Quotulatiousness

March 24, 2015

Writing science fiction for the modern audience

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Frank J. Fleming thinks he’s found the magic formula for writing science fiction books that will appeal to today’s more sensitive, enlightened readers:

What makes good science fiction? Is it a fast-paced story? Interesting characters? Unpredictable twists and turns?

Unfortunately, I had those outdated ideas in mind when I wrote my first novel, Superego. But as we all know, the true purpose of science fiction now is inclusiveness. Entertainment is okay, I guess, but what we really need to focus on is making sure everyone feels cared for and included and that no one feels weird, no matter how weird they are.

This is difficult for me as a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. I’m basically committing a hate crime just by existing. I’m not even sure that in this day and age I should be allowed to write science fiction. Still, I decided to examine my novel to determine how inclusive it is.

I first used the Bechdel Test, as that’s a nice objective measure. I ran into a problem right away, though, because Superego is written in the first-person perspective of a male character. It’s like I didn’t even try. Still, there are a number of named female characters in the story, and a few times they do speak to each other. Most of the time, they’re talking about the main (male) character, but I did locate a short conversation between two women about one getting the other a chair.

Boom! Passed the Bechdel Test. It’s a very feminist novel.

March 23, 2015

What’s in a name?

Filed under: Britain,History,Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Mark Steyn linked to this rather amusing communication from the British embassy in Moscow, back in 1943:

Embassy letter from Moscow

If it’s not quite legible, he also provided a text version:

H.M. EMBASSY
MOSCOW

Lord Pembroke
The Foreign Office
London

6th April 1943

My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.

We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.

Archie

Sir Archibald Clark Kerr
H.M. Ambassador

“You’re doing it wrong!”

Filed under: Humour,Media,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Lileks on the omnipresent stories headlined like this: “Respiration: you’re doing it wrong”.

If there’s one thing that makes me want to go all Cagney and push a grapefruit in the Internet’s face, it’s the phrase “You’re Doing It Wrong.” It’s been a popular cliché with tiresome, bossy millennials for a few years, and every week brings more news of things you have performed incorrectly. These are never important things. One doesn’t read YOU’RE UNBLOCKING THAT CLOGGED ARTERY WRONG. It’s always “Putting cans in the fridge: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG,” written in the tone of someone standing behind you with corn-chip dust on his shirt and beard, smirking because you totally don’t know that putting the cans upside down recirculates the carbonation. Moron.

The other way to write the headline is helpful: Here’s a smart new way to do something you do all the time. (Such things are called “life hacks” by people who were not slapped enough by their editors in front of everyone.) But it’s not enough to find a new way; the old way has to be WRONG, and YOU are WRONG for DOING IT. This leads the author’s peers to find something else that everyone is doing wrong, and crow about it on some website that summons buzz and infuses the most banal innovation with virulence. How’s that piece about how everyone’s buttering their toast wrong doing? Forty-six thousand shares! Toast-buttering will never be the same!

This is why many adults read the stories of overeducated millennials stooped with college debt working crap jobs and writing piecework blather for fizzy websites, and are not overly burdened by pity.

March 22, 2015

QotD: Conveying useful information

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one to read this book under a misapprehension.

There will be no useful information in this book.

Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his difficulties.

I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte. This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me by experience.

In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day. Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to what should be regarded as affording amusement and what instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to people about to marry — long, earnest advice that would, had they followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a rabbit farm saps the judgment.

We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland, and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other journals.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

March 20, 2015

A new 12-step program … to turn yourself into a wine snob

Filed under: Humour,Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Carolyn Evans-Hammond on the fastest way to become the person everyone else in the restaurant (or at the party) just despises:

  1. When tasting a wine over $50, always use the phrase, “excellent value.”
  2. Make sexual allusions to describe wine, especially when talking to a member of the opposite gender. Tight, muscular, voluptuous, hard, long. You get the idea. Best done while making soft moans before and after the sentiment.
  3. When at a restaurant, grill the wine waiter about the wines. Ask how a certain bottle is “showing”, whether it’s fruit forward or restrained, and whether the Champagne on the list has undergone malolactic fermentation.
  4. Bring a bottle of wine to a party already decanted, and tell the host you’d like it poured at a precise temperature.

March 17, 2015

BAHFest East 2014 – Barbara Vreede: Alternative Medicine

Filed under: Health,Humour,Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 9 Mar 2015

Dr. Barbara Vreede sheds light on the evolutionary mechanisms behind alternative medicine.

