Friday, May 29, 2009

Beer + Microscopy=Art

Today at work, I talked to a very interesting scientist. I won't get into why I was talking with him, but I'm glad I did, because it led me to his website, Molecular Expressions: Images From the Microscope. The whole website is interesting, but what especially caught my eye was a subsection called Beershots. Essentially, it's a gallery of pictures take of crystallized beer through a microscope, with each beer giving a unique signature look. Here's a local (for me) favorite, Sam Adams Boston Lager:
Or perhaps you're more of a Guiness man (or woman):
Too high brow for you? The Bud Lite is looking pretty funky:And there are plenty more. What's your favorite beer look like?

As a scientist who is sort of obsessed with art and pop culture, and who also knocks back a brew once in a while, I have to say this was the most fascinating site I've stumbled across in a while. Even if you don't want to hang it on your wall (though you can--poster prints are for sale), you have to appreciate the beauty this man has discovered through his science. Though the more I look at it, the more I want to hang Bud Lite in my living room.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Review: Chuck Palahniuk's Rant

I would not call myself a

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Game Review: Plants vs. Zombies

So here's a little computer game that's kept me up way past my bedtime several nights over the past few weeks. Pop Cap's Plants vs. Zombies is a defend-your-castle style game, which I've played before, but I'd never played one quite as addictive as this one. The premise is simple: defend your house from hordes of zombies with a variety of nearly 50 plants.

When I write it like that, the game sounds kind of lame, but it's remarkably well done. The zombies get steadily more ridiculous (and difficult) as the game progresses, with pole vaulters, Michael Jackson impersonators, Zamboni drivers, and punks on pogo sticks all making appearances. Every level or so, you get a new plant to add to the arsenal, and that's where the addiction came in for me. As soon as I got a new plant, I was compelled to try to use it. And often you have to use the new plant or mushroom to get past the next zombie threat. There's the simple peashooters at the beginning, a hypnotizing mushroom that turns zombies against their zombie brethren, and ears of corn that lob pads of butters at zombies, making them slip up.

Yes, it's all very silly, and at least for me, not especially difficult. Out of the 50 levels in the Adventure Mode, I only lost a few and had to try them over again. But that didn't make the game any less enjoyable. There are also lots of mini-games (which I'm still working on), and you can collect coins and jewels to buy lots of other plants and gadgets for more playing.

Plants vs. Zombies was, quite honestly, the best $20 I've spent in a long time. It's not going to change your life or anything, but it will challenge you just enough to keep playing and entertain you enough that you wish it actually lasted longer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

TV Show Review- Party Down

There seems to be a new television undercurrent, a good one, of hipper and smarter comedies.  These new shows often get better, more thoughtful laughs out of someone like me by not hammering us over the head with a punch line or a laugh track and instead let silence or social awkwardness generate smarter, deeper laughs.  These shows also seem to lavish in more intelligent humor, often letting quantity yield to quality jokes.  The combination for me is most ofte

n seen in shows like 'Arrested Development,' 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' '30 Rock,' 'Flight of the Conchords,' 'The Office,'The Life and Times of Tim' and now 'Party Down.'  

I'd be surprised if most people have even heard of 'Party Down,' but it's worth checking out particularly if you like any of the shows from above, all of which individually probably deserve their own review- some for continued brilliance, others for being funny once, but have wandered astray.  Regardless if you like, or have ever liked any of the above shows, I think 'Party Down' is worth 30 minutes of your time to check out an episode.  

Party Down and these shows are the antithesis of most prime time comedies that remain following the beat down brought on Hollywood writers by low risk, high return reality TV shows.  They're like Seinfeld residue and i don't find much shame in that.  In some ways they have even a bit more room for error and progress.  It seems to be so hard to get a non-reality TV show greenlit that the network is more pot-committed to the project and the show has more rope to either run with or hang itself.

'Party Down' is a prototype of this type of creative humor.  It's on a pay channel.....kinda.  Starz, which most people know not from going out of their way to subscribe to it, but more because it's been piggy-backed on top of their HBO

or Skinemax dues.


The bartenders and waitstaff who make up the cast are all transients with their eye on showbiz who suffer through the requisite high balls and bacon-wrapped scallops as they wait to be discovered.  It's very easy for them to work in a guest star as a new or temp waiter also, something they appear to do just about every episode.  One of the better ones, in a limited role is Stiffler's Mom, who is the latest person through the revolving door of clever guest spots.  

