Friday, December 30, 2011

Zero History

Another delight by William Gibson! Like Spook Country, Zero History satisfies my need for intricately-described stuff (in this case, interior cor and fashion clothing lines).

Yet again he reprises his apparent obsession with brand identities, in particular their absence. Secret brands, and then super-secret brands. Who advertise not even by word-of-mouth, but by scarcity and failure to advertise or even sell clothing. Sheer unavailability. This is related to a criticism of disposable mass-produced items and consumerist culture: almost all the main characters are (1) rich, but (2) own no physical possessions. They constantly list their full personal inventory, which is the same as their total worldly assets. An entire book is spent to track down the designer of a single jacket... but that jacket was designed to last forever, to be appropriate for all occasions, a unisex garment reminiscent of a fashionable dark thneed.

Plots are hatched, schemes are devised, and once more an international publicity company (run like a high-stakes terrorist cell) unfurls its curious tale across these pages.

He saw a magical-looking bookshop, stock piled like a mad professor's study in a film, and swerved, craving the escape into text. But these seemed not only comics, unable to provide his needed hit of words-in-a-row, but in French as well. (p 150)
My needed hit of words-in-a-row is fulfilled indeed.

This post's theme word is meretricious, "appealing in a cheap or showy manner: tawdry," or "based on pretense or insincerity." (From a Latin word meaning prostitute, although interestingly enough, the same root from which we get "merit" -- merere, to earn money.) Gibsonism is concerned with a focus on the antimeretricious aspects of popular culture, lightly sprinkled with -- and across -- cyberspace.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Octopus returns... knitted-style

You may recall this lovely dearie who joined my household in October. Well, I asked for the pattern and then learned to knit. And -- lo! -- behold what I can create over Christmas break: a monster is born!Knitting is apparently an art wherein the consistency of the yarn tension matters a lot. My yarn tension was varied, so the tentacles turned out rather more kinky than the nice, even, smooth ones previously shown. For this pattern, the unevenness of my knitting worked in my favor. It gave the tentacles a grasping look, as if the devious, malicious mind behind those protruding pink eyeballs (and distributed throughout the octopus as a series of decentralized, interdependent neuron clusters) is reaching with intent.
This octopus is on the prowl against a delightfully Goreyesque backdrop.
It has found a crevice for lurking.

This post's theme word is mazard, "face, head, or skull." That animal is all malign mazard!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope you are enjoying a vacation day, wherever you are, in whatever way you most prefer.Even cultural institutions as innocuous as a benevolent chubby man who uses a massive slave-labor force to manufacture and distribute candy and gifts can be eldrich, when viewed properly. (GIF from

This post's theme word is Caganer, "a nativity figurine depicted in the act of defecating." No nativity scene is complete without a Caganer; I shall have to find one to add to my family's set.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Storm of Swords, revisited

The first time I read this book in 20 hours. The second time took me about a month, because I sequestered the book and only read it at the gym while bicycling.

More stuff happens. Mr. Martin makes A Storm of Swords as interesting as the earlier books, although in retrospect there is a lot of wandering back and forth through the riverlands, during which nothing happens. We keep having Arya chapters even though she's not threatened or learning anything new; we have only few Bran/Rickon chapters even though they are experiencing really cool storylines and events. Daenerys' story is suddenly more about politics than about myth-fulfilling dragons, much to my disappointment. As if in response to the criticism I highlighted last time, one boy in this book is threatened with rape. (Oh thanks, the numbers are even now!)

Apparently realizing that he has killed, or is killing now, or is planning to kill, all of the likeable characters, Mr. Martin attacks the task of taking an unlikeable character (Jaime, the incestuous oathbreaking kingslayer who pushed a 7-year-old boy out a window!) and tries to retro-justify his actions so that he's actually just extremely misunderstood. As you might imagine, this is difficult. I do not think it works, although I can see that he wants us (readers) to start liking or maybe sympathising with Jaime. After all -- look! -- Jaime is standing up to Tywin, who is really really evil. And by the time book 4 rolls around, Jaime will be the most pleasant character still alive! Please like him, ok? He is trying to correct injustices! He got a hand amputated so now he understands suffering!

Also noticeable on this read-through: this book suddenly delves into the musical culture of Westeros, with people quoting and singing all over the place. Certain songs are clearly of political/cultural importance, because they are sung everywhere... but were not mentioned in the first two books. Hah. It's as if someone pointed out to Mr. Martin that his world was missing this huge facet of culture, and so he had a post-it over his writing table that said: SING SONGS. Everyone's singing, and paying musicians, and composing, and humming to themselves left and right.

This post's theme word is coffle, "a line of animals or slaves driven along together." The coffle of readers shuffled into the bookstore to buy book n+1 of the series.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fractalline vegetables

Many outdoor patios in Toronto decorate their borders with colorful, decorative cabbages. I really admire them.
The texture of the leaves is pleasing, a sort of three-dimensional fractal which grows increasingly curvy as it approaches its edges, and the smoothly transitioning color of green to (unexpected) pink.

This post's theme word is ogive, "a pointed or Gothic arch," or "one of the diagonal ribs of a vault." The vegetable-inspired ogives spiral up into the sky.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Portal cake

I made a birthday cake for R., based on this recipe. It had some adaptations, making it a darker and richer cake (and layered with fudge), and ended up being a lot of cake. A single serving is 2 or 3 degrees, even for the most ardent and hungry chocolate-lover.
It was delightful, and that's not a lie.

This post's theme word is hirquitalliency, "sexual cries of delight." (Maybe. See this for more on its etymology.) The cake induced hirquitalliency.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rasp-, blue-, and straw-berry pie

I made a pie of deliciousness, and attempted to photograph it (before baking) in its visual perfection, in our admittedly poorly-lit kitchen.

This post's theme word is minatory, "baleful: threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments." The minatory zoom on the food photograph presaged overstuffed discomfort at dessert.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Christmas ornaments of nightmares

This is a bizarre mannequin is the eldrich, strange stuff of modern Lovecraftian nightmares.
I do not understand how a naked ornament-headed elongated alien -- in a festive red scarf -- can possibly help a department store sell more items. Is it meant to encourage my purchase of a giant ornament? or a giant collection of ornaments? or scarves, to help my head swell and my limbs lengthen somehow?

This post's theme word is fossorial, "adapted for digging" (like limbs or feet). The anomalous alien's head is hypothesized to be fossorial.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reunion summary

Months of persistent nagging from various Harvard offices have yielded results. I wrote my 5-year reunion summary of myself. Apparently there will be a book printed and mailed, containing these self-reflecting essays. Here, for your enjoyment, is my submission:
I continue my quest to become an evil mastermind. After obtaining a M. Sc. degree in 2009, I took a brief break from permanent studenthood. During the summer, I set a new world record for hot air balloon distance, travelling from Uqbar to Toronto, Canada in several difficult weeks. Returning to a Ph. D. program that fall, I continue to advance the boundaries of mathematical computer science. Summers are spent strengthening my secret lair, the Gulf coast campus of which was unfortunately broached in 2010, resulting in the tragic loss of my oil collection.

