Note From Jon


Thursday, February 28, 2008

“Who gives a f@ck about a fleece?”

So it may not have been a literal translation from the Greek. Regardless, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Argonautika was my kind of theatre. I was taken right back to high school—which is good since Centreville High School had a damn good theatre program—with the ensemble cast narrating in unison, Athena’s Suzuki voice, and even a fabric river (which was probably the only clich├ęd staging of the entire show).

I’m an instant fan of Mary Zimmerman and her tech crew. There were some strong acting performances (and one phenomenally stilted one—which I am convinced had to be the director’s (poor) choice), but what made the show was some of the most ingenious staging I’ve ever seen. I believe I even whooped with joy after the scenes when Hercules killed Andromeda’s sea monster (an actor under an ocean of cloth, holding two stuffed eyeballs through the sheet) and when Pollux slayed the boxing King Amycus (best stage combat I’ve seen involving a two-story monster played by a puppet covering a couple of vertically-stacked actors—complete with slow-motion finishing moves worthy of Mortal Kombat). The literal, and increasingly bloody, Cupid’s arrow that Medea wears through herself in the second act perfectly symbolizes her fate.

The whole design crew was strong, but particular standouts were Michael Montenegro’s puppets (never has a bundle of cloth behaved more like a real baby… which made murder-by-string-cutting poignantly brilliant) and Pluess and Sussman’s sound design (from the sound of the furiously scribbling Fury to the transformation of a puppet eyeball into a stage-filling dragon-that-never-sleeps).

Aside from those I’ve already mentioned some of the memorable moments and lines I want to record are:

  • The Argonauts “Roll-call” rap and the rigging of the stage as the Argo (followed by flying around that rigging in perfect sync with Poseidon’s man-handling of the Argo’s scale model)
  • The final images of the cast as constellations, and the interpretation of the Zodiac as characters in this particular myth:
    • The Golden Fleeced Ram = Ares
    • The fire-breathing bulls Jason tamed = Taurus
    • Twin Argonauts Castor and Pollux = Gemini
    • The serpent that next sleeps = Scorpio (stretch?)
    • The pitcher that dooms Hylas = Aquarius
    • The maiden Medea = Virgo
    • Hercules the Hunter = Orion (which isn’t a Zodiac sign but should be since it’s one of the only constellations I can reliably find)
    • Pisces, Capricorn and Libra were such stretches that I can’t even remember them now and I think Leo and Cancer were left out altogether.
  • And in addition to the headline quote a few favorite lines as best I recall (most of which you’ll notice were memorable for their shock value in a “Greek” play):
    • “I was fucking winning!” Cried the dismayed Hercules after Hera breaks his oar during the rowing contest.
    • “Happy Birthday” What I believe I heard a Harpy puppet exclaim as it flew offstage… after it puked and shat on its prisoner.
    • “Are you thrilled your sister is a whore?” Aietes challenge when sending Medea’s brother and a suitor after Jason… and a subsequent response “I’ll cut his dick off and make a eunuch of him”
    • “As long as you remain a maiden, your father has some claim on you” Jason’s pickup line, which leads in short order to Athena commenting “Oh yes they did! Right there on the fleece”

In conclusion… that $10 ticket was a hard to beat value (although there is always the Shakespeare Free-For-All)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Scrabulous is Doomed!

No, I don’t actually have any inside news on the legal troubles the creators are facing, but Scrabulous is currently my favorite game… and therefore it is doomed. If you are my favorite anything, watch out because chances are you are being hunted down by Anton Chigurh.

Let’s examine the evidence:

  • Favorite TV Show: The Wire. Now down to the final two episodes of its five glorious seasons, after having unceremoniously taken out my favorite character (have I mentioned that this is the greatest TV show of all time?)

  • Favorite Music Website: NPR’s Discover Songs. After being instrumental in launching my personal music renaissance of the past year… my company blocked their music streams on Valentines Day. Thanks for that. I am of course retaliating by streaming far more music off of… but it’s just not the same.

  • Favorite Bar: Dr. Dremos. While we did manage to hang on to a piece of it, the search continues for a hang out to rival Dremo's. Nothing comes close to its combination of, convenience, crowds without being crowded, the cross-section of citizenry, readily available parlor games, and uncanny knack for creating memories...

  • Favorite Blog: Seeking John Galt. After just over a year of wonderfully witty and insightful posts, my favorite blogger has gone to ground (and even taken many of my favorite posts with her, including one in which I am proud to have played a supporting role—resurrected by the magic of Google Cache). I’m convinced she has signed a major publishing deal and her contract precludes her from blogging any longer, but I will miss reading her work nonetheless.

