#WildcardTuesday

Part 7 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: Magazines.com

A Bit of Shit

Mgains.om (stylized m ga in s. om) was founded by Maurice Gains in 1901. It holds the distinction of being the first website published on the World Wide Web, and it is still operational to this day. Initially part blog and partly to promote and formally recognize the vibratory power of the utterance of “om“, it later became a more comprehensive portal for those looking for any kind of “m gain”— muscle gain, market gains, etc.

Gains, the site’s founder, was born in 2065. He was an avid yogi and vehement opponent of capitalism and what he saw to be its virulent effects; this led him to pursue time travel for a single reason: to create the internet himself, rewriting the history books by replacing the “.com” top-level domain with “.om”.

Gains later gained a gainful number of followers on stone age media through his creation of the internet— at one point everyone who had an account on the world’s most popular stone age media platform, tryme.om, was required to have him added as a friend. (He is credited for having started Try Me, although over a century-and-a-half later, rumors persist that he “borrowed” the site’s idea and intellectual property from a variety of sources, including the Winkleburen twins and James Brown.)

Gains’ once peanut-sized ego began to inflate to planet-sized proportions. This continued unabated; he went crazy. 15 minutes of fame became more than 15 decades of enduring severe mental disorder and disarray, either in a physical or spiritual state. He had no way of getting back to his era of birth. His biological clock had frozen solid, and while his butterfly effect— creating the internet many decades before it really came about— was neat and all, it didn’t make up for all the agony of seeing and hearing imagined, yet disturbing phenomena; not having any “real” friends (those anonymous stone age media buddies don’t count); and most importantly, having to hold a secret, as time travel had never been seen and his calculated discovery of it 14 years and 302 days out of the womb, on April 4, 2080, would simply seem like a fabricated hoax.

It is believed by spiritual experts that Gains’ went through nine years of spiritual purgatory after his untimely death on May 13, 2056— this being prior to his reincarnation. As proof of their theory, they cite the fact that Gains’ purported reincarnated self was also named “Maurice Michael Gains”, and Gains could vividly recount all of his supposed previous incarnation’s life events, in the moments immediately after having finished an autobiographical bookdocumentary film, and detailed Wikipedia entry about his supposed previous life. The new Maurice Gains, therefore, went by the moniker of “Maurice Michael Gains II.” Scientists have cast overwhelming doubt over Gains’ story and telling of events.

Gains, in his second birth experience post-2065, was able to correct all of his mistakes made in his previous lif(v)e(s). He went through the many stages of physical, spiritual, and transcendental evolution. He first got a six-pack and a greased-back haircut. He then became a bonafide Bodhisattva. Finally, he became posthuman, before becoming an actual God, before becoming the penultimate God. By the turn of the 22nd century, “God” had been renamed “Gains”.

Yes, this was all bullshit. But I hope it was at least somewhat enlightening or entertaining.

Real Primer

The real topic of this blog post is Magazines.com. Although I typically don’t go out seeking to promote businesses, there are a few reasons that I think Magazines.com is an exception to this self-imposed rule.

First of all, I visited Magazines.com recently in order to renew my subscription to The Economist. The site was easy to use, and I was able to save money over if I had bought it elsewhere. This was not only because I used a coupon code that made it $5 off, but I actually paid attention to that popup on the upper portion of the page, informing me that Swagbucks would credit me 35 points per dollar for my purchase. Including cash back, I am effectively paying less than $100 for an entire year of preeminent editorial.

As this blog has probably firmly established, whether an entity has a Wikipedia article helps cement its legitimacy, or lack thereof, in my eyes. Having heard of Magazines.com a number of times, I would’ve assumed that it would’ve a fairly robust page. A picture, clearly delineated sections, and a history, for starters. Thus, I was a bit surprised to find simply this:

Magazines.com Wikipedia

Essentially, the article is a four sentence stub. It has some interesting info that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, such as the fact that Time has invested in it and it’s based in Tennessee, but it’s still rather basic. I would use another established discount magazine subscription site to base my enhanced article off of, but unfortunately, there aren’t too many prominent competitors. None with Wikis, at least.

Ultimately, I chose to use a e-commerce site whose goods serve as a close parallel to magazines: books. While there were first-party sellers with Wiki pages, like Thriftbooks, I decided to use the Wiki for AbeBooks as a model, as it had clear sections and was of a decent length.

The first step would be to actually look at those links that are provided. For the most part, they were outdated and rubbish— mentions held little relevance to the current state of the company. I would look elsewhere for actual info on the company.

Something I would want to focus upon was creating an info box for the site— info boxes are those rectangular info-containing sidebars that tell you all the basics about a company.

While most of this info would be easy to upload on the site, one particular item would cause me issues: the company logo. Not only does Wikipedia have strict rules as to the use of photos that are commercial— I tried looking for a version of the Magazines.com logo that could be reused without any exemptions, and failed—  but one has to upload the actual image onto the Wikimedia Commons, which requires the creation of a Wikipedia account.

I created a Wikipedia and Wikimedia account. But, here comes the Catch-22— even with an account, you do not have immediate access to upload files. Per Wikipedia’s User Access Levels document:

Autoconfirmed or confirmed status is required to move pages, edit semi-protected pages, and upload files or upload a new version of an existing file.

This was also reaffirmed via the text image below:

Wikipedia Upload Wizard

Good to know. So this info box would go without an image for the time being; Wikipedia Commons, from what I understood, only accepts images that are public domain, “copyleft“, etc.

After a handful of edits— a majority of the edits were made in order to get formatting and other small details correct— I ended up with the page below:

Magazines.com Wiki

I didn’t spend a ton of time making the text perfect— I have already noticed that I use the word “claim” in two back-to-back sentences in the third paragraph in the “History” section. I could’ve at least said “also” claimed.

While I was able to eliminate most “red” links— links that instead of being blue appear red; the sanguine hue implies that the article has fought a bloody war trying to link to a different Wikipedia article, but has not succeeded, possibly experiencing a number of casualties in the process— one still remained in the info box itself. I could probably find out how to link the term “magazine subscriptions” to an actual Wikipedia article— this one would be a good choice— but I will let some other denizen of the Wikipedia community do that. (If not done in the coming weeks, my OCD self may take it upon myself.)

Other than the content itself, I think I helped by way of addition by subtraction. The previous links in the references largely had scattered, minimal, or worst of all, irrelevant info; thus, I deleted them.

While my links do not reveal anything too enthralling, at least they come from established sources, and are properly cited as footnotes. The page simply makes more sense and looks a lot cleaner. It looks like someone actually gave a crap.

Conclusion

I ultimately wish I could’ve provided more info on Magazines.com’s Wiki, but it wasn’t exactly easy to find any substantial info on the company that wasn’t from their copy. Quite frankly, I was lucky to even find the Inc. 5000 placement.

It’s not as if I didn’t try. I input all kinds of queries on Google, ranging from “magazines.com article” to “magazines.com feature” to specific sites where I was hoping I’d find an article, like “magazines.com forbes.” I tried at least a couple of variations on each query. As a last ditch effort, I tried searching for both the company name and founder: “jay clarke magazines.com.”

That got me a little closer to what I was looking for, but still no cigar. One interesting thing I did end up finding was this vintage video, which is on Magazines.com’s YouTube channel. I also found many of his various social media profiles— LinkedInPinterestTwitter, etc.— a few of those creepy directories that tell you someone’s phone number, email address, and the like; and various webpages for events at which he spoke or attended.

The closest things to actual features or informative articles I would find from the media was a trio of press releases on the Nashville Post. Of these three article links, one no longer functions, while the other two simply announce the hiring of some key person within the firm.

Magazines.com Articles
The three articles on Clarke/Magazines.com from a local publication

Seven posts in, it has become clear to me that not every article on Wikipedia is or should be as long as that on the 1918 New Year Honors. It’s cliche, but when life gives you lemons, make the damn best lemonade you can.

On a final note, no post on an American business will be allowed to betray this obligatory, patriotic rallying call: Go ‘Murica!

Quote of the Day:

“I created the internet. No help from anyone. That simple. Gains out.” — Maurice Gains upon exiting a June 1949 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show

#MovieMonday

Part 6 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: The Devil’s Circus

Primer

According to Wikipedia, The Devil’s Circus is a 1928 silent drama film. I found out about this film rather serendipitously— I started naming my URL slugs for each of my five previous posts within this blog, and while contemplating a unique and creative URL for my Circus Diablo post, I concluded that “The Devil’s Circus” was a good name. Lo and behold, a Google search— conducted largely for SEO purposes— informed me that The Devil’s Circus is a real and wholly separate entity; moreover, it is an entity all but lost and abandoned, much like the band whose name it may have possibly inspired.

