THE PINK ERASER: WHAT IS THIS THING AGAIN? I SURE WISH IT WOULD TELL ME.

I love it when people find strange things out in the world and save them for me. It makes me feel like I have the ability to turn the crappy commercialized world into an ironic treasure hunt. And I like that.

Anyhoo, this excellent example of marketing mayhem comes courtesy of co-author Lena Webb’s eagle-eyed mother, who spotted it at a Dollar General. Her only comment in handing it to me was a look of disbelief, with which I agree 100%. It’s not every day that regular consumer goods take the time to explain themselves. I can’t remember the last time I saw a writing instrument adorned with the text, “This is a Pencil.”

But there was something else — something familiar — about this little self-identifying eraser. On further inspection, I realized what it reminds me of: an old childhood relic, the Sanford Pink Pet.

I googled Pink Pet eraser hoping, irrationally, for a Wikipedia entry. No dice. I’ll just have to rely on memory. And Amazon, where these are still available (and poorly reviewed):

I have no idea why the eraser is a ‘Pink Pet.’ Or why the other, nearly identical, eraser is called a ‘Rub Away.’ I do know that I always thought the name Pink Pet was strangely cute. It like a pet rock or a Polly Pocket accessory or something.

As the Amazon reviewer notes, these are crappy, rock-hard erasers (I would add that in addition to not erasing anything, they also leave pink skidmarks all over your paper). Preliminary research indicates the same is true of the Pink Eraser, and that combined with the rubbery aroma tips the nostalgia indicator to ‘High.’ Well played, Pink Pet Knockoff.

CHECKERS: THE NEW BATCH

A few weeks ago, I found myself with a group of co-workers at 5 Below, a neo discount store where everything is under five bucks. This is the kind of place where it’s easy to blow $45 on useless stuff that probably doesn’t meet minimum import restrictions for lead. It’s also the place where I found this:

Neon! Checkers!

I love the idea of attempting to market an old game as new and fresh by… changing absolutely nothing except the color of the pieces. What was that marketing team meeting like? I imagine a group of creatives throwing around all kinds of crazy ideas: an iPhone app, a crossover with Settlers of Catan, a Justin Bieber edition, a 21+ version (the pieces are mini shot glasses), etc. etc. But no. The old guard of Milton Bradley won’t budge.

“What if,” the VP for Sales says, “we just… brightened up the color a bit?”
“Exactly!” yells the CEO. “How about if we redo it in the fresh, modern colors of a 1980s ski jacket? Now THAT would really make it pop!”

And it does. In fact, the only way this set could be better is if it were glow in the dark.

I’m going to be upfront here and disclose that I drank two pints of theater beer during this movie and although these were not potent drinks I may have blacked out for the last 20 minutes. It reminds me of the time I nibbled on a xanax before taking the GRE subject test in biochemistry and molecular biology. By the end I was just filling in random scantron bubbles and giving zero shits.

Clocking in at 3 hours– about as long as it takes one to complete the GRE subject test– Interstellar became as trying an ordeal for me as it was for Matthew McAstronaughey and the rest of the mission crew. What I’m trying to get at here is that it simply wasn’t very good– certainly not as gush-worthy as so many seem to think. It was an extended remix of Gravity, Contact, 2001, Apollo 13, Moon, and maybe even a little Powder and E.T. sprinkled in there too. The only thing that was able to hold my attention after a certain point was McConaughey’s complete and utter hotness. Like most people with a brain and two eyes, I have been reveling in the so-called McConaissance ever since “True Detective.” In Interstellar he’s both a rugged Carhart-wearing farmer AND a sexy astronaut– SPLOOSH.

Ahem. Anyway, if you want pith, I’ll give you a one-word review: Intersmellar. But, because I had to sit through 3 hours of it, I’m going to bloviate.

Hour one:

Everyone on Earth wants to pack up and head to another habitable planet because they are forced to reenact Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl,” which, as we know, is super boring. Old people are interviewed, black and white photographs are slowly zoomed in on– all that’s missing is a mournful violin whimpering out Ashokan Farewell.

