Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Best Time Waster

Sand Game.

I don’t know what else to say about this nominee, really. I don’t know what to say about Sand Game in the first place, let alone what else to say. All I can say is Sand Game. When it comes to wasting time, that’s the only two words that are needed.

If you know about Sand Game, then you probably agree with me. If you’re wondering what Sand Game is, read this article first: I’ve provided links to Sand Game at the end of it but if you go there now you’ll likely never come back and read this and I’m not spending all this time not playing Sand Game to have you not read the article.

I don’t know how Sand Game came about or who invented it. I know that when you start doing searches for it, you wind up on websites like this, and then you click the links and get this:

And what the heck is that all about?

So I have no idea what the real story of Sand Game is, and, frankly, I don’t care because I know that Sand Game exists and so I don’t need to know anything more about it.

Sand Game’s place at the top of the list of time wasters is remarkable, too. I am not short of things to kill time with at work – beyond work, that is. Those times that I don’t spend a little bit of time writing on one of my blogs, I have my “Favorites” folder featuring no less than five celebrity gossip websites where I can keep up with the latest antics from Britney, Paris, Lindsay, and all those people I don’t know. Beyond that, I’ve got ready access to the great articles on Slate, The Hater over at the Onion (and The Onion’s videocracy, telling me what to watch), the now-closed “Not Proud” site with its glimpse into people’s confessions, I can go check out Toothpaste for Dinner, Natalie Dee, the other comic strips I read daily, check in on my first fan’s blog, find out how my fantasy baseball team is doing (I’m in second, thanks very much!), check my two web-based emails, find out how my friends on Gather are, go to PostSecret each Monday, read what Dwight’s been writing, and even spend time on the more obscure but really really funny websites.

Let me add that those are all rare, rare occurrences. I’m really very, very busy at work.

Oh, who am I kidding? None of us are busy at work anymore, not those of us with computers.
There are probably people with real jobs who are doing real work – my carpenter brother-in-law, say – and who are responsible for keeping the economy running, and then there are those of us who mostly sit in front of a computer all day and because of that spend most of our day on the Internet doing one of those many things I’ve outlined and slowly bogging down our offices and becoming albatrosses around the neck of society, and among them I’m probably the worst case.

And I was that worse case before I found out about Sand Game. Sand Game could replace all of those time-wasters singlehandedly.

I didn’t know, the day I found it, what it was about. I still don’t know what it’s about. It’s mystifying to me. But it’s mystifying in a hypnotic way that I am powerless to resist. The first day I found this Sand game, I literally got NOTHING done the rest of the afternoon, from 3:00 on. I pretended to be doing actual work, true. But nothing got done and I kept going back and surreptitiously checking in on it, modifying my little sand sculpture picture, messing around with the buttons, creating patterns, freeing the zombies, you name it.

Since then, I’ve had to ignore, as much as possible, that link on my Favorites list because if I start up with it, like I did today, then I’m helplessly lost in Sand Game world. (Here’s an example. These usually take me about 30 minutes to write. But because I’m writing about Sand Game, I had to play Sand Game, and because of that this has been written over the course of 1 ½ hours.) It is an amazing feat of willpower each day that I go and actually bill some work to clients with all the while Sand Game sitting there just a click away.

Here’s how I can best explain the addictive qualities of this game:

Sand Game is like being God if God had subcontracted the job to Picasso.

That’s not just the best way to explain the way Sand Game sucks me in, it’s also the best way I can explain what it’s like to play it. You get to make these little abstract designs that then turn into a world and shape-shift and modify it, and so you’ve created art that keeps changing itself and getting better, worse, more full, less full.

In my life, I have accomplished (I think) some amazing things. I’ve gotten married, raised a family, bought a house, graduated from law school, established a thriving law practice, written professional articles, won jury trials, traveled to foreign countries, published short stories. I’ve made friends, had some adventures, met some famous people, and generally had a great time. I honestly think that almost none of that would have happened had Sand Game been in my life years ago.
So now, here’s your link to Sand Game. Go play Sand Game and then, when you emerge, blinking, into your real life years from now, come back here and tell me that you agree with me.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Best Basketball Shoe

If you came here looking for the essay The Best Basketball Shoe, I'm sorry to disappoint you; that's been taken down and will appear in my upcoming collection.

You've got some other options, though. You can browse around the other topics here (click this link to see an alphabetical list of everything I've ever discussed), or you could browse the books I've published already, including a great sci-fi/horror novel and two different essay collections.

Visit my bookstore by clicking this link.

And you can still enjoy the video that was here:

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Best Female Singer

The digital age of music has been a boon to me. I love music. Love it more than most people could know. I love music so much that I wish I could have my own soundtrack and score to my life.

I mean that, too. I watch movies and get jealous that the characters in movies get to have music accompany their every move. It doesn’t matter if they’re restoring an old psychiatric hospital to make a fake school, or papering the town with fliers to help Demi Moore save her uncle’s house, or simply walking through the streets of New York in an opening credits scene while a kid plays some homemade drums, they get music and it enlivens their life. They are living in color, sonically speaking, while for the most part we have to go through our days in black-and-white, with simple conversation and footsteps and people dropping the jar of jelly and whatnot.

