Monday, June 9, 2008

Things I Like this Week (Write Smarter Edition)

-- I'm not an open source fanatic by nature. Some open source programs may provide better results, but it's just easier to pony up the cash for the big boys than tracking down the hidden gems. So, the Windows logo greets me on start-up, and I pulled up Microsoft Word when it was finally time to get started on that paper. However, Writer might be good enough for me to break away from tradition.

In addition to the ability to open and save as Microsoft Word files, the program offered by OpenOffice sports a user interface that bears a strong resemblance to its Microsoft counterpart making the learning curve nearly nonexistent, and the programmers actually make intuitive changes. Writer moves the ability to edit headers and footers to the insert menu from the view menu – a perpetually bizarre choice in Word. Writer's programmers also excised the obnoxious auto complete functions inherent in word where a simple tap of the enter key can produce an unwanted outline or worse.

Writer isn't perfect. Although it does include English spell-check (with more languages available to download and install), but grammatically challenged writers will have to make friends with a good proofreader since there isn't an available grammar checker. Some of the other features lack the same polish available in Word and WordPerfect and copy/paste can entail some formatting issues.

Writer exceeds expectations particularly for a donation supported word processing program. Check it out. It might not be enough to convince you to uninstall Office, but you might discover you only like Word because everyone else does. []

-- Word Couter is a nifty little tool, which allows you to count the frequency of words appearing in a block of text. Seeing how many time the words demonstrates appears in that English lit paper has never been easier. The program allows for pasted text or an uploaded .txt file and organizes words alphabetically or by frequency. You'll still need a good thesaurus to figure out different ways to say 'improves,' but Word Counter gets you halfway. [Word Counter via Lifehacker]

-- The rewind button can be friend or nemesis while typing up transcripts depending on how quickly you can type. Listen and Write helps get those fingers moving quicker. Although the text can be a little dry - most articles are edited news stories – the content is interesting enough. Topics range from the plight of the honeybee to a selection from Anne of Green Gables, which is not for the slow-fingered. Articles are organized by length of repeatable segments. [Listen and Write via Lifehacker]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Things I like this Week (Manly Edition)

-- Earlier this month, Tom Chiarella put together, for Esquire, a list of 75 things every man should know how to do before he dies. The list ranges from the practical (Tie a Bow Tie) to bold (Talk to a Woman out of his League) to bizarre (Understand Quantum Physics Well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped). Take the unofficial test for yourself. My 40% would seem to explain why I can't get my beard to be anything but patchy. Maybe I can fill in some of those gaps if I can knock of some more of these.

-- While you're waiting for the DVD release of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, check out this mash-up of The Count from Sesame Street singing "Dracula's Lament," a ballad from the puppet musical with-in the film.

Not as funny or heart-warming as the original, but a fun diversion. For official Sarah Marshall viral marketing check out I Hate Sarah Marshall. It looks like Peter has let his blog languish a little bit, but the links are as funny as ever.

-- Ben Stiller takes on movie about making a war movie in Tropic Thunder.
Featuring perfect casting with everyone playing into their type, Thunder looks like it could be the perfect antidote to the inevitable blockbuster hangover that sets in during August. How could any movie featuring Robert Downey, Jr. as a method actor so committed that he dyes his skin to play a black man go wrong? Tropic Thunder Theatrical Trailer

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Neil Partick Harris and Jason Segal Make Daytime TV Legen...

...dary. Megan Mullally's daytime talk show may have not even gotten to tape 50 new episodes. Thankfully the show managed to squeeze in an hour with the cast of How I Met Your Mother. Harris and Segal launch into an impromptu version of "Confrontation" from Les Miserables.

Oh cast of HIMYM, how I've missed you. Hopefully, you'll be able to ride its recent, much-talked about guest-star into a fourth season.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Things I Like This Week (Literal Title Edition)

An anonymous blogger catalogs the various things that excite white people at Stuff White People Like. The blog more accurately provides a tongue-in-cheek survival guide for interacting with affluent 20-somethings. If you're not white and ever wondered just why all white people live Michelle Gondry, wine, irony, pretending to like soccer, or Barak Obama, here's your chance to find out.

"Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?" claims the editor at at garfield minus garfield. Simultaneously funny and tragic, this new strip takes Jim Davis's beloved strip and removes all traces of Garfield. While Davis's original strip may now overuse the premise of a wacky Jon Arbuckle followed by dead space and a wry quip from his cat, garfield minus garfield requires Davis's wacky Jon but leaves us to provide our own quip or tears.

No longer young enough to laugh at anything or old enough to find the humor in the darndest things kids say, I wearied of The Family Circus a long time ago. The Nietzsche Family Circus makes the strip worth reading again. Seemingly relying on a random pairing from a set of both Family Circus and quotes from the German existentialist philosopher Frederik Nietzsche. Random selection fails to produce a winner every time, but there's an inherent irony in having educated dialogue- "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you" and "The most common lie is that which one lies to himself; lying to others is relatively an exception" - coming from the same child, who in today's actual strip retorts to someone doing their homework, "You did? When will your TV set be fixed?" Ah, kids.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Is there a statute of limitations on memes? No? Should there be? Yes? Well, Linda at Pataphysical Science tagged me with this meme back in July. I half wrote an entry at that point, but I struggled to come up with eight media related items to fill the list and never finished. As I was cleaning up my computer, I stumbled across this file and thought I’d give it a second shot.

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to tag eight people and list their names.

I once drove to another state just to see a movie.
What? One of my friends and I went to go see a movie projected digitally. The closest theater was in Maryland. We piled into the car for the four-hour trip, caught the film, then piled back into the car for the drive home. We hit 88 miles per hour on the drive home while listening to the Back to the Future theme. It was awesome.

I saw Attack of the Clones twice in the same theater on the same day.
I caught the 12:01 show with one set of friends and a 11ish p.m. show with another set. One of us got interviewed for local radio as we were walking into the building for the second show.

I watch A Christmas Story at least twice every year but have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s not entirely my fault. No one in my immediate family has seen it either. We even bought it on DVD for Christmas 2006, but it’s still sitting in the drawer unopened.

I used to watch professional wrestling without irony.
It was high school. It was ridiculous, and I liked it. I vaguely remember writing a defense of it for the entertainment section of my high school newspaper. Mick Foley’s autobiography still sits in the non-fiction section of my bookshelves.

I once listened to the theme to Ghostbusters for the entire eight-hour car ride to my grandmother’s house.
I’ve always been a little skeptical about whether or not this actually occurred, but my parents swear to it.

Calvin and Hobbes helped me get into college.
Ok. That might be a stretch, but I did write one of my application essays about their final strip. I still remember the final strip, but my eloquence about it has been lost to the ages.

I nearly forgot to show up for a play I was performing in.
My friend’s older brother, who was also in middle school at the time, wrote a play about vampires, and convinced someone to let him put in on before school in conjunction with a canned food drive. (I know it sounds made up, but it happened.) I was cast as an understudy, and found out on Friday that I would be performing on Monday morning. After ignoring the fact all weekend, I learned my lines in the car on the way to school.

I impulse buy DVDs.
Most people struggle in the checkout lane; I can’t deal with the DVD section. The past two Christmases I’ve picked up a movie – Marie Antoinette and The French Connection – to be a ‘from me to me gift,’ and have yet to watch either of them.

That’s the list. I debated tagging people since most of the people I think most of those intrepid few, who check in on my blog, have already been tagged. Intentionally double tagging seems slightly less annoying than double dipping, but some of you have new side blogs. Here’s a start. If you’re reading this and feel like playing along drop me a comment. Try doing it on theme, or curse my name and ignore it.

Amanda at The Cheese Stands Alone who to my knowledge hasn’t been tagged
Dante at Crazy from the Heat who has ignored prior requests from others
Raquel at A Glass of Papaya Juice – her movies, music etc. blog that appears to be out to squash Juno – who has already done this nonsense at Electric Warrior.
Linda at Pataphysical Science who neglected to say no tag backs

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bergman: Smiles of a Summer Night

Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnatten leende) first hit American cinemas in 1957. The film is a little like Bergman for people who don’t like Bergman. Coming in a decade or so after the heyday of screwball comedies in Hollywood, Summer Night plays like one just back from its first year of college – the same little film bursting with grandiose ideas but never quite offering any substantial answers.

