27 Feb 2005

Robot Chicken

This insanely clever little show is the best new show Adult Swim has put together in a long time, maybe ever. It's a little reminiscent of the way Monty Python did lots of random scenes and sometimes threw in short little throwaway scenes, but moreso. The format (stop-action animation using clay and assorted action figures) admits really short scenes, some just a few seconds long, enough to set up a sight gag and then move on. Unlike, say, Saturday Night Live, it lets them have an idea and run it just as long as it's funny, and then stop. Not all the scenes are fantastic, but many are, and none of them last long enough to really drag---the whole show is only about ten minutes long!

"I've never been to Sicily, but I cannot imagine how desolate and bleak the landscape must be for those poor starving people to look at an artichoke and say, hey, beats starving to death." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 11:06pm | Comments (5)

24 Feb 2005

Hoo! hoo!

Why is it that I'm so much more efficient at night? I'm hard pressed to explain why my productivity shoots up so much when I take a nap in the evening and then work through the night, but it does. And really, it pretty much always has.

Some recent observed and reported linguistic usages:

"...the Virgin Mary...Joseph, her most chaste spouse..."
This is part of one of the Catholic adoration prayers, and it cracks me up every time. Of course, they're using 'most' in its emphatic sense (as in, "Most understandable, sir."), not its comparative one, but I still get a first reading from it that implies a whole series of spouses (or perhaps several in parallel) for Mary, of whom Joseph was merely the least unfaithful. What a thought.
"cogs in a wheel...cogs---but in a broken wheel..."
I was reading US News the other day (the 31 Jan/7 Feb issue, p74), and I ran across this usage. It's clear what they intended, but I don't think I've ever heard it that way before; it's usually "cogs in a machine", right? Google gives 4,820 occurrences of "cogs in a machine", but it does register 966 occurrences for "cogs in a wheel", so that's clearly far from unknown. Looking up the definition of "cog", I'm not even sure which one makes more sense---I had thought that "cog" was basically a synonym of "gear", with perhaps more emphasis on the individual round thing than on its role in the system, but it turns out it refers to the teeth around the rim. Which makes either phrase work, more or less, but I think it decreases the efficacy of the people-as-cogs metaphor. Or does it improve it? I can't even tell; now I've thought about it too much.
A while back I noticed Ryan pronouncing the word "influence" and its derivatives with the emphasis on the middle syllable, fairly consistently, and he had no idea that this was unusual or anything. At the time, I just sort of filed it away. But this weekend at the retreat, I counted no less than four people, all in the same 18-22 age range, pronounce it exactly that way. MW10 lists this as a secondary pronunciation and calls it "chiefly Southern", but I wonder if it's spreading.
"I'm for sure that..."
I was eating dinner the other day with a former math prof from QU, and he picked on me for one of my dialect usages ("less" with a count noun, if you're keeping track at home). This launched into a discussion of various dialect usages, and he reported that down in Quincy, a lot of people are saying "I'm for sure that...", meaning "I'm sure that...". I'm almost positive I've never heard this before, so this is kind of exciting; now I get to keep an eye out for it as I travel, and see where its boundaries are or if it's spreading. Neat!

"The Charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority." --Canadian PM Paul Martin

Posted by blahedo at 6:02am | Comments (1)

17 Feb 2005


It's too bad we don't have in English a well-known word for a specific dance that happens to go round and round. "Round Dance" seems so... clinical... compared to the original title of the play by Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler.

The play itself has a fairly sordid history; due to its lasciviousness and frank discussion of the ever-taboo topic of sex, it wasn't even performed until twenty years after it was written. It is ten scenes ("ten sex scenes!", one of our drama profs pointed out), each set as a dialogue between one man and one woman, and yes, all but one include a sex scene. (Fade to black, and the string quartet plays.) The concept was interesting, and I was overall happy to see it, but the execution was a bit hit-or-miss.

