Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not Your Typical Catholic Christening

No, I don’t fake bake and I don’t wear bumpettes in my hair. But, I’m from New Jersey. Before leaving New Jersey for California, I wasn’t so rah-rah about the land of the waffle houses, 24-hour diners, and the gas stations where it’s illegal to pump your own gas. But, since my time at Stanford, I have gotten super-defensive about it. Especially after the explosion of trashy but addicting reality TV shows like Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey (though I have yet to see an episode of E!’s Jerseylicious), the hate came tenfold from people all over. When meeting new classmates, people would greet the news that I hailed from NJ with, “Oh, Joisey?” Mm yeah, that’s a laugh. Real original. How long did it take you to think of that? Or they think I’m joking when I say NJ is the Garden State. I’m not. Really, look it up. However, at the same time, trashy reality TV is like a car crash, it’s brutal but I can’t look away. And the Real Housewives of New Jersey Series fall under this category. Though I originally boycotted Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey because it sends the wrong message about the general population of New Jersey, I finally gave in. Because at the end of the day, these reality stars are so over-the-top that these 40-something-minute snippets of their lives paint them as characters, rather than people, that it’s less about where they’re from and more about the drama they bring to the viewers.

Which brings me to the Season 3 Premiere episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey. After two seasons of the Real Housewives of New Jersey episodes under my TV viewership belt, I thought the show had reached the peak of its drama. From Teresa Guidice’s “prostitution whore” rant and table-flipping directed at Danielle Staub, to Jacqueline’s daughter’s weave-ripping incident with Danielle, I thought I had seen it all. However, at Melissa and Joey Gorga’s infant son’s christening party, things got ugly. With the Joey and Joe yelling obscenities and attempting to charge at each other, causing other christening partygoers to either hold the two men back or start brawling with other partygoers, in addition to the children crying and telling their parents to stop fighting, the christening party was anything but a wholesome affair. However, unlike the other drama that has happened in the past, I wasn’t laughing at the train wreck I was watching. Rather, I was wide-eyed, slightly horrified, but engrossed. And it somewhat pained me to see Teresa and her husband at such odds with Teresa’s brother and his family. Caroline, another Real Housewife on this show, said last year that “blood is thicker than water.” Family is very important, especially on this show, and the fact that there is so much drama and tension between the Guidices and Gorgas is kinda tough to watch. But, this season premiere has drawn me in further, not because it’s even more over-the-top than I ever expected it to be, but because the bit of vulnerability these cast members show the camera, weaved into the craziness, extravagance, and absurdity of the show, adds some depth to these characters, even if it does so ever so slightly.

And, for all the craziness I can’t personally relate to, I agree with Teresa’s opening credits one-liner, “I’m a Jersey girl. No one can knock me down.” Real talk.

- Sarah Gepigon

Monday, May 30, 2011

UEFA Champion's League

UEFA Champions League. Does it ring a bell? How about if I say FIFA World Cup? Can you guess what the UEFA Champions League might be referring to now? Yes, it involves feet and a ball, a sport our European counterparts rightfully refer to as fútbol.

Unlike the World Cup, UEFA Champions occurs annually, bringing together the most talented, renown, expensive, and competitive European clubs into one sphere where fans everywhere can watch them compete for glory. This year, the championship culminated in a face-off between Spain’s FC Barcelona and England’s Manchester United. Tensions and expectations were high as both teams had much to offer, but unfortunately, the victory was decided long before the match began—with Barcelona as the undisputed victor. Not only does Barça carry the four of world’s best players, but their mastery of the game and strong-arm tactics make them an undefeatable team as well. It may seem a bit of hyperbole to say that Barcelona is undefeatable, but the statistics don’t lie, and they currently support my seemingly exaggerated assertions. Barcelona’s past victories against reputable clubs are universally recognized as complete dominations. It is sad to observe “great” teams struggle against Barcelona, but Barcelona never disappoints. Fans everywhere, and Manchester United, had known this, and Barcelona’s performance on Saturday confirmed that they are indeed the best. Barcelona defeated Manchester United 3-1, with 22 shots on goal (compared to Manchester’s 4 shots), and 68% of the possession of the ball.

It is indisputable that Manchester was dominated in their home turf on Saturday. But this event and its tremendous viewership demonstrate how this exhilarating sport is gaining fame. According to Seth Pollack of SB Nation Arizona, viewership for the Champion’s league final reached over 300 million viewers. In the aftermath, Nielsen’s Media Research reported that viewership has indeed increased as they observed a 93% increase in views over the previous season. Perhaps the chance to witness such beautiful soccer, as performed by world-class players, is what is drew the larger amount of viewers, but the point is, a once under-recognized sport is finally gaining the recognition it deserves.

Although the author may appear to have an unshakable bias against any team that isn’t Barcelona, this impression is far from the truth. The author is a fervent supporter of Chelsea FC. His perspective is said to be “neutral”.