Few people thus far have complied with my desire to be addressed as "mistress (of science)." I hope to finish my next degree soon, so that I can insist on being called "doctor" instead. I continue the development of the chaturathalon, combining alpine skiing, archery, synchronized swimming, and rugby -- truly a sport for all seasons!

I am currently accepting minion applications. Benefits of the position include: unlimited pie, lending library access, and strong encouragement to participate in the employee fitness program. Minions thus far have assisted in writing a short novel of octopus-themed (and -targeted) erotica, executing art projects, and participating in a delightful email list. (Like most email lists, this consists mostly of sharing YouTube videos.) Future plans include creation of matching hats for all minions.
The submission page warned that unnamed editors may change my entry. I wonder what the published one will say.

This post's theme word is vitiate, "to spoil or impair the quality or efficiency of," or "to destroy or impair the legal validity of." Certain claims may vitiate my autobiography.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Purple sky

The dawn sky was purple-periwinkle, silhouetting city features.
Southward, the sunrise behind the CN tower purply illuminated the orange trees.

This post's theme word is panegyric, "a formal or elaborate oration in praise of someone or something; eulogy." Dawn deserves passionate panegyrics.

"You look like a baby!"

I was making chit-chat with the nurse giving me the flu shot. She asked what program I was in. Attempting to be pleasant, I answered truthfully. She asked what year I was in. I answered truthfully. She asked how old I am. I answered truthfully. She exclaimed, "You look like a baby!"

All I could think was, "A baby with fully-developed secondary sex characteristics?" But luckily my filter caught that, so instead I said, "Thank you." And smiled. Keeping it pleasant and chit-chatty.

I'm glad I look young. Combined with the H-bomb, I have a handy arsenal of true but astonishing facts with which to floor most interlocutors. Pleasantly.

This post's theme word is taradiddle, "a petty lie" or "pretentious nonsense." I enjoy sprinkling taradiddles amongst the actual facts of my life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Giant squid puppet

I received a postcard from penpal M. featuring a giant squid puppet, seen here at an incomplete stage:It was built by Les Machines de l'île Nantes, a puppetry workshop in a shipyard. Their projects look very cool. I want to visit!

This post's theme word is swale, "a low or hollow place, especially a marshy depression between ridges." Beware that swale yonder, the locals claim it is infested with giant squid!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Clash of Kings, revisited

My Song of Ice and Fire reread continues. Book 2, A Clash of Kings, wherein the plot thickens and most of the characters remain surprisingly alive. (See my previous reaction, which was similar.)

G. pointed me to a sarcastic review of all 4 books entitled "Enter Ye Myne Mystic World of Gayng Raype," which highlights the author's treatment of the (minority of) female characters. I summarize: bad. They are portrayed as motivated by simple causes, having value deriving solely from biological function, and objects of threatened/actual/fatal rape. So in this read-through I noticed that her observations are true. Whether or not it is intentional (because Mr. Martin dislikes women) or authentic (because historically women were repressed just like this!), the women in this book are treated badly.

But, you know, so are the men. And I think it is unfair to cherry-pick the pieces from these books which support one thesis. By selective summarization and quotation, I could also make a similarly-convincing argument that Mr. Martin has an unreasonable, unhealthy obsession with food, or with what he might term raiments. Or even with the difficulty of moving without paved roads and gasoline-powered cars. Or with politics! Or religious wars! The books are long and full of material.

(If you yourself are unreasonably obsessed with food, I recommend the chapter which describes the seventy-seven-course wedding feast.)

This post's theme word is caparison, "an ornamental covering of a horse's saddle or harness" and barding, "strips." The stallion was caparisoned in ocher and sable, the colors of House Pretension for more than 500 years, and draped in cloth-of-gold bardings.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pumpkin reducing

I spent several hours this afternoon roasting and reducing a giant pumpkin.
This had the happy byproduct of snack seeds. Now there is a freezer full of single-pie bags of pumpkin concentrate. A season of pumpkin pies lies ahead!

This post's theme word is fulsome, "excessive to the point of being offensive." What fulsome pumpkin processing!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to make Thai food

This evening we assembled to cook a Thai dinner. It begins with ingredients: green onions, peppers, noodles, peanuts, sesame oil, fish sauce, basil, hot peppers. Knife, cutting board, recipe. Plus one excellent chef guiding us through the meal preparations.
Crush the peanuts with a rolling pin!Then make some piles of deliciousness in various pans.Finally, plate as desired and eat.I took notes, so I should be able to recreate this meal. It was excellent. The secret of using fish sauce is to add just enough to counter the other tastes, but not too much that you can actually taste fish sauce, which smells disgusting on its own.

Thanks, E.!

This post's theme word is gasconade, "to boast extravagantly," or simply "boastful talk." The blog post provided no relevant instruction, serving merely as a gasconade of gustatory gratification.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Memories of autumn

The walk to campus each morning provides my gauge of the weather, the season, and local culture. This morning's walk was melancholy; the sidewalk had been cleared of fallen leaves, but their ghostly marks remain. Archaeology-like, I imagine the three-dimensional pile of leaves that left this image.

This post's theme word is esquisse, "a first sketch." This esquisse of autumn whispers of cold, windy weather to come.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Octohedron octopus

On my desk this afternoon, I found:
The note reads (in an unsteady hand),
Greetings from under the sea! I am not too good at writing I heard you are kind to the tentacled. I was teased for being green. I disguised myself as an octahedron to slip past the mathematicians, take me home? [wiggly octopus self-portrait]
So of course I grabbed that green tentacle and shook it in a firm handshake, welcoming it to come home to my (increasingly silly) collection of tentacled things. When everted, the purple octohedron becomes the ink in a green octopus.
Many thanks to A., who was ultimately responsible for the creation and delivery of this octopus!

This post's theme word is imbosk, "to hide," usually in a wood. Environmental limitations make octopus imbosking impractical.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Game of Thrones, revisited

R. recently started watching the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones. I'm skeptical of video adaptations of my beloved books; there simply isn't a way for any visual representation to match the universe I've imagined. In addition, they often cut or alter bits of plot, which messes with my memories of how the story worked. Even earnest adaptations like The Lord of the Rings or the BBC Pride and Prejudice must exist as separate from the fantastic books they are based on.

I have absolutely no complaints in this respect about HBO's "Game of Thrones." The TV series medium means that there is plenty of time to explore the entire plot of the book, and the HD video makes it beautiful. (Plus, spoilers are nearly impossible.) Of course there are limitations: the actors are all too pretty, not as human-looking as I imagined their characters. And also, almost no time is spent describing clothing, flags, weapons, or food. (Tycho had very strong feelings that these books constitute some kind of literary food pornography, but I disagree. If anything, they are a kind of historical-genealogical glut of words. I end up recognizing even background characters in the show, and know their names, favorite foods, relationships with other characters, and lineages back several generations.)

