30 January 2009

Missing Mustard

I feel a duty to pass on any interesting websites I come across, especially if they make me laugh. This one is called Passive Aggressive Notes, and it is well defined by its title. The creators simply gather and recieve notes from around the world that display the best (or worst) in angry human behavior. The picture here is what hooked me, as well as the entry below that, which is a transcription of someone's angry email after someone in the office ate all of his gourmet mustard. If you like reading things like this, you may also enjoy Post Secret, which is a collection of anonymous writings--sent it on post cards--of people's most private secrets. How much of it is real is up to the beholder, of course, but it makes for some compelling reading.

29 January 2009

Ten Best Stephen King Short Stories

A week ago, I finished Just After Sunset, Stephen King's new collection of short fiction. While King isn't as popular as he used to be, and his recent novels have left an unsatisfying taste in many mouths, I've found that his short work is as sharp as ever. In honor of this new collection, I thought it was time to dig deep and find out what the ten best Stephen King short stories were. As always with lists on the Shark Tank, the inclusions and order are my opinion only, and are--as such--unquestionably correct.

#10. "The Reaper's Image" (Skeleton Crew)

This story is all thrills and chills. It concerns an old mirror which has had a storied and urban-legendaryish history. This story is conveyed by a museum curator to an antique collector, who is our primary protagonist. Supposedly, those who have seen the image of the grim reaper in the mirror have not lived to tell the tale. Very creepy story.

#9. "Crouch End" (Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

Speaking of creepy. This is King's attempt (one of two on this list) to write about people who may have unwittingly stumbled into areas of the world H.P. Lovecraft warned us about. Quite possibly the scariest story hes ever written.

#8. "Sorry, Right Number" (Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

This is actually a teleplay for an episode of the old anthology TV show, Tales from the Darkside. It reads well, nonetheless, and packs a nice punch.

#7. "I Know What You Need" (Night Shift)

This is one of the longer stories on the list. It concerns a college girl and the guy she meets who is unhealthily obsessed with her. Yet he seems uncannily able to manipulate her into liking him. How? The answer is horrifying.

#6. "The Last Rung on the Ladder" (Night Shift)

This is the real downer of the crop. I first read this story when I was fourteen years old and it was my first indication that the mass audience had it wrong when they pegged Stephen King as "just a horror writer".

#5. "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" (Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales)

This is Stephen King's dark humor at its finest. A man relates a story about his wife, who packed up and disappeared some time ago.

#4. "Stationary Bike" (Just After Sunset)

For anyone who has ever struggled with weight loss, this is an interesting story. It concerns a man who decides--after getting some advice from his physician--to hop on a stationary bike and lose some weight. What he doesn't take into consideration is how that might affect the guys down below. The guys working for the Lipid Construction Company.

#3. "Quitters, Inc." (Night Shift)

Again, maybe this one just hits close to home because I know how hard it is to try to quit smoking. In this story, a man finds an organization that guarantees he will quit.

#2. "N." (Just After Sunset)

Another tale that flirts with the Cluthos Mythos, and in much the same horrifying fashion as Crouch End. The story is told completely from the point of view of journals and letters, which can be an interesting way to read a tale.

#1. "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" (Skeleton Crew)

Being a writer myself, I've always found King's fiction most compelling when it concerns writers. Thankfully, he has no shortage of fiction that fits this bill. Be it The Dark Half, Misery, or this story, King always has some compelling things to say about what it is that makes us want to create. This one is just about as strange as anything he's ever put to paper, and I love it.

