Sunday, October 31, 2010

Disgustingly Cute, Halloween Edition: Teddy Bear Zombies Attack!

ZOMBIE TEDDY BEAR APOCALYPSE!  I laughed hysterically.  I mean, hysterically.   Then I watched the video about five more times.  Happy Halloween, everyone!  (Warning: insane toy violence ensues in the video from BBC Comedy, an outfit that has some sick sense of humor -- I mean, HUMOUR.)

A Thrilling Halloween Light Show

You don't have to wait for the Christmas season anymore to do incredible things with house decor, apparently.  Take a look at this effort!

Hating on "Twilight" in Delicious Detail

The Kamikaze Editor sent me the link to a website called Reasoning with Vampires, and I have been amusing myself with it for days.  Some enterprising, dedicated hater of "Twilight" has gone to great lengths to dissect and disassemble it.  You knew the book sucked, but you may not have ever fully appreciated the sheer magnitude of its awfulness.  In some ways, this is the literary version of the magnificent video beatdowns of the Star Wars prequels.  Our hater scans in an actual bit of the book and then adds her own observations.  The result is often brilliant and always entertaining.  Here, let me give you an example.  Click to enlarge.

Quote of the Day: On Presidential Attack Politics -- "A Strategy of Rank Division"

Two liberal Democrats have some home truths to deliver:
We write in sadness as traditional liberal Democrats who believe in inclusion. Like many Americans, we had hoped that Obama would maintain the spirit in which he campaigned. Instead, since taking office, he has pitted group against group for short-term political gain that is exacerbating the divisions in our country and weakening our national identity.  The culture of attack politics and demonization risks compromising our ability to address our most important issues - and the stature of our nation's highest office.
Hear, hear.  How many times do I have to condemn the politics of demonization?

Halloween Paranoia: the Real Fantasy of Horror

Killjoys with no sense of humor who are busy ruining other people's fun?  Now that's really scary.  Anyway,  here's something to think about:

MM in the Kitchen, Halloween Edition: Fake Blood

Here you go, kids!  The recipe is surprisingly easy and totally safe -- meaning it's made of entirely edible components.  Here's the how-to for making a big goopy sticky nasty-looking batch of "Kensington Gore."  By the way, you may recognize the guy making the fake blood.  That's British actor, TV presenter, and screenwriter Mark Gatiss, who has appeared in all sorts of shows including "Doctor Who" and recently embodied Mycroft Holmes in the new BBC "Sherlock."  He can definitely assume a creepy persona, all right!

OK, am I a bad person for being somewhat disappointed that Gatiss didn't end the video by splattering that bowl-o-fake-blood everywhere?

History for Halloween: Le Creepy Jack-O-Lantern, C'est Moi

Hey, kids!  How about a decorated gourd containing the blood of a guillotined French king?   Umm ... Eww.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kitchen Notes: Bento Boxes for Halloween

Take a look!

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: Hello Pumpkin

Is no holiday safe from the depredations of the ubiquitous mouthless Japanese cartoon cat?  Apparently not.

MM in the Kitchen: LOVE ME SOME PIE.

It's apple season here in Nerdworld, and I love pie.  I loooooooooove pie.  Here's an easy recipe (you can cheat by buying ready-made pie crust).  This is going to make the apartment smell simply fantastic while also warming it up on a chilly autumn day.  Speaking of delicious, here's an added treat for La Parisienne and the Kamikaze Editor, in honor of our "Supernatural"-fest last night.  Here's a shout-out to those early days of the show when it captivated us.  (It just might be captivating us all over again -- here's hoping.)

Oh, I can't help myself.  I have to have a soft spot for a show that, ostensibly about cute, quippy guys killing monsters, has a long-standing love for food in general and pie in particular.  Sometimes, pie even appears as part of the plot.  Remember this episode?

"I hope your apple pie is freakin' worth it!"