I suppose all of the time freed up by the demise of some of my favorite pastimes means I’ll have that much more time to dedicate to Scrabulous… at least until it too inevitably falls prey to my curse.

And a random grab-bag of Notes to Jon (beware the lecture notes):

  • How ever I rank the animated and live action shorts next year, be sure to bet on my fourth ranked pick in your Oscar pool (my 4th —of 5—picks won each category). Had I nailed those two categories I’d have come home the winner… despite going with my heart and taking Juno for Best Picture.
    • Satellites beat boats for collecting ocean data
    • Warmer ocean surfaces lead to less efficient upwelling of the nutrient-rich water below and that results in lower “Net Primary Productivity”… which I think meant less photosynthesizing critters absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Hmmm. The warmer it gets the less CO2 the oceans will absorb… and the less CO2 the oceans absorb the warmer it will get. That sounds like a bad thing.
    • Satellites thousands of kilometers above the ocean can now calculate surface wind speed and direction by measuring the thumbnail-sized ripples on the water caused by local surface wind.
    • The white-chocolate-with-Heath-bar-chunk desserts were amazing
    • Dark Matter and Dark Energy make up 95% of the mass of the universe
    • One of his better jokes in response to the big-bang-is-just-a-theory folks (who are often related to the evolution-is-just-a-theory folks) who insist we consider all possibilities… is that “gravity is just a theory too. So the next time you come to the edge of a cliff… by all means, consider all possibilities”.
    • In the battle for which form scientists believe all this Dark Matter is stored in (between MACHOs and WIMPs), WIMPs are winning and the race is on to discover them (just like the Higgs-Bosun particle)… however, due to federal science funding cuts it’ll likely be some Frenchman who discovers them.
    • “The Unbearable Lightness of Nothing”. Even if you create a vacuum and cool it to absolute zero, the Quantum Uncertainty Principle says that at any time a particle and its anti-particle can appear, exist for a brief moment, and then annihilate. “Nothing” is hard to come by.
  • Finally, I discovered that the $10 ticket deal to shows by The Shakespeare Threatre Company really just requires a phone call at 10am on a Tuesday (I assumed you’d really have to go in person to have a decent shot at one of the 20 pairs of tickets). We got our choice of several nights and Darren and I, purchasing separately, ended up with 4 adjacent seats. (See how cleverly I buried this nugget under all of those lecture notes)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to watch thirteen Oscar nominated shows in one week

Last weekend--once the writer’s strike ended and I realized the Academy Awards would be more than a Golden-Globe press conference—I took a look at the Oscar nominees… and realized I hadn’t seen a single one… in any category (ok, so I saw The Bourne Ultimatum which has some sound and editing nominations). I then set about to catch up (actually it was more coincidental that it appears), and saw Juno, Michael Clayton, and No Country for Old Men during the week. Juno was easily my favorite but I can see why No Country is considered the likely winner.

The real highlight for me though was finally getting to see the Oscar-nominated shorts this year. For several years, The National Archives has screened the shorts (and nominated documentaries) for free and I took full advantage on Saturday. I expected to enjoy the animated shorts more than the live-action shorts, but even though they were nearly all impressive, on the whole I felt the live-action pieces were more enjoyable. All of the shorts were more traditional than I’d expected (for some reason I had anticipated some extremely avant-garde live-action shorts, but they were all easy-to-follow linear pieces). The most unusual (and least enjoyable, at least for me) turned out to be the animated Madame Tutli-Putli.

My favorite short of the day was the Italian live-action short called The Substitute (Spoiler alert–in case you expect to have more success in watching the shorts than I’ve had until this year), about a dynamic substitute teacher who storms into a classroom and captivates the students before going right out the window when the real substitute teacher arrives. Had it ended there, it would have been a cute, clever piece, but it followed the “substitute” returning to his high-powered office job with a lesson he picked up from one of the students. That’s what, for me, gave it the edge over Tanghi Argentini, where a man gets crash-course-Tango-lessons from a co-worker in an attempt to woo an internet date, with humorous results and a twist nearly as good as The Substitute. At Night, the serious piece of the collection, wove a story about three young women in a cancer ward around New Years, and I could see it winning as well.

On the animated side, the most entertaining was “Even Pigeons go to Heaven”, but they all impressed me with either their story or their animation (even the indecipherable Madame Tutli-Putli had some impressive facial expressions). My vote will probably go to “I Met the Walrus” which is an actual archived conversation with John Lennon conducted by a 14-year old who snuck into John’s hotel room and scored an interview, set to mesmerizing animations.

