Friday, December 31, 2010

Time Travelling for New Year's Eve

Having just got back from our week-long Christmas vacation in Florida, this morning we shopped for groceries to replenish perishables and other food items in short supply. Since today (as of my typing this) is December 31, I decided to go through the coupon folder to see which coupons were expiring today and might be for things described as "perishable" or "other food items in short supply." We had two coupons for a dollar off a jar of Spice Islands seasonings. Since all our spices are in full supply, we decided to discard them. I mused about making a purchase anyway and somehow sending the spices to our future selves. Then I realized that we have a time travel device right here in our home.

In order to build up suspense I will now go off on a tangent. (You may want to skip to the next paragraph, but you are sure to be disappointed if you do. Patience is always rewarded.) Sending food to the future seems tricky but I soon realized that I have done it many times in the past. You see, in order to get a really good deal on boneless chicken breast, it's best to buy a "mega" pack of breasts (usually more than five) which any normal individual and few families could easily eat in one sitting. One of my workarounds for this problem (because, believe me, I do buy in bulk if the deal is good enough) is to grill all the chicken at once on the outdoor grill. I might even grill some steaks or burgers along with them since I usually try to maximize the use of the charcoal and they do taste so good and smoky when they're done. Cooked meat lasts much longer than raw. Another workaround is to cut up the chicken and put it in marinade for Cashew Chicken. I cook one batch of chicken and put the rest into ziplock bags and then into the freezer for future use. As this crossed my mind, I suddenly realized that freezing food is a way to send it to the future! Could that possibly work for spices? Was it really worth the bother to save a dollar? Would we forget the spice jar in the freezer and not see it again till some future moment, probably right after we bought more spices? That's the sort of classic blunder we are quite prone to falling into.

It didn't seem worthwhile to buy the spices in order to send them to the future. Plenty of other things filled our shopping list, so it's just as well. Now our pantry is restocked and we are ready to celebrate the new year with new food. If you skipped ahead to this paragraph, you are probably disappointed not to see me describing the time travel device here in our own home. I am sorry for any distress I may have caused, but I did warn you. Perhaps working on patience could be a new year's resolution?

I hope everyone has a happy new year. And plenty of spices.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ambiguous Day 2010

I'm glad to see someone is celebrating Ambiguous Day this year. Check it out:

In order to promote ambiguity, I have removed the signature
In case you haven't heard of it, Ambiguous Day comes toward(s) the end of the year. It's sort of a celebration, sort of a memorial. What do you do for Ambiguous Day? You can fast or feast or do neither. You can light brightly colored lights or candles or matches or a lighter or a flashlight, though it is recommend that you turn off or extinguish them at some point. Conversely, it might be fun to hang out in the dark all day. If you send cards, it is best to send them to your closest friends and complete strangers. You can find strangers in a telephone book, which might be found in your house (if you are old-fashioned) or at a payphone somewhere nearby. Perhaps on your way to the payphone you could just give out cards to whomever you meet. It's really all up to you. Just don't do the same thing every year.

If you want to learn more, you can go to the meeting next week in the afternoon at that place. Tell them you heard about it on the internet. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Zombie Review: The Walking Dead, Vol. 5 The Best Defense

The Walking Dead Vol. 5: The Best Defense by Robert Kirkman

See previous reviews of Trade Paperback 1, TP 2, and Book 2 (which contains what's in TP 3 and 4). I just finished watching Season 1 of the TV show (which ended a week ago), so look for a review of the final two episodes soon.

ZPAA rating

Late teens and up (use your judgment based on content summary below)

Gore level

8 of 10--the usual amount of zombies fill these pages, though not many of them are killed. The zombies get to do a lot of graphic eating, which is new and not pleasant. Some of the worst gore is human on human violence: a behanding (yes, someone winds up being called "Lefty"), bitten off ear (not by Mike Tyson), some rough torture.

Other offensive content

Some pretty bad language (f-bombs and such), human on human violence, a totally wacky marriage proposal.

How much zombie mythology/content

As I've said before, these are classic zombies. We do get to see some zombies being kept as pets or loved ones, though there doesn't seem to be any idea of de-zombifying them like in Volume 2.

How much fun

This volume has been the toughest read yet. Some of our survivors are captured by another group of survivors that are into maiming, torturing and feeding those they find to zombies. Yikes!

Synopsis & Review

The survivors are cleaning out Cell Block A with the thought of moving in. While there, they discover many interesting things. First, they find a generator which may only need some gas to get going. Glenn and Maggie find body armor and other riot gear that will be helpful in fighting the zombies. If it's bullet proof, it's bite proof! The gear comes in handy as Rick and Glenn go out past the fences to get gas from the abandoned cars. While siphoning gas, they see a helicopter fly by and crash off in the distance. Rick, Glenn and sword-weilding Michonne grab a car that works and head off to find the helicopter's crew. Eventually they have to ditch the car while off-roading and find the helicopter empty. Lots of footprints lead off into the distance, leading our heroes to a town of about 40 people led by a guy self-named "The Governor." Turns out they have a lot of nasty secrets about how they pass the time.

