Monday, January 31, 2011

Typical applicant survey

Thank you for your interest in applying at [company name here]. You have taken the first step in becoming part of a winning team that strives for excellence in everything we do! Please complete the following applicant survey. For each statement, choose whether you strongly disagree (SD) with the statement. Disagree (D) with the statement. Neither agree nor disagree (N). Agree (A) with the statement. Or strongly agree (SA).

1) It is ok to challenge authority. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

2) If a supervisor told me to do something, I would do it without question. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

3) I frequently do not do what I am told. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

4) My coworkers would describe me as completely obedient. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

5) I like challenging authority. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

...

...

...

167) If my supervisor told me to commit suicide, I would trust his or her judgement. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

...

...

291) If I knew my work environment was about to change, I would accept the change without questioning the company's intentions or judgement and I would give my undying cooperation in both this life and the next, even though I may not agree with the change. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

...

...

...

844) My coworkers know me as a person who accepts what I am told at face value and cooperates without questioning authority. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

...

...

1000) I have no personal life, and if hired my life's goal would be to devote every waking and sleeping thought to the good of the company and I would never challenge authority. - (SD) (D) (N) (A) (SA)

Thank you for filling out this applicant survey! You will not be notified if you passed or failed, please do not inquire, please do not apply again! Good bye!

*******

I hate job applications.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Read the book. Watch the movie, too: The Brave Little Toaster

The Brave Little Toaster
by Thomas M. Disch

Written with all the formality and eloquence of a children’s book from the nineteenth century, The Brave Little Toaster is the story about five appliances in a remote, abandoned cabin who travel across the forest to find their master. Think Homeward Bound, but with a toaster, a hoover, an electric blanket, a radio and a lamp.

These ordinary household appliances are in the forest on a journey to find their master. Most appliances just sit alone and accept their fate, but not them. They love their master, and they're not going to believe they've been abandoned. They take matters into their own hands, all thanks to the toaster who pushes them out the door.

The story charmed me. It’s written like Bambi and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the old-style children’s story format makes it seem more authentic. Even perfectly natural. It just takes for granted that appliances come to life when people aren't looking. It never explains itself, which encourages us to accept it and move on.

It loosely creates the world of the inanimate objects. It imbues appliances with hopes, dreams, and even fears, all related in some way to their function. Each appliance sees the world a little different. For example, the blanket is not too friendly with the air conditioner because the blanket doesn’t have any good feelings for an appliance whose function is to make things colder. It makes sense. It's how an appliance would think.

One of my favorite details is the description of the toaster taking time out to be by itself and toast pretend pieces of bread, since it lacks real bread or english muffins. The way it’s described made me feel the toaster's joy, feel its hope. Toaster wants to give its all to its master, and just thinking of toasting a perfect english muffin for him fills the toaster with glee. It’s adorable!

But first they have to survive the pirates! People who steal appliances from their rightful owners and force them to do their bidding instead! And when the radio is held hostage by a pirate in the junkyard, they will have to break a couple rules to free him. Nope, these appliances do NOT accept their fate! They're calling the shots now!

After everything they go through to find their master, it ends, appropriately, like a fairytale. It’s such a cute little story that everyone can identify with. The appliances want to be useful. Probably the most basic need of any animate or inanimate object. They want to serve their master, and they’ll go to any length to find him. It’s a story I read with a smile.

Compare that to...

The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

One of those movies that defined my childhood. It's been some twenty years since I saw it. Good time to read the book and then look back on the film.

It's the same story. Five abandoned appliances decide to go out and find their master themselves. Instead of telling it like an old-style children's tale, the filmmakers elected to modernize it cinematically. It's not very often a movie actually improves on the original story, but this 1987 animated movie does. It's a huge improvement.

The biggest difference is the personalities of the appliances. In the story, the appliances don't have personalities, or unique voices, or even unique talents that help the group. (Except for the toaster, who comes up with the ideas.) This is intentional; it's written as a narrative, just like stories were back in the ninetieth century.

In the film, each appliance is given a personality. The vacuum (a Kirby, not a Hoover) is the grumpy one. The blanket is the kid. The radio is like an announcer, often narrating their activities from third person. Now the appliances are people we can care about, instead of just storybook characters.

