Battle of the Beatles

>> 20 December 2009

In this blog post, former band-mates square off as we decide which former Beatle's Christmas song is superior.

First, we have Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time," a cheery tune written the day after Paul learned how to use a delay effect on a synthesizer. The music video also puts me in the Christmas-cheer; what could be more festive than being serenaded in a dark British pub by Paul McCartney on Christmas Eve?

John Lennon's offering, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" has become a Christmas classic although it is 1) slightly premature in its declaration that 'war is over' 2) was produced by Phil Spector (the excessive reverb and backing choir are dead give-aways) and 3) this melody was blatantly ripped off from "Stewball" a song about a horse which I remember from my childhood.

Did you forget that there were other Beatles? Because they both have Christmas songs, as well! George Harrison's "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" relies heavily on the notion that "if it was good for thirty seconds, it will be good for three and a half minutes as long as the singer wears truly lavish costumes in the music video."

And finally, we have Ringo Starr's entry, "I Wanna Be Santa Claus," which is, simply stated: shocking. The visual elements were added by some youtuber, but the even without the amateurish and slightly trippy visuals, this song is something else!

Now that you've heard them, it's time to vote for your favorite.

Finally, here's a video of a Christmas song, written and performed by The Beatles, together as a band. What do you think - is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?

Share your thoughts in the comments section!


Chimps on Ice

>> 13 December 2009

Have you ever said to yourself - perhaps in a moment of low self-esteem - "At least I can ice-skate better than a monkey?" Frankly, you probably haven't. But if you have, then this video should wreck your confidence:

Not only can these chimps ice-skate, they can ice-skate way better than I can (and probably better than anyone who happens to be reading this e-blog). AMAZING!

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Do you think that you could ice-skate better than these monkeys?
  2. Is there any competition in which you could be absolutely confident in your ability to best a monkey rival?
  3. Should primates be permitted to compete in the Olympics? Doesn't barring them from competition amount to nothing more than speciesism?
  4. How do you feel about the new ICE-SKATING ANIMALS direction that this e-blog is taking?


"Da Bears"

>> 09 December 2009

I have watched this video twice now, and for some reason, I still have a hard time accepting that it is real.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Would you pay to see a bear hockey match?
  2. How much would you have to get paid to agree to be the referee for this game?
  3. And who organized this game in the first place?
  4. Do you think this was done by the USSR?
  5. How hard is it to train a bear to ice-skate?
  6. How were these bears selected for the game? Were there tryouts?
  7. Who would win in a hockey match: Wayne Gretzky or a Brown Bear?


Review: The Emperor's Children

>> 06 December 2009

The Emperor's Children The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children tells the story of three friends on the cusp of turning 30: Julius, Marina, and Danielle. All three are "writers" (who only write occasionally) living in Manhattan in varying degrees of luxury and coping with their inflated senses of entitlement, ambition, and urban ennui. Their (mostly) failed romantic attempts as well as the waxing and waning of their friendship provides the subject matter for the book. The novels principle strength is in the expertly drawn characters. All three principal characters, as well as the other major characters, are simultaneously endearing and off-putting. Even the characters themselves can't agree on what to make of each other. For example, Murray Thwaite, the acclaimed journalist and father of Marina, inspires reverence in his daughter, love in Danielle, and contempt in Ludo (Marina's boyfriend), who claims that Murray is a fraud and an opportunist. I found myself anxiously reading until the end because I was interested in the outcomes that these characters would face. My only real complaint with the novel has to do with the author's writing style. The sentence construction often gets overwhelmingly complex, with appositive phrases, dramatic asides, and wry observations piling up on top of each other until the sentences become a real mess. Here is a relatively mild example, the first one that I found upon opening the book:

She tried to visit other museums as well, different ones each time, and on this visit she proposed the Frick and Pierpoint Morgan, or perhaps the Public Library; but it was to the Met that she returned, as awed each time she climbed the marble steps as she had been, she always told her daughter, when she first came to New York City, a girl of eighteen in her freshman year at Ohio State, traveling with a group of girlfriends over spring break, to her own parent's noisy displeasure.
Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this sentence, but I will say that when you get three or four of these in a row, it quickly become difficult to remember what was being talked about in the first place. One other potential complaint is that the book is fairly light on plotting. Each character has interesting experiences and conflicts, but there is never a strong sense that the novel is driving towards one climactic ending. In fact, the climax of the novel proves to be somewhat of a fluke that results as a matter of unfortunate chance. Nevertheless, I never felt that the book was boring, but Michael Crichton this ain't. On the whole, this was a very good book that I would recommend. View all my reviews >>

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Ever read this book or anything else by the author?
  2. Think you will read this book?


e-Blog Update

>> 05 December 2009

If you have spent any time reading this e-blog, then you have probably grown accustomed to my e-blog layout, consisting of the simplest possible template and a picture of a Zebra (I'm pretty sure I got rid of that a long time ago, but this was the only screenshot of the e-blog that I had).

Posted by Picasa
Well, things are changing on the internet, and I realized that it was time for some changes to happen on this e-blog. Ordinarily, I read e-blogs in Google Reader, so I never really see the formatting, but after recent visits to Mary's e-blog and Kelley's e-blog, I realized that 1) my e-blog layout left a lot to be desired, and 2) I was going to copy Mary and Kelley down to the simplest details. So, after a lot of time spent scouring the internet for code to borrow, and then much more time spent trying to learn some html and javascripting (I'm still not good at all, but I was able to modify the things that I wanted to modify, and nothing is broken), I am pleased to present the new and improved Joel on Internet! High fives to everyone!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What do you think of the new layout?
  2. Are you secretly laughing at me because I am a computer n00b?
  3. Do you miss that Zebra picture?
  4. Like the picture in the header? Tim took it (along with a series of other cool light paintings).


Gimme Dat Christian Side-Hug and Other Hugs and Sundries

>> 03 December 2009

Fill out the bingo card (below) while you watch this video. How many can you find?

