Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Lightning Rods

Title: Lightning Rods
Author: Helen DeWitt
Publisher: New Directions
Date Published: October 5, 2011
Pages: 275

How I Heard About It: Blake Butler's live reading, courtesy of HTML Giant.

Two Sentence Summary:

Ne'er-do-well salesman Joe decides to try his luck with a product of his own invention, the "lightning rod system."  Born of his frustrated sexual fantasies, the ups and downs of Lightning Rods, Inc. are an exploration in just how much people are willing to accept, how morally flexible people are willing to be, and what we're willing to do to be a great success.

Things I Think: 

 "One of the things that's perennially fascinating about the world is the way people sell things to themselves." (29)

This book definitely falls into the category of fiction in which the narrator's thought process is paramount to the plot itself.  Truly, the reader experiences this book from within the deepest machinations of Joe's brain, privy to each synaptic connection as instantly as it occurs.  DeWitt reveals herself as a great rhetorician in this, her latest, novel.  Her exploration of the brain's capacity to rationalize (failure, moral compromise, personal shortcomings) is not only believable but poignant due to the intimate perspective the reader is allowed.

"One day, you're going to wake up and find you sold away the only life you were ever going to get for the sake of the bottom line.  Well, there's only so much money you can spend in this life, and the thing you've got to remember is, the one thing you can't buy back, no matter how much money you have, is time.  A billion dollars won't buy back one single minute." (238)

"Lightning Rods" reminds me of Nicholson Baker's "Vox" or "Fermata," with all of its sexual quirkiness, but overall it is more notably an intellectual look at how physical drive plays a part (or not) in the American vision of success.  Through the lens of one man's fantasies, DeWitt has created a complex commentary on American culture that touches on topics of gender, race and economic status, to name a few.  Moreover, the characters are frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious, a difficult feat in a book so rife with intricate thought processes.  So glad I started the New Year with this fantastic read!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Major App Fail: 'Social Girl' by CrowdStar

Every few weeks, I take a trip to the iPhone App Store to see what's new and potentially useful. This time around, I found.... "Social Girl," an app by CrowdStar that I have subtitled, "We Hate Women."  Now, I know that might seem a little harsh or gratuitous or hyperbolic.  So I played through the app a bit (my progress was shut down, which you will see shortly) and took some pretty excellent screenshots.  

Please join me on this delightful tour of chauvinist mind rot!

(1) - Welcome Screen - My "omg are you serious" alert goes off immediately at "hottest cliques" but the piano-skirted rocker chick on the left looks a little like my kind of pal, so I sally forth.

(2) Build Your Avatar - Nope. None of them look like me. Bummed.

(3) OMG Dudes! - Choose from five sexy beaus, which I have broken down into their "stock character" categories:  pretty jock, pretty hipster, pretty ethnic dude, pretty rocker dude, pretty bro. 

(Is it just me, or does that facial expression seem rife with humiliation?)

(4) Generic Boyfriend Selection Confirmation - This is the part where I become speechless. If there is one valuable thing my mother (or history) has taught me, it is that the below is categorically NOT TRUE.  And that Twizzlers don't count as breakfast.

(5) The Invitation - Justin has just asked me out on our first date and is already telling me what to wear. This does not bode well for our future.

(6) The Big Date - I ask Justin how he slept. He responds. BEST DATE EVER! (No, seriously. Look.)

WHAT! WHAT?! I am not your accessory, guy-with-a-guitar-on-his-shirt. Justin. Whatever.

(7) Enter Madison - Just as I think this cartoon realm can't become any more nightmarish, I make a new friend.

Turns out the "Sporty Hangout" is a line-up of scantily clad cheerleaders and aerobics instructors.  Oh! And they speak, too!

At my current level, I can only talk to Madison.  (The other avatars are "locked" until I reach maximum friendship with Madison, who is apparently the official gate-keeper.)  Oh, and gossiping is the only activity in which Madison will participate.  The key to her heart is apparently some good old trash-talking.  Great.

I AM NOW COOL ENOUGH TO HANG OUT WITH TAYLOR! THANK GOD!  What was I DOING with my life before Taylor? And wait.. there's more? I get new clothes all because I spent time slinging dirt with Madison? Who knew friendship could be so ...lucrative?!

(8) Bubble Buster(s) - I decide to expand my horizons and try to meet some people with whom I might have something in common.  No dice.  I am forcefully told that I'm "Not Cool Enough!" to hang out with the rocker clique.  Looks like I've got a lot more gossiping/clothes buying to do if I want to earn friends that awesome.

I need more friends to level up. I need more clothes to get more dates with my boyfriend which will get me more friends. I hit the in-app shops and learn ...

Okay, whatever. I'll go to the stupid ATM. (Justin wants to take me to a concert and told me to "wear something rad" I think.)  I click on the diamonds. I click on them and click on them and the app freezes and eventually crashes.

(9) The Grand Finale - I am so over this app. I have been insulted and belittled, scorned for my clothes, abandoned by my boyfriend who is likely going to hang out with his four dour-faced friends.  I move on to another app, Temple Run. As soon as I begin to play, I receive the following pop-up:

NO. No, I do NOT want to buy one "Handful of Diamonds" for $1.99 you absolute jerks.  So the app is designed to grind me down and grind me down until, out of sheer desperation to "level up" I am supposed to spend ACTUAL MONEY to go on a click-through date with guitar t-shirt boy? 

A recent news article, which touts that the app was downloaded one million times in the first week, has some great tidbits from CrowdStar CEO Peter Relan:

"Owning an audience on mobile is not so easy,” Relan said. 
“But we’re seeing it is powerful to focus on young women and girls."

Focus on? More like prey upon.  This toxic hot mess is the last thing any young woman needs to get her hands on. 

Anybody want to buy some diamonds?