Like all screwball comedies, Summer Night has a guy, lawyer Frederik Egerman, and a girl, the actress and lost love, Desiree. The guy and the girl can’t be together despite mutual affection. Wackiness ensues. Adding to the films mismatched couples are Egerman’s young, wife, who is in love with his just back from seminary son. Desiree is having an affair with a married man, whose wife wants him back. A lesser film would lose track of all these story lines, but Bergman weaves these storylines plus that of a sultry maid together in a seamless mix.

Bergman will probably forever be associated with his darker fare, but Summer Night’s success provided the weight for his iconic and often imitated glance into the existential condition – The Seventh Seal. In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote of the film: “Who would have thought august Sweden would be sending us a film comedy as witty and cheerfully candid about the complexities of love as any recent French essay on l’amour?” Fifty years later, the shock of such a film coming out a Sweden may have worn off, but the film’s appeal hasn’t.

Monday, September 17, 2007

2007 Emmy Superlatives

Best Presenter, who should have hosted: Wayne Brady

This may simply be in reaction to the sheer mediocrity that was Ryan Seacrest, who was more forgettable than bad as host. I couldn't help thinking that the former talk show host would have been a great pick. It's not as if Fox has a stable of go-to hosts on its shows, and it's not as if they were going to draft someone from a different network. It was probably either down to Seacrest, Brady, or Jeff Foxworthy. I'll admit that I prefer Chappelle's Show Wayne Brady more than Don't Forget the Lyrics Wayne Brady. But his one-liner to Kanye West - "You picked the wrong time to start speaking properly" - was hilarious.

Most Inappropriate Joke - Let's all Sleep with Hayden Panettiere

That's right. Everyone's favorite indestructible teenager has finally hit the big 18, and The Emmy's writing team wanted you to know it. Now everyone who wouldn't know what to say if they actually met her can talk about how they don't have to worry about going to jail. Hopefully, someone will find some indiscreet photos so everyone can chastise her for being a poor role model to all the young girls not hot enough for 30-year-old men to want to have sex with them.

Best Acceptance Speech - Katherine Heigel

I think everyone agreed that there was any way she was going to win this category. Her character had little to do that was actually interesting or characteristic for her to do all year. And the season's big plot twist - she secretly has feelings for her best friend - came out of left field. The announcer mispronounced her name. (It's hard.) But all that served to make her acceptance speech possibly the most genuine since Three 6 Mafia won their Academy Award.

Most Pointless Tribute - The Sopranos

Yes. The show was outstanding. Yes. The show was groundbreaking. But a musical number, dragging the entire cast up onstage, and and the award for Best Drama good. Maybe I'm cynical, but somehow I doubt the show would have gotten so much love last night if it had been on one of the major networks.

Best Presenter, who should not have hosted - Elaine Strich

Even if she wasn't faking being unable to read tiny text very far away. Her bewilderment was endearing and not tiring. First Runner-up: Rainn Wilson. He’s always awesome.

Worst Let's Update The Emmy's Idea - The Theater in the Round Idea

Maybe not a horrible idea in theory, but totally falls apart in practice. I think James Spader summed it up best: "I've been to many concerts in my life, and these are the worst seats I've ever had." It might have worked had everyone on stage not always been facing the same direction, or they had done that 360 degree camera movement one fewer time.

Best Upset Victory – Ricky Gervais

Tony Shalhoub has taken done bigger competitors with his endearing and quietly hilarious Adrian Monk. As the only abrasively sane man in the television world, Gervais took a Larry David-esque exasperation into the second season of Extras. A writing award might have been more deserved, but we could see the exasperation in Andy’s face. Gervais already took home the BAFTA for his season two performance. Plus, we got to see Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carrell jumping around on-stage.

