Twist Street

Sam Westing, Barney Northrup, Sandy McSouthers, Julian R. Eastman, & Me

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I have to be very careful about how I phrase this traumatic childhood memory,” Sam tells me, recalling an incident, when he was five, between his mother and a famous neighbor. “I walked in on Groucho Marx and my mother in my parents’ bedroom. They were both on the bed. They were fully clothed. I saw him jump off the bed into my sight line, and then she was sitting up.” Sam starts chuckling. “I don’t know exactly what happened. My mother might have been fighting for her honor.” He laughs again. “Though I think I may have overheard Groucho saying, ‘I can see you in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. Now I can’t see the stove.’
From an article about The Simpsons's Sam Simon, who has terminal cancer.

Filed under comedy nerdery

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Before any of the six entrants in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup had nudged a white pawn to e4, they’d already been hailed as the strongest collection of chess talent ever assembled. The tournament, held in St. Louis, featured the top three players in the game. The weakest competitor in the field was the ninth best chess player on the planet.

The favorite was current world No. 1 and reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen. The young Norwegian—who is among the best players in the history of chess—strolled into the lounge of the St. Louis Chess Club as the most alluring grandmaster ever, a brilliant, handsome 23-year-old with a modeling contract for the clothing company G-Star Raw. Forget about his overmatched foes. If anything could stop Carlsen, his fans reckoned, it would be the swirl of distractions occupying the parts of his brain not given over to memorizing Nimzo-Indian variations.

As the tournament began on Aug. 27, Carlsen was mired in an ongoing faceoff with FIDE, the international governing body of chess. There are a few things you should probably know about FIDE—or the Federation Internationale des Echecs, if you’re feeling continental. FIDE is, by all accounts, comically corrupt, in the vein of other fishy global sporting bodies like FIFA and the IOC. Its Russian president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has hunkered in office for nearly two decades now, was once abducted by a group of space aliens dressed in yellow costumes who transported him to a faraway star. Though I am relying here on Ilyumzhinov’s personal attestations, I have no reason to doubt him, as this is something about which he has spoken quite extensively. He is of the firm belief that chess was invented by extraterrestrials, and further “insists that there is ‘some kind of code’ in chess, evidence for which he finds in the fact that there are 64 squares on the chessboard and 64 codons in human DNA.”
I’ve only read these three first paragraphs of this Seth Stevenson article entitled “Grandmaster Clash: One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed" and it’s already one of the best things I’ve read all year.

Filed under best of year 2014 questionmark

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On August 29, Popular Science published a map of interceptor towers — surveillance devices that masquerade as cell phone towers to intercept voice and data transmissions from every cell user in an area. 19 of the interceptors were found in the United States in August, and two more popped up on September 5: one in Garden City, NY, and another in downtown Las Vegas. They were spotted by owners of the CryptoPhone 500 device, a roughly $3,500 ultra-high-end phone that allows ordinary, if well-heeled, citizens to see surveillance invisible to standard phones.

[…] [A]midst this thicket of government and police surveillance, security experts cannot rule out the possibility that foreign spies or criminal hackers are also using the cell tower simulators in the United States. The most sophisticated interceptors cost roughly $100,000, though a skilled, determined hacker could cobble together a basic interceptor for less than $2,000.

In June, an ACLU of Florida public records request in Sarasota, Florida, showed that the police there had a policy to conceal the use of “Stingray” tech used to track suspects — preventing “the criminal element,” as well as judges and defense attorneys, from knowing the source of the surveillance. In March, police officers in Tallahassee admitted to using the technology at least 200 times since 2010 without telling a judge, due to a non-disclosure agreement signed with the technology manufacturer Harris Corporation. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that the FBI has a longstanding policy to expunge any mention of “Stingray” use from official reports.

Who Is Running Phony Cell Phone Towers Around The United States?"  

"Security experts cannot rule out the possibility that foreign spies or criminal hackers…"  (c/o)

Filed under Civilization is Doomed.

