Tuesday, March 31, 2009

froot loops

Froot Loops were given by God to man as a reward for all forms of righteousness. To my atheist and agnostic friends I have but one thing to say: explain the existence of blessed Froot Loops in your cold godless universe! I am afraid they are the true expression of divine love.

Froot Loops are also responsible for my inexplicable love of toucans. I imagine toucans to be lovers and helpers of the human race, and if one should ever take a bite of them, you would find the sweet taste of high fructose corn syrup mixed with artificial fruit flavorings. Mmmmmmmmm...high fructose blessedness*.

As a child, I quickly discovered the superiority of Froot Loops to any other forms of cereal**. In those days, my mother refused to buy "sugar cereals"*** with any frequency. It was quite a treat to open up a box of sugar cereal, which honor was very rarely bestowed upon one of the children. Seeing as how my family consists of eight children, we took to the following strategy whenever we had the blessed chance to open a new box of cereal:
  1. Open up the box after everyone has eaten breakfast.
  2. Eat the entire box immediately.
Thus, I could, at the age of seven, finish an entire box of Fruity Pebbles within a half hour, with no visible side effects.

Of course, opening a box of cereal also held its risks. You were responsible for the contents of that box being eaten, no matter what the contents. I have a very painful memory of eating a rancid chocolate-flake themed cereal for weeks. It may have been Cocoa Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles sick
evil depraved cursed malevolent nefarious twin, cursed be its name, and a pox upon it and its children and its children's children unto the fourth and fifth generation.

Last week I visited my brother and his wife and beautiful child in Seattle. Throughout the course of the weekend, my sister-in-law mentioned how the nutritional facts between so-called "sugar cereals" and non-sugar cereals were almost identical. Thus, on my last trip to Costco, I checked. Yup. Except for the addition of some sugar, there was almost no difference between Corn Flakes and Froot Loops. Now, you tell me: why would anybody in their right mind choose Corn Flakes over Froot Loops? Seriously? That's like choosing cardboard over crème brûlée****.

Mom. Please. WHY? I could have been eating Froot Loops MY ENTIRE LIFE???!

Therefore, I am the proud new owner of a large Costco-sized box of Froot Loops. And I've been eating to my seven-year-old heart's content.

*I lie. I hate high fructose corn syrup. It is a plague upon mankind.
**This is also not entirely correct. Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch equally vie for my love, but as this post was inspired by my recent purchase of Froot Loops, they shall remain in the limelight. Mmmmmm...blessed artificial lime flavor mixed with high fructose corn syrup...mmmmmm
***That term should be used with some degree of salt, seeing as how we've established the absence of blessed blessed sugar.
****I actually have no idea what that is, except that it allowed some weak alliteration so I chose it. I hope it's good.

Friday, March 27, 2009

hitchhiking

A friend of mine claims that biking is the most efficient mode of transportation. That may or may not be true, but one thing is for certain: hitchhiking is the most interesting.

Hitchhiking is a form of transportation for people in third world countries, convicted felons in first world countries, and people with odd smells in all countries. The standard method of hitchhiking is as follows:
  1. Approach a roadway
  2. Stick out your thumb
  3. Get picked up by an interesting person
  4. Get mugged
  5. Get dropped off in a burlap sack in a black lagoon
Actually, it's really not nearly as dangerous as people think. Why, I did some hitchhiking down California's coast this week, and my first driver was incredibly kind. He offered me a puff of whatever it was he was smoking, he maintained eye contact with me throughout the drive (even though I was in the back seat), he shuffled through his glovebox but did not find whatever killing implement he was seeking, and generally kept his hands a safe distance away from me and the wheel.

The next couple that picked me (and my two friends) up were incredibly kind and nice. They both went to great schools and were supremely intelligent and capable and talented. I felt bad, however, because this was their first instance picking up hitchhikers, and by virtue of us three being Stanford students/alum, I feel like we wrongly conditioned them to believe hitchhikers are upper-middle class mostly normal* non-lethal people. Of course, we still smelled.

So, the next time you find yourself in a bind without a car, don't hesitate to stick out a thumb and see what the road gives you. You may end up driving with ski instructors, an old lady out on a drive, or a Hungarian communist. Just remember, though, in the end, all roads lead to the black lagoon.

*By mostly normal, I mean the other two are normal, and I am not. 2/3 is mostly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

cups at parties

Throughout the course of your career as a human, you will likely be invited to social gatherings of some sorts*. Sometimes these gatherings go by different names, but almost all of them incorporate some form of drink. So, as an inexperienced party goer I give you my advice: hold on to that cup. That cup is your lifeline.

Cups at parties are extremely helpful objects. No matter the liquid, no matter the type of cup, they are always useful, and should not be discarded under any circumstances.

