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."