Santiago Naranjo

Just One More Tab: Being a Troper

What’s fun, addictive, informative, and rhymes with television myopes? Of course, I’m talking about the venerable Television Tropes (and Idioms) wiki. For the efficient and busy members of society, be warned: TV Tropes will ruin your life. What is it? According to its home page, it is a “catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction,” though by its own admission it is “not a stuffy encyclopedic wiki…a [lot] more informal.” That means it analyzes and notes all sorts of different media techniques, ranging from pages on the Rule Of Cool (characters that are too cool in a film or series are immune from death), to the Infinity Plus One Sword (an object, usually associated with fighting video games, that is very difficult to obtain but basically invincible) to Insane Troll Logic (self-explanatory). The genius comes in the list of organized examples from different media (video games, advertising, movies, real life) for the current page’s trope submitted by readers, with witty or biting humor often included for fans to appreciate. In true wiki fashion, the page and examples all link to other relevant tropes, most of which have amusing or relatable names (how can you not click on a page titled Arson, Murder and Jaywalking?), made even worse by the ability to add tabs to a computer. After TV tropes, tabbing will no longer be a verb for pressing that button on your computer keyboard.

Why is it so popular? Well, for people with souls (just kidding, it would take a lot more than not having a soul to dislike TV Tropes), TV Tropes represents our need to socialize and connect at its best: giving us a medium to explore and understand what we see every day, and be able to connect with society. There’s just something special in being able to understand the magician’s tricks. To paraphrase physicist Richard Feynman, there’s a beauty in enjoying something, and a separate beauty in understanding its deep meaning. Obviously, a lot of the points will only make sense to you if you recognize it, but just like the well-loved Wikipedia, TV Tropes is expansive enough to provide something for everyone, whether you watch television or study literary deconstructionism for a living. It’s all in good fun, though, and don’t worry; if you’re confused about what I’ve been talking about just check out It Makes Sense In Context; it’ll clear things up. Take My Word For It.

Alborz Bejnood

The Guilt-Free Pleasures of Epic Meal Time

This new Youtube video series may, at first, appear to be a group of idiotic guys that simply like to create the unhealthiest meals with as much bacon as possible. But, in reality their meals are quite creative and innovative. They are able to create elaborate meals using culinary expertise while taking you on an ‘epic’ adventure (with an epic soundtrack to boot) in search of ingredients and the actual creation. In one episode titled “Breakfast of Booze” with a tagline “getting drunk off of breakfast,” they create a feast of bacon chocolate chip beer waffles, and pancakes, bacon wrapped ham, and creamy sausage blankets all dipped in beer batter topped off with whipped cream and candied bacon. The show provides an escape from conventional cooking and always ends with someone devouring the feast.

Besides catchy phrases like “bacon strips, bacon strips” or “sauce boss” Epic Meal Time has found alternative ways to find the hearts of its viewers. By creating epic meals with ridiculous caloric contents (up to 40,000), the creators of Epic Meal Time allow you to live vicariously through their cooking and forget about the constant worry about counting calories if only for the brief 5 minute video. We can watch them create a steak-shaped slab of cookie dough covered in chocolate and a candy version of cheeseburgers and hotdogs completely guilt-free. This appeal to our secret desire for combining the tastiest, greasiest foods into one dish makes the show so popular. No one in their right health-conscious mind would even imagine a recipe for a pizza composed of fast food contents. But, we are able to see our craziest food dreams come to life through this series of cooking shows without having to worry about the cost to our health and wallets.

Halo the new Star Wars?

Bungie's Halo initiated a revolution in the genre of first-person shooters. Since its inception in 2001, Halo has been the chimerical avatar for Microsoft's venture into the gaming console industry, spearheading the release of the original Xbox and facilitating the success of the system in a market dominated by Playstation fanatics. In fact, the game has become so popular, the term "halo killer" was coined for the most promising up and coming games ready to take the thunderous spotlight from the billion dollar franchise. However no game has ever come to rival Halo's impressive arsenal of multiplayer matchmaking, captivating story, and loyal fan community that has come to be known among gamers as "The Seventh Column."
What started the tumultuous legend was Halo: Combat Evolved. Set on an alien RingWorld, gamers play as the sole survivor from a contingency of super-soldiers bred for Humanity's last stand against the assault of an unyielding alien race. The franchise grew from the solitary game to include nine books, a series of anime shorts, two graphic novels, five comics, three reference books, and an encyclopedia. That's not counting the six games, whose gross income exceeds over 2 billion dollars. The "Halo Universe," as it is called, has far exceeded the reach of a few videogames to encompass something akin the the world created by Star Wars.
As a loyal fan myself, one of the most memorable aspects of the halo world has been the multiplayer. Being the first first-person shooter I ever played, the hours spent dueling in online matchmaking or just against fellow siblings and cousins was a memorable bonding experience that has carried over to college friendships and dorm comraderie. As I move on as gamer Halo will always hold a special place in my heart. As the one that started it all, as time becomes more sparse I will always make time to play the most memorable game the gaming industry has to offer. I stand proudly with the rest of the Seventh Column.

James Acevedo

Underground Music Spotlight: 2562 Album Review

Prominent underground artist Dave Huismans, otherwise known as "2562", released his full-length album "Fever" worldwide in March, 2011. He combines elements of techno, broken funk, and dubstep in his music, which uses the bassline as a primary voice in songs. Here is a track-by-track review of "Fever," with youtube links to my favorite tunes on the album. Simply put, this album is out of this world, where 2562 masterfully weaves some of the deepest basslines with otherworldly melodies. I highly recommend this one.