Movie Madness: Books Versus Movie Adaptations

Are some movie adaptations of books better than the source books themselves?  Here is a list of 10 candidates. Let the debates rage!  I add Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight."  As soon I read the book, I declared a pre-emptive victory for the movie because "frankly, there's no way that it could reek more than the book."  (As it happened, I was right.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Couch Potato Chronicles: Truth or Dare, Winchester Style

Once is a fluke.  Twice is a coincidence.  Three times is a pattern.  And this pattern is a great one.  We just got our third excellent "Supernatural" episode in a row, and as the lovely La Parisienne just said, "Our boys are back!"  Oh, and welcome back, darlings!  (Plus Castiel, whose first appearance this season was very welcome indeed.)  Dare I say that the show has recovered itself?  Here's a bit of everyone's favorite trench coat-wearing angel as he appeared tonight:

Overall for the episode?  From the instant the title appeared, hopes were high for a good episode.  Come on, with a title like "You Can't Handle the Truth" for a story about a curse that makes people engage in total brutal unwilling honesty?  The show's recovered its sense of humor and pop culture savvy.  Even better, the storytelling was both engaging and entertaining on all its different registers from its throwaway bits of hilarity (Bobby oversharing on the phone ... and Dean's response) to its development of the narrative arc of Sam's troubling behavior and Dean's increasing concern about his brother, even in the middle of being forced to tell the unvarnished truth about himself -- or, at least, his own self-perception.  (I did tell La Parisienne that I had never loved Dean as much as I did right then.)  As for Sam ... The signs were there from last week that he is not all right, that there is something profoundly and disturbingly wrong with him, and this week's episode developed this rather well, all the way through his bizarre ability to lie, right now to the zinger at episode's end.

As for Dean himself, I was wary that his character would degenerate into the sort of previous impotent moping that I so hated ... but I needn't have worried.  This time around, he may be ridden with his own psychological torments, but somehow it's all right.  "Poor sad Dean," we ladies said, and then watched him beat his monster to a pulp with a grim determination.  I for one can't wait until the next episode.

Blog Post Title of the Day: "Aw Man, Even Mount Everest Has Better 3G Reception Than We Do"


Friday Fun Video: the Snapping Jack-O-Lantern

This is just awesome (link includes directions for making your own!):

Nerd News: UVA Repeals Its Campus Speech Code

YES!  Another win for freedom of speech on campus.  But let's not rest until every campus speech code is put into the dustbin.  Meanwhile, well done, University of Virginia.  Your famous founder, I think, would be pleased.

Quirky Asia Files: the World's Biggest Sushi Mosaic Created in Shanghai

Oh, I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Disgustingly Cute: A Rescued Baby Hummingbird

Nothing is as touching as a boy and his dog hummingbird!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Elitism and Public Life

Interesting.  Let me tell you too that self-identified and credentialed smart people aren't usually as smart as they think they are ... and are extraordinarily blind to their own flaws and foibles.

Nerd Fun: What College Major Should You Study?

The title for the thing is -- oh so incisively worded -- "All Signs Point to Debt."

In Terms of Economic Policy, WWMFD

What would Milton Friedman Do?

Kitchen Notes: Perceptions and Reality of Ethnic Cuisines

Plus lots of pretty Venn diagrams! This is darn interesting stuff, actually.  Here's the methodology:
I polled Texans -- not just Houstonians -- on what they thought of when they were asked to consider foods from places like Ethiopia, Lebanon, Germany and several other countries. Through Facebook, Twitter, email and personal interviews, I compiled the most common responses from Texans far and wide. And then I set out asking people that were actually from those countries what their idea of commonly consumed foodstuffs were. I was interested to see how often the American concept of another culture's food overlapped with that culture's actual dining trends. And that's where Venn diagrams come in.
The results were surprising in some areas, not so in others. In the Venn diagrams below, you'll see Texans' answers on the left, the actual countryman/countrywoman's answers on the right, and any overlap between the two in the middle.
Here's an example.  Go read the whole thing. (I am curious, though: how large were the testing samples?  And how about repeating this little experiment in different parts of the country, not just one state?)

Nerd News: A History Professor, "Social Justice," and Academic Freedom

Let's talk about actual versus putative academic freedom.  Remember history professor Thaddeus Russell?  Now meet history professor KC Johnson.  Absolutely infuriating -- and all too indicative -- quote from the piece:
"What was so offensive… was this argument that an individual faculty dissenter needed to be silenced to promote academic freedom."
By the way, the tag "nerds behaving badly" refers not to the history profs, but to their shameless critics and persecutors.  Academic freedom, like the right of free speech and expression, ought to apply as much to ideas you don't personally like.  Not that that sort of actual honorable behavior applies in academia, apparently!  (Haven't these nerds ever heard of Voltaire?)  And you wonder why on campus my co-renegades/heretics and I keep our opinions to ourselves, ugh.  Note, though, some hopeful signs that ideologically aggressive faculty are nevertheless incapable of suborning all their students.  As a large number of Russell's students supported him, see too the pushback of some students in the Brooklyn College case.  We're not ALL dumbly impressionable sheep.  (And in the endless wrangling of campus culture wars, people on both sides do tend to forget this.)  

