Can you write like Sarah Palin?

November 24, 2009

I wish this would happen.

Or rather, can you write like Sarah Palin’s ghostwriter?

Here are some sample sentences from her new book:

“As the soles of my shoes hit the soft ground, I pushed past the tall cottonwood trees in a euphoric cadence, and meandered through willow branches that the moose munched on.”

or,

“I breathed in an autumn bouquet that combined everything small-town America with rugged splashes of the Last Frontier.”

Slate characterizes her style as having “multiple references to local flora and fauna, heavy use of PSAT vocabulary, slightly defensive tone, and difficult-to-parse meaning.” They even created a pretty funny index for the book. Sample entries:

food, Alaskan
________halibut tacos, 1
________reindeer sausage 1
________caribou lasagna, 218

They’re also having a contest to see who can write the most Palinesque sentence. Contest details here.

If you’re new to Pageslap, welcome!


Candied Bacon

April 5, 2009

I bring candied bacon to dinner parties.

On Friday Reuben was in town & invited me & Scott to dinner at RoyAndDanielle’s house. He asked me no fewer than 3 times to bring candied bacon, so I obligingly made up a batch.

Scott and I arrived to discover a formally set table with a blue Star-of-David tablecloth and Danielle’s distinguished-looking parents milling about. Oh yeah, Friday night. Shabbat dinner, the weekly ritual of the Jewish people, who, as you may know, traditionally shun the flesh of the swine. So not only did the black chick and her giant goyfriend crash the party, but we brought an entire pig. I sank into the couch, dying a thousand deaths, and our friend Danny whispered “You brought bacon to Shabbat dinner?” I gripped his arm in agony and hissed “Reuben set me up!”

Reuben, at this point, was off in the kitchen with no fewer than four strips of candied bacon sticking out of his mouth, like Judas, or a star-nosed mole.

Artist's interpretation of the dude who totally sold me out.

Artist’s interpretation of the dude who totally sold me out.

Danielle pulled out a Ziploc bag of yarmulkes and all the men put them on, except Gentile Scott, who, they decided, already had his own tenuous covenent with G-d on his head in the form of an army cap.

Artist's interpretation of everyone else.

Artist\’s interpretation of everyone else.

Danielle’s elegant mother draped a pretty cloth with Hebrew embroidery over the bread, then she and Danielle covered their eyes and sang the song to bless the Shabbat candles, Roy blessed the challah, and I slunk away, totally mortified, to hide from the grownups by skrunching up behind Danny, where I moaned softly in remorseful torment. In a strange way, I felt like I finally understood Jewish guilt. (amirite?)

As everyone served themselves Danielle’s father slowly approached me, his silver hair glinting around a regal satin yarmulke. I ducked my head in shame as he ominously intoned, “Are you the one who brought that bacon?” I cringed and nodded, sheepishly raising my eyes to meet his. He popped the last bite of something into his mouth, licked his fingers with a loud smack, and chirped, “It’s delightful, may we have the recipe?”

Hurray!

Hurray!

Cooking an entire package of bacon in home-made brown sugar caramel is the perfect way to make your apartment smell like a heart attack and make all your friends like you. And it’s surprisingly easy! It’s good as a treat, or you could chop it and throw it on a salad or something, which might mitigate, you know, the fact that you’re eating 80% pork fat and you also coated it in sugar.

I adapted the following recipe from David Lebovitz’ recipe for Candied Bacon Ice Cream, which sounds like the best idea I’ve ever heard and I thank gord I don’t have an ice cream maker, or I would probably make it hourly. (waddle waddle)

Ingredients:
Bacon
Brown Sugar
(optional: Maple Syrup)

That's homemade Port Elgin maple syrup in the Maker's Mark bottle, thanks to Uncle Larry, who is not actually my uncle, but anyone who gives me a whiskey bottle full of homemade syrup gets called Uncle by me.

That\’s homemade Port Elgin maple syrup in the Maker\’s Mark bottle, thanks to Uncle Larry, who is not actually my uncle, but anyone who gives me a whiskey bottle full of homemade syrup gets called Uncle by me.

