Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Defense of Geeks (Again)

I went to see the fabulous movie The Social Network last Sunday night. I saw the film in Canada (which I like to believe is bedbug free) with a group of 4 friends and our reviews were all positive -- go see the film, it’s great. But after the movie reviews were over a quintessential question emerged: Is Mark Zuckerberg a jerk?

Before we begin the debate: a brief disclaimer: This is not an essay about Mark Zuckerberg the person because I’ve never met him. This is an essay about Mark Zuckerberg the movie character because that dude sat in the back row of my Analysis of Algorithms class, I’ve been on scads of awkward first dates with him, and some days... he is me.

He is not, apparently, my friends (all of whom found him repulsive and annoying). I was shocked because I thought I had mostly self selected a group of super nerds to hang out with. They all work in software, all save one are active Settlers of Catan players. And yet -- Mark haters all of them. It seems that, despite their own geek cred, each had been burned by the surly geek before and was ready to banish him from their lives. As I pondered how my friends were not like me it slowly became clear that back in 1993 I was the only true nerd of the group. All of them had dates for prom, one was a cheerleader, even the most nerd-core among the bunch had to admit that she was a bit of a campus queen in high school. There is no chance that any of these people would have talked to me in 9th grade. For my friends, and for everyone out there who thinks Mark Zuckerberg is a huge asshole, welcome to another edition of what is basically an ongoing series on this blog defending the geeks of the world.

When you’re a smart eight year old and everyone is mean to you at soccer practice your dad will tell you to forget about those kids because you’re so much smarter then them. One day, they’ll see. If you’re anything like me this little grain of pride and spite can sustain you through being pants-ed in the cafeteria, cystic acne, and a Homecoming dance where all of your friends refused to hang out with you because you arrived dateless. But even for the most patient geek waiting for fate to deliver on the “I’ll Show Them!” promise can be tedious.

Enter the young Zuckerberg. He’s annoying. He’s awkward. He’s bitter. But this nerd is not messing around waiting for fate to prove his tormentors wrong. He’s making things happen. He’s doing the geek equivalent of kicking ass and taking names. Mark Zuckerberg is the Terminator of computer hacking and the Robocop of staying up all night drinking Jolt Cola and laying down punishing lines of C++. Action heroes have never spoken to me but I think what I felt while watching The Social Network was the same catharsis that others find in exploding cars and sniper fire. The good guys were winning and they had no shame.

Yes, Mark is kind of a jerk. We never see a young Zuckerberg in 7th grade getting tossed into a locker but I don’t think it’s overly presumptuous to assume that taking his share of noogies and wedgies is at least partially responsible for his persistent attitude problem. I also don’t need to see him lying on a shrink’s couch to accept the implied Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. I’m not at all surprised that the smart kid was tormented to the point of feeling a need to prove his self worth. I’m glad his weapon of choice was lines of code and not a gun. Despite his abrasive exterior I can’t bring myself to dislike Mark in the role of rags to riches geek superhero.

(Incidentally while I can’t bring myself to hate Zuckerberg I can almost bring myself to hate Sean Parker. But not totally, because even if he is the jerk that the movie makes him out to be he’s still a smart jerk and he’s still right -- he brought down the (evil) record industry. He also won by somehow convincing studio heads to cast Justin Timberlake to play him despite the fact that no one has ever accused Parker of bringing sexy back, not even a nerd fetishist like myself.)

Can anyone really blame a guy for screwing the Winklevie of the world? They’re not only good looking, popular and arrogant but they’re rich! Isn’t screwing them every geek’s dream? It has certainly been mine. There are a lot of stupid jerks in positions of power many of whom have prospered by hiding their idiocy and mean-spirtedness behind toothy grins and firm handshakes. As a former geek who somehow managed to (mostly?) grow out of her awkward stage I wouldn’t mind cutting some slack to the smart jerks (especially the smart jerks with a genetic disorder that at least partially accounts for their jerkiness).

The other day I received the following blog comment (on this post): “You are an idiot and your blog is sooo boring and shows you are not so smart but think you are because you like computers and ironic t-shirts.” It’s true. I think I’m so smart. And sometimes I think this excuses me from being a jerk. Just like Mark Zuckerberg seems to think that being smart and successful somehow excuses him from being a complete asshole to his friend Eduardo. Obviously, we’re both wrong. I think the most revealing scene in The Social Network is when Eduardo’s lawyer tries to make a point about the $18,000 plus an additional $1000 that Eduardo had invested in The Facebook after which Mark makes a huge todo out of checking this simple math. Mark can only see the lawyer as a tormentor and his only tool for dealing with a tormentor is to make a show of just how smart he is and how stupid she is. The scene is funny because for a moment it feels like this is another instance of the geeks winning. The scene is sad because Mark can’t hold back his flippant response even if it means further distancing himself from his only friend.