28 January 2009

January's Strangest News Stories

I thought it would be fun to do a monthly bit where I round up the oddest news stories of the month and present them here for your reading enjoyment. As news sites are sometimes fickle when it comes to keeping stories alive in their original links, I can't promise this particular entry will be much fun to read after a certain expiration date, but who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky. Without further ado, here are the strangest news stories for the first month of 2009:

Unreturned Library Book Leads to Woman's Arrest

This story dredges up the old fears of the Library Police we were warned about when we were little. Apparently it's not just a scary story for kids. Shelly Koontz of Jesup, Iowa found this out the hard way when she was arrested for the theft of "The Freedom Writers Diary" from the local branch library. She'd had the book since last April. No word on whether or not she was wanted by Blockbuster for similar charges regarding the film version starring Hilary Swank. Also no word on whether or not she is the wife of horror writer Dean Koontz, although that would go a ways in explaining why she would want to do anything in her power to acquire outside reading material and hold it for as long as humanly possible.

UPS Driver Used "Terrorist" as Name Signed For Package

This has to go into the "I'm so racist I'm willing to lose my job over it" category. You would think that in these tough economic times, one would do all they could to hold on to what I understand are quite lucrative jobs in the parcel-delivery business. Not so, apparently, for this Bakersfield, California UPS driver, who decided that whatever his turban-bedecked customer happened to jot down in the little electronic field (and by the way--am I alone in hating those things?), he was going to punch in the name as "TERRORIST". The article goes to great lengths to inform the public that the victimized individual was a Sikh, not a Muslim, and, also, that not all Muslims are terrorists. We get no comments from the driver in question, although I for one would love to hear his reasoning for the slight. It would either be hilarious in its ignorance, or--just maybe--enlightening as it pertains to Blbar Singh himself. But probably just hilarious.

At Age 140, Lobster to Regain Freedom

Lobsters live to be 140? This charming news story is almost ruined by the mention of PETA, but not quite.

Two Minor Girls Married Off to Frogs

This little tidbit of modern day fairy tale-ness comes to us from India (where else?). Apparently as part of a yearly ritual to ward off diseases, two seven-year-old girls are married to frogs in an elaborate ceremony. "The district administration proposes to evolve comprehensive schemes to motivate and enlighten the villagers against such evil and ignorant practises," says the district collector. The frogs are returned to the pond after the "wedding" and life goes on, so I'm not sure I would use the word "evil" to describe the ritual. Ignorant? Perhaps. But even that word is somewhat amphibious. Er, I mean ambiguous.

A Billion Frogs on World's Plates

There are worse alternatives to marriage. Grossest line in the story: "Frogs are liquidised to make a 'health drink' in parts of South America"

Would-Be Bride, 107, Seeks First Husband

I have an idea. It involves a small village in India, the woman in this story, and a 140 year old lobster. . .

27 January 2009

Challenge the Akinator

The Internet is a wonderful thing. At the touch of a button you can find out just enough about a subject to make you sound like you know what you're talking about, connect with friends you just saw a few minutes ago, express your ill-informed opinion on angry message boards, and watch "hilarious video" after video on Youtube. But even with all of these options, boredom has a way of creeping in and stealing over you just when you least expect it. When this happens, the Internet can also come to the rescue! Give yourself over to its cold, technological touch and meet the Akinator and Songtapper.

The Akinator is a website based on the old game "20 Questions", which is the type of game people played on long car rides before the dawn of the Nintendo DS. Akinator comes to us in the form of a genie, and even sports his own backstory, for those who need to know more about his origins. I'm not entirely sure about the Akinator's real life country of origin (Israel? France?), but a small language barrier and the unfortunate "user-input" feature of the site sometimes leads to some unintentionally hilarious questions. Even for all that, however, the Akinator is usually right, as long as A) you stay away from using actors as your question fodder (Akinator does much better with fictitious characters/historical figures) and B) actually know what you're talking about when you answer his questions. Don't blame the genie when you throw up John Stamos and he guesses David Duchovny because you think Duchovny is primarily a "comedic" actor, in other words. Also, I just told you to stay away from using actors!

The other site is Songtapper. There's no backstory here, and no amusing genie, but the Songtapper is good for at least a few minutes of diversion. You use your keyboard to tap out the beat of a song, and the program will throw out some likely candidates for the title. It's not as accurate as the Akinator and I found it difficult to determine exactly which part of the song I should be tapping (drum beat, guitar, vocals?). Still, if you need something to do in between refreshing your MySpace inbox, this will do the job.

