Sunday, December 29, 2013


I'm taking care of some friends' cats this week while they're gone for the holidays and am, as always, endlessly amused by their behavior, which in the brief time I see them each day includes but is not limited to:

following me around the apartment but pretending they aren't
sitting with their backs ostentatiously turned toward me
pretending to be afraid of me
watching me intently while I pee
being alarmed by normal noises from the street that they must hear dozens of times a day
staring in concern at the furnace closet when the heat comes on
suddenly rushing off while being petted to do mysterious but clearly urgent cat things in the other room
running around the apartment like crazy things
gazing at the wall
smelling my shoes
sitting in front of doors they know they're not allowed behind
getting offended and refusing to be petted
generally not giving a fuck

In short, they act like cats.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

English Fails, Or, Grumpy Language Curmudgeon

I read a lot of hockey blogs, and while the quality of these blogs is generally reasonably high, it isn't always perfect. I find typos mildly irritating, overuse of exclamation points grating (looking at you,, and simple English errors INFURIATING. Proofread your shit! You know the difference between "to" and "too" and "its" and "it's", I guarantee.

I'm less convinced that people know the difference between "reign" and "rein". Both get used in hockey writing ("reigning champs", "rein in the pests") but I find that "reign" gets used pretty indiscriminately. There's a shocking lack of correct usage of "affect" and "effect", in both directions. "Bear/bare", "tack/tact", and "faze/phase" get misused. Also, it's "intents and purposes", not "intensive purposes" and I feel like there's a couple other common idioms that often get messed up too.

But! I say all this not to be a grumpy language curmudgeon (though I am that) but as a lead up to sharing that rarest of things, the awesome and hilarious English fail. A few weeks ago, a writer on a blog I read (I do not remember which but perhaps lack of attribution in this case is kinder) referred to someone "exercising their demons." Oh the giggles as I imagined the hockey player in question walking his demons in the park, on leashes of course. They would wave their pointy tails and perhaps wear little sweaters and booties to protect their feet from the ice and salt, since it is winter. Isn't that just adorable?

Also, in the same vein, this is an interesting list of common mispronunciations, partly because it's about equal parts things that annoy me deeply and things I think are unimportant/optional/incorrect. I'm not going to start pronouncing the "i" in "parliament", thanks, I'd sound like a pretentious jackass. I did learn a few things though. I'm pretty sure I didn't realize that "ordnance" and "ordinance" were two separate words. Oops.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Four Things I've Learned From History, Or, Why Everyone Needs To Take A Deep Breath And Calm The Fuck Down

1. New Technology X is probably not going to spell the end of all civiliation as we know it. New Technology X is not evil. New Technology X isn't good either. In fact, New Technology X likely possesses no underlying moral identity. New Technology X, used properly, can enrich and improve our lives. New Technlogy X, used improperly, can erode the fabric of society, morality, and human relationships or even harm us directly. People being what they are, some will use New Technlogy X badly and others well. In a few years it won't be so new anymore, civilization will not have collapsed, and the exact same argument will shift to New Technology Y.

2. Every generation thinks the next generation is lazy/ignorant/immoral/disrespectful/possessing of inexplicable taste in music/going to run civilization into the ground. Spoiler: they won't. They'll grow out of being teenagers, have children, and think the exact same thing about them.

3. Every era thinks things are at the absolute worst they've ever been, surely portending some imminent crisis or catastrophe. This seems to come from a combination of lack of historical education, lack of perspective, and the need to sell newspapers. In reality, some things get better, some things get worse, many things stay the same, although we think and write about some of them differently. A lot more of all those things gets put on youtube.

4. The future is vastly, incomprehensibly, terrifyingly unpredictable.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


yes this:

science says stones don't fly through water and souls don't matter if you love your mother...

...all i want is love eternally 

i mean i do think souls matter but i love my mother and i like this song.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

I just read this really interesting book on earthquake observation in the 19th century. No, it really was interesting, trust me. Anyway I was struck by a number of passages written in or about the 19th century that reflect ongoing conflicts and struggles in the scientific community. In some ways the idea that we share these issues so closely with our predecessors is worrying - haven't things moved forward? - but in some ways it's comforting - dudes were just like us!

The book: Coen, Deborah R. The Earthquake Observers. The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

What I mean:

On the increasing influence of newspapers in the mid-19th century:
"...concerns grew over the power of the press to sway public opinion...the papers were no longer a voice of reason. Readers grew skeptical of "sensationalism," even as circulations rose. The papers themselves remarked frequently on the machinations of their competitors. According to historians, a widespread sense emerged that "truth" had to be defended against the distortions of wily publishers." (p. 45)

On communication with the public (specifically about the threat of earthquakes, following the prominent case of a man, Rudolf Falb, who claimed to be able to predict earthquakes):
"[Falb's] demagoguery prodded [scientists] to cultivate their own mode of public outreach...[scientists] blamed the press...The Falb debacle made scientists worry 'that public papers, especially those with a political leaning, are not the forum in which to air scientific questions'...Scientists became anxious to gain some control over reports of earthquakes in the popular press...They decided it was best, in some cases, to withhold information. As we will see, this was a dangerous precedent." (p 54-55)

