June 11, 2008

Crunchy raw unboned real dead frog

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 11:12 am

Hey, you’re still coming here! That’s sweet.

Seriously, I’m sorry that we’re in another blogging furrow. Now that I’m at a writing rather than a reading stage of my dissertation, the thought of additional writing makes me feel tired. (On the plus side, I have started reading for pleasure again.) Hopefully I’ll be able to get into a groove where I can do both; don’t delete me from your RSS just yet.

Anyway, sorry for the fake-out, but this isn’t a real entry. I only logged on to make sure you all know about Modern Mitzvot, the newest blog by (in part) Girl Detective. It’s a blog about Jewish social and political issues, or more accurately, social and political issues seen from a Jewish perspective. I’m not Jewish,* but I find the site really thought-provoking, especially regarding Israeli and Palestinian issues; two of the best entries so far have been about the definition of Zionism, and a proposed solution for those who want to visit Israel without supporting the occupation. So don’t think me a bad person when I tell you that the entry that finally got me off my duff to add it to my blogroll was a brief, impassioned plea for Jews not to eat giraffes just because they’re kosher. If you plan to read only fourteen sentences this year, you’ll find them there.

*In junior high a classmate did call me a Jew, pejoratively.

April 20, 2008

Everybody’s talking ’bout the new sound

Filed under: Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 9:32 pm

Cakeboof; or, A Good Anagram Is Hard to Find

-A brief parable on the electronic age

Scene: The electronic mailroom.  Tomemos approaches the Postmaster.

Tomemos: Hi there.  I don’t think I’m getting my mail.

Postmaster: I’m terribly sorry, sir.  What makes you say that?

T: Well, I keep hearing about events that I was supposed to be invited to, but I never get the invitations.

P: Hmm, that’s odd.  Is your membership in Cakeboof current?

T: …Cakeboof?

P: You know, Cakeboof, the social club.  Pictures, hatching eggs.  Lots of Scrabble.  Don’t tell me you’re not a member of Cakeboof!

T: I guess I’m not.

P: That explains it! Nowadays, no one uses the mail anymore when they need to communicate.  They just go into Cakeboof, write out a message, and yell it as loud as they can.  That way, all of their friends who are members will know!

T: Couldn’t they just put invitations in the mail, like everyone used to do?

P: Oh, listen to Mr. Big over here!  They’re already contacting everyone who’s a Cakeboof member; is it fair that they should have to use a whole new way of contacting people who aren’t Cakeboof members?

T: No, I mean, couldn’t they just mail everyone who they want to come?

P: How are they supposed to remember you?  They never see you down at the Cakeboof!

T: That’s fair, I guess.  So is it easy to be a member of the, uh, that club we’re talking about?

P: Sure!  Just go down and register as a member.  They’ll give you your own room, which you meticulously decorate.  Then you just have to come to the club every day to see if you have any messages from your friends or from anyone who’s known you since high school.  Also, watch your walls carefully in case someone comes into your room and writes something on them.  It’s that simple!

T: I don’t have time to devote to some social club!  I’m a very important person—I’m a widely-published author, plus the manager of two baseball teams!

P: Well, sir, I tell you what.  If you won’t join Cakeboof, your friends could just mail you a picture of the message they sent everyone else via Cakeboof.  That would probably be the most efficient thing.


April 8, 2008

Not the preferred nomenclature

Filed under: Dissertation, Funny Stuff, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 9:59 pm

Sorry for the blog outage—that was my longest in a while, huh?  Mainly I’ve been working on my dissertation, and that doesn’t give me much blogging material: partly I don’t want to bore anyone, partly I don’t want to write anything twice if I can help it.  Plus, Acephalous casts a long shadow over anyone wanting to write something entertaining about their dissertation reading.  But enough throat-clearing, here I go already:

As I may or may not have mentioned, I’m writing about spy literature in the early twentieth century.  Some of what I’m reading is interesting in its own right, and some of it is just interesting as material for the project—it’s the laughing with/laughing at distinction, basically.  It turns out that some thrillers lose their ability to inspire over ninety or a hundred years.  In general, the appalling writing I’ve seen takes one of two forms.

