In March of 2007, You Learned:
I've written a new column for Epicurious Magazine's "Daily Dish." This was requested for their April Fool's column, though I guess it ran on March 30th. (Epicures do not do Sundays!)
It would have been nice if the editor hadn't been required to add a "Happy April Fool's!" post-script, but I suppose the alternative would have been a little irresponsible. If you'd like to read it, here's the link.
Oh, I've also gone back and updated the "writing" section of toddlevin.com, and now it includes all of my articles for The Morning News, as well as my stuff for Epicurious, McSweeney's, and others. I was even able to find some old movie reviews I wrote for Film Threat. You can read them all here.
I DIDN'T CHANGE; YOU DID.
Notice anything different about me? (points to breasts) The tremble head, which has been a part of this site since 1998(!), is taking a brief-to-permanent vacation. It was surprisingly hard to replace that image, when you consider the fact that I no longer physically resemble it in any way. (Did you even know, at the time of its creation, that head was a self-portrait?) I'm still not sure how I feel about the change and, but I must confess I like the idea of having a "vintage" logo as well as a new one.
About that new one...it was created by a very talented friend, Stephen Lee. Stephen has actually created a bunch of these blockheads, many of them designed to resemble people he knows. (The original, full-color version of mine is here, but I had to rough it up a bit to make it feel at home on this site.)
I'm pretty easy to caricature, which isn't necessarily the greatest quality a person can have. It's kind of like saying, "I have many pronounced and exaggerated features. Any three year-old could draw me—I am practically deformed!" And that brings me to a proposition...
Now that I've broken the 7+ year tremble head streak, nothing is sacred. If you fancy yourself an artist and would like to take a stab at a new tremble emblem, be my guest. If it doesn't hurt my feelings I'll use it on this site, with proper credit attributed. It's pretty easy to figure out the size—just right-click the head at the top of this page and, from your little shortcut menu, choose "download image as..." That will give you the proper dimensions.
You can name the new file whatever you want. Please just keep it black and white, and about the same size and proportion as the head in the above image. If you're feeling ambitious, you can even rough it up a bit so you don't have to worry about me messing around with your pretty picture.
For photographic reference material, visit toddlevin.com or my myspace page.
Is this offer sort of narcissistic? I don't know. I know I'm essentially asking people to draw me, but I thought it would just be a fun thing to do, made more fun by including you in the design of this site. And, while I'm enjoying having this public wrestling match with my conscience, I will still go to bed tonight wondering if I'm a self-absorbed creep. Just like every night.
In conclusion, here is a tour of the history of "tremble head." It's best to look at these links while listening to Extreme's "More Than Words."
- tremble.com circa 1999
- tremble.com circa 2001 (aka "the salad days")
- tremble.com circa 2006 (i barely remember you)
MR. FANCY (URINE-SOAKED) PANTS.
This morning, the man sitting next to me on the subway turned to me and asked, "do you have a dollar?" I was pretty startled by his question, not because he was a man on the subway asking for money, but because he was a man sitting next to me——practically on top of me——asking for money. When I said, "I don't have a dollar for you," he turned to other people who had just boarded the train and repeated his entreaty, leaning in toward the passenger and even tapping some of the straphangers on the shoulder, but never vacating his comfortable seat.
The whole business struck me as a serious breach of panhandler etiquette. The traditional panhandler-passenger relationship is this: passengers are seated and standing, and a panhandler places himself at the end of the subway car, where he begins his "pitch." The pitch typically includes some combination of "war veteran," "mental illness," "homeless," "basketball team," "HIV," "shame," and "lake of fire." The panhandler then proceeds along the car, either passively holding out his or her hand or more aggressively rattling a Pringle's can filled with change. Sometimes, in extreme situations, a panhandler will stand over a white person who is reading a copy of SURFACE Magazine, listening to an iPod that's been secreted in the special iPod pouch of his Jack Spade messenger bag, and staring at his Campers, trying very consciously not to make eye contact with the panhandler in hopes that he will just move along. (This is the commuter's equivalent of a Mexican stand-off.) Then, usually at the next stop, the panhandler will exit the car, move on to next, and repeat this process until, finally, he has made his way through every car on the train. At this point he will usually step off the train and wait for the next one, to start again.