By the way, the term "social justice," like the term "diversity," has become a linguistic idiocy that in fine Orwellian fashion means the dead opposite of what you think it does.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Throw the Book At Them: the 50 Most Hated Literary Characters

It is time to get your hate on, bibliophiles!  (Especially you, La Parisienne and Kamikaze Editor!)  See if you agree or disagree with the choices and rankings of the 50 most hated characters in literature.

I gotta say, though, this list has utterly endeared itself to me by proclaiming that the #1 spot belongs to Bella Swan and Edward Cullen and #3 to Holden Caulfield.  YESSSSSSSSSS!  (Remember my previous hating on "Twilight" here and on Holden Caulfield here.)

Here, let me give you the top 10 for you to harsh on to your heart's content:
  1. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen
  2. Cholly Breedlove
  3. Holden Caulfield
  4. Scarlett O'Hara
  5. Iago
  6. Anita Blake
  7. Tom Buchanan
  8. Heathcliff
  9. Dolores Umbridge
  10. Dorian Gray
For the record, I hate plenty of the people on the list, but I reserve a special nerd-rage for insufferable #43 Robert Langdon, whom not even lovable nebbishy Tom Hanks could make me love.  By the way, Satan barely makes the list at #50 ... because, I suspect, Milton did too good a job in Paradise Lost and turned the Prince of Darkness into a too memorable an eloquent anti-hero.  I mean, you gotta give props to a poet who lets Satan hold a pep rally in hell.  I'm serious!

Quote of the Day: Income Inequality and Its Shibboleths

Here's an observation:
Arguments about the fairness of "income distribution" are not really arguments at all. They are tautologies that embed preconceived answers in the question, allowing no rebuttal.
Read the whole thing.  Was I just recently banging on about this general idea?  A parting zinger from the article:
Imagine a workers' paradise in which income inequality is eliminated by government command. Wait, we don't have to imagine. Go visit Cuba.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nerd Fun: Indiana Jones Fails to Get Tenure

I laughed out loud!  Read the whole thing.

Nobel Peace Laureates Rally for Liu Xiaobo

Here's a story worth sharing ... though I must say there are some notably absent names from the list of signatories.  Hmmm.  The letter is here in PDF. You will recall, of course, that imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Peace Prize.

Nerd News: the End of the College Textbook?

All hail the rise of the (cheaper!) e-textbook?

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

The next time some pie-eyed city dweller tells you that Nature is all touchy-feely and Disney-esque cuteness, you can disabuse him/her with one of these tales.  (In a funny coincidence, I had just watched "The Ghost and the Darkness" on Netflix the other night.)  Aaaaaand, since I have a wicked sense of humor, suddenly the lyrics of Hall and Oates are rampaging through my head.  What song of theirs?  Come on, do you really have to ask?

Awesome: Amazing Natural Phenomena

Do take a look.  I really like the sun dogs, myself.

Quote of the Day: On the French Demonstrations

In a nutshell?  Here it is:
The French have the habit of deploying the revolutionary gesture in the service of the reactionary cause of stopping change.
The latest round of strikes and social unrest in the face of even modest attempts at reforming an utterly unsustainable system is all of a piece.  Nothing makes people more selfish than socialism in the style of the French and the Greeks, or more cavalierly callous about the future, or more inflexible and unable to deal with a changing world.  What I always find bemusing is the spectacle of university students out there protesting the idea of retiring at 62 instead of 60.  I mean, seriously? These "kids" haven't even really entered the labor market yet.  But by golly they want the guarantee of a cushy retirement.

Quirky Asia Files: South Korean Pop Stars and the G-20 Summit

Via the Foreign Policy blog comes this bit of Korean quirkiness.  I don't even know what to say other than:  This is probably the most fun that the G-20 summit in Seoul is ever going to have.  Are y'all ready for this?    (Warning: if you don't like -- or think you might not like -- K-Pop, get ready to hit the "mute" button or your ears might bleed.) 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Quirky Asia Files: Taiwanese Woman Marries Herself

Um ... Yeah.

Geek Fun: A Tiny Functioning Cannon

This is about five kinds of awesome ... and a perfect demonstration of what can happen when bored technophiles decide to have some fun.

Though she be but little, she is fierce.


Because otherwise the prospect is simply too horrifying to think about.

