Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Anti-Dust

In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, there’s this stuff called Dust. It’s made of an elementary particle that is far more attracted to adults than to children.

It turns out we have the opposite in our world. It’s called Germs.

Yes, Liza is sick again. She’s managed to catch some illness from the maelstrom of them that swirl around her. We spent last night in the rocker with her, Vicks be damned, and this morning she has a cough and no sense of equilibrium. I shouldn’t laugh at how she can’t stay sitting and instead falls over, but that’s clearly going to be the highlight of my day.

The Real Effect of Electing the Current US Presidential Nominees

Were you aware that people debate politics a lot on the Internet? I know! It was a surprise to me, too! It’s been driven by the eighty-two debates that the Republican and Democratic candidates for US President have had, a product of the ever-earlier campaign season. By 2015 we’ll see people running for the 2020 Presidency. It’s just like the Christmas shopping season in that regard, a Christmas season in which the only gifts we get are giant pitchers of phlegm.

Regardless, people on the Internet have debated what it would mean to the US if so-and-so is nominated. Everyone’s focused on taxes, the Iraq war, healthcare, and other such issues. But what about the less-obvious ramifications of each candidate’s nomination? That, my friends, is what we should be paying attention to.

Let’s get started, shall we? Here’s a taste of what might happen if each of the following candidates wins their party’s nomination.

Mike Huckabee: Steven Colbert begins work on a rival weight-loss book.
John Edwards: Haircut jokes permanently replace the “Al Gore invented the internet” jokes.
John McCain: The Air Force quietly asks Boeing to bid on a new plane, Straight Talk One.
Hillary Clinton: The Democrats have their first nominee who’s worn dresses in public. Mothers everywhere tear up their kids’ kindergarten essays about wanting to be President, just in case.
Mitt Romney: Republican opponents who had made “…and two wives in every kitchen” jokes shake Romney’s hand and pretend they never said such a thing.
Dennis Kucinich: The domain squatters who own ismyfirstladyhotornot.com get a lot of money.
Rudy Giuliani: The Republicans have their first nominee who’s worn dresses in public.
Ron Paul: William Jennings Bryan claws his way out of his grave to put his “Cross of Gold” speech on YouTube.
Barack Obama: Alan Keyes’s head explodes.

Clearly, I am to hard-hitting investigative journalism what the White Star Line is to travel accommodations.

Liza, Liza, Faster Than Lightning

Despite our best efforts, Liza has learned to crawl.

Oh, we did all the things concerned and lazy parents do to keep their kid in one place. We dressed her in long pants and full-length onesies that made her knees slip on the wood floor. We held her. We showed her the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration scare video “Blood Runs Red on the Carpetway”. Nothing worked.

This marks the change from “Liza’s playing in the kitchen” to “I swear, she was right here a second ago.” Her danger zone has gone mobile.

The danger zone, for you non-parents, is the invisible area around a kid marking their reach. You have to keep dangerous things, like knives, bare wires that spark, and more than three ounces of any given liquid; and things she might eat or destroy, like books, pens, or my toes, out of the zone or else. Babies explore the world by pushing, shoving, eating, and generally destroying everything they can reach with their T. rex-like arms.

Last night Misty and I sat on the floor with Liza. I whistled at her and patted the floor. She raised up on her hands, butt in the air, and stomped towards me like a tiny bulldog with ague. She may be shaky, but she’s mobile.

God help us all.

The Force is with Us All

A few months ago Stephen started playing Lego Star Wars with Eli. Then I started playing too. So now in the evenings, after dinner, we have a round of Star Wars. We played through the second game and have now digressed back to the original.

Because of our evenings at Dexter’s Diner, Eli had developed a love for all things Star Wars. He wants to play “shooters” all the time which consists of him making a gun out of any available parts in his room and running around with a Jengo Fett “buuuuppppp-buup” sound. He talks about Darth Vader like he might turn up for dinner one night. And his latest obsession is the high-jumping General Grievous. Say, what is it with bad guys, anyway?