24 January 2009

The Flat Earth Society

There are a few things you can count on as you go through your life. 2 + 2 will always equal 4, the Cubs are not going to win the World Series, and the fall TV schedule will bring another slew of irresistibly stupid reality shows. But above all these, we know when we walk along our city streets, play our Xbox 360s, and eat at our favorite restaurants, we are doing so within the confines of a round planet Earth. This is what is considered "common knowledge" by those of us who have been educated beyond Kindergarten. While not everything we learned in elementary school was accurate (for instance, the world--particularly sailors--had long accepted the Earth's roundness by the time Christopher Columbus came along), I'm going to go out on a limb--just this once--and say that I believe without a shadow of doubt that the Earth is indeed spherical in nature.

There are those who would disagree.

Meet the Flat Earth Society. At first glance, the site, which consists of nothing more than a message board, seems as though it has to be the product of someone's very dry sense of humor. I read entry after entry, convinced this must be the case. My friends, after long and thoughtful pursuit of this topic, I am no longer convinced. These people--these sad, sad people--actually believe the Earth is flat. As I read through the "literature" and "arguments" presented on the site, I felt a strange mixture of head-shaking-bewilderment and nervous glee. I don't think I have to explain the former. The latter I felt because I think I may have finally come across a site that fulfills a lifelong ambition of mine: to find the dumbest people on the Internet. I thought this mission was already fulfilled after studying the individuals who post comments on Youtube, but this had to take the cake.

In case you're reading this, scratching your head, and asking "How? How could they believe such a thing?", I shall take the liberty of reproducing some select choices from their FAQ. All your answers are inside. Delightful from the very start, the author of the FAQ informs us that he created this list after the society realized that for someone coming from a "round earth" background, the Flat Earth theory would appear to have some holes. Well, you have to give them credit for at least a modicum of self awareness. Here are some of the Flat Earth's Society's most frequently asked questions:

Q: "Why do you guys believe the Earth is flat?"

A: Well, it looks that way up close. In our local frame of reference, it appears to take a flat shape, ignoring obvious hills and valleys. Also, Samuel Rowbotham et al. performed a variety of experiments over a period of several years that show it must be flat. They are all explained in
his book, which is linked at the top of this article.

This is perhaps the most enlightening thing a prospective reader will take from the site. Indeed, "Well, it looks that way up close" is the primary basis for the Flat Earth Society's belief in their doctrine. The book they mentioned was published in 1881 and, while we had made some important scientific and technological discoveries by that time, let's just say that we've learned a lot since then. Well, some of us.

Q: "Why do the all the world governments say the Earth is round?"

A: There exists a conspiracy among world governments claiming to have space programs and has disseminated the lie to the other governments, the media and the general public. The conspiracy hides the Earth's true shape from us for unknown objectives.


Q: "What about NASA? Don't they have photos to prove that the Earth is round?"

A: NASA is part of the conspiracy too. The photos can be faked using simple imaging software.

Do you see how close to the satirical line they travel?

Q: "If you're not sure about the motive, why do you say there is a conspiracy?"

A: Well it's quite simple really; if the earth is in fact flat, then the governments must be lying when they say it isn't.

Folks, there's no arguing with logic like that.

23 January 2009

The 5 Least Deserving Best Pictures of the Last 20 Years

In yesterday's entry, I lamented the fact that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was up for Best Picture this year. It's not that I am upset with the movie being up for consideration, it's nervousness that it might actually win. This fear stems from it leading the Oscar field with 13 nominations, its trappings of Oscar-bait, and the mere fact that it is far longer than it needs to be, a quality the Academy seems to adore in their Best Picture winners. Would it be a travesty if it won? Perhaps not, when you consider some of the last twenty years' examples of the finest Hollywood has to offer. In fact, an examination of this shows that Benjamin Button would be in very good company, indeed.

