Friday, February 29, 2008

And In The End

And so here we are. Twenty nine days and thirty-two posts later, my February Project draws to a close. I've fulfilled my "at least one post per day for the month of February" goal and overshot it by a few posts when I was evidently feeling somewhat ambitious. I'd like to think a good number of my posts were actually somewhat interesting, rather than being filler, but it will be nice to get rid of the to think of something to post about and actually spend the time writing it before midnight. I have to admit that I've been glad to have a few things pop up (like last night's floor hockey game) to help me come up with something the past few days, but overall, I'm happy with the results.

Some of the posts could have been improved if I'd had a bit more time to work on them, but I tend to write these in a pretty stream-of-consciousness fashion anyway, so I can't be sure if that's actually true. What surprised me the most, I think, is that once I committed to doing it for an hour or so a day, it got really rather easy. The days I had trouble were those days I'd planned poorly, and when I just kept putting it off. Aside from the Diary of the Dead post, I was never really aware of writing all that much, and yet all of these posts seem to be interminable. Hopefully they brought you, the reader, an interesting perspective. I hope I'll be able to keep this up and post pretty regularly, because I have gotten some positive feedback and just like having new content, but I may take a bit of a break from it for the next few days, just to let everything settle down. Unless I find something that's actually really interesting, in which case, it'll be right back to this.

I failed to make any new videos, but a good part of that was due to me losing my camera for about three weeks of the month. I'll try to get another one of those up soon, but I'll be playing around with editing those anyway, so it'll happen when it happens.

So yes. February Project Complete. It's going to be a little sad to not include "The February Project" in the labels, though I suppose that was never really all that necessary given that clicking on "February 08" gives the same effect. I still have some work to do tonight before heading out, so I think I shall try to accomplish that now. Stay tuned for more Murphspot.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

End of the Line

The shame about having a season that's only three games long and followed immediately by a single-elimination post-season is that it doesn't offer you very much opportunity to improve if you're, say, a bunch of chemists and biologists who don't spend much of their off-season practicing floor hockey. The positive side, however, is that everything's that much more intense and desperate and it tends to raise the level of competition.

Going into this week, we knew it was going to be rough. We were going up against Mat Sci Boron, one of the several materials science teams in the league. Evidently, while we're desperately searching for free pizza and a way to get our syntheses and kinetic studies to work, they're doing science with materials (I guess. I'm not really sure what happens in Mat Sci departments) and training around the clock. They said that this is the thing their department does together, and I'd tend to believe them, because they've been destroying their competition all year. So that's fun.

We went into the game having decided that we were going to have fun with it and try to play as hard as we could in hopes of taking down the behemoth. Then, they showed up.

I'll have to break here to explain something. If you've ever played intramural sports, you probably know that not everyone shows up to every game, and that's fine. Because we're all students, we all attempt to have social lives and we've all got more important things to worry about than intramural floor hockey (I know, blasphemy.) So we usually have one or two male subs and at best one or two female subs. The result is that in a hard fought game, we're going to get a bit slower by the end. So we show up with about eight or nine people and we're ready to go.

They showed up with seventeen. If we're going to win this one, we're going to do it against the numbers.

Unfortunately, Leonidas is out with a knee injury. And the ref kept getting confused when I referred to the neutral zone as "Thermopylae".

Challenge number one immediately becomes "how are you going to keep up with them if they're able to make a line change every two minutes"? No worries, though. We've played larger teams before and have held up pretty well. And maybe they'll treat it as a gimme and we'll be able to keep up because they won't be playing that hard.

No such luck. Mat Sci Boron came to play. From the drop of the puck, they were on us, fighting for every puck, blocking well and defending like madmen. They end up with a cheap goal. Sad times. A lot of teams, knowing they're going to be outmatched by the stamina of the other and already down 1-0 in the early first would give up.

Most teams aren't Team Rich Ahn.

Team Rich Ahn's biggest fan approves.

We start digging in corners. We push back. We fight for it and before they know what's hit them, Steven knocks it home. 1-1.

Joaquin Phoenix is informed of the goal.

The rest of the period is hard fought, but we don't get any more chances. I should say now, however that Erin was playing out of her mind in goal. I don't have a joke about that, except to say that she deserves credit for keeping us in this.


A 1-1 tie is, for us, a huge victory considering that we started playing a month ago and haven't seen a team this physical yet. We're feeling pretty good.

Then the second started. We started to feel the fatigue of playing the entire time, and let up a goal.

We resolve to get it back, and come out guns firing. Especially Steven, who rockets it down the court. Unfortunately, right into a delicate part of the anatomy of one of their forwards. He doubles over, stumbles off the court, then heads off to the locker room. Terrible, awful terrible thing to witness. I thought about making and "America's Funniest Home Videos" joke, but you know what? No. That's just not cool.

Must. Not. Make. Joke.

Damn it, fine.

The autoclave's not the only thing around here that makes things sterile.

Are you happy now? I hope so. Seriously, though, there's not much scarier that is going to happen in Co-Rec league floor hockey, and I really hope that the guy that was injured is ok. If by any absurd turn of events, you're reading this, guy-who-was-owning-us, get well soon with that. It looked rough, even though I didn't really see what happened until he was trying to get off of the court. And yes, it was absolutely nothing other than wrong place, wrong time.

They respond by putting up a few more goals on us (I can't recall the method of scoring was after the first, because I was sort of passing out from the running.) Second period ends at 4-1.

By the third period, we're mostly devastated, and give up another quick goal. Rich decides he's had enough and, in true Team Rich Ahn fashion, loses his mind. He fights off two defenders to get the puck down near their net, but they're just too solid at defense. I lose it and fight for a good while for the puck, but again, no opening. It's not until Ben gets into the mix that something happens.

Hebrew Hammerin' it home. 5-2

It looks like we might try a comeback, but we're just too worn down. It ends 7-2, but I have a feeling that if we would have played like that in any of our regular season games, we would have done much, much better. Mat Sci Boron was impressive, played a really solid game and I'll not be surprised if they make it to the finals.

We'll forget to get in shape again for next season, probably, but it was good knowing that we actually played a pretty solid game against a team that's probably going to be in the finals.

No shirts this year. We'll be back.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In the Universe, and a complaint about scientist stereotypes.

One of the things that always confuses me of people who try to invoke quantum mechanics to explain wacky self-empowerment techniques is that they seem to feel like knowing how things work takes away the mystery and wonder of life. Some creationists do the same thing, accusing people who try to actually figure out how species came to be through evolution of taking away the wonder by describing it woodenly and without emotion in cold, stainless steel and white linoleum laboratories where robotic chemists and biologists are separated from each other by giant walls and spend their time working to destroy everything that is creative in the world.

Which is, of course, all bullshit. The appeal of science (for me, anyway) is that things are more interesting when we actually understand how they work than when we just sort of make up answers. Things don't become more magical and mysterious because you mistunderstand Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle or because you're using a weird interpretation of what wave function collapse implies, and they don't seem to me to become more beautiful if you choose to disregard literally every bit of scientific evidence in order to believe that everything showed up as is about 6000 years ago (they're on my mind because Florida just approved science education standards which support evolution by a 4-3 vote before moving on to the next item on the docket, voting on the sex of a cat). Part of it, I think, stems from this ugly stereotype of scientists as cold, unfeeling and uncreative which of course could be applied to some, but is too often applied across the board by people who have some kind of disdain for science as insufficiently artistic. To me, the process of natural product synthesis or trying to figure out how membranes behave is incredibly creative and shows an appreciation for nature that I fear that a lot of people who buy into the quick and easy school of half-understanding quantum mechanics don't want. Stereotyping scientists as having no interests other than understanding the world around them is equally false, and really just amounts to a cruel lie.

The other part of this, and the thing that got me thinking about this subject, is that I don't think things need to be embellished to be astounding, and certainly not past the realm of believability. You don't need to make up new and crazy things about black holes or quantum mechanics or the properties of pore formation in a lipid bilayer upon heating because they're interesting enough in their own right. Making things shiny and throwing around hyperbole does help the public relations campaign that science has engage in to get funded, but I occasionally see things that are a bit over the top.

Yesterday, when I was reading through Nature at work (which I was actually doing this time, instead of stealing it off of Ben's desk), I came across this.

