Monday, December 27, 2010

A Storm of Swords

Some Starks finally died! Whoa! But then, of course, they were magically revived into living-corpses by Rhollor, Lord of Light. The magic is really real, just in case any readers were hoping to lean more toward history than fantasy. Oh well. I really liked the scene in book 2 where some pyromancers (eyes roll) are trying to explain their mystical spells, and Tyrion translates "spell" as "clever trick." I liked that. It's gone now. Pyromancy works, so, yeah... those dragons in the title? The ice zombies? Those are real, I guess.

Plus now that magic is real, the (numerous) dead main characters can be revived under magical conditions. Revivification always exacts a costly toll in literature.

This post's theme word is quisle, "to betray, especially by collaborating with an enemy."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

'Twas the night before Christmas, and...

Take a listen to this fantastic reworking of "The Night Before Christmas." The rhymes! The orifices! The terror!

If you are not already listening to the Drabblecast, you should start. Norm Sherman is incredible, the stories are clever and creepy in turns, and the production is enjoyable. (Again, Norm Sherman is incredible.)

This post's theme comic comes from Amazing Superpowers:

During the night before Christmas...

Merry Christmas to all!Even the sneaky gnomes who write in the snow on cars overnight.

This post's theme word is virga, "rain or snow that evaporates before hitting the ground." Just the thing we don't want on Christmas morning.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Food, glorious food

I have really been enjoying the delicious array of food available here. Just look:

This post's theme word is thaumaturgy, "the working of miracles or magical feats."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie messages

Before disappearing into the maw of holiday snacking, the gingerbread cookies say:A timeless message, delivered in the delicious manifestation of warm, soft cookies.

Whilst I had the gingerbread-cookie-medium visiting, I dared to ask that timeless question: exactly what is Ernie from Sesame Street?
Now we all know.

This post's theme word is vatic, "of or related to a prophet or a prophecy: prophetic."
This post written like James Joyce. I guess he concerned himself with vatic cookies?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Clash of Kings

My mad inhalation of George R. R. Martin's work continues.

Apparently magic is real? The last book seemed to describe events in a magic-free universe, but some chapters of this book have the reader witness magic happening, so I guess magic isn't just hearsay and trickery.

I like how this book ends with the non-deaths of some main characters: we thought they were dead. Then we discover they're not! I wonder if this is a reaction to reader/editor response to the first book's dramatic deaths.

The next book will tell...

This post's theme word is McKenzie, "someone who attends a court trial as an adviser to one of the parties. This person works not as a legal representative, but as an informal adviser. Also known as a "McKenzie friend". " The plot featured many McKenzies, although the number of different characters' schemes and double-crosses gave these inscrutable motives for their advice.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Game of Thrones

In the course of my sci-fi reader meanderings, I came across a highly-recommended series that remained unread. After sampling some pages, I decided to try it out and started reading George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.

That was several hours ago. The whole 800 page book is behind me now, and I'm pausing to breathe and sleep.

My first-pass review: it is soooooooooooooooo good. The story is engaging, the writing is good. There are memorable sentences and phrases. The plot is unpredictable, since no way did I forsee that one of the characters built up as a main feature would be killed. Ouch. Dramatic.

On to the next book in the series...

This post's theme word is labrys, "a symmetrical double-headed axe." He swung his labrys fiercely.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I'm getting old?

Every day I wake up and get [some of] the news from the radio and reading online. This makes me grumpy about the world. (See the "whinge" tag.) Everything is broken and wrong -- our "news" deliverers are unabashedly biased. Governmental organizations hide information from the populace and oppress us with unreasonable Big Brother-hood from the TSA, the Toronto police, the legislature, the executive. The world these days! -- it's not like it was back when I was young! -- whine whine whine grump grump grump.

Pretty much anything that would be mentioned in a voice-over at the beginning of a disutopia movie is true. Propaganda everywhere is designed to keep us confused and docile. (Even to the point that I am not entirely convinced this is a bad thing.)

Even inspirational statements like "Even if what you're doing feels small, you still have to have faith in the grandeur of it all." fail to inspire me. I am frustrated. I feel like there is very little I can do to improve the world, and very little I can do to make it worse, too -- I have no impact on anything. Nevertheless, I feel it's important to act with dignity and try to do good work. What else can I do? Being the change I want to see in the world (à la Gandhi) is not enough.

The only thing that makes me feel better about the status of the world is to completely ignore it. I am lucky in that "ignore the outside world" is nearly part of my job description as a grad student. I will feel better as soon as I leave the house and get away from this global-news mindset.

Ivory tower, whoo!

This post's theme word is sesquipedalian, "pollysyllabic."
This post written like Cory Doctorow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I, Robot rhetorical device

I came across a clever bit of writing that particularly tickled my fancy while reading Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Its self-aware authorial voice was reminiscent of David Foster Wallace. (Or perhaps, given their respective places on the timeline, it was prescient of David Foster Wallace.) On page 148 of the 192-page-long edition I read:
Francis Quinn was a politician of the new school. That, of course, is a meaningless expression, as are all expressions of the sort. Most of the "new schools" we have were duplicated in the social life of ancient Greece, and perhaps, if we knew more about it, in the social life of ancient Sumeria and in the lake dwellings of prehistoric Scotland as well.

But, to get out from under what promises to be a dull and complicated beginning, it might be best to state hastily that Quinn...
What an excellent device! I would like to be proud enough of my writing to refuse to remove the dull bits, and instead simply acknowledge them as dull and move along.