On effective communication with the public:
"Rarely can an idea or act not be expressed in familiar language...If our beautiful science is not to become repulsive, we must avoid deforming it with too many foreign words." (p. 82, directly quoting F.A. Forel, limnologist/ecologist)

On citizen science:
"...we require the participation and cooperation of a borad class of the population. We must therefore make an effort to cultivate the awakening interest of the public; thus we make clear, by publishing the essential contents of the observations recieved and by listing the names of our collaborators, how valuable and important the prompt cooperation of the public is to the fulfillment of our task." (p. 158, directly quoting the director of the Earthquake Commission in Imperial Austria)

On uncertainty when scientists are asked to make judgements that contribute to public policy:
"Nature, however, which has so unqually distributed its gifts, cannot be made other than it is - we can only observe how it is, and use it according to its possibilities. Much of the how is hidden and only within certain limits to be discovered, so that much uncertainty still attends our judgement and our foresight." (p. 79, directly quoting Albert Heim, geologist)

On Californians/Americans being dumb (and assuming other cultures are superior: I mean, really, Willis, the Spanish colonists? I guess apart from all the genocide they were pretty urbane):
"Willis painted a bucolic image of Santa Barbara back in Spanish colonial times: a place of 'stateliness, license, piety, and poetic romance.' The city's subsequent history was, on his telling, typically American. It had become a playground for the wealthy, where 'wonderfully landscaped estates...bore forbidding "No Trespassing" signs.' The town had lost a sesne of community...'where wealth is spent freely, lavishly, it is inevitably exploited, and the cohesion of socity is weakened by the domination of self-interest.' Its civic leaders were 'thoroughly American, gifted with the American capacity for organization and engineering, but limited, as too many Americans are, in appreciation of history, art, and architecture.'" (p. 248; OUCH)

Bonus amusing paragraph about being amazed at super modern card catalog technology(!), which apparently was giving all the scientists hardons in the 19th century:
"'Cards of a uniform size, on which standardized data were transcribed, housed physically in card drawers and related furniture, and organized conceptually by classification schemes of various kinds, in effect epitomized a new 'modernist' technology'...the card catalog promised a new path to the nineteenth-century ideal of complete knowledge, guided by the internationalist values of efficiency and commensurability. It was the quintessential modernist solution to the globalization of knowledge." (p. 175)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, I mean when the Toronto Maple Leafs epically collapse and everyone sort of nods knowingly and shakes their heads except Toronto Maple Leafs fans who are shocked and heartbroken and immediately become as angsty and existential as a teenager in 2002 who has just discovered Dashboard Confessional (topical reference, Laura!). SERIOUSLY TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS FANS, THE LEAFS DID NOT BREAK ADVANCED STATS. REALITY IS JUST STREAKY. WE'RE SORRY. KIND OF.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, I mean it's time to change the batteries in my smoke alarm.  Two problems: first, it's a universal law of nature that the smoke alarm will always start beeping to tell you it's that time in the middle of the night. Second, my ceilings are really high so that when I stand on a chair I'm still 6-8 inches away, and I don't own a ladder. 2 am solution: Step one: Get some books. Harry Potter 4-7 are good to start with. Put one under each chair leg, then add 2-3 thick novels to each stack and also maybe the collected works of Ezra Pound. Step two: Add folded cleaning rags to each stack to prevent divots in the covers (always respect your books, even when using them as a stepstool at 2 am!) and climb up. Still find you're an inch away. Step three: Add a pillow to the chair. Find you can now reach smoke alarm with fingers but not thumb, which is necessary to twist smoke alarm off mount. Add second pillow. PROTIP: SUPER IMPORTANT. It would be emabarassing to have to explain to neighbors/EMTs/everyone else exactly how you fell and broke everything, so DON'T FALL. Thankfully, at this point I was able to recover my smoke alarm without killing myself. I then spent ten minutes trying to find where I put my batteries, only (of course) to discover I didn't have any 9V. So I put all the books and pillows away, then spent the next twenty minutes worrying about what would happen if there were a fire in my building in the next seven hours. Finally, I convinced myself I would hear my neighbors' smoke alarm and went back to sleep. 

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, that one! The department holiday party was on Monday. I went with one goal: do not get wasted. It pretty much goes without saying that I failed more or less completely. At this party there is always a copious amount of Jello shots, and I had convinced myself, somehow, that if I didn't do any Jello shots I would be impervious to drunkeness. Buuuuuut, it turns out that other types of alcohol will also get you pretty drunk. Here's the sad part: this is not the first year I have gone through EXACTLY THE SAME THOUGHT PROCESS WITH EXACTLY THE SAME RESULTS.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! For capitalists! Today I took the day off and went Christmas shopping, because I hate fighting my way through crowds of tourists and suburbanites on Michigan Avenue on December weekends. Here are some things I noticed:

Why do Bandaid boxes always look like they've been delivered by helicopter airdrop? Seriously, no matter where I shop, the Bandaid boxes look postively mangled. Meanwhile, three aisles over the soap and toothpaste boxes are pristine. (NOTE: No, I wasn't buying Bandaids for a Christmas present. I was at Target and I needed some bandaids, ok? Also some 9V batteries, obviously.)

The clearance section at the Art Institute is the epitome of clearance sections. You walk in and it's IMMEDIATELY evident why everything there is on clearance: it's horrifically ugly. 

