Entries for November 2006

November 30, 2006

Those wacky Canadians

avenuerd.jpgI’m in Toronto today, and I’m staying at a hotel near a street called Avenue Road. But the zaniness doesn’t stop there. According to local legend (and by that I mean Wikipedia’s entry on the subject), the road got its name when the Lieutenant Governor was surveying the town, and he came to a point where he stopped, pointed north, and said in his English accent, “Let’s ‘av a new road.” Oh, Canada.

November 28, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of Tae Kwan Do Class

Part 19 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

November 27, 2006

Idea: Commemorative T-shirts for Fictional Events

A friend of mine recently went to a convention for ventriloquists, and he brought me back a t-shirt from the event. It’s a nice enough shirt, but I feel weird about wearing it. I feel like I’m lying to everyone who sees me when I wear a shirt from an event I didn’t actually attend. Doesn’t wearing a shirt from an event make an implied statement that I was there?

Well, that got me thinking. What if I came up with t-shirts for events that never really happened? What if there were t-shirts for conventions, expos, gatherings, parades, and celebrations that don’t really exist? What implied statement does that make, exactly?

Well, now we can find out. I made a long list of imaginary events, and came up with t-shirt designs for nine of them. When I have time, maybe I’ll add some more. The ones I came up with are all available on t-shirts in the Ironic Sans store. So now you can wear a commemorative t-shirt from the following events that never really happened:





(Children’s Sizes Only)






November 20, 2006

By nobody who brought you Jurassic Park

Tyrannosaur CanyonI know, I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But that’s why the cover is there, right? It’s supposed to give me some sense of what the inside will be like. So when I found myself needing something to read on a recent flight, I picked up a book that jumped out at me in the airport terminal bookstore: Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston. I remember being terrified by his brother Richard Preston’s non-fiction book The Hot Zone back in 1994, and I was passingly familiar with Douglas’ work with his writing partner Lincoln Childs. I’d read a few of the books they wrote together, and while they weren’t very memorable I don’t think I hated them. So how bad could this be?

It was awful. I would have just left it on the plane, but then someone else might have picked it up thinking it looked good. The worst part is that I should have known better. As it turns out, all the warning signs I needed were right there on the cover the whole time. Had I paid them more attention, I would have realized that this book wants to be Jurassic Park more than any book has ever wanted to be another book. And a book that can’t stand on its own merits is probably not worth the time.

Jurassic ParkLet’s start with the cover, designed by Howard Grossman of 12E Design. Right away, I noticed that it looks astonishingly like the cover of Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park, designed by Chip Kidd. That’s step one in the multi-part plan to appeal to Michael Crichton fans.

Then, right there on the cover, comes step two, in the form of this praise by noted author Stephen Coonts: “If John Grisham had written Jurassic Park, he couldn’t do better than Tyrannosaur Canyon.” I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.

Turn the book over. There’s step three: “The stunning new masterwork from the acclaimed bestselling author, recently hailed by Publishers Weekly as ‘better than Crichton.’”

And right below that, step four: “Michael Crichton wishes he could write half as well. -Library Journal”

Can you guess what all the blurbs inside the front cover say?

Publisher’s Weekly calls it “Crichton-worthy.”

“He has combined the cutting-edge science of Michael Crichton and the thrills and chills of Stephen King…” say authors W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear.

But this one’s my favorite: “I would put Tyrannosaur Canyon up with the best of Michael Crichton’s novels. This is the book Douglas Preston was born to write: a thriller that irresistibly combines cutting-edge science with night adventure. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!” - Lincoln Child, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Brimstone.

They break up the quote’s credit so it looks like the quote comes from “Lincoln Child, New York Times.” The rest of the credit (“bestselling coauthor of Brimstone”) is on the next line.

Can you guess who Lincoln Child coauthored Brimstone with? His frequent collaborator Douglas Preston! Isn’t your writing partner giving you that sort of praise sort of like your mom saying that she likes your new book?

