Monday, March 30, 2009


Oil and water do not mix. But if you intend to make salad, then oil and vinegar — together — are very good, especially with a few savory herbs thrown in.

Conflict resolution, especially the toilets squabble on the International Space Station, may not be so easy.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ponyo in English?

Rumors that Studio Ghibli's latest, Ponyo on the cliff by the sea, will be released here August 14 have reached these benighted shores...

It seems to be as popular in Japan as Miyazaki's other films, a good indication that U.S. distribution will be sparse and boxoffice abysmal, but Disney seems to be on board.

Judging from the trailers, hype & stuff, I'd say Ponyo "the girl-fish ... a mad ball of energy with popping eyes, russet-gold tresses and stick limbs purpose-grown to escape Fujimoto, the evil magician who rules the sea depths" may be the most unintentionally accusative heroine since Alice — in fact, Miyazaki may have focused too brightly on his demons this time. No, no, you say. The evil he speaks of is oceanic pollution...

(Yes, yes, everybody loves a damsel, especially in distress. But why do Miyazaki's damsels have to be so young? Kiki is not really an adult at 13, is she? Why is Porco Rosso a red-faced pig? Who wears NoFace's mask? What happens to a young girl who gets very old very fast? Does she Howl?)

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

State of the Art

As anyone aware of PGP or TrueCrypt or GnuPG or AES or Mersenne Twister or a thousand other topics has now realized for decades, the state of the art in data encryption is lightyears ahead of "code cracking."

Yet we still see documentaries about how Great Britain's Bletchley Park cracked Enigma (a German toy, essentially a souped up secret decoder ring that really was state of the art for a few months in the years before television), usually on the Discovery or History channels. Bunk. At best, just a good historical moment in everybody's favorite war — WWII, the war we won. At worst, psyop propaganda feeding a myth of invicibility for home consumption, in a war we've lost.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Another Profit Without Honor

Knowing is all about... uh... Well, for a few minutes at the beginning, it sort of resembles Sleepless in Seattle, but it's actually about the visions of Ezekiel as filtered through UFOlogy, tinfoil caps and low-budget CGI, or in this context, just another profit without honor. Oh, yeah, and the sun is going to explode.

As a final slur on Protestant theological fictioneers like C. S. Lewis, the cheesy "bodies of light" in the final scenes look rather more like Samus' metroids than God's angels. I'll be kind, though. Some people will probably like this movie. It's a good way to separate sheep and goats, I guess, but I'll have to side with the goats on this one.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Threepenny Opera in Phoenix

Michelle Wie seems to have a really bad case of nice. She needs to take a few lessons in the finer arts of sardonique from a few good Eurotrash footballers. Like Bertolt Brecht. Mac the Knife. Terry Pratchett. Of course, there was all that hot wind and sand in Phoenix today...

[Friday Update] Bogeyful second round, too. But Wie did make the cut today, at +5! Cool.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's Always Something

AARP's Long Term Care Insurance Fact Sheet has been on my mind lately...

Why the @#$% doesn't Obama start talking national health care? That's what I voted for!


Monday, March 23, 2009

ION vs. The Colour of Magic

Sky One's The Colour of Magic — four shriekingly tedious hours vivisected by incessant commercial interruption — was butchered by ION (Channel 6 in these parts) last Sunday. The actual movie runs, I believe, a mere 2 hours 17 minutes or an even merer 3 hours 11 minutes, depending whether you see the US or UK version (c.f. At least when Hogfather arrived on these shores, you knew the production was over-long and over-reverent. Perhaps more than a little long because it includes material from Pratchett's second novel, in places obsequiously unedited, Colour of Magic was so shredded by ION's money rakes there was no particularly evident continuity to speak of. I thought I was back in the Fifties watching "Million Dollar Movie"...!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Trivial but Valid, Alternate Solution to Seven Squares (No. 100)

This is my somewhat trivial solution to Professor Layton and The Curious Village's Puzzle No. 100. It wasn't accepted. However, there are clearly seven squares of various sizes, and no pin is used more than once. Compare this image to the text of the puzzle:

Your task is to draw lines between the pins on this board to form seven squares. The seven squares do not have to be uniform in size, but you can only use each pin once.

All righty then, give it a shot!
If you ask anyone to count the squares in my solution, they will say seven, every time. If you then show them the "real" solution, they will say I cheated (apparently by appealing to Nintendo's self-evident authority, correct or not). But how? I say this solution should count, because nowhere does it say that every pin must be used!
"It's not right until they say CORRECT!" — Lisa Kudrow Plays Professor Layton...

[Update: The next installment is Professor Layton and Pandora's Box, but no release date has been announced.]


Friday, March 20, 2009

Curiouser & curiouser...

