New Year’s Resolutions Revisited

A few readers have gotten on my case for setting the bar too low for this year’s round of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps rightly so, since my campaigns for 2011 consisted merely of learning to drive stick (which, as reader JD points out, ‘can be learned in one night in a parking lot by a 15 year-old’) and settling a petty score with Mission Mission (which in fact already ironed itself out. I was kidding, anyway… I love Mission Mission).

Lest this year become a flabby, ambitionless couch potato of a year, I’ve conceded that I should add something more challenging to the mix. So here it is:

Launch, win frivolous lawsuit against Facebook (2011)
Status: open

Inspired by a recent movie you may also have seen, I will patch together a baseless claim that I came up with idea of a social networking site litigiously similar to Facebook back in 1999. The suit will be filed by two identical twin plaintiffs, both of whom will be played by me– a masterstroke allowing me to double my profits from the damages that will surely be awarded to me. The case will conclude with a crisply-written scene in which I fly to California and deliver withering one-liner putdowns to Sean Parker and/or Justin Timberlake. If recent cinema has taught us anything, it’s that suing Facebook is a near guarantee of quick money, so I imagine that I should be able to wrap this up by sometime in October or November.

By the way: now that I’m no longer bearing a grudge against Mission Mission, I can draw your attention to a recent post over there that I enjoyed a lot, as it involves some good old fashioned dextrous punning:

I don’t think I like this: the space previously occupied by Papa Potrero’s Pizzaon 24th and Potrero will soon be “Wok and Go”.

It’s not that I have a problem with Chinese food or puns. In fact, if I ever open a Vietnamese restaurant I plan on calling it “Phở- geddabout it!” or “Banh Mi? Banh YOU!” (Just to be clear, it will also have a mob theme. Servers will wear track suits and slicked-back hair.)

It’s just that most puns are based on an existing phrase or premise. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term “Walk and Go”. A simple Google search confirms this. May I suggest, “Go for a Wok”? “All Wok and No Play”? Can’t go “Wong” with those.

Woah. So that’s what it sounds like when an entire neighborhood groans simultaneously.

[via annagaz]

A Hooters Running Diary

A running diary of the Hooters’ contemptible ‘And We Danced’ video:

[Note: if you’re looking this and trying to decide whether or not you want to read on, I suggest scrolling down and clicking on the second video clip– it’s the best part.]

00:07-00:14: Opening scenes. A hazy vision of rural, 1950s heartland America, a throwback to a more innocent time of sock hops and white picket fences.

00:15-00:30: Except that now two teenage boys are being thrown into the back of car, presumably as a prelude to being slain execution-style at some later point in the video. First-ever carjacking? I’m confused.

00:38-00:44: Strains of mandolin and melodica. Hmm, this isn’t so bad. Maybe we lucked out and stumbled into a Los Lobos video.

00:45-01:01: Senseless parade of 1950s tropes continues sweeping shot of vintage cars waiting to enter a drive-in movie.

I tend to associate the cultural hard-on for fifties revivalism with the 1970s (e.g. Grease, Happy Days) and forget how much it haunted us through the eighties and even into the nineties. We weren’t really into the clear until The Wonder Years was finally cancelled in 1993.

01:02-01:15: Uh oh.

01:16-01:17: Girl gets out of car and bounds towards Hooters while executing one of the two classic 80s dances: skipping while vigorously clapping hands above head.

01:19-01:20: Senseless torture of two boys trapped in car trunk at the hands of their captors. I can barely watch.

01:24-01:26: Who represents the better catch: A bee-bop baby on a hard day’s night (in other words, the heroine of this song)? Or: A small town girl on a Saturday night, albeit one who’s dancing like she’s never danced before?

01:27-01:30: Hooters keyboardist/vocalist Rob Hyman deftly executes a variant of above-described hopping-and-clapping dance with hands clapping below head.