This post's theme word is nihilarian, "one who does useless work."
This post written like H. P. Lovecraft. Although if I include the extended quote, it's Isaac Asimov.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's delightful I, Robot has almost nothing to do with the eponymous movie. It is a set of charming vignettes detailing the early years of the development of the "positronic" robot brain, smarter than humans and equally self-aware. The only difference is that the robots are bound to the Three Laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These rules are "impressioned" into robot minds straight off the assembly line. There are repeated assurances from many robot-building authorities of mathematical proof* that a robot brain would fail catastrophically (disabling the robot) before it could break any of the three laws. I, Robot is about the various ways in which the previous sentence does not mean what you think it means.

This involves strange robot behavior, of course, and the troubleshooting humans attempting to diagnose and repair the problem. Some mistakes are due to the nature of the three laws: they are broad and leave much to interpretation: what qualifies as harm to a human? physical pain? emotional anguish? can preventing long-term harm justify causing short-term harm? Some mistakes are due to conflicts between the laws, despite their rules of precedence: when laws conflict in a complicated way, so much of the robot's brain is absorbed in resolving the conflict that the robot behaves drunkenly.

Robots require human robopsychologists to assess, diagnose, and provide therapy. Robots are surprisingly human in their deviousness, in their psychological hang-ups, and in their reasoning. This human treatment of the subject of robots reminds me of Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad; robots with human problems are the source of much comedy in both books.

It's short and fun. Go read it!

*I'd like to see that proof!

This post's theme word is epanorthosis, "the immediate rephrasing of something said in order to correct it or to make it stronger. Usually indicated by: no, nay, rather, I mean, etc." Quite useful in issuing precise orders to robots.
This post written like Isaac Asimov! I often feel that my thoughts form in the style of the latest writer I'm reading: here is a datum supporting that suspicion.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Starry, starry moose

We made gingerbread moose and stars.
Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the moose jumped over the moon...

This post's theme word is pibroch, "martial music with variations, to be played by bagpipes." The holiday moose frolicked to a pibroch in the snowy meadow.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Old Year's resolutions

Welcome to the last month of 2010. New Year's resolutions are common; I'd like to execute an uncommon plan. For December. This is a plan with an immediate deadline. Over the long course of a year, New Year's resolutions can become fuzzy and get lost. Things build up, to-do lists lengthen.

I propose to shorten them. To zero. By the end of December, I want to finish my to-do lists, either by achieving the items or by declaring them forfeit in to-do-bankruptcy. Wrap up projects I've been delaying. Write (or delete) the 90 draft blog posts hanging around. (Ha! Pity yourselves, readers.) Answer long-lingering emails. Mend clothing. Finish the semester.

Let's do it, people.

This post's theme word is doggo, "still and quiet" (adverb).
This post written like Cory Doctorow.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Pies are great.

This post's theme word is encomium, "glowing praise." The pumpkin pie earned encomium.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we celebrate our gluttonous excesses and the (late) harvest. It may interest you to know that one deadly sin (gluttony) leads to another (lust). Science proves it! (Via slashdot.) In particular, these scientists had men smell various food odors and measured the subsequent arousal.

They found that "the number one odor that enhanced penile blood flow was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie," which "increased penile blood flow by an average of 40 percent."

Temper your excitement, baker women! Because "every odor we tested aroused the participants... nothing turns a man off."

So, nevermind. Science simply found that men are aroused by smelling things and having their penile blood flow measured. Whoopee. (A summary of their paper is available here. Black licorice is surprisingly sexy-smelling.)

This post's theme word is hyaloid, "transparent." This post's bonus theme word is plethysmograph.
This post written like: Dan Brown.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thomas Pynchon and The Crying of Lot 49

I have been trying for several months to read books by Thomas Pynchon.


It all began when I picked up Against the Day and read the first 10 pages. It had all the hallmarks of Books Lila Likes: it was large enough to serve an architectural function (1085 pages), the book jacket blurb and quoted critics' remarks included words I had to look up in dictionary, and (most importantly) the book was sarcastic.

At least, the 10 pages I read at the beginning were hilarious. They described, tongue-in-cheek, a ragtag but determined group of boys (and one literate dog), the Chums of Chance, and their ongoing adventures in their "hydrogen skyship" Inconvenience. The tone was just right, earnest enough to be read as honest or extremely contemptuous.
(Darby [Suckling], as my faithful readers will remember, was the "baby" of the crew, and served as both factotum and mascotte, singing as well the difficult treble parts whenever these adolescent aeronauts found it impossible to contain song of some kind.) "I can't hardly wait!" he exclaimed.

"For which you have just earned five more demerits!" advised a stern voice close to his ear, as he was abruptly seized from behind and lifted clear of the lifelines. "Or shall we say ten? How many times," continued Lindsay Noseworth, second-in-command here and known for his impatience with all manifestations of slack, "have you been warned, Suckling, against informality of speech?" With deftness of long habit, he flipped Darby upside down, and held the flyweight lad dangling by the ankles out into empty space---"terra firma" by now being easily half a mile below---proceeding to lecture him on the many evils of looseness in one's expression, not least among them being the ease with which it may lead to profanity, and worse. As all the while, however, Darby was screaming in terror, it is doubtful how many of the useful sentiments actually found their mark.
And there you have the shortest joke I could find in the first few pages. That's how it reads -- lengthy but sarcastic. A bit like Moby Dick or Jane Austin, a dated tone, but published in 2006.

