Sunday, December 29, 2002

This is a mosaic image of the center of our galaxy, with the great black hole at the center lying within the white spot at the middle. The center of our galaxy is one of the top ten space mysteries that are still unresolved.

Meanwhile, the year 2003 is likely to be notable in space exploration for China's first foray into manned spaceflight and for the launch of several Martian probes, including this new roving vehicle.

Not much happening here these days, huh? I know that I have fallen quite a bit behind on Brothers K, but I do plan to reattack it once the New Year has come and gone.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

The Birth of Jesus

One of the loveliest little plays I've ever read is an anonymous medieval work known as The Birth of Jesus, a play in series commonly called the Corpus Christi Cycle. The text I've linked is in Middle English, but it's not too bad. I first read it in grad school, and I reread it every year. My favorite lines are Joseph's words after he returns from a cold night of gathering firewood. Jesus was born while he was away, and he comes into the stable with an earnest but ordinary greeting, "Say, Marye doghtir, what chere with thee?" She answers that she's as good as she's ever been, and after what I can imagine was staged as a double-take, Joseph exclaims, "O Marye, what swete thyng is that on thy kne[e]?"

Saturday, December 21, 2002

I really don't want to know what the advertising tagline for this is going to be.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

In the chapter on Smerdyakov, Dostoevsky likens this character to a painting called "The Contemplator" by Ivan Kramsky (according to my translation). From Dostoevsky's description of this painting, I've found that it is "Meditator" by Ivan Kramskoi, and it can be viewed here. (I'd have posted it here directly, but it's a pretty big image.)

Monday, December 16, 2002

Appropo of Nothing....

I recently downloaded Mozilla and this site looks horrible. John Hardy, is this what you've been using all along and that's why it looks so dark and nasty to you? The comments look fine. I'll figure out what the story is tomorrow.
Via Newsweek: Trent Lott and the GOP's racial troubles.

It was just a quick stop, at a store on a campaign trip through the Northeast more than a dozen years ago. Trent Lott, then a Mississippi congressman about to make his move for the Senate, was visiting a state for a Republican candidate. When Lott walked in, he asked: “Why aren’t there any black people here?” a source who has spent time with him in unguarded moments tells NEWSWEEK. Nervously, someone explained that this was not the most diverse of regions. “Not even behind the counter?” Lott said. Warming to his punch line, Lott added: “We’d be happy to send you up some if you need any”—and then chuckled.

Is anyone else bothered by the current Republican meme of "I'm shocked ! Shocked! to find that gambling is going on here!"?

Friday, December 13, 2002

The Jewish Ethics Challenge

Questions--and answers--for starting arguments.
Whose classroom is this, anyway? is an organization of parents who are disturbed that sociopolitical agendas have been allowed to permeate college courses and orientation programs.

What do you think of this site? What are your thoughts on advocacy in the college classroom? Can it be eliminated entirely? Should it be?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

One of the most interesting things about 'Brothers K' to me is D's expressed intention to write a subsequent book about Alyosha which this book only prepares us for. Here's what I found on Google:

[Dostoyevsky] planned to write a sequel to 'The Brothers Karamazov' in which, twenty years later, his hero Alyosha would leave his monastery cell and become a revolutionary and die for his idealism. He "would have searched for the truth and in his quest would naturally have become a revolutionary," Dostoyevsky said. See Grossmann, p. 587 Joyce Carol Oates in note #8 in an article on 'The Dispossessed'

It is said that Alyosha was to have become involved with revolutionists and to have committed a political crime, - it will be recalled that during Dostoevsky's last years the terrorists were increasingly active and, indeed, his own death antedated by one month the assassination of the czar. The possibilities of such a novel as this projected sequel fairly dazzle the imagination. But there is no need to speak of might-have-beens. The work as it stands is sufficient to engage profoundly the mind and the emotions of the reader, and to leave him shaken by a sense of the large potentialities of the soul. Avrahm Yarmolinsky on the site Jaq recommended (end of the article)

In a russian book on Dostoevsky(printed circa 1960), which I have at home, it states that notes made by Dosty on the ideas that the sequel would include were kept by his wife after Fyodor's death. It was mentioned that the book was to take place in 30 years after the events of the first book and concentrate on the life of the now middle aged Alyosha. He was to change dramatically in those years after a long love with Lise, which was to be full of pain and unhappiness. Alyosha was to leave the church and fully re-enter the society. from this thread which mentions the title as being 'Life of a Great Sinner'

I believe the work you are thinking of is 'Life of a Great Sinner', in it's entirety it was planned to emcompass Alyosha's leaving the monastary, his later debauchery, and finally his conversion back to faith. I believe I read about this in Joseph Frank's brilliant biography...

In 1868, Leo Tolstoy had finished his epic novel, War and Peace. Readers and critics loved the book. Dostoevsky, inspired and perhaps also envious, began to consider writing an epic of his own. He wanted to write a grand book, even longer than Tolstoy's, that would give him room to express his philosophies regarding the spiritual dilemmas of the modern Russian man. This epic - first titled Atheism and later The Great Sinner - was to be "the story of a Russian skeptic who, after many years of moving back and forth among all sorts of theologies and popular sects, in the end finds the Russian Orthodox religion and the Russian soul" (quoted from Grossman's biography). The Great Sinner was originally designed to contain five volumes, connected by one hero. The five books would eventually be distilled down to one: Brothers Karamazov. again, from the Dartmouth site. (This article goes on to chronicle how D's plan's changed, inspired by an ideological murder, from which he wrote 'Demons'.

I am very sorry that we didn't get the chance to read what might have come.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Russian Icon: the Virgin Odigitria.

In keeping with The Brothers K, I did a little searching for Russian icons, since I noticed that Dostoevsky tells us several times about the elder Zosima bowing to the icon, and the like. I have to confess a bit of ignorance here: is an Icon a religious picture, held in Orthodox tradition to be spiritually significant?

Sunday, December 08, 2002

I found a good site on Brothers K here.

My take on Brothers K: I give it a six. It's got a good beat, and I can dance to it!

But seriously, I'm enjoying the book quite a bit, although it's proving to be very slow going for me. My approach to Brothers K is rather like the tortoise's approach to beating the hare. (When my mother spied my copy of the book on my desk, she snorted and said, "You're going to be reading that thing forever!") I do have to keep reminding myself that it takes place in Tsarist Russia, but it's interesting to see some derisive remarks made about "atheistic socialists" in a book written years before the Marxist Revolution.

Thus far in the book (I'm just starting Book Three, "The Sensualists"), a major theme seems to be crime and what sort of state is best equipped to deal with criminals. We are told that an ecclesiastical state, in which the Church has become the State, is best, because in such a state men would know that by committing crimes they are not merely committing crimes against their fellow men or against their State, but against Christ himself; thus, excommunication becomes the most horrible of punishments. This seems to ignore problems of doctrinal differences that inevitably arise whenever two Christians inhabit a room, much less millions of them inhabiting a nation, and unless I missed it, nothing is said of how such a state would react to unbelievers, if they even admit that unbelief is even possible. So, what do we think of Dostoevsky's ecclesiastical state?

And for an interesting "compare-and-contrast" exercise, check out Den Beste's take on the foundations of law, posted just this week.

[I'm assuming that we should keep front-page posts about Brothers K to a single topic, and if we have something else we want to bring up, we should do so in a new post? Otherwise, the comment sections might get hard to follow.]

Friday, December 06, 2002

Glossy and Greedy: Real Page-Turners

Peter Carlson of the Washington Post writes "a magazine review about two magazine stories about magazines. If that's too ridiculously meta for you, quit reading now. My only defense is that these stories help explain why so many of America's big corporate publishers put out such lame mags."

Magazines do seem to have become ridiculously lame over the past few years. Do you all subscibe to any? Is there a remedy? Anyone else remember the foul-mouthed hard-ass Rosie O'Donnell that used to host a stand up comedy show?

For reference, here is a listing of the magazines that AOL-Time-Warner owns under Time, Inc. (scroll down).

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

“The enormous power of reticence . . .”

