1.27.2010

Hatakeda Station

Hatakeda Station is part of the Japanese rail system, and here's what's really exciting: I've been there! Okay, I may have been there. I've been to Tokyo, but I wasn't there long enough to differentiate between all the 13-letter words comprised completely of Hs, Ks, Ms and Ts. Sorry, Japan.

I went to Tokyo in September as part of this sort of Asian immersion trip through school (I'm getting a Master's of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism and Northwestern University. See how I made it sound so pretentious? In reality, I go to a random classroom in downtown Chicago twice a week and g-chat with my friends about how much smarter we are than the teachers. Sometimes we do group projects where we do the same thing, but in person...while drinking Miller High Life.)

So this trip lasted roughly 17 days. We went from the crowded chaos of Mumbai to the crowded snobbery of Shanghai to the crowded silence of Tokyo. And of all the sites and company visits we managed to cram in over the course of a couple weeks, I was definitely most preemptively advised about Tokyo.

This is, of course, because of my affinity for g-chat. It just so happens that two of my friends who bear the brunt of my g-chat addiction due to their willingness to respond to my blabbing and my constant need for humorous stimulation, Jessica & Charlie, both lived in Japan at one time and obliged when I asked for tips, recos, et al. (Incidentally, they're probably two of the few people who will ever read this. Tx, guys.)

In any event, Jess was more or less OBSESSED with the fact that I was going to visit her former home. She'd IM me something new every few hours in the weeks before my trip. Five days before I left, she sent a three-page email titled "important j. things." It had useful phrases, must-see phenomena and important dos & don'ts. It was overwhelming to say the least.

And sadly, I got to do very little of what she suggested. We were basically ushered around the city every day by NU alumni who took us on the Metro from company to company all day, where we learned how much better Japan is at using cell phones and making normal shit look crazy. In all, we were probably in about 674 different metro stations. One of them could've been Hatakeda Station, right? In the little time we had left, though, I got to revel in the following "j. things":
  • "Doa ga shimarimasu" which means "doors are closing." Every train, elevator and even taxi told me this many times a day. Japanese machines are very polite.
  • "Kawaiiiiiiii desu" which means "that's sooooooo cute." I said this as much as possible so the Js in the crazy Shibuya stores would think I was badass. Turns out they already thought I was badass. I'm American.
  • 100 Yen store. Jess talked these places up soooooo much because this is where she got all the hilarious poorly translated postcards she'd send us all the time. A group of us spent nearly all of our free time trying to FIND one...but when we finally did, the bad translation flourished.
  • Hachiko, the dog at Shibuya station, which Jess billed as "the best and worst meeting spot ever." This is because it's easy to find...and because EVERYONE meets there.
That's it. Okay, that's not it, but it's almost it. This means I REALLY need to go back. Mostly to check whether or not I've ever been to Hatakeda Station (I haven't, because I just realized it's not anywhere near Tokyo). Oh well. Doa ga shimarimasu and it's time to go to bed.

NOTE: I could probs write like a few more pages about Japan. I made it sound sort of stupid. It was badass. Hopefully, in the future, I'll get another Wikroll that will lead me back to Tokyo...maybe it'll be a metro station I've actually been to.

1.25.2010

Al Foster

Today, I went on a Pandora adventure that took me through the melodies most algorithmically related to Sharon Jones & Dap Kings (inspired by my recent viewing of Up in the Air, which features a sultry yet upbeat Sharon Jones cover of folk/3rd grade music class favorite "This Land is Your Land" during its opening credits). As such, I was already feeling pretty jazzy & funky. And yes, I realize that I sound like a mom who appliqu├ęs bunnies on jean vests when I call myself "jazzy" and "funky." Unfortunately, I've been having a real adjective problem lately.

In any event, this day of uber-cool jazz-funk (not g-funk) is only continuing as I explore Al Foster, former drummer for Miles Davis. Is it bad that I grew up so entrenched in my own generation's pop culture phenomena that when I hear Davis's name, I can't not think of the old lady from Billy Madison who laments that "If peein' your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis"? I think it might be. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry most of all to my grandpa, who was actually an incredible jazz pianist. He had piles of Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington albums stacked among his own recordings that he "laid down" (I'm not cool enough to say that, hence the quotes) on his totally badass keyboard. My sister and I used to have a ball messing with that keyboard. We'd put on the pre-fab"swing-jazz" backbeat & melody and dance around the rec room, speeding up and slowing down the tempo bar to force each other to prance furiously like Flashdance, then stop short and sloth around for the next few bars. Yes, it's okay to sound the nerdalert now.

