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Xiphias Gladius

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An observation: [Jul. 27th, 2015|12:40 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
If you combine the author of THE MARTIAN with the first operating system he probably used, the result is the majority of his friends.
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My niece is back home. [Jul. 26th, 2015|07:36 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Lis's brother in Florida tied the knot with his girlfriend a bit over a week ago, which means that her daughter is now OFFICIALLY our niece. In celebration, we got to take her up here for a week. And it was wonderful.

This was the first time we spent a lot of time together -- we'd only met her a couple times previously. And we knew we really loved her the minute we met her, but this just cemented it.

Our niece is sixteen, and is going to be entering into junior year of high school in the fall.

What kind of person is she? Well, first, she's the kind of person who fits in better in New England, the Pacific Northwest cities, or Chicago better than in Florida, if that makes sense. Or, another way to put it -- in general outline, she's similar to our friends and us.

She was given a bit of spending money for her trip. The tertiary thing she spent it on was a few articles of clothing and the like from thrift shops. The secondary item was books. And the primary item was art supplies. Thrift shops, bookstores, and arts and craft supply stores are three HIGHLY respectable places to spend your money. There are other places to spend your money that are AS respectable -- kitchen supply stores, scientific equipment, computer supplies, to name just a few -- but none that are BETTER.

We spent a week hanging out with a teenager who wanted to go to art museums and sketch things, and find nifty things in thrift shops, and read books, including re-reading her favorites, such as THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and THE HOBBIT, and drink tea. She is a LOVELY houseguest to have, and I think she was intrigued to note that she saw lots of teenagers her age who were going places on the MBTA in groups, and dressed in ways that were congruent with the way she likes to dress, and reading books in public, including books that she liked ... and the time that she noticed that someone she found attractive was checking her out, too, probably didn't hurt, either. I mean, Lis and I weren't letting her date while she was up with us, of course -- but I think it was intriguing to her to discover that ideals of beauty are different in different parts of the country, and she is very much closer to the New England ideal than the Florida one...
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Good names for new planetary-type bodies [Jul. 15th, 2015|01:10 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
You know, when it was found, they called it "X" for a while, then gave it the unofficial designation "Xena", and I was hoping that that would be the one that stuck.

But in the end, I'm really happy with how we named our farthest-yet-discovered dwarf planet "Eris". Because the discovery of Eris was what started the IAU questioning what "planet" meant, and whether Pluto actually met the definition.

All the strife and discord about the "demotion" of Pluto is entirely the doing of Eris.

Good name, yeah? Who wants to bet that, when we finally get a good image of it, it's going to be gold-ish in color and vaguely apple-shaped?
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Generally speaking, I'm in the "Pluto is not a (un-adjectived, anyway) planet" camp. [Jul. 14th, 2015|04:00 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Lists of planets I can live with:
1. Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune.
2. Mercury Venus Earth Mars Ceres Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto Haumea Makemake Eris etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
3. Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn
Edited to Add: harvey-ritt reminded me on another list of planets I'm happy with:
4. Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune. Plus a bunch of rubble.
Second Edited to Add
5. Mars Venus Mercury Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune
Third Edit
6. Jupiter. Nothing else is big enough to actually count.

Lists of planets which are harmful to the very nature of science because they are example of being emotionally tied to a conclusion and denying new data when its discovered, and which are based on denying new understanding of how things work.
1. Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto
2. Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn
Second Edited to Add
3. Mars Venus Mercury Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune

Reason I'm okay with "Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn" being on both lists: it's not SUPPOSED to be a scientific list. It's based on the Babylonian numerological love of the number seven, and Roman gods.

Second edit, at suggestion from yamamnama, is Holst's Op. 32. Definitely fits into both lists.
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The Fifties™, the Sixties™, and the Eighties. [Jul. 14th, 2015|10:44 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Over the weekend, Lis watched "The '80s: The Decade that Made Us", a documentary on the Eighties, and its ongoing effect on popular culture, economics, and politics to this day. Lis found out that it was largely based on the book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything, by David Sirota, so she downloaded it, and was reading to me from it in the car this morning.

I was shaking with anger by the time she finished what she read. In that section, Sirota argued that much of the culture and politics of the Eighties was shaped by a manufactured conflict between what he referred to as The Fifties™ and The Sixties™ -- and that that manufactured conflict exists to this day.

The Fifties™ and The Sixties™ are only tangentially related to 1950-1959 and 1960-1969. Or even "the period of time from the building of Levittown and the assassination of JFK", and "the period of time from the assassination of JFK to say, the breakup of the Beatles", or whatever other events you want to use to mark the beginning and end of the time periods. Rather, The Fifties™ and The Sixties™ are the concepts, attitudes, emotional resonances, and images that we associate with those things. Whether or not they were ever particularly significant, whether or not they actually HAPPENED in those time periods, or even whether or not they ever actually existed.

They are "brands". They are about the brainspace that the ideas occupy.

Alan Ginsberg might be considered part of The Sixties™, even though "Howl" was from 1955. You could argue that LBJ was Fifties™ even though his landmark legislature was Sixties™. Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is clearly Sixties™, even if it was written in 1971.

The image of "the greaser" is one of The Fifties™, and many pop culture figures aligned themselves with it. The Fonz. Bruce Springstein. Patrick Swayze. Even though they, themselves, didn't necessarily fit with that brainspace: Springstein's works are solidly social-justice, for instance, and therefore fit more in The Sixties™ -- a paradox that has thrown a lot of people over the course of his career.

Now, not all of The Sixties™ is good, nor all of The Fifties™ bad -- but the Eighties was partially defined by the Republican party aligning themselves with The Fifties™ and denigrating The Sixties™. They downplayed, hid, and even twisted the good parts of The Sixties™, and played up, and even made up, good parts of The Fifties™, while denying its injustices and unfairness.

They've done their best ever since to align and malign Democrats with their twisted version of The Sixties™.

Democrats who've been successful have done so by distancing themselves from The Sixties™, and that pisses me off. Because it's an insult to my parents and therefore a personal insult to me.

Throughout my life, I've teased my parents for being hippies, and I may have even done so hurtfully sometimes. I hope not, though, because the truth is that I am intensely proud of them for their work in fighting war and injustice. I am proud to be the child of people who fight for what's right -- child, grandchild, and great-grandchild, in fact. And the work they have done, and continue to do falls squarely into the brainspace of The Sixties™. They've denied ever having been actual hippies, but they've never denied working for the causes of social justice, fairness, civil rights, and peace that are -- or at least SHOULD be -- associated with hippies.

And so politicians distancing themselves from that "brand"? That's a direct INSULT to my parents. And THAT pisses me off.

I told Lis how angry I was, and she tried to calm me down. She pointed out that my parents HAVE done a lot of good, and never did it to be RECOGNIZED for it, but rather, they did it to actually push the changes toward fairness and justice, and had some success.

"I don't care if they don't care about recognition for what they've done. I want them celebrated for it."

But Lis went on, saying words to the effect of (and these aren't actually quotes, but are rather the general thrust of what she was saying) "You know, you and I are part of the change toward some of the positive changes in the world. We're partially responsible for the foundations of consent culture. The idea that 'costumes are not consent'. The idea of 'active consent'. We've seen mainstream sitcoms and action shows talking about safewords. And that's us -- you and me."

"Really?"

"Many of the intellectual foundations of consent culture were hashed out on alt.sex.bondage and soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm. You and I were part of the arguments, the pilpul about 'safe, sane, and consensual.' About what consent IS, how it works, how it can be given and revoked. Twenty years ago, you were part of that conversation -- even an important part. It didn't start there, it didn't end there, it HASN'T ended, and it's not perfect yet -- but you and I and our friends did a lot of the work in setting up the foundations and the frameworks."

A lot of the battles we're still in -- the Confederate Flag, Gamergate, the Sad Puppies -- can be viewed through that lens of the Fifties™ vs Sixties™ conflict. The other guys want to hang on to what they think is "traditional", and are against the ideas of inclusiveness. They want male-focused video games and don't want to have to think about what they are actually saying. They want "southern pride" and don't want to face their history of slavery, treason, racism, KKK, and Jim Crow. They want science fiction that is just like stuff which actually never much existed in the Fifties -- it didn't exist in the Fifties, it exists in The Fifties™.

