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Test Pattern: Five-link Friday

‘Star Wars’ trailer is on the way; design Britney's CD cover, fun with UPC codes, sorting people, Maxim reads the classics. By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
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• Oct. 22, 2004 | 6 a.m. PT

Five-link Friday

There's still time to your . I'll print the best next week.

• Coming has the news that will lift every “Star Wars” fan’s heart. The will be playing in theaters before at least some showings of “The Incredibles” beginning Nov. 5.

• Have you seen the cover of ? Think you (or your four-year-old, or your cat) could design a better one? tells you how to .

• A friend (thank you, Scott) sent me this link a while ago, and I find it fascinating in a bizarre way. The lets you grab any object you have sitting around that bears a UPC code (you’d be surprised how many things sitting on your desk have these things), and type in the UPC code, just to see if it’s there. Notes Scott: “Fresca? In there! Icebreakers mints? Check!” I tried it for my bottle of Dasani, and first thought it wasn’t listed, then realized I didn’t type in the odd small numbers on either side of the code. Dasani?  In there!

• PBS has some fascinating online games and features, and one of them tests our beliefs about race. Try your hand at into different racial categories and then see how your choices compare to how people classify themselves. You don’t even want to know how many I got wrong.

• McSweeney’s presents: as it might be interpreted by Maxim Magazine. Also noteworthy on McSweeney’s: . (Well, not my mom, but somebody's mom.)

More pop culture to chill by

Turns out I'm not the only one who's been seeking out entertainment of a calming nature. Here are some of our readers' ideas for additional quiet pop culture. Thanks so much for sending them in!

TV• "I enjoy watching re-runs of ‘The Wonder Years’ which I was able to secure via eBay. I am not sure if they rerun episodes on cable TV anymore. Just a great show that always makes me chuckle and often lets me get away from what is going on around me."    —Tony, Wisconsin

• "What really chills me out are cooking shows. Nigella was my favorite, but DirecTV doesn’t feel the Style Network is worthy of them, so I have been without Ms. Lawson for far too long.   The Food Network is almost pure Chill, with the exception of Iron Chef (so chaotic) and Emeril (too much ass-kissing by the audience and way too much, you know, ‘bam!’).  Paula Deen makes me downright fuzzy with her molasses drawl and her motherly charm.  And I forgive Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) for her nervous giggle and bourgeois ways because her food just looks so damn good.  Rachael Ray makes 30 Minute Meals and is school-girl giddy while she does."    —Katherine, Los Angeles

MUSIC• "I have a CD of The Best of Beethoven. When work is making me crazy, I put it in the CD drive of my computer. It's very soothing."    —Amber, Billings

• "I think you will enjoy the "Dana Owens" album by Queen Latifah. From Big Band "lite" to white wine and candles serenades, this album will put you in a cool mellow mood. The new Anita Baker release has an earthy groove that will take away a tension headache (even as the family is barking requests for take-out dinners)."    —Lawrence

• "Books to add to your list: ‘The Little Friend’ by Donna Tartt. Although it’s somewhat a mystery, its sense of place and pacing make it very contemplative. Of course, any books, whether mystery or classic fiction can take you away from all the worries of the day. I have truly loved all of Daniel Woodrell’s novels, he calls them ‘country noir.’ The language and structure have no equal. All of the Robert Craig books (LA private detective), all Rick Riordan (South Texas PI), Kem Nunn’s ‘Tapping the Source’ (a Southern Gothic novel set in Southern California. So many great books that you never hear about in the bestseller lists."   —John, Birmingham

• "Wanted to share with you my favorite book to just relax with. “Microserfs,” By Douglas Coupland (of “Generation X” fame) is an amazing novel set in the early 90’s that follows a group of friends from dreary Washington state to Silicon Valley. The story, though it revolves around a group of techies, is really about deep friendships and the families we create for ourselves.  I read it at least once a year and am always amazed at how moving (and fresh) the story is."    —Paul

• " 'Slow Waltz In Cedar Bend' by Robert James Waller. It's like a good slow jazz song, but in book form.'    —Angi

Pop culture to chill by

I must be getting old: Sometimes the TV, radio and movie screens just seem to be screaming at me. The volume is turned up to 11, explosions are constantly going off, the lights are bright, the noises insistent. It's like being stuck on a carnival ride. It's enough to make you long for the words of that old commercial: , take me away!

Of course, the best way to flee that din is to turn off the TV, turn off the radio, and head outside, or spend time with family and friends. But I've also noticed that I'm repeatedly seeking out pop-culture entertainment that simply plays on a quieter level, where no one screams, few people if any die, and things just seem to move at a slower pace. Here's a short list of some of what I'm calling pop culture to chill by.

Television: reruns are showing on the , a channel I didn't even know my satellite provider received. (Surprisingly, it's not 24 hours of greeting cards.) From the gentle background music to the beauty and snow-covered simplicity of Cicely, Alaska, "NE" just seems to have come from a different television world than the one that produced "Jackass." No Manolo Blahniks, here: The characters wear sensible clothes, including fur-lined parkas, turtlenecks and unfashionable plaid flannel. The cast is diverse in age, Native Americans take starring roles, and plots can be as simple as this line, recently spotted on an episode description: "Holling and Ruth-Anne go bird-watching." I only occasionally watched "Northern Exposure" when it ran from 1990-1995, but I'm glad it's available in reruns. There's something calming in the Alaska air that makes an hour spent in Cicely an hour well-spent.

Sure, everyone can rent "The Klumps," but here's a rarer rental. I the six-episode Australian miniseries about life in an Australian convent in the 1960s, and despite what might seem like a dry topic, found that I just loved it. "Brides" features solid acting  — a very young Russell Crowe is in it for a brief moment, and a young Naomi Watts is in it, too. There's a kind of slow, serious pacing that we so rarely find on American TV. And the issues grappled with are so real — in one scene, a priest in his homily is spitting with anger as he rails against the newly invented birth control pill, and a boarding-school student just gets up and walks out, letting the church door slam behind her.  It's easy to see her as a metaphor for an entire generation that would walk away over the birth control issue ... walk away or, that is, just choose to ignore it. So little of our modern TV actually requires us to think, but "Brides" was a series that had me thinking for months after I watched the final episode.

Radio:My family recently started subscribing to satellite radio, and boy, do I love it. One of my favorite stations features old-time radio shows, including "The Shadow," "The Lone Ranger," "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries. There's something about the old-time plots and sound efffects that make even a snarled commute fade into the middle distance. And you don't have to subscribe to satellite radio to tune into these old stories: You can for the car, or for home or office, try . The Shadow knows, mwah ha ha ha...

I'm a big fan of modern literature, but I also love to revisit old classics. They have the added benefit of being easily available at the library or at used bookstores, often in paperback and for only a few dollars. I recently read one of those books I couldn't believe I'd somehow missed in school: Pearl S. Buck's    which has been chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection.Buck's acclaimed tale of the life of Wang Lung, a hardworking Chinese farmer who claws his way into wealth, is as fresh today as the day it was published, in 1931. I finished it and couldn't stop thinking about Wang Lung’s sons, and how quick they'd likely squander their family inheritance once their father had died.

With "The Good Earth" finished, I turned, coincidentally, to another older novel set in Asia, Junichiro Tanizaki's If you enjoyed "Pride and Prejudice," you'll also like this mannered tale of four Japanese sisters and their attempts to arrange a marriage for the second-youngest. Warning: I had to reread the first chapter twice, and refer often to the character list in the front of the book, before I could keep the four sisters straight. But once I gave it that little bit of time, the book rewarded me many times over. I'm now savoring a chapter or so each night before I turn out the light.

Want to suggest the book, show, movie or music you turn to when you want your world to calm down? , I'd love to hear about it.