Monday, May 30, 2005

stormy skies

stormy skies 1, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Blogging is like sex: it comes in spurts. I find myself with nothing to post for days, and then suddenly something turns up.

I took this shot over the weekend, as a storm rolled in over the flats. I tinkered with the contrast to make it really dark and brooding, more a reflection of mood than weather really. This was the extent of productive work that I managed for the weekend: my cough got so bad that my GP recommended me to a hospital for tests (this was what happened to me on Friday night, in lieu of joining the gang for a game).

I must say I was a horrible patient: the doctor kept recommending that I ward myself for observation and further testing, but I couldn't bear the thought of staying in a hospital. I hate hospitals (even while conceding that this particular one was the nicest I've ever been to): K predicts that I will be an extremely grumpy and stubborn patient when old, and she's probably right. I'll be one of those people that has to be dragged by his children to the hospital, and who tries the patience of doctors and nurses alike. I'll be "that old man in Bed 16", that they bitch about on their coffee breaks.

Anyway, I've got a lot better: I only get gut-wrenching coughing fits about once an hour, instead of every few minutes, and the fever's gone. Only thing is this horrible headache, new for today, that hits me like a compressive force around the temples - must've been the heat. I really wanted at that point to go back home and crawl into somewhere dark and cool (like under the sheets), but had to get some things done, and the headache went away as the day cooled down. Must remember sunglasses for tomorrow.

stormy skies 2

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Sith Sense

A short lunchtime post to note this:

The Sith Sense

Lord Vader will ask you 20 questions ...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sick, but reading

About this time last year, I fell really sick. I'm sick again, and with uncanny precision, we're off only by a few days (I estimate May 15th last year, as opposed to the 17th this year).

In 1985, courtesy of a stack of old Reader's Digests, I learned about biorhythms, and how they were supposed to affect us intellectually and emotionally. I remember plotting out a chart to see how they would impact me over my examination period. The results were inconclusive: I seem to remember them predicting a low day on a key examination, but I did fine. This recurrent sickness bothers me though: it's strange to think that I fall sick on a regular basis.

Next year will be the crucial year though: once is an isolated incident, twice could be a coincidence, but three times is a pattern. I used to teach this to my literature students, pointing out how stories rise in tension at this critical point, where a pattern could be made or averted, because three is the minimum number to set a pattern (you can do it with more - 4, 7 or 10, but economy is often needed to drive the story forward). That's why the third little pig matters so much: if he fails, then all pigs are doomed to be eaten by wolves, forever, because the pattern is implied: there'll be no escaping their fate. But if he succeeds, then there's no pattern: the first two pigs may have succumbed to the wolf, but it's not fated that all pigs will.

One thing being sick always does for me is let me catch up on reading. I've been ploughing through Mieville's Iron Council (yes, the paperback finally reached us). The impression at the half-way mark: more of the same, better characterization. Mieville's fundamental themes haven't changed from Perdido Street Station to The Scar to this current book, only the locations - from the city of New Crobuzon in the first book, to the floating Armada in the second. Iron Council is slightly wide-angled: he explores the continent inland from New Crobuzon more closely, returns to New Crobuzon in some detail, and shows the mobile community of the Iron Council. I've realised that for Mieville, his locations are as much characters in his novels as the people: I complained earlier that Perdido Street Station had too many characters, but I must now add one more to the list: New Crobuzon itself. Similarly, the floating Armada was as important as any of the flesh and blood characters in The Scar, as is the perpetual train in Iron Council. I've got 200 pages more to go, but at this point The Scar still seems the best of his books for me: I liked the characters more, for some reason.

Finished reading Iron Council: not bad ... not bad at all. The ending comes at you with ... well, with the inevitability of a trainwreck, if that's not giving too much away, but Mieville keeps one or two suprises for the end, and leaves us with yet another indelible and inconic image of the world he's created.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Sigh. Musical Baton.

Meanwhile, pandering to the latest meme in circulation, I've received the musical baton courtesy of Terz, so here's My Music.

Total volume of music on my computer:
12.26 GB, in 2622 songs, or 7 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 6 seconds of glorious music.

Clearly, the iPod's capacity for music exceeded its battery life a long time ago, like some struggling musician whose spirit is willing but flesh is weak. I had to buy an external hard drive for my iTunes library when I realised it was starting to take up most of my current hard drive.

The last CDs I bought were:
Happenstance, Rachael Yamagata
some 3 volume compilation of love songs, called, (I think) Love Songs
New American Language, and My Country II, Dan Bern

Song playing right now:

What's that?

Ooh ... er ... right...