01:31-01:34: There are a lot of different cheesy things in this video… but Hyman’s hand gestures during the ‘She was hanging on Johnny, he was holding on tight” part are really a crime against humanity.

01:49-01:51: WOW. Just a tremendous buildup to the chorus. Hyman’s combination hand-flip/leg-kick move at 01:50 might be the signature moment of 80s cheese ever captured on camera.

Let’s slow the playback rate down to 10% and take a closer look at the moves of this lovetorn young troubador:

Maybe I should do an animated gif version of the big climax… hmmm.

02:04-02:08: Satanically, there’s now second Hooters lead vocalist (guitarist Eric Bazilian) who has the same voice as the first.

02:20-02:36: There’s something about each of these guys’ necks that is too taunt and generally very hard for me to look at.

02:37-03:29: Nevermind.

03:30-03:43: No depiction of 1950s teenage America could be complete without an appearance by The Nerd. So here is he is: cringing in fear and throwing popcorn all over himself as bikers drive past him. God, this video is so wholly unimaginative, I want to kill myself.

03:50-03:52: Kidnapped boys finally beaten to death with a tire iron.

03:54: Look closely at the bottom-right corner of screen and you’ll see that Hyman does the hand-fling/leg-kick move AGAIN here.

04:30-04:38: In a final twist, the mandolin and melodica part is reprised, but with Hyman and Brazilian having displaced the Los Lobos guys.

04:39: “And we sucked! Like a wave on the ocean, romance…”

Cognitive Dissonance

Two things I’m finding confusing right now:

1. Taste dissonance: grapes and raisins. Given that grapes and raisins are practically the same thing, you would expect their tastes to be complementary. So why is the experience of eating one and then the other in rapid succession so unappetizing? Try it for yourself– it’s surprisingly bad.

2. Not-so-fundamental nature of the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’. The Fundamental Attribution Error is super cool-sounding. But the phenomenon it describes isn’t really all that fundamental: basically, if you step in poop, I’m likely to assume that it happened because you’re the kind of person who steps in poop, whereas if I do it, I’m likely to assume that its because the poop was poorly placed. This reflects an interesting bias, but it’s not like the phenomenon crops up all that often.

To me, it seems to me that ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’ would better describe the phenomenon where somebody mistakes a symptom of a situation for its cause. For example: lots of people are having accidents, and there are lots of ambulances on the streets– therefore, the ambulances must be causing the accidents. This comes up more often than the step-in-poop phenomenon described above, if you ask me.

I wonder if people who work in various fields of social science are secretly miffed that ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’ got scooped up and used before they had a chance to claim it for whatever mistake-tendency they happen to be researching.

(Image: Josef Muller-Brockmann poster designed for public service campaign against noise pollution. Actually has nothing to do with cognitive dissonance, but works nicely together so long as you don’t speak German).

Unicorns And The People Who Love Them

I’m currently working on a follow-up article for Smashing Magazine on another design-related topic, one that comes out of a lecture I give to my Prague College students. In the lecture, I use the following image in a joking manner to make a point about images that have no ‘concept’ or ‘message’ behind them:

This image is awesome, and I badly want to use it in the Smashing Mag version of the lecture… but the digital rights usage issues are tricky in this case. It’s not Creative Commons territory, and its not something I found off a cheap stock image site where you can buy the rights for a song. Initially, I couldn’t remember where I had gotten it from, and presumed (accurately, as it turns out) that it was just something I’d grabbed from a google images search while harriedly throwing together a school lecture as fast as was humanly possible.

Thus began a tortuous journey down the obscure cul-de-sacs of the information superhighway, in search of the individual who owns the rights to a certain image, in the hopes of successfully begging this individual for permission to use the image without any cash switching hands. Ready to begin my journey, I mounted Cassiopeia, holding firmly on to her snow-white mane while her slender, spiraled horn flashed against the sky. With the cautious grace of a deer, she set off through the Elysian Fields of the internet, as we began our magical digital rights quest.

