Thursday, May 26, 2011

Culture Shock 05.26.11: Tamed Internet still has bizarre territories

In the early days of the World Wide Web, before anyone really knew what to do with it, people would create Web pages for just about anything.

It was easy. Do-it-yourself websites were all the rage. And strange, bizarre, yet sometimes wonderful pages sprouted up all over the Internet, usually on free sites like the late, lamented Geocities, where garishly bad Web design became something of an art form and half of the pages always said they were "under construction," no matter how old they were.

These pages often were devoted to celebrities, obscure television shows, childhood toys and the like.

Some are still around, but they've grown up and gotten professional.

Some of the rest have migrated to social networks. For instance, there's a Facebook page devoted to Burger Chef, a hamburger chain that all-but faded from existence in the mid-1980s. Then there's another Facebook page just for vintage newspaper advertisements for drive-in movies. And that's just to name two that conform to my own strange and bizarre interests.

Still, even outside of Facebook, you will sometimes run across a site that's devoted to something so odd it seems like it fell through a time warp from the Web's early days — except it's better designed, because nothing, and I mean nothing, not even MySpace, will ever be as poorly designed as those Geocities pages were. Bless their hearts.

Recently, I've stumbled upon three websites so specific in their subject matter you really have to wonder about the people who created them.

The first is House's Canes at

It is, as you might guess, devoted to all of the various canes TV's most acerbic doctor, Gregory House, has used over the course of seven seasons of "House."
This site is full of stats. It tells you when a particular cane first appeared, how many episodes it appeared in, and, if known, what happened to it.

My favorite is the Walnut Derby cane, which lasted 20 episodes until Wilson sawed it in half — season 2, episode 16 — to get revenge for one of House's pranks. I even own a replica.

Currently, House is using a Rosewood Tourist cane, which he's had since season 6, episode 4, making it the longest-serving cane so far.

Yet this is the least bizarre of the three websites in question.

Next on the list is The Cosby Sweater Project at

Again, as the name suggests, this site is obsessed with the many sweaters Bill Cosby and the other cast members wore on Cosby's venerable 1980s sitcom "The Cosby Show."

That's all it is. Seriously.

But at least Cosby's sweaters were kind of a running joke at the time.

Our final website's obsession, however, is so far out there not even the truth is out there.

And that's the segue into Fox Mulder's Wristwatch, found at and billed as "The Internet's most comprehensive examination of the watches worn by Fox Mulder on TV's ‘The X-Files'."


This is my new favorite website ever. Fox Mulder's Wristwatch wins the award for the most random topic ever to have a website devoted to it.

(Don't try to top it. You'll just be wrong.) And in case you're wondering, there are at least 12 different models documented so far, including everything from an Omega Quartz De Ville Prestige to a Casio digital, meaning, at some point, Mulder thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.

This was the reason the Internet was invented. It's not about national security or commerce or education or even naughty pictures. (OK, it's partly about naughty pictures.) It's about the freedom of someone to share with the entire world an obsession with a TV character's timepieces.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Culture Shock 05.19.11: It's the end of the world as we know it (again)

Maybe you haven't heard, but Saturday is the end of the world.

Not the end of the world exactly, but it is the supposed date of the Rapture, after which all of us left behind on Earth will be in for a really nasty time, culminating in the real end of the world on Oct. 21.

That's the prediction of Harold Camping, the 89-year-old president of the Family Radio network. You may have seen one of his billboards proclaiming that the end of days is upon us.

It's hard to tell for sure, but Camping seems to have developed a following, even though he doesn't exactly have a good track record when it comes to forecasting Judgment Day.

Twenty years ago, Camping predicted the world would end in 1994. (Oops.) Camping, naturally, can explain in great detail why he got it wrong then and why he has it right this time. He's sure Saturday is the day.

"It is going to happen," he told National Public Radio. "There is no Plan B."

Technically speaking, this is Plan B. Plan A was in 1994. The real question is, is there a Plan C?

But I don't want to dwell on Camping. Lots of people have foretold the end of the world, using both religious and secular arguments. And they all have one thing in common: They've all been spectacularly wrong so far.

The new book "Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better" by Dan Gardner is mostly about the futility of trying to predict the future in general.

But Gardner does spice it up by recalling some of the more notable doomsday predictions of the past century. Y2K, anyone?

There's Marian Keech, a psychic who predicted the end of the world would come Dec. 21, 1955. Then there's Paul R. Ehrlich, the famed biologist who claimed in his still-influential 1968 book "The Population Bomb" that the world would fall into starvation and chaos by the 1980s. Since he wrote, the world's population has nearly doubled, but the percentage of the world's undernourished has more than halved over the same period, according to the United Nations.

