Deux bornes

It’s July 25th, 2008, the 30th birthday of Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, but more importantly, the second anniversary of the day I surmounted the first-post obstacle and started this blog. To be honest, I never thought I’d keep it up as long as I have. Let’s see how I’m doing on the things I claimed I’d be writing about.

  • Fatherhood. Check. (1, 2, 3, etc.)
  • Learning to play music. Check.
  • Improving my fitness. Check.
  • “Greatest hits” from my old website. Check.
  • Reliving past glory:
    • Book-writing. Hardly at all.
    • Plane-flying. Check. (1, 2, 3, etc.)
    • Company-starting. Check. (1, 2, etc.)

I also expanded on this day-one comment:

you should not get the idea that fatherhood put an end to my adventures; on the contrary, it’s my biggest one yet

But I never posted any of my “clever movie-connections puzzles,” so expect to see some of those in the next few weeks.

It’s fitting that on this anniversary, I’ve found ways 12 and 13 that I’m like primordial blogging inspiration Ken Jennings:

And now, to mark the occasion, a few parting thoughts from the Bob-o-matic:

Thinking of upgrading your conventional picture-tube TV to buy a box of detergent powder from a bunch of cops standing around outside and asks the driver got a stern talking-to from some prudish supervisor at work? Did you know about that scene without picturing the camera away from the shadow of the Jedi wish to take the ferry to where he was making me have. It was hard, very good, ’cause you ain’t got charm. The last century, and matzo meal, or those with whose wit and wisdom I could start. When a train came, his own creation, but that was what allowed capital to be ruled by fear. Fight Club, I knew. Oh well, considering that, when I started to become a drag race — which made me finally to disconnect my cable TV provider, complaining about the nuances and complexities of the existing Star Wars on DVD, the girls got in that film gave me a grievous injury at the Primadonna again will be reinforced when we discovered that the story.

I’ll give you a pink pill for that

Briefly noted, since I haven’t managed to do any proper blogging this past week:

  • Roger Moore (who played The Saint on TV in the 1960’s) is behind a new push to revive The Saint yet again. Although he’s in good company (e.g., Barry Levinson), if past performance is any guarantee of future results, the new Saint will be sucktastic, at least compared to the canonical pulp-novella Saint from the 1930’s.
  • Way 11c: on Thursday Ken Jennings lamented the loss of the old meaning of “gay” exactly as I did in 2006 in the above-linked Saint post.
  • Strangeness update: the closer we get to consummating the Microsoft acquisition of Danger, the more I feel like Charles in the classic Ray Bradbury story, “Fever Dream.”
  • They stole my idea: the celebrated guerrilla-performance-art group Improv Everywhere planted sixteen “agents” in the food court of a Los Angeles shopping mall. At a signal, they suddenly staged a musical amid unsuspecting shoppers. Many years ago, in college, I tried to sell my friend Steve on the same idea: I wanted to perform the “Moses Supposes” number from Singin’ in the Rain in the school cafeteria. The main difference between me and Improv Everywhere is that they actually execute their hare-brained schemes…
  • It’s been a good week for darnedest utterances from my kids:
    • Me: It’s a homework night. (for Jonah)
      Jonah: Aww.
      Archer: Yippee!
      Jonah: Wouldn’t you rather play with me, than me doing homework?
      Archer, leaning forward and whispering: Then I can play with your toys.
    • Most mornings, Archer and I drive Jonah to kindergarten, and then I drive Archer to his preschool. We have recently developed a ritual for that second leg: we each chew a piece of gum, spitting it out when we arrive. Here’s how Archer chose to stage that ritual last Wednesday: “You give me the gum and I open it and take one myself, then I close it and give it to you and you take one. I unwrapper [sic] mine and you unwrapper yours and throw your wrapper away in the garbage. When we get to preschool you spit your gum into my wrapper and I spit my gum into my wrapper too. You spit yours first.”
    • Jonah, who’s been learning about Europe in kindergarten, identified Italy (the “boot-shaped country”) on a map. Trying to recall the name of the island off the tip of the “boot” — Sicily — he ventured, “Shitaly?”

It goes to eleven

In an early draft of this morning’s blog post about the Danger staff collectively being summoned to Microsoft, I included a quote from the Giant in Twin Peaks — “It is happening again… it is happening again” — as a way to emphasize the strangeness of this whole episode for me (because it is happening again, just like it did fourteen years ago). But I decided to save a discussion of the strangeness for a separate post, and I edited it out.

Also, we recently re-watched one of the kids’ favorite movies: The Court Jester, with Danny Kaye.

Now you might think that these two things are unrelated, and indeed they would be if it weren’t for Ken Jennings, who also has both things fresh in his mind, as he’s blogged about them just in the past couple of days.

