Monday, May 31, 2010

Cool Video of the Day: Movie Superheroes -- the Musical

Here is the latest from It'sJustSomeRandomGuy, and it's brilliant as usual ... and even more so, because this one's a musical!

Memorial Day: A Personal Profile

Meet a real patriot.

The HopeChange Chronicles: Reality 4, Obama 0

According to Don Surber. British commentator Toby Harnden is none too kind either.

OK, believe it or not, I actually don't like dumping criticism on the president. I want a competent, sensible leader who will protect this great nation's interests in a dangerous world. Unfortunately, the occupant of the Big Chair is coming up short and apparently not learning on the job. I for one have just about had enough of his self-involved approach. (Guess what? It's not about you. It's about the country. And don't you dare think the two are the same thing, all l'etat c'est moi style.)

Nerd News: The Higher Education Bubble, Again

From the Insta-Prof:
The Higher Ed establishment has been selling college as a matter of emotion, self-fulfillment, and entitlement rather than economics. Nothing new about that — sports cars are sold the same way — but one doesn’t depend on the sports car to generate the income needed to pay off the sports car loan.
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cool Video of the Day: Watch This 10-Minute Short

Take a look at this charming little British indie short from 2004 entitled "Traffic Warden." I watched it all the way through, totally engrossed in the story, before I realized that the main characters do not say a single word of dialogue in the entire thing!

(And am I the only person suddenly thinking of Alison Krauss's sweet little song?)

UPDATE: OK, "Traffic Warden" is also on YouTube, but the quality's better at the first link. Still, here it is.



RELATED POST: You might like this other short film too.

Would This Wailing, Self-Pitying Narcissist Make It Through One Of My Classes?

The thought occurs to me once more. I'm just SAYIN'.

I've had students like this, and I have provided the sort of education that they had not counted on getting. They all got schooled. You wanna cry? I'll give you something to cry ABOUT.

As for the whining about how "hard" everything is, all I'll say is: BOO FREAKING HOO. Shut up and get back to work. It's called "life."

Quote of the Day: Mark Steyn on How "We're Too Broke To Be This Stupid."

PREACH IT.

Robert Heinlein on Sci-Fi Fandom During World War II

Here is a fascinating letter. It's an angry rant too, as well as a glimpse into the thoughts of a sci fi icon.

Heinlein's passionately ranting so expect some exaggerations, but there is a kernel of truth to some of what he says too. Take for instance this: "I find many other evidences of group paranoia and of psychotic infantilism---and unwillingness to face up to adult problems and to cope with them." Hmmmmm.

Nerd News: Universities vs. Student Self-Reliance?

Here is an interesting little piece. Blurb:
Modern universities are providing a failure-free existence that eliminates an important component of a free society: self-reliance.
At this point, I'm just going to say the following, because I've read a lot of op-ed pieces from both right and left about large groups and social impact/engineering. And I am kind of tired of everybody. So here is what I have to say, as a lowly teaching nerd in the trenches with the undergrads.

It is all well and good to talk about general campus culture and such, but in the end, what matters is the individual classroom with the individual instructor and how he or she runs it. Universities are comprised of individuals, be they in the administration, the faculty, or the student body. Just as we should combat apparently faceless, unaccountable bureaucracies by calling out specific scoundrels BY NAME, we should do the same with academia. It's too easy to slam in general "universities" (if you are a conservative) or "Republicans" (if you are a leftist) or "whatever large organization here" (if you are anybody at all), but in the end, the rubber meets the road in the individual.

So let's go to the individual level. For the record, if you come into my class and expect to be babied and pampered and coddled, if you think you can slack off, skip class, not study and not face the consequences of your own actions and choices, you are in for the shock of your LIFE. There is no such thing as "a failure-free existence" in my classroom. That's all I can do. I treat my students like responsible adults whether they are or not. I find this approach makes people grow up. Coddling them just makes them more infantile and whiny than ever.

Let's not all sit around and point fingers at whatever faceless group. Go out and do something practical as an individuals with/for (or even, sometimes against, though I hate to say it) individuals.

Movie Madness: James McAvoy Cast as Young Professor Xavier

Interesting choice! McAvoy's a fine actor, though, who's been on my radar ever since "Children of Dune," so I'm hopeful. So Mr. Tumnus is going to be Professor X.

Here is the official plot synopsis for "X-Men: First Class." (Look, whatever else happens with this new X-Men prequel/reboot movie project, it couldn't possibly be worse than "X-Men 3.")

Friday, May 28, 2010

Movie Review Preview: "Iron Man 2"

I promise I'll post my delayed review of "Iron Man 2" soon! Suffice it to say for now that it is the most fun movie I've seen so far in 2010, and Tony Stark's first line in the film is -- oh so appropriately -- "It's good to be back!"

Oh, Tony. How I've missed you!

As a hint of the review to come, I give you this delightful image from the movie. It captures rather well Stark's sassy yet charismatic insouciance! The shades, the hair, the suit, the doughnuts ... You're a man after my own heart, Tony.



Mmmmm . . . DOUGHNUTS.

Friday Fun Video: How Not To Break Up With Your Girlfriend

Here's a hilarious short film (9 minutes) done by the BBC called "Sweet Night Good Heart." You may recognize the two leads (David Tennant of "Doctor Who" and Kate Ashfield from the fantastic zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead").