The first is the “Tom Clancy Effect,” where the author abandons the pretense that what you’re reading is a novel, and just makes it an earnest argument for increased British military spending—imagine an episode of 24 that just consisted of Jack Bauer reading an article from Foreign Policy Magazine.  Here, from William Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910 (1906), is an exchange between two young Englishmen following the shocking revelation of the German invasion of England:

“…to-day is surely the blackest day that England has ever known.”

“Yes, thanks to the pro-German policy of the Government and the false assurances of the Blue Water School.  They should have listened to Lord Roberts.”

The second type of bad writing masks its rhetoric and predictability with exotic characters and details.  The results at least look much more like what you expect from a thriller, except when, pardon the cliche, the author jumps the shark.  Late in E. Phillips Oppenheim’s The Mysterious Mister Sabin (1902), Mr. Sabin’s Chinese servant Foo Cha (who is introduced quite out of the blue 3/4 of the way through the book) reports some suspicious activity that he’s observed:

“Master, I was followed from the house of the German by a man, who drove fast after me in a two-wheeled cab. He lost me on the way, but there are others. I have been into the street, and I am sure of it. The house is being watched on all sides.”

Sabin tries to reassure him, but apparently doesn’t do a good job, because not only is Foo Cha still agitated, he forgets how to speak English:

“Me afraid,” he admitted frankly. “Strange men this end and that end of street. Me no like it. Ah!”

Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, if you were wondering what your books would look like a century from now, wonder no more.

February 20, 2008

It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 12:02 pm

So you might have heard about this blog Stuff White People Like. (You might have heard about it from Girl Detective’s post about her ambivalent feelings about it; I echo some of that ambivalence here.) The blog isn’t a take on all white people—no jokes about C&W music or mayonnaise sandwiches here—but rather on the educated, liberal, urban or pseudo-urban white person, what you might call the Hipster-Yuppie Complex. You also might call it “me and many, many people I know.” For instance, the top entry right now (#71: Being the only white person around)…I swear to God I’ve been in that exact Dim Sum place. It’s in Artesia or something, and yes, we drove 45 minutes to a lunch spot exactly because of its amazing authenticity. (Other entries that describe me pretty well: Apple Products, Kitchen Gadgets, Apologies. And the one about the Sunday New York Times is a dead ringer for my family, except for the part about listening to music while reading it.)

In general, I think the blog is really good, and going through the archives suggests to me that it’s just been getting better. It ranges from simple observational humor (#63: “Remember that whenever a white person says they wants to go to a sandwich shop you are looking at at least a $15 outlay after tip and drink … Also note: white people will wait up to 40 minutes for a good sandwich”; #24: “Wines that are acceptable: Red, White (less so)”) to incisive critique (#62: “It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things”). Sometimes it’s not as funny as it could be—usually this happens when it lapses into mere sarcasm—but what is? In general, I think it deserves the hype.

Predictably, one strain of the blog addresses privileged liberal self-righteousness about the everyday steps they take to advance liberal causes (or Awareness): Priuses, Vegan/Vegetarianism, and what seems to have caused the most internet-wide dismay, Recycling. The joke is generally that these “50 Simple Ways to Save the ____” steps are ways of mollifying liberal guilt without actually changing one’s lifestyle, as in this excerpt from the Recycling entry:

Recycling is fantastic! You can still buy all the stuff you like (bottled water, beer, wine, organic iced tea, and cans of all varieties) and then when you’re done you just put it in a DIFFERENT bin than where you would throw your other garbage. And boom! Environment saved! Everyone feels great, it’s so easy!

There are two over-reactions to this kind of joke/critique, and this applies to all sorts of comedy and commentary besides SWPL (which is my broader point). The obvious one is to huff and puff that these things aren’t funny, because they’re really important: are you saying people shouldn’t recycle? These are the same people that hold that South Park or Team America are conservative, because they [the angry liberal viewers] can’t tell the difference between pointing out the flaws or foibles of one position, and endorsing the opposite position. In other words, while you should take positive steps that may be minor or symbolic, it is possible, and in fact important, to recognize the limits of what you’re doing, so that you can remain humble and motivate yourself to take more substantive steps. Later I’ll get to how this happy medium works.