There are a lot of reason why I didn’t grow up to be Mark Zuckerberg. Firstly, I’m not smart enough. Most importantly I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. And I’m also not 19 years old anymore, neither is Mark. Perhaps we were both huge jerks at the end of adolescence but hopefully adulthood will let us set aside our bitterness and find sympathy for our tormentors (both real and perceived). Hopefully, as adults, we’ll overcome the disorder or personality trait that keeps us from expressing gratitude and love. After all, we won. We have cool jobs, we go on fabulous trips, we can do lots of complicated math problems. Hopefully we’re both much happier than we were freshman year of college.There’s not much to be gained by being a sore winner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rocking the Suburbs

Long ago in a lifetime far far away I owned a car. It was a cute used 97 black Jetta that I did not name because I am not the car naming type. I did, however, place a small sticker on the rear window proclaiming, “I am a fucking genius” because I am the arrogant geek type; also the tempting fate type who worried from time to time about the irony of someone spotting that sticker among the mangled wreckage of my cute car and (slightly less cute) blood soaked body. Luckily, I avoided that chagrined fate, but just barely. As everyone knows, cars are killing machines. But when you’re living in the Silicon Valley they are a necessary evil without which one could not attend concerts with the cool kids in San Francisco or, you know, get to work. All the same I mostly hated my car.

The worst part about owning a car is the constant fear that it will break down and cost at least $700 to fix (at the time $700 was basically all of the money I could muster if I sold my computer equipment and every single pair of shoes in my closet). The Jetta was theoretically reliable and really didn’t break down hardly at all but you wouldn’t know that from the status of the check engine light. That little bitch was blaring orange and angry for at least 50% of the time that I owned the car. It would snap on at the first sign of reduced tire pressure, the second you were due for an oil change or any time the car got a little chilly. It goes without saying (though I didn’t realize this until months after purchasing the vehicle) that the Jetta is a product made exclusively for bitchy high maintenance sorority girls and it seems the car itself was programmed to adopt the personality of its target customer. I think once or twice the check engine light came on specifically to request that I pour a little Smirnoff Ice on the engine block.

(A brief aside. Expert advice from my genius mechanic brother whose phone would ring every time I saw a flicker of orange on my dash: “For year and years people went without a check engine light and everything was mostly fine. If you don’t hear a noise or have problems driving stop calling me. Its fine.”)

The second worst thing about owning a car is having to park the beast. I suppose this is mostly a non-issue in the country and suburbs but in the San Francisco Bay Area it is a nightmare. You drive around and around the same blocks only to eventually find a spot and then spend 30-40 minutes cursing yourself for proving the “women can’t parallel park” theory thus personally setting back feminism about 75 years. Then, you get out of the car and walk up and down the street 4 times reading every little bit of signage looking for any indication that this is actually a legal spot which is near impossible to believe because certainly if it were legal someone would have parked here already. The rest of the evening is divided equally between the following thoughts, “Gee I wonder if my car has been towed yet,” and “Golly, I imagine my stereo has certainly been stolen by now.”

When I decided to move to New York City I shed a tear as I waved goodbye to uncrowded beaches and fresh produce in February and friends and family but was practically gleeful as I bid bon voyage to the world of cars. I greeted the subway with a grin and have been happily riding all over creation for a mere $2.25 ever since. People in NY complain endlessly about the subway (“not enough trains at 2am.” “crazy expectation that I ride a shuttle bus instead of a train.” “$2.25! That’s insane! I could buy half a bagel for that!” ) but this is mostly because complaining is fun and because, frankly, New Yorkers have no idea how good they have it. I would consider the subway a crazy gift from god even at $5 a ride (but don’t tell that to the MTA).

My one fear about going carless was lost car trip opportunities but I figured that with the amount of money I’d save by not paying for a car or insurance or repairs or parking tickets I could certainly afford to rent a car to drive out of the city from time to time but obviously this rarely ever actually happens. I’m just too cheap. Could I afford the occasional weekend car rental? Sure. But do I really need to spend that money? Couldn’t I just have Fresh Direct deliver my case of $7 wine and vat of nonfat greek yogurt and spend the weekend making Pinot Noir smoothies instead of breathing in the great outdoors? After all, that plan is cheaper AND I don’t have to worry about convincing my boyfriend, Geoff, to be my designated driver. So I mostly stay carless but on the happy occasion when a Chevy Aveo or some other subpar approximation of an automobile should happen upon my curb it is blissful in ways that non New Yorkers should rightfully giggle over.