The film was directed by a Dane named Benjamin Christensen, who may have one of the most troubling noses in history. Despite very likely suffering from Pinocchio syndrome— the fable of Pinocchio was first entrenched within Western culture as a serial when he was two years of age— Christensen would live to age 80, serving as “a film director, screenwriter and an actor both in film and on the stage.”

The most famous film in which he had involvement was arguably Häxan, an overly-ambitious, largely acclaimed Swedish-Danish dramatized documentary that came six years before The Devil’s Circus. With an opulent budget of 2 million Swedish kroners, the film examined how unfounded superstition and mental disease could lead innocent individuals to being subject to witch-hunts. It received heavy acclaim in Sweden and Denmark, but did not receive as warm of a reception in other countries, with many sovereign states heavily censoring it. The United States, the paragon of free speech, went as far as outright banning the film. (Perhaps history played somewhat of a role.) This is a simple example of the limitations of the First Amendment.

Christensen’s most famous acting role was likely in Michael, a German silent film that was largely panned by contemporaries, but has still left a legacy. It was one of the first notable films to portray homosexuality, and was based on a book by Herman Bang, a man who I sincerely doubt “banged” many women (or men) during his lifetime. Many critics cited Christensen’s performance as being a bright spot in the film.

Christensen’s output was mostly in German, Danish, or English. As aforementioned, much of it has sunk to depths so hidden that even the most daring of pirates have been unable to discover it, much less share it with the public. That is, if there even is an intact original or copy somewhere in the stratosphere. The Devil’s Circus was long considered to be in this domain— a lost film— although it was since “rediscovered and has been preserved by George Eastman House.”

The lead section of the article speaks further to this phenomenon:

It was the first of seven films directed by Christensen in the United States, and one of only four of those films that have not been lost.

The Most Complicated Plot Ever

The following is the plot provided on Wiki about The Devil’s Circus:

The Devil's Circus Plot

Disregarding issues of grammar and clarity— which I may delve further into later— I will attempt to offer my interpretation of this paucity of a plot.

Mary (played by Norma Shearer) is probably somehow associated with a weirdo named Carlstop— it is not out of the realm of the imagination that this moniker was derived from Mary screaming “Carl! Stop!,” while Carlstop sexually assaulted Mary; I mean look at that creepy smile of the actor playing him— and they walk into an area where they are knowingly persona non grata. It is well known that Lieberkind is the finest lion-tamer in all the lands.

Mary and Carlstop, despite their impending rape litigation, decide that they make good partners in crimeSee, Mary never told Carlstop that she had the ability to finish an act in more ways than one. He thought she was just some stupid, talentless broad.

They hatch a plan to rob Lieberkind of his immense wealth through distraction. It is well known that Lieberkind has had extramarital affairs with Mary; it was covered all over the news, making Yonna not only jealous, but considering a legally justified divorce. It is also well documented that Lieberkind is very frugal, and will go to any means to obtain free or cheap entertainment, particularly when there are stunning women involved.

Thus, Mary and Carlstop start their own circus company, aptly named after their to-be-exposed naughty intentions: “The Devil’s Circus”. Most of their performances attract somewhere in the range of one to 111 people, but thanks to promotion from Lieberkind himself, a show in remote Pumpkinville, OH garners over 11,111 individuals. Lieberkind does this because he is provided with a VIP, skybox suite for 11 cents.

It is important to note that Lieberkind is distrustful of banks. Therefore, he carries all of his money with him at all times. Precisely, $11,111,111 in unadjusted currency. All but $11 is in $100 denominations. He holds these $100 bills in stacks of 111.

Throughout the show, Lieberkind is enamored and distracted. He begins throwing multiple stacks at Mary by the end of the show, as an act of amoration admiration. This is where the “fatal” part comes into play— Mary, unfortunately, falls and becomes severely injured in the process. Carlstop, therefore, is only marginally needed to pull off the heist of a lifetime. He becomes fanatically fatalistic and depressed about life, as he realizes that he is not only an amateur, but he won’t be able to employ the services of the best defense lawyers in Ohio.

After many failed attempts at evading Lieberkind’s henchmen, he ends up “stealing” a single stack of cash. The stack was one left behind, under a seat, by Lieberkind after departing.

End results? Carlstop is executed for being a sorry little witch, Lieberkind divorces Yonna to marry Mary, and all is well in Pumpkinville.

I’m pretty positive that’s how the full plot of this 70 minute film goes.

Helping Wiki Out

Clearly, this article is in need of expansion and revision. Wikipedia goes as far as to say so, by making the following suggestion:

Wikipedia Stub Article

Let’s first start with the plot. Unfortunately, IMDb does not provide any plot background, spare for a single user review that is very vague and nondescript. I did find somewhat of a plot description from Moviefone, however. This is the final result of my efforts to improve the section, borrowing from Moviefone:

Wikipedia Synopsis Section

I think this reads much better, while also providing a little more detail. I would have mentioned the actor’s name directly after their character’s name in parenthesis— e.g. “Mary (Shearer)”— but I found it to be redundant since the cast details come right after this section.

I also decided it’d be smart to add a section that I find important in gauging whether a film is worth my time: the “Reception” section. There were only two obstacles. First, I’ve never added entire sections to Wikipedia articles. Fortunately, this was not hard to figure out— one simply clicks on “Edit” at the top of the page, and then follows Wikipedia’s relatively simple syntax. (I knew much of the syntax already, but hadn’t applied it in such a manner.)

The other problem was even more simple: there are no critic reviews from Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic for this film. Therefore, I would have to utilize the generally unvalued reviews of “users.” Squared in red is the section I added.

Wikipedia Reception Section

There are a couple of things I could correct or better, depending upon if I want to spend another minute or two actually optimizing something that no one will probably give a crap about.

For starters, I could’ve “blue linked” the word “IMDb”. I also could have added a citation to the “Reception” section, although it doesn’t make too much of a difference. (Come to think of it, the “Synopsis” section should probably have a citation from Moviefone.)

Ultimately, this article is still a “stub”, but there’s not much more I could add without actually watching the film.

Conclusion

The Devil’s Circus was filmed seven years after Norma Shearer’s debut on the big screen, and was one of only four films in which she acted in that year. (The prior year, 1925, she had starred in eight films, seven of which have Wikipedia pages.) It marked the beginning of the end of her roles in silent films— her final silent film came in 1928.

Her co-star (the creepy guy) was Charles Emmett Mack. Charles Mack Wikipedia EntryHe had his formal career as an actor end a year later in 1927. His career would see him appear in a total of 17 films over 11 years. Other than his creepy grin, I am bothered by the fact that Mack has three pictures
on his relatively short Wikipedia page, one for each section. The fact that his spousal information is confusing only further bothers me.

Prior to my edit of the page, no one had touched the page since February 5th. Before that, no one had touched it since May 19th, 2015. I think it’s fairly evident that edits have been few and far between, simply because there isn’t a wealth of information to add.

As a final thought, I found it interesting that the film’s Danish director chose North American actors to play each of the film’s main characters. This serves as a stark contrast to the clusterfuck— excuse my French— that was Troll 2. Choosing people who actually speak the language natively— or at least fluently— to play parts in your film is pretty damn important.

Quote of the Day:

“My last name was McNerney. You’re trying to tell me Mack isn’t better?” — Charles Mack

#FoodFriday

Part 5 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: Taco Del Mar

Primer

As established in my previous post, I am a proud pescetarian. Since I cannot consume your “traditional” taco, I like to indulge in tacos using a meat base consisting of some soy derivative or fish. The latter, in fact, is one of my favorite meals; I look forward to Taco Tuesdays with zeal.

Therefore, Seattle-based restaurant Taco Del Mar— a name translated into Ingles as “Taco of the Sea”— whose “original specialty [is] fish tacos” is an establishment I could see myself patronizing. But wait— is that truly their specialty? The article’s first sentence in the lead section states: “Taco del Mar is a Seattle Washington-based Fresh Mex fast casual restaurant chain that specializes in Mission burritos.” So, do they mainly do tacos or burritos? Make up your myeyeind!