99 Weeks of Unemployment

I actually saw this last night when I flipped channels to "60 Minutes" -- a show I never watch.  Still, the Cine-Sib texted me to go because the show was doing a segment on "Top Gear" (our favorite source of televised vehicular British mayhem), so I went over to CBS.  Aside from the "Top Gear" piece,  "60 Minutes" ran this report on unemployment and  the wretched state of things.  The actual national unemployment rate is close to 17%.  Yikes!

Monday Therapy: Time Flies Over San Francisco

Lovely!  Note the airplanes in their landing patterns into the Bay area.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Couch Potato Chronicles: Live Free or Twihard -- Dean Winchester 1,000,000, Twilight 0

The title of the most recent new episode of "Supernatural" is so simply awesome that I can't top it.  In fact, most of the episode was a hilarious bit of subgenre-on-subgenre violence.  Oh, sure, technically both "Supernatural" the show and Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" books/movies inhabit the "supernatural/fantasy/horror/sci fi" supergenre, but that is no reason for the two to play nicely together. In fact, "Supernatural" pulled out the stops to bash "Twilight" mercilessly and relentlessly for pleasure and profit, and I frankly LOVED it.

From the opening sequence's riff on "vapid idiotic 17-year-old girl loves creepy vampire pretty boy" (I can't have been the only one who laughed uproariously when the girl's name turned out to be "Kristen" and her vampire lover boy's "Robert") to Dean's priceless reaction to the girl's ridiculously decorated bedroom/shrine-to-vampires, the "Twilight"-bashing was delicious.  Haters gonna hate, I hate "Twilight" with a fiery vengeance, and I hadn't had this much pop culture hate-filled fun in a while!  Plus, here are just two of the numerous quotable lines: "What are you, twelve?... Are you wearing ... glitter?!" and "These aren't vampires, man!  These .... these are d*****bags!"

Here's Exhibit A of Dean's glorious animosity (from 0:00 to 1:35):

So there you have it.  Two memorable "Supernatural" episodes in a row (I loved last week's Bobby-centric tale, as you recall), and the show, apparently remembering finally that it was its combination of snarky pop-culture humor and tongue-in-cheek genre storytelling that made it great in the first place, is beginning to win me back.  Besides, Dean Winchester is once more fun to watch, now that he's no longer spending every other moment of screen time moaning and wailing and hand-wringing.  Let's get back to the fundamentals, shall we? "Cute Guys Killing Monsters While Cracking Jokes About Pop Culture and Listening to Awesome Music."
UPDATE:  Take a look at io9's review.

Dollars and Sense: Two Thoughts on Wealth and Poverty

Read this and look for a great quote: "The only way to fight poverty is with employment."  Well, duh.  Handouts accomplish little in the long run.  Do I really have to give you the fortune-cookie-worthy quote about how to feed a man for a day versus how to feed him for a lifetime?  (Hint: the first involves a handout.  The second involves skills.) I would add that the corollary to employment is really trade and wealth creation (and add t0o the protection of private property).  There really is a vital nexus among the ideas of free markets, free people, and property rights.  Then watch this:

Of course you know that I am firmly in the camp of the "let's make more wealth and then everybody wins."  Consider, perhaps, the experience of standards of living in Taiwan just from WWII to the present day.  Frankly, a lot of leftists seem to look at people whom they define as "wealthy" (and you better hang onto your wallets, because pretty soon that means you, as their rapacious appetite for both spending and confiscatory taxes continues) and consider them as the barbarian hordes considered the cities of medieval Europe -- as things to be plundered and pillaged.  Rant below the fold.

Nerd News: A Renegade History of the US by a Misfit History Professor

Check this out!  
I gave my students a history that was structured around the oldest issue in political philosophy but which professional historians often neglect - the conflict between the individual and community, or what Freud called the eternal struggle between civilization and its discontents. College students are normally taught a history that is the story of struggles between capitalists and workers, whites and blacks, men and women. But history is also driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires -- the "respectable" versus the "degenerate," the moral versus the immoral, "good citizens" versus the "bad." I wanted to show that the more that "bad" people existed, resisted, and won, the greater was what I called "the margin of freedom" for all of us.
My students were most troubled by the evidence that the "good" enemies of "bad" freedoms were not just traditional icons like presidents and business leaders, but that many of the most revered abolitionists, progressives, and leaders of the feminist, labor, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the cultures of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the flamboyant gays who brought homosexuality out of the closet.
I had developed these ideas largely on my own, in my study and in classrooms, knowing all the while that I was engaged in an Oedipal struggle to overthrow the generation of historians who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s, controlled academic history, and had trained me. They were so eager to make the masses into heroes that they did not see that it was precisely the non-heroic and unseemly characteristics of ordinary folks that changed American culture for the better.