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory.

March 15, 2015

QotD: Catching a train

Filed under: Humour,Quotations,Railways — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

We caught the train by the skin of our teeth, as the saying is, and reflecting upon the events of the morning, as we sat gasping in the carriage, there passed vividly before my mind the panorama of my Uncle Podger, as on two hundred and fifty days in the year he would start from Ealing Common by the nine-thirteen train to Moorgate Street.

From my Uncle Podger’s house to the railway station was eight minutes’ walk. What my uncle always said was:

“Allow yourself a quarter of an hour, and take it easily.”

What he always did was to start five minutes before the time and run. I do not know why, but this was the custom of the suburb. Many stout City gentlemen lived at Ealing in those days — I believe some live there still — and caught early trains to Town. They all started late; they all carried a black bag and a newspaper in one hand, and an umbrella in the other; and for the last quarter of a mile to the station, wet or fine, they all ran.

Folks with nothing else to do, nursemaids chiefly and errand boys, with now and then a perambulating costermonger added, would gather on the common of a fine morning to watch them pass, and cheer the most deserving. It was not a showy spectacle. They did not run well, they did not even run fast; but they were earnest, and they did their best. The exhibition appealed less to one’s sense of art than to one’s natural admiration for conscientious effort.

Occasionally a little harmless betting would take place among the crowd.

“Two to one agin the old gent in the white weskit!”

“Ten to one on old Blowpipes, bar he don’t roll over hisself ’fore ’e gets there!”

“Heven money on the Purple Hemperor!” — a nickname bestowed by a youth of entomological tastes upon a certain retired military neighbour of my uncle’s, — a gentleman of imposing appearance when stationary, but apt to colour highly under exercise.

My uncle and the others would write to the Ealing Press complaining bitterly concerning the supineness of the local police; and the editor would add spirited leaders upon the Decay of Courtesy among the Lower Orders, especially throughout the Western Suburbs. But no good ever resulted.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

March 14, 2015

The parenting style of the Greatest Generation

Filed under: Humour,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

In the Wall Street Journal, Dave Barry considers the incongruous fact that his parent’s generation clearly had more fun than his did:

They didn’t go to prenatal classes, so they didn’t find out all the things that can go wrong when a person has a baby, so they didn’t spend months worrying about those things. They just had their babies, and usually it worked out, the way it has for millions of years. They didn’t have car seats, so they didn’t worry that the car seat they just paid $249 for might lack some feature that the car seat their friends just paid $312 for does have. They didn’t read 37 parenting handbooks written by experts, each listing hundreds, if not thousands, of things they should worry about.

It would never have occurred to members of my parents’ generation to try to teach a 2-year-old to read; they figured that was what school was for. And they didn’t obsess for years over which school their kids should attend, because pretty much everybody’s kids went to the local schools, which pretty much everybody considered to be good enough. They didn’t worry that their children would get bored, so they didn’t schedule endless after-school activities and drive their kids to the activities and stand around with other parents watching their kids engage in the activities. Instead they sent their kids out to play. They didn’t worry about how or where they played as long as they got home for dinner, which was very likely to involve gluten.

I’m not saying my parents’ generation didn’t give a crap. I’m saying they gave a crap mainly about big things, like providing food and shelter, and avoiding nuclear war. They’d made it through some rough times, and now, heading into middle age, building careers and raising families, they figured they had it pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. So at the end of the workweek, they allowed themselves to cut loose — to celebrate their lives, their friendships, their success. They sent the kids off to bed, and they partied. They drank, laughed, danced, sang, maybe stole a piece of an IBM sign. They had fun, grown-up fun, and they didn’t feel guilty about it.

Whereas we modern parents, living in the era of Death by Handshake, rarely pause to celebrate the way our parents did because we’re too busy parenting. We never stop parenting. We are all over our kids’ lives — making sure they get whatever they want, removing obstacles from their path, solving their problems and — above all — worrying about what else will go wrong, so we can fix it for them. We’re in permanent trick-or-treat mode, always hovering 8 feet away from our children, always ready to pounce on the apple.

Yes, we’ve gotten really, really good at parenting. This is fortunate, because for some inexplicable reason a lot of our kids seem to have trouble getting a foothold in adult life, which is why so many of them are still living with us at age 37.

