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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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Guanaquita! We tried something new

Guanaquita is a Salvadorean restaurant. The second and fourth Tuesday of every month they have a salsa night. Friends of ours suggested we go check it out.

It was our first time for Salvadorean food—we couldn’t tell our papusas from our pastelitos. Fortunately, the waitress was helpful in guiding us through and pointing out the most popular options.

Salvadorean food is something like Mexican; indeed, part of the menu was “Mexican with a Salvadorean touch”. Jean and I shared the Guanaquita platter of pork papusa (a stuffed, Naan-like bread); zucchini pastelito (similar, only deep fried); a chicken enchilada, and corn tamale (corn in a soft tortilla-like bread). That was actually a one-person sampler ($10.95), so we also shared Mexican pork enchilada entree, served with rice and beans ($8.95).

Food of El Salvador

Picture of Salvadorean food taken by someone–not us

It isn’t gourmet cooking, but everything was quite good, really. They said they made it all fresh and we believed it, as it took a good hour to get our food! In the meantime, we enjoyed the decent bottle of off-dry Pinot Grigio ($28) that we shared.

Then it was time to shake our booties. It started with a lesson in a Latin dance called, I think, the Kizomba. To me, it seemed similar to the Merengue. He started by showing the basic steps to everyone in a line. (We missed some of that, as we were finishing dinner.) Then we paired up to learn a couple’s routine.

Keep Calm and Dance Kizomba

(Or whatever the heck dance it actually was!)

At first I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the instructor’s plan for us to move around the room, switching partners til we danced with most everyone. Did I mention that one of the moves involved the guy raising your arms above your head, then sliding his hands down your arms (which you have raised, at this point), your sides, and onto your hips?

But I decided to get with the program—it didn’t hurt that there were a number of young and frankly quite good-looking men participating. (There were also a good number of people our age and older, so didn’t we feel like we had crashed a university kegger or anything.) And it was interesting to partner with people of such varying skills: those counting the steps out loud, the many staring down at their feet —contrasted to those who actually knew how to lead!

The instructor was quite good, though, and whatever the level each person started with, it seemed that everyone could keep up, basically.

Then it was lights down, music up, and time for free-range Latin dancing. We learn some styles as part of ballroom lessons, but this place offered a wider ranges of beats, so we had to improvise on that. Some people were really good! One guy asked me to dance while Jean was settling the dinner bill, and he was an effective enough leader that I could pretty easily follow even though it wasn’t in the dance style to which I was accustomed. (Though it did seem as though that song went on forever… Maybe it was a medley of songs.)

The place was very hot (temperature-wise I mean, this time) on this steamy September night, and it was a school night, so we didn’t stay out that late. But we had good time. Good enough that we’d like to try it again sometime…

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A feast of festivals

In Canada, weather dictates that outdoor festival is pretty short. That’s why I found that timing and programming of Kitchener’s Summer Lights Festival pretty smart. This night of “exploration and discovery” in downtown Kitchener, ran from 8 pm to 1 am, which meant that it started right after the Multicultural Festival in nearby Victoria Park ended. And, it was held in coordination with the Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound and the Our World Festival of Music.

Not only a clever way of allowing people to attend many festivals at once, but it also made the one event much more big and interesting than any of them would have been alone.

They blocked off part of King Street in Kitchener, so you ended up exploring it in that way. (I got suddenly curious about Fritsch Fragrances, Inc., which looks like it’s about 100 years old. Does it really only sell fragrances? Is that a viable business model?) A number of the restaurants and stores were open. Food carts and trucks were on the streets, as were installations such as:

  • The community couch (sit and talk to strangers—which I didn’t)
  • The black light post (get painted and glow)
  • Painters of the night (artists painting on the street, that is)
  • Board game zone
  • Henna tatoo station

Etc. The public buildings were also transformed—the KW Symphony building became a 90s house dance club (pretty dead one at first, but it did liven up later); the inside of City Hall an old-time arcade and Rock Band performance site; and The Museum a live concert venue (featuring a Very! Loud! rock band when we walked in), with an “alternative” market.