We meet the family McConaughey (Cooper and his kids Murphy and Tom) and boy do they love Science. Mom is out of the picture for whatever reason, and Cooper takes the kids on irresponsible adventures like plowing through a cornfield in his pickup truck to fly the family drone around a quarry. Murphy, affectionately “Murph,” is a tomboy and very obviously Cooper’s favorite of the two kids.

Hey kids, let’s play a game called “foreshadowing”

Murph (very unscientifically) thinks that there is a ghost in her bedroom because books keep falling off her shelf. Cooper calls her out on her illogical thinking, but Murph has been taking careful Rainman-like notes documenting the patterns of which books fall. When she leaves her window open during a dust storm and sees some perfectly normal looking lines on the dusty floor she and dad make a giant conceptual leap that “it’s gravity!” I’m all “whuhh?” Wikipedia helps me not feel so dumb by describing this part of the plot thusly: they discover the “ghost” is an unknown intelligence sending coded messages using gravitational waves, leaving binary coordinates in the dust that direct them to a secret NASA installation led by Professor John Brand (Michael Caine).

Oh.

It’s like they wadded up a bunch of sci-fi and threw it at my face. It was jarring and felt unfair.

Hour two:

Michael Caine is in charge of Secret NASA and his most memorable (and irksome) character trait is that he quotes “Do not go gentle into that good night” FIVE TIMES throughout the movie. I guess we can add The Cider House Rules to the movie melange.

“Goodnight you prince of Space, you king of the Universe”

He’s also dying, like the old guy with cancer who funds the space travel machine in Contact. His daughter, Anne Hathaway (Amelia), is a biologist (a nice “soft science” for a pretty lady). Cooper makes a shitty remark about her looking too good to be a scientist and I hate McConaughey for about a second– until I see his glistening cheekbones and degrade him in my mind– he’s too pretty to be a scientist.

Toss in a couple sarcastic robots and some expendable crew members, and they’re ready to boldly go explore habitable planets. Murph is heartbroken and extremely pissed that dad is going to space and literally leaving her in the dust, and she has decoded some more book patterns into a message reading “stay.” He doesn’t. He gives her his watch. We’re supposed to cry now.

Sadsville: population Murph

The all-star crew is whisked off to space towards some planets scattered around near a black hole that have been identified as potentially life supporting. I don’t know what these people were smoking when they decided this, because the first planet is just a planet-wide ocean with giant killer waves. Water only equals life when it’s not drowing you. Amelia tries to haul some data storage machine that’s floating around back into their spacecraft but is doing a real bad job so Expendable Crew Member (ECM) slogs out to try and help. Amelia makes it back to the craft, but the other guy does not. Then everyone is mean to Amelia because she sucked. And is a woman.

We definitely need this wet machine that will probably contain data telling us NOT to try and establish civilization here

Cooper’s all pissed off because on this planet for every one hour spent on the surface, years pass on Earth. This is because it is too close to the black hole, and is yet another reason this planet sucks. He is concerned about Murph growing old without him (still couldn’t give two shits about whatever the son’s name is) and she’s indeed now 20-something years older. She’s followed in dad’s footsteps (but is still super pissed at him for leaving) and is now working with Michael Caine to solve the money equation that will let them harness gravity to launch humanity into space. But after Michael Caine wheezes out a few more do-not-go-gentles, he admits that he made everything up and there is no way to get everyone up into space. It’s a lot like grad school. He packed a bunch fertilized embryos from god knows who and figured we’d just begin anew. Murph is, like, WAY pissed and also assumes that dad knew this all along.

“Shut the flux up.”

Hour three:

Up in space, they try for a second planet inhabited by Matt Damon– always a bad idea. Matt Damon is stationed on an ice planet– again NOT habitable; someone seriously needs to get fired– and lures the crew so he can try to get the fuck out of there. He’s gone crazy in the hostile and isolating environment and tries to kill Cooper when they arrive by smashing his helmet. Lots of explody stuff happens and we lose another ECM and Matt Damon. Amelia does something right for once and rescues Cooper, swooping him up like a Rescue Ranger.

