31 August 2011


The more costume-minded of you out there are already five months in to your build of Songbird from the yet to be released Bioshock Infinite.

The other half of the world has really been eyeing that Austin Powers costume from the pop-up Halloween store and may finally pull the trigger this year. It will be more timely than ever.


That leaves the rest of us (the third half, if you're counting) stuck at home feverishly conjuring up costume ideas. The costume must impossibly satisfy the following categories:
  • It must be a totally unique concept that no human, prior to this Halloween, has conceived.
    • If it is a costume of a thing that exists, it must be a daring re-imagining or a Hollywood quality replica.
  • No detail can be spared and the end result will be a pitch-perfect recreation of the idea in your head.
  • You must be able to execute it without the proper tools or knowledge.
  • It will be done with limited time and as cheaply as possible, because you like to cut corners.
I'm currently straddling two or more bullets as I try to figure out my costume this year.

Like this, but without the slapstick.

Actually, pulling off a good costume will involve shattering every one of those criteria. You'll spend more than you were planning and you'll have to compromise (compromise!) on details that you just can't work out. Your ambitions will outstrip your skills -- this time -- and your limited skillset will push you up against the time-wall faster than you anticipated. You won't be this guy.

That's okay, though. Pursuit of the ultimate costume is okay. To expect to attain the perfect costume, year after year, is folly.

I have to tell myself all of this as I pursue this year's ultimate costume.

Pics to follow?

26 August 2011

Exposure III

This is the final part of my obnoxiously detailed anti-exposé on your frozen-ass desserts. Please read parts one and two.

You're being patronized. Not like patron of the arts, pay a sculptor to sculpt some shit patronized.

Patronized like being talked-down to.

You're getting "World's Greatest" chocolate cake slices straight from Sara Lee. You love it because it "satisfies patron cravings for chocolate while adding excitement and variety." Restaurants love it because its "strong visual appeal stimulates impulse sales". Fact. Some of this shit is so utterly fantastic that you, the customer, will think the restaurant "spent hours creating [it]".

Unsurprisingly, Cheesecake Factory is on it too. Unsurprising, because they go ahead and say that they're a factory in the name. So let's say I want to stock Cheesecake Factory desserts and maybe i'm even up front about that fact, but I'm a little shaky about what to do with them once I've got them stored at or below zero degrees fahrenheit. I can't just jam a mouth prop into my customers and force-feed them cheesecake. Can I?

No, you cannot use this to feed your customers.

What's my alternative? How do I make the consumer come to me?

I can pull up the Dream Factory Plating Suggestions and see what exactly they think I should do to make the plates more enticing. I totally forgot to mention;  their wholesale bakery wing is called the Dream Factory. 'Cause they make dreams. Armed with this .pdf I now know to garnish my Carrot Cake Cheesecake with an orange twist or a wafer cookie.

Everyone wins. Except you. 

You lose.

You lose because you're eating the same (the exact same) boring, frozen dessert that everyone else across the country is eating and it's utterly unremarkable. You lose because you're paying a restaurant to move something from their walk-in freezer to their walk-in refrigerator and then several hours later, walk it out to your table. 

Is there a solution besides bitching about the dessert menus and singling out companies who are providing a perfectly justifiable service? There is. 

Option One is swearing at me for wasting your time and going to back to doing whatever you were doing before you read any of this.

Option Two is to just ask if that dessert you're eyeing is made in-house. If it is it'll probably taste good, and you'll make the restaurant feel better for going the extra mile and making their own shit. If it's not, skip it because it will leave you over-charged and under-impressed.

Restaurants: This is what happens when you do it yourself.

This is the last part of the series. Please check out parts one and two if you missed them. 

24 August 2011

Exposure II

This is part two of my anti-exposé on how shitty desserts can be. Please be sure to read parts one and three.

Eventually I quit my catering job. Memories of thawing 48 identical frozen muffins laid next to each other, box by box, faded. I replaced them with important things like "how to recover from lost time experiences in heavy traffic" and "swearing at the radio".

And then two things happened that pulled me back into the frozen depths of institutional desserts.

I had the misfortune of seeing a dinner companion get a half frozen piece of chocolate cake at a pretty decent restaurant.

How could this be? Why would the slice have come out with frost on all sides. Aren't they baking these things or something? If this slice came out totally frozen then that would mean it was individually frozen. If it was individually frozen, then that would mean they didn't make it on site.