Do take a look. Oh, and language alert: There is a grumpy upstairs neighbor who drops an f-bomb or two along the way.

So, without further ado, here is the worst break-up artist in the world attempting to dump his girlfriend. Hilarity ensues. No, really!



UPDATE: Better quality video here.

Nerd News: The End of An Oxford Tradition

Another storied eccentricity is now gone from the City of Dreaming Spires. To sum it up in one word: "Sigh."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nerd Journal: The "Doctor Who" Musical Tribute

This bit of lovingly created fan-made video is delightful, though I have to agree with one of the comments:
"To those who have finally started getting used to the fact that David Tennant is gone and that Matt Smith is the new Doctor, DO NOT WATCH THIS. It will both delight you and depress you at the same time."
Bonus: Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor! Note how he seems to be watching the tribute on TV and how at the end the Tenth seems to join the Ninth in a sort of "Retired Doctors" world. It's a charming conceit and very -- yes, La Parisienne -- meta.

Here is the video:



What fun! And yet ... I miss the Tenth Doctor more than ever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hello Kitty Geek Humor: the "Hello Schröddy" T-Shirt

I'm not labeling this the usual "Hello Kitty Monstrosity" because this is kind of ... awesome. And smart. And funny too. ( You know, kind of like ... ME!)

Look at what the playful brainiacs at ThinkGeek have devised:


Quantum mechanics have never been cuter.


Do you need a reminder of Schrödinger's cat? The idea previously appeared here in LOLcat form.

Forgotten History: Japanese Biological Warfare in 1930s-40s China

“This was the most intensive use of biological weapons in modern history. Yet Japan remains silent. And so do most of us.”

For the record, in 2002 Japan officially acknowledged the use of such weapons during the 1930s and 40s.

Nerd News: Charter Schools Versus Public Schools

Read this!

Medical News: Hearts Can Actually Break

The doctors are calling it "broken heart syndrome."

(Well, then, I guess it's a good thing, according to some of my students, that I have no heart.)

Euro Notes: European Debt Could Engulf Us All

OMG. Blurb:
The RBS economists estimate that the total amount of debt issued by public and private sector institutions in Greece, Portugal and Spain that is held by financial institutions outside these three countries is roughly €2,000bn. This is a staggeringly large figure, equivalent to about 22 per cent of the eurozone’s gross domestic product. It is far higher than previous published estimates. It indicates that, if a Greek or Portuguese or Spanish debt default were allowed to take place, the global financial system could suffer terrible damage.
Didn't I just say this?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nerd News: Professor vs. Graduates at University of Arizona Commencement

I absolutely hate it when graduation speakers use their speech as a time to gab about whatever personal political hobbyhorse they like. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks Commencement speakers should simply say congratulations and step aside, not turn their speech into a political harangue.

Quote of the Day: The Fantasy of Power

The Anchoress has some pithy words for Tom "Cheerleader for Tyranny" Friedman:
Every murderous totalitarian government of the 20th century began with some insulated group of faux-intellectuals congratulating each other on how smart they are, and fantasizing about how, if they could just install a dictatorship-for-a-day, they could right all the wrongs in the world. It is the ultimate fantasy of the narcissist. And we’ve got whole generations of them, in control of our media and our government, all intent on ‘remaking America.'
True dat.

PS: Yes, Friedman is still an idiot.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Analysis: Living in Defiance of Reason and Reality

All too true, alas.

MM (hearts) Michael Caine

Indeed.

Euro Notes: Europe's Easy Living is Unsustainable

The facts are not surprising. What is may be the fact that this appeared in the New York Times.

Here is a gloomy quoter from a 52-year-old Italian photographer, but it's applicable across all of western Europe:
“It’s going to go belly-up because no one will be around to fill the pension coffers. It’s not just me; this country has no future.”
The European model is failing, people. So why do you want to copy it?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nerd Journal: MM's Got a Feeee-vah and the Only Cure Is The Doctor

Actually, it's not just me. An entire bevy of my friends and I need the same prescription.

(Of course, I'm pretty sure this isn't as much as "cure" as "treatment," since I daresay none of us really want to be "cured," even though every single one of us has stated that our devotion to the Doctor makes no sense at all since he's not our 'type.' But in apparent defiance of everything, his sheer adorability and unmistakable talent conquer all, along with the total awesomeness of being a Time Lord. A Time Lord, people! In fact, we're all hanging onto our Doctor as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on -- hey, wait a minute, I'm quoting Shakespeare and I can't stop! But that's another disease altogether.)



"He's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time, and he can see the turn of the universe. And ... he's wonderful."
-- from "Family of Blood"(2007)

I'm sorry, Eleventh Doctor. I'm so, so sorry. I like you very much, I do. But you've got a long way to go before you can come close to the place of the Tenth.

Oh, and add a shout-out to the Ninth, who was brilliant but often forgotten!

UPDATE: Since I never pass up an opportunity to harsh on "Twilight"! Plus the sentiment is actually true here.

"30 Rock" 1, London Olympics 0

"30 Rock" is a darn amusing little sitcom. Take a look at this scene with Michael Sheen and Tina Fey. It made me laugh out loud.



"I don't want to go back to England.
I can't suffer through the London Olympics."

Well, the London Games could be shambolic. I mean, just look at their newly unveiled mascots.