Now we get into the hot and heavy screamy-fake-science-word-commands time, followed by wormhole visions (a la Contact). This is where I start to black out. Again, I defer to Wikipedia’s total WTF-inducing plot summary:

Nearly out of fuel, Cooper and Amelia plan to slingshot Endurance around Gargantua on a course toward [the third “habitable” planet]. [Snarky robots] detach into the black hole, sacrificing themselves to collect data on the singularity and to propel Amelia by dropping the ship’s mass. They emerge in an extra-dimensional “tesseract“, where time appears as a spatial dimension and portals show glimpses of Murphy’s childhood bedroom at various times. Cooper realizes the alien beings have constructed this space so he can communicate with Murphy and save humanity. Using gravitational waves, Cooper encodes [robot’s] data on the singularity into the adult Murphy’s watch, allowing her to solve Brand’s equation and evacuate Earth. Cooper awakens years later aboard a NASA space station and reunites with the now elderly Murphy, who has led humanity’s exodus. Murphy advises Cooper and [robot] to search for Amelia, who has begun preparations on [the third] planet.

The “slingshot” move has totally been used in another space movie, maybe Apollo 13 or Gravity. Using gravitational waves to encode the singularity onto a wristwatch has not been used in any other movies because it is stupid. Anyway, Anne Hathaway ends up stuck on the third planet, doomed to toil away raising the embryos in another kind of dystopian grad school scenario, while Cooper’s snug as a bug in a space station. I’m sure he’ll get around to finding her sometime.

And then Neil deGrasse Tyson says “for every hour you spent watching this movie, you aged 20 years!”

SURPRIIIISE you are almost dead!

“Why not,” I asked myself, standing in a gas station. Now I am seated at my desk, indoors, vaping away; my mind races from the droplets of nicotine mist percolating in my alveoli. Am I experiencing the sensation of modernity? Let’s defrag this a little.

“Hey can I bum your laptop to charge my electronic cigarette?”

“Algorithms”

“The VUSE Digital Vapor Cigarette contains a Vapor Delivery Processor that uses algorithms in the same way a computer does, therefore we refer to it as ‘digital’.” Of course algorithms! I hated simple exothermic reactions anyway. Are menthol algorithms different? Will less-complex algorithms be used in “light” e-cigarettes? Is it possible to hack into an e-cig and get it to generate bitcoins with every drag?

See, when I want a cigarette it’s usually because I’m trying to avoid algorithms.

0s and 1s may increase your risk of brain cancer

“Great tasting vapor experience”

This is true if you consider huffing the dust at the bottom of a box of Lucky Charms to be a great tasting experience of any kind. It’s like there are cereal marshmallows stinging your lungs. Those are my complete tasting notes.

These marshmallows were sorted using an algorithm

Indoors vs. Outdoors

Let’s be honest: what’s the point of smoking a cigarette if you’re not going to freeze in the cold and come back smelling disgusting? And even if all you do is release quickly-dissipating puffs of breakfast cereal smell, people are still going to look at you like a criminal for vaping at your desk. It just happened to me.

Yeah?

Ergonomics

I just weighed my VUSE and it weighs 16.02 grams. I’d estimate a real cigarette to weigh about one gram. If you try to hold your e-cigarette in a jaunty, care-free manner, its burdensome weight makes the unit hang limply between your digits. In this way, the VUSE e-cig is not digital.

Overall, this is nothing like smoking an actual cigarette– for better and worse. Cereal does have a nice taste, and those little marshmallows are probably carcinogenic anyway.

BONUS IDEA: throw some Lucky Charms in a humidifier and create the World’s worst hookah.

I’ve had 2 glasses of wine, Mr. Max is trying to synthesize a Halloween costume out of household items, and there are 3 loads of urgently-needed dirty laundry congealing in the basement. Despite these facts, I’m honoring my commitment to Lena Webb to post a brief write-up on The Purge 2: Electric Boogaloo Anarchy. If that isn’t deep friendship, I dunno what is.

We (Me, Lena, and Mr. Max) watched this “movie” during a weekend getaway at my parent’s cabin in rural New York. The purpose of rural vacations is to do as little as possible, and pay-per-viewing a bad sequel to a bad movie I never saw (and don’t plan on ever seeing) embodies the best kind of lazy hedonism.