These fights are the fights we're still fighting.

But I like the idea that Lis and I and many of you were, and are, part of moving our ideas of sexuality and just plain general social interaction toward consent, justice, and fairness.
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In today's "This is SO WEIRD" news of my life... [Jun. 30th, 2015|10:18 am]
Xiphias Gladius

I just got to the gym, went to my locker.

My lock is missing.  Nothing else, everything IN the locker is exactly where I left it last week.

Just the lock.

The front desk gave me a new one, so I'll have to memorize a new combination, but mainly, this is just strange.

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Just a reminder to people upset at this week in the United States: [Jun. 27th, 2015|10:52 am]
Xiphias Gladius

Remember: moving to Canada will not help you get away from gay marriage.

Or, for that matter, socialized medicine.

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The Supreme Court of the United States just ruined Shakespeare. [Jun. 26th, 2015|08:14 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
That's it.

AS YOU LIKE IT now no longer works.
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The really nice thing about Alabama's state flag: [Jun. 25th, 2015|04:30 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
What's really nice about Alabama's state flag is that, if you want to show someone what it looks like online, and you link to it, and the link doesn't work, it still works!
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My votes for Most Unfair Riddles in Literature [Jun. 23rd, 2015|04:10 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
#3: Bilbo Baggins to Gollum: "What have I got in my pockets?"

#2: Exeter Book Riddle #86:
"With cwom gongan, þær weras sæton
monige on mædle mode snottre
hæfde an eage ond earan twa
ond twegen fet, twelf hund heafda
hrycg ond wombe ond honda twa
earmas ond eaxle, anne sweoran
ond sidan twa. Saga hwæt ic hatte."

"A creature came walking where men sat, many in an assembly, wise in mind; it had one eye and two ears, and two feet, twelve hundred heads, a back and a belly and two hands, arms and shoulders, one neck and two sides. Say what it is called.

And my vote for the number 1 most unfair riddle in literature:
#1: Judges 14:14 -- "Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet."
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Annoyance upon annoyance, computer edition [Jun. 22nd, 2015|09:13 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Our main desktop computer won't boot. I mean, we still have this laptop I'm typing on, and our phones, and all. But still.

So I want to boot into safe mode. Except ... when you log onto the computer, none of the post messages or bios announcements or anything show -- it always remains black until the login screen. This has always been true since we got it; I just never actually THOUGHT about it until today, when it means that I can't actually do anything.

Lis looks it up and finds out that our motherboard has a known problem with failing to handshake with high-resolution monitors, which isn't a problem, since once the video card takes over, who cares? Except for in this situation.

So I go into the basement to find one of the obsolete CRT monitors which we've tended to dump down there and forget about. Except we finally decided to be responsible adults and not hang onto obsolete electronics that nobody is ever going to want and are just taking up space. So we recycled, like, half a dozen of them on a day that Lis's work was doing a "free bring in your old monitors and stuff" day.

I can't solve the problem because we actually decided to be responsible adults.
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How effective are teachers' unions at making life better for teachers? [Jun. 21st, 2015|08:44 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Someone on my Facebook linked to a study by "Wallethub.com" on 2014's Best and Worst States For Teachers.

I thought that was interesting, and got curious. So I found a study, How Strong Are U.S. Teachers' Unions? A State-By-State Comparison, from the Thomas J. Fordham Institute, in 2012.

I wanted to see how well unions do at making life better for their members. Here's what I found.

Data followCollapse )
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Thing to note about Market Basket [Jun. 21st, 2015|05:24 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Market Basket sells two types of dough labeled as "pizza dough." However, one of them is mislabeled.

The dough that just says "PIZZA DOUGH" on it is actually a general bread dough. It's fine for general dough purposes. But the actual pizza dough is the one labeled as "New York Style Pizza Dough."

Just a thing to note.
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For those of you who know what Juneteenth is: [Jun. 19th, 2015|03:44 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
If you're familiar with Juneteenth, who do you think it's for? Do you think of it as a holiday for all Americans? Only Texans? Only Black Americans? Only Black Texans? Or something else?

Juneteenth celebrates June 19th, 1865, the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was recognized in Texas, the day that slavery ended in Texas. (Even though Lincoln had supposedly "freed the slaves" two and a half years earlier, on January 1, 1863, that was meaningless until Lee surrendered, and the Union was able to move enough troops to Texas to actually do something about it.) Since then, many descendants of Texan slaves have gotten together for cookouts, picnics, and general getting-together-and-having-a-good-time in celebration and remembrance of it.

I know white and Hispanic Texans -- well, a white and a Hispanic Texan -- okay, fine, Scott and Ximena -- who like to acknowledge the day, even though neither of them is descendent from slaves. Actually, now that I think of it, I think Bill Gawne is also a white Texan, at least by education, who recognizes the day. I've met a Black woman up here in New England whose ancestors were Texan slaves, who likes to celebrate it, or, at least, appreciates it when people wish her a happy Juneteenth.

And I don't do anything about it, but I am AWARE that today is Juneteenth.

So, I was just wondering how other people think about it. Whose holiday is it?
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Something I believe about cooking. [Jun. 14th, 2015|05:54 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Let's be honest. "Burnt Caramel flavor" and "Cajun blackened-whatever" aren't actually things. They just mean, "Yeah, I screwed up, but I'm serving it to you, anyway."

Speaking of which, anybody want some burnt caramel-flavored cream soda? It's surprisingly not that terrible.
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An important, and difficult, thing to keep in mind generally [Jun. 13th, 2015|02:51 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
There is an important distinction between "this is how I do it," and "this is how it is done." And it's very hard to remember that.

This thought brought to you by a conversation in which someone is mentioning definitions of "traditional marriage" that include traits that are all-but-unique to Christian-influenced Northern Europe.
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Filming the police. [Jun. 13th, 2015|01:38 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The ubiquity of phones that film video is a wonderful boon for keeping public servants accountable.

A couple things I'd like to note: I think that, if you film a police interaction and it goes WELL, you should go ahead and post it. If everybody has POSITIVE examples to look at, I think it will help people learn what TO do, instead of just seeing what NOT to do. Why not show people what GOOD policing looks like? Give officers a model to follow, not just images of how things go wrong. Give the public images of what good policing looks like, so that we can see the DIFFERENCE when things go wrong. I worry that if bad policing is all we see, that becomes what everybody expects. That becomes normalized. That becomes how police learn to do policing; that becomes what citizens expect from their police.

Posting examples of bad policing is vitally important to keeping people honest; posting examples of good policing helps show what "honest" looks like, so we can tell the difference.

An example of this: in the full 7:19 video of the Texas pool party, at 30 seconds, you see a police officer talking to a group of teenagers who are talking about what happened, telling him who was and was not involved in problems, and listening, thanking them for their input, and talking calmly. Then ANOTHER police officer comes charging through, in front of the calm officer yelling "I TOLD YOU TO GET YOUR ASSES ON THE GROUND!!"

Looking at the contrast between some police officers yelling and screaming, running full tilt and DIVING ON THE GROUND AND DOING SHOULDER ROLLS, and just generally being bizarrely over-the-top, and other police officers talking calmly to people, getting information, and generally acting professionally -- that just highlights the difference between competent and incompetent cops.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R46-XTqXkzE

ON THE MEDIA had a story about why and how to film police interactions with the public. And they put up a little clip sheet to help remind you of what to do. It's an image, so I typed it out, too, to make it easier for you to use:

Breaking News Consumer's Handbook

Bearing Witness Edition


  1. Hold your phone horizontally. It captures more of the action.
  2. Keep your phone charged. So obvious. So easily overlooked.
  3. Keep your distance. It not only protects you from charges of obstruction, it makes better videos.
  4. Keep your mouth shut. Your mouth is closest to the phone's mic. If you comment (or yell)
    your voice will drown out the sound of the action.
  5. Keep cool. Be respectful to police. Don't lose your temper, even if they do.
  6. Know your rights. It is legal to film police, at least on public property. You don't need their permission, nor must you comply with requests to cease.
  7. Get details. When the action's over, glean the who/what/where/when to provide context when you post the video. Talk to the officers, too.
  8. Edit, but don't manipulate. If a video's short, it's more likely to go viral.
  9. There's an app for this. The ACLU's Mobile Justice (or Stop and Frisk) apps can keep your video safe even if your phone is confiscated.
  10. Go to the media. It's the best way to encourge virality.
  11. But first, be considerate. Consider who is on screen and whether the family should see it first.