The other overreaction is to say, “Absolutely right—all that stuff is phony liberalism, and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.” This is where that ambivalence I mentioned comes in: it’s right to take comic positions seriously, but one should never forget that those positions come from a comic persona, and absolutism is often part of a comic persona. It generally should not be part of how we actually formulate positions.

For instance, one of my favorite comedy routines of all time is, brace yourself, Chris Rock’s “Niggas Versus Black People.” The reason it’s so funny is that it’s so startling: not just because Rock uses profanity and racial slurs, but because he adopts an extreme persona that casts American racial politics in a stark light. Whereas, when people (invariably white people) talk about how much sense that routine makes, they not only sound racist; they generally are racist. (Here’s a Sadly, No! post about one example.) This has nothing to do with the question of who can say what words; it has to do with the difference between comedy, which is based on extremes, and real-world decisions, which should include nuances. Chris Rock is not “just joking”—his position is not a total fabrication—but he is definitely joking; he’s exaggerating for comic effect. Anyone who fails to see that is mistaking the moment of laughter for the moment of truth.

Similarly, we have this post by Ogged about how really true SWPL is. He abandons the comic persona (“Now I realize that this really isn’t funny”) but thinks that what remains is still just as valid. Here’s an excerpt (thanks to Mithras for the link):

You can’t sit at the top of the empire, particularly an empire that fucks over millions of its own citizens, and not be a villain. I’m sorry, those are the breaks. … That’s why things that are well-intentioned, like recycling, are absurd, because nobody cares if you spit shine the bullet before you put it in someone’s head.

This is where I get off the bus. First of all, it’s obvious that if recycling and choosing a car with good gas mileage doesn’t make a difference, neither does littering out the window of your Hummer H2. So essentially this is a Get Out of Jail Free card for the people, and they are legion, who believe that they don’t have to do anything for anyone because it’s all bullshit; they see what a joke personal responsibility is, and what sheep we all are for trying to make a difference. As Mithras said (sardonically): “So there you go, folks: You may as well act as evilly as you care to, because it doesn’t matter what you do. Isn’t that the moral of this story?”

Second, actions that are not efficacious in themselves often are when taken en masse; furthermore, sweating the small stuff is how you stay primed for the big stuff. For instance, on a personal level, being frugal when you buy groceries or go out to eat isn’t going to help your bank account very much except over the very long term, but it puts you in the mind-set that you’ll need when bigger financial decisions arise. Similarly, voting in an election isn’t going to affect the outcome—if everyone I know even casually had skipped the primary earlier this month, the result would have been the same—but it’s the kind of behavior that makes change, and keeps you connected to the world of politics rather than detached from it. So it’s important to sort your recycling, because it keeps your mind on the importance of environmental change over convenience; at the same time, you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that recycling is change. What SWPL is critiquing is the idea that driving the Prius, or taking out the recycling, clears you to live guilt-free and smug and buy all those Apple products. I’ll stop a moment to let you think whether you’ve ever known anyone like that. (One of the places where the site loses me, incidentally, is its take on non-profit organizations: aside from the canard that “the sweet side of non profits is that you are paid a competitive salary for your field,” it seems to me that working for change as a career is above this kind of scoffing. So this parenthetical just proves that everyone has their humorless side.)

We—the universal we, but especially we privileged, well-intentioned people—need comedy to poke fun at our values, which is to say at us, because otherwise we risk missing the forest for the trees: the echo chamber of our good-natured friends and our feelings of self-satisfaction needs to be punctured every once in a while so that we can see the bigger picture. That said, the difference between comedy and mere cynicism is that comedy sees another way. The people like Ogged who have figured it all out feel just as superior as the yuppie recyclers, but they’re content to simply sneer at the idea of political efficacy. That’s a form of smugness we can’t afford.

(And yes, I know that another overreaction to a joke is to go on and on about it on your blog. “Overthinking” should really be the next Stuff White People Like entry.)