So I reread A Game of Thrones, in order to refresh my memory and for ease of comparison with the series as we watched it. It was just as good the second time. I was particularly watching for the HBO series' interpretation of Renly Baratheon as homosexual; there is one semi-reference to it in the book, so ok, I guess they can get away with it. I learned new things, because the first read-through was so fast and the details too numerous to remember the first time through.

For example, the seven "great houses" are Highgarden, Storm's End, Winterfell, Riverrun, Casterly Rock, Sunspear, and the Eyrie. Inexplicably, King's Landing and Dragonstone are not "great houses," even though one is the capital of the continent and the other is the seat of the ruling family for the past thousands of years.

I continue to recommend A Game of Thrones, book and TV series. The book is slightly more appealing to me because of its lovely words, for which I know no match in visual appeal.

This post's theme word is anabasis, "a grand journey" or "a long military march." "A Song of Ice and Fire" contains many anabases, and attempting to read it takes nearly as long.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

8-point buck?

In the backyard! Just outside the (visible) deer-fence.
This post's theme word is paruresis, "a phobia in which the sufferer is unable to urinate in the (real or imaginary) presence of others." Hey, buddy, are you looking at me? -- well, look away, I'm trying to pee on your vegetable garden!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Good morning

One of the nicest things about being a graduate student is the freedom to set my own hours. If I am up early (as today) I can be in the office early (as I am now) and working (as soon as this is posted). I will have a couple of hours here to work, alone* and quiet, before the other early-rising student (my officemate) arrives.

*When I entered the lab, ~7a.m., I did disturb the rest of the office squatter, who sleeps here. But I don't really feel bad about that, because: sleeping in an office. I'm here on legitimate business, to use the lab for research purposes.

This post's theme word is ante-jentacular, "before breakfast." I accomplished several ante-jentacular tasks today!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Any number of players can play Dictionary. When it is player i's turn, she picks a word from the OED that no player knows. All players write a definition from the word (player i writes the actual definition). Player i reads all the definitions; the other players vote for which they think is the correct one. Each vote earns player j (≠i) one point; guessing the right word also earns one point.

We played this, and now you can too! (J. won hands-down; he left halfway through the game and still held the lead until the final round. He came in second by one vote.)

Can you pick out the correct definition? (No cheating!)

What does "quisby" mean?
- a crescent-shaped water hole
- pertaining to the way along the dock or harbor: "The fishermen
admired the quisby view after a long day of work."
- a scrimshaw boat
- the act of feeling apprehensive about one's own bodily odor
- an idle person
- traitorous: "The quisby East German judges only gave an 8.2."
- one who asks questions
- an elongated tube of glass used to ensure cucumbers grow straight
- the state of being confused: "He was in a quisby."
- the feeling of being uneasy or sick
- a childish, precocious middle-manager
- a small nocturnal mammal endemic to Madagascar

(Answer: An idle person. Extra puzzle: see how many times you can use "quisby" in one sentence; can you use all the above meanings? The quisby quisby pulled into the quisby, steered by a quisby who felt both quisby and quisby, and accidentally dropped his quisby on an endangered quisby...)

What is a "kurgan"?
- a failed attempt
- a ceremonial turban used in the observance of the Zoroastrian new
- a stone-age tool used to scrape hides
- a member of the judiciary in the Ottoman empire
- a spice commonly used as a substitute for pepper
- an unmanned water cache used to facilitate desert journeys
- a traditional oil lamp used in the tents of Mongol chieftans
- pertaining to or originating from the mountainous region surrounding
the Caspian Sea
- title for the leader of the Tartar tribes in the 9th-12th centuries
- a prehistoric sepulchral barrow in Russia and Tartary
- an Eastern-European confection whose principal ingredients are
flour, egg, and quark
- a derogatory Turkish term for a non-Turk
- the secretary of a medieval guild

(Answer: A sepulchral barrow! As opposed to a merely decorative barrow!)

What does "zawn" mean?
- a hood for a wood-fired kiln
- the adolescent form of any lizard in the family Orcumbries
- a mythological beast in early druidic texts pertaining to seasonal
- an even-sided diamond used in heraldry
- a fissure or cave in a coastal cliff
- a colloquial expression of disinterest
- an animal found in the south of Mexico that resembles a badger
- enthusiasm; joie de vivre: "The student was full of zest and zawn."
- a young Bactrian camel
- to fall off a high place

(Answer: A coastal cliff, as in "He cried 'zaaaaaaaaawn!' as he fell into the zawn.")

What does "gholam" mean?
- mounted Arab warriors
- a type of building popular in the Sassanid dynasty with passive air
- a zombie
- a sense of awe felt when beholding a mountain range
- a fugitive from a Soviet gulag
- a clearing in a forest with no vegetation growth
- a courier, messenger
- a ceremonial Tamil knife
- an obsidian gollum

(Answer: A courier, but it should be the building with passive air ventilation.)

What does "galactico" mean?
- the many-eyed monster of Greek mythology, beheaded by Chronos and
flung into the firmament
- a demon; cf. manichee
- the substance once presumed to fill the space between stars; ether
- a skilled and celebrated footballer, esp. one bought by a team for a
large fee
- a variety of tomato predominantly grown in the northern regions of
- an abhorrent structure formed during the development of neurological
tissues in mammalian vertebrates
- a form of adhesive made from the sap of a coniferous tree used by
the Metis
- an additive used to enhance the flavor of some milk products
- (1950) a music and fashion subculture that thrived in the
post-rockabilly era in the United States
- a star football player belonging to the Royal Madrid football club

(Answer: A skilled, expensive footballer. N.B. that one player remembered this during the round, hence the two football definitions offered.)

What does "soodle" mean?
- to trick or deceive
- a diminutive horse
- a traditional Norwegian breakfast
- a large burning mound used in the production of potash
- to walk in a slow or leisurely manner; to stroll, saunter
- a food product derived from animal fats, often used in flavoring
- to deceive, in the context of maritime trade or barter
- obsequious, especially in business dealings
- a traditional Norwegian buckwheat porridge
- a jaunty walk

(Answer: A slow walk. I like that a jaunty walk was also offered, hence "would you like to soodle or soodle this afternoon, dear?")

What is an "ozena"?
- the organelle in protozoans responsible for sensing the direction of
- an infection that causes irritation of the skin
- a Turkish pastry, made with pistachios and rose water
- a nose ulcer which results in a fetid discharge
- a sharpened disc used as a weapon by indigenous Amazonian warriors
- a medicinal balm used for treating burns and skin irritations
- a viral skin condition characterized by fissuring and cracking of
the skin
- a luxury fabric woven from silk and gold
- the conduits in mushroom gills down which spores travel
- a drinking cup; quaiche (from the Greek xenos, for foreigner);
- a coastal rock formation

(Answer: Rather unbelievably, it is a fetid nose ulcer! We've got a word for that in English! I challenge you to use this appropriately someday.)

What does "maninose" mean?
- a soft-shelled clam
- deriving from, or related to, the use of statuary in garden designs
- patient, willing to wait for opportunities
- a traditional Peruvian codpiece
- common byproduct of anaerobic metabolism, along with Xylitol,
Ribose, and Lactic Acid
- the original term for mayonnaise sauce
- a flammable oil made from fish products
- a trunk of a coppiced tree immediately after harvesting
- surly; cantankerous

(Answer: A soft-shelled clam. Nature makes it easy for once. I prefer to think of it as a Peruvian codpiece; if enough of us use the word this way, it should catch on!)

What does "mandram" mean?
- a sudden gust of wind on a clear day
- an early loom requiring external weights such as stones or lead
- a metal sheet used for ramming placed on the front of a trireme
- a cylindrical tool, typically maded of brass, used to stress leather
for curing
- a vote in Spanish parliament which passes with 2/3rds majority
- the neophyte dormitory in a Buddhist monastery
- a two-dimensional figure, typically drawn in colored sand, used in
16th century Tibetan meditation rituals
- a drink made from wine and chopped vegetables
- a root vegetable with pale tubers and elongated, pointed leaves
- dusty, dingy or poorly maintained, especially when referring to a
- a vessel for preparing large quantities of stew or soup

(Answer: a vegetable wine drink. It does seem like a vegetably word.)

And finally, what does "ballum rancum" mean?
- elaborate machinations in the pursuit of political power
- the foul odor associated with a rotting corpse
- treacle
- a textured skin rash resulting from excessive moisture trapped by
- a mucosal secretion of skin pustules, esp. from plague
- a collection of Irish street children
- the outermost cartilage structure in the human elbow
- an erotic dance (typically naked) by a number of prostitutes for a
group of clients
- the quarters in which gladiators would wait before entering the

(Answer: Yes, you thought it was a joke for joke votes, but it is a special vocabulary term for an erotic dance of n naked prostitutes to m clients.)

Fewer vs. less

A visual and narrative guide to the different use cases of the words "fewer" and "less" in English, complete with a moral for nitpicky speakers:
Go check out Wonderella, it's funny. (And the mouseover text provides a second punchline to many strips!)

This post's theme word is screed, "a long, monotonous harangue." Your grammar screed bores me. I wish there were less of it, and that you had fewer grammar scruples.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wherein 'gauche' and 'wink' are cognates

Gauche, from gauche (French), from gauchir (Middle French), from gaucher (Old French), from welkan (Frankish), from *wankjan (Proto-Germanic). Proto-Indo-European root *weng. A variant of *wankjan, of course, is *wenkanan (also Proto-Germanic), whence wink.

Compare wanken (Old High German) with vakka (Old Norse).

Thanks, J.!

This post's theme word is antanaclasis, "the repetition of a word in different senses." Having experienced this derivation, now I am interested in tracing the changing meaning of the word!

Wherein I learn to tie knots

This morning I learned to tie:
  • a figure 8 knot
  • a stronger figure 8 knot for fastening climbing harnesses
  • a bowline
  • a noose
The noose takes a lot of rope. The bowline is self-tightening and easy to undo (for those with fingers -- a good reason not to have monkeys on your ship!).

Thanks, R.!

This post's theme word is pectinated, "interwoven, as with fingers" (see Inky Fool). I pectinated those lines!

Birthday gifts!

I staged my birthday party as an exchange of sorts, wherein I lured people to my apartment with promises of cake. In return, I asked that each guest teach me something. The guests were creative and entertaining; many promised future lessons in X, since there was not enough time at the party for all the learning.

Here, then, is what my guests taught [promised to teach] me for my birthday:
  • how to belly dance
  • how to make ravioli
  • disappointment*
  • how to make Thai food (dish of my choice)
  • how to make metal plate armor (stop signs are apparently a good source of raw material)
  • how to break into a coke machine
  • how to make char cloth
  • that "gauche" and "wink" are cognates (and the derivations thereof)
  • how to make flammable gel from just 3 common kitchen products
  • how to tie knots or the true meaning of lust* (I chose knots!)
The starred items earned extra points for entertaining delivery. I'll write about each thing as I learn it, to keep you updated.

This post's theme word is bailiwick, "a person's area of expertise or interest." I look forward to learning about their bailiwicks.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Daaaaaaaark chocolate cake

I made myself a birthday cake. It was chocolate chocolate, with chocolate and chocolate-fudge frosting.
R. described the cake as "so dark that no light escapes it."

This post's theme word is nyctophobia, "abnormal fear of light or darkness." The cake was so seriously chocolaty that it invoked nyctophobia in most of the guests.

The sky is falling!

This morning at the gym, a lightbulb fell from the 2-story ceiling and smashed onto the floor. Shards of glass flew everywhere. Luckily none of the glass hit me, or my fellow Saturday morning fitness masochists. But it did shatter spectacularly, spreading fine shards throughout the area.

This was not a hallucination induced by anaerobic exercise or the resulting oxygen deprivation. Truly, the menacing specter of overhead lighting looms above us all.

This post's theme word is bagman, "one who collects or distributes money from illicit activities, for example, in a protection racket," or "a traveling salesman (UK)," or "a political fundraiser (Canada)," or "a caddie hired to carry a golf player's clubs (golf)," or "a tramp; swagman (Australia)." Golf is not a former member of the British Empire, but maybe it should be. We neglected to pay the bagman, so the lights came crashing down. The bagman extorted the bagman at a bagman while the hired bagmen protected the venue from bagmen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Oxford Comma

As of June, the Oxford writing and style guide no longer recommends the blanket usage of the Oxford comma*. I still enjoy and revel in the comma usage, whether in sentences, spoken language, or always coming up with a third thing in a list**.

The Oxford comma is not entirely obsolete. Here is a visual aid*** for situations when the Oxford comma is appropriate, even necessary, to convey the meaning of the sentence:*via MetaFilter
**joke citation: 30 Rock
***Language Log via FairerScience

This post's theme word is saccade, "a brief, rapid movement of the eye from one position of rest to another." That image induced saccades.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One night in Cabbagetown

We went to One night in Cabbagetown to explore the area and say goodbye to a visiting summer student. The event drew crowds to explore the local restaurants. Despite living in Toronto for ~4 years, I had never been to this part of town (most of my explorations are westwards).

We visited The Ben Wicks Restaurant & Pub (delicious sausage!), The House on Parliament (oysters!), Merryberry Café (sangria and meatballs), and Cranberries (plate of wings, which inevitably slipped onto my lap). After walking around and sampling these appetizers, we ate dinner at Margarita's Mexican Fiesta (tasty, filling, and accompanied by giant margaritas).