Just a few weeks ago Geoff was suddenly in possession of a company car for 12 whole hours. He immediately contacted me with the happy news that we could go to Target (!!) or Ikea (!!!) or EVEN a real fucking grocery store (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Glee. Visions of 5 foot wide aisles and bins full to the brim with bulk oatmeal danced in my head. We hightailed it to Fairway which is about 2 miles from our house but somehow also about 8000 miles from a subway station. We bought lots of heavy things that we possibly did not need because we had A CAR, so why not?

Even here in Gotham a car is freedom. You can go anywhere, carry anything. At the jangle of keys my mind reels with the possibility of adventure; and yet the only adventure I come up with is a trip to Target. This is obviously a sort of sad commentary on my own imagination. I blame a childhood of unfulfilled dreams of hanging out at the mall just like every other kid in America.

I grew up in one of the smallest places one can live and moved to the largest and somehow the one place where Bishop California and New York City intersect is in the lack of access to big box stores. As a guilty liberal I of course enjoy snobbishly sauntering down Park Slope’s 5th Avenue (dodging baby carriages all the way) to do my shopping in a myriad of tiny independently owned stores but there is still some magic to the idea of buying milk and goulashes and potting soil all under one roof. The bounty of it all is undeniably appealing even if it’s carbon footprint and forced march towards homogeny should make me turn up my nose. (That last sentence is the pinnacle of hoity-toity blogging, I should quit right now either in embarrassment or because I will never be able to top this moment.).

The suburbs have been maligned to a point where by now we all know that we’re supposed to hate them. And I do! Mostly! I hate getting stuck on the median of some crappy frontage road somewhere between the Hampton Inn that my company stuck me at and the shopping center where my only access to dinner lives simply because suburban road planners never seem to considered the possibility that I would want to walk between two establishments located within 500 feet of one another. I hate that my eventual dinner will certainly be smothered in cheese-food and available unchanged from Mobile Alabama to Enfield Connecticut to Farmers Branch Texas. I hate the repetitive “Home Depot, Walmart, Panera Bread, Best Buy, Home Depot, Walmart....” pattern of the freeway off ramps from town to town to town. But oh, secretly, I love the excess. What can I say? Deep down beyond the part of me that’s a small town daughter of hippies and way past the part that’s a New Yorker, down there, I am still an American. Bring on the super sized vat of butter substitute.

Strangely enough for all my excitement over pushing a gigantic cart through a gigantic store full of so much stuff I often come out almost empty handed. I am forever standing outside of Costco with only three items (toilet paper, black beans and dry pasta) in my rented trunk because really, how could I ever eat my way through a dozen boxes of Mac and Cheese? And in the mean time where would I store them? And even standing in front of a shelf full of low prices I’m still often too cheap to make many purchases, it’s like I stand there thinking, “Oh sure, $5 is probably a good deal for a headband with a huge silk flower glued to it but think how great it would be if headbands were FREE!” And then I go home.

The big box stores, for all of their excess, never seem to stock what I’m looking for. And so at the end of every visit there is a panic moment when I wonder if there is something I missed, something I need, because who knows when I’ll have a car again. So I muse about if I need towels, after all, they’re a fabulous deal, and towels don’t go bad, perhaps I should have a few in reserve? Not to get too melancholy here but one has to wonder what exactly I’m shopping for. If not headbands or towels or Mac and Cheese then must I assume that I’m living the big American cliche -- forever looking to fill a hole unfillable by wheels of cheese or 12 packs of socks?

The truth about the subway is that it goes almost everywhere. Almost. And almost is really everywhere you need to go. It goes to all of the cool concert venues and to offices and playgrounds and beaches and farmers markets and to my house. But every time I reach the end of the line and stare off into the distance or sneak a look at Google Maps and realize just how small my little New York City world is the American in me, car hater or not, yearns for the open road. The truth about the open road, these days at least, is that it mostly goes to places you don’t need at all.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bedbugs Are Coming! The Bedbugs Are Coming!

There’s a classic sci fi movie from back when movies came only in 2 colors called Them. In this flick sent straight out of my nightmares giant ant aliens land on earth and begin seeking revenge for all of the delicious picnics that their earthling brothers and sisters were never invited to. They rampage buildings, eat people and (I think) fashion giant magnifying glasses to give all 8 year old boys a taste of their own medicine. It’s some scary shit. Anyway, everyone in New York City is now basically living through this cinematic nightmare in real live living color. In the Broadway version of this little masterpiece the part of the giant alien ants is being played by Cimex lectularius aka the devil’s insect minion aka the common bedbug.