They’re lucky they have us around.

H/T to Lenore Skenazy for the link.

BAHFest West 2014 – Catherine Hofler: Why Cats Sprint Out of the Room for No Apparent Reason

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 31 Dec 2014

Catherine Hofler, the Director of Research at Emerald Therapeutics, explains the regression toward cardiovascular mean in Felis catus via sporadic locomotion.

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory. Additional information is available at http://bahfest.com/

BAHFest West was a part of the 2014 Bay Area Science Festival http://www.bayareascience.org/

March 8, 2015

QotD: Getting up on time

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I myself was up that morning at five. This was earlier than I had intended. I had said to myself on going to sleep, “Six o’clock, sharp!”

There are men I know who can wake themselves at any time to the minute. They say to themselves literally, as they lay their heads upon the pillow, “Four-thirty,” “Four-forty-five,” or “Five-fifteen,” as the case may be; and as the clock strikes they open their eyes. It is very wonderful this; the more one dwells upon it, the greater the mystery grows. Some Ego within us, acting quite independently of our conscious self, must be capable of counting the hours while we sleep. Unaided by clock or sun, or any other medium known to our five senses, it keeps watch through the darkness. At the exact moment it whispers “Time!” and we awake. The work of an old riverside fellow I once talked with called him to be out of bed each morning half an hour before high tide. He told me that never once had he overslept himself by a minute. Latterly, he never even troubled to work out the tide for himself. He would lie down tired, and sleep a dreamless sleep, and each morning at a different hour this ghostly watchman, true as the tide itself, would silently call him. Did the man’s spirit haunt through the darkness the muddy river stairs; or had it knowledge of the ways of Nature? Whatever the process, the man himself was unconscious of it.

In my own case my inward watchman is, perhaps, somewhat out of practice. He does his best; but he is over-anxious; he worries himself, and loses count. I say to him, maybe, “Five-thirty, please;” and he wakes me with a start at half-past two. I look at my watch. He suggests that, perhaps, I forgot to wind it up. I put it to my ear; it is still going. He thinks, maybe, something has happened to it; he is confident himself it is half-past five, if not a little later. To satisfy him, I put on a pair of slippers and go downstairs to inspect the dining-room clock. What happens to a man when he wanders about the house in the middle of the night, clad in a dressing-gown and a pair of slippers, there is no need to recount; most men know by experience. Everything — especially everything with a sharp corner — takes a cowardly delight in hitting him. When you are wearing a pair of stout boots, things get out of your way; when you venture among furniture in woolwork slippers and no socks, it comes at you and kicks you. I return to bed bad tempered, and refusing to listen to his further absurd suggestion that all the clocks in the house have entered into a conspiracy against me, take half an hour to get to sleep again. From four to five he wakes me every ten minutes. I wish I had never said a word to him about the thing. At five o’clock he goes to sleep himself, worn out, and leaves it to the girl, who does it half an hour later than usual.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

March 7, 2015

22 Minutes: Halifax Tourism Ad

Filed under: Cancon,Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 3 Mar 2015

The capital of Nova Scotia attempts to attract tourism by embracing winter’s reality.

Browser cosplay day

Filed under: Humour,Media,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Joey deVilla posted an image which requires no further explanation:

browser-cosplay

March 1, 2015

Kay S. Hymowitz asks “How smart is 50 Shades of Grey?”

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Writing in City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz discusses what the book and movie say about modern women:

In her standup act, comedian Whitney Cummings scoffs at the claim that men like strong women. “Sorry, I’ve watched porn,” she says. “Men like Asian schoolgirls with duct tape on their mouths.” In that vein, consider the popular idea that women want sensitive men who do the laundry without being told. Sorry, I’ve read — and now watched — 50 Shades of Grey. Women like men who tie them up and flog them in a Red Room of Pain. With duct tape on their mouths.