The HopeChange Chronicles: Krauthammer on Foreign Policy

It's everything I've been saying for a while now and then some.

Quirky Euro Files: Italian Fashion Ads Spark Controversy

These ads are idiotic.

Kitchen Notes: Brownies, Pentagon-Style

Heh! The instructions are 26 pages long! Here it is as PDF.

BONUS: Am I the only person who giggled to see how "chocolate" was spelled in the title? Come on, people.

Oh, here are some brownie recipes you can actually use, since I would be more evil than usual if I posted about brownies without actually giving you a way to make some, right?

Taiwan: Ma and the Military

*Sigh.*

Forgotten History: Captured British Troops at Dunkirk

We remember the 200,000 British and 140,000 French, Polish, and Belgian troops who were successfully evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940-- and we should.

But recall too, the 40,000 British troops who did not make it out and were captured by the Nazis. A recent British documentary tells their story.

Nerd News: Fresh Hell as UC Berkeley Requests DNA From New Students

Good grief. Here's some unbridled commentary.

Nerd News: Academics + Politics = Death By Professor?

There's enough truth in this to make me cringe. I would know. And I think, overall, that I would prefer death by chocolate.

The trouble is, things that "work" on campus do not usually work in the real world. But far too many eggheads don't understand this.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Truer Words Were Never Said: Brazil's Lula da Silva Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

Heh! Hey, now, wasn't that a confession that socialism can't create wealth, only move it around? I told you so.

Friday Fun Video: Boating in a Bouncy Castle

Check out this bit of hilarity as some British pranksters crash an Italian regatta on Lake Garda.

Quote of the Day: Mark Steyn on Respect and Offense

Here's something interesting in the context of the Mohammed cartoon saga:
I'm bored with death threats. And, as far as I'm concerned, if that's your opening conversational gambit, then any obligation on my part to "cultural sensitivity" and "mutual respect" is over.
He's not, by the way, talking about provocation for its own sake, which he describes as "one of the dreariest features of contemporary culture." True dat too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Number One in the World!

Every country is best at something. Check out this glorious map from the always-fascinating site Information is Beautiful.

FYI, Taiwan is ranked #1 in the world for phalaenopsis orchids (and I can attest to the truth of it -- those gorgeous flowers are everywhere over there).

Japan, by the way, is #1 in the world for robots. No surprise there!

Best Headline EVER: "Ninjas Rescue Student From Muggers"

Check out this news story from Sydney, Australia!

Movie Madness: Teaser Poster for New Narnia Film, "Voyage of the Dawn Treader"

Life Imitates Satire: Terry Pratchett Slams Doctor Who As "Ludicrous"

Pot, meet kettle!

Pratchett's comic fantasy novels of Discworld are quirky, hilarious, and absurdist. I wouldn't say, though, that a world that's flat and balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant cosmic turtle was anything other than conceptually ... what's that word? Oh yes ... ludicrous. But it's not any the less FUN. (Who doesn't get a giggle from merely saying the names "Death and Binky"?)

Oh, well. There's no accounting for taste -- though I find it darn amusing that Pratchett's still watching "Doctor Who" even as he's slamming it.





OK, so maybe the hair is a LITTLE ludicrous.
(But the Doctor himself remains fantastic!)

Girl Talk: Is There a Difference Between "Single" and "Unmarried"?

Someone over at the New York Times has her undies in a twist about this. Yup, it's that sometime-harridan Maureen Dowd, and she's saying stuff like this:
Single carries a connotation of eligibility and possibility, while unmarried has that dreaded over-the-hill, out-of-luck, you-are-finished, no-chance implication. An aroma of mothballs and perpetual aunt.
Seriously? She goes on to create a dichotomy between "fun single" and "sad unmarried."

Girls, don't we have better things to do -- like live our lives?

South Korea Condemns North Korea Over Torpedo Attack

Things heat up on the Korean peninsula. More from Dignified Rant.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Enlightened Despotism: Not Just for the 18th Century Anymore!

Oh, bother.

What Fresh Hell Is This? London 2012 Olympic Mascots Unveiled

You have got to be kidding. I like this description from the British news story:
Two-parts Pokemon to one-part lava lamp with yellow 'Taxi’ lights on their foreheads
Well, how utterly adorable. How I can't wait to rush out and buy merchandise with their precious little faces on it.

Check out this horrifying video at the London 2012 website.

You know, I had thought that the artistically backward lot of nimrods in charge of the London Games could not possibly do worse than their disgusting train wreck of a logo. Never underestimate the power of stupid people working in groups!

That I am an ardent Anglophile is no secret, but so far the London Olympics effort has been nothing less than an epic fail on virtually all artistic fronts.

UPDATE: This British tabloid says that each mascot's huge single eye is actually supposed to be a camera that "lets [it] record everything." WHAT? That's just sounds creepy and intrusive, though maybe it's also a reflection of London's five gazillion trillion CCTV cameras. Um ... EW.


Life Imitates the Onion: Computer Algorithm Can Detect Sarcasm

Can you think of anything more useful and awesome???!!!

*end snark*

Still, these software geeks from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem are pretty darn cool for coming up with this, and I mean it. Here, read their abstract (PDF). The Cine-Sib and I have often been bemused/impressed by the comp sci and tech R&D in Israel, and I guess this time we're tickled too.