I expect to make a habit of blocking out Oscar weekend in the future to spend watching shorts at The National Archives.

Notes to Jon:
• Tickets are handed out (one per person—so everyone attending must be present) an hour before show-time. I believe everyone in line an hour beforehand got tickets, but they ran out shortly thereafter so to get better seats it’s a good idea to show up 15-30 minutes before tickets are distributed.

• Dress warm. Once you get the ticket an hour before the show, you will probably stay outside to hold your place in line to get good seats when they open the doors a half hour before the show.

• The William G. McGowan theatre has about 250 luxurious seats, all of which appear to provide a good view, so standing in line to get a prime seat is really only necessary if a group is trying to sit together.

• No food or drinks are allowed in the Archives… which means: Don’t hold your group’s place in line while they pick up a Chai for you, because once you enter they won’t be able to bring the drink to you (not that we tried that or anything…)

• My live-action rankings:

5) The Tonto Woman
4) The Mozart of Pickpockets
3) Tanghi Argentini
2) At Night
1) The Substitute

• My animated rankings:

5) Madame Tutli-Putli
4) Peter and the Wolf
3) My Love
2) I Met The Walrus
1) Even Pigeons Go To Heaven

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Total Eclipse of the Moon

On our second astronomical evening of 2008, we confirmed that lunar eclipses are considerably more viewer-friendly than meteor showers. While we did venture outside for a few photo attempts, it turned out the entire show could be thoroughly (and warmly) enjoyed from inside our upstairs window. And it turns out that it’s a good thing the snow clouds parted just in time because we’ll be waiting until December of 2010 for the sequel. As an added bonus Darren even contributed this year’s first Darrenism.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How NOT to cross-country ski off a roof...

It hasn't been a particularly blog-worthy week, so I figured it was time to brush off this little memory from my freshly-digitized trip to Norway during the Lillehammer Olympics. As you'll see in the slide show, a good portion of the trip consisted of skiing... and jumping off things...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Run! The Media's Coming!"

As of Saturday, three of my friends have been featured in articles in The Washington Post. Apparently I have good taste in friends because here are some comments that this world-renowned newspaper has printed about them:

First, there’s Ray: “He's a goofball, sort of a Jim Carrey caricature.” And “He's clearly highly intelligent and really nice.”

Then there is Dave, who’s “athletic and outgoing and fun and successful”

And most recently Joel, whose date said that he “looked like Wentworth Miller from Prison Break.”, and that “he definitely made me laugh.”

I’m trying to keep my blog short (yeah, right), so those are just some of the highlights from the articles. If you are interested in reading the full articles, they are available from the Washington Post website:

Welcome back. What’s that you say? You say the synopsis I gave is not the same as the impression you got of my friends from the full articles? Hmmm. But I was simply quoting directly from the newspaper! Of course, just like many of you (not that there are many of you) probably didn’t take the time to fully read all three of those articles, almost none of the Post’s readership is going to get a chance to get to know Ray, Dave, and Joel (well Joel does go out on a lot of dates, so perhaps that’s not entirely true). That’s too bad because I think the irony is that my out of context quotes give a more accurate portrayal of these guys than the Post did (alright maybe not the Wentworth Miller comparison). Interestingly, I think Joel’s article was actually influenced by Ray’s, because after reading Ray’s story and some of the other recent Date Labs, Joel concluded that the only way to look bad in a Date Lab article was to be really into a girl who wasn’t into him. Well, I believe he avoided that situation… and proved his theory wrong in the process (check out the comments section from Joel's story to see what I mean).

Not that there is anything particularly shocking about a journalist selecting quotes to fit a particular slant, but I found it interesting that three out of three friends were unhappy with how they came across in the newspaper. Admittedly these examples are trivial compared to journalists who fabricate quotes and stories altogether (see: Editor of my high school newspaper—Jayson Blair—and the current season of HBO’s “The Wire”—speaking of which, anyone who hasn’t been watching Season Five of “The Wire” should seriously reconsider their priorities in life).

Ah well, I’ll keep this lesson in mind and at least I haven’t been misrepresented in the Post… oh wait! I forgot the emails I got from friends who thought I was drinking because of the photo they saw of me in the background of the Weekend cover with an IBC Rootbeer bottle…

Friday, February 8, 2008

Turning Japanese

Ah, Japanese Culture. All I can do is smile. The Japan! Culture + Hyperculture festival has descended upon the Kennedy Center and Mimsi and I decided to join Darren in checking out Shintoku-Maru (performed in Japanese...without supertitles).