Staggering back to the Company after his first encounter with the Balrog, Gandalf said he was forced to use “a word of Command.” The first time I read The LOTR, I expected to see more words of Command as the story progressed. But they never came, and in fact they are never mentioned again, unless I missed it. This bothered me at first; why would Tolkien mention something so fascinating in passing, then just drop it? Later, I realized that he made the right decision. (Well, of course he did, right?) Words of Command are Gandalf’s domain, and since we rarely, if ever, know more than the hobbits about anything in the story, if he decided not to use or explain that word of Command business, so be it.

I was reminded of this after watching Solaris last weekend. (More inside)
I came late to the tax discussion below, but added a comment anyway.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Brothers K

So how is everyone doing on the book? Enjoying? Flustered? Not reading it? Where is everyone? Are we all at a point where we can begin discussion?

< /survey>

I'm finished with the first two books, and hope to be done with Book 3 by Friday-ish. I didn't read a single page over Thanksgiving though, so that kind of impeded my progress. What about you three?

Sunday, December 01, 2002

steven den beste is the captain of the starship uss clueless
steven den beste is on again about the landmine treaty
steven den beste is catching up
steven den beste is a mind reader and faster typer
steven den beste is correct about the "netscape engineers are weenies" phrase
steven den beste is back
steven den beste is right when he says that yasser arafat is now in a no win situation and arafat will be lucky if he survives to see 2003
steven den beste is once again writing some of the best stuff about the world in general
steven den beste is suspicious of people who post under pseudonyms
steven den beste is in top form with his essay on the tactics of delay over an iraqi invasion
steven den beste is a man of few words today
steven den beste is quite wrong to describe american liberal democracy as the greatest rival to what he calls "transnational progressivism"
steven den beste is back and has a lot to say about the kyoto protocols
steven den beste is actually a real name? i could look
steven den beste is often political
steven den beste is agreeing with me
steven den beste is not the only blogger unafraid to kick the apple herd of sacred cows
steven den beste is spot on in this analysis of why we were attacked
steven den beste is a prolific
steven den beste is going to "channel the shade of diogenes"
steven den beste is very seldom "clueless"
steven den beste is one of the internet's most popular "bloggers"
steven den beste is in favor of war
steven den beste is actually discussing something else
steven den beste is shutting down his forum
steven den beste is incorrigibly brilliant as always
steven den beste is wonderful
steven den beste is just plain wrong
steven den beste is a retired software engineer who now spends his time writing for his web site
steven den beste is arguing that the culture produces murderous thugs
steven den beste is prepared to argue in favor of string bikini as feminist icon
steven den beste is back from holiday
steven den beste is linked everywhere and people always take his pronouncements on the middle east as wise and informed
steven den beste is one of the brightest bloggers out there
steven den beste is linked everywhere
steven den beste is gone
steven den beste is back from vacation
steven den beste is not any more thrilled with this than i am
steven den beste is an infinitely more intelligent guy than pejman "i am manufactured consent" yousefdeh
steven den beste is one of the few
steven den beste is a software engineer
steven den beste is out of the board business
steven den beste is gloating because the un weapons inspectors are adhering to kofi annan's
steven den beste is one of the internet’s most popular “bloggers”
steven den beste is on a roll
steven den beste is one of those who find it lacking

So how about you?

Update: In the name of Radical Honesty, I thought I'd better own up to something. I originally posted this and then immediately thought it was a little too frivolous. So I deleted it again. The problem was that I didn't realise that I had already published it and, by the time I did, people had already left comments about it.

So I've gone and posted it again and here are your original comments.

Sorry for the balls up.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Radical Honesty is a kind of communication that is direct, complete, open and expressive. Radical Honesty means you tell the people in your life what you've done or plan to do, what you think, and what you feel. It's the kind of authentic sharing that creates the possibility of love and intimacy.

I came across this book at Borders and it really interested me.

Be sure to read the FAQ for some concrete examples.

What would happen if we told the whole truth all the time?

Caption this photo!

Source: Chicago Tribune, November 14, 2002

Monday, November 25, 2002

On the Varieties of Misanthropy

"He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. 'I love humanity,' he said, 'but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. . . . In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he's too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.'"
--The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"I have ever hated all Nations professions and Communityes and all my love is towards individualls for instance I hate the tribe of Lawyers, but I love the Councellor such a one, Judge such a one for so with Physicians (I will not speak of my own trade) Soldiers, English, Scotch, French; and the rest but principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I hartily love John, Peter, Thomas and so forth. this is the system upon which I have governed my self many years (but do not tell) and so I shall go on till I have done with them I have got Materials Toward a Treatis proving the falsity of that Definition animal rationale; and to show it should only be rationis capax."
--Letter to Alexander Pope (Sept. 29, 1725), Jonathan Swift
The Brothers Karamazov in Translation

Someone once said that reading a translation is like looking at the reverse side of a tapestry. With that in mind, I think it will be interesting to compare the translations we're using as we progress through The Brothers Karamazov. Mine is by Constance Garnett, a version hated and ridiculed by Nabakov, but nonetheless used by him in his courses at Cornell. The passage I'd like to compare is one describing Alyosha. In Garnett's version it is the fourth sentence of Chapter 4, "The Third Son, Alyosha." (Passage inside.)
It used to be "pistols at dawn", but now we've got "tax plans at dawn".

Two blogs I follow have posted their thoughts on how to fix the US tax system in the last couple of days. First up is William Burton's tax plan, from a liberal perspective. He wants to keep the estate tax firmly in place, close up the corporate loopholes, restore the progressive brackets to something more like they used to be, and stop differentiating between payroll income and capital-gains income. Then we have Jane Galt's tax plan, from the libertarian perspective (at least, that's what I think her perspective is -- I read her blog sporadically, but her alias suggests a libertarian view). She wants to eliminate the corporate income tax, eliminate the estate tax, and end all deductions. The two agree that capital gains should not be treated any differently from other forms of income, they both agree that their respective views have zero chance of ever being enacted in the current political climate, and both concede that to tax Warren Buffett at twenty-five percent would not have nearly the same effect on his standard-of-living as the same percentage taxation would on, say, a family of three with a total income of $30,000 a year. (There are other points the authors discuss, but they are on tax details that I don't know anything about. I also don't get the impression, though I may be wrong, that the authors are aware of each others' proposals.)

So, what constitutes fairness in a tax system? And to what degree is "fairness" even desirable in a tax system, in the first place?

When I first heard the word palimpsest, it sounded to me like a nasty skin condition.

The death of Archimedes
taken from the article Proof, Amazement, and the Unexpected

Fellow Collaborators will recall that the word had been floated by Jason as a possible name for this blog. It means "twice-written" which when you think about it is a pretty cool name for a collaborative web log. In Latin it means literally means "scraped again" and this refers to the medieval practice of scraping clean old parchments so that they could be reused a second or more times. Parchments were generally made of animal skin, so I guess the nasty skin thing wasn't that far off.

Any way, we didn't go with the name but at the time I remembered hearing about the discovery of a palimpsest that contained a previously unknown work of Archimedes. It had been found as traces left on a 10th century parchment which had been roughly scraped clean, cut in half, bound into a book and overwritten with a 13th-century Greek prayer manual. The manuscript first came to light in 1906 in Constantinople but was almost immediately lost again (some say stolen) only to resurface on the block of a Christie's auction room in 1998. It sold for two million dollars.

Scholars have since had a chance to examine it and using ultraviolet photography and digital imaging have been able to read beneath the prayer book's lines and decipher Archimedes' text and diagrams. What they have found is was quite remarkable particularly in light of our current understanding of the development of mathematics. Copied and recopied by scribes over a thousand year period since the time when Archimedes lived, this is the largest existing tract of words by the man himself. He puts together in a treatise entitled the Method of Mechanical Theorems a series of proofs which, amongst other things, appears to anticipate the invention of calculus by more than eighteen centuries.