I was delighted by this beginning and the prospect of a thousand more pages of the same. However, after about 20 pages on the Chums of Chance, the narrator got more interested in some incidental characters, and so the narration switched over to their story. After another ~20 pages, the attention-deficit narrator brought yet another side-story to center stage. And again. I stopped reading at 91 pages, when my page of notes tracking character names and relationships overflowed onto a second sheet. We still had not cycled back to any previously-introduced characters.

Total read: 91 of 1085 pages, or ~8.4%. I'll get back to it someday.


Undeterred and driven to figure out what Pynchon is doing, I picked up Gravity's Rainbow. This is the book I associate with his name, and his "most celebrated book" according to Wikipedia. This one didn't immediately grab me; the first scene is about making a banana breakfast while watching German bombs fall on London. It took me two readings of the scene to figure this out. Of course, eventually words like "banana" and "bomb" and other context clues are given, but at first reading, it was bewilderingly mid-scene. (Sort of like the cereal-eating scene in Cryptonomicon.)

Good! A book that's going to make me work. It also featured some very clever and erudite phrases and sentences.

In fact, as I read along, perhaps a few more erudite sentences than I'm used to. It's not that the sentence structure is hard to unravel; in fact, it's often very simple (if lengthy). Most of the sentences are fragments, apposite to some prior noun or subject or implied subject. It's hard to read. Unlike most authors, Pynchon makes no allowances for the fact that his readers are being introduced to the story. He uses names, nicknames, synecdoche, metonymy, for things he has not yet introduced. Reading his characters' conversations is more like overhearing them than participating. My reading comprehension is permanently five or ten pages behind my reading.

When did I abandon Gravity's Rainbow?
  1. World War II had ended some hundred pages ago, but the characters (not unlike actual participants in history) have no idea of the importance of this fact, and show every indication of refusing to resolve their personal storylines.
  2. The book progresses in a similar style as Against the Day: the main character, who we've been following fairly constantly since the book's beginning, lurches from obsessing about X to obsessing about Y. Then he obsesses about Z. Casually flipping back through the hundreds of pages I'd read, I noticed that the seeds of Z had been planted long ago in the story. I didn't notice them, of course, because the story is full of irrelevant details (again, like real life) and I was very focused on figuring out what happened 5 pages ago, which had nothing to do with Z. It was very frustrating to find that some apparent non-sequiturs from hundreds of pages ago were now important.
Total read: 419 of 887 pages, or 47%. I'll get back to it sometime.


In my ongoing quest to decipher Thomas Pynchon's writing, I picked up The Crying of Lot 49. It was much shorter (tractable) and also a pleasing color (I got this edition). Wikipedia offers this encouraging description: "Although more concise and linear in its structure than Pynchon's other novels, its labyrinthine plot..." Whoops! That was a good beginning. At least it's short, right?

Of course right!

So I read this whole book. Yay! 100% of all 178 pages. My eyes caught light reflected off the light and dark parts of the page, and, through a series of processes not fully understood by science, I formed a clear mental image of the book's characters, plot, writing style, and even themes and purpose.

This was hard work. I read the first 60 pages three times, because I kept getting to the beginning of chapter 3 and realizing I had no idea what was happening. Now, having finished it, I wouldn't recommend it to others: it was hard to read. The sentences never went the way I was expecting. The plot was very confusing. I'm still not sure if the book is set in reality, or some very close parallel reality.

The one part of The Crying of Lot 49 -- which is actually not about the crying of lot 49 until the last two pages -- that I enjoyed was a lengthy description of a preposterous play The Courier's Tragedy. This offered me some handholds: I know what to look for in play descriptions, how to read for symbols and meaning. And this one was delightful. It featured, amongst other things, several lengthy descriptions of gorey and unnecessarily drawn-out mob torture/executions. When the next character is due for a mob execution, it is described as "a refreshingly simple mass stabbing."

That, my friends, is what I will call my next band.

This post's theme word: obscurantism, "being deliberately vague or obscure; also a style in art and literature," or "opposition to the spread of knowledge."
This post written like H. P. Lovecraft.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'Twas a dark and stormy night...

This was the view out my window tonight:
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's famous opening line to Paul Clifford continues, of course:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
This line is famous for its terrible writing. It inspired the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where authors compete to write the most terrible opening line possible. If you have not seen this contest before, follow that link right now. It's hilarious.

This post's theme word is precatory, "expressing a request," or "nonbinding: only expressing a wish or giving a suggestion." My last statement above was merely precatory, of course.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Leaf texture

This is one of my favorite textures.During autumn, this texture is available on many surfaces and in a variety of shades.

This post's theme word is disphotic, "the zone of the ocean where sunlight reaches, but not enough for photosynthesis; down to about 3,300 feet." The disphotic zone probably lacks this curly, scattered, leafy texture.

Delicious curry

This curry, copied from a dish M. makes, was delicious.
And for once, it was not too spicy for R. and A., upon whom I inflict most of my cooking.

This post's theme word is callithump, "a noisy, boisterous celebration or parade," or "a mock serenade with pots, pans, kettles, etc., given for a newly married couple. Also known as charivari or shivaree." Eat that curry before you head out to the callithump! -- that's our biggest pan!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Spirit

I just watched The Spirit. I thought I might like it, given my visual enjoyment of other Frank Miller graphic-novel-to-movie adaptations 300 and Sin City. Like those, this movie felt like a graphic novel -- the colors, the lighting, the dramatic shots were all straight off the page. (I know this to be true for 300, and I assume it for the others.)

