Friday, February 26, 2010

Translation Overkill


OKAY, THANKS GOOGLE TRANSLATE, I GET IT.

It's translated, thanks, thank you.

I'll take it from here. Thank you, Google Translate. Thanks, bye now. Bye.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Natural Dynamic

Location: Loring Park, Minneapolis, MN, USA
I think it was last month that Rebecca and I went out to Red Eye Theater to see a friend perform: David Harris collaborated with Katie Kaufmann on her play, Everything Must Go. David's a physical and comedic performer, doing everything from balancing sheets of paper in the midst of elaborate choreographed dances to jamming his muscular frame through a folding chair or a hand truck. Katie, who I met briefly at a New Year's Eve party at David's studio apartment, is remarkably expressive as well as a classically trained singer, so the two of them produced a dynamic, engaging show.

Rebecca and I walked from the theater to our bus stop--bussing there was part of our effort to reduce our carbon footprint, as sick as everyone must be of hearing such things--and we went through Loring Park. It was surreal all by itself to see this environment in winter. Usually it's two large pools divided by a bridge, the fringe of each pool stitched with cattails, their surfaces dotted with groups of ducks, and the land around it a continuity of rolling green hills and verdant trees. Now, it's as though the entire area were one block of ice that a particularly ambitious artist chose to sculpt, with a chainsaw, into the semblances of paths, ridges, hills, and glossy sheets of ice where the ponds were. It was bitingly chilly to walk through, as well.

The road next to Loring Park is several yards higher than the ponds and the land around them. As we descended we noticed a thick layer of mist occluding the ponds and the skyline beyond them. Pleased as we were with that visual effect, we were even more delighted to realize the mist only had a low ceiling, did not extend all the way to the ground, but hovered about seven feet off the path. We walked into the mist, I'm saying, and then below it to a level where the air was clear all around us.

Rebecca ran ahead to let me take pictures of her in the mist, then she yelled back for me to raise my hands. Uncertain of the significance of this, I played along and was startled to discover the temperature/humidity shift as my hands left the clear air and plunged into the soupy stratum just above my head! I was confronted with the common and free phenomena our world regularly produces, much of which goes largely unnoticed by business people clacking through the skyway to their next meeting, by surly teens pouting and blocking their environment out with an iPod cranked to full volume, by urban hipsters or suburban gangstas posing in meticulously composed outfits entirely inappropriate for the weather, by garrulous and under-prepared parents herding a gaggle of attention-deficit children from the shopping mall to the car. Playing with starkly layered fog may not be as amazing as seeing Avatar with 3-D glasses or installing the WiiWare update, but it's still pretty cool.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Man Who Loves His Job...

This picture is the stream of sunlight coming through the sky light to the cement floor of my former workplace, Modern Climate.

Everything about this place was to my favor. Granted, I was only contracted to work there, so I didn't have a taste of all the benefits, but far and away it was the best job I've had in my life. They hired an HR company to look for freelance editors, and that company found me through my profile on Monster.com. That's what cracks me up: my getting this assignment broke all the rules of job searching. You're supposed to network, but I got the gig through someone finding me on Monster. No one's ever hired at the end of the year, but I interviewed just before Christmas and just before the New Year, landing the position and starting work near the end of January.

It was Wolfmotell then and situated close to the Warehouse District of Downtown West, Minneapolis. In July they became Modern Climate and moved to the top two floors in the building across from the State Theater, kitty-corner from the former Shinder's. I was their proofreader/copyeditor throughout, though toward the end of my contract I started to explore copywriting and can list that on my résumé now. They also included me in a couple brainstorming and creative sessions, which surprised and delighted me. I appreciated that I was valued for my skills and interests that don't fit neatly on any résumé--though they probably would for a hip and rising marketing/branding firm.