Calculus is an indispensable tool of modern mathematics and was invented by Leibniz (and independently by Newton) and, as you may recall from high school, is all about chopping things up into an infinite number of pieces that are themselves infinitely small. It's this kind of thinking about problems that is conventionally assumed to have been beyond the pale for the ancient Greeks who are said to have avoided dealing with infinities and always preferred to stay with the finite and the rational. Not so, apparently, when we come to Archimedes.
Modern scholarship always assumed that mathematics has undergone a fundamental conceptual shift during the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century. It has always been thought that modern mathematicians were the first to be able to handle infinitely large sets, and that this was something the Greek mathematicians never attempted to do. But in the palimpsest we found Archimedes doing just that. He compared two infinitely large sets and stated that they have an equal number of members. No other extant source for Greek mathematics has that.

The Origins of Mathematical Physics: New Light on an Old Question

See also:
Ancient Infinities
The Archimedes Palimpsest Exhibit at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore
Scholars decode ancient text, shake up pre-calculus history

You can find a full translation of the text and diagrams from the palimpsest here. As an example, this is an excerpt from Archimedes' Letter to Eratosthenes
Since I see, however, as I have previously said, that you are a capable scholar and a prominent teacher of philosophy, and also that you understand how to value a mathematical method of investigation when the opportunity is offered, I have thought it well to analyse and lay down for you in this same book a peculiar method by means of which it will be possible for you to derive instruction as to how certain mathematical questions may be investigated by means of mechanics. And I am convinced that this is equally profitable in demonstrating a proposition itself; for much that was made evident to me through the medium of mechanics was later proved by means of geometry because the treatment by the former method had not yet been established by way of a demonstration.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

This is a game called "Landlord's Game", which was a precursor to the classic Monopoly. The classic game is the current feature of NPR's Present at the Creation series.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

"Balance" is a fetish in news reportage circles -- the idea that both sides of a story must be equally described. In reality, it's a chimera -- one side always gets more airtime, or is otherwise favoured. You pick a moderate on one side, and an extremist on the other, assert that it's a balanced debate -- and you've just shifted the centre ground towards the second faction's territory.

Much has been written recently about the growing disconnect between American and European attitudes on world affairs. Science fiction author Charles Stross has a particularly interesting take on the phenomenon, which he has titled The Manufacture of Dissent. Stross feels that attitudes, for better or worse, are being shaped by biases both hidden and unhidden in the media on both sides of the Atlantic. I can't help but think that he's on to something here. I don't know much about European media (Stross is from Scotland), but I see this kind of thing very definitely playing out here in the United States, where commonplace belief now holds that our news media is relentlessly biased toward the liberal end of the political spectrum, despite all manner of evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

This image, of a distant galaxy, confirms that at the center of this galaxy two black holes are on a collision course.

I love astronomy and cosmology for many reasons, not the least of which is the way they regularly provide things to which the only appropriate reaction is a Keanu-like "Whoa...."

Monday, November 18, 2002

OK, it's Monday and time to start dividing The Brothers Karamazov into smaller, bite-size bits, so I thought I'd put up a new post for the responding. Should we start with, say, Book I by next Monday? Some of the Books seem to be longer than others, so the longer ones might take longer than a week, but Book I appears fairly short by comparison to the remainder.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

You never know what's going to turn up on Ebay. I don't know whether the fact of this auction is troubling in itself, or if it's the fact that the seller has classified it under "Home and Garden: Major Appliances".

And in a similar vein, what happens with Cathlics drive too fast. Ouch. (The person from whom I got this link is a Catholic, and she thought it was hilarious....)

Thursday, November 14, 2002

You may not always agree with what he has to say but R. Robot is surely one of the most intelligent and insightful voices in the Blogosphere at the moment. Rising from virtual obscurity after September 11, he quickly achieved recognition and admiration for his amusing, well researched and erudite demolitions of some of the more fluorescent personalities of the antiwar Left.

His famous taking to task of the self-loathing Robert Fisk at the start of this year was so widely linked to and quoted that the verb "fisk" quickly entered the warblogger's lexicon along with other R. Robot coinages such as "pilger", "chomsky", "tariqali", "root-causers", "idiotarian" and "transnational progressivism".

Of course such fearless notoriety often attracts enmity but this lunatic fringe is certainly greatly outweighed by the huge following that's behind the one who honed "fact-checking" (as in "your ass") into a new and especially destructive weapon of war.

Speaking of fact-checking, while I was researching this post I was surprised to discover that in another life R. Robot is also an accomplished writer of rock music reviews and has conducted numerous interviews with rock's most famous celebrities.
But when is Kilgore Trout's b-day?

Happy 80th Birthday to Kurt Vonnegut. This article lists some highlights and lowlights of Mr. Vonnegut's career. What are your favorite Vonnegut novels, scenes, or characters? Don't dig Kurt? Why not?

(initial article via aldaily).

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Artist Ted Nasmith, who is particularly notable for his Tolkien-related illustrations, now has an official website. I love Nasmith's work, but the website -- in its initial launch -- is in dire need of some tweaking. The thing extends off the edge of the browser window, with no way to scroll that I can discern. But what can be seen of Nasmith's paintings are beautiful.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Major Matt Mason

In 1967, with the race to the moon in full swing, kids across America dreamed of becoming Gemini astronauts when they grew up. Walking on the moon was no longer a distant fantasy, but a scant two years away. It was then that Mattel Toys, hoping to cash in on the craze, released what was to become one of their most popular and best remembered toy lines of all time: Major Matt Mason, Mattel's very own Man In Space.

Though lasting only about four years, from 1967 until its demise in 1970, Major Matt Mason comprised one of the most inventive and memorable toy lines ever. Standing only 6" tall, the white-suited Matt Mason figure was fully poseable with his wire-reinforced rubber body. His space suit and helmet were supposedly based on real NASA designs, but even if they weren't exactly accurate, they looked right for the part, mixing realism with plenty of futuristic fantasy.

The Toy Encyclopedia: can you find your favourite toy here?
Just in the last week, two people called me on alleged errors in usage. First, someone jumped me for writing first annual, saying that if it is the first year of an event, there is no basis for saying annual. Thanks for the optimism, pal, but there’s nothing wrong with that phrase. Then, I was nabbed for saying innocent victim; objections to this one bother me less, as I have never had cause to say guilty victim, so the distinction is probably superfluous. Still, it is not the logical impossibility my opponent claimed it is.

I don’t make a habit of criticizing others’ grammar and usage; English majors have a reputation for doing that, but I don’t see the point. (If I did, gems like ink pen and dethaw and where did you get that at would be on high on my hit list. What else is in your pen? Gravy? Tobacco juice?)

Anyway, my favorite online source for questions of grammar, usage, etc. is the Chicago Manual of Style. I don’t think they deal with the matters I cited above, but they’re fun to read if you’re minded to care about these things.

Questions: have you ever been called on the grammar carpet? What can you just barely resist responding to?
In honor of today's release of the Expanded Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, I thought it might help to have this Abridged Version, which I filched from another message board. (Author credit wasn't given there, so I can't give it here, either.) Enjoy!


Frodo: Hi, Gandalf!
Gandalf: Bilbo, give him your ring.
Bilbo: Okay. Bye!
Gandalf: See you at the pub, Frodo.

Frodo: Doo-de-do.
Nazgul: Boo!
Frodo: Eeeek!
Merry: (pops up out of nowhere) Eeeek!
Pippin: (ditto) Eeeek!
Sam: Ha ha, can't catch us now!

Tom Bombadil: Hello little friends!
Frodo: No time for you, weirdo.
Tom Bombadil: (disappears)

Saruman: See, all I had to do was cross out "Good" on my business
cards and write "Bad," and I'm all set.
Gandalf: I never saw /that/ coming.
Saruman: Excuse me while I tend to my vast army of evil orcs and
war machinery which were in plain sight.
Gandalf: Alas, if only he had imprisoned me at the top of a high
tower without walls or ceiling so that he could not prevent a giant
eagle from rescuing me, instead of in the canonical dungeon deep
underground. Oh, wait.

Frodo: (whispering) Keep a low profile.
Pippin: (loudly) And don't mention your real name, right?
Merry: (loudly) Or the ring either, right?
Strider: Right. Don't mention the ring. (laughs) It's okay, I'll save

Pippin: (whining) Are we there yet?

