Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

The Artist Is Present and Also a Robot

Between 2004 and 2008, I worked as a video editor in Hollywood. This description comes with plenty of qualifiers: It wasn't a job with any artistry or excitement (it was, as I described it to curious/confused parties back then, "industrial editing"). The motto of the company I worked for was "Know Better," and its logo looked eerily like an Illuminati eye; it sold itself as a way for corporations/PR companies/freelancing-citizens-full-of-vanity to amass knowledge about their place in the business world through the monitoring of media. To do this, it recorded TV and radio broadcasts from around the country, and resold commercial-free chunks of said broadcasts to the as-yet uninformed. Need [...]


Books On Lego

BrickJest, a collaboration between Kevin Griffith, an English Professor at Capital University, and his eleven-year-old son, Sebastian, reenacts scenes from David Foster Wallace's most famous novel, even though Sebastian has not even read the book. I called them up to get a little background on their project.

So, why'd you start the site?

Kevin Griffith: We were interested in doing something ambitious together. We had seen a book called The Brick Bible, where somebody took their New Testament and did it in Legos. We thought, is there any kind of novel or non-Biblical text that would offer a similar challenge? I teach Infinite Jest at Capital University, so [...]


Voicemails From The Terrifying Future

In 2022, fires will destroy over 2,025 acres of Texas. In 2048, the Glacier Land Resort will open for people looking to see what life was like before the glaciers melted. In 2049, the Smithsonian—no longer open to the public—will feature a preserved hummingbird in their archives, the last proof of their species ever existing.

These are all possible futures as created by the users of FutureCoast, an interactive alternate reality game that began in February and concludes its run in May. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the overarching story of the game is simple: Mysterious objects known as “chronofacts" have begun appearing throughout [...]


Will The Real Zodiac Killer Please Stand Up?

On Wednesday, the identity of the Zodiac Killer was finally revealed: It was Louis Myers, only 17 when he began the killings, who confessed from his deathbed back in 2001. In 2012, the identity of the Zodiac Killer was finally revealed: It was George Russell Tucker, a pseudonym for a then-recently-diseased 91-year-old former real estate salesman from Fairfield, California. In 2009, the identity of the Zodiac Killer was finally revealed: It was Guy Ward Hendrickson, a carpenter who brought his 7-year-old along for the ride during the killings.

It's worth pointing out that last year, Dick Van Dyke also confessed.

Every cycle through the calendar brings [...]


Goodbye To The Best Show, Which Was "The Best Show on WFMU"

A few years ago, I changed cable providers. While the procedure's been streamlined over the years to where it's relatively painless, a sadistic remnant still remains: The vague installation time window. So one day, AT&T asked me to stay home for a six-hour period on a weekday. Luckily, I'd just quit my job. I had plenty of time to spare.

Most of those early unemployed/"freelance" days took on a consistent pattern: Wake up, throw together a breakfast, sit in front of my computer for five hours trying to find work, grab a sandwich from the nearby bodega, sit online for another five hours, drink three beers, sleep. As any freelance [...]


"Gravity" Is A Transcendent Piece Of Crap

A couple of years ago, when a terrible break-up left me desperate to fill up all of my newfound free time with social interaction, I went over to a friend's house and watched him play Grand Theft Auto. After I saw him drive through a bunch of beautifully-designed streets, rob some girls with digits-in-all-the-right-places, and shoot a rocket launcher at a fleet of cop cars, I went home. I learned a valuable lesson that mind-numbing night: No matter how perfectly-orchestrated the sound, no matter how artistically-chiseled the graphics, no matter how hair-trigger the gameplay, watching someone else play a video game is boring.

That is exactly what watching Alfonso [...]


Weiner Takes All: A Panel Discussion of People Named Weiner and Wiener

I. On The Battle

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: WEE-ner is a much more make-funable name than WHY-ner. WHY-ner is also not great. Because any time you complain, you get it used against you. But WEE-ner's like… it's a dick. So, your last name means “a dick.”

Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: When people pronounce it WHY-ner, that drives me nuts. Whatever challenges there are around WEE-ner, WHY-ner is worse.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: I did a piece a bunch of years ago that was picked up by some right-wing blog. And that Fox News show Red Eye, with the host Greg I-forget-his-last-name, he did this [...]


Inside America's Ghost Tour Industry

If you're a man driving alone on a certain stretch of Archer Avenue on Chicago's South Side, you may see a teenage girl on the side of the road, thumb out, trying to hitch a ride. If you stop for her—which, being a concerned citizen, you'll consider—you'll notice her outfit's a bit dated: a white formal dress and the kind of dancing shoes you might find in the back of your grandma's closet. There's something a little bit off about her, but you can't quite place what it is.

She'll say her name is Mary and she'll ask for a ride home, just up the road. When you approach [...]


"Carnivàle" Broke My Heart

In my opinion, this is the most beautiful sequence ever aired on television:

This essay is part of a series about our favorite TV shows past.

Previously: You, Me And "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

It's the opening scene for episode two of "Carnivàle." I've probably watched it 100 times. I know every motion, piece of furniture, item of clothing, dialogue snippet, and character backstory. I know the song playing is Ruth Etting's 1929 hit "Love Me or Leave Me."

And yet still, I have absolutely no idea what's going on.

That was kind of the experience of watching the show. Trying to [...]


San Francisco's Baffling Jejune Institute Gets A Documentary

The toughest part of writing about San Francisco's Jejune Institute "thing" was trying to describe it, something I attempted to do for this site twice. In a first piece about the citywide game, which was put on by a group called Nonchalance, I went with "[p]art public-art installation, part scavenger hunt, part multimedia experiment, part narrative story." For the follow-up, I added "underground alternate reality game" to the mix. Both summaries missed the mark, partly because of my own inadequacies as a writer, but also a symptom of the project's sprawling originality—it wasn't like anything else out there, and that was part of what made it [...]


The Smashing Pumpkins, 1991-2000, In Order

151. “French Movie Theme” 150. “Annie-Dog” 149. “Pastachio Medley” 148. “The Boy” 147. “Bugg Superstar 146. “Spaced” 145. “Pulseczar” 144. “A Night Like This” 143. “Take Me Down” 142. “Shame” 141. “Glass and the Ghost Children” 140. “Medellia of the Gray Skies” 139. “Rotten Apples” 138. “La Dolly Vita” 137. “Meladori Magpie” 136. “The Bells” 135.17134. “Tonite Reprise” 133. “Blank” 132. “Pennies”


The Cup Of Coffee Club: The Ballplayers Who Got Only One Game

Of the 17,808 players (and counting) who’ve run up the dugout steps and onto a Major League field, only 974 have had one-game careers. In baseball parlance, these single-gamers are known as "Cup of Coffee" players. The number fluctuates slightly throughout each season as new prospects get called up to fill in for injured veterans, or when roster size expands in September. (Last year, for example, Braves rookie Julio Teheran was a Cup of Coffee player for the eleven days between his MLB debut and a spot start.) But staying on the list for an extended period of time is generally not a good sign. It's an ominous [...]


12 Things Currently Being Sold On eBay Because They Kinda Look Like Jesus

Easter Egg Jesus

Description: “My 5 year old created this egg using a Tie Dye Egg kit. This is better than the Jesus grilled cheese, better than the Jesus cheeto, and definitely better than the George Washington chicken nugget. And I'm sure that a 5 year old girl in the Midwest could use a little more money in her college account. Sale is final.”

Starting Bid: None, although there is a “reserve” that is not specified.

Current Bid: $.99, which is not yet enough to reach said reserve.

Item Location: Mason, MI


A Survey Of The Funny, Haunted Dreams People Have About Their Jobs

Does a beekeeper dream about her bees? What does a porn star dream about when she's not at work? How about teachers, lawyers and people with office jobs—are they stuck with the same boring work-dream loops as the rest of us, or do their dreams reveal something unexpected about how they spend their days? To find out, we asked eleven people of various occupations, including, yes, a beekeeper and a porn actress, as well as a farmer, a forensic scientist, a waitress, a screenwriter and a live-tv captioner, to tell us about the very best and worst dreams they've had about their jobs.