Imperatively, what’s a Mission burrito anyway? According to Wikipedia, there are three clearly delineated types of burritos, all of which are placed in the grander empirical taxonomy of “burritoae faliva.” The “simple” burrito “consisting of beans, rice, and meat” is the original species; the California burrito, discovered between 1980-1989 CE, “contains cheese and potatoes”; and the finding of the Mission burrito occurred in the middle of this chronology, between 1960-1969 CE. Although a wholly untenable position, I have as much misplaced faith in the notion that the Mission burrito’s etymology finds its derivation in Mormons eating them for sustenance while walking door to door on a frigid day as The BasedGod has in believing the Earth is flat.

(The true etymology of the Mission burrito apparently comes from the fact that the burrito first became popular in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fun fact: Mission San Francisco de Asis, which is San Francisco’s oldest standing building, is located in the Mission District. Another fun fact: Lil Tuffy, the producer of “hand-screened posters for such bands as the Black Lips and Pavement”, is a proud resident of the Mormon Missionary Zone. Sometimes, it’s just a little toughy for those devious Mormon missionaries to continue walking with the purpose of pontificating upon the teachings of some random guy named Joseph Smith after guiltily gorging on an erotically-shaped, eight-inch, double-wrapped Chipotle burrito.)

Mission burritos differ from their close cousins in that they’re generally bigger and hold more ingredients than a traditional burrito, two qualities that go hand-in-hand. (The tortilla in a Mission burrito is typically steamed to increase its elasticity.) Although Chipotle has made this burrito mainstream, they are not its progenitors; in fact, Chipotle was created by some white guy named Steve Ells in Colorado. The burrito has apparently “spread widely throughout the United States and Canada.”

Nevertheless, Taco Del Mar “is known for its relaxed, seaside-themed decor” and has 260 locations. As for the former point, I wonder if this means relaxed in the apathetic vein of addicts, or simply laid-back and casual. I’d assume the latter. As for its locations, this naturally got me thinking: can I visit this restaurant of the sea conveniently? Without Wikipedia’s direct guidance— although it did provide me with the restaurant’s official site domain— I would have to find out myself. Let’s take this dive together.

So, on the “Locations” tab, I typed in Los Angeles. (No, you’re not getting my zip code, internet. I’m sorry.) I unfortunately discover that my closest neighborhood location is located in Boise, Idaho, a mere— and precise— 793.76 miles away.

Restaurant Location Finder

The natural question is from which part of L.A. this is being measured— a more reasonable distance, like 786.453636473901 miles, would be a compromise I’d likely be willing to make.

However, I do notice on the Google-provided map, there are locations in Oregon. This is of importance as I plan to travel to Portland very soon. Going onto the second page of results, I find that Portland has three Taco Del Mars, which are a nice gift from their similarly-precipitable neighbors up north. If I do indeed visit Taco Del Mar, I will be sure to provide an update in some fashion.

Wikipedia makes no mention of specific menu options and prices. Taco Del Mar clearly provides their food options under their website’s “Menu” section, but egregiously forget to provide any disclosure of price. Anyway, it would appear as if I could consume Taco Del Mar’s “Alaskan white fish” or ambiguously named “vegan/vegetarian” options without compromising my self-imposed dietary restrictions.

Mexican Restaurant Menu

Unfortunately, no prices are visible anywhere on the site, which is likely because they don’t want their immaculately-depicted food— standard in appearance for most establishments— to appear as if it’s compromised in quality by prices that hover around, but rarely exceed, the range of a dirty rectangle of paper emblazoned with Lincoln’s face.

And it would appear as if I’m right. Eat24 informs me that the default “rice, beans, meat, cheese, and pico de gallo” encased in a tortilla is a mere two quarters over that threshold. A veggie burrito, meanwhile, is sub-$5 at $4.29. Perhaps most confusingly, what I term the “default” burrito, seems to have an identical twin— with the same exact ingredients— called the “Mondito” for $4.29.

Weird Menu Pricing

I almost feel like mailing a handwritten letter to Taco Del Mar themselves to help clarify this perplexing, almost existential matter. Price dissonance is that serious.

Back to the actual Wikipedia page, I quickly learn that the establishment was created by business partners of a fraternal relation, James and John Schmidt, in June of 1992. It is no longer owned by the Schmidt brothers; it’s now a wholly owned subsidiary of Franchise Brands LLC, which oddly enough has no Wikipedia page. (Usually, owners who lay claim to any property— whether a businessbookalbum, or general creative piece— will have their own page, if for no other reason than that they are almost always bigger.)

For reasons completely unbeknownst to me, the article’s lead section compares “the [customer’s] preparation of his or her meal, requesting ingredients as it moves along an assembly line” to Subway’s approach, rather than the obvious choice of Chipotle— or even Qdoba. I would correct this lead section on my own, but unfortunately, it is incapable of being modified by those of our ilk.

Something that does ring more of a similarity to Subway are the vast amount of choices in terms of tortilla options, including the commonplace wheat and flour, but also the more healthful options of tomato and spinach. (To clarify, I would draw the parallel in terms of how Subway has a variety of— now yoga mat material-free— breads from which to choose.)

Legal Woes

Like every successful business, Taco Del Mar has had its share of growing pains. Perhaps the most serious indictment against the Taco of the Sea came in 2008, a year after they had reported that over 30 franchisees had shut their operations. Poor sales and location placement were cited as the reasons for the closures.

Franchisees, however, held a different narrative; forming a coalition named The Truth About Taco del Mar (or TTATDM, which I have to assume was poorly organized, as their internet presence is feeble and scattered), they “charged that several Taco del Mar executives took secret kickbacks from various suppliers that raised restaurant operating costs, hurting franchisee profitability and contributing to the store closures.” There is apparently no incriminating evidence, and James Schmidt’s retort to such claims is shared on the Wiki article:

There has not been one credible example of kickbacks ever brought to the attention of an attorney, posted here or any one else, that has come to my attention. If we were getting kickbacks and it was proven then franchisees would get money back, we disclose we do not get kickback so if we took them, then prove it and money will be returned

Honestly, parts of this response look like they were translated from Chinese via Google Translate, a quality whose presence always causes me to doubt the veracity of statements. Nevertheless, disregarding a paucity of good grammar, I do wonder what the exact, quantifiable claims of the franchisees entail.

TTATDM also claimed that their constituent franchisees were removed from Franchise Disclosure Documents, which misled future franchisees. A Franchise Times story in December 2007 that is no longer online— yet still used as a citation— purportedly found that most Taco Del Mars outside of the Pacific Northwest (or more specifically, Washington and Oregon), were in the red.

class action involving more than 20 franchisees apparently took place, but Wikipedia makes no mention of any outcome. Influential individuals within Taco Del Mar’s franchising divisions resigned in late 2007.

microcosm of the failure of this page can ironically be found in a paragraph whose first word is “failure”:

Failure rates of restaurants is commonly thought to be high. Recent studies have mitigated some of those assumptions, but still show three-year failure rates of all restaurants to be about 61.4%, and that franchise restaurants fare slightly better than independently owned locations.

There are no citations, grammatical errors (“failure rates of restaurants is”), no specific mention of study names or when they were conducted, and most importantly, it seems flagrantly out of place. It simply reads like a high schooler wrote it. Furthermore, It’s nice to know the success/failure rates of restaurants, but such statistics are especially meaningless when we don’t have direct statistics of the failure rate percentage of Taco Del Mar franchisees.

The Explosion

There was both a literal and figurative explosion around the turn of the decade for Taco Del Mar; let’s start both chronologically and with the more exciting explosion.

In 2008, a Taco del Mar franchise located in VancouverD.C. BC was demolished in an intentional explosion caused by an arsonist. (See, Canada does have violence. Don’t always ever believe the media.) Said arsonist placed an accelerant within the restaurant— the term accelerant “is used very broadly to include any substance or mixture that ‘accelerates’ the development of fire to commit arson”— and then lit it up.

We learn that:

Vancouver-area police later arrested Kamal Jeet Singh Josan, suffering from burns to over 40% of his body. The motive for this act is currently not publicly known. In April 2009, charges against Josan were stayed due to lack of evidence. Prosecutors took up the file again in January 2010, and Josan plead guilty to one charge of arson on March 14, 2011. Josan was sentenced to two years of house arrest on June 13, 2011.

House arrest sucks, but I’m still surprised no prison time was given. I’m sure the U.S. would’ve given at least the equivalent time in prison. (For liberals, this places the hypothetically blank scorecard at: Canada 1, United States 0. For conservatives: United States 1, Canada 0.)