It was fun. It was a cute event. It was an interesting thing to do with office acquaintances. I'd go back to Merryberry Café again -- we only left quickly because of the small space and the hordes of other One night in Cabbagetown pedestrians waiting to enter.

This post's theme word is ophelimity, "the capacity to satisfy a need, desire, or want." The oyster's olphelimity lies mostly in the realm of the squeamish.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apartment dream

I dreamed last night that C. and I were two personalities in the same body, Tyler Durden-style, alternately waking while the other slept.

In another part of the dream, E. was renting a new apartment in [the place E. lives] for us to live in together. I gave A. my keys and moved out without packing up any of my plates or bowls or tools from the kitchen. My new apartment was on the second floor of a 3-story house; the landlord lived on the first and third floors. Typical dream logic.

I arrived and looked for my room. E. and K. were sleeping in the two big bedrooms. In an auxiliary room was M. (also sleeping), and then there was the kitchen. I was lost for where to put myself. The apartment had stairways -- it was just the second floor of a house, recall -- but we the tenants were supposed to just ignore the open stairways that led to the first and third floors. And the landlord had build like a stair/ladder to skip over the second floor in this epic stairwell. That we were just supposed to ignore, as if it were a wall and not a huge open stairwell leading into someone else's life.

I have no explanation or context for this dream. Whatever.

This post's theme word is corniche, "a coastal road, especially one cut into the side of a cliff." The stairwell was a surreal corniche of plywood and wrought iron.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


We felt the earthquake up here in Toronto!

I was in my office, on the fourth floor of a cinderblock building. All the furniture started to vibrate. Glasses of water were particularly impressive. My officemate and I spent a few minutes debating whether it was an earthquake or just (alarmingly) the construction being done in our building, until we heard from other people (online, not in our building) that they felt it too. Twitter was a really good resource for this.

How exciting! An earthquake!

I don't think anything was damaged. In the evening I passed an on-the-street TV news anchor asking passers-by if they felt the earthquake. Almost everyone said no. The earthquake must have been specially tuned to the oscillating period of my building.

I filled out this USGS form, and you should too. For science!

This post's theme word is drumlin, "a long, narrow, whale-shaped hill of gravel, rock, and clay debris, formed by the movement of a glacier." A long series of glacial earthquakes shaped the drumlins in this area.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spraypainted bikes

These bikes have appeared all over Toronto. They are beater bikes, spray-painted in single neon colors, locked to signposts and bike posts and fences across town. There is no additional information except the tiny letters "GOOD BIKES" painted on the frame.
Is this some kind of guerrilla advertising campaign? If so, what is it for? It is so guerrilla that I can't even tell what I am supposed to go buy.

[Update: A. pointed me to The Good Bike, wherein an OCAD student -- behind this project to brighten the city -- blogs about the beginnings of the project.]

This post's theme word is scumble, "to modify a painting/color by applying a thin coat of opaque paint to give it a softer or duller appearance." That bicycle could do with a bit of a scumble, don't you think, old chap?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cartographic octopodes

The "land octopus" is historically used on maps to emphasize evil imperialism ... or is it communism? See for yourself. (HT: MetaFilter.)
This post's theme word is solferino, "purplish red color." An imperialist octopus spreads the thick, solferino gore of its rivals across the globe.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gruesome suppurations of foul-smelling hideousness

This delightful tale comes from Frank Key's Hooting Yard.
I was sitting on a bench in a bower on a bright summer’s day. It was a Wednesday, or possibly a Thursday, in August, in the year after the Kennedy assassination, far far away in Dallas, and the air was heady with verbena, and hollyhock. I was eating my snack. All of a sudden, gruesome suppurations of foul-smelling extraterrestrial hideousness began oozing from my marmalade and fish-head sandwich, and I swooned. When I came to, I had a tiny radio transmitter implanted in my forehead, but I remained unaware of it for the rest of my sordid and sorry life.
My new band names abound! The titular hideousness. "Tiny radio transmitter in my forehead." "Sorry and Sordid Life." "The Titular Hideousness." Frank Key has a way with words -- and with enunciating them on his podcast -- that makes them all land as if immensely important and simultaneously drivel. It delights.

This post's theme word is contumely, "contemptuous or insulting treatment arising from arrogance." The alien anthropologists exhibited remarkable contumely.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Concerning the Protestant hegemony

Over the weekend A1 and I had the opportunity to talk with A2. (They are numbered for the sake of clarity; my identity-protecting initial scheme has limitations.) During the course of our long and fascinating discussion, I often lost the thread of the current argument and found myself tuning back in with (nearly) a blank slate. My mind was insufficient -- out of practice -- to store so many complicated and interconnected soft topics. (I'm good at hard topics: give me a handful of mathematical definitions and some theorems anytime.)

At one such moment, I found myself listening to a sentence which ended:
"... secularism is, itself, a symptom of the Protestant hegemony."
I promptly gagged on the water I was drinking and spent the next few minutes attempting to recover my aplomb. This is not because I thought the speaker silly, but rather because, at first glance and lacking the depth of background understanding and nuance which this statement surely requires, it struck me as a funny sentence. Because, you know, secularism is usually defined as the opposite of religion (religiosity?), and whatever the Protestant hegemony is, it has to do with religion. It's right there in the title.

In due time -- politely allowing for my recovery -- A2 explained the statement to my satisfaction. (I cruelly withhold this information from you. May your imaginations run rampant!)

This left me with the reflection: in the humanities, scholars get to define not only their fields, but the very meanings of the words that they use to define, describe, and discuss those fields. In this way they are not so different from we mathematicians -- forever defining new numbers, and types of numbers, and theorems about types of numbers, and even theorems about which theorems are true about types of numbers.

This left A1 with the reflection: it's not only that graduate school has made it impossible to talk with non-scholars. Graduate school has made it impossible to talk with anyone who is not a scholar in the same research discipline! Egads! We stand wrapped in our own elaborately specialized topics, islands of knowledge separated by an ocean of understanding that words cannot quite bridge; never mind trying to get to the layman's mainland.

Say that five times fast.

[Update: if you want more out-of-context amusement from A2, check out A1's twitter feed Oh, The Humanities!.]

This post's theme word is hypergolic, which describes two substances that spontaneously combust on contact with each other. The joint dinner of the Physics Association and the Sociology Club proved hypergolically argumentative.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Little sigh of relief

I just finished writing a paper. It's part of my qualification for candidacy so it has some import; on the other hand, professors and students alike tell me it doesn't really matter and so it might have less import. On the third hand -- the gripping hand -- or whatever noodly appendage is available -- this paper is only one part of my qualification: the rest is a presentation-and-grilling session, for which I now prepare. To quote Parade, "This is not over yet."