November 18, 2006

A museum recommendation and a recommendation for the museum

Part I: A Museum Recommendation

On Thursday I had a chance to attend a preview of a new exhibit called Magritte and Contemporary Art which opens tomorrow at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Of course, the art is impressive, including more than 60 works by Magritte, and another 60 or so by artists including Barbara Krueger, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, etc. But the exhibit installation is one of the best examples of museum space enhancing the artwork that I’ve ever seen.

LACMADesigned by John Baldessari, the museum space is transformed into a surreal experience worthy of the artwork it contains. The floor is a carpeted Magritte-esque sky. The ceiling is covered with images of freeways. The guards all wear suits and bowlers, like they’ve stepped out of a Magritte painting. The entrance to the exhibit is a larger-than-life replica of Magritte’s painting The Unexpected Answer. When you enter the exhibit, it’s like walking into Magritte’s world. For a different exhibit, something like this could have been distracting, cheesy, or overbearing. But for this exhibit, it was just right.

Part II: A Recommendation for the Museum

After looking at the wonderful exhibit, I was thinking of buying the museum’s accompanying book. So I went to the gift shop to check it out. I’m sad to say that the paintings in the book are ugly. The colors are all wrong. I have experience photographing fine art for publication, and I know it’s tough to reproduce colors accurately, but we have the technology to at least come pretty close. But these were so far off that even someone unfamiliar with the paintings might wonder if that’s really what the artist intended. Some paintings had weird tints to them. Others were over-saturated. A painting with a deep blue nighttime sky was printed so light that it practically appeared to be daytime. The different colors changed the whole feel of the artwork. It was really unfortunate. I hope they can fix this problem for future print runs.

musuemAlso, LACMA needs to check their cash registers. When I made a purchase, I received a receipt with the name of the museum misspelled. How long has it been like that? Someone should be paying more attention to detail.

Update: The New York Times has a nice video about the exhibit including interview segments with John Baldessari.

November 14, 2006

Louise Brooks’ 100th Birthday

Louise BrooksToday is the 100th birthday of silent film star Louise Brooks. She was a Ziegfeld Girl, a movie star, a recluse, a salesgirl at Saks Fifth Avenue, an author, and a rediscovered legend. In that order, more or less. She has been written about in hundreds of books, websites, and magazines since her heyday in the roaring twenties. If you’ve never heard of her, I recommend taking a look at the Louise Brooks Society website, which will lead you on a long path of books, articles, and movies you’ll rush out and read or watch. Check out their blog, too, for the most up-to-date information.

There are Louise Brooks events happening all over this week, so check out your area to see what’s happening near you. The San Francisco Public Library seems to have a great exhibit going on. And wherever you are you might be able to find a screening of her most well-known film, Pandora’s Box, which is showing in a newly restored edition. It’s also being released this month in a special Criterion Edition DVD.

Previously: Lou Costello’s 100th Birthday

Idea: Use “apparent” when it’s not simply “alleged.”

In America, a person is considered innocent by the law until he is proven guilty. When the media cover a case where someone has been accused of a crime but not convicted, they follow the same guideline. And they should. If the news calls someone an arsonist, for example, but he is later determined to be innocent, the news could get in trouble for defamation or slander. So the word “alleged” is used.

Dictionary definition of alleged: “Asserted without proof or before proving.”

That’s great. The media shouldn’t go around convicting people before they’ve had their day in court. But what if there is proof, but the legal process hasn’t yet taken its course? What if the suspect was caught red-handed? Sure, there might be circumstances not yet known that would shine a completely different light on the situation. But when there is known evidence, maybe “alleged” isn’t the right word. I propose “apparent.”

Apparent vs AllegedDictionary definition of apparent: “manifest as true on the basis of evidence that may or may not be factually valid.”

