Thursday, August 12, 2010

The iPhone Really Isn't All That Sexy

sexy iphoneImage by MacQ via Flickr

A fun little data-mining report from online dating site OkCupid is making the rounds in a viral fashion (the only kind of viral activity you want from a dating site). The report highlights a number of fun facts, based on analysis of picture file data and hundreds of thousands of "Who would you date?" picture comparisons.

You're more likely to look attractive in a dating-service photograph if you:
  • Use a real camera instead of a cell phone
  • Limit your use of flash, or do it right with indirect lighting
  • Learn how to control f-stop settings and depth of field

Kodak EasyShare snappers come across as a particularly bad choice of camera, possibly because the low-cost, low-feature combination attracts customers who don't know much about photography technique. Panasonic cameras come out on top by a wide margin, presumably for occupying the exact opposite market position of the Kodaks.

But that's not why you're here, is it? The headline-making conclusion from OkCupid's report is that if your picture was taken by an Apple iPhone, you probably had significantly more sexual partners in your life than those who subject themselves to the cameras of an Android or BlackBerry phone.

If you believe that, you're holding it wrong
There's a lot of coverage of this tidbit out there, but most of it misses the simple fact that it isn't necessarily the smartphone brand of the subject of the picture that's at issue here, but the model of the phone actually taking the picture. Yes, the model could hand over a phone and ask a picture to be taken, but that's not always the case. Moreover, the "experience" part of this equation is not calculated by some quasi-scientific method, but taken from self-reported user profiles.

When all is said and done, I think we can boil it down to this simple statement: people who use an iPhone to take pictures say that they have sex with more people than others. The sleek design and tender-loving user experience of iPhones mesh well with the traditionally artsy Apple clientele; BlackBerry still equals serious business; Android phones might indicate that you're a certain class of nerd. So this self-reported promiscuity could be a reflection of different lifestyles, or varied honesty levels -- or the attractive power of the gadget itself.

Should you buy an iPhone if you want a better sex life, or are iPhone users just overconfident in their own prowess? Let the flame wars begin in the comments below -- and please, keep it safe for work!

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Make Swedish Pancakes

Swedish pancakes are not quite crepes, and my version isn't exactly what you see at IHOP. This recipe was originally taken from the 1973 edition of Husmoderns Köksalmanack and translated into American units of measure. But this is a much refined version of that basic recipe, and I hope you'll find the instructions easier to follow.

Pancakes and the cast-iron skillet from which they were born.
In a medium bowl, combine:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 pinches of sugar (y'know, a bit more than the salt)
The milk is typically 2% or full-fat cow's milk, but the recipe is surprisingly flexible and also works with skim, soy, rice, or lactose-free milk. Condensed milk probably won't cut it, though. For a richer batter ("luxury pancakes," my mother would say), add another egg or two in exchange for some of the milk.

Mix to break up the egg yolks. Then add:

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour

Whisk until lump-free. Then whisk in:

  • 1 cup milk
  • (optional: 2 tbsp melted butter)

Whisk until smooth. Adding half the liquid at a time makes it smoother, faster.

Heat flat skillet until very hot. Cast-iron works best. Nonstick is dangerous because you need high heat, which is bad for Teflon coats.

Spray pan with nonstick butter-flavored spray, or use a dab of butter or margarine in the pan. When in doubt, just use butter. Adding the optional butter above narrows the quality gap between the nonstick spray and dab-o'-butter methods.

Add ladle of batter to pan, then swirl around to get pancake shape. If using cast-iron skillet, handle will be very hot -- remember oven mitt! Leave the pancake smaller than the skillet to make the turning easier, or fill it for circular perfection. Me, I leave flip-friendly margins.

The swirling will reveal imperfections and suggest adjustments.
  • Add milk if batter is too thick; add flour if too liquid; You're aiming for a consistency like half-and-half, unwhipped heavy cream, or baby formula.
  • Turn down the heat if batter solidifies before you can swirl it into a circle. Turn it up if the batter refuses to turn solid on you, or if pancakes turn out colorless, crumbly, or mushy.
Spatula-flip when the batter stops glinting like a polished car under the microwave oven's unforgiving light. You want to avoid slattering batter across your stove when turning the pancake!