The writing felt like pulling teeth. There is something about academic writing that I truly dislike. It does not merely lack poetry; the poetry is bruised, abused, and forcibly expurgated. Sentences are dry and declarative. Words have one particular meaning and that meaning is sharply constrained to the topics under discussion. Having finished this piece of writing (at least for now), I want to write escapist fantasy. I want to be a novelist. I want to be a sculptor. I want to leave my keyboard to cool on my desk, and shortly I will.

But before I go, here's what I plan to do. WHEREAS academia is dessicating my delight in words, phrases, sentences, and constructions, I PROPOSE to begin a project, to be EXECUTED in my leisure moments, CONSISTING of one story, or many stories, using the sentences from the Bulwer-Lytton contests (EITHER as opening sentences OR as sentences appearing elsewhere), THEREFORE reviving my enjoyment of life.

This post's theme word is skueomorph, "a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original." Like copper-coated zinc pennies. That story is only a skueomorph of the inspirational first sentence.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Corporeal suffering

Every muscle and soft tissue from my ribs to my knees hurts. My eyes are red and unpleasant. My right ankle feels like it's trying to turn into some fourth spatial dimension, and only tender tendons are wrenching it back into the standard three for walking purposes. I slept poorly, woke up at 5, and refused to get out of bed until the alarm, as if I could force myself to sleep.

This is what I get for (1) original sin, (2) lounging around yesterday eating ice cream, and (3) running this morning. I'll avoid two of those things tomorrow. (I might run.)

I cannot wait until we uplift-transmogrify-singularityize into incorporeal plasma energy beings.

This post's theme word is valetudinarian, "chronically sick or concerned with one's own health." Also available as a noun. The veterinarian wasn't the valedictorian of her class, but she was a valetudinarian.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wedding observations

I spent the [Canadian invented holiday] weekend at a suburban wedding. I was an auxiliary guest, in the same way that Pluto is a planet: orbiting at a distance, and basically unknown. This provided me with opportunities for experimental socialization (interspersed with anthropological observation).

My results follow.


Accompanying a party of women to the bathroom DOES create social bonds, invoke a sense of companionship and belonging, and in all ways convince them to be friendly.

Dancing is more fun when you know the music and don't know the parents dancing nearby.

It is easier to socialize with happy people. It is difficult to socialize with pouting people. This remains true if "blow bubbles" replaces "socialize" in the previous statements.


Rather than offer observations, which might be read in the wrong way, I will share with you my reflections on those observations. They are simple, and all along these lines: I have absolutely made the right life decisions so far. This was an interesting opportunity to observe people who made different life decisions (school/work/personal/etc.) and are happy with them. But I would not be happy with those choices for myself, even in the Best of All Possible Worlds. I am a person who belongs in graduate school, and if there were ever any doubt, that doubt is now dispelled.

Also, living in the suburbs is car-based living. I had forgotten how restrictive that is -- everyone has to go together, cars must be rationed, logistical problems must be solved. I quite enjoy the freedom of walkable and public-transport-able life in the city.

This post's theme word is Buridan's ass, "a situation demonstrating the impracticality of decision-making using pure reason, especially a situation involving two equal choices."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wherein onions and garlic are meat, not vegetables

I learned something new today: onions and garlic may be meat! -- not vegetables! That's right, contrary to popular "fishwives' knowledge," onions and garlic are harvested from the rare (and often factory-farm-abused) onionater and garlic-bat.

Luckily for us modern, updated, healthy, local, new-age vegetarians, there are a few local restaurants that cater to our forward-thinking palate.
... or maybe onions and garlic are the lactations of these animals? In any case, thank goodness this food is finally available!

This post's theme word is: bumf, "unwanted or uninteresting printed matter such as governmental forms, legal documents, junk mail, promotional pamphlets, etc." That food is so bland that it verges on edible bumf.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hangover II

The Hangover Part II was entirely predictable. The NYTimes review accurately states that it is "largely mirthless" funniest parts are "once again carefully elided in the actual movie." It's basically a remake of The Hangover, with all the danger-stakes upped. (Las Vegas --> Thailand. Missing groom --> missing minor. Tooth pulled --> finger amputated. Baby --> drug-running monkey. Prostitute --> prostitute. And so on, find-and-replace style.) This makes the movie -- once again experienced in a daze shared with the hungover main characters as they attempt to unravel the previous night's revelries -- more tense and less meaningful. Let's face it, we know that everyone is going to be fine at the end. Because they want to make The Hangover Part III, and then The Hangover Part IV, at which point all of the protagonists will be married and they'll start to make Hangover movies for the divorce parties.

I saw it as a fun time-waster. It was certainly one of those things!

This post's theme word is caitiff, "cowardly, despicable" (or as a noun, meaning such a person). The caitiff writers banged out another vile movie populated by caitiff characters.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dream inventory

Several times during my dreams last night, a clerk or attendant asked if I wanted a plastic bag to carry my [whatever] in. I had to say yes, because I'd forgotten my reusable fabric bag in the corner of my room.

And behold! -- when I awoke, and the reusable fabric bag was in the corner, and not packed in my purse where it usually resides. My brain is willing to release its grip on certain ties to reality while dreaming, but apparently my purse inventory carries over from one world to the next.

This post's theme word is cockaigne, "an imaginary land of luxury and idleness." I suffer from inadequate inventory in dreamy cockaignes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Another dream

I dreamed last night about different approaches to try to compute this calculation I am working on. It's a real calculation, that I am working on in my waking hours; it made for a rather unexciting dream. In the dream, I was just as stymied and frustrated as I was in real life.

Sometimes my dreams are just a rehashing of the day.

This post's theme word is scoria, "in metallurgy, the refuse or slag left from smelting," or "porous cinderlike fragments of solidified lava." The scoria of my mind comprises calculations, symbols, and silly wordplay.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wherein I dream about my future dog

I dreamed last night that M., E., A., a little white terrier, and I went to a fancy theater to see The King's Speech. The terrier was very well-behaved, as were the other members of the group, although the dog was the only one who had to be smuggled into the theater in my backpack. The theater seats were gross, so I had brought a folding semi-seat of my own, and sat upon it. Everyone jockeyed to be close to the center of the theater. The movie dragged on for hours -- there were two intermissions. (NB, this does not reflect my actual experience of the film, which was shorter, dog-free, and a third thing to finish this list.)

This post's theme word is leal, "loyal." This word is medieval, archaic, whatever. I had to look up this word the third time it occurred in George R. R. Martin's books, and then I noticed it everywhere -- "I am your leal servant," etc.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cool blue car

There was a very curious car outside my building this afternoon.
So bright!

This post's theme word is jehu, "a fast driver; the driver of a cab." That jehu had a rockin' electric blue ride!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Netflix overfitting

How can you tell that I've been watching movies on R.'s Netflix account? One glance at this screen should explain it:
That's right: the top two recommended categories are "British period pieces featuring a strong female lead" and "critically-acclaimed mind-bending movies." This screen made me laugh for several minutes. Netflix is parodying my own preferences back to me with a straight face!