January 14, 2008

Wanna be startin’ somethin’

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, Wrong Place Buddy — tomemos @ 10:41 pm

Checking our blog stats, and in particular the Google searches that lead misguided “readers” to our blogs, is something of a hobby among small bloggers, or at least me and my wife. This being the case, I’d like to inaugurate “Wrong Place, Buddy,” a recurring feature wherein I’ll note some of the more memorable search terms that made people realize that tomemos was for them. Here are the first two:

“having a decent dump”

“crotch shot of girl patting a snake”

Of course, posting these only makes it more likely that people (how many can there be?) will find this site with these searches. So, let me say to those people: Jesus, guys, haven’t you heard of Google Images?

December 31, 2007

Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, General Me, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 2:29 pm

Two unconnected month-of-December items, so that my conscience can be clear going into the new year:

•Julie and I finally took our honeymoon, to Ensenada in Baja California, about three weeks ago. It wasn’t sub-tropical by any means—our shorts and bathing suits went unused, which we half-expected—but it was quite relaxing, with plenty of napping and strolling, with a pleasant day trip to Mexican wine country thrown in. It also featured a minor milestone: I fell off the meat wagon. For the first time since (roughly) May 1993, I knowingly ordered and ate meat.

I’ve never been one of those vegetarians who is appalled by the thought of eating meat unknowingly. When, at one Midnight Breakfast at Sarah Lawrence, I realized that the fake sausage I had been enjoying was actually real sausage, I didn’t freak out, nor was I bothered when I realized that “imitation crab” is made out of other fish, not out of gluten or something. I also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards broths, stocks, and sauces. But even with this permissiveness, my trip to Japan a couple of years ago felt extremely unsatisfying: while my family enjoyed every kind of fish dish, I was eating the same miso soup, salads, and edamame everywhere, and anything else I tried was most likely cooked in fish products anyway. Furthermore, my moral commitment to vegetarianism is wholly personal; I’m perfectly fine with others eating meat, so it felt strange holding myself to an absolute standard.

So, when I learned that our vacation destination was the Home of the Fish Taco, I realized that I was open to trying some. It was important that it be fish—I do believe that they feel less suffering and consciousness—and also that there be few interesting vegetarian options where we were traveling; even in Greece, I was able to enjoy local varieties of Greek salad, as well as various pita-based foods, whereas around Ensenada few restaurants had anything vegetarian other than quesadillas.

Over the course of the trip, I ate five fish tacos at two different restaurants, as well as a plate of seafood pasta. (I also ate steak tacos after all, but that was a misunderstanding: I ordered “tacos quesas,” and it ended up having steak, and the food took so long to arrive that I didn’t want to send it back.) How was it? It was fine. It felt somewhat odd knowing I was intentionally breaking an abstention, and I worried that I would have digestive problems (I didn’t), but it was basically anticlimactic; I was just eating food.

In the end, though, I think this experiment ended up strengthening my vegetarianism. The fish tacos tasted good; they didn’t make me feel like I had been missing out on something amazing for fifteen years. At one point during our trip, I had a vegetarian tostada, and that was as satisfying a meal as anything else I ate in Mexico. Taste is possibly the most transitory aesthetic experience: even if you eat a meal that you remember for the rest of your life—and I’ve had one or two—it can’t make you want to live a different way. My feelings on eating meat are unchanged: for me, it is a moral issue, but not a moral absolute.

Incidentally, in talking about this experience, I received a reminder that the personally significant is not always identical with the objectively significant. Talking to my sister about our trip, and trying to build suspense, I told her that there had been a “significant occurrence” on our honeymoon. She thought I was going to tell her that we had gotten pregnant.

•There’s a debate raging in the feminist and left-wing blogospheres these days, over a new book project, Yes Means Yes, a collection of essays about fighting rape culture through emphasis on women’s sexuality. The book was announced at Feministing and is co-edited by Jessica Valenti, controversial author of Full Frontal Feminism, which was (to my mind justly) accused of excluding middle-class, non-white, and international feminist issues, despite its claims of universality. (My two favorite responses were petitpoussin’s and Kugelmass’s.) Yes Means Yes is facing much the same criticism: it has been accused of being ahistorical, reductionist, and indifferent to working-class and third-world rape cultures, among other things. However, the book right now is just a call for submissions, and so there is no content to critique; furthermore, many people seem to be taking it as a given that the book is attempting to be the last word on rape, and that it could not be relevant to underprivileged women’s issues. Neither point seems fair to me.