ON [THE MEDIA]


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Piece of THE MARTIAN trivia that I learned: [Jun. 10th, 2015|05:08 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Even though the Hugo committee decided that THE MARTIAN wasn't eligible for a Best Novel Hugo, due to its weird publication history timeline (its eligibility period was counted from when it was first self-published online, but it didn't become well known until it was published in a dead-tree version in stores), the movie nonetheless will have its Hugo connection. The guy who did the script has two Hugo noms with one win for his work on BUFFY and ANGEL.
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I bet Folkvangr is more affordable and less touristy than Valhalla. [Jun. 8th, 2015|11:23 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
So, As You Know, Bob, the valkyries only get HALF of the noble slain warriors to go with Odin to Valhalla. The OTHER half of the noble slain went with Freyja to Folkvangr.

And yet nobody talks about Folkvangr. Valhalla gets all the press.

But, see, it's actually FREYJA who gets to choose which half she wants. So, y'know, you have to be a noble warrior to go to Valhalla, but you have to be a BETTER noble warrior to get to Folkvangr. Also, Folkvangr is open to people who die non-war-related noble deaths, too.

Sessrumnir, the main hall in Folkvangr, is supposed to be just as good as Vallholl in Valhalla. Also, Sessrumnir can transform into a ship, probably. 'Cause Freyja has both a ship called Sessrumnir and a hall called Sessrumnir, so it's probably a Transformer sort of deal, because that would just make sense.

But everybody's heard of Valhalla, and nobody's heard of Folkvangr. So I bet that Folkvangr is totally more authentic and less overrun with tourists. I mean, by this point, Valhalla probably has cardboard cutouts of Chris Hemsworth to take photos with in the gift shop. And I'm not saying that's bad. I'm sure that it's a lot of fun, and there's probably a lot of stuff to do. Like, maybe they get Hafthor Bjornsson, who plays Gregor Clegane, to do GAME OF THRONES-related stuff, and I bet they've got HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON-related activities for the kiddies, and like that, so it's probably a fine place to go. And, of course, Odin is also a god of wisdom and invented runes and stuff, so I bet there's stuff for the more intellectually-minded of us, too.

Don't get me wrong -- I think Valhalla is probably a perfectly lovely afterlife. And, like I said, Odin is a god of wisdom and magic and mysteries, so it's got that going for it, too.

But Freyja is, besides being a war goddess, also the goddess of love. So I count that a win for Folkvangr. Honestly, for me, it's a real tough choice between "wisdom" and "sex", but it's not like Freyja is AGAINST wisdom or anything. It's not like there WOULDN'T be magic, mystery, and learning in Folkvangr. And that it's open to non-warlike-noble-death folks is also a win. I mean, if you got killed doing search-and-rescue, or being an astronaut, or working with plague victims, or doing a hunger strike, or killed by brutality while doing non-violent resistance against a brutal regime, or something like that, you could definitely make a strong CASE for Valhalla, but Folkvangr is SPECIFICALLY open to you.

So, yeah. Folkvangr. Remember, you heard it here first. I absolutely think that it's going to be the new up-and-coming afterlife; it's just got so much in favor of it, and it's still pretty much unknown.
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Macbeth + Agamemnon = Stannis. [Jun. 8th, 2015|07:17 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Read more...Collapse )
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Another discovery in catsitting. [Jun. 7th, 2015|08:10 am]
Xiphias Gladius
small cat and Lis snore in precisely the same way. Like, if I'm half-asleep, I can't tell them apart.
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Adding -ing to the end of a movie title [Jun. 4th, 2015|08:40 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
So, there's this thing going around Twitter, I think, where people take a movie title, and add "-ing" to the end to come up with a new movie. Like "Jurassic Parking", the story of trying to get dinosaurs through drivers' ed, and like that.

So I've been thinking of some. And I don't do Twitter, so I'm doing them here, even though this is precisely the sort of thing that Twitter is better for than LiveJournal. Ah, well.

Bruce Willis's plays a cop whose estranged wife is one of a group of people taken hostage on Christmas Eve by the 29th President of the United States: DIE HARDING

Peter Lorre plays a serial killer who preys on children in 15th century China: MING

Another Bruce Willis vehicle; he plays an eccentric art thief who enjoys falconry in eastern New York: HUDSON HAWKING

Matthew Broderick is a high school student who plays hooky from school to spend a day whimsically working as a contract killer: FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFFING

In the days up to the Battle of Guadalcanal, Jim Caviezel frantically tries to finish off the inside of the jacket he's sewing, using some light crimson fabric he's got: THE THIN RED LINING
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Why men don't ask for directions, by Edith Wharton and Henry James. [May. 29th, 2015|01:51 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The celebrated author Edith Wharton liked to take road trips with her friends, and wrote some travel books about them. So, one time, she was travelling with her good friend and fellow celebrated author Henry James, and they thought they might have gotten lost ...
The most absurd of these episodes occurred on another rainy evening when James and I chanced to arrive at Windsor long after dark. […] While I was hesitating and peering out into the darkness James spied an ancient doddering man who had stopped in the rain to gaze at us. ‘Wait a moment, my dear—I’ll ask him where we are’; and leaning out he signalled to the spectator.

‘My good man, if you’ll be good enough to come here, please; a little nearer—so,’ and as the old man came up: ‘My friend, to put it to you in two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough; that is to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us, we should be much obliged if you would tell us where we now are in relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, leads to the Castle, after leaving on the left hand the turn down to the railway station.’

I was not surprised to have this extraordinary appeal met by silence, and a dazed expression on the old wrinkled face at the window; nor to have James go on: ‘In short’ (his invariable prelude to a fresh series of explanatory ramifications), ‘in short, my good man, what I want to put to you in a word is this: supposing we have already (as I have reason to think we have) driven past the turn down to the railway station (which in that case, by the way, would probably not have been on our left hand, but on our right) where are we now in relation to…’

‘Oh, please,’ I interrupted, feeling myself utterly unable to sit through another parenthesis, ‘do ask him where the King’s Road is.’

‘Ah—? The King’s Road? Just so! Quite right! Can you, as a matter of fact, my good man, tell us where, in relation to our present position, the King’s Road exactly is?’

‘Ye’re in it’, said the aged face at the window.
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Bad science is even more annoying than no science at all. [May. 28th, 2015|11:07 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
So, today, I encountered an idea that I'd never even heard of before. The idea is that there are four different healthy ways of eating that work for different people. So far, I'm on board; the idea that different people eat different things differently and different things happen to them when they do so seems to match my experience and several studies I've read. Whether there are "four" distinct diets, well, THAT I'd need to see a bit more about. But it's a number that doesn't seem unreasonable.

And those four diets match up to your dominant humor the controlling fire/water/air/earth element of your sun sign your Myers-Briggs personality type the suit of your signifier in the Tarot your blood type.

Okay, again, I'm still listening. It doesn't really match up to what I know about the proteins in blood types, but I'm not a doctor, nor have I had any particular interest in blood typing, except in working out ideas for mysteries in roleplaying games and sutch, and, anyway, we're really only at the beginning of figuring out how various forms of body chemistry interact, anyway. So, yeah, I crank up my skepticism a notch or two, but I'm still listening.

So I start looking into it. And I am trying to find any studies that give evidence that it works. I can find plenty of studies that say, "Well, as far as we can tell, we're not really seeing anything". And I'm finding pro-blood-type-diets that are pointing out serious, and real, flaws in those "debunking" studies.

What I'm NOT seeing are any studies that actually SUPPORT the hypothesis.