The Most Intense Laser in the Universe

Which, yeah, I guess. Probably. I don't know if there are naturally occuring lasers (I don't think they're are), and if that's the case, what they mean is "The Most Intense Laser in the World". Sure, you can expand it to the universe because we don't know of any other planet that has beings that are making lasers, but it just seems like a weird leap to make. First, because there could be other laser-using beings out there (again, just playing the odds given the immensity of the universe), but also because it just seems like hyperbole.

Then again, maybe they're on to the right idea. Maybe I should run with that. Start asking whether Dave Littlefield was the worst MLB GM in the universe. If we somehow play out of our minds and win the tournament, Team Rich Ahn will be the best Northwestern Co-Ed League Intramural Floor Hockey Team, 2008 season in the universe. This month of blogging has been pretty difficult for me in the universe.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I'm currently in Day Two of an attempted reset of my sleep schedule. It's not so much a problem for me to keep absurd hours in the summer, because it's possible to bike home most days and therefore I'm not tied to the Purple Line schedule on when I have to leave Evanston (about 1am). Lately though, I've only been able to ride sporadically because of this whole winter deal (and the fact that Evanston doesn't actually, technically plow their roads, to the point that you can discern the line between Evanston and Chicago by road condition) and so it's become somewhat of a concern for me.

Plus, eating lunch at 4pm is not very social of me, and I've been working on fixing that.

So I've decided to try a reboot. I fell asleep at about 10:30pm after Sunday's hockey game, then woke up at 2am, and enjoyed a nice, lengthy 10pm to 4am nap-thing this morning. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this up, because I really do like shocking my labmates by actually being in the lab before they are.

More updates as they come in, most likely in the form of me passing out on my keyboard at about three in the afternoon.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Quest for the Shirt

Before I begin the recap of last night's game, I should provide some insight into the intramural system at Northwestern. There are three tiers of intramural sports which differ in their degree of competitiveness. The most competitive is the Purple League, which is comprised mostly of fraternities and are pretty athletic.

You wouldn't think it, but that purse is chock-full of kicking-your-ass-at-softball.

Next is the White League, which is mostly fraternities and a few graduate student teams and is slightly less competitive. It's also the league that sounds the most like a supremacist organization. This is the league my softball team tends to be in. There's a joke about the proximity of Evanston to Skokie, but it's early in the morning and I don't particularly feel like putting in the time to flesh it out.

Finally is the Co-Rec league. It's the only league with rules about the gender distribution on any given team, and is the least competitive (which is a bit misogynistic, if you ask me.) According to the Northwestern Intramural Captain's Manual, the Co-Rec league employs "altered rules to allow for fair competition and participation", which I think for floor hockey means that checking is restricted and there's no way to beat out an icing call. This is the league my floor hockey team is in.

Because of the nature of the league, only X+1 men are allowed on the court at any given time, where X is the number of women. If you've played in an intramural league, you might know how hard it is to get people in general to show up for games, and so if the people who don't show up happen to be women, it affects the number of players that can be on the court. I'm making a big deal out of this because it happened that while we were able to field a team, our competitors in the first round of the playoffs only had two girls show up. The upshot of this is that they were only allowed to have three guys on the court, and so we were kind of on a power play for the entire game.

So that was fun. I'd feel bad about that (and do, because they seemed to be frustrated that people that had signed up weren't showing up), but we had the same restriction and rules is rules, as someone who was a great philosopher of competition, but a less than stringent judge of proper grammar once said.

As a result, we played about ninety percent of the game in their end. Within the first few minutes of the game, Preeti rockets it into the net. 1-0. A few minutes later, the tone of the game becomes clear as I get it behind the net and get it to Steven at center, who takes advantage of the fact that he's more puck-cannon than human being.


Just a tinge.

We continue to knock it around in their end before Ben gets it at half court, unloads and earns himself a nickname.

That's right. Nicknames are now based on Comedy Central movies. 3-0

Before the first period is out, Steven comes up big again twice to put us up 5-0. I'd describe them for you, but the sheer force of the shots put into words might cause your computer to explode.

Second period comes and goes without much action. Kaibigan gets it down near Team Rich Ahn's goal a few times, but Meera channels Patrick Roy despite the fact that she doesn't know who that is and keeps them scoreless. I get the puck a few times right on their goalie and get tripped to improve our situation to 5-on-3, but can't seem to put it away, and the score remains 5-0 going into the third.

Third Period. Kaibigan's going to have to come out big if they want to pull off the win, but it's not like there isn't precedent for this kind of thing. More importantly, our hero (me) hasn't done much this game besides the one assist. Things are looking desperate. Then Steven knocks it down the boards and I finally figure out how to get around the goalie.

Top shelf. 6-0

Rest of the game goes without incident. Meera holds on to the shutout and Team Rich Ahn advances to the next round of the playoffs. I'd tell you who we're playing, but the bracket's sort of screwed up. We're playing better as a team, actually making good passes and can win games if we're a man up the entire damn time. I also discovered that if I bike to the game and barely make it, I'm somewhat tired. I shouldn't do that.

Stay tuned for your Team Rich Ahn Playoff news.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


It's finally here. What you've been waiting for for your entire life.

Team Rich Ahn in the Intramural Co-Rec League Floor Hockey playoffs.

The fact that every team in the league is automatically in the playoffs should not be something that concerns you. We're about middle of the pack the way the standings were computed, so we should be playing someone who's about at our skill level. Is it possible for Team Rich Ahn to advance? Sure. A few years ago my softball team managed to knock off the No. 1 seed (in a more competitive league) which was enjoyable in how much it annoyed the hell out of the opposition. Expect a full recap of tonight's festivities when I get around to it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Sincerest Apologies

You may or may not have noticed the counter at the bottom of this column on the right here. It's somewhat useless, but serves as a good thing for me to base my self esteem on. I'm not really concerned with how many visitors this blog gets, because it's more a way for me to write down what I'm thinking than to overcome the insurmountable odds to have my blog noticed among the millions of others as somehow insightful or entertaining. What I do enjoy looking at, however, is the other statistics that it happens to include. Wednesday's still the day more people read this than any other day, and most people seem to do that between the hours of eight and nine in the morning (which is funny to me because I'm so rarely awake during that time). Most people use Internet Explorer and most people use Windows XP, though there are some people who find it using Firefox or on a Mac. There are even forty-four visits from someone using Linux, which prompts me to try to remember if the time I've spent writing this blog overlaps with the six months I was using a Linux machine. But none of that is really what interests me.

I'm interested in how people find my blog. For which the "Referrals" tab is incredibly useful.

Most commonly, it's a direct hit, or a link from my profile at the forums at Rum & Monkey. Occasionally, people will show up from Livejournal owing to the feed that Scott set up one day. And occasionally, people will find it through searches. An oddly high number of visitors resulting from searches that come up with this image this picture of my tattoo. A few in the past few days for people poking around technorati for people talking about Simon Pegg or The Toasters. But then, every so often, someone finds this thing through searches that I just don't understand fully.

Today, someone found Murphspot by typing "women crotch" into Altavista.

Which is kind of disturbing, and raises a few questions. One of them being "Hot damn! People still use Altavista?" The other being what on earth links that query and my blog. I'm presuming it's this post about where the eyes of men and women go when looking at George Brett and contains a Spın̈al Tap joke. That post does indeed contain both the word "women" and the word "crotch". If it's not that, I'm not sure I want to know what it is. Either way, to the person who was looking for crotches and ended up here, I apologize. However, if you could maybe open up a second window and look elsewhere for crotches while reading about politics and zombie movies, that'd be fine.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sure. Desmond is Roland Deschain. Whatever you want. Calm down with the crazy.

My methods for watching TV have gotten very strange over the past two years. I don't have an antenna or cable, so I watch things via Netflix and through network websites. Lately, my strategy seems to be to discover a series, then read everything I can about it, then move on, which is actually how I enjoy a lot of what I read as well, as far as fiction goes.

I'm a sucker for interesting mythologies and trying to learn the intricacies therein. Which is why "I'll watch an episode of this show I've never watched that's been around for decades because Simon Pegg's involved in it" turned into watching the three newer Doctor Who series, as well as trying to work my way through the older stories and listening to Doctor Who themed podcasts.

Useful and helpful in the case of zombies or in police dramas. Not so much if you're dealing with the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. Or if you're trying to find a garage but can't find someone who speaks English.