I’m only half-kidding. The film’s reviews, like the reviews of E.L. James’s 2011 book, are full of well-deserved snark about its inane dialogue, flat characters, and contrived plot. But the story’s wild popularity suggests that James knows something most of us don’t about the mix of lust, romantic longing, and post-feminist morality that swirls inside the brains of young women today.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that this particular pornographic fantasy has seized the global female imagination at the same moment that rape and sexual violence against women has become a leading social justice cause. The coincidence is heightened by the fact that the story’s protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a coed on the cusp of graduation. She is in many respects an ordinary, modern college girl. She’s independent, a little boozy, cash-strapped, and working her way through school in a hardware store. She drives a battered Volkswagen beetle. Yes, she is a virgin. But that’s not because she’s a prude — “Holy crap, no!” as the feisty heroine would put it. She just hasn’t found a guy who pushes her buttons. That is, until she sacrifices her virginity and good judgment to the highly practiced sexual power of the brooding and distinctly un-politically-correct billionaire Christian Grey, a man of “singular tastes.”

[…]

But if James takes care to make the sex between Christian and Ana so consensual it could pass muster at University of California campus tribunals, she perhaps unwittingly points to the limitations of such consent. Though James wrote her novel before the current spate of questionable campus rape accusations, she all but predicted them. Ana’s consent is shaped not by enthusiasm for Christian’s predilections, but by her desire not to lose him. Consent seems a misleading word to describe this state of mind.

The prevalence of pornography — and, now, of 50 Shades itself — is bound to fuel this sort of youthful confusion. We can and should prize consent, but most 18-year-olds know little about their own motivations. Ply young men and women with images of extreme sexual adventure, barrels of liquor, and empty, unsupervised dorm rooms, and sexual assault is bound to remain in the headlines.

QotD: Being a house-guest in a family home

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I knew that if he slept at “Beggarbush” he would be up in time; I have slept there myself, and I know what happens. About the middle of the night, as you judge, though in reality it may be somewhat later, you are startled out of your first sleep by what sounds like a rush of cavalry along the passage, just outside your door. Your half-awakened intelligence fluctuates between burglars, the Day of Judgment, and a gas explosion. You sit up in bed and listen intently. You are not kept waiting long; the next moment a door is violently slammed, and somebody, or something, is evidently coming downstairs on a tea-tray.

“I told you so,” says a voice outside, and immediately some hard substance, a head one would say from the ring of it, rebounds against the panel of your door.

By this time you are charging madly round the room for your clothes. Nothing is where you put it overnight, the articles most essential have disappeared entirely; and meanwhile the murder, or revolution, or whatever it is, continues unchecked. You pause for a moment, with your head under the wardrobe, where you think you can see your slippers, to listen to a steady, monotonous thumping upon a distant door. The victim, you presume, has taken refuge there; they mean to have him out and finish him. Will you be in time? The knocking ceases, and a voice, sweetly reassuring in its gentle plaintiveness, asks meekly:

“Pa, may I get up?”

You do not hear the other voice, but the responses are:

“No, it was only the bath — no, she ain’t really hurt, — only wet, you know. Yes, ma, I’ll tell ’em what you say. No, it was a pure accident. Yes; good-night, papa.”

Then the same voice, exerting itself so as to be heard in a distant part of the house, remarks:

“You’ve got to come upstairs again. Pa says it isn’t time yet to get up.”

You return to bed, and lie listening to somebody being dragged upstairs, evidently against their will. By a thoughtful arrangement the spare rooms at “Beggarbush” are exactly underneath the nurseries. The same somebody, you conclude, still offering the most creditable opposition, is being put back into bed. You can follow the contest with much exactitude, because every time the body is flung down upon the spring mattress, the bedstead, just above your head, makes a sort of jump; while every time the body succeeds in struggling out again, you are aware by the thud upon the floor. After a time the struggle wanes, or maybe the bed collapses; and you drift back into sleep. But the next moment, or what seems to be the next moment, you again open your eyes under the consciousness of a presence. The door is being held ajar, and four solemn faces, piled one on top of the other, are peering at you, as though you were some natural curiosity kept in this particular room. Seeing you awake, the top face, walking calmly over the other three, comes in and sits on the bed in a friendly attitude.

“Oh!” it says, “we didn’t know you were awake. I’ve been awake some time.”

“So I gather,” you reply, shortly.

“Pa doesn’t like us to get up too early,” it continues. “He says everybody else in the house is liable to be disturbed if we get up. So, of course, we mustn’t.”

The tone is that of gentle resignation. It is instinct with the spirit of virtuous pride, arising from the consciousness of self-sacrifice.

“Don’t you call this being up?” you suggest.

“Oh, no; we’re not really up, you know, because we’re not properly dressed.” The fact is self-evident. “Pa’s always very tired in the morning,” the voice continues; “of course, that’s because he works hard all day. Are you ever tired in the morning?”