This was a troubling notion and it planted itself firmly in my brain, dislodging bits of movie trivia and friends' birthdays as its root system grew.

That dinner experience was followed up by another one where I got a really honest waiter who told me that the best dessert they had was also the only one they made in-house. In the boring industry, we call that an "a-ha" moment.

Picture is unrelated.

That a-ha moment did not occur at a Red Lobster.

Happily, people don't go to Red Lobster for epiphanies. They go for cheesy biscuits and they go for shrimp and when they're done, they usually go for the dessert offerings.

In fact, people go for one specific dessert so much that Google thinks I should be searching for it.

That particular dessert is the Chocolate Wave. If you're not familiar with the Chocolate Wave (it's nautical, sea see?) then you may recognize a picture of it.


That should look familiar, but this shot has been staged and the Chocolate Wave's signature enormity is a little hard to discern. Let's try a picture with a little less style. This one comes courtesy of food industry supplier and Department of Defense contractor Sterling Foods.

Pictured: clinical disinterest.

What does this mean? This means that Red Lobster is buying their signature dessert from the good people at Sterling Foods. It's no big deal. In fact, Darden Restaurant Group (of which Red Lobster is a part) named Sterling Foods one of their "Distinguished Suppliers" way back in 2004. That means Darden (and by extension, Red Lobster) has a great relationship with their suppliers and everyone's happy.

So what's the problem? Sterling definitely has their shit together - just look at everything that goes into their Product Development:

The problem is, Red Lobster is not advertising, "Our Dessert Undergoes Accelerated Shelf-Life Testing"

To their credit, they also aren't saying they make it in-house. The reason this whole setup gives me pause is that when I go to Red Lobster I want to feel an intimate bond between the menu items and me. I want to feel this more than I want to feel totally nauseated by Cheddar Bay Biscuits ten minutes after being seated. I want that connection more than I want to feel like every hair on my head has been thoroughly saturated with the stink of seafood.

But when I order that Chocolate Wave I'm not getting that connection. I'm being funneled institutional, precision engineered chocolate cake from a factory somewhere (it's in San Antonio) and Red Lobster is acting as an overpriced middleman. 

It makes me sad and sick in a distinctly non-biscuit related manner.

I just want a restaurant that makes their own shit. I want them to be up front. 

If someone is going to plant their flag in a dessert like the Chocolate Wave, I want them to make it their own damn selves.

In the third and final part we'll see how much deeper this goes and what you, the consumer, can do to ensure yourself a decent fucking dessert.

If you missed them, please be sure to read parts one and three of this non-expose. 

22 August 2011

Exposure I

Once upon a time, I catered for a living.

It wasn't the classy, dinner party kind of catering.

So much fucking class.

It was "catering" on an institutional scale for institutional crowds and by God, we used every last bit of institutional equipment we had available to us to do it.

We had walk-in refrigerators the size of studio apartments and walk-in freezers you had to go through the refrigerator to get to. They were dark, terrifying and occasionally accumulated an alarming amount of ice on the door opening mechanism. A single bulb lit the space and tried its damnedest to fight the brutal cold but could only cast a sick, yellow pallor on the frozen boxes.

There was a rack full of dirty winter coats to wear and if you were going to be in there for more than a minute or two, you were wishing you had taken the chance and grabbed a communal coat.

What I'm saying is, it was pretty fucking cold. Deep freeze, 0 degree constant temperature kind of cold. I would guess that when people die from exposure, those kind of temperatures are the last thing they feel.

The deep freezer, incidentally, was where we kept the muffins. The muffins are what we laid out, by the dozens, for our morning catering gigs. You can't put frozen muffins on a plate, of course. They have to thaw first. Fourteen pounds at a time, we'd thaw those boxes out in the (also walk-in) refrigerator.

Thawed and served.

Actually, that's how Otis Spunkmeyer (of cookie fame) continues to market their thaw and serve muffins to the foodservice industry. These tasty looking treats are not only the "#1 brand of individually wrapped muffins in foodservice", but they also have the "quality appearance consumers love". The implication of the first statement of course is that there may be a number one provider of non-individually wrapped muffins (?) and the latter statement implies that Otis Spunkmeyer knows exactly what you, the consumer, love.