You'd think being surrounded by all of this would've bred a true jazz connoisseur. It did. Her name is Amy and she's my sister. She listens to all the albums she inherited from Grampy. She's one of those cool people that has a record player and actually uses it.

I've tried. I have. I want to love these great musicians, and, of course, pop culture has inspired me to do so. When I saw Jerry Maguire, in which Chad the babysitter claims he's going to introduce Jonathan Lipnicki to Coltrane, I was like "yeah, introduce me, too." When I went through the obligatory "I find John Mayer endlessly attractive & soulful" phase, the lyrics "...but you could distinguish Miles from Coltrane" in reference to Mayer's "Comfortable" ex obviously made me want to educate myself.

It never happened. But you know what? Al Foster never learned to read music. So there. Even Mr. Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, learned how to read music in Drumline. Maybe, someday, I'll learn to appreciate highbrow, important cultural icons. But for now, I'm going to go watch "The Bachelor" on DVR.

Just kidding. I watched it live.

1.24.2010

Milk River, Alberta, Canada

So I think this is my karmic retribution for making fun of Canadians in my last post. Let me just state for the record that I highly enjoy most Canadians. Off the top of my head, I can definitively state that the only ones I can't support are the members of Nickelback.

Let me also just state for the record that Milk River, a town of 816 located on the body of water of the same name, evokes (for me at least) endless visions of gumdrop mountains, candy cane lanes and peanut brittle bridges, all watched over lovingly Lord Licorice, Princess Lolly and that cold bitch Queen Frostine.

Listen, I know milk isn't exactly the sweetest beverage around, and it's mildly random that the possibility of a river of milk is causing me to daydream of Candyland characters, Willy Wonka's factory or that creepy-ass Charlie the Unicorn video, but I'm thinking it has something to do with a story my friend sent me earlier this week. Apparently, this restaurant in NYC called Momofuku Milk Bar (I know, WTF, Clockwork Orange?) is now selling milk that tastes like delicious cereal has been soaking in it all day. It's infused (to sound like the pretentious foodie that I'm not) with the delicious sweetness of Fruity Pebbles, Cap'n Crunch or Lucky Charms.

Now, while this sounds more than palatable on two counts (I don't care what you say. Lucky Charms are sick.), I don't know if I really agree with this. Trends that entice people to pay $5.60 for something that would usually cost roughly $.49 generally make me uneasy (as in Starbucks instant oatmeal and that dumbass Cereality chain). I mean, why drink the tasty, sugary milk without eating the cereal first? I would prefer to do both, which is why I bought myself a box of Fruity Pebbles about four hours after I read about the magical milk bar. And I've eaten at least a bowl every day since.

I should probably mention that this milk article was sent to me as yet another counterpoint in a longstanding debate over how long it takes to pour & eat a bowl of cereal. My co-workers and I did some intense market research (i.e. asked our friends via Facebook & gchat) to figure it out. Many of those questioned claimed it takes upwards of 12 or 13 minutes, but after actually testing it out realized it only takes about 5 or 6 minutes at most.

It takes me 3. But not if the bowl is the entire Milk River the cereal is a lifetime supply of Fruity Pebbles. God, I hope I dream about that tonight. And that there are unicorns there
(and snozberries).

1.20.2010

Old Dutch Foods

Now, as it happens, I'm actually very familiar with Old Dutch Foods, a manufacturer of potato chips and other schnacks in the midwest and Canada. They make all kinds of crap--from tortilla chips & salsa to ketchup chips (silly Canadians).

But, in all honesty, I remember Old Dutch particularly for the twin packs. You'd buy a big box and inside were two clear plastic bags of potato chips, preferably with ridges if you knew what was good for you. Old Dutch calls the ruffly ones "Rip-L," which reminds me of this kid I went to school with back in the day (which I now know was a Wednesday, thanks to Dane Cook). His last name was Rippl, and his younger siblings were triplets, earning them the nickname "The Riplets." How cute is that? Not quite as cute as when Michelle Tanner would say "ouce cream," but close. I said close, Sweetin. Don't get all methy about it.