Part of the problem, I guess, is that unlike most shows (with a few leads and a bunch of supporting roles), all ten actors have essentially equal roles. And they all have exactly two dialogues, so there's not as much time to see the arc of character development: wham, bam, and that's it for that character. So most of my observations on this show are isolated ups and downs.

As big as Harbach is, I was impressed with how well Bri Benson's voice carried, when she was speaking in a clear but basically "inside" voice. This worked well for an opening scene, as it drew the audience in.

As big as Harbach is, it was sort of amazing how thoroughly one single cigar could permeate the entire space. I'm glad I'm not allergic; as it was, the air felt thick to breathe.

Confidential to MC: When the script says "tan-ta-tum", referencing the music at a dance, a little musicality is called for in delivering the line...

A lovely touch was that the stage crew, rather than their usual functional black, wore period working-class costume. The effect was almost as if an efficient house servant staff swept in to tidy up during every scene change (especially as their main function was not moving large set pieces, but changing the decorations on a few stationary ones, and clearing props).

The scene between Ann Hernandez "The Parlor Maid" and Alex Enyart "The Young Gentleman" was made by one thing: well-executed silence. Good job!

The string quartet seated on a platform upstage for the whole show (and playing during romantic interludes and scene changes) was a great touch. But, ah... they need a little more practice.

The Sweet Young Thing got saddled with the singularly most unflattering costume I remember seeing in a long time. There are perfectly good, period outfits that would have looked fine; but her skirt cut her waist funny, and the shirtwaist was this gauzy affair that bloused out and made her upper body appear to be some sort of amorphous blob. Which is really too bad; her corset fit well and looked fine, and I think she just needed different outerwear. This character also got to deliver one of the few clear continuity lines in the show---claiming to have been to a chambre séparée before, but only with a girlfriend and her husband, such an obvious lie the second time she says it that it seems clear it had been the first time as well.

I'm not sure if any of the earlier scenes had anything like this, but in two of the later ones, a stage light was rigged up to point at the floor and be patterned like moonlight through a paned window; once I noticed it, the room snapped into a higher level of reality for me. I had thought, and have said before, that the very best tech work is the kind you don't even notice, but here I'm not sure that's true---until I noticed the window-shadow as distinct from the rest of the stage lighting, it might as well have just been regular stage lighting. Great effect, though.

And what would a Knox play be without Evan Sawdey running around in his underwear? That's twice this term. (Also twice ever, that I've seen, but the last time was just two weeks ago!)

Morgan Cohen has a great presence on the stage. Her "The Actress" was suitably flamboyant and would have been a great scene-stealer if there were any scenes to steal, though the chemistry was better in her first scene than her second. She also lucks out with the best costume award: her initial coatdress and the nightgown for her second scene were great costumes, but her black and red corset was simply fantastic.

Enunciation issues were a problem all evening, usually that people were over-enunciating. Devin Hogan ran particularly afoul of this problem, probably because as The Count he was supposed to be speaking in an upper-crust accent; but he hadn't had enough vocal coaching to really pull it off. There were certain isolated snippets where he really clicked as a middle-aged war veteran nobleman (with greying hair and a goatee in my mental image, oddly enough, though Devin has neither); most of the time, though, the enunciation just sat at odds with the rest of the basically standard American dialect coming out of his mouth. Without the other features of a blue-blood or British accent, unreduced vowels and aspirated stops instead of taps just sound funny. He did a great job with the character, though, acting formally awkward in the one scene and abstractedly curious in the other, in just the way we imagine nobility would do.

And the final note: it was freezing in there. And I was wearing my usual three layers of clothing; I felt seriously sorry for the actors, who by and large were wandering around with a lot less clothing than I was. Maybe the lights kept the stage warm.

Overall, the production was fine, but a little disappointing; I was sort of expecting the mainstage to be better. (Of course, I'm coming off last week's studio show, which spoiled me.) However, while the scenes varied in quality, it was by no means a bad show. And this was just opening night... I'm sure by Saturday it'll be quite a bit better.