They’re not very substantial points of similarity, but taken together I’m calling them the eleventh way (ways 11a and 11b, if you like) that I’m like Ken.

Ten like Ken

As this blog approaches its first anniversary, the proportion of posts regarding blogging inspiration Ken Jennings has dwindled considerably, which is as it should be, of course. But I’m still a regular reader of his and could not let this latest coincidence go unremarked: just a few days before our beloved — and incredibly aged — dog Alex went to her reward, Ken wrote about his own dog’s age.

For those keeping track, this is ten points of similarity between me and Ken which, if we were talking about fingerprints, is almost good enough for a conviction.

Mohammed meets mountain

It’s not clear which of us is the mountain and which is Mohammed, nor who came to whom — Ken came to my metropolitan area, but I then had to take the ferry to where he was. At any rate, Ken Jennings and I met briefly last night at Book Passage in San Francisco, where he signed my copy of Brainiac. (He recognized my name from his message forums and wrote me a classy inscription: “I’d add a movie quote but you’d probably catch a misquote.”) Andrea and the kids were in tow and Andrea was doing a yeoman’s job of keeping them contained while allowing me to sit through Ken’s pre-signing talk and then wait in line, but by the time I got to the front of the line, Jonah- and Archer-created chaos exploded through the store and I didn’t have time for more than a few words with Ken. In fact I only heard part of what Ken said to me, and Andrea heard the other part; we pieced it together later.


It only looks like a scene from “Polite Mormon meets Obnoxious Jew.”

The thesis of Ken’s short talk was that he doesn’t consider “trivia” to be trivial at all, and he made a case for trivia being a kind of glue holding society together. He also mentioned that he met his wife thanks to trivia (kinda like methat’s eight!) when he knew what came next after some particular movie quote.

…Which reminds me of a story. At the beginning of my freshman year at college I didn’t know a soul and briefly contemplated pledging a fraternity. One night, one of the frats had a Repo Man rush party, but to get in you had to be a girl or invited — or so two frat brothers told me when I knocked on the frat-house door. As I was about to turn away, one of them added, “Unless you can complete this quote: ‘Find one in every car…’” I promptly supplied, “You’ll see,” and was admitted.

The party was kinda cool. Pine tree air fresheners were hung everywhere. There were cans of “FOOD” and (of course) “BEER.” The pool table in the basement had been converted into a phosphorescent Chevy Malibu. Quotes from the movie were plastered all over the walls. (One of them became the basis for the name of my next car, the “Plate-O-Shrimp” [or in the words of my sister Suzanne, the “Piece-O-Shit.”]) But frat life clearly wasn’t for me and thereafter I went about making plenty of good friends all on my own.

Make that seven

Another way I’m like Ken: in today’s blog post he writes, “I find that I think in movie quotes about 45% of the time.”

Huh. Just 45%? Maybe Ken is Bob lite! After all, I was the founding movie-quotes editor of the Internet Movie Database.

Quoting dialogue from movies and TV shows has been a cherished way of life for me since age 10, when it occurred to me to place my tape recorder in front of the TV and grab the audio from an episode of Happy Days.

(It was the one where Herb Edelman plays a house burglar. He breaks into the Cunningham house but is foiled by Fonzie, who correctly guesses he’s not armed thanks to this bit of “prison poetry”: “He who steals with a gun in his hand / Gets ten years to life in the can.” Jesus, do I really still remember that???)

After that I taped and memorized The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and a Robert Klein stand-up comedy special on HBO, but that was just preparation for the day I smuggled a tape recorder into a movie theater to grab the audio from Star Wars. I memorized every word, every sound effect, every note of music. For years afterward, where other kids would sing their favorite radio hits, I would recite scenes from Star Wars. (And I must say: being so intimately acquainted with the audio of that film gave me an appreciation for just what an accomplishment it was. The visual effects today are dated, but the audio created for Star Wars has never been equalled — which, come to think of it, makes perfect sense coming from the director of the sonically innovative predecessors THX-1138 and American Graffiti.)

As time went by it became clear that I had an aptitude for remembering quotable dialogue verbatim — that is, without the usual minor lapses in word choice and ordering that usually afflict movie quoters — even without the benefit of tape recorders. I expanded my movie-viewing horizons and amassed a collection of favorite quotes. Eventually I offered to contribute them to the maintainers of the nascent “rec.arts.movies movie database” on Usenet. The quality and quantity of my submissions (and my corrections to quotes they already had) landed me an invitation to join the team — a team that later became the Internet Movie Database company and later still got bought by Amazon.com.

(…to be continued…)

I am Ken lite

In yesterday’s blog post, Ken Jennings (yes, him again) reveals that in additional to everything else, he’s also a closet cartoonist. I’m a closet cartoonist!