Remove after another 30 seconds or so, or when steam stops rising from the pan. If the steam turns into black smoke, you're too late. When the pancake catches fire, you're just doing it wrong.

Butter the pan and start again!

Serving suggestions:
  • Cover with syrup, honey, or sugar; roll up; enjoy.
  • Fruity alternatives: lingonberry jam, raspberry preserves, fresh blueberries and whipped cream.
  • Party pancakes work with Nutella spread, peanut butter, or chocolate syrup.
  • Want sweeter pancakes? Add more sugar and some vanilla extract to the batter. 2 tablespoons cocoa powder completes the picture.
  • How about savory? Increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and omit the sugar. Eat with bacon, sausage, and over-easy eggs.
Want more secrets from the Swedish chef in me? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: How To Train Your Dragon

Como entrenar a tu Dragon - 00092Image by Daniel Semper via Flickr
Movies don't have to be terribly original to pack a serious punch. Dreamworks Animation's How To Train Your Dragon is essentially the coming-of-age love story of Happy Feet, only it's told against a backdrop of dragons and vikings instead of penguins. It's also an effective story, told with lots of heart, and endowed with breathtaking visuals. It's a very effective mix, and the movie has also been marketed brilliantly with cunningly crafted trailers shown in all the right venues. This, my friends, will be a deservedly big hit.

It's not all wine and roses, of course. The "vikings" speak Scottish against a Celtic bagpipe soundtrack, which is somewhat offensive to true Scandinavians like myself. Call 'em Highlanders and I'd be happier. Nobody else will care a whit, of course. Dragon benefits greatly from a full-on 3-D treatment, but is butting up against Alice In Wonderland at the opening and Clash Of the Titans at the tail end. That unfortunate squeeze cuts down on this movie's income potential, just as Dragon curtails Alice's profits.

Still, this should be a franchise tentpole in the mold of Shrek for Dreamworks. How To Train Your Dragon is based on a bestselling book which is followed by a whole series of sequels, providing rich soil for the creative team. And I really wouldn't mind seeing more of these bewitching dragons, even if I have to put up with a horde of Scottish vikings.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Lose the celtic-viking confusion and you'd get a clean 5.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Pale Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer has Ewan McGregor doing his finest accidental detective since Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace. The Scottish star is enjoyable as always, but neither he nor co-stars Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall stand a chance of rescuing the film's paper-thin plot from an ugly demise.

I know, it's cinema legend Roman Polanski directing a story by bestselling thriller author Robert Harris. That should be enough to guarantee a strong story. But the plot is full of glaring holes, the ending is completely implausible, and I found myself not caring one way or another whether Brosnan's central character lived or died. Ghost Writer is a whodunnit thriller where hero McGregor never meant to solve a crime and every clue is delivered by deus ex machina. Even then, the dots never connect.

As much as I wanted to like this movie, Ghost Writer left me disappointed in a lot of people who really should have done better. McGregor nearly gets off the hook for his engaging performance, but he should have turned this script down altogether.

2 stars out of 5, and that's because I'm feeling generous today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Moon and 2012: Why Bad Movies Make Good Money

New MoonImage by §atsukiame]Øut for Bløød[ via Flickr

I went to the movies last night. The press screening for The Twilight Saga: New Moon was packed to the rafters with Beatlemania, as women of all ages (but mostly high school and college kids) screamed their approval every time a hunky werewolf or vampire lost his shirt.

The movie is set to make a truckload of money for independent and privately help production studio Summit Entertainment. Executives at 20th Century Fox and MTV Films must be kicking themselves for having the movie rights to Stephenie Meyer's vampiric love story in their hands, only to let the opportunity slip through their fingers. The first Twilight movie collected $384 million in worldwide ticket sales, and this one promises to be even bigger. That's a lot of undead dollars.

The sequel opens up in more theaters than the original installment and also features the kind of midnight opening-day showings you would expect of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. already crowned New Moon as its all-time champion of advance ticket sales, pushing some old Star Wars and Harry Potter releases out of the top spots on that list.