It preserves the novella's perspective on appliances. Such as, the lamp doesn't understand the toaster's analogy that the feeling it gets from being nice to the blanket is like being next to a new loaf of bread. But the lamp does understand it when toaster calls it a "glow." Lamps can understand glowing feelings. An excellent way to translate narrative description into dialogue. (What does it say about human beings, since we can understand both perspectives?)

As a whole, the screenwriters took every plot point in the story and expanded them to more cinematic proportions. For example, in the novella, the appliances are caught by the man who lives in (owns?) the junkyard and they pull a ghost trick on him to rescue the radio from being used against its will. The movie has the appliances caught by the owner of a parts shop, and they use the ghost trick to save the radio from being taken stripped for parts.

The story has a very narrative ending. I won't spoil it, but it's anything but cinematic. It's not a bad ending; not at all. In fact it adds to the fairytale quality. But it needed more if we were gonna spend 90 minutes building up to it. Instead of ending in their master's apartment with a phone call, it ends in the junkyard with a scramble to avoid getting crushed and cubed as scrap metal. A much bigger climax to match a much bigger buildup.

Same ideas, but BIGGER!

The songs are catchy, too. As a kid I never understood the lyrics, and even today I can't catch all of them, but the melody and mood are more than enough to convey what they're getting across. Especially the later songs, which not only sing about, but show the appliance's helplessness in the outside world. My favorites are Cutting Edge and Worthless. B Movie made me smile because I didn't get it when I was a kid, but now that I'm an adult I know why it's there.

Disch wrote it like a story told after it happens, instead of a story shown as it happens. That was the style he was going for, and as a bedtime story in this vein it's perfect. Short, cute, with a fairytale ending as the cherry. The filmmakers did a fantastic job expanding on the idea and making it cinematic. It still preserves the theme of the novella: the need to be useful. That's all the appliances want, and everybody can appreciate that.

So watch the movie! It's not dumbed down for kids, it's never annoying, and it tells a good, mature story. But if you can find a copy of the original novella, you should read it. Never settle for the adaptation; find out what the author wrote.


(PS--Good luck with that. It was published as a book on its own, but it's horribly out of print. Everybody wants $80 and up for a used copy. After some more digging I learned it was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction way back in 1980. It was easier to hunt down a back issue of this magazine than to find a copy of the book edition. I'm happy it was worth the hunt.

And I noticed in the movie the radio quotes Moby Dick. "Damn, thee, thou curs'ed whale. From the depths of hell I stab at thee." How did they get away with that in a kid's movie?

And what's with the wobbly frame? Couldn't they keep the picture stable?

And I noticed the appliances don't seem to need that battery to move about. It's established they're pretty dependent on electricity, and yet they move around quite well without it all through the movie. Ah, it's not perfect, but it's a great movie!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Skip the movie. Read the book: Misery

Misery
by Stephen King

This was the very first Stephen King book I ever read. The situation is so unique and suspenseful the pages just flew by and I couldn't stop reading.

Paul Sheldon is a famous author. He is crippled in a car crash, but thankfully he ends up in the home of a former nurse, Annie Wilkes, who takes care of him while he recovers. Too bad Annie turns out to be every writer's worst nightmare: the obsessed fan.

A very character-driven book, Misery is about Paul's struggle to stay alive while he is at the mercy of his paranoid and maniac-depressed host. King succeeds in putting the reader in the middle of her instability right along with Paul. We're just as much at the mercy of her erratic mood swings as he is. You never know what she's going to do next, and come to realize she is capable of anything under that friendly exterior. Makes for nail-biting suspense.

At the heart of the book is something very personal for Stephen King: the power of writing. The book is about how Paul uses writing to keep his sanity. Over and over while the world crashes down around him, he takes solace in his fictional world to keep himself sane. It's a grand subtext that's even more powerful than the interaction between the characters.

Misery is an absolutely suspenseful story. It’s amazing how so much can happen without ever leaving the house. If you read only one Stephen King book, let it be this one. It's for the fans.

