“Good” Reads

June 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment

The other day I heard about a site called Good Reads, which seems to function like social networking for the literary minded: you can flag books you’ve read and books you’d like to read, get book recommendations from friends, see what other people are reading, make lists of books by theme, etc. When I scrolled down the home page, I noticed something a bit peculiar in their “Popular Lists” section:

Four of the five titles that made the “Best Books Ever” list are also included in the “Worst Books of All Time” list. Unsurprisingly — considering how divisive the series can be — all four titles are from the Twilight series. Perhaps this wasn’t an accident, though: with lists that include more than three-thousand titles each (Best Books includes THIRTEEN THOUSAND TITLES), perhaps the web dude in charge of choosing five covers to represent each list decided to have a bit of fun with juxtaposition. Lulz for everyone!

[ screenshot from Good Reads ]

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Drag Race, Gender, & Alexis Mateo’s Towel

May 31, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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It’s probably no surprise that RuPaul’s Drag Race is one of my favorite TV shows of all time — certainly my favorite non-scripted show. For me, its appeal goes beyond the fact that it’s a competition (like America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway, two of my other favorites) or that it features drag queens (another one of my favorite things). Drag Race takes a successful reality TV model — contestants eliminated week by week, a charismatic host, a zany panel of judges, wacky and absurd challenges, big personalities and big drama among the participants — and adds an irresistible coating of camp.

I can’t exactly explain why I find camp so appealing. It may be because, in a pop culture so saturated with people taking themselves so damn seriously (here’s looking at you, hipsters), I find the self-awareness of camp to be totally endearing. Camp is all about irony infused with humor and allusion — taking something serious and making it so over-the-top that it becomes ridiculous! When RuPaul dares the bottom two contestants on Drag Race to “Lip-sync for your LIFE,” she’s mocking the life-or-death stakes conveyed seriously by other reality shows. When she commands the queens to demonstrate “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent,” she’s clearly in-referencing the word cunt.

An additional serious (and sacred) convention that camp can upend is the gender binary; this is particularly evident in drag. I know this is something I’ve talked about before, but another reason I love Drag Race, and drag in general (big ups, Judith Butler!), is for the way it showcases gender subversion and performance. This was perhaps never truer than when the Season 3 title was handed to Raja, a queen who deliberately skirted the boundary between masculine and feminine gender presentation. Raja’s particular form of drag became a subject of contention during the season’s final episode, when the judges debated whether her genderfuck style was more worthy of the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” than Alexis Mateo’s more conventionally-feminine gender performance. Ultimately, Raja won the title, giving weight to the notion that drag is not just about men trying to look like women; rather, it can also be about exploring, mocking, and even rejecting gender norms as they exist in contemporary culture.

This long preamble about camp and gender performance is all basically in service of this one photo, which — despite my appreciation for the gender politics at play in drag — still made me laugh. (Translation: I don’t want you to think I’m an ignorant asshole when you read the rest of this post!)

This is a photo Alexis Mateo, the third runner-up in Season 3, drying herself off after being dunked in a dunk tank as part of a challenge:

It’s like homegirl knew she was supposed to wear a towel on her head the way ladies do, but no one ever taught her how to do it correctly. The towel’s supposed to wrap up your hair, Alexis, not just sit on top of your head like a hat! And here’s where the gender preamble comes into play: BEING A LADY: UR DOIN IT RONG.

[ screenshot from LogoTV ]

Berkeley on your TV Screen

May 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | 2 Comments
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So a few weeks ago I was watching Bones on Hulu, and I noticed a scene that looked familiar:

It was UC Berkeley’s Valley Life Sciences Building! (Used as an establishing shot for a university in upstate New York, that is.)

I was pretty sure from the moment I paused the video that this was, in fact, a shot of UC Berkeley, but just to be sure I started Googling for an image of the building from a similar angle to confirm my hunch. It didn’t take long, for on the first page of Google Image hits I saw this image, which looked eerily familiar:

Hmm… same building, same angle, same trees, same water spot on the ground (next to the bicyclist in the second image)… the only difference appeared to be the people. And yet this second image is from the 1994 movie Junior starring Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film took place in San Francisco and Berkeley, and used many local buildings and landscapes in its filming.

But the similarity between these two images, one used in a 1994 film and the other in a 2011 television show, is still a mystery to me. Do production companies just have hours of stock “establish-the-scene” footage that editors can include in their films/shows? Did the Bones folks take footage from 1994 and Photoshop new people into the scene? INQUIRING MINDS, etc.