At this point he turns and notices, for the first time, that the three other children have also entered, and are sitting in a semi-circle on the floor. From their attitude it is clear they have mistaken the whole thing for one of the slower forms of entertainment, some comic lecture or conjuring exhibition, and are waiting patiently for you to get out of bed and do something. It shocks him, the idea of their being in the guest’s bedchamber. He peremptorily orders them out. They do not answer him, they do not argue; in dead silence, and with one accord they fall upon him. All you can see from the bed is a confused tangle of waving arms and legs, suggestive of an intoxicated octopus trying to find bottom. Not a word is spoken; that seems to be the etiquette of the thing. If you are sleeping in your pyjamas, you spring from the bed, and only add to the confusion; if you are wearing a less showy garment, you stop where you are and shout commands, which are utterly unheeded. The simplest plan is to leave it to the eldest boy. He does get them out after a while, and closes the door upon them. It re-opens immediately, and one, generally Muriel, is shot back into the room. She enters as from a catapult. She is handicapped by having long hair, which can be used as a convenient handle. Evidently aware of this natural disadvantage, she clutches it herself tightly in one hand, and punches with the other. He opens the door again, and cleverly uses her as a battering-ram against the wall of those without. You can hear the dull crash as her head enters among them, and scatters them. When the victory is complete, he comes back and resumes his seat on the bed. There is no bitterness about him; he has forgotten the whole incident.

“I like the morning,” he says, “don’t you?”

“Some mornings,” you agree, “are all right; others are not so peaceful.”

He takes no notice of your exception; a far-away look steals over his somewhat ethereal face.

“I should like to die in the morning,” he says; “everything is so beautiful then.”

“Well,” you answer, “perhaps you will, if your father ever invites an irritable man to come and sleep here, and doesn’t warn him beforehand.”

He descends from his contemplative mood, and becomes himself again.

“It’s jolly in the garden,” he suggests; “you wouldn’t like to get up and have a game of cricket, would you?”

It was not the idea with which you went to bed, but now, as things have turned out, it seems as good a plan as lying there hopelessly awake; and you agree.

You learn, later in the day, that the explanation of the proceeding is that you, unable to sleep, woke up early in the morning, and thought you would like a game of cricket. The children, taught to be ever courteous to guests, felt it their duty to humour you. Mrs. Harris remarks at breakfast that at least you might have seen to it that the children were properly dressed before you took them out; while Harris points out to you, pathetically, how, by your one morning’s example and encouragement, you have undone his labour of months.

On this Wednesday morning, George, it seems, clamoured to get up at a quarter-past five, and persuaded them to let him teach them cycling tricks round the cucumber frames on Harris’s new wheel. Even Mrs. Harris, however, did not blame George on this occasion; she felt intuitively the idea could not have been entirely his.

It is not that the Harris children have the faintest notion of avoiding blame at the expense of a friend and comrade. One and all they are honesty itself in accepting responsibility for their own misdeeds. It simply is, that is how the thing presents itself to their understanding. When you explain to them that you had no original intention of getting up at five o’clock in the morning to play cricket on the croquet lawn, or to mimic the history of the early Church by shooting with a cross-bow at dolls tied to a tree; that as a matter of fact, left to your own initiative, you would have slept peacefully till roused in Christian fashion with a cup of tea at eight, they are firstly astonished, secondly apologetic, and thirdly sincerely contrite. In the present instance, waiving the purely academic question whether the awakening of George at a little before five was due to natural instinct on his part, or to the accidental passing of a home-made boomerang through his bedroom window, the dear children frankly admitted that the blame for his uprising was their own. As the eldest boy said:

“We ought to have remembered that Uncle George had a long day, before him, and we ought to have dissuaded him from getting up. I blame myself entirely.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy – The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Uploaded on 6 Sep 2011

Sometimes, a body gets a hankering that only Leonard Nimoy singing about hobbits while surrounded by 60’s pixie chicks can sate. Fortunately, we live in a world where those hankerings need not go unfulfilled!

This was originally filmed in 1967, on a variety show called Malibu U. The colour portion of the video is from “Funk Me Up Scotty,” a 1996 documentary from BBC2 about the musical careers of the cast of the original Star Trek. The show cut the last verse and an instrumental/dance interlude, which I’ve restored using black & white footage from I know not where.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress