Thursday, August 14, 2008

Not exactly the Hound of the Baskervilles

Some "good" books are so "good" they seem impossible to read, have you ever noticed?

Then again, some books are so bad they are also impossible to read. (Calling Robert James Waller? But that's just my opinion, and there are millions of readers, and he has millions of dollars, that speak to the contrary. But seriously, that man has never met an adjective he didn't like-and someone really should lesson him on the use of verbs. And what Robert LaGravenese and Clint Eastwood were able to do with that book. Well, they redefined genius in my opinion, but that could clearly be a whole other post. Hmmm.)

But back to good books, and specifically, good books that are easy to read. A joy to read in fact. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is one of those. I picked it up and didn't put it down until I was done. I sped through the story told by Christopher, the 15 year old narrator, transfixed. Only Christopher would conclude the following after translating Occam's Razor from the latin: "a murder victim is usually killed by someone known to them and fairies are made out of paper and you can't talk to someone who is dead."

Although his world has different boundaries, and different rules, than the world most of us are accustomed to, Christopher's is a rich world nonetheless. His rules--if he sees 4 red cars in a row it's a Good Day; if he sees 4 yellow cars in a row, it's a Black Day; if he sees 3 red cars in a row, it's a Quite Good Day--organize his world, and the discoveries he makes while investigating the murder of his neighbor's dog reorganize that world.

Navigating one's way through the discovery of new information--that's one way to look at the process of living. Christopher's method of navigation is unique and fascinating. I highly recommend the journey.

Balloon high...

This was too good not to steal--I mean share.

Check out the video. No seriously, if you're reading this in your email, you're missing out on the whole point.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Weirdest headline ever?

So, in my inbox yesterday, I see this headline: Angelina Jolie to replace Tom Cruise as Salt.

Run that by me again?

I mean, I know we've been hearing some weird stories, but, really.

Never fear... yellow journalism strikes again. Salt is Edwin A. Salt, a character in an upcoming spy movie (music to some people's ears...). He's accused, or should I say, she will be accused, of being a Russian sleeper spy, and goes on the run while attempting to prove his, or her, innocence.

Kurt Wimmer, who wrote the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, which is one of the few remakes in my opinion that did just what a remake should (that is, get the spirit of the original, and then go off and be an entirely new--and good--movie on its own), wrote, and evidently is re-writing the screenplay for the now female lead.

Jolie has earned a rare place in Hollywood, not only as a star who can open a movie (with or without a can opener), but as a female star who can open an action movie--Wanted raked in over $130 million domestically, on a $75 million production budget. Nice.

Oh, and by the way, Tom Cruise's MI:3, at twice the production budget, pulled in $133 million domestically. Hmmm.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Spilling the beans...

So yet again, I find that Starbucks is offering something great, and telling no one.

Can someone explain that to me?

And this one's a doozy. A double doozy in fact - maybe even a triple. As I've told you here, if you have and register a Starbucks card, you get complimentary drink upgrades (e.g., syrup and milk), and a free tall drink when you buy a pound of coffee. This all for taking your $20 bill, buying a piece of plastic , and then buying your drink. Well, okay, buying the piece of plastic, giving up your email address and then buying your drink. (Not to mention, in return, Starbucks guards that piece of plastic... Lost? Stolen? Dial 1-800-STARBUC and presto! Old card deactivated and a new one issued. Try doing that with a $20 bill.)

But if you really prefer soy to regular milk in your latte, and you're a S'bux regular, that's two bucks a week. That adds up. And if you're a grande vanilla soy latte kind of a person, well I don't know exacly, but I think that's at least another $2 a week - we're talking a pound of coffee you just basically got for free this month (plus that free tall drink).

But that's old news. It turns out that back in April, when these benefits started rolling out, Starbucks upgraded the card program to the Starbucks Card Rewards Program (I'm going to call it "SCRAP")--not that they told anyone about the name change, of course.

