“Sheila taught me a survival technique for getting through seemingly intolerable situations – boring lunches, stern lectures on attitude or time management, those necessary breakup conversations and the like: maintaining eye contact, keep your face inscrutable and masklike, with the faintest hint of a Giaconda smile. Keep this up as long as you possibly can, and just as you feel you are about to crack and take a letter opener and plunge it into someone’s neck, fold your hands in your lap, one nestled inside the other, like those of a supplicant in a priory. Now, with the index finger of your inner hand, write on the palm of the other, very discreetly and undetectably, “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you…” over and over again as you pretend to listen. You will find this brings a spontaneous look of interest and pleased engagement to your countenance. Continue and repeat as necessary.”
— David Rackoff, Fraud
Zero Punctuation, hilarious foul-mouthed rapid-fire videogame reviews (and I don’t even play videogames)
Jan Morris’s Europe—like Last Letters from Hav (one of my favourite books), but not fictional
The Twist, by Frightened Rabbit, from the album The Midnight Organ Fight; I can’t stop listening to it, but have no idea who these guys are
XKCD does it again, with a flowchart on how to read flowcharts
Beethoven, endearingly, never got the hang of multiplication (he’d calculate 9 × 7 by adding up the number 9 seven times)
ReCaptcha, which takes all that useless effort spent typing distorted words (to prove you’re not a robot), and applies it to proofreading blurry text from old scanned books
Instead of saying “music piracy” (because, after all, real piracy is alive and well and not very much like downloading MP3s), reviving the excellent term “bootlegging”
Thomas Benton’s Chronicle advice on graduate school in the Humanities: “Just don’t go”
Sports Night marathons via YouTube
The pleasure of actually throwing out a hopeless, waste-of-mental-space book (Cliff Stoll’s Silicon Snake Oil, or anything by Ayn Rand)—not all book-burning is bad.
Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: the perfect gift for people who don’t think they like genre fiction
The best Latin name for your little toe is porcellus plorans domum, lit. piglet crying homeward; porcellus fori, domi, carnivorus and nonvoratus are left as an exercise for the reader
Hard-nosed advice on how book publishing works (and something I wish I’d read before starting the process) from Mark Hurst
Seeing to the “Dark Knight” with someone who rants about tardive dyskinesia and how it’s mean to pick on the mentally ill
Rediscovering that A Pattern Language is a wonderful cult, an architecture book that solves the problems of the world, like Ayn Rand for grownups
Sure, a minus sign isn’t the same as a hyphen or an en dash, but ditto marks are different from double quotes. Who knew?
The new (and superb) Mountain Goats album Heretic Pride and especially its comic-book press kit
The cunning laser printer trick of sticking a little piece of tape over the toner sensor to get 1000 or so more copies–sticking it to the Man indeed
Kate Atkinson’s crime fiction: funny, novelistic, rich in character, full of ludicrous coincidence–everything crime fiction isn’t supposed to be
And lightning shot in slow motion, more awesome than I can describe.
Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department rules
Seth Godin’s unconventional and clear-headed Advice for Authors: publishing is venture capital, and books are souvenirs of your ideas
Taking a photo every day: doesn’t matter what of, just carrying a tiny camera everywhere and getting into the noticing habit
The Design Police’s Visual Enforcement Kit of design warning labels, like KERN THIS and
Nina Simon’s splendid blog Museums 2.0, showing someone is thinking hard about museums and the Net (my favourite is the teen-mag-style flowquiz on how your museum should blog)
Some good tips from Ed Boyden on “How to Think”, including drawing while explaining and photographing the results
Buying a fresh brill from off the fishing boat, scaling, filleting, and frying it that same night in a white wine sauce; we called ours Brian
The moment when playing Spoon’s “The Underdog” on the ukulele where you realise you’re not sure if this is about the other person, or about you–the test of a good bitter love song
My favourite photographer Peter Peryer‘s plain-spoken and thoughtful blog, where he mulls over photos that didn’t make the cut. Why don’t all artists do this?
Migas made with good chorizo and old bread, both from the Farmer’s Market: a no-fuss weekend lunch for friends
Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards by Jim Ottaviani and Big Time Attic, a graphic novel about the Marsh/Cope Bone Wars
Flight of the Conchords, the best New Zealand comedy ever made (not that that’s saying much); adored by American critics, about to screen in its homeland, and you can catch most of it on YouTube already
Finally, someone explains Unicode, ANSI, and the difference between UTF-8 and UTF-16, which may seem trivial but is vitally important if you want to spell Māori correctly.