(Oops, again.)

Keech is all but forgotten, but Ehrlich is unrepentant and still regarded, by many, as a credible expert.

The 1970s were a particularly fruitful time for doomsday predictions, Gardner notes. Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" was the decade's top-selling book.

In the '70s, as now, people were worried about inflation, unemployment, the price of gasoline and tensions in the Middle East.

When the world seems chaotic, people crave knowledge about the future, even if that knowledge is all doom and gloom. It's a behavior that seems to be hard-wired into our brains.

Even if we get past this weekend unscathed, we still have 2012 to deal with.

Based on a misrepresentation of the Mayan calendar, some people claim that the world will end Dec. 21, 2012.

If Dec. 21 seems like a popular day for doomsday, that's probably because it's the winter solstice, which people have regarded for thousands of years as symbolic of transition and rebirth.

But actually the Mayan calendar doesn't "end" in 2012. It just cycles back to its beginning, which is what our calendar does every December.

That's how calendars work, and there's nothing special about it. The Earth orbits the sun, heedless to how we humans keep count.

The world will end someday. Maybe in 5 billion years when the sun runs out of fuel, expands and burns the planet to a cinder. Maybe we'll be flung out into deep space when our galaxy merges with the Andromeda galaxy in an estimated 3 to 5 billion years. Or maybe we'll go out the old fashioned way, done in by an asteroid, just like the dinosaurs.

But if I were you, I'd still plan on going to work Monday — unless you have a really good Plan B.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Culture Shock 05.12.11: Charlie Sheen is a violent 'Wraith' of truth

Let's go back to a simpler time — long before "Two and a Half Men," before the "goddesses" and before the "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour — a time when Charlie Sheen was just an actor.

No, keep going. Before "Hot Shots!" and "Major League." Before "Navy SEALs" and "Wall Street."

I'm taking about going back to one of Sheen's earliest starring roles, the vengeful spirit in 1986's "The Wraith."

Re-released last year as a "special edition" DVD and currently available free online at, "The Wraith" is one of those movies that really takes you back — assuming you grew up in the 1980s and once thought mullets were kinda cool.

Sheen plays Jake, a stranger who rides into town on his bike and, with a sly grin, quickly earns the affection of Keri, played by Sherilyn Fenn before she hit it big with "Twin Peaks" and "Two Moon Junction."

She's the pretty girl who works at the local burger joint, which, as far as I can tell, is this sleepy Arizona town's major employer.

But there's just one problem: Keri is seeing — dating isn't the right word — the local tough guy, Packard, played by multitalented actor/writer/director Nick Cassavetes.

Packard has a thing for switchblades and wild mood swings. He also has a thing for Keri, although she's not particularly interested in his thing.

Otherwise, Packard and his gang have a good thing going — street racing, grand theft auto and a profitable chop shop — until the "Wraith" comes along and starts picking off Packard's crew one by one.

Driving his all-black "Turbo Interceptor" (actually a customized Dodge M4S prototype) and wearing a black costume topped-off with a huge helmet, the Wraith looks like a cross between a Power Ranger and a member of Daft Punk. But he also carries a big gun, which counts for something.

You know, Jake and the Wraith showed up at the same time. Could they be the same guy? Hmm.

Yeah, I'm not giving anything away by saying Jake is actually a ghost who has come back in a different body to take revenge on the guys who killed him. Basically, it's the same plot as "High Plains Drifter," only without the cowardly townsfolk. That means Sheen and Clint Eastwood have something in common besides "The Rookie."

Rounding out the cast are Clint Howard as Rughead, the gang's nerdy tech genius, and Randy Quaid — the only man in Hollywood with a more bizarre personal life than Sheen's — as Sheriff Loomis.

Most of the fun of "The Wraith" comes from its nostalgia value and the comic relief provided by Packard's dimwitted gang, particularly the unfortunately named Skank and Gutterboy. Charlie doesn't really have a lot to do, apart from riding around looking cool and making out with Fenn, which is nice work if you can get it.

The Scotti Brothers Records soundtrack (unfortunately out of print) is like an Ultimate '80s playlist, featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Tyler and Billy Idol, as well as Scotti Brothers regulars Lion and Stan Bush, who also show up on the 1986 "Transformers: The Movie" soundtrack.

So, if you're old enough to have ever worn a Members Only jacket unironically, "The Wraith" is a good way to relive your glory days.

Or if you only know Charlie Sheen as a "high priest Vatican assassin warlock," you might think a movie where he spends 90 minutes killing douchebags is a pretty neat idea. In any case, it's better than "Two and a Half Men."