Since they are so midwesty, and basically just a notch up from generic, it's no surprise that I associate Old Dutch with my most Wisconsinny childhood memories.

We'd buy Old Dutch twin packs at the Antigo IGA (the one with the weird stand-up carts and racks of Archie comics) when we'd trek four hours to go up north to our cabin every other weekend in the summers (until my parents sold it in 1994 to buy a sailboat, thus crushing my dreams of having a really cool vacation home now that I'm kind of a grown up).

We'd buy Old Dutch along with cans of Old Style (for real not because my parents were hipsters), cardboard trays of assorted Faygo soda and 4-packs of Batles & Jaymes from the family-run liquor store Schnapps Haus (where my dad can actually say "put it on my tab" and they actually write down what he bought and bill him later) before going up to Green Bay for a Packer tailgate. The brats were already in the car, okay?

And, I can't be certain about this, but I'm pretty sure there were a few twin packs present the day we packed up about six minivans of family friends, hitched the avocado green motorboat to the back of our brown & black Ford Bronco, and headed out for a day at Long Lake, which I think was part of some sort of state park we'd go to when we were kids. On this particular day, though, my dad took a swig of his High Life only to find out there was a bee inside the can. A BEE. It stung him in the throat. FROM THE INSIDE. Panicking, he grabbed a bottle of Benadryl from one of the moms and chugged the whole thing. Needless to say, he was rather fucked up for a while.

But that's why, from then on, at any outdoor gathering, my mom always supplied us with those nifty little color-coded can covers. And, why the announcement at the Wisconsin Badger games once I got to college really struck a chord with me: "Remember: Drink plenty of liquids, and check for bees in your drinks." Y'know, I bet that announcement was sponsored by Old Dutch.

8.12.2009

Valve shim

Now, I don't know a lot about valves, but after reading about the valve shim, it seems as though he's trying a bit too hard to make himself sound fun. I mean, this entry is barely three sentences long, but valve shim managed to cram in about five instances of fakery here. To the well-informed, a valve shim is merely a run-of-the-mill metal disc used to make the valves in car engines and the like work more precisely.

Luckily for valve shim, the uninformed see it a little differently. According to Wikipedia, valve shims not only get the good fortune of being associated with one of the more commonly non-fuck-up-able dance moves, the shimmy, they also have some sort of relation to the following terms:
  • Rocker arms: Sounds badass, yes? Well, it's not. It's literally an armlike extension that rocks back & forth. Like a grandma.
  • Top-hats: Yeah, I know. What's with the valve shim getting all musical & dancey on us? I don't know, but there's a top-hat shim. Is this the classy shim that goes in Rolls Royces and wears a monocle? Nope. It's just another weirdo-lookin' version of the plain ol' shim. Snooze.
  • Cam-lobe: Well, I don't know what most people think of here, but I most certainly think about earlobes and piercings and cameras and scandals. But that's just me. And a cam-lobe is just a boring part of an engine or some junk.
Let's recap: A valve shim is not a dance we do when we're at a Def Leppard concert and get tired of doing the rocker arm (sorry, I didn't realize I was about to make an arm joke when I thought about using Def Leppard as my example here). It's not a show-stopping number that's only made more intriguing with the addition of a top hat. And it has nothing to do with the guy at the tattoo parlor that pierces your tongue then takes you in back and videotapes you hooking up on the hood of his souped up Nissan XTerra.

It's just a metal disc. But hey, at least it's metal and not easy listening.

PS: "Shim" totally reminds me of "Chim," which is a name Ron Burgundy uses as an alias in "Anchorman" and which my friends and I have adopted as sort of a euphemism for "douchebag." Learn it, love it, use it. This is Dr. Chim Richalds, signing off.

7.29.2009

Master of the Gardens of Love

Master of the Gardens of Love is not a euphemism for that snake from Eden (y'know in the Bible, a book with which I have little to no relationship) or some band that formed in San Francisco circa '67. He's actually a dude--a 15th-century copper engraver from the Netherlands to be exact. But, to be honest with you, I have a hard time not picturing him as The Travelocity Gnome or Billy Crystal's character from The Princess Bride.

