Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry piranhamoose

Merry Christmas, says the piranahmoose! Joy, absurdism, holiday lights, a delightful hat, and rows of sharp teeth that can rend flesh from bone in seconds! --- all in a holiday spirit.

This post's theme word is weasand, "esophagus." There's a weasel stuck in the weasand of that piranhamoose.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas (Eve)!

I hope your holiday season is free of unspeakable horrors... but just in case it isn't, here's my favorite holiday poem, as written/narrated/produced by Norm Sherman of the fantastic Drabblecast.

This post's theme word is batrachian, "relating to frogs." Bloated, batrachian, and covered in red! A close second was lambent, "glowing."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Doctor did it! He saved us!

I guess that all the media hype about an apocalypse has --- unbelievably, yet again --- come to naught. Either that, or the Doctor saved us yet again.

Back to taking our continually-saved-from-the-brink-of-annihilation lives for granted!

This post's theme word is myoclonic. That moment when you're nearly asleep and jerk awake is called a myoclonic jerk. I thought the End Times had come, but it was merely a myoclonic jerk... and what a jerk!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A very nice teaching compliment

After sitting a 3-hour final exam, one of my students (from a giant class of more than 180) came up to me, introduced himself, and said,
What are you teaching next semester? ... and can I take it?
I've been receiving lots of positive feedback on my teaching recently. This is the cherry on the compliment cake!

This post's theme word is asphodel, "an immortal flower said to grow in the Elysian fields." Your compliment is better than any asphodel!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Candidates and tenured professors

Some topical humor about recent comments made by professors as well as presidential candidates (1, 2, 3), via PhD comics.
When I first read this it took me a full minute to figure out what part was supposed to be funny; at first it just struck me as pessimistic and accurate. You know you've been in academia too long when...

This post's theme word is starets, "a religious teacher or advisor." I want you to regard me not only as your supervisor, but as the sole starets of your life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


One postdoc deadline is past and so I took a break and got around to watching Looper.

I thought it was nice. The recursive nature of time-travel was neatly introduced and explored (including a nod to nerds: "I don't want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams"). There was enough action to draw a wide audience and the concomitant funding to make a good movie. Pierce Gagnon gave a great performance as a creepily verbose and thoughtful child.

Looper was pleasant and exciting, and mildly thoughtful. But it certainly wasn't second only to 2001: A Space Odyssey! It was decent.

It had some problems. There were the usual plot issues, e.g., if I were an evil mastermind and wanted to send all minions back in time to be killed by their younger selves, I would not stagger the murders. Because some young minion will catch on, and then not kill himself, and then we have all these time-travel paradoxes plus some very angry guy from the future who's had 30 years to plan his revenge. The entire notion of telekinesis was an unnecessary, shiny dongle added for the special effects sequences. The movie seemed to have many clever bits that were edited out for the final cut -- we kept expecting certain people to be revealed as each other's older selves, and this never happened. Certain paradoxes were ignored. (More rants on plot problems available here.)  Memory was sometimes a push informational channel and other times a pull, as convenient to the level of tension.

Also, you would have thought that by now, all movie villains everywhere at every point in history know one thing: do not mess with Bruce Willis. Just leave the man alone. Because almost every movie I've seen him in --- including this one --- has one scene where Bruce Willis brutally destroys all the baddies, and their hideout, and their technology, and their MacGuffins.

But Looper's main failing in my mind was that it answered all the questions it raised. (Except the gaping plot holes.) The audience had nothing left to ponder as we left the theater: no "why did that happen?" or "how did X cause Y?" These are the interesting questions about stories with loops of time travel! Looper tied up all the loose ends into --- forgive me --- loops, leaving us no dangling threads to play with. (Except the gaping plot holes, which we mercilessly lampooned on the way home.)

If you want a looping time travel movie, watch Primer instead. Then watch it a few more times while you theorize and test your theories. It's much more interesting and difficult to figure out and fun, which is quite revealing about my movie preferences.
xkcd's take on Primer
If you'd prefer a looping, causality-warping book, I highly recommend Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which has oodles of clever time-travel ideas in it, plus some play with meta-fictional content, plus is a book.

This post's theme word is aceldama, "a place of bloodshed." The aceldama's creation invalidated the causal chain which led to its creation. Spoiler alert.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sequential timestamping

If you write your date in the American order (month-day-year) then today is momentous for its sequentiality: 10-11-12 (and even more momentous at 1:14pm!).

Today is otherwise rather unremarkable. I have lost my voice, swamped under work and viral bodies. The one pervades my mind; the other, my body. I am attempting to write a description of my research which simultaneously renders it accessible to the reader and emphasizes its broad applications and stresses its difficulty and level of mathematical abstraction.

Days like this make me wonder if I could support myself writing bodice-rippers. Well, it's a fall-back plan, way down the list.

This post's theme word is cerumen, "earwax." Is that cerumen, or are my ears congested?

Friday, September 14, 2012

I'm going to type every word I know! Rectangle...