Disgustingly Cute Nerd News: the Argonaut Octopus

It's more quirky than cute, admittedly, but it's a fascinating creature all the same, and scientists working with Museum Victoria in Australia have recently made a new discovery about it. More here.

Secular Blasphemy + Quote of the Day

Read the whole thing.

Quote of the Day, by University of Exeter philosopher Edward Skidelsky:
"the extension of the 'denier' tag to group after group is a development that should alarm all liberal-minded people."
Well, DUH. Of course, a whole swathe of self-proclaimed liberal-minded people are busy demonizing with the most reductive terms possible everybody whom they don't like and marginalizing them as morons. Under the idea of "actions speak louder than words," I submit that such folks are not at all classic liberals in the slightest.

As for blasphemy, didn't I just post about how political zealotry itself is a kind of secular religion? Maybe I should eventually post about the impulse to worship mingled with the impulse to persecute. And all excused under the idea of moral superiority.

Nerd Fun: Starstruck At The Planetarium

This is for La Parisienne and California Dreamer! Actually, this is for everybody, because -- seriously -- who doesn't love going to the planetarium when you go to your natural science museum? Astronomy is such a joy.

Here's a bit from "We Are Astronomers," a British planetarium program (or should I say, "programme") that is, alas, not available in the US. No wonder I totally missed it during 2009's Year of Astronomy fun. Still, here's a piece of it so you can get an idea -- and a hint of some mellifluous narration.



It's not a trip in the TARDIS, but it's still a trip into the heavens.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Hello Kitty Rice Cooker


I think I just lost my appetite. Bleagh.

MM in the Kitchen: Crystallized Ginger Scones

Perfect for teatime!

Satire Alert: The Onion and Noam Chomsky

Heh! Well, you know my opinion of Chomsky and activist academics of his ilk.

Political Cartoon of the Day: Greek Debt

Here's a hilarious, if all too true, combination of the current Greek economic mess and the new "Clash of the Titans" movie:


Ash Cloud = More Travel Chaos in Europe

Out of all the various news photos from the latest travel miseries in Europe, one in particular caught my eye, so here it is. On the teeny-tiny, minuscule, microscopic, off chance that you don't see right away WHAT caught my eye, well ...



There's no place like home.

Public Service Announcement: the Royal Navy Does Not Keep an Archive of Sea Monster Sightings

Awww ... Are you as disappointed as I am? *giggle*

Nerd News: Ex-Harvard Student Charged with Faking Just About Everything

BUSTED.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Quirky Asia Files: Robot Officiates at Wedding

Where, you ask? Did you really have to ask?

The news story also has a photo of the creepy robot and the happy couple. Bonus: hubby is a professor of robotics at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, and wifey works for a robot manufacturing firm. Ah, geek love.

UPDATE: Freaky-deaky video here! Dude, I don't know about you, but isn't organizing a wedding scary enough without a weird robot creeping you out too?

Nerd News: SMU Will Pay Law Firms to Hire Their Graduates

Come on, REALLY? Shameless! (Cue the Billy Joel!)

Euro Notes: Europe's Missing Foundations, or, the Castle in the Air Crashes to Earth

Read it all.

Mangled History: Who Is This?

IDENTIFY THIS MAN.



If you successfully identified Winston Churchill, then you are more historically literate than 44% of young Britons.

Often I have been tempted to weep for the state of British education, and I'm tempted again at this latest sign of the increasing idiotification across the pond.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nerd Journal: MM on Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV, or, "Sam and Dean Who?"

Sorry, Metallicar. It's not you; it's me. MM has lost her heart to the TARDIS, and she's gone.

I feel as though I owe some kind of explanation, especially to La Parisienne, my fellow TV maven. So here it is. The short version is: if ever a TV series seems calibrated precisely to capture my imagination, the BBC reboot of "Doctor Who" (2005-present) is that series. I'll explain at length later (think of the irresistible combination of technophiliac pleasures, history-covered jaunts through time, and the whole sci fi idea), but for now, let me give you a pair of little video clips in an attempt to explain why, at its best, it is so compelling on a purely human level:



As Alessandra and I were just saying, this episode ("Gridlock" from season 3) is largely silly and involves a massive anti-grav traffic jam, a Hydra-like gigantic monster, space epidemics, telepathic aliens, and kittens. (Yes, kittens. Cute, but come on, really?) But what catapults the whole thing into the stratosphere in terms of acting and character development are the two scenes I linked above, bookending the episode. Out of the silliness comes that elegy, that scintillating flash, and the Shakespearean talents of the actor shine.

We go to the Great Idea, so often missed by TV showrunners and moviemakers, that a truly great story is character-driven, and if you don't care about your characters, then not all the CGI explosions will really fire your imagination. Besides, after that scene, I defy any fan to not feel a melancholy pang for lost Gallifrey -- and it's not even a real place. Now that is storytelling, and that is acting. MM has laughed at every melodramatic tearjerker movie she's ever seen, but Tennant's delicately modulated threnody for Gallifrey made her misty, and that was a real surprise. And I'm not often surprised. The ability of "Doctor Who" to reach for -- and to achieve -- these moments is at the heart of why I love this show.