The highlight of the evening turned out to be the pre-show exhibits we explored, especially Yayoi Kusama's Dots Obsession Installation which coated two rooms with black and yellow polka dots. Particularly in the yellow room, you feel like you are losing your balance. An installation of flying textiles and Asimo, the running robot, also kept us entertained until showtime.

As for the play itself, it felt like Oedipus goes to Japan, which is fine... if you're in to that sort of thing. I can usually find something to appreciate in any play and this was no exception. For example, I was impressed that none of the costumes burst into flames due to the shower of sparks that four power grinders were raining down on the stage during the opening and closing scenes. The grinders were an excellent effect and helped set the atmosphere of a chaotic city street.

Other scenes of note were the disturbing scene of the step-mother spanking her son, and the even more disturbing scene of the son dressing up as the step-mother and attacking his little step-brother... by ripping his shirt off and biting his neck. What was really twisted was that during both of these scenes the music suddenly becomes so cheery—and in the latter case comical dancers fill the stage—that you find yourself experiencing counterintuitive emotions.

The whole experience was reminiscent of watching Peer Gynt in Olso in 1994; strange things were happening in a language I didn't understand, but there were some powerful images (e.g. 14 years later I can still remember the first act of Peer Gynt taking place inside a set made to look like a motherboard, and I remember watching Peer scale the motherboard wall by climbing up the circuitry).

I'm sure some people enjoyed the show (Darren wanted to know what a Japanese person thought of it... but didn't ask) but I just hope it wasn't because they could relate to the characters. Here's the closing line of the synopsis (Alan Rickman reads this aloud before the play ever starts so I'm not the one ruining the ending here): "They finally acknowledge their love for each other and [the son] pleads with [his step-mother] to consummate this love, so that she may give birth to him, and hence become his real mother."

Note to Jon:
  • If you can figure out how to make the illegal turns we took from the Rock Creek Parkway up F St. (or can get to New Hampshire Ave. a more legal... *cough* boring... way) then get there shortly before 6:30 and the Saudi Embassy has two free spots reserved just for you... well as long as you drive blue Prii.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

King of the 'Loaf

Once we discovered that Punxsutawney, Pa is nowhere near Philly, we gave up our dreams of a joint Groundhog Day/Philly Cheese Steak adventure, and settled instead for enjoying an un-February-like hike around Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson MD. Thanks to Mary for coming up with the idea!

Here are some notes from the hike:
  • We met at the West View parking lot, which meant we started the hike by driving nearly all the way to the top!
  • We did a 7 mile circuit primarily along the Blue loop, with some excursions along the White loop around the summit.
  • "Well it is possible to burp and taste fish oil" Dave reconsiders, after first defending fish oil vitamins as not having a bad taste.
  • Always check for a post-hike-ice-cream-venue before the hike. My car's GPS left us with the options of a "Jimmie Cone" (where no one answered the phone) or a Dairy Queen.
  • At the DQ, most of us felt a small Blizzard would have been big enough, and while I didn't know it on Saturday, I now whole-heartedly endorse the Banana Split Blizzard with Chocolate Ice Cream (you have to ask for the chocolate ice cream specially).

  • Right next door to the Germantown DQ is a Blimpie that serves Boardwalk Fries that really hit the post-post-hike-ice-cream spot—but they lie about serving the Nathan's Hot Dogs on their poster.

  • Rocky joined us for what would be his last hike before moving to San Francisco, and we got to see some of what his gadgetry could do on a hike. His GPS created a map of where we hiked, and by simply "synchronizing watches" between his camera and his GPS he has software that will automatically tag the exact coordinates of each picture... now if it just knew the orientation of the photo. Rocky pointed out that you can even import the data into Google Earth to get a 3D walkthough of the hike (as seen above), complete with embedded photos—each dot will bring up a photo.

  • The "Don't Try This at Home Kids" note of the hike was Dave stepping across a 40 foot deep chasm to climb into a crack in the rock that let him slide through the cliff and come out the other side where he was thankfully able to scramble down.

  • The diamond shaped blazes we saw around White Rocks don't seem to be standard trail blazes, but the offset vertically stacked rectangles indicate the direction of the turn, and triple blazes can be used for trail heads, ends, or spurs depending on the configuration.

  • Reagan received a testimonial, "She's cute and furry" from a little boy on the trail (despite her penchant for rolling around in dead animals and scat on this particular hike)