The figurative explosion was more damaging— much more damaging. In January of 2010, Taco Del Mar filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creditors included a franchisee in Maryland (with a disputed claim for half a million dollars); a mysterious, presumed couple “Paul & Shahnaz Hendifar, with a $125,416 judgment entered in Texas”; the Canada Revenue Agency, with a tax claim containing all of the whole numbers in between zero and five ($105,324); and Seattle proper, with a $95,289 tax claim.

In its September 2010 bankruptcy auction, the winning bid for Taco del Mar came from the previously-mentioned, Connecticut-based Franchise Brands LLC. The article’s last paragraph, yet another of a misplaced variety, begins to shed light on why Taco del Mar’s cafeteria-esque meal preparation was compared with that of Subway:

Franchise Brands was created in 2005 by Fred De Luca and Peter Buck, the founders of Subway restaurants. Both Subway and Franchise Brands LLC are based in Milford, Conn.

Like father, like son. I wonder if Jared Fogle, now a Subway castaway, could lose weight on a fish taco and burrito-eating mission?

Conclusion

If nothing else, I learned that sombrero and sunglasswearing, 80s porn mustache-donning, plump-lipped turquoise fish can block out the sun. Not its harmful rays, but still…

Taco Del Mar Logo

Quote of the Day:

“Despite the fact that I’m bigger and better than you— my son is the biggest star celebrity ever— I like to stay humble.”— The Sun God

#ThrowbackThursday

Part 4 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: Troll 2

Being an active denizen of the internet, it would have been virtually impossible to claim virgin ears to the words Troll 2. Unfortunately, mentions of this 1990 film, through whatever avenue, are almost unanimously regarding its poor quality and prevalence in viral videos and memes, rather than any of its redeeming factor(s)— according to an eight-time upvoted Reddit user, the film lays claim to only one.

Still, hope was abundant. Often things poorly made are so bad that they’re good in a twisted way. As it happens, immediately after seeing its lead section on Wikipedia, I saw value in a single two-word phrase: “vegetarian goblins.” It wasn’t the goblins part at all— that detail makes it significantly worse— but rather the idea that something is vegetarian; for over two-and-a-half years, I have been a proud pescetarian. Unfortunately, the description immediately following the unexpected dietary restrictions of the goblins— “who seek to transform them [a family] into plants so that they can eat them”— quickly alerted me as to how quixotic this plot would truly be.

But what was I expecting? The page’s description in its first sentence tells all, mentioning both that it is a B-film and that its director, Claudio Fragasso, used the innocuous pseudonym of Drake Floyd— presumably because he didn’t want to tarnish his other classic films, such as the it-came-a-little-before-the-famous-one-so-it-was-the-original Terminator 2.

Perhaps the most worrying expression that the film’s parents could have displayed while their cherished child was still in the womb concerned their equivocation concerning their baby’s worth. Instead of naming the film Goblins— which was apparently their first choice and would have better fit the baby’s persona— they chose to name him after a distant, drunkard, irreputable third-cousin named Troll. (In my solitary circle, referred to as Troll Sr., and referred to herein as Troll 1 to avoid any confusion.)

Technically, deeming Troll 1 to share any DNA with Troll 2 (or even Troll 3) would be fallacious. Troll 1 is and has always been wholly unrelated to Troll 2; the latter solely bore the title of the former to deceive audiences into thinking they would receive a blockbuster sequel to a well-panned film—Troll 1 has a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Troll Rotten Tomatoes

The technical name for this sleight of hand— piggybacking off of the success of a previous film with a similar title or theme— is a mockbuster (or the rhyming knockbuster… or a drafting opportunity.) Borrowing from the word-bending and opportunistic skills of a politician, Troll 2, interestingly enough, contains no trolls within any of its scenes.

Although some, like Ayn Rand, and more generally agreed Vladimir Nabokov, off the top of my head, are (arguably) able to vault the barrier of creating a coherent work in a foreign language, they are the exceptions to the rule rather than the rule itself. Although English is much easier to become proficient at for a native Italian speaker as opposed to a native Russian— cognates, Roman alphabet, etc.— it clearly takes effort and intelligence to reach a point of competence. This takes even further precedence when there are a crew of individuals working on a project, rather than simply a single individual, such as a writer.

All of this leads up to Wiki’s plain disclosure as to how there was a irreconcilable “language barrier between the Italian-speaking crew and English-speaking cast.” Despite being able to pass off in resemblance as the brother to The Most Interesting Man in the World— a fraternal relation to which he does some justice, being “generally considered the most prolific Italian filmmaker of all time,” according to his Wiki page, with about 200 films directed, “usually at the same time acting as producer and cinematographer, and sometimes providing the script as well”— the film’s producer, Joe D’Amato (who apparently used the pseudonym David Hills), was somehow able to manipulate the film into anything but sophisticatedly interesting. On top of hiring crew who probably knew no more than 100 words in English, on average, he proudly flaunted his dastardly “approach to low-budget film making.” Wikipedia’s sidebar reveals that the film’s total budget amounted to $200,000, exactly half of what was afforded to the infamously-cheap Napoleon Dynamite, although in unadjusted dollars, which is important to note as Mr. Dynamite first displayed his awkwardness on the silver screen 14 years later.

(With this being said, Jon Heder, who played the titular Napoleon, renegotiated his contract after the film’s success, which made the budget slightly higher than what was initially paid out. Per a Wikipedia citation linking to stuff.co.nz, “It was the last time Heder would earn less than six figures for a film role.”)

To delve into the film’s plot, Michael Waits, played by George Hardy, decides to house swap for a month with a family living in the rural farming community of Nilbog— yes, “Nilbog” is not-cleverly “goblin” backwards. However, just prior to departing with his family, Michael’s son Joshua (whom I want to call “Josh”, but such a nickname is never mentioned), confusingly played by Michael Stephenson, is contacted by the spirit of Seth, his deceased grandfather. Seth warns Josh— fuck it, he’s Josh— that vegetarian goblins are after him and his family; however, being vegetarians, they intend to consume them by turning them into plants, which can illogically be accomplished via feeding the family tampered-with food or drink.

On the way to Nilbog, Josh is once again warned that Nilbog is Goblin capital— surprise!— and told that if his family consumes any food, they’ll be made into plants to be consumed. His family doesn’t seem to care, but Josh— rightfully— is fearful, so he goes about destroying all of the food he finds in Nilbog.

Josh’s sister’s boyfriend’s friend, Arnold, goes to Nilbog as well, as a guest of his sister’s boyfriend. Arnold finds a girl with whom he flees to a wooded chapel, where the head goblin, Creedence Leonore Gielgud— even being an obsessive wordplayist, I’m not going to try to figure out that name— tricks the two into drinking a plant-transforming potion. (I might need to watch the wretched film to discover how the hell this happened. Were the two hypnotized? Stupid? Or somehow deceived by some impractical deus ex machina plot device on Creedence’s part?)

Perhaps the weirdest description comes in the following part of the plot:

Joshua sneaks away from home and eavesdrops on a goblin church sermon, which bewails the evils of eating meat. The parishioners capture him and attempt to force feed him poison ice cream; Michael walks in on the scene and becomes suspicious, taking Joshua home.

Really, everything about this is wrong. As I’ll later mention, this is almost making fun of vegetarianism, a practice that, at the very least, takes discipline and determination. As for feeding Joshua ice cream, I kinda get it— the ostensible benefit of providing something tasty to eat helps obfuscate any potential downfall from the subject’s perspective— but why wouldn’t you use this trick on completely unknowing victims, like Arnold and his beau of five minutes? (Even if you are unaware of Josh’s knowing of your ways, wouldn’t it be smarter to try such a tactic on less experienced actors whose futures would entail mere mentions on Wikipedia, rather than full articles?) And Michael is only “suspicious”? Not shocked? Not appalled? I wonder if Joshy Josh got a spanking when they got “home.”

The plot description immediately following the previous atrocity of language also warrants analysis:

At the house, the family discover that the townspeople have prepared them a surprise party to apologize for the events at the church. Joshua attempts to make contact with Seth, only for Creedence to appear in goblin form. Seth’s ghost appears and chops her hand off. Creedence returns to her chapel, where she transforms herself into a beautiful woman in revealing clothes; she then travels to Elliot’s RV, where she seduces Brent and drowns him in popcorn.

First of all, Nilbog is rural, so I wonder how many townspeople there are. And where was the rest of the family? Were they also being rebellious vagabonds? If the rest of them were home, how could it have been a surprise party to anyone but Josh and Michael? The plot hole of why the Waits family was pursued, but none of the other villagers were, also is troublesome. And ultimately, if they were not culpable, why are they (suspiciously) being overly-apologetic?