Now onto the present season of both "Supernatural" and "Doctor Who." Really, it's almost Dickensian in its opposition -- the best of times, the worst of times ... While last Thursday's season finale of "Supernatural" was a disappointment (a crashing bore, actually -- as the delightful Kamikaze Editor said, "How did they make Armageddon boring?" 'Tis a sad mystery), the fresh season of "Doctor Who" with its new Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) has been dishing up some stellar storytelling right from its premiere episode.

In fact, while the Winchesters of "Supernatural" have been steadily frittering away my goodwill all season, the new Doctor has been growing on me. I had been extremely reluctant to commit to Matt Smith -- or anybody, really, in the role -- after the departure of the stunningly gifted David Tennant as the previous Doctor, but I have to say that the lady has been well wooed and is all but won.

Oh, don't get me wrong: sometimes "Doctor Who" can be as silly and campy as any other show, and that's fine -- and often fun anyway. A few episodes are catastrophically awful ("Fear Her" was absolutely unforgivable), but the show itself has so much potential, and it achieves that potential more than it doesn't.

"Supernatural" has been disappointing all season, and its good moments can't outweigh the bad, for the bad is a wearisome drain on its audience. The fun is gone. (In fact, the season finale was described by the critics at TV Without Pity as "bringing five years' worth of plot points and mythology to a close in the most anti-climactic manner imaginable." More here.) Do you remember when I said goodbye to "24"? I am about to say goodbye to "Supernatural" too.

So into the TARDIS! Allons-y!

Movie Review: the Cine-Sib Reviews "Iron Man 2"

The Cinema-Mad Sibling recently went to see "Iron Man 2" and then dashed off a review, complete with haiku:
Iron Man 2 pales in comparison to 2008's pitch-perfect origin story, egregiously eschewing brevity and pace for bloated exposition, opting for plot/character developments that seemingly stifle narrative flow, but does fully expand on the universe created before it, incorporating more Avengers storyline, amping up the sensory overload and culminating in a bravura-directed action showdown finale worth the admission.


Bigger not better
Longer not better
Favreau, edit it!

Talked too much at first
Should have opened with action
Blame it on the script

Rhodie, what happened?
Did you get plastic surgery?
Re-casting is dumb

Captain America!
Stay for Thor's Hammer!
War Machine spinoff!
It's basically what I was afraid of: that would not rise to the heights of its glorious original. In a way I suppose it's inevitable, since a sequel just can't possibly contain the same thrill of discovery. I'm still going to see it anyway, though -- that and "Robin Hood."

Nerd News: Student Astronomer Makes Discovery

Awesome!

In pictures, the object discovered by Marianne Heida, looks like nothing more than a speck of light on the edge of a swirling cloud.

But the unassuming shape is thought to be a giant black hole, more than a billion times the mass of the sun, flying at 670,000 miles per hour through space.

Miss Heida, a student at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, made the discovery as part of a final-year project.

Working with experts at the Dutch space research institute SRON, she was cataloguing thousands of sources of X-rays in space when she noticed one bright spot which appeared to be radically out of place – on the edge of a galaxy rather than the centre.

The object, more than half a billion light years away, was so intense such that scientists believe it is likely to be a black hole.

Her project, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is thought to be the first time that the phenomenon has been captured.

Well done!

MM in the Kitchen: Asparagus and Prosciutto in Phyllo

Oooo! These beauties would be fabulous at a nice brunch, for a lovely lunch, or at a dinner party.

Girl Talk: Who Wants To Date A Smart Girl?

This does not make me feel any better, frankly.

Quirky Asia Files: Chinese Astronauts Dine on Dog Meat in Space

I think I'll have the chicken, actually.

Friday, May 14, 2010

TV Geek Fun: Doctor Who + Buffy the Vampire Slayer = Mashup Hilarity

For the lovely La Parisienne:

Forgotten History: Horrors in the Soviet Archives

No matter how bad you thought totalitarian Soviet communism was, it was worse.

Here is a thought:
In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

. . .

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.
And that's exactly why this history nerd blogs about it. Now go read this.

UPDATE: Yes.

Friday Fun Video, Geek Edition: Singing Tesla Coils

Here's the link (and here's a reminder of what a Tesla coil is). Now here's the video. Enjoy!

Quirky Euro Files: the Swiss Road Angel

I'm not making this up, I swear!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Quote of the Day: Obama's Policies and the Recession

It's basically madness, isn't it, to hike taxes and entitlements and government spending during a time of recession? Here is the quote of the day:
If the totally irresponsible new Obamacare entitlements end up costing more than planned when they start in 2014, as is likely, the phrase "adding fuel to the fire" seems inadequate. How about firebombing the fire?
If this is supposed to be the US government coming to save us all, then I have only this to say:


Political Zealotry as Secular Religion

This is worth a look indeed. I hardly need to tell you this, though:
If twentieth-century history teaches us anything, it’s that political religions spell trouble.
Well, OBVIOUSLY.

A Horde of Angry Libertarians

Read this. Keep in mind:
The chief problem here isn't the little things that Lilla gets wrong; it's his reaction to a thing that he gets mostly right. But it's that reaction that makes the article so interesting. This is how the world looks to someone who thinks a revolt against bureaucratic institutions is a bad thing.
Me, I'm revolting. Probably in both senses of the word, ha!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Cold War Victory Parade We Never Got!

This is kind of ... awesome. (And shall we give a shout-out to the Gipper?)