I like understanding how the rules fit together in science fiction, which is the appeal of a lot of it for a lot of people. It strikes me as kind of funny that you can ignore reality enough to allow certain basic things, but then find people arguing over much more trivial issues and whether they make sense within the mythology. There's a certain demand for the subject to take itself seriously enough to stick to a consistent mythology while being fantastical. And so you have controversies over whether Douglas Adams having Romana regenerate several times in a row is ok, and detailed descriptions of different kinds of fictional laser sword fighting.

On that note, I've been watching Lost recently. I started watching it on DVD a while ago, but am actually caught up now, and it's enjoyable. There are high points and low, and nothing makes sense, but it's interesting me to learn what people think about the mythology of the series, which the producers intentionally make incredibly tough to decipher ahead of time. As a result, I've subscribed to the podcast and have been reading through theories people have posted online as to what's happening in the overall plot and what the answers to some of the questions will be. I recommend subscribing to the podcast and reading through some of this for one reason, even if you're not a fan of the show.

And that's because some (and I do mean some and not all, because there are a lot of people, like myself, who enjoy it as entertainment and are sane and normal) but some who are batshit insane. And reading and listening to the opinions of people who are out of the goddamn minds is entertaining to me.

Somehow, I feel like it would have been bad to somehow not include the one fictional character I'm aware of who has ostensibly written a blog post detailing his opinions on the matter. Does it highlight the fact that I'm like three years late to the relatively obvious post about how fans of science fiction are nutballs? Sure. But who asked you?

So you get to hear people speculate about, as in the last podcast, whether the number of times Hurley says "Dude" per episode means anything, whether recently introduced characters are from the present, while the story is set in late 2004, whether everyone's related to everyone else and whether the show will eventually just rip off the entirety of the plot of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. So, yeah. Go read some of what's written about what is at the end of the day a popular, prime-time sci-fi drama, then sit back and be amazed at the crazy speculation that pops up when people are left to their own devices.

And, much the same as I feel about the crazy guy screaming half-remembered bits of scripture into a megaphone outside of Marshall Field's and trying to convince everyone that the most vital issue facing anyone is who is sleeping with whom, if that "Pirates of the Caribbean" thing turns out to be the correct answer, I just give up. Learning how to apply Occam's Razor is all I'm suggesting.

I should note that I do also enjoy listening to the Lost podcast because I'm a sucker for commentary by writers and directors, and it's useful for that. And for reminding me of really trivial things, like where the hell I know Tom from, specifically as a villain on a show from a while ago which I found and watched (via Netflix), The Adventures of Brisco County Jr..

I'll take basically any opportunity I can to bring Bruce Campbell into the discussion.

So yes. Go listen to the crazy. Have fun with that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shoemaker-Levy 9 Made Me Feel A Bit Better About The Whole Thing

Last night, for those of you who happened to miss it, the moon was stolen away and replaced with what I shall call "The Blood Sphere" from this point onward last night.

Which is me trying to be dramatic about a Lunar Eclipse, which is cool enough that it doesn't need me for dramatization. I'll agree with the Chicago Tribune article that the view of the eclipsing moon was fantastic on a clear night in Chicago and that it was interesting to check out (especially considering that we're not having another one for some time), but I'll disagree that the cold didn't deter people. At least, I'll disagree with them if I presume they're writing about me, and why shouldn't they be. Unfortunately, I was sort of still trying to get some work done in the lab, and so could only afford a few brief ventures outside to look at it, but I was glad I got to see what little of the eclipse I got to see. I always seem to miss things like this, or lack the proper equipment to view things like this. There's a photo depicting the entire eclipse taken in three minute intervals by someone just south of Chicago here, which you should check out if you missed it. Or if there were clouds. Or, I guess, if you have no idea what a lunar eclipse looks like. They're not as rare as solar eclipses but damn it, they're still fun. And they demonstrate that the moon is indeed illuminated by the Sun, which you already knew if you're not out burning Bill Nye in effigy.

That actually made me think about when I was just getting interested in science. I owe my interest to a book on astronomy that I checked out of my elementary school library over and over again, and while I've only recently started reading up on it again, I've always held a place in my heart for astronomy. For a while there, it took the form of reading Carl Sagan's books, watching Cosmos and hearing a goofy electronic rendition of Arabesque No. 1 whenever I thought of Venus. But when I was young, reading much more about it and trying to figure out how to find things in the sky, there was always a bit of a dark secret which I have never really shared with many people.

But now I've got a blog with a self-imposed midnight deadline for a post, so I'll come out with it.

I've always been kind of freaked out by Jupiter. It's always kind of scared me.

The stuff of nightmares, ladies and gentlemen.

I don't know why. I think it's because I have never been able to wrap my head around how truly vast the universe is and, by corrolary, how incredibly small we are, and given that Jupiter is the biggest thing around that's not the Sun, I sort of projected my inability to deal with immensity onto the largest planet. The Great Red Spot still makes me a bit nervous, and when I walk outside somewhere on a clear night when I'm miles away from civilization, there's a bit of me that still harbors that ten year old's fear that I'm going to look up and Jupiter's going to be right there ready to screw up my day. It's weird, because I don't have the same thing with any other celestial object. I'm totally fine with the idea that there are some parts of the universe that are so distant that their light will never reach us, but damned if I still don't trust Jupiter.

It doesn't impede my wonder, but yes. It's odd.

If you've got something which makes you nervous but you're not sure why or if you recognize that you channel a greater nervousness into a specific thing, leave it in the comments. Or anything in the comments, really.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Can't Believe It's Not Torture!

While taking out my garbage last night, I noticed that one of the cars in the parking lot had a bumper sticker which I'm going to presume is anti-torture. I'm not going to get into the concept that you'd have to say that you were against torture via bumper-sticker because the default is "pro-torture", and I'm sure it's some response to the situation in Guantanamo Bay as a whole, or perhaps the Military Commissions Act of 2006 in specific, though if that's the case, I'd hope it was a bumper sticker that had the words "habeas corpus" on it, just because I like Latin phrases to pop up on my commute. I'm not going to get into any of those issues in this post.

Part of the reason I noticed it was due to the fact that about half of the sticker was gone, which probably tends to happen when you're driving around in a Chicago winter. It was the bottom half that had been torn away, so that the car just said, in big letters


Which raises the question, what's on the lower half of that? Am I wrong in presuming it's anti-torture? Could it be torture fandom?

In order to explore that possibility, I ran "Torture" through Sloganizer to see what the possibilities for a fun, friendly pro-torture message could have been.

Torture-It's What's for Dinner
Torture-The Real Thing
Torture-The Original
Torture-Just Do It
Torture-Your Specialist

Or maybe it's a new leather bar around town.

I'd be fine with any of those things being true.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


On Sunday, when I was writing that Diary of the Dead review, I decided that I needed to be out of the house, so I packed up my laptop and headed to the Panera Bread in Evanston. After buying some soup*, I sat down, yanked my headphones out of my iPod and put them in the headphone jack on the laptop before opening it up. I do this regularly in case I've left the sound on and something playing (not very likely, but it's happened) in order to spare those around me whatever music I'd been listening to before having it hibernate. On this occasion, nothing was playing and the sound was muted anyway, so it turned out not to be necessary. Simply because it was easier, I didn't remove my headphones and just left them on, without bothering to put on music, while I typed and ate my dinner.

To my right was a teenage girl and who I presume was her mother. They were having the "damn it, you need to get a job" talk, and, because I didn't have my music on, was impressed by how loud they were talking about it. I'm not one to eavesdrop, and so was trying to focus on writing, but kept hearing things like "If I worked there, I'd kill everyone and myself" and "I'm not working at the supermarket. I'm better than that" which I couldn't help but find amusing, because, frankly, an unemployed teenager just isn't better than working at a supermarket. At that point, because it was practically shouted, I looked up at the mother and wished that psi weren't fiction, because I'd have liked to have told her to tell her daughter to shut the hell up, stop holding out for a dream job (which is apparently folding clothes, because there's music there) and take the job at the supermarket, but alas, my thoughts were not transmitted. She asked her daughter to keep it down, because they were in a public place, at which point the daughter turned around and said "He can't hear us. He's got headphones on."

Which is a logical conclusion, but that doesn't make her inaudible to the other twenty people that are sitting just as close as I am with no headphones on.

It struck me as funny that I wanted the mother to force her to take the supermarket job (if for no other reason than "I'm better than it" being laughable), because my time working as a stockboy in a supermarket, which also happened to be my first job, was easily the worst job I held in my time as a teenager, and therefore the worst job I've ever had. To the point that I can still, almost a decade later, remember the last thing I did on the last day I worked there because I was so damn happy to be getting out of there. Easily. As in "cleaning behind the dumpster on New Years Day, trying to scrape frozen, discarded chicken breast off of the pavement and somehow getting stung by a bee, then trying to figure out how in the hell the bee was alive and hanging out in January.