How was it? It was $6.00 well spent. Despite being a cheese-fest, The Purge 2 did not disappoint. The basic premise — continued from the first movie — is that the government allows one Murder Day per year where people can legally go open season on each other. Apparently this is supposed to make the world better or end poverty or something?

There’s a mom and daughter, who we call Not Rosario Dawson (AKA Rosario Dawson, but cheaper) and a… well, the daughter character wasn’t memorable enough to give a funny name.

Despite the whole murder-is-legal today thing, NRD and daughter don’t act very worried. As the sun sets, Mom is making a salad and I think the daughter is doing homework? I feel like I’d be, like, huddling or something. Or at least listening to The Smiths.

Then we meet this indie divorcing couple, who make NRD and daughter look super prepared…  by going grocery shopping at DUSK (!) on All Murder’s Eve. We call the girl Etsy and the guy Gluten Allergy because you know why. They get hassled by some street hooligans who sabotage their car so they have to escape on foot.

You just HAD to go to Trader Joe’s.

Last but not least we meet our rough-around-the-edges hero: Sean Penntel.

He’s angry and broken, but he’s got a gun and a car so everybody hangs around him for protection. Then they lose the car for a reason I can’t remember and have to scamper around the city on foot avoiding roving bands of gangs and stuff. They go to NRD’s friend’s house but the people there are having affairs with each other and start legal murderin’ so they leave. (Mr. Max pointed out that they probably could’ve hid in a dumpster all night and been fine. But they don’t do that because MOVIE.)

Eventually they all get captured by some bounty hunters and auctioned off to rich socialites for, NOT JOKING, an indoor human hunt. The whole thing becomes super derivative of The Hunger Games. Then Sean Penntel fights back and some resistance group that was only mentioned incidentally comes and rescues them all, well except for Gluten Allergy who was killed for being too big of a wuss. Then Sean goes to finish his secret mission, which was to kill the drunk driver who killed his son. He decides not to do it because ETHICS and then a government guy comes to kill him because he’s too anti-purge. The credits roll over some heavy-handed images of American flags and stuff and it’s supposed to be deep and message-y.

And then we all went home.

“Wholly shit” is a bit harsh, but I wanted the word play. I think most “computer movies” are hilarious, and old ones are the best. War Games was made in 1983, thirteen years before SkiFree would blow my mind. The trailer was irresistible, so I went for it.

Things are looking “post-apocalyptic” (read: “dusty”) and now two men are in an air force base and it’s business as usual. Their business is extremely boring. Is that Leo from West Wing? YES!

“I’m shocked that I’m in this movie too!”

They are decoding something with *laminated* code keys. The secretary must be super bored too.

“Rotate launch key to set” Their technical talk is boring to the max. And yet they are launching some giant missile and clicking all the switches… except ONE. They’re like fuck it, I don’t care, we’re going to DO this. Leo is sweating. His co-worker just started pointing a gun at his head because he’s not turning the LAUNCH KEY. WHY?

“You didn’t drink when they said ‘War Games’!”

That might be the most exciting thing that happens. This is starting to smell like Internet M*A*S*H. There’s even a helicopter, and I wish I was hearing “Suicide is Painless” right now instead of these “edgy” trumpets.

Matthew Broderick is in this. Is he related to Betty Broderick? I’m just musing as the credits roll forward, boringly.

Big doors that are like 6 feet thick and sound an alarm when they’re open are a big part of this movie. 2 big door shots so far.

I thought this was supposed to be about an internet whiz kid? It’s just boring old people and big DOS screens.

It was only a test?! Everyone was pissing their panties, sir. They wanted to see if the people could actually turn the key to start a nuclear missile attack, and Leo totally failed. Hence the gun. One guy says he wants the president to make the call, but then COMPUTERS will do the rest. Specifically, the War Operation Plan Response, or, WOPR. It thinks about World War III constantly. It plays WAR GAMES (DRIIIIINK!). It has already fought World War III as a game! It estimates damage, counts the dead…. Basic DnD shit. We are arguing that men should be replaced by computers now. Obviously these real live men have problems with this. They’re going to float it by the Prez and see what he thinks. We cool?

I bet she’s looking forward to men being replaced with WOPRs.