1. Winamp Melodrama - Huismans uses broken Windows samples to create a hard-hitting rhythm. Good use of effects like filters and masterful sampling accompanies this tune. A fair opener to the album, albeit slightly repetitive. My Rating: 7/10

2. Cheater - very upbeat vibes with the drum beats and a weighty, melodic bassline make this a great track on the low and middle sections. I was left wanting more from the high-end, until hearing the trippy synth lines. My Rating: 7.5 / 10

3. Juxtapose - Great broken percussion on this track, with a deep wobbly bassline to accompany it. The hip-hop style, high-end synth shows how 2562 is a master of several genres of music. Recommended! My Rating: 8.5 / 10

4. Aquatic Family Affair - Deep, underwater sounding bassline with a strangely uplifting synth line. Nice animal noises. This song has great builds too, that keep listeners enraptured throughout the entire song. Highly recommended! My Rating: 9.5 / 10

5. Intermission - Very Melodic with a deep, funky bassline that keeps the body moving! The instrumentation on this track is great, everything comes together nicely. And I found this one strangely uplifting (strangely uplifting is definitely a common theme of this album...) My Rating: 9 / 10
Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC2BzXUi1Ic

6. Flavour Park Jam - Eerie bells with a growling dark bassline open this track up to create a dark mood, while 2562 shows off his percussive skills with a minimal drum line. Finally this song adds a wobbly mid-range synth line that's strangely uplifting. Very sonically pleasing tune. My Rating: 9 / 10

7. This is Hardcore - the only thing hardcore about this song is the heavily processed, rolling bassline that constitutes most of this track. Tribal sounding drums complement the bassline while a moving organ darkens the tone of this song. My Rating: 8.5 / 10

8. Brasil Deadwalker - A very fast drumline pushes this moving track, which quickly introduces a deep, groovy bassline. The song's breakdown is completely out of this world, this is where 2562 takes his music to new levels. His manipulation of the main melody, expertly throwing the rhythm slightly off-beat really captured me. I feel the drums were a little too repetitive in this track, however. My Rating: 8.5 / 10

9. Final Frenzy - I really like the old vintage feel that Huismans uses on this track. The drums really got me moving too! Definitely one of my favorites. This feels like a driving music of a pseudo-reality, and I completely enjoy it. My Rating: 9.5 / 10
Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIGwEbO1kgY

10. Wasteland - The second half of this album is really groundbreaking when it comes to 2562's sonic stylings, and Wasteland is no exception. This one has a very tribally feel which makes me imagine some sort of futuristic, tribal ritual in a post-apocalyptic society. Word. This track has a downright epic use of samples as well. If you don't have a subwoofer, you probably can't hear half of this song. My Rating: 9 / 10

11. Fever - This song is, without a doubt, one of the reasons why I am a fan of 2562. The distorted female vocals really work wonders with 2562's light use of percussion and deep, moving bassline. Elevator music of the year 2050? I think yes! 2562 is truly a master of bass music. I highly recommend this song. My Rating: 10 / 10
Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjqvnw4ouZw

Chuck Season Finale

I can appreciate the new villain. I can (barely) appreciate the (often disgustingly sweet) relationship between Chuck and Sarah. I can appreciate John Casey’s uber masculinity. I can appreciate the heck out of Jeffster. Here’s the problem: I cannot appreciate Morgan Grimes with the Intersect.
Lovable as he is, Morgan as a super spy is extremely farfetched. Transforming Chuck, the awkward klutzy geek of the Buy More, into a kung-fu master overnight just walked the line between over the top and perfect comedic genius. Transforming Morgan into any sort of successful spy will be analogous to sprinting across that same line full force, or apparently in Morgan’s case, doing running back flips over it.
Morgan is the man child responsible for pitting Jeff and Lester against each other in a cage fight. He’s the guy who failed every single spy test that Casey created for him. He’s the one who used to hide under Ellie’s bed and watch her change. The one who always serves as the bait in missions because he’s not skilled enough to do anything else.
Morgan is lovable andhe’s a necessary comedic aspect to an incredibly successful show. Chuck probably wouldn’t be the same without Morgan, but he will never be the perfect spy and in trying to make him one, the season 4 finale of Chuck has finally gotten too ridiculous for my tastes.

Like LikeALittle a little too much?

The opposite sex has a constant presence in the mind of a typical college student. Sitting at Green Library entirely absorbed in a 10 page paper, math 51 problem set, or whatever intellectual undertaking that should demand 100% of your attention at that time, can be a window of opportunity to scope out an attractive interest. So what should you do when someone does catch your eye? Go to LikeALittle.com. Obviously.

Of course, the possibility that this person will actually go onto LikeALittle.com at that exact moment, see your post, recognize it’s him or her, make eye contact with you and subsequently initiate a whirlwind romance is so likely that posting will not be completely useless.
The founders themselves poke fun at the nature of the website, acknowledging that it most likely won’t serve its purpose as a “flirting-facilitator platform”, as coined by one of site’s creator Evan Reas. They offer the alternative option of carrying around a picture of a puppy to facilitate flirting if their site is ineffective.