That doesn't necessarily mean that New Moon is a great movie. In fact, it just plain isn't. In some ways, this film is the exact opposite of fellow box office crusher 2012 from Sony's Columbia Pictures: one is a soft teen-romance chick flick with a hint of action while the other is a hardcore special effects extravaganza with a misguided attempt at human emotion, aimed right at the boys.

In other ways, they are exactly the same thing. Both films are poorly constructed yarns with painful flaws outnumbering the enjoyable moments. But they hooks into massive and very dedicated fan bases, and you shouldn't underestimate the spending power of teenage pocket money -- whether in the pockets of males or females. Bad movie but large target demographics equals easy cash. Remember that formula, dear Fool. You will see it again and again.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Building The Ideal Band

I have given a lot of thought to music lately. It's a central theme in the novel I'm working on for National Novel Writing Month, and I am forcing myself to learn new things about a field I already knew pretty darn well. My hero needed breathing lessons, so I had to take some too. And how do you really describe a singer's voice in words?
In the end, I'm putting a fictional band together. Doing that with entirely fictional characters got me thinking about how I'd do it with real, live rock stars. Without further ado, here's what I came up with.

  • On drums: Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame.
Dave is an amazing drummer but also a great singer, multi-instrumental musician, and song writer. He has a history of collaboration projects, including stints with Tom Petty, Tenacious D, and his new super group Them Crooked Vultures. Plus, he puts on a heck of a show.
Dave Grohl is my idea of the perfect musician, but also seems to be a really decent human being. I would gladly build a band around his solid backbone.

  • On bass: Mike Mills from R.E.M..
Yeah, I'm starting with the rhythm section, kind of like building a football team around solid offensive and defensive lines. Mike was always the most musically educated member of my favorite band, and his melodic bass lines are the heart and soul of nearly any R.E.M. tune you'd care to mention.
We're getting another triple threat: Mike also plays a fine piano and many more instruments, and has the voice to take the lead from Michael Stipe on occasion. He's also another great collaborator, having worked with Smashing Pumpkins and Mudville. Oh, and he wrote or co-wrote many of R.E.M.'s biggest hits. Starting to see a theme here?

  • On guitar: We need an axe wielder who can stand up to the raw muscle of Dave Grohl and also match wits and licks with Mike Mills. So who do we call? Hello, Slash!
Okay, Slash isn't known as a great singer and he really is mostly a guitar god, but he does fit our bill on every other level. He knows when to finesse a solo and he knows when to lay it on thick. After co-writing some of the finest cuts in rock history with Guns N' Roses, Slash moved on to two bands all his own as well as collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Alice Cooper, and frickin' Michael Jackson. You want a team player? You got a team player -- who also happens to be a living rock legend.

  • We could stop right there and just let Dave or Mike take the mic. But where's the fun in that? So on lead vocals, I can't help myself -- I need Allison Krauss.
Allison's pure and clear voice has no equal to my ears. She could sing the phone book and have me spellbound. Sure, she's mostly a country girl -- but she has proven her rockin' mettle alongside greats like Robert Plant, Sting, and Phish. She completes a full hand of accomplished song writers and plays a mean fiddle.

With Allison Krauss on lead vocals and two lead-singer candidates backing her up, the sonic explosion should be legendary. Every band member can contribute to the song list, and they are all accomplished wizards of the recording studio and mixer board. The technical skills are beyond reproach, and so is the musicianship all around. I would pay good money to hear this band, no questions asked.

I don't think you could come up with a better quartet yourself, but the comments box is dying to see you try. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Win 7 Upgrades for Everyone!

I bought a new laptop last week. This is the first time I use Windows Vista, and I hate every minute of it. And my computer didn't come with any upgrade vouchers.

But a little bit of research soon showed that my Samsung R620 certainly does qualify for a free Windows 7 upgrade. Microsoft actually keeps a list of manufacturers who offer Win 7 upgrades, and Samsung is there. Sweet!

So if you think you're stuck with Vista on your brand-spanking-new computer, don't panic until after you check out the list. If your make/model isn't in there, feel free to despair.