Nazgul: Bwa ha ha ha. Give us the ring, little worm.
Frodo: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names-
Sam: Hmm, looks like swords work too.
Strider: Go away, bad men!
Nazgul: The five of us must flee, for we are outnumbered by this one

Frodo: Wow, we're in Rivendell!
Merry: That was easy.
Pippin: Don't knock it.
Sam: Elves are cool!
Elrond: Get the hell out of my place, I don't
need trouble.
Gimli: You can't throw them out while I'm here!
Legolas: Same for me!
Elrond: Right, all of you wankers leave now.
Gandalf: But I just got here.
Boromir: I'll just invite myself along. No real reason. Certainly not
because I have larceny on my mind. Nope.
Strider: Look, they fixed my sword! (swish) Wheeeee!

Frodo: Such beautiful scenery. The green grass and leaves are so-
Pippin: Where the hell did all this snow come from?
Gandalf: Don't blame me. Who knew that mountains could be cold on
Gimli: Told you we should go through the mines.
Strider: Let the dwarf have his way.
Legolas: Fine, whatever, just open the door.
Gimli: Ummm, I have no idea how to get inside.
Boromir: What a bunch of dicks.
Gandalf: Of course! (applies C4 to the problem) [POOF]
Sam: Such magic.

Merry: Ooooo, dead dwarf over here!
Gimli: Boo hoo.
Gandalf: Twit.
Orcs: Oh good, we were getting hungry. Do you have any idea how
difficult it is to keep an army fed in these abandonded mines?
Boromir: (Slash)
Legolas: (Pfft)
Gimli: (Whack)
Orcs: This is definitely putting a damper on our relationship.
Frodo: Ouch!
Strider: Alas, the Ring-bearer has perished! Our quest has failed!
Frodo: Just kidding. I did the slide-blade-between-arm-and-chest
trick while I was standing in profile to y'all. Pretty funny, eh?
Balrog: Dammit, I was sound asleep. That really ticks me off.
Gandalf: We are so doomed.
Strider: Not if we run away! (does so)
Boromir: First good idea you've had. (follows)
Hobbits: (already in the lead)
Gandalf: (trailing) It matters not! You cannot outrun the demon!
Legolas: We don't have to . . .
Gimli: . . . we just have to outrun *you*.
Balrog: Your ass is mine, wizard. (drags Gandalf down with him)
Strider: Woe is upon our company, that Gandalf has fallen!
Frodo: I'm over it.
Sam: Yeah, let's go, there's no food here.

Legolas: Wondrous are these woods!
Gimli: And full of cutthroat elves.
Celeborn: We were told of your coming. Well, "warned" is more
Galadriel: I know you better than you know yourselves.
Sam: You've got nothing better to do with your time?
Galadriel: Wake up, Frodo, and look in the mirror.
Frodo: Geez, can't a guy get some sleep around here? What mirror
are you babbling about, there's just this birdbath full of water.
Galadriel: But it shows magic pictures of things that may or may not
Frodo: I'm guessing you're a day trader. Here, you take the ring.
Galadriel: I will not. (hangs her head) I lost the instructions.
Frodo: Great, I'm still stuck with it.
Celeborn: Check-out time!

Pippin: (singing) Row row row your boat, gently down-
Gimli: Shut the hell up. Seven hours of that is enough.
Strider: All this beautiful scenery is giving me a very bad feeling.

Boromir: Give me the ring.
Frodo: Notice as I put it on that it not only makes me invisible, it
also apparently teleports me away from your clutches.
Boromir: Arrrrrgghhh! I'm just trying to save my kingdom! Where is a
rake I can step on, that it might strike my head? Ah, this will do
nicely. (whack)
Frodo: Best thing for me to do now is head for the most dangerous
place in the world.
Sam: Works for me. (they leave)

SuperOrcs: Kill kill kill!
Merry: Help, help, Auntie Em! (waves his tiny sword pathetically)
Pippin: Christ, look at the size of these guys, we're dead meat.
Boromir: Fear not, little hobbits, I shall blow my special horn and we
shall be rescued by soldiers . . who are . . hundreds . . of . . miles . .
away . . guess we are pretty stuffed after all. (dies)
SuperOrcs: Kill kill kill!
Legolas: Look at my form. Damn, I'm good.
Gimli: I'm environmentally friendly --- blood makes the grass grow.
Strider: Looks like Frodo got away. Well, there's no chance in hell I'm
going to step one foot closer to Mordor, so let's go the exact
opposite direction.
Legolas: Okay.
Gimli: Sure.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Remember when we talked about Ayn Rand? Steven eventually posted a critical essay that reads like the National Enquirer of Rationalism.
Collaborative book club?

I (well, Sean, really) think that Jaq came up with the idea of a Collaboratory book reading/discussion. I'd like to ressurect the idea now that we've got our feet a bit on the ground. Is there interest in this still? If so, how would it be done? (my ideas inside).

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Once I had landed my [space vehicle description] near the fabled [landscape feature name] on [planet name], I took the [magic potion ingredients] I had previously acquired to brew the potion I would need for the [dark ritual name] that I would perform that night. (Fill in the blanks using the generators linked!!)

And once you're done playing with those, you can generate actual planetary maps with this generator. What fun!!

(links courtesy of Star Lines.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

My business is circumference . . .

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman form the center of the American poetry canon. Both are slippery, but for different reasons; they are a kind of yin-yang pair. Neither is really "easy," but Dickinson leaves me shaking my head more often, in puzzlement and amazement alike. (The linked site is not great, but it does have fair versions of all her poems.)

From Blank to Blank --
A Threadless Way
I pushed Mechanic feet --
To stop -- or perish -- or advance --
Alike indifferent --

If end I gained
It ends beyond
Indefinite disclosed --
I shut my eyes -- and groped as well
'Twas lighter -- to be Blind --

Are there poets you turn to, out of habit, maybe, or need?
Legos for me, please.

Try watching 15 minutes of Nickelodeon without seeing a commercial for a kid's product that makes your skin crawl. Here are a few things they're selling to kids these days:

Something for the boys: "Slithering Jake" the Snake. I have never seen a girl holding a remote control anything.
Something for the girls: Mystery Date. Game? Or training device?
Something for everyone: Kidz Bop. There's a Kidz Bop 2, if you can get enough.

My son's big toy these days is an old phone cord that he calls a fire hose.
What won't you be buying kids for Christmas (or any other holiday) this year?
Man,this site needs help. So, here it is:

What's your ideal dance mix cd?

At least 10 songs.

This is for the masses. This is not songs only you would know. (Though feel free to post that in addition, separately).

Grist for your mill: Top 40/Pop Top 100 Hits (laugh if you will).


Vogue - Madonna
Disco Inferno - The Trammps
Shout - The Isley Brothers
It Takes Two - Rob Base
Brick House - The Commodores
Loveshack - B52s
Get Down Tonight - KC and the Sunshine Band
I've Got the Power - Snap
Celebration - Kool and the Gang
Stand - REM
YMCA - The Village People

Laugh if you will. If I'm the DJ, the masses will be lovin' me with this mix. You know it's true (oo, maybe I should add some Mili Vanilli).

Monday, November 04, 2002

Do we need more voters or better voters?

Thomas Sowell weighs in on the better voters side saying:

During election years, people in the media seem to be forever lamenting the fact that millions of Americans who are eligible to vote do not in fact go to the polls. When speculating as to why those people don't vote, the media often assume that there is something wrong with a society in which voter turnout is low, by comparison with the past or by comparison with other countries.
Actually, some of the most strife-torn countries, with seething hatreds between various ethnic or religious groups, have much higher voter turnout than the United States has. Where each group is desperate to seize power from other groups, or to keep others from acquiring power over them, getting high voter turnout is no problem. But it can be a symptom of other serious problems.

