Monday, 28 December 2009

Visual Thesaurus

This evening, while writing a pretty passage about gold atoms in an eternity band ending up at near infinite distances from one another at the end of time, I was searching for an appropriate synonym of the ordinary(!) word 'plain'. I discovered something I thought might excite Nick. Of course, he's probably already seen it, but if not, you'll have spotted it to the left of this text!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

from Hong Kong.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Drink for Lazy People

It's Christmas, and if you're like me you have totally left everything to the last minute. Here's a drink I made up from things in my cupboards, but still tastes like christmas.


1 Can of Coke
150ml Water
2 Tablespoons of honey
2 Tablespoons of lemon/lime juice
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
1 Handful of raisins


1. Put all the ingredients in a pan, and heat over a low heat until simmering.

2. Serve with a couple of shots of vodka or brandy for extra Christmas cheer.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Song... never so good taken up again halfway through.

I mean, if you listen to a song on your ipod, walking into work or college or wherever, and you pause it halfway through because you arrive at your destination, and then perhaps an hour later you put your coat back on to brave the brutal snow once again, and switching on your ipod, the second half of that song comes on again, and it's suddenly only half as good. Know what I mean?

It might be because the damn thing's been playing on repeat in your head ever since.

Or it might be a partial confirmation of my suspicion that all songs are best at their beginnings.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Horror!

So, I have watched two foreign language horror films in the last two days, which, despite not being all that scary, were still worth a quick mention on here:

1) The Orphanage: This is a Spanish film, endorsed by certifiable genius (take that how you want) director, Guillermo Del Toro. Astute readers will have realised that it's about an orphanage. It views like a M Night Shyamalan film, if M Night Shyamalan had stayed acceptably interesting after the Sixth Sense. All it needs is to end 5 minutes before the actual end.

2) Let The Right One In: A creepy Swedish vampire (small v) film, which reimagines the key points of the mythology into a largely familiar, but disturbing in the details, story. An anti-Twilight?

In Twilight the vampires sparkle. If you can forget that they are stone-cold killers (and that is made very easy with baseball matches and such), then you can lie back and enjoy the shirtless vampire hunks. Don't worry teen girls! The vampires (tellingly created by a serious Mormon) don't really want to have sex with you, that could bring out their wild (read: murderous) side. It's all chaste before marriage (read: vampirisation), not like with those real boys! Vampires in Twilight are like the safe face of mass-murdering pedophiles. It's actually a bit troubling if you think about it.

In Let The Right One In, on the other hand, stars a "12-year old" vampire "girl". Her 40-something "minder" (the relationship in the movie is ambiguous, apparently it's not in the book), bleeds innocents to death in bleak, snow-covered suburban parks then brings the take-out home for his ward. She meets a bullied, disturbed boy, and gradually draws him out of himself. The boy's maturation is disturbingly linked to his capacity for violence, his ability to control his own environment by imposing his will onto it.

Now, which film more successfully embodies the way that we, as a society, expect our children to behave? Twilight's heroine is almost unbearably annoying, possibly a bit of schadenfreude for the mainly teen female demographic. Does her damsel in distress/virgin/pseudo-whore present a positive image for her fans? Or is her passivity, her endless pining after dangerous/preternaturally safe guys, the very antithesis of what we should be aiming for? The protagonist in LTRON is flawed, but his arc in the movie is undoubtedly in a positive direction, from victim to actor. The movie is being remade for Hollywood, and I wouldn't be surprised if the negative aspects (gore, shocks, illicit sexual themes) are advanced at the expense of the more positive themes like coming-of-age and self reliance. It seems that mainstream cinema, no matter how deviant in subject matter, is unfortunately, and probably congenitally, status quo endorsing. How else do you get box office?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


I hope I'm not the only one a little freaked out by this. Apparently some octopi carry coconut shells around on the off chance they might have to hide from something.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Amazing Cellular Automaton Miracle

When I read Matt's post on cellular automata the other day, I decided to crank up my copy of Mathematica and have a little mess around. Above is a cellular automaton I created by using an extrememly large number of iterations. You know what, I thought, it would be interesting to zoom in on some of that randomness and see what I can see.

Then the weirdness happened. Below is pictured what I found when I zoomed in yet again. To be honest, I'm still a bit freaked out.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

P.O.S. + Blakroc = A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

With all the end of the decade fun I've been having, I have been neglecting some of the things that have happened in the previous year. I apologise, but I will make up for it a little bit today.

1) P.O.S.