I dig further. What I'm NOT seeing is any information on how the people promoting this even came UP with the idea in the FIRST place.

And I realize: if the backstory of this was, "Peter D'Adamo was deep in meditation in the woods one day, when the Voice Of God spoke to him and told him, for this blood type, one eats that, and for that blood type, one eats this," well, I wouldn't have a problem with that. The four diets which they suggest are all solid choices, each of which could support health. I mean, we're not talking about, "Blood type O: chew broken glass. Blood type B: eat a kilogram of aspirin. Blood type AB: just don't eat." No -- they're all diets that people could do fine on.

So if it was just someone who thought God spoke to him, well, I wouldn't have a problem with that. He wouldn't be doing any harm. And for all I know, maybe God DID tell him diet tips. It's not how I understand God to work, but it's far from the weirdest conception of the Divine I've heard.

But, no. Instead, there's not even THAT much of an explanation.
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I have a suggestion for when you're asked for the CORRECT English spelling of "Channukah:" [May. 28th, 2015|06:41 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I suggest that the correct English spelling of the Jewish winter festival of lights is "XNWKH." This follows the UPenn coding at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/beta/key.html. Or, we could call it "Hn1vk1h", after the TLG Beta code.

Or, if we want vowels, we can spell it "X:ANUK.FH". (Notice that, when it's got vowels, it loses the vav. The word's got two spellings even in Hebrew...)

This post is about seven months too early; I hope that, when it becomes relevant, I remember where I put it, and can just link to it then rather than rewriting it. But I won't; I'm pretty sure this is the third time I've done this one.
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Making root beer, experiments so far [May. 26th, 2015|10:56 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
My eventual goal is to make a Moxie extract of some sort, but I'm starting with a root beer. Moxie is fundamentally a root beer which features gentian, a bitter root, as a major flavor component.

Looking through our 19th century apothecary books, which include soda recipes, it seems that there are a few general flavorings that keep showing up in root beer and Moxie recipies.

The main ones which I've seen are caramel coloring, sarsaparilla extract, sassafras, wintergreen oil, and, of course, gentian. With dozens of other flavorings showing up in this recipe or that one, but those are the major ones.

A basic modern-style root beer has three primary flavors, along with whatever else is added to the recipe by the particular manufacturer. They are caramel color, wintergreen, and sarsaparilla. Except, in the United States, "sarsaparilla" isn't really sarsaparilla -- there are several related plants around the world called "sarsaparilla", but none of them grow in North America. American "sarsaparillas" in the 19th century were usually based on sassafras.

So, for the time being, I'm just using an artificial "sarsaparilla" extract. It was made in a lab somewhere, but it is fine for this part of my learning process.

I started with the caramel color. Caramel color is actually a flavoring sweetener, not just a coloring. It's caramelized brown sugar, diluted in water, and I've been able to use that as the only sweetener. Then I added some of the artificial sarsaparilla.

And then I used the wintergreen extract.

Now, wintergreen extract is a VERY interesting substance. I have not yet been able to use a small enough amount of it -- I'm making only a cup or two of syrup at a time, and a single drop is too much for a cup. It smells LOVELY, and the smell of wintergreen plus sarsaparilla immediately says "root beer", even with nothing else.

Pure oil of wintergreen is methyl salicylate, and is a close chemical cousin to aspirin. Oil of wintergreen can itself be an analgesic and anti-inflammatory -- but it's not a good idea to use it that way, because your medically effective dosages are uncomfortably close to your dangerous dosages. A tablespoon of oil of wintergreen is, like, sixty aspirins -- which can kill you.

However, the amounts you use in cooking are orders of magnitude lower, and are fine.

Wintergreen, methyl salicylate, occurs in the wintergreen plant, of course, which is a forest groundcover plant, but also in birch bark. This is why birch bark is a possible ingredient in early root beer recipes, and, indeed, why one of the possible beverages is "birch beer". The birch gives that wintergreen flavor which is necessary for the stuff.

So, to summarize:

At this point, I've got a good handle on caramel coloring. It's a cooked brown sugar syrup which gives that lovely dark brown color in root beer and cola. I understand the concepts behind oil of wintergreen, and have a supply of chemically-manufactured wintergreen. At some point, I may attempt to make my own, from plants, since I assume that the plants will add other more complex flavors to the mix -- the oil of wintergreen I've got is just simply a solution of methyl salicylate, and I assume that wintergreen leaves and birch twigs would include other flavors and smells as well.

I don't have any idea about sarsaparilla, though. The artificial sarsaparilla flavoring I've got is presumably a mixture of flavors. So I'm making a tincture of sassafras root and will see how that goes.
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Too generally applicable to count as a spoiler for GAME OF THRONES [May. 24th, 2015|10:08 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Boy, Cirsei really sucks at this, doesn't she? I mean, I think everybody except Cersei and probably Tomin saw that coming.
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Brief review of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. [May. 23rd, 2015|10:04 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
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Catsitting steps backward. [May. 21st, 2015|03:49 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Oh, well. Letting the cats be together has ceased to be a good idea.

I think what's happened is that small is now comfortable in our place -- so, now that she feels that it's her territory, she's begun being territorial. Fortunately, our place was recently two entire apartments, which means that there is plenty of room for her to live separately for the time being. We can drop back to original cat introductions and start over.

Annoying, but, well, it happens. Cats are little balls of anger and love.
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Quick update on catsitting: [May. 19th, 2015|03:48 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Scritching that spot on small's ear that makes her back leg go THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP never gets old.
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For my sysadmin, QA, and general troubleshooter friends: [May. 18th, 2015|08:28 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
"So, we can send email about five hundred miles, or maybe a little more, but we can't send it six hundred miles. Can you take a look at it?"

The case of the 500-mile email.
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Is it unfair that Larry Correia hasn't won any awards? [May. 16th, 2015|08:24 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The first book in Larry Correia's MONSTER HUNTERS INC. series is available for free download for Kindle right now, and from what I've heard, it sounded like the sort of pulp that I enjoy. So I have downloaded it, with the intention that, if I like it, I'll go ahead and buy them.

And it's basically competent.

If he cut out about half the words, I think he'd be at about average for the pulps. There's nothing new in the first book, and it's a bit draggy.

Honestly, I think that if he took a Viable Paradise class from Macdonald and Doyle, he'd turn into a fantastic pulp author, but I think he really needs some editing, at least in the first book, to kick up his skill level.

That said, I'm reading his first book, which was six years ago, and he's written a bunch of books since then, so he may have done so by now.

But I definitely don't see it as the sort of thing that is award-winning. Not even within its subgenre: there's a fair bit of modern urban fantasy about monster hunters, and this is about average.
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Luxuries that I have that save significant money. [May. 15th, 2015|12:26 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
It's nice to have enough blessings to make it worthwhile to stop and count them sometimes. Among the luxuries I've got are time, money, confidence, and enough skill to make some sort of difference in my quality of life. And a neighborhood with competent, friendly businesses.

See, we have a refrigerator that Lis bought in 1993. So it's 22 years old. And it's never given us a lick of trouble until a couple months ago.

That's our first piece of luck: when Lis was barely out of college, she was able to research, find, and afford a fridge which wasn't fancy, but which was rock-solid reliable.

A couple months ago, the frost-free freezer started developing frost, and, at the same time, the freezer started only going down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of the 0 that one really wants for long-term storage.

That's the second piece of good fortune: even when things break, it only broke to the level that it was sub-par, not unusable.

And a third piece of good fortune is that, because we have a first-floor apartment that we are now using for ourselves, we have a second fridge, which we were able to plug in and leave some of the things we wanted to keep really, really frozen.

Today, I used a fourth blessing: there is a competent and family-owned appliance and parts and service store across the street from us, so I was able to go into the service department, and tell them what was happening and ask how hard it would be to fix. He said that it sounded like the frost-free mechanism was failing to frost-free, which would mean that the mechanism which actually cools stuff would have gotten frozen in a solid block of ice, which would mean that it really wouldn't be able to get stuff much colder than 32 degrees. And that it was really doing a bang-up job keeping things as cold as it WAS. But the particular model and manufacturer that Lis had bought 22 years ago had a frost-free mechanism in which the expensive bits are known to be very reliable, meaning that the part which broke on it was probably the part which is least expensive.