First of all: your stance. How do you stand around talking to people? Well, if you don't have a cup, what exactly do you do? Put your hands in your pockets? Just flop your arms down by your side? Fold your arms? No. None of those poses are good. You must hold that cup in one arm, and let the other fall to the side. This is the only acceptable pose. All other poses make you look stupid.

Secondly: conversation stopping. Let's sidestep the story where I was once referred to as a conversation stopper (one of my favorite date stories of all time) and just go on to the mechanics of said stopping (one of my abilities, obviously). There are two ways to stop a conversation while holding a cup. You wait for that awkward pause when neither of you have nothing to say, yet neither of you know how to stop the conversation. Well, I'll tell you how. Just bring that cup up for a long, drawn-out, chug. You don't even need liquid in there to do this one. Halfway through your interlocutor will realize he/she has been offered and escape, and will take it with ease.

However, you could be still stuck with the person after the swig, or worse, there could be no awkward pauses because you are being talked to death. Your cup comes to your rescue here. Oh no! Your cup is empty!** Well, nice talking, but you've got to go get a refill.***

Lastly: protection. There are a variety of ways in which the cup will exercise its powers o'**** protection, but an easy one to peg is the following. Say the party calms down a bit, and you find yourself watching a movie next to someone who is more interested in you than vice versa. Simply hold the cup in the hand nearest them. It makes it a lot harder to grab your hand when you're holding a pile o' liquid. This isn't guaranteed to work, but should help.

Cups are also useful for dumping liquid on others in key moments. I have been on the receiving end of this several times.

*Cue joke about me not getting invited to things. I was so close to adding it, but figured I'd let this self-deprecating comment slide. But next time, I'm totally running with it.
**More difficult to fake than taking a swig o' air, but still possible.
***This is less effective when you are standing next to the refilling device.
****My shout-out to St. Patrick's Day tomorrow. Bless that holiday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

how to save the newspaper stars

This post will be long and boring, and I apologize to my five loyal readers. Please skip ahead, as I don't think this will be entertaining by any stretch of the imagination.

Newspapers are having a rough go of it at the moment. I've just finished reading an article in the New York Times documenting the fall of newspapers across the country. It's a sad state of affairs, and I'm sure many newspaper executives are wondering, "how did it come to this?"

Well, I'm pretty sure that's what they're wondering, because I have a distinct memory of attending a forum in my college days when a newspaper executive told us that, regardless of the threat of online news sources, newspapers were here to stay, and that people just loved newspapers. Well, I thought he was crazy then and I think he's crazier now.

To go back in history for a moment, if I recall correctly, in colonial times people used to get their news through their interactions at taverns. I sort of like this model. If we could start dispensing news in bars, I think people would be much more willing to listen, and even pay absurd amounts of money. For some reason the tavern news distribution model didn't really hold up, and as people stopped socializing in taverns (except, maybe to get the number of the local hottie), newspapers went from broadsheet to broadsheets.

The tavern model has been rediscovered as of late. Small news distributors (bloggers) put out niche content, and people sit around and insult each other while drunk. Have you ever read the comments section of a large blog or column? Priceless.

Which brings me to my (unfunny, many apologies) point of the day: eleven thoughts on the newspaper business, in no particular order, and which ways I thought of on my (freezing) bike ride into school today:

  1. You should provide the day's news for free. If you don't, you get undercut by your rivals. Even if your rivals aren't as good as you, at the margin you'll have to be significantly better to charge a price.
  2. The name of the game these days is basic accounts for free, with premium monthly-subscription services.
  3. The main, first, largest, biggest battle is first getting people to pay you for something. Once you have their payment credentials, they will be six hundred times more willing to spend money on you. Everyone hates getting out their credit card that first time. So, the first payment should be super low, to get over that first barrier--and you can even solicit payment information without needing to charge them (try the PayPal model of hitting their payment solution with a small random charge to "verify" the payment, and you've got them hooked). Look at Apple. Nobody in their right mind would get out a credit card every time to pay for a song, but once they've done it, click click click, and they've spent $2.97.
  4. Your premium subscription services could include blogger accounts, with you hosting a "LA Times Blogs!" section. Maybe that distorts your brand, but you may get people who want to feel like they're publishing meaningful analysis, and can dupe them into paying for having their material hosted on a reputable site. Or people can have their existing blog imported into a certain LA Times page, for example. This makes people feel like news-gatherers, and they get reputable hosting for a small fee. They also get included in LA Times searches, and can gain traffic.
  5. The premium services could also include archives access beyond a certain point. I know you tried that once, so maybe it's a dumb idea.
  6. You could supplement the tavern/blog format by going back to your roots--small published papers. "But wait," you scream, "that's beyond stupid!" Well, maybe so, but hear me out. You allow people to customize their particular paper. Throughout the day, people have certain times when they are not online. Give them a few broadsheets and the ability to customize exactly what articles and sections they see on those broadsheets. Printing these should be no harder in the digital era, and distribution could be with paper carriers (for a price--some people may just want to print their section at home). The best thing is you can target ads much better, based on the content people place on their newspaper.
  7. Worship the user. Stop treating us like fleas. I had a subscription to a paper once. They upped my subscription fees by 40% in one period, and didn't bother alerting me to that fact until my (paid) bill came. Yup, I'll never touch that paper again.
  8. Broaden your content. Make it super easy for people to find all the news they need through you. If they don't find it through you, they find it through their google or yahoo homepage, and you've suddenly just become a commodity that people scrape.
  9. Deepen your content. Link to in-depth articles on certain subjects. Give people the ability to go straight to original sources. You may even be able to charge people with that ability. Most people want the summary, but there's a non-trivial part of the population who wants to read more on a topic. If you don't link to it, or provide them a way, they're going to be heading elsewhere.
  10. I hate to say this one, but socialize yourselves. People want to vote stories or comments up or down, and people want to have reputation systems, so they can feel cool about how they're a Master Joe at stackoverflow.com.
  11. Solicit news stories. Just a simple form: who are you, what's the story, and how do we contact you? You may even make that public, and/or vote-able, so the best/biggest stories rise to the top. Suppose most people want to hear a story on one part of the stimulus bill. Well, the people can submit their requests, vote it up, and voila, you know you have an audience, so you can send a reporter to that politician's office, and hear how disgustingly corrupt they are.