For those of you not living in the NYC let me catch you up on what’s going down. Basically bedbugs be raping everybody up in here. They’re in our movie theaters, our tourist traps, our douche-y clothing stores our fanciest pantie palaces, nothing is sacred. So far (as far as I know) they have yet to infiltrate Casa de Babble probably mostly because I am freaking the fuck out all of the time. I give furniture and mattresses left on the street a 5 foot berth, I get my nose right up against hotel sheet and stare down the thread count looking for little black or red dots. I pretty much will not go to the movies anymore and I spend every taxi ride thinking about the colonies likely lurking beneath the Naugahyde.

It used to be that my evening routine went something like this: start to fall asleep in front of tivoed episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras (sweet dreams!), drag myself up off of the couch, brush teeth, wash face, say my bet hedging prayers, run through a few OCD games to lull my mind to sleep and Zzzzz. But now somewhere between OCD and snoozeville I’ve inserted 45 minutes of fun called “OH MY FUCKING GOD IS THAT A BED BUG ON MY ANKLE?” Turns out that when you lie completely still mentally scanning your skin for signs of creepy crawlies it is very easy for every spare thread/dead skin cell/air molecule to feel like the stab of bug fangs.

Worse then this is how my home has been turned into a battle ground. My enemy? Each and every bug-sized bit sticking to my bare feet, caught behind my ear or glued to the sweaty back of my knee. Each stray breadcrumb, missing ball of earwax or lonely grain of salt is suddenly a potential threat. Saturday night I had to get up from watching Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to turn on a light and examine a small black flotsam of suspicion for signs of buginess. It came away still unidentified but too misshapen and flat to be a bug. I remain on guard. Before bed last night, while peering over my shoulder and into a full length mirror to examine my back for bites, I noticed that I have enough moles back there to warrant a visit to dermatologist, unfortunately I can’t make an appointment because what if the doc finds a bedbug bite somewhere on my person? Certainly the embarrassment alone is scarier than skin cancer.

I know that if an infestation breaks out in my house life is pretty much over.

Like other species of bloodsucking vampires, bedbugs are basically immortal. They can go a year without feeding. They can withstand temperatures down to -26 F and up to 115. They are resistant to pretty much all legal pesticides. Luckily, they do not sparkle in the sunlight or have exceptionally well tussled hair or the future of the human species would be doomed.

So here’s what happens when all of your worst nightmares come true and you spot a fat little blood filled insect wobbling across your pillow. First you freak out and cry a lot. Then you call every exterminator in the city who will tell you two things:
  1. Bedbugs are basically impossible to get rid of.
  2. They will happily charge you thousands of dollars and try their best

So of course you give them all of your money. Then you find out that you have to throw away everything you own because it is actually owned by bedbugs (possession being at least 9/10th of Mother Nature’s law). Eventually you have to come out to friends and family about your infestation and understandably they all disown you rather than risk catching your gross bedbugs. You should probably get a therapist to deal with this traumatic life experience but you have no money and realistically there ain’t no shrink willing to risk bedbugs taking over his couch. So, basically then you commit suicide. The end.

Long time readers of this blog will remember that I make one exception in my greenie hippy rules for living and that my friends is for bug killin’. And in the case of the bedbug I am pretty much willing to get cancer if it will rid my fair city of this nightmare. You heard me right folks: It’s time to bring back the DDT. Back in the 40s they DDT bombed the bedbugs almost out of existence which raised morale in the country just enough to motivate us to take on the Nazis. Then the pesticide went and killed a bunch of bald eagles and I couldn't much blame the hippies for getting it banned until now. Obviously these are dire circumstances.