I went to Anthropologie. Sometimes I go in there and wander around and then I'm like "ok" and I leave. Some days I go there and am like "I WANT ALL THE THINGS." Today was one of the latter so I had to get out rather quickly before I broke the "don't buy things for yourself in December" thing. 

Trader Joe's speculoos cookies are my New Favorite Thing.

Endnote: Oh yes, when I told my parents the smoke alarm story they immediately told me to go buy a ladder and put it on their credit card. Apparently they were less "impressed" and more "alarmed" by my 2 am resourcefulness (or else just appalled by my treatment of my books..I did make sure it was the back covers facing up and my least favorite book on top of each stack, I mean, come on).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Parliament of Crows

These are the Hyde Park crows. They come to roost around dusk at night, not always in the same place. You can always here them come in and settle down. There's usually at least forty to fifty of them. They are, to put it mildly, CREEPY AS FUCK.

Inside it is much nicer:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why Hockey Players Are Amazing/Insane and Pet Peeves: You Are Not A Monolith

Last night in Vancouver Daniel Sedin was high-sticked in the face and pulled out a tooth on the ice (he showed it to the ref, who was unimpressed and refused to up the penalty from 2 to 4 minutes, because there was no blood (this is more or less a real NHL rule)). There have been a number of tooth-pulling-out instances in the NHL so far this year (more than most years, it seems). My favorite so far, however, has been this one from a few weeks ago. Pascal Dupuis was miked up at the time. Check out the video. Make sure you listen to the audio.

Here's what I love about this video: everything. I love everything about it.
1. First, he nonchalantly describes to the trainer what happened "I lost all my teeth again."
3. The trainer, who is totally unphased, suggests he pulls them out so he doesn't swallow them. Well known hazard of having your teeth knocked out. I guess. Notice that at no point does anyone suggest he leave the game or even adjourn briefly to the locker room to get Novocained or whatever.
4. He pulls them out. Look at his face. I guarantee the faces of 99% of people who watch this video register more pain than Pascal Dupuis.
5. Actually, this is my most favorite part: "Alright." That's it. Insert mouthguard over where teeth used to be. Back to business. I exhibit about 5x more drama than this when I get a paper cut. Probably about 20x more if I stub my toe. For Pascal Dupuis, pulling out his own teeth is a minor distraction. This is why hockey players are the best.

Pet peeve for today: Just because you are at the bus stop doesn't mean you are allowed to stand like a pillar in the middle of the sidewalk. Other people are walking on it and do not want to play early-morning-obstacle-course with you. (I promise not all my pet peeves are pedestrian-rights related, although I spend a lot of time walking around the city, so actually a lot of them are.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pet Peeves: Scuttling

In a new feature that runs all day, most days, I will discuss my pet peeves. Today we talk about people who scuttle across the street at crosswalks. They see a car waiting, and they break into an awkward scurrying run, glancing guiltily at the driver. Don't do that! You look ridiculous, and also you have no reason to feel guilty. You are a pedestrian! You have right of way! Take your time. Saunter. Check out the driver. If he's hot, feel free to wiggle your butt a little bit. If he looks annoyed at your pace, that's his problem. You have an equal right to the roadway, and also the only greenhouse gas you are emitting is from breathing. Even if he's irritated, he won't run you over. Probably. Be proud, pedestrians! Don't scuttle.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Hampus Lindholm is the name of a real person who plays in the NHL. He's a Swedish child. I love hockey names.


And after looking at this recipe I am very close to rushing all the way to Lincoln Park to purchase savory onion jam.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dear Fellow Graduate Students,

Among our valued friends is there not some one or other who is a little too self-confident and disdainful; whose distinguished mind is a little spotted with commonness; who is a little pinched here and protuberant there with native predjudices; or whose better energies are liable to lapse down the wrong channel under the influence of transient solicitations?


George Eliot

Friday, August 9, 2013

15 Things That Should Never Change In The NHL

Read this:

Then this:

1. The only thing better than the current goalie masks are the old terrifying white Jason masks. The only problem with them is they don't do very much to actually protect a goalie's face, so we'll stick with the ones we've got.

2. The only thing worse than the banality of many NHL traditions would be the lack of them.

3. It is The Best Trophy, and maybe The Best Thing. Oh the depravity that has gone on with/on the cup. Oh the foods and beverages that have been consumed out of it. Oh the dogs and babies that have been put into it.

4. Omg yes. I will stay up until 2 am to watch a quadruple overtime game even if it's two teams I couldn't care less about and the quality of hockey is terrible because the players are so exhausted they can barely skate. I will relish every shot of fans' sleeping children and grumpy coaches and players who look like they would give up half their salary to be able to go to bed and also maybe have a cheeseburger. It is the best.

5. THE ENIGMATIC RUSSIANS oh they are SO enigmatic. Churchill is rolling over in his grave. With delight or annoyance at the overuse of this trope? Who knows.

6. You can swear on HBO (and boy, do they ever) so it's clearly the most accurate.

7. There should be a tumblr of awkward NHL draft photos except that it would just consist of all NHL draft photos taken, ever.

8. Soldier Field next year!

9. Star looking intense. Coaches clenching their jaws. Slow motion footage of guys getting drilled into the boards. Slow motion bleeding. Slow motion flags. Guitar solo.