That said, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight … except where it spills over into unfounded incriminations of progressives generally. At an excellent post by tekanji at Shrub Blog—a post that correctly critiques aspects of book’s promotional material while recognizing the potential value of the project overall—I read a comment that seemed to cross the line between making supportable claims about the book, or about Western feminism in general, and unsupportable generalization and hyperbole (“the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count”). Breaking my usual policy, which is not to discuss politics online except at friends’ blogs, I responded, and a discussion followed, including what is probably the longest comment I’ve posted anywhere. The thread seems to have run its course, but you never know.

You can read the actual arguments at tekanji’s blog. I do want to say a word, though, about where my interest in this issue comes from: it comes from attending both high school and college with students who were 1) universally left-wing and 2) divided, to different degrees, into pretty stark contrasts of privileged and unprivileged, both financially and demographically. Consequently, identity politics has been central to my political understanding and discussion, for better and for worse. Some would expect this to be the point where the white, straight, middle-class man complains about how unfairly he was treated; actually, I found most of political discussions in my youth to be thoughtful and productive, and especially important for someone coming from natural positions of privilege. The exceptions have been cases where assumptions of exclusion and privilege preclude and eclipse fair consideration of content, and I think that’s what’s happening with Yes Means Yes. At Shrub Blog, one commenter accused progressive and feminist bloggers of paying “lip service” to working-class issues, which for me raised the question of what other kind of service can be paid on a blog; aside from organizing and fund-raising efforts, the internet is all talk. In fact, people seem to be criticizing Yes Means Yes precisely for its failure to make explicit mention of unprivileged women’s issues. Honestly, this is a fair point—if the book wants to be for everyone, it should make this clear— but the fact remains that the suggested topics are just that, suggested, and before the essays are compiled it is impossible to conclude whether or not the book is “exclusionary.” The frustrations with the state of feminism and the feminist and progressive blogospheres seem valid to me; the assumptions about this unpublished book do not, and run the risk of alienating potential supporters and allies.

Be safe tonight and this year, everyone.

August 15, 2007

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me — tomemos @ 6:02 pm

I’m up in Berkeley to get married this weekend. That’s largely why I’ve been so quiet over the last month, that and the process of moving into our new apartment in Long Beach. The apartment is great, but there’s not much to say about it other than that you should all come visit. Long Beach is also great, and I imagine I’ll come back to what it has that Irvine doesn’t. And the wedding will hopefully—along with being married—be great, but it’s too early to tell.

As for the wedding planning itself, it’s exhausting, of course, but it’s not (contrary to what I wrote back in May) as bad an experience as preparing for my exams was. It’s easily as much work, and a lot more running around—95% of my work for my exam was done within about five square miles—but it lacks the element of terror which was so essential to the exam experience. Plus, some of it is actually fun, like making the wedding playlist (the biggest mix CD I’ve ever made) and even, to some extent, making the seating chart (also like making a mix CD, but with friends and loved ones instead of songs). There’s still time for a debacle to develop, of course, but … actually, I can’t think of a good way to finish that sentence. It’s all going to be fine.

Before I get back to whatever it is I’m doing next—shopping for cartons of disposable cameras, or stuffing paper bags with party favors (no spoilers!)—a quick, irrelevant annoyance:

On the plane up from Orange County this morning, my seatmate gave me his copy of the Orange County Register. This is a bad newspaper, as those in the Southland know—not only for its right-wing political stance, but for crap like this, which I came across within two minutes of reading the paper:

We’re shocked, shocked to find they’re playing politics in Sacramento. Well, we’re not really shocked.

Oh my god, it still makes me so angry. Look, “shocked, shocked to find …” means that you’re not really shocked. That’s the reason you say “shocked” twice—it emphasizes the insincerity. So you don’t have to say, “we’re not really shocked.” It’s from Casablanca. GOD.