Let’s look at some stories in the news. In Orange County, Florida police have arrested a man for running an “alleged pot-growing operation.” News footage shows a dozen or so large marijuana plants found in his home. Now, sure, I suppose it could turn out that they’re plastic plants and nobody realized it. Or that someone else put them there to frame him. But given the evidence on hand, I think it’s weak to call this simply an alleged pot-growing operation. It looks like an apparent pot-growing operation to me. This acknowledges that the evidence still may be shown to be invalid, but it calls the situation what it actually is.

In Elmira, New York, an “alleged bank robber” is on the loose. A man approached two people making a deposit at an ATM, pushed them to the ground, and took their money. And he hasn’t been caught. Sure, it’s possible the victims made the whole thing up (the article doesn’t say whether or not the ATM’s camera caught all the action). But it seems to me that there is an apparent bank robber on the loose.

[Note: This paragraph not for the squeamish] And in Hong Kong, tragedy struck a woman who had previously reported domestic violence. This time, she didn’t survive. According to reports, she called emergency services, screaming that there had been a murder, and then she got cut off. Police arrived in her home to find her and two others hacked to death. The article headline calls this an “alleged murder.” Surely it’s safe to call it an “apparent murder,” isn’t it?

I understand the need to err on the side of caution. But the word “alleged” has an actual meaning. It’s not just a catch-all word to keep you out of trouble. There is another word that is just as cautious, and is often more appropriate. Apparently, not everyone sees it that way.

November 13, 2006

Interview: Louis Klein, audience member of nearly every episode of Saturday Night Live

(The fourth in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

Fifteen years ago, I spent a Friday night camped out on the mezzanine level of 30 Rockefeller Center, hoping to get one of the standby tickets to Saturday Night Live that are handed out on Saturday mornings. The line forms at around 8:00 Friday night. That’s when I met Louis Klein, the SNL fan who had seen almost every episode of Saturday Night Live in person, going back to the very first episode.

Last Friday, I decided to go back to the SNL Standby Line and see if Louis was still waiting in line to get his ticket. In the years since I camped out there, the line had moved from the warmth of the indoor mezzanine to the chill of 49th street, but Louis was still there, right behind a group of teenagers who beat him to the first spot (one of the teens asked about my website, “Ironic Sans? Does it have anything to do with Horatio Sanz?”). When Louis stands in line these days, he is accompanied by his wife Jamie, whom he met on-line around six years ago. And by “on-line” I mean on the internet, not the standby line.

I spoke with Louis about his SNL Standby hobby.

When Saturday Night Live started, nobody knew it was going to be a big hit. Why did you go to the first episode of a new show that nobody really knew?

Louis Klein
Louis Klein with his wife Jamie
Prior to SNL, I was going to a lot of game shows. Like, I watched the game show called Jackpot, which was done in Studio 8H prior to SNL. It ended its run in the summer of ‘75, hosted by Geoff Edwards. I was also going to the Pyramid — any one of them, whether it was 10, 20, 25, 100 thousand, 2 cents, you know, whatever it was. I went to all of them over at TV-15 which doesn’t exist anymore. Any game shows that were done here, if any, I went to them also. So I was notorious as far as NBC was concerned. They knew who I was because I went to all the shows.

Then in April of ‘75 I found out that the show SNL was coming up, so I went to the Guest Relations department and said I hear you’re doing this show. They said, Well, they want 500 people in 8H. They want to do a show that’s going to be a run through for sound purposes. We’re going to have an audience for that, and you can float around the building and find somebody who’s going to give out standby tickets. So I come over here right after work, and I found the standby ticket and I got it and I went inside and I stood in line.

I got upstairs. I saw a full fledged comedy routine by George Carlin. I saw a full fledged comedy routine by Billy Crystal. I saw performances by Janis Ian and Billy Preston. I saw comedy by the Not Ready for Prime Time Players including Jon Belushi and Gilda Radner among others. Now that’s three and a quarter hours of pure entertainment for free. And I could come back tomorrow night. And I did. And I got in a second time. I came back the following week and I didn’t get into the second show but I wasn’t going to give up at this point. This is a great thing to do on a Saturday night. I went to the third show, I got in, and in the first 5 years I’ve seen 59 out of 106 [episodes].