I shall call him MoGoL. That's an acronym, not just a super fun way to type an arbitrary nickname. I didn't accidentally have a lapse and think I was a 14-year-old typing up her MySpace page. Anyway, despite MoGoL's small body of work (he only engraved about 26 things, and I guess most of them were tiny), he did a couple works depicting, shockingly, the Gardens of Love (so it's not just a clever name).

He also did a lot of his work in The Hague, a Dutch city to which I have never been, but by which I've always been intrigued. This is basically because any place--or person, for that matter--that can garner a name with "the" in it must be monumentally cool. The Hague, The Netherlands, The Alps, The Great Houdini, The Zack Morris.

This theory does not, of course, hold true for bands, since most of them start with "the" and only a few of those are actually good. And, if it were true, we'd of course have to change all the world's greatest bands to The Good Charlotte, The Fallout Boy, The Staind and The Jonas Brothers.* Yeah. Little known fact (maybe not if you're someone who wRiTes LiKe tHis, but if you're kind of a grownup): it's actually just Jonas Brothers, not The Jonas Brothers. Weird.

I do have a couple friends with whom I refer to everything as "the" something. The Katy and The Niki and I walk around talking about The Jane and The Karl (The Katy's parents), The Fatty (The Niki's brother), The Pedro's (the restaurant we used to frequent in college), The Carpal Tunnel (the waitress we always used to have at The Pedro's who has GIANT hands)...Yeah. We're as cool as The Jonas Brothers for sure. Maybe we should have The Travelocity Gnome book us a trip to The Hague so we can finally be a little less lame. A little better than lame. We'll be The Lame.

*I am, of course, very kidding. Those bands are very awful. We all know the best band ever is The All-American Rejects. AAAAAHAHAHAHA.

6.24.2009

Symbolic dynamics

So when I first read the definition of symbolic dynamics, I thought I understood it: "Symbolic dynamics is the practice of modeling a topological or smooth dynamical system."

Without reading any further, I thought it had something to do with literal modeling and topology of physical land, y'know, the kind of thing that land surveyors do (or what I think they do). It's actually a mathematical practice that's used in such fields as data storage and transmissions. BORING. I liked it better when it was about moving dirt and building shit.

Actually, since we're on the topic of me not understanding things, I guess I don't really know what a land surveyor does, anyway. I know they've got those tripods and when you drive by them on the road you're supposed to slow down. I know this because when I was in high school, I got stopped and yelled at by a guy for going too fast in the presence of a surveyor. Whatever. I was late for work at the pool, and, at the time, I was driving my sexy red Pontiac Sunfire (with matching bright red interior--no joke) so I probably looked like I was going a lot faster than I was.

Luckily, it shouldn't be difficult for me to learn what a surveyor does. I have a friend who's a surveyor, but based on his persona, I still have no idea what it takes to do his job. You see, Dan Man (yes, he's one of the 12 million people named Dan that goes by "Dan Man" or "Dan the Man" or something equally unclever) must be a smart guy. He was a civil engineering major at the University of Wisconsin. That's kind of a big deal. However, he's also the last person anyone could possibly take seriously. Here's why:

1. Never once have I heard anyone (except his girlfriend) call him just "Dan." In college, I was disappointed that he went by such a common nickname and I tried to start calling him "The Danimal" (this was before the yogurt existed) to no avail. He's one of two friends stored in my phone by something other than their first & last names. He better go by Dan Man at work.

2. He used to wear a red jumpsuit to every single Wisconsin football game. I've heard more than one story about bathroom accidents in that suit. TMI. Sorry.

3. Two summers ago, we were up at my friend's cabin. He found an old closet full of 1/4-full liquor bottles from (most likely) the 70s. He mixed them all into one giant drink and finished the whole thing. He sat on a folding chair down by the bonfire, tipped backwards and rolled into the lake. Instead of being severely injured like he should've been, he stood up anxiously and proclaimed, "I'm gonna take my shirt off and dance amongst the bugs!"

4. His email address still has "69" in it.

Wait, why was I talking about this? Oh. Yeah. Surveyors. So I don't know if surveyors are like important mathy nerdy engineers or if they're very hands-on manual laborers. He definitely gets a farmer's tan in the summer. Does that help? I don't know. And I still don't have any idea what symbolic dynamics really means. Let's just dance amongst the bugs and forget about it.