This video got me thinking about all of the different hugs I know and when they ought to be used. Here are a few that I thought of:

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How many items did you cross off the bingo list? Did you get a bingo?
  2. Do you like hugs?
  3. What do you do if someone wants to hug you but you don't want to hug them?
  4. Man Hugs


Who Wants a Wave?

>> 02 December 2009

I have 16 invitations to Google Wave that I need to give away! If you'd like to have one of them, just leave a message in the comments section and I'll send one your way. If I don't have your email address, you might have to leave that as well.

Don't know about Google Wave? This video shows you what it can do:


QT: Gas Station of Dreams

>> 30 November 2009

Every now and then you come across a gas station that stands apart from the rest - a special place where you can refill your car, your stomach, and your heart. The QT (short for QuickTrip) gas station chain is such a place. Rochelle and I stopped at one of these on our way through Atlanta, en route to Birmingham. I loved it so much that I insisted that we stop there on our way home as well, and I took these pictures to document the experience. I got a few odd looks for taking pictures in a gas station, but it was well worth it. I didn't take any pictures in the bathroom because I thought that might be against the law/creepy for people in the bathroom. So, without any further delay, I present to you my new photo-essay,QT: Gas Station of Dreams.

Rochelle standing in front of the coffee machines - and I wasn't even able to get the whole row in the frame!

Slushies, Slurpees, and other frozen delights.

22 varieties of soda plus cherry and vanilla add-ins. Quick quiz: can you name 22 sodas off the top of your head?

The lids. If it has liquid in it, QT has a lid for it two hundred lids for it.

Corn Nuts: the corn-snack of choice for discerning travelers.

The DVD/magazine section. I bet your iPod doesn't have this kind of variety!

Can I offer you a rotisserie burrito?

Burrito not your thing? How about a savory taquito (or two for $2.00!)?

Hot dogs, sausages, bratwursts, and those red hot dogs as well.

Me, squatting beside the QT trash-can. It was a very good pit-stop.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Have you ever seen a better gas station? (This is rhetorical because no one has actually seen a better gas station than this.)
  2. Can you name 22 sodas without the aid of a Google-search?
  3. Which of the three flavors of Corn-Nuts would you have gotten: Original, Ranch, or Barbecue? Which do you think I got?


My "To-Read List"

>> 27 November 2009

I always have a lot of books that I want to read, but recently I have started keeping an actual list. Unfortunately, it takes me many hours to read a book, and only a few seconds to add a new one to the list. So, I've decided to put this list on the old e-blog to see if you, dear internet, have any advice or recommendations about these books. Here they are, in no particular order:

I am currently reading The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, and it will take me a while to finish, but I like to plan ahead so that I can reserve a book at the library.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Have you read any of these books? If so, can you recommend one?
  2. If you were going to pick by title alone, which book would you choose for me to read next?
  3. Any suggestions that aren't on this list?


I <3 White Falcon

>> 20 November 2009

Thanks to Tim for introducing me to this doozy: the Gretsch White Falcon (read about it on wikipedia).

So, if you are having trouble finding a gift for that hard-to-buy-for, guitar-playing friend of yours (and you are willing to spend several thousand dollars to show your love), then one of these might make a perfect gift.


This is Why Soccer Needs Video Review

>> 18 November 2009

With this blatant handball, France goes to the World Cup and Ireland stays home.

FIFA has resisted video reviews in soccer for many years now, arguing that such reviews would break up the continuity and flow of the matches. Apparently, FIFA also feels that it is more important to ensure that the flow of the game is not interrupted than it is to determine the legitimate winner of the match.

It would have been possible for France to advance even without this handball. Before this illegal goal, the two-match series was tied at 1-1. The game would have gone to penalty kicks and France could have legitimately won.

France will not make it far in the World Cup; despite a phenomenal depth of talent, they are poorly coached. Their success in the 2006 World Cup can be attributed to Zinedine Zidane's master-class on 'how to carry your team to a World Cup Final.'

Shame on you FIFA.

[edit: here is a still picture of the handball]


Worst-Case Scenario

>> 17 November 2009

Consider the following exchange:

Tom: The forecast calls for rain this afternoon; do you still want to go to the baseball game?
Bob: I think so. Worst-case scenario: we get a little wet and we have to leave early.

How many times have you heard something like this? Worst-case scenario: we stop for dinner at Taco Bell. Worst-case scenario: you get a little rash. Worst-case scenario: I stay an extra hour at work.

The fact is that most of these supposed worst-case scenarios represent a serious lack of imagination. If the worst possible outcome that you can imagine for some event is that it rains at a baseball game, then you certainly have a rosy worldview. [You would also make a pretty lousy science-fiction writer].

So next time you are tempted to make a 'worst-case scenario' claim, consider the following:
  • Am I being chased by killer bees?
  • Did I forget to put on deodorant this morning?
  • Follow up question: can I smell myself?
  • Am I watching Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen?
  • Has a sink-hole opened up, swallowing the entire city?
  • Have my fingers fused together to form a sort of 'hand-paddle'?
  • Am I experiencing disorienting vertigo?
  • Is there no joy left in my life?
  • Are my socks wet?
  • Has the earth been subjugated by a cruel race of telekinetic aliens?
If you answered 'no' to any of those questions, then I would posit that you are not actually talking about a 'worst-case scenario.'

Now, there may be some kill-joys out there who complain and say, "Joel, when we say 'worst-case scenario' we don't mean the worst of all possible outcomes, just the worse of two outcomes, one favorable, one unfavorable (for example: rain at the baseball game, or no rain at the baseball game)." To them I respond: Not my problem. This is still not a worst-case scenario.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. What is the ultimate worst-case scenario?
  2. What is worse, a sink-hole or a tsunami?
  3. Or an alien invasion?


Some Good Names for a Frozen Pizza Brand:

>> 11 November 2009

Tostoti's - (pronounced, toast-oh-tees)
Lil' Tastees
Cheeze-slingers - (a brand of miniature frozen pizzas, meant to appeal to tweens) - (Could also be a form of frozen grilled cheese sandwich with the crust removed)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is your favorite brand of frozen pizza? (I am a Freschetta man).
  2. If you were in charge of marketing at a frozen food company, what would you name a new line of pizzas?
  3. Are you concerned that most of the pizza names sound Italian? Is this racism? What if we called one of them "Javier Hernandez Pizza" or "Olaf Angstrom's Pizza", would that help?