Today's just another autumn day, as I sit in my grey cinderblock cell and haplessly toil over my keyboard, struggling to produce knowledge.
One of these days, that monkey will produce an article definitively proving P=NP. And won't we all feel foolish.

This post's theme word is callipygous, "having well-shaped buttocks." His callipygous beauty was hidden at his desk job by the overwhelmingly monotonous furniture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pesky, provoking pangolin

 I recently upgraded a computer to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS: precise pangolin. The update process was smooth and simple, but the finished install had a number of failings. I proceed to gripe:

The install attempted to migrate my previous settings. It failed. It reset a number of my customized keyboard commands, which was annoying to notice but easy to fix. I'm still not sure I caught them all -- I'll just find out when I try to use some command and it fails. Also, the update managed to copy over my user account and files, but also created a new guest account with no password. What a terrible choice! For security, and privacy! This makes me suspect that I need to closely examine every update for giant security holes so large that the developers look right through and past them. This, too, was easy to fix.

The difficult-to-fix things are all features of the new Unity interface. The Ubuntu online-social-networking suite of programs autostarts on boot up, and has a big envelope-shaped indicator permanently on the top bar. The main menu has been replaced with something called "dash" which is a search -- no more browsing installed applications! -- and prominently includes programs found online which you haven't installed yet. The "launcher" -- formerly the task bar -- features non-differentiable icons of both shortcuts and currently-open programs, and also includes some icons which cannot be removed without recompiling or switching to an experimental build. The alt-tab menu inexplicably always contains the option "desktop."

In an attempt to be more user-friendly, there's no easy way to edit these settings. I've spent two evenings now trawling message boards and developer forums. I installed a configuration tool that came with a ridiculous number of warnings about borking the entire system. I managed to remove the social-online-networking stuff by forcibly uninstalling the entire suite of programs. I fixed the alt-tab menu by rolling back the entire alt-tab--bound keyboard system to a previous, and now tenuously supported, package. I can't find a trustworthy way of fixing the remaining things, so I've established workarounds whereby these features are auto-hidden and not used by default.


I've fiddled with it to be Lila-usable, but (1) it took awhile, and (2) it provoked me. Why would a pangolin do such a thing? All I want is to alt-tab reasonably between open windows!

Ultimately, I don't like Unity because it seems anti-unix. It discourages learning about your own computer by making settings hidden and unchangeable. The "search-only" menu is especially bad, repressing exploration.

This post's theme word is noisome, "offensive (esp. to smell), harmful, noxious." This experience has soured me on the pangolin; although I've never seen one, I consider it among the most noisome creatures imaginable.

[Update 9/12/2012: Found more broken keyboard shortcuts. Also, hibernate is disabled to the point of being not even an option by default? ... because some users have problems with it? Boo. Fixed and fixed.]

Monday, September 3, 2012

Academic summer's end

One week remains before the fall semester begins, and as usual, PhD comics hits the sentiment exactly:

This post's theme word is proskynesis, "the traditional Persian act of prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank." Modern academia has formalized proskynesis; we call it "dissertation defense."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jasper Fforde and The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde's worlds are written reality-adjacent. That is, the characters prance along in their familiar lives, performing recognizable acts, until suddenly one thing is very non-real.[1] Then two things, interspersed with quotidian details.[2] These pile atop each other, resulting in hilarious scenarios[3] ranging from slapstick humor to sotto voce jokes delivered to the reader with a wink. One particularly terrible joke setup is several books long and results in a pun so terrible that it finishes the chapter.

Mr. Fforde's worldbuilding neither explains how magic left the world and we ended up with the reality we have (like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or Ted Chiang's Seventy-Two Letters), nor how a little change in our reality leads to a different world (e.g., recently the Newsflesh books), but just nearby. Some things are relatable, but anytime, a sudden difference may arise and smack readers in the face like a herring.[3]

The Eyre Affair's protagonist, Thursday Next, is a literary detective. This entails many bizarre tasks, as well as the mundane; at one point the officer on duty reports, "I've got most of the office reading Jane Eyre at the moment in case anything unusual happens --- all quiet so far."[4] For the entirety of The Eyre Affair --- as well as the next five books in the series -- Thursday rushes comically around, hurtling from one hilarious emergency to the next. The emergencies build smoothly to a climax, where Thursday, temporarily recursive-written another book, witnesses the fire at Mr. Rochester's house in Jane Eyre. Not yet satisfied, Mr. Fforde uses the denouement to parody Poe's The Raven, explain the authorship of Shakespeare's work, and introduce several time-travelling characters from later books in the series, mid-their-plots.

The Eyre Affair, and for that matter the entire Thursday Next series, is a delightful read. These books singlehandedly justify all degrees ever granted in literature. I wholeheartedly recommend them; how else will you appreciate mad-uncle Mycroft's prototype of a sarcasm early-warning device [5] or punctuation-devouring bookworms?

This post's theme word is frangible, "capable of being broken." It turns out that the classics are quite frangible!