We dressed in casual clothes, there were pinball machines in the office and a Wii in the break area. The admin were conversational with the employees at every level, and there were several social events the employees ran with each other. I'm willing to accept that my experiences were somewhat limited and rose-tinted, but that's not bad. It's not bad at all that I had a fantastic year working with astonishingly talented and creative people, and that I was getting paid to correct typographical errors, tighten up technique and usage. That was one excellent year for me, and I realize it'll be highly unlikely I'll ever find anything that ideal again. I knew that when I was in the middle of it, and I'm grateful for having been involved at all.

But What Class Would I Be?

Thought this was interesting: Wizards of the Coast bothered to generate a kind of morality quiz to help people guess at what alignment they'd be in AD&D, or else to better know their playing characters. Certainly, this would be a useful tool for a writer trying to get to know their characters better. My result:
A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. The common phrase for neutral good is "true good." Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias toward or against order.

--excerpted from the Player’s Handbook, Chapter 6
I'm completely okay with that. I'd make a terrible samurai in that I find no honor in following a corrupt leader. Doing good without a sword over (or gun against) your head is in accord with my beliefs. You do good because it helps people and the community, not because your holy book orders you to do so upon pain of eternal torment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

No Parking and Not Much for Dining

Location: Loring Park, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Let's start off with some advice: if you're going to start a new blog, don't throw all your eggs in one basket. Try writing three entries a week--Monday, Weds. and Friday--and see how that goes. I witnessed an art student starting her first blog and by refreshing my page every five minutes I could follow her rapid progress. She was uploading photos as fast as she could go, all in an evening, as if that would somehow attract an audience faster than pacing herself. I'm guessing that within a week she lost interest due to lack of response. She would have seen better results by posting two or three photos a week, rather than 20 in a night, and spending a little more time writing about each one instead of "purposely out of focus, slight variation on prev. photo."

This is a shot I took in the alley behind Lunalux and Bar Lurcat, across the alley from the dance studio entrance. Anyone from Minneapolis will probably have seen this if they ever explored the area around Loring Park and had a curiosity that extended beyond the sidewalks.

I love the font face on this, I love the paint job that's been faithfully maintained throughout the years. This looks so much better than a metal sheet bolted to the wall, don't you think?

I've been in this area plenty. One of my favorite stores in Minneapolis--Lunalux--is here, and I've even gone to Joe's Garage for brunch. They do these fantastic fried potato cubes and are tight-lipped as to their technique. I guess I don't blame them for that: if I ran a restaurant and had a popular dish few people could figure out, I wouldn't blab my secret to every half-interested comer.

Bar Lurcat is also here, which is a blatantly expensive restaurant. I only pay a lot of money for expensive restaurants in other countries (Las Vegas excepting), because the problem I have with expensive restaurants in Minneapolis is the problem I have with many goth kids: much of their personal motif is invested in the audience meeting them more than halfway. Just as a goth might throw together a shitty outfit because they don't want to try very hard (as opposed to some spectacular and elaborate outfits I've seen in my clubbing days) but expect you to suspend your disbelief and help them feel like more than they are, so too do these expensive restaurants throw together a mediocre meal and expect you to contribute to the environment by pretending to be impressed. Well, I'm not impressed. I've had better steak in worse places--I can grill a better steak myself--and I'm not willing to shell out for a dish because the sauce is playfully splashed over the food in a squiggly manner. I know people do, so these places will never go out of business, but they will never get my business more than once.

More than once, I say, because I believe that in order to be fair, in order to have a founded opinion, I have to have tried a place once. And I haven't been here yet so I won't cast aspersions upon their food, but I don't much care for the patronage, as I've witnessed them in the outdoor dining area while I walked home from work.

Wow, this post went in a completely different direction than I'd intended originally.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Proper Application of Absinthe

Location: 823 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA
Here's something important: absinthe is a concentrate!

No one ever explained that to me before. The rumors and mythology around absinthe are multifarious and nebulous. Conversation about absinthe is choked with too many soi disant experts who are only repeating the first half-understood story they heard.