"Good Catch"

>> 04 November 2009

Here is a list of compliments that I frequently get, from the least common to the most common.

  1. "You are tall." I choose to take this as a compliment.
  2. "Those glasses make you look smart." Note the subtle difference between the use of 'smart' versus 'smarter.'
  3. "Good catch!"
I would say that my most widely regarded and appreciated talent is my ability to catch things that seem uncatchable. A few recent examples:

Last week, to celebrate Rochelle's successful dissertation defense, we went out to dinner to celebrate. As we were moving salad bowls around, trying to accommodate the main courses, my fork was pushed to the edge of the table and then...over the edge. The waitress gasped and turned her head. Rochelle grimaced in anticipation of the awful din of silverware on tile. I didn't have time to think - that fork was on its way to the ground (and accelerating at a rate of 9.8 m/s/s) - so I lunged to the side, stretched out my hand, and felt the cold metal tines of the fork (slick with balsamic vinaigrette) land gently on my palm.

"Nice catch," the waitress said. I didn't say anything (I save my self-aggrandizing for this e-blog), but I knew she was right. It was a nice catch!

Earlier in that same week, while in the break room at work, I caught a woman's bagel (already sliced and cream cheesed) when she knocked it off the table in her rush to answer her cell phone. "Good catch," she told me. I'm not sure if she ate the bagel, but she totally could have. I got it by the non-cream-cheese side, so there weren't even any finger marks.

I caught a guy's iPhone when he dropped it in the stairwell. He was on the steps higher than me, talking on the phone with his arms full, when the phone slipped out from under his chin, bounced off the rail, and landed safely in my hands on the lower tier of the steps. (See my representation of that event below)

Unfortunately, this talent hasn't translated to any special athletic prowess. I played baseball for a few years, but I was always a bit timid about getting under the high fly balls. I think this is due to the peculiar nature of my talent. I don't catch everything; my talent manifests itself in the only the most extreme circumstances - circumstances in which all hope for the falling object has been lost.

Anyway, there it is, my most remarkable talent. My second most remarkable talent is how clean my plate is after I eat. Seriously, it looks like it hasn't been used. I don't know how I do it.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Which of your talents elicits the most comments from your friends and associates?
  2. Can you derive a concept for a superhero from your talent?
  3. Anyone want to challenge me to a drop-and-catch competition?


Review: Sophie's World

>> 01 November 2009

Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder is a novel about the history of philosophy. The first half of the novel deals with a young Norwegian girl named Sophie who begins receiving mysterious letters from an unknown sender. These letters constitute what is essentially a correspondence course in the history of philosophy. Beginning with the Pre-Socratics, such as Anaximander, Empedocles, and (everyone's favorite) Democritus, Sophie's mysterious teacher takes her through the history of western philosophy.

The second half of the novel takes a very strange turn, as Sophie and her teacher realize that they are characters in a novel and set out on a course to escape from their fictional world. Meanwhile, the novel's author begins to wonder if he too, isn't the product of some other author's imagination. By the end, it is a massive meta-fictional jumble of Disney characters and pixies and magic geese (sadly, this is not a joke). Despite this rather insane turn of events, I still enjoyed the novel.

In truth, I often found myself skimming over the 'novelish' parts of the novel because, frankly, they weren't that great. Perhaps it was a translation issue (which I doubt), but the story parts of the novel were pretty dull. I kept slogging through the 500+ pages of this novel, though because I so thoroughly enjoyed the philosophical sketches presented by Sophie's teacher. Most of the major philosophers in history were discussed: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Hume, Locke, Spinoza, Kant, Berkeley, Kierkegaard, etc. The only really notable absence was Leibniz. The philosophical systems of these individuals were presented in a very accessible way. Gains in accessibility are often made by sacrificing accuracy. In some cases - the chapter on Kant, for example - the novel misses some fairly major points. For the most part, however, Sophie's World does a commendable job of presenting the philosophical systems with a decent degree of accuracy.

I am giving this novel a rather inflated grade, I admit. But for someone interested in reviewing the history of western thought, or someone learning about the history of philosophy for the first time, Sophie's World is a pretty good place to start.

Grade: 4/5


Dr. & Mr. Mikkelsen

>> 30 October 2009

Rochelle successfully defended her dissertation yesterday, meaning that she is now Dr. Mikkelsen!



>> 27 October 2009

...short for National Novel Writing Month, begins on November 1st. The goal is to complete a draft of a 50,000 word novel before December 1st. Participants can register (for free) online at the website: While signing up online is strictly optional, the website has some useful tools and resources for calculating your progress and staying on schedule. It also has some useful information for first-time writers (how to deal with characters, dialog, plot, etc.)

I have been working on a novel for a while, albeit in a rather self-defeating way. 150 pages in, I didn't like the way the plot was going, so I had to scrap most of it and restart. 175 pages into the re-write, I decided to change the main character and switch to a 3rd person point of view. So, now, on the 3rd re-write, I am only about 30 pages in. This means I have been keeping ~1 page for every 10 pages written. Now that the novel is (hopefully) headed in the right direction, I am looking forward to participating in NaNoWriMo in order to make some serious progress. 50,000 words might not finish the project for me, but it should put me in range of being done.

If any of the readers of this e-blog are interested in participating, let me know. I'll be posting periodic updates of my progress.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo in the past?
  2. If you were going to write a novel, what would the title be?
  3. Can you think of any acronym that is worse than 'NaNoWriMo'?



>> 25 October 2009

I used the Chrome beta for a while. Then went back to Firefox. Use Safari on the Mac at work. Now, back to Chrome.

Of the three browsers, Chrome definitely looks the best - and the hybrid navigation/search bar is a handy feature. Firefox has been my main browser for so many years,'s hard to leave it behind.

So, what browser do you use?


Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

>> 19 October 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After thumbing through the pages of this book, I was almost certain that I was not going to like it. There were pages that contained a single sentence each. There were pictures of doorknobs and birds interspersed throughout. Lines of dialog were not granted their own lines, but were instead crammed together in jumbled masses of text. There were pages where words were printed over words, so that the entire page was unreadable. In short, it looked gimmicky, and I supposed that the gimmickry was the only thing the novel had to offer. Nevertheless, as the book came highly recommended, I decided to give it a shot.

And I'm glad I did. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was gimmicky - there's no denying it - but it was also a wonderful story that walked the precarious line between hilarity and heartbreak. The gimmicks could have been completely cut and the novel would not have suffered one bit. Take away the pictures, punctuate like a normal author, and the book would have been every bit as good (maybe even better as it would have contained less distraction).

The main character, an eight-year-old boy named Oscar, is suffering from anxiety and depression following the attacks on the World Trade Center, which claimed his father's life. When he discovers a key in his dad's things, he sets out to find the lock that the key opens, assuming that this key is a part of one of the elaborate scavenger hunts that his father used to orchestrate. During his quest, he enlists the help of the strangers he encounters, who seem to see Oscar's quest as a chance for them to move past their own sorrows and regrets.

So, after basically gushing for three paragraphs, I'll get around to business. What do I like about this novel? Oscar is a great point-of-view character. It's easy for a book told from a child's perspective to become obnoxiously cute; this book escapes that danger. Oscar is intelligent and observant enough to be an interesting narrator. He notices the subtleties of the adult world but doesn't have the experience to make sense of them. This creates a tension that is reliably played on for laughs and for emotional weight.

The plot moves along quickly, and even though you always get the sense that Oscar isn't going to find what he's looking for - or rather, that the thing he finds isn't what he thinks it will be - there was enough going on to keep me flying through the pages.

What did I dislike about this book? Not a whole lot, but there were some things which I wasn't wild about. First, the 'gimmicks.' They didn't ruin the book or anything, but they just struck me as being too trendy for a book that was otherwise very good. Sort of like getting a Guns 'n' Roses tattoo - it might seem like a good idea at the time, but it will age quickly. There will be a time fairly soon (I imagine) when the odd type-setting, etc. will look very dated and out-of-place.

Also, there is a subplot (which I won't discuss to avoid spoilers) involving two individuals who survive the bombing of Dresden, Germany in World War II. While I am sure that the bombing was a horrific event for anyone who survived it, the characters' response struck me as rather over-the-top and melodramatic. It isn't completely unbelievable, but it was a bit of a strain.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews >>

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Have you ever read this book?
  2. What is the funniest book you have ever read?
  3. What is the saddest?
  4. What is the longest book you've read?


Mixed Metaphors About Television

>> 11 October 2009

The fall television series is well underway. While there are a few notable series that have not started up yet, I don't think it's too early to give you my thoughts on which shows are on the fence, making the grade, and getting dumped (I told you there would be mixed metaphors!)

Making the Grade:

  1. The Office - So far, this season has been very good. The second episode wasn't my all-time favorite, but the following episode (the one with the wedding) totally made up for it. Fans of The Office have been looking forward to this weeding for nearly as long as Jim (and longer than Pam)!
  2. Parks and Recreation - The first season was decent, but the current season has been hilarious. It took a little while for the writers to get the feel for the characters, but now that Leslie is less pathetic and the supporting characters are more fully realized (like the womanizing Tom and the tough-guy boss Ron Swansen), the show has new legs. None of the shows on my list has boosted its stock more in this season than Parks and Recreation, which has jumped from a 'probably not going to watch' to a 'high-five!'
  3. Fringe - I liked this show from the start, and it keeps getting better. For fans of X-Files, Lost, and other sci-fi/slip-stream television programs, you could do much worse than Fringe. Leonard Nimoy boosts the geek credentials with his role as the mysterious arch-scientist William Bell.
  4. How I Met Your Mother - Three episodes down, and this season is looking as good as its predecessors. Ted is still ostensibly the main character, but it is Neil Patrick Harris' character, Barney, who steals the show every time. It's going to be legend - wait for it - dary!
  5. Glee - It is completely over-the-top, slightly reminiscent of a Mexican telenovela, and extremely fun. The scene where the football team dances on the field literally me grimace, until I smiled, until I laughed. Who knows if they'll be able to keep this up, season after season, but for now, it's making the grade.
On The Fence:
  1. Community - Chevy Chase has not had much success since his successful days (you know, back when he had all the success...before he stopped having so much success?) and he doesn't seem to be breaking the jinx with Community. A good premise and a few hilarious early moments haven't been sustained in subsequent episodes. I'll give it a few more chances to prove itself, but the message for Community: get your ducks in a row or you ship has sailed and you are going overboard (mixed metaphor: check!).
Getting Dumped:
  1. Flash-Forward - It started with a cool premise and a very good pilot episode, but things have fizzled out fast. The dialogue is mostly expository and obvious - "We saw the future for 2 minutes and 17 seconds," and "Can we change the future, or are we fated to live the things we saw in our visions?" Compounding the problems with the show is the unexpected lying that the main characters do simply for the sake of enhancing the drama of the show. For example, the main character, a recovering alcoholic, sees that he is drinking from a flask in his flash-forward. His wife has told him that if he relapses, she will divorce him. When she tells him that in her flash-forward she was in a relationship with another man, her husband freaks out and can't imagine why she would betray him...even though he literally told us exactly why she would leave him, not 5 minutes before. Ugh!
  2. House - This was always a stand-by show for me, but I think I'm done with it. As it turns out, there is one interesting character in the show: Dr. House. So far, he has been in rehab, a mental hospital (as a patient), and he has quit his job as a doctor. No thanks. Note to the show: don't take the only thing that is interesting about your show and change it to something less interesting. CASE CLOSED!
  3. Hank - It took 5 minutes to convince me that this was not a funny show. The remaining 17 minutes of the episode were just confirmation of the show's mediocrity. I'll pass on this one.
What TV shows are you watching? Did I get it wrong on any of my reviews? Confused by the mixed metaphors?