[1] In The Eyre Affair, the narrator Thursday Next is a retired war veteran, working a government job and reminiscing about her lost love... whose father is a renegade time-travelling ChronoGuard, and can pause time at will.

[2] Thursday's pet, Pickwick, is irritable and attention-seeky... and a dodo built from an at-home unextinction kit. 

[3] Door-to-door proselytizers advocate not religions but different authorships of Shakespeare's plays. Red herrings abound.

[4] In my ebook, page 186 of 238.

[5] p. 84 of 238

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A tale of excellent customer service

I recently had a series of excellent customer service experiences with Swatch.

I bought a watch -- very brightly colored -- and after wearing it a little, decided that I needed that bright color to be green. The friendly Swatch employees -- so friendly that this must be a prerequisite in the hiring process -- helped me pick a much greener watch. Still brightly colored.

Yet, alas! For reasons unknown (but excess verdure suspected), this excellent watch stopped running. I took it back (to my 3rd store), and they tested the battery (fine), so they simply replaced the watch. This entire interaction took about 5 minutes.

So I'm on my third watch in as many weeks, but I like it. All my interactions at Swatch stores and kiosks across the continent were very easy and positive. Look at me digitally/virally promoting a brand I like social-mediated-ly. Thanks, Swatch!

This post's theme word is sidereal, "relating to the stars," or "measured with reference to the apparent motion of the stars." This timepiece marks sidereal time.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Autodidactic somnolent piano

My dream last night had a plot, extras, fantastic BBC-style baroque costuming and between-scenes costume changes, a soundtrack, comic relief, and a 9-meter flood which had the modern characters wrapping their electronics in floating plastic bubbles. Most of the characters were not modern, so they were worried only about the dogs and how this would affect the estate's tenant-farmers, as well as the sons' marriage prospects.

Plus I discovered that I can't teach myself to play the piano in a dream. No matter how many times I started, my brain didn't have enough details to teach me how to place my fingers properly. My brain did have enough detail to make me hear my fudged notes realistically.

This post's theme word is kludge, "a solution that, while inelegant, inefficient, clumsy, or patched together, succeeds in solving a specific problem or performing a particular task." My somnolent mind formed a hilarious kludge of an Austin novel.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Delighted to dispense data

I was a participant in a curious experiment this morning, on the way to the office. I passed person A behaving... curiously... on the sidewalk. A little too strange, and so I gave him a wide berth as I walked by. Several meters away, person B sat on the lawn, apparently working on a laptop. Person B made pointed eye contact as I passed A, and stood up to intercept me as I attempted to pass B.

B asked me if I'd be willing to participate in a survey for a research project. I said yes. Then he proceeded to ask me increasingly specific questions, from a form, about my stance on (1) my interaction with A, and (2) very particular Canadian political issues. I grew more and more amused as the interview continued, which meant that I interrupted his (frankly uninteresting) questions with counter-questions about the design of his study, the use of person A, and what he should be asking me in order to get the information he apparently sought.

At the end of the questionnaire, he revealed the purpose of the study (finding a correlation between interactions with A-ish confederates and certain political views). I soundly ribbed him about this, but he was deadly serious. A business school student participating in some business school research.

I was probably not the easiest study participant he interviewed. But I was delighted with the guerrilla-style social experiment.

This post's theme word is anasyrma, "the gesture of lifting up a skirt or kilt in order to provoke an effect on the onlookers (but not for the lifter's own sexual arousal)." That confederate's anasyrma was very poorly acted, not convincing at all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Great Retroactive Blogging Project of 2012

I awoke this morning to formication, from a dream where I was repeatedly, and unwillingly, taken on expensive helicopter tourist-rides over a city. Then asked to pay, in euros. We were searching for -- or perhaps escaping from? -- a baby with the limp body of a plucked chicken. Interpret that as you will.

As I walked to the gym I listened to this Drabblecast story about a man haunted by his own abandoned kidney. The story's creepiness blended with my half-remembered dream and a mental image of the plucked-chicken-baby, so that my morning was full of vague unease, itchiness, and sweat.

2012 is half-over and I've taken a few minutes to reflect on my year's resolutions:
  1. To be able to do one complete, unassisted pull-up.
  2. To reduce the fraction of drafted blog posts from 50% to 0%.

Yes, that's right, you only see about half the blog posts I begin. I've made dismal progress on both of these. I'm gaining upper-body strength, but very slowly. And numbers suggest that I am actually losing ground on the blog front, as I have started many, many more posts. (But if you look to the right, you'll see that only a few of them have fully gestated.)

Yet I feel little guilt over these goals. I've accomplished a lot, and had several interesting thoughts, this year. Many of which you'll read about, if I ever finish the Great Retroactive Blogging Project of 2012.

For now, I'll just say that I'm having a great summer and thinking of all of you* and a much better pen-and-paper correspondent than blogger.

This post's theme word is inwit, "conscience; reason, intellect; courage." I'm also fond of mickle, "a large amount (n)," "great, large (adj)," "much (adv)," so let's feature them both! Mere spelling and mickle ingenuity separate the twit from inwit.