But not this asshole. No, he seemed to be genuinely enjoying his commute, even going as far as sitting spread-legged to commute-block other passengers. At one point he even sat with his legs crossed, as comfortable as can be, while he tugged at the coats of people standing over him (without a seat) and asked each of them, individually, for a dollar. If you'll forgive me jumping to conclusions, I wonder if his spoiled, decadent and lazy sense of entitlement probably might convince others that their dollar contributions will be not be wisely invested.
I have to confess, though, eventually I came to understand and even admire his unique position. He had a pretty sweet deal, scoring a seat on the subway during the morning rush hour and earning some money in the process. Who wrote the rule saying it's necesssary to stand or walk around the subway car asking for money? Why not take a more relaxed approach, and let the marks come to you? I guess it can be confusing, though. There is a sort of unspoken desire to know how to separate commuters from panhandlers. When anyone sitting next to you can just turn to you and ask for a dollar, is that a sign that society is beginning to break down? Can anyone panhandle, without sacrificing even the most basic privileges of the normal commuter (a seat)?
If this is true, and seated panhandlers become more fashionable, what (apart from dignity and courtesy) really prevents anyone else from jumping in and making a little extra cash on their commute? I wonder what it would be like if every time this panhandler uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, and asked someone for a dollar, I just cut him off with, "how about 50 cents? We can make this happen right here, right now for only 50 cents. That's HALF of what he's asking! You tell me where you'll find a better deal than that." An entrepreneurial mind could really benefit from a situation like this. Hop on the subway at the first stop, when the train is still empty, then let it fill up with rush hour commuters, and auction off your seat to the highest bidder. You're welcome, all the homeless people sitting at their rich, oiled mohagony desks, reading this web site.
LOOK AWAY, BABY.
This morning I saw a mother standing on the doorstep of her townhouse, cradling her baby. As I walked past them, the baby locked eyes with me, and flashed a huge baby smile. Normally, on the running scoreboard in my head, I would award this quiet moment of extrinsic validation 5 points. Points are awarded on the following scale:
baby smiling at me: 5 points
dog smiling at me: 2 points
dog expressing sadness to me/seeking compassion from me: 10 points
pretty lady smiling at me: 20 points
someone recognizing me from seeing me perform: 50 points
someone recognizing me from my website: 75 points
homeless man involuntarily urinating while smiling at me: -5 points
guy who reminds me of all the things i wish i could change about myself, smiling at me: -50 points
black guy acknowledging me with anything but hostility: 500 points
But today I guess I was feeling self-conscious because when the baby smiled at me all I could think was, "What? Is there something on my face? Am I walking stupid? WHAT, BABY? WHAT??!!??" I felt judged and tortured when, really, the baby had probably just farted or something. Smug idiot.
OUR INSTANT MESSAGES ARE BRILLIANT AND PRECIOUS AND NEED TO BE SHARED WITH THE WORLD.
It's 'jump the shark week' at tremble. First, a lengthy post about the ins-and-outs of next-gen video game consoles. Now, a pasted-in IM transcript because everyone needs to know how delightfully droll me and my friends are. And to think, there was a time when Yahoo! Internet Life Magazine called tremble "passably...entertaining...it's suck.com meets regular old suck."
This conversation was in response to the following op-ed piece on CNN: "Commentary: Gonzales being whacked like a piñata." (Thanks for qualifying it with "commentary," CNN.)
[Update: Surely the result of dozens of incredulous and angry emails, CNN has changed the headline of that commentary piece to "Gonzales' persecutors blinded by rage." Fortunately, the writer has managed to preserve the pinata reference right at the end of the first paragraph. Wasn't going to let that one go. This guy is the Edward R. Murrow of contemporary news journalism. I can imagine he really fought the editors for the inclusion of that pinata joke. I wonder how far Ruben Navarette went, honestly. Did he pull the "it's not insensitive because I have a Hispanic last name, too" card? Probably.]