Book Review: Ahab's Wife

>> 10 October 2009

Grade: 3.5/5

Not long ago, I finished reading Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund. The recent success of books like Ahab's Wife, Wind Done Gone, March, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc. suggests a new route to a best-seller: take a great and beloved novel, and retell it from the point of view of one of the novel's secondary or peripheral characters. In the case of Ahab's Wife, that peripheral character is...(smack yourself if you don't guess this correctly)...Ahab's wife, who is left behind in Nantucket while her husband blusters around the ocean in pursuit of Moby Dick.

The story follows Una Spenser for several years, beginning with her home in Kentucky, her years spent living at a lighthouse, her world explorations as she joins the crew of a whaling ship, her various romances and heartbreaks, etc. The story follows her for several years after the end of Moby Dick, as she responds to Ahab's [SPOILER ALERT!] death and is again faced with the daunting task of picking up the pieces of her life.

The book is at its very best during the times when it overlaps with events and characters described in Moby Dick. Our familiarity with the events of that story creates a unique sort of suspense - even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I was compelled to keep reading for the sake of the characters, who didn't yet know about the demise of The Pequod at sea.

The main character of the story, Una, sometimes felt a little contrived to me. To understand what she is like, take a 21st century college graduate with a degree in comparative literature and transport her back to the early 1800s and enjoy watching how much better she is than her contemporaries. She's into new age spirituality, despises racism and traditional gender roles, makes tons of money but never forgets her roots, etc. and so on. In short, she's the perfect Oprah guest. To me, she only really made sense as a foil for Ahab. She was defined by the things that Ahab was not. Ahab was defiant of his fate; Una rolls with the punches. Ahab was obsessed with revenge; Una bears a casual interest in everything, but has no obsessions. Ahab deifies himself; Una loves looking at the stars because they make her feel small (or whatever). Despite the fact that she is a total anachronism, Una is still an interesting and compelling main character, if not an entirely believable one.

The novel is extremely well-written. Naslund has a real ear for putting together a sentence (a faculty that I have not demonstrated in the construction of this sentence). However, her strength occasionally proves to be her downfall. There are moments in the book where Naslund gets so carried away with her ability to make up adjectives and turn nouns into verbs, that she seems to overlook the fact that the things she is saying are either 1) hopelessly trite or 2) nonsensical.

Moonless, the sky was an utter darkness (as was the sea, which met it seamlessly), strewn with stars, as was the sea occasionally, when the swell of some wave before me would bulge up to reflect briefly the light of some star behind me, before rolling it under the water. Can the sea thus swallow even the stars? (emphasis added).
If this question is posed literally, the answer is: no. The sea cannot swallow the stars. Even the smallest stars are larger than our entire planet. If the question is posed figuratively, then I suppose we could answer: if by 'swallow' you mean 'reflect' and by 'stars' you mean 'light from the star's, then yes. If the question is posed metaphorically, the answer is: what are you talking about? This is a minor example - the first one I found while flipping through the pages - but this sort of thinking is ubiquitous in Ahab's Wife and I find it slightly grating. There are entire passages in the book which sound great until you try to actually apply your brain to them, at which point it becomes clear that this is more of an exercise in hypnotism than in deep thinking. Not all novels have to be deep, but I found the bulk of Una's philosophical ruminations to be superficial (at best) or mere exercises in verbosity (at worst).

I recommend this book with the following caveats:
  1. Be willing to skim when the thinking gets muddled.
  2. Be familiar with Moby Dick (Sparknotes are fine, but you should know the basic characters, themes, and plot).
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Am I way off?


Is Listening the new Reading?

>> 29 September 2009

Here's the question: Does listening to an audiobook count as reading the book?

I recently finished listening to an audiobook of Moby Dick, a book that I would probably would never have gotten around to in print (It's pretty long and there are a lot of other books on my list). Listening to it, however, was very pleasant. I downloaded the text from project Gutenberg and referred to it when necessary, but for the most part, I just listened. I want to know if I can honestly tell people that I have "read" Moby Dick.

On one hand, listening does not require the same concentration as reading (at least for me). I can't, for example, write an email while I'm reading a book. When I'm listening to something (music, audiobook, etc.) I can do simple tasks like write an email. I wonder, though, how different this is from reading in a distracting environment - maybe an airport, or on a subway - where you get to the end of a chapter with only a partial recollection of what you just read.

While listening to Moby Dick, I tuned out at certain points. In the novel, there are numerous and lengthy digressions in which the narrator, Ishmael, pontificates about the science of whales (cetology) and presents a lot of boring information that has been largely supplanted by modern science. I made little effort to listen to every word of these digressions. I ask if this is substantially different from the process of "skimming" book, wherein, we skip the boring stuff and get to the next point of interest. Is there a difference between skimming a book and zoning out of a boring passage of an audiobook?

I realize that there is probably no substitute for a rigorous reading of a novel, but as far as casual reading goes, is there a substantial difference between listening to an audiobook and reading the novel?

Cast your vote and share your rationale in the comments section:


Look What Happened To My e-Blog!

>> 17 September 2009

My e-blog got invaded by a pop culture icon!

[side note: I know this looks exactly like the sort of link that your virus-aware instincts are telling you not to click. While it is a 'viral meme' it is not a virus. I would not post a link to a virus on my e-blog. even as a joke.]

[double side note: That first 'side note' actually makes this seem sketchier.]


Caption Contest Winner

>> 13 September 2009

After an overwhelming response to last weeks Caption Contest, I am pleased to announce that our winner is...JAKE!

While his victory might seem to be 'easy' or even 'uncontested,' the truth is much more complicated. Perhaps, most people who would have ordinarily submitted a response were deterred when they saw who they were up against.

In any case, congratulations Jake. Your prize is this lovely commemorative widget - located on the right column - highlighting your accomplishment!


Caption Please?

>> 10 September 2009

Oh dear...
What is going on here? Share your captions for this monstrosity in the comments section. The author of the best caption gets a SPECIAL PRIZE!