The muffins are passable. They're perfectly consistent and if you take them out of the walk-in soon enough they're nice and room temperature-y by the time all the conventioneers have turned to them in a desperate bid to clear their hangover-fogged heads.

If you're a restaurateur or in the foodservice industry, none of this is surprising. And you probably don't really care. But then you've probably also stopped reading already. I point this out for every person who ever walked into a ballroom at the Hilton or the Metro Convention Center and thought, "Damn. That is a tasty looking batch of muffins." Next time, think twice.

They aren't fresh baked. They're not very tasty and the biggest thing they have going for them is thaw and serve convenience. Skip the muffins. And if you opt for the bear-claw instead and find it's a little cold in the middle? Now you know why.

I will always lie to you.

Parts two and three to follow.

19 August 2011

The Scientific Method

I thought I had it figured out.

I gave the world of food porn a cursory glance and said, "Yeah. I got this all figured out."

In my head I had devised a food porn machine. You just check the box next to "make better" and set the glisten slider to 95% and there you have it. Pictures for the most discerning palate.

Operating on this false, bold assumption I posed the question to no one in particular: Can all food be porn'd? Can any food item be photographed to within an inch of its life and slapped on the cover of Bon Apétit? 

My head said yes -- but my gut said yes. 

I grabbed my digital picture machine and pointed it at the evening meal.


This should be easy. Let's start with some golden sunlight streaming in on delicious ingredients.

Okay yeah, cheese. That looks pretty good.

Tortilla chips.
Good texture on these.

So far nachos pass the test. Things are looking good and graphic so let's keep building our plate of nachos.

Ground beef.
Kind of gross.

Alright well the ground beef is unappealing - but it's got the hallmark contrast, glisten and bokeh of any glossy food-magazine centerfold.

At this point things are looking a little shaky but I think our nachos are still doing fine. Let's throw some beans on this and call it a day.

Let me help.

That's... really unfortunate. There's plenty of texture but it's all the wrong kind. If this picture could talk it would say, "I came directly out of a can."

Then it would croak "Killlll meeeeee" like one of the cocooned colonists from Aliens.


Based on the evidence presented I would conclude that no, not all food can be porn'd.

At least, not yet.

17 August 2011

Op/Ed: Emesis As A Cure For Crappy Stories

No one likes listening to your (our, collective) drinking stories. It's not because drinking isn't great and interesting -- it is.

It's because no matter how well you tell your story, or how in awe you sound of the amount of alcohol you kept down; you will never convey exactly how fully and sublimely drunk you got. When you tell a tale of drunken excess, you're the only one who really gets it. Usually, that's because no one else gets how awesome it was to feel the cool of the linoleum pressed against your face as you spun away to unconsciousness.

You could hire a poet for the sole purpose of getting drunk and passing out and then writing a poem about it, and still no one would fully appreciate the kaleidoscopic delight of being so fucking wasted the other night. You can be Andrew W.K., write a kickass party song called "Party 'Til You Puke," and still only manage to convey like 80% of how great a time you had.

For the adventurous drinker, it's a hard row to hoe. How can you express, in no uncertain terms, how much of a good time you had when you remembered you had a fifth of Kentucky Deluxe and half a two-liter of flat RC Cola?

Next time, let someone know you're having a good time the night before by throwing up.

Throw it all up, plus most of your late night Wendy's run and the shot of Canadian Club you took when you were really too drunk to be doing shots.

Was the drinking story you just finished telling a funny story? Probably not. But I bet it ran long.

Is puking hilarious? Puking is always hilarious -- and to the spectator -- never runs long.

Does your listener not "get" it? Are they failing to experience the whirling, screaming sense of being that you felt that night, getting totally faced? If they saw you puke, they would experience total engagement of all five senses.

If you count disgust as a sense, they would experience total engagement of all six senses.

Did you spend ten or fifteen minutes detailing exactly what you drank, in what order and why that special combination made for such a wonderful, mostly forgotten evening? That's boring, and a waste of time.

You can accomplish the same thing by producing a visual timeline of your consumption, in reverse, all over the listener's shoes. In seconds!

Did you specialize in something colorful like blue Curaçao, Midori or Jell-O shots?

Don't tell me - show me!

Stop wasting time telling people boring stories, blow the dust off that Cutty Sark and start creating audiovisual sensory adventures.

I can't remember any but the most recent drinking story I've heard and I can't remember any I myself have told, but I remember nearly all the times I replaced that story with dry-heaves and amazing technicolor vomit the night before.