10. One time, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks said that Dave Bolland had a face only a mother could love. This was after Dave Bolland accused the Canucks stars, identical twins the Sedins, of sleeping in bunk beds. Hockey rivalries are the best.

11. Last year, they sent Darcy Kuemper to the airport with all his gear but they didn't tell him what city he was supposed to be going to. He just had to hang out at MSP until they called and told him. Trade deadline day is awesome.

12. Don't let the celly haters get you down, Nail. Go ahead and slide around on the ice. You're 19 and richer than I'll ever be.

13. I want a TEEMU FOREVER tshirt. I would wear it all the time.


15. See #14.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Eagle's Nest

This is the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's Alpine retreat near Berchtesgaden. I'm reading a book about saving Italy's art treasures during the war. It isn't very good, but it does mention Eagle's Nest at several points and this brought back some memories.

As a place used by and built specifically for perhaps the most reviled dictator in all of history, one imagines it is generally approached with historic interest and a rather horrifed solemnity. My own feelings on the place are, however, a bit more complex, as when I was taken there as a small child, I was allowed to eat an entire Snickers bar by myself for the very first time. I don't remember why, specifically. One imagines some combination of inadequate cafe facilities and extreme hunger, with quite possibly some whining thrown in. I was only about four and never allowed candy, so you can imagine that this was EXTREMELY significant. I don't remember much about the consumption of the Snickers bar itself, just the enormity of the thought that it was all mine. I didn't know the word, but the event was truly unprecedented in my (admittedly limited) experience. I also remember running about on the observation platforms (as you can see from the picture, the platforms give out on a drop that is pretty much straight down for quite some distance) and constantly being grabbed by parents and ordered to settle down. At the time I found this extremely annoying. What, did they think I was an idiot? I was going to run off the platform into thin air? I was put out at their lack of trust in my perfectly adequate judgement. Of course, twenty-odd years on, I can easilty see that faced with a small child hopped up on its own sense of power and an unreasonable amount of suger I would be grabbing for all my life's worth as well, but as the small child in question I just found it demeaning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Weather, Ugh

It's usually bad in Chicago when the number for temperature and the number for humidity are the same number. It works at both ends of the scale!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Rangers, SCF 1933

Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Rangers, SCF 1933: 

My comments:

Generally when I see old hockey footage it looks really slow, but actually this looks pretty fast.


Holy shit it's terrifying that goalies didn't used to wear helmets.

Oh good, I'm glad that the announcer clarified that this was the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Team as opposed to the, I don't know, Toronto Maple Leafs Curling Team I guess.

What is the reporter doing with his hands? I don't think they really understood tv in 1933.

But hockey players still sound like hockey players.

Aaaaand we have a hockey player playing in a final with a cast where he has to hold the stick between his thumb and the cast. So nothing has changed, basically. 

Including the fact that the players appear to have no discernable personalities. "How did it feel when you scored that goal?" "Pretty good." That's a real exclusive scoop there. 

Hey! Is that jaromir jagr???!? Haha no it's not just kidding.

I get the feeling like these "meet the team" spots were filmed earlier and then cut in, but I'm not sure they knew they could do that in 1933.

Really? Hockey has been accepted into the hearts of the American <unintelligible>? I have yet to see evidence of that. Whatever <unintelligible> is (unless it's "Canadien emigres").

Ok this rangers player says he'd rather play in Montreal. if Henrik Lundquist said that today it would explode the internet.


In all seriousness it makes me cringe a little to watch them doing this with their heads completely unprotected.

Is there someone playing named "peeble" or can I not hear correctly?

Clearly they are new to this tv thing since they forgot the all important "put your camera position high enough so the view isn't obstructed by fedoras everytime someone has a good scoring chance" rule. 

Could the announcer look less interested in this result? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Series Two

Well, here we are. Detroit leads the series 2-1. Who is the better team? It's not Detroit.

Would we have won the game last night if the phantom interference call had never been made? I don't know. Tying up the game at that point might have given us some momentum, but frankly we were throwing a lot at the net toward the end of that game. Howard was good. I will say this: on Saturday Detroit deserved to win. They were better. Last night, they got the bounces. We played much more like I would expect, things just didn't go that well.

Bryan Bickell, I know that two goals down with a minute left, we have almost zero chance of winning. However, that number drops to an even smaller number when you take a stupid penalty. Despite the clear provocation, you can't lose your cool at a time like this and cross check a guy in the back. Three times.

Andy fucking Shaw. Seriously. This shit has got to stop. People are tired of killing off your bullshit penalties. And it's not like you're being effective at other times. Keep your mouth shut and your stick to yourself. Be a big boy. Everybody else too. This parade to the box has got to stop, freakishly good PK or not.

On the good news front: is it 27/27 for the PK or 28/28? Pretty fucking impressive; also impressive the way we decided to kill most of the last couple penalties in the Detroit zone. If only our PP was as good. Why isn't it? The brightest minds of the hockey world have been stumbling over that one for a couple seasons now. It's a great unsolved mystery, and also super frustrating.

Also, hockey blogs, stop calling out Corey Crawford. He's playing pretty damn well. His defense is failing in front of him and his offense isn't scoring. Contrary to rhetoric, a goalie can't win a game. And you try facing down Datsyk game after game. I almost peed my pants thinking about it.