Josh’s joshing around is also concerning. Sure, Seth’s spirit helps save the family from Creedence, but messing with ghosts is generally no bueno. The risk-reward factor is skewed unfavorably. And this doesn’t even seem to have a tangible lasting effect, as it is not mentioned that her new incarnation as a “a beautiful woman in revealing clothes” is missing any appendages.

At the end of this paragraph, the irony begins to become lucid. Theater viewers likely voluntarily engaged in similar behavior— drowning themselves in popcorn would have been a welcome alternative to continuing to be trolled.

This is fun. Next— and second to last— paragraph:

Joshua, Elliot, Holly, Michael and Diane hold a séance to communicate with Seth, who returns from the dead and tells them that he can retain a physical form for exactly ten minutes before he has to return to the afterlife. Seth gives Joshua a paper bag containing a “secret weapon” to use against the goblins. The goblins break into the house and transport Joshua to Creedence’s chapel, where Joshua opens the bag, revealing a “double-decker baloney” sandwich. He eats the sandwich, making his body poisonous to the goblins; he then touches the Stonehenge Stone, which destroys Creedence.

Didn’t know that you needed that many people for a séance. (It should be mentioned that the character of Diane, up to this point, has no mention in the entire article.) Also, I am off-put by how stingy Seth is being with his newfound vitality. 10 minutes was enough, bro, but what if it wasn’t?… bro. Did he really hate life that much? Or does he simply hate his future lineage? (A much more rational and justifiable rationale if I’ve heard one.)

Anyway, it is rather thoughtful that he gives his son, grandson, etc. this “secret weapon.” Honestly, this “weapon” confuses me even more because it is specified that the goblins are vegetarians, rather than allergic to meat. In fact, I ain’t never heard of no one allergic to meat. I will acknowledge, however, that a double-decker baloney sandwich sounds rather elaborate and expensive— no domain of an individual who is baloney. In summation, a well-thought-out way to kill.

All in all, good boy, Josh. You saved your family. Or did you?:

The family returns home, where Joshua’s mother is seen eating food from the refrigerator. The food, unknown to the family, has been poisoned by the family of goblins who took over their home during their exchange in the country. The film ends with Joshua walking in on a group of goblins eating his mother’s green, bloated torso off of the kitchen counter and offering him a bite.

I guess this helps resolve the aforementioned plot hole: the goblins were solely after the, wait for it… Waits family. I will admit that, temporally speaking, I am confused. Did Josh leave the kitchen as his mom ate? How many goblins are there— and furthermore, weren’t they visible in the house when the family re-arrived? In terms of the actual science, how long does it take to transform from human flesh into plant material? Maybe the film itself answers these— and other— pressing inquiries?

Although many of the film’s characters do not seem to have a notable fictional presence, it is still interesting to note how horrible and uncreative their monikers are. The venerable  Lance C. Williams plays Mr. Presents; Elli Case plays Mrs. Presents, his presumed wife; Gavin Reed plays the Presents’ son; and Melissa Bridge plays the Presents’ daughter. (Take note that the offsprings’ names are listed as “Presents Son” and “Presents Daughter” on the Wikipedia page’s “Cast” description, suggesting more of a formal introduction than a name denoting a physical token of gratitude.)

Outside of the Presents family, it should come as no surprise that there is a character named Sheriff Gene Freak. Was this an intentional pun? Is that in itself a rhetorical question? I am just curious as to how he’s genetically freaky; is he eight feet tall, afflicted by some idiosyncratically hereditary medley of mental disorders? Creedence’s name continues to lack any credence in my mind. There is a character played by Mike, not Mark, Hamill named Bells, a name which would probably ring few bells to even those who have watched Troll 2 repeatedly in a reverent, Rocky Horror-like fashion.

Lastly, there is the character “Wood Tales Girl” played by Michelle Abrams, and a number of uncredited actors. (The one who holds the most intrigue is unequivocally the has-to-be-German actor Hermann Weiskopf, who plays “Man.” I know he’s a man— he has “mann” in his first name for Christ’s sake— but what significance does he have in the apathetic, insular creation of Joe D’Amato and Claudio Fragassi? Was he a cauliflower-eared, unintelligible unpaid extra who had to beg his way onto the set— or worse, had to pay his way onto the set? Is he secretly the man? Was Weiskopf the driving motivation—the telos— behind the film? Okay, I’ll stop with this tomfoolery.)

And ultimately, as alluded to, Troll 2’s use of vegetarian goblins was intended to lambast, perhaps even demonize, those who refrain from eating meat; the origins of the film’s concept came from no other than “Fragasso’s wife, Rosella Drudi, to express her frustration with several of her friends becoming vegetarians, which she claimed ‘pissed [me] off.’” Just as a word of wisdom, let others live as they wish, should it not adversely affect you.

Can We Has Production?

Wikipedia discusses the production— or lack thereof— put into Troll 2 in its own dedicated section, and in many ways, it’s comedy gold. Here are some highlights from the page:

  • D’Amato was “notorious for his stated view that the profitability of films was more important than their entertainment value.”
  • The film’s score was “played entirely on a synthesizer and consisted of a few brief themes repeated over and over.”
  • The film’s costumes were created by a woman (Laura Gemser) who was a frequent collaborator in erotic films with D’Amato. They “consisted of burlap sacks and rubber Halloween masks.“ Only one goblin mask had a mouth that actually moved when its bearer spoke.
  • Filmed partly in Morgan, Utah in 1989, “a large ‘M’ erected in the mountains outlying Morgan is visible in some shots.”
  • “The production crew was made up almost entirely of non-English-speaking Italians brought to America by Fragasso; the only fluent English speaker on set was Gemser.”

Thus, broken pidgin English was used.

These last two paragraphs sum it up better than I ever could:

The cast had few experienced actors, and was primarily assembled from residents of nearby towns who responded to an open casting call, hoping to win roles as extras. George Hardy was a dentist with no acting experience who showed up for fun, only to be given one of the film’s largest speaking roles. Don Packard, who played the store owner, was actually a patient at a nearby mental hospital, and was cast for—and filmed—his role while on a day trip. He later recalled that he had smoked an enormous amount of marijuana prior to filming, had no idea what was happening around him, and that his disturbed “performance” in the film was not acting.

As neither Fragasso nor Drudi spoke fluent English, the shooting script was written in the same broken dialect in which they both spoke; the cast would later recall that the script was only given to them scene-by-scene, and that they had difficulty understanding their dialogue as written. Some of the cast members offered to correct their lines to sound more grammatically and syntactically correct, but said that Fragasso demanded they deliver their lines verbatim.[4] Despite the majority of the cast ascribing to the same story, Fragasso has vehemently denied their version of events, and once interrupted a panel discussion being conducted by the cast to call them “dogs” and accuse them of lying about their experiences.

Outside of Wiki

Wikipedia’s lack of full disclosure in describing how “Darren Ewing’s character states that he will be eaten next” is disappointing, as that scene is what I’ve been told is the most— and perhaps only— entertaining part of the film. If you don’t know the scene, thank me later.

Related Films

There would only seem to be one movie that successfully piggybacked off of Troll 2, and that would be Best Worst Movie. Directed by Stephenson, the film’s primary child actor— whose life could have easily have spiraled into a vein of infamy not much unlike Macaulay Culkin— Best Worst Movie’s creation largely emanated from the fact that Stephenson was utterly embarrassed that he was complicit in something so horrid. Apparently, many on Myspace— remember that crumbled web empire?— had vouched for the film as one of their favorites, which began to shift Stephenson’s viewpoint from that of victim to potential hero.

In April 2006, just about 10 years ago, Stephenson had his true a-ha moment:

I woke up one morning with a really warm feeling and I was smiling ear to ear. I was next to my wife and I said, ‘I am the child star of the worst movie ever made… there’s a story here.’

The eventual film received a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost the polar opposite of how Troll 2 fared with fickle critics. Many involved with Troll 2 were less than delighted to show their face again to the silver screen— George Hardy had made the pact to never again appear on camera— but Stephenson was able to round up most of the actors he needed.

Most impressively, however, Stephenson was able to find a woman who was willing to accept him in spite of his participation in an atrocity, albeit many years earlier. Unfortunately, was is the operative word. Google clearly suggests that the two are no longer hitched.

Actor Michael Stephenson

(As an aside, the fact that Stephenson appeared in La Casa 5, a Joe D’Amato/Claudio Fragasso horrorfest— both in a literal and figurative sense— only mere months earlier in 1990, tells me he knows what he was getting into. La Casa 5 has no “Reception” section on Wikipedia, which would lend an idea to its popularity, but it’s safe to say it was a celebration of all the wrong things.)

