Category Archives: Uncategorized

I Have a Podcast Now!

Several people have been telling for some time now to do a history podcast. Well, it exists now. Interesting Times is about obscure, weird, and out-of-the-way historical bits that you might not have heard of. There’s not going to be any grand histories of Rome or WWII here. Mainly, it’s going to be weird stuff that I think is cool. I’ll be updating every Thursday.

What I Learned From Going to the Zoo Yesterday

oregonzooYesterday my girlfriend and I went to the Oregon Zoo for a Valentine’s Day date. It was great! I’d recommend going on a weekday, as one does not have to compete with crowds, and we got a good long look at several of the animals. At the end of it, I was giddy. Animals are amazing, and being exposed to so much tremendous biology in a single afternoon was a great experience. Here are a few things I learned.

-Sea Lions are huge. Seriously. You know that because they’re an apex predator and they have “lion” right in their name, but when you seem them up close it’s sort of eye-popping how large and graceful they are. They also make a noise that’s kind of a bark-y roar-y sound.

-Bats can be beautiful. People think of bats as being creepy (like Dracula) or kind of dark and badass (like Batman) but one doesn’t really think of them as beautiful. But they are. Bats don’t glide- they are the only mammal to truly fly, and they do it well. Their movement is graceful and precise, and they are every bit as inspiring as birds.

Baby elephants are cute. If you don’t think so, then you are probably one of those serial killers who physically lacks a sense of empathy.

-Everybody poops. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera famously characterized kitsch as the denial of shit. If that’s the case, than the zoo is one of the least kitschy places one can visit, as the reality of excrement is vividly apparent. But that’s okay! Pooping does not make you less cool. Everyone does it. Even awesome animals like rhinos.

-Naked mole rats are actually quite small. They are more like naked mole mice.

-There’s a species of gazelle that eats vegetation while standing on its hind legs. It’s called a gerenuk and it’s really weird to watch it not fall over.

-Male lions are not actually all that king-of-beast-y. They don’t really hunt (the lionesses do) and they sleep a lot. Nevertheless, we got to see a male sitting on a rock with his mane blowing in the wind looking all Lion King and stuff. It was cool. Lions at least get style points.

-Bald eagles like fish. We saw America’s national bird with a fish in its talons tearing it apart with its beak. It was amazing to watch such an up-close example of predation, and it also made me happy that Benjamin Franklin didn’t get his way about making the turkey our national symbol.

-African wild dogs have adorable ears. They’re big and fuzzy.

-Mammals are awesome. They can do all kinds of things. Water stuff? We have sea lions, otters, and polar bears. Flying stuff? All kinds of bats. Climbing stuff? Check out those monkeys. Running stuff? You can’t beat the cheetah. Digging stuff? Naked mole rats, actual moles, and various rabbits have that covered. Mammals are amazing in their diversity and complexity. They’re like a G.I. Joe team where all the members have a niche that they’re good at. I’m proud to be a mammal. It’s good company.

-Hippos are something you should fear. They might seem all big and cute, but really they are gigantic bags of pure anger.

Caracals are one of my new favorite cat types. They have tufts on their ears and can jump really high to hunt birds.

And lastly,

-We live in an extraordinary world. It’s a world filled with monkeys and tigers and iridescent birds. It’s mind boggling, diverse, and wonderful. Nature should hold you in stunned awe. Evolution has given us millions upon millions of co-residents of Earth, and seeing even a tiny sampling of them can make for an extraordinary afternoon.

Things I Have Been Asked By Portland Tourists

As a Portland tour guide, I am often asked questions about my city. Here are some of them.

“Why do so many people in Portland have backpacks?”

“Why do people in Portland dress like that?”

“What are Portland’s major religions?”

“Is it true that people have chickens in their yard?”

“Where’s the Apple store?”

“Is being a tour guide your main job?” [I do not like this question]

“Have you seen Portlandia?”

“What’s the deal with Voodoo Doughnut?”

“How come there are so many homeless people?”

