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For taller or for shorter, or Tengo sombrero grande

June 13th, 2006 | File Under Nate | 3 comments

Over the weekend, I attended/participated the wedding of my friends Don Bell and Melissa Martinez down in sooouth Texas. As we speak, they are still in the air on their way to their honeymoon destination New Zealand, where they will make wisecracks about the Lord O The Rings movies, and be met with wisecracks about giants and elves in reply.*

I come away from this experience with a collection of groomsman gear generously denoted “keepers” by the tux rental people — including a top hat, gloves, spats (yes, you read that correctly) and cane. I rarely wear tuxes in my day to day routine, but the amenities will certainly come in handy in my pimpin’.

But more importantly, I come away with a host of unusual stories, gleaned from all the friends I visited with and have not seen (in some cases) for years. For instance, Matt Shaw, Man of the People, has inexplicably added to his reportoire the ability to make unlikely things Just Happen. By talking to the desk, for example, he got our shared hotel room bumped up to a suite at no extra charge, despite the hotel being booked solid.

Even less likely was the series of events now known as The Simpsons Incident. It works like this: I decided that, rather than some impersonal item from the official registry, I needed to give Don and Mel the now out-of-print Simpsons Monopoly game. Since it is only available through back channels, it took some searching; eventually I decided I had to purchase one via eBay. As the wedding drew near, I found two up for auction: one in the metroplex and one in Denver. Since Matt Shaw lives in Golden, he agreed to retrieve it and bring it to me in Harlingen if I won it.

Matt + Hat: the top hat; the Drum Kit of the headgear world -- everyone who sees one has to try itNaturally, I did win the one in Denver. Picking it up was problematic: coordinating schedules with the seller, assuring the seller that the stranger who wanted her address (and was not the buyer) was legitimate, and finding a way to get there around work and packing for a trip to Texas are not small tasks.

Finally it came down to do-or-die time; Matt sent the seller an email saying he would have to pick it up Thursday morning before his 10 AM flight. He drove to the address in Denver, and as he got out a car pulled up to the driveway. Matt asked for the seller by name, and was told “oh yes, this is her right here in the car, we just came back to the house for her wallet.”

The game is retrieved, and after Matt flies it down to Texas, he finds waiting for him an email from the seller (sent after he left for her house that morning) regretting that she has to be gone all day and will have to arrange another time for the handoff. For anyone else, a missed opportunity, for MSMOTP, it all falls into place, like clockwork.

There was far more worthy of telling, of course. We went to South Padre on Saturday morning. I talked Hilary into stopping at a highway fruit stand on the highway on the drive home Sunday. There are giant pink gorillas denoting gas stations in certain parts of Texas. The pizza guy at the bachelor party went to the wrong hotel multiple times. Fingerless gloves were smuggled. More people crashed the reception than attended the ceremony.

But there’s time for that kind of talk later.

* That would make sense to you if you had seen Don and Melissa standing together.

US Presidents and American Idols

May 24th, 2006 | File Under Nate, TV | Only one comment so far

Even as I write this, cellular traffic is slowing to a crawl all across the country as otherwise normal people throw time and SMS fees into voting for this season’s American Idol winner.

There are quite a few American Idols these days, enough that a few weeks ago someone posed the following question:

When will there be more American Idols than there are US Presidents?

Looking into it, I have the results, and I am happy to say that we are safe for a while.  According to my calculations, the number of American Idols will exceed the number of US Presidents on September 8, 2052, at 9:36 AM.

This is based on simple linear regression, which by my eye seems to fit the data best.  On average, there is a new US President every 1841.21 days, but a new American Idol every 271.6 days.

Naturally, this is due to the fact that American Idol (the show) airs in just one long season each year.

But if you think that the aforementioned number bodes well for our survival as a species and a culture, don’t beathe a sigh of relief just yet. Think about this: even though Amercian Idol is only on once a year (I know, it feels like more), Survivor is on three times a year — spring, summer and fall.

Three times per year.  Three times a year, some unwashed moron gets handed a bag filled with a million dollars just for sitting in the sun and being an idiot for 30 days in a row.  Think about what that means for future generations.  Say what you will about American Idol (see Keith Olbermann if you’re behind on the facts), but at least it’s some form of merit-based rewards program.

I say all that to warn you.  The number of American Survivor winners (I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to refer to them as “winners” — let me start over).  The number of American Survivors will exceed the number of US Presidents on December 1, 2024, at 10:04 AM.