Latest Ludicrous College Commencement Speech Goes To Pot

It's graduation season, which means that Commencement addresses by various well-known people are now popping up all over the country like poison toadstools.

I *hate* Commencement addresses, which almost always end up being either unbearably banal or unbearably political. Usually the thought going through everyone's heads is "Shut the hell up and give me my diploma already."

So here's the latest example of an earache-inducing speech in which the speaker talked about experimenting with illegal drugs in college. SRSLY? It's not funny -- either the topic or his policies thereon.

California Screamin': Is It the Next Greece?

I love California, and a lot of my friends and relatives live in the Golden State. Still, there is no denying that the place is a huge political and economic mess. It's Golden no more.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nerd Journal: Bibliophobia Runs Riot ... WHY WON'T FINAL EXAMS END?!

You remember my exam-time freakout from the fall semester, so the spring counterpart should be no surprise at all. I've been moaning about it for a while now!

But since misery loves company, I give you some of my favorite nerdy images of my best-loved fictional characters. If I must be surrounded by books right now, at least I can also look at pretty photos of my favorite characters doing the same ...










OK, I hope you have a pretty good idea of what Nerdworld is like right now! I cant resist adding one more image. It basically sums up my personal circumstances! I totally feel like this -- reading yourself into prostration! Yeah, higher education is SOOOOOO glamorous.



Nerd Fun: He Said/She Said, She Said/He Thought

OK, I found this and laughed out loud. Cross-gender communication (or, more accurately, the total misfire of it) can be so, so very funny.

In the hypothetical instance that a girl who loves sci fi says:


Nerd News: College And/Or Entrepreneurship

"Either/or" or "both/and"? Take a look at this interesting piece.

Here is a good quote too:
No, college isn’t for everyone. Great arguments could certainly be made both for and against finishing college. But it can be a great experience if you make it a great experience.
How many times have I told you the same thing? Along with the fact that it is your responsibility to educate yourself?

Awesome: Art and Illusion

WOW!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nerd Journal: Hilarious Asian American Humor

Dude! I just stumbled across this hysterical website dedicated to making Internet-meme lolcat-like jokes about an Asian American stereotype (one that is too often ACTUALLY TRUE). The name of the website says it all: "High Expectations Asian Father."

OMG, I laughed and laughed. And, come on now, often we laugh at comedy because it contains enough truth in it to be recognizable!

Check this one out. Oh, I laughed out loud. I did.


Demotivator Commentary: UK Politics


Congressman Cao and Some Home Truths for the Vietnamese Government

You may recall Congressman Joseph Cao (R - Louisiana), the first and only Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. He has some unvarnished truths for the Vietnamese government. Read it all -- here is Cao's letter (PDF).

Nerd News: Financial Advice for New College Grads

Worth a look!

Monday Therapy: Kittens

I don't know how much longer I can go on with this exam-time madness (need a visual metaphor?). In the last week, I've only slept for maybe 30 hours, but I know I've drowned myself in countless cups of coffee. I'm going crazy and don't know whether I should scream or cry. Today is going to be especially brutal, and I am utterly tempted to push the Big Red Shiny Button That Must Not Be Pushed Under Any Circumstances. Oh, yeah, I got your apocalypse right here, pal.

I need some kittens. So do you. Because no matter how stressed or desperate or insane the situation, there is always time for kittens. Always.





Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Little Shakespeare On Mother's Day For La Parisienne

All right, maybe I simply have a perverse and wicked sense of humor. On this Mother's Day, I give you the famous "queen's closet" scene from "Hamlet."

Mother's Day in Elsinore must have been murder!

The volcanic confrontation between Hamlet and his mother occurs in Act 3, Scene 4 (text here), and the performance is by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with David Tennant as Hamlet and Penny Downie as Queen Gertrude.

Take a look at the opening salvo:
Queen Gertrude: Why, how now, Hamlet!

Hamlet: What's the matter now?

Queen Gertrude: Have you forgot me?

Hamlet: No, by the rood, not so:
You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife;
And -- would it were not so! -- you are my mother.
What follows is either scenery-chewing melodrama (if performed badly) or (if done well) sublimely modulated personal trauma of a once-loving relationship now destroyed, and I wouldn't give you a bad performance. Pay attention to how Tennant can turn on a dime where wildly conflicting emotions are involved and swing back and forth from an almost demonic energy to near-total prostration; it's an impressive performance indeed. Downie's Gertrude is fantastic too.

Part One:




Part Two:

Nerd Journal: "This isn't going to be big on dignity." + Nerdworld Soundtrack

It's still Exam Apocalypse on campus, and everything is madness. There are only a few things that are getting me through this catastrophe, and they include, in no particular order, Netflix, coffee, Shakespeare, science fiction, chocolate, text messages, social media, and a ludicrous sense of humor.

As the Eleventh Doctor recently said, "This isn't going to be big on dignity." It's such a brilliant statement that I slapped it on my blog header, because it's TRUE. During exam time, dignity is the first thing to go, swiftly followed by sleep, sanity, and any attempt at fashion. (And yes, I realize the the elevation of a Doctor quote also means the demotion of a Dean Winchester quote. But, let's be honest, right now "Doctor Who" is running circles around "Supernatural.")