But I stopped by la Maison d'Absinthe, the Absinthe Museum on Rue Royale in the French Quarter, and I subscribe to the opinions of the charming lady behind the counter there as a suitable authority on the matter.

Among the many things I learned: Lucid is actually a respectable "starter" absinthe for beginners and is chemically similar to a recipe from the 1800s, so I'll stop looking down my nose at it. Pernod (pron. pair-NO) is indeed similar to absinthe, as is Chartreuse. Most importantly, absinthe is a concentrate that is intended to be diluted in water. Its ingredients and alcoholic content are so strong that it can actually damage the vocal folds and esophagus if drunk straight. That's a big thing I've been doing wrong.

How it's served is another point of contention. My first understanding was that you soak a sugar cube in absinthe and rest it on a slotted spoon, which rests on the glass of absinthe. You set the sugar cube on fire, let it drip into the glass, and when it's gone you stir it up quickly and knock it back. The most recent and authoritative information I've received contradicts this--and in fact, the Absinthe Museum sells stickers that represent an iconic burning of sugar cubes with the round, red NO symbol superimposing it. I'm not saying this practice is universally wrong, I'm suggesting it is a regional practice, certainly, but not how absinthe was originally enjoyed at the time the grape crops withered and wine production went down, allowing absinthe to rise to the fore.

Traditionally, you set the sugar cube upon the slotted spoon, which rests on a glass holding one ounce of absinthe. You run three ounces of cold water over the sugar, letting it dissolve and causing the herbal essences contained in the alcohol to release. This is evidenced by the drink turning from a deep, translucent green to a milky, opaque pale green, and the effect is called louching (pron. LOO-shing). Properly diluted, it is supposed to be a light, refreshing drink that relaxes the body yet retains the clarity of mind, and for this result it was celebrated by artists and creative types. It is also how the legal version of absinthe, Lucid, got its name.

I had to try this for myself. I don't have any sugar cubes on hand, so I used this bowl of unrefined sugar and a souvenir spoon rather than a more appropriate slotted spoon, of which I have three and through which this sugar would fall like rain. I have two bottles of Czech absinthe, one bitter and one slightly sweeter, and the woman at la Maison d'Absinthe warned me against Czech absinthe or any product which boasted high levels of thujone, and she mentioned something that sounded scandalous but I'm not clear on what it was so I shan't repeat it. But I dumped in a tsp of sugar and three ounces of cold water (looking back, I should've dissolved the sugar in the water first) and stirred it as well as I could.

The absinthe is still bitter on the edges of my tongue, but this drink is far and away the pleasantest glass of absinthe I have ever had. I regret all the straight absinthe I've knocked back or shared with friends, nescient of the proper serving method. I'll probably pick up a bottle of Lucid soon, then.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Out of the Stereotype and Into the Cliche

I enjoyed the Super Bowl. I don't follow sports, and two weeks ago I couldn't have told you who was even playing this year. I was in New Orleans this weekend, however, and the spirit was infectious, so that before the game started I was highly enthusiastic about the Saints and their underdog status.

I looked forward to the commercials, too, as the ads that run during the Super Bowl are usually clever, higher budget, and/or just a better product. I was disappointed by how few commercials seemed to be competing in terms of cleverness, however. It looked like there were only a dozen that really wanted to stick in the minds of the viewers, and all the rest were only so much forgettable noise.

Today I read this column by Jocelyn Noveck, heretofore unheard of by me. She wrote this piece for the Associated Press, Henpecked men were a fave theme of Super Bowl ads. Well, yeah, I guess, kinda... but was that only this year? Isn't "the guy who has to attend to his wife's chores instead of watching football" a pretty constant running joke? Did I miss the federal reprieve from this stock punch line?

Noveck goes on to launch one of my least favorite battle-of-the-sexes arguments: men have no right to air any grievance until they are substantially worse off than women. Men's concerns, needs, desires, and their frustration at lacking these, are inconsiderable in the face of what women have had to endure for centuries; therefore, only women are allowed to address their unhappiness.