A little googling around brought me to, where the image is handsomely available in this gilded frame…

… and with this description:

Matching Unicorn and Princess

This intimate scene set in a forest shows a young, blonde woman tenderly embracing a white unicorn. The unicorn’s blonde mane is sprinkled with glitter and reflects in the rays of light breaking through between the trees.

This loving description led me to think that perhaps I’d found the rights-owner of this image. The site has no contact information, but it seems to belong to something called (brace yourself) the Cornify Network (which also incldues UnicornPedia, FYI). The flagship of the network is, which makes no bones about their desire to ‘wish you sparkly happiness forever!!‘ straight away on the homepage in Comic Sans font.

A little more digging into their About page revealed this charter statement:

What is Cornify?

Cornify is the #1 unicorn and rainbow service on the internet, and quite possibly in the world.[*]

We help spread happiness by providing sophisticated unicorn and rainbow tools and services to website publishers, bloggers and the general internet audience. The philosophy behind Cornify can be summed up by this simple equation “unicorns + rainbows = happiness”. This very simple insight drives the team behind Cornify to push the latest web technology into realms previously unthinkable to optimize the happiness-per-user ratio online.

(* This claim confused me, only because it would never have occurred to me that the #1 unicorn and rainbow service would live anywhere but on the internet.)

I’m not exactly sure how to tell you this, but my next discovery was that Cornify won the People’s Choice Award at South by Southwest Web Awards in 2010, beating out interactive giants such as Hulu and Flickr. Wow.

Anyway, I found a contact email  and sent the following request:

Dear Cornify,

I am writing an educational article for about graphic design. I would like to use the enchanting* ‘Princess and Unicorn’ image (link) from UnicornPictures to illustrate a point that I am making about graphic design. I do not see a contact address for UnicornPictures or UnicornPedia, so I’m wondering if you own the rights to this image and whether you would kindly grant me permission to use it for this purpose?

Keep up the smiles!*


(* I admit to a certain amount of shameless pandering here in my quest for rights permission.)

Promptly, this cheerful (and surprisingly pragmatic, I might add) response came back:

Aloha Dan,

I don’t own any rights to that image. Considering the site has been up for a year and nobody has said anything, you should be fine just using it as you see fit.

Good luck with the article.


Attached as a footer was this little animated gif of a prancing unicorn:

So, at this date of writing, my quest is still ongoing (I’ve since generated new leads by tracking the artist’s name, which appears in bottom left corner of image). But I know a lot more about internet unicorn sub-culture, rainbows and smiles than I did before. And, I know who won SXSW 2010.

New Year’s Resolution Scorecard

People generally express surprise whenever I mention that I’m a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. I guess the thinking is that, being a coastal elite / leering smartass, I’m supposed to express contempt towards this type of conventional, pokey idealism. Au contraire! (as we coastal elites say)– self-improvement is a fucking bitch, so it makes sense to approach it in a structured manner that provides a framework of manageable expectations: tackle one or two big things per year… otherwise just stay the course and don’t change a thing. Seems like sound advice to me. Also, the fact that you get a year to accomplish your goals seems like a reasonable timeframe– you get a few months of procrastination, then a productive sense of urgency kicks in around October to finish the job.

Not that I have anything like an unblemished record with my resolutions, but there have been a few winners over the years. Here are my resolutions for this year, plus a few notable hits and misses from the recent past:

1. Chew food more before swallowing (2008)
Status: closed

OK, this one was partly tongue-in-cheek. I admit that I came up with it the day before New Year’s, and that the idea came from watching a Suzanne Somers (shown above with Thighmaster) infomercial. But it’s a good one that I legitimately recommend. You truly enjoy your food more, plus its a zen easy-to-do-but-hard-to-remember type thing that poses an interesting challenge of behavior modification.

2. Learn to drive stick (2010, 2011)
Status: open

I failed on this one last year and am officially rolling it over to this year. Yes, I actually presently own a car that I’m not able to drive. I feel that this fact is literally more humiliating and inconveniencing to me than every single other embarrassing aspect of my life combined.