Baring the (I suppose unlikely) re-legalization of DDT we’re all getting “The Bugz” (might as well give them a hip name in preparation, “Nah honey that ain’t herpes, I gotz The Bugz!”) So maybe the thing to do is look on the bright side -- bedbugs can’t be all bad, right? Firstly there’s the obvious weight loss benefit -- they say "a pint’s a pound the world round" regardless of if the pint ends up in a blood bank or a bedbug tummy. Then there’s the mystical bloodsucker angle, given the love-fest this country is having with vampires you’d think a real life bloodsucking creature could get a little respect. Lastly there’s the orgy factor -- regardless of your own personal studdliness a colony of bedbugs is surely the highest number of individuals that have ever been in your bed at one time. Own it hot stuff; You’re having a menage-a-google every night. Though given the following video of bedbug sex perhaps the orgy wouldn’t be as awesome as I originally thought.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Just In: Pants on Fire all Over the Internet

I basically have a PHD in online dating. I’ve been on crazyblinddates (and TV). I’ve been on actual crazy blind dates. I’ve met winners and losers and lots of blog fodder. I met guys on IRC (old school!), on Spark Match, on craigslist, on Nerve, on OkCupid, on Facebook, etc (and never on eHarmony or Match because I am a cheap snob). And now I’ve gone and shacked up with a dude I met online and we don’t even bother to lie about how we met (Go ahead. Judge us! We’ll be over here making googly eyes so we probably won’t even notice.). I am a big fan of online dating mostly because it takes an activity (meeting people) that once required one to put on pants and be nice and makes it happily catty and pantsless! If online dating were a charity I would donate money every year. If it were a presidential candidate I would volunteer to work on its campaign and then pretend to be the father of its love child. If there were an "easy A" graduate class on it I would teach it. I know what I’m talking about. So trust me when I say that you’re doing it wrong.

Or if you don’t trust me; trust the data. I absolutely love the OkTrends pieces where the OkCupid people analyze their tons of online dating data to find out exactly how we are all screwing ourselves (instead of the people we could be meeting on their site!). The latest and greatest of these pieces is about the lies that people tell in their online profiles. All of the expected transgressions are there -- I’m taller! I’m richer! I’m bisexual-er! (?!?) Now, obviously we should stop lying because that is exactly how one ends up burning in hell but maybe also because one will get caught and then one will probably not get laid. In the article, the author muses a bit about how exactly the liars expect to get away with their lies once a relationship moves from screen to real life but I would contend that no one needs to get away with anything.

Most people have no idea what it is they want.

I am constantly hearing girls say stupid shit about how they would not ever ever never ever date a boy who is under 6 feet tall. Similarly, many boys seem to have an arbitrary body weight that they fear no date should be allowed to exceed. Some of these folks are just assholes. But I think most of them are ok people who suffer from two much more common problems:
  • Belief that physical appearance matters way more than it actually does.
  • Belief that they know what “tall” and “not fat” look like in number form.
I’m not saying that being physically attracted to someone is unimportant. You need to want to bang your significant other -- but (lucky for the future of the human race and evidenced by over population problem) I think most of us are actually willing to bang a lot more people then we’d like to admit. (Sluts!) And more importantly, I don’t think most of us have any idea what 6 feet or 135 pounds looks like on a real life body. Allowing yourself to draw a hard line between 5’11” and 6’0” means not going out on dates with a lot of guys that might be just right for you. You can continue pretending that there is no way you could ever want to have sex with a body that weighs 140 or measures 5'11” but don’t expect sympathy when you die alone. In the end, there is only one person responsible for your self-imposed limits. (And if you really can’t find someone in the 5’11” category attractive no matter what, then perhaps you really are an asshole! You can stop reading now!).

When you slowly get to know someone (through work or mutual friends or anywhere but the internet) you often learn to like them long before you think about if you like them like them. But online dating takes away this opportunity, instead you’re supposed to decide if you could ever fall in love with a collection of extremely self-edited snippets (most of which often aren't even the right snippets!). A smart boy won’t admit in his profile a love for Frito pie, old broken down trains and the smell of the top your head but its often exactly those quirks that make you want to bed him on date 3 or 35 or 310.

We’d all do well to accept these facts: You will never be given enough online dating factoids to determine if you could fall in love with someone. You might not fully understand just how flexible most of your deal-breakers really are.

But most people won’t admit either of these things (even to themselves) and so it pays to lie. It's very possible that claiming you’re 2 inches taller or 10 pounds lighter or 20K wealthier is going to get you on an actual date where you get the opportunity to prove that your jokes and astute observations and ability to order wine without embarrassing yourself can more than make up for stature and bank account. Just hope when you show up at the bar your date isn’t holding a copy of your profile in one hand and a measuring tape in the other. The lucky thing about love (or even about a really hard crush) is that it forgives a lot of transgressions.