People Most Likely To Die In 2012, According To A Death Pool

Once again: For this particular annual death pool (now in its fourth year!), points are awarded for each “correctly” chosen person at a rate of 100 minus age at death. This may account for some skewing youthward. There were 31 entries this year.

Last year, the pool correctly predicted the deaths of Kim Jong-il (13 lists), Elizabeth Taylor (13 lists), Amy Winehouse (10 lists), Steve Jobs (6 lists), Christopher Hitchens (5 lists) and Gerry Rafferty (4 lists). It was wrong in the cases of Michael Douglas (37 lists), Aretha Franklin (32 lists), Lindsay Lohan (17 lists) and a whole bunch more. So then, who will “mark” this year? [...]


A Conversation With Chris Perkel, Editor of 'Pearl Jam Twenty'

It was never easy being a Pearl Jam fan. The explosion of hype and overexposure that came with Ten and Vs. fueled an instant mainstream backlash by the "cool indie kids." If you were going to listen to grunge, Nirvana was the band you were supposed to like. The experimental, less radio-friendly Vitalogy and No Code—as well as the annoying rise of Eddie Vedder sound-alikes—slashed the fan base even further. In terms of popularity then, they occupy a strange, contradictory place in music: They’ve been one of the biggest bands in the world for two decades but comparatively little is known about them. Which is why the Cameron Crowe-directed love [...]


Some Baseball Art To Enjoy With The World Series

There’s some great baseball-related abstract art available on eBay, but it’s gonna cost you. Each of these original oil-on-canvas paintings (16-by-20 inches) by the artist Tommervik have a Buy It Now price of $1 million. (Not to mention another $9.99 for standard shipping.) According to his website, the artist “has developed a personal vein of Pop Cubism to produce his very own reading of American iconography. All-American icons are thus deconstructed and rebuilt to emphasize a given attribute.”

If a cool million isn’t in your art budget this month, you can make him a below-asking-price offer and see if he takes the bait. All auctions end over the next [...]


Ten People Who Observe Birthdays on 9/11

Jotham Sederstrom, 34, freelance reporter: On September 10th, my friends took me out for birthday drinks in Chicago. I was out until three or four, I think, at a place called "The Hideout." Among other places. I didn’t wake up until about noon, at which point everything had changed.

George Spyros, 44, executive producer: I got married the weekend before. We had a bunch of friends and family from out of town, and went out Monday night for dinner. My wife and I were supposed to fly out on September 11th for our honeymoon. On top of that, it’s my birthday.

Michael Wright, 44, editorial director: September 11th has always [...]


The Mysterious Case Of The Craigslist Writing Gig Scam

This is how the Freelancer’s Panic works: Checks that are supposed to have arrived get lost in the jaws of payroll processing, leaving you without any money and, worse yet, a sense that no money will find its way into your mailbox, ever. Days are spent alternating between considering the poor life decisions that have led to this point and sending out mass emails to friends and strangers looking for any leads. Which is how, one day last week, I found myself responding to an ad on the “Writing Gigs” section of the Los Angeles Craigslist that was, most likely, a scam. I mean, it definitely was a scam. Completely. [...]


Which Would You Choose? Three Theoreticals

1. Would you rather die right now, painlessly, or live another 30 years with an increasingly debilitating ailment, with the last 10 years of your life spent entirely bedridden and in extreme physical pain?

On The One Hand: You won't have to experience the physical pain, which—as anyone who’s been in pain before can attest to—sucks. You also don’t have to experience the mental anguish that comes with growing old, i.e., friends dying; relationships ending; the realization creeping upon you that you can’t trust anyone or anything; the inevitable mark in time when you understand that the time you spent advancing your career goals was only a glorified diversion [...]