The site “was created all in good fun”, but what accounts for its popularity? LikeALittle has now expanded to over 50 college campuses and continues to branch out. Perhaps the anonymity justifies the allure, as users are given a random fruit name each time they post or comment on another post. The site also has the added bonus of an extremely positive online environment. It has become common for other users to encourage a poster to “go for it” or “TALK TO HER”. It’s possible that users are hoping for a sense of community in their hesitant moments when they fail to actually make a move.
It has also transformed into a forum of sorts, where users fell comfortable expressing their concerns and insecurities about approaching relationships. One user comments “Why are you waiting for him to ask? I don’t understand this societal double standard” while another later replies “I agree with pumpkin, but men are totally cryptic, too! Everybody’s the same level of confused.” These discussions allow for a collective confession of a universal vulnerability.
LikeALittle has also taken a turn towards arbitrary. People can now post pictures, most of which of are completely random things, like rainbows or entire albums from a charity event. While the incentives to post and expectations of what will result are specific to each user, LikeALittle creates the option of acting, without any real action. “Is there someone special around you?” Then just click “Boom!”.

House without Cuddy: What next?

Just as the end of season 7 of House was approaching, fans discovered that Lisa Edelstein, who plays the character of the hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy, would not be returning for season 8. Throughout the past 7 seasons, viewers have watched the tension between House and Cuddy, whether it be the defying of medical ethics, or the evolution of their relationship. In season 7, fans finally witnessed what they had always been hoping for, House and Cuddy finally got together! But as soon as their relationship began, they ultimately broke up. As fans were maybe rooting for them to become a couple again in season 8, this clearly will not be happening. Without Cuddy, a lot of the personal story elements of House will vanish, as their love story kept the show electrified. The show will now be a little bit more than a standard medical procedure – an interesting case with House miraculously solving it! Without Cuddy, who will viewers root for and feel attached to if not to the House/Cuddy relationship? A big question is, will the show suffer if Cuddy leaves? What are the writers going to do to fill this gaping hole and keep viewers interested? A new love interest?

The absence of a main character is not uncharted territory for House. At the end of season three, Dr. House fired his entire team. The majority of that next season resulted in House having his prospective employees playing crazy games to try and be hired. House has always been about Dr. Gregory House, not about the minor characters, but I am not sure whether the writers can continually develop his character without some minor characters being explored more deeply along the way or the addition of something new to the show altogether.

Although Cuddy is gone, House will still have the diagnostic team of Dr. Chase, Dr. Foreman, Dr. Taub and Thirteen. Hopefully we will see more development of the back-stories of each of these characters. Is Thirteen’s Huntington’s become a bigger part of the plot? What will Taub do with his pregnant wife and girlfriend? What new things will we learn about Foreman and Chase? I hope that the writers will develop these characters as it has been lacking immensely in previous seasons. Maybe there will be an addition of a new character, one that could be a replacement for Cuddy’s character so that House can defy him/her in every episode. Hopefully the writers can add something new to keep the show as entertaining as it has been over the past seven seasons. Otherwise, House could very well be nearing its concluding season.

-Richie Sapp

Thoughts on Anti-heroes

Recently, I finished watching Season 2 of Showtime’s Dexter. I, like many other viewers, am attracted to the fast pace and intriguing characters. In particular, the clinical analyses rendered by the series’s protagonist, Dexter Morgan, provide an interesting vehicle for the development of not only the secondary characters but of Dexter himself. This look into the character’s inner monologue reveals a deeply troubled man that is ambiguously portrayed as desiring a normal life while at the same time refusing to admit dissatisfaction with his current life as a serial killer. Indeed, the series continually portrays the character as gleeful in his pursuit of his victims.

This begs the question, what attraction does this antihero have for the show’s audience? I chatted with a friend on the topic and we reached some concordances. We both agreed that the theme of impulses and the control of those impulses was something that we could both relate to. In particular, we both felt that Dexter’s desire for a normal life represented a glimmer of humanity in the other wise self proclaimed “Monster.”

One issue on which we could not reach a satisfactory conclusion was the moral dilemma of killing a killer. We felt that this plot element made the character no more likable as this choice of victims was repeatedly described as a purely self-preserving rational decision. It led me to wonder what the series’s writers hoped to accomplish with this choice. One solution would be to consider it as an attempt to make the character seem more attractive to the audience. Implicit in this solution is the assumption that the writer’s feel the audience places a positive value on the punishment of other’s for their actions. This created another moral quandary for me. If these are in fact bad people who have avoided punishment for their actions, do they deserve to be punished by a vigilante? More interesting than answering this question for me perhaps is the implication that the writers feel that on a whole we place value on punishment. While accountability for actions is indeed necessary for a functional society, a society that potentially derives satisfaction in the punishment of human beings is truly monstrous.

Jonathan Tatum

Favorite News

Internet and your team
The Internet these days have become a second nature to all of us. About 20 years ago it was not part of our daily routines. People back then got their information from newspapers and from the Television. The Internet has made obtaining your information about your favorite team a lot easier. People can be more informed about their favorite teams all around the world. All teams have “Official” websites where their fans are able to get all the news you could ask for.