That’s not that far away.  That’s nearly thirty years sooner than the Idol Apocalypse.  *If* things continue on their current trend lines.  I shudder to think what we’d come up with if we counted all the variants in other countries.  All I can say is, at least we’ll have an extra half-hour on that fateful morning to get ourselves mentally prepared.

I hope your family is ready.


PS – I’ve uploaded a spreadsheet with the data and calculations used in this post, in case anyone wants to check for mistakes or try some other type of curve fitting.  Download it here.

Not That Funny

May 13th, 2006 | File Under Ha, TV | No comments yet

The Katz CubeTuesday brought us the DVD release of season one of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, the greatest television show of all time.

Historians were quick to note that at numerous points in the past, I have described Arrested Development as the funniest television show of all time.

Both statements are true. Arrested Development is funnier; the thing that makes Dr. Katz great is that it is exactly the opposite. Jonathan Katz and the other creative types crafted this show to — at every turn — shoot for the least funny option (line, joke, or gag).

Not the most un-funny thing, mind you, the least funny thing. That’s a big distinction. Even as a stand-up comic, Katz always aimed to make the audience continually never quite sure whether he was being serious or making a joke. There are other comics who seem to enjoy keeping the audience off-balance, as it were, though most of them tend to do it through shock value.

The example I like to give for novices is from a scene where Ben and John are eating cereal, debating the merits of the different meals. At one point Katz attempts to sum up his position with the proclamation “Breakfast: it’s not the most important meal of the day — but it’s not bad.”

That’s just barely even a joke. But that’s not easy to do. Try it yourself; try to come up with something only a tiny, tiny bit off-kilter. Just subtle enough to make the hearer stop and re-think. The NSF and the scientific journals would probably describe phenomena like this as quantum comedy. Or, in the vernacular, quamedy.

For the show, Katz teamed up with H. Jon Benjamin, like-minded comic who in interviews has expressed his lifelong desire as a performer to play away from the funny:

“I’ve never had the desire to tell jokes. I’ve always been more interested in not making people laugh, but people seem to laugh at that. So actual jokes have always been the antithesis of what I’ve wanted to do. I started doing comedy with a lot of people who were great at telling jokes so I just wanted to not do what they did.”

The result is precision comedy, like a balancing act; hovering just barely over the threshhold of humor.

There were other great elements to the show — the weird animation style, the fact that the entire half-hour of each episode was improvised — that contribute to its greatness. But at the core, the key is still that unique focus on being so dry that you have to pay attention in order to spot the joke.

In so many ways, it’s easy to go for the big laugh. What I admire about Jonathan Katz is his ability to go for the small laugh, and to hit it every time, repeatedly, for six years.

Legalizing steroids for athletes. But only the pros.

April 30th, 2006 | File Under Ha, Nate | 2 comments

The problems of the world, solved. One by one, by me. This time it’s the earth-battering question of what to do about Barry Bonds and/or other professional athletes and their hankering for those sweet, sweet performance-enhancing drugs.

The sides are fairly clearly demarked — high school principals and agitated parents want steroids and the like banned for fear that it will kill their children. Pro sluggers want access to them because hey, it’s a free country. Access to the drugs, that is, not the children.

Anyway, the major leagues are stuck in the middle, not wanting to alienate the fans that pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for tickets and more for concessions, and not wanting to alienate the players who bring in those fans.

Actually, they also don’t want to kill off the young fans who might some day grow up to work for them, and they’re afraid of enraging the hormonally-charged sociopaths that do work for them, but that’s much the same predicament.

Well, I for one can’t believe it’s taken this long, but the solution seems perfectly obvious to me:

We should legalize steroids and all the other performance-enhancing drugs anybody could ever want — but for pro athletes and only for pro athletes.

That’s right. If you’re an amateur (collegian, grade school kid, Olympian, church-league softballer, etc.), nothing doing. But if you have a professional contract, go crazy. Pump up your system with all the growth hormones, steroids, oxygenated hyena blood, nanorobots, uppers, downers, outers, inners, goofers, bombers, tranquilizers and hallucinogens you want. Congress can decide who counts and who doesn’t, for the gray areas like part-timers. But otherwise, let the games begin.