Sowell raises the age-old question of "is it better to have an ignorant vote, or no vote at all?". With election day coming up tomorrow, it's probably a good time to discuss this. Assuming that the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, as it usually does, how do we acheive this middle ground, both on a personal level (those close to us) and a larger, broader, societal level? It's probably too late for this year, but what about next time around?

shamlessly stolen from MeFi.
We had an earlier post here about Ayn Rand. Steven den Beste is asking her minions not to write to him.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Proof that the times keep on marchin' on: last night while taking our daughter trick-or-treating, my wife and I observed only one kid wearing that mask from Scream.

The best costume we saw (besides our own little girl's, of course) was a girl done up as a Japanese geisha. I couldn't tell how old she was -- I'm guessing ten or eleven -- but the makeup job was superb, as was the traditional kimono. (She had Reeboks on, though -- sometimes you have to make a concession to practicality.) I'm not sure about the message being sent in dressing up a pre-teen as a geisha, but the costume itself was very well-done.

So, were there any other good costumes observed last evening? (Accepting that not everyone here has offspring, but may have still observed interested costumes.)

What do you do when you are a former member of one of the most renowned comedy troupes in history? If you're John Cleese, you move on to various writing and acting endeavours, including taking over for Desmond Llewelyn as Q in the Bond films. If you're Terry Gilliam, you direct movies....really offbeat, strange movies. And if you're Michael Palin, you become a world traveler and film your exploits for the BBC and PBS. Check out his site; it's wonderful for the photography alone.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Happy Halloween. Now for something truly creepy.

From MeFi, here's the suicide note left by the guy that shot up the Nursing College in Arizona. The MeFi discussion is quite interesting, and I wanted to know if any of you had any thoughts. The discussion over there has hit upon mainly two things: 1) the nature of the guy, what drove him to do what he did, etc. and 2) the appropriateness of publishing this and giving him the attention (albeit in death) that some claim he desperately wanted. Feel free to expand on both.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Apropos of the discussion on music downloading and such here are the thoughts of comics author and artist Scott McCloud.

McCloud is a pioneer of web-based comics (as well as the author of the brilliant books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics), and his views and theories on how the Web may release artists from their collective shackles (the RIAA, for instance) are fairly compelling -- although I don't agree with all of what he says (particularly the motivation behind file-sharers, as I noted in that discussion).

McCloud has proposed a system of "micropayments" for Web content. His focus is, of course, on comics -- that's what he does and it's the medium whose success he is clearly most concerned with -- but what he says could apply to online fiction, or online music, or online films, or whatever else we can conceive. Check out his comics essays on the subject -- they're the ones entitled "Coins of the Realm". And then, check out this response to McCloud's work.

Micropayments: can it work? or, having experienced the siren song of free content, are they doomed to failure?

A prominent author has advanced a new theory as to the identity of Jack the Ripper. Well, I guess that rules out Colonel Mustard in the parlor with a candlestick.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Everything I need to know, I learned from D&D (not really, but it is evocative, no?)

Actually D&D alignment really has helped me to understand my own ethics better.

(Take the D and D Online Alignment Test.)

The scales are: Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil. The first scale is alignment relative to law, order, etc. The second scale is relative to individuals and their well being.

I come out between Neutral Good and Chaotic Good. I flex on the law, mostly because I think the law, lots of times, is not good for people. It is a subjective judgment, again. And, obviously, with me, it's a lot more in concept than it is in actuality. Any true nonconformist should not complain too much when the law comes down on her. She has to be willing to take the consequences, though she can argue the justice of it.

But I'm very concerned about individual good. Spiritual life is the highest priority (for me, and it probably includes liberty/freedom), followed closely by physical human life (which includes subsistence living, and, last of all, the right to property and wealth.)

How about you? What's your D&D alignment? And what are your reflections on these issues?

(This post started as a comment on Collaboratory, and is double-posted on interact (because I'm looking for the responses of both audiences.)

Sunday, October 27, 2002

I'm certainly no fan of President Bush, but he occasionally gets it right -- such as his nominee to head the National Endowment for the Arts. It seems that this nominee is not a strict ideologue, but rather a competent and at times forceful voice for the arts.

Friday, October 25, 2002

I have never liked one of Don Henley's songs. Now I really have a reason to like him.

Don Henley to fans at a concert about downloading his songs:

Download all you want. The record companies have been ripping artists off for years. Go ahead. I'd rather lose money to you than them. I don't have a contract with you.

(via kottke, via brushstroke)

Where are you on the whole Napster thing?
Not the reaction I would have expected . . .

The Des Moines Register reports a significant increase in the number of students majoring in accounting at Iowa's three public universities, which seems an odd response to the bad press accountants have gotten recently. Is this trend apparent elsewhere? If you were 18 and casting about for a major, why would accounting appeal to you just now?

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

One of the Weblog pioneers, Anil Dash, has found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place due to some criticisms he made of tech and misc. blog turned warblog Little Green Footballs. When LGF was put on MSNBC's Best of Blog's list and Will Femia at MSNBC drug out Anil's old posts about LGF, chaos ensued. Since, both Femia and Anil have received numerous e-mails from LGF's supporters and some of the supporters have even taken to crapping in Anil's comments on completely unrelated subjects.

This morning, Anil wrote a long, well-prosed screed about his point of view. I would encourage you all to read it and post any thoughts that you have. Any possible solutions? Where do we stand (individually and collectively) with his challenge regarding groupthink and the warblogs?

Monday, October 21, 2002

This stone box could be one of the bigger archaeological discoveries since, well, ever: possible evidence of the existence of Jesus.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Courtesy of MeFi, a fascinating survey of Good and Evil, listing the Top Ten Good and Evil persons of all time. It's fascinating stuff. Particularly interesting is the correspondence Mr. Pickover (the site's author) conducted with a Romanian who disagreed with Pickover's assessment that Vlad Tepes (the "Impaler", and the Romanian count whose exploits inspired a certain Bram Stoker to write the novel Dracula) as an evil man. And even more disturbing than that are the folks who wrote in to argue that Bill Clinton was more evil than Adolf Hitler.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

I think I've been watching too much Seinfeld in reruns lately, because just about everything I encounter puts me in mind of some episode of the show or another. Case in point: this blog, which makes me think of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's girlfriend, a painter, does a portrait of Kramer, which an art-gallery patron later describes thusly: "He is a loathsome, offensive brute...and yet I can't look away."

(I found this guy's blog by searching under his name, after reading an amazingly embarrassing letter that he wrote to the editors of Realms of Fantasy magazine because he was bitter about the long odds of getting through the submission process.)

Friday, October 18, 2002

Eric S Raymond posts a long manifesto on how he things the War Against Terrorism is to be conducted. Steven den Beste agrees. Raymond salls it Anti-Idiotarian. Are those people who don't find his complete manifesto self-evident idiots? This is probably a pretty good representation of the 'war-bloggers'.

I've said it before and no one objected: we're left-leaning here. OK, then. Object.
Thoughts while reading Jason's posted link to Borges' The Library of Babel:

'Of the making of books there is no end.'

On the other hand, are we so satisfied with those we’ve gotten that we don’t wish for anymore?

So what are your favorite couple libraries? (And if this favorite question doesn't elicit some response, I'll stop asking them.)

Thursday, October 17, 2002

The story that Sean posted yesterday about a budding conflict over water in the Middle East put me in mind of the political problems created by the need for water, and of this NPR story about the obsession with green lawns by people who live in the American Southwest. I would not be at all surprised to see wars fought over water in the future, while we waste it on green grass for golf courses.

One for the history buffs

Egypt reopens history's greatest library -- Presidents and royalty gathered yesterday as Egypt inaugurated the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern version of the ancient library known for a freedom of thought and expression lacking in today's Middle East.

While the new library cannot match the 500,000 scrolls said to have been housed in the Great Library of Alexandria before it burned down in the fourth century, it has a digital archive that includes 10 billion Web pages dating back to 1996.

"Egypt has exerted all efforts to make the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina a civilized message in its roots, modern in its content, and international in its role and reach," President Hosni Mubarak told French President Jacques Chirac, Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Rania of Jordan, Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos and some 300 other dignitaries seated in the Great Reading Hall.

