Showing posts from April, 2012
I went out for a walk a little while ago armed with

a debit card
a CharlieCard
a cell phone
an MP3 player
a 4GB flash drive
the Kindle

It weighs a few ounces, all told. My money, my transit pass, my books, my SMS conversations, my music, my podcasts, my blog, and whatever it is I have on that jumpdrive that I have undoubtedly forgotten about all exist inside a neverwhere shadowspace composed of electromagnetic waves and the traces of their existence. I don't carry them with me; I only carry a variety of scrying mirrors, each carefully  tuned to pull something out of the aether.

Of course, being as it is springtime in Boston, I have also elected to bring with me a sturdy umbrella. And I'm sitting in the roof garden atop Tisch, which is a great crenellated concrete bunker full of obscure dead-tree editions of a variety of things that no one has thought about in fifty years, but which someone will undoubtedly have to write a term paper on soon. So not everything is in the cloud. Yet.


If you're going to look back, make sure you actually watch

One of the more interesting things about having a taste for elderly mysteries is that popular books give a lot of casual insight into contemporary society that more formal literary masterpieces don't. Whodunits have historically been regarded as sort of clever trash reading -- of no particular artistic merit, but a more sophisticated way to pass the time than sitting in a vaudeville show. Character archetypes are rampant, but with the constraints of trying to consciously produce something that would be acceptable to literary critics, they're much more illustrative of how ordinary people mentally divided up the world.

Particularly surprising to see are some of the examples of gender roles. We have this idea of the past as a uniform blanket of male chauvinism, where all women were seen as weak ornaments and kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, or at least severely constrained. In fact, we mostly get this from 1950s America -- the mods, rockers, and hippies of the 1960s and…

Storage you can watch

It occurred to me the other day that the Kindle is really nothing more than a very tiny storage device. I don't mean the actual SSD chip inside, although that's physically very small; K3 and KK have 4GB of storage with 1GB-ish masked off for a wee Java kernel and the scratchpad for the OS and experimental browsers, and text takes up so few bytes that the only reasons to give it that much are for the Audible audiobook option and because demand for standard USB storage below that is probably so underwhelming that it would cost them more to order a lesser capacity. Those chips are basically nothing -- I have a 4GB flashdrive attached to my keys which is exactly big enough to house the USB-A connector. If computers commonly had micro-USB ports, you could easily manufacture a 32GB portable drive small enough to accidentally insufflate, never mind lose.[1]

I'm actually talking about the screen.

Using a display as temporary storage is nothing new. Any kind of persistent display w…

The meta of the mystery

Another series I have had my nose into for years is the Ellery Queen collection of mysteries. They are quite cheerily metatextual. The books are published under the byline "Ellery Queen" -- actually a couple of cousins from Brooklyn, working together -- and feature as their protagonist a detective named Ellery Queen. Who is himself a writer, writing detective novels. The concept that the novels were written by the protagonist about things he actually witnessed is threaded through quite nicely; Ellery takes a lot of notes while he pokes his nose into things, and other characters both seek out his help because they know of him through his novels, and sometimes complain about being involved in one of his escapades that they don't especially relish seeing on the shelf someday in written form. Later in the run, when out in the real world "Ellery Queen" the author(s) ended up editing a monthly anthology called Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the Ellery Queen ins…

Priests and anarchists

The thing about having a magic palimpsest an electronic book is that, if you are a particularly voracious reader who was previously limited mostly by the amount of reading material you could carry without dislocating your shoulder with the messenger bag, it will suck up loads of your spare time. I've also been working on another, larger project -- an autobiography, sort of -- which has eaten up the rest of it.

I'll try to catch up. Really I will.
One of the... er, three hundred and seventy-seven... things that have been eating all my time is The Innocence of Father Brown, a collection of short mysteries by G. K. Chesterton. Featuring, obviously, a Roman Catholic priest named Father Brown as the primary detective.

If you're a fan of deadpan absurdity, and you haven't read anything by Chesterton, you should. His description in the very first story of a small out-of-place restaurant as "an unreasonably attractive object" is but a faint ancestral echo of Douglas …

The weird things I watch

Is it just me, or do the casting people on Law & Order: Criminal Intent have a thing for redheads? Alicia Witt is a redhead, Julianne Nicholson is a cutely freckle-y redhead, and Saffron Burrows goes deep auburn in natural light. The first two are very definitely natural gingers, and if Burrows isn't she has one of the best, most meticulously-maintained red rinses I've ever seen -- red hair dyes of all kinds fade to brown with a terrible rapidity.