*Yes, every single one, even the anonymous readers following the blog for motives of their own.

Monday, July 9, 2012


I saw Brave, the latest Disney-Pixar animated movie. It was delightful. Just take a look at this trailer:

Do you see it? Can you guess what was so entrancing, fascinating, uplifting, mesmerizing, and fantastic, about Brave?

That's right!

It's the hair.

Just look at it. It's bouncing here and there; it has weight; it has volume; it has drag in the air. It's compressible, like real hair. Later in the movie, when Pixar wanted to show off more, they put the hair partially under a hood and then had it lightly rain! Rain! Bedraggled hair, slowly drying over the course of time. Incredible.

If the hair isn't enough for you, this movie also has a lot of fabric, fluttering and draping and sliding; it has excellent water; and finally, it has a bear fight between two full-sized bears, covered (as bears are) with fur!

The plot was so-so, not great. Typical Disney fare. A princess, spirited and full of heart, is put into a bad situation because of her gender. Then, with some small amount of character growth and a large amount of wandering in the woods, witches, dramatic horseback riding to showcase the soundtrack, and slapstick comedy, the princess manages to slightly amend her original situation, while still not disrupting any Disney gender norms. Plus there were some jokes at the expense of the Scottish, and some jolly bagpiping.

But the hair. It's incredible. I could not take my eyes off it. Go watch it!

This post's dual theme words are lissotrichous, "having straight or smooth hair," and scotophobia, "fear of the dark," OR "fear or hatred of the Scottish people or culture." Disney's latest animated offering discourages both the lissotrichous and scotophobic.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ridiculously picturesque

A view from the top of a cathedral:
 A view from the train:
Scenic Porto vistas. The weather was irenic, idyllic.

This post's theme word is irenic, "promoting peace or conciliation." None of the Orkney weather words apply.

Friday, June 29, 2012


The rooster is a national symbol of Portugal, so it adorns every item in the touristy part of town. I managed to restrain myself from buying this apron. Just barely.

This post's theme word is platyrrhine, "having a broad, flat nose." Yes, that's a very nice bird, but do you have anything more... platyrrhine?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Set-your-own-price reverse marketplace

Amazon will let vendors -- who own items -- post those items for sale at a fixed price. Ebay lets vendors post items for sale by auction, where buyers have some power over the price they pay. On Kickstarter, speculating vendors attempt to rustle up (financially) committed customers before spending movey on overhead and setup costs. This business model makes some amount of sense, because the market
for your fantastic idea may not exist. It's a way of crowdsourcing market research, pinned to a method of getting startup money from a mob.

I dream of a reverse marketplace, a sort of backwards kickstarter (but not kickstopper, as amusing as that is). It would be a website with a huge inventory (possibly borrowed from Amazon's databanks, like swap.com) where buyers can post offered prices. Then the vendors can browse this collection of data and determine if, e.g., there are millions of dollars to be made if they decrease the price of that CD from $10 to $5. (This still provides more control than the pay-what-you-can and pay-what-you-want models used by JoCo and AFP.)

A secondary benefit of such a site is to reverse-kickstart things. There are books, music, and games that I _would_ buy -- at their present prices-- if they were availabe WITHOUT DRM. So I'd reverse-bid on those. But they're currently only available WITH DRM, which is a no-go and worth $0 to me. This would show vendors, publishers, and creators how many sales they are MISSING because of DRM. It could also show publishers other data about formatting (this movie is in high demand on DVD but not Blu-Ray; this music will sell as vinyl but not CD, etc.).

Think about it as voluntary market research data. I am willing -- WILLING -- to give advertisers, publishers and vendors this data. This VALUABLE DATA ABOUT MY SPENDING PREFERENCES AND HABITS.

Do you hear me, online sellers?

This post's theme word is samizdat, "an underground publishing system used to print and circulate banned literature clandestinely. Also, such literature."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Running is mental

This morning I went running early, in an attempt to beat the worst of the daytime heat. Unfortunately, no amount of early rising could avoid the humidity. In the course of my run, I nodded hello to several early-morning walkers. Then, about a block away and walking towards me, carrying a flat of water bottles, a man shouted, "WHAT MENTAL INSTITUTION ARE YOU FROM?"

I smiled at the jest but was too distant and winded to reply. So I simply kept running towards him. He, mistakenly thinking that I'd not heard him, or perhaps enjoying his jest enough to repeat it, shouted again "WHAT MENTAL INSTITUTION DID YOU ESCAPE FROM?"

"One quite nearby!" I replied as I ran past him. Because, after all, this was rather unpleasant weather to run in, and I am familiar with the concept that running is a masochistic pastime. So, ha ha, nice joke, buddy.

"SO THE ONE DOWN ON QUEEN STREET THEN!" he turned and shouted at my retreating back. I guess my insanity extended so far as misreporting my own institution.