But this movie was... off.

The acting was so stiff and... empty. Like the actors were told to try to look like characters in a book, and they took that literally. They only moved during their own lines, and otherwise stood nearly motionless (except action sequences). I know it wasn't their fault -- I've seen them act better in other movies.

The plot was inexplicably bad. We all know about the crime/detective genre, right? A hardboiled, experienced detective, with a long-festering love for a woman in (or causing) trouble, finds that she's intricately tangled in his most recent case... The story writes itself, complete with raspy, deep voice-overs and second-camera-team establishing shots panning across cityscapes. Somehow, this story got it wrong. It didn't make sense, every scene was a plot twist whose surprising revealed fact was immediately forgotten in favor of moving to the next scene. Boo.

The whole thing just didn't satisfy. Maybe if I'd read the graphic novel first, but the movie convinced me I don't want to read the graphic novel. Even if it is the delicious black-and-white visual bouquet that the movie attempted to imitate.

This post's theme word: daltonism, "colorblindness, esp. red/green."
This post written like Dan Brown, sadly.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Giant eggplant

No, seriously, look at these eggplants. They are giant.
This post's theme word is steenth, "one sixteenth," or "the latest in an indefinitely long sequence." One steenth of this eggplant is enough for me!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Autumnal self-portrait

I love this season.

This post's theme word: estival, "relating to or occurring in summer." We are now in the post-estival season.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


It's 10:10, 10/10/10. That is all.

This post's theme word: ploce, "the repetition of a word or phrase for rhetorical emphasis or for extended meaning." Really 10.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Picking flowers

We picked flowers at the farm.It was very, very sunny.

This post's theme word: gimcrack, "showy but worthless."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The erection of hairs

This Nuit Blanche exhibit asked each of us to add a strand of "hair" on our way through. It was an erection of hairs, if you will, although the hairs were not erect...

This post's fantastic theme word: horripilation, "the erection of hairs on the skin due to cold, fear, or excitement."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My nemesis is dead, now what?

I saw this fantastic painting at Nuit Blanche.Art challenges us to ask difficult questions.

This post's theme word: cothurnal, "of or related to tragedy or tragedy acting." Look at his pose!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ice cream cakes

I made myself a pair of ice cream cakes for my birthday. Mint chocolate-chip ice cream, dense dark chocolate brownies, drizzled with melted chocolate. Dark, of course.
The dense brownies proved a logistical challenge. When frozen, the brownies were hard as stone (though still delicious as brownies).

This post's theme word: ophidian, "snake-like."
This post written like David Foster Wallace.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happy birthday

Happy birthday to me, Google, and Scott Pilgrim! Also B. Thanks to the parents who (1) conceived me, (2) birthed me, (3) raised me, and (4) visited me this pre-birthday weekend, carrying flavorful apples from home. In that order.

This post's featured word is a really cool one I haven't been able to work into any other post: coelom, "a cavity lined by an epithelium derived from mesoderm. Organs formed inside a coelom can freely move, grow, and develop independently of the body wall while fluid cushions and protects them from shocks."

More honestly, this post's theme words: bedlam, "an old woman; a hag," and the related word termagant, "a scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Red Mars

I tried to read Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, on the grounds that (1) it is a science fiction classic, widely loved and lauded, and (2) A. recommended it to me so strongly that he lent me his copy.

Blah. The book began in the present and then jumped back in time to the beginning of the lifetime of events that led to the present happenings. I kept reading in the hopes that we were working towards the present, but it... took... so... long... that I gave up. The book is divided (I think?) into thirds; in each third, we are shown one character's point of view. I didn't like the characters, their points of view were frustrating because they mentioned fascinating things, then ignored them in favor of their own dull interests.

And that is all I have to write about that. It's another book off my "to read" list.

This post's theme word: chelonian, "turtle-like." As in, "The plot progressed in a chelonian fashion."

Friday, September 10, 2010


As our hemisphere slowly tilts away from the sun, night reclaims its territory from day, and the crispness of early mornings and late evenings stretches to meet at midday. Today was the product of this merry converging of cold: a perfectly crisp day. The whole day was perky and gleeful and alive. A day for running, working, eating apples, taking snuggly naps.

The undergrads felt it, too -- today was their celebration of their summer-camp-like initation of incoming students via t-shirt-wearing, loud music, and silly activities.

Their spirits will be plenty damped by classes, beginning on Monday.

This post's theme word: jitney, "bus." I saw a flock of hard-hat-clad purple undergrads debark from a jitney.
This post written like Stephen King.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Internet usability

I have become recently frustrated at the unusability of teh internet [sic]. No, I don't want your cookies or to run Flash... and as a consequence, many pages simply don't load, or they load forever, taking up memory and bandwidth without ever deciding to display some frakking content. I don't understand why the internet has trended this way. There must be other users like me out there, who are increasingly shut out of miscellaneous internet browsing.

Do most users not notice? Is this because, in my reluctance to buy any new hardware, I have finally fallen behind the lagging event horizon of "supported"? Are my computers' software/hardware combinations now actually too old to browse the latest, grooviest incarnation of teh internets [sic]? Maybe most users:
  1. Regularly destroy and cannot rescuscitate computers, and thus purchase new computers every... 2?... years. (I remember hearing a statistic like that once: the average laptop lives for 1.5 years. My last store-bought new computer is from 2005.)
  2. Accept cookies.
  3. Accept and install whatever plugins claim to be required.
  4. Don't block ads. (<-- N.B. this must be the case, since otherwise the advertisers would figure out a different way to attack our eyeballs.)
It's frustrating, and I feel like a whiny old dinosaur. I long for the "good old days" that are so old I never witnessed them: text-only browsing, with pure content right at one's fingertips.