Unsurprisingly, there was actually a Troll 3, as briefly alluded to; similarly unsurprisingly, it had no connections at all to Troll 1 or Troll 2. Its only seeming similarity lies in the fact that “in one scene in a bar, a banjo centric song from Troll 2 can be heard in the background.”

It should also be mentioned that the original Troll had an ensemble cast— including Sonny Bono and Julia Louis-Dreyfus— and had two characters named Harry Potter. (One named Harry Potter Sr. and one named Harry Potter Jr.) This use of Harry Potter, of course, predates the Harry of J.K. Rowling’s supposed creation. Rowling claims to have gotten the idea independent of the film; the film’s producer, Charles Band, has gone on record that Rowling stole not only a prominent character’s name, but certain scenes.

As if people haven’t been trolled enough, Troll: The Rise of Harry Potter Jr. will be released in 2017. It will star Patricia Arquette.

Parting Gift

In the spirit of Troll 2, this post will not conclude in a proper fashion. Here is a list of all the pseudonyms that Joe D’Amato used during his career.

Movie Pseudonyms
What did Federico ever do to you?

— Daniel

Quote of the Day:

“There is excellence in futility”— Alberto Limonstein

#WebWednesday

Part 3 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: Baidu 

Primer and History

It would seem proper for a blog whose post titles use hashtags, however tongue-in-cheek, to feature a site or entity that at least somewhat emphasizes social media in its services. Although many investors, ranging from the tech-literate to suburban moms, know the name due to the fact that it is listed on NASDAQ— almost as covert marketing for eBay, with its ticker symbol being BIDU; I suppose it could be the condescendingly judgmental BADU— they know little else about Baidu. Spare for the fact it’s Chinese.

Thus, I am here to give you the Cliffnotes CliffsNotes on this company, while writing in my signature style and tone that has won me— or to be serious, hopefully will win me— the adoration of fans worldwide. Let me know in the comments section if I’m doing a good job at getting to relevant points.

Pronounced as if you were expressing farewell to the unconjugated English verb of action, Baidu was started in early 2000, mere weeks after Y2K. For those curious, its name doesn’t represent an acronym, wordplay, or anything of the sort. Rather, it is an allusion to a poem written during the Sony Song Dynasty by Xin Qiji, in which a man is said to be looking in a hectic crowd for a damsel— she is not quite as much in distress as you, a true seeker of love and life and beauty, are. The relentless drive to get the girl— to achieve your dreams and be the best you can be— seems to be a guiding force for Baidu. There’s more to it, but that’s my own interpretation of an interpretation.

Founded by Robin Li (who currently serves as CEO) and Eric Xu— both of whom are guilty of using Anglicized first names— each were Chinese nationals to later become working ex-pats, to then later return to China to start Baidu. Robin— I always get confused about how to properly and formally refer to individuals from China, and too lazy to research; first or last name?— worked at what would seem to be an IT subdivision at Dow Jones and Company during the mid-90s, where he developed an SEO algorithm for which he would later get a patent. This technology would be implem ented into the core search operations of Baidu.

When Baidu finally launched around the turn of the millennium, it was apparently based out of a hotel room near Robin’s alma mater. In 2003, options for image and news searches were added. (This was two years after Google Image search started and mere months after the beta for Google News launched in September 2002.)

On the 2006 iteration of the day belonging to stonersBaidu Baike, Baidu’s Wikipedia-inspired, editable encyclopedia service, launched. Within three weeks of launch, the site had already grown to 90,000 articles and become the largest online Chinese encyclopedia by volume, surpassing that of Chinese Wikipedia, a site that had a five year head start. (Apparently Hudong.com, now conveniently and confusingly renamed Baike, had surpassed Baidu Baike in aggregate articles at some undisclosed point— the ambiguous nature of which has prompted a “when” citation, per Wikipedia’s Manual of Style and Dates— but Baidu Baike quickly regained its spot of preeminence.)

Then again, should we trust the Baidu Baike page? It apparently has multiple “issues.” One is also informed that the corresponding Chinese page contains further information, which is interesting as since the dawn of this post, I have had the intention to check out the natively-written page about Baidu. (If there weren’t issues with the veracity of Baidu Baike itself, which will be discussed very soon, the use of the site to learn more about itself would be more feasible.) The corresponding Chinese Wikipedia page is indeed much longer— with 89 citations versus a barely legal 21— and as I am only number-literate, it makes me feel intellectually inferior.

Wikipedia Notices

 

Chinese Language Wikipedia Page
Squared are the only alphanumeric characters I understand from this article.

Despite it being natural to want to draw parallels between Baike and Wikipedia, in many respects they could not be more different. Baike, perhaps to a fault, was designed with the Chinese market in mind. With China being an obfuscated sovereign state, both in terms of the freedom of its thought and the true state of its economy, it should come as no surprise that the sticking point for many critics is in how Baike “censors its content in accordance with the requirements of the Chinese government.” According to Wiki, there is a glaring dearth of mentions or articles on the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests, the Xinjiang independence movement, or the Falun Gong on the site. It is believed that the fact that Baidu does acquiesce gives it an advantage in visibility— thanks to a lack of government interference— over sites that don’t censor their content, like the Chinese version of Wikipedia. (It should be mentioned that Wikipedia has been blocked outright numerous times in China by the government, seemingly at whim.)

Some other interesting established services that I found Baidu to offer include Baidu Maps established in 2005, (interestingly named “Baidu Map” on Baidu’s Wikipedia page); and Baidu Patent Search established in 2008, which allows for users to conduct free patent searches.

An older discontinued service that looked interesting was Baidu Space, which was a social networking app. Really, what hasn’t Baidu tried?

Modern Developments

All in all, in present day, Baidu apparently offers a robust 57 search and community services, in addition to its main search engine and Baidu Baike. (It should be mentioned that Baike has over 13 million articles as of January 2016, which is more than two-and-half times that of the original English Wikipedia.) This is not counting the numerous other services in which it has tried to venture.

Let’s try to cover some of these newer services. Inclusive at present are:

  • Baidu Cloud, established in 2012, which offers a generous 2 TERABYTES of free storage.
  • Baidu Zhanzhang, lacking a Wikipedia page and thus a definitive date of commencement, but two of the three words describing its nature— free webmaster tools— would suggest it to be a more recent development.
  • Baidu Library, which similarly lacks a page. It is a file uploading site that allows  users to share documents such as “lecture notes, exercises, sample exams, presentation slides, materials of various subjects, variety of documents templates, etc.” So Slideshare? Apparently, “it is not completely free,” but this seems to refer not to monetary expenditures, but expenditures of a temporal variety— one can earn points, for example, by “making contribution to Baidu Library.”
  • Baidu Browser (sans its own article), which apparently took no mercy in copying Google Chrome.
  • Baidu Safety Center, launched in 2008. It helps protect you from internet STDs.
  • Baidu Desktop Search, which is a download that apparently allows Chinese “users to search all files saved on their computer without launching a Web browser.” Wait, what? You should never need the internet to search for files stored locally -_-. And, it is truly puzzling to me that the Chinese don’t already have this function factory-shipped. Again. Lost in translation? WTF?
  • Baidu Statistics Search allows “users to search [the few] statistics that have been [modified and vetted vigorously, but nevertheless] published by the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
  • Baidu Love, “where registered users can write and post messages to loved ones.”
  • And perhaps mostly significantly, Baidu Music, a music streaming powerhouse that supposedly boasts than 150 million monthly active users. However, it is well aware that it will soon be competing with Apple Music, which is planned to soon debut in the Chinese market.

There was:

Baidu Yi, announced in 2011, a mobile device operating system based on Android that was later discontinued. It still speaks in the present tense about the OS, and there is no mention as to why it was discontinued.

Many of the “Services” in the article are assuredly past expiration, as the present tense was used for Baidu Yi itself.

As for other interesting more recent developments, the site was attacked and rendered unusable by the Iranian Cyber Army in January 2010, three employees were arrested in August  2012 for allegedly accepting bribes to delete posts from Baidu’s forum service (shouldn’t we know the verdict by now?), and Baidu made some blockbuster acquisitions, including one for $1.85 billion that was so important that it is confusingly mentioned twice in one paragraph.

Redundant Text
Redundant, much?

Also, Baidu has expanded into Brazil with Baidu Busca. Also also, “On August 2, 2013, Baidu launched its Personal Assistant app, designed to help CEOs, managers and the white-collar workers manage their business relationships.” Boy, I love the white-collar workers.