My comments are thus: (1) machine learning should be applied to more areas of my life. It is obviously useful, hilarious, and interesting. Also, (2) I am not terribly worried about the filter bubble so bemoaned on BoingBoing. Partially because I am aware of the automated personalization that is happening around me, I'm not worried about being trapped in a bubble with only my own viewpoints mirrored back at me. I constantly tweak my catalogued "browsing behavior" to see what sort of changes it induces in automated systems. For example, I rated a lesbian romantic comedy/thriller (season 5) as five stars on Netflix just to see how that would affect the action/adventure/scifi/British-period-...-strong-female-lead balance of recommendations. (This was also a joke on R., who didn't know I had done this and was quite puzzled by the temporary diversion of his Netflix recommendations.)

I think Netflix overfitting is an interesting case of the filter bubble. As long as Netflix's genre suggestions are interesting, I always find something I'd like to watch before I get to the point of browsing all videos, or looking one up by search. So most of the time, Netflix's suggestions are good and I watch them and like them and so Netflix is working me into an overfitted profile. Hence "British period pieces featuring a strong female lead."

This post's theme word is prolepsis, "anticipating and answering objections in advance" or, apparently, "the literary device of referring to a thing by its future state." Certain applications of predictive machine learning seem to evince prolepsis.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stormy skies

There were extremely dramatic clouds above this castle on my walk home.This view alone is enough to convince me that there is a princess imprisoned in that tower. Against her will, of course. Unfortunately I left my armor, sword, and steed in my office; otherwise her rescue would have been immediate.

This post's theme word is ortzikara, "the time when a storm is brewing." A sense of gloom and foreboding permeated the ortzikara.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I went a-dragonboatin' on the lake. The motion is very strange -- it looks like, but is completely different from, paddling a canoe. It made my back sore. The water was calm, peaceful in a way that I'm not sure is achievable in Toronto, though I will explore my self-propelled water sport options.
The dragonboat looks like it might have done some ramming.

This post's theme word is dizen, "to dress or decorate in a gaudy manner." I bedizened the already-dizened ship with a few more figureheads.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Children and quality of life

My mother, this morning: "Lila, this [gift] you gave me has improved my quality of life tremendously!"

My response: "... and they say that having children doesn't improve your quality of life!"

This post's theme word is paean, "an expression of praise, joy, or triumph, traditionally in the form of a song." She exclaimed a quick paean in honor of the gift.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Regarding uterus rent and the rapture

Why be nice to your mother?

Mother: "It's interest on the uterine rent!"
Father: "I don't think you're paying down that principal at all."

These are the things we discuss on the day that the Rapture was foretold, at 6pm, respecting time zones across the world:

M.: "At what point do people stop listening to the guy who can't get the calculations right?"
L.: "Well, he's calculated that, and he's still within the safe margins."

Later that day, as a possible reprimand from On High for my insolence, my rapturously delicious food was raptured right out of me, via violent vomiting, leaving me behind, queasy and sinful. Apparently the Rapture gives me food poisoning. I'm still here and still blogging; wherever you are, you're still reading, too.

This post's theme word is gotterdammerung, "the complete destruction of an institution, regime, order, etc." That saag executed a gotterdamerung on my digestive process yesterday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ice cream baksheesh

I'm visiting. Here is the welcome I received:
Lila, you know I love you, so in preparation for your visit, I bought mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Then I ate it all.

But then I bought two mint chocolate chip ice creams, so there's probably some left now.

This post's theme word is baksheesh, "a payment, such as a tip or bribe."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Food that looks like itself

Here you see buns which look like pigs.
Much to my disappontment, these are not pork buns -- they are some sweet paste-filled dessert bun. It would be much more pleasing if the hidden inner contents were described by the outward appearance of the food.

This post's theme word is autological, "a word that describes itself." Of course there is also heterological, "a word that does not describe itself." The word 'autological' can be either autological or heterological; the word 'heterological' is neither.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tra-la! It's here!

Spring has finally arrived here in Canada.
It will have to be quick, because summer is coming right along! I don't know why it dawdled. Anyway, here was my one day of springtime.

This post's theme word is weathercock, " A weathervane, especially one with the figure of a rooster on it," or "one who changes readily or often."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The axiom of choice is provably mentioned in this post.

I have filled a research notebook full of notes and conjectures and half-thunk thoughts, and I am moving on to a new and vestal-white notebook, into which I shall spew the next few months' outpourings of my mind as it haplessly thrashes across the Fields of Higher Learning.* Before I discard this old, ratty notebook, I am flipping through it to glean any actual knowledge that I obtained and put down therein. (The conjectures are far more plentiful and thus less valuable, in accordance with the principles of economics as well as the judgment of learned mathematicians.)

Thus I present you with various quotes, as overheard by me in seminars and research meetings, from January through April 2011.

"You can picture the lizard crawling up onto the beach, fighting the forces of physics every step of the way." SM 1/19

"The thing about water is... it does tend to drip off your roof more than liquid methane. We're not on Titan." SM 1/19

"Does everyone know what an interactive proof is?" W.
"Do you want me to convince you?" J. 2/8

"What can a superenvelope do that n regular envelopes can't do?" M.
"You're about to find out!" W. 2/8

"As anyone who's ever had a child or been a child knows, ..." JT 2/15

"Unfortunately, that's how science works, too!" GT 2/15 on diminishing returns (of abstracted knowledge learning)

"The most beautiful thing I have found in studying mathematics is Truth. With a capital 't'." PO 2/17

"I'm not really sure what kind of audience you are... but if you were a mathematician, which I think some of you are, ..." PO 2/17

"There's a process in mathematics, it's called 'diagonalization,' and it looks almost magical." PO 2/17

"Small numbers are discovered, and big numbers are invented." PO 2/17

"The world of math is more real than the natural world b/c it has an objectivity. ... What color is an electron?" PO 2/17

"This VINDICATES mathematical institutions and departments." PO 2/17

(apologetically) "This is classical quantum physicist humor." P. 3/22

"And if we can cover it with that many balls, what happens?" S. 4/4

"What I learned from you: you have to always look at bit complexity, because algebraic complexity lies!" EK 4/8

"Yes, I know the general problem is hard, but I solve these everyday! -- and you ask, 'why can't you factor integers with this?' -- there are too many variables." EK 4/8

"We actually had to discuss -- to be scholarly -- to cite the 1649 paper!" EK
"To be scholarly, you're supposed to have actually read the paper." C. 4/8

"We thought we had the most complicated determinant algorithm, but they beat us by 20 pages!" EK 4/8

"In computer science, the level of hot air has to be zero. In other subjects, you don't have to be correct. Including mathematics." HF 3/15 (in pleasing contrast to PO 2/17)

"I don't know if counting from 1 bans me from giving a talk here." HF 3/15

"The axiom of choice is provably irrelevant to this talk." HF 3/15

"It's the most contrived thing ever done. 45 years of complete contriving, every day. And when it's done, it should seem completely natural." HF 3/15

This post's theme word is coprolalia, "an uncontrollable or excessive use of obscene language." I have never witnessed coprolalia in an academic seminar... yet.