Ah. NOW we meet boy wonder, playing Atari in an extremely 80’s arcade. Running to school, LATE, entering biology class where a bunch of catatonic kids are going over a test. Computer boy, David, is sassy as you please. Equally sassy classmate Ms. Jennifer Mack was talking and got busted. Now she has to answer a question about nitrogen fixation! “Why do nodules attach themselves to the root?” (I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works) She says “LOVE!” NO YOU TRAMP, IT’S “SYMBIOSIS.” Next, “who first suggested reproduction without sex?” David has an answer.: “YOUR WIFE?!” Daaaaamn.

David is now in the principal’s office for obvious reasons, life hacking by looking at post-it notes and remembering information. I’m guessing it will help him woo this sassy Ms. Mack. It’s after school and she’s picking him up on a moped type thing. She’s got the kind of nerd pants a girl has when she is very serious about being a nerd.

“I can tell by your pants that you will like my boring life.”

She’s going to his room, which contains shelves worth of antiquated hardware. “You’re really into computers, huh?” Uh oh, he’s hacking high school and changing grades! She got a D in Home Economics because she’s not a real lady because she’s a nerd! She doesn’t want him to change her grade because she has MORALS. She is super turned off and is leaving. EPIC FAIL.

Meanwhile, back at the airbase, Leo is shaking his head at some baffling machines.

Back at home with David and his family. He is looking at a brochure that speaks to him because it’s computery and there is Are You Afraid of the Dark music. All bad movies seem to have AYAOTD music! Dad (who was definitely in M*A*S*H) HATES the corn because it’s RAW. Mom likes it crispy. I agree with mom. David escaped the table and is pulling some fiendish shit on the phone, conning his way to some information regarding that brochure, and is HACKING.

Ms. Mack is back and seems to have decided she wants him to change her grade after all, in an attempt to win his computer dong. Maybe I was too harsh about the pants. The computer is dialing numbers with the last number going up by 1 each time. He’s mansplaining modems. He already CHANGED her grade! He gave her an A! Aw yeah girl. He’s trying to hack them to Paris? Making fake airplane reservations. Lame. She’s trying to show him her tits by leaning in with an unbuttoned blouse, but he is too computer retarded and cannot sense the nearby tits. She literally has half her blouse open. He just wants free games.

“Why. Won’t. He. Look. At. My. Tits.”

…and some of the free games are WAR GAMES (DRIIIINK!)

Now we are in a very technical looking place with a few nerd boys scattered about. Ms. Mack has to wait outside because the nerd boys can’t handle a GIRL. David is basically an 80’s computer version of Mark Cherry from Arrested Development. A nerd tells another nerd “remember how you told me to tell you if you’re acting rude or insensitively? You’re doing it right now.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, bitchez. Clearly I missed the whole point of this scene.

Back in his room, David is hacking without his shirt on and I am unokay with this. Bad “Airwolf” music. Baby Broderick chest. Everything is bad right now. There are no pictures available of how bad this is. I am alone with this badness; it is all mine.

Ms. Mack is a power runner. She comes to visit David and he is still shirtless. She’s sweaty in a vaguely alluring way, but seems to have given up on trying to tear David’s eyes away from that glowing screen. He is showing her that computers, by connecting wires to chess pieces (haha wtf), were able to LEARN. Dr. Falken, a clearly amazing wizard of a man, did this way back (10 whole years ago) in the 70’s, and Mack has extremely forward professor hots for him. He had a son and his password is… his son’s name! Now we are hacking like the dickens. “We’re in!” (a phrase that must be uttered at least once per computer movie). Falken’s intelligent computer is chatty and wants to play a game of chess, not war. But David wants to know about this “Global Thermonuclear War” game– chess later! “Fine” says computer.

I PROGRAMMED YOU A SHIRT.

They are playing WAR GAMES (DRIIIINK!) now and he’s on the side of the Russians. They want to blow up Las Vegas first, then they went straight for Seattle. Interesting priorities.

So, I rented this on Amazon. Using money. I don’t remember what happened, but I didn’t finish the movie within 24 hours and I just can’t justify paying another $3.99 to do so. I hope that the rest of War Games contains the following:

- Leo punching Dr. Falken (who clearly wizards his way into the situation somehow) in the face. Or, maybe more ideally, Leo punching a computer.