Aaaaaand of course the history professor who taught this got fired from his job.  He has since found another teaching position.  We need more heterodoxy in academia, not less.  THIS is the actual meaning of "academic freedom."  Note that he was squashed by other censorious, doctrinaire nerds who should have defended his right to bring his own thoughts into the marketplace of ideas.  Note that his students defended him.  Oh, but how silly of me, talking about the free exchange and debate of actual ideas on a college campus!  And students should be confronted with ideas and evidence that challenge their preconceptions and force them to think and look at evidence (especially because far too many of those pre-programmed ideas and notions are FLAT WRONG and implanted there by people with agendas ... You should have seen the astounded, appalled looks on some undergrads' faces when I told them -- with distressingly clear evidence -- that pre-European native tribes of the Americas were not indeed "noble savages" living in utopian Kumbaya-singing peace and harmony with nature and each other ... What are these people "learning" in the high schools?  Watching Disney's "Pocahontas"?  But I digress).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Giving Beijing Residents the Cold Shoulder

Well, hey!  Temperatures have plummeted and Beijing's central government refuses to turn the heat on for millions of freezing Chinese, but the some greeniacs at CBS News thinks this isn't all bad:
There is one silver -- or green -- lining to weeks of goose bumps. Beijing's power plants burn through 41,000 tons of coal every day to keep the city's residents warm in winter. That energy is saved each day the government keeps the radiators turned off.
So ... it's OK if millions of people are miserably shivering?  Helplessly and needlessly?  What about the health risks to the elderly, the infirm, the sick, or the children?  Ugh!  It's inhumane.  Part of me thinks there is a certain breed of greeniac out there who dreams of the day when a green tyranny can do this sort of thing to everybody.  In the name of saving the earth, of course.  I'll tell you what, though.  Ain't nobody gonna tell me if and when I can turn on the heat or air conditioning in my own apartment for which I pay my own (increasingly expensive) electricity bill, dammit.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Meet the Phone Box Library in England

Brilliant.  Talk about creative repurposing!

Movie Madness: Martin Freeman Is Bilbo Baggins

AND THERE WAS GREAT REJOICING IN THE LAND!  Freeman will be perfect; just remember his fine performance in the original British "Office," his turn as Arthur Dent in the "Hitchhiker's Guide" movie, and his Dr. Watson in the new BBC modern-day Sherlock Holmes.  For even more nerd movie joy, take a look at the rest of the announced cast of Peter Jackson's Hobbit flick.  

Friday Fun Video: Beethoven's Fifth Salsa

Depending on your mood, you may find this hilarious or horrifying.  I kind of liked it myself because it's just so darn insane.  The music was arranged by Norwegian musician Sverre Indris Joner.   Have a listen, gentle reader, to this mashup of Beethoven and salsa!

PS:  I do have to say, though, that I though the salsa "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" worked a little better?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nerd News: The World's Oldest Grad Student?

Bholaram Das of India celebrated his 100th birthday ... and then signed up for a PhD program at Guwahati University.  The indefatigable Mr. Das, a retired teacher, lawyer, and judge, stated that one is never too old to learn and that he had been thinking about pursuing a doctorate since his school days at Calcutta University in the 1930s.  Good luck and best wishes, sir!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Satire Alert: The World According to San Francisco

From Tigerhawk.  Click to enlarge so you can see every hilarious detail of this utterly stereotyped, reductionist pseudo-geography.

Nerd Tips for Better Living: Thinking About Ditching Cable

Hmmmmm!   See this too.  It just might be more cost-effective to cancel traditional cable and go for alternative (and legal!) sources of your favorite TV shows.  I hate how the cable companies refuse to offer channels a la carte and instead make customers buy packages that are full of channels we don't want.  As for watching movies, see this.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Forgotten Nerd History: In WWII, Allied Math Nerds Did What Spies Could Not

They figured out the number of tanks that Nazi Germany was producing per month.  Awesome!  Even better: later, the math nerds' estimates were proven almost exactly right.   (They were off by 1 tank per month.)

Nerd News: Campus Diversity and Its Discontents

Some Princeton researchers have been working on the issue.  The no-longer-a-surprise = diversity campaigns hurt Asian students.  Remember, Asians don't count as a minority.  Too successful as a group.  I wish I were kidding, but I'm not.

Preserving South Korea's Traditional Architecture

Sounds like something of an uphill battle?