If you're anything like me, you grew up on grunge, then worked backwards through the finest in American hardcore punk, before jumping into the 21st century via alternative rap. I understand that this is unlikely, but please bear with me. Remember the rap/rock crossover fest that was Walk this Way? Me too. Remember Puff Daddy (P Diddy?) vs. Dave Grohl on It's All About the Benjamins? No? Luckily I'm here to remember it for you wholesale. It was awesome. Now, follow me, if you will, on a flight of fancy. What if I was not good at maths, but instead was a RAP GOD! What kind of music would I make? Luckily, I don't need a time machine to head back through the ether to press a Public Enemy 12 inch into my 8 year old self's sweaty palms. No, the answer exists in the world as it is now. I believe, provided of course that I was a talented rap god (by no means guaranteed), that the music flowing from my mixing desk would sound something like P.O.S. Observe:

That drum beat reminds me, did you get the White Rabbits this year? Not sure about the album, and their London show was one of the more painful concert experiences of my life, but this single rocks with a hefty side of Awesome Sauce(tm):

Also, one thing we must never forget is that P.O.S. graced us with one of the world's greatest Pearl Jam covers. I love it:

2)Roots rock indie losers The Black Keys (to be fair to them, I only assumed that they were such based on maybe one song, and that appalling name), teamed up with some of the biggest names in rap and dropped a disc a couple of weeks ago that actually, amazingly, lives up to the (rop/rack)/(rap/rock) promise. So, despite the fact that they probably never dress in anything other than black, and never breathe in unless through the comforting mediating influence of a clove cigarette, I am forced to recommend them. Cheers, asshats:

PS: How it happened. If it happened in edited form.

PPS: 2009 was also a great year for sublegal mashups of indie music and rap. Observe:
Radiohead x Jay-Z = Jaydiohead
Sufjan Stevens + Who's who in alterna-rap

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


I am too lazy to write a real post, so I am substituting three, count them, three amusements:

1) Surveys, Republican style.

2)This guy has something called B-Roll. It's a real thing, if, like me, you were wondering.

3) The lord our (Tetris) god is a vengeful god.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Cellular Automata

I have recently been reading all about cellular automata, most recently extolled by Stephen Wolfram (creator of Mathematica, a computer programming language) in his book 'A New Kind of Science'.

The basic idea is that you start simply with a long line of squares, or 'cells', across a page. A cell can be either black or white. At regular intervals of time a new line of cells is drawn on the page immediately below the first (like an old refreshing monitor). Whether a cell on this second line is black or white depends on a rule applied to its two nearest neighbours on the first line. All sorts of rules can be immediately thought of: 'If a cell on the first line has a white cell on its right then it must be black on the second line, otherwise white.' This quickly generates a pattern of some sort that may (or, amazingly, may not) stabilise into a static or repeating pattern.

To latch onto 'amazingly' in the above paragraph: Wolfram discovered a rule, number 30, which led to a totally random result: one that did not stabilise into a static or repeating pattern but which just threw out a totally random sequence.

However, far far more interesting was rule 110 (picture above, showing the most common result of this rule). This rule threw out a result that was neither totally random nor completely repetitive; localised structures are created which interact in very complicated looking ways. In fact, it turns out some of these structures (different results are obtained by an infinite variety of starting states) are rich enough to support 'universality' - in other words they can represent everything. This, in theory, paves the way for a Turing Machine, a computer capable of every type of calculation!

So, the obvious question becomes: is the universe the product of a cellular automaton?

Unfortunately, this would require some external 'clock', which doesn't seem compatible with anything we can presently point to... or maybe we just haven't found it yet...

Saturday, 5 December 2009



Best of the 2000s: Giant Sand: Chore of Enchantment

Before they went on to achieve unexpected success as Calexico, Joey Burns and John Convertino were firmly part of the revolving Tucson musical collective Giant Sand. Giant Sand is basically Howe Gelb and friends, and it would be hard to think of a man better equipped to be the centre of such an undertaking.

Even though I love Giant Sand, they are absolutely terrifying for the newcomer. They are very much a cult band, with seemingly hundreds of records released by different line-ups, and a thriving ecosystem of collaborators and side projects (including, by this point, pretty much anyone who is anyone in indie music). He also taught guitar to Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter for the harrowing Generation X art-film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Luckily for normal people who would prefer not to spend the whole of 2010 listening to an endless stream of Howe Gelb output (It's a fools errand, he will probably release enough material in 2010 to last you for 2011, and so on. You'll only be free when he dies.), Chore of Enchantment is a safe entry point to the Pandora's box which is the Gelb output. It contains all the things that make him himself: wordplay, eclecticism, deceptively simple guitar work and an endlessly roving intelligence, and condenses them into one digestible hour.

The album is, at heart, the most upbeat memorial album ever. It is bookended by tributes to Gelb's friend and former Giant Sand bandmate, slide guitar hero Rainer Ptacek. It contains some standout moments, including Shiver, a cute country ballad which was, bizarrely, used to score a Coke commercial.