This post's theme word: anomie, "social instability and alienation caused by the erosion of norms and values." Modern anomie is based upon flash cookies and banner ads.
This post written like Cory Doctorow.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Je suis arrivée

I am home, and tired. It's the wrong time here, and the apartment smells funny, and the podcast I listened to on the subway made me mad about sexism. Then the first news article I plucked out of my RSS feeds was also about sexism, and now I am angry in a futile way -- I can't change the story on the podcast or the news. Just my own story.

Right now, my story is about sleep. And doing my laundry. Tomorrow I will continue my consistent policy of smacking sexism in its metaphorical butt and telling it to move along, now. (Condescendingly.)

Further, retro-dated posts about my trip forthcoming.

This post's theme word: menhir, "upright stone monument." Want an easy way to remember it? Think of any phallic upright stone monument: it loudly proclaims, "There were men here!" Stupid men.
This post written like Cory Doctorow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I passed a shop marked by this sign:
Google translate suggests it is perhaps a jewelry shop. I want to believe that "ocelove" is the action of loving an ocelot, and it is a shop dedicated to such love.

This post's theme word: videlicet, "that is; namely; to wit."
This post written like Vladimir Nabokov.

Office of typos

I happened upon a building labeled thusly:
What was it? Further investigation suggested that it was a local (or national?) broadcast TV company. But why buy 5-foot-tall letters to spell "typos" on the side of the building? (It doesn't seem to be an actual Czech word that unfortunately spells an English word.) This just seems to be asking for trouble, or perhaps in a more positive light, excusing mistakes before they're made. Every time a typo occurs, people just point to the side of the building and shrug.

This post's theme word: otiose, "superfluous, indolent, futile."
This post written like David Foster Wallace.

Tree wart

Walking along the former wall of the city, I noticed this enormous tree wart.What is it? It doesn't have any other visible plants or animals growing out of it, and the rest of the tree was normal.
A close-up shot of the wart texture:
This post's theme word: asperity, "harshness or roughness."
This post written like James Joyce.

... and other religious things

Just outside the Capuchin Crypt in Brno, there is an alley with touristy Capuchin-crypt-themed stores. Apparently.
The "and other religious things" really gets me. I went inside, and was unable to sort the items into groups, and too shy to ask the storekeeper what "other religious things" were offered.

This post's theme word: eremite, "a recluse, especially for religious reasons." Can one become a recluse for religious and linguistic reasons?
This post written like Dan Brown, unfortunately.

Everything is reconstructed

Everything I saw in Brno was accompanied by a blurb of English-language text explaining who first built/designed it, when and how many times it was destroyed, and what surviving shards were used in the relocated reconstruction, which took place in the last 15 years. The entire town center is both old and new in this way.
Some of the translations were a bit sketchy, as well -- I wished I could read Czech or German, to double-check the English. Maybe the Czech gave more interesting information, since in som places it was two or three times as long as the English-language information (when such was available at all).

This post's theme word: hypotaxis, use of long sentences.
This post written like Dan Brown.

Monday, August 9, 2010

5 6 7 8 9 10.. ah ah ah!

It's 05:06:07pm on 08/09/10. I like to think that somewhere, a felt puppet of a vampire is croaking his laugh into the skies! (HT: danteshepherd.)

This post's theme word: campanile, "bell tower." Ask not for whom the campanile tolls...
This post written like Stephen King.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"The permanent solution to flushing."

This display of "Bowel Buddy" cookies arrested me with its terrible... promises.
This bread-loaf-sized package purports to include 2 bran wafers. Just two? Each wafer must be the size of my hand; a serving size is 1/6 wafer.The adjacent package of "Bowel Buddy bran wafers" promises "the permanent solution to flushing." Wow, I didn't know that cookies to "Combat Constipation & Irregularity" were so... final. It's a permanent solution? Does each cookie fiber lodge in your digestive tract forever? Is this one package a lifetime supply of "bowel buddies"?

This post's theme word: acnestis, "the part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch."
I wrote this post like David Foster Wallace.

Fallen branch

I happened upon this fallen branch on my way to campus. It looked like maybe it landed on a car...But it was a near-miss.
You can see where the branch broke. It didn't look singed by lightning. Maybe a curious and overweight raccoon had a surprising midnight stroll.

This post's theme word: avoirdupois, "heaviness or weight of a person."
I wrote this post like Stephen King..

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Apostrophe use

I was pleased to find this sign in Chinatown:You see, the DVDs belong to the adults! I can't determine if the adults who own the DVDs are of all nationalities, or if the DVDs themselves are of all nationalities. (I think it's clear what the sign intends, but I like these other possibilities.)

This post's thematically-related comic:I wrote this post like Cory Doctorow.

Cucumber smoothie

K.'s very kind parents have a profusion of cucumbers. In the global cucumber market graph, they are a source. Luckily, just a short distance away (2 edges), I form a cucumber sink.