Back before the Internet people would have to go out of their way to find information about their favorite team, and even then the fans did not have a choice of what they were told. If they wanted to know about some story about their favorite team but the TV did not say the story or the newspaper then you would never know. Nowadays everyone is able to get on their favorite team’s website and pick from many different stories and headlines to see what is new with their team is up to. With these websites now fans are able to become more avid and more informed about their teams. They are able to obtain this information whenever they want to, so if they are busy when the news comes on the TV or can’t get a newspaper that day they are able to jump online and scan for a few minutes and read the news about their team.

Bret Baumbach

Epic Meal Time—A Cooking Show for People Who Would Never Watch a Cooking Show (by Jeff Mandell)

If eating a couple pounds of bacon and washing it down with hard liquor is your idea of a feast, then you may have found your messiah in Harley Morenstein, the creator of the hit YouTube cooking show Epic Meal Time. For everyone else, the weekly videos are a sometimes funny and sometimes disgusting demonstration of what some guys with a love of meat and a disdain for all other food groups (except alcohol) can do with a little imagination. This is a show in which the hosts go to great lengths to avoid giving the impression that they possess any special culinary knowledge, although an observant viewer can tell that their preparations are well-practiced. In one episode, a pig wrapped in bacon is stuffed with a turkey filled with chicken and bacon for a "Thanksgiving" meal. In another, Morenstein leads the creation of the most revolting lasagna ever made; nearly a foot deep, it is made up of fast food burgers, cheese, bacon, and chili. In a less typical episode, the cast "takes over" an Indian restaurant in a mock hold-up, and then directs the kitchen in the production of such things as giant samosas, triple-layer naan pizzas, and "candied curry bacon Jack Daniels shots."

Epic Meal Time gets some of its staying power from the wit of its hosts. While clearly honoring the pleasures of eating meat, Morenstein and company subtly poke fun at their own enterprise, demonstrating that they aren't the complete Neanderthals that they enjoy depicting. Although not everyone gets the joke, the sense of humor shows through during the Thanksgiving episode when the cooked pig is "garnished" with Wendy's Bacon Cheeseburgers. What I like most about the show is that Morenstein manages to be very entertaining (and convincing) in his role as an intimidating and borderline insane master of ceremonies without losing a sense of proportion. He is a self-aware actor who can make fun of himself and the entire concept of his show. The show would be a lot less interesting if Morenstein were not so multidimensional. As long as the crew can continue to come up with fresh ideas—eventually, it can get hard to think of anything new to wrap in bacon—Epic Meal Time will be a continued success.

Last year, loyal Office fans found out the unthinkable: Steve Carell-- and the beloved Michael Scott character, would be leaving the show. Many predicted that this would be the end of the show, that the famous Scranton branch just didn't have enough juice without the antics of Scott. Others, like Carell himself, were optimistic that the show would go on without him, even flourish. Almost a year later, Carell has indeed left the show (exiting through a love storyline nonetheless). But what now? Has The Office suffered??

Yes and no. There have definitely been a lot of awkward moments with the show (and no, not in the hilarious way). First there was the uncomfortable transition period where Steve Carell and Will Ferrell were both on the show. Then, Michael Scott's last episode was pretty anticlimactic. We eventually got use to Will Ferrell's anxious character, and just when the new pace of the show started to set in, Ferrell was suddenly snatched away from the story (He suffers a brain injury??). The last two episodes then featured a search party for a new boss with a slew of famous faces padded in for good assurance (Jim Carey, Kevin James, Ray Romano, etc.).

It's all really a big mess. To be fair, though, the show has lost a lot of it's appeal in the last few seasons anyway. There's no longer a pressing love story, and we all know the characters pretty well at this point. I believe there's hope yet though. Either a big name boss (My vote's for Jim Carey) or some newcomers which really breathe new life into the show (think Season 3 style with Rashida Jones and Ed Helms) could really rescue the show. With Steve Carell gone, it's an opportunity for the show to get back on track. What we do know is that the strategy the writer's are using now "ain't it".

It's sink or swim time.

Quora: Questions and Answers

Many of you go to sites such as Wikipedia when searching for a quick fact or two, even though Wikipedia is hardly recognized as a credible source. Yet, we still heavily rely on it. What if there was a place you could go to find out information that you were not embarrassed to cite? That is the site that Quora aims to be. Furthermore, not only does Quora aim to provide credible information but much more specific information.

Quora, a new start up created by former Facebook employees Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, is the up and coming question and answer site. Since the internet started we have seen a variety of Q&A sites along with forums and places for discussion. So you might ask what distinguishes Quora from these other sites? Quora aims to be recognized for its reliable answers while also providing a social networking environment. It also focuses on specificity. You can ask a question that focuses entirely on a specific part of a topic. Sites such as Wikipedia provide a large overview of a variety of broad topics; however, they provide very little in the way of narrow topics and personal narratives. Quora, on the other hand, provides users the opportunity to share personal experiences and accounts of what it is like to experience something first hand, that users might not otherwise find.

One problem that many similar sites have seen deals with scaling. Is Quora built well enough that it will scale with an increasing user base? Its structure and success so far looks promising. The way the site is set up is that users must create an account. Thus creating a link between people and answers, making it easier to track the quality of a user’s responses. Answers are voted on and ranked in order of what appears to be the “best” response. Moderators also determine the overall quality of answers if they are disputed. So far questions and answers have been successful and they expect it to scale well.

