August 2008 minutiae

  • The Olympics inspired me to watch some women's fencing on Youtube. They scream a lot! I didn't realize there would be screaming.

  • So this month a bunch of pundits declared Michael Phelps the Greatest Athlete Ever on the basis of dominating the Olympic swimming events. Amount anyone cares about swimming between Olympics: zero. The same appellation was frequently bestowed on Lance Armstrong back when he was winning the Tour de France every year. Amount anyone cares about cycling between Tours: zero. And there's a reason: these sports, such as they are, basically require you to do one thing. How is that interesting to watch? Hey, look, there's Michael Phelps, swimming in a straight line! And now he's... swimming in a straight line some more! And... still swimming! It seems to me that most of the sports that have achieved more than a small cult following require a combination of speed, strength, marksmanship, and decision making. Shouldn't the Greatest Athlete Ever show some versatility? How are these highly specialized physical specimens, succeeding because of "VO2 max" and lactic acid production and torso-limb ratios and whatnot, any different from Takeru Kobayashi the hot-dog eater?

  • Soni wins 200 breasts. I guess a backup pair couldn't hurt in case she needs a mastectomy someday, but what's she going to do with the other 198?

  • Here is an old Sesame Street video I had never seen before! It is awesome! It's about the subway, but instead of uncritically boosting mass transit, it spends most of its running time bashing the subway and urban living in general. I was floored. I think there is more cynicism in these two minutes than in the subsequent four decades of children's television.

  • Elizabeth was watching a show called "Gossip Girl" and I looked it up to see what it was about. It appeared to be an adaptation of a series of novels about teenagers on the Upper East Side, but I had to roll my eyes at the names. Seriously, "Blake Lively"? "Leighton Meester"? "Penn Badgely"? "Chace Crawford?" "Taylor Momsen"? Yeesh, overwrite much? Those are practically Harry Potter names! Then I realized those were the actors. Oy.

  • I've been driving for nearly twenty years now and it seems that just in the past couple I have seen a marked increase in the amount of debris I encounter flying at me on the road. There's nothing you can really do, at least when you have traffic on both sides of your lane — you just have to hope your car can survive the collision with the garbage or the boxes or the boards or whatever. Recently I was driving down the 880 when an entire shredded tire came careening down my lane and right at my car. It made a distinct thunk on impact, different from the usual tink! of stuff ricocheting off the old Aluminum Lung. But my car kept driving fine — there wasn't even a bump or anything — so I figured I had escaped unscathed.

    Several days passed and I drove to various destinations — always after dark. This is important because the first time I saw my car again during daylight, I discovered that the entire tire was wedged in the grill and that I had been cruising the streets of the East Bay with the remains of a steel-belted radial flapping from the front of my car.

  • I finally got Beyond the Sword (the expansion pack for Civilization IV) and have been spending too much time playing it — I guess my usual distractions (eg, Peggle) have finally grown boring. I've mentioned in the past that games like this and Europa Universalis II have done more for my acquaintance with classical music than any other method; what I've discovered recently is that they also seem to greatly enhance my appreciation of it. As in, when playing Beyond the Sword, I often find myself thinking, "Wow, this is a great piece!" — so much so that I then track down a recording, only to discover that when I just sit there like a lump and listen to it, it doesn't do nearly as much for me. Why can I only get into the Eroica while trying to trade Civil Service for Military Tradition? Why is Nixon in China so much more stirring to me as I order my worker units to build uranium mines?

  • Incidentally, the reason I've been playing Beyond the Sword much more than the original Civilization IV is that you can have eighteen civilizations on the map at once. For some reason eighteen is much more interesting than eight. (Though I guess Humbert Humbert might disagree. Ba-dum-bum! Thanks, I'll be here all night! Try the veal! Humbert Humbert certainly will! Ba-dum-bum!)

  • I go to farmers' markets a couple of times a week, and I have discovered that produce looks so much better when it's smaller. The booths are full of tiny vegetables — heads of cauliflower the size of baseballs, eggplants and peppers no bigger than the palm of your hand — and they're so much more appealing than the ungainly monsters in supermarkets.

  • Elizabeth found the following — note the last line:

    I think I'm beginning to understand how Asian countries skirt child labor laws!

  • I have remarked in the past upon the fact that people in lecture halls seem to have no compunction about surfing the web, instant messaging, playing video poker, etc., in the middle of class, despite the fact that their screens are fully visible to hundreds of people behind them. So perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to go to the Santa Clara City Library to tutor a GMAT student only to find that directly in my line of sight was a dude on a library computer looking at gay porn.

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