Maybe I’m not cynical enough (this is the first time in all history that this possibility has ever been considered). I’m assuming that most people engaged in online dating would like to meet someone and fall in love and live happily ever after until they have a baby and realize that evolution totally tricked them into a life of green oozing feces and 3am screaming. (Surprise!). Obviously some people are trolling the Internet for amusement or a quick lay and probably some even larger number of people aren't ready to do much more then casually flirt (be it over a barstool or a computer monitor). But for the lovey-dovey mushheads out there (Put your hearts on your sleeve! Holla!) maybe go out with a shortie or a poor guy now and then. And go ahead and keep lying; it doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Twi-Hard with a Vengeance

Dating is stressful enough when you’re 30 but it super-duper sucks when your mom won’t let you get highlights and all the boys in your school still smell like worms. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone really hot would come along, fall in love with you, beat up your enemies and make life a little easier? Would it be nicer if we could magically take away all of the ridiculous dating pressure that our society places on 12 year olds and make them all love themselves as is? OF COURSE. Let me know when you get to that. 
Tomorrow night I am going to see Twilight: Eclipse and I’m very excited because there will be six packs and wolf packs, blood drinkers and vodka drinks (pre party!), and lust and romance and campy overwrought silliness. Bring it on. Of course, if the Internet has anything to say about it, looking forward to sparkling vampires on the big screen makes me at best a huge loser and at worst personally responsible for the downfall of cinema.
I’m not going to argue that the Twilight movies (or the books for that matter) are high art but the assertion that they are any worse then the rest of the summer blockbusters seems inherently sexist. Nobody seems angry when Pirates of the Caribbean or Ironman or Spiderman 3 (or anything else primarily marketed to teen boys) drag in buckets of money at the box office even though it’s generally accepted that none of these films will be honored by The Academy. But with last week’s record breaking release of the third movie in the Twilight series the Internet seems awash with backlash.
There are a lot of real issues in the Twilight-verse that are ripe to bitch about: 
  • The writing isn’t challenging.
  • The story perpetuates the idea that a person (in particular a female person) cannot be whole without a partner (for more on this topic read Gloria Steinem's brilliant chapter on love vs. romance in A Revolution From Within). 
  • Ain’t nobody getting laid.
  • Two different adult characters fall in romantic love with babies.   
But I don’t think any of these reasons are the real source of the rampant Twilight hatred. I think people are hating on Twilight because the boys don’t want to share the marque with girl-y romance movies. And I think all of us are a lot too quick to brand almost anything made entirely for girls as lame. 
Most of the Twilight complaints seem obsessed with the mushiness of the central romance between Edward and Bella. For those not in the know: the handsome vampire falls madly in love with the regular girl (without even talking to her!) and dedicates himself to her for life (which in his case is FOREVER). She can’t do anything to make him stop loving her. He wants to protect her and watch her sleep and drink every little drop of her yummy yummy blood. I’m going to assume that most of the haters were never 8th grade girls so they should trust me when I say that this shit would be super hot if you had a vagina and were in junior high.
Also confusing is the anger over Stephanie Meyer’s tweaking of the Vampire myth (as evidenced by the millions of geeks yelling about “real” vampires not sparkling). How does one go about establishing a “real” version of a completely fictional creature that no one knows the original source for? (Aside: here’s an interesting comparison of vampire traits). Obviously the real issue is not the sparkle (poor quality special effects notwithstanding) but (I’m guessing?) the feminizing of a scary monster. Stephanie Meyer can’t be blamed exclusively for the concept of pretty pretty vampires falling in love with mortal girls (Buffy? Interview with a Vampire?) and boys can hardly lay claim to the vampire character (True Blood? Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Dark Shadows? Was any of this shit made for dudes?). 
One has to ask, “Why are the boys so angry?” One theory (thanks to my coworker Aaron) is that the geeks don’t like having Comic Con taken over by girls. While I can understand not wanting the ladies to see you dressed up as an anime character (living in glass houses much?) I can’t help but think that training a bunch of young girls to like fantasy stories will surely lead to more geeks getting laid. Even Kevin Smith is down with that shit. 
Next time you find yourself angrily ranting about a piece of pop culture you might consider that you’re not the target demographic. (Personally I find Veggie Tales, Saw IV and The Bridges of Madison County all irredeemable.) You might also consider that the fantasy of every pasty white pre-teen boy was already made into a movie back in 1985. And hey, boys -- if you’re still feeling the rage, rest easy knowing that teen heartthrobs rarely fare well in the end. As proof here’s a recent image of my own personal adolescent love interest. Smoking.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On Being a Big Sister

It was always the same repeat played weekly throughout my elementary school years. I’m in the backseat of a nondescript car with my parents up front and my younger brother seated beside me. We’re on a cartoonishly twisted dirt road climbing up the side of a mountain and for some reason I’m not challenging my brother to scooch over to my side of the car and meet his doom. This is how you know that everything is a dream – Childhood Brianna never missed an opportunity to cajole her brother into a punch in the face.