"Life is so short."
"Well, that's no reason to---"
"Oh, but it is!" --Reigen, Arthur Schnitzler

Posted by blahedo at 1:16am | Comments (0)

15 Feb 2005

Surreal article

Presented without further comment:

Tasmanian paper made from 'roo poo

"Dean's job as DNC chair is now to reattach the ass handed to them by the Republicans in the last election." --Jon Stewart

Posted by blahedo at 11:59am | Comments (0)

Robot Chicken

Nice work, Adult Swim: the techno riff you have playing under the ads for Robot Chicken are officially the catchiest damn things I've heard all year.

On the Bush inauguration speech: "'Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies,' he said, apparently without understanding how he has achieved that precise objective." --Joe Conason

Posted by blahedo at 12:03am | Comments (0)

12 Feb 2005


I can't believe I almost didn't go to this show.

Last night, I didn't get back home until almost 7, and I thought I was going to miss my last chance to see Proof, this weekend's studio show. But I whipped up a quick sandwich, fed my dog, and made it over there right at 7:30, in time for the show. I knew pretty much nothing about it, although I'd heard it was good.

It was great! Knox people reading this should make time in their schedules to go see it tonight (or, I think it's actually got a matinee tomorrow, but you should check). The cast of four did a fabulous job at portraying people with various close relationships to the ivory tower, and the writing made it clear that the playwright had a lot of familiarity with the culture. You spend most of your time wondering what's really going on, and just as you think you've figured it out, they throw you for another loop. (Best Act One closing line, ever, by the way.)

Jackie Dehne was the lead, "Catherine" (aka "Cat", "Kit", "Kitty", "Cathy", and a few others---you'd think that they'd be more consistent), onstage for nearly all of the two hour production. She was on an incredible emotional roller coaster, and carried the audience right along with her. One of the things that most impressed me was her ability to take the dialogue and make it her own (some credit for this probably goes to the director, Helen Drysdale, as well): I wouldn't have thought that anyone could utter the word "yikes" unironically, for instance, but she made it sound just right. How can you say something like, "Don't lie to me, I'm smarter than you!"? But she did, and it worked (and she was right). There were a lot of other places where she delivered a line with just the right sarcasm, or frustration, or whatever, to make it sound perfect, where the words printed in the script would certainly not have read so naturally.

Loren Lindgren (known around campus as "Blanket Guy", in which context I've mentioned him before) as the father was quite good, although there were several places where I felt like he was Acting. That is, he was doing pretty good at displaying the right emotions at the right time, but hadn't quite crossed that threshold from "good" to "great" where the audience really forgets that there are actors up there... he was doing all the right things in any way I could identify, and there was still a je ne sais quoi that was missing. I really can't fault it, though, as I might not have even noticed if the others hadn't been so exceptional.

Eden Newmark, as Claire, suffered no such difficulty. From the start, she played a character who meant well, in that sort of abstract way that people sometimes do. She probably gives to the right charities, but only because it's the done thing, not out of any real spirit of charity. She would almost certainly send her kids off to boarding school, at great expense, purportedly to get them the best education---but not unaware that this will also keep her own life less interrupted. None of this came out through the dialogue, of course, but through the acting. Newmark managed to play the most infuriating character, saying the most hurtful and distrusting things, all the more infuriating because you just knew that Claire had no idea how hurtful and distrusting they were, and really thought she was doing the right thing. At great personal cost, she might add. There were really points that she made you want to throttle her, just run up on the stage and throttle her, she was so maddening. (In many ways, she served as the tracks, or possibly the lifts, for Catherine's emotional roller coaster---Newmark and Dehne played off each other really well.)