May 9, 2007

I am going to make it through this year if it kills me

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me, Literati and Cognoscenti, Romance — tomemos @ 11:49 pm

I will now list similarities between getting married and taking my qualifying exams, until I run out of similarities or it becomes my birthday. Take it away, Don Pardo:

  • Both are about to occur in my life. (Exams: three weeks; wedding: three months.)
  • Both seem like huge impossibly huge projects from a distance, but as you start to hunker down and get things done, you realize that they’re surprisingly do-able.
  • However, as you get within a few weeks, you realize that, actually, they are impossibly huge projects, after all. (wedding: projected)
  • Both involve a great deal of research. (Exams: research into twentieth-century literature and narrative theory; wedding: research into wedding services, Jewish matrimonial traditions, and mailing addresses.)
  • Both are fun to plan and envision in the abstract.
  • Both require a large investment of money and time. (The exams are 90% time/10% money, where the wedding is about 75% money/25% time. Before you feel bad for me, though, I should guiltily admit that it’s someone else’s money in this case.)
  • Both feature long periods of idleness alternating with bursts of intense activity. (In the case of the exam, that’s due to simple procrastination rather than anything logistical.)
  • Most people want to put them both off for as long as possible, but you’re not getting any younger.
  • Despite this initial urge towards delay, once you start the process you become determined not to let anything derail or forestall the event.
  • Both involve answering difficult questions while under observation.
  • If successful, both result in jubilant celebration; if unsuccessful, depression and weeping.
  • Both of them require satisfying the arcane and sometimes incompatible preferences of a number of different people.
  • Those who haven’t gone through them have a vague idea that there’s a lot involved, but little sense of the scope.
  • Both of them are a brief gateway to a larger world (exams: the dissertation; wedding: a lifetime together), and thus seem merely symbolic in retrospect; however, in advance they seem sky-obstructing.

That’s that. Eleven minutes left; I yield the rest of my time.

April 5, 2007

Yeah, I really do think

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, Music — tomemos @ 11:16 am

WordPress lets you check your visitor stats, which I didn’t know until recently. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about it until recently, because it’s exactly the kind of online information I could get addicted to. Sure enough, as soon as I heard, I started checking it every few days, then every day, and for a while there I was checking it whenever I sat down to the computer. My interest flagged, though, when it became clear that there was very little variation; I haven’t done anything to attract a lot of attention, so every day, for the most part, I got the same thirty- to forty-person combination of dedicated readers and misguided Google searchers.

Then, on Monday, I noticed something odd: all my stats were as usual, except that some 28 people reached my blog with the following search term: alanis my humps. Now, I do have an entry that matches that search – the one about “My Humps,” which also mentions Alanis Morissette – but it didn’t make sense that anyone would be making a web search like that, let alone 28 people. “Some sort of bot thing,” I mused.

Then, that evening, Lore posted an entry about his favorite “sensitive, acoustic covers of non-sensitive, non-acoustic songs,” such as Tori Amos covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit”… or Alanis, essentially as a joke, covering “My Humps.” “Aha,” I thought, “that’s why people were making that odd web search – because they wanted to find this video! Well, anyway, I’m sleepy. Think I’ll go to bed now.”

Then, the next day, I checked my blog stats and learned that my blog had blown up. What follows is a compilation of some of my blog stats over the last few days, but it’s more than that. It’s also a precise, even elegant, numerical depiction of the precipitous rise and breathtaking fall of an internet fad over three days, a “curve” that doesn’t resemble a bell so much as the Murderhorn. (Note: all statistics for 4/5/07 are as of 7:00 p.m. GMT.)

Visitors to the blog using web searches for “alanis my humps” or words to that effect:

4/1/07: 0

4/2/07: 28

4/3/07: 208

4/4/07: 17

4/5/07: 0

Visitors to Tomemos, by day (previous high, 69):

4/1/07: 28

4/2/07: 113

4/3/07: 330

4/4/07: 74

4/5/07: 35

Visitors to the post in question, by day (previous high: 7):

4/1/07: 1

4/2/07: 49

4/3/07: 261

4/4/07: 36

4/5/07: 1

Total views of the My Humps post since 8/31/07: 489

Views of the My Humps post from 4/2/07 to 4/4/07: 346 (70.8% of the total)