We’re traveling somewhere far from home and my brother is inexplicably ill and we’re taking him to a doctor who, of course, lives at the top of a craggy mountain equipped with a road designed by the Cambodian Transit Authority (this is the most realistic part of the dream – my parents eschewed asphalt and never took us anywhere with a paved road). When we reach the top of the mountain the doctor's office is a scene plucked straight from Scooby Doo – wooden shack, peeling paint, cracked windows, flower beds full of wilted pansies – things could not look more ripe for evil-making. The scene gets no better as we walk over the creaky porch and through the door only to be greeted by Witch Hazel herself.

My parents seem nonplused and hand over my brother to the good doctor who whisks him away into her lair while Mom and Dad basically sip tea and take a nap. So finally I have to step up to the plate and point out what is obvious to any 5 year old: That lady is a witch doctor! Baby brother is gonna die in there! Of course no one takes me seriously and I start crying and freaking out which, thankfully, wakes me from my slumber.

Suddenly there I am, lying in my pink loft bed only 2 feet from the ceiling suddenly remembering, “Dude, I hate my brother! Not only does that little twerp ruin my waking hours but now I can’t even make it to first grade well rested! And we have finger painting today!”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Geekery: Budgeting for South East Asia

Remember when I said that we'd be doing our tour of South East Asia at a cost of $70/day (for 2 people!)? Remember when you thought, "That's insanely cheap, there is simply no way that is possible."? Remember when I proved you wrong? No? Well get ready because the data is right here!

Picture it: the waves lapping at the shore, the sun sinking into the South China Sea, a brightly colored drink in a pretty glass adorned with an orchid, half naked children running like mutant 2 legged crabs through the surf, a stray dog shoving his head into your crotch...the tip tap tip tap of fingers on keyboard, a beautiful color-coaded spread sheet. You can take the manager out of the project but you can't take the project manager out of the girl.

Much to Geoff's constant annoyance I spent some small amount of each day in paradise entering our expenditures into a Google spreadsheet so that I could hopefully come home to the wonderful fun of proving myself right. I also spent a similar amount of time each day raising my eyebrows and quietly fuming when Geoff ordered a second gin and tonic because how will we ever stay on budget if you insist on $6 in cocktails every day? (Of course, I have to acknowledge that it was either $6 in cocktail costs or considerably more in hospital fees from when he eventually broke down and strangled my OCD, penny-pinching ass -- so really gin was the more budget friendly option).

Before we get into the exciting data, a few caveats. There are for sure errors in my data and I have this fear that some crazy internet person is going to comb through it and email me copious notes about all of my mistakes. This is obviously a paranoid fantasy because while there are FOR SURE tons of crazy people on the internet who would do this, I am almost positive that I have yet to attract enough internet stalkers to have to worry about the crazies coming after me just yet. I only wish I was popular enough to have to worry about someone (or even multiple someones) OCD-ing it up on my lunch costs. But just in case, let me state that there are errors in this data. This is because I often didn't have access to wifi and thus was unmotivated to touch the computer (You mean I won't be able to read about funny cats? I'm out.). This is also because even though I sometimes like to pretend that I have a super-human memory, I still forget things. This is also because sometimes I cheated. Here is a list of ways that I totally cheated on the budget:

  • I did not include flight costs. It is totally possible to recreate our trip using only buses and thus spending WAY less money but sometimes when you're on an overnight bus ride listening to the horn that the driver leans on once a minute as if to scream, "Wake up whitey, you're about to die!" You remember that you can totally afford a $50 plane ticket and that while, yes, this will totally screw the budget it might make up for that sin with a night of sleep and not being dead on the side of a highway in Vietnam.
  • I did not include souvenir or gift costs so my firends and family may never know exactly how cheap knock off tshirts are in Bangkok.
  • I did not include the cost of our scuba diving course because even though scuba diving in Thailand is shockingly cheap (we paid $278.43 each for the four day certification course with 4 dives) it cannot be done for $35/day/person and we had pre-approved that particular out of budget splurge. The budget and I thoroughly enjoyed the 4 days of free hotel room that came with the course.
  • For the last 13 days of our trip I threw the budget out the window. These days were by far the most expensive on our trip. We lived it up in hotels built for very discerning Japanese business men and/or families of Germans. We drank singapore slings made with top shelf gin. We took taxis because we were too lazy (and fancy) for public transit. Sometimes we got into a tuktuk without even arguing about the price which means we paid 5 times more then we needed to and we didn't even care. We were the Mr. Howel and Lovey of Thailand and it was grand. Geoff wanted to continue recording the budget during these days of excess just for the hilarious comparison factor but I had to insist that we not do this because when the budget is in play I simply cannot stop thinking about how much more awesome the data would look if I just had one less mai tai, one less foot massage, one less bag of cookies from the mini bar -- and really, who wants to live like that?