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John Dies at the End (2012):  Uchhhh. I’d heard good things when this came out, but I can’t say I thought much of it … I kind of disliked that one, even though I’d say there’s a good half-hour or so in there.  It really just becomes less and less as it goes on.  The first half-hour or so is pretty energetic and seems to set up something— the title sets up something— but then there’s just no payoff worth mentioning to anything.  At first it seems like it’s going to be a whole trippy thing which sounded fun, but then in the middle it’s like “oh okay, they’re making some kind of homage to low-budget 80’s sci-fi/horror movies— it’s Don Coscarelli and I like Don Coscarelli so I’ll watch him do that" … but then it just even devolves from there and becomes just … all happy-slappy at the end.  Just some non-descript white frat brahs who fight monsters haha beer sports farts.  That’s a CW show I wouldn’t want to watch.  Spoiler(?), but the title not having any payoff to me was just really, really obnoxious— off-the-charts obnoxious.
It’s weird— the characters in that movie just became so much less interesting and less likable as that movie progressed.  They just became these smug shits by the end…I do like Don Coscarelli and he’s doing fun Don Coscarelli shit throughout— or I like that first Phantasm at least, what he pulled off there.  It’s written by some Cracked-dot-com guy.  (He’d written a dopey “nerds need to learn that the world is cruel” thing that basic people pass around, but that kind of Internet King-of-the-Castle’s Going to Lecture The Nerds writing tends to aggravate me real easy, if it’s not done a certain way…).  I think coming from a book guy, especially if it’s one noticeably “influenced” by Doug Adams, it probably had a tough problem to solve that… the movie worked best with the more writer-y bits towards the beginning (the opening scene works, I’d say), but editing being what it is, you can’t keep doing parts like that nearer the end of the movie. But at which point, there’s just no story or characters there to make up for it. 

John Dies at the End (2012):  Uchhhh. I’d heard good things when this came out, but I can’t say I thought much of it … I kind of disliked that one, even though I’d say there’s a good half-hour or so in there.  It really just becomes less and less as it goes on.  The first half-hour or so is pretty energetic and seems to set up something— the title sets up something— but then there’s just no payoff worth mentioning to anything.  At first it seems like it’s going to be a whole trippy thing which sounded fun, but then in the middle it’s like “oh okay, they’re making some kind of homage to low-budget 80’s sci-fi/horror movies— it’s Don Coscarelli and I like Don Coscarelli so I’ll watch him do that" … but then it just even devolves from there and becomes just … all happy-slappy at the end.  Just some non-descript white frat brahs who fight monsters haha beer sports farts.  That’s a CW show I wouldn’t want to watch.  Spoiler(?), but the title not having any payoff to me was just really, really obnoxious— off-the-charts obnoxious.

It’s weird— the characters in that movie just became so much less interesting and less likable as that movie progressed.  They just became these smug shits by the end…I do like Don Coscarelli and he’s doing fun Don Coscarelli shit throughout— or I like that first Phantasm at least, what he pulled off there.  It’s written by some Cracked-dot-com guy.  (He’d written a dopey “nerds need to learn that the world is cruel” thing that basic people pass around, but that kind of Internet King-of-the-Castle’s Going to Lecture The Nerds writing tends to aggravate me real easy, if it’s not done a certain way…).  I think coming from a book guy, especially if it’s one noticeably “influenced” by Doug Adams, it probably had a tough problem to solve that… the movie worked best with the more writer-y bits towards the beginning (the opening scene works, I’d say), but editing being what it is, you can’t keep doing parts like that nearer the end of the movie. But at which point, there’s just no story or characters there to make up for it. 

Filed under Movies I Saw in 2014

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December Covers

Comic-nerd stuff: It was nagging at me the other day that years and years ago, I used to do this thing, where I’d look at all the comic covers the mainstream publishers were soliciting months out, and pick out the “good ones”— the couple that I thought actually stood out from the usual mess those companies put out there.  Hadn’t done it in years— kinda missed it, once I realized that’d stopped happening.  

So I’m going to spend my lunchbreak doing that under a jump, just for Marvel, DC and Image (because I haven’t seen any other solicitations from other publishers— don’t really know where to look anymore, actually…?).  Not too many covers because… there aren’t too many I’m into (a lot of bad paintings).  Sorry if jumps don’t work on phones…?  I don’t know how that works— if those don’t work on phones, let me know and I’ll … apologize…?  (I’m just really paranoid about that).  This is obviously without saying any of these books will be or are any good or not— just looking at covers qua covers…

Read more …

Filed under Worst Hobby or Worstest Hobby? drawrings

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I hadn’t seen this video of the Red Letter Media guys watching all three Transformers movie simultaneously when it first went around, but I kind of want them to do this a bunch more with all different kinds of movies.  Like, bad romantic comedies, Bond movies, whatever…

Filed under Youtube Gives Me Feelings. insomniyeah!