Bonus Points

Points awarded to me, for not including a shit-ton of pictures of people throwing up at parties. Lord knows there's plenty of them out there.

15 August 2011

Flowery Prose

My ideal job would involve working side-by-side with robots, possibly on some kind of battle-robot assembly line. Robots, from what I understand, do not employ subtlety or nuance and can only communicate in pure truth and logic. That kind of work environment would result in a job where misunderstandings and discomfort arising from such misunderstandings are kept to a minimum.

If a robot says that his job is killing him, he's probably being crushed to death by a giant cog when he says it.

Likewise if a robot announces that he could just kill you right now, you're probably about to have your windpipe crushed by cold, metallic claws.

Currently, I do not work with robots.

Without any robots to work with I find myself talking to people - often on a daily basis. I've come to terms with that.

As a result of working with and sometimes talking to people I understand that they use figures of speech. Figures of speech make words fun and let people create all kinds of clever turns of phrase. They can talk about golden parachutes and low hanging fruit and getting down in the weeds and no one has to leave the crushing claustrophobia of their cubicle to picture being on some kind of airborne fruit-gathering parachute safari.

Having said that, sometimes I think people forget how this whole thing works.

If someone's totally swamped, I can imagine them being mired in a swamp of paperwork and e-mail (in my imagination the e-mail has also been printed out [which is incidentally a waste of paper]) and as a result of being mired in this swamp, they're quite busy. It makes sense. If you weren't familiar with business metaphors you would still understand the concept of being swamped.

Unfortunately when you start playing hard and fast with your metaphors, people get hurt. When someone apologizes for sending a document back with two dozen inconsequential edits, they may explain it away because they're so anal. As in, anal retentive. This disturbs me because I usually only hear the word "anal" in very specific, non work-related contexts.

Depending on what you do for a living you may hear it exclusively in work-related contexts.

What they mean is "I'm often very picky about things" but instead of saying that they're picky, they're going out of their way to make an allusion to Freud's concept of the anal stage of child development. That is, they're displaying traits associated with control of the bowels. Like being really fucking picky about punctuation,

I take umbrage with this because rather than just saying that they're picky, or saying that they have minor OCD (probably also not true) they have to trot out that word. And since "Anal retentive" is too long, they shorten it. And then they totally lose my attention because I'm thinking of something else besides comma-splices and, run-on sentences.

Of course, there's an even less appropriate office metaphor that sees use.

When someone walks out of a meeting and says "Man, that meeting was a total cluster," they're speaking metaphorically. They're saying that the meeting was such a mess and so convoluted, it was very similar (metaphorically) to a clusterfuck.

They have to be making figurative comparisons because otherwise they're saying that the meeting was an actual clusterfuck. I'm trying not to internet this too hard so I have to imagine that means the meeting was like an orgy, but very poorly organized. This is difficult for me to believe because if an orgy, no matter how poorly organized, was going on anywhere in the office (or in the alley behind the office) I would have certainly heard of it.

Consequently if they really had come from an actual clusterfuck it would be appropriate for me to say,  "That explains why you're so sore."

Or, "That sounds terrible. Where is this clusterfuck, again?"

Am I being picky? Is there any other word that could serve as a high-impact metaphor for a sloppy meeting? How about, "It was a shambles!" A shambles is a total mess - but it also used to be an open-air slaughterhouse! Now you don't have to sex up the workplace in a wholly inappropriate manner but you can still make your point.

What if you said the meeting was bedlam? That means it was a crazy meeting but it's also:

"a popular name for the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London, which served as a lunatic asylum from circa 1400 [...]"

That sounds like a great metaphor for a terrible meeting! Good for you! 

Would you perhaps say instead that meeting was pandemonium? That's great too, and you get extra points for making an allusion to Paradise Lost. If you weren't aware of the allusion, you lose no points for creeping me out! 

My favorite way to describe a bad meeting?

"A mess."

Maybe all the meetings I go to all happen after the clusterfuck.

All I'm saying is that if I told someone that my next meeting was going to be a total DP, they'd probably look at me funny. 

Then they'd google it and I'd get fired. 

12 August 2011

Word To Your Mother

I'm just sayin'.

Click for mom-vision

Your mom probably isn't great with Word.