So those are my thoughts of the day to help save the vital newspaper industry. Feel free to comment and add any ideas (or dispute any of mine). It's always a fun thought exercise to make up strategy, especially when you know next to nothing about an industry.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

republicans

Republicans are the second largest political party in the United States, and are currently desperately trying to become third. Due to recent events, they have become the gays of twenty years ago--everybody knows they exist, but nobody fesses up to being one.

Actually, that's a bit below the (very stylish) belt. My deepest apologies to my gay friends for having equated them to Republicans.

But I love Republicans. Some of my best friends are Republicans. Though, I've noticed as of late that I have significantly fewer Republican friends. This could be due to either my having significantly fewer friends in general, or the fact that in the cruelest of ironies, Republicans are now having to fight to get themselves on the endangered species list, which list they have historically fought to keep blank.

Republicans ruled the world as early as three years ago, when they were summarily trounced by the Democrats in the midterm elections of 2006. These days, they are mainly kept in congress to entertain the public as they reminisce on c-span about the days in which they could liaise with pages or enter men's restrooms without being followed by the FBI.

Okay, so not all of this is technically true--they aren't actually kept in congress to entertain us. Obviously, Democrats keep Republicans around to continue sticking it to them in the grand tradition of 'to the victor belong the spoils', or, in this case, the op-ed pieces where they euphorically laud themselves for an 'historic' conquest*. Republicans are then tied to their rolly chairs in their basement congressional offices and forced to read every word that falls from Maureen Dowd's pen. And are then force-fed some sort of bio-fuel. Or maybe high-fructose corn syrup, that plague on mankind which is kept alive by ridiculous agricultural policies, which everyone seems to hate, but nobody can change lest Iowa secede from the Union.

Just kidding. We stopped the South, but we wouldn't stop you, Iowa, from seceding. That goes for you too, North Dakota.

Historically, Republicans were a grand coalition between two segments of society--those who love God more than anything else, and those who love money more than anything else. Funnily, there have been cracks in that coalition as of late, maybe due to the fact that these two groups of people have completely opposite ideologies on almost anything pertaining to anything.

That all being said, Republicans, like the sick man in Monty Python, aren't dead yet. Way too many people are patting themselves on the back for slaying the beast, even if unleashing the fury of Rush "I hate everybody who doesn't pay me obeisance, including small animals and children" Limbaugh got pretty close to destroying anyone's desire to ever be associated with anything in any way related to him. For all of the victory parties being thrown by major news networks (save Fox, of course--you didn't think I could do a post on Republicans without singling out Fox, did you?) and late-night shows and day shows and whatever, the Republicans have not left the building.

I know this may seem highly unlikely to the euphoric cloud commentators, but the public is a cruel beast. More cruel, perhaps, than Rush. Maaaaaaybe. They're close. Remember that Bush once had a stratospheric approval rating, before we realized he had intelligence rivaling that of a lobotomized fruit fly.

Picture this scenario: the so-called 'stimulus' doesn't really work. I know, I know, everyone in the Democratic party besides Joe Biden thinks it's a panacea, and every expert economist is telling us it's the right thing to do**, but maybe, just maybe, it doesn't do what we think it's going to do.

Should that happen, like Lazarus coming forth, the Republicans will be back and better (worse?) than ever.