And the latest, or maybe the first (even I can't untangle the chronology--and honestly, I really do have better things to do today), benefit is two hours of free wifi access daily if you register a Starbucks card that you use or reload once every 30 days. That's pretty sweet. Starbucks partnered with AT&T, and when you register your card, you can sign up for an AT&T wifi account that gives you 2 hours a day free, regardless of who your wireless carrier is.

Oh, and did I mention that SCRAP holders also get unlimited free brewed coffee refills while they're in the store? How perfect does that sound? Mosey on in, get a cup of joe, log on, and drink on up--the refills are on Howie. Not that he'd tell you or anything.

Friday, August 08, 2008

If you're not going to watch the Olympics?

Nancy Franklin, TV reviewer for The New Yorker, had this to say about ABC's new hit "Wipeout:"

While watching the ABC competition show “Wipeout” when it premièred six weeks ago, I became at moments a truly happy idiot, and I could hear my brain cells, one after another, packing their suitcases and walking out of my head, saying regretfully but firmly, “I’m sorry, I just can’t live here anymore.” Well, fine. Go, then.

Well, you know, it is that time of year--summertime. August is rather a dire month, especiallement if you are not an Olympics fan (like moi). Which means, on the other hand, it is DVD time...

I just started Mad Men with my erstwhile roommate--she is still unconvinced, I am falling for it. The clothes, the patter, the paternalism; on the other hand, I think my roommate may watch for the vicarious joy of nicotine fixes if nothing else. "In the office," she sighs. "In therapy..." "at the doctor's," "on the elevator," those were the days, all right.

And Spaced, the UK show with a rabid cult following, came out on DVD a couple of weeks ago. As that cult following includes not only Diablo Cody (who, I believe, had something to do with the intro or something else on the DVD edition), but also my own personal TV guide (who shall remain nameless, but he knows who he is), I do believe that Spaced is high on my TV DVD list.

Very high.

Maybe August won't be the cruelest month after all. (Yeah, yeah, I know, T.S. Eliot said it was April, but he'd never lived through re-runs of October Road. Cruel and unusual.)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

All rumors, all the time

Information overload. Analysis paralysis. Data deluge. Celebrity saturation point.


Check out Truemors, "NPR (or CBC) for your eyes in the sense that it contains unusual breaking news, stories, and rumors like what you'd hear on NPR." At least that's how it describes itself.

I'd say, any site that reports on all of the following: ComCast's $125 million purchase of Daily Candy, Shia LaBoeuf's possible pinky amputation, Got Milk? Yes, in 6000 B.C. and Miss New Jersey's crabs, is the perfect site to check out before heading to any dinner party, bar or other event requiring small talk. Business, celebrity, science, and the just-plain-strange with one click--what more could you ask for?

It's not McWrap... but

On Grub Street today, they commented on Copyranter's blog--they were going on about cannibalism--on Subway's Australian ad campaign (see pic on left). Grub Street just had to one-up them (because you know, that's just how New Yorkers are) by posting about Chickpea's new logo on the front of its store on Houston Street in New York (see pic on right).

On the other hand, they have a point. It does kinda look like a, well, as they put it, "it's cool and all, butt..."

Honestly, this is not a contest I'd want to win.

Oh, McWrap? McDonald's latest marketing brainstorm? Go ahead--say it out loud.


By the way, it turns out that salted water boils at a (ever so slightly) higher boiling point than plain water.

Yep, salted water gets colder and hotter--it'll freeze something or boil it faster. It's like those words that mean one thing and also the opposite (you know, like livid?). Though evidently, the impact on the boiling point is not nearly so impactful on your cooking time as on your cooling time. Oh well.

So, if it's pasta for dinner--salt the water and cover the pot (which can cut boiling time by as much as half).

If that's not enough, the Salt Institute (did you doubt it?), has a veritable plethora of tips on the uses and benefits of salt, including:

Improving coffee - A pinch of salt in coffee will enhance the flavor and remove the bitterness of over-cooked coffee.

Testing egg freshness - Place the egg in a cup of water to which two teaspoonfuls of salt has been added. A good egg sinks; a doubter will float. (If we could only try this with our dates.)