A special act of the Egyptian Parliament last year granted the library administrative independence, and it's being hailed as an area of freedom of thought. While not as impressive as the ancient Library of Alexandria, this is a massive project (some $230 Million in funds raised), and the library has a capacity for some eight million books.

But there is still some controversy over what will be held there:

In an echo, rows have already erupted over the library's book collection policy. Critics accuse the government of President Hosni Mubarak of failing to stand up to Islamist pressure. One writer, who asked not to be named, said: "My latest book can't even be published in Egypt because it questions God."

Hisham Kassem, publisher of the Cairo Times, said many believed the money could have been better spent on social and educational programs in a country plagued by illiteracy. Layla Abdel Hady, the chief librarian, said books deemed potentially dangerous would be kept under lock and key. "What's the point of antagonising people unnecessarily?' he said. "Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses will not be a priority of ours to have."

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

I don't really want to dwell on the subject of the Bali bombing too much, but I found this little flash thingy from the Guardian UK very beneficial in understanding the area and the scope of the bomb.
What's your absolute, number 1, favorite Web news source?

I still use My Yahoo. The ads drive me crazy. I'd happily pay for the same service with no ads.

Google News is looking better and better. The photos are taking up less space.

Still wishing for 'My Google'.
Heads up: some discussion broke out below on the Bali attack and Ayn Rand threads. Check them out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Over on my main blog, I've been clearly rooting for Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants to reach the World Series, but I should note that the St. Louis Cardinals also had a fine team, and they might have even had a more solid emotional claim on the pennant than the Giants.

This article is one of the best bits of sports writing I've come across lately, capturing perfectly the pain at the heart of any sports team that almost reaches the top....but loses.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Are you overweight? Find out with this handy little calculator.
I think I may have mentioned this here before, but I really like NPR's series "Present At The Creation", in which each week the origins of some minor but interesting bit of American culture are examined. This week's installment is breakdancing, for those prone to 80s nostalgia -- I know I'm always up for that, although I didn't much get into the whole breakdancing craze.

Other nifty PAtC topics have included Star Trek, the song "New York, New York", quiz shows, and bib overalls.
The newest "blog of note" at Blogger is The Homeless Guy, which is exactly what the name says: a blog by a homeless man. Apparently he does his blogging on public terminals in libraries. There's some interesting reading here.
Well, no matter what activity you can name, there is some contest somewhere to see who can do it the fastest.

Case in point: speed crochet!!!

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Terrorism + Tourism: A match made in Hell

Bali carnage: 187 now dead

Though it's sickening to say it, to me this atrocity seems as inevitable as it was unspeakably evil. The idea of an attack of this kind has literally been in the back of my mind, since the day of the September 11th attacks. On that day Soo Ling and I were actually in Bali waiting for our flight out that evening. After seeing images on the hotel cable of jet planes being used as weapons of terror and with the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings of tourists from Malaysia still only a recent memory, international tourists sure seemed to us like obvious targets for terror campaigns and extortion rackets. We wondered then, just as I do now, whether this age of relatively safe and untroubled international tourism might be drawing to a close.
On the FilmScoreMonthly message board, I jumped into a raging debate a few days ago....and quickly jumped out again when I realized that the person with whom I (and others) were attempting to debate is a devotee of Ayn Rand. One representative quote: "I keep mentioning Rand because she got so much right--far more than any other philosopher in history. Aside from perhaps Aristotle, she is the wisest person who ever wrote a book." Now, call me crazy, but I'm not even a Christian and I think that the New Testament contains more wisdom than any of Rand's books, but then, maybe I'm not particularly well-versed on the subject. (Of Rand's books, I have only read The Fountainhead, about ten years ago, which I thought was simplistic in its philosophy and ghastly in its prose.)

So, can anyone tell me just what it is about Rand that inspires such freakish loyalty? Is it that her philosophy makes selfishness a virtue, or is there something more than that going on here?
Stephen Ambrose has died.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Scientists Find Earliest Roman London Plaque

In AD 60, barely 10 years after the foundation of London, Boudica, queen of the Iceni in Norfolk, rose in revolt. Sweeping south, she sacked and burnt the leading towns of Roman Britain, seeking to exterminate the civilisation she detested. Colchester and St Albans went up in flames, and so too did London, demonstrating that already by this time, London had become one of the major towns in the country. Archaeologists have long recognised the burnt layer that marks her destruction. Hitherto however it has been assumed that her destruction only extended to the city of London itself, on the north side of the river. Now the latest evidence shows that she penetrated to the south of the river, to Southwark.

One of the most spectacular archaeological photos of all time- the new booking hall of the underground station at London Bridge, in Southwark, to the south of the River Thames. Above is the modern road, with the traffic roaring overhead, and the sewage pipes and service channels suspended from the ceiling. And at the bottom, the archaeologists are excavating the Roman road, the predecessor to the modern road above.

Map of Roman London with modern London laid over (though the site of the recent find is S of the Thames in Southwark).

A similar, though cruder map which shows Southwark and also shows that the Thames was wider 2000 years ago and there were islands.

Try as I might, I can't really find the site of this dig. The article mentions Watling and Stane Streets, but I don't know if they're contemporary, and if they are, I can't find them. I assume we're talking the vicinity of London Bridge, but that's pretty obvious.
Nobel Peace Prize

Jimmy Carter has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002. (again: 1, 2, 3)
"When I was at the White House I was a fairly young man and I realised I would have maybe 25 more years of active life," Mr Carter said. He said that he decided to "capitalise on the influence I had as the former president of the greatest nation of the world".

I was born in Carter's next to last year in the White House, so I know very little about his presidential term. However, he seems to have done more in his post-term career than the other living past presidents combined. I congratulate him.

Past winners here.

Update: The NYTimes has Carter's acceptance speech. (via Anil Dash)

Thursday, October 10, 2002


It slices, it dices, it searches, it finds, it does it all! And now, it also provides indispensible in one writer's battle against Internet plagiarism.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

After reading today about the discovery of Quaoar and Sean's comment about the scale of the distances in the Solar System, I remembered something that's fairly close to my new home: the Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, NY. This is a scale representation of the Solar System, with the marker pictured above demarking the Sun, and the marker demarking Pluto 1.2 kilometers away. Ithaca, where astronomer (and one of my personal heroes) Carl Sagan lived and taught, is only about an hour away from my new home in Syracuse.


It's the moment we've all been waiting for. It's called 'Laputa' (more with the Gulliver obsession, and I like it, but isn't it also a homonym for a Spanish insult regarding female anatomy?)

Glad you made the plunge, John!

(One more to go *looks at Jason* :-)
Frequently Asked Questions About Quaoar

Quaoar vs. the Solar System

thanks to Dave Hodges for the link

Monday, October 07, 2002

A sad day, indeed

Arts and Letters Daily closes its doors.

Since the filing, Arts & Letters Daily has been kept afloat by the goodwill of its editors, Tran Huu Dung and Denis Dutton, and it is now time for them to move on. They will continue to supply content on other similar sites with which they are associated: SciTech Daily Review; Denis Dutton’s Philosophy & Literature site; Business Daily Review. Human Nature Review has fine science reporting, Arts Journal is our favorite for arts news, and Google News is invaluable for newspapers and magazines.

I visited the ALDaily website several times a week and found quite a few interesting tidbits there very often. However, my favorite aspect of the site was the link list in their sidebar. A&L's Dennis Dutton also runs Philosophy and Literature which has an even more impressive list of links. Also recommended by the MeFi crowd was MobyLives.

Friday, October 04, 2002

The Space Age began 45 years ago today, with the launching of Sputnik. NPR observed the event with this essay by Walter Cronkite.

Way to go, Spre!!

One nice thing about karma is the way it sometimes takes years to roll around, but roll it almost always does. I've never liked Sprewell, not since his attack on PJ Carlesimo. I'll never forget a call-in sports show I listened to shortly after that incident, where the guest was some sportswriter who kept insisting that what Sprewell did wasn't that bad, and in America everybody gets a second chance. One caller said that Sprewell should be expelled from the sport for life (which I still think should have happened), and the sportswriter angrily demanded if he though Sprewell should never get a second chance. The caller snapped back, "In any other line of work he'd be charged with assault." The sportswriter actually sputtered for five seconds....