I mean, why not? It solves both sides of the problem at once. Now, I know what some people will say: the pros tanking up are going to encourage the kids to imitate them, and therein lies trouble. But that takes care of itself; nonprofessional athletes are not allowed to possess or use steroids, so if little Johnny tries to buy any, before he knows it he’ll be doing some serious hard time.

The system is going to instill a sense of motivation. If your kids want to use drugs, they are going to have to work hard, and be the very best they can be. With responsibility comes privilege.

The other complaint, of course, is that juicing up athletes makes the game “unfair” to those who play clean. To that I say if you don’t want to win, why’d you come to the park? If you’re scared of technology, maybe it’s time to retire and sit on the porch reminiscing about the good old days. I mean, how often do you see an NBA player choose to play in flat-soled canvas Chuck Taylors?

Besides, the major leagues are a self-equalizing ecosystem. If too many players overdo their rightful dosages of legalized drugs, they’ll be dead. The herd will be thinned. Subsequent generations will learn and move on. The system will be perfected.

Though there is a high likelihood that one or two years into this system, there will be a mad dash to the pharmacy and we’ll lose a significant chunk of our pro players to overdoses, bad reactions, and dehabilitating side effects. But that’s life. And in the meantime, the fireworks are going to be great for us fans. During the long, dull months of summer we’ll have the obituaries to look forward to.

Everybody wins.

Good news, everyone

March 30th, 2006 | File Under Nate | Only one comment so far

Well it had to happen. For reasons I have no intention of getting into, I’ve moved this blog from its cushy home buried deep within to the wild wooly wilderness* of my own domain.

That being this domain. is a made up domain that I’ve owned for a couple of years just to have provider-independent control over some services like email and my back-room lobbying efforts through the Freemasons.

It looks virtually the same, so far, a fact about which I am surprisingly unmoved. And I have exported content from there to here with what looks like success. For you nerds, it’s WordPress, and no, I don’t intend to discuss which I like better.

So if you’re short on entertainment, feel free to reread the old material again and again and let me know if there’s something wrong with the new system. Someday, I will write a new post, and the few of you who read it will be well rewarded for your perseverance.

But the odds are it won’t be today.


* – yes, I realize that I used two forms of the word wild in that expression. There’s no prize.

Have gun, will commute

October 5th, 2005 | File Under Nate, OSTG | 4 comments

Well, I now officially have a contract with OSTG, so I am a paid, card-carrying member of the biased liberal media. This means that I can now start defaming and libelling hard-working patriotic George Bush loving conservatives forty hours a week, instead of just on a hobbyist basis. I’m very excited that I get to do my part. Let the fact distorting and agenda fronting begin!

Actually, that’s not true, since OSTG doesn’t do anything political. I mean, obviously I’ll still make fun of libertarians but come on — everybody does that; it barely even counts as making a joke.

In all seriousness, though, OSTG is the evil clandestine global corporate syndicate that weakens the minds of the young through cereal additives, publishes some Web sites about Linux and free software, and keeps the metric system down.

My role will be to write for them on whatever topic amuses me at the moment, peppered with the occasional vitriolic rant about the obscure shortcomings of various objects around my desk. Periodically I will do something about the milliliter.

Really you probably wouldn’t notice anything different about my material if you started reading it now than if you had read it before, only it will be a little more frequent, drastically shorter, and I will no longer be bothered to politely respond to readers’ comments. Hey, the news doesn’t slant itself. It takes people, people.

R.I.U. (Down With Books)

August 5th, 2005 | File Under Nate | 3 comments

I’m writing this to go on the record with my campaign for postliteracy. I keep having to explain it again and again to people; perhaps they need it written down — I for one can process the spoken word and remember it, but that’s me.

Here it is in a nutshell: I don’t read books.

I don’t like reading books, I don’t want to do it anymore, and I’m adult so I don’t have to. I quit reading books just about one year ago, and I have to say: it’s been great. Better than great. I don’t miss them at all.

Some people (stuffy, English-literature-types mostly — you know the kind) seem to have a problem with this decision. It bothers them. It doesn’t affect them one iota, but it bothers them. I hear everything from disbelief to fear to shock to anger whenever it comes up. That’s puzzling in and of itself, particularly since the more stuffy the person the more likely they are to have a chip on their shoulder about how they don’t watch television.

Of course, when you boil it down, feeling better about yourself because you don’t watch television is a pretty shallow illusion of self-righteousness. Most of us know that. But what’s more troubling is the underlying notion some otherwise normal people hold that some forms of media are inherently better than others.

