Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Sound of Satire

Katherine made me watch The Sound of Music a few months ago.  It's one of her favorite movies, and I'd never seen it.  Coming from a family that plays and appreciates good (classical) music, she grew up a fan of Broadway musicals.  I did not.  The only musical I knew growing up was the movie Grease.

Oh, Sandy!

It wasn't til I was in my 30's that I started to appreciate any broadway musicals, and even then they needed puppets or Mormons having sex to get me interested.

I've enjoyed Avenue Q many many times, but this is the first time I've seen this promotional poster for it.

When we were in New York on vacation a few years ago, West Side Story came on cable in our hotel room.  That's another famous movie that I'd never seen but Katherine had grown up with.  I thought that would be a really appropriate place to watch a movie about New York street gangs, so we settled in to watch it.   We had to stop about 1/3 of the way in because I couldn't stop laughing.  Really, what are all these tough street kids doing prancing around, snapping their fingers, and otherwise doing very gay things? (Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it kind of undercuts their street cred.)

Seriously-- I'm supposed to think these are tough guys? Even now, I can't look at that picture without laughing.

Katherine couldn't stand me laughing at one of her favorite movies, so we stopped watching.

When we moved into our new house, it took a while to get our new entertainment center together, but once we did, I promised her that the first movie we'd watch together would be her favorite, The Sound of Music.  Which I'd never seen, but I knew a lot of the pop culture references to it.

The hills are alive! 

We watched the whole thing, and I actually enjoyed it.  I didn't feel impatient to get through it-- I wanted to know what happened.  It was a valuable piece of cultural literacy that I should know.

Then a few weeks ago someone posted this on the website McSweeney's:

I Regret to Inform You That My Wedding to Captain Von Trapp Has Been Cancelled by  Baroness Elsa Schraeder

Now I'm glad that I've seen The Sound of Music for another reason: I got to appreciate this brilliant piece of satire.  I LOLed several times throughout, but this is perhaps my favorite line:

You’ll... be glad to know I have retained custody of the Captain’s hard-drinking gay friend, Max. Anyone who gets tired of sing-a-longs should feel free to look us up.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Password Plot

I was reading a book.  The title is not important, as I'm guessing you've encountered this same situation in many other books, movies, or TV shows.  

In this bit of fiction, a woman was stuck in the office of a man she'd recently met.  She needed access to the network, so she brings up his login and needs to enter a password.  I start to squirm, because I see where this is going.

Over the next few pages she goes through an intricate guessing game, analyzing what she knows about this stranger.  On the third try, she guesses his password (his sister's name) and gains access to his files.

I groan and lose all respect for this book. 

I'm amazed at how often this exact scenario happens in a book or movie.  It's such a lame, ridiculous plot point.   The protagonist needs to gain access to someone's files, so they take a stab at a stranger's password.  And it works.  Really?  Of the 20 bazillion combinations of letters and words, in three tries our hero guesses the name of the dead relative, pet, or food that the person uses as their password?  Really?

This is how passwords work in the real world:  I could tell you that one of my passwords is based on my cat's name, and in a hundred tries, you still couldn't guess the exact combination of letters, numbers, and case.  My cat's name is Hermione.  The password is not herm74Butt, or herM10nee10 or Cat56Barf. But I guarantee you would not have guessed any of those in your first 100 tries.  Anyone who lives in 21st-century America and cares at all about protecting their files will have a similarly difficult password to guess.

So what is this plot point of correctly guessing a password trying to illustrate?

If it's to show how stupid the person is who created the password, well then, it's a fine plot point. 

Mission accomplished.  Carry on.

If it's just a device to allow the hero access to those files, there are many more credible ways to do that.  For instance, the hero could find a piece of paper with the password written down.  Yes, that's also stupid, but way more believable than them guessing a string of letters and numbers. Or the hero learns the password in some other unlikely, but more credible way.  I'll let the author come up with that.  I'm not writing the story, I'm just telling you what doesn't work.

Often I think the point of guessing the password is to show how clever the hacker is.  They deduce the password based on what they know of the hackee.  They analyze their personality and make educated guesses.  Or it's there to illustrate some personality trait about the hackee.  See, his password is Yankees, so he really likes baseball. (See above re: stupid character.) 