Worst Cutaway - The Five-second Delay

I can accept the need for a broadcast delay in this day when a mildly offensive comment can lead to boycotts and heavy fines from the FCC, but maybe have a better cut away in mind than the ceiling in the event it becomes necessary to use it. A crowd reaction shot would be better than cutting to the ceiling. When they cut away during Ray Romano's stand-up, it looked more like bad direction.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Screwball Comedies: The Thin Man

Long before The Dude set out in The Big Lebowski to solve a kidnapping with white Russian in hand, former detective Nick Charles (William Powell) was stumbling into cases with whichever drink happened to be nearby. Charles first shook Manhattan’s to fox trot time in 1934’s The Thin Man, which would later rank at 32 on AFI’s list of the greatest American comedies. Charles is less bumbling than his latter-day counterpart is, but he’d probably not like us to know it.

Based on the book of the same name from Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon), The Thin Man is a screwball comedy masquerading as a detective story. A local inventor disappears, and the police pin three murders on him – including his secretary and squeeze, Julia Wolf – in his absence. The jilted ex-wife and other red herrings crop up as Charles deftly navigates the landscape of New York City drawing rooms. But Charles never seems particularly concerned about the case, except that it’s cutting into his drinking time. Charles would rather banter with his beloved wife Nora (Myra Loy).

All the good Powell and Loy go line for line and highball for highball in The Thin Man with charm oozing off the screen. (Powell earned an Academy Award nomination for the role.) While most screwball couples continually try to one up the other, Nick and Nora try to amuse each other. The evening after her husband is grazed by a gunshot, Nora says, “I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.” “It’s not true. He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids,” Nick replies. Loy might have a comparable presence in personality, but The Thin Man is Powell’s vehicle.

The Charles’s and their beloved dog, Asta, solved five more cases over the next 13 years. It’s easy to see why the films have had such lasting permanence. There’s an ease to the film, which overcomes a stiff, stagy direction. Drawing rooms, dinner parties, and a two-week shooting schedule for what was expected to be a B-movie don’t provide much opportunity for cinematic flourish though.

The Thin Man is currently available as a standalone DVD or as part of the Thin Man collection.

Monday, April 23, 2007

One Night, One Movie, Two Scores

In the days before sound, musicians would play scores live in the theater. The 2007 Syracuse Film Festival attempted to take that concept one step further. Sherlock, Jr. got double treatment Friday night at the Palace Theatre when Combo Nuvo and The James Emery Trio played to the 1924 Buster Keaton film. On the surface, organizers wanted to showcase how a score can affect a movie. In reality, audience members heard two jazz trios playing some music while watching a film.

Sherlock, Jr., for those unfamiliar, tells the story of a young movie projectionist, who doesn't have enough money to buy chocolate for his girlfriend. He imagines himself into a detective movie that has a conveniently similar story. A madcap romp ensues with Keaton's incredible physicality and seemingly insane stunt work. Sherlock, Jr. works, at least the first time. The second time through guffaws turn into chuckles, and stunts seem tamer. But no film could really be funny enough that a back-to-back viewing would hold up exactly the same.

On the other hand, the jazz scores felt uninspired the first time through. Neither trio put in the time (why should they without a commission for their effort) to compose a score for the film. A combination of improvisation and cobbled together existing works substituted for what could amount to months of work on a typical film. Jazz's art might lie in improv, but it's hard to evoke a mood on the fly.

Jazz can work brilliantly when thought goes into the pieces. John Williams made use of it to great effect in both Catch me if You Can and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Combo Nuvo and The James Emery Trio turned in fine jazz performances, but don’t expect to see their work on the next DVD.

Sherlock, Jr. is currently available on DVD. For more information about Combo Nuvo, check out .

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lost and Found

This piece initially ran in the Syracuse New Times on April 11, and can be accessed here.

John Bul Dau never wanted to be famous. If his name is unfamiliar, it won’t be for long: He’s one of the three stars of God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary about his years as a Sudanese Lost Boy. After numerous public speaking engagements across the country and a published memoir, Dau has earned fame in his own right. “What I want to be is a star of helping people, not a star of making money. "If I can use all of my life to help people, that’s what I want,” Dau said from his home in Eastwood.