Food (Porn)

There's never been a better time to be a foodie than this very second. All manner of stupid shit is available to the discerning gourmand - if you want to serve your roasted heirloom tomato amuse-bouche on a hot slab of pink Himalayan salt, you can do that.

Lucky for you, it's expensive!

More good news - people love writing about food almost as much as they love buying accoutrements to press their roasted cauliflower and brined pork belly bánh mì. Or whatever.

The power and popularity of food writing is exemplified in the Michelin Guide. I have to assume that this thing started where AAA car club ratings are now, but because it's French it became much more important.

No one is surprised that the Michelin Man likes food.

As an aside, there are only three Michelin stars a restaurant can earn. Losing one is a pretty big deal; ask Bernard Loiseau. He confided in a colleague that, after working 17 years to gain three stars, he would kill himself if he lost one. He then did so, amid rumours of his restaurant losing its third star.

So what I'm saying is food writing holds power over life itself.  

You've strayed a bit...

Back to food porn! Anyway with all of these people writing about food, some of them even use pictures to go along with the words they write. This strategy has worked well for magazines for years.

Sometimes the strategy works with hardly any words at all.

Given the strong pedigree of the "words + pictures" format it wasn't very long before an enterprising citizen journalist (or thousands of bloggers) combined the two in their own food writing efforts. Those with good cameras hit on the concept of "food porn". It's kind of popular. Just ask these guys

Or these guys or this group of 500,000 pictures over here on Flickr.

Didn't click on those 'cause you're at work? First of all it's too late - they already saw the Juggs cover. Second of all, here's what you missed:

Goat cheese ice cream with fresh cherries and who fucking cares.
Except yeah, I'd eat that.

In fact nearly all food porn (so-called) looks like this. It's all beautifully shot and the background is beautifully blurred and the food is beautifully staged. The lighting is spot on and every dish looks like a centerfold from an alternative universe where food eats people and their subscription to Penthouse is filled with hot food-on-food action. I don't feel like reading what Wikipedia has to say about food porn - although rest assured that an article exists - but it's basically a nice, edgy hyperbole for fancy food photography. 

Amateur food porn is often poorly lit, blown out by on-camera flash and not arousing appealing. 

This is making me uncomfortable...

Stick around, champ, because it's about to get worse! 

I found something. Actual food porn. It hits on the worst parts of both worlds and it's intensely unsettling. And I found it on QVC! Your grandma could be watching it right this second and it's the worst thing I've ever seen. 

If you used the money from your National Endowment for the Arts grant to make an awful sculpture of post-coital genitalia from hot, glistening meats and melting cheeses you'd approximate (closely) what I'm talking about here. 

Perhaps... we should let the pictures do the talking?

QVC, you go right to hell.
Here's the full video. The video is very, very bad. The roast has a certain pliability to it - the way it moves when manipulated forcefully is reminiscent of... something. And then the juices! God, the juices! See how they flow forth when brushed ever so lightly. Watching this roast get rough-handled is probably illegal in Oklahoma, Alabama and Utah. 

Consider too: while the knife is bad, many prying fingers would have been much, much worse.

"So what?" you ask. "Doesn't remind me of anything at all!" 

Get off your pulpit, churchy, and get ready to stick it in some more meat! 


Watch the video. As with any... movie, you have to sit through some boring talking before you get to the action. Please do though, it's so much more challenging that way. This one... I'm not even sure if I'm allowed to describe what's happening here. The cheese is sliding out from between these cleft slices of ham and...

No. Don't look at it sideways, either. I'm stopping. My stomach hurts. I feel dizzy. This whole thing is all wrong. I wanted to cleanse my eye-palate with a nice boring picture of maize but then all I could think about was cramming it into that chicken while the roast sits back and watches. Let me try again. 

Bask in the total banality of the provolone cheese slice.

I could look at those cheese slices forever. They're bland and usual and there's nothing pornographic or unsettling about them. 

Goddamnit no! Cheese slices, why have you forsaken me!?

Alright well I guess I'll just wrap this up and...


09 August 2011

The Moon Says... (II)

It's the middle of the day and I can see through trees.
Put your pants on and go buy some guns!

08 August 2011

What's in a Name?

Names are handy. Instead of snapping your fingers at acquaintances or yelling loudly until the right person turns around, you can just call out their name. When you do, your lady friend "Toni" or your pal "Tony" might then turn to you and say, "Why are you yelling?"