Users can follow other users, specific questions, or broader topics. Quora combines these to create a newsfeed of questions and answers on the user’s homepage that they might be interested in. This creates a unique experience for each user while also providing them with interaction ability similar to that of a social networking site. All in all, Quora seems to be a step in the right direction for sites providing credible information and a networking experience for users.

- Emilie Jackson

Bleacher Report: Entertaining sports news, photos and slideshows

By Linyi

Interactivity between fans and sports programming has blossomed to overtake even journalism. In a recently created news company known as Bleacher Report, sports fans can express on the World Wide Web what has previously been restrained to small-friend-circle conversations and beside-the-television debates: their opinions of the favorite sports teams and players. As the title of this site indicates, the news presented comes from the “bleacher”—i.e. from the fans themselves. Anyone can register an account and write an article for publication on Bleacher Report’s website.

The headlines that come up on Bleacher Report are certainly more eye-popping than the average sports article. How about, “The 25 Most Gruesome Injuries in Sports History?” or “Ranking the 40 Hottest WAGs of All-Time?” or “The 50 Greatest Mustaches in MLB History?”

At the same time, the quality of the writing of many of the articles—and the quality of their contents—is suspect. Although some articles attain publishable quality, many show themselves as what they are—the opinion of an enthusiastic fan. For instance, an article like “Indy 500: Why the Action at Indy is Better than the Daytona 500,” which evidently is coming from a NASCAR fan, is unlikely to appear on any professional sports news site.

Bleacher Report has even made its way into Google News, a fact that may be unsettling to many readers. Today, Google News searches for sports subjects are often dominated by Bleacher Report articles (Top Ten Reasons Why [insert obscure sports statement here]), though the quality of their content may be low and unprofessional. One way to avoid these articles is to include the term “-bleacherreport” in the search to remove any references to the site.

So, the next time you are wondering about the “Top Ten Reasons Why” the Miami Heat players are crying, or the top “10 Prospects Who Aren’t Afraid to Shoot at Will,” or which of the top ten “Draft Picks Will Turn Into Biggest Busts”—or, if you’re wondering why these articles are popping up on Google News—look no further than:

Bleacher Report: Entertaining sports news, photos and slideshows.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sex and the City Too (Much) by Tiffany Li

2/5 stars

I’m not sure what’s more annoying, Sex and the City 2 or its reviews. The crime of the former is excessive ditziness when dealing with topics that ought to be taken seriously; the crime of the latter is excessive self-righteousness when dealing with a film that no one should take seriously. Let me put it another way: plenty of people who might actually have enjoyed the film may skip it because some cackling reviewer got carried away, whereas I doubt Hillary Clinton is taking her diplomatic cues from Samantha.

The truth is that SATC2 bites off more than it can chew. Repression of women in Islamic culture? Sex trafficking? This in a series famous for using the phrase “funky-tasting spunk.”

As a result of taking on bizarrely weighty topics, the film is unable to do them justice. In fact, the attempt to mash small-font issues into a film promoted with the giant, glittering letters S-E-X actually ends up distracting from what this film does do well: dress its character in pretty clothes, send them to pretty places, and occasionally allow them to have pretty funny conversations, notably Miranda and Charlotte’s woes-of-a-wealthy-mother talk.

The film is stretched so thin that the act 2 climax is the threat of flying on coach. And that’s the real problem: not that the film is elitist or recession-blind, as reviewers complain, but that the fans always saw that behind the luxurious setting and big-name labels, real, profoundly relatable pain was at stake. Roger Ebert might have laughed, but women empathized in the millions with Carrie’s 30 minute funk in the first film. SATC2 spends too much time criticizing burkhas to make a convincing case that Carrie and Charlotte’s marriage, Miranda’s career, or Samantha’s sex drive is at stake.

Consequently, those who cared most about this film had little to care about, and those who care least for this series had far too much to say.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"You should understand that or you will mistake me!"

Doubt (2008), seeks to recreate the play written by John Patrick Shanley, wrestling with epistemological issues, particularly through Sister Aloysius Beauvier (played by Meryl Streep) and her quest to achieve knowledge. She attempts to prove that Father Flynn (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is engaging in inappropriate, insinuating sexual conduct with Donald Miller, the only African American student attending the Catholic school. The film beautifully unfolds, investigating and tackling several issues beyond surface-level cinema.

The confrontation between Sister Beauvier and Father Flynn culminates in their explosive altercation (the clip for which may be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpI6pgp33a4&feature=related). The audience, greatly intrigued, cannot help but keep their eyes glued to the exchange of exclamations between the two clearly flustered characters. Their argument reaches its pinnacle as Sister Beauvier interrupts with rage, "I will step outside the church if that's what needs to be done or the doors will shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, or I'm damned to hell! You should understand that or you will mistake me. Now did you Donald Miller wine to drink?"