Not too long ago I found Star Wars Kids. I hadn’t shown it to Eli yet because I haven’t had time to go through the site and figure out if it is age appropriate or not and to see if he can play the games, if it is. But in the meantime LanaBob! send us the link to the R2D2 translator. When I opened the link this morning and typed in Eli’s name, he came bounding into the office as soon as he heard it. If his ears could have been standing straight up they would have been.

“What’s that?”

“It’s R2D2. He’s calling you!”

“Why is he calling me?”

“I typed your name here and then hit this button and he called your name.”

“Mom, make him say, ‘I really, really, really, really, really want Darth Vader for Christmas’.”

“How about ‘Darth Vader is cool.’ because the other is too long.”

“Ok. Now make him say…”

It went on like this for about 20 minutes. I have to admit hearing R2’s beeps and whees is pretty entertaining. I’m not sure what that says about me as a mom. I mean other than I’m just as hooked.

Chirstmas Cookies

We put up our Christmas tree last weekend. I’ll admit I’m pretty bahumbug about the process. It seems ridiculous to drag all that stuff out for less than a month. The house is a wreck the day of. There’s boxes everywhere. Eli is in trouble constantly because he can’t remember that all this stuff is breakable and he wants to touch every single piece that emerges from the boxes. Everybody gets hungry because we put off lunch to try and get it all done. Stuff gets broken. The new tree sheds so we have to run the vacuum. It’s just generally not a fun day.

But then it’s all done. Every morning when I get up I see my small army of snowmen on top of the piano and am delighted by them. The Christmas dishes sit on the counter so we have a little seasonal cheer at every meal. Eli demands the Christmas tree be turned on as soon as he wakes up every morning so he can see Darth Vader in the Tie Fighter light up. He has finally twigged to the whole Christmas stocking thing and he’s fascinated by what might be in them. Eli is patient, like his dad. Instead of demanding constantly to see what’s in them, he only asks about twice a day. He’s also this year, for the first time, started listing the things that Santa might bring him (a trampoline and an air gun are the current items he’s listing, good thing they’re covered!).

So this week I’ve been trying to remember what made my childhood Christmases special. We didn’t have much religious celebration when I was little so my memories are all of traditions that my mom either brought from her childhood or created for me. She played Christmas songs on the very piano where my snowmen sit now. I remember the Christmas when I was eight or nine very specifically because I wanted a Bible of my own and a Barbie. It’s hard to recall which I was more excited about. I had a whole batch of Christmas stories that we only read after Thanksgiving and before New Year’s. One is a story cut from a magazine that my mom has preserved over the years. Eli and I are going to sit down and read it this year.

And I remember the cookies.

My mom cooked when I was little but at Thanksgiving and Christmas she really pulled out all the stops. I thought the store only sold cream cheese during the holidays because that’s the only time she made this really yummy pumpkin cake roll with cream cheese in the middle. And then there were the cookies. She didn’t just make boring old chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies. There were at least 12 kinds of multi-step cookies that she would spend an entire weekend working on. Our dining room table would be covered with cookies at the end. There were sugar cookies made with the cookie shooter, baked and then jam in the middle of them. Chocolate covered things that defy description. Cookies cut out with cookie cutters and then iced to look like art.

I know it couldn’t possibly have been as elaborate as I remember. Thinking back on it, it seems like excess to match a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In my memory it is that fantastical.

So that’s the magic of Christmases past for me. And even though I am bahumbug the day we are getting Christmas out of the attic, I hope that we are creating some fantastical memories for Eli and Liza as well. Maybe I’ll see if my mom still has that cookie shooter.

Eli Wisdom

I wrote this longish post on the various illnesses my children has suffered over the past three weeks and my worries and fears regarding them but now they are mostly well and I am feeling less out of control so I’ll just let you in on this bit of Eli wisdom instead:

“Grumpy is what moms do best!”