("You will always return to your dark master, the cocoa bean")

The hilarity of the Seinfeld scene notwithstanding, when it's used in a serious story, the whole premise is so unbelievable, it just ends up coming across as a lame, manipulative trick that annoys me.  


I got about halfway through this book, and decided it wasn't worth reading any further.  I was able to got over the password thing, but the rest of it just continued to suck.  It's not often I give up on a book after I've invested time in it.  Even if the writing annoys me, I usually stick with it to find out what happens-- to see if there's a payoff at the end.

With this book, I didn't care.  I hated all the characters and didn't care what happened to them.

I could guess this password, and it was sucktastic.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dead Celebrities

Last Sunday I was driving home (from an activity I promised not to mention here for a while) and I was listening to my CD of Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs."  As the title track came on, I had to turn it up really loud (the only way to listen to that song), and thought of the new personal poignancy of the song for me, as I drove through my new home, the Chicago suburbs of Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie, and Evanston.  Rockin' the suburbs, indeed!

I was in such a good mood when I got home, I decided I would listen to music in the shower, something I hardly ever do.  I went to my CD tower and looked through my hundreds of CDs, and my eyes fell on Lou Reed.  I put in a Lou Reed CD, something I hadn't heard in months, possibly years.

After my shower I went to The Facebook and posted a link to "Rockin' the Suburbs" with a comment about how that song now has a new meaning for me.

Then I read my FB feed.  It was full of links from friends lamenting the death of Lou Reed, which had happened earlier that day.  I'd just listened to his one of his CDs for the first time in a long time. Spooky coincidence!

My second thought was, "Wow, that's terrible timing for my Ben Folds post.  No one's going to care about that."

Yes, it really was tragic timing for my Ben Folds FB post.

When I told a friend about the coincidence of me listening to Lou Reed and then finding out he'd died, he said, "Way to go, Tim. You killed Lou Reed."


Many people posted on FB about how sad they were that Reed had died.  How rock-n-roll had lost a legend.

I love Lou Reed's music, but I can't say I'm sad, or even affected, by his death.  He was 71.  Which is younger than the average age of death, but it's not like he was young.  His death wasn't tragic.  He lived a long life with a successful career that made a lot of people happy (or inspired or less lonely or whatever.) He had an impact. And it's not like he was in the prime of his career, still making lots of great music.  (I told my friend that I could have just as easily killed Ben Folds, which would have been worse, because at least he's still coming out with albums.)  

It's not like I'm going to miss Lou at our weekly coffee klatch.  He didn't even know me.  So no, I'm not going to cry any tears over the passing of someone I never met.

Instead, I will celebrate his accomplishments, listen to more of his CDs, and honor his accomplishments and legacy he left behind.  This is not a moment for sadness.  It's a moment for appreciation.


I discovered Lou Reed and the Velvent Underground in college, in the early 90's, through my friend Jim.  He loaned me a Velvet Underground tape (yes, tape!) and some other Lou Reed things, and then I checked out (and copied) some Lou Reed CDs from the library.

One thing I found interesting about Reed's songs is that women say a lot of things in them.  He has songs titled, "Stephanie Says", "Candy Says", "Lisa Says", and "Carolyn Says" (and "Carolyn Says II").  Also there's the line from his one hit single, "Walk on the Wild Side":
...and the colored girls say, 'Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo ...' 
 I heard that later he changed that line in concert to the more politically correct, "and the African American girls say..."

As a shy college student, "Lisa Says" really spoke to me:
Lisa says on a night like this,
It'd be so nice if you'd gave me a great big kiss.
And lisa says for just one little smile,
I'll sit and play for you for the longest while...

Oh, why am I so shy? Why am I so shy?
Those good times, you know, they just seem to pass me by.
Why am I so shy?

That song describes most of my interactions with women in college.


Here's a great song Lou wrote for Andy Warhol after he died.  (Lou and Andy were good friends.)  It's a beautiful eulogy full of regret and sadness.    


Now Stephanie, Candy, Lisa, Carolyn, and the rest all say, "Rest in peace, Lou."