Thursday, October 03, 2002

The world's funniest joke

"A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head.

"The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: 'My friend is dead! What can I do?'

"The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: 'Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.'

"There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: 'OK, now what?"'

C'mon admit it, you laughed or at least you sniggered a little bit.

Any way this joke was selected by two million people during an experiment called Laugh Lab and as we all know two million people can't be wrong. Highlights from the study include:

  • Germans were the most likely to find all types of jokes funny
  • Canadians were the least amused of the 10 top responding nations
  • The British, Irish, Australians and New Zealanders favored jokes involving wordplay
  • Continental Europeans liked jokes with a surreal bent.
  • Americans and Canadians preferred jokes invoking a strong sense of superiority -- either because a character looks stupid or is made to look stupid by someone else.

Now finally someone has been able to tell me the reason why I find most American comedy to be so lame i.e. there's just not enough word play and it has a generally really sucky attitude (that's a joke son)

Phases of the Moon

So you want to know the date of the next full moon? Click here.

To work out the phases of the moon for any month and year, you might like to try using this handy little form:

Enter the month:
Enter the year:

If you're a plaintiff in a lawsuit, and you can't locate the defendent, one possible solution is to place an ad in the classifieds asking the defendent to come forward.

Thus, we have the placement of this ad in the International Herald Tribune and Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based Arabic newspaper:

Apparently there is a real, legal reason for doing this as opposed to simply hoping that Bin Laden will show up for court. But I don't know, it still seems...strange.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Arctic Europa

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 607 October 2, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

Modeling of tidal processes on Europa, making use of observations recorded with the Galileo spacecraft, suggest that water could surge near the surface. This water would originate in the ocean thought to reside beneath the icy surface layer on Europa and well up in cracks caused by Europa's ongoing tidal battle with Jupiter. Thus the cracks might afford an avenue for an exchange of material and liquid between ocean and surface. According to Richard Greenberg(University of Arizona,, if living organisms existed at Europa they might be able to survive as close as a few tens of centimeters from the surface especially if they live in a crack where they could be bathed daily by water delivered by tides. Exploring for such biological samples would not then require deep drilling. The nearness of water on Europa would therefore be more like that in Earth's Arctic basin, with ocean lying beneath riven and relatively thin ice sheets, rather than the Antarctic, where lake water is surmounted by kilometers-thick glacier. (Greenberg et al., Reviews of Geophysics, 6 September 2002.)

But what does it matter if we know our First Amendment rights or not if they don't mean anything?

Two Diamondback (Univ. of Maryland student newspaper)reporters covering the IMF-World Bank protests were arrested Friday morning and manacled for 23 hours. Surrounded by hundreds of protesters in Pershing Park, Washington Metropolitan Police circled and arrested the entire group. Jason Flanagan and Debra Kahn were there as impartial observers, and despite the newspaper's efforts to release them, they were stripped of all their possessions - even their shoelaces. What follows is a first-person account of their arrest and detention.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

I love Gregg Easterbrook's "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" columns for In this week's installment, he had some readers use translation programs to translate football slogans and cliches into other languages and then back into English, with hilarious results. What follows is the translation, into Japanese and back, of the "Win one for the Gipper" speech from that Ronald Reagan movie.

The Original:

"Rock, sometime, when the team is up against it -- and the breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock, but I'll know about it -- and I'll be happy."

Into Japanese and Back Into English:

"With victory for the Gipper in order, all things which one are obtained exactly to go out there the team it confronts that, it is broken, the eye when having struck in those which say the boy, the stone, once upon a time. I the stone do not know somewhere then it is but, you know concerning that, it is happy."

Heard this 10 or so days ago on NPR: the director of The First Amendment Center talking about their 'State of the First Amendment' survey.

Without Google (or similar aid), how many rights are protected in the First Amendment? Can you name them?

I'd love for you to post your answers here under comments before you go check out the Press Release.

49% of those surveyed said the First Amendment goes too far, and their number one public enemy is the press.

I really find this hard to believe. Sure, a lot of press might be stupid, but too free? I'm still astounded.

According to some researchers who used forensics analysis techniques, this is what King Tut looked like. (On a personal note, I was lucky enough to get to see the treasures from King Tut's tomb when they toured the United States in 1976. Of course, I was only five and had no idea of the significance, but I can remember some of those items to this day.)

Monday, September 30, 2002

My wife, Janet, and I, on occasion, drive down the New Jersey Turnpike through a section of oil refineries where the tortured geometry of the structures stands against the sky, and where waste gases burn off in eternal flames, and where a stench reaches us that forces us to close the car windows. As we approached it once, Janet rolled up the windows, sighed, and said, "Here comes Mordor."

--Isaac Asimov

"I think that New Jersey deserves the title, "Toll Booth Capital of the United States". You can't back out of your driveway in New Jersey without some schmuck in a hat wants fifty cents."

--George Carlin

Happy Birthday to that quintessential American roadway, the Jersey Turnpike, which is now 50. Listen to NPR's tribute here. It's been a long time since I rode the Jersey turnpike, and my memories are not particularly fond. But, a birthday is a birthday....

Collaboratory is one of the coolest community blogs ever.
Peter Horton
Septemeber 25th, 2002

Thanks, Peter.
Got a book in you? Keep it there!

Joseph Epstein, in this NY Times Op/Ed piece, cites a recent survey by a Michigan Publishing House that stated that 81% of US'ns feel they have a book in them, and that they should write it. Epstein then encourages people to do just the opposite. Looking at the possible reasons that people want to write books, namely a legacy, and the difficulty it is to actually write a book (and he doesn't even go into the difficulty of getting published), Epstein says that you shouldn't even try. I know we've got at least one aspiring writer on the collaboratory (Jaq). Any others? How does this influence or damage your aspirations? (via Arts and Letters Daily)

Sidenote: For an interesting look at the publishing world (along with a neat little mystery) check out James Michener's the Novel.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Friday Afternoon Diversion

Orisinal makes some of the prettiest games anywhere. Their gameplay is simple and they're sometimes addictive (though occasionally a bit boring), but the real attraction is the bizarre little worlds they create. Snowrider and Windy Days are typical; my favorite is Bubblebees. I like the fact that the 12-year olds I work with can't stand these games.

"It's different, but it's very pretty out here."

One night when I was six years old I was standing on the front porch with my father, we were both looking up at the moon. I should mention that this wasn't that boring sterile rock of a moon that these days rarely gets a moment of my attention. No, this was a brilliantly luminescent sphere that I remember as a kid spending countless evenings staring at with a toy telescope. It was the same moon that one day I knew I would visit.

The moon at the time was only about a quarter full but the night was a crystal clear winter's night in July so the crescent was brightly contrasted with the black sky behind it. Dad said: "Right now there are men walking around up there". I knew it too but just the thought of it was simply thrilling. Even at that age I knew that the moon landing was unprecedented, something totally new.

I guess that Apollo program in the end made the moon boring. What looked like the dawn of an exciting new era in space exploration ended up being just a high water mark before the malaise kicked in. No life was found there, just some rocks and then some more rocks. I remember watching the last of the Apollo 17 moon walks in 1972 on a TV set in the local shopping centre. Nobody was standing next to me watching it with me, no one could care less, they just got on with their Christmas shopping. As someone put it recently:

"We went to the moon. We drove a car around on the moon. We played golf on the moon. I think we've done everything practical we can with that useless rock."

Of course in reality they had a whole lot more fun than that! The transcripts of Apollo 11 landing and the moon walks make riveting reading. I mean it, go and immerse yourself, they're are really fascinating and the commentaries fill in the context as well as provide links to images and film clips. Transcripts of the other Apollo moon journals can be found here.