He proclaimed this to me while I was wrestling Liza on the changing table in the doctor’s office bathroom and after I had reminded him for the 47th time to not touch every available bathroom surface with his fingers, face and/or tongue and that his behavior was making me grumpy.

Extending the Life of Internet Memes

Memes on the Internet are pop culture sped up by several orders of magnitude. Like staph infections, memes mutate quickly, spawning offshoots and mashups and all manner of odd progeny. That makes it tough to keep them going and to make money off of them, since they come, change, and go so quickly. It’s even harder if the meme’s an accidental one — if, like the Star Wars Kid, you didn’t mean to become an Internet sensation.

That doesn’t stop people from trying, though.

Take Gary “Numa Numa” Brolsma. In 2004, he made a webcam video of himself dancing along to a Moldovian pop song called Dragostea din tei. “Numa Numa” became such a sensation that even the New York Times reported on it. Brolsma was so overwhelmed that he ended up turning down most interview requests.

I can understand why the video was so popular. The song is catchy and weird, and Gary’s enjoying the hell out of the song. There’s something appealing about seeing a guy have so much fun so unreservedly. He’s also got great timing here: the video starts out with him lip-synching, and suddenly there are wild flailing arms! And jazz hands!

These days Gary has a publicist. He has a website. And as his publicist told the ROFLCon people, who wanted him to come to their convention about Internet memes, “At this time Gary is in high demand and we can only consider events that pay him for his time,” and that some scholars “believe that Gary’s work was the most widely seen and embraced single piece of human generated content since the days of the Tower of Babel.”

Here’s how Brolsma tried to recapture the magic:

Leaving aside the infomercial video effects*, what strikes me most about the New Numa video is how studied it is. What made “Numa Numa” work was Gary enjoying the song, and how his goofy choreography, like the Code Monkey Dance, fit the music. “New Numa” lacks that spark, and it doesn’t have the original’s timing and rising-and-falling action. It’s a pale echo of the original.

*Though it’s nice to see other people have trouble pulling good keys from greenscreen footage.

Tay Zonday, singer of “Chocolate Rain”, went in a different direction. The original video has a synth-and-drum loop that burrows into your brain, a guy who looks like he’s 12 yet has a deep voice, enigmatic lyrics, and weird mannerisms.

It’s nice that Tay explained that he moves away from the mic to breathe in. The video was popular enough that Cadbury Schweppes asked him to make a video for the launch of Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper.

“Cherry Chocolate Rain” takes the song in an entirely new direction. It’s slick, overproduced, and over-the-top. There’s a weird nod to Apple’s “1984” ad. Tay smiles his way through a complete send-up of rap videos. And every time I hear him sing “Ohio’s agriculture’s based on grains” with a straight face I lose it.

“Cherry Chocolate Rain” works where “New Numa” doesn’t because it keeps the core of what made the original popular and ladles on a healthy serving of crazy. Rather than try to reproduce the original video, it mutates it, re-imagining it as a typical music video.

There are two things that help determine whether a creator can keep an Internet meme going: intentionality and mutability. Did the creator intend for the creation to be viewed by as many people as possible? And how easy is it for the meme to be changed and re-written?

Take the two examples above. Gary Brolsma made his video for some friends and posted it on Newgrounds on a lark. Its runaway success took him by surprise. Tay Zonday, however, was seeking an audience for his songs. He’d written several songs before Chocolate Rain and posted them on YouTube. When Brolsma tried to re-capture the spark of the original, he made a near-copy of it; Zonday’s re-done Chocolate Rain is a very different creation while keeping a link to the original.

Lolcats are an excellent example of how mutability can keep a meme going. Even in their canonical form — cats plus captions — lolcats can be used to make endless jokes. And that’s before you add in LOLTrek, LOLgeeks, LOL My Children, and countless others. Unlike All Your Bases or Impossible Is Nothing, lolcats are above all a form rather than a single joke.

Hey, now that I have a theory and some examples, I’m ready to write a dissertation on Internet memes.