A strangely large number of extras and single-episode parts are also filled by redheads. There's even an episode -- with one of the redheaded detective ladies -- where red hair is a huge plot point. It causes problems once or twice in season 9; Detective Stevens happens to have a very common haircut, and there are a couple of scenes where she's interviewing another woman involved with the case who also has dark auburn hair in the same common haircut, and the usual-over-the-shoulder camera angles make things rather confusi…

Some completely unprofessional numerical comparison

The Library at Alexandria was the greatest of the ancient world. It was actually a Musaeum in the original sense -- a house of the Muses, a school and a repository for the arts and sciences. Their collection came partly from donations and partly from purchases, but largely from simply passing a law that any boat that docked in Alexandria had to let the Library scribes copy any books on board. Since Alexandria was a huge trading port, that meant a great many books passed through the city.

Nobody actually knows how many scrolls were in the collection; accounts range from 40,000 to 700,000. The most oft-cited number I've seen is 400,000. Nobody really knows when or how the Library was destroyed, either. Common knowledge for centuries has been that it went up in flames, but who exactly set the fire, why, and whether they intended to gut the Library or merely failed to pay attention to what was in their way is unknown. Virtually everyone agrees that it was a horrible loss for humanity.

A love-hate relationship

Translating written work is one of my most, and least, favorite things. On the one hand, I hate reading things in translation. It's just not the same. Particularly since the sorts of fiction I like tend to be full of puns and wry, clever phrasing -- it's just not possible to get both the tone and the content of the joke the same every time. 'Stuff I can't read' is one of my very biggest pet peeves, and because I am crazy, every time I run into something I desperately want to read and can't I fix the problem by learning another language. My taste in literature runs to old and drôle, so the tongues I have cover most of the series I know about, but I'm sure I'm missing a fantastic line of snarky adventure novels in Indonesian or something.

Because I have had my nose in the Arsène Lupin books again, and I have a number of friends who don't speak very much French who would nevertheless love the things, I have sat down to try to bring some of the stories …

« Arsène Lupin, le gentilhomme-cambrioleur »

The nice thing about ebooks is that they come from all over the world. It's ridiculously difficult to get foreign-language works in the US. If it ain't English, it ain't here. There are the occasional exceptions, but you really have to get up to the notoriety of "The Little Prince" or "Don Quixote" before anyone will stock a work in anything but the English translation.

Consequently, a lot of the stuff I read, I can only get by shipping things from halfway around the world, or electronically. I do the former occasionally; one of the most expensive non-class books I've ever bought was a first-edition printing of „Die unendliche Geschichte”, the original source of "The Neverending Story" that was made into the film I remember so fondly from my childhood. It's a beautiful piece on its own -- the German edition is printed in green and black, will full-page illuminated capitals at the start of each chapter. I have another Ende book also, t…

La lingvo internacia kaj vi

I have of course been poking at the Kindle with a proverbial stick ever since I got it. I finally got around to testing the claim that it supports Unicode by loading it with pretty much every language I read.

Japanese does work. The Kindle will display unadorned shift-JIS in the home page listings, although books are easiest to read if you convert to PDF first, so you can keep the customary vertical columns and Ruby-coded furigana. There are also converters available for taking folders full of scanned manga and converting them to clear PDFs sized for the Kindle screen. The display is sharp enough that the furigana in speech bubbles doesn't get any more lost than it does in print, and since most manga are printed in black and white plus screentones, the pictures are easy to render. If it handles shift-JIS, then it probably also handles traditional and simplified Chinese, which shares part of the character pool, although I don't have any e-materials in Chinese to check it with. …


Happy Friday the 13th!

The fear of 13 is widespread in Western culture. There are a number of reasons for it, ranging from 'traditional' to 'specious'. A lot of high-rise construction projects still pander to it by skipping 13 when they number the floors -- it's especially common in Las Vegas, where Lady Luck still holds court on a daily basis. Wikipedia has a decent article on the phenomenon of triskadekaphobia here.

Other cultures fear other numbers. In Japan, 4 and 9 are held to be unlucky. The character for 4 can be read shi, which is also a reading belonging to the character for death, and the character for 9 can be read as ku, which also belongs to one of the characters for pain. Both 4 and 9 obviously have alternate readings, the tendency for euphemism being nearly universal among human cultures, which are usually used when counting: ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyuu, juu, from one to ten.

Personally, I've always held 9 to be a lucky numb…

Fantasmagorie and the prevalence of paper

This Kindle thing still amazes me. I came around about the same time as the space shuttle and CDs, and look what else they've invented in my lifetime.