*Incidentally, to any Panera managers reading this, there's no real reason to give me a buzzer. At all. Especially not if I'm buying soup. I'm capable of standing there and waiting for my number or name to be called, and if I'm buying soup, the guy behind the counter is just going to ladle it into a bowl and immediately cause the buzzer to start a-buzzin', so it's more an exercise to get me to move the buzzer across the counter for you than any kind of convenience to alert me to when my food is ready.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Floor Hockey, The Final Week

I'm still recovering from the marathon that was that last post (looking back on it, I probably should have split it up, and that would have taken away the necessity for me to write a post right now) but am also about to collapse from exhaustion in the wake of our final regular season floor hockey game. Still, my commitment shall not wane and you shall get your recap.

Week Five of the Floor Hockey season, and with byes on weeks one and four, this was the third game for Team Rich Ahn. And, as luck would have it a rematch against the team that humiliated us 6-1 in the first week.

But we've grown since then. Gotten stronger. Better. We've learned how to play and have been practicing. We're ready. Surely, this will be a rematch of the ages.

"Deep Blue" would have been a much better team name than "Team Rich Ahn". Just saying.

First period started pretty smoothly, and we seemed to be much more evenly matched than during our first matchup. Unfortunately, they're actually better at moving around than we are, and put up a goal about halfway through the first. Sad times. It looked to be on the way to another blowout.

And then, from downtown, Ben comes up huge to tie it. We survive the rest of the first.

More or less as soon as the second period started, though, we gave up two straight to put us down 3-1, then another where it sure seemed as though their forward knocked it out of the goalie's glove, or at the very least, entered the crease to put them up 4-1.

Just replace Hasek with Erin and Hull with "Some Guy I Don't Know".

We'd end the period 4-1 after Stephen's attempt to tie things up got denied on a play that will remain forever shrouded in controversy, as the puck seemed to cross the goal-line, but then was suddenly ejected in a smooth, sweeping motion that also knocked the goal out of position, forcing a faceoff.

You won't believe this, but there's apparently no co-ed intramural War Room. What a joke.

Starting down by three goals is no way to go into a third period. Sadly, that was followed by a garbage goal from their forward who's been giving us grief all day. 5-1.

For some reason, it hadn't occured to me that the first few images of a GIS of "garbage" would be Shirley Manson.

Shortly thereafter, Ben gets a bit tired and calls for me to sub in.

What can I say, lucky bounce, and an open shot. 5-2.

Everything's looking up. Unfortunately, that same forward finds another shot that bounces off the post. 6-2.

Things are grim. Stephen, who's been rocketing it down the court all day, sort of gives one of the better players on their team a bloody nose by lifting the puck into his face. Words are exchanged. Their defensemen start calling foul, and that we shouldn't be hitting the puck at them that hard.

Here's a tip. Don't want to have a puck hit at you with all of Stephen's might? Don't play hockey.

Intramural Badminton starts in a few weeks. Maybe that's more your speed.

No sweat. Stephen gets down the court, behind the goal and flips it to center. I'm going to brag about this one, because it looked like we practiced it. I notch my second goal of the game. If there were spectators, they'd be cheering.

Time's winding down, and with one last chance on a breakaway, Stephen scores again. The refs disallow it, saying that time had expired. Bill Belichick has no comment.

Final Score: 6-3. Better than 6-1, considering that they disallowed two of Stephen's goals, and we did it with fewer subs, more court time per player and without the support of George F. Will.

We're not conservative politics or baseball, and so this guy couldn't care less.

I'm happy with how we played, and I think we've got a good shot at not being immediately eliminated in the next round. The team we played this week was seriously just in much better shape than we were, and without making excuses and all joking aside, they're solid kids. Check back in here for all your Team Rich Ahn Floor Hockey coverage.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Diary of the Dead

I was pretty sure this was going to happen, where I'd have trouble putting down my thoughts about Diary of the Dead. I wanted to do it right and almost bought a pen and a memo pad on the way to the theater, but decided against it. I should note first that it's incredibly bizarre to me that a movie made by the guy who essentially invented the socially conscious zombie movie is only playing in one theater in Chicago, and that this theater is somewhat inconveniently located, especially when the CTA has decided that for what seems like the fiftieth straight week, no trains are running northbound through the subways and it took an hour to get home. Again. Because the management focuses more on finding new places to renovate slowly and poorly while contemplating shiny new cars and ignoring the fact that they're talking about spending insane amounts of money while claiming that they're nearly bankrupt instead of, you know, making the trains run on time.

But this isn't about the trains.

This is about zombies, which are much more interesting and reliable. And occasionally on fire.

Oh, and I've got no training in film theory, so I'm just going to go along with probably missing a bunch of technical things and mostly talk out of my ass. You'll get over it.

First, a short review of what actually happens. I'm going to presume that if you're reading this, you will be doing so with the understanding that there may be spoilers. I'll try to keep it minimal, but if you are really excited about seeing this and don't want any plot points revealed, stop reading. There's one very near the end, but my complaint with the bit I'm analyzing is that it's so obvious from the outset of the film, so you can make up your mind as to whether or not you think that's enough of a spoiler for you not to read this. So yes. Diary of the Dead is presented almost entirely as "The Death of Death", a documentation of the events surrounding the beginning of a zombie outbreak made by a film student at the University of Pittsburgh (which answers my previous question as to whether this would have any ties to the city). He and a group of students that are filming a socially-conscious mummy movie in the woods near Pittsburgh (a not-at-all subtle nod towards Night of the Living Dead) decide to capture what's happening on film after hearing a radio broadcast that claims that the dead are rising and attacking the living. Most of the rest of the movie involves an incredibly long road-trip from Pittsburgh to Scranton by way of Winnebago which one of the students just happened to have in Oakland, apparently and how they deal with the problem that surrounds them. I'll get more into their specific actions later, but that's essentially all you need to understand what's going on here.

I said the other day that I was glad Romero was returning to the roots of the zombie outbreak and showing what happens at the beginning. I later realized that that's really the only place he really could have gone as far as pursuing a new direction in the chronology of the whole zombie outbreak scenario. He's already explored what happens in the middle of the outbreak (after the initial chaos, but before an actual response is formulated) in Dawn of the Dead, the military response to such an outbreak in Day of the Dead and the "zombies as the dominant species" in Land of the Dead. There isn’t anywhere really to go beyond that that doesn’t involve continually showing how the survivors are dealing with a prolonged zombie plague, and so it makes sense to “reboot” even if every other movie franchise there is has done the same thing recently. That said, I thought his depiction of the first few days was pretty solid. He addresses the issues uncertainty surrounding whether the people the protagonists kill are actually dead and the skepticism of a few of the group's members as to whether this is all actually happening, the stress this imparts upon the group, the film-within-a-film-maker's decision to try to make a documentary out of the situation and how this goes over with most of the people who just want to stay alive and the idea that they'll all have to adjust to living in a world where the undead are a constant threat. This, to my mind, is the most interesting part of the sequence of things that happen in most zombie movies, as the more it's clear that living humans are a besieged minority, the more it turns into a straight-up war movie.

What distinguished Romero's zombie films from the standard zombie horror has always been his ability at weaving bits of social satire throughout the plot. It's been more subtle at times (particularly in Night, which seems to me to be the purest horror movie of the series) and less so at others (addressing commercialism by sticking the movie in a shopping mall, for example). What I mean to say is that subtlety is not a sticking point for me. Sure, Dawn of the Dead is pretty explicit about what it's satirizing, but that's part of the reason I enjoyed it. With Diary, a lot of the social commentary is delivered through the voice-over of the girlfriend of the student who makes the film, often combined with a series of images that are intended to enhance the concept that an over-powerful government is spinning the reports of a zombie apocalypse (for unspecified reasons, presumably to decrease panic? I guess?) and that only through blogs and YouTube can the truth be disseminated. It comes across as something which has been tacked on and stated explicitly, rather than expressed through the narrative of the movie. Even in Dawn of the Dead, the parallels between the zombies and consumer culture and organized religions were expressed by isolating the protagonists for long stretches in a scenario where they had no material wants and then throwing Hari Krishna and nun zombies at them. There wasn't a voiceover telling you that the survivors got restless and realized that satisfying their needs by looting a JC Penney's wasn't enough. Unfortunately, that's the case for much of the voice-over for Diary. I'm not sure if there's a better way to do that if you want to make a point about media portrayal of disaster and the way the media and government work in general, but I'd have been more satisfied if it didn't feel tacked on at the end.