*SPOILER ALERT* Upon the conclusion of the film, the audience finds Sister Adams and Sister Beauvier sitting on benches outside the church. Sister Adams somberly inquires the truthfulness of Sister Beauvier's alleged discovery that Father Flynn indeed engaged in inappropriate relations with Donald Miller. However, after a period of stark silence, Sister Beauvier cries out despairingly as she begins to uncontrollably weep, "Oh, Sister James... I have doubts. I have such doubts!" Her outburst stands unexpected in that her character throughout the film is fundamentally grounded in audacity, resolve, and certainty until this moment of vulnerability. Her statement of uncertainty appears twofold; that is, she effectively expresses not only doubt for Father Flynn's actions, but moreover, doubt in her belief in God. A cinematically striking film, Doubt masterfully conveys the confusing struggles one may encounter in the pursuit of knowledge and confidence in readily held beliefs.

-Cody Aros

Vien Dinh on Tennis Tournaments

One of the main reasons why I like attending tennis tournaments is because tennis is a solitary sport. Each player performs as an individual against a single opponent, performing for the audience, for himself, and for the win. The connection between the player and the audience is a very special kind of connection. Unlike a team sport, a tennis player relies on himself, with no team to fall back on. As a result, the glory of triumph can be great, but so can the sting of defeat or simply a poorly executed shot. The solitary style of tennis makes it very psychological in nature, as each player struggles not only with the opponent, but more often with himself, his mood, his morale. This emotional struggle is often difficult for the player and as a result, the player often wants the audience to share in on the struggle. Tennis players are notorious for making dramatic displays during matches, smashing racquets when making bad shots, and vocally chastising themselves allowing the audience to hear their struggle. Tennis players subconsciously want the audience to share in their ordeal, in victory, but more in defeat. This, in my opinion adds to the entertainment value of tennis tournaments. Whenever I come to watch a professional tennis tournament or an NCAA tournament, I feel like I'm not only attending a sports match, but also a reality tv show.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Portal 2: A Triumph

Portal 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the popular 2007 video game, Portal. For those not familiar with the series, you take the role of a test subject in an abandoned laboratory run by a psychotic AI called GlaDOS. This testing involves creating portals between points in space to solve puzzles - watch the following video for a typical Portal-style puzzle.

When Valve released the first Portal in 2007, it came out of nowhere, and was released in a bundle (called the Orange Box) alongside Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2, both sequels to popular Valve titles. In all likelihood, a small experiment like the original Portal should have been overshadowed by being released with such blockbuster games. Yet of the Orange Box, Portal was the one that gained a massive following with its quirky humor and innovative, brain-warping gameplay. With Portal 2, Valve has turned their little experiment into a full-fledged game worthy of standing on its own.

Everything that made the first Portal great is intact, but now with more depth. The Excursion Funnel (made from liquid asbestos!) from the above video, for instance, acts as a slow-moving tractor beam that can be manipulated via portals, and mastering it is necessary for many of the puzzles later in the game. Also expanded in depth is the story; whereas the first game was your character struggling to survive against GlaDOS and her deadly tests, the second stands out as having a more structured narrative, exploring the history of GlaDOS, and of Aperture Laboratories itself. The addition of a new character - Wheatley - provides a deeper emotional connection that simply wasn’t present in Portal. Even the comedy, which is central to the game, finds itself kicked up a notch over the first Portal. While talking to a character who's had an unfortunate transformation into a plant: “Oh, hi. So, how are you holding up? Because I'm a potato!

I give Portal 2 a hearty 9 out of 10. I wish only that the game were longer, as I was able to finish the single-player campaign in just two sittings.

- Stephen

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Old Fashion-ed

'Evnin Ladies n' Gents,

Today we're gon learn a lesson about modesty and bout greatness. Well, stop stallin' none of us are gettin any younger. Serena Williams was ranked No. 1 female tennis player in the world. She has won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open multiple times both in the singles and doubles category. She has three clothing and accessories lines- and debuts many of her products on the court. In March of this year, this fine little lady was involved in the gaming industry. TopSpin games are interactive tennis games for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Williams was involved with a commercial for TopSpin 4. Task: watch the video below and then proceed with your reading- and don't let your little ones watch with you.

What in the world! Daggonnit! Don't fear This video was banned from television because it was deemed inappropriate. Now, for a female tennis player it is inevitable that a Google image search of your name will pull up countless photos that have been zoomed into your lady regions- but honey, that doesn't mean you go selling that to such a large degree. Granted, "sex sells" (I hate that expression), but Serena little lady, you are a world class athlete- you have our attention already. Of course, even though the commercial was banned, there are a few versions of it readily available on YouTube. Williams made the video and put it out there- I am just bewildered that she would think that was proper for a woman of her stature. Then again, we are talking about the woman who wore this...

not once but twice to the FRENCH OPEN. Call me old fashion-ed, but kids these days just don't know what's right and what's wrong. There is no way that you can discredit Miss Williams, she is a phenomenal athlete and business woman- but what you can do is laugh and wonder what is going on in that strong- very strong- mind of hers.

Good Health for All,


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PostSecret: The Anonymous Way to Spill Your Soul to Thousands of Strangers

Have you ever told someone your deepest, darkest secret? Was it cathartic? Did you feel
relieved, as if a weight was lifted off of your shoulders?