Somewhere in their garage, my parents have a platter from a hard drive that died in Dad's lab at work right before I was born, which is actually the size of a platter, and has a big obvious groove in the surfacing where the air gap collapsed and the head scraped a ring of magnetic material off. I asked them once how big a deal the disk was, and they agreed it would have been maybe a couple of megabytes, been stacked with a bunch of other platters in a rack the size of a small dishwasher, and cost some insane number of thousands of dollars. I'm typing on a $500 laptop that weighs about five pounds and has a 120GB hard drive. The Kindle is solid-state, the size of a trade paperback book, and holds about 3GB of text; my MP3 player is half the size of a matchbox, has a multi-color display on the front, and can hold 4GB of audio …


I have been deeply in love with tiny portable toys ever since I bought a Palm IIIc in college and spent a very boring art history class going through everything even remotely interesting, in several languages, on AvantGo. Also, Pac-Man. Mid-range Palm OS had an eensy-weensy razor-sharp pixel-perfect port of arcade Pac-Man available, which played surprisingly well on the menu buttons. It also tried valiantly to run a Gameboy emulator, although the thing really wasn't playable until I replaced it with a Tungsten later on. Man, I loved those things. I used them not quite absolutely to death -- actually, a friend of mine inherited the IIIc for a while and did the same.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that I've been dying to get a Kindle. I read a lot -- you probably guessed -- and while this is good for my brain, it's less good for the shoulder I hang my messenger bag on. You can have my DS Lite and flashcard when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, so I've been maki…
Dear random person who found my blog by searching for "Does David Tennant wear glasses?":

Yes. You can see him in them in segments of Doctor Who Confidential where they've given him a camera to babble at in his dressing room before he gets into costume for shooting. Before he goes into makeup, at ass o'clock in the morning when he's still clinging to his coffee like a lifeline, he wears specs. Since he's wearing them even when not doing any close picky work, I would assume he is nearsighted. During shooting he either wears contacts or just goes about sort of blind-ish. I can't tell if he's using his own spectacles as 10Doc's "brainy glasses", but the frames are similar at the least.

Hope that helps. :)

Seriously, would YOU have done any better?

A Navy jet went down in Virginia Beach a few days ago. (Local story here: While the investigation is of course just getting started, and anything anyone says about anything is speculation, I've seen people on a couple of sites criticizing the pilots for bailing out and "letting" the plane hit a populated area, rather than staying with the jet and guiding it somewhere else, even if it meant dying.

Lay off. Seriously.

The crash evidently happened on takeoff, which means that neither the instructor nor the student pilot had any room with which to do basically anything, no matter what went wrong. One of them dumped fuel all over, which is what you're supposed to do when you are afraid that your sophisticated fighter jet will be a gigantic fireball when it hits the ground like a multi-million dollar lawn dart. Considering that the pilots and ejection seats were found a few dozen fee…

The archival of "Himmmm"

The articles about "Himmmm" have been put back up, in edited form. The reason for this is that one of the people fingered as the poster has supposedly gotten very angry and posted a cease and desist letter to one of the major sites dedicated to investigating the phenomenon. The articles I had written about it, strictly as a sociologist and an amateur forensic linguist, have driven a lot of traffic to my blog, and garnered quite a bit of commentary.

I removed them for a while so that I could work out what to do about the C&D. I have not still not received any emails from anyone, particularly lawyers, on the subject. Personally I think that the C&D does not outline a valid case, and that the only reason it would ever get in front of a judge at all is if the judge had written up a really smashing diatribe against frivolous lawsuits and wanted to deliver it in person before throwing the whole thing out. Still, there is always the chance that the suspected person is telli…

This is appalling

The recent shooting of Trayvon Martin (Google results linked here because there are just too many articles to choose one) has generated a lot of controversy here in the US. The gist of it is that a 17-year-old boy was deemed to be "suspicious" by some guy from the neighborhood watch* down in Florida. The 911 emergency operator told the dude to stay in his car; he didn't, some things which are not yet entirely clear happened, and the neighborhood watch guy ended up shooting the kid in the back. The kid, Trayvon Martin, was later found to not be holding any kind of weapon or other dangerous item, but there's still an investigation going on as to whether he did anything that the neighborhood watch captain might reasonably have mistaken for aggressive, etc etc etc.

[* I don't know what this sort of thing is called elsewhere, but a "neighborhood watch" in the US is basically when a bunch of people who live in a particular neighborhood get together and hash o…

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, I guess...