The boss (Randy) is essentially the Michael Scott of the L.A. catering business.   The protagonist, played by Adam Scott is a waiter/former actor.  Scott's character, Henry, was unfortunate enough to be typecast by a cheesy commercial so much so that he cannot find gainful employment elsewhere, but also did not do well enough to survive on a truckload of residuals.  His love interest is not-technically-yet-divorced, struggling waitress/comedienne.  Then there's a waiter/actor-musician-model who is trying to break through in the 'handsome business' and a bitter, holier-then-though waiter/writer.  Lastly and perhaps best of all, there's the past-her-prime-waitress/way-past-her-prime-actress.  They're all stereotypes in the funniest possible way.    

I remember reading that part of the success of 'Cheers' was due to it's setting.   Story lines could essentially walk in the door.  Each customer potentially held not only the requisitie drinking problem, but a potential story line as well.  That's how 'Party Down' works.  Sometimes they work a high school reunion (Randy, the boss is a member of the graduating class as well as the catering company.......on purpose), Porno awards, Young Conservatives rally, and even a single's mixer for senior citizens.   

If you don't have Starz riding on the coattails of your HBO subscription, don't worry.  There are still ways to check this show out.  You can go to to see a couple of episodes by clicking the 'Original Programming' tab, then 'Full Episodes.'  There should be two shows there and of course there are some other less then admirable ways to check them out online (so I heard).  If you do have Starz, check it out on On Demand.  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review- 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell

Answer this- What is the formula for the classic American success story?  Take a minute and answer.  It's probably some variation on the following....poor kid, came from nothing, born so far on the wrong side of the tracks that the right side of the tracks is virtually a mirage.  Kid has a dream constantly out of reach but has the drive to keep reaching.  He struggles, then struggles some more.  Maybe he has a dusting of success, then a setback, que more struggle, struggle, struggle.....and finally through sheer force of will and drive, the dream is realized and success is along for the ride.  It's the puritanical work ethic with a splash of over-reaching ambition and dusting of 'Rocky.'  Now forget all that garbage, because that's essentially what Gladwell does.

This isn't to say that the above scenario doesn't happen, but Gladwell's thesis is this- far more then we realize, people don't transcend their environment quite like we think.  Success across the board in any field, is often cultivated, albeit frequently unintentionally.  It is the biproduct of a unique combination of timing and environment with less Balboa then most of us think.  Success may be a fortunate accident, but it is not a mysterious coincidence. 

I'm assuming anyone who is reading this is about as good at math as I am.  Apart from low-balling any readers, this assumes you think the following- That if there are an equal number of children born in Canada in each month, it would stand to reason that each has an equal chance of being a pro hockey player.  Barring some weird mathmatical Canuck anomaly, that's has to be right?  Right?  No.  The cut-off for Hockey for our Neighbors to the North is December.  That means that the difference in age, maturity, and dexterity isn't a month, or even a week, but almost an entire year in some cases.  The January little maple leaf that could then starts with a head start, which produces more positive encouragement, which provides a better coach, which leads to more and more games because the kid is on a better team that plays more puck then the others.  Everything snowballs and it doesn't stop it continues on and on until- statistics show that more then half of profession, Canadian hockey players are born within the first three months.  January is best, followed by February, then March, and you can probably guess the rest.  As a matter of fact, if some poor bastard hoser has the misfortune of being born on the same day many of us were conceived- December 31st, they should put down the stick and gloves 'cause they're not playing hockey.  Even if his last name is 'Gretsky' his parents may as well give him the middle name of 'no chance.'.  I don't want to paraphrase too many statistics, but the results are staggering.

Bill Gates gives so much money to a Pacific Northwestern college not as so much because he wants more stuff named after him or he wants to further the education of minors or anything, but because there was some sort of beta program in place while his nerd genes were maturing.  He was given unlimited use to one of those pre-historic, giant computers that would cost anybody else tens of thousands of dollars, and that's assuming you could even get to one.  He had all the time he needed and could hit the thing with a rock from his house.  

Gladwell's book is essentially a compilation of stories like the above, which support his thesis.  As he typically does, the content and his writing ability make it so entertaining that it has a lot of the enjoyable components of easy-reading found in light or pulp fiction, but leaves you with an aftertaste of stuff you'll be curious about, feel smarter about, and wish to discuss with others.  

I'm probably a little too much a fan of Gladwell and look past the other side of the coin a reflexively though.  The hockey player example ties in to education and the argument that, 'why wouldn't you want to have your child stay back a year if they're on the border in order to give them the best possible chance at success?'  I'm haven't quite alienated all my family yet, but i do have several nieces and nephews and their parents are probably at the tipping point of telling me, 'blast off!  we're not holding back my kid because you read a book!!!'

Anyway, i encourage you to check this out, and if his book 'Blink' strikes you more, start there.  They're all fantastic, 'Blink' is probably the most entertaining, while 'Tipping Point' is often the most professionally rewarding and 'Outliers' probably most so personally.  

Gladwell thinks that oftentimes 'conventional wisdom' is widely accepted not necessairly because it is wise, but because it;s conventional.  Gladwell is constantly looking past convention in order to find wisdom.  You can argue the extent, but he's surely found it in all three of his books thus far.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beer Review: Smuttynose Star Island Single

It's Booze Day at the Love-Camel! Thanks to rino, an old friend of mine and a new contributor to the blog who says he has plenty of ideas to get us through the lean months ahead when I become a dad again and sleeping (and most likely, posting) goes on a temporary hiatus.

I meant to write about this new Smuttynose offering shortly after it came out a few months ago. A coworker told me about it and I went to several liquor stores until I found a six-pack. I had to try it for two reasons: 1) I grew up going to Star Island and it's one of my favorite places on the planet, and 2) Smuttynose is one of my favorite New England breweries, and despite my last review of one of their beers, I think they have a pretty stellar line-up.

Here's the rundown from the Brewery:

Our Star Island Single is an eminently sessionable, abbey-style ale offering a beguiling mix of flavor and refreshment. This medium-bodied golden ale features a slight residual sweetness from Honey Malt and hints of citrus and tropical fruits from the unique Belgian yeast it is fermented with, leaving a crisp dry finish. Enjoy it sociably while you savor good times, tall tales, friendly company & life’s unexpected pleasures.

Color: Pale gold
ABV: 5.2%
Availability: year-round in sixpacks and on draught in 1/2 & 1/6 barrel kegs.

The beer pours a cloudy gold--think Blue Moon. Not as cloudy as a well-poured hefeweizen, but enough to make it look Belgiany, if you will. Not quite as bitter as a pale ale, but the citrus sour enhances what hoppiness there is. Leaves you with a not-unpleasant lemony aftertaste. That's lemony--not lemonadey. Though the brewery's description mentions a "residual sweetness", I'm not getting much of that (I write, as I take another sip).

I am, however, getting the "eminently sessionable." This is a tastey beer. A beer I could--and probably will--be drinking a number of this summer. Smuttynose is dropping their Portsmouth Lager altogether and replacing it with this offering, which is I think is a bold, but wise, move. The Portsmouth Lager wasn't bad, but it was a bit on the boring side, and nearly all of the other styles they offer are more flavorful and, ultimately, more drinkable.

Due to the citrus undertones of the Star Island Single, I can't quite imagine drinking this in cold weather, so I'm slightly surprised this will be available year-around. But it's perfect for warm weather, and you better believe I'll have one of these in my hand during many a grilling session this summer. I bet it would accompany BBQ shrimp pretty perfectly...I think I just decided what I'm having for Memorial Day weekend.

Drink endorsement- 007

Sometimes you just don't feel like a beer and sometimes you've had so many you can already taste next day's cotton- mouth. You're too young to order a gin and tonic and too old to order a rum and coke,. It's too late to order a screwdriver and your stomach turns too sour when you order a margarita. Thus, a couple words in recognition of the 007- the perfect non-fruity, summer drink.

Most haven't ever heard of it (not sure, but it may be called an 'Arnold Palmer' down South), but those who have actually ordered it tend to become devoted fans. It's a mix of vodka (most commonly Stoli-O, or some other orange-flavored vodka), Sprite (although occasionally ginger ale), and some orange juice. It should look like a very, very strong (good) screwdriver and taste 10X better. A good bartender will serve it in a pint glass rather then in something small or with a stem, even if you're charged extra for the privilege.

It's a perfect mix of those three ingredients and fairly easy to explain if the bartender is a neophyte. It's refreshing and strikes a perfect note nestled comfortably between fruity summer drink and vodka and (tonic)(soda)(carbonated beverage).