Nerd News: Law Student Wants His Money Back

Hilarity ensues?

The New Hotness: "Heatballs" in Germany!

Do you remember this idiotic EU attempt to ban incandescent lightbulbs?  Now Dignified Rant and awesome Aussie Tim Blair report a supremely glorious act of legal, commercial, creative, humorous defiance by two enterprising Germans:
A German entrepreneur is bypassing a European Union ban on light bulbs of more than 60 watts by marketing his own brand as mini heaters.
Siegfried Rotthaeuser and his brother-in-law have come up with a legal way of importing and distributing 75 and 100 watt light bulbs – by producing them in China, importing them as “small heating devices” and selling them as “heatballs.” 
… On their website, the two engineers describe the heatballs as “action art” and as “resistance against legislation which is implemented without recourse to democratic and parliamentary processes.” 
Outstanding!  *MM blows a kiss and throws roses.*  

Blair also notes the free market at work:  "the first batch of 4,000 heatballs sold out in just three days, generating a toasty turnover of more than $9,500."  For the record, I only half-joked when the EU lightbulb ban went into effect that soon we would have "a thriving international black market in contraband lightbulbs."

Here is the official website of the Heatball, by the way:   Take a look at their self-description:
Ein Heatball ist ein elektrischer Widerstand, der zum Heizen gedacht ist. Heatball ist Aktionskunst! Heatball ist Widerstand gegen Verordnungen, die jenseits aller demokratischen und parlamentarischen Abläufe in Kraft treten und Bürger entmündigen. Heatball ist auch ein Widerstand gegen die Unverhältnismäßigkeit von Maßnahmen zum Schutze unserer Umwelt. Wie kann man nur ernsthaft glauben, dass wir durch den Einsatz von Energiesparlampen das Weltklima retten und gleichzeitig zulassen, dass die Regenwälder über Jahrzehnte vergeblich auf ihren Schutz warten.
All the same, my favorite bit is this statement about the heatball: "Die beste Erfindung seit der Glühbirne!" -- "the best invention since the lightbulb!" Oh, I laughed out loud. Fantastic!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Has Multiculturalism Failed in Germany?

Hmmmm.  Integration issues?

Wordplay Hilarity: The Japanese Banking Crisis

This little bit of fictional entertainment is too funny.  I give you an excerpt:
Origami Bank has folded.
Sumo Bank has gone belly up.
Bonsai Bank announced plans to cut some branches.
Ninja Bank is reported to have taken a hit, but they remain in the black.

Kitchen Notes: Lavender as an Ingredient


Nerd News: Teachers' Union Skulduggery in Massachusetts

CONTEMPTIBLE (via Betsy Newmark, an AP History and Government teacher in North Carolina):
In Wrentham, Massachusetts, the teachers and the school board have not been able to reach an agreement on salary disputes. The teachers are demanding a 28% increase over the next three years. No community can afford that sort of jump in payroll even in the best of times. The teachers union hasn't called a strike because that would be illegal and they'd be liable for fines. But they have decided to take what actions they can in order to put pressure on the school board. They're refusing to work with students on independent study classes that they'd previously agreed to. They're not entering grades into a system that allows parents to check on their children's grades. But most unforgivable of all, teachers are refusing to write recommendations for seniors applying to college.
A 28% increase?  In the depths of a massive lingering recession?  Are these people mad?  Still, the worst of it all is the willful use of students as what amounts to little better than hostages.  More from an editorial in the Boston Globe:
... it’s utterly reprehensible that any teacher anywhere put students in the middle of a negotiation. We know teachers should be paid better, but towns are strapped. Parents are losing jobs and taking pay cuts. Nobody can afford higher taxes and princely raises.
So some teachers are throwing petty little tantrums, hurting students they are supposed to help, and giving a bad name to a very honorable profession.

Nerd News: Book Piracy On A Massive Scale

Frankly, though, I'm not in the least surprised.  Are you?  I mean, really.  The technology is here.  Literacy is powerful juju too, and so is the desire to get what you want for/with it and the added wish for access and portability.  Mix all this and ... BOOM!    Come on, this is basically a repeat of what's happened already to the music and TV industries.