1990-Dances With Wolves

Dances came out before Hollywood and America decided that Kevin Costner was incapable of creating anything worth seeing. The Oscar win here also apparently encouraged Costner to have a clause written into both his directing and acting contracts that no movie he appeared in could have a running time of less than 2 solid hours. With this contract in mind, he has delivered such dreck as The Postman, Waterworld, Dragonfly, and 3000 Miles to Graceland. Every now and then he surfaces with an unbelievable shot of good taste, as he did in A Perfect World and The Upside of Anger. Dances isn't a bad movie, but it has two things going against it. First, it marked the pinnacle and subsequent downturn of Costner's career. This, however, can only be held against it in retrospect. The other is that its primary competition in 1990 was one of the greatest films ever made: Martin Scorsese's gangster opus, Goodfellas. And it is for this latter reason that Dances with Wolves makes the list.

1998--Shakespeare in Love

The first comedy to win Best Picture in 30 years. Except. . .it's not funny. Oh, and it's not engaging on a dramatic level. Oh, and it's insufferably boring. This movie is what is meant by the term "Oscar Bait". Females playing male roles (if only within the framework of the movie)? Check. Period piece? Check. Put out by Miramax, the kings of Oscar promotion? Double check. The competition for 1998's Best Picture award was thin, but Saving Private Ryan probably should have taken the award this year.


Of all the movies on this list, Gladiator is the most baffling. It is the only movie that cannot be objectively judged as even being "good", much less worthy of Best Picture status. It starts off with some intriguing medieval war, and goes steadily downhill from there. Not even Joaquin Phoenix's excellent acting can save this movie from going straight down the commodus. The competition in this category was indeed pretty weak, with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Traffic, and Erin Brockovich all vying for the title. All decent flicks (okay, not Erin Brockovich, which would have been better suited to a TV movie of the week), but doubly angering when you look at some of the films from that year that were ignored. Requiem for a Dream, The Cell, and Almost Famous all came out in 2000 and would have made far superior choices.


For a brief moment in the wake of 9/11, the Academy lost its mind and decided to give the Best Picture award to a hammy, glammy, feel-good spectacle, derived from the Broadway show of the same name. One could excuse this lapse of good judgment, if it were not for Gangs of New York sitting right there in the nominations. Scorcese gets screwed again.


Speaking of TV movies of the week. I actually enjoyed Crash, but I was still baffled when it was nominated, and subsequently won Best Picture. In this respect, it is actually the film most like this year's Benjamin Button. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, it just isn't quite up to that level. Also, this should have been Brokeback Mountain's award in a landslide, but the Academy apparently decided it could conquer its racism, but not its homophobia.

So that leaves us with 2008 and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. As I said in the last post, I'm a long way from having seen every good movie this year, but that just makes it all the worse that I can easily come up with several films worthier of Button's spot on the nominations list, including Wall-E, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight, Doubt, and The Fall. In fact, if those were the five nominated for Best Picture, I think I would be a lot happier with the Academy. Where's P.T. Anderson and the Coens when you need them?

22 January 2009

Oscar Nominations

The nominations for the 81st Academy Awards came out today and it looks like the surprises are few and far between. Because this year's list is so heavily dependent on those sneaky films that opened in New York and L.A. at the tail end of December, I haven't had a chance to see much of the competition. Hopefully, through wider releases, creative theater hunting, and. . .um. . .other means, I will be able to rectify that before the award show itself. Here are the major award categories:


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Slumdog Millionaire

The Reader



Of these films, the only two I've seen are Curious Case and Slumdog Millionaire. I can't say I'm surprised at the nominations, but I am disappointed. Curious Case leads the Oscar nominations this year with 13 nods, and I can't hide my irritation. This is the third collaboration between director David Fincher and Brad Pitt (following Seven and Fight Club) and it is, in my opinion, the least of the three. I went into the movie expecting to be blown away, and left feeling as though I had just watched leftover Forrest Gump. It's not a bad movie, but--much like I felt with previous nominees (and winners) Crash and Gladiator--it just isn't Oscar worthy. Slumdog Millionaire is closer to the mark and I have no problem with it being up for Best Picture, but it just didn't hit that extra high note to become something really special. Of these five, I would say Milk is the only one I'm moderately surprised to see up there.