To be honest, I never could get very excited about the Space Shuttle. A space vehicle that could never leave the earth's orbit and was only meant for delivering new satellites or picking up old ones just wasn't space travel in my book. Its aims seemed so mercantile and mundane. It's one key feature, reusability, was something that only an accountant could really love. Instead my interest moved to the unmanned space probe flights which over the past 30 years have radioed back countless amazing pictures of the distant planets and their moons. But a Voyager or a Viking is just a camera tied on to a rocket, it's just not quite the same thing as having real people going out and doing real exploration.

In the three decades since the last person left it never to return, the moon has become remote once more. In a way, it seems more remote now than it ever was even before people started planning to go there.

Has the moon finally lost its power to inspire or is it just momentarily eclipsed? I'm not sure, the latter I hope but don't ask me. My three year old daughter has become a far better authority on the moon that me. She notices it even while it's become largely invisible to me. She knows when it's full and when it's a crescent. She points it out when it rises during the day. To her it's wonderful and interesting beyond measure and she reminds me how jaded I've really become. It is truly wonderful after all and this is definitely a good time for me to start looking up at the night sky once again.

Sometime around April this year, the Earth aquired a new moon. Initially it was thought to be a stray asteroid that had been captured by the Earth's gravity. Now it appears to be the booster stage of a Saturn V rocket, Apollo 12 to be precise, which had been orbiting the sun since 1971. This year it crossed back over the L1 Lagrange point and started orbiting the earth once again. Apollo 12 was launched only four months after Apollo 11 and its return as a piece of space junk is kind of a fitting reminder of those moon flights thirty years ago. It makes me think that it's about time that we went back.

"Right now there are no people walking around up there"

Thursday, September 26, 2002


Jachimov is a small Bohemian town in Joachimsthal, some 80km north of Plzen (Pilsen). In 1518 Count von Schlick was granted an imperial patent to mine silver there and to establish a mint. His silver coins were produced by Walzenwerke or 'rolling machines' and were formally classed as 'large groats'. Their popular name was the Joachimsthaler, soon shortened to thaler.

By the seventeenth century the thaler had become a unit of currency all over central Europe. It had been copied in Habsburg Spain, whose taleros or 'pieces of eight' circulated throughout the Americas. They were known in English as 'dollars'. The 30 shilling silver piece of James VI of Scotland was dubbed the 'Sword Dollar'. In the eighteenth century silver thalers were widely replaced by copper 'plate money' imported from Sweden, which acquired the Swedish name of daler. A copper daler of 1720 was equivalent in value to the silver thaler, even though its weight was 250 times greater; and it could only be transported by horse and cart.

The acknowledged masterpiece of the series, however, was the Maria Theresa dollar of 1751. This superb coin bore the bust of the Empress, with the two-headed eagle on the reverse, and the inscription: R[omae] IMP[eratrix] * HU[ngariae et] BO[hemiae] REG[ina] * M[aria] THERESIA * D[ei] G[ratia] ARCHID[ux] AUST[riae] DUX BURG[undiae] * COM[es] TUR[olis] * It continued to be minted in millions throughout the nineteenth century, all posthumous issues bearing the date of the Empress's death in 1780. It was minted by Mussolini in 1936 to finance the invasion of Abyssinia, and by the British in Bombay. Two hundred years later, it still circulates in parts of Asia as an international trade currency.

The dollar was adopted as the currency of the USA in 1787, and of Canada in 1871. But it figures no longer among the currency units of Europe.

from "Europe: A History" by Norman Davis
Note: german speakers pronounce "th" as "t"

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Collapse: Why do civilizations fail?

What do you think, in response to this site or your own reflections?

A couple of pages in, toward the bottom, we find:

Every society must provide meaning and motivation to its members.

What society do you consider yourself to live in? How does that society provide meaning and motivation?
"I want to believe -- and I do believe -- that eventually people will see... that underneath this hair there is a brain, and underneath these big ol' boobs there's an even bigger heart."

So says Dolly Parton in a two-part interview she did on NPR's Morning Edition. I've always found Parton to be one of the more interesting figures in country music, a genre toward which I do not typically gravitate. She really is a fairly thoughtful individual, and quite talented. Links to the interview and some other Parton-related items (including a Real Audio version of her new cover of "Stairway to Heaven") can be found here.
According to AICN, Mel Gibson wants to make a film called The Passion, which would be a telling of Christ's last twelve hours. What makes this particular project intriguing is that Gibson apparently wants the film's dialogue to be spoken in Latin and Aramaic, and he doesn't want to subtitle it. That's one of the most audacious ideas for a film I've ever heard.

(EDIT: I suppose it would help if I actually link the AICN article, wouldn't it?)

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

A sharp distinction between ideas and thoughts is that thoughts are independent of persons: they can be apprehended by others as they are by me. Many people may apprehend the same thought, e.g. "This paper is white". However, thoughts are not wholly unlike ideas....

So wrote the great philosopher....Sean Meade!!!

(It's from a paper he wrote for the Existentialism class he and I took in college. It's amazing what you find when you move and finally open that dusty box in the cellar, the contents of which have not seen daylights since....1993? Wow!!)
Every archaeo-phile here should look at this primer on Mayan hieroglyphic writing. Amazing. I can't imagine trying to decipher this stuff. (the link came from Steven, who has lots of interesting Maya information, then turns on the short screed on Arab culture.)

Monday, September 23, 2002

Another beautiful Morrissey link from Chris. I saw it first on 13labs (via RandomWalks), which he notes, but I didn't link it for some reason. Since at least three of us here love the Smiths (including Jason), I decided I should post this here.

I took pop music very seriously. I thought it was the heart of everything, I thought it affected everybody and moved everybody. It started me as a person. As a child I would sing every single night - and the neighbours would complain - because I had this insane desire to sing. I was obsessed with vocal melody - and remain so. So it's been a lifetime's preoccupation really. And at the expense of everything else you could possibly name.

This is one of the reasons I love his music. The vocal melody is really very often beautiful. He says he introduced 'a harsh romanticism' to pop, and that's right, too. I've often said I like the Smiths because the music is happy and pretty but the sentiment of the lyrics is harsh and cynical and I love the way they crash together. And I guess I'm not alone.

Bonus: reviews of his performance at Royal Albert's this month.

Why do you love Morrissey?

The clockwork computer

In 1900 a sponge diver called Elias Stadiatos discovered the wreck of an ancient merchant ship off the tiny island of Antikythera near Crete. The corbita, dating from the first century B.C., was heavily laden with treasure of all kinds, original bronze life-size statues, marble reproductions of older works, jewelry, wine, fine furniture and one immensely complicated scientific instrument.

The Antikythera mechanism was originally housed in a wooden box about the size of a shoebox with dials on the outside and a complex clockwork assembly of gears inscribed and configured to produce solar and lunar positions in synchronization with the calendar year. By rotating a handle on its side, its owner could read on its front and back dials the progressions of the lunar and synodic months over four-year cycles. The device has been estimated to be accurate to 1 part in 40,000.

The bronze gearing, remarkable enough on its own right, also contains a further innovation that would not be reinvented until the 19th century, the differential gear. The differential was used to calculate the phases of the moon by subtracting the moon's motion from that of the sun's. This level of sophistication allows us to say without fear of exaggeration that the Antikythera mechanism was an early kind of analog computer.

The device is also thought by some to have been able to model the motion of the five planets using the epicyclical model of planetary movement around a fixed earth devised by Apollonius of Perga and Hipparchus of Rhodes (later superceded by the heliocentric model of Copernicus).

It's been said that the Antikythera mechanism actually dropped and sank twice. The second submersion came after a comprehensive analysis of Antikythera mechanism was done by Derek de Solla Price (see Scientific American June 1959 and Gears from the Greeks: the Antikythera Mechanism: a Calendar Computer from ca. 80 B.C. 1975). Since then surprisingly little scholarly attention has been paid to what is surely the most exciting relic of advanced ancient technology that we have in our possession. After one hundred years, our estimation of the scientific and technology of the ancient Greeks needs to be be seriously revised.

"Suppose a traveller carried into Scythia or Britain the orrery recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon, and the five planets that take place in the heavens every day and night, would any single native doubt that this orrery was the work of a rational being?"

-- Cicero