Australia's First Saint Canonized Today in Rome

Sister Mary MacKillop sounds like she was quite an individual:
The daughter of Scottish immigrants, who was born in Melbourne in 1842, she devoted her early life to teaching children in the small South Australian community of Penola, where she came to be regarded as something of an educational pioneer.
It was in Penola that she also founded an order of nuns, Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who were dedicated to helping the poor and opening up more schools in the bush.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Couch Potato Chronicles: Bobby Knows the Secret to Survivin'

Thank goodness we got something that didn't involve lots of angsty exposition and Winchesterly whining.  Last night's new episode of "Supernatural" was -- quite honestly -- a joy.  The fun is back, along with quips and the great music and some of "Supernatural"'s best supporting characters, of whom the best of the best is Bobby Singer (played by Jim Beaver), the hard-working, long-suffering, ever-reliable unsung hero of this show.  We love you, Bobby!  (And however awesome you think Bobby is, by episode's end you figure out that he is so much more awesome than you gave him credit for being!)  Check out this lovely review and then take a look at this hilarious segment from the opening of the episode:

If you don't appreciate Bobby, you just might be an IDJIT.

Nerd Tips for Better Living: Connect Your Laptop to Your (Fabulous Huge HD) TV

Check out this nice tech tip.  Writing research papers may never be the same!

The Chile Rescue: An Awesome Triumph of Technology, Innovation, and Cooperation

Read this and also this (a bit political, but still right on the link between private enterprise/free markets and innovation).  Raise a glass to the heroic geeks and nerds who innovated and created all the technologies that were needed and the good folks (including a NASA engineer) who pitched in and put them to work with skill and speed in Chile to make possible one of the best stories of the year.  Oh, and a shout-out too to UPS, who delivered that specialty drill bit from Pennsylvania to Chile within 48 hours for free.   That's some quiet pragmatic heroism in action.  The whole international group effort in the Chilean desert was a fine show of people at their best in all sorts of ways... and a reminder that the can-do spirit lives on and is more needed than ever.  Now time to have some fun.

Mathematical Madness and 3 Birthdays

The odds must be astronomical.

Home Truths From the Founder of Home Depot

Read this.

Nerd/Geek News: Build the Babbage Engine?

Bringing some geek history to life!  Charles Babbage's Babbage Engine is often considered the first computer and dates from 1837.  The first computer programmer is Ada Lovelace, who came up with an algorithm for that machine.  (Fun fact: she was also a countess and the daughter of Lord Byron the poet.  Geek history is full of fascinating characters!)

Fugly or Fabulous: Confections? Shoes? Both?

Eye candy -- though totally impractical.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Grad School Metaphor: Always An Uphill Battle

Perfect little visual metaphor for Nerdworld!  That little Italian mountain goat is climbing a surface that is almost vertical.


From Pursuit of Serenity, do see this!

MM in the Kitchen: Rainbow Cupcakes for Alessandra's Birthday

Eye-poppingly delicious fun!

Nerd News: Thoughts on Charter Schools and School Choice in Chicago

Check out this editorial in the Chicago Tribune.

Awesome Photography: Taiwan from the Air

BEAUTIFUL.  Need I remind you that one of Taiwan's names is "Formosa"?  (From the Portuguese "Ilha Formosa," "beautiful island," used by a Portuguese ship that first saw Taiwan in the 16th century!)  I haven't been back there in far too long.  Link via the always-interesting View From Taiwan.

Friday Fun Video: Parachuting Into a Stadium

This is about a gazillion kinds of awesome.  Check out Sgt. Adam Sniffen from the 101st Airborne Division as he delivers the football to the Michigan-MSU game at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 9, 2010.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Movie Madness: "RED"

"RED," by the way, stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous."  I have to see this new action-comedy flick!  The trailer looks great, and, besides, look at the awesome cast -- Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, a delightfully crazed John Malkovich, and the timelessly fabulous Helen Mirren, all of whom prove that you are never too old to kick butt and look good doing it!  "RED" opens October 15.  Yeah, that'll teach you to respect your elders!  (Bonus fun: appearances by Ernest Borgnine and Karl Urban.)

"I kill people, dear."

Nerd Fun: Satirizing Philosophers

Since some modern philosophers are beyond parody, one enterprising cartoonist takes a hilarious potshot (via Miss Cellania):

Chilean Miners Rescued! Now For Some Humor

The HopeChange Chronicles: The Thrill Is Gone On Campus

When you've lost the pie-eyed dreamy clueless undergrads who swooned over you previously, you know you're in a spot of bother:
The Obamamania that gripped college campuses two years ago is gone. An Associated Press-mtvU poll found college students cooling in their support for President Barack Obama, a fresh sign of trouble for Democrats struggling to rekindle enthusiasm among many of these newest voters for the crucial midterm elections in three weeks.