*Pardon my sentence, which is to blame on a profusion of caffeine in my blood and Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle in my brain.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter egg hunt

In partial repayment of many years of delightful Easter egg hunts in childhood, A. and I arranged a hunt of sorts for D. How many eggs can you see?
Instead of chocolate eggs and candy, we decorated tiny boxes of cereal with eggs made out of colored paper.
As is traditional, the "eggs" are hidden in plain sight, although not always easily reachable.
Some cleverness was exercised in the placement of the eggs. Much fun was had by all.

As is also traditional, some eggs were found long after the hunt had concluded, although I think we escaped the tradition of finding last year's eggs during this year's hunt. Since the last time I participated in an Easter egg hunt in this house was more than a decade ago, to find a forgotten egg now would be quite surprising.

This post's theme word is schwarmerei, "extravagant enthusiasm" or "excessive sentimentality." The foolish egg hunt was an exuberant schwarmerei.

Happy Easter!

Real rabbits don't have ovipositors, although the Easter bunny, with his proclivities for walking like a human, chocolate, and hiding candy for children, has enough weird habits that maybe his species does have ovipositors.

This post's theme word: gravid, "in an advanced stage of pregnancy," although I've also seen it used to mean "in an egg-laying phase" when applied to insects. As in, "The gravid rabbit-like alien extended its slimy ovipositor into the helpless victim's abdominal cavity."
This post written like James Joyce.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Niagara Falls, from the bridge

I drove past Niagara Falls.
As you see, the water was falling quite freely. That is all.

This post's theme phrase is Hobson's choice, "an apparently free choice that offers no real alternative." Consider whether to cross at Lewiston, Niagara Falls, or Fort Erie -- in any case, this Hobson's choice leads from Canada into the USA.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sampling chocolates

A. very kindly arranged this plate of tiny dark chocolates for me. They ranged from 66-80% cacao. Can you predict which one I preferred?
Yes, that's right: the green one. In my defense, it was one of the darker flavors, and had no trace of sweetness or coffee. (Neither did my tea, also pictured above.)

This post's theme word is adaerate, "to convert from payments in kind to payments in coin." Do not dare to adaerate my chocolate appeasement.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Confident daughters

So do I. Perhaps I'll try to make them tactful as well.

This post's theme word is asperity, "harshness or roughness."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

2011 Hugo nominees

Nominees for the excellent Hugo awards have been announced. Another great crop of books.

Best Novel:
  • Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
  • Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
  • Feed by Mira Grant
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Best Novella:
  • “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
  • The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
  • “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand
  • “The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis
  • “Troika” by Alastair Reynolds
Best Novelette:
  • “Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen
  • “The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele
  • “The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly
  • “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone
Best Short Story:
  • “Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn
  • “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “Ponies” by Kij Johnson
  • “The Things” by Peter Watts

This post's theme word is argosy, "a large ship, or a fleet of ships, especially one carrying valuable cargo" or "a rich source or supply". The Hugo nominee list is an argosy for [certain] genre readers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gleimous, gloppy goo

The engineers in the basement have set up a giant pit of goo. This is the type of viscous slime which is liquid when allowed to flow freely, but becomes firm when compressed. A handful of this glop is a 3rd-grade fun activity; a ridiculous vat is a university engineering project. Plus they colored it blue.

The engineers are taking turns running across it. With many small, quick steps, it is possible to cross as if on a solid. However, those who step too heavily or linger too long begin to sink, and this stuff is sticky and reluctant to release its gooey grasp on their shoes. The whole floor is lightly tinted blue with the footsteps of the failed goo-walkers.

[Update: photos and video now added below.]

The tub of goo.

Translation: chemical engineers in their final year of undergrad are responsible for this exhibit, made this sign, and are not very good at manual kerning.

One student runs across the puddle.

Another student runs across the puddle.

This post's theme word is gleimous, "full of phlegm." He marveled at the vast expanse of gleimous gunk.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gloom is delightful

The card game "Gloom," of course. In the spirit (and illustration style) of Edward Gorey, the game progresses as a series of events (some unfortunate, some rather happy) unfold upon the in-game characters. Each player is responsible for the members of a family, and attempts to make their own characters as sad as possible before meeting an untimely (and often hilarious) death, while simultaneously making other players' characters happy.

I just picked up the "Unfortunate Expeditions" expansion. (Who could resist the illustration of tentacly horror?) In perusing the deck of additional cards, I noticed that the new deaths are:
  • went down with the ship,
  • cashed in his last chip,
  • was shredded by a shark,
  • disappeared in the dark,
  • was sautéed by savages,
  • was crushed by cabbages, and
  • was interred in style.
Notice anything? Why yes, the deaths do occur in rhyming couplets! ... mostly. The anomaly is "was interred in style," which actually is a rather nice death and makes the character happier by 10 units.

I wondered, did the deaths of the original game occur in rhymed pairs? For our mutual edification, I have taken an exhaustive survey, and I find that some of them do:
  • was devoured by weasels / was overcome by the measles,
  • choked on a bone / died cold and alone,
  • drank too much rye / fell from on high / was baked into a pie / was choked on a tie,
  • ran out of air / died of despair / was slain by an heir
... and so on. However, some are only half-rhymes at best, or singletons:
  • was torn limb from limb / was consumed from within,
  • was burnt by a mob / drowned in a bog,
  • grew old without grace,
  • was galled by gangrene
... the last two of these have no partner in rhyming proximity.

The existence of these sets -- pairs, trios, and the rye/high/pie/tie quartet -- means that next time I play, there will be a new rule. If you can kill members of the same family with rhyming deaths, you will gain additional "sadness" units (i.e., negative happy units). I'm thinking of maybe also giving "sadness" points for applying rhyming events to a character, with super bonus sadness units for applying events which rhyme with the character's name.

Now, who wants to play?

This post's theme word is grue, "to shudder." He gave up the ghost with a grue.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Obstructive engineers

It is the end of the semester for undergraduates. Do you know what that means? Big project time! The engineers who share the building with us theorists are all very busy building robots. In the hallways.
It is a terrible fire obstruction. Also, it makes it difficult to access our offices. There are students, robots, and power tools in piles everywhere, including blocking our doors. Look at this doorway (the inlet in the wall on the right of this photo). I'm not joking about the power tools: there are students machining metal and welding, plugged into hallway outlets. Even after they have left, the hallway is a tripping hazard.
It must be that their professor -- who assigned these projects and did not provide enough lab space to construct them -- knows that they are working in the hallways. And implicitly condones it. We disadvantaged grad students resent this inconsiderate arrangement.

This post's theme word is feculent, "full of filth or waste matter." The corridor was feculent with undergraduates.