Compare that to…

Misery (1990)
starring James Caan and Kathy Bates

It's difficult to pin down why this movie feels so passive compared to its source material.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sonar4 Landing Dock Reviews: Felix and the Sacred Thor by James Steele Review

Sonar4 Landing Dock Reviews: Felix and the Sacred Thor by James Steele Review: "by: James Steele Eraserhead Press ISBN: 978-1936383238 Review posted 01/17/2011 Flex has an attraction to horses. His guidance counselor ..."


A so-weird-it's-good review of Felix and the Sacred Thor. Even though the review blog warns of adult content, the reviewer still used PG-rated language.

It must be quite a challenge for anyone to review my book without using certain phrases. So I'll add in the phrases the reviewer intended to use: "horse cock," "horse dildo," "degree in bestiality," and "reached into the horse's sheath, but instead of finding the horse's penis, found a life-sized dildo in its place."

I know, not the easiest thing in the world to review. I wish I could tell everyone all of these elements are used for humorous purposes and they can switch off their "flee from sin" reflex and just enjoy an outrageous mock adventure.

I do like the mention of Felix's character being enough to make the reader want to continue. I like Felix. He's a very optimistic, can-do character, which is in stark contrast to the characters I usually write.

Friday, January 14, 2011

No, no, no!

“Don’t shop when you’re hungry / no, no no!” --military PSA, circa late 1980’s.


When most people shop while hungry, they buy chocolates, candy, pop-tarts, cheese puffs and donuts.

When I shop hungry, I buy soy milk, baked Ruffles, Bolthouse Farms juices, Kashi cereals and Goldfish.

I was in the first grade when I heard that song. Amazing, the things that stay with you all your life. I wish I could find a video of that old public service announcement.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's quiz time!

It's time to find out which animal dildo is right for you to use!

No, not "use" it in the traditional sense of word, of course, but to brandish as a weapon of ultimate destruction! It's what these toys were originally designed for after all!

Will you get the Thor, that elusive horse dildo so few seem educated enough to handle? How about the Sacred Ridgeback? If you believe in dragons you just might get lucky! Or maybe you'll end up with the betentacled Sacred Elephant!

Take the test below to see which Sacred Weapon suits you.

Skip the movie. Read the book: The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown

The Bible was written by man over thousands of years, more than 2,000 years ago. Is it possible it could’ve been changed or altered, important sections lost or rewritten over the centuries? How do we know we’re getting the entire, original story? Who is to say that the Bible as we know it today includes all the accounts that were originally written? And how do we know the stories that do survive haven’t had parts omitted or censored? Is our belief in God based on false doctrine?

Everyone loves a conspiracy, and what better conspiracy to investigate than one that involves the whole world. There are so many historical citations that this may as well be a history textbook. Not many stories can get away with that, but the information is so interesting you will believe every word of it. …because it makes sense.

All the symbolic, artistic and historical references make this possibility totally believable. Everything about the catholic church censoring the Bible to keep itself in power makes perfect sense. Undeniably the Church resorted to extreme means to keep itself in power in the Middle Ages. Could they have altered the Bible itself, too?

But how much of The Da Vinci Code is fiction and how much is fact? If you buy into the conspiracy, Robert Langdon’s ability to find hidden symbols in everyday life reinforces the elaborate lies we’ve been told. The lies about sexuality, the female gender, male superiority, and the real origins of the pentagram and the goat (they weren’t always Satanic symbols, but thanks to the Church they have become so).

If you don’t buy into the conspiracy, it gets far-fetched and annoying. Everything is a symbol to Robert Langdon. Maybe he'd like to look for a goddess symbol on a box of cereal. Isn’t it possible that sometimes a triangle is just a triangle? It doesn't always have to be an encrypted symbol for the womb.

It's a mind-blowing concept, but only if you allow yourself to believe this could be possible, and accept that the story is just an excuse to present the concept. Really, this book is not suspenseful, nor does it tell a particularly well-executed or original story. There is no code hidden in the works of Da Vinci that Langdon must decipher to learn the deep, dark secret. The characters are following a trail of clues laid out by the man who was murdered in the first chapter. And at the end of the trail is something just a wee bit disappointing. Langdon doesn’t learn or discover anything along the way. He already knows about this conspiracy, and we discover it because he lectures it to the reader. It would’ve been better if he discovered it as he solved the clues, making the conspiracy part of the story instead of the excuse for it.