No one has a friend named Tone.    

Names are also clues to gender in conversation. "John" is a dude. So is "Tim".

"Kandi" is a lady (stripper).

Thanks again, Google Images!

We know this because we know what genders names have been assigned. We even know it for those weird, English names like Geoffrey (dude; douche) or Isolde (lady). There's no system here, it's a cloud of names that simply exists. In other languages it's even easier. If you speak Spanish, you can usually just rest on adding an "a" to the end of a name. Para exemplar, Juan is married to Juana and their daughter's name is Juanita. If they wanted to nickname their little boy, they could call him Juanito. Also maybe they should buy a book of baby names or something because they're displaying a George Foreman-level lack of creativity.

"A grill -- wonderful! But what shall I George Foreman, father to innumerable Georges and Georginas, call it?"

Mario and Luigi are plumbers brothers (dude names) and I have to assume that if they have a sister, her name is Maria.

Also if you live here, your sister's name is Maria.

That's fine and ultimately kind of uninteresting. But it gets tricky.

What about Stacy? Or Kim? Those are pretty common names that can go either way. I'm having a hard time not assigning genders just typing them.

If "Kim" was short for "Kimbo Slice", you'd know because you just swallowed your teeth.

We soon start to see that we don't have to leave the English language to wonder whether or not the date you just set up with Ashley will not end awkwardly and immediately. But certainly the e-mails you've been exchanging with Sam and Jesse are on the level.



Things are getting tricky and I can't keep setting up scenarios for a gender-indeterminate audience. Let's finish this "names sounds like" game and go straight for Sanskrit. That's probably one of those languages that makes it easy to figure out.

Hitting the internet quickly I find Aadi, Aadideva and Aaditya.

Clearly we we are only at the beginning of the phone book.

Those all sound like great names for this lady right here:

But they're not. They're dude names. And your flight to India to visit your pen pal Aatmadeva (also a dude name) now seems interminably long.

And so it goes. There's nothing innate about a name. They're just more mouth-sounds with meaning (sometimes) associated with them and then another layer that says "girl or boy". And I guess there's another layer on top of that indicating how much of a douche you are (Prescott).

It's a Girl (or Boy)!

Incidentally, I defy you to do any research on names on the internet and not come across a minimum of one dozen baby name sites. I certainly did. And among the oddly hypnotic banner ads for stretch mark creams I found a trending tool.

According to this unattributed chart from thinkbabynames.com, the name "Maximilian" has taken a big hit after what looked like a steady rise to Number One.

It hurt my eyes too. Go buy some glasses.

This is confusing, because the last guy I know named Maximilian had a suit of armor invented for him.

My curiosity further piqued I arrogantly threw Google Trends at this problem, as I do all problems.

The results?


But, there was a spike in late 2007 - and more in 2009. What was the cause? Taking the maxim "Correlation does not imply causation" and soundly telling it to fuck right on off, I've made the following leap of opposite-of-logic:

Maximilian Hecker.

I don't know who this guy is. Beyond the fact that he's a German musician who blah blah blah Wikipedia, I have no idea.

Only this: his major album releases roughly correlate with the spikes on the chart.

It may just be a coincidence; the chart may not mean anything, there may not be anything inherent to names and maybe I should stop spending so much time trying to analyze things that don't merit analysis.

In conclusion:

Randi with an "i". 
Randy with a "y".

05 August 2011

Can I Get Pregnant If I Yahoo Answers?

The Internet is many things to many people. Surely many people take it for granted. To others, it's just a tool; they can depend on it to do their job but it's just a means to an end. I think if anyone stopped to think about it while they're waiting for their cat video to finish buffering, they'd find that it's kind of amazing.  It's amazing that it exists at all and then the things that people have done with it are even more amazing still. I'll give Google a break and point at WolframAlpha. It's a magic answer-machine that can take very complicated mathematical formulas and natural language queries and spit out answers.

It's a tremendous wealth of information for free, at your fingertips. In that regard, it's a microcosm of the internet itself. It is also like the internet in that it can be used for less than noble reasons.

Like when I type in "awesome", I get a bunch of great trivia.

And a swear! I made the computer swear!

Optional Punchline: "Now I can go back to doing the NY Times crossword puzzle in pen!"

Obviously this is bordering on Watson-level computing power and it's free and accessible to any student fudging their way through a calculus assignment. If the Internet was your house, WolframAlpha would be the boudoir picture of your wife in the $600 custom frame you show everyone to make them jealous.