“Why is Portland called ‘Stumptown?'”

“Is Portland safe?”

“What’s the difference between the streetcar and light rail?”

“Where’s the Pearl District?”

“What’s that building right there?”

“Where are you from?” [When I say “Portland” people often act surprised.]

“Is it true that there’s a place where they put bacon on donuts?”

“Where’s the bad part of town?”

“Do people here like Obama?”

“The sea gulls here seem fatter than the sea gulls on the east coast. Why is that?”  [I later found out that the east and west coasts do, in fact, have different varieties of seagulls.]

“What do people here think of Portlandia?”

“What’s quinoa?”

“What time are the food carts open?”

“Why are there so many strip clubs?”

“What’s up with Voodoo Doughnut?”

“Do people really ride their bikes naked?”

[Said while looking east across the Willamette from Waterfront Park.] “Is that area across the river still part of Portland?”

“I heard that some people in Portland have goats. Is that true?”

“Do you guys really not have a sales tax?”

“What do you guys think of Seattle?”

“Why don’t people here pump their own gas?”

“What, exactly, is a ‘hipster?'”

“Where’s Voodoo Doughnut?”


“What’s with all the white people?”

Why I Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved Cabin in the Woods

If you haven’t seen Cabin in the Woods yet, go see it. Don’t read this blog post. Don’t read anything else about it. Don’t watch the trailer. Shun all articles, comments, advertisements, and even headlines that mention it. Just go get it all up in your sense organs and take it in. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and you (yes, YOU) need to watch it.

If you haven’t, go away. Now.

There are spoilers ahead.

Click away if you haven’t seen it. This is the Internet. I’m sure you can find something else to read.

Alright, is it just us? Have we all here seen the movie? Cool. Guys, I loved this film. Loved, loved, loved it. Here’s why:

I will now imagine every conventional horror movie being expertly manipulated by Josh from The West Wing.

Cabin in the Woods isn’t a spoof or a parody like the Scream movies. It doesn’t ask the audience to laugh at other horror movies, or love them less. It’s not biting the hand that feeds it. Instead, Cabin provides a backstory for just about every other horror movie ever made. It takes tired genre tropes and turns them into something we can actually appreciate by turning them into plot points. Instead of skewering cliches, it provides a reason for them. Why are horror movies the way they are? Because the Ancient Gods say so, that’s why. Why do people make stupid decisions? Because of pheromone gas. Why do the characters fall into such neat archetypes? Because of poison hair dye and spiked weed.

The next time I see horror characters who are badly drawn, who make stupid decisions, or who generally fall into easy stereotypes, I’m just going to assume it’s because Josh from The West Wing and his coterie of murderous poindexters are pulling all the strings, substituting common sense and depth of personality with the ritualistic motions of the horror genre.

It fire’s Checkhov’s gun gleefully into the air, again and again and again.

As soon as I saw the Hellraiser-esque ball puzzle in the basement scene, I couldn’t help grinning. I knew exactly what would happen if someone solved the puzzle, and (by implication) what all the other things in the basement did. My suspicions were confirmed moments later with the shot of the whiteboard that listed a plethora of horror monsters and baddies. I had to admit, I was a little tiny bit disappointed when the baddies turned out to be “just” some shambling corpses, and understood Bradley Whitford’s disappointment when he said that he wanted to see a merman.

The ending, though, completely reversed my earlier disappointment. If anything, it was only because of my disappointment earlier at not seeing a giant snake or werewolf that made me so ebullient when they appeared later. Cabin in the Woods is one of those few movies that satisfied all of my expectations and didn’t leave me exhausted. It knew when to overload the audience with horrors, and also when to stop, creating, and then masterfully satisfying, audience desire.

It’s a movie that gives us a good damn look at all of the awesome carnage.