The reviewer for Slate criticized the movie for being "almost Luddite in its skepticism about the now-ubiquitous technology of information" which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing, though the constant references to YouTube and MySpace do get a bit tiresome and gave me the same feeling that I got from Live Free or Die Hard, that the person making the film is only vaguely familiar with what he's talking about and is trying too hard to relate to the younger viewer. (I should note that in saying that, I am in no way implying that Diary is as technologically ludicrous as Live Free or Die Hard. It's not. Everything that happens is actually pretty plausible. Except for the whole zombie apocalypse thing.) She further notes the inclusion of Samuel, a deaf Amish man as a hero as further commentary on the constant barrage of information and technology on the modern world, but this is exactly the kind of humor and satire that made me love Dawn. The scenes with Samuel, by the way, are easily the funniest of the movie and, while a bit confusing, rates as probably the best. The "corruption of those with power" scenes, such as the National Guard members stealing the supplies of the group at gunpoint also manage to make a salient point without having a voiceover, and I really wish that could have been more consistently what was going on throughout the movie.

As a zombie movie, you could do much worse. Many have done much worse. Romero sticks with his characteristic style of zombie, in that anyone who dies in a way that doesn't cause severe brain trauma reanimates (not just those who are bitten), that a zombie bite is fatal even if the bite itself, if received from another creature, would not have led to death, and zombies are slow, shambling creatures. He actually explicity states his preference for the slow undead by having the in-film director make reference to it, though he gives an explanation that differs from Romero's original rationale behind slow zombies. It's now "they'd snap their ankle off" rather than a misunderstanding of the phenomenon of rigor mortis, which is actually a worse explanation for me because it implies that the zombie is consciously choosing to move slowly. I've always been a fan of Romero's zombie more than the virus-ridden quick zombie of Boyle's 28 Days/Weeks Later because I think it ups the danger factor (by having anyone who dies reanimate, so that even seclusion in a group does not protect against the monster) and because a slow, lumbering mob that you know you should be able to get away from if it weren't for their sheer numbers scares me more as a thought experiment than ultra-fast zombies. Slow zombies, for me, carry with them a sort of brute-force determination that overwhelms because of their sheer numbers and the psychological terror of seeing someone related to the protagonist who has died and reanimated, but is more subtly a danger because they're not running at you screaming, but lumbering toward you looking for all the world like they person they were before becoming a zombie, which makes it much more difficult for the protagonist to go through with the whole killing thing. With a group of really fast zombies coming at you, it's really no different than if they were anything else that was fast and wanted to attack you. They could just as easily be angry tigers. There's no reason for them to be the reanimated dead, except that you'd become one if they got you, but that really isn't that terrifying to me, or any more terrifying than death. Romero's always been great at portraying the slow zombie as a terrifying creature, and Diary of the Dead is no different. He makes good use of the fact that the group is for some reason always wandering through the woods or stumbling through a darkened warehouse, though I wish he'd spent more time showing the claustrophobic nature of the Panic Room at Ridley's house near the end of the movie where those who have survived decide to "wait things out" or explain just how the hell the survivors edited the footage together and distributed it.

That was actually one of the few things that bothered me about the movie that I think would have been ok if I weren't from western Pennsylvania. Some of the errors confused me, as Romero, though born in NYC, has spent a large part of his life in the Pittsburgh area. So when it's taking two days to get to Scranton from downtown Pittsburgh (even through back roads, that's maybe an eight hour trip), somehow forgetting to drop the character that's going to Harrisburg off on the way (which is stated as the plan), claiming that a member's family should have beaten them back to Scranton (despite the fact that they were somewhere in West Virginia, which is a larger distance no matter how you slice it than Pittsburgh to Scranton) and that West Virginia is claimed to be "one hundred miles" away from northeast PA (it's more like four hundred). I just don't really understand the nature of those screw ups.

And it still bugs me that they had a Winnebago in Oakland somewhere. I've just... where do you park that?

Overall, I enjoyed it, but as I thought would be the case before I went, it can’t hold a candle to his first two. It’s an interesting movie, if a bit blunt with its points at times, and I’ll always prefer a Romero zombie movie to a lot of horror movies. I’d have liked the voiceover to have a bit less of an “added on” feel, though I suppose that makes sense with the movie’s premise and think that there were a few parts where it could have been a bit less predictable (Spoiler: If the voiceover is done entirely by the girlfriend of the person making the film rather than the person making the film, chances are he’s going to bite it at some point, probably near then end). It successfully mixes horror with the occasional comic relief (“Hello, I’m Samuel” and “I’m stealing shit.” spring to mind), while eliciting laughs in some places where they’re not intended (running over zombies on the way out of Pittsburgh, before it’s been established to the group’s satisfaction that they’re actually the living dead is intended to show the level of stress this causes, particularly between the driver of the Winnebago and the strongest skeptic of the group, but comes across as somewhat goofy as the zombies get knocked over like they’re pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto). I’d recommend going to see it, but try not to hold it to the unreachable standard of Romero’s earliest zombie films. I have a feeling for most of you, that shouldn’t really be an issue, so go to the theater if there’s one in the state that’s playing it and enjoy the carnage.

Oh, one more thing. There was one zombie in the scene where they're leaving the Amish barn that just didn't look like he was committed to the whole shambling thing. That annoyed me, and that actor should get no more work as an extra in zombie movies.

I think that’s easily the longest thing I’ve ever written for Murphspot.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I'll get you back for this, Steve Jobs

Yesterday, for some reason, while I was getting ready to leave work, my mp3 player of choice decided that everything that was on it was suddenly unplayable. No problem, I just had to delete everything and reload it, except that that meant I lost a bunch of podcasts that I've since removed from my computer. Still, cleaning that thing out isn't a bad thing, probably, and it brightens my day to be forcibly reminded of punk rock bands from the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania is something I'm not opposed to in principle.

And sure, iTunes somehow forgot where a lot of my music was, but that's ok because I relish the opportunity to tell software "No. Screamin' Jay is here. It hasn't moved since I told you where it was last time. No."

This is what happens when I make a commitment to post everyday, but haven't had any revelations since yesterday and am running out the door to go to the one theater in Chicago which is playing Diary of the Dead, which is actually pretty conveniently located near where I used to live. I've got some stuff on the mixture of politics and science and will have up a review of that movie at some point, but those will have to wait for when I'm not actually trying to convince the CTA to take me somewhere.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Once in a while, I'll remember this thing exists (usually by Kriss) and take five minutes to plunge my great nation further into depravity and lawlessness. NationStates is an online "nation simulation" game based on author Max Barry's novel Jennifer Government which is evidently a dystopian view of a government with too little power. I haven't read it, don't have any real inclination to read it and was surprised to learn what the novel itself is about, considering that I have been trying to see what happens if I ramp up civil liberties while having basically no economic restrictions in my little nation of Murphspot.

The gameplay is simple. You register a nation and its performance and well-being are determined by the government's (your) action on issues that are automatically generated. The solution to these issues is usually to pick one of a few very extreme positions, which makes the decision sometimes difficult, but it is good to see that both positives and negatives are acknowledged for every choice you make. To take an example from an issue I had recently:

Recent studies showing that the sources of Murphspot's most common street crimes (vandalism, muggings, joyriding, and witchcraft) are children under the age of criminal responsibility has prompted a national outcry for government action.

My options were to treat juveniles as adults and sentence them to long prison sentences (an option which did not define any age limits) which would stop a lot of the crime but would lead to a rise in taxes and could affect those who are caught up in petty crime and would not be likely to become dangerous if not incarcerated with violent criminals, to write it off as "childish mischief" which might be accurate and avoids a tax increase, but does nothing to solve the problem and to prosecute the parents of the offending children, which addresses the problem in an indirect way and might be unlikely to yield results.

As a result of trying to see what happens if I go with full on civil and economic libertarianism (a philosophy which, as the novel critiques a situation where the government is powerless), my nation is officially listed as an "Anarchy" with a street crime problem, but "superb" civil rights, a "strong" economy and "superb" political freedoms and is led by a "large, liberal, pro-business government" and peopled by citizens who pay a flat 16% income tax rate.