This is absurd both in general and in specific cases. To suggest that one medium is always better than another is easily disproven, and to suggest that it is “usually” better is empty.

Having had this discussion more than once, after a few coutnerexamples what you’ll end up with from the book-hugging crowd is one of two things, either “I usually like books better than I usually like television” — which is fine with me as long as you agree to be fine with the opposite in exchange — or some sort of vague, historical argument that hinges on how many more “great” books there are (you know, “how can you say you don’t like Huckleberry Finn???”) and how long people have been writing them.

Now there’s a problem: if books are better than more recent media simply because of the timeframe in which they were invented, then books and other written media are easily trumped by the spoken word. I.E., if reading books > watching TV, then hearing sermons > reading books and hearing stand-up comedy > reading books. And wait: what about watching stand-up comedy on TV?

Clearly illogical. Proudly I say, “Books: who needs em? Not me!”

So please, don’t recommend books to me, and though I am happy to hear about your summer reading list, I’m not going to pick up anything on it.

Geography, Schmeography

July 26th, 2005 | File Under Nate | No comments yet

Here we are in 2005 — unquestionably the Future — with Google Maps and GPS and magnetic north and other such flash-in-the-pan fad technologies, yet nobody seems to know where the United States really are.

Sure sure, you may think you know, but there’s one simple way to find out. Find a group of people (eight or more should do) from different parts of the country. Ask them whether or not New York is part of New England. Sit back and watch the ensuing argument.

Just one little spoiler: if either everyone in your group is from the Northeast, or no one is, this won’t work. If you’re in such an unfortunate situation, you can always try this alternative argument-primer: is Texas part of The South?

Fewer fireworks, but still something.

Up up and away

July 15th, 2005 | File Under Nate | Only one comment so far

So I’ve decided if and when I eventually don a mask and head out into the streets to fight crime at night, I’m going to call myself “Captain Defeat” or something like that. If we’ve learned anything over the years it’s that a superhero’s name and mascot are far more critical than any “powers” “skills” or “knowledge” they might posess.

Therefore the intimidating name is much sought-after. The reasoning behind Captain Defeat is two-fold. First, any villain who hears the name will immediately think to himself “Defeat? Is that supposed to sound threatening? Because it sounds kind of like ‘Captain Loser’….” Then, naturally, they’ll wonder whether or not I understand how the name sounds, and whether or not my choosing such a name indicates that I’m not very bright or just that I’m not very good with names — either way it’s hardly a plus. But more to the point, the obvious question will be “if this guy doesn’t understand how moronic his name sounds, is he still intelligent enough to understand it if I take a moment to mock him about it to his face, or is he so dense that I’ll have to explain it to him first, and then mock him about it?”

And while he’s thinking about all that, that’s when I’d hit him.

Fun with eBay

July 5th, 2005 | File Under Nate, OSTG | No comments yet

Well, it has begun. I’m auctioning off advertising space on my fingerprints via eBay. Here is the auction URL if you want to bid or read more of the justification: eBay item #5595514591

If you don’t feel like reading it, the upshot is that it’s a publicity stunt aimed at biometric security systems. A printed piece may follow at OSTG after all is said and done. But I am really going to do it; the fingerprint-faking is easy, I read about it online.

Till then, feel free to bid or just pass the word along. The more hits it gets, the merrier.

UPDATE: The auction has now ended! History is over; please return to your homes. I will be setting up a separate blog to document the process and the biometric ad campaign — more on that when it’s ready.

New boring material now!

July 4th, 2005 | File Under OSTG | No comments yet

Linking to a new article is now an opportunity to waste another post.

Bringing back LZW is a guide to restoring some image-editing functionality that was lost temporarily because of a software patent fiasco. Plus it has a moral for programmers who can learn a little from how well the libtiff project administrators handled the situation.

Mono, by contrast, is a patent train wreck waiting to happen, and when it does the project’s users will be up a creek because the developers haven’t planned for it.

Be sure and read the comments from uninformed readers asserting that their favorite Linux distribution is immune to the LZW situation. They’re wrong.

Oh, and Happy birthday Uncle Sam.

Okay then

June 6th, 2005 | File Under OSTG | 2 comments

Day one of the bloglife. Since there are no other links to it anywhere else on the Interweb, I’m using this inaugural post to supply some links to my written material at OSTG.