I don’t hate shakycams or fast edits if they’re used well (I don’t hate anything if it’s used well, actually) but unstill cameras and rapid chopping have become all too common in movies. I loved the camerawork in Cabin. The frame actually stayed put from time to time, and instead of giving us brief and frenetic looks at the action or various monsters, director Drew Goddard let us have a good, long look at everything that was happening. When the menagerie of horrors sprung from the elevators toward the end, I was immensely happy that we got to actually see them. Goddard didn’t just give us a brief flash of monstrous action- he lingered on the beasts and the gore lovingly, serving up a beautiful, bloody feast for the audience.

Speaking of the audience…

The Ancient Gods are us.

At least, that’s what I think. The white-shirted manipulators ominously say “we’re not the only ones watching.” No, not at all. The Ancient Gods are. They demand a certain amount of satisfaction, titillation, conflict, gore, sacrifice, messiness, and all in a prescribed formula. They are us. They are the producers who want movies packaged in a particular way, and the audience who wants certain expectations met. If the manipulators (i.e., the film makers) fail, their world falls apart. Box office receipts plummet, audiences walk away unsatisfied, and a giant fist rises from the ground, rage-quitting the world in anger. The Ancient Gods for whom film makers create elaborate, cruel, blood-soaked illusions are those of us sitting in the theater seats who demand new sacrifices year after year. Those sacrifices must follow a certain pattern, they must be of a certain type, they must follow rules. Otherwise, the Ancient Gods, the audience, will not be assuaged.

I, though, walked away from Cabin in the Woods immensely pleased. Mr. Goddard, Mr. Whedon- your sacrifice is acceptable.

Here, Have a Picture of a Guy Rocking Out While Wearing Leopard Print Pants, Wielding an Axe, and Wearing a Chicken Mask

I love Portland so much. That is all.


I Guess They Get Together and Talk About Elevators

Spotted today, in the lobby of a fairly nice hotel:

I couldn’t help but imagine them all watching The Lift together to blow off steam.

Why I Killed SonicLlama

This (wholly narcissistic) issue has been on my mind off and on for the past year or so. Quite some time ago, I ceased to use a screen name on this blog. Not only that, but I tweet using my real name as well, and when I comment on various forums I do so as “Joe Streckert” if I can use a space, and “JStreckert” if I can’t.

Previously I’d gone by the nom de net “SonicLlama,” a handle that I acquired in high school. It stuck the way nicknames usually do, lodging itself in my mind. I attempted to use a few others: “Cerberus,” as I’ve always liked the big three-headed fellow, but ultimately that was too negative and possibly too pretentious to use on a regular basis. Sometimes, in FPSs, I went by “Mr. Mutilate,” but the drawbacks of that one should be abundantly obvious. “Metis,” was another attempt, a Greek term meaning “skill” or “wisdom.” The main appeal was that it was invoked at length in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

The trouble with “Metis” was that later I found out that it’s both the name of a Native American group up in Canada, and the term for an inbred werewolf in the Werewolf: the Apocalypse RPG. Not wanting to have my meaning mistaken, I quickly ditched that and went back to using “SonicLlama,” even though I’d long since grown tired of the moniker. The breaking point came, I think, when a then-girlfriend referred to me as “SonicLlama” on her blog. Seeing my high school screen name used in the context of something kind of sweet and romantical seemed highly weird, and I just ditched the thing altogether.

Being utterly unable to think up something meaningful or witty, I simply started blogging as “Joe” and then appended my last name to it. At times I wondered if this is something that’s sort of foolish, given that anyone could Google me and find, for example, pictures of me with stupid hair. I’ve also wondered if my habit of appending my real name to things on the internet at all narcissistic. I do like attention, after all.

But… No. No, I don’t think so. In fact, I wish that more people did what I did. Using my real name means that I don’t say anything online that I wouldn’t say in person. Being a troll lacks all appeal, and big part of that is that I don’t take on too much of a persona while online. There still is a bit of one, but appending “Joe Streckert” to my blog and twitter feed prevents me from ever succumbing to the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, a process wherein normal people become insufferable while behind a scrim.