Forty-four percent of students approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 27 percent are unhappy with his stewardship, according to the survey conducted late last month. That's a significant drop from the 60 percent who gave the president high marks in a May 2009 poll. Only 15 percent had a negative opinion back then.
OK, arguably, college students can be a fickle lot, but here one issue is the deadly idea that Obama isn't quite as "cool" as he used to be.  And there's no more fatal idea than that on campus.  CHANGE!  Besides, the novelty is long since gone.  Add too Obama's never-ending stream of long, rambling, boring speeches that sound like lectures.  If there's anything that will turn students off fast, it's lectures!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Girl Talk: Marriage vs. Personal Achievement

Read this, people!  As for the Forbes ranking of "the world's most powerful women," I thought it was silly in a lot of places.  Michelle Obama may have nice qualities of her own, but badgering the country about eating habits and being the president's arm candy doesn't mean she's more powerful than ladies who in their own right govern countries, run companies and corporations, sit as judges and magistrates, work as doctors and researchers, and so on.  The implication that she's the Most!  Powerful!  Woman!  In!  The!  World!  largely because she's Mrs. Obama is (frankly) kind of insulting.  Are we back to defining women mostly by their husbands?  How ... retrograde.  Well, then, I suppose all of us single ladies are non-entities since we haven't got a man who defines us -- or some cr*p like that.  Pffffft.

Quirky Asia Files: McDonald's Wedding Packages in Hong Kong

I swear I'm not making this up!  Talk about Happy Meals, eh?

Nerd Fun: Best Book Teaser of the Day

Read this sentence and see if you aren't curious to read more:
It's about a stolen library, an unstable monorail, several renegade sphinxes and much else besides.

Nerd Fun: Grammar Nazis

College Humor takes the popular term for rabid fans of correct grammar -- "grammar Nazis" -- and gives us this parody of the flick "Inglorious Basterds."  (I dedicate this post to La Parisienne, California Dreamer, the Kamikaze Editor, and everyone who loves good grammar ... and the Oxford comma!)

China Inside and Out

I was recently reminded again of Fareed Zakaria's breathless assertion that China's rise (to what, global hegemony?)  is "inevitable."  Really?  So I guess we all just better brush up our Mandarin and get ready to welcome our Chinese creditor overlords.  As usual, this sort of "analysis" (like Tom Friedman's idiotic Sinophiliac dreams of autocratic paradise) is far too simplistic.  Take a look at this reminder that the Chinese economy can't paper over deep internal social problems.  (Hmmm, haven't I said this before?  The most recent rant is here.  See this too.)  Here's an interesting factoid:
According to its official budget, China spent about $80 billion on defence in 2009 (although the United States and others would argue that even this massive figure underestimates the true scale). But more remarkably, it spent almost as much—$75 billion—on internal security.
Keeping the lid on Xinjiang and Tibet has clearly required massive amounts of central government cash, as has policing China’s restless provinces and dealing with public unrest. Indeed, those who venture outside the grand cities of Shanghai and Beijing see a country with surprising levels of fractiousness and casual violence.  
. . . Indeed, while the rest of the world watches anxiously as China demonstrates an increasingly assertive streak in its dealings with its neighbours and the United States, the key slogan of the current government isn’t about a ‘peaceful’ rise or how China hopes to create a better global environment. Instead, the focus is very much inward, on `harmonious development.’ China looks strong from the outside, but internally there’s a potentially devastating minefield of environmental problems, inequality, ethnic tensions and social imbalances.
Then look at this commentary by Fang Lizhi -- as the byline states -- "a professor of physics at the University of Arizona, was a leader of the pro-democracy movement in China before fleeing the country in 1989."

2 Thoughts on Obama's Public Image Problems

Thought the first. Thought the second.  Anyway, this is not unrelated to my "(Political) Life Imitates T.S. Eliot" post.  The true trouble is, I think, that while more and more people have finally realized that the campaign glitter was just glitter, Obama himself still thinks the glitter is gold.  Besides, you can't run a country on glitter and pie-in-the-sky rhetoric.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Forgotten History: Once Upon A Time In Afghanistan

The lovely Ninme has this fascinating link to photos of Afghanistan from the 1950s and 60s.  Here's the statement of purpose from the fellow who assembled the image gallery:
"Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages. But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth.
"Remembering Afghanistan’s hopeful past only makes its present misery seem more tragic. But it is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable. I want to show Afghanistan’s youth of today how their parents and grandparents really lived."
- Mohammad Qayoumi
Well done, sir.