Tools:
Cookie sheets or glass lasagna pans
Cookie cooling racks
Tongs
Tinfoil
Kitchen timer is useful, too.

Procedure:

1. Preheat oven to 400″ (use bottom element). Turn on the exhaust fan and close the door to your closet, or you’ll smell like a pioneer for days.

2. Loosely tinfoil the cookie sheets. Make sure the tinfoil is a bit too big for the pans and let it fold upwards at the edges like a bowl. This is to catch the grease. Because there will be grease.

3. Open the bacon. Usually there’s one end of each strip that’s just a chunk of fat. You can cut that end off & toss it out back for the raccoons.

Like tourists in Florida.

Like tourists in Florida.

4. Lay the bacon out, arranging the strips so they’re not overlapping (they can be touching & cramped, though). You can put it on the wire racks, as pictured. Or, if you’re short on wire racks, just lay all the bacon directly on the tinfoil sheets- it makes them shrink better so a whole package of half-cooked strips will fit on a single large wire rack in the next step.

5. Stick ’em in the oven & bake for 10 minutes. They will brown on the bottom, & shrink.

6. Flip the bacon so the browned side faces up. Reposition it so it all fits on the wire rack/tinfoil trays. At this point you may be able to fit the whole pack of bacon on one cookie sheet/rack.

Thanks, Uncle Larry.

Thanks, Uncle Larry.

7. Dump about a cupful of brown sugar into a bowl. Use your fingers to liberally sprinkle a line of sugar down the centre of each strip. Don’t worry if some falls off, but also don’t make too much mess on the cookie tray, because wayward piles of sugar will burn.

OR:

If you’re using maple syrup, mix 1 cup of sugar + 1/2 cup of syrup into a thick paste (aim for the consistency of toothpaste). Use a teaspoon (or pipe it out of a little bag with a snipped corner) to drizzle it down the centre of each slice.

Sugared bacon bakin', sugar.

Sugared bacon bakin\’, sugar.

Sugar drippings beginning to burn = stank-ass kitchen.

Sugar drippings beginning to burn = stank-ass kitchen.

8. Bake for another 10 minutes or so. This isn’t an exact science so trust your nose. You don’t want burning.

9. Flip the strips and sugar the other side. If the caramel in the bottom of the pans is burning, swap out that tinfoil & replace it with a fresh sheet. Burnt sugar smells like the apocalypse, and will fill your apartment with creepy bluish smoke.

This photo has a pavlovian effect on me.

This photo has a pavlovian effect on me.

10. Bake more. Keep an eye on it. One more flip, perhaps, and maybe a little more sugar (hint: yes). You can switch elements to the broiler if you think it needs it. If you do, put it on the lowest rack, set a timer for 1-2 minutes at a time and keep peeking- sugar burns very fast.

11. When the bacon is the consistency of fruit leather- flexible but not droopy- and the top is kind of sugary & bubbly looking, take it out. Note that it will harden up somewhat as the sugar cools, so it tastes better if the bacon itself is not too hard to begin with. You can sprinkle a little more dry sugar on the top at this point- it’ll soak in.

Looking at this photo I hear the theme from 2001: Space Odyssey in my tiny, pig-addled head.

Looking at this photo I hear the theme from 2001: Space Odyssey in my tiny, pig-addled head.

12. Let it cool, cut the strips into pieces with scissors, and impress the crap out of your friends with this porcine delight.

13 (disgusting/delicious). The tinfoil under the bacon will be covered in hot caramel. Leave it to cool on your counter- don’t throw it out. Otherwise, in a few hours you’re gonna wander home from that dinner party, tipsy and peckish, and you’ll find yourself digging through the kitchen trash to exhume that tinfoil and pick tasty little shards of porky-rendered caramel off it like Sally Struthers. I’m not kidding, those little crackles taste NICE.

NOT THAT I DID THAT.