All that being said, it's far from over. It's probably not even time to panic. We were always going to lose at least one at the Joe. They'll be good and mad on Saturday, I expect. We can still do this.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Conspiracy Theories!

Since my last post about the X-Files I have been doing a great deal of procrastinating reading on the internet about conspiracy theories. Boy oh boy. There are some DOOZIES out there. Who knew the world was THIS full of crazy people??? They must have loved it when the internet was invented and they could all find each other. Oh no wait, the internet will be used by the US government/secret world government/Illuminati to monitor our activity/ruin our credit ratings/laser our faces! BUT WITHOUT THE INTERNET HOW CAN I ACCESS MY FAVORITE CHAT ROOM ABOUT HOW QUEEN ELIZABETH IS REALLY A LIZARD PERSON??? The life of a paranoid conspiracy theorist must be exhausting. (Are chat rooms still a thing? I don't think so.)

I started with the wikipedia page about conspiracy theories, general, which actually is mostly about the psychological reasons posited for the existence and acceptance of conspiracy theories. One point I thought was really interesting was the idea that conspiracy theories are actually reassuring on some level. Sure, some part of the subconcious says, the Illuminati are running a secret evil world government that is planning to drive society back to the Stone Age. But at least SOMEONE is in charge of this shit, amirite? Apparently even the evil machinations of whatever cabal runs the world in your favorite theory are, for some people, preferable to believing that most things that happen in the world are at some level the products of chaos and chance and happenstance and interacting non-linear effects that we'll never be able to accurately predict. The mind shrinks at the thought of that much randomness. It might be easier to believe, for example, that the US government created and spread AIDS deliberately among the African American population (especially given the very real and horrifying Tuskegee experiments) than to acknowledge that actually these things just happen and at any moment a disease could sweep out of Africa or China or Central America and kill us all. (I don't mean to alarm you, but that is totally possible.)

From there I moved on to various specific theories. There's the oldies-but-goodies: faked moon landing; aliens crashlanding at Roswell; the Illuminati. There's David Icke, who was apparently a run-of-the-mill football broadcaster at the BBC until he had some sort of transformative experience and started speaking, publishing, and producing films about a race of lizard people secretly controlling the whole world. His theory is like the meta-conspiracy theory, or the theory for conspiracy theorists who hate having to choose. It has EVERYTHING: secret world governments, mind control, alien human hybrids, multiple dimensions, the Illuminati. It is PRETTY GREAT. Then there are some that just make me sad, like the 9/11 truthers and Holocaust denial and Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim and the above mentioned AIDS-as-weapon. They feel uglier and meaner and lack the giddy glamour of alien autopsies and men in black. After several forays into these themes, I scientifically deduced that man, people believe some CRAZY shit.

To conclude, I'd like to present two of my recently discovered favorites (along with the reasons they are total crap, of course).

Phantom time: This one states that actually, most of the Middle Ages never happened, and our calendar has been padded with about 300 extra years. I was unable to find any explanation for why the Vatican/secret world government/alien influences found this to be necessary. Charlemagne is apparently so crucial that, never having actually existed, he must be invented. Personally, I go from one end of a month to another with barely a thought for Charlemagne (unless I'm playing Characters, then I like to throw him in the hat), and I feel like most people who aren't taking 10th grade history are the same way. Yet apparently it's necessary we believe in about 300 extra years of revolting peasants and feudalism and everyone living in their own filth.

How to debunk it: Independent and aligned astronomical records from Europe and China tell us that all the years we think were the years were actually the years. No years missing. Charlemagne is safe.

Faked moon landing SLASH The Shining: This one states that the Apollo moon landings were faked in movie studios on earth, AND that the US government hired Stanley Kubrick to do it, AND that he felt  guilty about this but also afraid for his life so he made The Shining as an elaborate but veiled confession. (Stephen King apparently was NOT in on this. The theory mostly focuses on things in the movie that were different from or addional to the book.) This one has the added twist that Stanley Kubrick was actually in real life one CRAZY ASS MOTHERFUCKER who paid an insane amount of attention to every detail, so many of the props/costumes/set decor that the theory points out may actually have had some significance or meaning or symbolism (though I would bet a thousand jillion dollars the secret meaning is NOT "um sorry guys so I faked the moon landing but boy those special effects were something, right???").

How to debunk it: Well, you could go test the moon rocks. (You should probably ask permission first.) But really, the main thing that prevents me from taking this (or any other) conspiracy theory seriously is the fact that people are terrible at keeping secrets. You can go with old Ben's "Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead" or Stewart Brand's "Information wants to be free", but however you phrase it, people are not good at keeping their traps shut. To believe in these types of theories, you also have to believe that the secret cabal running everything is made up of a group of people who are uniformly and fundamentally different from almost every person you have ever met: dedicated to long-term goals, utterly secretive, perfectly disciplined, fantastically efficient, discreet, loyal, intelligent, serious, and amoral. I don't know about you, but I would say that people in general are gossipy, petty, inefficient, lazy, unable to accurately predict or plan for the future, driven by personal loyalties, personal gain, and personal morals or lack thereof, moody, emotional, vain, and irrational. This list does little to recommend us as a species, perhaps, but it also augers pretty poorly for secret world governments, so if you were planning to set one up, you should probably take that into account.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The X-Files: Reflections