OK, there you go ... : High and Dry, Radiohead

Five songs which mean a lot to me:
(not the same as my most listened-to songs, which get heavy rotation as part of my Avoid Talking to Taxi Drivers policy and my Stay Sane on the Morning Commute campaign)
  • Closing Time, Semisonic
  • Angels of the Silences, Counting Crows
  • Java Man, Michael Hedges
  • #41, Dave Matthews Band
  • Garden of Simple, Ani DiFranco

The list is obviously much longer than 5:
  • Imitation of Life, REM
  • Round Here, Counting Crows
  • Angry Anymore, Ani DiFranco
  • Crash, DMB
  • Longing Town, Duncan Sheik
  • Black Eyed Dog, Nick Drake
  • Typical Situation, DMB
  • Fall on Me, REM
  • Aerial Boundaries, Michael Hedges
  • Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden
  • Bensusan, Michael Hedges
  • So Long Michael, Pierre Bensusan (these last two songs always one after the other)
  • L'alchemiste, Pierre Bensusan
... or even 10, or 20. But nevermind. I'm feeling my sore throat hit me again, and I'm gonna lie down and rest for a while.

Forget passing the baton: given the small size of my personal blogosphere, most of the people I know have, or probably soon will have, another musical baton passed to them, so I'm just going to let the baton drop here. = )

Sith Lord Naming Conventions

Terz's comment on my post has reminded of our speculations on Sith Lord naming conventions. Following the pattern of Darth (in)Vader and Darth (in)Sidious, we posited quite a few hypothetical Sith Lords who probably didn't make the cut, for very good reasons - like Darth Sipid, and Darth Continent.

Predictably, as with all graat ideas, someone's already done it. You can see the reductio ad absurdum of the Darth+(in) naming convention at this page. My favourites include:

Darth Cest (a good candidate for Luke's Sith name, had he and Leia continued in their loving ways)
Darth Bred (the logical conclusion from above)
Darth Competent (probably killed himself with his lightsaber during training)
Darth Vigilate (strides up and down examination halls, breathing heavily)
Darth Dex (the last Darth)


For those of us thinking about spending a wad of cash on a lightsaber (you know who you are), perhaps you can offset that by making your own Jedi robe. The basic design seems sound, though I'd round out the back of the hood (unless you're aiming for an Episode 4 Obi-wan pointed hood look).

Also from the same website, invent-a-word: type in a word, specify prefix, suffix, and number of letters overlapping, and you get a list of chimeric, portmanteau-like words.

For example, "teacher" gives us the inspiring "teachero" (teacher + hero), as well as the odd "teacherbivore", and the following oddballs (with suggested definitions from me):

teacher + herb = teacherb (coffee, I'd say)
teacher + herd = teacherd (the contents of a staff room)
teacher + herder = teacherder (teacher who spends most of his/her time getting students from Point A to Point B: possibly a PE teacher)
teacher + hereafter = teachereafter (where you go after you finish your last pile of marking: believed fictional by some. Finishing the last pile of marking, that is)
teacher + hereditary = teachereditary (the phenomenon where children of teachers become teachers; a lot of the people I know have a teacher somewhere in their immediate bloodline, so this might be more real than we think)
teacher + heresy = teacheresy (for example, suggesting that student learning might actually be more important than examination results)
teacher + hermits = teachermits (those who retire into seclusion, only to emerge in times of great need. As relief teachers)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Revenge of the Sith: The Saga ends

Well, the saga is finally over.

While Lucas had promised an hour of fighting at the start, and an hour of fighting at the end, the movie was more complex than that, with quite a bit of (belaboured) scene setting in the middle. Love scenes were mercifully short, with only a few moments to make us wince: nothing compared to Episode 2's meadow scene, or Anakin's eloquent thesis on why sand gets everywhere. Any Star Wars fan who survived that can survive the much more concise love scenes here. Brevity is the soul of wit, and Lucas has wisely decided to leave the romance scenes between Padme and Anakin with more menacing silences.

Fight scenes were OK - just OK, because I still maintain that the Duel of the Fates set the bar so high that no fight scene in Star Wars has yet to surpass it. I suppose the final duel between Anakin and Obi-wan is more emotionally fraught: in many ways, it's the fight scene we've all been waiting for, those of us who read the novels and wondered about the pit of molten lava that Anakin fell into.

The political commentary that Lucas built into this prequel trilogy also comes to fruition, with Palpatine's ascension as Emperor - I almost expected him to announce a Thousand Year Reich. The number of times the word "democracy" was uttered hints at the message here: one of my two favourite moments are when Padme says "So this is how liberty ends: to thunderous applause".

The other is when Anakin tells Obi-wan "If you're not with me, you're my enemy", and the reply is that only Sith think in such absolutes: it all clicked at that moment. Right: so Lucas is telling us Bush might be a Sith Lord. I wonder what he's called though - Darth Sipid, perhaps?

All in all, a movie I'd love to watch again. After watching Revenge of the Sith, I came home so inspired that the first thing I did was restore balance to the kitty litter tray. It was then that I realised, while clearing out cat poo, that "sith" is, after all, an anagram of "shit", and I was truly the Chosen One. Really.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


rousseau, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Sitting down for lunch today, I took this photograph because the elements all seemed to combine into a montage of the stereotypical bohemian lifestyle I did not manage to live as a university student, funnily enough. Bit of lunchtime irony.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Dinner-time Conversation

doorbell rings

me: [frantically puts on shirt to answer door]

I discover two people, a teenaged boy and an older woman, with identical polo shirts and clipboards standing outside

boy: Hi, I'm [...] and this is [...] from [...] Water and we'd like you to take a survey

me: [suspicions aroused. survey? are they trying to sell me something?] Which company did you say you were from again?

boy: We're from [...] Water and ...

me: [right: they are trying to sell me something] So you're from the PUB.

boy: [look of consternation: this must not be in his script] No, we're not from the ...

me: I already have water from the PUB.

boy: This water is different.

me: In what way is your water different from the type I get from my tap?

boy: [brightens considerably: this part is evidently in his script] Why don't you step outside [pulls out what looks like a spritz bottle from pocket] and I'll show you ...