K. gave me a bunch of cucumbers and the challenge to make a cucumber smoothie. Here's what I did:
  1. Wash the cucumber.
  2. Slice it into smaller pieces (so that it will fit into the blender later).
  3. Freeze.before freezingafter freezing
  4. Blend with yogurt and cilantro. (N. suggested melon, which would be good -- alas! I had none. Something sweet would add a more traditional smoothie taste.)before blending: heterogeneousafter blending: homogeneous
  5. Drink/eat, depending on consistency.
My default Test Eater R. didn't like it, but I did. With cilantro and no sweetener, it was a mild, refreshing icy drink. I can imagine other cucumber smoothies with a more traditional sweetness and maybe some more flavorful fruit. Frozen cucumber chunks can substitute for ice in other, more fruity smoothies.

This post's theme word: salmagundi, "a heterogeneous mixture," or "a mixed salad of various ingredients, such as meat, eggs, anchovies, onions, oil, vinegar, etc."
I wrote this post like .

Meaningful additions to human knowledge

For the first time, I have read a reference, in a work written by another person, to my own research. It feels good. It feels like I've done something real and of significance. It feels like maybe I am actually attached at some wispy peripheral spoke to the great web of human knowledge.

I wish I could keep this feeling and recall it in times of grad-school-induced despair, in "dark places when all other lights go out." But this delight, and that despair, will fade as all things do, back to my baseline curiosity about the world. And yet now, for a moment, it is good.

This post's theme word: countervail, "to counterbalance or to neutralize."
This post is written like: Vladimir Nabokov.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I really love the Portuguese Sweetbread recipe from Beard on Bread.My eating audience likes it, too. I now buy the biggest bag of flour available (10kg); I've nearly finished my second bag this year.

This post's theme word: edacious, "voracious, devouring."
I wrote this post like Vladimir Nabokov.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pink cement truck

Walking home from school, I spied with my little eye:
... a pink cement truck!

Of course, like all other pink atrocities visited upon the public, this truck raises awareness of breast cancer. It performs this admirable task mostly by being pink, and secondarily by displaying a pink ribbon. (Thirdly, perhaps, by that website.)

The color really struck me, with its (1) unexpectedness, (2) purity of purpose (all pink! even the truck details!), (3) cleanliness (I expect cement trucks, like all construction machines, to be covered in dirt), and (4) contrast of a very stereotypically feminine color with a very stereotypically male job.

This post's theme word: campanulate, "bell-shaped."
This post is written like Vladimir Nabokov.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Octopus attack and Pynchon

I'm reading my way through Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, a book so substantial that merely "reading" it does not convey the magnitude of the task. It floated to the top of my reading list (or "budged" or "shoved," given overcrowding on the list) because I finally recovered from the mental reverberations of finishing Infinite Jest and wanted a comparably "dense and complex" read before I attempt to reread that behemoth.

This is just a diversion. I'm actually reading Against the Day, but after about 100 pages it became difficult to keep track of all the characters with their giddy names and quaint adventures, strung together through chance encounters and narrated by an author who no sooner introduces a character than becomes more interested in another character in the background of the scene. It's a long-form study of attention-deficit writing. It's an entire fictional universe, explored depth-first. I bought the book because the first scene, with its tongue-in-cheek narration of an intrepid crew of boys on an airship, captured my interest in a bookstore. I hope that we eventually return to those characters, about whom I enjoyed reading. I have two pages of notes taken while reading to help me remember the trailing thread of connections, but I was about to roll over to a second sheet of paper and feeling frustrated.

So I picked up Gravity's Rainbow, figuring I'd start with a more famous book by the same author. Maybe this would help me figure out how to properly read Pynchon's writing.

It has helped, a little. Instead of pages of notes on the plot, I have one long list of unknown words to look up. The narrative of Gravity's Rainbow sticks more adhesively to a small set of interwoven storylines, but sticky lines are very snarl-prone. It is no easier to understand. About 1/4 way through the book, I gave up trying to figure out what was happening. Now I'm just enjoying the ride: the abstruse writing with its forays into excitement, humor, and disturbing situations; the hints at many hidden plots, plots-within-plots, characters scheming together and against each other in continuously varying groupings; the tiny planted details which bloom unexpectedly into entire scenes.

Like this octopus. I think it is no spoiler (as I understand it) to reveal that there is a large octopus peripherally involved in Gravity's Rainbow, and that one scene features this octopus attacking a bathing beauty. I came across this print of a similar scene:Via Fuck Yeah Cephalopods. (N.B.: I did not know about this octopus when I started reading. It came as a surprise, and perhaps confirmation bias: the more I think about octopodes, the more I see them wherever I look. Look around you...)

This post's theme word: neritic, "of, relating to, or inhabiting the ocean waters between the low tide mark and a depth of about a hundred fathoms (200 meters)." This post is written like H. P. Lovecraft.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Squash and onions

I cooked up some summer squash, onions, and basil. Yay!Ate it ad hoc atop foccacia, an improvised pizza. Yum!

This post's theme word: monepic, "composed of a single word, or single-word sentences."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I like movies like calculus: complicated, with intricate and beautiful visuals, and difficult symbols that explain everything if you can just wrap your mind around them. I liked this movie. A lot. I liked it so much I want to watch it again, I want to buy the DVD, I want to play the associated video game, I want to participate in the message boards and go to the conferences where they do reenactments. It was really good.