While we're talking vodka, I have to mention what seems to be a new trend within the service industry. Somewhere along the line between bad economic times and driving your tab up it's become commonplace to ask, 'any particular type of (vodka)(other booze)?' Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a cheap bastard, but the fact remains when it comes to something that's going to be mixed with two other somethings, my palate doesn't distinguish between alcohols. However, my inclination is towards Grey Goose and away from looking cheap, which has often led to me asking for the Goose, when I could really care less. I'm sure many others have done the same. For those of you who have, I recommend memorizing the phrase, 'nah that's okay- you're well is fine.' This not only hoses the cheap bastard stink off you and saves you a buck, but also sends the subliminal message you were once on the other side of the bar with the person taking your order. That may just get you an extra second or two on the pour.

So raise it up to my favorite 007, including Sean Connery. The next time that thought bubble pops up inquiring, 'what do I feel like?' - order a 007. Feel free to thank me after the first and second, adore me after the third and fourth, worship me after the fifth and sixth, and curse me the following morning. Cheers!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


So I went to see what will probably be my last movie in a theater for a while since the next little incubus will be arriving soon. There's not a whole lot I can say about Star Trek that hasn't already been said. But I will anyway, because I like to hear myself type:

The Good:
  • It was fun. It was surprisingly action-heavy and there were lots of fist fights and 'splosions. Sulu even got to whip his sword out (snicker) . Also, that Romulan ship was crazy cool looking.
  • There were plenty of inside jokes for those of us who actually watched Star Trek. I've never been a Trekkie (and yes, I know they prefer to be called Trekkers...whatever), but I did like the original series. There's also some excellent TWOK references.
  • The cast, for the most part, was really good. I mean, Simon Pegg elevates pretty much anything he's in. I understand some people were upset that a comic actor was cast to play Scottie and he wouldn't lend much dignity to the role. These people clearly never actually watched Star Trek.
The Bad:
  • I got a little Spocked out by the end. Not that Spock isn't a cool character, but c'mon. Enough is enough. It's like if a band has someone who plays the ukelele. It's a fun instrument, kind of a novelty. But you certainly don't need two of them, and they don't have to be playing front and center on nearly every song. (I come up with some pretty kick-ass analogies after midnight apparently.)
  • Eric Bana didn't do much for me as the bad guy. I actually kind of like my Star Trek villians a bit over-the-top, but Bana's Nero was more under-the-bottom. Luckily, for a main antagonist, he's not actually in the movie all that much. And Winona Ryder as Spock's mom? Really?
  • Plots that involve time travel always annoy me, yet Star Trek is addicted to them. It's a terrible crutch. There's obviously going to be a sequel to this film, possibly several. I'm not asking for anything terribly original plot-wise, just something that does NOT involve paradox-riddled time travel.
The Ugly:
  • That one nurse with the weird eyes who delivered Kirk at the beginning really freaked me out. OK, I'm grasping here.
All in all, I liked it enough to tell people they should check it out. It's a decent summer movie with plenty of action, a surprising number of laughs, and some scantily clad space ladies. Nerdtastic.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Few Older Must Listens

I recently stumbled upon some albums from 2008 and very early 2009 that are too good not to mention and/or force on people. I've been splurging on music for the past few months, so anything that makes it to my CD player more than once a week is notable. Some of the songs on these albums might get played multiple times a day, so yeah, I would call them "must listens".

Coconut Records - Davy
Experience tells us that bands created and/or fronted by actors should suck. Jason Schwartzman's band, Coconut Records, gets a pass for several reasons. First, Schwartzman played Max Fischer in Rushmore and practically gets a free pass for life just for that. Second, Schwartzman was a musician before he was an actor, drumming for Phantom Planet when he was just 14. Third, and most important, this album is actually really good. There's nothing very groundbreaking here, just a lot of catchy songs, many of which I liked upon the very first listen. The first couple tracks, "Microphone" and "Drummer" (I'd start out with "Drummer", the track that got me interested in the first place), are particularly strong, but really the whole album is a good from beginning to end. Go Max Fischer.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
Though the name is cumbersome, the music on MBAR's debut album is anything but. If you can listen to the opening track, "Buriedfed", and not be hooked, more power to you. The doubled up vocals are reminiscent of Bon Iver or Elliot Smith, and some of the material is equally as dark, but there's an energy to this music that you don't always get from Bon Iver especially. I'm not disparaging these other artists, both of whom I enjoy (especially Smith), but Robinson's debut is really impressive. The album is growing on me more and more with every listen and I highly recommend it.

Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim
I wish I'd never found out that Laura Marling was 19. It's depressing for someone my age to think that someone that young could make an album this amazing. The first track, "Ghosts", is undoubtedly one of the best songs I've heard in ages. I never want to put a song on repeat--with 10,000+ songs at my fingertips at any given time, why would I want to? But I can listen to this song over and over again. And though "Ghosts" is my favorite track, the rest of the album holds its own and demands repeat listens. The last time I heard as mature a voice in someone this young was with Fiona Apple, and by "voice" I mean both the actual sound of her voice and the maturity of the lyrics. Marling is a young artist with an old soul, and as I continue to absorb this first LP, I find myself already looking forward to whatever she does next.

Friday, May 8, 2009


I've been meaning to post about this for a while now, but better late than never, I suppose. I'm generally wary of compilation CDs. They often have a lot of filler by bands I've never heard of and maybe a few tracks that are keepers. But when I saw the artists on the Dark Was the Night compilation that came out this past February (I told you I was late), my brain almost melted. Check it out:

1 Knotty Pine – Dirty Projectors + David Byrne
2 Cello Song (Nick Drake) – The Books featuring Jose Gonzalez
3 Train Song (Vashti Bunyan recorded, written by Alasdair Clayre) – Feist + Ben Gibbard
4 Brackett, WI – Bon Iver
5 Deep Blue Sea – Grizzly Bear
6 So Far Around the Bend – The National (arrangement by Nico Muhly)
7 Tightrope – Yeasayer
8 Feeling Good (popularized by Nina Simone) – My Brightest Diamond
9 Dark Was the Night (Blind Willie Johnson) – Kronos Quartet
10 I Was Young When I Left Home (Bob Dylan) – Antony + Bryce Dessner
11 Big Red Machine – Justin Vernon + Aaron Dessner
12 Sleepless – The Decemberists
13 Stolen Houses (Die) – Iron and Wine
14 Service Bell – Grizzly Bear + Feist
15 You Are The Blood – Sufjan Stevens

1 Well-Alright – Spoon
2 Lenin – Arcade Fire
3 Mimizan – Beirut
4 El Caporal – My Morning Jacket
5 Inspiration Information (Shuggie Otis) – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
6 With A Girl Like You (The Troggs) – Dave Sitek
7 Blood Pt 2 (based on original song “You are the Blood” by the Castanets) – Buck 65 Remix (featuring Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti)
8 Hey, Snow White (Destroyer) – The New Pornographers
9 Gentle Hour (Snapper) – Yo La Tengo
10 Another Saturday (traditional song) – Stuart Murdoch
11 Happiness – Riceboy Sleeps
12 Amazing Grace (traditional song) – Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues
13 The Giant Of Illinois (Handsome Family) – Andrew Bird
14 Lua – Conor Oberst + Gillian Welch
15 When the Road Runs Out – Blonde Redhead + Devastations
16 Love vs. Porn – Kevin Drew

Not only are many, many of my favorite artists on here, but a lot of them are collaborating with each other. I mean, c'mon, The Books and Jose Gonzalez covering one of Nick Drake's best songs? That track alone should make any musically inclined person salivate.

And here's the thing: none of these songs are throw-aways. There are some covers, but they're really well chosen covers. A lot of these are originals that you won't hear anywhere else, and they're not crap-ass songs that were clearly trimmed off albums. The National, The Decemberists, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The New Pornographers all contribute some stellar original tracks--some of their best songs.

And here's another thing: it's all for a good cause. Proceeds go to the Red Hot Organization, which raises money and awareness for HIV and AIDS. Remember AIDS? Yeah, it's still around, and the number of new cases is going up again. Since this is a charity album, I encourage you to actually go out and BUY the album. I'm certainly not going to send you any free tracks. And if you find someplace to download it for free, you are stealing from people with AIDS. How does that make you feel, Mr. I-Don't-Pay-For-My-Music?

The bottom line is, if you have don't have this album yet, you should get it. Now. Stop wasting time and buy it on Amazon or download it from iTunes or do whatever you kids do these days (as long as you actually pay for it).