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Archive for the ‘Awesome Things’ Category

This is a Dumb Post About Chickens

In Animals, Awesome Things on November 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Today I was out and about and saw something amazing. Unfortunately, by the time I got out my camera, the moment had passed and I was only able to get the aftermath of the laudable and fabulous event. Here is what I was able to capture:


Those chickens, you may notice, have their backs towards the street and are proceeding to the yard in front of them. The amazing thing that I saw today was a flock (do chickens come in flocks?) of chickens actually crossing the road. I saw chickens cross the road! And they got to the other side! It made me stupidly happy.

Now I want to see cows actually coming home, and a dog eating homework.

Holy Cats!

In Animals, Awesome Things on June 9, 2011 at 11:47 am
Tiger: ROAR!

Me: Wow! Did something just roar? I shall check it out!

(I move my bike over in front of the cage I was about to pass, so I can see the source of the roaring.)

Tiger Keeper: Sir, could you please move your bike. He don’t like bikes.

Me: Okay. Did he have a bad experience with a bike once?

Tiger Keeper: I don’t know. He don’t like bikes.

Me: Can I take a picture?

Tiger Keeper: Keep it quick.

Tiger: ROAR!

The Agony and the Ecstacy of Pub Trivia

In Awesome Things on May 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this yet.

For a bit over a year now, I’ve been sort of obsessed with pub trivia. I enjoy competitively answering questions about historical, literary, and pop culture minutiae to probably an unhealthy degree. There are two here in Portland that I go to with some sporadic regularity: Geek Trivia (which is about comics and such) and Quizissippi, a weekly trivia night about a block away from where I live. I’ve been to others, but those two are the only ones consistently good enough to keep me coming back. I have done decently well at both of these events- it is because of Geek Trivia that I now own a few Hellboy trade paperbacks, given away as prizes.

Pub trivia is kind of like reading Ulysses or watching The Simpsons. Both of those works of fiction serve as reward systems for knowing lots of stupid arcane factoids. With Joyce, it’s fun to see how much of the mythological and literary allusions that you can pick out from the narrative. With The Simpsons, pop culture references abound. In either case, the reader or viewer can say “Hey, I know what that is! I recognize that! I know exactly what you’re referencing here!” It’s a carrot for knowing useless things, and one can pretend that the various factual flotsam bubbling about inside one’s brain actually is good for something after all.

Of course, trivia can also poke ungently at your store of knowledge and mercilessly show the cracks therein. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard a question and been at least a little familiar with the answer. It is something I’ve heard, something I’ve encountered before. The answer is swirling about just under the surface, and I know that I’ll recognize it when I hear it aloud, but cannot give it real form. That feels, in a way, worse than not knowing the answer at all. At least when you don’t know you can blame simple unfamiliarity. When you know something, but cannot summon it up from memory’s basement, that is when you feel ignorant. There have been plenty of times where I’ve blindly stabbed at an answer, crossed it out, and blindly stabbed at another, only to find that the original guess was correct. The crossed out wrong answer is probably the most wrenching sensation one can experience, and a slap on the forehead usually ensues.

Another pitfall is overthinking the possibility of trick questions. Those certainly happen, but far too often I am my team mates have thought “that can’t be the answer, it’s way too obvious.” Probably the most telling example of this was at Geek Trivia some time ago where the host asked who wore the Iron Man Mark IV armor. My teammates and I thought that Tony Stark was way too obvious an answer, so, assuming that the question was trickier than it really was, we assumed that it was James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine. We ended up being quite wrong. It was not a trick question, it was merely easy.

These hazards are, of course, entirely necessary, and I find wracking my brain and conferring with my friends about obscure details of, say, Civil War battles to be fun, especially in the face of a time limit. Without the potential of teeth-grinding defeat, it wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling, and there is not shortage of schadenfreude one gets from seeing other teams implode due to wrong answers.

Trivia is not really about how smart you are. That is part of it, but moreso it is about how good your memory is and how good you are at guessing. Being able to conjure up possible answers from the depths of the brain and pick the one that is probably right is the key to winning most of the time. Nevertheless, winning still makes me feel smart. External affirmation is always nice, and pub trivia can be something like the adult equivalent of getting an A on a paper or exam.