This post's theme word is funambulatory, "like a tightrope walker." My funambulatory sanity tipped and fell into madness as I ran.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Underwater peacock woman

I like this artistic mixture of hair and peacock feathers. It gives me the impression that she is morphing into a bird underwater, somehow.
Clarae19 on deviantart via Just be honest for now.

This post's theme word is philtrum, "the vertical groove below the nose and above the upper lip." Moody painters know how to accurately portray emotions via philtrum shading.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Icy ice ice

While walking through the downtown, I noticed this strangely organic pillar of white. Protected by a fence and barbed wire and a "no smoking" sign.
It looked at first like plastic, its uneven surface polished smooth. There seemed no ready explanation for a plastic blob protecting these pipes, and gradually my brain -- loosened from reality by the inhumane 80F+ temperatures -- wrapped itself around the idea that this might be ice.

It looks like ice. But what sort of reverse-heat sink ("heat source"?) is conducted on this scale, outdoors? And accompanied by the slow but steady dripping of water? I suppose it could be condensation, but in that case, the heat source is very poorly designed, because it is gradually reducing its radiative capacity with a giant, thermally-insulating icicle. If icicles were built by trowel, not by fairies.

Also, what good is an outdoors heat source in Canada? For a significant part of the year, outside will be below freezing and these pipes will only serve as a traditional heat sink.
Lastly, "no smoking"? The thought that a discarded cigarette butt could have some deleterious effect on this ice hunk is charming.

This post's theme word is esker, "a long, narrow ridge of gravel and sand deposited by a stream flowing in or under a retreating glacier." A bizarre esker of ice loomed above the city's summer streets.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I made some tarts, all on this summer day.

This post's theme word is gamboge, "a strong yellow color," or "a gum resin obtained from the sap of trees of the genus Garcinia, used as a yellow pigment and as a cathartic." The plain vanilla tarts appear gamboge, although there is no added coloring.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Milk Carton Kids

I went to see The Milk Carton Kids on a recommendation received via my social network. (But no one monetized the connection. No click-throughs, no referrals, and absolutely zero cookies. I simply walked there and bought a ticket.)

Dave Borins
& co. opened and were excellent, with folkish country music that made me want to sing along with the hypnotically catchy refrains. They quite unexpectedly mixed a Southern/country-music sound with local Toronto references.

Then, adequately warmed-up and emotionally available, the headliners took the stage. Two unassuming boy-men in full suits, their entire stage presence was based upon understatement. It balanced precisely between hilarious litotes and sad, quiet sentences. "We're from L.A." Beat. No cheers from the Toronto audience. "Uh, okay. Well, we're here now." Laughter.

The Milk Carton Kids' songs were a nice counterpoint to Dave Borins: they were uniformly quiet and sad. At the end of the evening, they thanked the audience for spending a Friday evening listening to their sad songs. (You can listen, too! -- all their music is offered free on their site!)

It was delightful.

This post's theme word is jonquil, "a widely cultivated narcissus."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hugo nominees 2012

Another year, more delightful fiction to read! As previously, I attempt to read this year's nominees in the major categories. (I actually got through most of the novels before the nominations were announced; I have no regular source for large volumes of short stories, so I'll have to seek those out later.)

Best Novel:
  • Among Others by Jo Walton
  • A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
  • Deadline by Mira Grant
  • Embassytown by China Miéville
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Best Novella:
  • Countdown by Mira Grant
  • “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
  • “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson
  • “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
  • Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
Best Novelette:
  • “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell
  • “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky
  • “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen
  • “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders
  • “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman
Best Short Story:
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
  • “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick
  • “Movement” by Nancy Fulda
  • “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
  • “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi

This post's theme word is laodicean, "lukewarm or indifferent, esp. concerning religion." Science fiction and fantasy are passionate about some topics (space travel, magic, technology, identity, marginalization, social inequality, education) and laodicean about others.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Further uncanny glimpses

Lovecraft found very few things to be canny.

My previous dreams provided amusement; here's another.

E, a former rugby teammate, was dressed as Sherlock Holmes and acting like him, too. She had gone back in time to try to seduce Queen Victoria. Using deductive logic. She sat on an ornate stuffed chair while Queen Victoria sat across from her on an ornate stuffed couch, in an ornate room stuffed with ornate ornamentation.

Of course, stalwart Queen Victoria, dressed in mourning, would have none of it. The dream-seduction-by-logic was unsuccessful in the face of her stubborn refusal to be swayed by deductive logic. Although my dream version of Queen Victoria was not above a detailed logical examination of the frilly black lace on her black dress, an opening sally in the seduction.


This post's theme word is captious, "having an inclination to find faults, especially of a trivial nature." Her captious questions stalled the deductive argument.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A glimpse into my subconscious

The imaginative boundaries of my dreams surely inform the limits of my subconscious. Or perhaps my imagination.

I recently had a dream that I was frantically running to get to a final exam on time. This was understandably stressful. Dream obstacles -- crowds obstructing my path, me forgetting about the exam until it was about to begin, not studying in preparation -- delayed me. This dream was clearly an expression of a long-fostered Student Examination Anxiety.