Preventing mold - To prevent mold on cheese, wrap it in a cloth dampened with saltwater before refrigerating.

Color-matching nylons - Good nylons that don't have a match can be made the same color by boiling them a few minutes in a pan of lightly salted water. (Which begs the question of what to do with bad nylons. Put them in the corner?)
Salt. Is it in your kitchen?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cold is the new heat

No, really. The New York Times said so. And I thought beets were the new spinach.

Evidently the new must-have appliance is the Antigriddle by PolyScience, which freezes things instead of cooking them. Kind of like a freezer, but not. Now you too can have ice cream pancakes for breakfast. Or something like that. Although the Antigriddle page on Polyscience's website is currently broken, I'm sure every household will soon have an antigriddle parked between their microwave and the toaster.

No article on cold cooking or freezing would be complete without mentioning the Mpemba effect, of course, whereby hot liquids were observed to freeze faster than cold ones. I'm not going to go into it again folks, but wrap your heads around it, it's a fact, Jack.

What about making the simple act of making cool things cooler? The trick to that, evidently, is salt. (And you thought it was ice. Ha!) Ice water, my friends, can only reach 32 degrees--you know, water's freezing point?--and still be liquid, which limits how fast it can cool something down. Salted water, for molecular reasons I am definitely not going to go into here (read the article for the details), has a lower freezing point, so it gets colder without getting solid, meaning it can cool things down faster. According to the NYT, a warm bottle of wine in a regular ice bath chills in about 30 minutes, while in a salted ice bath it chills in about 15 minutes. Nice!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I'm baaaack...

{Well, that was rather an unplanned break... but here we go, back on track, as they say.}

Let's talk Batman--The Dark Knight, which is breaking all sorts of movie records...
1. biggest opening weekend: $158.4 million
2. fastest movie to reach $100 million (2 days)
3. fastest movie to reach $200 million (5 days)
4. fastest movie to reach $300 million (10 days--6 days faster than "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," the previous champion)
5. fastest movie to reach $400 million (18 days--25 days faster than the previous record holder, "Shrek 2")
6. best first 4 days: $182.9 million
7. the opening $67.1 million Friday broke 3, count 'em three, different records: the biggest ever opening day, single day and Friday on record
8. best Sunday ever: $43.6 million
9. best non-holiday Monday gross ever: $24.5 million
10. best midnight sales: $18.5 million (handily beating 2005's Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith at $16.5 million)

But, really, let's talk the Joker. Heath Ledger's the Joker, to be precise. He's much more interesting--more interesting than the broken records, and more interesting than Batman. Ledger's performance is the linchpin of the movie; he is mesmerizing. He is irrational, unpredictable, psychopathic, insane and he is coherent, enthralling, nearly hypnotic. He is villainous in a way that defies reason, slippery and amoral, and also intelligent and crafty. He is the darkest reflection of the dark side of Batman; and for that alone he must be vanquished.

Batman has always been a cipher. And the movies about Batman either played to the inscrutability of the figure or the easy camp of the story's characterology (TV's Eartha Kitt and Cesar Romero come to mind, let alone Jack, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack, Jim Carrey, Jack - I rest my case) or both. Except for "Batman Begins." What made that film different, and so good, was the window, or glimpse, it offered into Batman--and Bruce Wayne's--soul. Christopher Nolan created a real person, with real demons, albeit a real person who just so happens to be a billionaire with a secret identity. Still.

In the Dark Knight, this middle chapter, there is not much story for Bruce. From that standpoint, the movie is not terribly interesting. It serves, it seems to me, for Batman, simply as a set up for the third, and, I would assume, final chapter. But there is plenty of story for the villain (and for the audience)--and Heath Ledger in that role sinks his teeth into the story without chewing up the scenery. Impressive.

The legacy that he leaves, that the Joker leaves, scars Batman. Although the Joker is apparently defeated, it's at a cost to Batman. Christopher Nolan doesn't take the easy way out, and he doesn't let his heroes take the easy way either. And that makes for good movies.