I'm a little curious whether Matt Allis has any relatives or friends in grad school. He played "Hal", the former grad student and current professor; and seriously, I've known that guy. He has his interests, just like everyone else, and things he gets excited about; and then he has Interests, that he gets really excited about, that will raise his blood pressure and get him talking about twice as fast as normal, all over an elegant but novel deduction about some mathematical theorem. Right on.

The show is about a few really smart, precise people (plus Claire), going through the same sorts of emotional problems as anything else. Abstract out the people and the main themes of the show will be things like trust, and dignity of life, and familial bonds and responsibilities. But lots of shows are about that stuff. This one got a standing ovation from me.

"This is what happens when you don't let gays marry... they start designing out of spite." --Jon Stewart

Posted by blahedo at 3:34pm | Comments (2)

11 Feb 2005

On "nonlethal" weapons

In a blog entry today, Eric Zorn says,

No weapon is ever going to be perfectly safe. We saw that in Boston when a young woman was killed by a bean-bag projectile that hit her in the eye when police fired into an unruly crowd after a Red Sox victory last fall.
at the end of a longer post praising tasers and (by extension) other "nonlethal" weapons. But he draws the wrong conclusions: rather than encouraging a move to alternative weaponry, this should be the strongest argument for leaving police armed with lethal weapons, which they are (mostly) actually reluctant to use except as a weapon of last resort.

Police officers are firing at more people than they ever would have before, because they think it's ok because it's "nonlethal". Last year they fired a taser at a six year old kid in Miami that, I'm reasonably confident, they would not have shot a gun at. At the VEISHA festival last year at Iowa State, a small fistfight involving just two people brought out cops in riot gear with rubber bullets and tear gas, who then proceeded to incite a riot and spray tear gas throughout a residential area, causing the partial evacuation of several dorms. The RNC protests (among others) were rife with examples of people who had significant nonlethal force applied to them. It doesn't pull at the national heartstrings like Kent State did, because nobody died, but it's not really any more acceptable. It seems self-evident that these weapons will be used in many more cases than lethal force would be, and in all of those cases someone will be hurt as a direct result of this move toward "nonlethal" weapons, supposedly for our safety!

It doesn't matter whether 'nonlethal' weapons "more often escalate the pain and trauma of troublesome citizens than minimize it." One good question is, how often are they being used against citizens (or noncitizens) who aren't causing trouble? But a better one is, why are we assuming it's ok to intentionally "escalate the pain and trauma" of anybody at all?

If the choice really were between status quo and strictly reducing the number of deaths and injuries, then it would be obvious. But it isn't. Even if it didn't increase the rate of use of force, we would see an increase in collateral damage, because most of these new weapons are much harder to aim with any accuracy (and some, like tear gas, aren't aimed at all). But we can see that it's much worse than that: a mountain of evidence clearly demonstrates that people armed with these things are much more trigger happy than they are with guns. Giving cops "nonlethal" weaponry serves chiefly to injure a lot more innocent people, and make a lot more innocent people mistrustful of cops.

"If a bunch of actual adults suddenly found themselves trapped in high school, the first thing they'd do is form a union and renegotiate all the rules with the administration." --Paul Graham

Posted by blahedo at 5:48pm | Comments (1)

5 Feb 2005


Tonight at Innkeepers', I went to see Andru Bemis again---he's kicking off a month-long train tour of the country. With him was a musician friend of his: Rachel Ries is wrapping up her second album, and will officially begin her own tour next month, but Andru talked her into coming along to Galesburg this weekend.

She's pretty awesome. The melodies she sings are complicated and actually pretty difficult, but she executes them with such casual precision that you'd think that they were really easy. She also does some interesting things rhythmically that she can get away with since she's her own accompaniment. And let's just say I wish I didn't play the banjo as well as she "doesn't play banjo".