A New Notebook

>> 06 September 2009

For years, I have been using Moleskine brand notebooks. Specifically, the Black Pocket Sized Ruled Journal. I like that they are portable, sturdy, and simple. The paper is high quality and holds ink well. I also liked the fact that they were relatively inexpensive. A few years ago, I bought a bunch of them for ~$5 a piece. Now I am on the last one of that batch, and I was looking to get some more. Unfortunately, the price has been raised to $12 each.
That means, that at 3.5 x 5.5 inches and 192 pages, the Moleskine pocket sized ruled journal costs 0.325 cents per square inch.

Enter the new contender: the Staples 3x5 Side Bound Memo Book. Although this notebook cannot compete with the fanciness of the Moleskine (Ernest Hemingway never carried one of these around in his jacket pocket) the price is much more reasonable. I've used these for various odds and ends, but never as my main notebooks. They certainly aren't as durable as the Moleskine, but the option to tear pages out is useful.At $4.49 for a pack of 5, 3x5 inches and 150 sheets per notebook, this baby comes in at 0.039 cents per square inch.

This question isn't an easy one. On one hand, I've enjoyed using Moleskine journals for years now. On the other, the Moleskine costs nearly ten times as much as the spiral bound notebook.

Help me make this decision! Leave you comments below.


I Like Turtles, Too

>> 04 September 2009

17 seconds of greatness:

Greatness explained:

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Do you like turtles?
  2. Rank the following animals in order of how much you like them: turtles, cats, dogs, gnats.
  3. What would be a good title for a movie about undead turtles?


The Best Thing I've Ever Said?

>> 01 September 2009

At Cookout, asking for a refill.

me: Can I have more Coke, please?
cashier: Yes. Will you take your top off for me?
me: How dare you!?
cashier: Ha!

It just slipped out of my mouth. Everyone in line laughed. I was king for a moment.


The Stall Call

>> 31 August 2009

A few minutes ago, I went into the bathroom. Upon entering, I heard someone engaged in a convivial discussion about his preferred North Carolina beach.

My initial assumption was that this gentleman was engaged in lighthearted sink conversation. One of the first rules of male bathroom etiquette is that conversations should only occur at the sink, unless there are exceptional circumstances (for example: you notice a venomous spider crawling on some one's shoulder, or your shirt is on fire and you need help, etc.)

As I entered, I quickly realized that this individual was not at the sink.

He must, I thought (naively), be at the urinal. Frivolous urinal talk is a universally frowned upon, although normally tolerated, offense. This guy was not at the urinal.

Cross-stall talk, I thought. This guy is flaunting conventions with total impunity! But there was only one stall door which was closed.
Schizophrenia, then! But how has he managed to keep a job if he is completely insane?

But he wasn't schizophrenic. The last words of his conversation were: "Look, I've got to run. I'll call you back after lunch." Then, he flushed.

I witnessed a stall-call.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Have you ever stall called?
  2. If your answer is 'no,' are you lying?
  3. What rules of bathroom etiquette do you observe?
  4. Is bathroom etiquette a means of 'social control' used by the culturally elite to 'manipulate' us?
Blog Trivia: before this post, there were no pictures of toilets photoshopped into phone booths to be found on google images. I feel like this is my first real contribution to the internet.


The Final Word on Music Videos

>> 28 August 2009

My co-worker, Ashley, showed me this video. It is breathtaking. Watching it gave me the distinct sensation of peering into someone else's feverish, disjointed dream.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Which David Hasselhoff show was better, Knight Rider or Baywatch?
  2. Who would win in a fight between David Hasselhoff and Arnold Schwarzenegger?
  3. Considering the impressive breadth of his talent, is there anything that you can do better than D.H. can? If so, what is that thing?


A look into my Google Reader

>> 24 August 2009

Have you ever, while exhausted from the strain of navigating from one e-blog / website to another, thought: I wish the internet would come to me!? That's what Google Reader (my preferred RSS reader) does. You subscribe to your favorite websites and G-Reader aggregates all updates from that website into an inbox-like format, where the posts pile up until you could never hope to read them all.

The point of this post is not to shill for Google Reader, but rather to share with you, the internet, some of the e-blogs that I subscribe to. Perhaps you will discover, among this list, a few e-blogs which you, too, will enjoy.

  1. Soccer by Ives - If you're only going to read one soccer e-blog (I know it's hard to limit yourself to just one) this should be that e-blog. Good coverage of MLS, International competitions, and European domestic leagues.
  2. The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks - If you're a grammar snob, this "should" appeal to you. If you're not a grammar snob, you'll still "get the joke."
  3. Cake Wrecks - Every day is like your birthday with these hilarious/awful/great cakes. Some of them are truly horrible.
  4. New Raleigh - Restaurant reviews, concerts, plays, etc. This is a good e-blog for keeping up with the Raleigh scene.
  5. Jon Taplin's Blog - Political and cultural commentary from a USC professor. Tends to be on the liberal side. Also, tends to have good ideas and reasonable commentary, while those are in short supply among pundits on both ends of the political spectrum.
  6. Know Your Meme - Rickrolled? Chocolate Rain? FAIL? Keyboard cat? The internet can be a confusing place. This e-blog helps you make sense of the many internet memes out there in cyberspace (wow. who says cyberspace anymore?)
  7. Boing Boing! - This is an e-blog about nothing. And everything. If it's strange/funny/nerdy it will eventually end up on Boing Boing!
Questions for Discussion:
  1. Do you use Google Reader?
  2. Do you read any of these e-blogs?
  3. Any e-blogs you would recommend?
  4. Does it seem like Google is taking over the internet?
  5. Does it seem like the internet is taking over Google? Think about that!


Make Music with the Internet

>> 22 August 2009

Have you ever felt like the only thing keeping you from making great electronic music is a lack of skill / knowledge? Have you ever listened to the radio, heard a song, and thought, I could do better than that if someone did all the hard work for me. Well, now is your chance to prove it!

Follow this link to automatic fat beats. It's a lot of fun to play with.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Did you make a beat?
  2. Are you going to keep your day job while you try to make it as a producer?
  3. Does this confirm you suspicion that electronic music is made by computers / talentless people?