The Da Vinci Code is a lecture, but it’s interesting enough as is because the idea behind it is so mind-blowing. The concept triumphs over the story. There’s nothing wrong with that, but hopefully Da Vinci Code 2 won’t rely on it.

Compare that to...

The Da Vinci Code (2006)
starring Tom Hanks

The film adaptation of the popular book suffers from a unique crisis: it follows the book too closely.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rolling Stone: The Fraud at the Heart of the Mortgage Crisis

I read an article in Rolling Stone issue 1118, November 25, 2010. The Fraud at the Heart of the Mortgage Crisis. After reading it, I think I finally understand what happened to the economy, and why the banks are evil.

They lied about everything. They played games with our money, our mortgages. They turned mortgages into investments, like stocks, trading them for profit and betting on them. They signed people up for home loans who weren’t supposed to qualify just to make quota so they could bet more money on those loans. They inflated their value, inflated the value of the houses to make even more money off them.

Eventually, it caught up to them. Everything collapsed. A few who saw it coming got rich betting on the failure, at the expense of the whole company.

Then the banks had the gall to convince everyone the economy would collapse unless the government bailed them out. We believed them. We bailed them out of their mistake.

Now the banks are making US pay for THEIR mistake by holding us accountable for the bad loans THEY sold US!

"Well, the deadbeats should've paid their bills!" they say.

Well, who raised the interest rate and upped the payments beyond what anyone could manage? Who refuses to refinance anyone, as they promised when they sold people those variable loans? Who ended businesses' lines of credit, forcing companies out of business and millions out of work? It ain't the people who are to blame--they're willing to work! They want to work! They want to pay their bills! Ain't their fault there aren't enough jobs for everyone now.

Bush and Obama did what the government always does: side with the businesses. They bailed the corporations out, hoping the benefits would trickle down to the people. But it didn’t. We bailed out the banks, and we’re STILL jobless, homeless, and there’s no end in sight. So what good did it do?

The real evil is not the government having too much power. The government proved it’s sucking up to the real power. Giving the businesses what they want in the hopes that they’ll create more jobs, because really, that’s who has the power to create more jobs. That’s why the government didn’t bail out the homeowners who got stuck with bad loans and lost their jobs. Obama did the most logical thing: help the entities who can help the people. But instead of helping the people, it’s business as usual. Assholes.

Case in point: Chase Bank. In 2008 I signed up for free checking. It was free so long as I linked it to a recurring direct deposit. The other day I receive a letter stating that as of February, the checking account will carry a fee if that direct deposit doesn't total at least $500.

Doesn't sound too bad doesn't it? Then I read the fine print: "Two or more direct deposits that add up to $500 or more, but do not individually equal or exceed $500, do not quality."

Translation: If my two paychecks are only, say, $400 and $470, I'll still get charged a $6 fee that month because neither of those deposits was $500. Doesn't matter how many deposits go in; one has to be <= 500 to waive the fee. What bullshit!

This structure doesn't make sense! The average Joe working minimum wage is gonna be the one stuck with these fees, while the people who can actually afford to pay a fee like that will get the free checking. Guess the rich still win.

Obama passed all sorts of laws to curtail the banks' greed, but we knew they'd just find ways around it. They'd create new fees to stick us with, punishing us for their losses. Newton's third law, right?

What makes me even angrier is the banks already rake in the cash from credit card interest. On top of that, they charge the merchants interchange fees just to accept the cards! They're double-dipping, and they're creating new fees because they're losing money on free checking?! God forbid these companies should only turn 5 billion dollar a year profits instead of their usual 8 billion because they can't screw us with overdraft fees anymore.

Comes down to it, I'll just buy five packs of gum a month on debit. So far the banks haven't closed that loophole--making 5 debit purchases a month waives the fee, too. I'm sure the next rule change will be those purchases have to be over a certain dollar amount to qualify. is there no limit to corporate power? Guess it's true: whoever has the gold makes the rules, and we all agree the government does not have the gold.