I saw Gelb play a solo show in Aarhus, Denmark, where we both lived for some time in the early years of this decade. Gelb took more away than me, his current band is filled with musicians from the thriving jazz scene there. He had with him a CD player perched on top of his piano. He played random songs, and played along on the piano, or on his red guitar. The mistakes and missteps were part of the performance, as was the open stage where anyone could join him. That's Gelb in a nutshell, generous, eclectic and genius in equal parts.

C'mon, c'mon.

Wow, I've never seen that video before. How fine it is.

Friday, 4 December 2009


I don't believe in free will, but up until about 30 minutes ago I thought that at least I was being worked like a puppet by my own genes and brain chemistry. No longer. Is it accurate to say that the rabies virus knows more about human aggression than the finest minds in neuroscience? Possibly, rabies can alter your thoughts so thoroughly as to make you want to bite someone, thus propagating itself, neuroscientists cannot.

Toxo is a cat parasite. The only place it can reproduce is within the feline gut. The cat shit, now enriched with toxo eggs, is then eaten by rats. Now the toxo has a problem, how is it going to get back into the gut of a cat? It can't just whisper in the rat's ear, convince it to get eaten by a cat. Instead it invades the cat's brain and hijacks the normal response that a rat has to cat pheromones. Now, instead of fearing them, the rat is actually sexually attracted to them. With predictable results.

Now, this would be extremely interesting in and of itself, but wait, it gets so much better. It turns out that the genome of the toxo actually has a pathway for hacking into the dopamine system found in mammals, and that's how it changes rat behaviour. So what happens when a human is infected? It was thought that a toxo infection was largely asymptomatic (except in pregnancy, where it causes developmental problems with the fetal nervous system), but recent studies have shown that a toxo infected male is 4 times more likely to die in a car accident as a result of speeding. That is stunning. This parasite, which startlingly is very prevalent, can affect human behaviour in a completely undetectable way. What else is screwing with you? What else is stealing your free will? Did you have any in the first place? Scary stuff.

You have to watch this video: Sapolsky on toxo. There is so much more in this video I can't even begin to start, best 25 minutes I've spent all week. Sapolsky also wrote a fantastic book, A Primate's Memoir, about his time as primatologist in Africa.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Flash Fiction III

Being a story, in under one hundred words (including this introduction), which contains the requisite Beginning, Middle and End.

A Beginning: She woke up and stretched luxuriously.

A Middle: A chase. In the end and after many trials, he successfully wooed her. She initially accepted his advances with caution; she never forgot the tan line on his finger.

An End: It was a dream. She woke up, and from behind the cabinet beside her bed a figure emerged. It was her husband.
'I was looking for my ring,' he said.
She wondered why he had taken it off.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Best of the 2000s: Modest Mouse: The Moon and Antarctica

One of the concerns I have about doing this retrospective is that it will reveal me as what I am. Old. I am painfully aware that the selections I've made so far have all been from the first half of the decade, and I don't see that this is going to change a huge amount with subsequent additions.

A less old person might have chosen one of the more recent Modest Mouse records, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (excellent), or We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (less so). The reality is, though, that my selection marks me as old in two ways:

1) I am old because I remember the first years of this decade. They are, in fact, my formative years. I was 19 when this record came out in the year 2000. 2000 still sounds like the future to me.

2) I am old because I still listen to some pieces of music as solid albums.

The Moon and Antarctica is much easier to type than Modest Mouse's other albums, but it also possesses other virtues. The key to my enjoyment of it is that it asks, no demands, to be played and enjoyed as an extended, cohesive whole, with all the thematic and musical coherence that that implies. Although it swerves drunkenly across genres from track to track, from spacey dream-rock to acoustic prettiness and back via some bass-led almost dance, it never feels like anything but a whole object. That makes it really difficult to select a representative track to post below, but it also makes it a wonderful example of a form which is gradually being lost in the wake of changes in the way music is being consumed. If I come across any of the individual tracks when I am randomly wandering through my music, it seems like a lost orphan, and I have to reunite it with its kin by playing the whole album. This is why I am happy to risk seeming old by recommending it; it is, I think, a rare enough thing to praise.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Q and A

1) What should the flag of the world look like?
2) What career would you imagine Rev Dr David Adamovich to have?
3) Can you name a terrible place to live?
4) What would you call the unholy offspring of a person and a chimpanzee?

1) The flag of the world should look like this:

It's an average of all the flags in the world, with the weighting provided by population. I approve of the design, I don't approve of statistics. Ever. Find out more here.

2) If you were a very good imaginer, you might imagine him to be one of the world's most accomplished knife throwers. A man of god, he might also, in your fertile wonderings, also run a wedding business on the side. Your guess would have the virtue of being correct.

3) Yes you can. Cité Soleil, Haiti.

4) You might call it a humanzee, if you were interested. You might also be interested to know that several experiments have been undertaken to create such a monstrosity, and that it is theoretically possible. You sicko.