Help...I Think I'm a Communist!

>> 19 August 2009

In 2008, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison received $84,598,700 in compensation. Let me say that in bold: $84,598,700. That means that in the eyes of the board of directors, the work that Ellison does for the company is equivalent in value to the work of roughly 1,000 employees earning $85,000 a year. Consider the fact that the median pay for Oracle employees is almost certainly less than that and we are looking at closer to 1,200 people. If it came down to a decision between firing Larry Ellison, or firing 1,200 employees, the board of directors would have a really difficult decision. Both are equally valuable to the company!

Did you detect a hint of sarcasm in my typing?

Larry Ellison is among the highest paid CEOs in the world (he was the highest paid in 2007), and his yearly compensations aren't necessarily a good indicator of what most CEOs are earning. Nevertheless, the average yearly compensation for a CEO of an S&P 500 company is $10 million. Even if you're not making Larry Ellison money, that is still a lot of dough! An average worker with a college degree in the United states makes roughly $40,000 a year. For $10,000,000 - the price of one S&P 500 CEO - you could employ 250 average American workers.

I understand that CEOs are talented leaders, communicators, and so on and etc. I also understand that in a free market economy, people are compensated based on the market value of their work. But does anyone really believe that the fair market value of a CEO's labor is $10,000,000 a year? Honestly?

Consider this: the people on the board of directors for most major companies are - big surprise - OTHER CEOs! Of the eight members of the Oracle board of directors, four are CEOs, two are professors from Stanford (who receive $400,000 annually for being on the board), one attorney, and a multi-millionaire venture capitalist to round it out.

Test your cynicism by answering the following question: Why would CEOs on a board of directors approve an outrageous salary for another CEO?

We pay our president $400,000 a year. A Nobel laureate, someone who has made groundbreaking accomplishments for the benefit of humanity, $1.2 million per prize won. And, you know what? That sounds about right. CEO pay, on the other hand, sounds a lot like a scam.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Am I a communist / insane?
  2. If you were throwing a party and could have 1,200 people come, or just Larry Ellison, who would you choose and why?
  3. Which musical artist with populist themes does this post make you think of? Bob Dylan? Bruce Springsteen? The Jonas Brothers?


Jordan Tazed Himself

>> 17 August 2009

I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Jordan:

After pretending to be a dog, he tazed himself with an invisible dog fence. [clarification: that is a fence which is invisible, used for containing dogs. It is not a fence used to contain invisible dogs, which, to the best of my knowledge, do not exist.]

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Have you ever been tazed or electrocuted. If so, did you survive?
  2. Would you consider adopting an invisible dog as a pet? What would you name it?


Bad News About Double Spacing

>> 16 August 2009

. space space

This is programmed into my brain. This is as automatic as breathing. I am psychologically incapable of typing a period without following it up with two taps on the space bar. Sometimes -- and this is a little bit sad -- when I think about words and sentences before I write them, I imagine them with a period at the end, followed by a double space.

BAD NEWS! According to hearsay, the double space is out. Old news. Yesterday's newspaper. Newspapers generally. Done with.

I've been told by numerous credible sources that modern style guides are advocating a single space between sentences. Let me say that again in bold and in CAPS so that everyone understands what's going on here: STYLE GUIDES ARE ADVOCATING A SINGLE SPACE BETWEEN SENTENCES! Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, it is shocking!

Apparently, the double space between sentences is a relic of the days when people used type-writers (like computer without the internet). This history is boring, so I will skip it for now.

With my e-blog I have always sought to provide a grammatical and type-setting 'safe-haven' for the internet. As such, I will attempt to single space between sentences from here on out. It will be difficult, and basically pointless. Nonetheless, it shall henceforth be my aim. Wish me luck, internet.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. How do you feel about this new single-space rule?
  2. Is this just more snooty esoteric elitism from the jerks who write the Chicago Manual of Style?
  3. Do you feel like a guy who has maybe had a mustache for his whole life but finally shaved it and now doesn't recognize his own face in the mirror?
  4. Will you be following the single space rule, or sticking with double space?


A Blogwriter's Vacation

Posting on someone else's blog is like vacation for a blogger. With that in mind, I'm going to do what I normally do on vacations: strip down to my birthday suit and run naked in the ocean. That's what I do on vacation. I go to Europe a lot, you know? I was just there in March. I was there last year, too. Each time I go there I do the same thing: get naked and go swimming.

I tried to get naked and swim once when I was on vacation in the Outer Banks, but when I was down to my skivvies I remembered that I was at the annual Duck Beach Mormon singles weekend thing, and, you know, being single, while I wanted to impress women, I didn't think they'd be ready for what they saw (double entendre!!!! HIYO!). That's what you do when you're on vacation: you impress women. I do that every time I'm on vacation. Well, not every time -- sometimes I strip and swim, other times I impress women.

This post has taken a turn for the worse. Let's think of happy things to get us back to where we were before: the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to win the World Series. BMW makes a fine vehicle. How about that Tiger Woods? Enough of the talk about Barack Obama being born in Africa -- if there's any REALISTIC explanation for his background, it's likely that his name is really Barack O'Bama and that his family came here during the Irish potato blight of whenever-that-was-in-the-1800s-or-early-1900s.

Editor's Note: This post was contributed by guest-blogger Tim, and does not reflect the view and opinions of the e-blog owner, who would never suggest swimming in shark-infested waters, naked or otherwise.


Black freaking pepper

>> 13 August 2009

Is black pepper such a rare spice that they have to have a special pepper mill that only the waiter can use? Put the stupid fresh pepper grinder on the table and leave it, man! IT'S BLACK FREAKING PEPPER! It's not black truffles. It's not gold leafing. It's not bits of Faberge egg. It's pepper! At a supermarket it costs 99 cents for a shaker of the stuff that will last you for years. Sure, it tastes great fresh, but it's PEPPER!

Note to restaurateurs: Black pepper is a commodity. And fresh pepper is not a luxury item. Buy enough fresh pepper grinders to put one on every table.


Introducing Guest e-Blogger, Timmy!

