Monday, February 23, 2009

an odd night for fashion

Well, the Oscars are all over for 2009 (make sure to check out my final reviews for movies I saw prior to the ceremony), and I must say that the dresses this year were among the strangest set I've seen to date for a glamorous red carpet evening. In my opinion, there was way too much chiffon, too many pleats that didn't belong, trains running out of control, and basically just bad prom dresses all over the place. There were a few notable exceptions, but overall, I'd give this year a thumbs-down for Oscar night fashion.

The following were my favorite gowns of the evening...

...and here are just a few of the clunkers.

I'll also take a moment to call out Jennifer Aniston for best hair and Mickey Rourke for what was surely the biggest waste of expensive hair product ever, in the history of mankind.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

pennies from heaven

I'm one of those people who collects coins in jars. Well, I use beakers, like the ones you'd find in a chemistry lab. Anyway, my point is that my penny beaker has been full for a few weeks now, and today I decided it was time to empty it out and get the pennies ready for the bank. But before the pennies and I part ways, I started a counting project, and you can see the fruits of my labor below.

However, in my quest to learn more about that old familiar copper-plated coin, I was quite surprised to discover that 2009 marks a turning point of sorts for the United States one-cent piece. As it turns out, this is the 100th year in which Abraham Lincoln has graced the American penny. As a result (and as a celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth), all pennies minted this year will bear one of four special designs commemorating the occasion. More importantly, however, it means that the 2008 pennies were likely the last in which the reverse side will show the Lincoln memorial. In 2010 the U.S. penny will have a new, more permanent design that will supposedly reflect Lincoln's effort to keep the country together as one United States. Who knew?

While we're on the topic of coins, I also wanted to remind everyone that although the last of the 50 state quarter designs began circulating a few months ago, there are six additional quarters being added for this year. They commemorate the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Be on the lookout for them at a vending machine near you!

And now, without further ado, I present to you a breakdown of my penny collection, which spans from 2005 to today.

Total number of pennies: 412

Average penny age: 20.51 years

Pennies from the 00's: 104

Pennies from the 90's: 92

Pennies from the 80's: 119

Pennies from the 70's: 68

Pennies from the 60's: 24

Pennies from the 50's: 2

Pennies from the 40's: 1

Median penny year: 1989

Years most represented (17 each): 2001, 2000, 1995, 1980

Oldest penny: 1945

Pennies so mangled I couldn't see the year (and therefore not counted in any but the first stat): 1

Pennies that were actually Canadian (ditto): 1

Update: Spurred by this post, a discussion among friends brought to light the penny controversy, so I thought I'd alert you to a recent 60 Minutes piece, which sums the issue up nicely. Thanks to NeatEngine for the link!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

deep thoughts on darwin's 200th

Today is a very special Darwin Day: it would have been Charles Darwin's 200th birthday! If we could talk to his Futurama floating head, I wonder what the iconic biologist would have to say about how the evolution debate has shifted—or not—over the past 150 years. I certainly know what I'd say! Apologies for the vulgarity, but drastic times warrant drastic language...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

the bitch is back

Okay, I'm not gonna mince words, here: I am no fan of poodles. There, I've said it.

Well, let me rephrase. I know some poodles are very nice dogs; I remember a large poodle a childhood friend had, and she was pretty cool, all things considered. And another friend of mine dotes over her little brown guy, who seems genuinely nice. No, the kind I don't like are the types shown at dog shows, with their frou frou and their puffs and their bling-studded collars. Blech.

This week is the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show, the Academy Awards (or you might say America's Next Top Model finals) of the pooch world. Poodles are certainly not the only dogs with major grooming needs during these types of shows. But invariably it's the poodles that get the most preened and plucked. They also get picked as winners way, way, way more often than any other dog in their group. And that makes me mad.

Poodles currently belong to a group called the Non-Sporting Group. This group is kind of the catchall odds-'n-ends group within the WKC world. There are actually two kinds of poodle in the group: the standard and the miniature (a third, the toy poodle, is in the Toy Group). I've always liked the Non-Sporting Group best, because it includes three of my favorite dogs (keeshonden, shiba inu, and chow chows). But these days, I may as well not bother watching the group finals, because the poodles pretty much always steal the show.