Anyway, I figure that since there's no dignity left, I might as well just post up something that's been amusing me lately -- a hilarious combination of a cheesy old 1980s love song now done by the folks from that great TV musical-comedy "Glee." I'll even dedicate it to the object of my cohort of friends' and my nerdy affection. We're all madly in love with the Tenth Doctor, embodied with wit and charm by unexpectedly adorable Scotsman David Tennant. And no, we are not fangirls. We are fanladies.




Well, none of us had set out to fall in love -- it just kind of happened. So here it goes, the "Glee" version of Bonnie Tyler!




Oh, laugh if you want to. Go on! I'm laughing too.

Public Service Announcement: CALL YOUR MOM!

Happy Mother's Day, everyone, from long-suffering moms to hard-working dads to all you filial sons and daughters.

Now stop reading this blog and go call your mother.

Moms to the Barricades! Protesting Government Overreach, Mother's Day Edition

Read this. The piece also contains this awesome quote from a mom:
Christen Varley, the Boston tea party leader [said:] "[we, mothers are] the CEO's of our households. We do the shopping, bill paying, budgeting, etc. We know less money means less freedom. Maybe if the president and Congress did the grocery shopping, they'd know why we're mad."
Go, Freedom Mommies!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Geek Wars: Nintendo Versus Apple in Cage Match

It's on.

Nerd News: University Faculty Pensions On the Chopping Block

*Sigh.*

Yes, Prime Minister: From Gallifrey to Westminster

This amusing little survey asked 2000 Brits which TV or movie character they would like to see be Prime Minister.

The top three are:

3. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" with 11% of the vote

2. M (Judi Dench) in the James Bond series with 25%

and coming in first in the poll is . . . *drum roll* . . .

1. The Doctor (David Tennant) in "Doctor Who," crushing the competition with 31%


Personally, I vote for the Doctor to be the cure for the UK's current political mess, though M should be in charge of security matters.

Movie Madness Public Service Announcement: "Iron Man 2" Opens Today!

OH, YES! (Alas, I'm drowning in exams and can't go today! BOOOOO! Maybe early next week. *sob*)

Here's the trailer, though, and there's something delightfully fun and meta about how Tony says, "It's good to be back!" I took it as a playful shout-out to the fans as much as anything else, and we have indeed been waiting on pins and needles for Tony's return.

"That It Should Come To This!" -- The Era of No Good Options

UGH!

And, as usual, my beloved Shakespeare has just the right words to say on that account ... and in the very same play, current object of my unbridled, unabashed nerdy affection (oh, OK, utter obsession), that proclaimed, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" -- though now you can probably substitute any debt-ridden, politically riven country's name for Denmark. *cough* Greece! *cough*

Meanwhile, we as the younger generation now utterly crushed by the debt bomb bequeathed to us by our all-too feckless and irresponsible elders, might well sympathize with Hamlet when he complains, "The time is out of joint: O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right!"

Well, at least my uncle hasn't murdered my father to marry my mother. But the day is still young! < / snark>

Friday Fun: A Tale of Two College Student Flash Mobs

Here is some Friday Fun for you! Via the Cinema-Mad Sibling and a fellow Nerdworld campus minion come two videos of flash mobs that took place in the last few days. (After all, when final exams are looming and the pressure is on, isn't it more fun to dance?)

At Baylor University:



At the Ohio State University:

Quote of the Day: The Times Square Terrorist

Here's a remark by a British commentator:
The fact that the man accused of planting a large bomb in Times Square almost made it out of the US and to safety in the Middle East shows that the Obama administration can’t get the most basic things right when confronted with a major terrorist incident.

The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, bought a ticket to Dubai under his own name, got on the plane, and was minutes from take-off before an alert customs agent looked over the flight manifest and spotted his name. This time we were fortunate that America’s number one terror suspect did not successfully flee the country. It also proves my long standing contention that we have plenty of dedicated and competent people in the war against terrorists — the gross incompetence only comes into play as one moves up the leadership chain.
On the last bit, you mean like this?

Might I add, for both this and the Christmas Day 2009 Pantybomber incident, we were lucky. But luck is not a counter-terrorism strategy.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Quote of the Day: The BBC and the British Election

Well, journalists and analysts and talking heads on both sides of the pond have been making a shambles of their attempts to explain the UK elections results. I rather like this caustic comment about the BBC:
Oh bloody hell ... Generations yet unborn will injure themselves laughing at the Beeb's presentation tonight.
*giggle*

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Nerd Journal: Final Exam / Term Paper Apocalypse on Campus

OH, YES. You know it! Time for sleepless nights, endless cups of coffee, and the inevitable pendulum swings between manic activity and exhausted prostration. It is exam time in Nerdworld!

So naturally I'm completely disinterested in school and instead am caught in two very different obsessions: the melancholy Dane and the technophiliac loose cannon industrialist. La Parisienne and California Dreamer, join me! The ladies love Robert Downey, Jr., but the ladies also love David Tennant, time-traveling Doctor and now tortured Danish prince.

Since I just gave a shout-out to "Iron Man 2," I'll post something Shakespearean:



Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well, Horatio --
a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy...

but he didn't pass his departmental comprehensive exams,
and now look at him.


Was that modern-dress version of Hamlet just too ... modern? Too reminiscent of grungy backpackers? Maybe. Here's something a little more ... er, "traditional"?