I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as into it if I didn’t take some narcissistic pleasure in my status as a know-it-all, but it is nice to put all those facts and things and details to use, to turn them into a game. That’s not a small thing. Deriving a certain amount of pleasure out of all that useless effluvia of information gives it all a sort of ad hod form and meaning. Every time I go to pub trivia, science and pop culture and literature all seem to matter. It’s like all of those details are suddenly doing something besides sitting in archives. Paying attention and clarity of thought seem important and valued, and there is an immediate use to all of one’s nerdery and disparate interests. For the time being, each evening the contents of one’s head seem slightly less trivial.

Why Dressing Up in Funny Clothes With Lots of People is Awesometastic Fun-Times

In Awesome Things, Portland on April 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm
That is a picture of me dressed up as my villainous alter-ego, the Defenestrator. His superpower is throwing people and things out of windows. I didn’t crack out the leather and goggles on my own, though. The getup was for a pub crawl hosted by the Alter Egos Society, an organization in Portland dedicated to, well, dressing up like superheroes and supervillains. This last weekend several of Portland’s enthusiastic geeks donned crazy clothes, took on the persona of characters of our own devising, and cavorted throughout town.

Now, why the costumes? Why not just go on a regular pub crawl? Why not just get a bunch of people together and have a night out? That’s possible, certainly, but dressing up in crazy clothes gives it an extra amount of specialness, of awesome-osity.

Costumes are an outlet for creativity

There were some fairly impressive getups on display, from a quartet of horn-sporting demons to a mad scientist character who had an extremely impressive metal mask. I myself worked a bit on a logo for the Defenestrator that I appended to the back of my jacket, and settled on a distressed-looking down arrow that suggested dramatically crashing into the ground. (Several people asked me “Are you supposed to be the economy or something?”)

While it’s perfectly possible for me to go to an art store and load up on canvas, charcoal, and fixatif any time I want, knowing that I was going to attend a themed pub crawl gave me a reason to start scrawling out a symbol for my own fictional villain. Having a reason for something, a deadline, and looming event fires the productive imagination much more than most things.

Costumes are an instant conversation piece

While I can occasionally get pretty extroverted, it is still sometimes difficult to start conversations with strangers. I found myself talking to plenty of people I didn’t know, though. The demons I mentioned earlier- they’d rigged up pitchforks that shot flames out of the end, and of course several of us started using them to light clove cigarettes. Socializing ensued. People commented on my leather pants, I talked to a guy who happened to be wearing an “Ike and Nixon” button, and briefly chatted with a man in a luchadore mask. All of these interactions were smoothed by the presence of weird clothes. “Dude, awesome costume!” was an instant conversation topic.

Costumes can change peoples’ personalities

A friend of mine was dressed up as an evil mastermind he called Lord Skullfucker. Now, he’s normally a pretty demonstrative guy, but got no shortage of joy talking about how he was going to initiate amorous relations with various peoples’ ocular cavities. Likewise, my girlfriend was dressed as the deadly and beautiful Rocktopussy, and found herself voguing and striking David Bowie poses much more than she normally does. A guy dressed up as an 80s metal themed hero kept flashing the horns, and the various heroes and villains pretended to hate each other to amusing effect.

With crazy costumes, you can try on not only clothes, but a whole other bombastic and weird persona that you wouldn’t use in real life. I know this is a bit of a cliche, but it’s wonderful to see in action, with folks trying on personalities to go with their new tights and masks.

It’s fun to freak the mundanes

Obviously, not everyone in Portland was dressed up in crazy duds. There were plenty of perfectly normal people out and about, and we got a fair amount of stares. Most of them were very appreciative, and several cars honked in support of our wackiness. Of course we waved back. Several onlookers from the Portland Streetcar pressed their noses to the glass of their vehicle as we walked by, and we responded with waves and whoops.

I’d venture a guess that most of them later told their friends “Hey, guess what I saw!” and we managed to improve their evening, just a little.