Strangely enough, I bought her two CDs, and the album from five years ago is... fine, but not as good as her other stuff, just in terms of the writing. The stuff on the EP/demo is much better, and the songs she sang tonight that will be on her next album are fantastic. At one point, she played a song called "Two Sleepy People"---an old standard, apparently---that had such a catchy melody and that she sung so whimsically and well that we actually made her sing it again. Afterwards, she said that learning that song had really changed the way she writes; and I can believe it, because her "Summertime", my favourite, was written right after that.

She'll be back in Galesburg in April, and I hope the new CD is done by then, because I really want to buy it.

Oh, and for the party afterwards I made an apple crisp; an easy recipe from the good old Betty Crocker cookbook made trivial by the clever new apple peeler/corer/slicer I got for Christmas. That thing is so cool and easy to use. I definitely need to start making more apple-based things.

"Faith without works is nothing! And works without faith... is still pretty good." --Jon Stewart

Posted by blahedo at 2:20am | Comments (1)

3 Feb 2005


Despite a nasty headache that I've had since yesterday evening, I have been in an incredibly good mood all day today. I think it's because I walked to and from work. I should really do that more often.

"It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life. Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by blahedo at 6:01pm | Comments (0)

2 Feb 2005

On trackbacks and spam

We saw it coming a long time ago; if comments were getting spammed by people trying to boost their PageRank, then trackbacks couldn't be far behind. The bayesian spam filter also handles trackbacks, even though there really hadn't been any trackback spam yet.

Well, the spammers just discovered trackback spam a few days ago. The bayesian filter (which I left in place though I turned off comment filtering since BotBlock was working so well) caught all of it, afaict. Unfortunately, this part of the filter must not have been well-tested, because the part that actually deletes the spam is broken. So the six hundred or so trackbacks aren't visible, but I can't delete them for a while.

And MT doesn't seem to allow turning off trackbacks as a whole; you can just turn them off on a per-entry basis, and change the default for new entries. So the spam is slowly accumulating. Maybe now would be a good time to upgrade to the new version of MT....

"To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by blahedo at 12:30pm | Comments (1)

A discovery

I just learned that The Missionary Pursuit, which I saw last weekend and already wrote about, was actually written by a current Knox student. Wow! Hats off to him; I really had no idea. Makes the monologues twice as impressive. :)

"Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by blahedo at 11:48am | Comments (0)

1 Feb 2005


As many of you know, I've been sitting in on Knox's Music Theory class this term. I've wanted to take a music theory class at least since I was at Quincy, but various other things just kept getting in the way. It's a lot of fun, and I feel like I haven't let my brain expand so much in a new direction in a really long time.

But as much as I can do in my head and with humming intervals and such, occasionally I just need to hear a chord or something that I need an instrument for. Fortunately, I had long ago rescued a childhood toy from being thrown out; it was already old when I started playing with it well over twenty years ago. It's a little brown two-octave organ, with six builtin chords. You turn it on with an on/off knob on the side, wait for about thirty seconds for the tubes to warm up (!), and then you can play up to about three notes at a time. No volume control of any sort, of course. Here it is:

[my old brown organ]

Last Saturday I finally got around to walking to the music store two blocks away, and I looked at keyboards. Some of them were crazy expensive (like $2K expensive), and to be honest, I couldn't tell what made them different from keyboards a tenth the price, except for the expensive ones having poorer user interface design.

I mostly narrowed it down on Saturday, then thought about it for the next few days. And today, I picked up a keyboard that my keen sense of irony forces me to name "Parvus":

[my sleek new keyboard]

It has some wild features. Aside from lots of instruments, something I expected and didn't really care about, it has a lot of built-in rhythms as well (including a number of ballroom-appropriate ones, though that part's really more fun than useful). But tied into the rhythms is an auto-accompaniment feature: play a key in the bottom octave, and it will set the key for the accompaniment! Give it a minor third and/or a diminished or augmented fifth, and it'll fill in that chord too! Plus, of course, you can record a bunch of tracks and play them on top of each other, making it possible for a plunker like me to actually work out how part-writing will sound.


"Intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by blahedo at 11:44pm | Comments (5)