So, I've moved our food to the downstairs fridge, and have taken apart the inside of the fridge the way the technician suggested, and found the sensors and chilling unit frozen in a block of ice, just as suggested. I probably won't do the repair myself, but even calling one of those guys out to fix it for me, I'm looking at $200 instead of a new fridge.
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Compare and contrast: [May. 13th, 2015|09:53 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
One of these is a Saturday Night Live parody trailer. One is a real trailer for a real series.

Can you tell which is which?





Now, this one doesn't map as well, but, to my mind, it lives in a nearby neighborhood.

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I have a new local hero. "Lord" Timothy Dexter. [May. 13th, 2015|10:13 am]
Xiphias Gladius
You know how the difference between "eccentric" and "insane" is your net worth? "Lord" Timothy Dexter was an incredibly successful entrepreneur in Revolutionary-era New England, and, well, yeah.

He was born in Malden to a working-class family, but decided that he would become a great man -- or, well, a "grat man" -- he never actually figured out spelling or punctuation. Later in life, he actually wrote a book, called A Pickle for the Knowing Ones. It's got random capitalization, arbitrary spelling, and the first edition has no punctuation in it. For the second edition, in response to complaints that the first edition completely lacked punctuation, he added in a final page consisting of rows of punctuation marks, with the instruction that "fouder mister printer the Nowing ones complane of my book the fust edition had no stops I put in A Nuf here and thay may peper and solt it as they plese"

It's unclear if he was some sort of business genius, or just disturbingly lucky. He was ignorant, unpleasant, and intensely disliked. As far as I can tell, someone who was trying to make fun of him told him that he should "ship coals to Newcastle."

So he did. He sent a huge shipment of coal from New England to Newcastle, England, the world's largest supplier of coal.

It arrived during a miner's strike. Everybody ELSE in the port was desperate to buy coal to fill THEIR contracts. He made a killing.

He sent bed-warmers to the West Indies. Made a profit, as people bought them as ladles. He sent out a mixed shipment of bibles and cats. Which arrived at the same time as a whole bunch of missionaries and a rat infestation.

He originally made his fortune after the Revolutionary war. Over the course of the war, the Continental army had printed and paid its soldiers in its own unbacked scrip, which was now completely worthless. As a public service and a donation to the troops, some of the wealthier American patriots were buying up this scrip from soldiers, to try to get soldiers at least a LITTLE of the money they were owed. Dexter saw this, and realized that he could buy this stuff, too. And at lower prices than the wealthier Americans were getting!

He bought tons of the stuff, basically at scrap-paper prices. And then he held onto it, waiting for the market to turn.

As part of his work in trying to get the United States to be taken seriously as an economic power, Alexander Hamilton pushed through legislation to redeem Continental scrip for 1% of face value.

As he became wealthier, he wanted to get more into civic life and get more respect. He kept trying to get a position as a public official, to get some status in the community. Eventually, Malden created for him the position of "Informer of Deer", with the duties of announcing to the populace if deer wandered into the downtown.

(There was, at the time, no population of deer in the area, and hadn't been for twenty years. There are probably deer closer to downtown Malden TODAY than there were when Dexter was "Informer of Deer".)

Anyway, he eventually moved to Newburyport, where he built a mansion at 201 High Street. The mansion is still there, and, as far as I can tell, Prof. William G. Quill of Northeastern University lives there today. I'm under the impression that, over the course of the 19th century, though, a lot of its more excessive stuff was toned down, and I'd guess that it probably is today just basically a "normal" mansion, although I'm tempted to look up the professor's office hours to see if I couldn't go in and ask him what the place is like.

Right. "Lord". As you might have guessed by the fact that I keep putting "Lord" in quotes, he wasn't actually a lord of anything. But he decided that he was, so he started calling himself "Lord Timothy Dexter", and people just kind of went along with it. He was vaguely aware that lords have poet laureates, so he got himself one, a guy who he found selling halibut out of a wheelbarrow. The guy apparently decided that he'd prefer to write poems than sell fish, and Dexter needed someone to write poems about him, so it worked out great.

The only thing was that a poet laureate needs a laurel wreath, and they didn't have laurels, so he got a wreath of parsley, which was what they had at the time. Still, seemed a good deal.

After he stopped getting along with his wife, he started telling people that she'd died. When they'd point out that she was STANDING RIGHT THERE, he'd insist that, no, that was just her ghost.

There's more, but you all have Google and Wikipedia, too, so I'm going to stop there.
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Took small and our cats to the vet today. [May. 12th, 2015|07:01 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Because it was time for our cats rabies and distemper booster, we were going to the vet anyway. And because it was ALSO time for small's, and keeping her up to date is a good idea, we included her in the appointment, too. So I brought three cats (in three carriers -- the two we own, and one of those eight-dollar cardboard carriers you get at Petco) to the vet. There was complaining and meowing in the car, but nothing unusual.

Once we were ensconced in the exam room, and were waiting for the vet (we got there early, so we had a bit of a wait, but the exam room was free, so we just waited in there), I let the cats out, separately. I mean, I let Nick and Nora out and gave them a chance to walk around and explore, then, when they hopped back into their carrier (as I expected, after they got a look around, they went into the same carrier together and left the cardboard one alone), I closed that door and let small out to explore. Eventually, I left both carriers open, giving each cat a defensible location to retreat into, but also giving them chances to explore and interact with each other.

When the vet tech came in, small made herself absolutely adorable. She is SUCH a human-centric cat. If there was any sort of difficulty in examining her, it was in her refusing to stop snuggling the vet and vet tech. She charmed the heck out of them. She complained a little bit about getting one of the shots, but not too much.

Nicky and Nora were also appropriately admired and snuggled by the vet and vet tech.

I also discovered that there is a spot on/in small's ear that, if you scritch it, her back leg goes "THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP."

So, our next adventure is, we've made an appointment at Petco to get all three of them groomed. First, they all could use the remnants of their winter coats brushed out. Second, we do try to get our cats washed once a year or so -- as the old saying goes, "Cats aren't clean: they're just covered in cat spit." And third, and this is something of a longshot, but it couldn't hurt -- cats partially determine who is "in" and "out" of their family/tribe/clowder by smell, so there's a chance that bathing them at the same time will reset their scents, and give them a chance to develop a common scent and therefore a common group identity.

So, we'll see.
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We've got a guest cat in our house. [May. 11th, 2015|12:37 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
It's no secret that our friend thespian, Stephanie Clarkson, has been ill for a while now, and has been hospitalized. Her friends have been stopping by her apartment to take care of her cat, and the rest of the things that need attention, but her cat is the kind of cat that just needs people around, so it just makes more sense for someone to take her into their house until Stephanie can get back home.

Stephanie's cat is named "small", in the same sense of an Italian guy called "Tiny." I think small is bigger than both of our cats put together. And she is settling in pretty well. She's been here for just about two days, and has completely made herself at home.

Now, how she's doing with our cats is -- awkward. They're at the "wary but not really hostile" stage. There is hissing and growling when she gets to close to them, or they get too close to her, but the fact that she's not very athletic seems to be helping -- she can't follow them up to the top of the bookcases, nor can she squeeze herself into the narrow spots between the boxes under the bed. Our cats' having places from which they can watch small without small being able to reach them seems to help.

We've been shutting her downstairs overnight, but keeping her up here when one of us is home and awake, both because small needs human contact, and to give opportunities for the cats to get used to each other. We referee by standing in between cats when it appears helpful to do so, but there hasn't been any violence. Hissing, growling, and very, very poofy tails, but no attacks, and, indeed, no flattened ears. Definite wariness, definitely all keeping an eye on each other, but I think they'll be to the point of being okay ignoring each other pretty soon, and it's not impossible that they'll get to the point of playing with each other. Which I'd like -- I think a second playmate with be useful for Nicky because he tends to want to play more than Nora does. And I think small could benefit by a bit more active play with another cat; exercise is good for everybody, and she seems to get winded pretty quickly when playing with the feather toy. It could be that, when they get used to each other, chasing each other around could be fun. And, as small is very social, perhaps having some other cats to groom and snuggle would be good for her.