To be or not to be ... yours.
(Well, if that's not the easiest question ever!)

Movie Madness: Can't Wait To See "Iron Man 2"!

The FlickFilosopher says what I'm thinking! Here's a nice recap about why we all loved the first "Iron Man" -- it's Robert Downey, Jr.:
Downey was so much the reason that Iron Man worked as well as it did that the film felt like it was just waiting for him to return whenever he wasn’t onscreen ... and that includes the scenes in which Downey disappears into the Iron Man armor. They should have called the movie Tony Stark.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The HopeChange Chronicles: Resigned To A Nuclear Iran?

What fresh hell is this? Check out this analysis in the WSJ. Blurb:

We therefore face a stark, unattractive reality. There are only two options: Iran gets nuclear weapons, or someone uses pre-emptive military force to break Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and paralyze its program, at least temporarily.

There is no possibility the Obama administration will use force, despite its confused and ever-changing formulation about the military option always being "on the table." That leaves Israel, which the administration is implicitly threatening not to resupply with airplanes and weapons lost in attacking Iran—thereby rendering Israel vulnerable to potential retaliation from Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is hard to conclude anything except that the Obama administration is resigned to Iran possessing nuclear weapons. While U.S. policy makers will not welcome that outcome, they certainly hope as a corollary that Iran can be contained and deterred. Since they have ruled out the only immediate alternative, military force, they are doubtless now busy preparing to make lemonade out of this pile of lemons.

President Obama's likely containment/deterrence strategy will feature security assurances to neighboring countries and promises of American retaliation if Iran uses its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately for this seemingly muscular rhetoric, the simple fact of Iran possessing nuclear weapons would alone dramatically and irreparably alter the Middle East balance of power. Iran does not actually have to use its capabilities to enhance either its regional or global leverage.

Facile analogies to Cold War deterrence rest on the dubious, unproven belief that Iran's nuclear calculus will approximate the Soviet Union's. Iran's theocratic regime and the high value placed on life in the hereafter makes this an exceedingly dangerous assumption.
Well, DUH! Isn't this OBVIOUS?

Frankly, right now my sympathy lies with Israel and the loneliest man in the world.

Euro Notes: Analyzing the Greek Implosion In the Light of History

Here is the latest on the Greek debacle.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tragedy or Farce? the Greek Bailout Spawns Violent Protests

I don't even know how to tackle this. Greece is a prostrate mess of debt and bad accounting. That's bad enough. Now it's getting a massive bailout from EU members who are (understandably) angry at having to help out their wayward colleague. And now the Greeks are furious that the bailout will mean they must take up harsh austerity measures.

What, did they think there would be no pain?

Here is an interesting pair of quotes, though:
1) Vaggelis Gettos, 24, is just as alarmed at the burden being heaped on the young by austerity measures expected to be announced today, and has pledged to resist them in more protests this week against what he sees as a plot to impoverish Greece.

“We will live much worse than our parents,” he said. “Why should we be made to pay for their mistakes?”

2) Economists regard the bloated civil service with its jobs for life and generous pensions as a cancer consuming the country’s resources. The older generation, the experts grimly concur, turned the state into a giant cash machine to be plundered at will.
That's right -- it's a plot to impoverish Greece. Yeah, right. As if the Greeks hadn't dug their own grave with their utterly reckless, irresponsible actions that are now threatening to wreck the Eurozone!

But I have to concur with the core of Vaggelis's complaint: we're going to have to pay for the massive financial sins of our fathers, and our children will too.

The sheer finger-pointing acrimony of the Greek catastrophe (there's a good Greek word!), though, has been ludicrous on all sides, from Greeks bringing up the Nazis to Germans suggesting that Greece sell off some islands to pay off their debt.

So it seems that Milton Friedman was right when he predicted that the euro currency would not survive its first real recession.

At the New York Times, The Worm Turns

On the oil spill in the Gulf and on the GM bailout debacle and the lies that went with it, the worm turns. See too commentary here and here. Are folks at the Gray Lady finally remembering that journalism isn't the same as unbridled political cheerleading? Well, a girl can hope.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Nerd Fun, Shakespeare Edition: Film Versions of Hamlet's "To Be Or Not To Be" Speech

I am still obsessing about the Patrick Stewart/David Tennant version of "Hamlet" that aired a few nights ago on PBS (you can see the whole glorious thing online now at PBS), and I was also mentally comparing this film version to all the other film versions of "Hamlet" that I've seen.

It's been very interesting, so I thought I'd share my nerdy pleasures with you, O gentle reader. I can't link to all the films in their entirety, so I've given you just the "to be or not to be" speech.

What do you make of these different actors as they tackle this famous soliloquy?

David Tennant (2009/2010)




Sir Laurence Oliver (1948)




Richard Burton (1964)




Mel Gibson (1990)




Kenneth Branagh (1996)




Ethan Hawke (2000)



I would be remiss, though, if I did not give you the entire text of the speech itself:

To be, or not to be : that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

(I dedicate this post to those lovelies La Parisienne and California Dreamer -- fellow fans of Shakespeare and David Tennant alike!)

Oh, I can't help myself. Here's more nerdy fun with (Sir!) Patrick Stewart:



UPDATE 1: I nearly forgot to remind you of this! Or this.

UPDATE 2: La Parisienne, this one's for you.