Well, that’s the principle behind PostSecret, an ongoing community mail art project. They believe that everyone has a secret. Some have secrets that individuals volunteer to share with family and friends and some who have secrets they will tell no one. These secrets, if forever concealed, can lead to the burden of overwhelming guilt and regret, among others. PostSecret reveals and displays secrets written on postcards that have been anonymously submitted from people all around the world. People c

an decorate and express their secret how ever they choose, as long as it fits on a postcard. Creator Frank Warren, with the help of his team, select only a few from the hundreds of thousands of secrets he receives to post on his website, exhibit in his books, or unveil in his guest


Beginning with a blog, PostSecret has expanded from displaying a minimum of 10 secrets every Sunday to now 20 secrets every Sunday. Here, Warren uploads photographs and emails that people have submitted. Again, thousands of people view PostSecret’s Sunday Secrets weekly. Warren has collected hundreds of thousands of secrets since its founding in early 2005 and has exhibits all around the country.

There is something liberating in reading someone’s deepest secrets. Some are as startling as, “I only love one of my children.” Despite the tense topics exposes it individual’s secrets, people find inspiration in reading someone else’s innermost thoughts.

When asked about the purpose, Frank Warren explained, “the secrets are meant to be empowering both to the author and to those who read it. …The postcards are inspirational to those who read them, have healing powers for those who write them, give hope to people who identify with a stranger's secret, and create an anonymous community of acceptance.” In 2008, Warren and PostSecret collaborated with 1-800-suicide in order to bring hope to anonymous individuals who revealed in their secret that they were considering ending their life. Frank has spoken throughout college campuses giving lectures and prompting discussions, sharing his experiences through the PostSecret project.

So, what’s the appeal? As an avid PostSecret fan, there is comfort in knowing that someone, either far away or close by, male or female, older or younger, gay or straight, could be experiencing the same thing that you are. Moreover, this project provides hope. The PostSecret community embraces people’s vulnerability and provides a welcoming atmosphere for everyone’s secrets.

With five books out, these PostSecret compilations include secrets organized into particular topics like dreams, prayers, confessions, memories, etc. The new tradition that has risen from PostSecret is slipping one’s own secrets into a PostSecret book at a store such as Barnes and Noble or Borders. If someone were to buy it, they will receive your anonymous secret, just for him or her. Upon receiving critical acclaim for its success and morally sound intentions, PostSecret has expanded to include French and German versions, making it no longer a national, but a global art project. Also, with the recent popularity of social networking, PostSecret has benefited from these sites and reached out to communities through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Despite the submitter's anonymous status, people are still hesitant to reveal their secrets. Some post these confessions, hoping that they will be recognized. For others, being recognized is their biggest fear. The release of a secret simultaneous emits feelings of liberation and terror. It is this risk, however, that drives people to finally expunge themselves of this burden.

Will you submit your secret?

Frank Warren

13345 Copper Ridge Rd.

Germantown, MD 20874

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"I Need To Get Up, I Need a Shower; I Can't Right Now 'Cause I'm Playing Angry Birds"

Yes, I'm going do it. I am going to write about Angry Birds. It seems absurd only because it is so poplar and must have been discussed so many times before. The simple game has already sold 6.5 million copies and hopes to sell 100 million total--that's only the legal downloads on the iPhone, and the game's producers didn't even advertise!

Angry Birds: Need Tweezers.

If you've never played before, the game has a simple plotline in which birds (who are angry) are catapulted at pigs. The birds are apparently angry because the pigs stole their eggs. So they suicide-bomb the pigs and the fragile structures the pigs hide in. A little morbid... and quite anti-pig... but it's carried out well. And in any case, the plot isn't too important to the actual game--players can skip it--but it is a cute addition.

What is important about Angry Birds is that it demonstrates the direction games are heading. While a hardcore gamer may continue to buy expensive consoles and games that costs upwards of $20, the casual and cheap nature of this game appeals to incredibly wide audiences. This game costs less than $5 for the iPad, and only $.99 for the iPhone. The game play is incredibly simple: pull a slingshot back and aim, using only one finger. There are many levels that gradually increase in difficulty, introducing new types of birds occasionally, and each level gets a score out of three stars. The graphics and sound effects are aesthetically and aurally pleasing but minimal. It's also interesting to note that there is no tutorial, leaderboard or multiplayer. Its simple features and streamlined gameplay are what make it universally appealing.

XKCD: "The Most Powerful Gaming Systems in the World Still Can't Match the Addictiveness of Tiny In-Browser Flash Games."

Angry Birds is not unique in storyline or game type. Revenge and/or cute animals is a common theme is many games. "Destroy the Castle" games are numerous and easy to find. There are free games with similar one-touch gameplay, better graphics, better plots, cuter animals and even better use of physics. So what makes Angry Birds so popular?

Because Angry Birds is portable, it's easy to play anywhere. Each level is repeatable and easy to pick up, so it can be played during 5-minute work breaks, or even 3-hour long train riders for those of us who are a little more addicted. It's not inherently social because there's no multiplayer, but its ubiquity and popularity makes it possible for people to discuss it and even get help on how to beat difficult levels. And, perhaps most importantly, it capitalizes on the iPhone and smart phone craze. However, it's not the only game that could have become so popular, and such games are not limited to those who can afford expensive smart phones. So when I say that Angry Birds-esque games are the future of casual gaming, it's a good thing.

I want to leave you with the video that inspired this post and its title:
A Parody of Adele and Angry Birds

Also, I hope all the links keep you busy for many, many long hours of procrastination. You're welcome.

-Sarah Crawford