I've been doing a lot of boring and repetitive lab work, so I like to watch TV while I do it. I actually think it keeps me focussed; if I was just doing the work I'd get bored and allow myself to take way too many internet breaks. Anyway, I've been working my way through a couple different shows on Netflix, one of which is the X-Files. I started at season 2, since I think I saw most of season 1 at some point, and I think it was mostly monster of the week episodes. I'm now on season 6. Here, in no particular order, are my reflections:

1. Why is it so dark all the time? I watch this show in a lab with a lot of natural light, so there's a lot of glare on my screen, and when they're creeping around in the dark, I can never tell what's going on. Often things are shot like that to hide the cheapness of the special effects, but the X-Files actually has pretty reasonable special effects. I guess it's the Jaws thing - it's the not-seeing rather than the seeing that creates the suspense/horror. Still, occasionally I wish Mulder and Scully could have investigated more things that happened in broad daylight.

2. Ok, so I get that aside from being characters, Scully and Mulder are also representative of, respectively, Science and Skepticism and Belief (and possibly Lunacy). However, at some points this continued insistence on these narrow roles kind of makes the whole thing devolve into ridiculousness. Mulder believes in aliens and a giant government conspiracy to cover up aliens and government programs to create alien-human hybrids; it doesn't automatically follow that he has to believe every crazy goddamn thing that he encounters. But he's always like "Why couldn't the spirit of the ancient Incan jaguar god come out of that mummy and kill people, Scully???? Why couldn't a prehistoric dinosaur have survived and hidden out in the Georgian swamp, Scully???" And then on the other hand, you have Scully, who after like 543 episodes of unexplained shit and being abducted by aliens and getting cancer and being cured by a microchip and all that is still always like "I don't know Mulder, there could be scientific explanation for this." Scully, there has never been a scientific explanation, not one time. If you were really a scientist, you would have concluded long ago that the data pointed to the conclusion that your crazy partner is right every single time he advances some crackpot theory.

3. I'm kind of impressed by the authentic shittiness of the motel rooms Scully and Mulder stay in when they're investigating something out in some rural town. Either there is a Hollywood set designer who specialized in Shitty Motel Rooms for Mulder and Scully, or they shot them all on location at real shitty roadside motels. In modern tv shows, I've noticed a tendency to place the aesthetic of the show over realism, so that every interior is glossy and professionally decorated and totally unlike where 95% of the people in the world spend their time. I don't really have a problem with that, it's not like the only thing standing between NCIS:LA and being a television classic is lack of realism on their sets (and for the record I like that show, but for what it is, which is fluff). And it's not like the shitty motel rooms on the X-Files elevate it to some level of important social realism, it's just as fluffy (but with more extraterrestrials and fewer references to the Patriot Act).

4. There are some moments where this show seems like it might be a little brilliant - there's the occasional subtle social commentary; there's some interesting asides into the psychology of belief and specifically of Mulder's motivations; starting in season three or four there are some lighter throw-away episodes where they mess with tone and narrative in ways that are kind of clever (the Frankenstein episode in season 5, the one where Luke Wilson is a vampire, the one that gets turned into a novel). There are also some moments where the show feels incredibly clunky and 90s. The music, god, the music is so 90s. So repetitive and overdramatic. There is usually only one story arc per episode, usually (but not always) presented linearly. By the time you get into the 2000s even half hour comedies are running two or three simultaneous story lines and often telling them non-linearly; this makes older shows feel excruciatingly slow, like every plot point is being hammered into your brain (grumpy old people will tell you this is symptomatic of our modern society's inability to focus on one thing for very long, and maybe this is true to a certain extent; however, I think modern shows actually give their audiences a good deal of intellectual credit for their ability to track multiple characters and plots and still integrate them into a meaningful thematic whole by the end of the episode). There are some really horrible voice-over narrations (stupid voice-overs are one of my cinematic/tv pet peeves). Scully's pantsuits could be worse, but I don't love them. And were everyone's cars in the 90s really that ugly?

5. How many people's paranoias were fed by the X-Files? Do NSA and FBI agents get tired of reading poorly typed manifestos from mentally ill people who took the X-Files way too seriously? I suppose if you have that kind of mental illness, you fixate on something, and if it isn't one thing, it would be another. Still, it seems like it could have fed conspiracy theories. I'm kind of afraid to google this.

6. Mitch Pileggi is surprisingly hot for a bald man whose character name is Walter Skinner.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Weakness Of Character, Or Things I Like About Hockey Fights

Last night I made meatloaf.

Meatloaf, as a concept, always triggers my first world guilt. It's a loaf...of pretty much just meat. The good stuff too, not the stuff they make sausage out of. Think of all the vegetation that went to feed that cow! Think of all the methane it farted into the atmosphere! We should all be vegetarians.

But I have this recipe where you put red onion and garlic and bacon and cheese into the meatloaf along with ketchup and breadcrumbs and the usual things and it is HEAVEN. Last night I put an extra piece of bacon in. SO GOOD. My intellectual convictions cannot hope to compete.