Weird stuff is a source of civic pride

This is probably specific to Portland and cities like it, but I’m quite grateful that I live in a city where quirky stuff happens on a fairly regular basis. The evening before I dressed up a the Defenestrator, I’d been playing extreme mini-golf. This weekend I’ll probably see the mayor of Portland dressed up a robot. On Sunday, there’s roller derby to be seen. Say what you will about Portland being self-consciously weird, it’s not boring.

Of course Portland has other events like this. There’s a pirate themed pub crawl. And the one where everyone dresses up as Santa. I hope to be at both, filled with joy at living in one of the funnest towns ever.

Awesome Thing: The Truth is Sticky

In Awesome Things on August 10, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Jenny isn’t real.

What’s fantastic is how quickly we all knew that.
Just this morning, pictures of her and her dramatic quitting were zooming around the Series of Tubes, being shared as if they were fact.  By this afternoon, the full scrutiny of the Internet was on them, wondering who this woman was, where she was, if she would grant interviews, what the specifics of her job were, etc.
Soon enough the truth came out, that the photographs of a woman quitting her job and accusing her boss of being a sexist Farmville addict were, indeed, a hoax.  As nice as the mini-meme was, I was more excited at how quickly the collective intelligence of everyone was able to ferret out bullshit.  Sure, not in terms of something truly important, but the world very quickly found the truth.
And the truth stuck.  People didn’t keep believing the meme because they wanted to.  Reality surfaced, and the pleasant illusion was let go.
I might sound a little idealistic here, but this makes me very happy.  More people than ever before have access to accuracy, truth, and good information.  More people than ever are able to look up and find what is, in fact, real.  More people than ever before illuminate that which is real that that which isn’t.
And, when faced with the truth, it’s wonderful to see people discard illusions, even little ones.  Yes, this is an inconsequential issue, but I felt rather good today knowing that our collective intelligence can, indeed, overthrow pleasant unrealities.

Awesome Thing: Tea

In Awesome Things, Crazy People, Food, Politics on July 21, 2010 at 10:16 am

Tea is beautiful. It is, without a doubt, my single favorite beverage. Other than water, it is the only thing that I drink every single day. It is more flavorful and stimulating than any sort of juice, not as blunt or intense as coffee, and far more peaceable than anything alcoholic. As much as I love coffee and beer, Portlander that I am, tea is foremost in my affections. The first thing I do in the kitchen is put on the kettle and I inevitably begin my day with at least one cup of the stuff. If I don’t have to go to work I’ll generally down a few cups throughout the day.

It’s the ideal beverage for writing or reading. At the keyboard, I’m usually typing between sips, and while reading a book on my porch I often have a mug close by. I associate tea with literary endeavors, with the inspired creation of words or the calm, solitary appreciation of them.

The words “tea party” have now become utterly synonymous with bombast and nonsense. I find this not only disconcerting, as a tea lover, but also deeply weird. Tea, the most peaceful of beverages, the most contemplative and calm, the kindest and most thoughtful of stimulants, is now a signifier of yowling, yelling yahoos.

Tea does not deserve this. More to the point, tea does not fit this. The contemplative nature of the beverage clashes horribly with right-wing ideologues, with upraised fists and brandished signs. Tea is a learned beverage, the least barbaric and most civilized of all drinkables.

I believe it’s reputation will persevere. Tea, after all, has been with us for millennia, and the maniacs now screaming in its name have existed for less than thousandth of the age of the beverage. Tea will, once again, be known as something calm, rational, civilized, and logical. Until then, my favorite drinkable will take its lumps, not of sugar, but of irrational defamation.

Awesome Thing: The Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse Sculpture Garden

In Awesome Things, Portland on July 7, 2010 at 8:22 am

If you live in Portland, you’ve probably seen the looming ultramodern tower that is the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse (MOHUSC). Since it was built in 1997 it’s a building that I’ve consistently admired, a fact that I find continually surprising for two reasons. For one, many of the things that I thought were cool in the ’90s (black turtlenecks, Mortal Kombat, putting “2000” on anything) are, in retrospect, sort of silly. Architecture in particular seems to wear its age badly, though. The things that probably looked futuristic and cutting-edge throughout the twentieth century usually look hopelessly anachronistic now. Postmodern buildings such as the Portland Building were edgy once, but they now they’re the structural equivalent of a George Michael album; dead-end fashions that everyone involved wants covered up.