FOR NERD EYES ONLY.
[i wasn't kidding with that headline; if i were going to tag the content of the following post it would be "video game" + "theory" + "ps3" + "instant readership genocide." consider yourselves warned.]
I've been following a lot of the press for Sony's PlayStation 3, probably because I am looking for ways to rationalize the poor impulse control that led me to purchase a PS3 instead of paying my rent. [PSN name: "tremble"] For months, the press on PS3 was invariably dismal—poor sales, paltry game catalogue, insultingly high price tag, loss of exclusive titles, etc. etc. Every night I would come home, give my PS3 the finger, and then settle in for about 15 minutes to play a free demo of Motorstorm. (The only title available that actually seemed suited for the extraordinarily advanced hardware running it.)
Then Sony made a very big announcement at the Game Developers Conference earlier this month. They were in the last stages of developing something called "HOME," which finally showed Sony and the PS3 in a cool, possibly enviable light. HOME is Sony's answer to both Nintendo's adorable "Mii" community and Microsoft's game achievements (which I still don't entirely understand, or understand at all), but it also contains elements of Second Life. Basically, HOME allows PS3 users to create an avatar of themselves, rendered in a somewhat photorealistic style (the avatars kind of look like customized players in the Tony Hawk game series), and then use that avatar to explore and occupy a large, 3D landscape.
But, since this is a gaming console we're talking about and not just a "free space" where your alter-ego can roam free without worrying about his real-world cleft palate or male pattern baldness, there are plenty of predetermined things you can do. For instance, you can meet up with other avatars (your friends with poor financial management skills who, like you, paid $600 to play Q*Bert; also, PlayStation Network pals you met while playing Q*Bert online) in one of HOME's many lobbies, and make group decisions such as:
- "Let's leave this lobby and join up elsewhere to shoot each other in the face during an online multi-player game of Death Merchants: TOE TAG SALE."
- "Let's all go to my virtual apartment, filled with virtual mid-century modern furniture for which I paid real money, and listen to MP3s together."
- "Let's just hang out here and talk about, you know, stuff."
- "Let's all check out all the cool advertisements that have crowded into every possible free corner of HOME in order to defray the cost of developing such an ambitious user interface in a completely free network service."
There are other things you and your friends can do, but that's a real grey area right now. HOME is a pretty open platform and, while Sony has some specific immediate plans for it, there are many other things it hasn't even considered yet. Even though I've never been attracted to games like The Sims or free-for-alls like Second Life, I'm definitely curious about the potential of HOME, particularly as a gaming interface. And, while one of the the first questions that keeps coming up, long before HOME has been populated (or even gone live) is the very obvious, "well, aren't there a lot of immature assholes who play video games? And would I really want to live in a virtual world populated by semi-literate fanboys, trash-talkers, and those guys who robbed PS3 pre-order customers at gunpoint back in November?" There certainly exists the possibility that HOME could become broken and dysfunctional very quickly, if all these people are allowed to run around, uncensored.
One thing Sony has officially said on this subject, regarding jerkfaces and meanies who roam HOME, is that you can instantly "block" anyone who hassles you (just like over email, or in your instant messaging program). Makes sense. You can also report someone to the network administrator, which seems less productive to me. Snitching has always struck me as a protracted, ineffective process, and usually just makes the snitch feel stupid and more impotent in the end. It's going to be hard to police every creep who hangs out in HOME, and some see this is a tremendous disadvantage for the platform, but I seriously see it as a great opportunity.
After all, PS3 is essentially a gaming platform, right? Sony has even said that eventually your avatar might be able to walk up to an arcade cabinet in HOME and immediately launch himself or herself into a game of pinball, bowling, Galaga, etc. Why not use this in other seamless real-world situations. What if you were being bullied by some other avatar and you could instantly challenge him to a fight, right in HOME. You set the location, and the time, and an invite gets posted all over HOME so other people can show up. Then, at the given time/location, you and your tormentor enter a full-featured fighting game, like Virtua Fighter or whatever. Only the two fighters are YOUR AVATARS. And, in the background, you'll see all the other user avatars who decided to show up to watch the fight. You could even charge them admission to attend.