At what point did you realize it was turning into something you were making a regular routine?

I never really thought of it that way at that particular time. It was just something to do on a Saturday night. I just came over. If I got in, I got in. If I didn’t, I went home.

My memory from meeting you 15 years ago was that you had seen every episode live except for a few. But I guess you’ve missed more than that.

In the first 5 years I’d seen 59 out of 106. So I missed 47 shows then. To date I’ve missed I think 83. That means in the last 27 years I’ve missed 36 shows.

How many have you seen?

This is my 528th show.

The original producer, Lorne Michaels, is still with SNL. But he left the show for a few years in the middle. So is there anyone who outnumbers you in the number of shows attended?

Don Pardo. He only missed one year. It was the ‘81 season.

How come after all this time you still have to wait in the Standby Line? Why don’t they just give you season tickets?

They do. I’ve had season tickets since 1990.

But you just enjoy the Standby?

When they gave that to me, they asked me to do Standby anyway, just in case the tickets didn’t come through. So I have the standby tickets to back it up. However I never needed them, and now I just walk in. But I still do standby because I’m helping NBC out watching this, make sure people don’t jump and things like that. It helps them out. If something goes wrong they know that I’ll take care of it. And then I give the details to them later in the evening. If they have to do something about it they’ll do something.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen go wrong while on standby?

Jumping the line, and having people join the line. That’s a no-no, because basically the people who are joining are jumping the line. Once somebody tried to get me off the line. This was for the Soundgarden and Jim Carrey episode. We were all standing inside because there was nobody out here, and then all of a sudden somebody let me know that somebody was out here and so I came out, and he was standing over by the pole over here, two guys, and I said all the standbys are inside. He said, Oh, I’m sorry. This is where the line is and I’m going to be number one and two. Well I said, No, I’m number one. He says no, we’re going to be number one. And he argued with me all night at this pole. And I was a little perturbed about it because they weren’t really nice about the whole thing. Well when they didn’t take any standbys for the dress rehearsal, these two guys nearly blew their top to NBC. They said, A standby got upstairs! So NBC checked to see if any standby tickets were upstairs, but I went up on my regular ticket. Little did they realize, I went to the party that night!

Do you get to go the after-party often?

Only the season finale, if they ask. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

When I was here 15 years ago, the line was inside. When did they move it outside?

‘93. Letterman was still here at the time, and according to what I’ve heard, somebody did damage to the building inside in the mezzanine. So Rockefeller Center said no you can’t be up here anymore, because they have to protect their tenants. And as a result all the lines were put outside. The line started at that time on this side of the building. And then NBC put it on the 50th street side because the Rainbow Room was complaining that we look like homeless people. Now we’re back on this side. We’d love to be inside the building again. They’ve got plenty of room on hand. But that’s not going to happen.

I seem to remember that 15 years ago you told me Tim Kazurinsky mentioned your name during a Weekend Update segment.

No, no. Not Weekend Update. It was in a sketch that he did. The Guru sketch. His name was Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer [pronounced “havin’-a-good-time wish-you-were-here”]. What he was doing was he was answering Unanswered Questions of the universe. So he invited everybody in the country to write in unanswered questions that they had, and he picked one of mine, and all of a sudden I’m at dress rehearsal and he says, “Louis Klein from Ridgewood New York wants to know, does God wear Pajamas when he sleeps?”

And what was the answer?

The Guru says, “No he doesn’t. All he wears is a t-shirt. and on the t-shirt it says I created the universe and all I got out of it was this lousy t-shirt.” That was a Flip Wilson show in December ‘83.

Did they mention your name on any other episodes?

Yes, they did. And Jamie too. This was in April of 2004. Will Ferrel was the host. And he was doing the Pepper Sketch, where Will was putting pepper on Will Forte’s salad. And the character’s name was Dr. Louis something, and his wife Jamie. In honor of my 500th show.