It's an interesting distraction. There's also a lot of activity on the associated forums and a very strong RPG aspect to participation, but I tend to stay away from that (partly because I'm not really all that good at role-playing) and stick with seeing how allowing me to pick a Supreme Court Justice would lead to the downfall of society.

If you'd like to see exactly how that's leading to the breakdown of everything, go to there and do a search for "Murphspot" and enjoy the ocelots, biker gangs and large private sector.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How Did I Forget About This?

I've just gotten done preparing samples that I'm going to analyze, and I don't know if I'll be done before midnight, so I thought I'd put this up now.

I'm not one who claims to be exactly linked in to popular culture at large. I don't have cable (as I'm down with either watching things online at a network's website or waiting for Netflix to bring me television and it's way cheaper that way) so I tend to miss a lot of things, but I also try to keep up with news sources, radio and the intertubes. Having said that, I've let something slip so drastically that I fear that I might have to stop claiming to be an enthusiast of the genre. I am speaking, of course, of tomorrow's release of Diary of the Dead.

Photobucket claims one of the other taglines is "Shoot the Dead" which I like for its "Hey Guys! Zombies!" straightforwardness, but I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a reference to something which is more conventionally done with the dead

For some reason, it was stuck in my mind that this was coming out in May. Apparently, that was completely wrong, and now I'll have to fit seeing (and then reviewing) Diary of the Dead into the weekend, which sadly shouldn't be too hard. I could write for a very long time on the subject of zombies in horror fiction, of my preference for slow zombies in the eternal slow (Romero) zombies versus Fast (28 Days Later) zombies which does not hinge upon the pedantic argument that Boyle's zombies aren't true zombies because they're not dead. I grant Boyle's zombies "zombie status" but still find the slower counterparts more interesting. And while I was disappointed with Land of the Dead, I'm not holding up high expectations for Diary. It's not going to be in the same league as Night or Dawn because those were simply astonishing blends of horror and social commentary (a bit more on the latter in Dawn) that it's unfair to expect Romero to match it, though I do maintain that largely avoiding the overt social commentary is what made me not like the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead all that much. The premise sounds a bit too much like Blair Witch Project with Zombies but I think if executed well, it should be an interesting twist on the origin-bit of the whole zombie tale and could provide an interesting device to follow the survivors who are, after all, what the story's really all about (a prime example of a story which executes this very well, in my opinion are the Walking Dead series).

I'll be interested to see, because I can't find much information online (in the time I'm giving myself to look for it) whether Romero continued to set his movies in Pittsburgh. That's always added a little bit to the appeal of his movies for me, if I'm able to recognize that sometimes, cemeteries in Evans City get screen time, that if there's a zombie outbreak, George Romero envisions the residents of Johnstown having a blast with the whole affair and that I can remember going to the Monroeville Mall on days when it was, thankfully, cleared of the undead. Even when he either set Day explicitly elsewhere, it was nice to know that it was filmed in Beaver Falls of all places, and Land let me know what downtown would look like from Mt. Washington if there were suddenly a giant citadel in the middle of it.

As I said, I could go on about that for a very, very long time, but I won't. I'll save that for the review, and for when I have more free time.

So yes. Expect a post on that soonish.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Music and Associations

I've changed my music listening habits. I don't listen to as much music as I used to, but when I do listen, I tend to prefer whole albums to either compilations or "Greatest Hits" albums. There are a few exceptions, which I'll talk about, but for the most part, I tend to get accustomed to a sequence of songs and it throws off my ability to enjoy the music if I'm being shifted around a lot. I tend to prefer albums over Greatest Hits compilations partially for that reason (I get confused if "Getting Better" is not followed by "Fixing a Hole") and would prefer to listen to a more accurate representation of where a band was at musically at any given time than just listen to their most popular works as selected by someone who isn't me. Plus the fact that everyone who's released more than one album (and some who haven't) has a Greatest Hits record.

What I've noticed, however, is that certain albums are very, very strongly tied to vivid memories in my mind. When I was getting ready to go in to work today, I threw on Buck-O-Nine's Twenty-Eight Teeth, an album that's not superb and that I haven't listened to in years but that was around during the third-wave ska surge of the late nineties, and so, to my shock, other people had it.

Chances are you only listened to My Town

I noticed, about halfway through "Jennifer's Cold" that I desperately wanted to be playing GoldenEye 007. Somehow, Buck-O-Nine and their fairly standard pop-ska-punk have become inexorably linked to me running around a dam in Arkhangelsk trying to figure out what to do with the little uplink bugger and then looking for something to bungee jump off of.

Off the top of my head, and this is somewhat unsurprising, I can think of two other albums that come to mind if I think about a video game. One of them I'm a tinge embarassed to admit . One I'm not. Guess which one's which for a prize.

Music: "Moonshot! A Moon Ska Records Compilation"

Game: The Legend of Zelda-Ocarina of Time

I know. I said I don't listen to many compilations. This is one exception. It was one of the first CD's I'd ever purchased with my own money (and may or may not have been the second album I ever bought) and I've listened to it so many times that it bothers me when "Nex Finga" by Skinnerbox isn't immediately followed by "Regular Guy" by Easy Big Fella. It's stuck in my memory there because my friend and I resolved to learn the lyrics to "Nex Finga" which are sung quickly and in an accent while beating the Water and Shadow Temples.

Yes, I still remember them.

Music: Tubthumper by Chumbawamba


Game: Legend of Zelda- A Link to the Past

I know. I know. Stop yelling at me, I know. Although, really, if you skip "Tubthumping" and the insanely excessive airplay it got when the record came out and listen to the rest of it as an album like any other, it's really not that bad. Anyway, I remember having it in a CD player and not bothering to take it out while I was playing this. I distinctly associate "Drip, Drip, Drip" with one of those "here's some water-striders" dungeons and "Mary Mary" with knocking armored knights into an abyss rather than the movie on whose soundtrack it appears. Possibly embarassing? Sure. But honest.

And yes, there are albums that remind me of things which aren't games in the Legend of Zelda series. Two examples.

Music: The Mouse and the Mask by DangerDoom


I hadn't really heard of MF DOOM when I decided to buy this album and had only heard of Danger Mouse as the guy who came up with The Grey Album, a mashup of the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album and knew that it was somehow tied in to Adult Swim. I ended up really enjoying the album (and buying more MF DOOM) and really strongly associate it with biking into work first year, because it was one of the few albums I had placed on a tiny mp3 player I owned at the time and listened to it pretty much every day. I associate "Benzie Box" and "Old School" specifically with the stretch of Sheridan between Estes and Tuohy. Probably because I would get to that stretch of road on the way home in about the time it took to get to "Benzie Box."

Music: Jinx by Quarashi

Associated with: the intersection of Peebles Road and McKnight Road in Ross Township, PA

This is, I think pretty obviously, copyright Google, but for some reason when I cropped the picture to include it, I cropped out the mark. Please don't sue me, Google. Afterall, Murphspot will eventually quadruple the number of people that use Blogger. Eventually.

I wish I had an explanation for that one. Oddly, I associate that corner with the first track, "Stick 'em up" and the stretch of road about a mile before that intersection with the second track, "Mr. Jinx". That confuses me further.

And there we are. Done with today's post one minute before midnight. Hopefully, I'll be able to get this up in time, but I'm typing this at a Burger King and the internet connection is really shoddy. We'll see. Oh, and editing may take place after midnight. Deal with it.

Let's say for the sake of argument that people actually ever read this. And that those people who do listen to music. Am I the only one who strongly associates music with very specific actions, or is there an album you listen to that you can remember listening to at a specific time and place?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'm Concerned about my Viewing Habits

Maybe it's just because I'm reading this intermittently on the train when I'm not trying to learn about anti-matter or the housing market or how to look for a hotel room in Aachen, but should it worry me that while watching Batman Begins the other day, the visual of Christian Bale in a business suit made me think he was going to abandon his plans to save Gotham in favor of hacking Paul Owen apart with an axe?


I'd be totally useless in another country. Well, moreso.