Endless Things, the final and long-awaited book in John Crowley‘s Aegypt quartet (but newcomers should read Little, Big instead)
Don McGlashan’s post-Muttonbirds solo album Warm Hand
Hans Rosling previewed the amazing global statistical visualisation tool GapMinder at TED, and Google bought it in a fit of non-evilness so we can all have a play
Getting Eastern editions of overpriced textbooks direct from India, dirt cheap
Watching the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra play over a fine breakfast at the Maranui Surf Lifesaving Club in Lyall Bay epitomises all that is good about Wellington
The groovy Flickr toys at Big Huge Labs
Taking down your profile on the Face Book and complaining how it’s not cool any more now the Man is there
Air New Zealand’s fancy on-demand entertainment system, just what you need on a fourteen-hour flight (although it runs on Windows, so when it crashed I was left staring at a boot screen)
Good fish and chips, including the wonderfully disgusting object that is the battered deep-fried pineapple ring
Isaac Freeman‘s drily witty blog and comics
Anzacs, afghans, toffee pops, and jaffas–the latter make all movie-going complete
Friendly ATMs that play video clips on their TV screen, which for some reason reminded me of Bladerunner
A bus trilogy: advertisements on the side panels of bus shelters that change every few minutes by spooling up from a roller, which is also a bit like Bladerunner, but a low-rent Edwardian sort of Bladerunner
GPS units on buses (a Kiwi invention, everyone will tell you) that lets you read the ETA off a monitor while you wait
Apologetic buses: when not in service they display SORRY as their destination
Meaty bacon, made from happy meaty pigs who have never heard of a hog lagoon (look it up, but not just before eating)
There have always been New Zealanders who, like me, are a bit fanatical about native plants, but this attitude now seems to be mainstream, with city councils putting tussock, flax, three lancewoods and a cabbage tree on every scrap of land
Gourmet food (laksa, ostrich, local wine and olive oil) at places that would be greasy diners in the USA
One thousand people paying to attend a panel discussion by scientists on water use on the Canterbury Plains; perhaps that’s a testimony to Christchurch nightlife on a damp Monday, though
And it is intrinsically more sensible for switches to go down than up, and for wall sockets to have switches on them as well (though now kiwi plugs seem big and clunky, perhaps to cope with our grunty 240 volts)
The film Helvetica, a movie for typeface nerds and the people who love them–if your partner doesn’t understand why you hate shopping at a place with a badly kerned sign, take them to this
Shearwater, a band fronted by an ornithologist (who studies caracaras); try their remastered and expanded album Palo Santo
The ’90s Canadian sitcom Twitch City with multitalented Don McKellar (check out his wonderful 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould) and the lovely Molly Parker, lately of Deadwood
The postmodern ventriloquism of Nina Conti, now on YouTube
Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, an unapologetic rhapsody on fat, pork, salt, and smoke.
Sidebar heading: “How real is the danger of botulism?” That’s my kind of cookbook.
Garfield is vastly improved if you remove his thought balloons
Hot Fuzz vs Shaun of the Dead? Which Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film is better? I love the DVD extras for Shaun, but it’s a close call.
Piedmont and Rue Cler, the latest new and promising contenders in the downtown Durham food scene
The point in an Ethiopian meal when you start tearing up the injera that’s been serving, up til now, as a plate.
Seeing the moving Lives of Others shortly after a screening of actual Eastern Bloc surveillance footage
Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea–why did nobody tell me about this album earlier? (Well, they did, but I didn’t listen.)
Sleeper film of 2006, United 93, devastating and absolutely not a date movie
Baking cinnamon sticky buns and feeding them to a small child
Sean’s music recommendations are almost always spot on, and especially his recent pick, Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
Ze Frank’s The Show, the funniest thing on the internet, which finally ended after exactly one year
The pleasant feeling when your word processor and bibliographic database work as a team, generating a beautiful reference list at the click of a button, particularly the night before you submit your dissertation
A hankering for poetically brutal scalpers on a sociopathic rampage through the Old Southwest? Why then, you need Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
Mary Roach’s Stiff, a book about the various fates of cadavers, which had a great Six Feet Under cameo
Watching robins fly about their beaks stuffed with nest-building scraps
The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible–anthem rock for hipsters.