Lighting up the City Hall fountain at the Summer Lights Festival

The range of music and sound on the streets was quite astonishing. Open Ears brought in the weird but cool experimental stuff: the art installation featuring percussion instruments the public could bash away on; the arrangement of different musicians and styles all around the city hall fountain; the classical musicians providing a live soundtrack to a silent French surrealistic movie.

Then there was the AcaBellas, doing their best Pitch Perfect mash-up of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with, well, two other songs that I’m sure are really famous and popular… And the jazz group performing ‘”What a Wonderful World” in front of a dance floor. (Jean refused to shake his groove thing, though, citing improper footwear and a dislike of rhumba.) Along with the more expected folk guitarists and bands doing classic rock covers.

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

The lovely Alysha Brilla

The definite highlight for us, though, was the performance by the woman who convinced us to get out there past by our bedtime in the first place: Alysha Brilla. Her style of music is mix of jazz, pop, and Latin. We know of her mainly because CBC—even the news channel—plays her music a lot (for which she thanked them during her performance). We started watching her from afar, then got closer, until I, at least, couldn’t resist joining the crowd dancing right in front of the stage. She was terrific at egging us all on.

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Dance party in Kitchener!

I did not, however, volunteer to go up and dance on stage. Those who did, had some serious skills!

All in all, one of the funnest concerts we’ve been to in a while. We really got lifted.

Alysha Brilla – LIfted, live (Toronto performance)

Alysha Brilla, Two Shots – official music video

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Valentine / Family Day weekend

We originally thought of taking a day trip this long weekend—maybe do some snowshoeing—but the record cold temperatures dissuaded us from that plan. Instead we found entertainment closer to home.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Aqua, the new seafood restaurant in the not-so-new Crowne Plaza Hotel. The service was a little iff-y—bit inattentive—but the food was pretty good. We all went with the Valentine’s special menu. The highlights were the beet soup with smoked trout, the ravioli and beef entree Jean had, and the two desserts: A chocolate mousse cake and a cookie with ice cream concoction. We all concluded we’d eat here again, amidst that special chlorinated pool ambiance. 🙂

Afterward we all attended a symphony concert. It started with a modern piece that our friend accurately described as interesting, but not that musical. Then we got Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2 in C minor. For me, this would be the number 3 Rachmaninoff piano concerto I have heard live, and he is three for three in my books. I always enjoy them. The second movement of this one sounds so much “All By Myself” that Eric Carmen still pays royalties to Rachmininoff’s estate. (True fact!) The third movement was lively and sensual. The featured pianist was an attractive and obviously talented young woman named Natasha Paremski.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which was also good though, for me, not as good as the piano concerto.

Saturday was actual Valentine’s Day, and we don’t generally go to restaurants then. But it being a holiday, I decided to make a nicer dinner.

I tried a new (to me) Jamie Oliver recipe for slow-cooked duck pasta. We weren’t able to buy the duck until that morning, and it was frozen, so the main challenge was getting it defrosted in time for dinner that day. That required a whole lot of rinsing.

Otherwise, the recipe wasn’t tough: Just required time. The duck cooked at 350 for 2 hours, in its juices, and I had to turn it every half hour. Then in a fry pan I sauteed some pancetta, then I added various vegetables and some can tomatoes and red wine to make a pasta sauce. After the duck cooled, we removed the meat from it, and added that to the sauce. Then it was a matter of cooking rigatoni and mixing it all together, topped with Parmesan.

by Jamie Oliver. Valentine Dinner at home

Quite delish. We served it with a Chateauneuf du pape.

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse cake. No flour, just cocoa, unsweetened, and bittersweet chocolate with eggs and Cool Whip, basically. It was another new recipe (to me), and it turned out well—not too sweet, good texture.

.... or is that chocolate mousse? Too much wine with dinner .. Valentine Dinner with my one and only :)

But we weren’t done eating yet. 🙂

Sunday we braved the cold and drove to Wilk’s Bar, which is at Langdon Hall, for lunch. It isn’t a cheap place (though cheaper than the Langdon Hal dining room), but they do a nice job.