Unlike many such dreams, I did eventually make it to the exam! And then in the dream I sat down at my seat, with my tiny fold-out desk, and started to take the exam. My subconscious, author of the dream, permitted me to read just a few words on the exam before falling asleep in my dream. (How tired do you have to be to sleep in a dream?!) Then I woke up in my dream, in the exam, to the announcement that there were only five minutes remaining. Dream panic! I had not even written my name on the test booklet yet!

Determined to answer something in the remaining time, I resolved to read just... one... paragraph... of the exam. But lo! -- and behold! -- once more, my subconscious refused to author the exam, and I found my dream-self staring out the window and daydreaming.

That's right. Not only did I sleep in this dream, I daydreamed in this dream.

I awoke just as they were collecting my completely empty exam booklet, at Maximum Student Panic Stress Level 1: Total Frenzy (Red Alert).

Dream lesson the first: there are some things so boring that even my subconscious refuses to supply them.

In another dream, I was setting up a skateboard ramp with some alligator-people. Aliens, of course. The entire situation was so absurd that I realized I must be dreaming. Still asleep, I tried to do typical lucid dream actions. My stubborn subconscious refused to let me fly, or teleport, or breathe underwater. I awoke resentful of my own brain.

Dream lesson the second: there are some things so awesome that my subconscious refuses to supply them.

This post's theme word is nutate, "to nod the head," or "to oscillate while rotating (as an astronomical body)," or "to move in a curving or circular fashion (as a plant stem, leaf, etc.)." I nutated my sheets while dreaming about the skateboard contest.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Converting shirts into a rug

I am extremely averse to hoards, and with every move I become more resentful of my own possessions. They take up so much volume! And weight! The 100-things-challenge holds a certain horrifying fascination for me, although of course a properly-appointed kitchen (1) is necessary for life, and (2) contains more than 100 things.

This post documents another attempt to disgorge myself of excess possessions. In this instance, t-shirts.

Everyone, everywhere, including probably hermits, has some free t-shirts obtained by participation in a group activity. I had some in rather vibrant colors.
Reckoning that even t-shirts are useful for something, I used by new cutting mat and rotary cutter to render these shirts into a rather coarse "yarn."
Around the sleeves and neck, my cutting became more uneven and improvised, but I managed to unwind the entire shirt into yarn about an inch wide.

Then I watched about 20 minutes of how-to-crochet videos on YouTube. (Huzzah for the internet, and those who are strangely compelled to explain their skills to webcams!) With only a few adjustments and the biggest crochet hook I could find at Lettuce Knit, I embarked...
I tried a slightly complicated thing, because I enjoy challenges. Note the several strands of mock-yarn coming off my t-shirt-vortex. (I also chose a very forgiving circulish shape.)The completed spiral ingratiates itself to passing feet with its quaint homemade lumpiness and curiously soft spring. The colors work fine together, and I am five t-shirts the poorer and one little rug happier.

This post's theme word is grawlix, "a spiral-shaped graphic or string of typographical symbols used to indicate swearing in comic strips." The grawlix of expired t-shirts on the floor murmurs an ominous warning to those hiding in the rear of the closet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Regarding the weather

Dear Toronto,

I know it's been awhile since we last spoke, and I blame myself: I've been too busy to set aside time for you. And trust me, I feel your resentment: I felt it all through this dreary, muddy, lukewarm, snow-free winter. And whether it is a personal vendetta against me or simply the effects of global climate change, I want you to know this: this weather is absurd.

I moved to Canada from cold, snowy parts of a country south of here. Part of the allure was the northerly climate (and the degree program and the health care). My first winter here did not disappoint, and I found myself crutching through blizzards. What delight! What rapture! What single-minded focus, what visceral experiences the weather induces, merely to move about in the extreme cold!

And yet this recent so-called "winter" had none of these characteristics. I have coped by reading and rereading wintry books (like Antarctica and The Left Hand of Darkness), and attempting to ski on what paltry manmade stuff is at hand. I never had to use my most serious winter clothing.

And now, at the very beginning of spring, we've had a series of consistently 60F+ days. The equinox was just yesterday. Were you so impatient for spring that you rushed into it immediately after autumn?

I've only ever seen equally capricious seasons in film. As a joke.

Please. My body is still expecting freezing temperatures and windburn and frostbite. This afternoon it was 70F and I felt like reverse-hibernating (a.k.a. "moving to New Zealand"). Please do not rush headlong into summer, and its punishing heat and humidity, without dwelling a bit longer on winter. Don't give up so soon, and so easily.

I'm holding out for April snow. You've had it in reserve all these months.

Your resident (who carried her skis home in a tank top and sandals today),

This post's theme words are fann, an Orkney word for "snowdrift," and skutch, "a slight snowfall." We are famished for fanns, and skiing season suffers serious skutch scarcity.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Gelatinous ball of goo baby

I dreamed last night that I came across A. and his (dream) wife and their (dream) newborn baby sitting on a park bench. (In a dream park. In my dream.) So of course I went over and said hello and introduced myself to the wife and met the baby. And as I was looking at the baby, I realized something was wrong... it was shaped funny... too round... no legs... no face... it was actually a gelatinous ball of goo in a onesie. Yikes!