Inception is a movie that makes you think, like Primer (that masterpiece!), Fight Club, The Matrix, or director Christopher Nolan's other works Memento and The Prestige. It makes you question what is actually happening in the movie. What is real. A movie is an artificial construct, of course: we call them "actors" and "scenes." But the cleverness of a movie that acknowledges this construction and uses it as a tool of moviemaking, and forces you to consider its use as a tool... that is what I like. An intelligent movie. The Awl review follows the same thought:
It’s the merest cliché, that a movie is itself a shared dream. The lights go down, and the audience shares a vision created by others. We are the real targets of the inception, here. ... The most fun part of this whole thing is that Nolan’s attempt at Inception has worked really beautifully, so far. He’s made an idea, “like a virus,” enter millions of minds...

Spoiler warning: go see the movie first. Now. Then read below.

I loved this movie: so clever, so dense, so beautiful. I left it with a few questions, although I was not dissatisfied. Why do the dreams obey physical laws so strictly? I have dreams where I run faster than possible, or fly, or travel through solid objects. I can see why you might need a complicated medical apparatus to invoke sleeping in reality, but if you're already in a dream, why use it? What effect can it possibly have? For that matter, how can the inner ear be effected by the physics of a dream? I thought the whole point of having an inner-ear-recall-to-reality was that the inner ear sensations were real. Also, if one of the group-dreamer's subconsciouses can populate the dream with an infinitely-spawning army of heavily armed Counter-Strike agents, why not just have another dreamer dream up an opposing army? Why does everyone think inception, planting an idea in someone's mind while dreaming, is so difficult? Cobb trains Ariadne in a dream, planting a whole slew of ideas in her mind that not only persist in waking, but that she consciously mulls.

Of course, these are only relevant questions if you take the very literal review's reading of the movie. (I agree with all the praise in that review, and object to the criticisms: Leonardo DiCaprio's performance was good, the exposition was lightly handled and not tiresome.) I much prefer The Awl's metaphor, where every detail and mechanic and shot has two meanings (at least). If you're more interested in visual effects, I suggest reading this interview.

This post gets two theme words, it's that good: zwodder, "a drowsy, foolish frame of mind," and cathect, "to invest mental or emotional energy in an idea, object, or person."

[Update: Another interesting twist is that the soundtrack to the dramatic climaxes of the film seems to be the same song that the characters use to warn themselves to wake up, just slowed down -- perhaps indicating how many levels deep we are in dreaming! HT: postpostpre.]

[Update: Read this for an interesting take on how the act of movie-watching neurologically resembles coordinated dreaming.]

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Octopus leak

Although the oil leak is apparently capped, oil will be washing ashore for some time to come. I came across this lovely print:
(Via Fuck Yeah Cephalopods.) I've never seen a drippy octopus before, but I really like the aesthetic.

This post's theme word: diaphoresis, "perspiration."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Up in the Air

I didn't like this movie. The film, like its protagonist, drifted meaninglessly yet with purpose and a shiny finish. Professional women were portrayed terribly: crying with self-pity, suicidal with despair, cheating for the fun of it, cutthroat for job advancement.

Plus, this movie had several opportunities for meta-commentary or literary twists of film and it didn't take them. That is an offense.

This post's theme word: paresthesia, "sensation of tingling, pricking, or numbness" -- like limbs falling asleep. As in, "The overall aesthetic of Up in the Air is one of physical and emotional paresthesia."

(Today (Nov 18) was bad and I'm taking out my ire by discharging old, long-pending blog posts about things I didn't like.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sailing in Toronto harbor

I went sailing. It was nice -- breezy and cool, and we moved by wind power!
This post's theme word: limnology, "the study of bodies of fresh water."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Intolerable heat III

When I come home in this heat, I thank my wonderful parents for giving me a blender, and I blend frozen berries, yogurt, lemon juice, and milk together to make this:
The goal is to add as little liquid as possible, so that it is nearly solid with ice crystals. And stiff, as this photo demonstrates -- not so much a "smoothie" as a "firm-ie" or some such. Cold and delicious.

This post's theme word: titurate, "to rub, crush, grind, or pound into fine particles or powder."


The rain ended the heat today, and -- lo! -- a snail on a brick, which I sighted on my way home!
Also, I got completely soaked. It was relieving for 30 seconds and then simply unpleasant -- afterwards I was wet and overheated.

This post's theme word: pluvial, "of or relating to rain, especially much rain."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Intolerable heat II

The Big Picture featured photos today of people "beating the heat," including this one from Berlin:
Yes, it's a swimming pool that floats on a river. Overkill?

Possible excuses for this otherwise-affront-to-common-sense:
  1. The river is so polluted that giant, mutant river-dwelling predators now pose a serious threat to swimmers, but not so serious a threat that swimmers can't go right up to the edge of the predators' territory, tempting fate and plot-developers to have a huge river shark jump out of the water and catch people. (Or airplanes.)
  2. Some people prefer swimming in chlorine.
... and honestly, excuse 2 is pretty bad. I swam this morning in a (chlorinated) pool and it was as odorous and desiccating as usual.

Follow the link to The Big Picture now (I even repeated it!) and see if you can find which of the photos is not like the others. One of the photos just doesn't fit in...

I am moving to Switzerland when I grow up. Or maybe I'll do a winter-to-winter migration, wintering in the northern hemisphere and "summering" in the southern.

This post's theme word: heliolatry, "worship of the sun." Heliolaters are my enemies.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Intolerable heat

It is HOT. The air is humid and uncomfortably close to body temperature. In fact, the adjective "close" is quite fitting -- I can feel the heat in the air, the atmosphere is close. I like a little more space between me and my environment; my atoms are hitting the air's atoms with uncomfortable frequency. (Make the air stop hitting me, please!)