I fear this reveals a major weakness of character. Example B: fighting in hockey. I can't come up with a good intellectual argument to justify it. I guess you could argue that these men are already highly paid to risk injury every night, that they have conciously chosen to take that risk, and that fighting, which is mostly the domain of a small subset of them, and which tends not to result in gruesome and horrific injuries, is inconsequential in the level of risk it adds over and above the dangers of playing actual hockey (Eric Karlsson's sliced Achilles tendon? Sidney Crosby's broken jaw? Chris Pronger's eye? Marian Hossa's KO? All sustained during game play, the first two on non-penalizable plays). But that argument doesn't really justify fighting. You could equally make the argument that it is a non-essential part of the game and asking men to take on that additonal risk is wrong, especially when you've sort of waived the prohibition against intent to injure by allowing them to punch each other in the face repeatedly. So I always feel vaguely guilty about not taking a firm position against it.

But here's the thing. I really really like it. I don't so much care for Brandon Bollig dropping the gloves with some counterpart because he feels like it's his job. That's kind of a sideshow. But when it comes out of frustration in game play? So great. I love it when Jamal Mayers goes after someone who's just smeared Kruger along the end boards for the 17th time (seriously, everytime I see someone get wiped out along the boards it's him). I love it when someone sprays the goalie and after the whistle there are eight guys in the crease punching each other. I love it when Toews gets all mad and red in the face and goes after the opposing captain. And goalie fights. OMG YOU GUYS GOALIE FIGHTS ARE THE BESSSSST. Most of the time during fights, even line brawls, the goalies just hang out, lean on their net, drink out of their Gatorade bottle, and look blase. But every once in a while (oh glorious day) the goalies decide to get into it. Now first of all, goalies are only allowed to fight other goalies. It's the code. So they both have to make their way to center ice. Goalies skating in full gear can best be described as "lumbering" so it takes them a while to get 100 feet. During this ponderous journey I imagine they have plenty of time for thought, and, if they have never fought before, panic. "What if I get seriously injured?" "What if I look like an idiot?" "Is my mom watching?" Here's what else you have to know about goalie fights: (a) all goalies are crazy (b) goalies are not very good at fighting. So you get awesome spectacles like this where Ray Emery fights Marty Biron with a huge grin on his face the WHOLE time, which is kind of creepy, and everyone falls down a lot. A lot of times goalie fights end with the goalies flailing around on the ground, looking like two goalie fetishists having sex (I assume that's a thing but no way am I going to google it). I support the continuation of hockey fights if only because once a year or so we get something like that.

I like other things about hockey fights too. I like it when guys get so mad that they keep on flailing even after the linesman has them wrapped up. I like it when, during a line brawl, guys get tired but haven't fallen down and so they just stand there on the ice holding each other and watching other people fight, as if they were partners at a ballroom dancing practice gone horribly awry. I like it when they mic players up and you get this ("You want to? Ok, good luck man") or this ("He was like 'do you want to go buckets off?' and I was like 'yes please I do not want to punch your helmet'"). I like how the linesman stand around like it's no big deal. I like all the ways the announcers describe roughing ("Looks like there's some extracurriculars happening after the whistle." "Yeah Pat there's an exchange of pleasantries going on down at the Blackhawks end."). I like the blase way in which they clean blood off the ice. I like it when players keep chirping each other from the penalty boxes. I like it when the coaches climb up on the bench to yell at other coaches. Guys, hockey is violent and awesome and completely insane, and I don't want it to ever change.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Notes

It's not a goalie controversy. Stop calling it that. We have two goalies with .92 SV%. Trust me, that's not a problem. You're just jealous.

It's always bothered me that the SV% stat is always presented as a frequency, but called a percentage. 

Raffi Torres, noted scumbag, was recently traded to the San Jose Sharks, where no doubt we will encounter him in the playoffs and he will gruesomely concuss some valuable Blackhawk. This has happened in each of the last two seasons (on Brent Seabrook when Torres was with the Nucks and of course on Marian Hossa when he was a Yote). In true Chicago Way fashion (He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!), I thought, what if we did it to him first? Just sent Brandon Bollig out there with the express intention of hitting Torres like a freight train. Bollig would get suspended for a million games, but who cares? He's not a difference maker. There's one major flaw in this plan. It turns out, and follow me carefully here, because we're on some ethically tricky ground: it's morally wrong to deliberately injure another human being, even when the other human being is Raffi Torres. 

Only in Chicago do you need to wear a snow coat to a baseball game. That is what I will be doing this weekend, unless the game is cancelled on account of rain or snow or something. Chicago in April is so not charming.

The new American Sherlock Holmes with Lucy Liu as Watson is kind of entertaining. 