I tried to tactfully bring this up in conversation with A. (After nearly dropping the baby in surprise and revulsion.) He replied, "My wife was pregnant, and went into labor, and this is what came out! ... so it's our baby, and we're raising it."

I told A. about this after I woke up, and he said (in a reasonable tone), "It's growing! We just keep feeding it."

This post's theme word is: emuction, "to blow your nose" or really "to empty any bodily passage." Yuck, what emuction!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

The short story ILU-486 by Amanda Ching is an upsetting look into the possible near-future, if the government legislates what women can do with their bodies. It made me feel angry and powerless and angry again. Many of the comments likened it to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, so I went and read that book.

I do not think the comparison is apt. While both stories consider dystopic futures where women are socially subjugated and deprived of agency, their tones are completely different. ILU-486 is angry and eager to fight, while the narrator of The Handmaid's Tale is quite passive and calm. She even seems dull and stupid -- and constantly entreats herself not to think, not to follow those very narratively interesting avenues -- until we see her play Scrabble, and thus evidence that she is actually quite bright. Sure, a military coup of biblically-minded, chauvinistic, hypocritical men has reorganized society, but she remains quite calm about it. She's even calm through her several considerations of how to commit suicide and how to escape. The story simply doesn't read as inflammatory, just faintly depressing and unrealistic. Its final note, an even further-future academic discussion of the historical setting of The Handmaid's Tale, is unnecessarily redeeming. Perhaps Margaret Atwood felt the need to explain that future society eventually tended away from this unpleasant arrangement?

The Handmaid's Tale falls into a category for which English has inadequate tenses. It is written in the past about the future, which is still our future. It has not aged well -- the premise seems entirely unlikely now. Modern writers must devise near-future scenarios which cope with the fact that the internet and cell phone networks and other digital, instant communication could easily undermine the initial stages of a developing dystopia. This is the point that ILU-486 gets correct: it feels possible. We see characters fighting against legislation, we see many different systems of subverting legal control of private wombs.

I'm not sure I'd recommend either piece. The Handmaid's Tale is a piece of science fiction canon, but dull and flat emotionally. ILU-486 is angering; it provides an argument for legal contraception, should you have any friends who need convincing, but is frustratingly negative for people already convinced.

This post's theme word is soubrette, "a maidservant or lady's maid in a play or an opera, especially one who displays coquetry and engages in intrigue," or "a young woman regarded as flirtatious," or "a soprano who sings supporting roles in comic opera." Does the opera adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale feature a soubrette, in any sense?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Alas! Edward Norton

Apparently, at some point in the past, Marvel figured out that they could get more mileage (money) from their fan base by recombining existing superheroes into a superhero gang. Thus did Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and some other incidental characters included for franchise convenience, combine forces to become The Avengers in 1963. I am not a comic book aficionado, so now I willfully elide and ignore the vast, rich intervening history of Marvel fandom and the Avengers. And now, nearly fifty years later, this sad and wrung-out merchandising ploy is being resurrected as a live-action film by the unimaginative executives of today.

Thus do we arrive at The Avengers movie.

A universe in which the extremely scientific and engineering-centric Tony Stark coincides with the Norse god Thor who has magical hammer powers makes no meaningful, consistent sense. (Mjöllnir!) I continuously wondered throughout this trailer whether the super-science field would cancel the super-mythological field and render them both as pitifully over-muscled, emotionally immature men. Shouting at each other in a giant crater of their own inability to come to terms with life.

All this absurdity could be overlooked, but for one fact: Edward Norton is no longer the Hulk. I am appalled and disappointed; I enjoyed [mocking] Edward Norton-as-the-Hulk's origin movie, and Edward Norton is a favorite of mine. Now there's some other guy playing the Hulk, and he is frankly much less Edward-Norton-ish than I'd prefer.

This post's theme word is snite, "to blow your nose." I snite at you, you so-called Arthur King, you and all your silly reboots of franchise movies!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A proper leap day

Today is February 29, leap day. Blogs, newspapers, commenters, and people all across this calendrically-unified planet have been blathering all day about how today is "extra." Sure, this year will have 366 days, but today was not particularly extra -- it is a Thursday, preceded by a Wednesday and followed by a Friday. All this leap day meant to me was that, in January, all the events I anticipate (birthdays, thanksgiving, Christmas) were one day further away than usual.

I propose that leap day should be an extra-calendrical event. Yesterday was Wednesday, February 28, and tomorrow would be Thursday, March 1. Leap day would simply be inserted between, a truly additional day.

This post's theme word is sniglet, "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should." Leap day is a reverse-sniglet of the calendar: it does appear, but shouldn't.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Strike slogans!

I am compulsorily a member of the graduate student union. It looks increasingly likely that we will go on strike later this month. In my opinion, both the union side and the employer side are fractionally reasonable, but mostly just irritating.