Okay, not always, but close. Over the last 87 years that the group award has been given, the standard poodle has won exactly one-third of the time. If you count both the standards and miniatures together, poodles have combined to win in 47 years; that's more than half the time! As a comparison, out of the 19 breeds currently in the Non-Sporting Group, eight of them have never—not once!—won Best in Group (which is basically the semifinals to the main event; the seven group winners go on to compete for Best in Show).

Of course, this begs the question: Is the judging biased? You've got to believe there is something wrong with the picture when one type of dog so dominates the judging that other dogs might as well not even bother showing up. The thing is, judges in the group competition don't compare one dog with another. Since dog breeds are so different, that would really be like comparing apples to oranges. Instead, you're judging how each dog compares to his or her breed's standard. So are you really saying that poodles have some sort of mysterious leg up (and I don't mean the peeing kind) on the breed standard versus other dogs? Is it really possible that poodles are that much more "perfect" compared with their standard than other dogs? Or that their handlers are that much better at training and prepping them than other handlers?

At this point, if you're still with me, you're probably thinking that I should maybe get off the soapbox and take it easy about this seemingly silly issue. It's only dogs, after all. But dog shows are a big business, and it just seems really unfair to me that the same dog gets picked so often, while some breeds, which are perfectly beautiful and unique and awesome, get the shaft time and again. My personal opinion is that poodles shouldn't be groomed so ostentatiously for competitions; I do think that the obsessiveness with the grooming gives them an upper hand. Instead, poodles should be shown with their relatively natural fur style, and there should be grooming awards for those who want to partake in that kind of silliness!

By the way, in case you were wondering, this year's Non-Sporting Group winner was—I'll spare you the drumroll—a standard poodle named Champion Randenn Tristar Affirmation (is it me, or does her name sounds like a used car dealership?). Of course, I'm not really faulting the dog. And despite my grumbling, poodles do not dominate the Best in Show competition nearly as much as they do the group contest. (Randenn ended up losing out to a Sussex spaniel, who took the top dog prize.) But I will nevertheless take this opportunity to once again poo poo puffy poodles.

Update: Okay, I just learned that Champion Randenn was a product of artificial insemination from sperm that had been frozen for 25 years!! If that isn't cheating, I'm not sure what is...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

the slow death of the cd

It still seems like yesterday that I was reading an article in some magazine about a crazy idea that Apple CEO Steve Jobs was about to float out: a new digital store called iTunes. Just how much of a harbinger of doom for traditional music stores this concept would turn out to be was hardly palpable at the time; I definitely remember the article floating sentiments of skepticism across the glossy pages. But harbinger of doom it was, and we have been seeing the effects for close to a decade now.

The most recent bit of gloom was the announcement that in April, Virgin Megastore will cease to operate its two stores in New York City. This comes on the heels of the bankruptcy of Tower Records a couple of years ago, but honestly the death march has been even longer than that. I still remember HMV on the Upper West Side (before it turned into an Urban Outfitters) with fondness, but that has been long gone. Unfortunately, a number smaller independent stores have been forced to shutter their doors as well of late, which is really a shame, since some of these places offered a respite from the cold or the sweltering heat, a place to just sit and listen to the latest offerings when you had nothing better to do—or a craving for new music, and lots of it.

And while I can understand that the concept of the album is going the way of the dodo, it pains me to see CDs becoming more and more scarce. Like collectors of vinyl, I've always had a thing for the look and feel of a physical musical entity. From the shiny (or paper) case to the artwork of the liner notes to the design of the disc itself, I just like manhandling and visualizing a CD album. And I definitely feel like I'm missing out when I buy a song off of iTunes. Sadly, unlike formats of the past, where there was always some newer, smaller format to dream about, there will be no new format to literally have and hold, for the newest (and I predict last) format of music is simply...information.

With that in mind, I'm offering my rebellion. Here are a few genuine, honest-to-goodness CDs I look forward to purchasing, slicing the protector tape off of, and piling up next to my already-too-full CD shelves in 2009: Metric, Neko Case, Doves, Peter Gabriel (if it actually comes out!), Garbage, Massive Attack, and Stars. By the way, Neko Case is running a special promotion to donate money to an animal welfare group for bloggers who post her latest song, People Got a Lotta Nerve, so click on it for a listen! (Okay, now if you liked that, please go out and buy the whole CD, goshdarnit!)