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

We had the “From the Land” sharing platter to start, along with four oysters. The oysters were amazing. The land platter was fine, but not outstanding. The highlight of that was probably the almonds!

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

Muskox stew with mushroom risotto in the background

Both of the lunch entrees were very good, though. I had the wild mushroom risotto and Jean had muskox stew. The glasses of wine were quite nice, also.

But no time (or room, really) for dessert, as we had tea dance tickets for 2:00. After a detour to the wrong location, we got to that event around 2:15. It was a fun time, and a chance to work off some of the food—especially dancing to “Jump, Jive, and Wail”! Wow, that’s a fast song. (Which is why the wailing after the jiving, I guess.)

And then, we dashed to a 4:20 showing of The Theory of Everything at the Princess. Pretty interesting movie about the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Definitely shows the challenges of her having to cope with his increasingly serious illness. Though of course, as we know, he continued to do amazing physics work through it all.

Then we were ready to go back home and relax. Family Day was pretty quiet, and that suited us just fine. Especially as we got some news Sunday night that definitely had us thinking about family.


A symphony concert like no other issue

For “Edwin’s Orchestra Follies”, we were promised the wacky side of the KW Symphony, and they delivered on that!

The premise was that due to the symphony’s financial challenges, they had to try some new approaches. Like, striking a deal with new sponsor, Power Goop. Like offering a new Siri-like app, that seemed to be hearing-challenged. Like having a mascot: a big guy in a cat suit.

Cat mascot, singer, Edwin in track suit

Cat mascot, conter tenor in the center, and conductor Edwin Outwater in his Power Goop outfit. Photo by Scott Belluz.

Some jokes worked better than others. They were throwing a lot of stuff at the wall, and only some of it stuck, if you will. By as my friend, who isn’t a typical Symphony attendee, remarked: “At least I’m not bored!”

Oh, and they did play music too. One surprisingly great piece was Leroy Anderson’s “Typewriter”, that did, in fact, feature a manual typewriter as one of the “instruments”. It was “played” by one of the members of the Youth Orchestra, who had to have been a novice on that device, given his age.

Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter” on YouTube. It’s actually a thing!

Several pieces were by P.D.Q. Bach, “the oddest of Bach’s 20-odd children.” Outwater commented that while father Bach’s pieces required great musicianship, “any idiot could play P.D.Q. Bach”, then invited an audience on stage to prove it. We got a young woman from Colorado (what?) who seemed slightly mortified by the whole thing, but nevertheless did a fine job of rising and hitting cymbals together when so directed by the conductor, earning an angry glare from the cat mascot, every time. This was during the Hindenburg Concerto, featuring balloon releases at various points during the piece.

The first half ended with Haydn’s Farewell Symphony. Outwater pointed out before starting that everyone had partaken of Power Goop before the concert. Throughout the piece—it’s written this way—various members of the orchestra leave, until no one is left playing. Only the way it was acted out, they were each leaving due to some sort of intestinal distress!

You had to be there, but it actually was pretty funny.

And the second half began with a response in the form of P.D.Q Bach’s Howdy Symphony. It starts with a “conductor solo”—that’s right, just Edwin Outwater flailing away in the face of no music, no musicians. “Ssh,” he said, as the audience took a few minutes to settle down. “This is my solo. You don’t get a conductor solo very often!”

And then all the musicians gradually ambled back in, one by one, and started playing.

Edwin’s supposed even greater intake of Power Goop felled him on the third piece in, and he collapsed on the couch (which was on the stage for the cat mascot, of course). “Get that girl!” he managed to wheeze, and our Colorado visitor got a turn at the baton, for “Flight of the Bumblebee”.

Probably the funniest piece was the final one, P.D.Q Bach’s “Ipheigenia in Brooklyn”, featuring the pictured countertenor. It’s a mockery of the aria form, with the singer having to take rather absurd leaps in vocal range, while singing even more absurd lyrics about “dead fishes… Dead, but still smelling of fish” and “running, running, running, noses”. The singer played it all very straight, which was perfect. The piece was nuts and I was in stitches.