>> 10 August 2009

Do you recognize this man-boy? Imagine him with a grizzly five o'clock shadow and with the top of his head completely shaved. Are you laughing at the image of a nine-year-old with facial hair? That would be such a drag. Every morning he wakes up and while his brothers are watching cartoons and eating Lucky Charms, he has to lather up and shave. His great-aunt Edna won't pinch his cheek because it's too rough. The girls at school won't kiss him because of his razor-wire stubble.

This boy with the raw beard is none other than my good friend and guest blogger, Tim Boisvert! Since the spring, Tim has been living in Tokyo, Japan. (Not Tokyo, North Dakota). You can check out his excellent e-blog at and you can visit him in person by flying to Tokyo.

Look forward to a guest post or two from Tim in the coming weeks.

Follow-up Questions:

  • If you were trying to adopt a baby, would you be willing to adopt a baby with a beard?
  • What if the baby was a Hasidic Jew and was unwilling to shave due to religious commitments?
  • How old were you when you started shaving?
Share your answers in the comments section.


Brain Puzzle Solution

>> 09 August 2009

I know, I know...You've all been waiting impatiently for the resolution of the latest Brain Puzzle. The Brain Puzzle stated:

The Smith's have two children; at least one of the children is a girl. What is the probability that both children are girls?

Another plausible answer could be 25%. This is due to the fact that if there is a 50% chance of a child being a girl, then the probability of two children being girls would be 25%. The problem with this is that since we already know that one of the children is a girl, then we don't really need to multiply the probabilities.

It might be tempting to say that the answer is 50%. Why would we say this? Simply because we know that the probability of a baby being a girl is ~50%. So, if one of the children is a girl, and there is a 50% probability of the second child being a girl, then the answer seems to be 50%.

Here's why this is a paradox: the answer is not 50%.

Let's think of it this way: If you have two children, there are three possible combinations that could arise: two girls, two boys, or one boy and one girl. The sum of the probabilities of these three outcomes is 100%. (Let's ignore the possibility of strange genderless babies). Their respective probabilities boil down like this:
  • Girl (50%) x Girl (50%) = 25% probability
  • Boy (50%) x Boy (50%) = 25% probability
  • Boy (50%) x Girl (50%) = 50% probability
Why is the Boy/Girl option weighed more heavily? One reason is the simple fact that we know the sum of the probabilities must equal 100%. Tim addressed another reason in his comment: there are two permutations which would allow for the Boy/Girl combination, whereas there is only one permutation each that would allow for the Girl/Girl or Boy/Boy outcomes. Think of it like rolling dice. The reason that 7 is the most commonly rolled number is because there are more ways of rolling 7 than there are of rolling any other number. There is only one way to roll a 12 (6 + 6) but you can roll a seven with 1 + 6, 2 + 5, 3 + 4, 4 + 3, 5 + 2, 6 + 1. So, you are six times more likely to roll a 7 than a 12. With the kids there are two ways of getting Boy/Girl: by having a boy first and a girl second, or by having a girl first and a boy second.

With that said, the answer to the brain puzzle is 33%.

Boy/Boy = 25% (eliminated since the puzzle states that there is at least one girl)
Boy/Girl = 50%
Girl/Girl = 25%

So, the possible outcomes are either Girl/Boy, or Girl/Girl. Since we know that the probabilities of having a Boy and a Girl is twice as great as the probability of having two boys, we can do the simple arithmetic:
25 / 75 = x / 100
x = 33
The solution to the problem is 33%.

Congratulations to Tim who gets one million virtual yen to spend in my e-blog store.Follow up question: what is the probability that the people in this picture wish it hadn't ended up on the internet?

Outraged? Post your diatribe in the comments section.


Brain Puzzle Time

>> 07 August 2009

Several months ago, I posted the first ever Brain Puzzle on this e-blog.

The Smith's have two children; at least one of the children is a girl. What is the probability that both children are girls?

Share your answers in the comments section!


Return of the e-Blog

>> 06 August 2009

Have you noticed anything different about my e-Blog?

Here is a list of things that have been different about my e-Blog lately:

  1. No posts.
This will all change when I click the "PUBLISH POST" button. [meta-e-Blog]

I intend to e-blog a little more frequently in the future. If you have any great ideas for e-blog posts, please share them in the comments section!



>> 20 July 2009

Underworld Underworld by Don DeLillo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What should I say about a book that took me nearly six months to read? A book that twice, in frustration, I set aside and vowed not to finish? A book that contains 825 pages, dozens of characters, and essentially no plot? A book in which, most of the characters and conflicts never get any resolution?

In short: I'm glad I read it.

Here is what's good about Underworld:

Don Delillo has a an absolutely perfect ear for dialogue. The novel contains numerous and lengthy discussions about garbage and recycling (literally) and against all odds, I read them with great interest. This is due in large part to the quality of the dialogue. It moves quickly and unexpectedly and was easily one of the strongest elements of the novel.

Additionally, there are a great deal of very fascinating ideas that are discussed at great length in Underworld. Here's a list off the top of my head: baseball, art history, chess, trash, consumerism, nuclear war, graffiti, poverty, infidelity, AIDS, the internet, the nature of miracles, loss of identity, genetic disease, high art v. low art, and so on.

Now, here's what isn't so good about Underworld

THE LENGTH! If this book was about 300 pages shorter, I would give it five out of five stars. As it is, there are just too many story lines that never turn into anything and too many characters who I was forced to follow around aimlessly for a chapter or two before they disappeared into some other story. As good as Don Delillo is, he suffers (in this novel, at least) from a pretty serious case of "watch-me-write," the disease that some writers get where they think that because they are such talented wordsmiths, their readers will be interested in anything they have to say. Not so, Don. Next time get an editor who isn't afraid of the old red pencil.

Overall, I can't really say that I recommend this book. I can think of many books that are better than Underworld, which is, in my opinion, not even Delillo's best novel (White Noise get's my vote for that one). With that said, this novel is unique and challenging in many ways that make it worth reading. If you have six months to kill.

View all my reviews >>


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