Or maybe the difference is between 2-D and 3-D. Most of our lives are lives in 2-D, a blur of images and colors and lines, and when we (or at least I) put music on, it resolves itself into a spaceship or ostrich and we smile in appreciation for the new depths we have found.

I’m writing this while I listen to music right now, in fact. I’m sitting at our kitchen table while Sweetie gets A ready for bed, while Middle Daughter works on World War II worksheets and The Boy struggles with math, and because the kids are not supposed to have music playing while they study – they got iPods for Christmas and were allowed to use them while studying, with the results being that grades took a precipitous fall—so bad that it’s unlikely we’ll have to deal with Ivy League tuitions; we may not even have to deal with any tuitions – and so we remedied that by banning music during homework. But while I have to be at the kitchen table to be ready to answer questions (I’ve fielded, tonight, assistance with what D-Day was, helping point out that it differed significantly from Pearl Harbor, and also a series of vocabulary words that I didn’t do too badly on. I was even right on bivouac), while I have to be ready to answer questions, I also can work on my writing, like this, only I need music (enjoyed via headphones, right now) to really set the mood (right now, it’s “The Fish That Played The Ponies,” by King Missile, a song that I got on the CD that Sweetie gave me for Christmas the year we got married, a CD she located solely for the purpose of getting me the song “Cheesecake Truck,” which I’d heard a snippet of five years before when I played the District Attorney in the play “Brother Truckers.”)

There, see that? See what music does? It evokes a string of emotions and memories. From this one song, I got a bit of reminiscing that took me all the way back to that summer when I got bored and decided to take up acting, memorized a Shakespeare soliloquy, went on auditions, and appeared in an actual live play that ran four nights before live audiences at a real theater, all in the span of two months. (And the fact that I did that on the spur of the moment, much as I decided to go to Washington, live in Morocco, sing lead in a band, and go to law school, should show you just what an interesting person I am. If I wasn’t me, I’d kill just to get to know me.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, music setting the mood. The right song helps set a mood and can sink in and fix a moment in your mind.

And the right song can also cement a person in your mind as the greatest female singer ever. I’m talking about Fiona Apple.

Sweetie thinks that I like Fiona Apple because she thinks I think Fiona Apple is pretty. That is only partially true; Fiona Apple is, in fact, pretty. She’s also pretty interesting, but that’s beside the point. I like Fiona Apple because of her voice. And I got to know Fiona Apple’s voice through the song “Like A Drug.”

The song was on a mix tape that a friend who was a college DJ gave me years and years back. She didn’t label the singer of the song on the card that came with mix tapes. (Remember mix tapes? I have a zillion mix tapes. I’ve had some for so long and listened to them so much that certain songs, to me, will always make me wait for the song I expect to come next, because that’s the way they were on the tape. Like how I expect to hear “Don’t Ask Me Why” by Billy Joel right after “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd.)(I had pretty eclectic mix tapes.)

The song wasn’t labeled, and it was right at the end of the tape. I was listening to it the next day while I cleaned up my little L-shaped studio apartment, and it was getting dark, and I was getting tired. And that song came on. I stopped what I was doing and I just listened.

I was transported by the singing. People say, in old Jane Austen novels mostly, that they were “transported” but they don’t really know what they’re talking about until it’s happened. In this case, the singing was so strong and so pure and so on-key and yet had the tiniest little quaver, the smallest hesitation, like there was just a little part that was being held back and as you listened, you didn’t want the singer to hold back but you understood why she did and the fact that she did that made you ache for her.

That’s being transported.

I’ve since lost that tape, or it got eaten by a tape player, or someone stole it from me. All those things used to happen to mix tapes. But I never lost my love for Fiona Apple’s voice, and have gone on to enjoy other albums of hers and always because of her singing. If Fiona Apple were to chant the local phone book, I’d probably buy that.

And all because of that song.

And now you’ll be glad you read to the end, because it turns out that song was probably not sung by Fiona Apple at all. When I sat down to write this, I decided to once again search for that song to see if I could download it, since I could find plenty of websites that listed the lyrics and the title of the song, but could not find it on iTunes and could not find the album it was on to purchase it, and tonight I went to try again – I’ve been searching for that song, off and on, for years—but when I went to search tonight, to see if someone could point me in the direction of the album or where to download (legally! Back off, RIAA!) that song, I found, instead, a listing for the CD that the song may or may not appear on, and I say “may or may not” because I found, also, another site that claims that the version I heard was by that band but was a demo version – so I might never ever get that version back again?

So this, I guess, marks a first: The first ever nomination for The Best that was, in fact, based on a mistaken (or potentially mistaken) assumption. And yet, even being founded on a mistake does not make my opinion any less right. So let’s just agree that the song was beautiful, Fiona Apple has a phenomenal voice, and I’m always right.

And let’s go out listening to her sing:

Oh, and if you know the answer to who really sang the mostly a cappella version that I heard, and where I can get it, please let me know.