Screen names are fine, and it is fun to give yourself a nickname (I might think up something specifically for gaming) but for now whenever I see someone else posting under their real, actual name, it makes me smile a bit. Maybe, like me, they couldn’t summon up a handle that fit them well. Or maybe they just don’t want to be a fuckwad. Either way, I approve.

Aww! It thinks it’s Oregon!

Washington is stealing our logo. It’s kind of cute. Really, we should be flattered.

In Praise of the Satchel

Bookbags are heavy, unfashionable, and reminiscent of Mormon missionaries and high school students.

Messenger bags, while wonderful, are sizable. The whole thing is vaguely fashionable and utilitarian, but in the end is a very large bag. For a day on the bike, they are great. For a night out, they are not.
A briefcase demands to be carried, and having one’s hands free is a plus.  What’s more, it is far too businesslike for social occasions.
What is a guy to do for those times when he’s going out, but doesn’t need a huge carrying case? How can one carry around a say, book, phone, iPod, and notepad, but not have to carry the aforementioned pieces of luggage?
The answer is simple: the noble (and unfairly maligned) satchel.
Call it a man-purse if you like. You may even shorten that to “murse,” if you so choose, or make a facile scrotal pun but calling it a “man bag.”  Call it whatever the hell you want. I don’t care. Your complaints that my trusty shoulder bag looks sort of swishy and effeminate are dwarfed by the sheer functionality of the item.
What do you need when you go out? I always carry a book with me, for those times when I’m waiting for/riding on public transport, or in the event that I simply want to spend a bit in a park or coffee shop reading. Not having a book make me feel naked and exposed, like I’m missing something essential.
I also carry around my iPod. You know, for music and podcast whilst walking. Striding through the streets of Portland, satchel on my shoulder, with the dulcet tones of either the Dirty Projectors or NPR’s Planet Money in my ears truly does put me in a specific demographic, one which I completely enjoy occupying.
In the off chance that I need to write something down, I carry a pen and notepad. This is a very, very handy item to have on you. When someone says “do you have something to write this down on?” I can say “Yes. Yes I do.”
All of these handy items (and oftentimes more!) are toted around in my trusty black satchel, an oiled-canvas bag that I’ve had for a few years now. I got it as a going away present, and it is, far and away, one of the most useful gifts I’ve ever received. It has been to Japan, China, Korea, and even as far as California. It’s held a camera, voice recorder, bottled water, an amplifier, and even a marriage license. When handed a stray piece of paperwork, I need not fold it up awkwardly- it goes in the satchel.
I am proud of how danged handy, how wonderfully useful this item is. As widely-used as it might be, though, by urban types such as myself, the satchel is unfairly spurned. There seems to be a stubborn subset of men who reject its use because it vaguely resembles a purse.  Certain kinds of men, insecure in their masculinity, deny the obvious usefulness of the satchels.

On the off chance that any of those guys are reading this, I would like to address them specifically for a moment. All of you guys who, for some reason or another, think that the satchel is vaguely girly.

Guys, let’s talk about that for a moment. Women, you might have noticed, wear pants. So do we. They wear shirts, just like us. They also get haircuts, much like we do. Would you walk around sporting women’s pants, shirts, or haircuts? Okay, some guys would, but for the most part, dudes, you’d get pants, shirts, and haircuts designed for you. Our pants are designed for a dude-waist rather than lady hips, our shirts are made with guy shoulders in mind, and our haircuts are generally a different species than those the ladies favor.
Thus it is so with the satchel. The satchel is no more a purse than any other dude-designed item. Try it! It is useful! No longer will you have to stuff paperwork in your pocket or keep five things in your hands at once. No more will you be without a writing implement or reading material. Your iPod and phone will not rest awkwardly in your pockets, and if you get sick of sitting on your wallet, it can go into the satchel. Glasses and sunglasses fit easily inside it, as do any other doo-dads or whatever you might have on you at the time.

Men, do not let this obvious bit of utility pass you by. We have the technology to carry around day-to-day items. You need not shirk from this innovation, this satchel. It is useful, it is nice looking, and (don’t worry) it’s definitely not a purse.