Who was the writer that wrote you into the script?

Will Forte.

Have you seen “Studio 60” and Tina Fey’s new show “30 Rock”?

I have.

What do you think?

They’re both great.

Which do you like better?

Oh I don’t know. I love Tina. I love Tracy [Morgan], too. And I relate more to 30 Rock than I do Studio 60 because of that. But I definitely like both shows.

Do you get to know the SNL cast members?

They all know me. They all come and say Hi. I’ve met most everybody. I was invited to the 25th anniversary show, and I went to that. I had to ask for a ticket, and they said that they already have a ticket for me. I was fairly shocked.

Do you have a favorite season of SNL? Or a least favorite season?

That’s a hard question. A favorite season? You know, I don’t remember what all the hosts and musical guests are, and it’s hard. I love them all. I mean, yes, you’re going to have somebody that doesn’t do too well, especially sports figures. I mean, if you want a show that I thought the host was terrible, okay, um… uh… there was… uh… I can’t even say that. I mean, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

Thanks, Louis! As I packed up my notes and my recorder, Louis pointed out that he would be there for several more hours if I had any further questions. And if you have any questions, I’m sure you can find Louis exactly where I did, near the front of the Standby Line outside Rockefeller Center on Friday nights.

[The preceding transcript has been edited for space and clarity].

November 12, 2006

What about Southbund?

Maybe the next time subway fares go up, the MTA can finally afford that spell-check software.


Detail of a sign spotted on an N train platform.

November 8, 2006

Interview: Andrew Brody of the Princeton Review LSAT Podcast

(The third in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t the LSAT a test of some sort? Why should I care about a test, and why on Earth is there a podcast about it? And why would a podcast about a test be worth listening to? I’ll tell you why. The LSAT is the Law School Admissions Test, focusing on logical and analytical reasoning. Finding logical flaws in arguments is an essential skill for a lawyer, so LSAT scores are a major factor in law school applications. But logic and analytical reasoning are important in everyday life, too. The same skills that lawyers use to recognize or pick apart bad arguments in court can be used by all of us to recognize flawed logic in the media, around the office, in advertisements, and among our acquaintances.

Princeton ReviewThat’s where the podcast LSAT Logic in Everyday Life comes in, hosted by Andrew Brody of the Princeton Review, a leading test preparation company. Each week, Andrew picks a topic that’s been hot in the media and analyzes the arguments involved from a strictly logical viewpoint. He emphasizes that it’s important to put aside preconceived notions and biases, and look strictly at the argument itself to determine its validity, whether we agree with it or not. Each podcast, at just about 8 or 9 minutes long, is engaging and entertaining, and teaches you to retrain your brain to recognize flawed logic.

Andrew was nice enough to answer a few questions for Ironic Sans.

I find the podcast applicable to everyday life, even though I don’t plan on taking the LSAT. Is it intended for a wide audience? Or is it intended specifically for LSAT test takers?

The podcast is intended for anyone who is interested in critical thinking. It was designed to gently help students studying for the LSAT start to see the world around them like one big LSAT question, but, as it turns out, the large majority of listeners are not currently studying for the LSAT. I think it is appealing to people who are skeptical and who believe that issues are much more complex than politicians, pundits, journalists, and advertisers would have us believe.

How do you decide on topics for the LSAT podcast? Who writes them?

I write and produce the podcasts. I try to choose topics that are the ‘hot topics’ of discussion for that week, the types of topics that people can’t help but overhear discussion about. Every now and then I’ll choose a more esoteric topic because I think it’s a good example of flawed logic.

Even the most logically-minded person must, from time to time, find him or her self lapsing in logical reasoning. Do you have an example of a time you realized you weren’t being logical in your daily life?

Where should I begin? Unlike, say, the laws of physics, the laws of logic can be broken at will. I say on the podcast that the first rule of LSAT logic is to not get emotionally involved in the subject matter. Usually, logical lapses come when there is an emotional interest at stake.