- San Francisco getting blown to smithereens, like it does in most action movies. In a computer action movie it would especially poignant and thought-provoking.

- At least 4 more big doors.

- So many bad Russian accents.

- Mack ending up with Dr. Falken’s son as her boyfriend, even if he’s just a password. She should end up dating a password.

- David ending up in COMPUTER JAIL for thermonucleating the world. And for shirtless hacking as a pre-pube.

During my undergraduate education I worked in labs that imaged pond scum using confocal microscopy, studied estrogen receptor ligands in rats whose ovaries I removed, and  used yeast to show how errors in the center of the Central Dogma, RNA processing, can potentially lead to the mutation of its parent gene. Then I worked in a poxvirus lab at the CDC for a year, optimizing an old immunodiffusion technique for use as a hassle-free diagnostic tool for monkeypox in the DRC.  In graduate school I rotated in a cryo-electron tomography lab because why not?  It certainly wasn’t my cup of tea, and I ended up in a lab that used fruit flies to investigate the neural mechanisms and genes in involved in thermo- and chemosensation; I worked with maggots. I dropped out of the lab and the PhD altogether, rolling up my MS and sticking it in my back pocket.

As is clear, I got to do a lot of cool stuff– but nothing was as cool as this machine is:

Yes, yes it is

Is that the sound of me not doing any actual work?

I’m currently back in the bowels of Brandeis, preparing the needs of a 177-student intro to biology lab techniques. It’s a required course if you are pre-med. Suckers. A couple of the labs they are doing require that they make serial dilutions to measure transformation efficiency, and select for cells that have taken up the antibiotic resistance-confering plasmid DNA. That means their bacteria will need a nutrient-rich substrate, both with and without antibiotic, and that’s where I come in. But really, it’s where PourMatic comes in.

It’s like something Picture Picture would show you and Mr. Rogers, am I right? It makes me so excited I said something as dumb as “it’s the tits!” I don’t even know that means but it seems pretty sexist so I’m sorry I said it. But it can pour 320 agar plates in, like, 5-10 minutes!

You saw how it works, and now you can see the kind of freedoms the PourMatic allows for.

If this were an infomercial, we would also have footage of a scientist trying to pour 320 plates by hand– slopping the hot molten agar around, burning herself, lighting her hair on fire with the Bunsen burner necessary to sterilize the pipet for each plate, running out of room on her bench, knocking shit over and then looking at her plates the next day and finding the surface coated in a thick mold.

And then we cut to 7 years later and she hasn’t gotten her PhD yet.

Since 2009, Folgers has had a lock on awkward, vaguely incestuous, commercial spots.

(Fact: the incestuousness of this ad is so undeniable it even spawned its own [creepy] fanfiction genre. [Cite])

While Folger’s may have been the first to give family-themed marketing a weird sexual subtext, they’re no longer the only game in town. Dear readers, I present to you the ad for Toyota’s newest Prius.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

….

….

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew, right?

Here’s a quick rundown of the various kinds of WRONG featured in this ad.

Wrong thing #1: Clearly the worst part — the dad leaning in to smear some cupcake frosting on the grown daughter’s face. Creepy and makes the Folger’s ad seem innocent by comparison. Also, why is the DAD doing this? The daughter is a teenager — she could easily slap some frosting on her own face if it’s that important. (Which it isn’t.) I know they’re recreating a childhood photo, but who wants a picture of themselves with CRAP on their face? You can’t even see the facial frosting in the original picture anyway. The dad must have a buttercream fetish or something.

Wrong thing #2: The actors playing the parents look a little young and the actors playing the grown kids look a little adult. So when the commercial starts, it’s not totally clear that we’re seeing a father/daughter and mother/son. The first time I saw the ad I totally thought the dad and daughter were a couple doing some sort of flirty cupcake play. Internet: please accept my apologies for just having typed the words “cupcake play.”

Wrong thing #3:These shorts/thighs, and the slow, lingering shot that examines them. It makes me feel like I’m watching an American Apparel ad (i.e., dirty). On a less incesty note, it also bugs me that everyone’s wearing super vintage looking clothes even though the picture they’re recreating is from 2000.

I think I have to take a shower now.

 

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