Zoger the Vorton, episode 3, part 1, from my college newspaper, The Tartan

This brings the number of ways I’m like Ken to at least six:

  1. We’re both software engineers;
  2. We’re both published authors;
  3. We’re both new(ish) dads;
  4. We’re both e-mail quizmasters;
  5. We’re both closet cartoonists; and
  6. We were both in the Seattle area this week.

There are a couple of key areas in which we are not the same, such as the sizes of our respective audiences, and one of us having won millions of dollars on national TV. Although if you include the dot-com boom, we’ve both “won millions.” Now one of us has to catch up to the other by losing those millions back…

Assume the worst

So far, this blog seems to be pretty Ken-Jennings-driven.

The first thing to know is that I’ve been reading Ken’s blog and posting in his forums.

The second thing to know is that in a recent blog post, Ken poked affectionate fun at the venerable old formula behind Jeopardy!

The third thing is that humorless NY Post reporter Michael Starr has a tin ear for satire and informed the world that quiz-show darling Jennings was now biting the hand that fed him.

The fourth thing is that this story was picked up by the AP and appeared far and wide in the media. A stampede of indignant dittoheads flooded Ken’s site, posting outraged ad hominems on his message boards. Most would make a sailor blush. Ken shut down his message boards and deleted most of the offensive ones, but good-humoredly kept a few of the less stomach-turning ones.

In the aftermath, after message-board access was restored, I posted the following. (Follow the link to see the original on Ken’s message boards and the creative discussion that is now ensuing there.)


Good grief: I got a glimpse of one of the nastier comments last night before Ken took it down, and I gotta say, whether or not people can muster a sense of humor, the very least they can do is to mind their manners.On the bright side, it inspired me to write the following: my bid to make the inevitable Ken Jennings biopic (I see Bruce Willis as Jennings) into a musical. I call this showstopper “March of the Easily Led.”–

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
First things first:
Assume the worst!

Is it possible he joked?
Never mind, ’cause I’m provoked

Assume the worst!

“I kid because I love”
Is not something I’ve heard of

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
It’s for scandal that we thirst
Assume the worst!

[interlude]

My friend told me a rumor
It was some left-coast thing called humor
Does Ken expect us all to be brainiacs now?
In pop culture he’s enshrined
For the motley in his mind
It’s holy to me but he tipped the sacred cow

The world may be on fire
But the things that raise my ire
Are the ones that I can quickly comprehend
Global warming, Middle East
I can follow not the least
But mess with Jeopardy! and you mess with me, my friend

[spoken:]
And to think I thought I could leave all the thinking to thoughtless over here!

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
By the Post I’ve been coerced
Assume the worst!

Should we give him the doubt’s benefit?
I just can’t see the zen of it

Assume the worst!

Must leap to TV’s defense
Into Ken I’ll knock some sense

Assume the worst!

We thought that he was one of us
‘Til he started making fun of us

Assume the worst!

He cashed the check
Then trashed Trebek
He won the prize
Now he cracks wise
A household name
Has he no shame?

His fame must be reversed!

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
Except when George Bush does it first…
Assume the worst!

Of course these are just lyrics. I would love it if someone played Loewe to my Lerner, Rodgers to my Hart, Rodgers to my Hammerstein, O’Sullivan to my Gilbert, and composed a melody for it.

Cheers,
– Bob

My new blog

I am finally motivated to start my own blog, though what I’ll put here I really don’t know. For now I’ve got to get something written down to surmount the first-post obstacle.

I’ll probably write about fatherhood from time to time. I may give updates on my various self-improvement projects, such as learning to play music and improving my fitness. (“Self-improvement is masturbation.” –Tyler Durden. To which I say, “OK.”) Perhaps I’ll post some greatest-hits articles from my old website (now offline) and from e-mail, etc. And I’ll almost certainly relive past glory from my pre-fatherhood days of book-writing, plane-flying, company-starting, etc., though you should not get the idea that fatherhood put an end to my adventures; on the contrary, it’s my biggest one yet, and I’ve still only just begun.

Among the things that made me finally start this blog is Ken Jennings’ blog. Ken is the Jeopardy! ├╝ber-champion from a couple of years ago. He’s also a terrific blogger; his blog is among the handful I read daily. Coincidentally, the day I started reading it, he blogged about the unavailability of the Kevin Kline Pirates of Penzance movie on DVD, while a DVD of the Central Park version of the same production arrived at my home from Netflix. So I sent him mail about that coincidence and we began a correspondence in which I posed some of my clever movie-connections puzzles to him, and eventually to the readers of his message forum. Oh yeah, those puzzles are something else I can put here.