When you’re having a discussion with someone in your daily life, and they aren’t being logical, what’s the best way to point that out in plain terms to someone who might not know what “ad hominem” means, without coming across as a pompous know-it-all?

Good question. I think that many ‘arguments’ in daily life arise over different opinions of what constitutes good evidence. In other words, you’ve read your book and I’ve read mine, and we’re both going to believe what we believe because the book we read backs it up. This doesn’t usually make for a good discussion. An interesting discussion comes when people are looking at the same book and drawing different conclusions. I think the least pompous way to confront another person’s logical lapse is to call attention to assumptions that people make in their arguments that they usually don’t even realize they’ve taken for granted, instead of referencing high-falutin names of logical flaws.

Do you have a favorite text on logic that you recommend as a good introduction?

Yes. Crimes Against Logic, by Jaymie Whyte, is an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to logic, especially with a focus on logic in the media. My favorite part is the discussion on the logic of “well, i’m entitled to my opinion.”

I think it’s never too early to teach logic. Do you recommend any resources for teaching logic to kids?

Children can learn to think critically and logically from their parents. Giving honest answers to the endless “why’s” is a good start. Answering, “because I say so” seems to me to be a very harmful thing to say to a child in terms of their intellectual development.

Are there situations where logic doesn’t apply?

Logic and religion have a pretty contentious relationship. Religion is all about taking certain truths for granted, on faith.

Are there situations where you see logic not being applied, and wish it would be?

Yes. That’s what the podcasts are for.

What is your background?

I graduated magna cum laude from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service, and I was a “Culture and Politics” major. I have taught and tutored the LSAT since I graduated, and I currently work for the Research and Development department at The Princeton Review. I never attended law school, although I was accepted at NYU Law School. I chose to defer and then dropped enrollment.

And finally, what did you score when you took the LSAT?

The last time I took the test was in December of last year. I scored a 180. It may seem immodest to reveal a perfect score, but I am a teacher, and I took the test exactly as I teach it, so it’s obviously important for me to score well.

Thanks, Andrew! All episodes of the podcast can be heard at the Princeton Review’s website and you can follow that link to learn how to subscribe via iTunes.

November 7, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of a Painting

Part 18 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

I’m always fascinated every time they change this ad space. Instead of putting up a giant printed ad, like I see on other walls, this wall actually gets repainted by hand, sometimes in great detail.

Here are some photos of the progress:

Absolut Ad

November 6, 2006

When you need those photos in a rush

I saw this sign the other day. I think it’s great that here in the heart of New York City, you can get your film processed in only seven hours. Wow. Maybe one day they can get it down to as little as three or four hours. One can only hope.

7 Hour Photo

November 1, 2006

Idea: Another commercial I’d like to see

A guy is showing his girlfriend his brand new flat screen TV. He’s beaming with pride showing it off. “Honey, this is the best flat screen TV money can buy. It’s a 1080p HDTV with dual HDMI inputs, and digital audio output. It’s got a 1200 to 1 contrast ratio. It has four different memory card expansion slots for viewing digital photos or playing MP3s, and it auto-uprezzes from 480 and 720 sources with bicubic interpolation. The blacks are ink black. The whites are paper white. And the color is as vivid as real life. Baby, I’m telling you. This is the Cadillac of televisions.”

Then we see the Cadillac logo, and their latest fancy car rotating slowly against a black background. “Cadillac. We set the standard.”

This could be a whole series of commercials like this featuring different luxury products. Clocks. Fine wines. Pianos. Each one would have a person — maybe the product’s owner, or a salesperson, etc — extolling the virtues of the product, and finally calling it “the Cadillac of” whatever it is. Everyone knows that “The Cadillac of…” is frequently used to express that an item is at the top of its class. So why shouldn’t Cadillac capitalize on that? I’m surprised they haven’t already.

Previously: A battery commercial I’d like to see.