I hope so, anyway. But all I really expect is for Nick and Nora to be comfortable ignoring small, and vice versa. That's just fine. And we're really only a couple days away from that, I think.
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I think my wife and I are going to have to spend a WHOLE LOT of money really soon... [May. 7th, 2015|01:28 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
We've lived in this house for a good fifteen years. And a lot of our stuff may well have a fifteen year lifespan...

Our fridge, which is actually 22 years old, is starting to have trouble staying quite cold enough -- the freezer holds things at significantly below freezing, but not as far below freezing as you want, and it's started building up frost, which it never did before. Our washing machine is making noises on its spin cycle. Our stove needs a match to light the burners, which doesn't much bother me, but if we're going to be spending so much money that we'll have to take out a loan, we should look at. And our car is at 180,000 miles and has some sorts of harmonic hums at around 45 mph.

Nothing's BROKEN, yet, but everything is giving signals that it's probably about time to think about what we're going to do when it DOES break. Fortunately, things ARE giving us warnings.

Oh, plus, there's a whole bunch of home repair, like replacing siding, that we really ought to do.

This is going to be an expensive year. But, we're fortunate that we probably can handle an expensive year.
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Lis and I are almost caught up on ORPHAN BLACK. [May. 5th, 2015|08:19 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Wow. The inside of Helena's head is ... surprisingly pleasant. Pupik the Imaginary Scorpion is my new favorite character.
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The downside of cryptic crosswords [Apr. 29th, 2015|10:24 am]
Xiphias Gladius

In general, I much prefer the British Commonwealth form of crosswords, "cryptics", to American ones.  The primary difference is that cryptic clues are all puns and wordplay, mostly of a few specific forms.  The trick is to figure out what part of the clue is a pun, what's a definition, and so forth.  You end up doing a lot of anagrams, for instance.  There are a few other significant differences (American crosswords make it so every single letter is part of both an Across and Down, which means that you can often solve a puzzle without actually solving every clue, and Cryptics never cross more than half the letters, so you've got a lot more blank space, for imstance), but that's the main one.

As such, American  crossword clues tend to include more obscure-ish knowledge, while cryptics usually only require common knowledge.

The downside, though, is that "what everybody knows" is cultural.  So I just got a clue, "A very busy place is High Burnet!", and I had B?E?I?E solved.  Which, since you only get half the letters was the best I could do.  I eventually typed it into a crossword solver, and got "BEEHIVE" which is obviously a very busy place, but had no idea how High Barnet fit into it.  Or, in fact, what a High Barnet is in the first place.

I looked it up.  It's an area of London, and their football club is the London Bees, and their stadium is called The Hive.  If I lived in London, wherr the puzzle was from, that would be totally fair.

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Kitties were busy last night. [Apr. 27th, 2015|07:31 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Because I was playing on the computer and lost track of time, I didn't head off to bed until nearly 11:15, which is late for me these days. As Lis was coming out of the bathroom after brushing her teeth, she called me over --

"Did you hear one of the cats puke? The cats are looking at that bag on the floor weirdly, like they're burying puke or something."

I came over and watched. "No, I think that's what they look like when there's a mouse." And then I saw the mouse dart out. And Nicky just grabbed it and trotted off to the kitchen with Nora following.

Lis asked me if I wanted to rescue the thing, but my rule is, if a cat-prey type thing is dumb enough to walk into our apartment, the cats get it. It would be cheating and cruel to, like, BUY mice to give to the cats to play, but if a wild mouse gets in, that's ITS lookout.

That was about 11:30, and I went to bed, and heard it squeaking until maybe midnight. I figure it probably died around then. But the cats weren't done playing, because a dead mouse is THE SECOND BEST TOY EVER, right after a live mouse.

I was sleeping pretty lightly for the next few hours, because I was more-or-less aware of them throwing the mouse up and down the hall.

At about 3:00 AM, I felt Nick, at least, jump on the bed. I think it was just him and not Nora -- I think I only felt one cat, and he's somewhat bigger. And he spent the next half hour throwing the mouse around the bed. Eventually, he got tired and curled up to sleep.

Lis, fortunately for her, was sleeping in the other room last night, so she didn't have to deal with this. However, since she did realize that Nora didn't come to sleep with her until late, she was worried that the mouse had died somewhere inaccessible and the cats were staring at it, and we'd have to deal with dead mouse smell. She wasn't aware that Nora hadn't gone to sleep with her because she was still busy playing with the dead mouse.

I woke up this morning to find a soggy, sad dead mouse on the bed next to me, and Nick curled up against my legs below it.

They're good beasts. They do their job well. They kill mice, but they don't eat them (many cats recognize the movements of a mouse as OH YEAH KILL-Y TYPE PLAYTIME just instinctively, but they won't recognize them as food unless their mothers fed them mice as kittens), which means that we don't have to deal with mouse PARTS, and they are at lower risk for mouse-borne parasites. So I'm proud of them.
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You know what would be cool? (Teen Titans) [Apr. 16th, 2015|08:23 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Lis has been looking through all her old Teen Titans stuff the past couple days. And you know what I'd love to see?

How about a couple pages written by Wolfman and Perez of the Teen Titans watching TEEN TITANS GO? I'd love to see how the "real" Titans reacted to seeing their silly chibi counterparts. Amused? Insulted? Both?

... and what if it was a TTG! which included Terra?
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What might have been, comic book movies. [Apr. 15th, 2015|07:17 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
In 2008, Frank Miller took a beloved character from the golden age of comics, and took him to the screen. Will Eisner's "The Spirit" was a groundbreaking comic which set a bar for art, characterization, and just plain fun which remains a benchmark to this day. I mean, there are some comics as good, even a handful arguably better, but it's still one to learn from, one which holds up today, and is beloved because it actually is good enough to deserve it. I mean, there's a REASON the most prestigious award in comics is the "Eisner", and The Spirit is a real big part of that reason.

Frank Miller's movie was savaged by critics who weren't comics fans, who felt that it was incomprehensible, the acting was terrible, the characterization was inept, and the dialogue was ludicrous.

On the other hand, people who WERE comics fans... hated it even more. It's got a 14% on ROTTEN TOMATOES from critics, general audiences didn't like it much better, and comics fans liked it even less.

It wasn't the first time someone attempted to bring THE SPIRIT to the screen, however. Back in 1980, a young animator named Brad Bird wanted to take a shot at it:



He didn't get to do that one, but he did eventually do THE INCREDIBLES, for instance.

So, yeah. There is a universe very very close to here in which we had a SPIRIT movie in the Eighties, written by the guy who eventually wrote THE INCREDIBLES, and looking like, well, like that up there, except, y'know, finished.

The story is here: http://herocomplex.latimes.com/uncategorized/the-spirit-that/
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Someone once asked how much training American law enforcement gets. [Apr. 13th, 2015|09:22 am]
Xiphias Gladius
A while back, a non-American asked, in the comments of yet another story of US police incompetence, how much training law enforcement gets around here.

And the answer is, "You wouldn't believe how much it varies."

Most police departments require a high school diploma (that's the basic level of education in the US, going until about 18 years old), followed by an entrance test, to apply for a police academy. You have to demonstrate no significant criminal record (sometimes you can be allowed a couple minor offenses, like perhaps getting into a couple fights as a kid, as long as you can demonstrate that you're not like that anymore), and "good character" -- if you can't get at least a couple people to vouch that you're a decent person, you're probably not.

Then you have to pass a five or six month course of study, which is intense enough to be the approximate equivalent of an associates' degree (normally a two-year professional certification). Then you are a rookie officer, working under the supervision of a more advanced officer, for some period of time.

The training period is shorter than that of, for instance, the UK (which tends to require a course of study which takes closer to a year, plus a longer probationary period), but it seems pretty reasonable to me.