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t revel in my brief rush of visitors, even though almost all of them probably tossed the blog aside impatiently when they realized it wasn’t what they wanted; for a while there it was kind of incredulously thrilling just to click “blog stats” and watch those numbers rise.  However, there are two parts of this that are a little sad – maybe even a little ironic, though I’ve been paranoid about misusing the word “ironic” ever since Morissette’s song on that subject (isn’t that ironic? … isn’t it?). The first is that I misspelled the title of that entry. It comes from a George Saunders piece in the New Yorker where he makes fun of, among other things, the lyrics to “My Humps.” However, he writes “Hump my dump, you lumpy slumpy dump” whereas I wrote, God knows why, “slumby.” I meant to change it, but obviously that’s a lie. So my pride at this undeserved popularity was mingled with embarrassment that it was centered on an entry where I had used an incorrect piece of gibberish, rather than the right one.

The second is that, to be honest, I don’t really like the video whose coattails I rode for a couple days. I initially assumed it was posted by an Alanis imitator, because the voice really doesn’t sound very good (let’s take the “and you thought it was an imitator?” jokes as read), and it’s too slow and weird to be very funny. You get the joke after about 20 seconds, and honestly, “lovely lady lumps” sounds even more nauseating when sung slowly and breathily. Nonetheless, without Alanis (and, I suppose, Fergie et al.) I would not have breathed the rarefied air of double-digit visitors. So, as a way of saying thank you, here it is: my first, and possibly last, embedded YouTube video.

February 8, 2007

What do I look like, someone who’s not lazy?

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me, Science and Technology — tomemos @ 2:27 am

When I was in Oxford for my year abroad, I had a persistent problem with oversleeping. I’ve never been a morning person, and in Oxford this problem was compounded by two factors. First, I had to write a paper for each of my two tutorials every week, so I had invariably been up late writing the night before. Second, tutorials in the British university system are one-on-one meetings between student and professor, so if you oversleep, the class doesn’t go on without you; there’s just a professor sitting in their office, looking at the clock. Faced with this humiliating consequence, and in fact experiencing it quite a few times, I tried everything—short of, you know, planning my week so I could write the paper and still get a good night’s sleep. Drinking coffee just before getting into bed, booby-trapping my alarm clock with a tower of empty aluminum cans…it all ended the same way, with furious pedalling mixed with panicked swearing.

One night, finally lying down at 4 a.m. or so, I was kept awake, or half-awake, by the certain knowledge that in five hours my alarm clock was going to go off and that I wasn’t even going to dream about it. “If only there was some way to keep my alarm clock from turning off until I was out of bed,” I thought. “Maybe if my bed contained a scale, one that was hooked up to my alarm clock. Then, the alarm clock wouldn’t be silenced until it detected that my body weight had left the bed!” I drifted into sleep, not realizing until much later that I had just proposed, if only to myself, a $15,000 device to help me get up in the morning. I was probably late for my tutorial the next morning.

I tell that story to get a laugh, but part of me has always thought it was a neat idea, one that served a real need in an over-the-top way. And tonight I’m feeling vindicated, because while science hasn’t yet gotten around to the AlarmScale (suggestions of better names welcome), it has finally realized that an alarm clock should make you get out of bed:

If a screeching buzzer is not enough to get you moving in the morning, consider Clocky.

This alarm clock doesn’t just make noise, it breaks the snooze-button habit: after the first snooze period, Clocky rolls off the nightstand and runs away.

Clocky generated Internet buzz in 2005 when it was just a conceptual design project by Gauri Nanda, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is now an actual product, available for $50 at

The clock can survive a two-foot drop and the alarm beeps randomly, ensuring that its frantic squalling won’t be easily forgotten. It comes in white, light blue and light green.

Now, I’ve improved considerably since my time in Oxford, certainly beyond the point that I could justify owning a $50 ambulatory alarm clock (though if anyone’s looking for a kooky birthday present…). Nonetheless, Clocky here goes to show that there is always money to be made catering to the lazy. After all, there are entire companies that have become hugely successful simply by manufacturing extremely comfortable chairs, some of which can give you massages. It’s about time someone used technology to address one of laziness’s more prominent downsides.

Update (2/8/07, 10:30 p.m.):  Just in case this post isn’t self-deprecating enough already, Julie assures me that she told me about Clocky months ago, when it first came out.  Clearly my alertness has not improved as much as I’d like to think.

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