Monetization 

This Section Requires Expansion

Baidu primarily makes money through advertisements of various sorts.

Future Developments

While not active in developing self-driving cars— at least as far their Wikipedia page offers— Baidu seems to be intent on achieving the sincerest form of flattery through or due to their admiration for Google. Deep learning is one area in which they are exploring possibilities and opportunities—  from what I have always understood, deep learning is essentially the ability for robots and AI to engage in dynamic and progressive thinking, reasoning, and learning, in imitation of the human brain.  They have apparently started to integrate this technology into some of their products and services.

In April 2012:

Baidu applied for a patent for its “DNA copyright recognition” technology. This technology automatically scans files that are uploaded by Internet users, and recognizes and filters out content that may violate copyright law. This allows Baidu to offer an infringement-free platform.

Both of these developments very much pique my interest, both in different ways. While the former is obviously more exciting and possibly life-changing, the latter is more specific and has a more immediate application— that is, if that damn patent ever gets approved (or I suppose gets updated on Wiki.)

Conclusion

When it’s all said and done, Baidu’s core competency is probably as a search engine. And in this area they succeed: although their market share has fluctuated from over 70 percent to the mid-50s, they still lead by a mile in the space. (Just like Google.)

Despite abiding with the government’s demands to block search results, Baidu does much good. Really, they can only do so much. As the old adage goes, “A firm is only as good as its government.” It is unfortunate that a U.S. judge determined that Baidu can block pro-democracy results from its search engine— a lawsuit was presented by activists who said that Baidu’s operations violated the U.S. Constitution— but I suppose hiding information is an expression of free silence.

But really the only thing that any average American would care about when it comes to Baidu is its share price. It’s a very volatile stock with a 52-week spread ranging from a flat $100 to $223.95. It is currently in the $180 range.

— Daniel

Quote of the Day:

“I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not a politician.” — Robin Li

 

#TVTuesday

Part 2 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: How to Be Indie 

Considering myself to be a hipster— the admission of which I know is a violation of the first, clearly delineated rule in the Modern Hipster Codebook (almost a real thing!)— made me excited to discuss a show called How To Be Indie (which may be referred to at points as HTBI). Although I knew from my method of discovering this show— which is becoming an established modus operandi, to be discussed in a later portion of this post— that the show would be nothing about indie music or lifestyle, its name was still captivating. Captivating enough, that despite it being a children’s show, in the vein of something to be found on the Disney Channel, I had as much hope as many Americans did— or at least proclaimed to have— for Obama throughout the otherwise hopeless days of 2008. (I would later find out via viewing a corner watermark on this picture that it apparently did air on the TV channel that Mickey arguably built, presumably syndicated.)

Which brings up an interesting point: this is a Canadian TV show. For every Ellen Page and Ryan Gosling that Canada has brought us, there has been a Drake and Justin Bieber— which may signify that the punishing cold doesn’t affect the acting ability of Canadians, but knots the vocal cords of their crooners. (Although even I will admit that Drake and the Biebs have many catchy, and some decent songs.) After reading How to Be Indie’s main article and having conducted some additional research, it is safe to say that the show falls into Sir Justin Drake territory. Which is fine, especially considering that the show clearly isn’t intended for an individual like me in any shape or form.

The meaning behind the show’s title comes from the simple fact that the name of its protagonist is Indira “Indie” Mehta. According to the article’s lead section, Indie is a 13-year-old Indian Canadian girl— which spare for age, likewise described the girl who portrayed Indie— who “tries to get the most out of life despite the travails of junior high school and the expectations of her Indian parents.” As with most school-oriented television shows, she is joined by “besties”— a bonafide duo in Marlon Parks and Abigail “Abi” Flores. Not too much wrong here, although there are a few things with which I take issue— I hate people who say things like “I try to get the most out of life” because they usually don’t; “Abi” instead of “Abby” almost looks like either the case-dependent name of an industrial firm or part of a Hebrew-Hispanic hybrid misnomer; and Marlon Parks is, just, bothersome in an idk way. Nevertheless, the expectations of Indian parents is a very real thing— at least from what I know via what I’ve seen in life, other media, and my brief explorations into Indian culture, which are not inclusive of Indian food.

Having been a very insecure child and teenager, I can even understand this quote: “She often falls into the trap of caring more about what her peers think of her than who she wants to be herself, and consequently spends a lot of time trying to impress her classmates.” Likewise, up until my senior year of high school, I frequently would do anything, up to the point of humiliation, in order to impress others. The Wiki article mentions how the show also focused on Marlon and Abigail in certain portions and episodes, which to an outsider would seem like good discretion in providing variation.

Marlon is apparently known for his quirky antics, but this promising notion is quickly spoiled by the cliche nature of how said antics seem to continuously get him into unwanted, even perilous situations. Abi, almost unilaterally, saves him from said situations. But wait! Per the “Plot” section’s last sentence, we are informed that there is often a role reversal, “Sometimes, however, they swap roles as Marlon tries to play it cool.” Abi’s omnipresent quality of being there to get Marlon, and oftentimes Indie, out of trouble is mentioned twice.

The show was produced by Heroic Film Company, “and created by writer Vera Santamaria Suzanne Bolch and John May.” (Some Wiki fanatic really took their time in writing that, huh?) Each of the show’s two seasons— it ran from October 2009 to October 2011— had 26 episodes, each of which fit into a thirty-minute time slot. (The fact that the side Wiki info box says that the actual running time was 22 minutes, while the article itself discloses 25 is a minor detail that could be majorly frustrating for some. I’d confide in the non-editable veracity of the info box.)

As for the show’s characters, Indie seems rather extroverted and energetic. Apparently, as a “new generation of Indian” and rather modern, she clashes with her parents, who are more conservative. In addition to her mother and father—Jyoti and Vikram, respectively— Indie has a brother named A.J. and an even more extroverted sister named Chandra. Chandra’s description of characterization is rather long, perhaps due to her unique duality of being manipulative, yet helpful to her siblings.

For example, she is said to be “rather selfish and prone to selling her siblings out to get her way,” yet she occasionally— willingly, it seems— takes on the role of mentor or psychiatrist, as she “occasionally offers Indie sound advice.” The article suggests that while Chandra doesn’t necessarily more fully fulfill the familial expectations set upon the children than her siblings, she finds ways to make it more effectively seem so. This ability is apparently so well-honed that of Jyoti it is mentioned: “She is very traditional, usually favouring Chandra for being able to impress relatives.”

A.J. is described as a nerd, while Abi looks like a nerd. The only other notable things insofar as characters are concerned, would seem to be the fact that Indie’s paternal grandfather is named “Babaji,” an actor named Cassius Crieghtney— whom I cannot link to a Wikipedia page because he does not have one— plays a character without his doctorate named Dre, and there is a kid named Carlos Martinelli, which makes me think of Mexican apple juice.

Confusing Wikipedia Description
From the Wiki page of the actor who plays Babaji. “In definition”…

 Cringe-Worthy Episode Titles

Episode titles, while often an afterthought, should have a modicum of thought put into them. And really, it’s not that hard. Make commentary upon the episode’s topic or theme, or make a quip that will make sense to the viewers, either prior to or after watching the episode. If nothing else, episode titles shouldn’t be distracting, as the main “distraction”, so to speak, should be the show itself.

Thus, I am nearly offended by the repetitive and lowest denominator-reaching titles of HTBI, which are anything but indie or inventive. Some (“How to Make Your Rep”) make no sense as constructed, others (“How to Prove You’re Actually a Nice Person and Not a Complete Jerk Like Everybody Thinks”) express sophomoric inner preteen monologues, and yet others (“How to Be Ridonkulous”) use stupid slang that was never popular in the first place. Only one (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Lying”) expresses a thought that is either not cliche or could be seen as even somewhat belonging to an average intelligence individual.

Wikipedia TV Show Episodes

I guess what it comes down to is if you’re going to use the same words in every title, at least have some creativity and actual justification for doing so. For example, the widely-acclaimed, currently sole season hactivist-drama Mr. Robot, uses mock file names to title its episodes, which are both inventive and clear. These range from “eps1.0_hellofriend.mov” to “eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf.”

Yes, I understand that the intended audience for HTBI is polar opposite from that of Mr. Robot, but almost everything about the former makes me question nearly everything about humanity.

The Actors 

Much like with Circus Diablo, the value of this show comes less from the sum of its parts than from the parts themselves. These actors and actresses are very interesting in their own right, so it is a shame that they had to endure such a shitstorm.