Richard Jenkins in The Visitor

Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn in Milk

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Only one I've seen is Pitt in Curious Case, and I think I've made my feelings known there. Although, to be fair, I could more easily digest an Oscar win for him than for the movie as a whole. Haven't seen The Wrestler yet, but Rourke is my sentimental favorite. It would be nice to see Langella finally be recognized as the acting god that he is, as well.


Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie in The Changeling

Melissa Leo in Frozen River

Meryl Streep in Doubt

Kate Winslet in The Reader

I've seen The Changeling and Doubt out of these nominations. While I liked Changeling (and would have preferred to see it garner a Best Picture nom than Curious Case), something struck me as slightly off about Jolie's performance. I thought she was much better in last year's Daniel Pearl drama, A Mighty Heart. From her Golden Globe win, I would expect Kate Winslet to be the favorite here.

The Best Director category follows the Best Picture category line for line, with Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), and Gus Van Sant (Milk).

The Best Animated Feature category this year--as usual--simply serves as an excuse to give Pixar another award. Kung Fu Panda and Bolt seem singularly unlikely to take the statue, while I thought Wall-E was Pixar's best offering since Finding Nemo.

In my next post, I'll take a look at some of the least deserving Best Picture winners throughout history, and I'll also tell you some of the movies I thought would have been more deserving of Benjamin Button's Best Picture nomination this year.

21 January 2009


Tonight, my favorite show in the history of shows comes back on the air. If you don't know what I'm talking about (and have a rare affliction that prevents you from reading titles), it is Lost on ABC. I'm not an avid TV watcher, but I have a few shows that are on my can't miss list and this is one of them. A lot of people I know have given up on the mysterious adventures of Jack, Sawyer, Kate, John Locke, et al, but I have remained faithful. Is every show a blockbuster? No, but I can think of only a couple of individual episodes where I turned the TV off thinking, "well that was a waste of time". Usually I am mesmerized, and I've been looking forward to tonight's season premiere since we left Locke in a coffin before the beginning of summer. Remaining steadfastly spoiler-free, I have no idea what tonight's episode will bring, but I have no doubt that it will be amazing. Viva la Island!

20 January 2009

Inauguration Day

As they keep telling us ad nauseam on the television, today is an historic day for America. A little after 12:00 P.M. EST, the first African-American President was sworn in. I have no doubts that this will be a day long remembered in the annals of time, regardless of how Barack Obama actually performs over the next four years. I would describe myself as a moderate conservative, if anything, but I'm willing to give the new guy a chance. It's probably a bad thing for any one party to have full control for too long, anyway. Looking over the sea of faces in the Washington Mall, there to celebrate the changing of the guard, I have to give in to at least a little hope for the future. Of course, my cynical side also has to wonder just what--exactly--the predominant portion of that audience was there to celebrate. "Change"? The culmination of MLK's speech some forty years ago? A politician whom the mass media has taught them to love? I dunno. I doubt a poll of that audience's political beliefs (and their knowledge of Obama's) would return very fruitful results. But I could be wrong.

15 January 2009

How High Can You Go?

Last year, I watched a documentary called King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters about a man named Steve Weibe and his quest for the Donkey Kong world record. Perhaps you were unaware there were world records for 1980s arcade games, but then you were probably also unaware that Calvin Coolidge kept a hippopotamus as a pet, so don't go thinking you know everything about everything. The movie chronicled Weibe's triumph and heartbreak as he went toe to toe with Twin Galaxies (the official video game records repository) and Billy Mitchell, a bemulleted hot sauce maker, video game savant, and all around interesting fellow.