The idea of being able to speak more than one language has always appealed to me, but it's never been my strong suit. Mostly, it took me a very long time to understand the difference between speaking another language and translating everything from English. For some reason, I never really wanted to try in my Spanish classes in high school (and as a result speak no Spanish) but minored in German and took one French course (in preparation for being in Paris later that semester, which worked until I got to a door and realized I hadn't learned the words for "push" or "pull." So I only really ever knew the barest minimum French and my German has become lousy because I stopped reading it and don't have anyone to speak with. My plan had been to listen to Deutsche Welle, but it's difficult to jump back into a language when you've forgotten most of the grammar. I've got enough grammar and vocabulary books for German that I should probably try to get back to understanding it enough to be able to get something out of German radio broadcasts.

I don't have enough time or money to take another class, but I think I'm going to try something to supplement that. I've already mentioned, really recently, that I'm a big podcast listener, and I'm not sure this is the right mode of action for precisely that reason (because I tend to get behind in listening) but I'm going to give it a shot. Deutsche Welle has a series of language instruction podcasts Warum nicht? which I'm giving a shot (I'm not sure what I should think of the "invisible ex" thing in the introduction paragraph there, but I'm just going to ignore it for now.

I'm also going to try a beginners podcast in a language I don't know at all to see if I pick anything up. I've been intending to give Russian a crack for a while, have a few grammar books and while I'm sure this is probably the least effective way to go about learning it, I'm going to give Spoonful of Russian a listen. I'm glad some of the entries are videos, because one of the reasons I picked Russian as a language I'd like to learn is that every language I've attempted thus far uses the Latin alphabet and Cyrillic seems similar enough that I'd not run away screaming, but different enough to be a challenge.

As I said, I'll probably not succeed in either of these endeavors, but I don't really see any harm in giving it a shot. If you have any ideas how I should go about brushing up on my German or trying to learn a new language, leave me some advice in the comments. If you have advice that's not going to cost me any money, even better.

Update: "Invisible ex" refers to an invisible elf who accompanies the protagonist of the series and is named "Ex". Whatever. It reminded me how to form pronouns in the dative, and therefore is awesome.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Walking as an Energy Source

The push to get away from fossil fuels is something I'm sure all of the readers of this blog are familiar with. Two quick things along those lines while I get ready to head out of Evanston for the night.

First, this paper in Science which I'd like to claim that I found while perusing scientific journals at 7am with a big cup of coffee, but in reality I found on Ben's desk, which shows a prototype for a device which takes advantage of a normal human walking motion to generate electricity and their attempts at overcoming the burden of having to wear a big knee brace while you're walking. They employ a one-way clutch to gather energy only when the knee is straightening (not when it's flexing) so that power is generated when you step forward. I know nothing of the engineering here, but it seems like an interesting if unwieldy idea. They do a fair job of pointing out some applications for the technology, primarily power-generation in places on the earth that are not connected to a power supply and the use as a power-generating source for motorized prosthetic limbs, such that you'd use your healthy limb to help you move the prosthetic, which is kind of cool.

Second, an interesting discussion on the feasibility of biofuels on Talk of the Nation last week. I'm more familiar with cost-effectiveness arguments for and against the use of biofuels (it's not feasible to use corn as a source of ethanol in the US because of the way we grow and harvest corn and its poor return on investment, while Brazil derives a bunch of ethanol from sugar cane as a waste product, and so it's relatively cheap and easy for them to implement biofuels.) Their argument is more focused on carbon-release, and without getting into the whole global warming discussion, it's an interesting phenomenon to note that if we're going to grow crops like switchgrass (which is much more energy efficient than corn) to use as a fuel source, we'll end up either leveling forest to free up land to do so or using land which would otherwise be used for food, which forces the food-farmers to go and level forest, and so the end result is the same. I recommend listening to the bits on the use of algae and bacteria to produce fuel, but mostly because I've got a friend who's a synthetic chemist and has been, as far as I can recall, playing around with bacteria to get them to make things for him.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Winter is Enjoyable

I was trying to think of what I should write here today (and might write a better post after I do some more cleaning), but was having a lot of trouble. What could the reason be? The fact that I got up late today and spent the day doing laundry, cleaning dishes and buying groceries while watching Batman Begins? Possible. I'm going to go with "was more concerned with the fact that I couldn't feel my extremities."

I knew it was going to be cold when I moved to Chicago. It has a sort of reputation for that, which I think is generally overblown. This weekend, though, has been absurd. It's been downright tropical over the last week (mid-thirties!) but suddenly we're back to a -25F wind chill and me looking like this while typing.

That light isn't from my lamp. I've strategically set a few fires for warmth. Perhaps I should talk to someone about the heat.

I'll have something of substance to post tomorrow, but for now, I'm going to keep cleaning because it allows me to be near hot water.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I'm Why I Can't Have Nice Things

So, in addition to being incredibly tiring (which is likely also a side effect of the fact that I can't bike in when there's ice everywhere, and so I'm not exercising as much as I was during the summer and fall, which probably isn't good), floor hockey has been doing something that causes me to wake up the next day with a really sore back. I think it's probably because I'd been playing for the past few weeks with a junior stick, so I had to bend down pretty awkwardly to have even the tiny ability to control the puck I had. As a result of the fact that I'd rather not spend Tuesdays unable to stand up straight, I've gone out and spent the fourteen dollars that buys you the cheapest wooden stick at Sports Authority that's actually a proper size. There is that unfortunate "A. Ovechkin" on the shaft, but I'm sure I can put some tape over that.

I'm not going to use it much as we don't have very many games left this season, most likely, and then I won't have another game to use it in until next winter, but I've also discovered that when I'm waiting for chemistry to occur (that is, once I've set everything up and it just needs to sit and stir for a while), it's incredibly good stress relief to go to the stairway that no one uses and knock a puck around. Mostly after people have gone home but I'm still in the lab because of my terrible sleep schedule. So maybe it'll get some use between now and next year.

However, I've not taken it in to work yet, and so I've spent the last half hour learning why I shouldn't have a stick and a puck at home. There are scuff marks on my kitchen tile and a bunch of things have been knocked off my bookcase. I'll have to spend a little while cleaning, but every time I get up to put the papers I knocked down back, my mind short circuits, realizes there's still a puck in the room, and forces me to head back to the kitchen to play with it again.

I think this cycle's only going to cease when I figure out a way to lose the puck in my apartment until Monday.

Friday, February 08, 2008

I'm A Terrible Musician

Once upon a time, not long ago, when people wore pajamas and lived life slow, I played the bass guitar. Not very well, mind you, but I still played it, dammit. I'd played mostly the lines to songs I knew which tended to be incredibly easy. I improved slightly when I joined the jazz band in college and discovered that "Hey! I can't read music." That worked sort of well for a while. I still wasn't terribly good, but learned enough to play the accompaniment to alto sax in the intro of 'Round Midnight in a dining room in Erie, so I considered it a success. I haven't been playing much recently. Part of it is that I don't plan my time out very well and end up playing NHL06 instead, but a larger part is that I don't have anyone to play with recently, and playing bass unaccompanied by any other instrumens is fine if you're Vic Wooten, but not so much if you're mortal.

I have thought in the past that the solution to this would be to either find someone that plays another instrument (a difficult prospect for a graduate student) or learn how to play guitar. That's been kind of on hold for a while because, in addition to not actually having a guitar yet, the whole "playing more than one note at once" thing kind of eludes me. That's where this comes in. I'm not exactly sure how "Guitar Hero for an actual guitar" would work, as the easier settings on Guitar Hero are made easier by skipping long passages, which doesn't really work if you actually want to play a song. Still, it's an idea that intrigues me. I'm a big fan of the Guitar Hero franchise, don't buy into the whole "stop playing this and start playing a real guitar" thing in general because the point of a video game is not to delude the user into thinking they're actually acquiring a skill other than "playing the game", and because people who whine about that somehow don't say the same thing of, say, people who play Madden but don't actually play professional football.

So yes. Perhaps this level of "slow down there, cowboy, and we'll show you how to play a guitar" tutorial will motivate me to actually pick one up and learn. Or maybe I'll take up basketweaving.

One of those two.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Political Surveys and their Ramifications

I've never been more interested in the Mass. 5th congressional district GOP primary for a special election following the resignation of a guy named "Marty".

Unfortunately, political science studies I'm involved in don't involve some kind of crazy reënactment of the Scopes Trial performed by schoolchildren or an assesment of our feelings toward a movie depicting bears in overalls running out of a burning building.

Rather, it was a relatively tame survey of our political opinions, our political knowledge and our reactions to a twenty minute debate leading up to the GOP primary to determine the Republican nominee in a special election for the congressman for the Massachusetts 5th district after Marty Meehan decided he was going to be the Chancellor at University of Massachusetts-Lowell. So stunningly interesting.