Professor Layton & The Curious Village is not a kid's game. It should be rated M for Mature, because it requires a certain masochistic tolerance for intense frustration caused by small cute mysteries, which probably explains why 64% of players who admit to owning this thing are women. Obviously, one can crack the case, which is only plastic, with a ball peen hammer, but the game (and we) should have expected more adult behavior — concentration, critical thought, sense of whimsy, twisty deviousness of mind... Well, you get the idea. It's a puzzle palace.

Most of the really good roleplaying games have a puzzle here and there that you have to solve — "How do I get out of this maze?" and the like. This is not like that. Professor Layton's oddball adventure with his trusty sidekick "kid" (I can't remember the little thug's name) is composed ENTIRELY of puzzles, bunches of puzzles, MORE puzzles than any normal person should want — and not only the puzzle obstacles that advance the plot (what?), but OPTIONAL puzzles that infest every corner of the game. HARD puzzles. Some easy puzzles, sure, but most of them are unfair to four year olds, and some of them are downright breezy about insulting the cognitive armament of braindamaged old coots like me.

You've SEEN some of these puzzles, like in old issues of Scientific American and the like. They're OLD, for the most part. Most of them are older than the hills. To wit:
"A river. On the left bank, three wolves and three sheep. A boat that can only hold two animals at once. If wolves outnumber the sheep, the sheep are lunch. How do you get all the wolves and all the sheep across the river? These are magical animals, apparently, that know how to row a boat, which won't move by itself. Cunning beasts, sure — but the sheep haven't mastered the art of gunsmithing, and the wolves haven't mastered the art of smiling diplomacy."
Nintendo forestalls wrong answers by animating this unpleasant scene for you. In their version, it's wolves and baby chickens, and it's a raft, but same idea. I read it in Weekly Reader over half a century ago, so that's the way I told the story, with sheep.

I gave up playing CASTLEVANIA for Lent? The Oxonian-toned Professor Whatsisname is far crueler and should be dealt with summarily.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

More orange pekoe and pekoe-cut black tea, please!

The New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon in living memory wherein two impeccably drawn daimyo sit opposite each other in a teahouse and dunk teabags. "Around here," says one in the best Mr. Moto dialect ever heard in print, "honorable tea ceremony gone way downhill."

“Orange pekoe & pekoe cut black tea...” Lipton's mantra on the side of every box. Lots of name magic, there.

Strange thing, "peckoe" is pronounced "PECK oh," not "PEEK oh." Technically not a kind of tea at all, orange pekoe refers to the size of a tea leaf and its relative position near the tip of a tea twig — ironically, a product never found in teabags for the simple reason that dried pekoe buds can't be stuffed inside a bag that small without breaking them into smaller bits and so getting graded down through actual sieves, by size.

And "orange" is also a bit of marketing name magic dissociated from Camellia sinensis which refers to William & Mary's House of Orange, i.e., teas which might almost just conceivably have been shipped on Dutch traders until British gunships and the East India Company cornered the market. So, as Wikipedia so succinctly puts it, to us dumb North Americans, the term means even less than it should, i.e., any generic black tea.

You can buy OP&P cut black teas from Scripture Tea and elsewhere, including (apparently) Walmart. It's nothing special.

The stuff in teabags is graded as Fannings — i.e., tea dust. The same size as dirt.

Iowa Tomato Reminder
Plant May 5 to 10, no later than June 20. Tomatoes need 6 hrs direct sun daily. To avoid plant diseases common to Solonaceae, don't put tomatoes in the same spot as 1, 2 or 3 years ago.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Poetasterisky: The missing poem


I am a voice
inside my head
which nothing says
and no one dreads.

Although I come
to no renown
I cannot be
your victory clown, no down

Exists for me.

The galloping ages of my life
collide and merge and model strife
and I've avoided all the seeming glory
of my heart's desire, redeemed in fire

That cannot be.

Since I've grown old
I've shed my lives
my fits and starts
translucent shells

Behind me lie.

As I do lie,
Because you know
what kind of eye
sees only my
replenished soul
and not the one
who came to me
and bore the cup
that filled me up

And let me go.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lucky Lucky

Ok, this is a story about Adolf Hitler, not St. Patrick, although there's some luck and a big sense of the ridiculous about it.

About 30 or 35 years ago, I found a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf in an antiques shop inside a converted barn on the west side of Boone, Iowa. It was a deluxe edition, English language with white leather covers and fine typography. Obviously, loot. Somebody found it during their tour of duty in Germany, back in WWII or maybe in Cold War Berlin, I really had no idea. The thought of possessing such an oddity gripped me, for a few weeks, the way a boy collects toads and snakes, or a pretty girl tattoos. But...