CASE CLOSED

CASE CLOSED

Moar: “MY ACTING”, an inadvertently funny short play about Acting. Transcribed from reality.


Colin Powell endorses Obama – and finally raises the Muslim question properly.

October 20, 2008

Colin Powell endorsed Obama. Most news outlets I’ve seen are excerpting only a few seconds of video, essentially the last 30 seconds of Powell’s endorsement. But you should watch the whole thing, because finally, finally, someone is sticking up for Muslims.

I didn’t really have an opinion on Powell until this- but he just made me like him a whole lot. He raised two important points, and chastized Team McCain on their xenophobia:

1. Obama is not Muslim.
Hillary “As far as I know” Clinton should take notes.

2. But more importantly, it shouldn’t matter even if he was.
The America Americans are proud of is one in which it wouldn’t matter. The America Americans are proud of is one in which little Muslim-American kids should be able to envision themselves growing up and running for President, and shame on the McCain camp for encouraging any other point of view.

Powell’s seven-minute endorsement basically synthesizes every jangly, frazzled, emphatic opinion I hold about this election, emulsifying it into something warm and smooth and thoughtful. It’s a silken position purée, an intellectual political velouté, an analytical fricasée of punditry, and well worth listening to. It’s here.

Thanks to dziga for the tip.


OW

October 14, 2008

I stabbed myself in the mouth with a toothbrush last week. Don’t ask. Listen, I don’t need your concerned scorn, quit judging me, sometimes these things happen.

Now I have a cut in the pocket between my cheek and my molars, and feels like a bruise too, and it’s swollen and it stings when food touches it, and despite my ministrations with salt water the dang thing is still there. And it hurts, even from the outside. I’ve been chewing one-sided for days, and I can’t put my chin in my hand. Toothbrushes are jerks.

Oh yeah, keep laughing. Some friend you are. I’m probly gonna die from this and on my gravestone it’s gonna say “DIED OF ORAL-HYGIENE-INFLICTED INJURY” and below that it’s gonna say “SORRY WE MADE FUN OF YOU NICOLE, YOU WERE RIGHT, IT WAS SERIOUS.”
You’re all gonna feel pretty bad then, with your “Ooooh, how the hell didja manage to stab yourself with a blunt plastic object? How’s that even possible?” Dinks.


New Facebook: *click* not *click* a *click* fan *click*

August 13, 2008

New Facebook is the opposite of internet awesome. Basically the redesign splits each user’s profile into 4 or more separate pages: “Wall”, “Info”, “Photos”, and more pages for other applications. This means that in order to see the salient points of a person’s profile (the most interesting are probably their wall, their photos, who they’re dating, and maybe what pop culture they’re into), the user now has to click and open several separate pages. This quadruples the number of pages you need to view in order to stalk learn about a person, which means it quadruples New Facebook’s revenue from its (horribly-misspelled) banner ads. Also, why are mine always about weight-loss products? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY, NEW FACEBOOK?

The queen of the bloggers, Dooce, quadrupled her ad revenue last year with a similar trick. She now posts 3 new photos a day- one of her dogs, one random photo (often of her daughter, or a plant in her backyard, or something similarly adorable), and one unpaid feature of a product she likes (Perfume! A shoe! A cute print she bought on Etsy! A chair made by, and of, Scandinavian designers!). This means that for each visit, I read the main entry and then click 3 more times on her blog, once for each photo- giving her 3 more page impressions that day, and generating 3 times more income from the many banner ads on her site. Ka-ching for Dooce. Seriously. I estimate she’s banking $400K off the blog, and that’s not counting the 2+ book deals, or the movie deal that I rather suspect is in the works. (Please, Hollywood, do me a solid and get Night Court‘s John Larroquette on the phone to play her husband).

Lookit that mug.

John Larroquette: Lookit that mug.