Noveck doesn't appreciate the stereotypical pussy-whipped male figure and wishes he would go back to being the stereotypical uncommunicative, emotionally distant male figure.

Why would anyone advocating equality turn around and target one gender and insist they have no right to their feelings? To prove her point, she quoted the president of a brand strategy firm and a brand expert at VA Commonwealth University, both women. "Men are stupid! What do you think, ladies?"

I didn't care for all the commercials. I thought that Dove soap commercial was cloying and cutesy, not at all interesting. It's like the marketers gave up on finding a clever way to analogize cleanliness and attempted to recap all the other commercials airing this day. I was a little shocked by the tastelessness of the Bridgestone commercial, and nobody at the Super Bowl party I attended was amused by it. How could they have thought that would be a good idea? Maybe they saved money by circumventing a respectable advertising firm and instead asked a bunch of Alabama good ol' boys what they thought would make a funny commercial.

We loved the Doritos commercial, however, and played it back a few times to our hilarity. And Old Spice? Thunderation, that's some good stuff. Their rebound with Bruce Campbell has only endeared them to my heart, and I'll admit I bought a bottle of their product after the second Campbell ad--it's rare that I'll make a purchase solely to support the advertising firm, but it happens.

When Noveck returns from shopping for shoes and finishes her half-serving iceberg lettuce salad and mochaccino, and before she settles down with her Danielle Steele and her Haagen Dazs double-fudge, let someone inform her that some Midwestern nobody with a broken chromosome does not approve of her emotional oppression. She won't care, because I'm only a guy and therefore my opinions are invalid, but the gesture's the thing.

Assembling the Nutrient-Dense Junk Food

Location: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Kenner, LA 70062, USA
So, it seems I was in the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, waiting to fly to Chicago O'Hare International, when I realized this was a fairly long flight and I was already hungry. Having flown from Chicago to New Orleans, I knew that United Airlines would not serve a meal--at best, I could secure two sodas.

In my part of the terminal, however, dining options were starkly limited. There were a few vending machines around and one pizza place. They only served personal pizzas, and these at two to three times a reasonable price for an inferior product. Unwilling to shell out ten bucks for a "meal" that would leave me hungry, I went to a convenience store.


And not knowing any better, I selected these three items for a little snack. Yes, they too left me hungry but it was my hope they would leave me nourished in some form or another. That Big 100 bar is labeled a "meal replacement" bar, in fact, and I chose this Vitamin Water because it's supposed to emulate a multi-vitamin. And the Snickers? I just like Snickers.

This arrangement totaled 635 calories, just under one-third of a 2000-calorie diet, or about a fifth of what I need in a day. That's fine with me, I think between 1/5 and 1/3 is a suitable range for one meal's caloric intake.

The Big 100 bar provided 50% of a generic RDA all by itself, so I approved of its nutrient density. I did not approve of the nasty, cardboard-like musk they tried to pass off as "peanut butter cookie dough" flavor. It was tough and chewy, and much of its bulk was whipped air. The Snickers didn't contribute significantly to my RDA, except as pertained to saturated fat. The Big 100 bar had 5% saturated fat and the Snickers added 25%. The Vitamin Water contributed nothing.

The Vitamin Water and Big 100 bar together provided 150% of the vitamin C needed for a 2000-calorie diet, as well as 90% of folic acid (B9), 85% of vitamin B12, and 75% of vitamin A, niacin (B3), vitamin B6, pantothenic acid (B5), and zinc. Eat those two and you're almost done with those vitamins for the day!

I would love to throw a Clif bar into the mix and see whether one could top off one's nutritional requirements in one meal that will not fill one's stomach.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Short, Strange Trip to New Orleans

Location: French Quarter, New Orleans, LA, USA
Greeting from New Orleans, everyone! I'm not going to affect that stilted "y'all" or whatever people from the North think people from the South always say. I think New Orleans is largely safe from that, however, because no one has any idea how to fake a Cajun accent.