The demon that truly had got its fangs in me at this time of my life was not Hitler, but sex and marijuana, and I was not lucky, being one of the few in the crucible of whose skull psychedelics boil and fume and tend not to lead, Aldous Huxley-like, toward Enlightenment. On the contrary, drugs and stupidity made me a hyperaesthete at the mercy of phantasms. That white covered book turned so green and nefarious, so dripping with the ashes of the Holocaust that I had to throw it away. But it was expensive, and it was History, so I dropped it down a library book return slot and have not thought of it until recently.

Fasting forward... Curiously enough, you can find anything at The Pirate Bay dot com in Sweden, including porn and neo-Nazi entertainments of all sorts. Such as, meinkampf.pdf — a lovingly crafted scan of Hitler's first book, with searchable salients like VOLK capitalized in the English because they are, as goes without saying, "untranslateable." The first chapter is one of the funniest reads I've ever stumbled upon.

Adolf, for all his skills as the original Great Communicator, is unaware of the extent to which the Times will reduce his passions and furies to self-parody and foible. Most of that first chapter is the Young Adolf, an idyllic cosplay in short pants the imprisoned adult Adolf likes to pose in, the Hero who had a rough and tumble, brawling sort of youth in the country lanes of rural German Austria, back in the day when he was eight or ten years old walking to school uphill both ways through the snow and rain, just learning how to cadge his boyhood companions with the untutored guile of a developing world class rhetoric, to no avail in endless debates with his benighted, stodgy, hidebound, unimaginative, selfmade father concerning this selfsame Young Adolf's future prospects.

Hitler polishes his scenes and his halo; he "loves" the old martinet, as all German youths properly admire their elders, whilst brooking no patriarchal nonsense, with which he disagrees almost to the point of mentioning on several occasions, preferring on the basis of self-evident passion to be an artist and study painting, whilst eschewing his old man's practical cant and predictable predilection for study tending toward a career in the Austrian civil service. How modestly the incarcerated Nazi will nod toward History's doublet ironies, as though intended all along!

This part of the book is ringingly familiar, because it was part of Western Civilization before television, almost before radio, certainly before Hitler. You may find those Unstudied Boyhood Scenes not just in Leni Riefenstahl's absurdly glamorous Hitler Youth (including herself, fresh and naked and slightly furry, posed as a golden hood ornament) — but also on the Norman Rockwell covers of the Saturday Evening Post before and even after the war, in Boy's Life, Andy Hardy, in the Shire, on the orange clockwork streets of Young Nero's sleepless Rome, on MTV, in Exodus (The Movie) and Leave It To Beaver, even... (*gack*)... Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog. Hitler beguiled because he was an idealist, a Romantic and a German Romantic at that, in tune with his own transcontinentally orchestral times — with everybody's times. Everybody, that is. Everybody young, twelven toned and beautiful.

To the extent that I can empathize with any world before Kinsey and Miltown, Lolita and Peyton Place — springtime for Hitler — I'd have to say my immediate ancestors were all chasing a fool's pyrite, and no wonder that war only lasted four years — unlike the Pacific war, the European version was essentially a family squabble, even although at the age of three, my toddler lederhosen were made of corduroy and my bib buttons were canary yellow. Some of you will recognize the twangy thud of one single rubber Cat's Paw heel hitting the cobbler's hardwood floor — something left out, but there you go, full circle! Back to leprechauns and merely fairytale evil.

Third millenium America is no longer European (nor is Germany, not that Europe, nor even the EU, nor Ireland, not even Sweden, the Balls of Scandanavia, and not France, torn but not broken on the Algerian rack), that world has been burned out of us, cauterized by the Cold War and the Muslim pique which placed its first American thumbtack on the empty cushions of the Peacock Throne three decades ago — awash in the pacific seductions of electronic Japan over the last 50 years. My kid despises the Punch & Judy caricatures of Dickens, loves the dark interminable ramblings of J. K. Rowling, lives and breathes Naruto. I watch Univision for the unalloyed joy of fútbol — but our American dream, which flickered beneath our hegemonic eyes, has vanished like the pookah, leaving only the vague jade memories of a fairy ill-discerned, a green and wispy premonition.

We creatures tuckpointed into circumstance, bricks in the wall, what are we missing now? What is the sound of one shoe dropping, one pot 'o gold upturned and vanishing in the dewy morn?


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pi Rat Day!

Rrrr, maties! How can ye measure thur DIAMETER of a circle with a WARPED stick, or thur CIRCUMBPHERENCE of a circle with a STRAIGHT ruler? RRRRrrrr! 'Tizza SINGULAR CONCEPK.

(Can you say spigot algorithm?)


Friday, March 13, 2009

Optional Accessory

Say, wha'...? 2008 Bushman World Ukulele Video Contest?

I've got a Bushman Jenny Soprano, but I can't play it. My fingers are too old and untrained for the fretwork, whine, cry, kvetch. Damn shame, too. It's a freaking shrine, dude.