So on the surface, what Dooce is doing and what Facebook did are the same. But from a user perspective, Dooce is on a different, much better planet. Sure, it takes a few more clicks to read her site, but the extra clicks lead to new, added content, which has value for the reader and which wasn’t available before the redesign: she’s a great photographer, and by putting each on its own page, she’s able to post larger pics. Plus, there’s written content: she writes a short, amusing paragraph to caption each photo. For the user, each click has a cost, however slight, of effort and loading time. But in exchange for her extra content, I’m pretty happy to give Dooce those extra clicks. It feels like she thought hard about the redesign, balancing her desire for ad revenue against her readers’ desire for content. Her model is user friendly, hurray. New Facebook sucks because it attempts to generate more income without supplying more content- I’m “paying” more clicks to view the exact same stuff. It’s like how my celphone costs way more than my landline even though the infrastructure of a wireless network is much cheaper to maintain. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Bell Canada. I’m gonna blog negatively about you so hard.)

How could New Facebook improve? Not exactly sure. Some way of giving me extra value for the extra clicks, I guess. The game applications do this pretty well- I click to a new page to start a new game, which gives them a new page view. I guess maybe the problem isn’t so much the inefficient interface, it’s the fact that I got used to having an efficient interface to browse, and they’ve made it worse. The new design is a noticeable downturn for me that gives them a financial bonus, and I kind of resent that. If I give you clicks I want something back. Shiny beads, maybe, or a cheese sandwich.

Probably the best solution then, would be simple prevention: make every attempt to optimize the design and revenue model right from the beginning. Alternately, when considering changes in the site’s design, just wait a while, until there are so many addicts that nobody’s gonna leave anyway, no matter what you do to degrade the user experience. Uh, wait, that strategy sounds familiar.


10 tips for doing cartoon voices

July 21, 2008
//kennethjunior.blogspot.com/">scott hepburn</a>.

Cartoon me; Illustration by Scott Hepburn.

Today I took a voiceover workshop. I’ve done a bit of voice work before, but recently, I recorded scenes opposite two really experienced animation performers, and observed this thing they both had, which I’ve chosen to call “technique”. I thought I’d try riding that-there bus myownself.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the things I’ve learned about voice work- some from the workshop today and others just from using my looking.

1. If you observe yourself, you’ll fix most of your problems yourself.
I always say this to anyone who will listen (seriously, like on busses and stuff, it confuses people). But it bears saying again: it’s really useful to record yourself. I put myself on tape at home to prep most on-camera auditions, and I’m gonna start putting myself on cassette for voice auditions, too. Common sense and observation are highly underrated teachers. This also applies to many types of dating faux pas, and also to unzipped jeans.

2. I verb, you verb, it verbs, we verb.
That thing we learned in theatre school, about verbing everything? I never do that. Too bad, because today I learned that it really helps. This afternoon I was rehearsing my scene in front of the mirror in a warm washroom that someone had just made warmer (such is my dedication to my craft), coffee on the floor outside so it wouldn’t get poo-taminated, and I figured out a couple good line reads that I wanted to keep.

So I tried to notate what I’d done. On Line One, I used a cryptic series of wiggly lines and carefully-drawn emoticons; and on Line Two, I used a single, active and meaningful verb: “reassure”. When I got in the booth a scant three minutes later, the wiggly lines meant absolutely nothing, they might as well have been in Klingon (no, I do not speak Klingon, what you must think of me). So Line One was pretty much a lost cause. But Line Two? Let me reassure you that Line Two was exceptionally reassuring, and sounded just like it was supposed to, ie, reassuring. Moral of the story: Use verbs. Choose a nice, uncomplicated, active verb for each mini-beat, and write it in the left margin so you scan it naturally as you read the sides.

3. Gesticulate like a madwoman.
I’m talking, like, arms up, over your head. Wave those suckers. This is really hard to do, because all voice work is recorded in a glass-walled booth- and on the other side of the glass wall sits a sound engineer. Invariably, he is a cool, salt-of-the-earth hockey guy, and you just know he would NEVER humiliate himself like you’re about to do. But he also doesn’t get to play a talking cheese wheel in a cartoon that takes place in a refrigerator, so who’s laughing now? He is. Arms up.