So I gave a talk at our departmental retreat on Sunday. One of the slides I showed was a map of Sweden with a genetic variant mapped on it - little crosses marking the sites from which plants were sampled, color coded by the genetic variant they possess. Supposedly this genetic variant was one associated with a particular beach phenotype, and the map showed it at different frequencies inland and near the water. Well. Fast forward to yesterday and it turns out that it was the completely wrong genetic variant. Totally meaningless data. I had pulled the wrong column from the relevant matrix (you can't see the whole matrix when it's 1307 x 428103 cells, so you have to be accurate with what you retrieve).  So this story sounds boring when I type it out like this but let me tell you: EMBARASSING. Except no one will ever know. Except that I put it on the Internet.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Me: blah blah blah something about my blog.
Mom: Which you never update.
Me: I updated it twice in the last week!
Mom: Since this morning?
Me: This morning? Are you kidding? What do you want from me?
Mom: I guess I wanted a comment. But I guess you can't comment on your own blog, so maybe it's not your fault.
Me: Thanks.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Being A Grownup Is The Best, Also, PROTIPS

That, my friends, is a Nerf gun callus. Thanks to Alice M. for reminding us how great it is to be a grownup. When you are a grownup you can
(a) purchase Nerf guns for your boyfriend for his birthday
(b) buy beer in cans specifically for the purpose of 
(c) drinking the beer then setting the cans up in pyramids and 
(d) shooting at the pyramids with your Nerf guns during a party. 

PROTIP #1 (applies to NHL players only): Wear a visor. No, really, just put one on. Why are we still arguing about this? Here are the facts: over 70% of players in the league voluntarily wear a visor. Visors are required in the AHL and college hockey (actually college players wear full cages) and in most European leagues: virtually no one is showing up to the NHL and having to adapt to wearing a visor. (And the rule change would be grandfathered anyway, no one playing now would have to wear one, only players entering the league.) Once or twice a season someone suffers a terrifying injury involving a puck or stick near the eye; often these guys get lucky, but it's not unheard of for a season or career to be ended by this. Not to mention that the guy might be, at least partially blind. For, you know, the rest of his life. Manny Malhotra got taken off the ice this season probably because his peripheral blind spots are now big enough to hide an entire hockey player, which is considered pretty unsafe. Chris Pronger is probably retiring and says his kids scare the crap out of him because they can sneak up on his blind side. Hockey will never be an injury free sport, but these particular injuries can be particularly bad and are pretty much 100% preventable. Nonetheless, the NHLPA and many players advocate for a policy of personal choice. I would really be interested for someone to go back and see if this same debate was occurring back in the late 70s when helmets were made mandatory. Stop being a baby. Put on visor.

PROTIP #2 (if you have a stuck zipper): The zipper on my all-time favorite dragon jacket got stuck while I was in Target this weekend. I was smart enough to not pull it all the way up so I could take the jacket off over my head when I got home, but I couldn't get the zipper undone. As man has done since time immemorial*, I took my problems to the Internet. There were several things that were repeatedly suggested: pencil lead (apparently graphite is a lubricant), wax, and soap. Pencil lead seemed sissy, for zippers that were only a little stuck, so I focussed on wax, soap, and brute force. This did not work. Today, at a loss, I tried pencil lead and wouldn't you know, it did the trick. I guess there's a lesson there or something but I'm distracted by the fact that my favorite jacket is broken:( (I tried the zipper once it was unstuck, but I fear it no longer functions as a zipper should. By the by, I have no idea how zippers work. What happens inside that little metal tag? It might as well be magic.)

*c. 1998

PROTIP #3 (if you live in Chicago): Don't live in Chicago in March. Ugh. It is the worst.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let's Try This Again

Ugh, I am so offended by gaps in blogs. It almost makes me feel like it's not worth it. Maybe I'll do some retroactive posts. I think blogger will let you do that? In the meantime, let's ease into this again. Since this is a blog about Chicago, hockey, pop culture, and the art of being a grad student, let's talk about that.

Into the part of winter now where it's frigid and dirty and boring. Last week I got tired of all my winter clothes all at once, as usually happens. Generally this portends six to eight weeks of dressing in inappropriately spring-y clothes, and being freezing all the time. So far I've avoided this by raiding the J. Crew sales, but we'll see how long that lasts.

Hawks have a 24-2-3 record. There's really nothing more to say.

Pop culture:
Why is St. Paddy's Day so horrible? On Saturday, I accidentally went to a bar to watch a basketball game, forgetting that it would be full of super-wasted twenty-somethings celebrating St. Paddy's. Don't get me wrong, I like drinking in the morning as much as the next person, but paying a cover to hang out in overcrowded bars with people too drunk to stand or talk or focus their eyes properly and with the ever present and very real threat of being vomited on is not my idea of fun.

The art of being a grad student:
So when you're anxious, your stomach hurts (this falls under the art of being a grad student because it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that most grad students I know are periodically if not perpetually exhibiting signs of anxiety severe enough to warrant therapy. and I'm not really being flip about that). But sometimes it happens the other way around: your stomach hurts, so you're anxious. For example, let's just say, for the sake of the argument, that your nutrition over the last two days has consisted of the following: a giant dim sum brunch, a bag of Mediterranean flavored Terra chips, half a pound of raw cookie dough, half a bottle of Chianti, a bagel with some questionable onion cream cheese, a triple shot of espresso, a Starbucks breakfast sandwich, three pieces of pizza, a cappucino, five cookies, some leftover pasta, and three gin and tonics. (Obviously this is hypothetical, that would be a disgusting way for a grown up to live their life.) Naturally, your stomach might be a bit upset. My reaction to this (hypothetically) is to try to find something that is causing me mental anxiety. This is far more complicated and distressing than drinking some fizzy water and resolving to eat like a sensible person. There's no real resolution to this entirely hypothetical anecdote, unless you count a timid suggestion that maybe cookie dough and wine isn't really an adequate meal.