Ok, enough blathering on to the data!

Days In Budget: 71

Hotel: $1,165.38
Food + Drink: $2,229.07
Travel: $604.71
Visas: $225.00
Tourism: $640.54
Local Transport: $361.03

Total Spent: $5,302.14
Daily Average: $74.68

Ok, so obviously we went over budget. It is difficult (nay, impossible) for me to type that sentence without following it up with a list of excuses which is exactly what I will do in just a moment here but first I will own it. We went over budget. That's ok.

Because, you see, we didn't have to. We could have quite easily stayed on budget. There are scores of days (46 to be exact) in my little spreadsheet that are happily under budget. There is even one day (February 17th) where we spent $25.15 -- thanks in part to that free hotel room that we got from our scuba class but mostly to the fact that sitting on the beach don't cost a thing. The problem was that when we went over budget we partied like Scrooge McDuck (if Mr. McDuck had been partying in Asia and if, instead of a pool full of gold coins, he had a really awesome tour of the Vietnam countryside followed by 3 cocktails OR a fancy sleeping car for his 12 hour train ride OR some sweet Laos visas). What I'm saying is that when we figured that we were going over budget anyway we seemed to say "well the diet is screwed for today, might as well eat an entire cheesecake." (This is an attitude that I have also employed in a less metaphorical way with actual cheesecakes and actual diets). Our most expensive day in Asia (3/8/2010) was a major blow out -- $198.50 -- we went on a tour of Angkor Wat which not only meant playing for a tour guide ($27) but also going to breakfast and dinner at the pricey establishments that our tour guide is getting kick backs to drop us off at, but more important than all that (which alone would have resulted in a $85.50 day) we bought our Vietnam Visas which (including delivery fees) cost a whopping $113.

In addition to the pain of Visa costs which made us consider looking into boarder crossing coyote services we spent a lot on getting from one place to another. For a while I even considered pulling all travel costs out of the budget since they were painfully expensive and since after a few
Biere La Rues it was easy to convince yourself that travel wasn't part of a daily budget! And of course, there was the cheating. If we're not going to count flights why count pricey train rides or even cheap bus tickets?

I would also like to not count all of Cambodia. You'd think hotel rooms with bathroom walls that don't extend to the ceiling and towns covered with a thin layer of garbage would, if nothing else, be easy on the wallet but NOT SO! Since the country is much poorer then Thailand or Vietnam (Source) we kind of expected to live like kings -- but this was not to be. Part of the problem is that we spent a lot of time in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding ruins which are swarming with westerners and thus very expensive (ok, comparatively expensive... our average per day cost in Siem Reap was $81.92 which wouldn't even come close to covering our estimated cost of a night in our very own Brooklyn apartment (~$91)). The other part of the problem is that Cambodia is just hard and Geoff and I are comforted by the fancy. After a day of mourning the deaths of the past and turning away the legions of poor children we felt like we deserved some AC and our own bathroom. (Better people would probably feel like they too could do without but we are not better people).

Conversely we had been warned by many a traveler that Vietnam would be pricey but somehow it was by far our cheapest destination (possibly because we both would happily live off of $.50 Ban Mis made by an old lady on a scummy street corner). We scored in the north by visiting Hanoi and Halong Bay during the low season (downside: too cold to swim, upside: $6 rooms, uncrowded waters and not getting eaten by giant jellyfish). As far as I can tell the rest of the country is just always cheap. Our average hotel cost in Vietnam was $15.16 (compared to a trip-wide average of $17.66) and the hotels were markedly nicer than those in other countries -- we had AC, hot showers, complete bathroom walls, balconies AND CNN international! Over 22 days we had 24 meals that cost under $5. One day in Hue we had lunch for $.78 -- granted it was pho and coffee eaten while seated on a dirty curb but STILL! If you wanna live like a king Vietnam is highly recommended.

Ok, enough. I could continue to entertain you with the minutia of cost of traveling in South East Asia but I suspect that there are no readers left down here at the bottom of the page. If you're planning a trip of your own or if you're one of those elusive Random Access Babble super fans I'll happily (if a little wearily) send you a copy of the grand spreadsheet, just drop me and email.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

South East Asia by the Numbers