And while WolframAlpha can clearly make people jealous of your newfound crossword skills, sometimes we need internet answers with more substance.

"10 Across; 5 letters: Your virulent infection was the inspiration for the
1995 thriller Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman!"

Occasionally that need for substance manifests itself as an urgent, alarming yes/no question hit far and high to the internet's outfield. Occasionally, those questions get fielded by Yahoo Answers. Then someone drops the ball and I think that gets recorded as an error?

How about this: it's just a bunch of people inexpertly answering questions asked inelegantly.

Technically that first one is a statement.

You cannot answer those questions (or the 700,000 like them) with your computer.

Unless you have one of these with a USB connector at the other end.

So, in the absence of a USB Pregnancy Test (typed here for the inevitable copyright battles that follow million dollar ideas), the best answer to that question would be, "See a doctor." Unless it's Dr. Crossword from earlier, they'll probably know better than even the most seasoned Yahoo Answers answerer. And even if you did get your question answered by a doctor who also happened to be on the internet, I would follow up their answer with:

"Hey, shouldn't you be golfing!?" (Zing!)

On that note, let's dive into the shallow end and see who, exactly, is answering these questions. If I was writing a scholarly paper, my hypothesis would be "Not doctors." Let's test that hypothesis with "Can I get pregnant from..." and see who's out there and what insights they're sharing.

22 Down, 67 letters: Can I get pregnant from grinding?

To be totally fair the answers are voted on and in a way, curated. I'm sure this helps push the trolls out of the top spot and keeps the trips to Planned Parenthood down to a manageable amount.

It also serves to showcase the world's most talented teen obstetricians.

The problem is, the people asking these questions - questions they're terrified to have answered  - are desperately seeking assurance. They're vainly hoping that the internet will tell them everything is okay and they can carry on with their lives. Honestly, they probably know the internet is going to turn its back on them in their time of need. They're looking down at the sand and seeing one set of footprints and it's not because Internet is carrying them, it's because Internet abandoned them to watch cat videos. People who should know better are asking people who don't know any better for help. It's Nimrod from the Divine Comedy babbling incoherently at Gossamer.

Gossamer looks like he might actually have all the answers.

So really if the questions is, "Could this change my life forever?" the answer is "Ask literally anything else in the world." You're better off screaming at passersby or swearing at the cold, dark night.

Except if you're this guy you could probably go ahead and ask WolframAlpha:

You win this time, Yahoo Answers.

03 August 2011

(Sh)udder-ly Moo-verlous

Let me begin by apologizing for my terrible pun.

I can't apologize for this one, though:

Marvelous has one "r" and no "moo"s. 

I wish that butchering the English language was the only crime that occurred here. The greater crime is that committed against nature, happening right below the sign:

Surprise! Your very existence is offensive.

It's much more than just a moo-verlous cookie jar (at 30% off!).

The cow's legs are so short as to be vestigial. They're something evolution left around as a mocking reminder of all the great walking this cow could be doing. Instead, it bears its full weight on grotesquely swollen udders. The crime is existing and the sentence is a lifetime of waving its tiny legs around like cloven antennae and cursing the thing that bore it and refused to kill it.

I can't look at this thing and not think of an obscene, pagan fertility statue. Not Hathor, though. The Egyptians had class and this does not - and on top of that it probably predates the earliest dynastic rule by 1,000 years. I can pretty much guarantee that underneath that glossy glaze and cheery paint are the furtive chisel marks of a long dead stonecutter. If you opened the lid it would be filled with burnt offerings left by newlyweds for good luck.

What I'm saying is it's the Venus of Willendorf, but a cow instead.

I Get It, It's a Weird Jar

Wait! What about this brood of shambling child-things?

Assure me that these do not crawl on their udders.

This generously discounted cow jar just just sits there - reproducing asexually and suckling its horrible children. I blame Science - they've been trying to combine mammals and insects for years. This whole thing just doesn't sit well. I could swear I've seen this same set of traits before in a documentary by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I just wish I could remember what it was called...

Oh yeah, it was called Alien Resurrection and it kind of sucked.

What bothers me most about this whole thing is that I didn't buy the coffee mugs (at 30% off!) when I got the chance and now I don't have anything to take to work and weird people out.

Except this, I guess.