Better yet, you and your competitor could set stakes for the fight. Suppose there was a system of money-like credits in HOME. You could set a purse for the fight. Additionally, you could set other stakes like "Let's play for clothing." Then, whoever wins the fight also wins their challenger's clothing, and that challenger has to walk around HOME naked and humiliated until he/she can procure more clothing, either using credits or by challenging another person to a fight.
Or, why not challenge someone else to a drag race around HOME? Winner takes loser's vehicle. (PLUS, loser has to pay for any damages to person or property caused during the race.) This could go on and on and on, with various other game-inspired challenges where gaming skills=survival skills. Eventually, HOME could potentially have "bad" neighborhoods (like Grand Theft Auto) you'd only visit if you were looking for fake IDs, tattoos, dice games, and other kinds of low-level mayhem.
Of course, Sony can easily prevent certain types of counter-productive behavior an environment like HOME—for instance, they can make sure it's impossible to murder another person's character—but you can't really 100% enforce an anti-bullying policy. However, HOME presents a tremendous advantage. Here, physical strength and confidence don't figure in at all, with regards to bullying. A new set of rules and attributes prevails—namely, wit and skill. Why not allow the currency of HOME to flourish? Obviously, you wouldn't have to accept any challenges issued to you by other HOME avatars, but it could be a great chance to shut down an annoying bully if you were interested.
Even if it meant getting my ass kicked, I would love to play a "real world" fighting game where my fighter is me. And, of course, I would also like to see other people's avatars naked.
SOUTH BY SOUTH-BEDREST.
I am back from SXSW with a brand-new flu, but I don't care. Austin, Texas now firmly holds a place in my top five list of U.S. cities. (Sorry, Ithaca.) The SXSW interactive conference, while great fun, really was an alien cultural experience for me. I tend to think I am more entrenched in the Internet and online technology than most of my close friends, but at SXSW I sincerely felt like a retarded child who had been given a digital watch for his birthday. I can barely txt on my phone, yet everyone around me was using their mobile phones and TREOs to receive RSS feeds, as GPS devices, for local dining and entertainment listings. I saw someone tap his Pocket PC a few times, and make it dispense a stick of JuicyFruit gum.
While in Austin I took some notes and aggregated them in a story for The Morning News, where you can now read my (incomplete) coverage of SXSW Interactive 2007.
(Later...) The article has been up for about half a day now, and I've seen a few people have linked to it, which is nice, but it's also made me feel kind of lousy. That's because most of the posts linking to it have headlines like, "Todd Levin gives SXSW a SMACKDOWN!" and "Todd Levin Shits All Over SXSW." Others have called the article "snarkolicious." (groan)
I guess I tend to write through the lens of humor and it was natural for me, an outsider, to (try to) see the unusual, the funny, or the self-conscious weak spots ripe for parody. In retrospect, I feel like in my desire to write a funny overview of the festival, I did it a bit of a disservice. I neglected to mention all of the incredibly open-hearted, funny, cool, and ridiculously smart people who took me out, let me borrow their cars, allowed me to tell a dirty story at the Fray Café, and for whom SXSW is a really meaningful way to re-connect with old friends or network with new ones. I realize that sounds like a cop-out now, and I can't take the article down—and I certainly wouldn't renounce what I'd written, because all of those observations are honest, even if some of them are a bit cheap and lazy. ("We get it. SXSW Interactive has a reputation for being a bit nerdy.") I just regret that my words represent an unfortunately incomplete picture of the festival which, regardless of its cultural relevance to me, was still truly a great social gathering. So there.
[Update: Through the magic of Internet publishing, I was able to make another pass at my SXSW article for TMN. It was a relief to have just a little more time to sort out my impressions of the conference. I think the new edit is a bit more representative of what was happening both inside and outside of my head. I guess I can't control whether someone will find it snarkriffic™, but that's OK. Also, is it okay to write OK as "okay?" I think I prefer this spelling. It's folksier.]