Let’s start with Melinda Shankar, the actress who plays Indie. Also having appeared in Degrassi, she shares my exact birthdate. While I ultimately don’t think the astrological stars portend that we would be compatible with one another, she is an exotic beauty. (Look at this picture for pure teasing sexiness and this one if you want something merely cute.) She also apparently has an entrepreneurial side— I majored in entrepreneurship in college— which manifested in a brand name with a pun outrivaling that of HTBI episode title names— see, I told you creativity isn’t that hard— called “Miss Conception, a professional styling and image agency based in Toronto.” Her Instagram, while further cementing the fact that we’re not compatible, certainly ups my perception on how attractive she is.

Marline Yan, who plays Abi Flores, has certainly grown out of her ugly glasses days. Despite Wikipedia neglecting to give her a picture, she is very pretty in her own right, and as my friend would say, “approachable.” To further cement her awesomeness, she has referenced the meme my name has lent on Twitter, and her mom’s name is “Ear.”

Marline Yan Twitter

Marline Yan Google

Sarena Parmar, who plays Chandra, is as hot as an oven; Ellora Patnaik, who plays Jyoti, is an Odissi dancer on top of being an actress; and Errol Sitahal, the children’s father, whose real-life first name is incidentally similar to that of his wife in the show, is also a stage actor.

As for recurring actors, Nikki Shah (who plays Ruby Patel) seems to be a philanthropist, while also singing and playing guitar— both of which she teaches. Jordan Hudyma, who plays Chad Tash, hilariously has his Wikipedia link click through to a listing of Degrassi characters.

Conclusion

At this point, I don’t feel as if I should give this show too much more attention. The Wikipedia page provides links to the show’s IMDb and TV.com pages. Other than that admire the beauty of some of these actresses, I have no desire to ever hear about this show again.

Oh, and since I promised to explain how I found this show… I searched on Wikipedia for list of television programs, clicked on List of teen situation comedies under “By genre or characteristic,” and under “Canadian” was this beautifully horrible show. See, I should’ve known better.

Quote of the Day:

“My daughter— I think she’s my daughter at least— is as beautiful as the finest pastas I have ever written a song about.” — Ravioli Shankar

#MusicMonday

Part 1 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: Circus Diablo 

Primer

Considering how one of my favorite bands since high school has been the similarly-named Circa Survive, it is only natural for me to undeservingly review/discuss/make relevant a musical act going by the moniker of Circus Diablo— a band from my hometown of Los Angeles, no less.

Ostensibly, this band has quite a few things going for it. They have/had— the reason for the ambiguous past tense signifier is that they’re now apparently “broken up,” which will be discussed in further detail soon— a rebellious, yet enigmatic name, which is interesting because most rebels have, you know, something they’re clearly rebelling against. Furthermore, I’ve heard of a few of the projects from which this band’s members hail (like The Cult) and I have listened— sparingly and long ago, mind you— to some others (like Velvet Revolver.) Other “associated acts” include Steve Vai (whom I hold in high regard) and Fuel (whom I don’t know at all, but based on the opening sentences of their Wiki article and their genre classification as post-grunge I can assume attract the same prepubescents as contemporaries like Nickelback.)

Getting back to the meaning of that name… People are scared of clowns, clowns are in the circus, diablo means devil in Spanish and many people would disavow any associations with the devil, perhaps out of fear of Lucifer himself or the apparent repercussions of idolizing such an entity. So, ladies and gentlemen, two plus two would suggest that the Ringling Bros. Devils are clandestine fearmongerers.

Mas Por Favor

Now that a bit about their background has been exposed, allow me to explain how I found this band. I perused Wikipedia’s alphabetical list of alternative rock artists, and quickly ran into the section of bands starting with the letter “C.” Naturally, I looked near Circa Survive, and immediately under their name was the truly cookie-cutter— as you can see, further alliteration— name of Circus Diablo. The fact that this obscure band shows up on this list while much more established— and frankly, better— acts do not, truly bothers me.

Circus Diablo Wikipedia
Not being able to tolerate the Devil, I gave Cafe Tacvba a listen.

As for their Wikipedia page, it is truly risible to the highest order. It is a page replete with too-good-to-be-true quotes and a weighty self-importance bothersome for what the band is. While some of the members have partaken in notable and critically acclaimed projects throughout their careers, this is surely not one of them. This project, it would seem, is almost like comparing Ringo Starr’s solo career to the grander opus of the Beatles.

We all like to laugh, so funny things. The first point is minor, but the band has been “active” for ten years, but has only released one album, an eponymously-named one in 2007. Even if the band doesn’t consider themselves to have even the ambition, wherewithal, or general desire to stay and play together, I consider this output to be rather mediocre. At a certain point, especially when you have no following at all— which will also be discussed very soon— just say you’re broken up, dammit.

Circus Diablo on Spotify
So MANY plays

Any true researcher, blogger, or general pundit knows that Wikipedia, while fine as a primary source, should not be the only source. (Academics, please correct me if I’m wrong.) So I consulted Spotify, the definitive source for music streaming, listening, and general discovery in 2016. I did this for two reasons: to listen to this band’s body of work, and to see how popular this band actually is. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed on both points— although the latter ultimately served as more of a comic relief than a letdown. The Ringling Bros. Devils have a resounding 118 Monthly Listeners, and their most popular song “Loaded”— which apparently “reached the top 20 slot according to Billboard,” because Wikipedia is always right— is loaded with 13,196 listens in aggregate. Incidentally, that song, while opening in a promising fashion with arguably anachronistic licking guitar riffs, quickly becomes derivative with its uninspired vocals.

This band also seems to be a magnet for individuals named “Billy.” The band’s lead singer is a Brit named Billy Morrison— no relation to Jim I’d assume, although they look all so similar— and their original lead guitarist Billy Duffy— now replaced by Rob Patterson— is also Bri’ish. Morrison apparently joined Billy Idol’s band in 2010, and it would come as no shock if other “Billys” were involved or admired— Billy Talent, Billy Joel, Billie Holiday, hillbillies.

Nevertheless, the fact that this Wikipedia page is so amateur and redundant is a troublesome point in my book. Maybe it’s because the band has nothing interesting about it, either said by its members or perceived by the general public (or its 118 “fans”), but this is why I think the band’s Wiki should likely be relegated to the solemn state of a stub— an article that is essentially deemed to be “too short” as is and needs expansion. The fact that the band unknowingly put together an album while jamming, and had no idea as to what to do with it— Morrison telling the press, ”Wow, what should we do with this?”— suggests either a complete immersion in their musical craft (good) or a complete lack of self-awareness (bad, bad, bad.)

As for The Department of Redundancy Department. The following quote from Morrison in regards to the band’s extended hiatus is in both the lead and “History” sections:

“Circus Diablo is always together. We can get together and make music when we feel like it.”

As if that existential quote isn’t bad and perplexing enough to digest just once. I personally feel as if a reworked statement of the like in the lead section— something like “the band has expressed interest in future collaboration”— would’ve been less verbose, while more accurate and formal.

As for stuff that is too-good-to-be-true. That jocular parenthetical about Billy Morrison being possibly related to Jim is not mere hearsay— according to the sixth paragraph in the band’s “History” section, the “folliwing” appeared on the band’s website in December 2017 2007: “Brett Scallions became a first time dad, joined the remaining members of The Doors and filled the shoes of Jim Morrison in Riders On The Storm.” Speaking of Morrison, he seems to have the tact of an inebriated Donald Trump; regarding their sole album, he is quoted as saying, “we wrote and recorded that shit really quickly.”

Conclusion

There really isn’t much more to say. External links lead to an interview with Billy Morrison, the band’s site, and an AllMusic review.

The most damning sign of this band’s insipid cosmic worth comes via how there is a portal at the bottom of its page— that portal links to Fuel, that post-grunge band I’ll probably never listen to unless tortured or given an ultimatum. “Circus Diablo” is a link under that band’s “Related articles.”

However, the band may not put themselves out of their delayed misery. In his March 2009 interview referenced throughout this post— from which the “always together” and “quick recording” snippets originate— Morrison offers, “If the managers put a “Diablo Album Number Two” deal together, maybe we’ll do that. Who knows?”

Lesson to take away: unique names don’t always get you noticed, folks.

— Daniel

Quote of the Day:

“Music is mostly good, but not all good is music. Sorry, I mean, ahem, most music is good, but not all music is good.” — Milly Bore-A-Son