3. Get involved in book cover design (2006, 2007, 2008)
Status: sort of closed, but still kind of waiting

This one was notable in that it took me three tries and a move to Europe to accomplish (I remain convinced that this goal would have unattainable in San Francisco– worming my way into the doings of a cool small press would be like trying to become a veterinarian in terms of the level of competition one would face in that city. Meanwhile, in Prague, if you have a creative idea, you’re quite likely the only person who’s thought of it…) Finally, I made good on this (see here, here and here), although I’m still waiting for the projects to be published. So, maybe there’s hope yet for me to learn stick.

4. Wreak revenge on Mission Mission for dropping me from their blog roll (2011)
Status: open

At some point over the summer, Mission Mission unaccountably dropped me from their blog roll. I say ‘unaccountably’ because, if they were generally pruning down their blog roll and only leaving blogs of the highest quality, I would understand… but, in fact, they’ve kept all kinds of lame things up there that haven’t been updated in months, or are super self-indulgent and crappy, etc. Granted, this resolution is only half-serious, as I do still love Mission Mission. But I’m also a small and petty man in many ways. So, watch out, Mission Mission: If I ever learn how to drive stick, there’ll be no stopping me and my vindictive score-settling.


Update: OK, blog roll link has since been reinstated. Apparently, it was deleted by accident.

Single Serving Friend

Remember the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton’s character describes people he meets on airplanes as ‘single serving friends’? I had a good single serving friend experience on our outbound flight to the US right before Christmas. We were standing in line waiting to check in and subconsciously steeling ourselves for the experience of taking a transatlantic flight with an 18 month-old kid (which can range from ‘just fine– lots of fun!’ to ‘total apocalypse’, depending on your luck). In front of us, some frazzled looking guy was getting dressed down while trying to check in, furiously zipping and unzipping bags, apologetically stammering to ticket agents, his possessions eventually spreading out and occupying most of two ticket counters. I didn’t know what was going on with him exactly… but suddenly I realized it’s this guy I know! Specifically, this friendly but somewhat hapless character who runs a business helping expats sort out their working papers in Czech, whom I hired to stand in a bunch of lines for me during time-consuming bureaucratic situations. I made a point of cheerfully regaling him right in the middle of his crisis but got no information other than a couple of typical rueful statements along the lines of Yeesh, I don’t know why they’re giving me such a hard time, etc.

Fast forward to an hour into the flight, when a flight attendant suddenly scampers by us and asks ‘Did you just see a little kitty run this way?’. I initially that this is some fictitious ruse she has invented to amuse my infant son, but then it becomes clear to me that there is in fact a cat on the loose in the cabin. A few moments later, the Hapless Guy scurries up the aisle right behind the flight attendant, at which point it became apparent that it’s his cat. Since we’re only one-seventh of the way into the flight, and I can’t imagine a cat readily giving itself up for capture, I begin to fantasize that the cabin will be covered in ‘Have You See This Cat?’ notices by the end of the flight.

Finally, 800 readings of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? later, we arrive in New York with my son making passes at a woman 32 times his age in the seat behind us. As we thread our way off the plane, we again see the Hapless Guy ahead of us, who’s carrying his cat in one arm and a bag stuffed full of folders and papers that’s perilously unzipped and seems about to capsize in the other. ‘You’re bag’s open, big time!’ I yell after him.’Oh, that’s OK, the zipper’s totally broken,’ he answers back nonchalantly. In the end, I wound up feeling a bit envious of his half-assed antics– of his latitude to fly in the most disorganized, discombobulated states of unpreparedness, whereas our flights now require an armada of possessions, a  high degree of organization and planning, plus nerves of steel to simply step on a plane with a tiny person who generally doesn’t like to sit still for more than two minutes at a time. So, I tip my hat to you, Hapless Guy– long may you feel your oats.