So don't get too hopped up on champagne, Rep-haters. It ain't over until the fat lady sings, or we engage in thermonuclear warfare with Russia, or we get hit by a comet, or we sell ourselves to China for iPods, or the machines take over, or Rush Limbaugh eats too many spicy foods, or the apocalypse happens. Whichever comes first.

I think we've got at least, at least ten more years as a country. Plenty of time for the Republicans to make a comeback. So keep those page jokes on ice.

*If I have to hear the word historic with relation to politics one more time, I'm going to throw my subsidized digital TV converter box at Rush Limbaugh's Pharmacist.
**So, ummmm, should you really be trusting economists? You know, we did just have an economic disaster. Maybe we should put some other experts in charge of dispensing advice? Maybe Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com? He seems to have gotten something right as of late, instead of merely talking about getting something right.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

hell

Hell is a location of badness. Doctrinal differences aside, I think we can all agree that hell is a place you want to avoid. People may disagree on the location, the temperature (Dante, for example, thinks it's a cold day in hell...every day!), and the existence of its master, but the actual existence of such a place is a proven fact. If you don't believe me, visit Las Vegas.

Ha ha, just kidding. I love you Las Vegans! Lotsa luv!!! ;P *

As Gary Larson, a premier expert on hell, once drew, hell is divided into a series of rooms. Some of these rooms are dedicated to symphony conductors, some are dedicated to terrorists, and some are dedicated to people who drive too slow in the fast lane. However, few are familiar with the following areas of hell, which are reserved for people who:
  • Leave erasure shavings on desks. Sometimes I find desks that are blanketed in old erasure shavings. Yes, you are all going to hell.
  • Steal bike lights from innocent bikes ridden by innocent people who will kill and torture your corpse should they find you.
  • Hurt the curve by scoring high on tests.
  • Design a bike path that careens headlong into concrete barrier, causing my bike to sustain damage while throwing me across the pitch black concrete plateau, and please oh please I hope nobody saw and/or videotaped that.
  • Come to class smelling putrid, and intentionally sit close to me.
  • Leave kimchi out in the fridge, ensuring its smell will leach onto the entire house and all its occupants.
  • Go slow on the freeway until you attempt to pass them, at which point they speed up like the road runner.
  • Drive in your blind spot.
  • Have loud phone conversations in public places.
  • Incessantly use buzzwords like strategic, paradigm, any position with reference to a box, let's take this offline**, and my personal most hated buzzphrase of all time--oh, this is so painful to write--low-hanging fruit***. GAHHHHHHHHH.
  • Cut me with their upward-facing knives in the dishwasher.
  • Pee on toilet seats.
  • Clip their toenails or fingernails on the carpet. Undeniably gross. You shall endure endless burning for that.
Hell is also a fun pseudo-pswear word. Unless it actually is a swear word, which thing I have never tried to figure out, as that knowledge would deter me from using it in my daily life, which use has many beneficial effects on my person. And some detrimental effects on others, whose general course in eternity (or the course I desire them to take) has been bluntly made known to them by me.

*I'm not actually kidding. I hate Las Vegas with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, and have sworn to never visit that place ever ever again. Ever. I attempted to clue you in to the kiddingness by using the word luv, which has the distinction of also having a special area in hell dedicated to users of said word. The emoticon ;P is borderline.
**You're speaking right now. You're already offline. Telephones are not "online" unless you're ninety.
***Seriously, that was deeply painful. I felt pain. In my fingertips. To my toetips. A wave of revulsion spread across my body. Waaaaiiiit. This must be what the women I ask out feel! Interesting...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

___ for dummies

As more evidence of the dumbing down of America, bookstores are now replete with books claiming to be guides on subjects for dummies. The saddest thing I've seen in my life was The Internet - for Dummies. Ummmm, seriously folks. I think Curious George is above your reading level if you have to consult a book on the internet for dummies. Please, just leave your brain at the door. You obviously don't use it.

Furthermore, I'd like to cast a social stigma on anyone reading any of those books in that series. Please. What are you saying about yourself? I refuse to even touch one of those books. How embarrassing! What if someone sees you reading it? Heaven forbid.

Therefore, those books are to be avoided at all costs. No matter the subject, no matter how ignorant you are, do not pick up one of those unless you're prepared to face the consequences.

And no, not even Einsten for Dummies is acceptable. Maybe Einstein for the Horrendously Smart and Intelligent. Or Knitting for the Very Talented*. Or Picking Your Nose in Public for Superheroes. Only then.

*Several weeks ago I put on hold the only book at the local library related to knitting, thinking to teach myself how to make hats and be cool like my little skier brother. Ummmm, the book was big and pink and written for five year olds. Not exactly what I had expected. You can't imagine the embarrassment I felt while walking out holding that book. The librarians were looking at me like I was a pedophile or "special". Ugh.