This volume continues dealing with the issue of people makng rules for themselves and how bad they are at it. After Carol's attempted suicide, she decides she needs more stability in her life and wants to marry Rick and Lori. She asks Lori while Rick is chasing after the helicopter. Lori freaks out and says no. The big example of bad rule making is the new group of survivors. They have a little arena set up for blood sports and "The Governor" rules with an iron hand and sadistic glee. He begins to torture Michonne, Glenn and Rick to get information about where they came from. The people in his town go along with him because he provides them security from the biters and he ruthlessly takes care of any problem people. And outsiders are problem people. The poor helicopter crew had a very miserable fate.

Things are only getting worse for Rick and the gang. Reading this series is becoming less and less enjoyable. I still care about the characters. I'm still rooting for them but I'm running out of hope for them as the situation worsens. I'll give it another volume, because I want to find out what happens next.

Sample Text

The Governor talking while watching the zombies eat: "We can learn so much from them, y'know--just by watching them. They've been at it all night. They just don't stop--they're resilient. They eat until it's gone and then they're content. I almost admire them. The thing you have to realize is that they're just us--they're no different. They want what they want, they take what they want and after they get what they want--they're only content for the briefest span of time. Then they want more."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Zombie Job: Christmas Cookie Maker

Having recently re-watched Shaun of the Dead, I think every now and then about appropriate jobs for zombies. In case you haven't seen the movie and don't mind a pretty large spoiler (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the end of the movie spoiled), at the end of the movie the zombies are integrated into society and given the sort of mindless jobs at which they would excel: collecting shopping carts from the parking lot, delivering newspapers to homes, playing wing man for video games.

One potential job that we tried out this weekend (and by "we" I mean my wife, my sister, and my niece): making Christmas cookies. Surely this is only seasonal work, but it would provide the next logical job after collecting the fall harvest and working at the Halloween haunted house. There are several steps to making the cookies.

The first step is making the cookie dough. This step requires some precision measurements and following the recipe in proper order, which may be too much for a mindless zombie. First problem is the lack of dexterity or coordination in measuring and mixing ingredients. Second is following proper order. Third is the concern for zombie bits getting mixed in. If you think finding a hair in your food is nasty, wait until your gingerbread man has an real finger! So this step is no good for zombies.

The second step is to bake the cookies. Cutting out fun shapes seems pretty easy. We had a little panic in our house when we couldn't find an oven mitt. Surely a zombie would have come in handy here. No worries about burns for the undead, right? Taking pans in and out of the oven aren't so hard. Someone would have to monitor when the cookies need to come out, of course.

The third step is to decorate the cookies, like so:

For this step, great results require a great eye, sense of style, and memory of what Christmas cookies are supposed to look like. The zombie decorator would never come up with these fabulous results:

The fourth step is handing out the cookies, which should be pretty easy for a zombie and always results in a satisfied customer:

That looks yummy!
Cookies taste much better than brains!
Her lips were turning blue, but only from the icing, we swear!
In conclusion, I don't think a zombie would be particular good as a Christmas cookie maker, but could serve much better as a sous-chef. A better seasonal job would be one of those Salvation Army bell ringers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

NYT Article on How Modern Life is Like a Zombie Infestation

Inspired by the popularity of the TV version of The Walking Dead, writer Chuck Closterman has written the article "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead" on the New York Times web site. Working from the premise that fictional monsters like vampires, werewolves and zombies are metaphors of their audience's anxieties, he proposes an new interpretation of why modern people are interested in zombies. Popular thinking sees zombies as a metaphor of our fear of infectious outbreaks; Mr. Closterman sees them as similar to how we deal with day to day life. We are constantly bombarded with unwelcome, uninvited and intrusive demands for our time, be it from ever expanding email in boxes, constant Facebook and Twitter updates, ubiquitous paperwork, and other ongoing tasks that seem unending. How to solve such a problem?

That's where the zombie metaphor comes in. Everyone nowadays knows how to eliminate a zombie, by causing a brain injury. The real threat is the unending supply of zombies that you'd face in an outbreak. The solution is easy but the execution is the hard part. The author suggests that in the same way, taking care of modern life's pesky intrusions is the same. It's easy to read one email and deal with it, but what about the other 20, 40 or 400 unread messages that are still waiting for your attention? His solution is to put your nose to the grindstone and keep on keeping on. He ends his article thus:
The zombies you kill today will merely be replaced by the zombies of tomorrow. But you can do this, my friend. It’s disenchanting, but it’s not difficult. Keep your finger on the trigger. Continue the termination. Don’t stop believing. Don’t stop deleting. Return your voice mails and nod your agreements. This is the zombies’ world, and we just live in it. But we can live better.

I actually find this a little bleak and not at all reassuring. Are we really living better if we just keep fighting on and on and on? Isn't there a risk of becoming just as mindless and reactionary as the zombies we are trying to destroy? Are we making ourselves into the Yin for their Yang? I, for one, would rather not get caught dancing this zombie two-step. Maybe some day someone will take my emails or social updates or other interactions with them as just another bombardment from modern life and they'll dispatch me like the zombie that they think I am.

We have met the enemy and he is us. - Pogo