Pictured here is "Eggs Stella," served by Stanley Restaurant on Jackson Square. Mom and I went here for breakfast with my nephew Kai on our basic tour of the French Quarter. This dish is basically eggs benedict with a deep-fried soft-shell crab. I ate the whole thing, carapace and all, which I've never done before. The trick, I've learned, is not to cultivate a species of crab that has lost its defensive power but to catch the crab just after it has molted its old shell. I'm guessing this narrow harvesting window is what jacks up the price to three times what you'd expect to pay for a regular breakfast. On the other hand, it was freakin' delicious, and now I have one more minor achievement under my belt.

I'm visiting family in New Orleans, invited by mom to accompany her for the trip. I have no perception of what the specific purpose of the trip was, as it's a weird thing to announce a cross-country flight simply to pay a social call. But I'm unemployed currently and I have the time to make such a voyage (sadly, Rebecca just started a new job and could not join me), and New Orleans is amazing to see all on its own merit. Soon after agreeing to this, we realized it would be the start of Mardi Gras as well as Super Bowl weekend, so it was a big weekend indeed. I'm not much of a sports fan at all, but when I learned that the New Orleans Saints had never been to the Super Bowl at all, I became curious to see how this would turn out.

As well, my brother was having an art exhibit on Saturday, featuring a selection of his latest work. This was particularly exciting and I looked forward to seeing the gallery opening. It turned out very little work had been done on the gallery and the other artists who wanted to share the space did not feel compunction to help set the gallery up, so Andrew (brother) and his wife, Cameron, had to set the place up themselves. Mom and I took their son Kai out on a tour of the city, finding Kai to be an exceedingly pleasant and tolerant little boy.

That was Friday. Saturday was turned on its head when Kai developed a rapidly spreading skin infection and we waited in Children's Hospital to hear the results. Andrew and Cameron took shifts staying with their little boy, I convinced mom to call her cousin to pick her up and spend the rest of the weekend with her, and I went back to the house with Cam's daughters, Chloe and Sescha, because I had a working phone and was available if anyone needed to call. At the house, we watched anything available on streaming Netflix and I actually found a pizza place that would deliver: Naked Pizza, the "healthiest pizza on the planet." As an editor I take exception with this slogan on two points but that's neither here nor there.

But as a result of the hospitalization, neither parent was able to attend the gallery opening and I still haven't heard how it went.

Sunday was much different, as Cam took her girls and me to see the parades. I was struck by the contrast of all the streets being decked out in green, purple gold (the colors of Mardi Gras) but everyone was wearing black and gold (the colors of the Saints). I took a couple hundred pictures of the floats in the parades, collected dozens of beads, and had alligator-on-a-stick. Cam got a funnel cake, and I realized we were practically eating State Fair food, if we could find a Pronto Pups booth somewhere or maybe a deep-fried Twinkie. Afterwards they took off and I wandered the French Quarter myself, enjoying a cigar while checking out the chaos on Bourbon Street. Eventually I connected with a friend I knew from Minneapolis. He and his girlfriend moved to California, got married about the same time Rebecca and I did, and now they live in New Orleans while his wife finishes her degree at Tulane University.

Anyway, my friend, Leuke, got me into a Super Bowl party and I sat and watched a full game for my first time, understanding almost everything going on. I was pleased to witness the Saints' first trip to the Super Bowl, culminating in their amazing victory. We avoided Bourbon Street and partied on Decatur instead. The entire city was milling in the streets, cheering, singing, high-fives all around (ZOMG I need so much Purell).

Now it's the next day, my voice is raw with screaming and cheering, and I'm going to try to cunningly pack my bag to fit all the souvenirs for the trip home. The weather is a comfortable 62F, but I understand I'll be flying into a snowstorm in Minneapolis and my flight will likely be delayed. So it goes.