Paradoxically, the recently contemporary often seems even more aged than the truly old. The boxy Oregon State Capitol exudes the 1930s, but the much older Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. seems timeless and therefore more contemporary. (Total aside, but this reminds me of the probably apocryphal story of an English professor who, in the 1950s, decided to translate Hamlet into beatnik so that young people could relate to it better. The resulting text ended up being utterly impenetrable ten years later, but the original Shakespeare could still be grokked without much difficulty.)
The point is, that if you’re going to make something and have it look edgy and contemporary and neato, you run the very high risk of being passe in a few years. When making big, permanent things like buildings, this is something you want to avoid. People are going to be staring at these buildings for quite some time, and you really want these buildings to seem contemporary in some form or fashion long after their styles were “cool.”
So far, the MOHUSC is holding up. When I walked through its lobby the other day, it impressed me as much as it did thirteen years ago. It seems utterly futuristic in a classy, subdued kind of way. The interior is filled with stark, quiet lines and blocky structures that are somehow also elegant. It’s big and stark and empty, but also impressive, precisely the kind of thing that made the young me want to be a lawyer.

And it has a sculpture garden on the ninth floor.
Since the MOHUSC is a public building, anyone who wants to can walk right in, go up the elevator, and hang out in the sculpture garden. Granted, the sculptures themselves are sort of silly- a collection of animals and anthropomorphic computers that are collectively titled “Law of Nature” -but the space is highly neat. It is secluded, affords a great view of the city, and is open to the public.

It’s a nice space in what could otherwise have been an utterly utilitarian government building. I was alone for the entire time I was up there, which I didn’t expect, but was refreshing. Again, the statues aren’t great art- they’re silly little animals dressed up as lawyers, but I like it that tucked away in a large, ultramodern building is a little bit of flourish, and anyone who likes may admire the skyline, the surrounding buildings, and the greenery below.

Awesome Thing: Moon

In Awesome Things, Movies, Science Fiction on May 20, 2010 at 11:18 am

I’ve added categories to this blog, and after doing so realized that I tend to blog quite a bit about media. No surprise there. I’ve decided to intermittently endorse various things that are not necessarily current, stuff that I enjoy for some reason or another. All of these will be under the “Awesome Things” category. Here’s my first non-current endorsement, Moon.

I’ve been meaning to blog about Moon for quite some time now. You really ought to watch it. I don’t want to give away too much about it, but was far and away one of the best science fiction stories that I’ve seen or read in a long, long time.

When I was a kid, I devoured Asimov, Clarke, and Dick’s short stories. I checked out collections of Hugo-winning short stories and novellas, and devoured them with gusto. Science fiction, I think, is uniquely suited to the short story. Brief narratives can be built around a single interesting idea, a nice little “what if…” scenario that can put a human face on speculation and abstraction.
Moon reminded me a great deal of those stories by Asimov & Co. The film is science fiction in the traditional sense, starting from a speculative scenario of what it would be like to live by yourself in a station on the moon. It goes from there, with Sam Rockwell having no one to talk to except himself and his computer buddy voiced by Kevin Spacey.
I wish I could talk more about the plot. I really do, but I don’t want to spoil a thing about it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. There is a twisty moment in the middle, but something that I really, really love about the movie is that the further sci-fi weirdness is used as a departure point, not a conclusion. When the audience does find out about a given futuristic oddity in the world of Moon, the movie does not just say “PRESTO!” and leave it at that. Instead, it actually develops the weirdness, exploring it just like good science fiction should.
Moon reminded me of all the reasons I love science fiction. It reminded me why I love speculation and wonder, why I think that “what if…” is a great question to ask, why I devoured all those short stories, and why I wanted to be a sci-fi writer when I was younger. (Actually, I still sort of want to be a sci-fi writer sometimes…) It is everything good and neato and smart and clever about the genre, and it reminded me not that I love stories about space and robots, but why I came to love them in the first place.