(Shhhh... Look up UOGB's Fly Me Off the Handel ;-)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eleanor Rigby


Monday, March 09, 2009

Betty Boop does the Ramayana

This appears to be proof that Homo sapiens has finally evolved what is modestly referred to in the ethological press as "some form of autonoetic consciousness," speaking of dumb monkeys.

Sita came out in 2008, and finally cleared some peculiarly short-sighted copyright hurdles (the 1920's songs by Annette Hanshaw, who died in 1985) this February.

On Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy), once you've downloaded your MP4 (or OGM, whatever), you have to use DeVeDe to create DVD structures and put them into an iso file, which you then burn to DVD the usual way. If DeVeDe isn't already installed, get it from System → Administration → Synaptic Package Manager. It takes about 2 hours, more or less, to turn the Sita download into a standard Video DVD. Much longer, of course, to download — the file is measured in Gigabytes. I'd suggest Azureus to get one of the torrents.

Yeah, it's a chick flick. Roger Ebert raves about it. New York film maker breaks up with her boyfriend and immolates herself in a post-feminist deconstruction of the Ramayana rendered entirely in Flash. Gorgeous animation, creative fire and startling imagination save several levels of more than one old, familiar story. And yes, the comparison with Betty Boop is apropros, even downright allusive — Paley's stagey tirade ends just like Betty's films, with a vaudevillian boop-oop-a-doop. As dragonfly drawings go (you know who you are ;-), this one is not bad at all.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Say, wha...?

Crikey, who puts their Myst conquests up on YouTube!?? Just shows you how dull & unimaginative I've become! I liked the old PC puzzler, back in the day (and I got the spaceship to work, too!) But avoid the Nintendo DS port. It's waay too small, and waay too titchy, and way too dim, dark and unintentionally puzzling. Max out your screen brightness and play in the dark, it helps. Buy it used, if you must, but it's not worth full price, and avoid "Zip" mode if your copy comes without a manual. Good luck figuring out which is which — my guess is green means ON, so Yes means "jerky screen transitions" to speed things along, while No means "glacially slow but normal." Ahhh, human interface guidelines...! Who needs 'em?! To get past the tedious opening titles, logos and narcissistic melodrama, just use your NDS sense — touch the stylus to the screen. Incidentally, I trust you noticed that D'Ni is pronounced Deny? Myst screams for an Oedipal parody. The best ending is NOT giving Atrus the white page, then listening to his impotent fulminations as you blithely turn him off. Don't give the final red or blue pages to Achenar (sic) or Sirrus (sic-er) either — there's sibling rivalry to be considered! If I could rewrite the ending nearest heart's content, I'd have Riddick kidnap the much-neglected Catherine and carry her off to the solar furnaces of Crematoria. Heh.

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If only the graphics (and plots) were as good...!

And here, over the top... (Ok, it's a little reverent. Lighten up, dudes!)

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Google this!

花より男子 This is a Japanese TV program. (Yes, looks like danshi, but it ain't, it's dango — "Boys before Flowers.")

花より団子 This is a proverb, "dumplings before flowers," which sort of means "keep it real, be practical."

In Go, 団子石 (or just dango, "dumpling") refers to a certain ugly clumpiness or dumpling-shaped-ness that results when too many stones are tasked with nothing very much. However, even 9 dan pros fall victim to it — thanks for the sgf, chid0ri!

Yes, I'm easily conf amused.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Gave it up for Lent

The Ladycats in Dracula's castle are black panthers. They drop the Arma Felix glyph, which is fun but sort of useless... maybe. Being uncharacteristically honest with myself, I gave up Castlevania for Lent — but the dearth ends April 12th. My playtime, I admit, was becoming obsessive although adventuring is kind of a razor strop for (ugh, aging) mental processes. The gravediggers drop Earl Grey Tea once in a while, very welcome stuff. I didn't bother solving Wallman. Bought the spoiler at Google.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What, no Cave of Wonders?

Official Israeli tourism seems happy-happy these days with nice links to Jewish sites and Christian holy places of interest. In the Missed Congeniality category, they even have a photo of the Al Aqsa mosque, as seen in its exposed position somewhat prophetically adjacent to a nearby strategic salient.

Unfortunately, nobody there seems to know about The Cave of Wonders.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Israel plans to shoehorn "at least" 73,000 new Israeli dwellings into the Palestinian West Bank?

Everybody needs a little room to swing a cat, I guess. But the Israelis object to the Nazi Lebensraum comparison AND the South African apartheid comparison? Jeez, some people are never satisfied.

(Unrelated... No, really, it's unrelated.)


Sunday, March 01, 2009

B.S., Iowa State University, 1969

It all started forty years ago today. Crikey...