[bad mistake: I am not stepping outside my door for a random stranger]

me: Just tell me how your water is different from my water.

boy: Our water is filtered ...

me: I already have filtered water.

boy: What brand is it?

me: [I must confess this stumped me for a while, and I had to think to remember which filters we were using] I think it's called Britas?

boy: [brightens up again: this is playing right into his script, I suppose] So it's one of those that you have to fill up a jug from the tap and ...

me: [seeing where this is going] Yes, and we're very happy with it. Thank you very much, I'm really sorry, and good night.

I hate people who ask you to take a survey when all they want is your ear for a 5 minute sales pitch. I'd much rather they be honest with me. Even so, I try to play along with the pretence, and end conversations amicably. They may be disappointed in the end, but the alternative would've been:

doorbell rings

door opens

boy: We'd like you to take a survey ...

door shuts

To their credit, these two were actually well-informed, polite, and well-prepared. They evidently knew what they were selling, and they certainly knew what their competitor's products were. Where they went wrong was in timing: I question the wisdom of disturbing anyone during their dinner, since it almost guarantees a negative response, and I also personally dislike the whole "take a survey" approach (something timeshare-pushers, for example, seem to have perfected).

Monday, May 09, 2005

Random Pre-Lunch Post

For the most part of my adult life I've known the concept of the social contract, yet I've never actually read the thing untilm recently. I should have much earlier: Rousseau, I am pleasantly surprised to find out, can really write, and really write well.

Anyway, the other things I have been reading include Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, who also Can Write. Naive narrators seem to be the thing now - I'm thinking of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, though Foer's narrator is not autistc, just an incredibly precocious child. (I wonder if someone will ever use a non-precocious, normal, average, and otherwise utterly bland child as a narrator. There wouldn't seem to be much point)

One more thing: this morning's casual surfing has dug up this gem: Thursday and Empire: or, How a Typical Workday Can Seem More Important When Modeled As a Great Era in Western Civilization. Take a look ...

"6:00 a.m. Like all great civilizations, this one begins in an agrarian phase.
Assorted grains and toasted nuts in a bowl. Perhaps some dried fruit if the
harvest has been kind. Milk on top. This is a dark and fumbling time ... "

(from McSweeney's Internet Tendency)

Right: it's off to lunch, before the barbarians come knocking at the gates.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

32 Balloons

32 Balloons, originally uploaded by Wahj.

A big Thank You to everybody for a wonderful birthday surprise ... It was the last thing I expected, getting a cake and 32 balloons in the middle of the last MoHAA game! Thanks to packrat and ondine for getting the balloons (how you fit all of them into your car I don't know) and to the guys for tolerating an interruption to the weekly fragging (we'll make up for it this week, with some quality time together, yeah?).

The balloons caused quite the kerfuffle amongst the cats when we got home. Every cat inexplicably ran for cover as if these were the most terrifying things known to feline-kind. Iffy didn't even come out from hiding until noon the next day, when the last balloon was finally grounded.

Patch warily accepted them after a few hours, but Twinkle was the true early adopter. After we'd let the balloons float up to our bedroom ceiling, trailing their ribbons like gigantic jellyfish, Twinkle jumped onto our bed and tried to play with the strings. As the balloons lost helium and bouyancy through the night, they began moving through the room, carried along by the currents of the air-conditioning and the fan, seeming almost sentient at times - the air-conditioning's at the foot of our bed, blowing down towards us, and so the balloons would tend to float down towards us, tickling us with their ribbons, then up, and back to the other end of the room. I woke up the next morning like a diver at the bottom of the sea, surrounded by strange floating creatures trailing long tentacles.

By noon they were all grounded, and at sometime last night, the first balloon casualty was announced with a pop. Given that there's 3 cats, each with a sharp set of claws, in this house, that's quite a survival record for a balloon.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"Technically, you would only need one Time Traveller Convention"

Someone's organising a Time Traveller Convention, on the basis that if humanity does develop time travel in the future, then a future time traveller would turn up at this event. In fact, as he indicates, you would only really need one Time Traveller's Convention, ever, since the concept of "ever" doesn't bind time travellers.

So I'm doing my part to advertise this event, in the hope of increasing the chances that someone in the far future, if/when time travel exists, will hear about this and pay this convention a visit.

Gummi sins

Someone has put up a flickr photoset of Gummi bears posed as the seven deadly sins ... you can see the set here. One of those things that you wish you'd thought of first.

Things have been quiet for the past few weeks, with me busy organising a course last week, and trying to catch up at the office this week. I have been doing a bit of reading though, which I'll post about in a while.