[ screenshot from Hulu; image from Film in America ]

Baseball Math

April 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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Take notes, Sergio Romo & Ryan Franklin. It’s not like you’re about to fight the Civil War or anything…

 

[ images from MLBlogs and Yahoo Sports ]

An odd coincidence

April 6, 2011 at 10:47 am | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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Did you know that Wikipedia and White House Black Market share a logo on your browser? Random! Makes me wonder which company had it first…

To the Wayback Machine!

According to the Internet Archive, the earliest incidence of the White House Black Market site, complete with the “W” in the same font as it is currently, is August 2005. Wikipedia has been using their logo at least since December 2003. Now, White House Black Market surely existed as a brick-and-mortar shop before they had a web presence, and whether Wikipedia was wide-spread enough for a website designer to notice the similarity between the logos in 2005 is up for debate. Still, it is a funny coincidence!

[ screenshot from my Chrome browser ]

Questionable Marketing Decision

March 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | 1 Comment
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Don’t ask why I’m on the Jack in the Box mailing list (the answer is random cravings for chicken sandwiches), but when this number came through my inbox the other day I was a bit stunned by the subject line:

“Dos mas weekos to winno el trippo to Cancun.”

I mean, I see what they’re going for here — dumbass gringos who can’t speak Spanish properly and instead spew an awful version of unintelligible Spanglish — but it still struck me as a bit tasteless. Or maybe just heavy-handed. Either that, or I’m becoming a humorless lame-o in my old age. Get off my lawn, you damn kids!

[ screenshot from my email, via Jack in the Box ]

Best Recent Amazon Purchase: Wrist Rest

March 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness, Me | 1 Comment
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I don’t know how I made it through four years of undergrad and one year of working as a research assistant without succumbing to wrist pain caused by too much computer time, but somehow graduate school was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Less than a month into my second semester, and I was already suffering from painful wrists, particularly on my left side. I jerry-rigged a set up that involved two books laid flush with the bottom edge of my laptop to create a flatter surface for my wrists to rest upon, thereby minimizing the sharp edge that dug into my wrist. It was obvious, though, that I needed a more long-term solution, so I turned to Amazon, natch, and came up with an amazing product: the Intellegels Soft Foam Laptop Computer Wrist Rest. It creates a nice soft padded support for both wrists, and makes typing on the computer so much more comfortable. Plus, it came with a nice little carrying case, so I can stick it in my laptop case and take it to campus with me when I need to use my laptop at school. This little wrist rest has made me a happy customer!

However, there are two major caveats to singing this product’s praises: (1) If you click on that link above you’ll notice that it is currently out of stock on Amazon, and a quick visit to their website shows that Amazon is their only online retailer; otherwise, you’ll have to buy it at a store called Airport Wireless located “in Airports,” the site not-so-helpfully offers. I have no idea why Intelligels is not selling their products online at the moment; perhaps they just ran out of stock? Maybe I bought their last wrist rest? (It is their only product, after all.) Their website offers no explanation, so hopefully this is merely a temporary restocking kind of situation and not a Chapter 11 kind of situation.

And finally, (2), which is perhaps the more serious issue: it’s not actually made to work with a Mac. After many Amazon reviewers complained that their “one-size-fits-all” claim was misleading, since Macbooks have larger touch pads than many other laptop brands (such as Sony, Dell, and Toshiba) and so the rectangular cut-out in the wrist rest actually blocks about one-sixth of the touch pad, Intelligels altered the product description to remind readers that “fits” doesn’t necessarily mean “fits perfectly.” Hm. Questionable marketing at best, folks. Some Mac reviewers suggested cutting the wrist rest in half, thus allowing the two pieces to slide apart and leaving the touch pad (and mouse buttons) entirely free, but so far I’ve just lived with it. It’s a minor inconvenience at times, and has lead to a few instances of errant clicking, but I’m so happy with the support the pads provide that I wouldn’t dream of sending it back.

This is probably obvious, because all of like 3 people read these posts, but I am not being paid or compensated in any way by Intelligels for this post. I just thought I’d alert folks to the greatness that is a laptop wrist rest!