The union emails regarding the prolonged bargaining/strike action are so numerous that they squeezed through even A.'s anti-union email filters. This is okay, because it resulted in some hilarious strike chant suggestions.

Envision: a group of 20 grad students (mostly political science, although I can't imagine why) in front of a university administration building. A. holds a bullhorn and leads them in call-and-response:
"You don't know how good you've got it!"
"You don't know how good you've got it!"
"You don't know how good you've got it!"
A member of the crowd takes the bullhorn and begins a different chant.
"What is a farce?"
"What is a farce?"
"What is a farce?"
"What is a farce? -- no, for real, my English TA is on strike, I need help with my homework!"

This post's theme word is coprolalia, "involuntary swearing or the involuntary utterance of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks." Best to avoid coprolalia in proximity of a microphone.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Framing mathematics

No, not framing it for a crime. I just read the article A Revolution in Mathematics? What Really Happened a Century Ago and Why It Matters Today by Frank Quinn (math professor). It establishes a surrounding explanation for how modern mathematics came to be structured as it is. In the process, it contrasts two ways of thinking about mathematics: the "old" style, and mathematical sciences, wherein math relates to observable facts and is intuitive (but often yields incorrect results), and the "new" style, which he calls the "core" of mathematical research, wherein math is the study of abstract rules which do not relate to reality (but whose results are provably, rigorously correct).

It is fascinating.

I had never paused to consider the evolution of my discipline. Yet Prof. Quinn highlights and summarizes my experience of grade-school math education: everything seemed much clearer and more reasonable when -- finally! -- worked as abstract symbols according to rules. This is how I learned geometry (my first proofs!), trigonometry, and calculus. I cannot imagine attempting to learn calculus through intuition. What terror! (Does this infinite series feel like it converges? What's your hunch about the derivative of f(x)?) And of course now in retrospect I think of the math I learned earlier -- multiplication, fractions, arithmetic -- in the more advanced terms I learned later.

The article was summarized for me by this: "the old dysfunction was invisible, whereas the new opacity is obvious." Yes, math is opaque; I've studied for years and this is the first thing I'd admit. And my topics are squarely in the "new/core" section: I've done research in precise definitions, logical proofs, completeness. Carefully justifying each step is a technique that I use in my dreams. Math for me has always been its own arena of knowledge, one of three (the humanities, sciences, and math), each with its own methods. Even though we use the science word "discovery," a mathematical discovery is nothing of the sort. And as a grad student, I am amazed at what other grad students do as "research."

This post's theme word is anemometer, "an instrument for measuring the speed of wind." This magical anemometer predicts the trends in sociology research!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Sunrising jellyfish"

The 2011 National Geographic Photography Contest winners are posted. Although it only got honorable mention, Angel Fitor's "Sunrising Jellyfish" is my favorite.
It is very aesthetically pleasing, the colors and edge of the sun blending into the top of the jellyfish. Plus, for some reason, it makes me hungry.

This post's theme word is nankeen, "a yellow or buff color," or "a sturdy yellow or buff cotton fabric," or "(nankeens) Trousers made of this cloth," or "a Chinese porcelain having blue designs on a white background."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The most sympathetic balloon

I got picked up from the airport, complete with roses and Eeyore, "the most sympathetic balloon." ("Princess Jasmine isn't sympathetic at all!") It was nice.

This post's theme word is crapehanger, "a gloomy person; a pessimist."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Concerning puppies and cruises

My plane this morning was full of people flying south to go on a cruise, possibly the same cruise (whose packages include round-trip airfare). The demi-bleached-blonde girl in yoga pants who sat next to me was going on a cruise.

How do I know? Well, during the flight, she took out her day planner (the only analog life process she had not yet ported to iPhone) and the entire upcoming week was marked "CRUISE!!!" For contrast, this week's calendar had only two items marked. Monday: pick up puppy! Tuesday: get nails done.
That is all she had to do this week. I would add the obvious: "Friday: abandon puppy in favor of tropical cruise."

This post's theme word is kine, "a plural of cow." The loudspeaker directed the kine to board the plane in order.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


The temperature this morning hovered at freezing as I walked to the office, and campus foot traffic was absent. I passed a hedge, defoliated for the winter, a collection of brown twigs protruding from the ground. It was making a strange noise; the plants sounded like a water fountain. No one else was walking by to corroborate my observation.

I stopped and listened for awhile. Light hailstones, or perhaps heavy snowflakes, were falling. As they hit the hedge, they ricocheted down the branches and made a soft pitter-patter rattling sound -- which I had mistaken for water drops falling into a pool.

The hail made no sound when it hit anything else: pavement, sidewalk, cars, me. I trudged off, across the salted ground and the lumpy frozen mud, denuded of grass. When I got to the office, it was empty of people, and light, and (mostly) heat.

This suits my mood.

This post's theme word is elacrymate, "to emit as tears." Elizabeth elacrymated her excessive emotions.