Dau, 34, has been translating his nascent celebrity into tangible action. On Friday, April 13, after a showing of the film at Syracuse University’s College of Law, he will answer questions and sign copies of God Grew Tired of Us (National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.; 352 pages; $26/hardcover). The evening’s proceeds will support the Duk County Lost Boys Clinic, the first medical clinic to serve the people of Duk County, Sudan. (The movie also continues its engagement at the Westcott Cinema, 524 Westcott St. See Times Table for showtimes.)

Beyond this philanthropic goal, the night allows those unfamiliar with the Lost Boys’ story to experience it. The book and movie follow Dau as he adjusts to life in Syracuse, as well as two other Sudanese refugees who were relocated to Pittsburgh. “I hope people will come and see it firsthand. I think that is a huge contribution to resolving the problem in Africa,” Dau said referring to the continued persecution of Southern Sudanese citizens by the North. “If you can’t go and shoot there, as the military, this is your chance to shoot here. This is your chance to participate.”

Through strong monetary and physical participation, the medical facility should be finished by the end of April. According to the project’s Web site,, $78,600 toward the first year’s operating costs of $417,000 had been raised as of April 9. One doctor has already been hired, and four other medical personnel are moving from Kenya to Duk County. “I was told that when the electricity went on for the first time—we have two generators—people came from far, far, far away to see it. That has made me really happy because the clinic is going to help our people,” Dau said.

He has traveled all over this country for public speaking engagements, but few places can match Syracuse. “I feel like I’m talking to my kin, I’m feeling like I’m talking to my clan,” he said. “Here, I will be answering questions from people in my home. I will feel really good because I will feel like I’m talking to the people at the dining table.”

Although Dau is speaking of how welcoming and generous he has found Central New Yorkers, his statement has an element of truth behind it. The area has taken in at least 700 Sudanese refugees since 2001, and they all share a similar story.

The second Sudanese Civil War, waged from 1983 to 2005, separated families and forced the boys, most who were at least temporarily orphaned, from their homes. Children between ages 3 and 13 bound together for the 1,000-mile journey. They walked through horrendous conditions from southern Sudan to Ethiopia, but conflict again turned them into refugees. The boys ultimately made it to a refugee camp in Kenya where many became stuck without anywhere else to go. Dau lived there 10 years before he immigrated.

Catholic Charities, a national organization with a branch in Syracuse, has given more than 300 refugees homes in Syracuse. Its workers provide a friendly ear for the new arrivals. “People don’t talk about {their time in Kakukma} enough. The guys don’t talk about it,” said Pinyoun, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities. “I think it was kind of like being in jail. You don’t want to think about it that much. You’re glad you got through it and maybe it made you stronger. But not that many pleasant things happened.”

The documentary, which won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, doesn’t spend much time talking about the refugees’ time in Africa either. It begins with the conflict’s history and the boys’ time in camp before moving on to America.

Dau, on the other hand, goes into detail in his memoir about the journey and his time spent in the camp from 1991 to 2001. By contrast, while the film rushes to get its main characters to America, Dau’s time here comprises the final third of the book. Taken as a whole, the combination of the memoir and movie provide a complete account of Dau’s story.

The film and the book are not the whole story, however. Dau also hopes to inspire action, understanding or both. He has been raising money to help the people of Southern Sudan since August 2003, when he co-founded the Sudanese Lost Boy Foundation of New York. Through that organization, he raised more than $90,000 before the film came out. “If word will go from one person to another, it will explode later. Maybe it will explode to taking action. They way I look at it is that it’s getting into the brain, into the veins, into the roots,” Dau said.

Although the war officially ended in January 2005 conflict remains. “The next step is to have the United States of America and some other countries push the government of Sudan to implement peace,” he said. “To have southerners vote for whether or not they want one country or whether it will be a divided country.”

Friday’s event takes place in Grant Auditorium inside the SU College of Law; the film is at 7 p.m., Dau’s talk at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $10. Tickets are available at the Schine Student Center box office, 303 University Ave., with limited availability at the door. For more information about the event, call 443-3759.