[ image from Amazon ]

I’m worried about Diet Soda Cake

February 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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It started off as a completely innocent search: How much does a batch of frosted cupcakes cost to make? Ten minutes and many Yahoo! Answers pages later, I had gone off the deep end of diet baked goods, and I was starting to get worried. Fucking Diet Soda Cakes: How do they work?

A few weeks ago, I bought a box of Funfetti Cupcake Mix on sale for $1. I mixed up a small batch of cream cheese frosting to go with the cupcakes, with ingredients totaling about $1.80, so final cost for each of my 12 cupcakes was about 23 cents.

I was curious how this cost matched up to budget-conscious food blog recipes, so I searched Budget Bytes, a great food blog focused on homemade low-cost meals, to see how my $2.80 matched up. The site’s sole cupcake recipe included both boxed frosting and food coloring, so budget-wise we were on different levels, but it wasn’t the cost that caught my eye. IT WAS THE DIET SODA.

White cake mix and a can of diet lemon-lime soda form the basis of this recipe; the soda substituted for the vegetable oil and eggs that typically flesh out a boxed cake mix. I’m still not clear on how this works scientifically, and the online community seems equally vexed. No closer to the answer of the food science behind the cake, my next question was this: were diet soda cakes an innovation unique to this blog? Or had I stumbled on some kind of crazy diet baked goods underbelly?

Much to my surprise, the answer was the latter: diet soda cakes blanket the internet with the force of an adorable cat video. Chocolate cake and diet root beer. Devil’s food cake and diet Coke. White cake and diet Sprite, or, if you’re feeling sassy, diet orange soda. Recipes — that is, if you can call “1 box mix, 1 can of soda” a recipe — and recommendations abound, with most posters crediting Weight Watchers for the creation. Some people prefer the addition of an egg white or two, while others suggest fruit additions such as canned pineapple or frozen blueberries. Some (read: Yahoo! Answers users, natch) misunderstand the concept of ingredient reduction altogether. But the common thread is clear: Diet soda makes dieting DELICIOUS.

I can tell you right now: I will most likely never bake a diet soda cake, simply because I dislike the taste of artificial sweeteners. But hey, if that’s your jam, go for it!

[ Image from Amazon ]

I don’t know why I’ve been stuck in the ’90s lately

January 25, 2011 at 1:15 am | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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But seriously, how ridiculous and awesome is Gwyneth Paltrow’s red carpet ensemble from the 1996 premiere of From Dusk Till Dawn?? Crop top, long black skirt, long leopard coat (side note: I love that the 1990s can now be called “vintage”), and — the crowning touch — the black Jack Purcells: the shoe of choice for every single cool girl in my 8th grade class.

[ image from IMDb ]

Another ’90s Moment: No Doubt

January 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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Two months ago I had a brief ’90s flashback when two of the decade’s (teen) movie stars appeared side by side on a website I was reading. The ’90s are certainly having a big moment lately. Although I can’t say I’m on board with all aspects of the ’90s fashion revival that has surfaced over the past year or so (such as super-light or acid wash denim, yikes!), but one thing that did make me feel a little nostalgic was watching an old No Doubt music video.

I can’t remember why I decided to watch the video for “Don’t Speak” last month, but the first thing that jumped out at me was the clothing and accessories worn by Gwen Stefani.

First of all, I am on a major polka dot kick lately, so of course I loved her dress. Its simple cut, shape, and print — with the fun addition of the tiny buttons along the neckline — made me wish I had it in my closet! But what really made this video notable was the simplicity and informality of Gwen’s whole outfit: basic cotton dress, black jelly bracelets that everyone wore in the ’90s/early ’00s, normal-looking hairstyle, and, to top it all off, no shoes!

The rest of the band is dressed in a similarly casual outfit. My favorite outfit nomination goes to Tony for his Adidas track suit pants!

The whole look of the video, from the clothing to the accessories to the shooting location, gives it such an unselfconscious vibe that you hardly see in music videos anymore. (A prime example is Lady Gaga.) Perhaps the most telling little detail of the “No Speak” video that places it in the ’90s context is something presumably unintended:

A broken seam (or open zipper) on Gwen’s dress! I imagine most of today’s musicians would likely reshoot a video that exposed such a flaw.

While I certainly appreciate the artistry that goes into something like Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video, I also have a soft place in my heart for the sweet honest simplicity embodied by No Doubt’s early music videos.

[ Album cover from Amazon; all other images are stills from the “Don’t Speak” music video ]

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