MORE LIKE "SOUTH BY SOUTH BEST".
I leave early tomorrow—earlier than I think I'm capable of waking my rapidly deteriorating body—for Austin, Texas and SXSW. I think I'm ready for the trip. I haven't packed yet, but I've already drunk two bottles of barbecue sauce, to slick my throat in anticipation of all the slow-cooked meat I'll need to rush into my stomach. I'm also bringing my old 60-pound Underwood manual typewriter, which I plan to use to send emails and instant messages during all of the Interactive Panels. When people ask me about my typewriter, I will tell them, "Oh, you mean my machine of loving grace?" and then drink from a flask of Chardonnary secreted in the breast pocket of my hunting vest.
Maybe I'll see you there.
MY FROZEN HEART.
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream has a neat feature on its website, where you can generate your own ice cream flavors and then suggest them to corporate management. I'm still awaiting feedback:
GOOD FOR YOU, MISS COULTER.
Someone just sent me this clip of esteemed Conservative pundit, Ann Coulter, speaking frankly about politics at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I think it's refreshing to see Miss Coulter stick to the issues. In one brief, well-rehearsed quip she calls Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot," and simultaneously trashes the trend of "rehab-as-apology" in American culture. Ann's not apologizing to anyone for calling this former U.S. Senator a faggot! She's done her homework! The facts are in, and those facts add up to: DEMOCRAT JOHN EDWARDS + 300 HOURS OF STURDY POLITICAL RESEARCH REGARDING HIS PLATFORM AS A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE = FAGGOT.
[By the way, I haven't had a chance to say this yet, but great work on FOX News Channel's very funny '1/2 Hour News Hour.' Your performance in the 'Rush Limbaugh as President' sketch was right on the money. Not at all wooden or spooky. You absolutely didn't remind me of one of those slow-moving, talking trees from Lord of the Rings. Nice acting chops. Glad to see you having fun.]
And the assembled guests at one of America's largest Conservative conferences must have done their homework, too, because they were psyched about Coulter's thorough, fact-filled dissection of Edwards' merit as a Presidential candidate. (i.e. he is a faggot) I haven't heard a room full of political conservatives having this much fun since John Rambo went back and turned around a Vietnam War victory for America...3,000 bullets at a time! This kind of laughter is usually reserved for the moment Larry the Cable Guy farts into a microphone, or when the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan entertains his Knights by pulling a Michael Jackson puppet out of his rob, then whipping its pants off, and pointing out the flat area on its groin where genitals should be.
Just so we're clear, there's really no subtlety on this one, is there? Ann Coulter called John Edwards a faggot. At a major Republican political conference in Washington, D.C. And everyone laughed. That's it, right? There's no missing context for this video, is there? Like a moment right after that comment when Ann Coulter says, "What if I had really meant that? Wouldn't that be just kind of hateful?" Or a moment before the clip where she says, "I'd like to wish everyone in the audience a very un-happy 'Backwards Day'!" She is incorrigible, which is precisely why we love her very much. She's really funny—like Carlos Mencia, but less sensitive, less sophisticated, and made of very brittle wood.
I know it's not nice to pray for a woman to wake up one morning with a short thin, misshapen penis that pees an endless and uncontrollable, eye-stinging stream of diarrhea and can't be amputated without killing her. Something that won't martyr her, but will force her to live the rest of her life feeling the same hot shame I feel for her every time she opens her humorless mouth.
I know that's not nice. I should be praying for other things, like a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, or for John Edwards to keep his faggoty hands to himself. But I can't help it. I have tried to be reasonable, but after hearing Coulter—a MAINSTREAM pundit who is getting rich off book sales and lecture tours—shit on 9/11 widows, call global warming activists "anti-human," and now use her time at a political conference to dismissively joke that one of our Presidential candidates is a faggot (to, let's not forget, rousing approval), I have decided to direct all of my prayers into the singular area of making Ann Coulter's diarrhea-spewing, severely deformed penis a reality. It's my dream.