People on a couple of message boards I frequent have been debating whether this article is real or trolling. Assuming this lady exists -- and this is the Daily Mail we're talking about here; the main thing that separates them from US tabloids is that they buy their incriminating celebrity photos pre-'shopped rather than doing it themselves -- then I think she's kind of delusional, but about something that has a grain of truth.

The thing about attractiveness is that it's very subjective. There are certain things that are pretty universally attractive: Healthy hair, relatively clear skin, having all your teeth, etc. There are other things that are widely considered attractive in a particular culture, which vary depending on what time and place you're looking at. Women on the Indian subcontinent have internalized the "beauty" of pale skin to the point where some of them buy bleaching creams of dubious safety and efficacy, whereas if you watch Jersey Shore yo…
[Edit: Superceded by this.]

I have taken down all of the blog entries related to the "Himmmm" controversy. I have no idea whether the guy who is alleged to have posted the comments on CDAN is angry because he's being impersonated online, or because he's a complete froot loop throwing a tantrum, but in any case this is much more important to him than it ever was to me. I've got plenty of other things to talk about, and this is not worth the stress or the nightmares of impatient gossip-commenters and angry lawyers meeting on my front porch and teaming up to bang down my door.

I would like to make it clear that there was never any malicious intent involved in anything I posted; that I have repeatedly pointed out that this entire blog hosts my opinion only and that any conclusions I tentatively drew were explicitly predicated on the information being fed to me being accurate; and that, if it is the case that someone's impersonating him online, I had no reasonable …

Münchausen's by Internet

It is inevitable that, in a society which is supposed to be compassionate towards its ill and invalids, someone will come up with the idea that being sick means getting attention. In psychiatric terms, this is called a factitious disorder, formerly known as Münchausen Syndrome, after a fictional Baron von Münchausen who was known far and wide for his tall tales -- a mental illness which prompts a person to feign, fake, or otherwise mimic the symptoms of a real illness in order to get someone else to pity and care for them. Note that this is not the same thing as malingering; malingering is faking illness in order to avoid something you don't want to do, like pretending to have the flu to get out of going to school. A malingerer generally doesn't want anyone to scrutinize them too closely. The 'faking sick' part isn't the important one for them, it's the 'not having to do something unpleasant'.

People with factitious disorders, on the other hand, live to…

Note to GossipRocks

Dear everyone who is here from GossipRocks:

I tried to follow your trackback link and participate in your thread, but for some reason my account has been banned for "spamming advertisements". I have no idea why, because the only thing I've ever posted there was a hello-world message in the newbie forum, as directed. I would be more than happy to take requests for assessment of random YouTube interview clips or whatever, but since I apparently can't join in over there, y'all will have to come here. People go "Hey, what do you think of this person?" and "What do you know about this weird topic?" to me all the time both IRL and online, and I think it's fun to do the research. Questions, pointers, and non-public chat back to, please.

My absolutely unprofessional, non-binding, thoughts on the C&D, which should in no way be construed as legal advice

[Note: This entry has been edited from its original publication. See here for details.]

One of the anonymous commenters has pointed me at a cached copy of the C&D notice, which is evidently quite gone from the active web.

I am still not a lawyer, this is not real legal advice, and you should probably assume I have no idea what I'm talking about, but a cursory reading makes me rather dubious. It reads a lot like a gazillion other not-written-by-a-lawyer takedown notices sent by angry people to various parts of the internet. Most of these are unsuccessful in a legal sense, but every so often they provide people with great entertainment. The dude who runs collects them, along with his comedic responses.

Where privacy is concerned, "the internet" is usually considered equivalent to "a giant public notice board". To the best of my knowledge, no one has any legal basis upon which to demand takedown of any information about that is part of the pu…

Fish of April!

April Fools' Day is surprisingly universal. The custom of playing pranks on the first of April is widespread in Europe, in places like France, Italy, Poland, and the United Kingdom, whose inhabitants carried it with them to the places they colonized around the world. Iranians do the same on the 13th day of their year, which is usually the first or second of April in the Gregorian calendar. Spanish-speaking areas celebrate a similar holiday in the last few days of December.

April Fools' Day is also one of the few things celebrated consistently on the internet, a place with no unified geography, language, cultural or religious traditions. Being generally run and populated by people whose sense of humor runs strongly towards the "ha ha only serious" end of the spectrum, the internet thinks that April Fools' Day jokes are hilarious beyond belief, and spend a fair amount of time and effort making them as awesomely tongue-in-cheek as possible. These range from the trad…