The FBI requires a four-year college degree, plus several years of relevant work experience to be considered for application; the application is highly competitive, and then they have their own FBI police academy which, although it's not that much longer than most police academies, is highly rigorous. And, of course, because they need relevant work experience, many of them have already been through that previous police training. That is, as far as I can tell, about the top end of training.

On the other end, however...

In some places, the requirement to be a sworn officer is that the sheriff says that you can be. "Hi, wanna be a deputy? Okay, here you go."

Which might be survivable if a sheriff needed qualifications. But "sheriff" is usually an elected position: a sheriff is a politician, not necessarily a policeman. There are exceptions, places where deputies need as much training as any other officer, but the bottom end is that you can have a sheriff with absolutely no training or relevant experience handing out badges to other folks with even less than no training or experience.

And where do you think the majority of those stories of horrible incompetence come from? Yeah, turns out that if you don't require any degree of competence, you tend to get more incompetence.
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Just to pull out and separate my comment about Ferguson [Apr. 10th, 2015|06:44 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I'm pulling this out here, so that people can keep it out of the other thread, and this ought to make it easier for folks to ignore if they don't want to talk about it.

According to the DoJ report, the evidence tends to support Officer Wilson's testimony about what happened. From the independent report, it appears that the SPECIFIC action of the shooting was justified.

According to the SECOND DoJ report, pretty much everything else the Ferguson police department has ever done ISN'T. It's a corrupt system from top to bottom.

So there's irony that the thing that actually brought attention to how corrupt and unjust the department is was, in fact, not actually an example of how corrupt and unjust the department is. Nonetheless, it does explain exactly WHY the citizens of Ferguson assumed it was unjustified: because EVERYTHING the Ferguson cops EVER do is unjustified.

Except that. Everyone assumed that the cops shot Brown in the back and then covered it up, because that's the sort of thing they routinely do in Furgeson. Except this was the one time that they didn't.

Weird, hunh?
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On how "social justice" is painful [Apr. 9th, 2015|07:12 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Why would anybody have a problem with social justice? We mostly all agree that right and wrong exist. We might say that they're culturally determined, and that right and wrong vary from culture to culture and time to time; we might say that they are universal. Some people say they are defined by a Deity, or can be derived philosophically; some say that they are simply put together by humans and have no external reality -- but I think we all pretty much agree that, at least WITHIN a society, and WITHIN a context, right and wrong exist.

And I think we all pretty much agree that "fairness" is generally a big part of the ideas of right and wrong, at least within the societies of everybody who is likely to be reading this.

For the most part, I think we can work on the assumption that "good is better than bad", "right is better than wrong," "fair is better than unfair", and "justice is better than injustice". There are, of course, individuals who put their own well-being above fairness, and we need tools of justice to deal with those people. Many people are going to disagree about exactly WHO those individuals are -- is using tax money to create programs that benefit people who are in trouble an example of individuals putting their own well-being above fairness? I say no, it's an example of fairness, but certain libertarian friends of mine would disagree.

Still, on the whole, we can generally agree that we want a society in which bad actions are discouraged, and good actions are encouraged.

And therefore, I think that we could mostly agree in principle that a system which condones bad actions is an unjust system.

Going back to my own religious tradition: do you know why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed? According to Isaiah, it's because they had an unjust system. Not that they had individual unjust people, but that their system condoned injustice. We have Midrash that talks about how they had a legal system which discriminated against the poor. The cities were destroyed because their systems -- interpersonal, legal, and everything -- had injustice baked right in.

You'd think that this would make the ideals of social justice universal. Why would anybody ever oppose this? The majority of people like justice and fairness and goodness and stuff like that; the majority of people are against injustice and unfairness and badness and stuff like that. Yeah, we disagree on specifics about what a lot of those things are, but still. General agreement that good is good and bad is bad.

And therefore, it ought to be a no-brainer that, when you see a system that is designed to allow badness, it's a bad system.

That takes us to the backlash against "Social Justice Warriors".

Sad Puppies. Gamergaters. What is it that they are against? Why are they angry at people who are trying to change bad things into better things?

It's because social justice is painful.

See, the thing is -- when you're talking about a society-level problem, when you're talking about a systemic problem, when you're talking about a social justice problem, well, you're talking about a problem with a society and with a system.

And that's us. We are the society. We are the system. "We have met the enemy and he is us", as Pogo said.

And nobody likes to feel that. It is inherently painful to a good person to feel that he or she is part of a bad thing. And the first part of social justice is acknowledging that we are part of a bad thing, and that we are partially responsible for it. And that hurts.

There's no way around that.

It's much, much easier to deny the problem, and there are a lot of ways to do that. One option is to deny that the thing being pointed out even IS a problem: why should we care about the "women in refrigerators" trope in fiction -- it's fiction! It's not real, how can it be a problem? Another is to acknowledge that the thing is a problem, but it's not systemic -- "a few bad apples". Or that the action was justified: of course they had to kill that man; there's a possibility he was dangerous.

And sometimes it turns out that they were right ... looking at Ferguson, to the best of our knowledge, Michael Brown WAS dangerous and Officer Wilson WAS justified in shooting him.

On the other hand, in looking into that, a huge systemic problem was turned up. When the police consider the majority of the population to be criminals -- when you've got more arrest warrants out than you have citizens -- that's a systemic problem. That's a clear indication that there is something just plain basically wrong there. That's a social justice problem.

It's much easier to ignore that situation than to deal with it. Especially if looking at it turns up patterns that show up other places, not as dramatically as in Ferguson, but as patterns throughout our society.

We all want to ignore them when we can. And it's much easier to get angry at the people who point them out than it is to acknowledge that they're real, and that they're basically our fault.
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On the difference between "justice" and "social justice" [Apr. 9th, 2015|06:32 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
With all the Sad Puppies and Gamergate and so forth stuff going around, I've had this post rattling around my head for a while now, and have been intending to write it.

A few weeks ago now, Adam Baldwin tweeted something asking something along the lines of, "What's the difference between 'justice' and 'social justice'?" And he got an answer which was technically correct, but not actually all that helpful. So I decided to write my thoughts on it. If you agree with my definitions, feel free to link to this whenever you need to.

Baldwin made the suggestion, as I understand it, that "social justice" was just, y'know, "justice", and therefore we didn't need the separate term. In my mind, he's half right. Social justice IS a form of justice, but it's different than how we usually use the term.

Let me start with some thoughts on justice itself. Justice is related to fairness, to rewarding the good and punishing the bad. It's a moral concept, and is something that appears to be partially written into into our minds at a basic level: even some animals understand when other animals are being treated better than they are in the same situation. Learning how to expand that personal sense of unfairness to extend to other beings takes some training, however. We're naturally wired to be upset when people are unfair to us, but it takes some training to be upset when people are unfair to somebody else.

"Justice" can be thought of, in part, as the active enforcement of fairness. The metaphor for justice is a set of balance scales -- when things are unfair, the scales are out of balance, and justice is the act of re-balancing them.

It's also important to bring up the concept of "mercy". Justice requires that, when unfair damage has been done, an equal and opposite amount of further damage is done, to balance it out. Taken too far, this will destroy a society, and mercy is the process of tempering justice to destroy less.

However, TOO much mercy destroys justice, and ALSO destroys societies. And much of the work of maintaining a society is the process of finding the best mixture of mercy and justice for every situation. "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," but a lack of justice is inherently a lack of society.

There is a parable that says that, when G-d was creating the world, It realized that the universe could not survive under either pure justice or pure mercy. This is like a man who had a pitcher of boiling water, and a pitcher of ice-cold water, and a very delicate, fragile glass. If he poured the boiling water in, the cup would expand and shatter; if he poured the ice-cold water in, the cup would contract and shatter. So he mixed the two pitchers, and poured the middle-temperature water into the cup, and all was well.

This is a digression, but a vitally important one. Pure justice destroys the world through draconian harshness; pure mercy destroys the world through a lack of consequences for selfish actions. So, from this point forward, when I say "justice", imagine that I am saying "justice tempered with mercy", because THAT is the goal that we are working toward.

Indeed, that is one of the primary purposes of society.