In the spirit of cooling off and the long evolutionary tradition of sweating, I have exposed much of my own surface area directly to this malign miasma of summer. This has the expected positive effect of allowing me to exude and evaporate a water-based liquid of my own concoction (conocted right there in my pores and glands!), eliminating excess heat. The surprise, bonus negative effect is that much of my exposed skin is itchy, and, when I am morally weakened to the point of scratching, covered in hives.*

Summer is terrible.

I am hiding in my roommate's air-conditioned bedroom for the evening. Anytime either of us ventures outside the room, we ritually shout an obscenity when hit by the wall of hot air, followed by a quick obeisance: reverent closing of the door to protect the bubble of cool air.

This post's theme word: fug, "stale, humid, and stuffy atmosphere, as in a crowded, poorly ventilated room." As well as describing, it alliterates, scans, and slant-rhymes with a four-letter exclamation uttered about this weather.

*This includes uncommon patches of skin like the backs of my finger segments and the backs of my toe knuckles. My toe knuckles are hive-bearing, summer -- are you satisfied yet?!

Friday, July 2, 2010


... as usual, none of them were big enough to fit over my giant watermelon head.

This post's theme word: froward, "headstrong."

Monday, June 28, 2010

World cup!

Whoooooooo! I've enjoyed watching the world cup games when I can find a television to watch them on. High definition slow-motion sports coverage is amazing. In the slow motion, you can see the players make decisions, react to the game. You can see their muscles contract, pulling their limbs so quickly through the air that the skin ripples. I am in love with slow-motion video of the legs of professional soccer players. It is hypnotic. Were it available, I would be content to watch the entire world cup in that mode. Maybe I can get a blu-ray of the coverage, to peruse in slow motion at my leisure? I hope so.

I mean, just look at the amazing action that happens between seconds:Via The Big Picture.

This post's theme word: semibreve, "whole note." Vuvuzela performances glorify the art of the slurred semibreves.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


You may have heard that this year's G20 meeting is being held here in Toronto. In order to maximally confer the glories of globalization to the populace, they* have designated a section of downtown Toronto as a high-security zone. This involves three-meter-high riot fences surrounding entire city blocks, two deep -- one on each side of the road. Public transport is completely disrupted for the area. This special inconvenience zone even gets its own special law, apparently. The university, which is near the official protest site (but not that close to the actual meeting site), has been completely shut down for four days (including relocating students living on-campus!).

I understand that a bit of protesting is to be expected -- last year's Pittsburgh meeting involved a fair amount of violence, tear gas, and burning cars. (Quickly googling, I see that a police car was involved in some protester action just today -- burning?) But this seems absurdly inconvenient. On the radio earlier this week there was an interview with a man making and selling G20 protest T-shirts, who expected his sales to really pick up as more and more Torontonians are inconvenienced into anti-G20 sentiment. (The security zone includes many downtown offices and condos. Many people, anticipating the difficulty of passing through security checkpoints in order to get to work or home, have simply vacated the city for the extended weekend.)

That seems preposterous -- residents are organizing protests not against globalization, but against disruption of urban life -- but not nearly as absurd as deciding to hold this large, aggravating, super-security-requiring meeting in the middle of a huge city.

This post's theme word: laager or lager, "a camp, especially one protected by a circle of wagons or armored vehicles," or "an entrenched policy or viewpoint," or "to enclose in a defensive encirclement. "

*the Powers That Be

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shiny fire engine

On a recent walk, I passed the fire station across the street from my house. A fire engine was parked in the vast driveway, with one solitary fireman polishing it with a rag and some metal polish. It gleamed like a toy fire engine, like a movie fire engine, like the platonic ideal of a fire engine.

Me: I think you missed a spot.
Friendly neighborhood fireman: Ha ha. This is my engine, I'm the driver, I like to keep it looking good.
Me: You're not being punished for something?
Fireman: Nope.
[Several minutes of banter ensue.]
L: I'm Lila.
R: I'm R. Hi. [We shake hands.]
L: Can I ask you a question? [R nods.] There were a lot of firemen accompanying the massed policemen downtown around the G20 area on Thursday, as well as up here in this neighborhood. Why?
[It is explained that there is an empty motorcade making a practice run of its upcoming journey.]
L: Can I ask you a question? [R nods. Another question/answer exchange follows.]
L: Can I ask you a question?
R: You have a lot of questions. I guess you are really a student...
L: Yes, they train us to be this irritatingly curious.
[It ensues that the fire station employees would, yes, appreciate if I brought them some cookies or other baked goods, and no, none of them have food allergies. Also, there have been fewer calls this extended-weekend than usual, possibly because so many people left town to avoid the G20 inconveniences.]

While we were talking, a few people walked by on the sidewalk and R. greeted them by name. I guess polishing his fire engine lets him meet many of the neighborhood perambulators.

Huzzah for friendly firemen!

This post's theme word: limen, "a threshold of response."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Terrible fusion food

This street food seems like a terrible fusion. I was not brave enough to try the "cheeseburger spring roll."

This post's theme word: pasquinade, "a satire or lampoon, especially one displayed in a public place."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sky jellyfish

Now that I've seen one, I want to make one -- they were uncomplicated, a transparent umbrella attached to long tentacles made of ripped-up white t-shirts tied into long strands. So soft and calming...
... or is that the anesthetizing poison? Egads.

This post's theme word: eurybathic, "capable of living at a wide range of depths in water."