And for some completely different, last night we went to see Travis Wall’s “Shaping Sound” dance troupe. He is a dancer and choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance, and the troupe featured a number of other dancers from that show and Dancing with the Stars.

I won’t get into big description. It was some amazing, upbeat group numbers set off by angsty and sometimes sexy contemporary pieces. I quite enjoyed it. Their take on “Bohemian Rhapsody” especially stood out.


KW Glee

I am really, really surprised how much I am enjoying this concert.

— Jean, at intermission

Tuesday night we went to see KW Glee perform with the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony at Centre in the Square. KW Glee is a show choir that was, in fact, inspired by the TV show Glee. So they sing pop music, and they don’t just stand there while they’re doing that—all their numbers are choreographed.


The inspiration

What’s different from the TV show? Well, this show choir is much bigger; they have many featured vocalists, not just one girl (Rachel) and one boy (Finn) who do most of the lead singing; and especially; no auto-tune!


The actuality

And what voices, my friend. My goodness, such talent in this community. I’m wondering which of these young people will break out as a  huge star some day. Seems likely at least one of them will.

The set list consisted mostly of what kids are listening to these days, which meant that—honestly—I did not know many of the songs. In some cases I hadn’t even heard of the artist. (VV Brown?)

No matter, They had us at the opening number, a mashup of “Some Nights” by Fun and “End of Time” by Beyoncé, performed by choir only, then carried us through as the Symphony joined in on “Counting Stars” by One Republic mashed with “Wake Me Up” by Avicii.

And then we got Junior Glee, all on their own. Oh, my goodness. These are the 9 to 12 year olds, and they are mostly girls (Senior Glee is somewhat more gender balanced), but their first number featured three young boys singing Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”. They were both adorable and deeply impressive at conveying this love song.

In the introduction by artistic director Amanda Kind, we were told that the youth auditioned based on vocal talent only. All the dancing, they’d have to learn in their 12-week rehearsal period.

But some of them obviously have some additional dance training. “Say Something” (by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera) was performed as a vocal duet, with two of the choir members dancing. It was lovely—reminded me of the performance of this song on “So You Think You Can Dance” (and nearly brought me to tears).

“Say Something” on So You Think You Can Dance

Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” (a rather sappy song, that) was another that featured two other talented dancers.

Adding to the excitement were a great number of costume changes. I don’t know how many, but we didn’t have time to get sick of any particular outfit, let me tell you. (It must have been chaos backstage.) For example, for all-ladies singing of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, the singers were all in sexy black and red. For Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, the outfits were more eccentric. For Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” mashed with Rhianna’s “Disturbia”, more scary.

For the James Bond Medley, the guys were all dapper in suits, of course. For “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine, the lead singer was in a lovely red dress, while the rest of the choir wore black, representing the demons being “shaken off”, per the song lyrics. You get the idea,

And the Symphony? Well, honestly, they were very much in the background—especially in first half. Staging-wise, they literally were seated way back, to allow for so many singers and dancers to do their thing in the front part of  stage. But, they did get to shine more in the second half, which featured more quiet numbers. They actually started playing the second half—the James Bond theme—before any singers were on stage.

And there’s no doubt that throughout, these talented musicians provided solid backing. There’s nothing like live music. And everything was a world premiere, friends. There has never before been a full concert of show choir + symphony. All the scores—all of them—were written especially for this concert by conductor Trevor Wagler.

Another highlight to mention was the performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Obviously, this one has been done by lots of singers. KW Glee had four young men from Senior Glee perform it. Simply the fact of it being sung by four people instead of the usual soloist made you forget about comparing it with past covers, as each did a nice job on his own and their voices mingled beautifully when they sang together. The orchestration was also fantastic. Though the audience probably could have been popping up all night, this is one place where a standing ovation occurred mid-concert.

That was fantastic! It was just amazing.