Now, there are a lot of mechanisms of enforcing justice. When we think of justice, we most often think of the law, but the law is perhaps the least important method of enforcement we have. The law comes in only after all other methods have failed. Before that point, we have such things as social censure and peer pressure. If you're about to do something wrong, a good friend might pull you aside and say, "Dude -- that REALLY wouldn't be cool. Maybe you shouldn't do it."

Embarrassment can be a method of enforcing justice: if you know that people would think badly about you if they found out that you stiffed a contractor on a payment, you might not do it. And the reaction of others: if it got around that you usually stiffed people, you might never get anybody to work for you anyway. If all those methods fail, THEN the law can step in, but, for the most part, it's fear of what other people might think that keeps people just, more than fear of the law. (But fear of the law is important, too.)

But the MOST important part of enforcing justice is our own consciences. The most important tool that society has to promulgate justice is the way in which parents and other important adults teach our children right and wrong. Everything else we have is based on that.

The way it works is: most of the time, people take just actions because their own training and conscience impels them to. But a person whose conscience fails to draw them to right action may be impelled to because they don't want to be embarrassed in front of their friends, or don't want to get a bad reputation that would make people not want to deal with them. And if THAT fails, a society has laws that can be called into play.

"Justice" is found within the penalties that are paid for doing the wrong thing. Your conscience and internal moral sense makes you feel guilty even before anybody else is involved. If others find out, you can feel embarrassment. If it goes further, you can lose friends, and find people unwilling to deal with you socially and in business. And if things go even further, you can have consequences imposed by laws: loss of material goods through fines, imprisonment, and, in some places, even death.

And that's "justice". The tools, formal and informal, internal and external, which societies have available to enforce fairness and good behavior.

But. Here's the problem.

What happens when the source of the unfairness is the tools themselves? What happens when the formal and informal tools, the internal and external tools, enforce UNFAIRNESS? Enforce BAD action? When the tools themselves are unjust?

How do you deal with THAT problem?

And THAT is where "social justice" comes in. "Justice" is relatively simple. Not EASY, but at least conceptually simpler. Someone does something bad, and the rest of society reacts to it in some way to restore the balance. It's not necessarily easy to tell when someone's done something wrong, or to prove it if it requires the legal system to deal with, or figure out what sort of censure or response is appropriate for a particular action, but, in general, "do something bad, we've got systems that do something bad back" is something that we can understand.

And even when someone involved in the system does something wrong, we can deal with that. If a judge is corrupt, we can impeach him or her. If a police officer does unjust things, they can be punished administratively, kicked off the force, or tried as a criminal, depending on what the level of unjust thing is. Those aren't the signs of a broken SYSTEM.

"System" and "systemic" are real important concepts in social justice. "A few bad apples" aren't a problem, so long as they are rooted out and punished. However, showing too MUCH mercy to said bad apples IS a systemic problem.

As I've said, these tools aren't limited to the law. We can have broken SOCIAL tools, too. The way that we interact with each other is itself a social structure which enforces concepts of right and wrong. And we're all part of the system. We're part of society, so we're part of how society works, so we're part of how society doesn't work. It's inevitable.

And so, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate problem."

That's where the parts which are really hard to deal with come from.

If a racist act happens, and we all make sure that bad things happen to the racist -- not necessarily legal bad things, but bad things like people not wanting to be around the person, so they don't get invited to parties and stuff -- then that's not a systemic problem.

However, if a racist thing happens, and people get away with it without consequences, that's a systemic problem. And, since we are the system, that makes us the problem.

Nobody likes to be the problem. Ever. And it's a lot easier to convince yourself that you're not the problem than it is to stop being the problem, so that's what we do. And it's absolutely true that the person who actually DID the racist act is a BIGGER problem, but nonetheless, if nothing happens in response, then the rest of us have a degree of responsibility.

We don't want to feel that the society is broken, because WE are the society. If there is a "social justice" problem, if there is a "systemic" problem, that's on us.

And that hurts, and that, I think, is why there is a backlash against "social justice warriors".

At some point, I want to talk about the term "SJW", but, for now, let me just say that it is an AWESOME term, and I am completely happy with being called a "social justice warrior", and I'm not sure why the people who are AGAINST us gave it to us, because, well, it's, like, the best thing a person could ever be called. But discussing all of that is probably a post of its own, so I'll deal with that later.

In any case, to summarize:

You need "justice" to right wrongs that happen in a society. "Justice" is the set of tools that are used to re-balance the scales and make things fair again. If you do that 100%, society will break, so you need "mercy", too, and a lot of the time, when people say "justice", they actually mean "a workable balance of justice and mercy".

However, sometimes the tools themselves are unjust. And when the tools are unjust, you need "social justice" to fix those tools. That really hurts, since all of us ARE those tools, so "social justice" is painful, and a lot of people push back on it, because we don't like being hurt. However, it's really, really important to do -- if the tools are unjust, your society is unjust, and an unjust society completely misses the point of having a society in the first place.
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A few thoughts about the Hugos this year. [Apr. 7th, 2015|06:56 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I think there are three reasonable ways to vote for the Hugos this year. The first is to vote as usual, ignoring whether a work was on the Sad Puppy slate or not. There are a handful of actually competent awards and people on the Sad Puppy Slate, who, judging by skill alone, could deserve a Hugo. I mean, I wouldn't expect every voter to force themselves to read more than a sentence or two of works which they find they actually hate, but there are a couple works and people who aren't offensive, and may even be competent. For instance, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a perfectly reasonable choice for Best Dramatic Long Form, and might have won the Hugo without any campaigning for it. Were I a voter, and absent any other considerations, it would probably be my choice.

In a completely related question, how the HELL did Jennifer Brozek end up on the Sad Puppy slate? This is not a rhetorical question. She is a member of Broad Universe, which makes her an SJW and the enemy by the Sad Puppy definition. What the hell?

The second option is to ignore anything on the Sad Puppy slate and only consider the remainder of the choices. As I suggested two paragraphs ago, this might cut out actually decent choices, but one could reasonably argue, and smart people I know have been reasonably argued, that voting for anything on a slate has a tendency to legitimize the very concept of a slate.

And the third option is to vote No Award on EVERYTHING, or at least everything that has at least one Sad Puppy on it, on the argument that the award is tainted. Because the slate voting pushed something ELSE out of consideration. It might be that the actual best work WOULD have been nominated absent the slate, but the slate broke the process irredeemably.

Like I said, I can see, have seen, and continue to see, good arguments for all of them.

And I hate ALL of the choices. They ALL either legitimize the Sad Puppies, or allow them to destroy the Hugos outright.

I don't have any solutions. Maybe require a short essay with each nomination explaining why you think it's worthy? With punishments for plagiarism, like revoking of membership, because, well, plagiarists suck?

That's a joke, of course. Unless you think it might work.
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This comic is deeply meaningful to me. [Mar. 24th, 2015|08:26 am]
Xiphias Gladius


I'm a pedant who volunteers at a crisis line. This comic is aimed at me.
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You can have cultural differences even within a family [Mar. 22nd, 2015|08:45 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
We went up to my grandparents' family cottage in Vermont because several of my cousins and aunts and uncles, including two from Australia, were up there for some late-season skiing. And obviously, we don't see the Australian branch of the family very often, so we make an effort to spend at least a few hours together on the occasions when any of them come by. And we had a lovely time.

But we noticed one interesting difference between a number of the folks in the family and us. Some of the people in my family prefer to have a television playing as background noise during social occasions. They don't want to WATCH it, unless there's an interesting sports event on; rather, they turn it to random Home and Garden shows or the like -- cooking shows, "how things are made" shows, home remodeling and interior design shows. They turn the volume low enough that you can hear that people are talking, but not what they're saying. I think they just like having extra human voices in the background, and don't like having big blank black rectangles sitting around -- they'd rather have some motion, color, and human sounds.

When we've been over at their house, they've had the Chromecast default screen on, which is a rotating selection of landscape and artistic photography. If they've got something like that, they don't need actual TELEVISION on the television; they just don't like having a visual blank.
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