Apparently unable to watch a movie without being affected by it in some deep, mildly ridiculous way, I decided I needed to conquer Kong myself. As Donkey Kong arcade machines are not on every block like they were in the early 80s, I was forced to make do with MAME, the computer-based arcade emulator. I fired up the Kong, and away I went.

Though intimated in the film, I was sorely under-prepared for just how difficult my new challenge was going to be. Albert Einstein famously remarked that getting to the kill screen (the final board where the game's code goes haywire and you die) in Donkey Kong was more difficult than developing the theory of relativity.[citation needed] He was not wrong. After a year of playing Donkey Kong off and on, I have yet to score more than 177,000 points, putting me a fair distance from the 1 million+ scores proffered by Weibe and Mitchell. Still, the practice has been good for the soul, and I feel confident that I'll be able to survive should I ever find myself in the unenviable (but nonetheless very real) position of having to jump over barrels, fend off fireballs, and climb a decaying scaffold to rescue my girlfriend from a cunning ape.

14 January 2009

Killing's As Easy As Breathing

About seven months ago, after watching Sylvester Stallone brutally kill Burmese army officials, rescue missionaries, flex his forearms, and wax poetic on the art of killing Burmese army officials, I decided it was time to join a gym. If Sly could look like that at the age of 60, I could remove myself from the computer for a couple of hours a day to do likewise. (This is, of course, with the full knowledge of some of Stallone's extra-legal tricks he uses to maintain that physique). I decided to try a place called Leisure Square. It is the city rec center, basically, but its gym had served me well as a teenager and I thought it would do so again, at least until I proved that I was serious about sticking with it. Besides, the price was only $100 a year, which really couldn't be beat.

I arrived at Leisure Square, money in hand, ready to begin the training. At the front desk, I was promptly informed that the weight room had burned down. Estimates on its return were sketchy. I decided to look elsewhere.

This search led me to a place called Fit Physique. A modern, well equipped gym that promised a no-strings membership for only $30/month. Golden. My only concern was the relative quiet of my new workout domain. In other words, no one was there. Anytime there are more employees than customers, a business isn't likely to succeed in the long run. This maxim was proven by the end of the month when the gym abruptly closed down and I was once again set free to find another house of muscle.

I had two choices: The Jungle Club, with its $80/month membership plan, or World Gym, which offered the same month for only $45. Seeing as how I just wanted a place to lift weights and do some cardio, not a place to take spinning classes, tan, play racquetball, swim, lay around in a sauna, and play cribbage, I decided on World Gym.

My new palace of pump was perfect. Much larger than Fit Physique, the price was still reasonable, and the steady--but not overpowering--influx of members told me that it was likely to stay around for a while. And so it did. It lasted six months to Fit Physique's one. The place had been open and operating successfully for at least fifteen years prior to my signing up, and it had now sold to new owners. I began to wonder if I was a bad luck curse to gyms everywhere. I expect a thank you note from The Jungle Club any day now.

Anyway, rather than close down, World Gym has now become Longevity Max Fitness, which makes it sound like a place where your money may be no good unless it is produced with a shaky hand out of a coin purse. So far, so good, though. Other than a change of signs, nothing much has changed, and I hope it stays that way. The quest to look like Jay Cutler may continue.

2 Legit

Welcome, one and all, to the inaugural posting here at The Shark Tank (one of several, if domain availability is anything to go by). What the blog's title lacks in originality, however, the content will make up for. In the virtual pages of this blog, I'll be looking at everything from movies, interesting happenings in the news, and perhaps a tidbit or two from my personal life. As you can see from this description, the blog will be nothing if not unique.

Depending on one's definition.

So, until I get bored with it and wake up one morning to realize I haven't made a post in over seven months, hopefully we'll have some fun. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and watch this fine example of both the hip hop form and animation at its finest: Hammer Man