nothing more than an attempt to make life easier. Wars, inventions, social advances, these things could all be argued from a point of view interested solely in laziness and self-gratification. This would be an odd stance to take, but one which may seduce one’s opponent to rethink the fervor of his argument. It would also be an utterly foolish stance to take, as any modicum of thought on the topic would lead one to the punchless realization that we, by and large, are not happy. And so it is that those industries that are built on convenience have tried to get people to stop thinking altogether. The degree to which they succeed in this pursuit is the degree to which they are able to make money.

The Joy Market is a very profitable business.

It was founded as a single store a scant six generations before our narrative takes place, by a group of five ambitious young men who were completely, totally lazy. “How could ambitious men be lazy?” you may ask. It turns out that their distinct brand of ambitiousness was nothing more than an aggressive stance toward making their own lives as effortless and rewarding as possible. While most people have the drive to chase down this goal with whatever their id can muster, these gentlemen were very deliberate and focused in grasping for the brass ring that seemed to tantalize everyone and no one at the same time.

One afternoon, while inebriated beyond reasonable levels for not the last time that day, two of the men (tradition dictates that their names were Lothar and Jamin) lay on their apartment floor thinking of ways to get somebody to run to the store for them. They were in desperate need of salt and cigarettes, you see. They spent a good two hours in this state and in the end were unable to land an idea that would solve their quandary. At long last the third roommate came back, just as they were about to pick themselves off of the matted-down carpet. Since Troy, the third roommate, was stone sober at the moment, he reluctantly took on the duty of retrieving enough supplies for the long push into yet another invalidating evening of revelry.

Upon returning, he vowed never again to be talked into being that guy. His trip to the store had been aggravatingly slow, unconscionably expensive, and a real detriment to catching up to his by now sloppy drunk friends. As he expressed his resolve in these matters, his friends turned a sympathetic ear to his plea. By now there were four of them--Ignacius and Sifl had arrived in the time Troy was away--and as each of them had been in that spot before, they each agreed that the shenanigans must stop.

Thus, in their collective outrage they sowed the first seeds of the Joy Market. It started by them scraping together enough money to rent a well-located apartment on the first floor; the elevator lobby and mailboxes nearby assured a moderate to large amount of foot traffic. They bought cases of beer, cartons of cigarettes, bag after bag of chips, and whatever else seemed good to them when they were out of their heads. They hung a piece of loose leaf with the words “WE GOT WHAT YOU NEED” on the door, and the next Friday night the business took off like a rocket. They were out of stock by midnight, and sold out the next night as well. Word spread quickly throughout the apartment complex, and there wasn’t a moment in the history of their venture when people weren’t banging down the door. The proximity and friendliness of these gentlemen assured that they were the first choice in everybody’s mind, every time.

Within a few short months they had enough money to dump the apartment. This was made easier by the fact that the authorities had caught wind of their goings-on and demanded that they move to a commercially zoned building. They bought a closed-up bank nearby and expanded. Every night they exceeded their profit forecasts (drawn up by a hired accountant, they weren’t about to do all that math on their own). Soon one store became two, two became six, six became fifteen.

What made the Joy Market different from other convenience stores was the degree to which its higher-ups pushed the boundary of pleasing its customers. In their minds there was no length too far to go to keep their customers from having to wait in line behind a slow patron or make a difficult decision between barbecue or sour cream & onion chips. They aggressively ran innumerable focus groups to find out precisely what their clientele wanted. They pushed technology in new directions, throwing untold sums of money at computers that would revolutionize the very essence of shopping. The advertising department surpassed any seen on the planet, with a philosophy that it’s not about saturating the market, it’s under saturating that will convince people that what they want is really, underneath it all, what they absolutely need.

The five lazy friends made ridiculous fortunes all, and retired within twenty years of that fateful drunken afternoon. They each lived lives of ultimate luxury and decadence the rest of their days, and died peacefully happy at ripe old ages. Their celebrity eclipsed that of any movie star, musician, or hotel heiress alive. People kept waiting for one of them to run into some trouble with their health or personal lives, but it never happened. The collective consensus was that they had actually contributed so much to humanity that God himself smiled on their lives in such a way as has never been seen before or since. It comes as little surprise that their mystique and legend grew year by year until their hyper-aggressive stance to convenience became, quite literally, a religion.

Through the decades the Joy Market turned their strategy from many small stores throughout the land to fewer, larger stores. When the first of the Joy Market Megastores cropped up, some people accused them of betraying their original cause. The ringleaders of this shockingly vocal minority were summarily rounded up and accused of heresy. Their fates are unknown to this day. Since then there has been no challenge to the ubiquitous necessity of the Market’s services.

This was the Joy Market that Benton approached late one night in search of sustenance and refreshment. The building itself was a towering structure of seemingly monumental proportions. The hugeness of the building was nothing more than a trick of the eye, meant to convey gigantitude without using up more space or building materials than was absolutely necessary. The architectural design was the same as the seventeen other Megastores, a design which was developed at no small expense. The strong vertical lines running up the sides were bathed in an ethereal blue light; all things told it looked very much like a piece off the set of an old movie about the distant future. Long gone were the days of low, flat-roofed buildings with ugly fluorescent lighting and gas pumps out front. This was a new breed of convenience store, a message that was conveyed in every aspect of the elegant exterior.

The front doors were an amazing piece of technology. Clunky old sliding glass doors had gone the way of the buffalo in a flurry of ground-breaking engineering. The entire perimeter of the building was nothing more than one sleek, continuous yet silent waterfall. The water was poured at calculated rates from a computerized ring eight feet up the side of the building and fell into a slender trough in the ground. Motion sensors a little higher up detected not only when someone was coming, but precisely how wide they and the occasional cart they were pushing were. The water was diverted from the area of the approaching customer with a comfortable cushion to spare, and resumed its normal flow once sensors confirmed that the customer was inside. In its testing phase, the developing engineers proudly boasted that a mere one out of 4,500 people ever felt a drop of water hit their skin. It was the kind of feature that was entirely superfluous yet hauntingly beautiful, which was exactly what the Liberal Joyists held up as their ideal. The Honorable Reverend Roger Nimrod’s landmark book, Twelve Steps Is Eleven Too Many, referred to this innovation as, “nothing short of the gates of heaven itself.” This sort of detail was everywhere.