— Jean, after the concert

A terrific report on the concert by SpokeTV—starting with a bit of “Hallelujah”

Set list:

  • Some Nights (Fun) / End of Time (Beyonce)
  • Counting Starts (One Republic) / Wake Me Up (Avicii)
  • Treasure (Bruno Mar)
  • Toxic (Britney Spears)
  • Bye Bye Bye (N’Sync)
  • Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)
  • Disturbia (Rhianna) / Thriller (Michael Jackson)
  • Say Something (A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera)
  • Beside You (Marianas Trench)
  • Brave (Sara Bareilles)
  • Viva La Vida (Coldplay) / Firework (Katy Perry)


  • James Bond Medley: Bond Theme / Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney) / Another Way to Die (Jack White & Alicia Keys) / Skyfall (Adele)
  • Turning Tables (Adele)
  • No Good Woman (Elise LeGrow) / Rumour Has It (Adele)
  • Shark in the Water (VV Brown)
  • Shake It Out (Florence and the Machine)
  • Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
  • A Moment Like This (Kelly Clarkson)
  • Let It Be (The Beatles)
  • See Your Star (KW Glee original, written by Jason Berry)


Swing in concert: Tout le monde debout, c’est le temps de danser!

Swing is a franco-Ontarian band that we first discovered at a Canada Day concert in the Ottawa region about seven years ago. As soon as they came on and started playing, the whole crowd was on their feet, and pretty much stayed there. (Whereas they sat for the headliner.) And I became an instant fan of their music, a fusion of traditional folk with elements of hip-hop and techno: Technotrad, they call it.

A taste of Swing: Bouge, bouge

I’d been wanting to see them in concert again ever since, but what the singing mostly in French, Southern Ontario is not a regular destination for them. So I was very excited to see, up on the ad screen at the Princess Cinema, that Swing would be performing at Victoria Pavillon on November 14, courtesy of L’association francophone de Kitchener-Waterloo.

I was wondering how the KW crowd would respond to them compared with the Gatineau one. I’ve found KW audiences to be rather staid and quite reluctant to get up and dance—to a frustrating degree, at times. So I wasn’t too optimistic on that front.

I did predict that part of the crowd might be drawn from Swing’s occasional appearances at local French high schools, and that age group was represented, along with older association members (one assumes). I wasn’t expecting quite so many little kids as there were, however. (Let’s hope those kids aren’t too, too familiar with French Canadian slang, as some of their lyrics are a bit—edgy.)

And did the crowd all jump to their feet at the first note Swing played? No! Absolutely not.

But to be fair, they started with cover—all in English—of “Born to Be Wild”. It was a serviceable version, and I like the song, but I didn’t want watered-down, anglicized Swing.

I needn’t have worried. The rest of the set was almost entirely their music, and when singer Michel Bénac pointed out the big dance space in front of the stage, a stalwart four headed right up there to dance, and stayed pretty much the whole evening.

Furthermore, to my surprise, they were joined by more and more people as they evening went on. I was up there by about song 4 Jean resisted until about song 10, and the other couple we went with finally made their way up there as well, for the final set of songs. The band’s music is just irresistible, the singer determined that we are all going to have a good time!

“C’est un party avec Swing!” And it was.

They definitely included most of my favorite songs of theirs—La tête me tourne encore (“You make my head spin—in a good way”), Au nom du père et du fils et du set carré (“In the name of the father, the son, and the square dance”), Belle débousollée (“Beautiful distraught woman”), La vie comme ca (“Life as it is”), and “One Day” (the song wherein they rib anglophones).

Hey, everything’s OK, because one day soon, we’ll all be just…

The crowd’s favorites (which I also like) were La Goutte (“The Drip”)—“You know this one!” commented Bénac appreciatively (in French)—and  the encore, “CB Buddy”.

La Goutte (y’a pas d’high speed, y’a pas d’download, y’a pas d’Livefeed…)

But we were also treated to some of their very latest songs, such as the single released just last week, “C’Okay” (it got to number 6 on iTunes, by the way), and songs from their recent EP, such as “One Thought”, and even a song that won’t be released for a few months yet. So at least at two live premieres of their music.

And, when we all needed a rest from dancing and hopping—including Michel Bénac (who appears to me to be in amazing shape)—we partook of a camp sing-a-long of eighties classics such as “Billy Jean”, “Every Breath You Take“, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun“ (for the girls), and for the guys—“Baby” by Bieber! Psych!