Spring is a good time to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains; accommodation’s cheap, the streets are empty of tourists, and although the trees are mostly bare the temperature is just right for hiking. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Homestead Inn and the chocolate and ice cream in Blowing Rock (but avoid the corned beef hash at Knight’s), sipping a glass-bottle Coke on the Mast General Store’s porch swing in Valle Crucis, cruising round the backroad hollars (yes, that is the actual term used on the road signs) spotting crumbling barns and Jesus billboards, and a barbecue dinner at Stamey’s in Greensboro on the way back.
The wittiest and most sophisticated movie I’ve seen in ages, Trouble in Paradise (1932, dir. Ernst Lubitsch), starring the beautiful Kay Francis, in a splendid Criterion reissue with great DVD extras
Cory Doctorow’s new short story collection Overclocked as well as hearing him speak at Duke on privacy and a fizzing mass of other 21st-century things
Julie Taymor’s film Titus, containing some slightly silly touches (like legionaries on wolf-headed motorcycles) but redeeming Anthony Hopkins a little in my eyes–although the man has no scruples about his career, does he?
Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology blog
The extremely French song Le Vent Nous Portera, both in its original Noir Désir and Manu Chao version, and Victoria Vox’s ukulele cover from her new CD–I only wish I’d asked to hear it live when she played at the Open Eye in Carrboro
Remembering what really good science journalism can be by reading the Best American Science Writing 2006, edited by Atul Gawande
Baking thin baguettes in a three-loaf pan, because three is the Platonic ideal number of baguettes
I for one welcome our new Mexican movie mafia overlords if they keep bringing us Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men
The chowpatty chaat at Cool Breeze in Cary.
The Man Who Saved Britain: a Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond by Simon Winder is uneven but full of hilarious insights into the tastelessness of pubescent male Bond fans (my brother and I both qualified); Winder shows how the evolution of Fleming’s fantasy world parallels the grimness of recent British history
You Are Free by Cat Power I enjoyed more than the soulful recent The Greatest
Children of Men for the cinematography, with amazing tracking shots, and the well-realized future Britain–the plot and acting are fine but not its strengths
I’d been wanting to read Epitaph for a Peach by David Masumoto for its elegiac portrayal of the decline of heirloom farming in California, but it’s a beautiful and hopeful book too
Straight Man by Richard Russo — a university novel with just enough absurdism
Finished The Wire (Season 3), which has to be the best show on TV; like CSI and that ilk, but for adults
The Shop Around The Corner (1940, with Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart), a better Christmas movie than It’s A Wonderful Life
Noticing a new bulb coming up each day through the mulch of Fall’s leaves
This American Life, now available as a podcast, reminding those of us who got too infuriated by NPR’s hideous pledge drives why public radio matters
Making your own sausage rolls with home-made puff pastry (not the wildly overpriced stuff in Whole Foods) and good North Carolina pork For too long I assumed Bright Eyes was just for shoe-gazing emo kids, but I’m pleased to have my mind changed when I finally listened to I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning–I’ll have to try more Conor Oberst, as long as he doesn’t cry too much during the songs
Getting the New York Times Sunday edition delivered.
I’ve traveled a little bit with Americans, some of whom took the trouble to learn a few words of their hosts’ language, and some of whom, well, didn’t. Now my personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that it’s only fair to learn the basics. What are the basics? For me, they’re the following, divided into the essentials (things you should have memorized before you get on the plane) and desirables (the more of these you learn, the happier you’ll be). First, the essentials; no surprises here.
- Please & thank you
- Sorry & excuse me
- Do you speak English?
- I don’t speak [whatever]
- I don’t understand
- Yes & no
- Hello & goodbye
I think politeness never hurts. Blame my Mum. And to interact a bit, memorizing the following desirables would be a good idea, lavishly adding please/thank you/excuse me of course.
- How much?
- The bill please
- [Enough numbers to count to 20, and use common sums of money]
- Where’s the toilet?
- I’d like [whatever]
- A [whatever] stamp, please
- A ticket to [wherever], please
- Left, right, straight ahead
- A glass of [plain old faucet] water with/without ice, please
- [Days of the week], today, & tomorrow
Anything more, and one graduates to actually having to learn the language: namely, understanding what people say back to you. Yeah, that’s the killer. Anyway, to help keep all this straight I threw together a little downloadable PDF cheat sheet that you can print, fold up, fill in, and carry around as an aide-mémoire. Happy traveling!