4. Bring room-temperature water.
Because cold water freezes your voice, and the astringency of tea or coffee makes your mouth sound pasty. I like to bring a lollypop, too- I’m very neurotic about spit-smacks and mouth-noise (because I believe they make you sound like Heath Ledger). And so sometimes you need to swish water to kind of wash away the pasty spit; and sometimes you need something tangy to encourage your poor nervous salivary glands to make more spit. It’s a delicate balance, but do you wanna be famous or not?

Okay, so you get the script. You pick your verbs. Your next burning question:

5. What happens in a session?

First of all, every line in the script is numbered. The director will break the script into little beats- generally trying to find tidy little self-contained chunks of the story. You’ll record all your lines within each chunk as a “pass”. The director will say, “This first pass we’ll do lines 1-6”– and out of that pass, you might have lines 1, 4, and 6 (with other characters owning lines 2, 3, and 5). Most likely the other actors won’t be there, so nobody reads with you. It’s lonely; be strong.

It's not like this.

Basically, you have to quickly scan the line before yours so you know what your character is responding to- you can even whisper it aloud to help yourself out. Then you take a little pause before cleanly delivering your line. Pause, quickly read ahead in the script, then deliver your next line. If you mess up, just take a quick pause and re-start the line. They can & will edit out your mistakes, it’s no big deal. So don’t even bother apologizing, because nobody cares and it just makes more edit work for them anyway.

And now some basic microphone technique tips, or MicTekTipz, as we* like to say in the biz.
* NOTE: by “we”, I mean “douchebags”.

6. Face the mic at all times.
Don’t turn your head to the side, even if you ‘re speaking to a different character.

7. Soften the harsh sounds.
Lean slightly back or dip your chin slightly on plosive consonants like Puh and Buh, so your air doesn’t make a popping sound on the mic. Duh. (You see what I did there?) Also, if you’re gonna get loud (yelling, squealing, etc), lean or step back in proportion to the loudness so you don’t overload the mic.

8. Avoid “dirty audio”
Dirty audio is any noise that interferes with, or overlaps, a scripted line: this means shuffly noise from your script pages or clothing, noisy gestures like clapping or slapping your thighs, and overlapping other actors’ lines if they’re in the booth with you. Don’t worry about pacing at all- deliver every line between a couple seconds of neutral silence. The secret to comedTIMING- but the secret to audio recording is

pausing.

9. Project, and keep all sounds on-voice.
Even if you’re delivering a quiet line, always keep a solid stream of sound & energy moving forward out of your face. If laughing, it’s probably better to do it with a fully verbal noise rather than a wheeze, for instance. If you need to whisper, do a “voicey” whisper.

10. Don’t tinkle in the booth.
Don’t wear tinkly clothing- I always take off my earrings so they don’t hit the headphones. You might not wanna wear your chainmail vest.

11. Bonus tip: Look at your shoes.
Try to wear shoes that your character might wear. If you’re reading for a 5-year-old, don’t wear heels- they change your alignment and make it harder for you to act young. Likewise, auditioning to play a 50s housewife while wearing Chuck Taylors is just trashy, fellas. The right shoes- or at least the right height of shoes- will instantly make you feel more like the character.

I learned a lot of other cool stuff, but I don’t wanna give away all the teacher’s secrets, because she deserves to be paid for her expertise, yo. She’s a solid teacher, gave thoughtful & specific feedback to each person, and gives easy-to-understand, very practical notes. I noticed that she was especially good at helping people create character voices on the cute-and-energetic end of the spectrum, although that’s by no means all she does. She also had great tips for stuff like getting into character quickly, what kinds of questions to ask in auditions, how to create young characters, and how to develop a roster of characters. All in all, I’d say the class was a solid investment. And voice work pays really well, so you’ll be able to afford a lot of weiner cakes.

How is this relevant, you ask?  I'm not going to tell you.

How is this relevant, you ask? I'm not going to tell you.