The between-song patter fun and friendly and all in franglais, except for one shout-out to the anglos in the audience, who were thanked for coming and “being the minority for once. Feels weird, eh?”

Apart from Bénac, the band has a DJ who also does some hip-hop dancing, a violinist, a guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer. Unfortunately, the acoustics (or the sound system?) in that room were not very good. Nevertheless, we could tell they had a high degree of musicianship.

Swing is really one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.

“So good they can even get Kitchener-ites and Waterloo-vians to their feet”

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Whatever happened to the shows of summer?

Actually, in the good/bad old days, there weren’t really “TV shows of summer”, were there? It was mostly rerun city. But more recently-ish (it is a trend over a decade long) networks have programs they play only in the summer season. And the specialty networks debut programs all year long.

These are three I’ve been particularly enjoying.

Amazing Race Canada

Modeled after the American one (which I also like), this is somewhat more “respectable” reality show—Emmy winning, and basically “just a race”, though with the producers definitely manipulating said race to produce drama, and obviously casting it with colourful people.

I appreciate the very multicultural nature of this year’s cast. And what a strong set of contenders! Except for the two sisters who were, indeed, eliminated the first show, everyone seems quite athletic and potentially capable of winning.

Rex Harrington

Rex Harrington also be kind of easy on the eyes…

But I did come in with a bias toward Rex Harrington and his fiance Bob, because…. He’s Rex Harrington! Amazing dancer and great judge on So You Can Think Dance Canada.

They did well the first episode (and were so funny!), but in the second became mired in controversy: They gave up and took penalties on not one but two of the episode’s challenges. They only made it through because another contestant got injured and had to withdraw.

But surviving that round made they got to experience the surprising development of this year’s season: It’s no longer restricted to Canada! The teams were off to Hong Kong, with China up next.

I do hope Rex and Bob stick around for a while longer, but they certainly aren’t the smart bet to take it all. That would have to be the team made up of two members of Canada’s women’s gold medal hockey team, who have so far won every leg!

Fortunately, I also like them, as I basically like all the teams, really. I found that about Season 1 as well. That doesn’t tend to happen on the American one. Is likeability a Canadian trait? Bit early to say: Some of teams may get awful once the “killer fatigue” really sets in. TBD.

So You Think You Can Dance

The international travel budget shows that Amazing Race: Canada is a summer show on the rise. Now in its eleventh season, though, Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance is definitely on the decline, struggling for ratings.

They have fewer shows than ever this year, so the audition footage was seriously compressed, and we didn’t get to “know” too many contestants ahead of time. They get only the single 2-hour performance show per week, during which they try to squish in everything, including guest stars. It’s meant no video recaps, no Dance for Your Life for the dancers in the bottom three. And their pre-emption for some baseball game meant that this coming week, they have to eliminate four instead of two dancers. Brutal!

What remains, though, is the what I’ve always loved about this program: Seeing wonderful dance pieces in a great variety of styles, performed by very talented young people who only get better each week.

For example, this hip-hop number from the last week. Can you tell that Tanisha is actually a ballroom dancer? Didn’t think so!

Or how about this amazing group piece ( again kind of highlighting Tanisha) in the jazz / modern style:

I’d really be sad if this show was cancelled.

Silicon Valley

This is a bit of a cheat to include here, as it is being rerun, currently. But it’s new to me, and its premiere was only in April, so…

This is a comedy about a group of five guys running a startup company in Silicon Valley, and it’s the funniest shows I’ve seen a long time. Jean, however, is not warming to it as much, so perhaps you need some understanding of / interest in tech culture to really appreciate the satire. (Wired explained how Mike Judge went about trying to make it as “based in reality” as possible, down to the math on the white board. )

Now, it is on HBO, but if you do have some understanding of / interest in tech culture, you’re going to have no trouble watching this show even if you don’t get that channel. But if you just want a preview, there a lot of clips on YouTube.

This scene, in which they implement the “scrum” method of organizing their development work, is an example of one in which I almost died laughing, while Jean was just confused. [Warning: Colorful language. It’s HBO!]