Jim Ogonowski (left) and Thomas Tierney, two of the most strongly accented individuals ever to compete for a Congressional seat. Tierney describes his plan for reducing the deficit as "wicked." Or he would. If he was ever more than ten minutes from taking a nap.

Nothing too difficult in the survey. It appeared to be attempting to determine if we'd been awake during the debate and had us assess who we thought won and where the participants stood on the issues. But, they came through with $20 for my participation and gave me lunch, so I'm happy with them.

To think, there will eventually be a time, if everything goes well, that I won't be a graduate student. And I might be able to not get excited over $20 for participating in a survey. Those times are, as far as I can tell, far away, so I'll happily capitalize on my ability to rank things on a scale of one to seven in the interim.

Oh, and Ogonowski crushed Tierney in the primary (which isn't surprising, as Tierney's positions seemed more similar to those of the current incarnation of the Democratic Party and he admitted that for him, political parties are more about finding the easiest way to get on the ballot rather than ideology), then lost to Niki Tsongas (Paul Tsongas' wife) in the general election. In case you were interested.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Murphy, Study Participant

I'd somehow envisioned a brighter start to my New Adventures, involving a wide variety of flora and fauna not native to wherever I happened to be. Turns out, not so much. I'll have to settle for being part of someone's undergraduate thesis.

I'm planning on participating in a political science study tomorrow that I found out about yesterday. I'm going to pretend that I'm doing this because I think that undergraduates are our future and they need all the help they can get in forming their theses, and because I think that the concept of furthering knowledge for the benefit of mankind by sacrificing some of my time that we may better understand society is a noble endeavor. Mostly it's the free pizza and the $20 compensation. But I also think it'll be a good time.

I've always wanted to be part of polls, or somehow contribute to "popular opinion" though I'm sure that desire would go away as soon as I actually started to be asked to participate on a regular occasion. I've only been polled once, last year, on the rare occasion that my landline phone was actually charged and I was home during the evening. It was mostly about the presidential election and which issues I was most concerned about, but also, oddly, how excited I was for the 2007 MLB season.

But for tomorrow, I am left with the charge of getting enough sleep to be coherent for the study and with the weighty decision of whether I should answer honestly or just give the most batshit insane responses I can come up with. And whether those are two different things. I'll try to post about how it goes, unless I'm forced to sign some contract that says I won't because the undergraduate is going to try to publish or some such. If that's the case, I'll come up with an absurdly complex and unwieldy coding system and relate my experiences that way.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Metacarpal, A Retrospective

It just occured to me that in addition to it being Super Tuesday and Fat Tuesday and Half-Price-on-Meatball-Subs-At-Subway Tuesday, it's been exactly one year since my fifth metacarpal was cleft in twain by a cruel combination of an uneven sidewalk at Noyes and Sheridan and a sandwich from Rollin' to Go too delicious to sacrifice for the cause of saving my hand from being broken. Which means that about ten and a half months ago, my hand was incredibly weak (well, somehow weaker than it usually is), that all the skin was doing some kind of weird "falling off all at once after being liberated from the hell-cast" thing and I was watching 300 on an IMAX screen.

I was reminded of that because I remember breaking my hand on my sister's birthday. So, Happy Birthday, Melissa. I'm sorry such a joyous occasion is associated in my mind with blinding pain. Well, moreso.*

Those were incredibly painful, then incredibly itchy, then incredibly ab-laden times. Then, some incredibly sad times that I've never posted about (and won't) and then qual-times, which resulted in me keeping my job, which is a bonus.

I meant to make a list of things which I'll try to do this year around New Years, though the resolution thing kind of turns me off. One of those things was "finding a way not to break my bones" this year. The other was to have more incredible adventures. These may work to counter-act each other, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it (and by get to it, I mean jump over it on a dirt bike.)

That'll probably be good for this, as well. Writing about the mundane doesn't interest me. Writing about getting into fake fights in front of a pizza parlor, then having my fake adversary get mad at one of the cheering onlookers because he was wearing a Red Sox cap, then running down the street to a diner seems more fun.

But first, before my adventures can start, I've got to fix this goddamn sleep schedule.

*No, seriously. Happy birthday, kid. It also just occurred to me that this is your 21st. Please with the being responsible.

**I've also just learned from Wikipedia that the fifth metacarpal is the most common broken bone if you're breaking your bones throwing a punch. This bodes well for the story I've been telling about it, which involves at least three tigers and five heavyweight champions.

Super Tuesday and Ventilation

Another update on the results of playing floor hockey. Sure, it's awesome, especially when we're good, but my back is killing me. Damn it.

I thought about doing a big Super Tuesday post, but I'm just not really feeling it. I'm pulling for a McCain/Obama matchup, because I think I'd be least sad with the winner of that advancing to the Presidency. I've got huge issues with Clinton, and I could go into those if you'd like, but not in this post. It's a long list and includes her position on censorship, her healthcare plan and its economic viability and long screeds on her support of an incredibly strong executive branch, along with her willingness to play identity politics, her insistence that she's not the establishment candidate when it's clear that she is and I need to lie down now. And positions on a ton of other issues. And Romney strikes me as completely incapable of doing the job as I have no idea what he thinks about any given issue. Plus that whole thing where I'm trying to match up socially and personally liberal with slightly economically conservative. Romney seems to me to represent the socially/personally conservative thing that I'm not down with.

For that same reason, I'm crazy opposed to Huckabee, but he's not going to get the nomination anyway.

But yeah. I'd rather not get into that too much. Unfortunately, now that I'm looking for a blog topic on the news outlets I go to for my news, they're all going on and on about the Primaries.

So I shall merely complain about my back, and the fact that the ventilation has apparently been screwed up in Pancoe, which I think isn't going to kill me (as most of the stuff I'm working with at current is aqueous solutions of metal salts) but it does make it completely impossible to open the doors. Well, not completely impossible. Just imagine trying to open a door when there's oh, say a gale wind pushing on it. It's like that. The ventilation is supposedly a result of the storm that's a-comin', though I haven't noticed any of the six to twelve inches of snow we're supposed to get tonight.

I'm apparently never riding my bike again.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Game

You probably thought I was going to have a lapse in my daily posting. And that, I submit, is just a horrible underestimation of my dedication to this thing.

By which I mean you'd have been right. I'm exhausted now and would really like to lie down and sleep, but this is way too early in this experiment to fall behind.

The appetizer situation was solved by a brilliant purchase of bagel chips and spinach dip at the Morse Market.

Saved the night about as much as David Tyree

I'd do a recap of the game, but everyone saw it, those of us who are rational and were cheering for the Giants rejoiced while those of us who have souls blacker than a starless night wept. A team of researchers is trying to determine how the hell Eli avoided that sack. And, this year at least, I was happy to see the Giants pull it off, and I was glad to see them pull it off in such a solid game, where the officials stayed out of it for the most part and didn't make any enormous mistakes. I was going to make reference to some joker who tried to explain that the Patriots actually won if you screw around with how the clock was kept and presume that the Giants wouldn't have changed their strategy if there was no time left, but he's removed it from YouTube, presumably because Fark picked up the link. He seems to be a minority, though. I haven't read too many Pats fans who are doing anything but giving the Giants credit. Incidentally, if you want some entertainment, go read one of the Fark threads on the Super Bowl.

It what is undoubtedly a bigger game, however, Team Rich Ahn (because our captain didn't get the team name to him on time, so they used his name) had a matchup against "Kaibigan". If you'll recall from the video, our last attempt at floor hockey resulted in a 6-1 loss, three broken legs and our head coach's resignation. Tonight, however, things were different, except that I stuck with #19.
Why the hell not.

We were much more coordinated on offense along with absolutely stellar defense (our third period goalie, Meera, had two saves on two shots on goal, as did the goalie for the first two periods Erin.) Their goalie was solid, blocked me four times and had a terrific stop against Steven, but could not sustain the awesome throughout. One goal by Preeti, a goal by Erin (on which I'm claiming an assist) and a sick backhanded goal by Steven tied up a 3-0 shutout.

Because this is the Northwestern Intramural system, there's only one game left in the regular season. Then the playoffs arrive.

This is going to be intense. Come to Murphspot for all your intramural hockey needs. For all your actual hockey needs, you'll want The Pensblog. OT losses that move us into a 3-way tie for first are not kosher by Murphspot, but I'll leave the recapping on that to the people that do it best.